Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years

December 31st we had dinner together at six in the evening. There was meat, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and gravy, and champagne to drink and use to toast the upcoming year.

The TV was turned on after dinner and we watched the pre-New Year shows together on the two couches in the living room. The shows ranged from music performances of popular music to peoples dancing to knocking down piñatas to all the bloopers from the years news and films. The best of the latter was an Estonian news reporter stopping a woman on the street and asking her a long complex question in rapid Estonian, and then the woman immediately responds, "Thank you, I'm visiting from America and I have no idea what you just said." At which point I burst out laughing at something that strongly resembled me at the beginning of the year.

Just before midnight we put on hats and coats and went out into the street to meet up just down the road with a couple other families. The sky overhead was dark with one horizon colored the ever present shade of orange from what I can only assume is light pollution from the city.

Distant fireworks popped quietly along the orange strip of clouds. From the opposite horizon reddish orange lanterns drifted upwards one at a time from behind the trees. They glided over the houses and into the distance. After a brief struggle with the wind, we managed to light a multitude of sparklers that ecstatic children and teenagers whirled about.

With a crack, fireworks began to explode around us as the people on the next street over began to send them up from the driveways and backyards. Then light cascaded overhead from behind us and I turned to see the people a couple doors down setting them off from their driveway. As I spun to take in the colors blasting away in the dark heavens, I noticed a box sparking just down the road and soon enough fireworks began to whistle upwards to explode right overhead.

The fireworks from those three source seemed to war across the sky overhead to the backdrop of swirling and bursting color of the fireworks along the horizon. The rockets shrieked and screamed blasting our eardrums with waves of concussive sound. The whole sky lit up with dazzling color as the ground was covered in smoke the reeked of rotten eggs.

As fireworks battled for attention in the darkness, the New Year arrived with cheers, hugs, and beer (or wine, I really don't know). Everyone shared enthusiastic hugs and handshakes, drunk on excitement and the spectacle of the explosions overhead.

More sparklers flared, illuminating the dirt road for short intervals before fading away. Dozens of boxes of fireworks went shooting into the night sky in just under an hour, at which point they all but stopped completely. There were a few to keep going as people fought to expend all the ones they had bought for the holiday.

I now realize exactly why I kept seeing fireworks stall everywhere I went. New Years is definitely a holiday that Estonians take celebrating seriously. It was a like a canopy of ever-changing light and color or one of those overhead IMAX theaters.

We also set of a couple of on the ground spinning fireworks, some of which only flared off and on in such a way that left spots on my vision afterwards. One man had a hand held firework tube which he used to send up four more fireworks, but his hand dipped on the second, causing it to explode a couple meters above the ground.

After all of it stopped, some of the neighbors came back to the house for more alcohol.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mishaps Mayhaps

The sky was dark when I woke up at seven thirty and a small window had been left open, so everyone with beds on the floor, four out of six people of which I was not one, was cold during the night and all of my clothes were freezing.

After breakfast, most of us left to ski, but several people stayed behind to do snow sculpting. At the mountain I got my stuff on and began to ski immediately. I went up the lift with Alaska the majority of the time, except when I lagged behind to help someone up after they had fallen or lost a ski.

Then one time, as we were being pulled up the steepest part of the slope, the rope attached to the T-bar snapped and sentAlaska and I tumbling off to either side. We lay there shocked for a few moments before collapsing into helpless laughter. It took a little bit before we could stand up and everyone on the lift was dropping off on the exit below us. When we made it onto the trail, I had to carry the plastic T-bar down which attracted odd looks from those that had not seen what had happened.

Around eleven or eleven thirty, the horizon began to turn magnificent shades of pink and orange graced by slivers of light blue. The sky remained darkened, with only the east horizon coloring for the rest of the daylight hours. Sunrise melded seamlessly into sunset and the sun never actually rose over the mountain, leaving the biting wind to scour the landscape.

We had lunch at the base of the mountain near the ski rental building, hot juice and cooked sausage, cold juice and cold sandwiches. After lunch, we had two more hours to ski.

A couple runs later I spotted a guy tele skiing and stopped and talked to him about the transition from tele to alpine for a bit. I was really wishing that I had brought my skis just for those two days of skiing because I was really missing them.

After a while, Alaska got me to go with him down a trail covered in deep powder, one that we later found out was closed, but there was no indication of that. The powder was almost knee deep over most of the trail, and much deeper in the rest.

My first run I fell early on and it was a struggle to get out, even with some friendly unhelpful help from another skier. I had forgotten how hard it was to ski powder and I had to stop frequently to rest.

The second time I managed to stay close to Alaska until he tumbled into a snow drift. I glided closer while laughing at him, and tripped and fell sideways down the trail. We were both laughing then and he got up. I couldn't get up because my leg was fully extended up the trail and the ski was stuck. It hurt to move, so I had Alaska release my ski. Once I got it back on, we skied to the bottom with no further mishaps.

As we rode the lift up for the third run, we saw a man teaching a little girl how to tele ski. It reminded me of Dad teaching me when I first started several years ago.

The third run I collapsed into knee deep snow and spent at least five minutes trying to free myself. It has been so long since I had to get up on alpine skis, so I found myself trying to do it the way I usually get up, and failing spectacularly because the alpine boots don't bend that way. Eventually, I gave up and detached both skis so I could stand up and then put them back on.

After that run, I did two more on the main trail before deciding that my muscles could not take any more.

At two everyone had returned their skis and was on the bus back to the hotel. The sunset faded from the horizon, leaving the sky dark and cloudy.

After we returned, it was time for sauna. The hotel had a huge sauna that could fit a ton of people. The girls got the sauna rooms in the hotel and the boys had the ones outside by the river. The sauna also had a door that led outside so people could cool off by jumping in the snow. I, myself, jumped into the snow twice.

 I got really hot in the sauna and then ran outside. I threw myself face first into the snow and immediately felt the cold start to seep into my bones. I quickly rolled over and jumped to my feet and ran to the door. As I ran, I could feel the snow crystals melting in rivulets down my naked body. I felt my hand almost stick to the frosted metal as I yanked the door open. Once I was back inside, I hurried to return to the warmth of the sauna.

After sauna we had dinner. Then we got back on the buses and drove to a nearby school for a Rotary gathering. During this we sat down and watched some performances. There was a group of four girls who danced and sang two songs and an old Sami man sang several songs in the Sami language. He had a beautiful voice and was dressed in the traditional Sami garb: reindeer skin shoes and pants tied with colorfully threaded belts, a dark blue tunic with colorful embroidery, and a tall embroidered dark blue hat with four points, one for each compass direction. The hat also had ribbons hanging from it. They functioned like the triangles on Nachi women's headpieces: they indicate marital status, but these are for men. Worn on the left means that the man is married, right means engaged, and down the back means "still looking for beautiful ladies". Worn over the face the mean, in his exact words, "woohoo, carnaval!"

