Posts Tagged With: ex-pat

This or That: Speak or Hear?

Would you rather have the ability to hear, but not be able to speak, or be able to speak, but not hear?  And what I mean is: would you rather be able to understand others but not be able to communicate (talk, write, etc), or be able to communicate but not be able to understand others (hear, read, etc)?

It’s an often talked about fact in the expat community, that you lose some of your speech while living abroad.  You stop using idioms, because they don’t translate in a different language (or because non-native English speakers (or whatever your language) don’t understand them).  You have to look up words in the thesaurus a lot more often (case in point:  I had to look up “translate” in the previous sentence because the only word I could think of to convey my meaning was “transmit”).  You start using words for things that foreigners use (car park instead of parking lot, baby cot instead of crib, take-away instead of to-go).  I often find myself struggling to find the right words for things lately.  The language barrier is compounded, for me, by not usually talking to more than two people most days, one of them being a 1 year old.

Being a writer, a lover of words, I find this development…somewhat disheartening, to say the least.  Words used to flow out of me, my mouth, my pen, my keyboard, but I’m having a harder time of late. I have a plan of action…if I could only find the time to put it in place…

So obviously speaking (aloud or in print) is important to me.  But what if I could communicate, but not hear/understand?  Well, that would suck, but at least then I wouldn’t hear the bullshit spouted by some people, the hatred, the bigotry.  But I also wouldn’t be able to understand my husband, or my baby, when they say they love me.

Interesting conundrum.  I feel like it’s self-centered to say that I would rather be able to share my feelings with the world, put my thoughts out there, than hear what they think.  But I would rather tell my husband and son I love them a thousand times and not hear that they love me, than to not be able to tell them.  And that seems a bit less narcissistic.  I hope.  🙂

So what about you?  Which would you prefer?  Everyone who comments on This or That in the month of June is registered to win a 4×6 print of this photoHouse by the Sea

Categories: This or That? | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

…and then life happened.

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Sick baby 😦

A post shared by Sara Sara Johnson (@bysarajohnson) on


Remember a couple weeks ago when I blogged about a new schedule, and how I was going to start it this week? And how I said I wanted to start a regular blog feature? I was all set, even had an editorial calendar planned out. I got a couple of blog posts ahead, then went on vacation. I figured this past Monday, I’d schedule a quick Tuesday post and finish a half-complete Thursday post.

And then life happened.

We were in Lapland last week (blog posts and photos coming soon!), and arrived home Monday morning about 9:30. Baby J had had a slight cough during most of our trip, and Friday afternoon it developed into a deep, phlegmy cough. By Sunday he was moaning with every breath. He had been sick like this back in December, so I wasn’t too worried – he seemed fine otherwise, even pausing the moaning and coughing fits to flirt with strangers sitting nearby.

However, by Monday afternoon he had stopped nursing. He wouldn’t take milk or water or solids – nothing was getting past his lips. Then he became rather listless. I called the doctor and was able to get an appointment for 3:30 that afternoon.

The doctor listened to his chest and immediately recommended we take Baby J to the hospital. In Pori, an hour away, because our local hospital doesn’t have pediatric facilities. In fact, he said, I’m going to call an ambulance to take him, just in case. Cue parental panic attack.

We spent Monday and Tuesday night in the hospital, where Baby J was hooked up to a heart rate/blood oxygen monitor and oxygen. We were able to go home Wednesday, with a promise to administer a breathing treatment every 2-3 hours and bring him back in if he took a turn for the worse.

One of the issues with being ill in a country where you don’t speak the language is that you don’t always fully understand what’s going on. You’re never really sure if things are lost in translation, if the words you say are understood, or if you understood what they are saying correctly.  I had the same issue while in the hospital after having Baby J. One nurse kept using “she” instead of “he,” which is a simple mistake and not a big deal, but what if she was saying “do this” instead of “don’t do this”? You really can’t be sure sometimes, and it requires you to place absolute trust in the hospital staff. You get minimal information, because they can’t do in depth explanations about what’s going on. He needs this medicine, but they can’t tell you why or what it’s for. Please understand that this isn’t a gripe about the Finnish medical system, its just a fact of life, living (or even traveling) anywhere where you don’t speak the language and requiring medical care. It can be scary and confusing. We’re so used to being able to know everything about a diagnosis, googling for any additional information we feel we need, knowing what questions to ask the doctor. It’s difficult being so helpless, especially when it’s your baby that’s sick.

