Sunday, December 23, 2012

My first white Christmas

The main road just outside our driveway 
Officially winter began a few days ago, but if you live in Finland the darkness, snow and cool frigid air have been hanging around for several weeks already.  They say that February is the coolest month in Finland, but since late November the temps have already dipped down in the single digits Fahrenheit (minus 10 or more Celsius). Mother nature ushered in a blizzard in late November to remind me once again that I no longer live in California where people are complaining about a little "cold", rain and frost in the mornings.  The snow fall has been quite steady on and off for several weeks now and I am learning what it means to do "snow work" in my new home.  Our current home has a long driveway and the snow must be shoveled at least once or twice per day after a hard snowfall.  I think I am getting used to it, at least it is good exercise.  We have received approximately 27+ inches of snow (70 centimeters) this December.  This is a great amount even by Finnish standards this early in the season.

The benefits of the snowfall is that it helps to combat the darkness by brightening things up a bit and it gives the kids many creative things to do outside after school.  It is also fun to get out and go cross country skiing or walking in the winter wonderland.  I am actually very happy to be able to celebrate a White Christmas this year which will be a first for me.  In California where I grew up it would be virtually impossible to get snow on Christmas and there was always this romanticism tied to the notion of a "White Christmas".  Therefore this year is really a special and unique Christmas for me and my family.  I wanted to wish all my family, friends and other blog readers a safe and happy holiday season.  I started my expat blog one year ago and have really appreciated the support and comments.  Cheers and Happy New Years!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recharging my batteries before the long Finnish winter

After 15 months of living in Finland, I waited patiently and finally made it back home.  Knowing that November is a dark and dreary month in Finland, I thought I would take advantage of the cheaper late autumn flights and come home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, I thought the longer being away from home would hopefully help me to rediscover and appreciate it more. I was very excited to make the long journey back to California after so long and had some nervous anticipation of what to expect after having been away from family and friends for so long.

It felt quite surreal as the plane touched down in San Francisco International airport.  Was the Bay Area going to be this magical land of my lost dreams or just a big let down?   Well, the trip home started with a massive traffic jam along the freeways from the airport in San Francisco most of the way home to Moraga where my parents reside.  The ride home would normally only take 40 minutes, but in bumper to bumper traffic it turned into about 1 hour 20 minutes to get home.  Welcome back home Mark, if you didn't forget we actually have "real" traffic here in California, not like Finland.

Like anyone who leaves their country and returns home to visit, there are certain items one craves and misses.  For me, they were simple items, like eating fresh hummus, fresh salsa and authentic Mexican food (not Tex Mex).  Not to mention, getting good San Francisco sourdough bread.  Oh, those little pleasures in life.  Of course, it was awesome catching up with family and friends and getting a big dose of sunshine.  We actually headed up to the Sonoma Valley (an area famous for vineyards) one day and had a beautiful outdoor lunch at Francis Ford Coppola's winery.  We lucked out with the weather on that day, as it as actually around 22 Celsius (71 Fahrenheit).  I had forgotten that Novembers in Northern California can actually be quite nice if one is lucky.  The weather went from about 16 - 22 Celsius during my stay (60-71 Fahrenheit).  Coming from a cold and rainy Finland, this was just what the doctor ordered.

What did I really learn and notice about coming back to the San Francisco Bay Area from Finland? Besides the ever present traffic and crowds, I also noticed the American marketing machine is still on full throttle ahead.  I went to a Target shop (US chain store that has a bit of everything) to grab some small items to bring back to Finland.  It was becoming the Christmas season (mid November), but still a bit early and before the famous Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving Holiday).  However, the store was packed and frantic shoppers were buying everyone under the sun.  The store and shoppers were definitely on full Xmas mode.  I guess that is one thing I had forgotten while living in Finland.  With the exception of Hullut Päivät (Crazy days) at Stockmann, Finland doesn't really engage in this kind of marketing fervor and mad house shopping.  Also, I noticed that I had to keep a bit of a closer eye on my 6 year old son while shopping in large stores and even playing outside in the front yard of my parent's home. The United States is a big place and unfortunately children do occasionally get snatched or hit by cars.  Even though I grew up and lived in very safe neighborhoods in California, I would definitely say that Finland as a whole is safer.

So, the trip was wonderful in may ways and my batteries were definitely recharged.  I will always have a place in my heart for the San Francisco Bay Area that is not going away.  With that said, I think experiencing a different place and a new culture can only grow you as an individual.  Did coming home make me regret moving with my family to Finland?  No, I wouldn't say so, but it definitely made me appreciate things at home I might have once taken for granted.   There isn't month that goes by when someone in Finland asks me why I decided to leave sunny California behind to come here.   Beyond explaining the family move, I usually tell them the same thing, I tell them that California is and will always be my home and it is not going away.  I let them know that I am happy to experience their country and explore a new culture in Europe and I tell them that I will eventually return to my San Francisco Bay Area when this Scandinavian interlude ends.