After him, groups of exchange students went up in country groups to perform. The Australians sang Among the Gum Trees, which I half sang along to, the Mexicans made a flag backdrop to Alejandro doing his spinning tricks, and the Canadians went up and apologized for not having anything one at a time until the last person said, "yah, we're sorry, eh." in a stereotypical Canadian accent. Then Alaska decided to go up on his own and did a very excellent impression of Golem. He voice was dead on and it was quite hilarious. Then someone forced the single girl from South Africa up there and she sang a traditional song in African about an old man pushing a wheelbarrow.

After that there were a couple weird contests and a snack before we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Sauna Scuffles

Sauna Scuffles

The first day of Lapland tour was almost like a dream, as most of us were running on inadequate amounts of sleep. I, myself, had about five hours of sleep during all twenty two hours of travel that it took to get to Lapland. I left Tartu after school at one thirty on a bus to Tallinn. We, the Tartu exchange students, took a taxi to the ferry terminal where we met the other two Estonian Rotary exchangers and a guy who travelled with us on the ferry.

We had to wait for the bus to arrive at nine in Helsinki. While we were waiting, two drunk guys came up to us and asked us something, but the guy with us shooed them away. The drunks then went over to a taxi that already had occupants and tried to convince the driver to take them. We all watched this and were laughing hysterically.

The bus ride was very long, but very fun because of all the exchange students that we could meet again.

We arrived at the hotel in Lapland at twelve noon. Out of all four busses, ours was the last to arrive. Everyone was assigned rooms and I ended up in room 160 with three others from Estonian, Michigan (state of origin that is now name), and a girl from France. Because we had a room for six, we also got a sauna in the bathroom.

After dropping stuff in our rooms, we had lunch and then dressed very warmly for skiing. We drove over to Olos to ski. When we arrived, we had to brave the crowded ski rental hut to get our equipment. Once I had mine, I put it on and immediately went straight to the top of the mountain. It was very dark, but there were rows of lights lining either side of the main trail. The lift was a T-bar lift, and was extremely hard to ride solo.

At the top off the mountain it was freezing and the wind howled all around. But as the cold bit at my face and nipped the rest of my body like a thousand pinpricks, I could see out across the rest of Lapland like a blanket spread out before me. Although Lapland is the most mountainous part of Finland, it still does not hold a candle to Vermont. Needless to say, the mountain I was standing on was the tallest for miles around and I could see others in the distance. The only mountains of similar heights were gaint piles of snow that were barely distinguishable against the sky. Those particular mountains are actually part of Sweden.

We skied for round about two hours. I did a lot of runs with Alaska and the T-bar was considerably easier to ride with two passengers.

When it was time to go my muscles were very sore and I was quite cold. Everyone was freezing, but we still had to go have dinner outside. We ate in a small cluster of huts with a fire burning in each one. Dinner was fish and potato soup with hot berry juice and pancakeish things for dessert.

Back at the hotel, we all went back to our rooms and everyone in ours tried to turn on the sauna. Eventually some boys managed to turn it on and the we were inundated with tons of people who wanted to sauna.

We only let in the three boys who turned it on and shut everyone else out. Once they had finished they left saying that they were going to cool off and then come back, but we decided not to let them in.

So, three of us girls went to sauna, leaving our clothes in the bathroom. Once we were naked the boys came back and someone let them in. They were standing outside the bathroom door and one of them said that he had left his shirt in the bathroom. Jennifer and I hid in the shower while Brittney tossed out their clothes.

Once she did that we went to sauna. It was wonderful. Then we heard a shout that there were Northern lights in the sky, so we rushed out to throw on clothes so we could go out and see them. However, when I looked for my clothes, I couldn't find them. I looked at Brittney and said, "Did you throw out my clothes?"

We all looked at each other and started laughing. Then I opened the door and there were my clothes crumpled on the ground: we laughed harder. We dressed quickly and hurried out the door, but the boys were back and they tried to get into the room. We blocked them and one, clad only in a towel, picked up Brittney and tossed her out of the way. They forced themselves inside and I gave up and ran outside to see the Northern lights, but by the time I got out there they had gone.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sorry for the Wait

Hello everyone!

Sorry it's been so long, I've been concentrating on novel writing for NaNoWriMo and I can enthusiastically say that I am losing. I'm round about ten thousand words behind, with little hope of catching up, but that's not to say that I'm giving up. I have the story idea down solidly, but it is just so hard to write so much at once. I am very proud of myself though, as it is by far the longest story I have ever written. Usually as I write in class, classes I have little to no hope of understanding, physics, biology, etc., Clara, who has ended up next to me in quite a lot of classes (German) spends her time writing a long story for her sister with pen and paper in German. All this writing has made this blogging come easier: all this that I've written so far came in under half a minute.

In other news, the District Governor is on a round of visiting Rotary clubs and came to ours on Monday. My host mother wasn't able to attend so Kristal, a close friend of my second host mother's, picked me up and brought me home again, which was very nice as I would have otherwise had to take the bus. Fortunately for me, the District Governor did not speak Estonian, so the meeting was in English. Afterwards, I learned that I will be switching families on the 24th of November and my next host family lives about ten minutes from the school by bus. Score.

Also, I have been getting out with friends a bit more. On Halloween, Clara, Brittney, and I went to the Kiik, a gigantic wooden swing. We conversed and Clara held firm on her belief that trick-or-treating is stealing candy before us two flabbergasted Americans. After we abandoned the swing because we got too cold, we went to an Italian restraint for dinner that I recommended after having had dinner there with Peg a couple weeks before. That night we saw only a few costumes, such as a zombie and a witch, but there were apparently some small groups of small children running around in some towns. Halloween isn't really celebrated here, but that doesn't stop schools from doing lots of English, writing, and research projects on it.

The next day, however, Brittney and I were offered the opportunity to put on scary masks and scare the living day lights out of small children. We accepted with great pleasure and had even greater pleasure in actually doing it. I even managed to sneak up behind my Estonian teacher and make her jump by squeezing her shoulders.

My Estonian is progressing wonderfully, I actually am capable of a simple conversation now and I am continuing to learn the cases. Some of the ones that I have memorized are due to watching TV when it says a show is from Monday through Friday, the cases being from and through.

Also, Brittney stayed at my house for about a week quite a few weeks ago, as her host parents went to Spain and she couldn't go. We had a great time and we went to see Peg together and joined her in making apple crisp. I found out that Brittney rocks at making map outlines and she made one for a story of mine at my request. Yay!

