Learn to Save Lives and Get a Free Drink

Just before leaving for the Christmas break in Finland, I participated in an Adult & Pediatric First Aid, CPR & AED class, naturally organized by the American Red Cross. The previous time that I took a first aid class must have been in the mid 90s, so it was about the time to refresh my knowledge and learn the latest guidance. I was also curious to see if there are any differences between first aid training in Finland and the US. Additionally, the legislation was of interest to me. Lawsuits and liability issues are such a big deal in America that it must have an impact on the first aid protocols as well.


Indeed, the class started by addressing legislation. I learned that in DC a Good Samaritan law offers legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. As long as you act in good faith without expecting anything in return, use common sense, do not exceed your capabilities, and ask the patient for a permission to help, you’ll be fine. (If the patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to respond, the permission to help is implied.) These are the rules in DC, but there are states where people trying to help can be held liable in case something goes wrong. This understandably but unfortunately discourages people from getting involved in emergencies at all. In Finland, the logic is very different: The Finnish Rescue act explicitly stipulates “a duty to rescue as a general duty to act and engage in rescue activities according to their abilities“. In other words, back home the possible crime is not trying to help rather than not being successful in helping.

Having covered the legal issues, we spent the rest of the day practising standard first aid procedures and learning about different kinds of emergencies one may come across. The list of types of injuries and illnesses that we managed to cover was surprisingly long: seizures, strokes, heart attacks, fractures, bleeding, poisoning, choking… The steps to be followed in case of an emergency were repeated over and over again to develop a routine: check the scene for safety, check for responsiveness of a person who appears to be unconscious, call 911, open the airway and check for breathing, scan for severe bleeding and then give care based on the conditions found.


One of the highlights was naturally training CPR both with adult and baby manikins. In the current guidelines, the cycles of CPR consist of 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths. This had clearly changed since my previous first aid class. Also the use of gloves and breathing barriers was highlighted much more than I remember having been the case in the 90s – which is of course good for the safety of the person giving first aid and CPR. Then again, one thing that had not changed at all was the fact that all the CPR training manikins are still called Anne!

Another highlight of the day was getting introduced to AED. That was totally new for me, and before the class I did not even know that the abbreviation stands for Automatic Electronic Defibrallator. For some reason I had had a very mystified mental image of defribrallators. Now I know that there is nothing mysterious about them. They are actually pretty simple devices with only a couple of buttons and two sticky pads. The device even gives voice instructions on what to do. I would claim that defibrallators are actually much simpler and easier to use than navigators, avalanche beacons, or even just smartphones, so no one should be afraid of using a defibrallator. Of course it still makes a huge difference to have had practised using one before a real emergency.


It is amazing how much one can learn in only 7 hours. Ideally first aid, CPR & AED skills are something to be practiced on a regular basis of course, and there is always more to learn. Regardless, even in just one day you can learn so much of the basics that you already have a great chance to save someone’s life. In just one day! Hence I strongly encourage all of you to include a first aid class to your new year’s resolutions. You can sign up through this link in Finland and through this one in the US. I promise to buy a beer or another drink of choice to anyone of you who completes a class before May 1, 2014.

Meanwhile in Finland

After a fantastic fall in DC, on December 23 it was time to start the long journey from one home to another. Against all odds, my flight from Newark to Stockholm was on time, and also my sister made her way there from San Francisco via Chicago. Happily reunited, we hopped on the short flight to Helsinki together early in the morning of the Christmas Eve and made it to our childhood home by noon, in other words just in time for the Declaration of Christmas Peace. It is a tradition that has continued almost uninterrupted in the city of Turku since the 1320s. Since 1983, it has been broadcast on national television so that Finns around the country can join this event which in a way marks the official start of Christmas celebrations, also in our family.

In Finland, Christmas Eve is the main event of the holidays. Once the Christmas Peace is declared, the day continues with eating ‘riisipuuro’ (rice porridge), the Finnish version of rice pudding topped with cinnamon and sugar. Each Christmas, my mom hides a whole almond in the rice porridge, and a popular belief has it that the one who eats the almond will be in luck the following year. (A less popular belief is that the finder of the almond has to sing a song…) Guess who got the almond this time? 2014 will be a great year!

