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Last week Espoo City Library was awarded the international prize Library of the Year at the London Book Fair 2019. As an enthusiastic library user, I cannot but uphold their new title. This post is not sponsored or anything: I’m just a book nerd. How nerd, you ask? Enough to weekly check the new titles section on the library website. Anyway, this article is not purely celebratory. I want to share with my international readers what great services my library has made available to its users, so that you can suggest them to your own library and make the world a better place. Let’s dig in!

#1. A library at every corner

Espoo City Library includes 18 units, all throughout City of Espoo. In practice, this means that almost every neighbourhood has a library available. Together with the delivery service (see below), this translates in everyone in town being able to easily access culture and library services.

#2. Free delivery

Every item can be delivered to the library of your choice. Espoo City Library shares its collection with Helsinki, Vantaa, and Kaunianen under the Helmet network. A user can search a title through the Helmet website, book it and request that it’s delivered to the closest library unit. After a couple of days, you get an email that your book is ready to for pick-up. All free of charge!

#3. Books ain’t the only thing you can borrow

The library in Finland doesn’t include only books. You can borrow music, videogames, dvds, blue-rays, ebooks, boardgames. The list goes on: you can borrow even working tools or digital cameras. I went to the library to sew my curtains with a sewing machine, all for free!

We regularly borrow boardgames to play as a family.
#4. It’s a safe place

I am an immigrant in Finland and the library is one of very few places where I feel welcome and completely at ease. Everyone, even tourists, can enter the Espoo City Library. The library is not just a book archive: it’s a place where to meet with your friends, have a chat, go to events, spend time with your family. Some libraries are located within malls, others have a cafeteria, and while they are generally quiet places, there’s no strict silence rule.

#5. It’s multilingual and international

The library has a huge role in allowing our family to cultivate bilingualism. Their collection of Italian books makes it possible for me to read to my kids and develop their language skills. Espoo City Library has children books in plenty of languages, actually. The adults collection includes several books in languages other than Finnish or Swedish. 90% of my own reads are borrowed from the library and I regularly find movies there too.

Our library has a great collection of children’s books in Italian, as well as in many other languages.
#6. Open at (almost) all hours

Most libraries are open during weekends and after working hours. In several, it’s possible to let yourself in also after opening hours thanks to your personal library card and a scan reader. Checking items in and out is completely handled by machines and you can return items at virtually every hour.

#7. A space for children to play

Most library units have a play corner for small children. The Entresse library has a play room and a collection of costumes to play dress-up. Sello Library has a play corner with toys, paper and pencils, and even a microwave to warm up baby meals. It’s actually very common to meet up with other parents at the library, let the children freely play, and alternate with book reading. Children books are easy to access (no high shelves) and the smart archiving system makes it easy to tidy up afterwards. Older kids often meet and play videogames at the library on the consoles and computers available.

#8. Plenty of space for events

Espoo City Library has a lot of space for events and a rich programme for all ages. There are stages, as well as rooms for musicians to record or play. There’s a film editing lab. There are meeting rooms. You can attend children’s events, concerts, book clubs, language cafes. The library has always a space to offer (for free in most or all cases). It’s a true cultural hub and a great resource for the community.

#9. Great user interface

Items are smartly tagged and easy to find through the Helmet website. There are several search filters, for example collection or language. This is how I easily find new reads or movies in Italian language for my kids. Most books are archived with a cover picture. All relevant information are listed in the description. Users are notified via email of upcoming deadlines or items ready for pick-up. Through the app Taskukirjasto keep your holds and loans in check. Fines can be paid online. It’s so user-centered!

#10. The library belongs to the community

Overall, I appreciate how the library is built on trust and sharing. As I mentioned, libraries are accessible outside of opening hours. Spaces are easy to rent. There’s an underlying sense of inclusion and participation. The library is a common resource and we all hold the responsibility of taking care of it, enriching it with events and our participation, and valuing the services it provides.

Espoo City Library is an enriching part of our daily life as parents, expats, and individuals. It’s a fantastic resource for people living in Espoo. I hope you found interesting ideas in this post if you live outside of Finland. Congrats to my library for this incredible achievement!

If you liked this post, you may appreciate also:
Challenge accepted, Helmet! (The Reading Challenge 2018)
My 10 Best Children’s Books About Feelings
The Best Christmas Gift, a personalised book by Wonderbly

The post 10 Reasons Why Espoo City Library Is Awesome appeared first on The Elephant Mum.

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This week March 11th-17th celebrates the joys of adoption here in Finland under the campaign #adoptionilo. Adoption starts out of loss, but the healing starts there where you find gratitude and joy. I have never made a mystery of the challenges we face in adoptive parenting, but there’s plenty of positive change adoption brought into our life as well. This week, I’ll focus on that.

JOY #1: connecting with the welcoming Indian community

Adopting our son allowed us to connect with the local Indian community. Indian people living in Finland proved to be some of the most warm-hearted people I ever met. Whenever I had questions about Indian culture, food or simply about caring for my boy, they were there. I was warmly welcomed in all groups they have started here. I even made new friends. Two ladies borrowed or bought us books from India to allow us to teach our son about his birth country. We received multiple spontaneous offers about teaching our son Hindi. I am humbled and moved about how this community welcomed us with enthusiasm and open hearts. They embraced us from day one without holding back. This is one of the many joys our son brought to our life and for that I am very grateful

JOY #2: witnessing my kids’ sibling relationship

Probably my greatest joy is witnessing my children’s sibling relationship develop and thrive beyond any blood tie. They were both quite young when our son joined the family through adoption and they accepted each other right away. They are different, yet very compatible. They are close and take care of each other. They struggle when they are separated. The power of their bond goes beyond any of my expectations. When I watch them playing, reading books to each other, having deep conversations at bedtime, I can see with clear simplicity how we were all meant for each other. They truly don’t care how they became family: they simply know they are.

