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Happy Midsummer!

June 21, 2018

Dear followers of Life in Finland, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and safe Midsummer.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Finland, so there are changes to store opening hours and services.

Stay safe, don’t drink and drive (or boat) and arrive alive.

Stay warm too, I heard the weather isn’t going to be that great either…

Hyvää Juhannusta!

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The demise of the wall calendar

June 14, 2018

How many of you still hang a calendar on your wall at home or office? A good deal of us plod through life with our calendars on our phones or <gasp> use an agenda to keep things straight.

I definitely use a paper agenda because there is so much going on that as long as it is all written down in one spot, I am good to go – and so is the rest of the family.

I love wall calendars, but don’t really have a place to hang them anymore. 😦

Finland needs to change the timing of the school year

May 23, 2018

School will end soon and the long summer holiday will begin.

Kids in Finland currently attend school between August and May. I say the school year should be from the beginning of September until Midsummer.

Why change? The motivation (on my part) is purely weather-related. The beginning of June can be quite unpredictable as far as the weather goes – and even be quite cold. August, however, is a different story – that is when we experience the best of the summer weather. It is completely unfair to be sending kids to school when it is +30C and nice outside.

I’m not joking.

Helsingin Sanomat interviewed one school principal in Kauniainen in early February, who agreed that the school year should be shifted by two weeks.

There was even a petition for it. Unfortunately it closed recently and did not garner near enough signatures to be examined by the government. It has even been suggested that by starting later, the health of kids, parents and families could be affected positively as they would have the chance to enjoy more time outdoors before the school year begins, hence reducing the need for families to escape “somewhere warm” when it is dark, raining and downright nasty in November and December.

Changing the school year could probably boost the productivity of the Finnish workforce. As it is now May, people are already thinking of the end of school and Midsummer, and it turns everyone off from starting important work before the summer holidays start. On top of that, Finland practically shuts down in July while the rest of Europe is at work. Then when the rest of Europe is on holidays in August, the Finnish workforce languishes in wait for everyone to get back to work. Then the real work can begin – and the kids have already been in school for several weeks by that time.

The best berry and mushroom picking time is at the end of August, so why not allow families to be on holidays at that time of the year in order to take advantage of the best picking conditions…?

To change the school year schedule means that Parliament has to act on it, but given how they have been sitting on their hands lately with other issues, a change to the timing of the school year is unlikely to ever happen.

Food: Spinach pancakes

April 27, 2018

Last Friday I made spinach pancakes for the first time. The base recipe is the same for “normal” thin pancakes that we love to eat now and then at home.

It was requested by a few friends, so I thought I would share it here.

  • 1 litre of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 625ml (or 2,5 cups) of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 x 250g packages of frozen spinach (or a generous handful of fresh spinach)

Mix the ingredients together with a mixer and let it sit for about half an hour. The resulting mixture is much thinner than what North American pancakes are made of – don’t let that put you off.

Turn on the stove and spread butter in a frying pan so it covers the base. Add a ladle-full of batter to the frying pan just so the base is covered. The idea is that the batter is spread thinly so it doesn’t take so long to fry.

Flip the pancakes over when one side is browned.

Serve with a meat-rice mixture, grated cheese and lingonberries.

If you want to make dessert-style Finnish pancakes, leave out the salt and the spinach. Add two tablespoons of sugar to the mixture.

Enjoy!

Picture of the Day

April 3, 2018

Happy belated Easter!

Last weekend I was up in Savo at the Mr.’s parents’ place and the weather was fantastic (except for the drive home in a snowstorm yesterday).

I spent all of Friday stamping out a trail in the bush with my snowshoes and by Sunday it was in great condition. There has been an exceptional amount of snow in North Savo this year – nearly a metre deep in the forest!

I just wanted to share my favourite picture from the weekend. I had a great time – and got LOTS of exercise. My dog loved it too. 🙂

Finnish women in elite sport: Worthy of more accolades than they currently get

March 8, 2018

On this International Women’s Day, there is no timelier topic than this. There is so much to be said, that I cannot possibly cover it all in one entry. This is something that I can label as “To be continued…”

My kid was playing ringette on the last day of the Olympics and I found myself in the stands for a change. In discussing Finland’s performances during the recent Olympic Games with a friend of mine, she lamented that even though five of six of Finland’s medals at games were won by women; their efforts were painted over by Iivo Niskanen’s gold medal in the men’s 50km (cross-country skiing). The media went overboard on coverage, but the same kind of coverage was not reserved for any of Finland’s female medalists, she said. When I was discussing this with the Mr. in the evening he dryly stated, “They’re not men.”

