Category Archives: My thoughts

Keep it real, my journey, idea, goals, dreams, hurdles, pain, success, opportunity, faith

My life changed today

Who knew that a simple accident would cause such profound consequences and just 4 days ago I thought it was just a simple problem. Yep it was then that I fell, slipped in the mud, heard a snap, cried out in pain, and limped back up to a supposed “sprained ankle”. After returning to my hometown, after 3 long days of international travel, I realized today that my bone was broken.

Now it was not excruciating pain 4 days ago, it was an inconvenience. I hobbled around, packed my bags, rumbled through airports, arose early, went to bed late and finally returned home this AM and I knew what I needed to do first.

To get my ankle checked out. Since I was a hobbler, I needed to know the truth, to be set free, sorta.

The “snap” was bugging me, and I thought many times that was just a twig, my pants, anything but that “crack” sound in my brain. So here I sit, temp cast place, waiting for the next update and maybe stronger cast. I have lots to think about.

Driving, eating, cooking, sleeping, bathroom breaks, work, travel or not, dressing up, or down. Now I’m a bit tired trying to adjust to this time zone and get back to normal, but that seems so far off now.

Trapped in PC

I am passing through Denver and saw this sign for beef jerky in the airport. I thought surely someone will be offended by the name of that.  It kinda goes along with my trapped feelings. 

PC, or politically correct, is how we function mostly these days. Not wanting to offend anyone with our words and actions yet we are offered “Freedom of Speech”.  Our world is becoming too complex on the fine line between right and wrong, black and white, strait or gay, and yet within those boundaries,  shades of grey creep in. 

How did we get here? I think technology has played a major role in this. Instant updates in the news. Seeing violence live, videoed by someone. 

 I do some public speaking for my job and I enjoy it but I find myself having to couch thoughts and phrases differently than I did 20 years ago. Who is my audience, what’s the right message, what do I want them going home with?  I find it more difficult now especially with the recent police officer killings in Dallas that there is an under current. 

The under current being the debate about Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, debacle. The racial injustices are just that, injustices. It can be injustice in any direction, white, black, gay, rich, poor. Discussions and feelings are at an all time high on the message boards. 

Unfortunately the focus just seems to be about Black Lives Matter  and that’s where my trapped feelings lay. We’re no longer free to share our opinions. If you speak out against Black Lives Matter, then you are labeled a racist. If you don’t hit “like” and “share” you obviously don’t understand what’s a stake. And if you are not black then you definitely  have not witnessed racism or injustice. I get it, I don’t have to be black to understand this. But this isn’t just about one race. That’s my point!

President Obama shared today from Warsaw that he wants to have a committee to have open dialogue and how to address change. The problem is open dialogue is being drowned out in the debate of being politically correct. 

Real change doesn’t take place without real honesty and difficult words and dialogue and discussion and compromise. All factors of which are being lost in today’s society sadly. 

I find myself avoiding conversations and posts because of how I will be perceived for sharing an opinion that may not even be mine, yet I will suffer the consequences. Persecution has existed since the beginning of time, and will last until the end. I’m not sure how to untrap myself.  Maybe I’ll just eat some Climax Jerky and move on. 

A new kind of shopping

I’m visiting the “Garden State” this week and I bumped into a Shop Rite in Morristown, NJ, and drove by once and discounted it as a place to visit but I decided to go in, and what a surprise! Great food bars, wine, liquor and almost super Walmart like but upscale. It even offered lox bites, gelato, live lobsters, fresh smoothies and of course lotto. I guess you really can’t judge a store by how it looks from the outside or its name…..I think I’m going to visit it every day while I am here.  


My epic vacation to Finland Chapter 5

Wednesday, 15 of July in Kuovola
Another big day and another switch, this time, by train to Kesälahti. I had items to ship home, so after breakfast I visited the post office and mail my post cards. I boarded the train late morning for a two hour trip to Kesälahti
I bungled with my large piece of luggage by the door as we asked a conductor what to do with it. As he came to scan my ticket I asked if where I placed my luggage (by the door) was okay, he said it was fine. It didn’t really block the door, just made it more narrow. Taking the train in Finland doesn’t allow for many bags and certainly not any large bags. The trains these days in Finland are large and fast. 110 KM per hour. Smooth riding with WiFi and power plugs in every seat. You have reserved seats or so I think. My seat by the window was facing backward. I didn’t think I would like it, but the train was smooth and I hardly noticed the direction of travel. I had a seat mate most of the trip, but he bounced from seat to seat, only to be booted because of a reserve ticket. Maybe I should get an isle seat next time, easier to move around. One guy looked at me weird when I said my seat was next to him, he had quite the luggage, a backpack, a fishing rod and plenty to carry and I thought I had a lot to carry :-).

The trip was fast and on my next to last stop, we waited for an extra 5 minutes. The conductor said we may have delays due to construction. I arrived 5 minutes late to Kesälahti and A&J were waiting there for me. It truly was in the middle of the forest with just a few cars in the lot and no working buiding. 
When we arrived to my cousins cottage in Kesälahti, I was shown the three places I could sleep. The main bedroom, I could double up on mattresses, the attic, which was quite cool in the summer but also had bug netting because it was open to the outside, or the sauna bedroom, close to the water, beautiful I am sure, but a long way from the outhouse. Yes the outhouse. Many sauna cottages had outhouses, and quite common I think in other remote area, national parks for example. I chose the first room, where I could add a mattress, and extra window coverings to help with the brightness of the night. I was a lovely room, 3 bunks, as this family had many children and grandchildren to deal with.  
I have never been to this cottage in Kesälahti that I could remember. Close to a busy highway, but along a beautiful lake, one of the prettiest locations. A cottage built in the 50’s was in log cabin style wood construction, which seems quite common and as I have observed shows up everywhere. We enjoyed a late lunch since I arrived about 2pm. It was with smoked salmon, broccoli and new potatoes with a sour cream and chive sauce, and salad. I have taking a picture of almost every meal to help me remember the wonderful offerings. Soon after we enjoyed a delicious strawberry and blueberry cake. Really good!  

