Monthly Archives: June 2012

Juhannus – Finnish Midsummer is special

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The midnight sun. Credit: YLE.

Last weekend we celebrated juhannus, the Finnish Midsummer. It’s an important party here in the Nordic countries, I would say the second after Christmas.

Our Midsummer traditions have pre-Christian origin. Like most of today’s Christian festivities, also Midsummer used to be a pagan holiday. The Christian faith then associated the date with the celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist. That’s practical.

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“Kokko” in Pispala, Tampere. Tens of people came to see the lighting of this bonfire waving Finnish flags. The weather was wonderful, too.

Anyway, some of the old traditions still go strong. For example the bonfires, kokko, which are burnt by the lake or the sea. We also get a couple of young birch trees and place them at the front door – with lots of flowers everywhere!

Midsummer is a night full of magic, so it’s the perfect time for performing some rituals like putting 7 flowers under your pillow for dreaming about your future husband or wife… mostly the tricks are for young maidens seeking suitors and fertility. Probably it’s a high time to update the rituals!

The true star of the party is the midnight sun. This time of the year, the night does not exist. And you don’t really feel like sleeping either, which is both good and bad, of course…

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It’s not midnight sun… but almost. Juhannus in the neighbourhood of Pispala, about 11pm.

During Midsummer, Helsinki becomes a desert city, as everyone heads for the countryside and the summer cottages. Even if every year there are more and more activities also here in the city for those who decide (or have to) stay.

As the idea of renting a cottage felt quite stressful, we chose a “a middle” plan and spent the Midsummer with my parents in Tampere. It’s quite a big city but as my parents live by the lake, it’s almost like being in a cottage (without thousands of mosquitos, which my boyfriend fiercely hates).

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The traditional “ball” grill, pallogrilli, for preparing “makkara”, the Finnish sausage. My parents have one just like this.

It was a perfect choice! My parents were happy and, as many music festivals are organized on the Midsummer, also near my parents’ place there was Pispala Festival that took place on the beach of a lake – with 20 bands performing during two days.

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Sauna inside a tent at Pispala Festival. Cool idea and even better as it’s only 10 meters away from the beach.

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Pispala Festival was organised for the first time this year – and it was a big success!

Pispala is the hippie-punk-alternative-bohemian neighbourhood in Tampere (still, even if there are more and more yuppies moving in) so the place has a vivid alternative culture scene. There’s also a 100-year old public sauna, Rajaportin sauna. I highly recommend it, if you ever go to Tampere!

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Finnish traditions include beating your friends with “vihta”, a bunch of birch boughs tied up in a special way. It’s good for your blood circulation! Credit: http://www.pispala.fi/rajaportinsauna/satavuotta/jutut.html

Barbacoa is the thing to eat for juhannus. My parent’s are not so much into barbacoa, so we only did it once with the typical Finnish makkara that has different flavours. Then we had sauna, where we beat each other with vihta (another tradition) and drank some beer. Well, we drank very little taken into account that heavy drinking is closely associated with juhannus. Actually it’s very sad, as every year we calculate the dead after the party is over. This year at least 15 people got killed, and most of the deaths were related to alcohol: traffic accidents, drowning in the sea or a lake, fires… I wish one day we would learn to drink a bit more moderately. Let’s see what happens the next juhannus…

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Finnish juhannus – theory and practise. There’s a point here, even if this year we had sunshine. 😉 Credit: Naurunappula.

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The Best Place to Work

Great Place to Work® just announced the 100 best workplaces in Europe in 2012. They have been making these lists since 2003 and this year more than 1.500 companies from 18 countries participated in the contest.

Multinational companies,  middle-sized and small companies have their own lists. The good news is that a Finnish company called Futurice gained the first prize in the category of small and middle-sized companies. What is so special in them? Or in general: what makes an excellent workplace?

I’ve been pondering this question a lot during the last couple of months, as I’ve been thinking of my future (working) life and where I’d like to see myself. I’ve also noticed quite a few things at my current and previous jobs that could be developed or done in another way – well, each and every workplace has its pros and cons.

The winning companies work in different fields but do have some common features. José Tolovi, Jr., Global Chairman of the Board, writes on the Great Place to Work® webpage that “despite the economic uncertainty in Europe, the 100 Best Workplaces lead the way in demonstrating that creating and maintaining a workplace culture based on trust is good for business.”
“What unites them is strong and visionary leadership and a commitment to creating the kind of workplace where employees trust the management, have pride in what they do and enjoy working with their colleagues. It is these motivated and dedicated employees who are more likely to support the organisation and help companies get through times of economic uncertainty.”