Grrrr….

Come on! Yes, Iivo Niskanen won gold, but without the women, Finland would have been at the bottom of the medal table. Even Finland’s Chef de Mission, Mika Kojonkoski, conceded, “Yes indeed, the women are keeping Finland alive.”

Since last fall, the debate has been raging in the media about how undervalued women’s sport is in this country. Very few women in Finland draw any kind of salary from sport, virtually all of them work day jobs while they ply their trade an as elite athlete.

What follows is my analysis from the ice sports’ side of things. It’s where I spend a lot of time, and it is where we publicly see many of the glaring differences between women and men on the sporting scene. I suspect much is the same in football as well. I’d love to hear from other women out there on what it is like in your sport.

One of the best examples of the lengths women have to go to be able to take part in elite sport in this country is Susanna Tapani. The 25 year-old is widely known as one of the best ringette players in the world. She has played hockey at the international level for more than 10 years and also represents Finland on the women’s national roller hockey team (where they won bronze at the European championships last August). She is clearly one of the best athletes in the entire country and you would think she reaps financial rewards for doing so, right? Not so, not even close.

Last fall she gave an interview to YLE Urheilu (Finnish Broadcasting Corporation’s sports bureau) and reported that she was ineligible for unemployment benefits. She was not working because she was preparing for the World Ringette Championships (held in Mississauga, Ontario – where Finland won its fourth consecutive gold medal) and the Pyeongchang Olympics. Because she was not receiving an income of any kind, she was forced to move back home with her parents.

Of the decision handed down to her, Tapani said, “I started to laugh. This is incredibly unfair because I do not get paid to play sports, and yet I was denied unemployment benefits because of sport. I know I am not the only one in this situation, but this is the reality of women’s team sports.

Sport IS her job – and yet she is not rewarded for it. (Although after the Olympics, her home town of Laitila rewarded her with a EUR 2000 stipend, free workouts at a local gym and a plot of land.)

National team goalie Noora Räty, who has struggled to find work as a hockey player in Finland, is disappointed with the way elite women hockey players are treated in Finland. She can relate to Tapani’s position. The Washington Post interviewed Räty prior to the Olympics and she lamented the difference in attitudes towards elite women hockey players in North America and Finland. She says, “You can’t even compare,” Raty said. “There’s so much respect for hockey players in the U.S. You say you’re a hockey player, and you’re an Olympian, [people are] like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool,’ and they start asking questions. In Finland, you say you’re a hockey player, [it’s] like, ‘Get a real job.’”

Read the whole article, also definitely worth the read.

Goalie Meeri Räisänen spent a stint in Russia playing pro hockey (where she was paid), but registered as a job seeker when she returned to Finland. Her claim was denied and she has spent the better part of two years appealing the decision. In the meantime, she carved her way back on to the national team roster for the Olympics and has played national league women’s hockey, and also played on men’s teams.

To the agencies in charge of unemployment benefits, sport is considered a “hobby” for women – even though they may play at the elite levels of their sport in this country. In an Olympic year, athletes are required to be all in – and for women, that means sacrificing work for the sake of a spot on the national team. It shouldn’t have to be like this.

Veteran Riikka Välilä is a physiotherapist by trade and said, “When you have a mortgage and kids, you have to work.” She currently plays semi-pro hockey in Sweden for HV71. Fortunately her employer is flexible and she has understanding colleagues, so she has been able to apply herself to the hockey side of things in this Olympic year.

On the same hand Välilä said, “Välillä tuntuu, että Suomessa osa miesten lätkävaikuttajista ja jopa pelaajista on vähän painamassa naisia alaspäin.” It be roughly translated as, ”It sometimes feels that those who are influential on the men’s side and also some players force the women down.

The women’s game has moved forward, with the level of play moving up a few notches, but the financial support from the Finnish Olympic Committee, hockey clubs and sponsors has not been forthcoming. Finland appears to be lagging behind, yet Canada, the US, Russia and Sweden are examples of countries where financial support has been driven into the women’s game and women do get paid (something) to play hockey.