I think that's about it. If I think of anything else, I'll just write another post. Oh yes, Aksel just had a girl over. A stranger. Girlfriend? Maybe. I might just ask him.

Anyways, I have to write about another thousand words before retiring. Talk to you all later.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


On the Friday after my trip to Lounakeskus, I arrived back in Elva to have tea with the mother of the American guy I met at the kid's day event thing. I met her in front of the big(er) store and we walked back to her house.

Once we got there, Peg and I made had tea and made brownies. While we baked we talked about family and cooking, and I learned that it is extremely hard to find vanilla in Estonia, as it is not sold in stores. Apparently there is one company that imports foreign foods and baking supplies that has it occasionally and I heard from a friend that there is a baking shop across the river in Tartu that might have it.

After the brownies finished baking, we took our taw and went into the living room. While eating the very delicious brownies, we talked about our families and it turns out that Vermont is her favorite state and she used to go on skiing vacations to Killington, which is just up the road from where I live. It was like an experience one of my uncles had, when he started talking to some random stranger on the plane and it turned out to be someone who knew Grampa. That's what it felt like to meet someone who had gone skiing near my home halfway round the world.

We also talked a great deal about dogs, especially very large ones, for which we are both overly fond. Books were something we both enjoy immensely, and so when it was time to go, I had a book on dogs to borrow. Peg walked home with me and I told her about Grammie and her read-it list and how we shared book recommendations, then proceeded to tell her about Stormdancer which I got for her when we got to the house.

I read the dog book that night and cried my eyes out as one dog and than the other died.

The next weekend there was a workday near the lake organized by one of the political parties trying to get votes for the upcoming election. There were lots of people there and the project was to clear out the forest area by the lake. There were several guys with chainsaws and others with weedwhackers. I helped load up a trailer with pieces of trees that were dragged out of the woods. Later I helped pile branches on the fires that were lit to burn up the smaller brush. They were encouraged to burn in the same way as the fire during Lunar Quarry: i.e. Throwing copious amounts of gasoline on the fire. Peg arrived an hour or so after the event started. We worked together and talked about different things, and then she showed me where a beaver was trying to bring down a birch tree and dam up the river. After a while we walked home together.

The woods were quite nice afterwards and you could definitely see how much work was put into it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Days of Thunder

On the Sunday after Aksel's birthday, the Austrian girl who was looking for a host family came to our house. Everyone except Aksel was there to meet her. We visited and learned about her and the work that she is doing here. She is working at the orphanage in Elva, but has nothing to do for most of day because the children are in school. She is also living in the old orphanage building all by herself, which is incredibly cold because there is no central heating, so she just heats her room by building fires in the fireplace.

We all talked for a long time and eventually moved to the living room. She stayed for several hours, and I hope she ends up staying with us, but we haven't heard from her since as far as I know.

After school on Monday, I went to Lounakeskus, a mall, with two friends from school who are both exchange students. One of them had wanted to get doughnuts, so I suggested Lounakeskus and so we went and we went straight to the doughnut stand as soon as we got there. To get to the mall, we just caught the 18 intercity bus and it goes there as its first and last stop. After getting doughnuts to share, we wandered around the mall for a bit before Brittney pulled us into the pet store.

It was a big pet store and in the back were cages and pens with a variety of animals. There were parrots, songbirds, squirrels, and a kookaburra in the cages. In the pens there were hedgehogs, prairie dogs, and lizards. There were also two porcupines and an assortment of rabbits, spiders, and fish. There were only two cats and no dogs. It was just like a miniature zoo.

Afterwards, we made a beeline for the bookstore, Apollo, on the second floor. After some meandering through the movie section and aisles of Estonian novels (and books in English on sex positions) we found the foreign language fiction section. Here I struck gold with a book called Stormdancer. It was highly recommended; genre: Japanese Steampunk. On the back I found a review praising the book from my favorite author, Patrick Rothfuss. It was love at first sight.

On the trip home, I started reading. The beginning was a bit hard to follow because of the Japanese names that I found hard to follow because of there foreignness, a bit like Estonian names to me, truth be told. A day or two later, as I started to read in earnest, I found the writing wonderful and quite thunderous, just like the characters. I highly recommend it to Josh and Emily and Dad and Grammie, and all others reading this post.

Magnificent book, full of poison and thunder. The sequel came out last month. It's called Kinslayer. I don't know much about it, only that the author doesn't like happy endings and people have cursed him for it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Today is Aksel's birthday. He is turning sixteen today. As I sit here typing this up, various family members are arriving for the party at six (it's five now).  As far as I can tell at the moment, birthday parties involve having a big meal with family. But more on that later.

This has been an interesting week, for sure. Sunday morning I did something that I'm sure would have happened sooner or later: I poured Keefir in my tee instead of milk. You see, the bags that they come in look exactly the same and when I went to grab a new bag of milk, I grabbed Keefir instead. I only realized my mistake when I saw that there were tube like streams of white stuff floating in my tee.

This has also been a week of weird schedule changes. On Tuesday, in addition to to taking the bus to school for the first time, our PE class also changed times to one block earlier because the rest of the classes' Estonian teacher wasn't there. We exchange students were hanging out in the library for three blocks because we had a free block, then  Estonian in the library, and then another free lesson before PE. It was nearly the end of the free lesson before PE, when a girl came in and told all of us that we had missed at least half of PE. When the four of us exchange girls got to the locker room, some girls we know we're exiting and told us that we had missed all of PE. Apparently someone had asked the teacher if we had been informed and the teacher said we had, but we never were.

Then the next day the five of us got to skip the first half of drama class because it was an assembly about summer vacation.

On Thursday, it was the first day of our English teacher's absence. Apparently there are no substitute teachers, so we were told what work we had to do before she returned on Tuesday and left to our own self-discipline for English class. Pretty much everyone showed up, but all but two of us left within ten minutes. When I finally left and went to the library, I found the rest of the class there, and some were doing the  work. We were also informed on Thursday that we didn't have to show up for the first two Physics classes on Friday.

Friday I had to take the bus to school on my own, and it arrived right after we pulled up to the bus stop. I had to quickly get out my wallet and get on, however I had a leaky travel mug of tee in one hand and the morning bus only takes cash, and not bus cards. Basically, I ended up dropping change everywhere, because my wallet doesn't have a coin pocket with Velcro or zipper and spilling at least half my tee over my jacket sleeve. Thankfully, a nice man in the front seat picked up the change I dropped and I managed to give the bus driver the right amount. As an extra bonus, when I walked from the bus stop to school it rained and washed off my jacket.