After we sent walking in the woods. I asked J if I should take my camera, he said it was just the woods. We would be looking for berries. After what seemed a KM or 2, we found a hill and walked down to locate blueberries or maybe cloudberries. As it turns out we were looking for both but the blueberries were not ready yet, but the cloudberries were a bit ripe, a few that we picked were at least. What a beautiful location next to a wonderful lake. So peaceful, delightful, romantic in a way, especially if I was with a partner. The moss comforted our backs though we laid on our jackets, taking random funny pictures, as we sit there discussing do we continue to sit or do we search for berries, which was our mission. I proclaim my shoes are waterproof and charge on. I learn that my shoes are NOT waterproof, probably resistant, but I press on.  
My original score of cloudberries is not so much but I’m not going to let a few berries keep me down, I become more adventurous and seek the prize. A berry is bright red when not ripe and looks similar to a raspberry. When ripe, it is a muddy yellow, and quite the prize when collected. We collected about a pint of the berries in about 30 minutes. We returned home after and sauna was in our near future and what a wonderful lake to enjoy.  
J had prepared the sauna and it was ready for me. We noticed a fisherman on the lake but that would not impede our dip into the water after the sauna. The sauna was good, with plenty of spoonfuls of water onto the stones. The rising steam envelopes ones body in gushing heat. Some enjoy the rising temperature others like the temp to stay where is. I am sure there is a science to it, I’ll need to learn with more practice. I decided that I would be aggressive this time with 2 times in the sauna and jumping into the lake or in this case wading in and feeling the chill at my ankles wondering if I am going any further. I do, I plunge in and briefly swim in the very cool water. Its difficult to describe the feeling of sweltering hot and instant ice cold water but it’s vaguely like walking through a fountain of water on a hot day. Better to be described by walking through a waterfall, if that were possible. 
J also prepared the fire for dinner makkara (sausage). Also with the dinner was veggies in foil. We spoke that this was perfected by one of their daughters. It was a great camping feel to the experience. The cottage was by a busy road and on occasion you could hear the cars. I was mostly immune to the noise and enjoyed my visit there very much! The sun was setting and it was quite beautiful! It actually does not set but drops below the horizon for a bit and then rises all too quickly again. I reached out to a friend by messenger, I wanted her address so I could write a postcard. I felt this was a good way to maintain friendships from across the sea.

Thursday, July 16 I am still staying in Kesälahti but we headed to Punkaharju for most of the day, the hometown of my cousin and her siblings. Most of them I have visited during this trip so I was very interested to visit. I think I may have visited this location before, many years ago. We stopped by the original home, in a different condition now, and there was a man in the driveway. J got out of the car to my cousin’s dismay and walked up to the man to introduce himself and our cause. 
To our surprise, he agreed to show us the house, impromptu and I am sure not ready for any guests. We saw the barn and inside the barn door was our family name on a small strip of paper adhered to the door, almost like a slip of ownership by a previous residence. Pekka had owned the home and property for 7 years and has renovated the property some degree. I’m not sure how much but was very nice. He had a mini Mercedes outside with a trailer and it his summer cottage was nicely appointed. He was an architect in a town 120 KM from Punkaharju.

My cousin saw her birth-room, in the corner of the home, the log walls exposed. The old home had many rooms and windows. This one was more conservative but large lovely homes. The owners wife was quite attractive and welcoming to us as well. I was surprised that they just let us come in, unknown, other than our family name. My cousin took many pictures as she has not been inside since their father left the home in the 50’s. Our last stop at this property was the lake where she swam in the summer, the old sauna long gone and a new one, much smaller, close to the water was in place. She remembers the bonfires for midsummer in the same location. This was some epic visit for my cousin.

