Winter post #2: Big splash in the bucket

This weekend we, 3 friends of mine and myself, treated ourselves to a weekend at the sea. Though I´m not a big fan of the Belgian coast with its fully built shoreline but rather prefer the Dutch coastline and its many dunes, we couldn’t and wouldn’t turn down a chance to overnight at an ocean front apartment.

img_20170114_173333-2

Oostende was recuperating from a northwestern storm called Dieter that made some big waves and caused the gusts of wind to be mighty powerful. These gusts also brought ashore a bunch of seabirds that would normally not make their way to the coast. One type of seabird, on the other hand, made its business to get to know us much more intimately.

oostende5

We were walking down the shoreline, slowly making our way to the city for some fresh fish, when we suddenly crossed paths with a bird. This bird immediately headed towards us, directly to the feet of my friend, making a noise and not looking very happy at all. We had the impression it had hurt itself – why else would it so fearlessly approach humans. And fearless it was, and very determined to be making contact with one of my friends. I thought of the shelter for injured birds close to where I live and how there would have to be something similar in a city as big as Oostende. I quickly found the number and called them and as luck would have it, they answered and sent someone to pick up the bird immediately!

As I grabbed my phone,  my friend grabbed the bird who almost immediately stopped the weak attempts to peck at my friend´s glove covered hands and settled down in the warm woolen mittens. We could´t figure out the type of bird that this was, though we agreed it looked a bit like a penguin. Suddenly one of my friends remembered the name of the bird her 6-year-old son, who happens to be into birds, had taught her. This bird could be a razorbill (ruokki in Finnish, alk in Dutch).

img_20170114_135247

After the bird was rescued by one of the volunteers from the Middelkerke Vogelaziel, we continued our weekend of good food and wine, long conversations, belly laughter, no tears (this time, how odd) and lots of walks in the sea breeze.

The next day we were back in action. As we walked along the shore, we started noticing more and more crap that had washed ashore. It was incredible: everything from pieces of fish nets, ropes (heavy-duty and just normal-duty), lots and lots of plastic bottle caps and plastic bottles, and pieces of torn balloons.. Everywhere we looked, there was crap to be picked up. We finally picked up the old plastic baskets that once probably belonged to some fishermen who had lost their fishing baskets as they were blown off from the deck to the sea and landed back on the shore. They worked out well as our trash carriers. We must have emptied those things to the trash cans on the boardwalk  4-5 times on our trip, which took about an hour.

oostende3

Cleaning up the shore or the forest is something I am in the habit of doing. I don´t go to the forest or the seaside with the intention of cleaning up, but I cannot help but pick up the crap that I come across.

Though not all of my friends were into this immediately because following the we-are-only-drop-in-the-ocean-philosophy, they didn’t see the point of starting on this never ending task. In the end,  however we were all squatting on the beach picking up the trash.

This kind of catch could make one depressed, but to me it works just the opposite. It gives me a rush of hope, of competence and a feeling that I can do something. I can help out, by making sure my crap doesn’t end up in the ocean, educating my children to protect the ocean and keep on picking up the crap that I come across and to lead by example.

Similarly, us attempting to save that birdie, was a reminder that indeed, small drops can together make a big splash in the bucket.  This birdie was not supposed to be where it was,  but nevertheless ended up on the Belgian coast being cuddled by a Finnish woman, with three other Finnish women fussing over it. She (or he) certainly made an impression on us – it was a lovely contact we had with nature, and though we worried about how the poor thing would turn out, we were happy because we knew it ended up in a warm and safe place where it had the best chances of making it out and back to where it should be – alive.

oostende

 

Advertisements

Skipakje vs. ballerinas: how to dress your kid against the cold.

“Oh, what a cute skipakje (Dutch for skiing outfit) your child is wearing!”, is a sentence that probably most Scandinavians or at least the Finnish mothers in Belgium have heard. The comment is followed by a well meaning laughter and a smile. This happens when our children appear to any outing wearing what is very common in our cold corner of the world: the winter overall.

img_20151224_133026

In Finland, this type of clothing is common, convenient and coveted as children still spend a lot of time outdoors even in the winter. Yes, even when it´s below freezing. Outdoor playtime is valued as the fresh air is known to be good for the immunity, refreshing our little ones and guaranteeing a good night´s sleep, not forgetting the better appetite and less complaining at the dinner table.