Friday evening, my host mother said that we might have a girl from Austria staying here as well. She is in Elva volunteering at the orphanage, but was getting lonely so she starting looking for a host family. She will be coming over tomorrow so we can all meet face to face and see how we'll get along. I hope she ends up staying, it will be great to have a teenage girl around. Who knows, I may even learn some German.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


It has been a busy two weeks, and somehow I never got around to writing on my blog. I was going to to it over the weekend, but someone switched the wifi to a different network on me. To be fair, when we figured out it was him, he gave me the password.

Classes have been going very well, at least as well as can be expected. Physics is still incomprehensible, and I had to take a test in it yesterday. The test was in English, but I don't understand the underlying concepts, so it will be a terrible grade. However, according to the teacher, the test only counts for exchange students if we do well. I answered half the questions, the ones that were similar to Chemistry, and wrote "Ma ei tea.", I don't know, for the other half. I also wrote a border of sentences saying "Ma ei saa aru füüsika." which is how I thought you said I don't understand physics, but it should have been "Ma ei saa füüsikast aru." The Estonian student I was sharing the desk with kept looking over at my paper and laughing. The only good part of Physics is that it gives me the opportunity to learn some words in Estonian as I struggle to translate the questions.

Maths is likewise hard, even though the teacher has pulled out books in English for us. The explanations are in Estonian, and the math is really quite hard. It turns out that the class group we're in, 11a, is the eleventh grade group that attends the most difficult classes. I can do a lot of it up to the point where it slips beyond my comprehension.

English class is the best. I have both books I need for the class and the excercises are pretty easy, if sometimes hard to comprehend. It is the only class that gives homework so homework isn't much of a hardship. Usually in class the teacher assigns a bunch of paired exercises and some discussions in pairs. My desk mate and I usually do the first one or two before one sends us in a completely different direction and we start to ignore the class work and just speak in English about something completely unrelated. The teacher doesn't mind because it is in English, and the only thing she doesn't like taking place in her class is speech in Estonian. So yesterday, my desk mate and I spent almost the whole lesson discussing TV shows, and the two girls in front of us turned around at one point and joined in.

Today in English we had a test. I took it and found it pretty easy, except for the translating part and remembering which words we studied that she was looking for.

In drama, the teacher speaks almost no English. Fortunately, there are a bunch of people who are good enough to explain the activity or task. It has been fun so far and interesting to be sure. Yesterday we had to teach a partner a short poem, which they then had to recite before everyone. I taught my partner, Brittney, one in English, but when it was my turn to memorize, the teacher had run out of English poems, and I had to learn one in Estonian instead. Of course, the poem had to be the s card, which meant that nearly every word started with s and contained at least three per word. It sounded like a bunch of hissing, and I'm fairly sure that I butchered the pronounciation.

In Estonian we have been learning a lot of vocabulary, and helpful phrases. And some less helpful ones, such as "I'm single". We have a test in this class tomorrow. It has been a fun class so far and quite helpful, although I can't wait to move on to verbs, which I really need.

In PE we have been doing a lot of running, two laps as a warmup, and sometimes more, such as relay races and timed sprints. The rest of the time we have been doing sports, such as Estonian baseball, much like baseball that I played in hockey practice when I was little, ultimate frisbee, and football. We played football today, and I ended up as goalie. My team won two to one.

In History, we have started with the ice age and moved through to the Bronze Age. Every week one of us has to prepare a short presentation on part of our country's history. I went first and presented last week. My was on the various folk heroes of the US that appeared during the 19th century during westward expansion. The teacher loved it and gave me a five on it, which is the highest possible grade. Erick was supposed to do his today, but we spent the whole period watching the movie 10 000 BC, which is a very good movie.

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Day of Classes

I woke up at six o'clock Monday morning to get ready for school.  We left the house at seven ten to drop off  Adeele at kindergarten, and then we went to Miina Härma to drop me off. Aksel wasn't with  us because it was his first day of school and he didn't have to go in until eleven.

I brought only a notebook, pen, and pencil because I didn't know what the policy was on bags. When I walked in the door, I followed the steady stream of people down into the coat room and looked for my class's. Thankfully there was someone there who I had met the day before there who told me which it was. I left my coat there and then headed upstairs to find my first class. I met up with the other exchange students in front of the classroom and we hung out for a little while until it was time to go in.

I ended up in the back of the room, next to Erick. The teacher came in and class started. The girls in front of us lent us on of their math books so we could follow along and try to do the math. I had thought that we would have an easy day of going over what we would be covering that year or reviewing what was learned last year, but instead we plunged headlong into the subject. Erick and I muddled along and the teacher came over frequently to check on our progress, or to explain the objective in her inexpert grasp of English. She is a wonderful teacher, "normal" (cool) as one girl told us. We found that she laughed a lot and were told that she laughs more and more as tests get closer.

After an hour and a half, we were finally done with Maths, and went upstairs for Physics. There was a rush to choose seats for Physics and I ended up next to Clara, the YFU exchange student from Germany. In this class too, we jumped headlong into the subject, but there was no point of familiarity for me in this one. The teacher spoke a mile a minute in rapid fire Estonian and scribbled diagrams and labels frantically across the board in the hasty scrawl that seems to be the hallmark of science teachers everywhere. I understood not a single thing.

After Physics one girl was nice enough to show us the library where we could get textbooks for math and physics, but the line was too long so we went off to English class. Each of us was in a different room. I was in room 212. The teacher was very cool and employed sarcasm in a quite humorous way. She did, however, have everyone in the room ask me a question in English, which I then had to answer.

After English I met severally other exchange students in the library and two got all their needed books and us other two just managed to get math books from the grouchy librarian. Then we met the fifth of us in room 119 for Estonian class. There were just five of us so it ended up being a rather informal class. That day all we did was drew abstract representations of things that define us and then the others had to guess what they signified. No one was particularly good at guessing, especially Erick. We also had to introduce ourselves in Estonian.

After that class it was the end of the day, so we went back to the library and those of us that needed books were able to get them. Then I had to call my mother, but it took me ten minutes, frustrated growling at the phone and competent help from Erick to get the phone to turn on. Once I called, I then got my coat and waited outside for her.

We had lunch, then went back to her office and I hung out in the basement for three hours watching crime television, before it was time for the Rotary meeting.

We went to the restaurant where it was being held and had dinner at two packed tables with the other Rotarians, before getting tea and heading upstairs to where the actual meeting part was being held. During the course of this, I noticed one lady who had my kind of dress sense. She was wearing a colorful long shirt with Chinese ties, and she was, according to my mother, an architect.

The meeting itself was very long and dull, since I couldn't understand anything at all really. There were papers constantly circling around for Rotarians to sign themselves up for things. I also entered myself into a photography competition that I still don't know the rules of. That's what I got out of the meeting really, but it was still a bit interesting, if only for the fashion.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School. Sort of.