JOY #3: opening my heart and mind to love, connection, and empathy

When my son joined the family, he was longing for love, connection, and belonging. I was a mother already and I assumed I was prepared. I was not. The first 18 months were really challenging. They were also terribly enriching. Quoting a fellow adoptive mum, my son shaped me in the mother he needed me to be. He forced me to open my heart and mind to what love and connection really mean. I learned to value them also in my own life. The day-to-day was not as spontaneous as I expected and that taught me to be grateful of every little conquest. Before meeting him I was living in a world of fast and easy. He invited me to take a break and welcome life in all its colours and shades. I would be lying if I’d say it was a pain free transition, but I would never go back to my old self.

JOY #4: working on our couple relationships

Another gift our son brought to our life was encouraging us to work on our couple relationship. The parenting struggles we faced in the first months put us in a spot where we had to make sure we were solid as a couple. This was work we unconsciously had put off for years after our daughter was born. Our son was clear in laying out what he requested of us. It was clear we couldn’t comply and be the parents he deserved until we would find balance for ourselves. Now it was time to act.
It wasn’t easy and we asked for help in many ways, but we got there. Kids bring upsetting changes to couple life, but also great motivation to make it all work. I don’t think we would have done the same with a pregnancy and a biological child. The long process, the fight to get to hold our son, the struggles of adoptive parenting were all unique features to adoption.
It was hard work, but I never thought I could be as happy as I am now.

JOY #5: finding my tribe

Adoption from the adoptive parents’ perspective is tough. The process itself is very demanding, no matter what country you live in or what kind of adoption you are pursuing. Here in Finland, it takes several years. Bureaucracy you didn’t even know could exist and long silent waits. Then there’s the after placement, another set of challenges. Nothing can prepare to having to parent a child who has experienced trauma.
I found incredible support in the adoptive parents’ community. I met many online in Facebook groups, Instagram, and Twitter. I got to know and meet also several here in Finland. The experiences we shared were so strong that no one held back when asked for help. I had intimate discussions with perfect strangers who simply “got it” and could understand what we were going through. I never experienced this kind of compassion and connection when I had my biological daughter.

JOY #6: discovering and embracing a new culture

Adoption connected us to India and its culture. As expats, we already had a multicultural family before adopting our son. Adding Indian culture to the mix, just brought in more fun and experiences. We are constantly learning new aspects of Indian culture, tradition, and history. My husband and I now love to watch documentaries on India or Indian movies (there’s not just Bollywood!). We grew to love Indian food and cook it regularly at home. We celebrate Diwali, Rakhi, Holi every year. It’s more than curiosity: a piece of our hearts belongs to India now.
During the process, we always repeated we never intended to cut our child’s roots: we hoped to expand them and include his birth culture into our family. Given our own origins, we knew how important that factor was in his identity. I didn’t expect to grow so involved, though. I find myself eager to learn more about India and Indian customs. I feel a deep connection to that far away colourful country. We found out as Italians we share so much with Indian people: family first, respect for tradition, warm and passionate personality, indomitable creativity. We discovered so much about ourselves by mirroring into another culture.

JOY #7: learning about the power of love

Many adopted children show delays due to the hard circumstances they had to spend their first months or years in. Our son was well-cared for, but nothing can replace the exclusive care of parents. He was tiny, spoke few words, struggled with attachment and affection. I always thought children mostly needed to be fed and cleaned, but love, care, and affection are as crucial as food. I learned how connection is fundamental for human beings when I observed how children struggle when they are deprived of it.
My son taught me how powerful love can be. After a couple of months, he could speak 30 words in Italian. He grew 10 cm taller in a year and his body gained muscles. He became less goofy and developed fine motor skills. He learned how to cuddle and enjoy physical proximity – something I took for granted in children before, it’s not!
Love is what allows us to thrive. The longing for connection drives a lot of our actions. I’ve started to use this concept as a lens to observe others. I could notice it in my behaviour, my husband’s, even my colleagues’. Suffering for lack of intimacy in a marriage, for missing validation or feedback on the workplace, attacking others out of fear, are all proof of how belonging and connecting with others is a basic need of human beings. In the end, a matter of survival.
I call this a joy from adoption because it completely changed how I look at life. It shaped my relationships, taught me compassion, validated my needs and those of the people close to me. Watching our son thrive under our care also taught me a great lot about hope and power of love.
Love doesn’t conquer all. Love isn’t enough to mend every situation. Nevertheless, love paired with time can achieve a great deal, change lives, change the world.

Do you want to know more about adoption in Finland? Check out these posts:
International adoption in Finland, how does it work?
How I came to appreciate the Finnish adoption system
Our adoption story, chapter I
If you want to connect with other adoptive families in Finland, join the Finnish association of adoptive families (Adoptioperheet ry) or our English-speaking support group.

The post 7 Joys Adoption Brought Into My Life | #adoptionilo appeared first on The Elephant Mum.