We next visited the gravesite of my uncle, her father. We paused for a moment in reflection. The graveyard was near her school, which has a newer school now, but same location. “A” decided to take the old trail back to her car, much the same way she traveled when she was younger. I think she has taken it before.
We also stopped at these bunkers that were made for the civil war, quite interesting as they were on a hill overlooking a bay. A good position but as it turns out, never used. They were recently renovated to the original fortification. It was an interesting stop on our trip. On our way to Savolinna, we stopped at one of the oldest hotels in Finland, if not the oldest, the Punkharjun Valtionhotelli. 
This was the location for lunch but we were early and they were not quite ready for the noon meal. It was totally worth waiting for. Split pea soup so delicious that I could eat that every day, a salad buffet of regular salad fare but also new potatoes, wild mushroom salad, Finnish Coleslaw, salmon, cucumbers in vinegar, some great breads and tea, coffee, etc. The bread was fantastic, The main meal was some sort of country fried veal? The coating was burned and not that good and the inside was white so maybe pork but def not chicken. It also held the dessert bar, with a unnipannukakku, strawberry jam and some whip cream. I offered to pay and what turned down, as I had many times during this trip! All my relatives have behaved the same way. I am grateful.
Olavinlinna Castle was our premier stop, we were planning to participate in the 2pm English tour. I had visited 30 years before but don’t remember anything from that trip. This time it was more meaningful, much more recollection this time. We visited during the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival, quite famous now, and the courtyard was set up for an opera. The towers are what draw the interest, as one of Finland’s oldest castles. Over 85,000 guests visit annually. With beautiful surroundings, this was a fantastic place to visit. There is so much to see in Finland that I have not seen yet. As it turns out we climbed 15 floors in the castle. 
There was a new ship museum and we went to go see that. Kind of interesting inside but the gem were the ships outside. Well I thought they were until we boarded and basically just metal and seating area, no engine, no machine, just observation.
It was time for coffee and we visited one of their favorite nearby location just off the beaten path. They had a very visually stunning Key Lime cheesecake. It turned out to be quite good. During this break, which was needed, and I needed water. “A” had a chance to speak with my next cousin at my next stop to make arrangements as we were going to travel there by car the next day. I spoke to my other cousin on the way back home and we agreed to call in the next few days to confirm arrival to her location too. Once we got back home, I rested for a bit, maybe too long. Anyway I washed up with the warm water in the sauna. After we had a chance to chat with my mother. 
We had some smoked salmon again and finished off the strawberry cake. “A” asked me to write in their guestbook, like all guests do, to document their visit. I was honored to do so. it was an emotional letter to them, thanking them for their hospitality. “A’s” husband has a great way of showing love for his wife. Very moving and hopefully an example for their children who saw such an example. I later practiced using my selfie stick, this was just such a beautiful place to be and to enjoy life. That night was my time to repack again and to write 12 postcards. As it turns out I walked over 10,000 steps during our day. 
Friday, July 17, my next transition day. 
All this time and I never knew “A” was having tea in the AM. I would have as I am dealing with this tickle in my throat that I have had since Kotka. Not sure if I rec’d it during my visit to Horse Island but that is when I started to notice it for sure. So we had Rooibus tea during breakfast and cloudberries with yogurt. After breakfast I was all packed and I had the room straitened up. We packed the car and -off and away we went to Mikkeli. I didn’t really know the arrangements and as it turned out we were just heading to Mikkeli to get some items done. We listened a bit to classical music, news etc. It was a cloudy rainy day, most of the day. When we were 22 km from Mikkeli we stopped at a famous bread store and buffet. 
I don’t remember the name of it, but it was good. A good hamburger with mushroom sauce, a very good bread selection and salad. Very good dessert too and quite tasty food. We arrived to Mikkeli and it was offered that I could rest, which I took up. I also looked at some albums from recent trips. I have taken hundreds of pictures and none to show of my travels, times, my history. All I will have is journals if accessed and maybe photos. As it turns out there were some pictures from my dad that I took copies of and shared with the sibs. We were in Mikkeli for about 2 hours. Then it was time to go. As it turns out I think we were expected in Hankasalmi at 4pm. I did not recognize the home so I called T to find out if I was in the right place. Yes, yes!
Hankasalmi- Friday, July 17 at my next destination 4:00PM

We were a few minutes early, she was not ready, but enjoyed the flowers we bought on the way that were for her! I was showed where my room was, where the laundry was, so I could do mine, and the common areas. It was coffee time! Well one of the most refreshing drinks is Rhubarb juice. Quite yummy! It’s clear and in this case mixed with fizzy water. We also enjoyed rhubarb pie with vanilla cream sauce on top. We needed to depart to have pizza for dinner before the show. I said my goodbye’s to my former hosts and walked them to the door. As soon as they left we were good to get going. We cleaned up quickly and then we were off. We had a music festival to get to. It was by the train station and was called Kihveli Soikoon Festival. It has operated for 20 years. I bought 2 CDs from some great groups that were at the festival, my favorite that I am looking forwards to hearing the most later is Petteri. What a great performer. 
Of course I needed to finish drying my laundry and found a snack when I got back home. I had the whole house to myself since my hosts were staying at the cottage, and had limited room. After a little TV it was time for sleep.

Saturday, July 18- Hankasalmi
My hosts left me some breakfast items and surprisingly no fish. I think I have had salmon almost every day. It was a good break and I cut the cucumbers my way, lol event the tomatoes. It was the first time that I had been on my own for breakfast other than Poland. I packed a few things for the day and we visited my cousin’s mother for a quick visit. My cousin wanted her to get some walking in. She had hip surgery and needed to be moving around more and that should have been the job of those that are caring for her, but it became the job of my cousin. Its an all to familiar situation that takes place in too many places, but that shall be for a different place and blog, lol.
After that short visit, we visited a local flea market to check out the possibilities. As it turns out, the goods were good and we packed a few gifts for the road. Funny that I actually found a shirt my size, that looked like it was from FL, so I got it, as a memento from Finland. The town market was quite small and my cousin wanted to look at some old tools, as he is quite interested in that stuff. While there I tried some fresh fish, very small, with bones, eyes, etc. A local delicacy. While I was having the sample my cousin was speaking to a local man. As it turns out, this Matti guy, was familiar with my mother’s family. I was surprised how much he knew and who he knew. For some reason, I think he may have been to FL once or twice. He knew Uncle J and it seems these days everyone knows Uncle J, lol. Last week he was on a local TV show and this week, someone else knows him too.
We needed to buy tickets again for the show on Sunday, so we visited the train station to get those, and it’s also a place where I bought a few more shirts, this time somewhat matching shirts for Mark and I. Since I had to use cash, I was finally running out of euros and needed to visit an ATM. We found it and shouted “Praise the Lord” as we got $ from a busy ATM. We headed home for some lunch. 

