Walking, walking, walking

One of my daily goals is to get 12,000 steps a day, per my FitBit. I have been nailing it almost every day! I started using the MapMyWalk app, mainly so that when I return, I can show my route to Wellu and be able to say, “This is where I went…” because I sure as fuck can’t remember when I get home! “Uhm…it was down the street, up a hill, down this muddy path, through some woods…yeah, I just made it back by sheer luck.” Here’s today’s path:

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A little over two miles. Slow miles, because you-know-who has to sniff every freaking bush and pole and rock and clump of dirt or ice or snow…but still, two miles is a goodly distance for me these days.

Today actually was a pretty day, and here it is, past mid-December in Helsinki, and I was sweating under my coat. I had it unzipped when I got home, and I was just steps away from actually taking it off. But then I would have had to haul it around with me.

December 20, 2014, nearly 9:15am. Look...blue sky!

December 20, 2014, nearly 9:15am. Look…blue sky! Sorta.

It’s hard to see in the picture, but there was blue sky there, and by mid-day, there was a lot more of it showing up, too.

Here’s some adorable pictures of Shiva from our walk for you to enjoy:

Cave exploring Shiva!

Cave exploring Shiva!

Watching the other dog from the relative safety of the table top

Watching the other dog from the relative safety of the table top

Last night, we snacked on some of the best wild boar…yum yum!

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That’s some smoked wild boar ham, perfectly aged white cheddar, some Marie Kulta crackers, served up in a cute Moominmomma plate, next to my Moominmaid notebook, on top of my Moominmomma placemat. Too bad you can’t see all the other Moomin goodness on my desk, too. Too bad you can’t taste that wild boar goodness, either. Sorry, not sorry.

We went to go visit some friends near Itäkeskus, and took Shiva with us. She behaved very good, even around their five-year-old, and only barked at his mom a little bit. Until she was petted, and that seemed to appease her. She’s so easy. We had pastries, then we bundled up and headed out to the dog park for a bit. There, she played with a huge old Husky mix named Brutus and a hound dog puppy named Major. I would have taken pictures…but forgot my phone. Oops.

Tomorrow, we head to the Forum to run some errands, then we have to pack! Then on to Oulu Monday….then I return on Friday to get my daughter on Saturday and we take the train to Lapland! OMG….can’t wait!!!

Day 20 Challenge Question: Describe someone whom you’ve lost in your life and the sadness that you feel.

Wow, can’t do this one today. Today is too happy of a day. So let’s just change it to: What makes today a happy day?

Celebrating my middle daughter’s 21st birthday!! OMG…she’s a grownup!! Now she can legally order drinks! Check out this cutie pie!! It would only better if I could be with her.

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My middlest baby, today!!

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Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivä!

A dreary Independence Day

A dreary Independence Day

Today was/is Finland’s Independence Day. It’s mostly quiet, and given that it occurs in December, it’s a much different sort of event than the Independence Day in the States. People light candles of white and blue, flags are flying everywhere (okay, that part is the same), stores are closed, and with today being dreary and raining, not too many people were out.  The day celebrates the independence of Finland from Russia, and the candles are in remembrance of when they were lit in windows to tell Finnish soldiers that they could seek refuge in those houses.

Wellu and I went out in the rain and picked up a step ladder that I bought off a student on Facebook. It turned out to be a really nice one, and once we got it home, I got busy doing some interior decorating.

20141206_181638[1]While out, I did make note to talk about something that I see on just about everyone, young and old. Reflectors. Hanging from jacket sleeves, backpacks, hoodies, purses, etc. It’s really a smart move, given that the world over here gets dark around 4pm right now. The reflectors come in all shapes and colors, and everyone from kids to grandmas have them dangling from some piece of outer clothing. The one on my backpack is a Moominmamma one, and the one from my jacket is the 20141206_181655[1]Moomin Maiden. 🙂 I think it’s a really neat idea, and I wish that more people in the States would adopt them as safe accessories for being out in the dimmer hours of the evening.

And because you can’t have enough Shiva :), here’s one of her sacked out on the couch:

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Day 6 Challenge (I really need to start remembering these!):

Name a song that triggers emotions from the past and describe those emotions.

