Friday, September 25, 2015

Baltic Adventures (Part 2)

We arrived in Helsinki on a Sunday afternoon. After figuring out how to get a transportation pass we took a tram to the train station (but of course not before getting off at the wrong stop with all our luggage first!). We found our correct intracity train, took it to our stop, and was met there by the man in whose apartment we'd be staying. He took us to his place, showed us a few things like how to work the keys/locks, the washing machine, where clean sheets were, and so on, and then left us to get settled in. I ran to the store to pick up a few basics and threw together something for a meal (grilled cheese, maybe?). We got everyone fed and in bed and got a good night's sleep.

Starbucks! Quite the treat for us since there isn't one where we live!

Monday morning we all got up and headed into town to turn in our visa applications. And then we breathed a big sigh of relief. Shannon still had a lot of work to do so we spent most of our first week with him plugging away at the computer while I watched the girlies. The girls and I spent a lot of time at the local parks and we found a really great one nearby. In Finland there are a lot of playgrounds that have someone working at them in the mornings, kind of like a preschool teacher. They also have toys that are communal toys, and we saw this at almost every playground we visited. There were tricycles, buckets and shovels for the sandboxes, balls of every kind, and various other toys that are shared by the children of the community. It was such a blessing for our kids to have these things to play with!

The Church on the Rock. Worth checking out if you're a big fan of architecture or in the area, but not worth a special trip.

The Central Train Station.

View out of the SkyWheel.

The glass is tinted blue, so be prepared for all your photos to be tinted and to need a filter!

Senate Square.

Market Square.

So the girls and I spent a lot of time at the playgrounds and local parks. There was a forest right behind our apartment and it was beautiful. There are lots of paved paths for bikes and then other paths cutting through the forest that are more like hiking trails. Everything was so green and beautiful, and it reminded me strongly of home in Alaska, just without mountains. There were fireweed and wild roses just like in Alaska...the whole place even smelled like home. It was so nice for me, especially since we didn't go to Alaska when we were in the States last time, to get a little bit of feeling like I was at home.

No filter or editing on really is this green.

When in Helsinki, if you climb things like this...

You're rewarded with views like this.

There was an observatory in Kaivopusto Park.

Other than Shannon working and the girls and I hanging at the parks, we took a day and went and did touristy stuff. We bought two Helsinki Cards, which I wouldn't recommend unless you either a) really like museums, or b) have children who would otherwise have to pay for things. We actually saved money since we would have had to pay for the bigger girls, but otherwise I'd say it's not worth the money. But. We rode the Finnair SkyWheel. We took a cruise down the canals. We ate yummy food down in Market Square. We took the ferry out to Suomenlinna Fortress, walked around the island, and checked out the submarine that's been turned into a museum. We also went to Linnanmaki, which is an amusement park. But the best part about it, at least for our little family with three kids five and under, was that there were ten rides for free. And you don't have to pay an entrance fee to get into the park, so we spent a few hours there, our girls rode all the rides, and we didn't pay a single euro. It was amazing.

I, the fish snob from Alaska, actually ate the salmon in Helsinki and enjoyed it!

At Suomenlinna Fortress.

Cruising in the canals around Helsinki.

After a week had passed we went to check on our visas and lo and behold, they were already ready! But they didn't start for another week, so we go to just hang out in Helsinki for another week. It was actually a quite needed break, since we headed straight from our crazy summer to leaving the country to a quite busy week with Shannon working all the time trying to catch up on computer work he'd let slide over the summer. So that additional week was very nice, almost like vacation (on a strict budget, since Finland is expensive!). We went back to the amusement park. We visited a farm that was free where the kids could run around and pet animals and play in the "kid-sized farmhouse." We went back to Market Square and wandered around a bit, had some Starbucks, got strawberries (long since out-of-season where we live!), and just enjoyed some family time. It was so nice.


Learning how to wait in line.

Shannon really wanted to ride this roller coaster, so he did! You can buy a ticket for just one ride, which is a little ridiculous since the price is horrible that way, but it works out really well when you only want to do one thing!

He's the one in the back, right, top, with his arms in the air.