We know Baby J didn’t have the flu or a viral infection. Other than being told his bronchial tubes were  inflamed, I have no idea what the official diagnosis is. Hopefully the breathing treatments we’re giving him will make him all better.

And in the meantime, Baby J is getting lots of cuddles.


Categories: Baby J, Parenthood | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

On hoarding, slang, and cookies, plus an insight into my mind

I admit to having hoarding tendencies. Not 30 dining room chairs and newspapers to the ceiling hoarding, but yes, I have a hard time getting rid of things sometimes, and I will not eat the last ice cream sandwich because then there will be none left. Combine the hoarding with a bit of a competitive streak (not competitive with anyone in particular, just “grrr, must have more”), and what happens? I have frozen 6 liters (just over 200 ounces) of breast milk, just in the month of October. It’s not something I planned, it just kind of…happened. (Isn’t that what all hoarders say?) So why have I done this? A few reasons. Because of my previously mentioned tendency of Must Have More. Because I can – whatever other issues I may have had with childbirth and motherhood, my boobs are milk producers. And because I actually give away the bulk of my milk, and I love that I’m able to help another little guy get some additional breast milk. It’s a small thing for me to do, but the benefits are great. So I’ll continue to freeze as much as I can while I can.

I speak with and email a lot of people whose native language isn’t English. I’m usually pretty careful about how I say things – I try to speak slower (though am rarely successful), I try not to use contractions, slang, etc. The other day I was speaking with a French lady, and I said, “I haven’t seen so and so in a coons age.” …yeah…

I’ve been on a cookie streak lately. I made snickerdoodles a few weeks ago, and this week made Nutella cookies and brown sugar cookies, both pinterest pins that have been on my board for a long while. The verdict? Eh. Although several others raved about the Nutella cookies and that they should be outlawed, I only found them to be okay. I’d still rather just stick a spoon in the jar and eat it that way (which is why I don’t keep Nutella in the house). And the brown sugar cookies were fairly blah without the frosting, but the frosting made them exponentially better. Butter and powdered sugar have a tendency to do that…. Have you tried any cookie recipes lately that were spectacular?

Insight to how my mind works: We dressed Baby J up as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for Halloween. It got me thinking about next year’s costume. I thought it would be fun, while we can, before he gets into spiderman and Shrek and the store-bought costumes, to dress him with 80s pop culture in mind – so we did Ghostbusters this year, maybe he could be Judd Nelson at the end of Breakfast Club next year. Or, wait! He’ll be old enough to “entertain on command,” how about we give him a mini boom box and tell him to hold it over his head (a la Say Anything). Then I got to thinking about how we wouldn’t get to trick or treat in Finland, but what if we were in the US and someone gave out pencils instead of candy. (Did anyone else ever get pencils or erasers in their bucket?) And then he could say, “I gave her my heart, she gave me a pencil.” And voila, I’ve thrown myself into a fit of giggles. Yeah…that’s what Stephen has to deal with. Feel sorry for him yet?  😀

It’s unfortunate I’m against posting photos of Baby J on this blog, because trust me, he was SO DARN CUTE as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  But here’s a picture of the costume – I used the Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit, then made the bib and the hat, and stuffed the hat with some saran wrap:

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man  Costume

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Costume

Categories: Baby J, Food, Random | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Negatives of Living Abroad

One thing about living in a foreign country is that I’m very conscious about what I say about my host country.  I think about what I would want to say if I was back home and a foreigner expressed negative views about my country.  “If you don’t like it, leave.”  Of course, it’s not always that simple, I know.  But there’s certainly a bit of that protective instinct that takes over, even if you agree with the what the person is saying.