This sentence used to make me agitated. Nowadays, with the importance of outdoor play  gaining more weight in the media,  I sometimes also hear encouraging comments like, “My kid could use a pakje like that”. Indeed,  more and more articles, newsletter pieces, blog (mine included) and Facebook posts and Tweets are underlining the importance of nature and outdoors for everyone´s health. Still, us, parents who choose for these outfits that aim at keeping the kids warm from head to toe, allowing them to move flexibly in sturdy and warm outfits that on top of everything else are easy to clean, are in the minority.

And, to add to the amusement of the majority, it´s not only in the winter that we choose to dress our kids in the so called skipakjes. We also have lighter versions of those pakjes that include only a thin lining or no lining at all (AND, the pakjes also come in two-piece suits). As a result, our children are the ones running across the playground in their pakjes, or whizzing over the frozen puddles in their play-enabling clothes. In rainy weather, we dress them in full rain gear, i.e. more than the rubber boots. In fact, our rain gear includes a jacket, pants and even gloves that, ones you have on, it´s impossible to resist the urge to  run into the biggest puddles head first.

And, while our kids are enjoying their getting-dirty-&-wet action, the  rest of the  parents choose to keep their children´s upper bodies warm, while lower bodies are kept cool. Or this is how it looks with the current winter attires that often include warm  jackets, scarfs, in 60% of the cases, beanies or other head-wear and sometimes also gloves. And then, regular pants or jeans for boys (with or without long underwear?) and stockings and dresses for girls. Shoes that are worn are pretty, but pretty does not always equal pretty warm in this cool and damp weather. In case rubber boots are worn, I hope the little toes are dressed in woolen socks in those boots because, without them, the kid is getting cold in an instant (leading to an unhappy, shivering child).

img_20151011_184340

My Spanish friend is used to the very warm weather and has asked me for some help in clothing her kids for the Belgian winter. This same friend´s Spanish mom was once horrified when she witnessed her daughter´s Finnish friend (that would be myself) readying her baby to take a nap outside in the buggy “in the freezing cold” (I believe it was about plus 5 degrees Celsius outside then). I get it, it´s a totally different climate and southern Spaniards have no to little experience of freezing cold temperatures in their latitudes. I, likewise, welcome my warm blooded friend´s advise on keeping my kids cool during the hot summer. She´s an expert on that.  In Finland, those hot summer days, though they do occur, are still limited to only few and far between.

20140427_153530
Different occasion, but still, napping outside is common to Nordic babies. Heck, our buggies are bigger for that reason too.

So here´s my advise to my Spanish friend as well as for all those parents who find our skipakje choices odd. If you plan on spending time outside with your child this winter, these clothing tips are guaranteed to keep it more fun for both of you.

For a cold winter day (anywhere colder than +5) these clothes include:

Also include:

  • Mittens, rather than the types of gloves that separate fingers. Mittens are warmer.
  • A kauluri , i.e. a neckwarmer or a polo shirt to keep the neck warm. I would advise against scarfs for little children because…well, you do the math.
  • Warm shoes that are water tight and that can fit a pair of preferably woolen socks in them.
  • Add a water proof or water resistant layer, according to your judgement, unless your overall is water resistant.
  • A beanie

By dressing your kid accordingly, they can have more fun, be more daring in their experimenting with the natural elements and the parent will have much less washing to do in the end. Win-win.

Isojärvi national park, FI, Trekking course

We, myself and my partner, had signed up for a trekking course in south central Finland. The course was my birthday present for my 40-year-old partner. Though I´ve gone hiking near the Icelandic glaciers, the Yukon wilderness, Hawaiian mountains and beaches, and the Finnish forests, it´s been years since the last time I´ve spent a night under the stars.

We had no expectations, other than to be able to spend a night in the nature with some experienced people and get a fair dose of trekking-related information.

We arrived at Isojärvi national park´s parking on Saturday at 12.00. It had started raining lightly just a moment before. The parking was, in Finnish terms, full of cars. I was surprised to see that many people. Were they all coming along?

The organizers, Minna and Vesa, handed out our food containers, the dried food packages and a trangia, the cooker that was to be used during the trip to cook all our food. This we packed into out gear, or, my partner did. We were also handed out the maps of the area, a printed A4.