I certainly agree! Trust is the key issue – like in any relationship. Without trust there’s nothing. Talking with my friends about their work experiences, I would say in most of the workplaces the trust missing or at least is not on the level where it should be. The boss doesn’t trust his employees, who get frustrated and feel that they are treated like children. For return, they don’t trust the boss and think that he has bad intentions. This is where everything fails. If you’re not being trusted, you don’t feel ownership of the company and in the end nobody wants to take responsability of anything. And that’s really bad.

Futurice staff receiving the prize for the Best Workplace.

As to Futurice, sure the employees enjoy some special benefits there like having breakfast together once a week, a billiard board and, naturally, a sauna at the office. All these are nice examples of taking the employee’s wellbeing seriously, but of course the true reasons of success lie behind the surface.

One Futurice employee comments that important aspects are the open culture and that you don’t have to be a boss to be able to influence in things. Another employee says that the company has a great spirit of doing things. Sure: things get done fast when you have motivated workers!

Openness, innovatiness, love. For Futurice these 3 things are considered essential for leading a company. Sounds good to me.

In a good workplace people work because they want to and because they feel appreciated, not to please the boss. (Ok, maybe occasionally…)

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At a Spanish wedding – Where’s the crisis?

This weekend I’ve been feeling so lazy. Luckily today I got an excuse to stay at the sofa, write and listen to music – thank you, heavy rain.

I also checked the photos I took at the wedding we attended in Spain earlier this week. My boyfriend’s little brother got married in their hometown, Albacete in Castilla-la-Mancha. Our brief visit of 5 days (2 of them travelling) included eating, drinking and meeting lots of family!

This was the first time I attended a wedding in Spain – or abroad. My Finnish friends are not of a marrying kind either, nor myself, so I didn’t know what to wait for.

Spain, with its serious economic problems and unemployment rate of 25% (the rate of young people is a terrifying over 50%!) have filled the headlines also in Finland. So I expected to hear a lot about “la crisis”. I was wrong. Luckily most of my boyfriend’s friends and family are working, so things don’t seem that bad. Still, at some point all the conversations led to the crisis and I could sense that people were very worried about the future.

Some kids hanging on the stairs of the cathedral before the wedding.

In this context, the wedding seemed overwhelming. More than 150 guests gathered at the big cathedral of the city in the evening, dressed up in a fancy way… I heard this is typical for Spanish weddings, while the Finnish ones tend to be a bit more humble. Inside the church the Mexican Catholic priest gave us a long discourse on the marriage and love, the rings were exchanged and the soprano and pianist performed some nice tunes (to keep the audience awake, maybe? 😉

The young happy couple in the process of getting married. The proud parents stand behind. Symbolically, the mother of the groom and the father of the pride.

All in all, the service was quite similar to Finland, which makes me think how globalised we are – or probably it’s the Christian religion with its codes. “Luckily” some details where new. For example, the bride and the groom exchanged coins -as a symbol of sharing their goods! For me, this seemed a little strange even if the marriage is (also) a financial agreement.

After the ceremony, we continued to a restaurant nearby – and started eating! This continued till’ morning and I lost count of the dishes after 10… amazing! Before I thought that we eat a lot in Finnish weddings, but now I know that would be just the tapas. I have no clue how people were able to digest all that food. I had to leave almost half, which was a big pity, as everything was delicious: fine salads, patés, seafood, fish, meat of many kinds… and 3 desserts, of course. After eating it felt good to dance a bit and drink a couple of digestive gin tonics from the free bar. At 6am we went to sleep, but naturally the party went on.

My favourite dish at the wedding – I love seafood and this was of excellent quality.

Next day we continued the eating, drinking and family reunion at the summer house, where more than 50 persons gathered. We enjoyed tapas: an entire jamón serrano and a huge manchego cheese followed by paella and gazpacho manchego. The mother of my boyfriend was a bit upset as people didn’t eat enough – after eating all night and day – in the end more than half of the paella had to be thrown away.

Fruit dessert with special effects.

I always feel very bad when food is wasted, and we talked about this with the family. We asked, why there has to be so me much food then, if everyone knows beforehand that nobody is able to eat it? The answer was that it’s the tradition. As in many countries, it’s important to show that there is a lot of food and things are fine – especially now, when there’s the shadow of the crisis cast over. Anyway, I hope this attitude will change, little by little – at least my boyfriend is now very conscious and doesn’t approve throwing away food.

An entire ham, jamón serrano, was cut and served in front of us. It’s a special process.

This might not look like gazpacho as we know it, but sure it is! It’s gazpacho à la Castilla-la-Mancha with different kinds of meats.