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I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding easy and healthy snacks for my kids. It’s not that I like ideas, but I often needs something I can quickly grab and store in my handbag without it crumbling all over my possessions. Grocery store aisles are packed with snacks, but finding healthy options can be challenging.

Enjoying a fruit-oats bar after swimming school. Happy customer.

Not long ago I spotted a new brand on the market: Nom Nom by Lejos. Their snacks are healthy and mostly fruit-made. They have no added sugar and no weird stuff. They accomodate allergies and have gluten-free, milk-free, as well as vegan options. But most of all – not for granted when you go on the healthy side – they taste darn good! If you wanna know where in scale of good, my husband and I have stolen some fruit-oats bars from the kids’ stack more than once (don’t judge!). Here’s a closer look to the products we tried.

Snack bars

The fruit-oats bars were definitely our favourites. They became one of my personal snacks, I tell ya. They are vegan, tasty and slightly sweet. Ingredients include around 40% of oats, fruit and vegetables (powder or juice), sunflower oil, and spices. The sweet flavour is provided by inulin, a healthy alternative to sugar:

[Inulin] can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. This is advantageous because inulin contains 25-35% of the food energy of carbohydrates (starch, sugar). In addition to being a versatile ingredient, inulin provides nutritional advantages by increasing calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption,[ while promoting the growth of intestinal bacteria.

Source: Wikipedia.
Snackin’ & Moomin’.

Another snack we tried was the raspberry-goji bar and that’s another loud YES. The bar is completely fruit made, except for a tiny part of sunflower oil. Kids loved it! The fact that I couldn’t find any in our kitchen and had to look up the ingredients list online is the ultimate proof.


Fruit mash

This snack proved most suitable for my son (3 years old) and my daughter (5) didn’t appreciate it much. My son really liked it and asked for more. Again, the ingredient list gets a stamp of approval: 100% fruit and antioxidant, absolutely no added sugars. The packaging is smart: it comes with two portions and plastic spoons included. They can be stored at room temperature and they make a perfect portable snack. Recommended for kids under 4.

Don’t mind the totally Instagram kitchen in the background.
Fruit bites (the perfect fake candies)

I know I will come out as evil, but these fruit bites became one of my secret weapons as a parent. We have a strict sugar policy, but that doesn’t prevent our kids from asking candies at every opportunity (you’ve gotta admire their perseverance).

These organic fruit bites are the perfect way to pretend you are caving in once in a while. They are gluten-free and 95% fruit. They are yummy, but I ate two a moment ago simply for sake of a transparent and honest review.

Sodas

We also were given sodas to try. I don’t give any soda to my kids out of our parental policy, but I was happy to personally try them. Given they don’t contain any added sugar, they are a safe alternative if your kids crave bubbles. They are just vaguely sweet (that’s how I like my soda) and make a perfect self-indulgent alternative to water. I also appreciate they are smaller than normal cans (only 100 ml), as I never can finish a soda by myself. Nom nom sodas get my stamp of approval as well!

The final verdict is HELL YEAH! Our family truly enjoyed these snacks. They are a healthy and consumer-friendly snack option for kids (and not only, ehm ehm).

If you are curious to try the Nom Nom products, you can find them at most grocery stores in Finland. You can also follow Nom Nom on Instagram.

I was sent a selection of Nom Nom products to taste and review. Opinions are mine and sincere. Read more about my values here.

The post Healthy And Tasty: Trying The Nom Nom Snacks appeared first on The Elephant Mum.

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Dear fellow expat parent in Finland, here’s a post uniquely designed to alleviate the pains of planning your child’s birthday celebration. Arranging a kid’s party is stressful alone but it’s one degree extra if you have recently moved to Finland and don’t know where to start. Don’t worry: I’ve got you!

The venue

Parties are usually organised in one among three possible locations:
1. Your own home: this is the cheapest option, ideal if you have a limited number of guests.
2. Private venues which offer birthday packages (like museums, indoor parks, etc.). This is super fun but expensive, since guests expect you to cover all costs.
Some suggestions: Superpark (read my review), HopLop, Kids Escape, Puppet Museum Hevosenkenkä, Theatre Museum, Heureka.
3. Town’s communal houses (asukaspuisto / leikkipuisto): they are cheap to rent, offer plenty of space and are totally safe for kids.
Here you can find more information on public spaces for rent in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa (but I believe these spaces are to be found close to any town in Finland).

Invitations

Some parents just send a text, others like to print invitation cards. Depending on your child’s language skills or your circles of friends, you may need to write invitations in Finnish. After years of crafting ours by copying and mixing text from those we had received, I can share a template (replace Lumi with your child’s name):

Tervetuloa Lumin synttäreille / Welcome to Lumi’s birthday party
22.2.2019 klo 14-16 / 22.2.2019 at 14-16
[place, with address]
Ilmoitathan tulostasi ja mahdolliset allergiat / Please report your presence and any allergy
16.2 mennessä. Laura 040 0023451 / before 16.2. Laura 040 0023451

Personally I like to print invitation cards for my kids, simply because I am a nostalgic and I keep one every year. For design and printing I use VistaPrint. Most Finnish parents don’t reply if their child is not able to attend the party (radio silence means no). From experience, I recommend putting a RSVP deadline or you’ll get most replies two hours before the party. Make sure to ask about food allergies!
Important: the local custom is that parents stay at the party if their child is younger than 4, and they leave if she child is older (unless there’s some special reason to stay). I am sharing this because I am still haunted by memories on my daughter’s 4th birthday when we invited 25 toddlers and witnessed in horror all parents leaving.

