Tuesday, July 29, 2008

All this talk of Churches and Weddings...

Where does time go? It barely seems five minutes ago..that I got married.. (Well, it does obviously seem longer than that.. but you know what I mean!) At the risk of this being a totally self centred blog.. I apologise.. but its not often that you get to celebrate a day like this..or get the much treasured photo album out! :D

Now here I am in 2008, a heck of a lot rounder as an individual.. and in more ways than one.. TWENTY YEARS later! Yes, today...the 30th July, is our 20th Wedding Anniversary! My wonderful husband however, is still a slim and muscle bound guy as ever...hmmm.. I know he likes my food...I guess I just like my food more..LOL.. Oh well, what the heck! We love each other and that is what counts!

So, we are sharing a candle lit dinner tonight (not much point really what with the 24 hour daylight of Lapland...but it's the 'thing to do' is it not?) Oh and when I say sharing, I do mean also with our sons ...they get to benefit from a bit of 'Fairy' washing up liquid afterwards too..(Good for the hands the ads say!) :D My kind of sharing LOL!

A nice bottle of Merlot, Egg Mayonnaise starter, main course of Creamy Chicken in Vermouth with whole grain mustard and some strawberry and fruits of the forest dessert..will go down a treat. Yummy!

I can't fathom where those years have gone.. its amazing and quite scary really, although we have done a heck of a lot in that time. Plus we have two wonderful sons to show for it. Yet, I can still clearly remember the night before my wedding, sleeping on my Grandad's sofa back in the UK. I didn't sleep much and I remember just lying there thinking...

My late Grandad Gerald Grant gave me away...

During the service, the photograph taken from the church balcony.

And closer in.. us taking our vows.

We had a lovely wedding, despite it being on a very tight budget...we married at St Marks Church, Highcliffe with a reception at the Burlington Hotel in Boscombe, Bournemouth and stayed for our honeymoon night at the famous Lilly Langtry Hotel. I have to say that the delightful rural church has since undergone much modernisation and its lost its 'je ne c'est quoi' in my opinion.. it was much nicer the way that it was. Quite a shame really..when we got our younger son christened there, we barely recognised it, even the entrance was at another point!

A much blonder moi!

Mother of the Bride, cleverly made all the dresses for the three Bridesmaids, Helen, Kirsten and Jane.

Woo! We did it!

Mr checking out the new Mrs and Mrs doing likewise!
Best Man in the blue suit, was Tony, my husbands eldest brother

We were lucky enough to have had a sit down reception for 80 guests, with an evening disco for 200. The whole day cost £2000, which was some feat, even 20 years ago!

I also had an unusual stop off during the day.. it was a bit like a scene out of 'The Graduate' really, when I think of it. I 'ran away' from the wedding to go to visit my then sister in law who had just given birth two days prior and had had to miss the wedding. I jumped into this tiny old car belonging to my bro' Lee, crammed my big dress in.... and we scooted over to the hospital. You should have seen the faces of the nurses when the lift opened in the maternity ward! I remember saying something like "Yes, I know.. Ive left it a little late!" Well, thats my sense of humour!

So I have this very unusual photograph of me holding my newly born nephew, whilst wearing my wedding dress! Then of course, I did go back to my freshly wed husband, who was kindly holding the fort and doing his best to explain to the other guests! LOL!

The Bride greeting baby Matthew

If you look click on the picture and look closely you will see our names on the ends of the our horseshoe shaped cake...one tier sponge, one fruit...made by famous Mary Fords of Bournemouth.. Yummy!

Newlyweds with the Mother of the Bride

As usual my husband will get his home made anniversary card from me.. and another ticket to put in his message box.

To explain: Every year, on our anniversary I give him a message on a ticket, which is inside his card. These are all saved inside a special box that I made too...many years ago.

We also have some handfasting oil that I bought several years ago to celebrate - I think - what must have been our 15th Anniversary. One bottle of oil had a tiny round pink rose quartz crystal in it to represent the female - and - the other had a tiny phallic like quartz crystal in it to represent the masculine. For seven nights around our anniversary, we had to 'annoint' each other with our own oil (No smirks or cheeky laughing from the back of the class please!!! LOL) Then on the seventh day (our special day itself) we combined what was left into just one bottle and exchanged our special crystals as gifts. Its a fun, affectionate and powerful gift for each other! Now each year, we use just a tiny bit of it..to make it last for all our years...