An excellent seafood paella prepared by a bar nearby, it just fit in the car… Unfortunately everyone was too full when the plate arrived.

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One of my favourite spots which I pass by when I go running near home. This morning everything looked so pretty with the sun, sea and the green trees.

This Saturday we have excellent weather here in Helsinki. Once again I understood how amazingly appealing the city can be when it wants to… I slept well, went for a morning run and in the afternoon my aunt and the family of my cousin came for a visit and we enjoyed (too much) ice cream and talked about our lives. My cousins live in Charlottesville, Washington D.C., so I see them very rarely. Luckily now they’ll spend a whole year here in Helsinki.

Talking about this and that my aunt suddenly asked me the question:

– Do you like your work?

– No, I answered – with an emphasis.

Before thinking about it, my lips had spoken. Then I started with all the explications: well, of course it’s not that bad, my colleagues are really nice and the subject in itself is very interesting, as we’re working for a better world in the NGO… It’s just the feeling that my job description does not match what I would be able to do. I feel that days pass by while doing a bit of this and that but I’m never able to engage myself thoroughly in anything. My tasks are too fragmented.

I loved the answer of my aunt: “Well, then it’s time to change”, she said placidly and then we moved on to other subjects.

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Change. It seems so simple and so many people are changing their lives all the time. So what holds me back?

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” 
― Albert Einstein

I guess my problem is typical: I don’t know what I want. More or less yes, but not in detail. For a half a year now, I’ve been pondering a lot on what I really want from life. Not easy. However, every day I get more and more convinced that, even if there’s nothing wrong with my work or with my life, I really need to react as soon as possible. Otherwise days, months and years pass by while I’m doing something that’s “ok” but not “amazing”.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” 
― Lewis Carroll

Many of my friends have similar feelings this spring, so we’ve discussed the subject a lot. Everyone has a different situation but in the end it’s all about the same things. Change. I just read 10 signs it’s time to change your job I found, and I don’t fill all of them. However, many things are valid for me too, and this is only one list.

For example I know I’m not performing to the best of my ability. I’d love to do more meaningful things. I also need to get challenged a bit – with myself. Yesterday I met a friend, who also knows my colleagues, and someone had commented that I don’t seem that enthusiastic anymore at work as in the beginning. That is true, unfortunately. I never want to become cynical.

I have also looked for ways to improve the current situation but our organisation isn’t that big and there is quite a strong culture of doing things in a certain way – like in many places. So, change tends to be slow…

Sometimes I also feel that I can’t get enough positive reinforcement to keep my spirits up. This is a typical problem in Finland – lack of positive feedback. They say that everything goes well when nobody says anything.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, here I am home alone on a Saturday evening pondering on my life and my future. Actually I’m feeling positive and peaceful, as I know the change will come and that it will be for better. These days I’ve had the necessity to spend some time with myself and my thoughts, while normally I’m a very sociable people and spend most of my free time accompanied. Now, I feel that for being able to implement wise changes in one’s life you need to stop, think a lot, imagine the future you want, make lists, mind maps or whatever. Then, some unexpected moment The Change is there and you’ll be ready for it – either it comes to you or you have found it as you knew where to look for…

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” 
― Anaïs Nin

PS: I’ve been also reading a lot of quotes on life and change, as I like this form of concise expression (being un impatient person) and I get many inspiring ideas there. So, here I share a few.

“These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” 
― Robert Frost

Change – what a wonderful word

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Home Alone. How to Make Yourself Happy?

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This is how my poor phone looked like this morning…

At 6am this morning I became widowed by football for a week, as my boyfriend headed for Gdansk, Poland, to follow the European Championships.

Mostly for sleeping badly, I’ve been tired all day and the first thing I did when I arrived at the office was to throw my iPhone to the floor so that the front glass broke.

And that was only the start. As the hours passed, my bad mood got worse. My boss seemed a bit negative to my ideas and I had only boring things on my to-do list. I felt so frustrated that I even surfed the web in search of The Perfect Job waiting for me. Well, I found nothing but still: it always makes me feel a bit better to realize that there are other jobs out there and I won’t be stuck in this office for the rest of my life. Well, hopefully not in any office. But still, I get very impatient when I get the urge to move on and feeling that my capacities are getting wasted in what I do.

Anyway, in the end breaking my mobile phone turned out to be the best thing of today. It gave me an excuse to leave the office early and take the metro till Itäkeskus, a big shopping centre and a suburb around it in Eastern Helsinki. My friends told me that there I’d find the fastest and cheapest place for repairing iPhones, iTapsa. And it truly was an excellent experience! My bad mood was wiped away when I stepped in a little room in a “hotel of offices” where this young guy smiled at me and said encouragingly: “it will take only half an hour”. As an extra, I got a new yellow cover for my phone. Pretty.