Decorations

People here tend to go easy on party decorations and usually they amount pretty much to coloured paper plates and mouth-inflated balloons. You don’t need to overdo here! You can find a limited selection of party basics in any medium-big grocery store. If you wish for a wider offer, Flying Tiger, Juhlamaailma, Confetti are your go-to places. If you are an online shopper, i recommend SynttäriKuningas or Amazon DE.

Entertainment

Entertainment at parties is daaaarn expensive here! The price for a 30 minute children’s show ranges from 150 to 300 euros. Some families choose to team up and celebrate two parties in one, and split costs.

One popular option is a magician (taikuri). To find one, you can Google for example the name of your town along with taikuri synttäreille (= magician for birthday party). Another option is to hire a clown (pelle) or ask for a puppet show (nukketeatteri). On the Skidit cruise we got to meet the beautiful Juhlaprinsessa, she would be a great choice to take your party to another level.
You can find some simple game ideas from this old post as well.

Food and the cake

Most parties include chips, candies, and the cake. Personally, I learned to serve simple flavory options before sweets. Sometime my children are offered a simple dinner (hot dogs or pizza). You may choose to bake the cake yourself or you can order one.

Pic courtesy of Ann’s Cake Boutique.

I have exciting news: the talented artist of Ann’s Cake Boutique is granting a 10% off discount for my readers (valid until May 31st, 2019). Ann’s cakes are unique masterpieces and you can see for yourself in her spectacular photo gallery. You can contact her and order through the business’ Facebook page. To benefit from the discount, use the code ACB0319.

Return gifts

Guests in Finland expect return gifts. We were completely taken by surprise, since it’s not a thing in Italy. Usually the host prepares small gift bags (find them at Flying Tiger) for guests. A gift bag may contain candies, stickers, coloured pencils. Once my daughter received a special clay box, which she loved. This year I bought Play Doh packs and I plan to give one to each guest. You can find plenty of ideas online!

Pic and product from www.synttarikuningas.fi

Return gifts are handed to guests when they are leaving, often by fishing (kalastus): kids queue and “fish” their own bag with a homemade fishing stick, with the help of one parent hiding behind the “sea”.

You are all set! Your child’s party will be a great success. Happy birthday!

The post How To Plan a Kids’ Birthday Party in Finland appeared first on The Elephant Mum.

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My husband and I discussed several times about our natural trend to weight the negative way more than the positive. Have you noticed that you may get tons of positive feedback on your workplace, but you’ll remember only the one criticism you received? Or how you have a lot in your life – a roof over your head, food on the table, etc. – yet you focus on the things you cannot afford? It’s unfortunately a common feature of human beings and a huge obstacle in the way to happiness. How to fight it? Gratitude.

Next question was, how to implement gratitude in daily life? Believers have the powerful tool of prayer, but my husband and I do not follow any religion. One day, I came across this inspiring Ted Talk by author AJ Jacobs:

In particular, it strikes me when he says:

The power of our actions to change our mind is astounding. So, often we think that thought changes behaviour, but behaviour very often changes our thought.

AJ Jacobs, author and Ted Talk speaker.

We decided to give it a try. We introduced our children to a daily ritual: at every meal, we would thank each other for something or express gratitude for something we have in our lives. To my surprise, the kids welcomed the new habit with great enthusiasm, so much that in the first days they were reminding us to practice it.

A round typically goes like this:

Me: Thank you R for helping your brother to take off his jacket when we got in, thank you E for listening right away when I told you to go wash your hands. Thank you daddy for letting me sleep in this morning. I’m thankful we have a great library nearby where we can borrow so many children’s books in Italian.
R: Thank you E for being my little brother. Thank you mommy for cooking dinner, thank you daddy for going to work every day to bring home the money (yes she said that, LOL).

E, who is now 3 years old, didn’t understand how to thank right away. He would often say things like “Thank you R for sleeping last night”. However, children are incredibly perceptive. It took him a week of listening to our thanks and he picked up what gratitude really meant. He later came up with surprising observations that showed how much kids notice even though we believe they don’t. I believe this exercise is helping all of us notice positive actions and events in our daily life.

Our 11 year old goddaughter visited after we had established the new tradition. We explained how it worked and told we didn’t expect her to take part. She was into it big time. She was feeling down, but voicing the good things out loud forced a smile out of her.

It’s crazy how positive habits can vastly impact your day and mind. We always find something to be grateful to each other. I am so proud we are teaching our children to see all the gifts we have and how we appreciate everyone in the family. My husband and I are learning along the way with them. We were inspired by our role as parents to find creative ways to teach them gratitude. Children really offer parents a second chance at living. I’m grateful for that.

The post A Daily Ritual Of Gratitude appeared first on The Elephant Mum.

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It’s been so long since I’ve last wrote a post of favourites. It was not for lack of material: indeed I have accumulated a list of things I like so long I have material until the end of the year (whoops!). There was always some better topic to share and too little time. The good side of having such a long list is that I can regroup its elements under a common theme: so here we are, with a load of well-tested suggestions to pamper yourself and indulge into a day (or more) of relax and self-care.