I've given a few of these sets as presents in the years since...and once I got blamed for my brother's wife getting pregnant way too quickly.. sheeee as if its MY fault! LOL...

So anyway, getting back to it... raise a glass for us tonight...

And finally, I want to say a special 'I Love You!' and 'Thank You!' to my darling husband for surprising me by taking the day off work today...(just as well I wrote 99% of this blog yesterday! Plus of course...for sharing the BEST marriage and friendship EVER with ME! 'Here's looking forward to our Silver Wedding Anniversary'..in five years time!

Totally self indulgent blog over.... LOL!!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer's only - the place to visit in Sodankylä!

There are several places to visit in Sodankylä, but there is one special place that you simply have to see if you visit here in the summer months.

Its the Old Church of Sodankylä ... and it is only open to the public during the summer months!

Now, we are talking about a really,really,old,old church.. built way back in 1689!!! It is one of the oldest preserved and renovated wooden churches in Lapland. Its so quaint! Set alongside the riverbank, with two church graveyards around it...one much older than the other, these connect to the New Church of Sodankylä which was built in 1859 but was made of stone instead.

The lead photograph shows it prior to its renovations.. this picture below shows how it looks today.

Built solely of wood, Sodankylä's Vanha kirkko (Old church in Finnish) was THE main meeting place of the old time inhabitants of this region. They would travel to the church by boat, along the Kitinen river, hence the church being built where it is - for ease! It's got a delightful ambience and anyone that goes there, cannot fail to be enchanted by it. During the summer, it is naturally a much favoured location for weddings. There are no services as such, but the old wooden church is a special place to say a prayer or sit quietly.

I've been fortunate to witness a wedding there just over a year ago and its a beautiful place ... albeit VERY cold during a snowy Spring as it was then! It made me think of those old Sodankylän people and how much more of this cold weather they truly endured.. it's not like they could have got into a warm car after their service!

It really is a beautiful place to visit, full of character and has quite a large cemetery around it. There are actually mummified bodies of local priests and their families buried underneath the church floor too! Quite gruesome.. but there you go.. it's true! It adds to the mystique of the place! There would seem to be at least two distinct areas of ages in the cemetery and the much older ones really stick out, with their ornate graves. Today's choice for headstones are generally black engraved stones.. I guess so you don't walk into them during the deep white winter snows!

The size of the church is just 8.5m x 13.5m (28 ft x 44 ft) and the height of 8m (26 ft), so as you can tell, it's not huge! It's of horizontal log construction with block pillars that originate from medieval times, when communities were smaller. It underwent some modernisation in 1778 when a wooden shingle roof and wooden panel cladding was added. Then suddenly in 1859 the church was abandoned with the advent of the towns New Church... yet the now 'Old Church' remained in place untouched. It stayed that way, for some time too. Minor repairs took place during the 1920's, 1950s, 1970's, and mid 1980's by the National Board of Antiquities. In 1950's the roof was made of industrially sawn wooden shingles on bitumen felt. The bitumen felt however caused rotting of the shingles, and so later on, a new wooden shingle roof and new wood panel were installed. The restoration principles considered its authenticity and it kept its olde worlde charm!

All of this work was financed mainly by a state employment programme and was all done by hand, using traditional methods. This meant that the shingles were all carved by axe, the boards riven and even handmade nails were used! Can you imagine that! Lots of hard work.. but worth the effort! The rotten bitumen felt was replaced by Birch wood bark and natural wood tar (I love that smell!) was used to protect the wood. The total cost was around 2 million FinnMarks at the time, (approximately $500,000). Knowledge of choosing, seasoning, working on and treating the wood was gained during the building process and so assisted the local community further. It's great that they saved this church as it's such a beautiful place!

I am sharing some wedding photographs with you here, courtesy of my friends Riikka and Sami who were married there in 2007. It was a lovely day, sunny and bright with lots of snow still around.

Note in this picture:
Other than the entering beautiful Bride... the beautiful olde worlde door!
Trust me.. It was COLD that day..and Riikka REALLY was wise to have that lovely jacket!