Wow. I listen to so much music, and it’s hard for me to remember times and places. I really wish I was better at it than I am–I would probably make a better storyteller. I’m not sure about a single song that triggers anything from the past, but I can tell you that almost any time I hear a Jimmy Buffett song, I am reminded of our time living on a sailboat, when I was 15-6 or so. Depending on the song, it takes me back to when there was no internet, smartphones or other distractions to take me away from really getting in to the world around me. I can close my eyes and feel warm tropical breezes, the slosh of the waves, the singing of the wind through the rigging…I suppose that is where my wanderlust was born. I start to feel antsy, not in a bad way, but in a way that makes me want to urgently go explore.  Having had a taste of it, you never really lose the need to see what is over that next horizon.

The show went on!

Tonight we had our performance of the small production that our group has been working on. It was at the Caisa Intercultural Center, at the City Center. It was a small community event, and even though we’d only had six meetings to put this together, and only one day of actual rehearsals, it went surprisingly well! The story was about a newly-married woman joining her husband in Finland. The story was told in four acts, each as a season, as she goes through getting settled, frustrated and finally accepting and loving her new home.

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My part in all this was as co-producer and taking care of the slides that were our “set”. I didn’t have to be on stage, at least! I just needed to make sure everyone had their props, that we actually had all the props, and that each person knew when to set up the next set.

It was a lot of fun to do, something I really enjoyed. Everyone was very kind and fun to work with. I look forward to doing the next one! The proceeds from this production went to help fund libraries in under-serviced areas of Nepal, a very worthwhile cause.

There were some other performances, as well, such as the Bollywood dance troupe, some singers and other dancers. A very cultural experience!

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In personal news, I got my Moomin duvets yesterday, and they have been put on the bed. It is a very Moomin bed, and I slept quite well under the trees of the Moomin forest!

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

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I leave in a week to head back home to see Mom for Thanksgiving, and get my wonderful baby, Shiva, ready to come back with us! I miss her so much! I’ll be gone for about ten days, then back for about three weeks, before heading to Oulu for Christmas. Then back to Helsinki to pick up my youngest daughter, then the train up to Kittala and the land of Santa for  a few days!

Busy, busy day!

Today was one of those days that was really busy, but I didn’t get anything done, really. But I did ride a bunch of buses and run all over town, so you get to see pictures from my errands!

First off, the day started late, as I slept in rather late. I had napped yesterday–I swear, I laid down at 3pm for a nap…but with the cool air and it getting dark already…I slept until like 7pm. Which meant I was awake until…past 1am. So anyway, I slept in, meaning my day day didn’t get started until 10am already. The apartments had a notice that they were cleaning and waxing the floors today from noon until 1330, so could people please refrain from going in or out during that time. That meant only one thing to me–I needed to plan to go shopping during those hours so that I wouldn’t leave tracks on the newly polished floor!

I have been jonesing for a really good burger (Spoiler alert: haven’t found it yet), and there was a place in the Center called Stones that has a reindeer burger. Got there, but the burger alone is like 17€, and that doesn’t include a drink or anything on the side, plus it has onions in a sour cream sauce and all sorts of stuff I wouldn’t want on it, so at that price, I passed. There is a Hard RFB_IMG_1415878281922[1]ock Cafe right around the corner, so I figure some good ol’ American place would have a decent burger.

And I’d be wrong.

It was ‘okay’, but it was underseasoned and generally bleh. Not bad, but nothing I would cross the street for.

After that, we headed out to go pick up my Moomin duvets which arrived. They didn’t come to our local pick up place, but instead were shipped to Valentatalo, and that was a new bus for me. Once that was done, we did return back to our R-Kioski and picked up our new digibox. But the real star of the mail delivery service are the Moomin duvets! These will be on the bed by tomorrow!

Arrived!

Arrived!

Opening!

Opening!

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

I can’t wait to get these on the bed and take pictures. I am such a fool for this Moomin stuff! I love these little characters — possibly because I identify with the little round-shaped figures.

We went to the Arabia Design Center, to go check out the Finlayson, Fiskars and Ittala outlets. Even as outlets, these places are way out of sight in prices, even for 2nd grade items. Did get to see the Fiskars ‘museum’, which had a few cool displays, and some interesting history on the Fiskars scissors.

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These are frying pans.