Light a candle

I never understood scented candles… until I tried good quality ones. As a busy mom, I learned to find joy in small things. Breathing in a pleasant smell puts me in a better mood. I love the ritual of lighting the candle and reminding myself I can take few seconds to make my day better. I have discovered the series WoodWick. They are exceptionally good candles: my medium-sized grapefruit candle lasted around 40 hours and the whole floor was filled with its scent. What makes them unique is their wooden wick that crackles like a fireplace. I bought mine on Amazon, but you can find it in Stockmann as well.

Wash your face
Pic from giseledenis.com.

Now that you set the mood with a burning scented candle, indulge in washing the stressful day away off your face. I am nothing close to a beauty expert: I am never willing to spend much on cosmetics and I am always looking for the sweet spot in terms of quality/price ratio. I have now tried the Gisèle Denis cleaning gel and toner for three months and I am very impressed with them. What stroke me right away was the pleasant smell they leave on your skin. They do not leave my skin dry (an issue I had with other products!) and washing my face with them once or twice, I noticed a small improvement in my skin’s health and texture. You can find the Gisèle Denis line K-city markets or on Amazon.

Nourish your skin

An occasional treat for me is putting up a nourishing face mask. Recently, I discovered the Korean line by It’s Skin sold in K City Market (buy online). I love these masks’ smells and they do leave my skin visibly moisturised. Plus, their price is very reasonable!

Watch the adventures of a mom who gets it

While you wait for your face mask to soak into your skin, why not watch a cool TV series? Last fall Netflix aired the funny and real Australian show The Letdown, starring a woman who struggles to embrace motherhood. Her new mom friends have different family situations, approaches, personalities, difficulties. They find a way to stop comparisons and support each other. This show is the real deal! It doesn’t hold back on the frustrations or shocks of parenting. I really loved it and you will too!

Now metaphorically wash your face

Now that you are all pampered, why not start a new book? International bestseller Girl, wash your face by Rachel Hollis is an excellent choice. Rachel picks the false truths women are brought to believe and she dismantles them one by one. If you are a pro at self-demeaning thoughts like I am, you need this read. It’s an honest conversation, a reminder you are not alone in your struggles and how you should be compassionate towards yourself.

I hope you liked my suggestions to take care of yourself. What are your go-to things to cultivate joy and well-being in daily life? Leave me a comment here below.

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Oh I will regret going into the wasps’ nest that this topic is. However, I think it could be interesting to comment on this, as I come from a culture where spanking is acceptable (Italy) and I live in a country where not only it’s wrong, but it’s actually illegal (Finland).

Having being raised with the “Hand of Saruman” constantly printed on my bottom, I used to believe spanking children is a natural part of the parenting experience. Like in a reward system, if you do something nasty you get spanked as a consequence. Same as grounding. I had my first child in Finland, where corporal punishment is illegal. Like, social-services-coming-to-your-house illegal. While at first glance it felt like an overkill, it forced me to reflect on spanking, whether it’s a right or even effective education method.

The child’s feelings

I have a clear childhood memory of how humiliating being spanked felt. Being hit reminded me of how vulnerable and defenceless I was as a little child. When my mother would cry “This is the end of discussion”, I felt disappointed and angry, but when she hit me I felt humiliated. When I was forced to reflect on the matter, I decided I didn’t want my children to feel like that at my own hand.
As an adult, I am aware of how being spanked negatively affected my relationship with my parents. It alimented an anger in me I still deal with as an adult.

Lead by example

We spend years teaching our kids they should not hit their siblings or friends… and then we do it? Seriously, think about it. Why should a parent be above the law? When you spank a child, you are teaching her the following: physical strength is what determines who wins an argument; there are some (unclear) conditions under which violence is okay; you are weak and I am strong.

I often say how children are our chance to live a second chance. It’s a painful process to face your own flaws, weaknesses, even fears, to become the best version of yourself. When you have the responsibility of raising another human being, you need to lead by example. Children are master mimics: they learn language by listening to their parents speaking, they learn empathy by tirelessly interacting with them, and they learn behaviour by imitating how their parents face the world. I know, it sucks! I mean, you are finally an adult and could virtually live a life of unhealthy snacks and freedom, and instead… you are forced to become responsible. I don’t remember signing to these terms.

It does not serve anyone

There are two reasons why parents spank: as a consequence or out of mere anger. It’s not effective in either case. The child may comply out of fear, not respect of the parental authority. Let me comment as someone who was raised with this method, it will not reinforce the relationship with your child. Shaming creates silent anger, which will come out in some unpleasant form as soon as the child feels safe enough to manifest it (for instance in teenage years when they are physically stronger or more independent). Does it help your own anger? Not really. It gives a trembling sense of control, but likely comes with an extra dosage of shame for having attacked someone more vulnerable. Frustration is your daily bread as a parent, but you need to find healthier ways to deal with it.

How to break the cycle

I sometime hear “My parents spanked me and I grew up fine”. “We always did it this way” is never a sound argument, but more of a tactic to avoid discussion altogether. However you decide to raise your kids, I think it’s worth stopping for a second and reflect on your motivations and goals. Start from why would you spank your child. Would it fit well in the values you are teaching her? Is it effective?
If you have been raised with this method or are using it, and want to break the cycle, be compassionate towards yourself. People tend to automatically go into the same parenting mode as they were raised. Especially if you had decent or good parents overall, it may be hard at unconscious level to criticise their methods (even more if they are physically close and asking why you are such a weak parent that you never spank your child). Remind yourself your parenting experience has nothing to do with your childhood one. You and only you choose the parent you want to be. If you slip into the habit, make sure to apologise to your children: we are not teaching them to be perfect, we are teaching them to be good human beings.

