Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Host family for a week...Meet our son Justen Ray

From September 5th - 11th we hosted a fine, young gentleman from Texas who is a cast member with the Up With People 2007 touring troupe C. His name is Justen Ray. Justen came into our home straight from being in Thailand for a few weeks. He settled in as if he had always lived here. Niki and Alexi took a quick liking to Justen and liked the idea of him being their big brother.

Justen's family should be proud of having a son that is well behaved, for the most part, and very courteous and polite. I say for the most part because at heart he is still like a kid and fit well into the family.

His first night here we washed two loads of his laundry that "wreaked" of Thailand. Actually it wasn't so bad but apparently Justen thought so and it was good enough for me to aid him. He and I also went to sauna so that he could clean Thailand from his pores. He, perhaps, like most Americans was a bit shy about going into a sauna buck naked. But being the person that Justen is he went along with the traditional ritual of the Finnish sauna and certainly enjoyed it to its fullest! Especially with the hint of terva = tar in the air. We would stroll from the sauna to the back yard for a brief cooling down with the Midnight air. One night we even walked out into the yard where the dew was heavy on the grass and the sky clear of clouds with millions of stars shining brightly in the Nordic heavens. Justen was awestruck to say the least. I could tell he truly enjoyed himself.

When Justen was around there was never a dull moment. He would be singing and dancing every chance he got. He even got Niki and Alexi involved in some of the Up With People routines they perform on stage. Our boys were not shy and they, in turn, even performed a few of their own songs for Justen as well.

We truly regret and feel badly that we weren't able to attend the one performance in Finland that the troop had in Tapiola. We had to attend Tiina's brother's wedding the same day and evening of this performance. The reception ran a little late so we weren't able to get home in time enough for the show. We had to leave the reception early as it was because we needed to pick Justen up from Tapiola at Midnight since there was no bus transportation to our place that time of night. He said the show went well but not as many people attended as could have. That was too bad because all the proceeds went to charity.
The troupe, outside of rehearsal and performances also do community impact work. They visited schools and children's hospitals. One of the places they went to was the Ronald McDonald house in Helsinki.

Justen experienced some of Finland's finer sides of culture with glee. For instance salmiakki or salty licorice as it is called in English. He took a liking to this substance like a cat to a bathtub full of water! We didn't trick him into eating it. Someone else had that pleasure. I dislike it myself and would never offer it to anyone. He also got to taste Sisu which is a strong tar tasting candy. He thought it was good for the first few sucks then it hit him. He said he would always be reminded of us because he would have that package of Sisu for a long time. I think he later ate half the box whilst out in the woods one day. Justen was also introduced to Jenkki chewing gum. Jenkki is a Finnish term for Americans in general that basically comes from the word Yankee. Jenkki brand chewing gum is sweetened with Xylitol, which Finland is its "home country". It is very tooth friendly. Justen's teeth just kept getting whiter and whiter when he chewed that Jenkki. Oh! Lest we forget, VIILI. Now Justen took a liking to this like a babe to candy. Right Justen? Viili is Finnish curd milk. It is very slimy and loose in texture. Sometimes it is eaten plain or with sugar and cinnamon or with some fruit already mixed in. He tried both. He and Alexi even got the idea to make a viili shake and drank it all up.

Some not so pleasant things, I suppose, or perhaps just rather unusual on Justen's part. He asked what kind of a store that was that had the KKK on the outside of it? Haha. We had to explain that it had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan! It was just the ranking used of the various chain of Kesko stores. Another was when Tiina had her white bathrobe on with a pointed hood. He came out of his room and she said hey Justen look. He said that that was bad. It was just something Tiina and I were thinking of at the time. A what if type a situation. I suppose he would have been very taken back just walking in on Tiina with that on and her not saying anything. We didn't want that to happen. We aren't that kind of people.

Sunday was family day. We let Justen sleep in as long as he wanted. We knew he just had to be exhausted. After he woke up and we ate breakfast we took a small tour of the Espoo center. We went to see the Medieval stone church but it was closed for remodeling. We walked around the old cemetery a bit then headed over to the train station. We took a train to Helsinki from Espoo and back. I think Justen enjoyed that as well. In Helsinki we went inside the Helsinki Cathedral and stood out on the steps that overlooked into the harbor and the Silja Line terminal. We then walked through Senate Square and the Market Square and onto the ferry to Suomenlinna. We just barely made the ferry. Justen truly enjoyed Suomenlinna fortress. It is old and big with lots of places to explore. After walking around awhile we stopped and ate some chips and energy snacks atop a knoll overlooking the Gulf of Finland. We watched the tourists walking by and the sailing ships and boats of all sizes coming and going. The forecast for the day called for scattered showers but it turned out to be nice and sunny for us. Justen ran into a few "Uppies" while we were venturing around the fortress. Before we had even left for Helsinki he made the comment that we will see some of the troupe somewhere along the way. We did and twice at that! Too tired and exhausted to make dinner we all had McDonald's take out :) Family day ended quite successfully I do believe.