Lunch was yogurt and museli, rhubarb juice too, a banana and they wanted to know what I would like to do. I said “rest” and that was good for them too as they had a few things to do around the cottage, there is always something to do there. After I rested it was time for something. I agreed to do some rowing to try to capture a picture that I had been waiting for. As it turns out, I could not get a clear picture, like the one I wanted. So we needed to row back, or rather that I needed to. I had my cousin take a few pictures of me rowing, but I have not checked the pictures, lol.
So when my cousin was available, I wanted to hike to the cabin. He was an expert of the forest, and knew right where to go. We saw the sauna and I snapped many pictures, hopefully I will have one that I can use. In my process I stepped into an red ant hill, ouch! My cousin suggested that I step into water to drown them. as it turns out, a correct move.
Sauna was available and quite good. The sauna room large, with plenty of seats and of course our Oak Vastas we made earlier in the day. I went several times to the lake, cool springs and all. Dinner was comprised of yummy meatballs, new potatoes, salad with balsamic vinegar and wine. For dessert we enjoyed this creme fresh with a rhubarb soup or more like a jello type consistency.
My 3rd cousin purchased my train ticket to VR for me online since my access was rather slow. We went to an outdoor show, a play, that has been in continuous service for many years. My cousin tried to keep me updated in English and I understood the jist of the play a comedy. This play occurred rain or shine and in our case both took place. Finland has had plenty of rain during my visit. After the play the evening snack was tea, grapes, bread, cheese and meats, to tide us over to the next day. They drove me home so that I could pack and sleep, as Sunday the 19th was a full day, and headed for Tampere.

My epic vacation to Finland Chapt 4

On Sunday, July 12th, I arrived to Marinkyla, the home town of my Aunt and her children, my cousins. This has been a special place for me as I remember my last visit with fondness and remember speaking with my aunt about my father’s life and home. She has since passed away in 2013. This homestead is still a farm of forests and working fields. Several old buildings and a large 2 story home, filled with artifacts and memories. I was also sad to learn of one of my cousins passing in recently in Switzerland. Life is passing too quickly these days.

My oldest cousin knitted some socks for me and they have come in quite handy, surviving the cool night and being used during the day too. 
I needed to get flowers for both of my cousins and was able to do so at the local food store, no problem even for a Sunday. Upon arrival we enjoyed the typical fare of pulla, cookies, sour cheese pie and coffee for those that like it :-). I don’t drink coffee so I usually have juice of some kind.
I called my mom so that my relatives could speak to her in the native tongue and catch up quickly before my last hosts departed. After the call and a few more well wishes they did depart and I stayed with my new hosts.
We had a champagne toast, which was a nice touch ( something to think about when I have parties). We visited the old town of Stromfors, where my father was born and the grave site of my aunt. We also visited the local church where my father was baptized. Good memories here.
After returning home it wasn’t long before we were having dinner of moose, “old” potatoes, gravy- which was excellent and salad. After that was a great strawberry pie, all homemade of course. I took a quick nap for about an hour, only to get up to watch TV, The Tango King.
We did step out for a quick walk around the property and some wine. Good wine! I went to bed earlier and the bed was comfy, but I still needed to devise a contraption to cover my eyes from the near constant daylight. Land of the midnight sun!
Monday, July 13- Marinkyla

Breakfast has been a smorgasbord of food. Bread, butter, cukes, cheese, meat, yogurt, strawberry/ rhubarb mixture, coffee, juice, etc. There is always too much and is often the same delights, which are all quite good.
We went on a walk again today, to the sea, to look at the forest and look for mushrooms and berries. Its been too cold for blueberries but some of the smaller wild strawberries are ready to eat.
We chatted about many things, a vision for the new sauna and location, new spa location, who will take over the farm, all the work to be done, new windows on the front, and the Pori Jazz festival. 
For lunch we enjoyed sweet potato soup. It was very good! Really good with one dollop of cottage cheese on it.
Its been hard for me to keep track of the days and not so much of time, but now I am on the backside of my trip….
R and T have planted young trees, a new breed, that may grow more resilient though not sure if quicker. As they harvest they need to replant, I assume within two years. We saw some lumber that should have been collected from the last harvest.
Also visiting was my 2nd cousin from Helsinki, this was my first time meeting him. He was a bit shy with English. His girlfriend was a bit more friendly that way. He had met his girlfriend in Thailand, how sweet is that!
Who’ll take over, that is the thought on my cousin’s mind. As they grow older and the next generation is not interested in the historical aspects of the family farm, what now, or what next?That’s the issue about “Who” will take over, in this “me” generation, and the all about me scenario, we do have much to worry about who will be next.


As we asked each other questions to make up for lost time wee spoke about her mother. It was sweet to know that my aunt kept every one of my fathers letters to her. I saw the ’73 notice of my oldest brothers HS graduation and a note from my sister. It’s all old school but it shows what was important to whom, when.  
The switch came faster for me to move on than I expected probably because I was napping, but it does take place during the afternoon of the 13th . My next cousin arrived and we proceeded to have coffee and strawberry cake.
We drove by car to Kuovola, not too far away and plenty of fields to see, forests to view and on occasion a lake or river. Before we reached “home” I stopped at a florist for my traditional flowers, this time red roses, as I knew my host enjoyed red, red everything. After arriving and getting settled, seeing my room, getting some things in order it was time to eat.
We enjoyed chicken and rice for dinner, the first time I had chicken in Finland, a nice change. Of course salad with cukes, honey dew and feta. A delicious change of pace. Its the new home that I had reached, a new flat, row home with little yard to contend with and a very small individual garden. It was very close to town, walking distance was also the railway. 
Once we finished dinner, it was time to relax with lots of updates on the family, who was who, health, travels. I was surprised that my host had DVR’d a show that was about my hometown church and it’s pastor, to my surprise, I saw my aunt and uncle. I had to take a picture as proof, as I do with most things these days and shared with my relatives that my uncle again was famous. There had been an earlier show the last time I visited that showed pictures of him, just lucky I guess. Maybe I am famous by association! 
The land of the midnight sun makes it difficult for me to sleep. Most rooms do not have dark shades and eye shades are uncomfortable. I slept poorly but waking to revelations that some of my friends were finally receiving post cards from Krakow. It was nice to hear from some that they appreciated them.
Tuesday, 14th of July now in Kuovola