I would love to hear your comments on this one. Is spanking acceptable where you live? Do you feel comfortable with it? What tools do you use to teach consequences to children?

(be civil in your comment, we are here to discuss, not judge)

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It is very easy to find cultural activities for children in Finland, but it’s not so immediate to meet some which compromise between stimulating them and entertaining the parent. We had a nice surprise when we visited Kiasma’s art workshop for toddlers.

Kiasma is the major contemporary art museum in Helsinki and it’s conveniently situated adjacent to the central railway station. Kiasma is part of the Museum Card network and children always enter for free. Moreover, as it’s customary for many museums in Helsinki, entrance is free for everyone on the first Friday of every month.

Kiasma (pic: Wikimedia)

Visiting museums with small children is always a challenge, but Kiasma organises once a year few weeks of hands-on art workshops targeting every age group: babies, toddlers, and older kids. The goals of the workshops are to facilitate parents to spend quality time with their kids, allowing parents to visit the exhibition while conceding something to the little ones, and introducing the rule-free world of art to children of all ages.

Our experience

My children (aged 3 and 5) and I visited the toddler’s drop-in workshop on a snowy Thursday morning. We entered the museum, undressed from our winter gear and left it to the free-of-charge wardrobe service (a pleasant surprise, as opposed to having to drag winter jackets around). The workshop was set on the last floor, in a small room. There were several activities to choose from, definitely enough to spend half a day there. As soon as we got in, we encountered a table full of mysterious boxes.

Exceeding my expectations, my kids spent a good half hour playing with them. Boxes contained a variety of sensory and visual surprises. E and R were in a frenzy to open all of them, while later they played some version of hide-and-seek where one would hide a specific box and the other needed to find it.

Close to it, two small ball pits with coloured lights invited for a “dry bath” in colours. In the corner, we found a dark box filled with mirrors and sensory objects. Children were allowed to crawl in and use flashlights, or explore using touch. E especially liked being able to experiment with light. I noticed how careful tools had been chosen, to grant safety (no small or sharp objects) and easy use for the little ones (flashlights had soft buttons, for example). My expat mom’s special eye also caught that all activities are described in Finnish, Swedish, and English, making them accessible to all families.

E and R spent some time also playing in the unusual “sandbox” which contained plastic plates instead of sand and coloured lights. Tuija, the workshop main planner, explained one focus was to show everyday objects in a different setting, that is the creative process of many contemporary artists. As a parent, a good chunk of my role includes giving boundaries, rules, and fitting reality into schemes and boxes to feed it to my children. I am excited at the idea that art, even at this simple level, can allow them to explore the free world of imagination and creativity.

Exploring and combining shapes with magnets.

After the “dry activities”, it was time to mess around with water colours. The workshop makes available apron of all sizes, including adults’. An interesting surprise were the water painting boards, originally meant for mindful creative activities. You only need water to paint and the board clears by itself when it dries.

Finally, the moment they had been waiting for: real painting! Children were allowed to express their creativity by painting with different brushes and colours on some plastic surfaces, which was later cleaned by the workshop assistants.

Everything was protected in plastic and they had the apron, so they could safely focus on just drawing and having fun. Colours were easily washable from the skin. It was liberating for them!

The art exhibition

After having plenty of fun, we went downstairs to eat. Kiasma has a nice cafe that serves lunch on weekdays, but also some quiet spaces where it’s possible to eat a packed lunch or snack. Strollers and baby carriers are available and can be borrowed for free. The whole museum is fully wheelchair-accessible. Now that the kids were in their best mood, it was my turn to enjoy the museum. Two floors were populated with exhibitions. Even though most works were hard to explain to kids, many were visually attractive and they allowed me to enjoy most of them.

After this, it’s gonna be hard to forbid them from filling backpacks and pockets with their “precious rocks”.

I was slightly worried we would walk into inappropriate content, but anything that was not family-friendly was separate and clearly marked (but still accessible, so don’t let the kids roam with no supervision).

The huge spaces of the building allowed my kids to explore safely. I taught R to observe paintings from different distances, that interpretation of art was always free, whatever feelings or images art would evoke in her where the right answer. After walking the whole exhibition, they insisted to visit the workshop again!

How to be informed of future family activities

Kiasma organises these workshops every year, usually around January, when the museum is less crowded. The toddlers’ workshop is planned towards the end of the week, including Saturday, to allow also working parents to take part. Information are updated on the museum’s webpage. To receive notifications of events directly to your mailbox, you can subscribe to the Kiasma klubi’s mailing list (in Finnish only). Some events are advertised on Facebook, so I invite you to like Kiasma’s page. We had plenty of fun and surely will be on the lookout for the upcoming happenings!

We were granted free access to Kiasma to visit and review the workshop. All opinions are mine and sincere. Read more about my working values here.

