One year into the American Adventure…

Today is exactly one year since we boarded the plane to Seattle! It’s been a fantastic, intense and interesting year with lots of great things happening to our entire family. The biggest thing is of course seeing the boys finding their bearings in the new environment. They’ve both gotten off to fantastic starts at school with great teachers and lots of new friends. School here is quite different from Finland, and our thoughts and experiences are enough to warrant its own blog post, so I’ll try to get around to that soon. They’ve also enrolled in sports activities such as karate, soccer and tennis, and are doing very well at that. There have been periods of homesickness, and they talk a lot about their friends in Finland although the new ones we’ve met over here are starting to become more important.

We were lucky enough to find a house we love and want to stay in, we’ve made wonderful new friends, and we feel at home. We’ve also enjoyed welcoming family and friends from Finland to stay with us, as I’ve told you about in earlier postings.

There are so many great things about this corner of the USA, but there are also a few things I can’t get my head around. So I created two lists, one with pros/great things and one with cons/could be better.

What we love:

  • The people and the culture – it’s just the right mix of American and international that we hoped to find.
  • The atmosphere and vibe. There is a more liberal and open culture here than we’ve experienced elsewhere in the US, and an almost European twist to many things.
  • The parks and playgrounds, the cleanliness and well kept common areas.
  • The library is great, much better than expected. All public services and functions we’ve been in contact with have been great.
  • Our house and neighborhood
  • The vast amount of things to do within a radius of a couple of hours’ drive
  • The diverse, dramatic and beauuuuutiful landscape
  • D likes his job a lot.
  • The weather -believe it or not! It’s much warmer than Finland, and the period of really bad weather is actually not that long.
  • A very “green” mindset (comes with the liberal values), and lots of support for recycling, bicycles and a functional bus network.
  • I personally love how fall is celebrated, with decorations and festivities linked to the harvest and the intense colors of the turning leaves. It’s something I think would be good for Finland, where fall typically just means wrapping everything up for winter and going into hibernation mode until Christmas… I vote for more fall celebrations and decorations! 🙂

What we can’t get our heads around:

  • The elections. There is so much to say on this topic, I’ll have to create a whole own posting on this. But it’s a bizarre system, generating bizarre results. So, as we can’t do much about it, we’re sitting tight watching the outcome of this crazy game.
  • The school system. We’re lucky to have our kids in a great public school, but we’re part of a small, privileged group. Having seen the school system from the inside for a while, I’ll have to make some more comments on this in a post of  it’s own, as I already said before…
  • The sugar and the food. Especially putting sugar in virtually ALL prepared food. It’s weird and very unhealthy. Even the Béarnaise sauce tastes sweet!
  • The oversized beverage containers and food portions. It’s just too much.
  • The way insurance companies are allowed to run the show. And the ridiculous prices of even over the counter drugs that cost very little at home. So much for the economy of scale and free market….
  • The so called “free choice”. It just leads to total exhaustion trying to map and compare all options available for everything. The people of Finland and Sweden pushing free choice in all aspects don’t know what they’re asking for… More to come on that topic later….
  • The total wastefulness in so many aspects. Food. Electricity, gas and energy in general. Disposable everything, especially utensils, plates and cups in many restaurants – not even just fast food joints. But also the single-use of decorations for parties, Halloween, etc.
  • The built-in contradictions of the system. More on this later, as I need to wrap up for the night.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from last weekend when we went for a truly American activity: harvest festival at Carnation Farms, with the compulsory pumpkin patch. After just dodging what was supposed to become a major storm we had the skies clear up and turned into a great day out. After petting the animals, picking out the bestest pumpkins, getting our faces painted, and equipping ourselves with balloon lightsabers we also managed to bring home some pumpkin decorations to deck our doorstep. All in all a very successful day!

 

 

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Restarting the blog with a trip east!