IMG_20160709_155538

When we all had packed up the gear we had received and all of the participants, all together 11 of us, had arrived, we headed to the forest.

IMG_20160709_135534

The Isojärvi park is formed around the  Lake Isojärvi, which is a lake formed inside a fracture in the earth’s crust.The  beautiful park is covered mostly by dry and moist forests, with a small area of old growth herb-rich forest but also rugged pine forests on top of the rocks.  Species of interest include the Canadian Beaver (Castor canadensis) that had been doing some extensive maintenance works causing the water level of the lake to rise, as well as the Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica), which provided us with entertainment with its territorial battles as we enjoyed the fire by the lake side in the evening.

We walked only a few hundred meters when we had our first stop at the first camping site. Here, Minna and Vesa asked us to take out the cookers and demonstrated their use. We learned about the different kinds of cookers on the market, their pros and cons and then cooked some water to make us some coffee (just add water!).

After we had enjoyed our coffees and packed away our cookers, we took out the maps Minna had handed out. They quickly ran us through the different signs on the map, how to use to compass on the map and to show us the direction we were supposed to be headed to. I had a feeling I had learned all this at school, but since it is already more years ago than I care to remember, I had forgot about the details. It was about time for a refresher.

At the Finnish national parks, there are different kinds of camping sites. The facilities  include:

  • picnic sites with tables, cooking shelters and campfire sites with free firewood
  • free facilities such as wells and campfire sites in areas reserved for free camping
  • shelters where visitors may sleep overnight
  • compost toilets
  • waste collection points

(source: Nationalparks.fi )

During our hike, we saw rich forest areas covered with blueberry, areas where we could imagine at nightfall would be the working grounds of the busy beavers.

At times when something remarkable was to be seen in the  landscape, Minna made us stop and look for the spot on the map, to see if we could still “find ourselves on the map”. Places like these included sharp cliffs, big boulders, swampy areas etc that were easy to be seen on the map.

After a while we stopped for a small eating and drinking brake. This was a welcome stop as we had left with just a breakfast in our stomachs. The sandwiches and boiled eggs tasted heavenly in the fresh air. At the same time,the backpack in the back of my partner was getting lighter for him to carry.

We then arrived at our camping site where we found 4 people resting, having started a fire in the fire place. Turned out, that these people had left late at night, with a plan to do a night hike. However, in the dim light of the forest, they had  got lost from their originally planned path and ended up finding their way to the laavu (a type of lean-to shelter) at 4 am. There they rested and slept most of the day until we got there, at around 2pm.They later on excused themselves and walked further.

At these campsites the unspoken rule states that one must make room for others as well. If there´s a traveler who wants to spend the night at the laavu they have the right to stay there for that one night but they need to share the fireplace with others.

Around 4 pm,  we started cooking our dinners. The trangia we were using, was very handy, consisting of 2 pots, one bigger, one smaller, one frying pan, the stands (2 pieces), a sieve and a belt to hold it all together. We took some water from the lake and started boiling it. Tonight on the menu was Italian pata (Italian stew) – a ready made meal to which we would add dried soy. My partner who normally does not cook much, enjoyed the cooking seemingly much. Though the cooking water came straight from the lake, the water that we used for drinking was run through a water purification bag. This active carbon filtered water filter was, according to the organizers, a very effective purifier, having used it at lake Laatokka for very green, algae laden water. The filter would be effective in cleaning everything, except viruses. However, Vesa and Minna reminded us that in the northern Finland, it is not necessary to use this filter as the waters are so clean.

I was reminded of why I absolutely love the Finnish nature and why it is the biggest treasure Finns have. The fact that we could scoop our water from the lake and use that for cooking, and seeing the lichen covered trees with naava, luppo and tons of other kinds of lichens growing on the trees, reminded me again of the purity of this environment. Lichens, especially naava and luppo, are excellent indicators of the air´s quality as they only grow in clean air.

After dinner, MInna showed us the usual contents of her backpack. The back that weigh about 17 kilos, was equipped with everything one would need for 24 hours. Indeed, with the same stuff one could go for a longer time as well, as long as they would pack more food. But the basic things from safety to comfort were all included.

IMG_20160709_170125

What we learned is that if comfort equals discomfort and vice versa. This means, that if you want to camp and sleep comfortably, you will have to suffer for it a bit on the way. However, packing lightly and being comfortable during the hike would mean sleeping uncomfortably or missing some crucial pieces of equipment.