YLE Urheilu did an in-depth analysis in conjunction with SVT (Sweden) and NRK (Norway) to get to the bottom of the glaring differences between men and women in elite sport. Women in Finland are paid a tiny fraction of what the men get. Men also get the lion’s share of any bonus money that is rewarded.

At the end of the day sport, especially hockey, is still an old boys club in Finland, and this needs to change – NOW.

What needs to be done?

  • Highlight these women as role models. Good grief, if I have to do it myself here in this blog, then by golly, I will do it! The sporting media has been doing a piss-poor job of highlighting women in the sporting headlines. Although a ringette friend of mine who works at YLE said that YLE Urheilu is doing a much better job these days of covering women in sport than in the past. Let’s keep that coming.
  • Pay these women a living wage!
  • Get your butts into the seats people!
  • More women need to be put in positions of influence, but that is something I mentioned in a previous post.

Am I missing something? Feel free to suggest something to me!

It’s all in the attitude

The Little Miss has been playing ringette and hockey for the best part of six years now and I have been asked to help out with coaching on the hockey side more often than I was bargaining for. That’s fine with me, I am really glad to help out.

Girls’ hockey is still dominated by men on the coaching front. And that whole “grandfathering” attitude rears its ugly face now and then. A couple weeks ago, a male junior coach hollered at me at the arena in front of his team of boys and in front of my team of girls. The Little Miss was wondering why this coach was yelling in my face and why he was being so mean… She saw the whole thing happen.

It’s all in the attitude, right? All I could think of at that moment was this guy has just given a licence to his own players and coaches to treat girls and women badly – that they are worth more than we are, that their practice time is worth more than ours…. The girls were wondering why they were being forced off the ice before our turn was over… We’re all part of the same club. All I can say is this guy does not get the Fair Play card in my books.

(I won’t into go it, but it has been solved – I hope.)

Tidbits from social media

The Finnish women won hockey bronze in Pyeongchang and I was feeling defiant. I posted a couple of snarky bits on Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s see now… That’s Finland’s fourth medal of the games – and all won by WOMEN… Do you think the sporting press and people in power positions better start paying attention now???

Invest in Finland’s elite women athletes – NOW. They’re giving all they’ve got and winning.

This one got shared by a friend of mine who is in an influential position and I am glad she did. It needed to be said!

I also piped up again later in the day:

My snarky rhetorical question of the day: So will the Finnish women’s national hockey team be rewarded with the prize money that was most certainly reserved for the men’s team? <snarky, and I meant every word of it>

Just last week (March 2) I did get an answer to my question. The Finnish Olympic Committee awards medal-winning athletes as follows:

  • Individual medal wins: gold (EUR 50 000), silver (EUR 30 000), bronze (EUR 20 000)
  • Team medal wins: gold (EUR 100 000), silver (EUR 60 000), bronze (EUR 40 000)

Men and women are paid the same rewards, which was something I was curious about.

Gareth Wheeler of TSN in Canada posted a poll on Twitter after the Olympics asking if women’s hockey should be removed from the Olympics. Bloody hell – NO! People who responded were outraged (as was I), and yet Wheeler still tried to assert that the women’s game was not seeing any improvements.

I actually had a chance to watch some of the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang and yes, it was definitely better hockey than 10 years ago. The rest of the world is catching up Mr. Wheeler, just wait and see.

As a rebuttal, former Canadian national team hockey player, and three-time Olympian, Cassie Campbell tweeted that the women’s hockey final in Pyeongchang was the second most-watched event at the Olympics after Virtue and Moir (CAN) figure skating. I assume Campbell was talking about the Canadian viewing audience…

There is no disputing the popularity of women’s elite hockey in North America, I just wish the rest of the world would catch up. No, women will never be as fast as the men and NO, hitting doesn’t belong in women’s hockey – the skill set women have for the game is slightly different, but just as riveting to watch. I watched round robin play between Japan and Switzerland, and even though Switzerland won that game, the sisu award was definitely Japan’s that day.

Again, I will stand by the bold statement I made in late 2016. In 10 years women’s elite hockey will be much more competitive, the Little Miss’ cohorts here in Finland will be giving Canada and the US a run for their money. But given the situation I outlined above, can we hope that things will get on a better track for women’s hockey in this country?

<Sigh>

I will leave at that for now…

And this too -> Hey all you dads, brothers, uncles and cousins out there with female relatives in sport: Support them 110%. They need you!

