Mölkky

Several years ago, I visited Finland with my mother and sister. We had a wonderful time staying with a past exchange student’s mother in the quaint countryside, eating traditional home-cooked meals, braving windy days, and strolling cobblestone streets.

In our downtime, we were introduced to a traditional Finnish game called Mölkky (or, as I like to call it, The Finnish Log Game). The game is simple to play and we quickly became addicted to playing it every night of our stay. Towards the end of our trip, I made it my mission to purchase a version of it to bring back to the states. This game has followed me to every picnic, team outing, beach vacation, retreat, and BBQ I have attended in the last 3 years. It brings out the competitive streak in my most mild-mannered of friends and sometimes leaves us scratching our heads as to how a stick of wood can bounce around a pin mere centimeters away.

This weekend I took my Finnish Log Game to a women’s retreat with the church Adam and I have been attending in Austin, and once again I found lots of people enjoying the game and wanting to play many times over. It reminded me to bring it out hibernation when I’m at home, because I love playing it so much.

As with many games, I’m sure the rules I learned to play by are quite different that the original rules, but who cares when you’re having fun?

And yes, I’m aware that video was filmed in France – not Finland – but it was the most fun representation I could find 🙂
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And so it begins…

A year and a half ago, my Mom, Sister, and I traveled to Finland to visit an “old” exchange student and meet his family. I’ll post my reflections in reverse so that you can easily click through and read them in the order in we experienced Finland. Enjoy!

My trip to Finland began at 1:30 on the afternoon of June 17, I had just quit my job and was in an empty state of mind. No stresses to think about, just excitement about the journey ahead.

My flight didn’t leave for a couple of hours so I took time to people watch in the waiting area of Gate 1. I saw families heading to vacation, business people making phone calls and checking emails, students reading textbooks, and a Texas Longhorn fan. I say the latter of that group had a death wish, proclaiming his love for the all things Longhorn in an Arkansas airport, but my boyfriend begged to differ.

In the plethora of personalities that surrounded me, one specifically stood out. An older lady wearing a brown linen tunic and khaki pants was traveling with what I assumed were members of her family. (For most of my trip I think I’ll be with them, I just heard them mention going to London.) This lady was striking. She was talking about all of the traveling she had done, the types of coins she had in bags at home, and a fleeting mention of 200,000 frequent flyer miles. She seemed so full of life that she reminded me of someone. It wasn’t until I was on the plane at our cruising altitude somewhere above Arkansas that I realized who I was being reminded of.

Ottie, my late grandmother (Dad’s side), was one of the dearest souls I knew (and know to this day). Ottie loved to travel. She was in Switzerland in a gondola above the Swiss Alps on the day I was born, had been all across the US with the “Trailblazers” (a group of retirees from my hometown that took twice yearly charter tours), and had taken an Alaskan cruise, among other trips.

She was also an educator, gardener, and inspiring Christian. I often find myself wishing Ottie was still with us, that I could call her and tell her all about my life, my travels, and my hopes. But, in this moment, on this journey, I know she is with me and smiling.

Finnish Countryside

Everything is so green and fragrant, I just had to be a part of it.
[10 points to the person who can first name the movie that quote comes from.]

Since arriving in Finland it has been made apparent that it is a very green country, in every sense of the word. Not only is it the 7th most expensive country in the world, with things costing the same in Euros as they do in American dollars (plus conversion), but the countryside where we are staying is the most vibrant and natural place I’ve ever been.

I’m sitting under the arbor off the back deck of the guesthouse and for a very brief moment I think I’m in Arkansas, then I realize it’s June and Arkansas would never be 60 in June. Ever. Off in the distance I see a lake with pine trees going up a small hill on the other side. The field in front of me hasn’t been mowed in years I would assume, but it is full of many beautiful and colorful wildflowers. Ivy is creeping its way up the lattice work to my left and African Violets line the inside of the window behind me. A light breeze is blowing and I’m becoming more and more peaceful as I sit and write in this natural setting. The scent and buzzing of bees coming from the flowerbed to my right is more proof I couldn’t be further from the city…

Doubting Meggie

I had my doubts about Finland for the first few days. Sure, the natural atmosphere is worth raving about and taking pictures of, but I wanted to see things. Magnificent, old things. Enter Helsinki…

We arrived in Helsinki for a day of touring and after parking our car in a garage we set off on foot. The city first appears somewhat different than other European cities I have visited, mainly due to the juxtaposition of the old with the new. But we soon turn a corner that completely changes my mood.

We begin walking alongside cobblestone streets made of granite, then realize that the sidewalks we are walking on are also granite. The slim alleyways and streets make me feel very European and confident. We walk past the Parliament building, through some parks, and eventually get to be at the harbor of the Baltic Sea.

Every block or so greets us with another ornate church or unique building that has surely been standing for hundreds of years. I have to pinch myself to prove it’s not a dream.

London & France…

I decided today that I would wear my favorite and most comfortable outfit, a black knit dress that literally feels like an old t-shirt. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be one of the windiest days yet.

We went into Tampere so that I could get some last minute souvenirs and to go up in the observation tower overlooking the entire city at Särkänniemi, an amusement park. Särkänniemi not only held the tower, but also a fabulous modern art museum that held one of Picasso’s many violin paintings. After visiting those sites, Maddie, Jesse, and Heidi decided to ride the “Tornado” roller coaster, leaving mom and I with their belongings.