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I was recently watching this video by mother of seven Ashley and she mentioned overstimulation as her biggest challenge in motherhood. It struck a chord with me, as body image and personal boundaries are issues I struggled with for years after becoming a mom. I had a hard time collecting the triggers under one definition and it was helpful to be able to do that. I had heard other moms agreeing on me on some of the stressful aspects of daily parenting, like how having a moment of peace on the toilet becomes a luxury, breastfeeding feeling as being a walking food dispenser, or constant high noise levels that barely allow you to hear your own thoughts. However, thinking how all these could belong to one single giant stressor made it all more real and clear to me.

I want to share my experience, to reach out to other moms struggling as well as fathers who may have a hard time understanding what the fuss is about.

It all starts with the pregnancy

I remember how excited I was to see that test coming out positive: I was pregnant! While I consider being able to carry a child a privilege and I appreciate some aspects of it, there’s a harsher reality that hits a woman right away: you are responsible for growing a human being. Straight away you are required to change your diet and give up unhealthy habits (which usually coincide with the pleasant ones). If the pregnancy has complications, you may be required to stay in bed and take time off work. Hormones make you all crazed up, like you are not in charge anymore. Your body transforms, you struggle to sleep, walking around or being independent is harder and harder. This lasts almost a year! On some days, your body feels more like a vessel than something that is part of you.

Postpartum joys (sarcasm)

A topic which is not discussed enough is the consequences of pregnancy on your body. After I gave birth, my body felt like a battlefield (not only down there!). A woman’s body changes permanently during the pregnancy and birth. You are sore for days or weeks. I recall how frustrated I felt when I had to throw away almost all my clothes, since nothing fit my hips and chest anymore. Like that part of my life was over forever. I lost vision consistently, my feet grew one size (bye, old shoes), I gained ten kilos I recently accepted will stay. All of sudden, I replaced feeling attractive and confident, with repulsive and disgusting. I remember staring at myself in the mirror, my flaccid postpartum belly hanging out, thinking “that is not me!”. It was a dissociating experience.

Breastfeeding

My attempt to exclusively breastfeed fueled PND big time for me (I’ve written about my struggles here). I did not have a great supply and one session took 40 to 60 minutes for me, during which I was just supposed to sit and wait. Repeat for 10 times a day. Since I was unable to pump, that also meant I had to prevent any personal life from happening for almost a year, since I could not leave the baby for more than an hour. How I hated being a woman, back then! Breastfeeding is knowingly demanding. It’s not just the fact you need to be available at all times: it takes time, it can be painful, and leaves your breasts like hanging empty sacks. Again, I did not feel in charge of my body. It was dehumanising to see it from that perspective.

Goodbye, personal space

Mommy is the source of comfort. It’s not for lack of attempts, dear dads! My husband spent most time at home with our kids, yet I hold the title of Head of Comfort. That’s just biology and we will never have equality there. Turns out, babies and toddlers have a hard time understanding personal spaces (shocker!). It can be truly challenging to get a break from them if you are not intentional and you fall prey of the guilt. As a first time mother, I could not cope with leaving my baby screaming in the hands of her father to get a well-deserved break. Now that I know the danger is potentially reenacting the movie Shining, I face things differently, but at the time it was hard to believe I deserved five minutes off. I know I’m not the only one struggling with this. It has much to do with the image of mother we have engraved in our minds, but I bet even the Virgin Mary has muttered murder when Jesus asked for the fifth glass of water past bedtime.
Being a mother naturally means having an audience while on the toilet, having your name screamed sixty to a hundred times a day, being used a climbing tool, having to cook dinner holding a baby who has much interest in your eyes and hair.

To summarise, motherhood felt like my body was a baby oven left irrecoverably damaged before turning into a food and comfort machine, while I was left to witness without a say in it.

And then there was him

Somehow couple life and dynamics have to fit in all this. Unfortunately I (we) did not nail this aspect and it took a long time for us to find a new healthy balance. Especially during the baby phase, in which a baby’s and her mom’s days almost overlap, I had a hard time having a slack left for my husband. I didn’t want to be touched! I had another human all over me for most of my day, I did not care for another. My husband complained I used to care for him and now I was gone. I wanted to murder him when he said that. All the issues described above made me feel like I had disappeared. Caring for another demanding and helpless human being was not giving me any space to find me again… and it felt selfish that he would ask for me to give even more when I had nothing left.

What I have learned

Now I know that out of inexperience and loneliness, I made so many mistakes which made my situation harder to bear. I have learned so much from those difficult years:

  • self-care is not self-indulgence. Everyone deserves to be kind to themselves and fill their lives with joyful things. This includes cutting some space for you and your partner.
  • motherhood is not martyrdom. It’s okay to acknowledge that sensory overload is a trigger and to take breaks from it. You have a right to personal boundaries. It’s okay to say I don’t like this aspect of parenting. I now believe it’s a lesson for our children to show we are able to set healthy boundaries.
  • my body is powerful. My body has changed drastically and rapidly, but that doesn’t mean it is not beautiful. Beauty has little to do with perfection. My body has proven to be powerful to grow a human being!
  • my partner went some dramatic changes too. I wish I was able to have more empathy towards my husband. He was also hit hard by becoming a father. It must have felt so alone to feel he was losing his wife. If I could turn back time, I would try to voice my discomfort, ask for help, show him my vulnerability. We would have found a less painful way to be close and evolve as a couple.
  • my motherhood experience is only mine. Comparing your experience to others’ can make you lonely. Trust yourself and do not try to conform to some unreachable ideal of mother. Be true to yourself, your values as well as your limitations. You are enough.