Those are the iconic orange handled scissors hanging down in what is a sort of creepy dangerous chandelier. 🙂  I think if the zombie apocalypse hits, this is definitely one place to come get weapons…no one would think of a museum right away! Look at all those splitting axes; just perfect for splitting undead skulls.

I got this amazing Moomin find on Facebook, for just 10€. 20141112_140531The key to wind it up and play music is missing, so I am using it as a desk organizer where I can see it every day. 🙂

Is this not the cutest thing? I wish I could hear the music, but I’ll need to find a broken music box to steal the key from.so I can hear it at some point.

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In schooling news, I am struggling with the very basics. Why couldn’t Finnish be more like Spanish? I am still in toddler classes, learning colors, numbers, basic vocabulary, and I am having so much trouble making it stick.

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This blank board is like my mind. I just can’t seem to get it. The language just refuses to stick to my Teflon® brain. Although, in all fairness, every once in a while, I do manage to recognize or remember a word. I just wish I could do so in context.

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I have so many books, websites, phone apps a20141110_142920nd you’d think it would come easier.

However, I have to continue to believe that once I really get in to it, maybe it should be better.

I was studying my flash cards on my phone app, and managed to miss my bus stop this morning! I was cursing under my breath as I got out of my seat, and the girl next to me asked me what I was grumbling at and I told her I missed my stop. She laughed and said she missed hers, too.  At least I’m not the only one having to cross the street and take the bus back one stop!

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Speaking of bus stops, I managed to take a picture of this backpack at the bus stop this afternoon. These things are EVERYWHERE! Of course, I want one, so I can be like the rest of the cool kids, but in looking them up, I find out just how expensive these are… 70+€ for the basic backpack! I haven’t paid anywhere near that for any backpack that I’ve owned. I suppose I will have to get a closer look at them to see if maybe they are lined in gold or they carry themselves or maybe they are some sort of Bag of Holding so that they can carry everything!

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can look at the Fjallraven Kanken website to see if you find something you like. According to the website, these backpacks were originally designed for Swedish schoolchildren back in 1978. Of course, now I want one. Damn peer pressure.

I think I will end with just a few photographs that I took around town that shows the winter season descending upon us.

Berries against a winter sky

Berries against a winter sky at Helsinki University

Inside the Forums Mall

Inside the Forums Mall

The Stockmann's corner

The Stockmann’s corner in downtown Helsinki

I might be official, but it’s still complicated.

I picked up my residency card the other day (complete with horrid picture), and decided to head to the TE office and Kela the next day to start the journey to getting my benefits started. Wow, what an education.

First off: the TE office. You have to go there first, get registered as a “client”, and then you can go to Kela and tell them you are registered as a jobseeker, and start the process for unemployment benefits.

The way to think of it is this: TE makes the determinations as to what status you are (this is regarding unemployment), and will tell Kela. Kela actually disperses the funds.

In any case, I registered as a ‘client’ of TE, as an unemployed jobseeker. However, we hit a few snafus. Because I don’t have a degree, or any sort of certificate from a vocational school, there would be a 21-week (aprox 5 month) waiting period for unemployment benefits. In addition, any studying I do on my own (such as Finnish language classes) need to be cleared with TE, as that can affect payment status.

Additionally, I was scheduled a Finnish language assessment test (can’t we just skip that and go with ‘0’ as my starting level?), which will tell them where I should be placed for their intensive language course — which already has a waiting period of an undefined time.

After that, I will have my actual interview, where they will go in to more detail on my rights and responsibilities as a jobseeker in Finland, and this is when I will put together my integration plan with the TE office that is submitted to Kela.

Things I still need to provide, which you may want to keep in mind if you are coming here. Any job held in the past two years needs a certificate from the employer that states who you worked for, essential job functions/responsibilities, dates you worked and why you left. Apparently this is de rigour in Finland, but since it’s not in the States, I have to get one typed up from my last employer. And since I owned my own business in the last ten years (sold in 2007), I have to type up a statement or show that I did sell it. Good luck on me finding the sales paper, although I’m sure I scanned it somewhere. 🙂

I also have to get a certificate from the Finnish language class that I am taking now, saying that I am enrolled and what the level of study is.