Other important Christmas Eve activities were bathing in a Christmas sauna (of course!), and having a sumptuous Christmas dinner. As Santa Claus lives so near us, he brings the presents to Finns already on the Christmas Eve, often stopping by in person although this year he was so busy that had just left the presents by the door. The Christmas Day was devoted to visiting the cemetery to leave candles on the graves, and to catching up with childhood friends as for once everyone was back in the old hoods. On Boxing Day I lured my sister and a friend of mine for a small “ham run”, followed by having sauna (of course!). You can consider this a low-key version of a turkey trot! In the end, the only thing that was missing from a perfect Finnish Christmas was snow.

I was hoping the weather to be similar to the year before…

121222 Kerkkoo

…but instead it looked like this:


Besides Christmas, the other main reason for my trip to Finland was the public examination of my sister‘s doctoral dissertation in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. Assistant Professor Lorraine Kisselburgh from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, served as the Opponent, and Professor Anna-Maija Pirttilä-Backman as the Custos (the supervising professor). The beautiful old lecture hall at the University of Helsinki Main Building from 1832 was full of audience. The youngest eye-witness was 4 years old and the oldest 90! My sister did a great job defending her work, so I could just happily sit in the audience feeling proud – instead of stepping to the stage as a dobbelgänger which was our backup plan…

In the Finnish academic world, academic traditions dating from the 17th century are taken seriously and cherished. The public examination is much more ceremonial than in many other countries. Successful defense is followed by ‘karonkka‘, a fun post-doctoral party with food, drinks, and lots of light-hearted speeches. I have probably never been surrounded by such an army of PhDs and researchers! The actual ‘karonkka’ is mainly targeted for the academic community, although nowadays the closest family members get to join. Hence, the celebrations continued on the following evening with an even bigger party for friends and extended family with more food, more drinks, and great conversations. The conversation topics ranged from old teapots to start-up opportunities in the forest industry and from poverty experiences to documentary filmmaking in Northern Namibia.

 Always good to have a doppelgänger on the day of public examination…


Doctoral hats of ‘karonkka’ guests and the woolly hat that my sister got from us to stay warm until her black hat arrives


Between Christmas and the academic celebrations, we did a roadtrip to Kesälahti (my mom’s old hoods in Eastern Finland about four hours away from Porvoo) in the search of snow. There was no snow either, but it was great to get to visit my 89 and 88 year old smile wrinkle idols. There is a lot to be learnt from these two inspiring, humorous North Karelian super grandmas about how life should be lived.

Other than that, I had great time with my friends visiting some of my favorite establishments in Helsinki, like Sandro, KuuKuu, Talo, Pacifico and Siltanen. I also consumed a fair amount of fine sushi, had a ‘lonkero‘ (a Finnish drink invented for the Olympics in 1952), ate ‘rahka‘ (quark) with blueberries for breakfast, and drank lots of tasty tap water. I was monkeying with my four funny godchildren and their siblings, and I met two babies that had been born after I moved to DC. I went running and swimming with my dear training buddies. And during my 13-day trip, I managed to have sauna eight times in total, each time at a different place. What makes this even better, five of these saunas were wood-heated. That is pure luxury.

So what did I miss from DC? At least biking, and my own bed. And sunshine! Not only is the daylight in general limited to five hours or so in Southern Finland around the winter solstice, but even during those five hours sunshine is a rarity. During my trip, there was about five minutes of sunshine on December 25, and another seven minutes on January 5. Despite with the frigid air brought to the US by the polar vortex, three sunny days in a row after getting back made DC feel like San Andrés.

Sunshine in Kerkkoo on December 25, 2013


Blue skies in DC on January 8, 2014


Best of December

1. Progressive Dinner

Month after month, my new home keeps on surprising me positively. At the beginning of December I learned that our 2-block strip of the Monroe Street has an active street association and received an invitation to a progressive dinner. I had never heard of the concept before. The idea is that a number of residents open up their houses for neighbors to enjoy one course of the dinner at each home. The other dinner participants contribute by providing food, so that the hosts do not need to worry about that.