On Sunday, the first day of school at Miina Härma, we left the house at nine, my mother, Adeele, Aksel, and I. We picked up Meeme after getting flowers for the principal and class teacher. We got to the school at little before ten and went into the school grounds. Once in there, I met Brittney, the exchange student from Kansas. Together we went to wait at the sign for our class, 11a.

After a little while, more of our class arrived and she introduced me to the exchange students from Germany and Mexico, one of them being from Rotary. There was a minor awkward moment when I went to shake the Mexican girl's hand and she started to hug me, but we just ended up in a big hug after a few seconds.

After everyone in the school had arrived, the principal stood up and spoke about something for twenty minutes. Then a couple groups sang. Soon after, everyone went inside and went to there class teacher's room. Us exchange students followed the teacher and those students in our class that we knew to the room.

The teacher talked a lot in Estonian and a little bit in English as well. Then she had us exchange students introduce ourselves, so we did in Estonian. We got our schedules at some point and everyone elected a class leader. I'm fairly sure that the kid who was elected is in my drama class. That was pretty much it, and everyone was out the door by noon. I left lilies on the teacher's desk, and then found the principal, who is in my Rotary club, and gave her flowers.

After that I went with my family to lunch and then went home.


Last Saturday at about noon, my mother and I changed into our matching t-shirts and went with Adeele to an event that reminded me of National Night Out. There were several different activities occurring, such as a bouncy house and slide for small children, a craft table, face painting, balloons, and a foot race for two different age groups. There was also a table where people were serving up soup and bread.

People wearing the same shirt as I was were the ones running the events. I believe that they were running for some community government position. Over the course of the day, more and more people were wearing the shirts as they got them.

I watched Adeele run in the little kid race and held Meeme's dog when she went to get soup. Then I got soup myself and it was very good.

My mother introduced me to an American who lives in Elva with his Estonian wife and their children. I learned that he came over from Connecticut to teach English and ended up staying. I also learned that he has been to Vermont.

Adeele got her mouth painted to look like a dogs and then she dragged me over to the bouncy house. I spent most of the next couple of hours watching over her. After her mother finally got her out of it, we went and watched bikers and skateboarders in the skatepark for a while.

After that we helped pick up the event and then went home.

Schoolbooks and Siblings

Just before noon Thursday morning, Aksel and I walked to the bus stop in Elva across from the shopping center. We waited for seven or so minutes before the bus arrived and we got on. It was a nice coach bus unlike the public transport I had seen around Tartu. It took us around forty minutes to get from Elva to our stop in Tartu. Along the way we stopped at bus stops all along the way.

As we approached our stop Aksel pointed out the bridge that would mark out the stop for future reference. We got off the bus at our stop, the one closest to our schools, and crossed the street. We walked down the road toward Miina Härma and Aksel showed me where his school is along the way. The route to my school is fairly simple, off the bus, across the street, walk straight, and it is diagonally to the left, and visible from the street.

Once there, we met up with our father and he took us with him to meet up with our mother for lunch at Cafe Shakespeare. After lunch Aksel and I walked over to his school and he got his textbooks and I tried to read the signs on the walls without much success.

After that, we took the bus home. When we got home Aksel went to the store for supplies and then packed everything he needed for two nights in the forest with friends. He left and hour or two later.

That night my next two host mothers and my future siblings came over and we had a barbecue. I found out that one of my host sisters really loves dogs, and that her family, my second, has two large dogs. Between the fourteen year old and the sixteen year old, I couldn't tell which was which.

At the end of dinner there was a big bowl of grapes that us kids were eating from, when suddenly a frenzy broke out, and my host brother and sisters each had a large bunch of grapes or the rest of the bowl. Then they proceeded to steal each others grapes, an activity which I merrily joined in.

After we were sick of grapes and my 11 year old host brother finished his frosting covered ones, from the cake we were eating, we went out to stand in the grass. Adeele started chasing me and I ended up chasing her. Soon the lot of us, except one sister (the older, I suspect), were in the grass running all about the house and I was carrying Adeele piggyback.

We had to stop for a break and then we were off again. After a while, we had to stop again and then I started caring my five year old host sister on my back. Then it turned into a game of something like tag except I was just tagging everyone, but then it became a game between my younger host brother and I. We kept it going until the moment he left out the gate. I waved them all off at the end and my host brother kept waving back until we were out of sight.

It was a wonderful evening.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

First Rotary Meeting

Monday night I went with my mother to the first Rotary meeting of the season. We drove out to a golf range somewhere beyond Tartu for the meeting and a lesson in golf.

When we pulled into the parking lot, there was already a large group of ladies already gathered. We all said hello and then walked out to the driving range. Three ladies carried out their bags of golf clubs, probably those that actually play golf regularly. We got several baskets of yellow golf balls from the dispenser at the bottom of the hill, before climbing up to the driving range.

Once there, the ladies with clubs handed them out to everyone and we spread out so we had room to move. First we went through a series of warm-up stretches with the golf club, and then we each stepped up onto a piece of turf and one of the ladies explained and demonstrated how to hold the club and how to hit the ball.

We each got a bunch of balls and tried to send them flying. Most of mine went further than others because of the force I was putting behind them. It wasn't until the third round or so before I could lift the ball with any consistency. While we all struggled to emulate the experts hitting balls from the grass, more Rotarians arrived in clusters.

After a while, we stopped and followed the instructor lady through the playing of one hole, before walking back to in front of the restaurant by the parking lot. We gathered back together on a practice putting green for a lesson on putting and a competition. We had to put for three holes and record the number of hits. I got seven four four.

After that we went inside and sat down at two long tables.  I ended up sitting next to my mother and across the way from my counselor. We had little bits of bread as the club president made a small speech that I couldn't make heads or tails of. Then we had dinner, which was delicious. As people finished up their meals, prices were awarded for the top three places. Those people had seven, eight, and nine total. I remarked to my mother that I got eight...in two holes.

Then it was my turn to speak. I got up and talked a bit about Vermont, myself, and my family, then I asked for questions. There wasn't an overwhelming amount of them. After I sat down, one lady across from me asked me several questions about rugby.

We all ordered tea or coffee, then went to the deck to take a picture. After taking it, we went back to the tables for tea, coffee, and dessert. Dessert was some sort of eggcustard with a carmelized topping that required a little effort to crack (apparently that's how you can tell if the dish is well made). When I put the topping in my mouth it crackled and popped like pop rocks. After we finished dessert, my mother and I had to go home so that Adeele would go to sleep.