I was given the task of photographing them while they were on the ride so I moved to the sidewalk nearest 2 of the big loops of the coaster, putting me on a downward slope. I was practicing the timing of the shot when a strong gust of wind flew under my dress. I thought I had kept a good tight hold on it that nothing had been revealed until my mom said, “I see London, I see France, I see Meggie’s underpants.”

I’m just glad that we saw the World’s Largest Plumber Crack moments later, provided by a woman squatting to help her child. At least 4 inches were on display and she didn’t seem to care or to notice…

mmm, mmm, good!

The Fins have it right. Their meals are thought out and healthy. Colorful and, I dare to say, completely natural. We were lucky to get traditional “home cooking” for the majority of our stay and while I’ll be the first to say I’m a picky eater (I’m sure I’ll get a lot of agreements on that statement), I managed to find at least one dish at each meal that I enjoyed the taste of. I always loved the appearance of every dish!

I remember the first morning we were there and seeing our host, Liisa, come in from the grocery store with a big, woven basket of fresh fruits and vegetables. The thing that I was most surprised by was the way lettuce was sold. The roots were still attached at the bottom and the top was open to the air. Liisa told us that she could re-plant the lettuce if she wanted, but she rarely did.

Every meal had a beautiful, fresh salad. Easily the most colorful and vibrant I’ve ever seen. Crisp green lettuce and bright red tomatoes were the standard in almost every salad served. Additions like red onion, watermelon, cucumber, oil soaked feta, and grapes would also accompany the salad. One thing I’m sure to try back in the states is adding watermelon and red grapes to my salads every once in a while.

Potatoes were another big staple of Finnish cooking. Usually served au gratin or boiled with fresh dill, we learned that the Fins really enjoy a good starchy potato.

Every meal had some sort of meat. While there we had chicken, beef, and pork. My favorite preparation were the mincemeat patties with onion. Similar to meatloaf, but fixed without ketchup and in small patties, they were cooked in the oven and positively delightful!!

One obvious and yet ignored practice by most Americans is that if the Fins have a heavy meal for lunch or dinner, the other meals of the day are adjusted accordingly. Normally the smaller meal is a simple preparation of breads, fruits, and cheeses. I’m really going to have to adopt that. These small meals were some of my favorites of the trip.

Finally, Coca-Cola tastes 100 times better in Europe. Perhaps the reason could be the simplicity of the ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Colour, Phosphoric Acid, Flavorings, and Caffeine. I guess what they say is true, “The easier it is to pronounce the ingredients, the better the taste.”

Things that make you go hmm…

Here are some random observations from my travels to Finland. Enjoy!

  • London-Heathrow Airport: Spotted. A traveler wearing black bike shorts with a lace trim. She was an American. No wonder the Brits hate us.
  • Question. How can a flight be full and have a row of 5 seats with only 2 passengers in the row? Luckily I was one of those 2 passengers and the flight was for 7 hours :). Go me.
  • A teeny-bopper raving about her travels around the World and saying how our plane to London would have a 2nd partial level because her plane to Australia did. When she gets on and asks where the stairs are, the flight attendant tells her there is only 1 level.
  • 10 minutes of Internet in London-Heathrow -$3. 4.5 minutes of Internet in Helsinki-Vantaa-$3. Unlimited Internet access at my home [almost] priceless…(or ~$30)
  • 24 hours of daylight, even when it’s raining.
  • I’m wearing a sweater. It’s June.
  • My new favorite way to fly is having 1 crying baby to my right and another behind me while trying to sleep. Then, having flight attendants wake me up every 30 minutes to ask: “Are you buckled up?”, “Would you like lunch?”, “Would you like a drink?”, or “Do you have any trash?”. Thankfully the flight was only about 2.5 hours from London to Helsinki, but still…
  • Purple hair.
  • Pink hair. I saw both numerous times at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
  • Captain Hook’s Restaurant with “Peter Pan’s Meatballs” and “Tinkerbell’s Laughing Weiners”.
  • The “fun” store at the largest mall in Scandinavia (of course I found it, the mall not the store) with “Willie Slippers” and “Bosom Cushions” proudly displayed in the window. It was near a children’s toy store. Fun for the whole family I guess :).
  • The escalators in the mall were flat.
  • If you see a pizza restaurant it will more than likely be serving kabobs.
  • A supermarket I don’t think would fair too well in the states: KKK Supermarket.
  • On a cold, rainy evening of playing RISK (in Finnish), my sister says, “Let me do you from the Ukraine.” She meant, “I want to attack Ukraine.” Inappropriate laughter soon followed.
  • We should adopt the Finnish way of bed dressing. It consists of an undersheet, duvet with duvet cover, and possibly a quilt.
  • My seatmate to NYC carried a Trevi GM Louis Vuitton purse that I’d kill for, wore a Juicy Couture sweatsuit, and had a carry-on too big to fit in the overhead compartment. She did what any smart and considerate overseas traveler would do and forced it under the seat in front of her. This action provided only a 3-4 inch space on the floor for her feet. In turn, my somewhat good leg room became a bit less than average and the flight was for 7 hours…