Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Becky and Denny's Visit to Finland, Fall 2010

My parents, Denny and Becky, came to Finland in September 2010. Their visit lasted for three weeks, and they enjoyed seeing more than 40 relatives and visiting areas all over the country.

Denny's grandparents were among the many Finns who immigrated to the US around 100 years ago. My grandmother, Aune Jarvi, continued the correspondence her parents had with relatives here. Both Aune and my grandfather Veikko grew up speaking Finnish and even visited Finland to reconnect with relatives. Many of our Finnish cousins have visited relatives in the US, too. Because of this connection, we are still in touch with Finnish relatives, and we are lucky to have the chance to get to know them better during our stay here. Denny is very interested in genealogy, and this visit helped answer some questions and create new ones.

This is us with our cousin Pasi Kuusijärvi, his wife Riikka and their daughters Saara, Silja and Elsa. They were taking care of our cousin Taina's friendly dog, Pepe.

Denny's first language was Finnish, because it was the language spoken at home until he was seven. After that, they spoke English so the children would better integrate into American culture, and Dad's Finnish slowly ebbed. He studies it at home and while here, he was able to do quite a bit of talking, understanding most of many conversations. It was fun for me to see that.

Their trip started with site-seeing in Helsinki with our cousins Valto, Seija and Hanni, who live near the country's capital and are fantastic at sharing the city with relatives. Then they headed north east to the Mikkeli/Haukivori area, where Becky learned how to make delicious Karelian oat cakes from our cousin Marietta, Valto's mother. Karelia was formerly the eastern part of Finland and was taken over by Russia after WWII. They stayed at the beautiful log cabin shared by Marietta, Valto and his sister, Virpi and her family. They ate moose, reindeer and smoked fish, talked about Finland and family and took saunas and jumped in the lake.

Becky and Mariettta enjoying an evening near the lake.

Quite a few Finnish people own or share cabins called mökki. They are often by lakes and are places for retreat, especially during the full days of sunshine in the summer but often during other seasons, too.

Becky fell in love with Finland's rye breads and was introduced to a new way of making it by a distant cousin. She purchased a traditional wooden bucket for rising the dough and was given a starter (referred to as a root) for sour rye bread by another cousin (Thanks, Terhi!).

Valto, Hanni and Marietta with Denny and the cousins who showed Becky how to make a certain rye bread.

After saying goodbye to Valto and crew, they were able to say hello to some of Denny's mother's elderly first cousins, who now live in nursing homes. Then, they came to see us. We took a train up north to Rovaniemi, a city in Finland's beautiful Lapland and celebrated Analeise's fourteenth birthday there. This gave us the chance to hike over Rovaniemi's moss covered boulders, eat reindeer, visit a husky safari park, meet Santa and learn about Finland's Sami people (see the Arctic birthday post for more on this).

Denny attended a Rotary lunch meeting in Tampere and was able to exchange Rotary flags with them (he is a member of the Beavercreek, Ohio club).

Together, we attended family gatherings in Kankaanpää, Rauma and Pori, and Becky and Denny had dinners with cousins in two towns near Tampere. These gatherings meant that Denny and Becky met all of our cousins from one branch of the family (and experienced the amazing Finnish hospitality!).

In the Välisälo's kitchen with master chef Seija. If you have Finnish relatives and are lucky enough to visit them, prepare to eat delicious food.

Here we are at a grave in a cemetery near Kankaanpää with our cousins, the Välisälos.

Denny with our cousin Terhi and her nephew Topi near Kankaanpää. This house belonged to Denny's great uncle.

Here's a photo from a family gathering with sisters Paula (third from the left on the bench) and Liisa (holding baby Ilona) and their families. If you have never tried salmon stew, Liisa's would make it a favorite. Liisa and Veijo Tirikka live in Rauma, on the lovely farm where he grew up.

We celebrated Ilona's first birthday, and everyone sang to her. Her cake was a yellow cake covered with raspberries, blueberries and lingonberries and whipped cream. Finland is great for berries.

Here's our cousin Teijo's fiance Erikka putting the finishing touches on one of Ilona's cakes.

...a chance to go over some genealogy...

Outside Helvi and Lasse Kuusijärvi's in Pori.

Helvi and Lasse Kuusijärvi with their two sons Reino and Pasi. Pasi teaches at the university TAMK in Tampere and was helpful to Bryan when he was applying for the Fulbright fellowship that's allowing us to be live here this year.