The schedule looked like this: appetizers at 5:30pm, soup at 6:30pm, salad at 7:15pm, dinner at 8pm, dessert at 9pm, and nightcap at 9:45pm. Busy with other Saturday activities, I missed the first two courses, but joined the fun starting from salads that were served at our place. I was amazed when exactly at 7:15pm the doorbell rang and the house filled with people, young and old, kids, adults, grandparents, students… Food contributors brought amazing salads featuring everything from pomegranate seeds to jícama.

After 45 minutes, the “boss of the block”, an energetic 9-year-old rang a bell to signal that it was time to move on. We followed the crowd across the street and got to enjoy numerous mains and sides, endless desserts and finally a night cap (or a few) in three more homes. What a great way to learn to know your neighbors and strengthen the community feeling!


2. Gingerbread House Workshop

I have been a big fan of gingerbread houses since a kid. In our family it was always my mom who made the gingerbread dough and prepared the parts for the house, and we kids focused purely on decorating. My mom was also in charge of assembling the house with melted sugar, as that step was considered way too dangerous for kids. At the age of 26, I decided I was finally old enough to maneuver the whole process, and since then I have built a house every other year or so. Inspired by my new home town, this year I selected the Washington Monument as my gingerbread house project, and I must admit I am very happy with the result.


Getting company to my multi-day gingerbread house workshop made the project more fun than ever: My designer friend had never done anything similar before, but she was eager to give it a try and turned out to be a natural gingerbread house talent! Without using any patterns, she created a lovely farm scene with a barn, a silo and a whole array of animals from piglets to roosters. The other workshop participant was one of my house mates who loves building just about anything. Leveraging his experience from making surfboards out of fibreglass, he was great at dealing especially with 3D shapes. The credit of the hill under the Washington Monument goes to him.


3. Ugly Holiday Sweater Parties

In the past couple of years, ugly holiday sweater parties have become an “ironic” megatrend in the US. Also I got invited to two. Although the last weeks before Christmas were quite busy, I did not want to repeat my rookie mistake from Halloween of showing up without appropriate attire. My plan A was to head to Goodwill to look for a suitable sweater, but it turned out there is no Goodwill in DC; the nearest ones are in Virginia and Maryland. Instead of looking for another thrift store, I chose an alternative approach as my plan B: I decided to ‘uglify’ my old black snowboarding sweater myself!

In my opinion, the Christmas tree with a bunch of bow ties that I made out of metallic ribbon intended for wrapping gifts came out pretty ugly indeed. To my surprise, many Americans considered it cute rather than ugly. Someone even described my creation as a typical example of elegant Nordic design! Next time I need to come up with something way more extravagant, I guess. Well, no matter ugly or cute, I had a great time at both parties – surrounded by an impressive selection of funny, tacky, and hideous sweaters. One of my favorites was the genuine retro sweater from the 80s that the girl on the left is wearing in the picture below. Her mom had apparently not been too flattered for getting her dear holiday sweater rebranded as ugly, though…


Bubbling Under

At the least the following additional highlights deserve to be mentioned: Opening the holiday season with The Nutcracker by Washington Ballet at the Warner Theatre, baking Finnish Christmas buns and pin-wheel shaped prune tarts for the Fulbright Holiday Party at the Slovenian embassy, baking even more and hosting a Pre-Holiday Brunch & Hangout for friends, checking out the National Christmas Tree by the White House, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and the ZooLights, experiencing my first white elephant gift exchange, and eventually getting introduced to the 30-year-old ultimate holiday movie classic A Christmas Story (highly recommended!) and promoting Rare Exports and the Finnish film industry in return.


With this, I wanted to wish you and your loved ones Happy Holidays and lots of Sweet Surprises in 2014 already a few weeks ago. Most holidays are over by now, but as today is the orthodox Christmas, I use the opportunity to finally wish you all ‘Hyvää Joulua ja Onnellista Uutta Vuotta 2014’!