Cue the eye roll – Finland was a “failure” at the Olympics

March 5, 2018

(Disclaimer – I spent most of February being really sick with the worst cold ever, so hence no posts last month. Thank goodness for the Olympics though! There is plenty to talk about.)

The collective national hand wringing began even before the Winter Olympics concluded. I pretty much wanted to eat my hat when I saw the headline from YLE in English prior to the conclusion of the games : “Finland’s Olympic let-down

Up until that point, Finland had four medals and then got two more over the weekend to round out the total to six. Cross-country skiers Iivo Niskanen and Krista Pärmäkoski secured gold and silver in the men’s 50km and women’s 30km respectively. Both were great moments. I even got out of bed early on Saturday, February 24 to watch the 50km, and again on Sunday morning to follow the men’s gold medal hockey game and the women’s 30km. Olympic fever? Yes, definitely!

A few of Finland’s athletes who were expected to “perform” included Mika Poutala, Kaisa Mäkäräinen, the men’s hockey team, both the men’s and women’s cross-country skiing relay teams, the mixed curling team and the snowboarding crew (except Enni Rukajärvi). They fell short, which yes, was disappointing – but jeez – enough with the over the top pressure! It’s fair to say that other athletes had a good day. Finland’s winter athletes are among some of the best in the world – period. The arm chair pundits can just stop with the criticism any time… I actually figured Finland would get 6-7 medals, but Krista Pärmäkoski was a big surprise for me.

Yes, Finland is clearly in the shadow of Norway and Sweden when it comes to the value placed on winter sports. The Guardian summarized some of the reasons why Norway is much more successful than other countries. To put it simply, “No jerks allowed”, “Community spirit” and “Sport for all.” I can live with that. Give this a read, it is interesting.

There has been so much discussion in recent months in Finland about sport, women in sport, para-athletes, kids in sport and so on, so I may have missed the boat on some important things happening in the Finnish sporting world right now. My observations – feel free to dispute my ideas, but this is what I see when it comes to sports in this country:

  • I feel that some money is being driven to sports that are too expensive and out of reach for most families: alpine skiing, snowboarding and hockey. Once you hit the elite level, it gets very expensive to continue.
  • More value is being placed on E-sports… Why? We need physical activity, stop glorifying gaming so much. Kids already spend enough time staring at electronic devices – drop them and get outside!
  • Girls are still being sidelined in the sporting world and this needs to change.
  • On the health front, Finns are a really self-destructive lot. I have lamented about this in the past. Alcohol is a serious public health problem in this country and young Finns are among the most obese in Europe. Why aren’t we taking better care of ourselves?
  • There are great role models out there, we need to see more of them!

Suggestions:

  • Sport should be fun, not competitive. I have been coaching ringette and assistant coaching girl’s hockey in Espoo for about five years. Our coaching leads remind us that it should be fun. 10-11 year-olds don’t need to be worrying about competing just yet.* We need to take a page out of the book of the Norwegians (re: The Guardian article linked above.).
  • Make cross-country skiing more attractive again. Right now, this is where Finnish athletes are proving their stuff. This country has had good cross-country skiers for a long time, we need to keep them coming.
  • Find a way to get more Finns into short track speed skating. For those kids who quit figure skating and hockey – speed skating is an excellent alternative. The head coach of the Finnish speed skating program, Janne Hänninen, acknowledged that getting ice time was a real barrier for kids to get into short track. (I heard this discussed on the radio station YLE Puhe during the Olympics.) If Finland wants to be competitive on the winter sports front – then build more arenas!
  • Drive more money into curling – this is a sport that Finland should be good at!
  • I have also written in the past that Finland needs to develop a program like Canada’s “Own the Podium,” which invests widely in sport across the country. It has produced results, Canada has now been extremely successful in the Winter Olympics since Vancouver 2010 in terms of medal results and top 10 finishes. It can’t be that hard to design the same kind of program in Finland.
  • The old boys club needs to go on the sporting front. Finland needs to get more women into paid head coaching positions and administrative positions. There is change coming on that front, but it’s slow going.
  • Again on the coaching front – don’t assume that a Finnish coach is the best alternative for this country’s athletes. Bringing in foreign expertise may be just the perspective athletes in this country need.
  • And finally: the media. For the love of… Start giving women more credit where it’s due… But that’s another story – and it’s coming.

*Just to let you know – we do try to make it fun for our ringette crew. A few weeks ago, their warm-ups were snowball rolling, and it was great fun.