Breakfast was again standard fare, shared slightly different but all very good! Hot tea, museli, yogurt, meats, cheese, rye bread, butter, juice, strawberries, honeydew, water, all very filling.
The agenda for the day was Elimaki, the hometown of my grandparents on my fathers side. We visited the old church built in the 1600’s, it was restored well with help from the community and showed some interesting aspects I have not seen in other churches. Sketching on the walls around the windows and doors that were part of the original church were only rediscovered in 1960 when renovations were taking place. 
We also visited a simulated village with restored buildings and tools and crafts from the late 1800’s, during which time my grandparents were there. A cute lady was our guide who offered insight to the artifacts and the history. She was very pleasant and very helpful. I inquired if she was interested in visiting the USA, she said she was more interested in going to Canada for the aboriginal populations. She said she was not on FB that I could look her up on ReindeerArt on Etsy, she has many buyers from US. We were soon on our way to the next point of interest. 
We stopped for lunch at a place that was by the river, S likes to stay busy with walks, hikes, etc. and I appreciate that about him. The local lunch was a smorgasbord, with much to choose from as well as home made beer. It was a good filling lunch. The highlight of the stop was a local outlet store a brand similar to Iitala with its own brand of home-goods. Good enough that I spent 75 euros there :0). Some gifts for everyone, even when I try to save $, I am still thinking of my friends and family. 
Dinner at home was Moose stew cooked in Red Wine, with onions, and broth. Mashed potatoes, broccoli, salad- tomato with mozzarella and pesto. It was very good. Dessert was ice cream with cloud berries. A delight in Finland.
Then it was time for packing or re-packing in my case. combine two bags into one. I had done it for my way over here and to Poland, and I thought it would be easier for the train, which has proven to be true. I also had 10 more post cards to write, realizing that I had some friends not on my list that I should have had. By the time I was ready for bed it was almost 1 AM. 

Musings from my epic vacation Pt. 2

I arrived in Pornainen on 8th of July to my next hosts. It is a small farming town with many fields of barley and rye, perhaps other crops, some cows and apparently a well known 36 hole golf course. I don’t golf but I learned about the 2- 18 hole golf courses amongst the fields. I wondered whether or not the fields were more stable in $ or was the golf course self sufficient, since playing golf only lasts for several months; June- August. Perhaps the same amount of time that crops are able to grow, but crops have 20 hours of growth vs. ? how much of golf time. I am interested to know what the truth is.