I’m sorry my friends, I’ve been out of the blogging loop for too long. At first, I just put off writing because there was so much to do, and then it started feeling embarrassing that I hadn’t written in such a long time. Before I knew it, I was having trouble sorting out what to write about and how to arrange such a long blog post and then summer hit me. We went home to Finland, and had a wonderful vacation without much internet and digital distractions. And now we’re back in Redmond, trying to get into the new pace of life with two kids in school. That’s why I’m writing this. To sort thoughts out and to share some of what we’ve been experiencing with you. I’ll try to share what’s happening now and what really belongs in posts from spring/summer, but bear with me and I’ll try to make the silence up to you. Ok? 🙂

So, school just started two weeks ago. A is now in 2nd grade, and B is starting Kindergarten. This year is the first year that our school district is offering free full time Kindergarten to everyone, so we’re lucky enough to have both kids in the same school and on the same schedule, which makes life soo much easier! They both went off happily, and haven’t complained a single time yet about going to school (except complaining about having to walk to school when it’s sunny and lovely weather. They thing we should take the car…). B is so proud to be a big boy and loves his teacher. He’s made new friends, and is telling wild recess stories about climbing and Star Wars fights.

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Two/Too cool for school?…

At the moment, we have D’s mother Jili and Wende here, visiting for the first time! It’s almost been two weeks and we’ve had so much fun! We’ve visited Tiger Mountain, Snoqualmie falls, they’ve explored the Sammamish River Trail by bike, and met with local Finn Sheep farmers.

Last weekend was the high point of the visit, when we headed out east to Yakima and the Yakama Nation Reservation to acquaint ourselves with the Native American heritage for the first time, and also hoping to see some wild horses. It was a breathtakingly beautiful drive over the Cascades, into a totally different type of scenery. Eastern Washington is much dryer than the west side of the range, the Yakima valley being a semi desert landscape with acre after acre of orchards and vineyards. We started on Saturday after a wet soccer game with the Cheetahs (A’s soccer team, coached by D!), and headed east in pouring rain. After a while, it stopped raining and we got to enjoy misty forests and mountain ranges as we descended towards the valley. After Ellensburg we took the Canyon road along the Yakima river, ooh-ing and aaah-ing our way through the majestic scenery.

 

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Rising mist over the Cascades

 

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The Yakima River canyon is beautiful, with greenery along the river and arid hills on the sides. The river is abundant with fish, and we saw lots of boats and fishermen on this beautiful day.

 

We arrived in Yakima, checked  in at the hotel and then went driving to catch the evening light over the landscape and scout for vineyards. We weren’t disappointed. The late afternoon sun was peeking through a dramatic cloud cover, and illuminated the yellow slopes in a beautiful way.

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As we were driving back to the hotel, we spotted a speedway track with an ongoing race! Having watched Cars a countless number of times, we just had to see what it looks like in real life. And Yakima delivered! We met at friendly lady who let us watch for a few minutes, and told us about the sport and the local scene. She also pointed out the REAL Lightning Mc Queen, who was getting ready for the final event of the evening. We didn’t stick around to see him race, but at least now we can say that we’ve seen the real deal!

 

The next morning, we headed to the Yakama Nation Cultural Center and Museum to learn more about the history of the area. It’s a great source of knowledge about the Native Americans of this area, and of their culture, and the friendly staff made the stop very worthwhile. After this, we continued our journey for the best part of the day (well, at least according to me): wild horse scouting in the reservation.

There are thousands and thousands of wild horses roaming the lands of the reservation, which covers an area of 2,185.94 square miles (5,661.56 km²). The part that we saw consists of gently sloping hills covered with grass and sage shrubs. It didn’t take long for us to spot the first ones far away, and we spent the next two hours driving back and forth on the highway, stopping whenever possible where there were horses within photo reach. At one place, we had them thundering by really close, and I nearly missed the action due to changing of lenses. Rookie mistake! We saw mainly small bachelor groups, but also spotted a larger group of mares and foals. My memory card was filling up fast, and I got some nice ones, but I need to get back there, and hope to be able to find a guide to take me out in the outback country for more….

This trip will stay in our memories for a long time, and I hope to be able to return soon, to learn more about this wonderful part of Washington!

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Tulips galore!

About an hour’s drive north of Seattle there is a phenomenon that I want to share with you: The Skagit Tulip Festival (http://www.tulipfestival.org/site). It’s a small town with no other claim to fame than their tulip fields, which are ablaze with colors during a few weeks in spring. They also just happen to be the largest tulip growing community in the US, with a massive export to Holland(!). It all started with a Dutch immigrant who saw a chance to keep doing what he already could – growing tulips – and a lot of hard work. Today, the festival attracts people from all over, and gives the small town a well needed infusion of people (and money).

We only went to the fields with free access, the Roozengaarde exhibition will be next year’s treat (for me, at least). It was very crowded, and traffic was dense so it wasn’t really something to do with two hungry kids in tow. Instead, we headed to the little town of La Conner to have some yummy seafood. We’ll need to get back there in summer, it was a really cute little place!