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Itäkeskus – a multicultural and a bit rusty shopping centre in Eastern Helsinki. Worth a visit, definitely. Credit: Wikipedia.

After that I checked out the shopping centre. I hardly ever go there as I live in the centre – It’s amazing how fast one gets stuck in the same quarters. Well, Itäkeskus, “Itis,” is a multicultural place full of life and people from all corners – like a mini-visit abroad.

This afternoon I also went running, as the weather was perfect – finally! Normally I can only run for 30 mins but today I run around for an hour! I felt proud when resting a moment by the sea in the new suburb Jätkäsaari. For now it’s a huge construction site – and I love it! I have a special feeling for abandoned wastelands… do idea why, maybe they make me feel free.

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Jätkäsaari under construction. I love to run around here at the construction site by the sea. Credit: Helsingin Sanomat.

After the run I went to the sauna of our building, alone. It felt so relaxing and I threw a lot of water to the hot stones enjoying the almost +100C.

A glass of wine after the sauna culminated the evening. And now… I’m watching football! Spain against Ireland, and Spain shall win. I was begged to check out the match and try to spot my boyfriend and his friends in the audience… an impossible task.

Well, what I learned today was that a good trick to enlighten any bad day is to do something completely new and unexpected. Even a small thing. Like taking the metro / bus to a new suburb and wonder around among strangers.

Another well-known trick is to do some physical exercise. The third one is to enjoy a glass of good red wine and the fourth… of course the sauna. All this really works. Now I’m smiling, even if this morning I felt like crying for all the frustration and my broken phone.

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Our tiny Urban Agriculture project makes me happy, too – our basilica growing on the window. The photo is a bit old, today the plants are a lot bigger!

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… and our amazing orchideas make me smile daily! They’ve been blooming for months already and it’s a little miracle for the little care we offer them…

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Finnish summer: “short and with little snow”

The last 5 days I’ve was in Spain, mostly very involved in the wedding celebrations of my boyfriend’s little brother. This was the first time I attended a wedding abroad – or anywhere for many years, as my friends here in Finland don’t seem established or at least willing to get married… or if someone does, they do it in secret or in a humble way.

Well, this Spanish wedding was anything but small and humble. What mostly struck me was the amazing amount of food we were offered – all the time. Anyway, more about this experience later as now I’m back in Helsinki. And at work, unfortunately. However, you always appreciate what you have at home more when you go away – even if only for 5 days.

When we returned to Helsinki-Vantaa airport last night at 11pm, the sun was still up, the green of the trees had got a deeper tone and I felt that finally summer is about to arrive here in the North. So far it’s been cold and rainy, and I’ve been feeling a bit down – no wonder, as we Finns spend all those cold months waiting for the summer to come and when it doesn’t arrive the way it should, well, that’s just depressing. A couple of days ago in Sweden the temperature went even lower than during last Christmas Eve. No, no, no.

But now there is hope. Today we had lunch outside with my colleagues (even if the wind was chilly) and after work we went with my boyfriend to enjoy an ice cream by the sea in Kaivopuisto. That was OK too, if you avoided the cold shadows.

Helsinki West Harbour seen from the top of a building – actually from our post office in the new suburb of Jätkäsaari. I never knew there was a terrace with a view up there, till we decided to climb up today.

Baana, thw new recreational zone of Helsinki, was opened yesterday. It looks great and the best thing is that it’s only a couple of minutes from home.

The most positive surprise of today was Baana, a big recreational zone and bicycle route opened yeasterday. It’s built on an old abandoned railway track that crosses the centre of Helsinki, which gives the place a special touch.

I feel Baana is the best thing the city of Helsinki has created for its people in a long time! Today I got even emotional as I saw Baana filled with people enjoying the sun and the new facilities with their bikes or playing petanque, ping pong or basketball, practicing their long board skills or having a picnic. Thank you, Helsinki!

Luckily Baana is not the only example of a new “more open and human Helsinki” that I feel is slowly surging out there… Thanks to many active citizens who have created projects such as the delicious Restaurant Day or the popular Urban Agriculture project (kaupunkiviljely) started up by an organisation called Dodo. For me, this new Helsinki means inclusive, free and creative things that make our city a better place to live. The most important thing is to create the feeling of ownership and offer some free space to the people – after that anything is possible.

Urban agriculture means that farming comes where the people are – making us aware of where our food comes from and making our lives a bit happier taking care of these little gardens. Credit: Kaupunkiviljely.fi.

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