After arriving we enjoyed afternoon coffee, with pulla, a sweet tart and a sour cheese kind of bread, hard to describe but it is similar to cottage cheese baked onto a crust. Not too tart and not too sweet.
After coffee my last host departed and we were soon off to a hiking trail. I learned that there had been 500 guests on this trail per year, and at one point, I was able to sign the guest book. The trail allows for no camping since it is on private land. We followed a creek, viewed a rock formation that proved to have a small lime deposit, and also saw some grinding stones that were probably used to grind grain of some sort. These stones were hundreds of years old. The highlight of the trip was the “pothole” like the ones found in Askola, Finland. Holes that were created by the glaciers that once were in the area, 10,000 years ago.  
After dinner, which composed of a mushroom gravy over potatoes, herring, salad with lingon berry, bread, potato salad, apple juice and beer, we also had a clear schnapps of some kind. My host presented me with a glass egg as a gift. Something that will remind me of my visit to Pornainen.
On the 9th of July we were headed to Kotka via Porvoo. We first stopped at some rapids which provided great photos. it was also the place where Pornainen celebrates Midsummer Festival, which occurred on June 19th or 20th, which is the longest day. I had received many e-mails from relatives wishing me a happy midsummer. A bonfire, live music, food, beer, singing, seems to be all part of the celebration.
I wanted to stopped in Porvoo to see if I could find a “moose” and I determined that if I were to find it, it was fate, and if not, it was fate! It is a ceramic white colored moose made in USSR. I have one already, though it is chipped, I wanted to see if I could buy one. I should have last time, now its somewhere else but not in my hands.
On our way to Kotka, I was able to see new bridges that are made for animal to cross the road over the top, an interesting concept that I think is being considered in Colorado somewhere.
I have carried on the tradition of bringing flowers to my hosts and I need to buy some for my cousin. I stopped in a little flower shop and found the florist making a colorful bouquet of pink, yellow, and purple flowers for someone already. I just asked her to make an identical kind and she did a great job. These I shared with my oldest cousin, she liked them. As we discussed it, she is my oldest cousin and I am the youngest cousin, on my father’s side of the family. I had never thought of it that way before but found it interesting. 
I found out that the florist had been an exchange student in Las Vegas for 6 months and has traveled with her family to California and New York.
We arrived in the main city of Kotka and this is one of my favorite places to stay. An eastern coastal town, close to the Russian border, maybe a little too close for comfort, but Russian tourists spend a lot of money here.
We walked through the local garden, saw a new statue in town, went by the harbor, had an ice cream, and went to my favorite garden by the harbor. It has a waterfall which the water comes from the ocean. I was looking for a particular flower, or at least what I thought was a flower and I think we found it, but it was not exactly like the one I captured by photos last time, but very similar. It was from a vine, still interesting. Anna noted that we must look quite silly taking a picture of a vine.
We continued on our walk through the Kotka National Urban Park along the shore and then through the forrest, which a sign said to leave everything as is, even if it falls. Anna enjoyed this area as she had squirrels eating nuts from her hands. I was not interested in doing it, knowing Squirrels carry disease, but maybe I should have. It was a nice walk with my cousins, enough to build an appetite. We enjoyed home made pizza and the # 1 table wine in Finland, all quite good.
The next day (the 10th of July) we were going to the cottage for some relaxation and sauna. We would need to travel to the island by boat. The name of the island is Horse Island or Hevossaari. The dingy was small, but I wore my life jacket, which fortunately fit fine. I protected my phone with a temporary plastic sandwich bag and loaded up the boat with what we needed for the day.
We had lunch, and I had a “brief” nap, which once I was awakened was told it was over two hours long and it was my time for sauna. With Vasta in hand, we proceeded to the sauna and 100 degree Celsius…. After several swats of the Vasta and ladles of water on the hot stones we decided to take the traditional dip in the icy cold water, in this case the sea. What a refreshing experience, this traditional sauna. First the sting of the water and then realizing how refreshing it is, as your body immediately cools down, and you realize the heat of the sauna is both a sweaty cleanse and an almost daily ritual in some households, especially those who are at their cottages. It was the best sauna in recent memory, but I am sure that I will have more during the next 13 days. After just resting out of the water, and washing up in the sauna, we packed up, and gathered our items so that we could head back to Kotka. We launched the boat back into the sea, and loaded up. It had remained cloudy all day with bursts of sun throughout. 
The cottage property was large with a nice sandy beach, not like the other properties filled with rock, large and small. A separate grilling area with a clear roof and surrounded by large windows to block the wind, several storage areas for wood, tools, work bench, and outhouse, though I wouldn’t consider that a building, the main cottage with new running water and electricity, a modern day convenience. The sewer has not been connected but apparently lines have been run to the surrounding cottages. And of course the sauna building, with modest sauna and changing area as well as a separate sleeping area for guests. What a great place to enjoy extended periods of relaxation, surrounded by countless fields of blueberry bushes and the occasional prize of yellow mushrooms.    
It was a great day on the island. A little hike to the top of the island, a view of Kotka and the surrounding area, a better view of Suusaari Island, which is now owned by the Russians and is visible from Kotka. It was once Finnish owned.
Off we were in the boat with the 5Hp engine, churning water as we head around the island, clouds at our backs and heading to the dock where the car was.
Once back home in Kotka we had another cousin come visit. It is nice to see as many relatives as possible, so far 32 to date.
Saturday the 11th was another day for another cousin to visit. So we went to the market in the morning, found some vegetables, postcards, and flowers for my host. White roses and white carnations, fortunately she likes white! We enjoyed a full afternoon of lunch, coffee, local sites, several gardens, and beer. We took many pictures, some silly, so just of each other. It was a really nice day though it has been cooler than typically. It has been the coolest summer thus far since 1962. The Finns value their summer, looking forward to the warmth and disappointed when it doesn’t arrive. I was in Finland on one of its warmest days before I headed to Poland.
My cousin and I chatted about the importance of finding someone to spend life with. It is important to me to find that person. Traveling alone has it’s advantages and certainly its disadvantages. A sign in a store said ” the lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock” . That is certainly the case for me. I am surrounded by a great family and extended family and also many great friends too and I feel I am in a much better place now with so many good friends. 
I have thought about the items I brought on my trip and I realized the few that I have not used. Slim jims, rain pants, suntan lotion, my water shoes, knit cap, water bottle. Perhaps I will use them soon, but so far, just extra luggage.
I’m going to miss Kotka, it is one of my favorite places to visit. Still so much to see here, but I will wait for the next visit. Today I head to Marinkyla for my next set of cousins.

My epic vacation to Finland Chapt. 3

I arrived back to Finland on July 6 and quickly assimilated into the life of a typical family with 3 children, off and away to a soccer game(Helsinki Cup) strait from the airport and I could not be more happy. I expressed to my hosts that I did not want to visit a museum or special site at the expense of spending family time. Does that sound too boring? Not to me, now I know people travel for different reason, to see new sights, and grow in intellect, and perhaps try something new, but my recent trips to Europe have been primarily about family! I have done my fair share of something new but within my short time with my hosts.