However, before we left, I met my next two host mothers. One has three daughters, 16, 14, and 5. The other has an eleven year old son.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fish Hooks and Sticks

Sunday afternoon my father asked me if I wanted to go fishing and I said yes, so we left, just the two of us, to go back to the same place as before. We drove most of the way there and then pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store. My father explained that there is no point in fishing if you don't bring snacks with you.

When we got to the boat launch point we undid all the straps and pushed it into the water. I ran along to the point to wait to get on, so that my father could get the boat out of the shallow water.

We drove far out into the river before trying to fish for the first time. We didn't have much luck and I especially didn't. I managed to catch two branches and a lot of grass. We continued on to a lake and tried in an inlet. I got my lure stuck in a root and we had to get close enough so that I could unhook it by hand. No luck there, so we zoomed across the lake to a large stand of reeds and grass.

Soon after we arrived my father caught a small fish, but had to release it because it was too small. I caught some reeds and had to remove the lure by hand once again. We moved position within the reeds several times and my father caught a couple fish which we could keep.

We were close to the shore when I had to free my lure again, and accidently stabbed my middle finger with the fish hook. I yelled and turned to my father and said, " There's a fish hook in my finger. Please help." He climbed over to me and I winced as the shifting  of the boat caused the hook to move slightly. Thankfully the barb was not in my finger and my father could just pluck the point out. After he pulled it out, he told me that at first he thought I had seen a big fish. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

After sticking myself with a hook, I was understandably reluctant to fish much more. Then we started to drive around the lake slowly with our lines dragging through the water behind us. Eventually we stopped by another stand of reeds and fished some more.  At one point my father swung his line back too far and his lure got stuck in my hat. I was just glad it wasn't my face.

The sun was setting over the water as we began to make our way back to the boat launch. We stopped to fish only once more and I hooked a fish, but it wriggled free almost immediately.

Eventually, we got back and took the boat out and drove back home.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Background

This is the new background picture, in case anyone is interested. It is a map of Europe with countries being covered in the flag that make the most fun of.

I like how Italy makes the most fun of itself and how all of Scandinavia makes fun of Sweden except itself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Annoying Error. Again continuing.

I probably shouldn't type these posts up downstairs because the wifi connection isn't the best...the the couch is too comfortable to give up, so please bear with me.

In one of the nooks in the back of the amphitheater there was no specific image, just a bunch of random things. This was where people could try out painting with spray paint. I did a rose and if anyone sees the picture on Facebook, rest assured it was perfectly legal.

When we left to go see part of the actual skating competition, we practically had to drag Adeele away from there. We went by way of a path around a pond that my mother used to use to get to school when she was young. We stopped at a bench that had just been put in that year with a bunch of names carved into it in tribute to Elva's writers. My parents pointed out the names of the people they knew.

When we got to the skatepark there was quite a large crowd and Aksel was there too. Several of the competitors were from places like Latvia, and so the announcer did their rounds in English and everyone elses' in Estonian.

My mother pointed out one of the competitors that they are related to, and apparently the best skateboarder in the country. We found out the next morning that he had come in second, only bested by a guy from Latvia. We didn't stay for the whole thing, as it went well into the night, but left, got some doughnuts and went home.

By the way, doughnuts here are more like fried dough and less like American doughnuts. They are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and are served with powdered sugar sprinkled into the bag on top of freshly made doughnuts. They are delicious.

The Day I Realized Dogs Can Hug

When I woke up Saturday morning, there were three boys out in the hallway: Aksel and his two friends who are both named Kristen. Because they were here we had pancakes for breakfast.  Shortly thereafter, they left to go do something and my mother told me about the many things that were happening that day. I didn't really understand most of it, but I gathered that the new skatepark was opening that day along with some other event. But first we were going to see some relatives who live right next to the second largest lake in Estonia that is positioned almost exactly in the center of the country.

We drove down there along with my mother's parents. I sat in the back with Adeele in the middle and her vanaisa on the other side. Her vanaema sat in the front with my mother driving. It took about half an hour to get down there, but it seemed longer.

We eventually got down there and were greeted by five people in front of a small cottage. As we greeted them, a huge dog bounded down to see who had come. I immediately began to pet him to avoid standing around awkwardly, and because I absolutely love dogs. I soon found out that his name was Rex and I gathered that he usually barks at strangers from the little I could glean from the conversation, coupled with the hand gestures. As we started to go inside, I stopped petting him and he rolled to his feet and jumped up on me. He was a big dog and his legs went all the way around me and his paws were bent to hold himself upright. It was the first time a dog has ever hugged me back.

When Rex went back to his own house, most of the people went inside the cottage. Someone started setting the table for Kohvi, and everyone else started talking and looking at a picture album from some relatives who live in England who did a bike ride from England to Estonia.

Then one of the younger women, Liisa, told me to come upstairs and she showed me around and told me how this used to be her grandparents cottage when they built it twenty years ago and now she and her parents live there in the summer because it is a summer house. She also showed me her collection of souvenir plates from all the countries she's been to. There were lots of them. She also told me about how she gets a feeling sometimes in the summer, where she really wants to go someplace new and exciting and experience the culture and meet new people. We instantly had a connection.

We went back downstairs and had kohvi and cake, then went outside for a walk. We went around back and saw their sauna and various gardens full of growing things. Then we went down to the lake shore and looked out over the lake.

Then we went back to the house and sat on the porch and I listened to the conversation.

Eventually it was time to go and we piled back into the car and went home. When we got back, my mother took Adeele inside to try to put her to sleep and her grandparents took me in their car to the new skatepark and handed me off to Aksel. The two of us sat of the top bench of the three tiered bleachers and watched the skateboarders. I learned that it wasn't just the opening of a new skatepark, it was also a big competition. I also found out that the new skatepark is now the biggest concrete skatepark in the whole of Estonia.

After a while Anksel, his friends, and I decided to go see the football game that was happening in town. I expected that we were going to walk there, but only two of us did. The other three, me included, went by motorbike. I got on the back of Aksel bike, wearing a full head helmet, and we went zooming down the streets to the field. That was my first time and I was kind of scared on the turns especially, but it was still amazing. I just kept my arms around him and tried not to squeeze too hard on the corners.

After watching the football game, in which Elva beat Tallinn four to one, we went back home.

After dinner that night, my host parents, Adeele, and I went for a walk. We went across the football field and past the tennis courts and basketball court that I didn't even know was there to an amphitheater where singing performances and festivals are held. On the back side there was apparently a lot of gravity, but that day professional graphic artists had been invited to make beautiful pictures on the newly painted over walls.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Onward to Tartu Continued

Due to an annoying error that happens whenever I leave the page, I am continuing from where I left off in this post.