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March madness

March has been an intense and wonderful month, spring has come and we’ve had a lot of fun!

In the US Easter is not a public holiday, so we were just going about our business as usual until we hit the weekend. Saturday morning started off with delighted screams as the boys found the Easter eggs that the Easter bunny had hid in their room. But, as they pointed out, he must have been in a hurry since they were so easy to find. Note to bunny: hide the eggs in more difficult place next year! After the egg exploration we had breakfast with lots of eggs to color and paint, while chatting with Finland on Skype. When the breakfast was finished and the kitchen cleaned, we headed off to Issaquah and Lewis park for the SWEA Easter Egg Hunt together with a bunch of other Swedes. It was great fun, and the weather held up for us so that we got a couple of nice picknick hours out on the lawn. In the evening, we had some Finnish friends over for dinner, and the day ended with a jamming session on our new piano. All in all a great first US Easter for us!

This week I’ve had the chance to see another part of American school, and to experience a day together with A – I chaperoned a field trip to the Seattle Aquarium. It was a trip for the 1st and 2nd graders of the school, all in all over 100 kids that were loaded into the classic yellow school buses together with chaperones and teachers for a day out. Each chaperone was responsible for 3-4 kids, I got 3. It was so great to see how A interacts with the other kids, happily talking, and playing around in English. We had a great day, and came back a little more informed about life under the sea. It will definitely be worth another trip, so that B can see it, too!

Finally, I want to tell you about the latest photoshoot I went to at the Shining Star Ranch (Monroe, WA), this time with a wedding theme. Just like the first time, a bunch of photographers, models, makeup artists, and other wedding actors such as cake makers showed up for a day of fun and shooting. However, there was a lack of models so I was put in a dress, too. It was a blast! I got to try the model part as well as taking pictures myself, and I really enjoyed it but next time I think I’ll stay behind the camera. Below are a few of the pictures I took:

…and a few that I’m in… Enjoy! 🙂

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Say hello to my new friends…

Yesterday three new friends and their support team arrived at our house. They’re called Mr Main, Mr Fill and Mr Background, and they’re backed up by Background and some other stuff. I plan on spending a lot of time in their company and hope they’ll make me happy (and, of course, in due time also rich and famous… 😉 ).

As I wrote last time, the boys have started Karate class on Wednesdays. Yesterday they got their first stripes, which are milestones towards the next belt level. A takes it very seriously, and was very nervous before the test, but everything went fine and they were both very proud afterwards. B even agreed to putting on the white karate uniform for the first time!

During the weekends we try to get together with the other Swedish and Finnish families in the area and the boys play soccer on Saturday evenings, but we also try to do a little sightseeing in the area. Snoqualmie falls are about an hour away, which makes it a perfect family outing for us. We visited in the end of February on a semi-gray day with some wind and lots of spray from the falls. The walk from the top to the bottom of the falls is a beautiful but steep walk but the boys braved it out. On the way home we ate at our favorite pub in Sammamish, which is always a hit with the entire family.

Now I need to get the boys to sleep, so I’ll leave you here. If you like my writing, please feel free to comment here on the blog (what do you want me to write about?), sign up to follow (and you’ll get an email whenever there is a new post…) or just like it! It’s always fun to get feedback! 🙂

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OMG It’s February already!

So, we’ve made it to February and spring is in the air! I can’t believe it’s over a month already since I wrote on the blog last time, but that’s the sad truth. My apologies for the silence, there’s a lot going on…

One of the biggest events since I last wrote is that B has started Preschool. He’s doing two days a week, 3 hours each time. The first day was tough, but already on the second day he found a teacher that he really likes, he even made her a Valentine’s card which she really appreciated. He’s also made a new friend – on the third day a girl spoke to him and ordered him to stand by the toy box. He obeyed and she continued to order him around. He came home and told me that he’s got a new best friend, so I guess all is well.

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A and B have also started taking Karate lessons. It’s a Karate school close by, which specializes in kids and family classes. Some of A’s friends also take Karate classes, so he wanted to try it. We went to check out the place in advance, and met the teacher, who explained that the method is developed for kids, with the explicit aim to teach self defense. In the first session the kids were taught what to do if a stranger approaches, like screaming and wiggling out of an embrace. I don’t know if this would also be the starting point for a Finnish Karate course, but I doubt it. The focus on security is so much greater here, than in Finland or Scandinavia.