We broke bread with several cousins trying out the new grill, and that is always a good reason to bring friends over, food and fellowship. Good food; beef, chicken, salad, corn, new potatoes, and an apple rhubarb crisp with ice cream for dessert.
The next day was going to be long with soccer for the boys early, and a very traditional breakfast of yogurt, granola, fresh pineapple, cheese, breads, ham, cucumber, tomato and juices. It is a very filling breakfast, with much variety and everyone finds something they like even the little ones.
We stopped for some postage and a mailing. I had some items that I wanted to send home early rather than carrying them. As I was filling out my customs form, I mentioned that I had a magnet inside (a lesson is to be learned from this). The postal worker mentioned it was illegal to mail magnets……really??? As you sell magnets in your store, next to other postal items, and they are thin enough to ship, but you cannot mail them?? Do you post that on your magnet shelf??
Anyway, I reopened my package, took out the magnets, resealed it, and paid for postage and filled out a new customs form. WE laughed and laughed about that incident all day and the other failures of the postal systems, like you can’t ship batteries but if you order online, they get “mailed” to via the postal system…Marijuana is mailed via the post office, etc.
Off to soccer we went and arrived to the Helsinki Cup. Something for all ages and seemingly all abilities. After watching a few games of relative importance, literally, we were off to the Olympic Stadium and tower. 60+ meters tall, it was amazing to see the city, and whence we came from.  
As an observation, I was surprised at how comfortable the local country citizens allowed their children to roam free amongst a very diverse crowd and often sight unseen. Maybe I am in a safe country, with low crime, or maybe it’s not quite an issue here, but it did catch me by surprise and hold my admiration.
After that we visited the Sibelius Monument, my favorite place in Helsinki to visit because I have some sentimental reasons for seeing it. Sibelius, Finland’s most famous composer, who died in 1957, wrote Finlandia, Opus 26 as a symphonic poem.
We then traveled to a relative’s birthday party and enjoyed great beverages and foods of all kinds of traditional fare. From local candy to home made goodies to champagne.
From there we enjoyed a brief night on the town. We saw the Sea Cloud, a huge three (3) sail windjammer on cruise in the port of Helsinki, now that would be a dream voyage!
We have also done new things like visit Tommy Knocker Brewery in Helsinki. An Idaho Springs, Colorado, Brewery, with a Finnish location. I was happy to share this experience for the 2nd time since I have been in Finland, as I am growing consumers to the cause. As it turns out it is great beer and is new to Finland.
The 8th of July started later in the morning than expected and for a little bit I was irritated that I may have contributed to being late for the day. As it turns out, I wasn’t and we had a great day from the traditional breakfast, to seeing Jean Sibelius’s home in Tuusula, to buying some flowers for my next host, to sitting in Pornainen having traditional coffee and pulla. I was now effectively handed off to the next family, and we got right to work on “catching up”.

Musings from my epic vacay pt. 1

As the casual observer of what is hip here in Finland and in Poland. I have been amazed at how much English is used in both the beauty and the crass. American icons seemingly long gone from popularity in the US are still strong here in the EU. Izod shoes, Nike, Adidas, etc. are still popular. Now Nike is still a statement in the US, to the point of addiction, here it seems the casual shoe or maybe an earlier brand. Curse words are the norm on t-shirts. What is rarely spelled out in the U.S. is all too common place on post cards, stickers, shirts, caps and magnets. 
I met a young lady, a student from Hong Kong, and was surprised how freely she used the “F” bomb, almost as if it was a part of her normal day to day language. Though I should not be surprised as it’s pretty common in the U.S. as well. I have enjoyed meeting new people from other countries, the few that I have spoken to, the waitresses, the others on vacation, the ones who work in shops, etc. While in Poland I met several from Australia, UK, Netherlands, Mexico, and a gal from China who teaches English as a second language whose parents live in Boulder.
I was surprised while shopping in Tikkurila, Finland, that “New York” ball caps with the NY spelled out in script, were being sold in the local Wal-Mart style store. I thought that I would wear local shirts from CO to stand out, like most of my clothes seem to make me anyway. Only quickly to realize that there is so much apparel from all over. I was trying for the tourist look and realized I fit right in. 
When I was in the airport heading to Poland I wore my “Blues from the Top” t-shirt, from Winter Park, CO. I think that those that could read or understand English could tell I was from the U.S. but most could not. I was standing amongst a crowd of Polish, Korean, Chinese, Russian and I am sure countless other countries.
Many women were dressed to the 9’s in the square, maybe it was close to dancing time, or maybe they just wanted to look nice. Either way they did get attention, the men, as usual. Most men were very casual and a few dressed up like their gals, a few in wedding attire.
From skin tight jeans to mini skirts, the fashion seems to be the same around the world. A friend suggested that I wear casual shoes and not tennis shoes but I have been most comfortable in my running shoes. I wore them to the airport and easily passed through security without the ring of the metal detector. Security seems more at ease here and I don’t know if that is good or bad. Less stringent, but still the X-ray etc that is constant throughout. 
I was disappointed to learn this morning during breakfast that another guest in my hotel had issues with his AC. What!!!!! AC??? I didn’t event know if i had it, and upon checking out saw that the concierge had my remote. Shame on me for not checking, I just assumed that I did not have it, as most days were comfortable and my window was open when I entered the door. Next time I will check for sure! so many things that I have learned this time, and I certainly packed too many warm things. I am thinking of sending a few items homes, or I can use my other luggage to break up my baggage.
The airport in Poland is nice too, so many thoughts I had about this country have been challenged and changed. I thought of this Cold War country with depression and dirt and quite the contrary. Beautiful structures and architecture I have experienced everywhere. Beautiful homes with nice yards and mini farm fields. Very large homes for the well to do, and nice cars for the same. The old style architecture from the historic buildings were just as majestic.
An effective light rail system for around town was clearly evident in Kraków, I would stay in the Old town Historic Market area again, plenty of hotels to choose from, and plenty of great places to eat. I did not take in the music, the churches and some other sites, I was either too tired from the late nights and early mornings that I figure I will wait until next time. There will be a next time as my visit here was incredible. The food fantastic, the beer quite good and everything from people watching to the nightlife was quite fun!
What are my take-aways from my first few days in Europe? I was blown away with my experiences at Auschwitz and Birkenau. I read the history before, but I experienced it here, now, and even though this all took place 70+ years ago, walking the same paths, looking in the same barracks, walking where people exited rail cars, passing through the same gates, that over a million people who perished did, was really an incredible experience. Overwhelming sadness for the ones who were killed for no reason, other than having been Jewish and deemed a race that should not have existed.

My Epic trip to Finland chapter 1

I started the idea of this trip in September 2014 when I purchased my ticket Finland. It was a great price on Iceland Air, a radio host I listen to, suggested the best time to purchase European trips. I didn’t have any idea at that time what would actually take place but I decided that I must visit my extended family again and who knows when I would return for a visit. My last visit was in 2009 and I thought that visit was amazing, life changing in many ways, I wasn’t sure if this could top the last visit.