The Old Church was also the subject of the significant late Sodankylän painter Andreas Alariesto, of whom I will write another time...

So, if you ever visit this area in the Summer.. you must come and see it.. it is open daily and its FREE to enter, with donations accepted by the attendants.

Further sites to look at for pictures, albeit in Finnish language:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sodankylä, Lapland in Summer

I live in a small town called Sodankylä, its the central municipality of the County of Sodankylä, which itself is in the Region of Lapland. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Arctic Circle, which is marked on the roadway at Rovaniemi.

Sodankylä's motto, as shown on the town website is, "Under The Lucky Stars". The total county area is 12,439km, of which there is just 0.8 people per km2! Lapland is home to only 3.6% of the actual Finnish population and is the least densely populated area in the country! There are definitely more Reindeer here than people! :D Which, for my part, I am quite happy about! It was one of the reasons why we chose to move here.. more space and more peace and quiet!

Reindeer herding is a way of life here.. there are many people employed in agriculture and forestry too. There are several preserved nature areas and way more trees than you could ever count! It's a very relaxed, unassuming place and beautiful, especially in the Winter...with its long dark nights and oodles of snow. (Spring is short and just like the Winter in my view - just with more light!)

The Summer starts off much later than it does for most countries around the world... as the ice and snow is here with us until April / May time at least.. and then the ground lays bear or brown for some while before it grows back lush, green and verdant.

This happens pretty quickly though. Due to our location on the planet the sun plays a huge part in the rapid growth of berries, plants and grasses. First hovering around and then gradually rising above the horizon it stays light here for 24 hours a day for several months. Between the 30th May to 15th July each year, Lapland sees what is known as the Midnight Sun. This is when the sun reaches its zenith and whilst not as high above the head as many expect.. it is well above the horizon and glows a beautiful colour of firey orangey red!

So during the whole of Summer you don't see a dark night and that takes some getting used to! It never fails to play havoc with my sleep routine and many nights I do not go to bed at all! It's weird - but part of the uniqueness of this place for me. It's like your internal body clock just doesn't get switched over to sleep mode. I must say that I have no problem actually going to sleep - once I am there... it's getting there that is the problem - I just forget what the time is!

Fortunately the homes here are organised for both seasons. We have wooden homes, automatic triple glazing, saunas as standard equipment in 99.9% of homes, little vent windows with mesh for keeping out the clouds of mosquitoes in the Summer, and blinds that work between the window panes, so that come Summer you can darken the room more, as well as using your curtains.

Many visitors come to Sodankylä to witness this phenomenon, much like they do during the winter for the Aurora Borealis. They stay up all night long and wonder why they don't feel sleepy! :D Fortunately, whilst it is fairly quiet the rest of the time.. Sodankylä also has attractions to keep tourists busy at that time. There is the famed Midnight film festival, for one.. which is held just five minutes from my home.

Over a long weekend.. they show films non stop - all through the night! Held in a large tent, similar to a circus tent and also at the local cinema and an old school building... it's a really large event by Sodankylän standards but in reality is still very quaint to outsiders.

The films can be in many different languages, can be promotional films by new directors, or really old black and white films too. Something for everyone. It grows more popular by the year. You can buy tickets for just one film, a days worth of films or for the whole weekend.

All you need is the glass/es of compulsory "Lapinkulta" (Laplands Gold) beer and some "OFF!" the Finnish brand of mosquito repellent.. as they, sadly, also love a Lapland Summer!

The special signpost by the Sodankylä Midnight Film Festival Tent

Up close.. the same signpost

Sodankylä's small cinema the Lapinsuu (Lapland's Mouth)

Looking across the Kitinen River - one of two rivers flowing through Sodankylä

A stunningly beautiful view, up the Kitinen River

Photos by -Georg- @flicker.

Here is a photo that I took of my husband and sons during our first ever midnight sun experience Summer Solstice of 2004. Double click the picture and you will see that in close up, the watch reads twenty minutes past midnight! We were literally sat in the middle of the Luosto road at the time...really peaceful apart from the mosquitoes coming off of the swamp!

And the sun image that I took at that time... it reminds me of a mother and baby!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Honouring our Pets...