I was surprised as we pulled up outside her office. I was expecting it to be in an office building, but it was  a beautiful two story house. I was amazed that she worked in a beach house right next to the ocean. Then I realized that it couldn't possibly be on the ocean because Tartu is nowhere near the ocean. Somehow the style of the house combined with the cries of seagulls had convinced me that it was built in front of the ocean. We went inside and she introduced me to all of her coworkers who were there. Then we went upstairs to my mother's office and she got to work and I sat at her colleague's desk in a spinny chair and read a pamphlet about her company. After I finished that I looked around the office, noticing the large map of Taalinn on the opposite wall and the English to Estonian dictionary of economics.

I took said dictionary and started to skim through it. I took the pen from my pocket and wrote down some words that I could use on the inside of my forearm.

An hour after we arrived, we left for an apartment complex where she had to drop off some keys for a  tenant who was arriving today. After that, we went to the police/immigration office and managed to hand in all the paperwork except for the piece my father has to sign, but that can be sent in by email, and he is back now, so we should have everything we need.

After paperwork, we went to a shopping center to visit the rotary club president and pick up my sim card. Her office was on the third floor and she appeared to work for some company that fit glasses or sunglasses.

Soon after, we went back home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Onward to Tartu

I'm sitting here waiting for the oven to preheat so I can cook banana bread and trying to work around the gigantic bear being thrust in my face, so I thought that I could recap the events of yesterday.

Yesterday morning my mother said that she had to go to Tartu to do some things and that she was leaving Adeele at her vanaema's house again. She then asked me if I wanted to come. At that moment, the words of every rebound, Rotex, and rotary member rang in my head: always say yes! So I did.

We got into the car and drove to the shopping center where we would trade Adeele off. I decided to wear my Spock ears that day. We went inside the shopping center and started to scan the aisles for her vanaema. Eventually she found us and our aunt was with her. My mother started to talk to her mother and my aunt started to look curiously at my ears, so I turned to give her a better look. She laughed and pointed them out to my vanaema, who looked and laughed also and touched one.

We then all left the store, and my mother skillfully detached Adeele's hand from her own and attached it to the handle of the shopping cart.

My mother and I then left in the car for Tartu.

As we drove down the road into the main part of Tartu, I happened to look over and I saw Erick, the Canadian exchange student living in Tartu, crossing the street and wearing a pink shirt. We stopped in a parking lot across from our first destination, the notary. Here I saw some of the first evidence of Estonia being an e-country; my mother went on her phone and parked and paid for parking online, which is apparently the usual in Estonia.

We went inside the building across the street and took an elevator to the fifth floor, where the notary was. Very soon we were met by a lady who worked there who happened to be a Rotarian from my host club. She gave my mother all the papers she needed to fill out that had been requested for her daughter Annela, who is in Florida at the moment.

After we finished that we went to the police/immigration office to hand over the rest of the papers we had just received from my parents, but the lady who was handling the process wasn't there. We went to get lunch next at a place near my mother's office, where she was meeting a guy who was going to give her the keys that she needed. It was a nice place and the food was very good. It also had a very efficient system: you go up to the counter and place your order and pay for the food, and they pour your drink and give you a number, then you take your drink and go sit down. Later, when your food is ready, the waitress looks for your number and brings you your food.

My mother received the keys and we ate lunch with another guy who is in her choir. After lunch, we went on to her office.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Night of Songs

We had to go to Tartu today to hand over the rest of the paperwork so I could get my identity card to prove that I am allowed to be in the country. After we did that, I would be going to a rehearsal of my mothers chorus and then stay for the performance. With all this in mind, I stocked my briefcase with the things I would need and got ready to go.

Before we left, we took Adeele to her vanaema's house and left her there. This was the first time she had been left with her vanaema, so there was a lot of crying and screaming involved.

After returning to the house for my bag and the music my mother had to print out, we left for Tartu. At the police station we handed in the remaining paperwork and hoped that was what was needed, but apparently we still need more because the signatures were more than two months old. The rest can be sent by email.

We then went to the place of the rehearsal and performance. What I had expected was a small concert in the town square or something similar, instead we walked into a humongous amphitheater with an orchestra warming up in the top section, stalls selling food and trinkets, and security guards in orange manning the gates.

What I hadn't realized, was that the next day, today, was the date of Estonia declaring its independence from Russia twenty two years ago. This performance was the Song Night Festival that starts at eight and continues until early the next morning. It is a commemoration of the Estonian people singing their way to freedom.

Eva and I went around to the back of the stage and got a packet with wristbands for all of the people in her chorus and me. Then we went back to the benches in the audience seating and started giving them to the women. My mother told me that the performance would have a thousand people singing in the chorus and it would last for hours.

We listened to the rehearsal for a while, got ice cream and listened some more and then it began to rain. Eventually, we ended up standing in the middle of the chorus with my aunt and her and my mothers friends. Suddenly, I was part of the chorus and singing along to the lyrics as best I could. At some point my mother had to leave for a meeting and I stayed with my aunt.

A little while later, we went to eat and while I was eating Erick's host father came up and talked to me. Apparently, they had just gotten back from London and come right there. I never did locate Erick though, we were standing on opposite sides of the stage, with the raised platform in the middle.

Soon it was time for the concert to start and the amphitheater was full to bursting, with thousands upon thousands of people crammed into it. We weren't singing in all of the songs, just about a quarter of them. The soloists of all the songs were Estonian pop stars ranging from early twenties in age to over seventy. Lines of lights running through the audience pulsed and flashed and changed color to the throbbing beats of the music.

When we sang as the chorus, the music swelled and burst forth as a show of passion and pride. Estonian flags waved frantically from crowd and chorus alike and several large flags swooped back and forth above the crowd. As each song began, the crowd screamed wildly, and never more so then for Kuula, a song that won sixth place at a competition including thirty six countries. When it finished, the crowd and the chorus screamed for an encore and conductor broke down and lead us through it one more time.  It was easy to tell the most popular singers and songs because ever single person would jump to their feet to cheer and sing and dance.

During the concert I learned that one of the pop stars is the daughter of a woman from my host rotary club and another was the classmate of my stepsister. I also learned just now, as I watch a replay of the festival, that the president of Estonia is the friend of my mother's friend.

Many of the songs last night were songs of national pride and freedom. One lady sitting next to me explained it

The Last Village Before the End

This is what my host father termed the village we went through to get to the waters of the Mother River to go fishing.

It was Saturday afternoon, and my host parents said that we were going fishing, so I hopped in the car next to Adeele and off we went. I was expecting that we were going to fish in on of the lakes near Elva, but when we stopped and got snacks and dinneresque foods, I began to suspect we were going further away. We drove for a long while, not sure how long, and then turned onto a dirt road before passing through "the last village before the end". After that, the dirt road became increasingly bumpy, and soon we were bouncing up and down and Adeele was shrieking with laughter. We turned around and got out of the car to load up the boat with supplies and then my host father backed the trailer up the the water's edge, so we could push the boat into the water. After he parked the car, we all climbed into the boat and set off.