Then it was time  to set up our tents. Minna and Vesa had scoped out the spots were the tents would be best set up. This was also the reason we hiked to this exact location, because we could house that many tents in this spot easily. Plus, some usual spots could not be used as the ground was still wet fro the past days rain.

As we started to set up the tents, we had an introduction to the types of tents that can be found on the market and the kinds of specifics they come with.

 

We got to sleep in the (green one above) laavu looking tent. This turned out to be a nice tent, easy to set up, though a bit too wide for just the two of us who didn´t have much stuff with us on this trip. It would be better to surround yourself with as many backpacks and things around to keep you from rolling off your mat, which inevitably happened.

After the tents were set up and all our stuff was in, we headed down to the fireplace to just sit around and chill. We exchanged stories, took the opportunity to ask all kinds of questions to the organizers who have extensive experience in hiking in the wilderness.  Minna told us about the culture of exchange and how friendly and helpful people are towards hikers and campers in the wilderness of the north. For example, when the urge for lemonade hits, even multivitamin tablets work as an exchange items, especially if the other person has chocolate or rye bread to spare. This pleasant chatter was enriched by the territorial fight of the three Black-throated Divers (kaakkuri).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later on, when the evening started to get dimmer (remember, it doesn´t get dark at night in the Finnish summer), we decided to walk to where we had seen the beaver work grounds.  However, my greed for the blueberries and the mosquitoes that smelled us, distracted us and we never got to the beavers. The two people who left before us to the beavers did get to see 4 of them swimming around in their newly dammed pond!

It was finally time to hit the tent. I had forgotten the most crucual part of my camping equipment + the woolen socks. Luckily Minna has an extra spair (but of course!) which she let me borrow. I slept supringly well though the silence kept me up some time. I woke up only as my partner complained about my snoring or when i rolled off from the mattras.

IMG_20160709_184454

In the morning, I was surprised about how well I had slept. I was also mesmerized about the beauty of the place and the clear blue skies. I felt almost giddy.

In the morning we made breakfast, which consisted of rolled oats which we then pimped with some jam and butter as well as the beautiful blue berries (actually, technically they are bilberries, Vaccinium myrtillus, mustikka) found in the forest and the banana found in my backpack.

 

After breakfast, doing the dishes and packing up the tents, it was time continue our journey, and start returning back. The trail back was somewhat steeper and as the sun was out, it got warm very fast.  On the way, we could see some beautiful sceneries, lit up by the glorious sunlight.

Around 2 pm we got to our camp site, where we then cooked up our  lunch.

On the menu today was lihaperunasoselaatikko (a kind of stew made of  mashed potatoes, minced meat and vegetables). All the ingredients, besides the mashed potatoes which came in a premade and dried bag, were dried by Minna and Vesa themselves. Impressive! Again, we took water from the lake, removed the little moving insects in it, and started boiling the water on the trangia.  We added the vegetables, the dried minced meat and the spice cube (bouillon). After about 10-15 minutes, we took it off the heat and added the dried  mashed potatoes and a scoop of butter into it. Maybe it was the hunger or my taste buds that had been altered, but this all tasted seriously delicious.

 

We made a coffee from the excess water we had boiled and poured the rest of the water into our dirty dishes to soak.  We enjoyed the last bits of each others´ company, packed up and started heading back to the parking lot where we started.

By 15.00 we were back, as had been announced in the program.

The course did not feel like a course but a trip with friends. Friends who were well prepared. I got excited about taking our kids out to a hike the same summer, but Minna reminded me, that with small children, you will have to carry much more things, plus, most likely, some of the kids will need to be carried as well. Therefore, it´s better to do day trips but leave the overnight camping trips for later when everyone can walk and perhaps even carry some of their own things. But in the meantime, we can get into the mood of real survival by cooking our own food on our day trips with our brand new trangia.

Environmental stress and despair: the tiny realist

A few days ago this video appeared on the social media channels. It depicted a little boy, probably no more than 5-7 years of age, crying and appearing very shocked about something he had seen or heard, something that triggered his emotional outburst. He was upset because people were wrecking the planet by cutting down trees and throwing trash on the ground. He could clearly think further into the future when he mentioned how “animals will have to eat the trash on the ground” and he felt hopeless because he was “only a child”. He wish that he was an adult so he could start doing something about it.

img_20150524_140636

The mother of this child had titled the video “emotional environmentalist”. Also, she had added emoticons with a face laughing so hard tears are running down the cheeks. What was the point of that? Was the child´s reaction uncalled for? Was he overreacting? Was he being ridiculous?