The following day Justen and the rest of the 69 members spent the day in Nuuksio National Park here in Espoo. They went hiking, swimming and partook in sauna as well as grilling makkara = sausages. Justen explained that after his sauna experience with me he popped into the sauna there in Nuuksio buck naked whilst all the rest were wearing their swim suits. So not to make them all feel uncomfortable he donned his trunks as well but the scout said he was Finnish and would be staying there naked. This was also the evening of viili for Justen. It was also our last night of having him in our home.
The following morning Alexi said his goodbyes reluctantly and went off to school. Tiina, Niki, Justen and I took Niki to his school with his backpack all loaded up for school camp in Tammisaari. So Niki said his goodbyes to Justen there. The three of us then proceeded on to Tapiola where we dropped Justen off to join his troupe. They would be there for awhile and then would leave early evening on the Silja Symphony to Stockholm. They would be performing on the boat as well. We said goodbye to our son for a week and wished him all the best in life and a safe and continuing trip. We also welcomed him back anytime he wished to visit Finland and he did the same for us. As we left I could see some tears in host mom Tiina's eyes. She truly was a mother to Justen and treated him as one of her own. Things certainly quieted down around here after Justen left. Mind you it was not bad that he was here but did leave a feeling of emptiness after he left. I don't think we will ever forget you Justen Ray! Respect! God Speed and good luck y'all!

Tahdon.......Wedding Bells Were A Ringing

Saturday September 8th marked a happy occasion for a very lovely and happy couple. They are my brother-in-law, Sampo, and his beautiful bride, Marleena. They were married in the Porvoon pikkukirkko where Pastor Kari Leikko officiated. It was a fairytale like wedding at best! The guest list was kept small but the atmosphere was gigantic. Celebrities that filled the pews included Miro, all the members of Egotrippi, Teleks and Jore Marjaranta to name a few. The newlyweds left the church in a Ford Mustang. Sorry I didn't catch the year.

We all relocated to Solbacka in Pernaja for the reception. The reception kind of got a late start as we were all waiting for the newlyweds to arrive. They probably had gone home to comb the rice out of their hair :)

The food was all natural and very, very tasty! I don't think I have ever had such good food at a wedding reception before. Of course, all the food I have ever eaten at receptions has always been good. Something about this made it taste different. Maybe because it was all organically grown?
The program of events for the evening were great. Unfortunately for us we had to leave just before the waltz and other musical entertainment. All three of Marleena's brothers entertained us with their gift of music. Emppu and Emil playing the accordion and drums in one segment and Miro doing what he does best composing live using live-looping. It was fantastic as I had never seen anything like it before. When I later asked if he had made a recording of this masterpiece this was his reply, "I am sorry but I did not record my show from the wedding, it was once in a life time shot and the music goes on in our memories. I like that way to do music sometimes. It makes the music different because then it lives its own versions in everybody's memories or something." Believe me you, it surely did and continues to do so!!!

Here is a recipe for A Happy Life that was given to us by my Aunt Carolyn when Tiina and I got married way back when. It serves hundreds!

Take equal parts of kindness, unselfishness and thoughtfulness. Mix with love and scatter with helpful words. Add a smile or two. Throw in the spice of cheerfulness. Stir with a hearty laugh. Share with everyone!

Sampo and Marleena may you two have many, many, many wonderful years together. Remember the good times but never forget the bad times as they are what makes us stronger as the years go by. God bless you and your family!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon.......

Here's a picture of me that Tiina snapped a few Sunday's ago. It was a warm and muggy day and I went out on the balcony to get some fresh air. I couldn't resist taking up Niki's new classical guitar and strumming on it while I sat outside. Not that I can actually play anything useful but it helps to relax and to keep my fingers exercised. Tiina was sitting on the sofa and thought the image was cool looking with me sitting in front of the insect screen we have in the doorway. She snapped this photo using her Nokia N73 phone's camera. She always has this way of seeing things that are interesting and if she can she manages to snap a few pictures to try and capture that same moment. Niki's guitar has such a beautiful sound to it that from time to time I just enjoy playing it. When Niki plays it sounds so much better. I am proud that he decided to stick with the guitar. I always wanted to learn but when I was his age I really wasn't given the opportunity.

I got my first guitar in the summer of 1978. This guitar was probably one of my Dad's first guitars. I don't even recall the name of it but it was an acoustic with a wide body. I believe it had been refinished to a deep Burgundy red color. His name of Bob was painted on the head stock. It sat on a guitar stand in the corner of the Grandparent's room for as long as I could remember. I used to pick on it whenever I visited them during the summers out of school. In 1978 I was presented this guitar by the Grandparents after I had moved in with them. They said my father wanted me to have it and that they saved it for me until I was a certain age. I was 16 then. I got new strings for it and the neighbor man, Wayno Rintala, strung it up and tuned it for me. Sometimes Grandma would try to teach me some chords and have me strum along while she played Little Brown Jug on the piano. I was never any good it seems. Another neighbor man, Dennis Harrison, who lived up on the hill behind us, drew up some chords for me to practice. Practice those chords I did. They are probably the only ones I know! Sadly I do not know what has happened to this guitar. It never had a case for it so I couldn't take it with me on the airplane to Alaska or here to Finland. I am still trying to find out if it still exists or not. I do have a Grammer Guitar that my Dad gave to me in the early 1980's. He used to work at the Grammer Guitar Factory in Nashville, Tennessee. It needs to have some work done on the it but other than that it still sounds good for as long as it stays in tune.