In general, I try to stay positive about my stay in Finland.  I actually really do like this country – I love how safe it is, I love the spring and summer seasons, I love that I can get anywhere in town I need to go just by walking.  I love the quietness of Finland, where there’s not a need to fill every silence with words.  I love long summer days and having 20 hours of daylight.  I love the random crazy holidays and competitions and television shows, the ones that make you go, “Only in Finland.”

I try very hard to defend this country when others say negative things, and I get very uncomfortable when fellow Americans say unfair things.  Have I said negative things?  Of course I have.  You can’t live somewhere and not occasionally express displeasure about your lot in life.  First World Problems like “I can’t find Italian Ice” and “I wish we were closer to The Big City.”  And of course I miss things about living in the US – being able to go to the grocery store at midnight on a Sunday, being able to find just about anything I could possibly be looking for, going to Target.  But negativity doesn’t make living abroad any easier, and it doesn’t account for all the great things that come with being an expat.

So, yes, I could start a category labeled “Things I can’t find in Finland” and fill it with a hundred posts.  But I’m not going to.  When I do complain, as I did in my last post, I try to do it with an ironic tone and convey that my complaint is really about nothing substantial.  Can I live without Italian Ice?  Of course I can.  I can live without a lot of things, I’ve found.  Tostitos Hint of Lime chips.  Jiffy peanut butter.  Good Tex-Mex.  I’ve learned how to substitute for things I can’t find, thanks to the Internet, and how to make my own Bisquick, limeade concentrate, egg nog.  I’ve survived two years without Wheat Thins and Thin Trisquits, I’m sure I can survive another couple.


Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Things I can’t find in Finland, Item #14

Italian Ice.  A light, tart, frozen substance.  I can get ice cream to my heart’s content, but I really would love a simple Italian Ice.

Let me be clear – this is not a pregnancy craving.  It’s simply that I like a good Italian Ice much more than I like ice cream, usually, and I feel a whole lot less guilty eating it.  And I love lemon “sweets” that refresh, rather than coat your mouth with cream.

Today at the grocery store I found one box of popsicles that looked less like “cream” and more like “ice.”  I got them home, ripped into one, and found it was still a bit creamy for my taste.  What’s a girl to do?

Whenever the other American women take a trip to the US, they ask if they can bring back anything for anyone.  I usually say no, except for some OTC drugs.  Unfortunately, frozen goods are simply not something anyone is willing to bring back to me.  But if anyone wants to give it a try…

Luigi’s Real Italian Ice, lemon flavor.  Mmmmmmmmmm………


(There is no “Things I can’t find in Finland #anything else,” I just chose a number at random.  However, perhaps I should make it a new category?)

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Angel Food Cupcakes – Personal Kitchen Challenge #19

The problem with making egg nog at Christmas is that you have a ton of leftover egg whites to deal with.  Last year I made fortune cookies with said egg whites – this year I really wanted to make angel food cake.  Only one issue:  I don’t have the correct pan with me here in Finland, and I really didn’t want to go out and buy one, since I have one in storage back home.

So I did some searching and found a recipe for Angel Food Cupcakes – perfect!  I followed this recipe from, topping them with fresh whipped cream and fresh berries.  Of course, the recipe called for cream of tartar, to help stabilize the egg whites.  That’s one of the things that kept me from making angel food cake last year – cream of tartar doesn’t seem to really exist in Finland.  So last summer I asked my mother-in-law to bring me some from the US, so I would be prepared if I needed it in the future.

I made the batter, filled the cupcake tins, and couldn’t help but but lick my finger.  I know I shouldn’t have, raw egg whites and everything, but it’s just a habit – you scrape the spoon with your finger, and when you’re done, you lick your finger before washing up.  Don’t tell me you don’t do it, too!  Anyway, I only did it once, because then I remembered I shouldn’t be doing it, and I scooped up a spoonful of batter and fed it to Stephen.  It tasted like marshmallows!!