We thoroughly enjoyed Helsinki. It was a nice break from most of our other trips to Asian countries...this was Europe through and through. It's clean. Everyone speaks English (or very nearly everyone, anyway). Kids under age 7 travel free on public transportation, as do parents with a child in a stroller. There are elevators in the metro/train stations and sidewalks are stroller-friendly. There are great parks for children and lots of free things for young children to do. The only downside to Helsinki that we found is that it's quite expensive. We ate at home almost all of the time and still spent probably nearly double on food than we do here. And food is not cheap here! But overall we enjoyed it and have actually decided that we'll probably often head to Finland when we have to leave the country in the summer. So I'm already looking forward to next summer and a trip to somewhere new in Finland!

Two days before we planned on leaving we bought train tickets to St. Petersburg. The kids all traveled for free (this time. We learned on the train that technically they should have charged us for one of them...only one free child per adult!) so this was a very economical way to see a new city on the way home! (And it was much more enjoyable than airplane travel with a 1-year old!).

Saturday, September 5, 2015

16 Months Old

Raye is such a cutie-pie these days. She's:

*talking a lot. Lots of words that start with "b": ball (buh), bye-bye, bird (also "buh"), baby, and something that sounds like ah-ne, which we think means "another." I've heard her say "I love you" this month, too, which was really sweet. She says some other things, too...I'm just having a hard time remembering them at the moment.

*working on more animal sounds now: "oooooh" for a cow, "buh buh" for a chicken, "kah kah" for a duck, "baa baa" for a sheep, "nay nay" for a horse, and of course the ones she already knew. For an elephant she'll raise her arm in the air and make a squeaking sound, and for a lion she'll do a very quiet, low growl/roar sound. It's awesome.

*more picky about food this month. I think a lot of it is due to all the fruit we've been having...'tis the season for yummy, cheap fruit, and we have been enjoying it. And so has Raye. She always loves fruit, crackers, and's actual meals she might not be down with. Honestly, she's still a pretty good eater and not too picky, but she gets really grumpy when hungry so if it's not meal time yet or we're out and she's a grump because she's hungry, well, I give her a snack. So she often doesn't want all of her meal. And so the cycle continues. Mama can't handle the crying. #thirdborn.

*very sweet when someone else is in trouble or just upset. She'll pat them on the head (she also loves our friends' new baby...she loves to give him kisses and hugs), give them a hug, or just break down in tears that they're so upset.

*saying, "oooh" when putting on a necklace or a skirt/dress, and "mmmm!" when she likes something she's eaten.

*picking up phones, pushing buttons, and holding them up to her ear and saying "heh-doh!" Over and over and over again. She'll also do it with things that are not phones...pretending already. This is one of my favorite things she's doing these's too cute.

*loving books these days. She doesn't necessarily want to listen to all of them, but she loves to look at the pictures and point to things she recognizes, saying them if she knows the word. Her favorite book is this book about feelings, and there's a page with a girl who is grumpy who's saying "hmph!" Raye will grunt and make "hmph!" noises's so funny.

*finally back in cloth diapers! I'm so happy to not be going through packages and packages of diapers each month. Speaking of diapers, she likes to get a wipe when I'm changing her and wipe herself. And she's interested in the potty. This month she actually stopped going in her diaper once in order to go to her potty. She didn't actually go in the potty, but she knows what it's for, I think. It gives me hope that we'll have another one potty trained early and be done with diapers.

*climbing up and down stairs while holding onto the rail, up a ladder if the rails aren't too far apart, and practically running, although she's still a bit clumsy. She loves to slide and swing and just be outside.

*solidly in 18-month clothes. I think if she were in disposable diapers she could still wear 12-month onesies, but the cloth-diaper booty dictates 18-month onesies and bottoms. She's in a size 5 shoe.

*loving to dance. She'll look at my computer and start bouncing, which means, "come on, mom, turn on the music!" And then she loves to be picked up and bopped around, although she's also perfectly happy and capable of bouncing on her own. If she hears music while out-and-about she often can't contain herself and starts bopping up and down.

*learning more body parts. She can identify her hair, head, tongue, teeth, mouth (she either opens and closes it or she'll put her hand over her mouth and make that "uh-buh-uh-buh" noise that happens when you move your hand in front of your mouth), hands, ears, nose, and eyes. Oh, and don't forget the belly button!

*surprisingly good at following directions. She waves when told to "say hi." She'll take something to the trash can or go find someone's blankie, take a toy to another room, put her spoon in the sink, and so on. She understands a lot, even if she's still not saying too much.