Another security related thing happened a couple of weeks ago, when two high schools in our school district were closed for one day due to threats they had received. Getting the email from the school district about what precautions had been taken brought a bit of harsh reality into our little bubble. Even though I sincerely hope it was “just” a high school prank, it made me very uneasy to think that someone might be planning an attack on schools – what if they are so pumped up when the day comes, that they just pick out another school instead of the ones they threatened? I kept A at home for that day….

Outside it’s been a couple of absolutely stunning days mixed in with the rain, with temperatures around 17 C and glorious sunshine. The crocuses are up, the tulips aren’t far behind, and the bugs and bees are starting to buzz. The Forsythia is blooming, heather is gloriously pink in the front yards, and many trees are in bloom and leaves are budding. Even the cherries are starting to bloom!  It’s a wonderful feeling to know that we’re in February and spring is already this far along! 🙂

This weekend I participated in an open photo shoot event, you might have seen the pictures on fb. I enclose a few here, just in case you’ve missed them… 😉

The venue is the Shining Star Ranch in Monroe, WA, in the mountain countryside about 45 minutes’ drive from us. It’s a B&B with an animal shelter, whose owner Lindsey Brooks is a dynamic entrepreneur who is also launching her new clothes line. This was an opportunity for aspiring photographers, models, make up artists etc to meet and build on their portfolios, the next event will be in March. It was so great to meet with new people and spend an entire day just photographing and talking shop. I’ll definitely do this again, and set up the similar idea when I get back home to Finland! 🙂

 

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Tired, sore, smelly and happy….

…that was me, two days ago, after having had my first riding lesson in over 10 years. This time I’ve decided to try Western, which seems natural given the surroundings and circumstances. It was great to be back on horseback, and I got a great start riding an old show horse, Sarah. In addition to being a very gentle and calm personality, she’s very well trained and seems to enjoy working. After having a couple of days to get back in shape, I can tell you that I’ll be back up there soon again! 🙂

B also got off to a great start with the horses, he’s bonded with Luna, who is owned by one of the Swedish ladies/moms I hang out with. She was kind enough to introduce B to her horse while I was riding, and he even got to take a ride! He really likes hanging out with Luna, and he was talking about going back already in the car on the way home… 🙂

Other than that, the next big change will be for B when he starts Preschool in a couple of weeks. I’ve found a place close to home that offers a good group size, nice environment, an own, fenced yard and a not too high tuition cost. The Preschool offers two days a week (Tue + Thu) and three days a week (Mon + Wed + Fri) options, care time 3 hours per day. B will start off with two days a week, and maybe move to the three day group if there will be any openings during spring. This isn’t ideal, but it’s at least a start. He needs to get out and meet other kids and make some friends, he’s become way too clingy and attached to me lately. His favorite game right now is to act like a baby, talking baby language, and refusing to walk. When we meet other kids my independent, curious, sociable little boy has turned into a wall flower mainly prone to sitting in my lap, fiddling with my hair. He’s never been like this before and I want my “old” B back! It’s definitely time for him to get some social contacts without me…

Oh, and he’s working on his English. Whenever he gets the chance, he tries out different words and expressions, with a flawless prononciation and non-existent grammar he sometimes gets it right, and sometimes not. The other day in the supermarket he just stated to me that “I like apples, I want apple”. Not bad for someone who’s only been exposed to English “passively” and not had to immerse himself in it like A has had to do at school. Needless to say, he got some apples!

The progress that A is making in school is also quite amazing to follow. Six weeks into school, he’s already actively communicating with his friends, although he’s still very quiet in the classroom situation. There is homework almost every day, which he happily makes and shows us. There is also a folder system in use, meaning that he brings home all the papers and tasks he’s completed during the day in addition to the homework assignments. There are lots of word and writing practice, which means that he simultaneously builds his glossary while learning to spell. The math problems are often text based, and thus require English comprehension skills, math skills and logical thinking skills. Increasingly, he also gets these right! These are some examples of what he’s working on:

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In the school there’s an anti-bullying program, which is taught and enforced in a very positive way. The kids learn different conflict management tactics, and are encouraged to praise each other for doing the right thing. The teachers also write praise notes to students for behaviors in line with this program. A has already received two praise notes, and is very proud of them!

All in all, things are going really well and we’re all happy to be here! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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