Now, let’s move on to the Kela office. The wait wasn’t so bad. I was 14 numbers out when I got there, but my number was called within 15 minutes or so. They do move fast. Sat down with a nice fellow, who had me fill out an application for benefits, although he said, and this is the big thing, nothing will move forward until Social Security approves me…and they don’t start their approval process until they receive notice from the Police that my residency was approved. It shows in the system that they got the notice of approval on Oct 28, and he said it could be three months before Social Security gives their approval. THEN the paperwork that I am filling out with Kela will move forward.

He did say that I would receive something in the mail with the Social Security determination, and if approved, then my Kela card should arrive in the next week or so.

I have a doctor’s appointment in mid-November, and as a resident of Helsinki, they should accept me without the Kela card, which we have confirmed they will. Also, to cover the meds for my MS, I should ask the doctor to fill out the form to give me a “medical certificate B” type of Kela card. This way, the meds that usually cost 1912€ and are only at a 35% discount, will be covered at 100%. Much better. Keep that in mind if you have some issue like I have. If I get this form from the doctor in to Kela before everything is approved, they can send that sort out; otherwise, they send out a new card.

As for the unemployment benefits. Currently, I am looking at close to May before those would start. However, if I enroll in an intensive language course (which is defined as a 20-hour or more a week course), then they can waive the waiting period and pay me unemployment at a student rate for those months. So I am currently looking at courses. The lady at the TE office gave me her email address and said that I could send them to her and she would let me know if they qualify before I actually register.

In closing, pretty much everything is in the computer, just waiting on Social Security before anything can move forward. It’s the typical pitch of “Hurry up and wait” found so often in dealing with the government. I think I got it all accurately described above. There’s quite a bit of ‘do this first, then this, but this has to be done before that’ sort of confusion.

In fun news, Wellu and I went to the Moomin Shop this morning before my class. He loves me and bought me the silly advent calendar that I really wanted (yes, I am a fool for the little Moomin figures). He indulges me so much. And I got two reflectors, one for my backpack and the other for my jacket. I don’t care if “adults don’t wear Moomin reflectors”, as he says. I do, and I am proud to do so. So nyah!

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I met the president of Finland

Not really.

What I did do was get on the bus and sit directly across from the one crazy Finn who wanted to talk. And as she greeted me and I managed to mutter out a barely comprehensible “en puhua suomi.” she delighted in telling me that she spoke English. And she was the president of Finland. And that…some other stuff that I couldn’t quite make out, as apparently the presidential position must not allow much time to get dental work done, and she was missing all but about three of her teeth. The lady behind her was giving me sympathetic looks and trying not to laugh out loud. Thanks. The ‘president’ of Finland went on to tell me that she had four cars, and then asked if I had a boyfriend. I told her I was married, and she said she had a girlfriend. Progressive country, this Finland is. I wish I had asked her if I could take a picture of her, since she was famous and all, but my stop was coming up and I just didn’t think quick enough on my feet (or on my butt, as the case may be). She was quite dapper in her house shoes with duct tape on the heels, polyester pants, tshirt, flannel shirt, and down jacket and multi-color scarf.

To be fair, she was friendly, and not at all threatening. I’m finding that about the drunks in Finland. So far, I haven’t met any intimidating drunks. They are friendly, outgoing, and quite willing to discuss all aspects of their lives with you, real and imagined. She didn’t smell, and she wasn’t dirty, so she might have just been eccentric, rather than a drunk. But, it was a rather interesting start to my day, I will say that!

And then I saw this guy on the bus. Thank you, but I’ll just wait for the next one. I did see a few people dressed up and riding the buses or walking in the city. Kind of makes you look twice, but I guess it’s just as popular here as it is back home.

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I popped in to the Kumplan campus of the University to use the paper-cutter to trim my homemade flash cards. They look quite nice, and should do until I pick up the ones that Mom is making for me back in NC. Now, I just need to practice 27 hours a day and I might learn a word or two!

Passed this sign in the hallway. I know there is some major secret research going on here now!

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I got off at Sörnäinen, and still had a couple hours to kill before my appointment, so I went to the nut and candy shop down in the Metro, and stocked up on some nuts. Much cheaper than back home for cashews and pecans, I’ll say that. When done, I then stepped into the Kaiku Free Trade shop, since I pass by there each time I go to the drama workshop, but they’re closed. The prices were a bit on the high side, although not outrageously so, and for handmade crafts that come from folks being paid fairly, it’s worth a bit more. But still, I’m on a budget. I did get Victoria some ‘worry dolls’, since she is having so much stress about school.