Becky, Denny and I also got to go to Virrat to see our cousin, Erja, who lives with her husband Markko and their five children in a gorgeous old farm house in the woods. Their house is full of Finnish antiques, including an amazing loom that has passed from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law for many generations. Their oldest daughter played a lovely Finnish lullaby from the early 1900's on her violin - a sweet end to an idyllic evening.
Erja and family (her husband Markko's not in the photo, though).

More visits insued, with Becky, Denny and I staying with Terhi Korpi and her family in Ylihärmä, which is near Lapua. Terhi lived with us in Wisconsin a couple of years ago as an AFS exchange student and had gotten to know Denny and Becky during that time. This allowed them to meet her parents, although not her brother Samuli, as he was away at carpentry school. During our visit, Terhi took Denny to a nearby church to search for family members in church records, and Terhi's parents Eija and Kauko took Becky and me lignonberry picking. In around one hour on a bright, chilly morning, we netted around 15 liters of frosty berries, all of which they gave to us. Our fridge and freezer is now packed, so join us for some lingonberry treats if you're in town.
This is us with Kauko, Terhi and Eija Korpi at their mökki.

Berry pickers ready for the morning!

If you're going to pick lingonberries, we'd recommend this efficient tool. The Korpis also use it for blueberries.
Kate with part of the final load of berries. Eija is a fast picker!

In addition to lingonberries, we got treated to some Finnish tyrni, sort of pronounced "torn-y." They are called Sea Buckthorn in English and are sour with a citrus-apricot flavor. Eija Korpi makes them into delicious dessert soup and jam, and they told us that each berry contains more vitamin C than an orange does.

Terhi then took us to to Lapua to meet a cousin from my dad's father, Veikko's side of the family. Aune Teikkari and her son welcomed us for coffee, a tour of their dairy farm (there aren't cows any longer) and spent time talking about geneaology. Mom and Aune even traded some knitting techniques before taking a tour of Aune's weaving shed (yes, she has an entire shed devoted to weaving!). Aune also took us to see the home where Veikko's mother grew up, which was a special treat for Denny.
Dad at his grandmother's childhood home.

All in all, Mom and Dad's visit was busy and tiring but very fun. Finnish cousins made sure that they got a taste of Finnish food and culture, and we so enjoyed spending time with them. They both were stunned by our relatives generous hospitality, and Mom remarks that she appreciated how clean the country is. I can't wait to taste the rye bread and cheese Mom will be making after this trip!


Here are some extra pictures, just for fun:

Finland has innumerable lakes, and the majority of them are as pretty as this one near the Välisälos'.

Fall means mushrooms in Finland. This red one is poisonous.

Little loaves of bread for knomes? No, mushrooms.

Here are Brooke and me with her teacher Anna. We found out that Anna's husband is the Korpi's nephew. So, when Terhi was our exchange daughter in the U.S., Anna and other relatives were seeing photos of us on Facebook. After we figured this out, Anna said, "that's why you guys looked familiar!"

The Välisälos: Hanni-Mari and Tero with their children Maiki and Topi; Terhi; Seija and Kalevi. They took us to a cafe on the nearby military base. The cafe's open to the public and among other things serves affordable and yummy pastries and coffee.
Becky couldn't resist the last of the season's blueberries in the forest in Kankaanpää.

Before we headed to the Lapua area, we were able to stop at Terhi's house, which she bought a couple of years ago. Even though she wasn't sure we'd come, she was ready for a coffee break. This is definitely a custom I'd like to bring back home.

Teijo made the cheese press he's holding when he was a school boy. Becky bought the one she's holding in Rauma.

Here's the rye bucket. Becky and Denny traded this one in for a smaller version.

These are trays that help sort the lingonberries berries out from the moss and leaves. The cleaned berries are ready for the freezer and refrigerator. Thanks to Eija and Kauko for the berries and one of the trays and to Taina for the use of the other tray and the jars!

There is always time for a puppy. This one belongs to one of Liisa and Veijo Tirikka's neighbors.

A lot of Finnish families build small play houses for their children or grandchildren. Here, Helvi and Becky are talking next to the one in Helvi and Lasse's yard.

Becky with the brick oven (called a moori in Finnish) in Tero and Hanni-Mari's house. These types of ovens are very efficient at heating the house and many versions, such as this one, offer the added bonus of a baking oven. Becky was coveting this one.

Erja's magical old loom, given to her by her husband Markko's mother.

Kalevi Välisälo is very skilled and artistic. He built this small space for retreat near their home. His kids tease him about it a bit, I think, but it is super cool!

To finish, here a photo of my aunt Donna (Denny's sister) and grandmother Aune (2nd and 3rd from the left) during a visit to Finland in the 1980's. Denny took this photo of a photo at Lasse Kuusijärvi's house.

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