When we first migrated to Finland we flew with all of our pets. That meant two dogs, two cats and a terrapin! We are a big animal loving family.. always have been.. always will be.

Many said that we should leave our eldest dog and the two old cats behind..but it would have been heartbreaking for all of us...most of all them. They wouldnt have understood why we had deserted them. So, it was just out of the question. It cost more to get the animals across, than it did for us... when you consider just what it entailed. Vaccinations, ID-chipping, the purchase of two huge dog carriers and two for the cats, specifically to meet the airlines standard. What with the extra fees for transportation, it was a hefty part of our outlay... but they were worth it!

George, was our Border Collie, Marks Best Friend. Fluffy, a half Samoyed cross - his 'wife' - with whom she had previously borne seven pups, Smokey, a one eyed grey and white crazy loon of a cat, Arnie, a gorgeous ginger cat who was my shadow and Terry the terrapin, who didnt have a lot to say for himself really...but was quietly interesting! :D

Whilst the cats and dogs had to suffer the two flights here, stowed in the hold... apart from us.. Terry the Terrapin got the luxury of coming inside the plane and sat under my seat in a clear plastic container...sealed up but with airholes of course! LOL...when I think back.. we really DID get a lot of funny looks from people! I can't blame them really! Its not often that one sees a veritable zoo at the airport or a terrapin boarding a plane!

Now, four years later we still have lots of pets - but save for Fluffy (now aged between 9 and 10 years), the faces, the names and the personalities have all changed... In one very short season two years ago, we lost George, Arnie and Smokey. It was an awful time, but they were so close to each other that it was inevitable that with each loss, the rest - already so old - would be rocked too. However, they had had good, long adventurous lives.. George was a fantastic 17 years of age, as was Smokey. Arnie was 15, his death was totally unexpected and for me personally, the worst shock of all.

For a long time, several weeks... they were buried outside - under the deep snow, because we just didnt know what to do with them! The snow was so deep that you couldnt bury them in the ground and even if you could get to the ground, it would have been ice hard! Some said that we should put them in the freezer. Imagine that? Going to get some dinner to defrost and seeing your pet/s there? Oh no thank you very much! So, we created a snowy shrine outside whilst we try to find out (with our limited Finnish at the time) about where we could bury our pets.

Finally we discovered that there was indeed a pet cemetery not far up the road from us. The three beloved pets were buried there together in the one plot. It was quite an insight into the way Finns deal with animal disposal during the deep winter months. Very organised, they actually dig the slots in readiness, during late Spring, after the snows have melted and the ground has dried out.

In Autumn, just before the snows come again, they put a roof and door way on top of the mass grave area, so that many animals can be buried in their own shallow grave plot during winter... then they are covered over fully in Spring. Very clever really!

Unfortunately for us, our burial was the last of the season...and when they filled in the graves, the workers shored up the front part of the graves to use the next area in front of it... However they also dug open an area to the right of our grave and used that the following winter..instead of the area directly following ours. This meant that ours was unstable and we were unable to decorate it or finish it off as we would like. Now two years later, we are finally able to do so. It's such a relief to be able to honour our beloved pets.

Round one took place on Sunday. Mark removed the grave shaping that the workers automatically do and dug down into the area. He shored it up and pegged it in. It looks a bit something and nothing right now, but we plan to make a little altar at the top and cover the body of the grave with rocks. We can do whatever we want apparently, as long as we dont use the sign of a cross. I presume because it is not consecrated ground. Our pets werent religious, nor did they attend church, so I am sure it wont worry them too much! :D

Here are a few pics..(well quite a few actually... this has been quite a l-o-n-g blog, sorry! However there are some good pics to show you the seasonal differences here! I will let you have an update as the grave gets tended.

This is George:



Terry the Terrapin:

Here we are visiting the cemetery, last winter and this summer....what a difference!

Of course whilst we did all this, Fluffy and her new friend Dexter (just 9mths old, dopey and incredibly huge for his age - just enjoyed the surroundings...


Fab dopey pic of Dexter!

Some more winter and summer images...

Quite dark and gloomy for a 'summers' day!

And finally....Looking past the pet cemetery...

By the way, Terry also passed away... in fact, he was the first to pass on.. He died during the previous summer though, so he is buried outside the front of our house.