I am grateful I have learned from my experience. I am grateful my whole family gave me space and time to heal and learn, and never left my side or lost their trust in me. I am grateful I am loved and accepted.

I am now well-aware I’m not alone in this struggle and I hope this post will validate the discomfort, pain, and even trauma many moms go through. I also hope it will spare some of that suffering and help others shift their perspective and learn new ways to take care of themselves and fulfil their potential to be happy. You are enough!

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Whenever I meet other immigrants, I make a point of asking them where I can find or eat their country’s authentic food here in Finland. All expats have their food sources and we should share them more often. Ask any Italian person living in Finland (or wherever abroad) and they will complain how they miss Italian food and cuisine.
My husband and I are both Italian and we packed our cooking habits along with us. Don’t get me wrong, our culinary horizons broadened consistently after moving to Finland and after adopting our son from India, but our basic cooking style stays Italian. We eat pasta almost every day; every weekend my husband makes pizza for the family; we didn’t give in to salad sauces and appreciate raw flavours.

In eight years, I have build a network of convenient food suppliers I am most proud of. Italian cuisine is appreciated worldwide and many local friends have appreciated my advice on where to conveniently source ingredients, so I thought, why not summarise them in a post? Overall you will find anything in grocery shops, but if you use the ingredients listed here fairly often or want to buy a bigger bulk to split with friends, you will find better bargains from these vendors.

Pasta and risotto rice

Pasta is extremely cheap in Italy and 1kg of respectable quality pasta costs around 80 cents. The pasta you find in most Finnish shops is either low quality (I’m talking Torino, Pirkka, Baresa) or high-quality but expensive (Garofalo). Barilla and De Cecco represent a good compromise, but variety is extremely limited. I gave up to finding a deal comparable to Italy, but there’s a way to buy at a cheaper price than shops and be allowed to choose whatever pasta type you ever dreamed of. The De Cecco e-shop serves customer in English language, it ships to Finland and orders over 50 kg are entitled to free delivery. If you team up with a couple of friends, 50 kg are easy to top. In addition, pasta has long expiration time and can be stored for over a year (but do not keep it in cold storage, it gets damaged). You will find any type of pasta in there. The 3kg packages are the most convenient.
De Cecco e-shop is also where I buy my risotto rice. Risotto requires certain kinds of rice and the very best ones are considered to be Carnaroli and Vialone, the latter being cheaper.

Pasta sauces and pesto

Pasta toppings are one of the things I miss the most here. Ready-made sauces are an quick-and-easy solution, but I am not willing to compromise with what you find here. Don’t get me started on Dolmio… yuk! Moreover, the pesto brands you find in local shops barely include basil or pine nuts (can you even call them pesto?). Barilla produces good pasta, but its sauces are meh.
My go-to place is Eataly.net. Their website is fully in English and delivery of orders exceeding 69 euros is free. Eataly regularly change their offer and prices can really differ product by product (not all have convenient deals). I really love their pasta sauces, for instance the brands Il Vallino or Bonamici. The pesto sauces sold here are more expensive than the ones you find in shops but they are more intensely flavoured. For comparison, if you buy a 190g jar of pesto Saclà, it’s so bland you need to use it all to top four portions of pasta. With the same quantity of pesto from Italpesto from Eataly.net, you feed twice as many people (with better taste).

Tomato sauce

Between pasta and pizza, I estimate that our family uses 5L of tomato sauce a month. We appreciate most passata (the smooth one), but others prefer polpa (tomato sauce with finely chopped pieces). This is another thing not to go cheap on, since it’s such a dominant flavour in Italian dishes. You can find good brands in local shops (I appreciate Biona and Mutti), but personally I order from Eataly.net. My favourite brands of passata are Antonella, Dani Coop and Bonamici. Sometime these brands go out of stock and others are too expensive: in such case the tomato sauces from De Cecco e-shop are a good replacement.

Parmigiano / Parmesan cheese and olive oil

The local Italian association organises buying groups of different brands of olive oil once a year from trusted (and tested) Italian suppliers, on account of its members. Similarly, parmesan cheese is ordered three to four times a year. There is no minimum order nor additional fees, but you need to be a member of the association. Being a member entitles you to plenty of discounts in restaurants and shops as well, so the small membership fees pays off quickly if you are fond of Italian food. Ordering parmesan cheese from the association costs less than half what you would pay in any grocery shop (and quality is excellent).

Cold cuts (prosciutto, mortadella…)

The best quality / price ratio for these can be found in Lidl. Mortadella is part of the standard assortment, as well as salame, prosciutto crudo and often prosciutto cotto.

Everything else

If there’s something else you fancy and you are not able to find in general grocery stores (whose offer is quite wide nowadays), here’s a shortlist of local shops selling Italian products:
Signora Delizia (sauces, high-quality pasta, chocolate, seasonal products, the go-to place for panettone, pandoro and colomba)
Casa Italia (mostly cold cuts and cheese, sometime seasonal products…)
La Tartufata (sauces, high-quality pasta, chocolate…)
La Bottega 13 (cold cuts, cheese…)
Italian Herkut (everyday products, cookies…)
Hakaniemen kauppahalli (cold cuts, cheese…)
Vaelsa (fresh pasta)

I hope this list will help Italian cuisine’s fans in Finland to access ingredients more conveniently and easily. Did you appreciate this list? What’s your best supplier for your home-country foods in Finland? Share it in the comments down below.

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