For the topping, I used a pint of heavy cream, 3 tbsp of sugar, and 1+tsp vanilla extract, whipped it all up (it took forever!) and felt no guilt licking that bowl.  Fresh raspberries and blueberries made the cupcakes colorful and even tastier.  

Angel Food Cupcakes

Cupcake with raspberries

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language. Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Our Christmas “Tree”

So I’m a little late with this post.  Whatever!  As I mentioned before, we didn’t decorate for Christmas last year, and I thought that was one of the reasons Christmas didn’t feel “quite right.”  I was determined this year to put up some decorations and get a small tree – maybe a rosemary bush or something to hang some ornaments and lights on.

I had planned on buying a bunch of stuff at Ikea, but the day we went down to Turku I was suffering from day two of a vicious pregnancy migraine, and after dealing with the mall and the hardware store, I knew I couldn’t suffer through a trip to Ikea.  So we stopped at Hong Kong (kind of like our local Big Lots) and I picked up a bunch of things there.  Rather than a tree, I bought a green garden trellis and some garland, thinking I could wrap the garland around and hang it on the wall.  Sounds crazy, I know, but you know what?  I LOVED the end result!

alternative Christmas tree

Our “tree” – a garden trellis wrapped in garland and hung on the wall.

Seriously, I kept looking at it during the weeks it was up and smiling.  Stephen will probably kill me, but I fully intend to keep this thing and put it up every year, along with a “normal” tree once we get home.  It just made me happy.

A strand of lights and some ornaments completed my little tree.  Most of the ornaments were cheap store-bought ones, but I did have a couple of special ones on there:

Hyvaa Joulua - "Merry Christmas" in Finnish (actually I think it's more "Happy Christmas")

Hyvaa Joulua – “Merry Christmas” in Finnish (actually I think it’s more “Happy Christmas”)


I picked this up at the Market in Helsinki - a little pine cone made of pieces of tree bark (I think maple?)

I picked this up at the Market in Helsinki – a little pine cone made of pieces of tree bark (I think maple?)

I had a couple of these on the tree.  Stephen thought I was crazy - "What do mushrooms have to do with Christmas?"  But they were so cute - and mine wasn't the only tree I saw mushroom ornaments on!  (Blurry photo, I know, sorry!)

I had a couple of these on the tree. Stephen thought I was crazy – “What do mushrooms have to do with Christmas?” But they were so cute – and mine wasn’t the only tree I saw mushroom ornaments on! (Blurry photo, I know, sorry!)

I’ll be honest – Christmas still didn’t feel quite right.  Not being close to family and friends, not having presents under the tree and opening them Christmas morning, not seeing the joy on loved ones faces as they opened their gifts – those things mean more than I realized. That, combined with the fact that we’ll have a baby around next Christmas, has made me determined to go home for Christmas this year.  We’ll see if we can make it happen.

Oh, and I picked up a bunch of ornaments at the Christmas markets in Vienna and Prague.  I can’t wait to put them on the tree next year!




Categories: Finland, Random | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s so great about Finland?

Thanks to facebook, I stumbled across this BuzzFeed article:  12 Surprising Things In Which Finland Is The Best In The World.  I felt the need to share, and comment on parts of the list:

  1. Least corrupt government in the world.  We just got back from a trip to Prague, where we asked one of our tour guides about the Czech Republic getting on the Euro.  Our tour guide told us that Czech Republic is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with top-down corruption, and until they get it somewhat under control, they won’t be allowed to use the Euro.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I find it interesting that Finland is the least corrupt government in the world.  Not surprising, though (see #10 below).
  2. Most heavy metal bands per capita.  Not being a heavy metal fan myself, I could never have name a band (or singer) from Finland.  My husband, however, has been an Apocalyptica fan for years, and we have friends that used to live here who knew (and went to see) a lot more bands.
  3. The best education system in the world.  I think this is well know by now, with so many articles about it lately.  It’s interesting, because the kids seem to have a lot more freedom and spend less time in the classroom.  I’m always seeing 12-year-olds out and about during what I think of as “school hours,” and the high school kids seem to be let go early or allowed to come in late all the time.  But I think part of it is the integrity and honesty that Finns exemplify.  (Again, see #10.)
  4. The country with the heaviest coffee consumption in the world.  Which is kind of funny, considering every non-Finn I talk to says the coffee here sucks.
  5. (skipping – no comment)
  6. Most saunas per capita.  3.3 million saunas for 5.3 million people.  Most apartments, and probably all houses, have a sauna.  Those apartment buildings without private saunas (like mine) have a sauna in the building.  Then there are the saunas at office buildings, hotels, and gyms, plus the public saunas.  Oh, and let’s not forget the saunas at the summer cottages that everyone has!  Stephen went to a coworker’s house one night, and there were two saunas there.  So, yeah, lots of saunas.
  7. Best country in the world to be a mother.  Well, obviously I’m quite glad to hear this one, even though I won’t reap some of the benefits that come along with being a Finnish mother.  Low risk for maternal death, low infant mortality rate, and let’s not forget the lengthy maternity leave (and paternity leave) available.  Kela, the Finnish healthcare, pays a maternity allowance for 105 working days, starting at least 30 days before the delivery date.  Paternity leave is good for up to 54 working days.  Plus, some towns will pay you to have children.
  8. The country drinking the most milk per capita.  Finns often drink a glass of milk with their lunch or dinner.  In fact, the prenatal vitamins here don’t have nearly the amount of calcium in them as vitamins from the US, I think specifically because Finns drink so much more milk.  (The Finnish vitamins I picked up have 300mg Calcium per dose.  I get mine at the healthfood store, and they’re from either the US or the UK, and they have 650mg per dose.)
  9. (Skipping – no comment)
  10. Helsinki is the most honest city in the world.  I can’t comment on Helsinki in particular, but I can comment on Finland, in general.  My friends and I often comment on, when we go to a cafe to eat, how safe we feel about leaving our purse at the table while we go to the register to order.  I try not to let myself get into that mindset and be so lax, but it’s simply safe enough to do so.  One day a few months ago, there were two purses on top of the table about 5 feet from the door, while the owners were about 20 feet away in the other direction, not even looking at them.  It would be so easy for someone to come along, grab the bags, and be long gone before anyone noticed.  But it doesn’t happen here.  The locks on our bikes are ridiculous, but they don’t get stolen.  People leave cars unlocked, strollers outside (heck, they leave babies outside), bags unattended.  I love it here.
  11. (skipping – no comment)
  12. (skipping – no comment)

The article goes on to note other lists in which Finland is high up, but not number 1.  One of the happiest countries in the world.  In top 10 of Candy consumption (ohmygosh, if you could see the candy stalls here – it’s insane!!).  Second best workers in the world (again, I will point you to #10).  Second best in gender equality.

Overall, Finland really is a wonderful country to live in.  I’m so glad we got the opportunity to experience it firsthand!

(Note:  I did not link to or cite any references above, because they’re all referenced in the original BuzzFeed article.  Please go check the article out for yourself to learn more!)

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

2013 in Review (and why I haven’t posted in a while)

The year started out quite mundane – we were settled into life in Finland about as much as one would expect after a year.  I was intent to work on my kitchen challenges, learning more about photography, and writing, and I was looking forward to more traveling.  We visited Riga, Sicily, and Barcelona, and our parents came to Finland and we visited Stockholm (and I went to Tallinn again).  We were planning a trip to Vienna and Prague for the holidays.

Things were going well through the summer.  And then, I know, I dropped off the face of the blog.

You see, I had no desire to sit in front of the computer and craft words into sentences.  Not only when it came to the blog, but when it came to writing anything.  Part of it was just a creative drought on my part.  But part of it was something more.

I spent about 6 weeks in an almost constant state of sickness.  I was nauseaus pretty much full time from the moment I woke up until I went to bed.  I had headaches, including a couple of lovely migraines, one of which lasted for three days.  Thinking  (and cleaning, and cooking) became a luxury I didn’t have the energy for.