After that, I still had some time, so I popped into the Uff second-hand store to see what that was like. It was like a small Goodwill, although better organized as far as pricing and clothing. I found an insulated snow bib for 5€ which will come in handy this Christmas. I also looked at some insulated pants (3€) and a jacket (5€), but I didn’t have the cash on me for them. I will definitely be back! Visitors and newcomers to the city should definitely check them out for winter wear on the cheap.

What is with the naming of bars in Helsinki? Some have really odd names, like this one:

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Bronco Cowboy Peyton Place. Is this like a cowboy bar with lots of soap opera-ish drama? People fooling around with other people’s people? There are other oddly named bars around the city. I might do a whole series on them.

Finally, met my appointment at 12:30 and got my Moomin tea tin for just 5€! Sure, it’s of the Poliismestari on the front, and not of Mummimamma or Snorkmaiden, but I can live with that! It’s just adding my growing collection of Moomin stuff!

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The rest of the evening has been pretty quiet. I like that I am finding a routine now, and feel like I actually /live/ here. This is home. It’s comfortable and quite nice.

Oh, nothing planned for Halloween, either. And apparently most shops are closed tomorrow, which is an odd concept for me. Who closes on All Saints Day??

Day 2 (päivä kaksi) of language class

Shuttled myself off to Finnish class this morning (after watching an episode of Castle – more on that later), and dove right in. But let’s talk about the bus ride. Not because anything spectacular happened, really. Just, as I sat on the bus, looking at the window, I smiled to think about how ‘routine’ riding the bus was feeling. I wasn’t feeling that nervous, twitchy feeling inside, afraid that I was going to miss my bus stop (never mind this one was actually at the END of the route, but I digress). I could actually look out the window casually, paying attention to the shops along the way, mentally making note of places that I want to come back and visit (there’s a free trade shop that looks really interesting!), and simply take in the scenery. Most of the time, I had been consumed with keeping my eyes glued to the read-out screen in the bus, not wanting to miss my stop, so that I ended up missing a lot of views along the way.

It was a nice feeling, and I soaked it up for a while, before getting off the bus. And for someone who is directionally challenged, I was rather impressed with the way that I knew in just what direction to head off, what streets to turn up or down, and got to my destination without mishap. I savored the moment, and then entered the classroom.

opettaja (teacher)

opettaja (teacher)

Study notes for Wednesday

Study notes for Wednesday

Ah yes, immersion. Well, right back to being lost. Although, I have to say that today I managed to actually figure out what she was talking about a little quicker than I had the first day. I made my notes, practiced the pronunciation, asked questions (even one in Finnish, yay me!), and felt pretty good about it. I put on my coat, confident in my new-found comfort in these new surroundings, and headed out into the streets. I decided to take another look at the Moomin Shop (guilty pleasure), and went in the way I thought it located…

Oops.

Lost. This way? Hmm, nope. This way? Nope.

Did see this guy, but he wasn’t any help at all.

balloon boy

balloon boy

In the end, I didn’t find my Moomin Shop again (was it just a dream?), and instead found myself exiting in a wholly unfamiliar part of the city. Damn, this Forum Shops place is HUGE. Obviously, I found my way back to the bus depot, but in the process managed to exit on the far side of the block, away from where I thought I was going. That’ll teach me to get so over-confident too soon!

Met Wellu for lunch, where we shared some pasta that I had made (yes, I cooked!), and then headed back home for a nap and to fix dinner. I can’t wait for Shiva to get here, and give me a reason to be out during the day. She’d love this weather, as it is sort of brisk, but not too cold or too hot, and we could go to the dog park and she could run around with the other poochies (koira).

So, on to television. Castle. I love the show, don’t get me wrong, and I totally have a crush on Nathan Fillion, but this episode just seemed rather weak. I mean, Becket is still grilling the suspect and it is noted that they only have 7 minutes before the victims will be dead, if the guy doesn’t reveal where they are. Heck, they are in downtown Manhattan…they couldn’t get out of the precinct building in seven minutes, much less to any location in the downtown area! This particular episode was full of too many of those sorts of holes. I never took Castle seriously, but that was a bit much for me to ignore. Maybe it’ll just be this episode.