I shared my news with my cousins via e-mail, and kept in regular contact over the fall and no ernest planning until the new year. I am fortunate that I have been able to open lines of communication among my father’s and mother’s  nieces and nephews  and stayed in regular contact with them.

On this trip I decided to do something different, add a new country to my itinerary. After consultation with a few relatives, I decided on Krakow, Poland.  The highlight of this trip will be the visit to Auschwitz- Birkenau Concentration camp and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.  Both significant and historical on their own. I  have always been interested in this aspect of WW2. 

So I departed Denver, CO and had a direct flight to Iceland. From  Iceland it was a short flight to Finland. One of the amazing components to this flight segment was that my cousin Anita would be on board the same flight.  We used our charm to get close seats and then eventually, sit next to each other.

After traveling for more than 10 hours, I pushed through the night with walking, laughing, drinking and seeing the sights of Helsinki.  We spent part of our night enjoying live music and dancing to a few tunes. 

I was exhausted, I just didnt know that I would sleep t 10 hours.

I have a great host family and they have made sure that I am well  fed and taken care of.

The next stop today will be leaving for  Poland .   

Epic vacation Chapt 2- Poland

I was concerned that the time of my arrival, in the evening would some how cause issues with my trip. Nothing could be further from the truth as not only did I make preparations but I knew God was on my side. I have been praying thoughout my trip that God would workout all the details and that he would keep me, and he has, even out of the trouble that could be in my way…

As I debarked from my plane, which was the second time in two days that I needed to walk down outside stairs and the first time that I  needed to board a bus, like I suppose many do in a foriegn country.  I was wondering if my driver made it or not, I did not confirm in advance and we were early. After customs there stood a man with my name on my piece of paper and all of a sudden I felt important, though he didn’t lift a finger to help me with my luggage down the stairs.  It was the first time that I had someone wait for me with a sign. It was a quick trip to downtown, about 15 minutes in a Mercedes taxi just for me.

The Classic Hotel, near the market square has been a nice hotel, though no AC, probably not usually needed but its been unusually hot these last few days! The first night I got settled and went to look around, to get acquainted, I found a pizza place and had a beer and pizza.

Glad I did, it helped me in my bearings and what was around and near my hotel Bars, bars, and more bars. A few strip clubs, and misc shops, a market, and plenty of women’s shops, shoes, clothing, etc. Banks too, people need to exchange their money, though their fairness has come into question. 

My first full day included a trip to Auschwitz- Birkenau.  The bus ride to it, included a most moving video from a Russian Army officer who was in the first group to liberate Auschwitz. I mostly listened as the actual video footage was very graphic. Not that I couldn’t take it, but I didn’t want to watch, I heard what was being observed. This Army officer documented the war for the Rusians and to be given this task was incredulous as it was. I thought about buying the tape but I am sure I can find something similar to it, if needed.

The tour lasted many hours in hot buildings in rooms with much protection from the sun and outdoors in the heat. It was exhausting really, both physically walking the same grounds that a million + Jews and prisioners walked  and also  from the historical  facts being displayed and explained by our live guided tour. She was very good, her English was ok, but we all knew wat she was saying even when she wasn’t saying  the words right. I was irritated at times with her lack of word knowledge but I knew what she meant, it was just my  issue. 1,000 prisoners on average in the barracks, the handicapped immediately gassed, childen and women had indescribable experiments done to them, gold extrapolated from the teeth of the gassed and murdered.  I faded in and out of the guided tour, anxious to leave and yet anxious to stay. I had seen components of the tour from other museum locations, but it was more real here. More devastating. I hurt deeply for the Jews that were killed for the faith, heroes almost, for individuals standing for what they believe even more than modern day America. 

I’m angry that the human race would stoop to such horrible acts of crime in the face of dignity. All that Hitler wanted was greed and power. He had the Jews killed for their teeth, their property, the wealth, and genocide.  Mothers and children were told that they needed to bathe before being assigned to a barracks and a majority of them were killed almost instantly.  I was thirsty but we had a few breaks and I was able to quench my thirst. The pictures I took with my camera are for my memory.  We visited Birkenau the same day after 4 pm and it was all outdoors with a few indoor apperances.   This was the camp where the Germans tried to hide and demolish everything, they were not successful and because much was documented by this Russian video team, many soldiers were held accountable. Forensic Scientists were brought in to try to determine what happened as well as normal doctors to try to save those that were already emancipated. Hundreds still died from malnutrition even though  Russian doctors tried to help.  It was just overwhelming tour, to be in the same place where this happened 73 years earlier. Most of the van riders were silent on the way back to town either sleeping or contemplating. I did a little of both, very tired from the long day.

The Salt mines took place on Sunday, July 5th and this was a most interesting trip that went 135 meters below the surface. The mine, owned by the state, doesn’t excavate anymore, as there are other methods for creating salt though with hundreds of people visiting each day, I would think they don’t need the mine for the salt.  This was a big walking tour as well and our instructor spoke English well. Everything inside was created with Salt; bricks, sculptures, steps, tiles. Of course wood is a good protector of salt. If you are ever in Krakow, don’t miss either visits.

 It’s my last night in Poland. I enjoyed a nice dinner of herring and a Cesare salad and some beer and then I was on a search for the 24 hour post office which I found. I realized that my postcards did not have enough postage on them, a good lesson learned.  Tonight I mailed off 41 post cards, to old and new friends and family. Relationships take work, even the little steps. To me its worth it. I do what i think is right. Now to finish packing, and get ready for the AM, it wil be a busy day!