When I saw the video, my eyes filled up with tears because I could feel his pain. I would cry for the planet, and I do, but that comes out bundled up in other frustrations: selfish people in the traffic, busyness of the every day life, feeling like you´re not enough.

Just a few weeks ago, I was shaking all over, because I was furious. I had witnessed a woman walking down the street, throwing the wrappers of her sandwich on the ground. I picked up her trash, biked to her and asked her if she had dropped something. Just as soon as she noticed what I was holding, she rolled her eyes at me and starting walking away from me. When I protested, and told her to please pick up her litter, she gave me the finger. Her reaction made me so furious, I started yelling at her, definitely not helping to solve the situation, and probably making things worse. In the future, she will probably be doing this even more, as a protest to any of us “emotional environmentalists” that meddle with other people´s business.

matstrashing

But I believe that the little guy in the video is showing the emotions of many many many adults who are unable to cry about it, but are reacting otherwise, with frustration, depression, other mental issues. There´s nothing exaggerated about his reaction. I feel guilty for all of us adults for making him feel like that and letting things go that far.

But I hope this little man will find a way to channel his frustrations, otherwise he will walk through life frustrated and anxious. I am only now finding ways to deal with my own environmental stress and despair. Though there are gigantic problems to be solved, and an individual can only do so much, and individual can still do her share.  Individual efforts make a big difference in the end when combined with thousands or millions of other individual efforts.

I am trying to make a difference by teaching my kids to respect the planet, love the nature which we are part of and live responsibly. I try to show them a good example by making environmentally aware choices as much as possible, making sure they are no strangers to nature, be it the forest, the sea or the mountains, and I do this in any kind of weather. My hope is that they will grow up to be planet lovers, instead of planet wreckers.

I hope this little buddy´s family will  grab the chance and support his passion by finding ways he can make a difference and feel his needs to save the planet fulfilled.

He is miles ahead most of us.

The video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbjabTS5kac

matstuuli

Power of N(ature)

IMG_20160502_132544.jpg

Today I took an extra little person to the forest with me, together with a friend of mine and my kids.

My kids are already so used to going to the forest, they walk in like it is their backyard.  They also have learned to maneuver in the forest and in other challenging terrains without tripping. My 2-year-old mostly navigates straight into the puddles, purposefully and with a with a big grin.

As soon as we got there, this extra little person told me his plan: he was going to collect this and that, climb all the trees around and definitely stomp around in the mud pools I had told him we would find in this particularly wet forest. He was goal oriented and determined. I couldn´t help but get the feeling he was there to process the forest, to do it, and get it over with. Mind you, it was a very positive place for him to be in,  but there was a feeling of hurry about him.

I tried to point out a few things (hear that sounds? see that little hole?), show a few things (the fungi on the tree trunks “eating” the dead wood, the heart-shaped seeds on the ground), but mostly leave them all to play freely as we walked along slowly.
I made them walk through the whole loop, which is less than 2km, and through the course of it, he calmed down. Not because he was tired, but because of the effect of the forest. It was quiet. We were the only ones there. And he could do whatever he wanted.

When we returned him home, I got a big hug and a question “when do we go again?”. Mission accomplished.

The feedback I got from the little ones mom made me even more convinced it had been the forest working on him as the mom reported seeing a calm child behaving nicely later on the same evening.

This experience reminded me of how crucial it is to enter the forest in a small group to be able to get the best out of it. In this country, finding a place without man made sounds (cars, industry, air planes) is difficult and therefore, we are all constantly bombarded with noise. Therefore, those moments we do find some silence, it´s best to make use of them in small groups, rather than having a whole class enter the forest and ending up filling that space too with man made sounds. In that case, we could just as well stay in the city playground .

I also learned that even if you take your kids to the forest every week, if you always plant ideas and expectations in their heads, and always tell them to ´quick, go climb a tree, pick a flower, do this and that…and remember to enjoy!!´, a lot of it is lost as there needn’t be any hurry in nature. So, let´s just open the door to nature without expectations,  and let the children do their thing, and nature WILL do its magic.