Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Midsummer sports getaway at Vierumäki

This year our family decided that instead of experiencing a traditional Midsummer, we would take part in an active Midsummer weekend at the Vierumäki sports academy/facility/hotel. Vierumäki is known in Finland for being a training place for all kinds of athletes, from professionals to recreational athletes, and for providing a nice overall place for sports and outdoor adventures.  We purchased the Midsummer package which included the hotel, food and organized sports activities for the entire family. This would be the true alternative to a classic Midsummer where most folks go to the cabin by the lake, relax and drink all weekend long.

I had no idea what I was getting into when my wife told me that we would be taking part in these organized sports activities.  I thought maybe a few fun games with the children, some Frisbee and perhaps some hikes.  Little did I know what types of physical activities were in store for me.  I consider myself fairly athletic, so I am always up for a little challenge.  We arrived Friday afternoon and had a stretching class that afternoon while the children had some fun activities for their age groups.  Kids' activities throughout the weekend included circus games, gymnastics, urban warfare (think Nerf balls) and orienteering.   Later that afternoon, we finished up the activities by jumping off the dock into a cold lake followed by a Sauna.  That evening featured a more typical Midsummer celebration with a children's band playing along side a bar and the traditional lighting of the bonfire in the middle of the lake.

Saturday was the most intense day with exercise starting early in the morning and lasting till the late afternoon. We started with kids versus adults fun indoor soccer (football) game followed by indoor floor hockey.  The kids beat the adults on most occasions.   Last game was team dodge ball which brought back great childhood memories.  After the morning games ended, my wife and I attended a brutal cross-fit session and then I tried Nordic walking after lunch.  I had always wanted to try both cross-fit and the Scandinavian Nordic walking.  The morning cross-fit session was a brutal workout and now I understand why most of the folks who practice cross-fit on a regular basis are bad asses.  The afternoon Nordic walking session lasted 1.5 hours and by the end of the session the trainer had us running up hills with our poles (walking sticks).  Nordic walking which is very popular in Finland, might look funny, but provides a great arm workout on top of the already great cardio workout.  The poles also provide stability which can help you navigate the rougher outdoor trails.  Just remember to bring your mosquito repellent, because they are vicious in the Finnish forests during the summer time.  By Saturday our family was so thoroughly wiped out from a long day of exercise and activities that we hit the sack by 10 pm.

On Sunday, we had one last exercise session which was core fitness.  This also turned out be a great session, but my muscles were screaming by the end.  I survived the final class which was followed up by a sumptuous lunch back at the hotel.  Our bodies were royally exhausted by the end of the weekend.  Wasn't this supposed to be a relaxing getaway to the lake cabin and sit around drinking and eating weekend?  :)  Traditionally in Finland Midsummer is a weekend of relaxing with good friends by seashore or lake, but we decided this year to try something different and it was a very rewarding overall experience.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The KISS monster rolls through Finland

I have seen many unique artists live in my lifetime, including many bands that might be considered some of the greatest of all-time.  In spite of that, there are still a few bands that I need to check off the bucket list and KISS was one of those.  The band's storied career now spans 40 years since they started in the New York city club scene.  Say what you will about KISS and their music, there is perhaps no other band that is so hard working and determined to give their fans their money's worth during their live performances.   KISS put on quite a spectacle at Helsinki's Hartwall Arena on June 3rd.

Founding members Gene Simmons "The Demon" and Paul Stanley "Starchild" were joined by Tommy Thayer "Spaceman" on lead guitar and Eric Singer "Catman" on the drums. There has been much debate as to whether KISS should allow non-founding members to wear both Ace Frehley's "SpaceMan" and Peter Criss' "Catman" personas.  I don't think it should matter that much because much of the genius of the KISS machine is keeping the comic book character personas alive no matter who might be behind the makeup.  This is perhaps what makes KISS so interesting and I think putting on their black and white make-up was a brilliant career move considering it seems to hide the fact that both Gene and Paul are over 60 years old now.  :)

KISS rolled into Helsinki as part of their "Monster" tour.  Having never seen a live KISS show before, I had no idea what was in store for me. The band kicked off the night by being dropped down on a platform from the ceiling of the arena.  The stage extravaganza seemed to never let up as countless flames, fireworks, smoke and explosions filled the night. Gene Simmons did his patented blood spitting and even blew fire during the night. Paul Stanley flew through the air and Eric Singer's drum set was raised high in the air.   These rock dinosaurs' stage set was on steroids.  The music also lived up to the legend as they played most of their greatest hits including "I love it loud," "Deuce," "Heaven's on Fire," "Detroit Rock City" and many other favorites.  I was never a huge fan of their music to be honest, but I think their music has a place in the rock world and it sounds great live.  During their long career they have done rock, metal, pop, ballads and even disco.   I thought the Helsinki show was great and probably beyond my expectations for a bunch of guys in their 50s and 60s.  I think the big question that remains is when is the band going to retire for good.   Perhaps the KISS machine will continue with different reincarnations of members in full make-up playing the same characters?  I kind of find it hard for them to continue without any of the original founding members.  What happens in the future remains to be seen.

Helsinki setlist below:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Living in a land full of linguists

In the United States most children are not given a choice to begin studying a second language until high school.  Sure, English is the national language in the US, but doesn't it make sense to start exposing our children to more languages at an early age?  I have to admit that I do have some regret about not having been taught any additional languages in my early years.  I was not exposed to any other languages until I started learning Spanish during my sophomore year in high school.  There are proven studies that learning a second or third language is much more effective when it is started before age of 7 or 8.

In Finland, it is mandatory for all kids to start learning a second language in 3rd grade.  In elementary school, most children learn both English and Swedish (Finland's 2nd national language) as second and third languages, respectively.  The third language is usually started at the 7th grade, and many children elect to start a fourth language at 8th grade.  So, by the time most children graduate from high school they are usually fluent in 3 or more languages. Since they start taking these language classes when they are fairly young, they build a solid base and much of the learning is preserved.  It is much harder to learn and retain a language when you start much later in life.  I am amazed everyday at how easily people switch between languages.  In my workplace we have several people who speak English, Swedish and Finnish in their daily interactions and they don't struggle at all. I also have some co-workers who speak German, Spanish, French, Romanian and Dutch.

In the United States, educators and parents might think that there is no point in learning additional languages because our only official language is English, but I think they are missing the point. There is strong learning and growth in the brain when we study and pick up additional languages and that training has been proven to facilitate other areas of learning.  There are only positive benefits of learning additional languages, and I think many American educators and parents might be short-sighted in their way of thinking.  Hopefully, in the future things will change and there will be an increased acceptance of learning additional languages in the United States.  I know that Spanish is becoming increasingly more important to learn, especially in my home state of California.  They really should require a second language like Spanish or French in grammar school; I think the benefits would be priceless.

My son, who moved to Finland at age 5 has learned the difficult Finnish language fluently after just under one year of living here.  He had heard a little bit of Finnish as a child, but had never spoken a word before we moved to Finland.  We basically did the immersion method, just placing him in an all Finnish school.  The teachers were very good about first explaining things in English and then switching to Finnish.  But, after 7 or 8 months they no longer had to use any English and switched to only Finnish.  Knowing how difficult the Finnish language is, I was amazed how quickly he learned.  He is even twisting most of the words correctly and in Finnish they have approximately 15 different cases for nouns.  One neat thing is that if you learn 2 languages early enough you will not have an accent in any of the languages and they will both sound natural and native.   At age 5 the brain is a sponge absorbing everything that is thrown at it, and kids learn fast.  I am glad that he was able to have this experience of learning another language at a young age.