Then, when I finally felt moderately better, I was still suffering a creative drought, but I also had some things going on in my life I couldn’t share at the time.  And that is, after all, the point of this blog, right?  Sharing?

As you may have guessed, the nausea was actually morning sickness – which I knew was a misnomer but now have proof.  More like all-the-time sickness for me (although, I never, not once, actually threw up – I just constantly wished I could).

Yes, for those readers who aren’t friends of mine on Facebook, I’m knocked up.  Preggers.  With child.

There was quite a bit of stress regarding that in the beginning, and some roller coaster issues with our living situation, which I’ll get into in a later post. (Nothing bad or anything, just a lot of decisions to be made, some of which were beyond our control.)

But here we are, the end of another year, a bright, shiny, exciting year just around the corner.  Once again, I’m promising myself (and you) that I’ll be better next year, do better, set and achieve goals and revel in living.

Wishing you a Happy New Year-



Categories: Here Comes Baby, Random | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Foods I miss as an ex-pat

There are certain things we can’t get here in Finland.  What, you’re surprised by that?  I’ve found substitutes and DIY recipes and made do with things that don’t taste quite right, but here are some things I miss dearly:

Goat Cheese.  The goat cheese here is…not right.  It doesn’t have that creamy texture, it’s more like a brie texture.  One of my favorite treats is spreading goat cheese on dried figs and wrapping some prosciutto around it.  There is no “spreading goat cheese” around here.

Spaghetti Squash.  God, I miss spaghetti squash.  I think when we get back to the States, Stephen may get sick of spaghetti squash, because it seems all I can do lately is think about it.  They have honeydew melons in the grocery store, which look exactly like spaghetti squash, which just makes it worse.  It’s like they’re teasing me…

*Not* spaghetti squash...

*Not* spaghetti squash…

Yellow Squash.  I know a lot of people don’t like yellow squash, but I do.  I can take a yellow squash and a zucchini and make a meal of it.  I can get zucchini here, at least, but I do miss yellow squash.

Monterrey Jack cheese.  Mexican food just isn’t the same without it.

Portobello mushrooms.  You can get 500 different varieties of mushrooms, especially in the fall when everyone goes foraging in the forest, but I have yet to see portobellos…

Velveeta.  I’ve got a serious hankering for White Trash Dip (aka Rotel Dip).

Sushi.  God, I miss sushi.  I can get it when I go to the “Big Town” an hour away, but here in town?  Forget about it.

Every single ex-pat, without fail, regardless of country of origin or where they currently live, misses something from home.  Tex-Mex appears frequently, which I can relate to.  The other thing I see a lot of is a craving for Kraft Mac & Cheese.  I have the solution!!!  And it doesn’t involve a huge, heavy box, or a half-assed DIY mix that’s good but not-quite-right.  Are you ready?

Go to Costco, Sam’s Club, what have you, and buy a Massive Pack of Kraft Mac and Cheese.  (My friend bought two 15-packs for us before we left the States.)  Open all boxes.  Remove cheese packets.  Put packets in large ziplock bag.  Tear instructions from one box.  Put in ziplock bag with the cheese packets.  Throw everything else away.  Yes, including the pasta.  Pack in suitcase.  See how little room that takes up?  Now, when you get a hankering, buy some pasta (I think the Blue Box has about 6.5-7 oz of pasta in them), butter, and milk (I use wine instead of milk, which I highly recommend), and make yo’self some Mac and Cheese!  Now, I can’t take credit for this, this was totally my friend’s idea, but it works perfectly.  I brought 30 packets of cheese over in my suitcase, and it barely took up any room.  (We included a tear out of the box just in case there were any security questions about this weird orange powder…)  Now, keep in mind, this will work just as well with your Shells and Cheese, if you prefer that.

You don’t have to be an ex-pat to miss (and not be able to get) certain foods.  New Englanders living in Colorado probably miss good fresh clam chowder or lobster.  Southerners living in Ohio probably miss sweet tea.  Food is so intrinsic to who we are, our personal history, our sense of self, that we experience true nostalgia when we can’t get certain things.

So, what foods do you miss that you can’t get?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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