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And let’s close with a (warning: sweeping generalization) musing…why aren’t there any fluffy pillows in Finland? I’m not saying you can’t pay an arm and a leg and buy a nice, fluffy, firm, full pillow somewhere, but what about the cheaper version of that? Back home, I could go to Walmart, pay less than $15 and get a nice, big pillow that would actually give me some support. But here…everything in that price range has all the support of a piece of paper. Even Stockmann’s 20€ pillow was a disappointment. So, I am reduced to stuffing two pillows into one suitcase to mimic what should be a single pillow. And waiting until my trip back home to pick up my $$ Tempurpedic pillows. 🙂

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Finnish is Hard!

Wow! Today was quite a busy day and it hurt my head! However, it was an exciting day in its own way. Remember me mentioning the language class that I had signed up for through the Family Club? The one that is supposed to be for people who are illiterate, so I figured that maybe I’d be able to keep up? Well, today was the first day of that class. However, I think something was lost in translation (ha ha) in that everyone could write (at least, they were writing something down), but just couldn’t speak Finnish. So it appears we are all on the same level. Well, except for one of the older guys from Iraq who figured that the teacher would give him higher marks if he answered quicker and louder than everyone else, sometimes even before the teacher finished speaking. Fortunately, she did shut that down pretty quick. I got the impression that he has either taken the class before, or was at the very least, known to the teacher in some capacity.

The class is taught almost entirely in Finnish, and you pretty much just have to figure it out from her gestures, pointing and context. It actually wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it might be to do that. I managed to keep up with most of it. But it does make sense to teach the class in one common language (that no one else speaks!), as not everyone speaks English. The class is pretty multicultural, with 3 folks from Iran, 3 from Iraq, 2 from China, one from Cambodia, 1 from Taiwan, 1 from Afghanistan, and 1 from the U.S. Guess who that is? 🙂

I learned some words, wrote them down, and wrote them down a bunch of times each while saying them. Plus we’re going over the alphabet and pronunciations, which is where I am having some issues. I did write down one word ‘lokakuu’ and thought i was for ‘month’, when it is actually for October (close, but no cigar). However, I am feeling pretty stoked about the classes, and for ‘free’, they’re the right price.

Day 1 study notes

Day 1 study notes

After the class, I left for Elisa to try and argue my case about the service charge for technical support. Unfortunately, my powers of persuasion were not enough to sway them. I felt it was a smidge unfair that I called about unlocking a phone from the States, stated specifically that I needed an English technician, yet at no point did anyone think it was important to inform me that the recording at the beginning of the call (in Finnish and Swedish) was warning me about a 2+€ charge per minute for the help. Ah well, I will just have to consider it an ‘account activation fee’ in my mind, which makes it more palatable, since it would be nearly twice the cost back home. A downer, but not majorly so.

I did discover the Moomin Shop at the Forum, and just HAD to get myself a little something. Of course, after purchasing it, I did realize that I didn’t have anything leftover to put in it! ha ha. No seriously, it wasn’t too bad, as far as Moomin stuff goes. I think I will go back and get a reflector for my backpack. They’re just so cute!

Moomin sussie!

Moomin sussie!

Afterwards, I met Wellu for lunch at his favorite place, and we noshed there, while I tested out my new knowledge on him. He corrected a bit of my pronunciation, plus the aforementioned month/October snafu, but overall, I did well. I had some thoughts about going back to the mall, but instead decided to head home to clean up, which I didn’t do before I left (since I was running late, as is usual it seems).

I took a short nap, cleaned like crazy, and was ready to go about the time Wellu got home. Drama club! We were interviewing two potential actors for the part of our Finnish male lead, and I wanted to get there on time. We actually had three males show up, but one decided to take on the other male parts we needed, and the other two tried out for the lead. We’ve made our decision, although the guy is pretty quiet and we just hope he’ll be able to project well on stage. But he was definitely the part.

Got a letter from the Poliisi today about my application for my residency permit. At least we know it is in the system. Apparently, they want a copy of our passports to show proof that we actually did travel to see each other when we said that we did. Also, I have to bring in some form of proof that I live here. So that’s a trip for tomorrow! But it is in the system and working its slow way through the sea of red tape.