We stopped to fish just at the beginning of the small inlet we had entered from. My father caught a fish right off the bat and I learned we were at the delta of the Mother River, a place like the Florida Everglades. We couldn't catch any more fish there so we zoomed away, weaving through the river paths and passing a fishing kayaker.

We stopped again and tried our luck, but couldn't catch any, so we moved down a little ways. Here, my father caught another fish, both of them under a foot in length. Suddenly, I felt a tugging on my fishing line, and I realized that I had hooked a fish. It was about a foot and a half long and very strong. I got it close enough so we could start trying to net it, but it veered off under the grasses and shook itself free. Apparently, I had only hooked it by the lip and that had been too tentative a hold to bring in such a big fish.

We tried several other places and my father caught one other fish. I handed my rod off to my mother, because my arms started to ache.

Eventually, it was time to head back. We got out and brought the trailer down to the water and started to winch the boat onto it. However, we had forgotten to hold the rope, and the strap slipped off the boat and the boat fell back into the water and drifted away. My father had to run down the side of the river and hook the motor with a tree branch to get it back. Finally, we got the boat strapped onto the trailer and all of the stuff into the car and set off along the bumpy road.

 We stopped in the village and my father showed me where we had been on the map. It turns out that if we had continued down the river, we could have gotten to two other small lakes or eventually ended up in the large lake between Estonia and Russia.  My father also told me that the village used to have about a thousand people, but now it only has five families.

We got home at around nine thirty at night that night.

I learned how to say sun and fishing pole and I learned that rum flavored candy isn't my thing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Cemetery Even Mom Would Love

I haven't gotten around to posting on my blog in a while, so I will be starting on Saturday and perhaps revisit earlier days as I feel inclined.

On Saturday, I decide to go for a walk after lunch, but ended up biking because it was a great deal more appealing. I left the house with the address in my head and with the full intention of getting lost for the fun and adventure of it. I wandered around the back streets for a while and saw a house structure that had been gutted by fire. Soon after I found myself out on Kao Tee, one of the main streets, so I crossed it and continued to explore the back streets. However, I soon realized that it is most difficult to avoid ending up back on the main streets.

I then decided to go to the shopping center and go somewhere else from there. When I got there I saw the map of Elva that I had forgotten about and decided to find something interesting to see. On the map I found a cemetery, so I decided to bike out there.

On the way, I passed groups of teenagers, an apartment complex, an old lady reading a book on a bench in the middle of a stretch of forest, and rode over a railroad track.

The cemetery was located in the middle of the woods and I could hear loud music coming from somewhere behind it. It took me a moment to realize that it was, in fact, the cemetery. It wasn't a somber gathering of aging stone clustered on a grassy clearing. It wasn't grim in any way at all. I wandered through the gravestones on foot and observed the beautiful cemetery. It wasn't like all the trees had been cut down to make space for it, it was more like just the underbrush and small saplings had been cleared away. Each gravestone or group of two had a well tended patch of earth surrounded by stone and pots of flowers blooming around it. Many had a small bench set upon the earth for family to sit with them for a while. There were paths through the plots with trees growing out of them and I could see a couple old ladies tending the paths and graves. The whole place had a feeling of peace and it looked like a park or garden. It was simply the most beautiful graveyard I have ever seen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Impressions

I woke up that morning covered in sweat in a strange bed in a strange room. As I got up, I realized the room was stuffy because I had closed the window the night before. I got up cautiously and poked my head outside. Thankfully, there was no one in sight, so I took my clothes and shower stuff to the bathroom and tried to figure out how to wash my hair in the bathtub. Eventually I was done with my shower, so I went back to my room. I took my time unpacking my suitcase to delay my going down to breakfast. When I did go down to breakfast, it was nowhere near the terrible awkward event I had been imagining.

Later I went for a walk through town with my host mother and Adeela. We walked past a library (raamatukogu) and the shopping center, before turning onto the somewhat less used roads leading to Adeela's vanaema's house. We stopped there and she made us pancakes for lunch, which is apparently what she does for anyone who walks through her door. I also met her very armas koer (cute dog) and it was decided that I was definitely family because she didn't bark at me likes she does to all strangers.

After that, we returned directly home by going through a gate in someone's backyard, through a park, behind the school and past the skatepark, and back down the road to the house.

Later that afternoon, I went with Aksel to the football game down at the rand (beach) by the järv (lake) to see it and meet his friends. However, all his friends were apparently asleep, so we watched some of the game then got ice cream and went for a walk. We walked in a big circle, but I didn't realize until we got back to the house.

Every time I went out that day, I learned handfuls of new words.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

First Night

On Saturday, the five of us, Anett, and the Rotary guy from Estonia loaded ourselves into a van and drove down to Helsinki to catch a huge ferry to Tallinn. The Canadians sat together in far back and took turns sleeping on each other. Once we got the harbor, we could see that our ferry was green and yellow and as large as some cruise ships. Once on board, we went directly to the buffet for dinner and sat at a table next to the window. The trip went by in a flash and before we knew it, the coastline was visible on the horizon. We drove off the ferry and parked to wait for the host families. I was the only one not nervous at this point, because I learned that I was going with Erick and his host family to their home in Tartu, where I was then going to be picked up by my host family.

When we arrived in Tartu, we drove through the city center and then outward toward Elva. Shortly, we got to his house where my host parents were waiting for me. My new mother gave me a bouquet of flowers and my new father handed me an Estonian flag as we greeted each other. And then we were off for another 25 minutes of driving to their house in Elva. On the way, I learned that some family and friends were waiting for us at home for a barbecue party. When we got there, I was introduced to everyone first, before being shown to to the room I would be staying in. After that, we went back outside to rejoin the party. I have to admit that when I approached the group the first time, I felt an overwhelming desire to turn and run away, but forcing my jiggly legs to keep moving.

I sat down at the table next to one of the friends and opposite the friend from Latvia. We were having potato salad and a variety of meats. It was all very delicious. For dessert there was a cake made of a sort of jogurt that is a gel type thing filled with berries with a cookie bottom and topped with a blueberry message that read: Welcome Molly.  I made friends with my host sister when she handed her container of bubble solution and I proceeded to blow lots of bubbles for her to pop, including a
lot of big ones.

Thus it was past midnight by the time I retired to my room. It is a very beautiful room with wooden furniture. In one dresser, I found a letter from my host sister who is in Florida. It had a lot of information about my new family and was incredibly helpful.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Last Day

I'm sitting in the lobby at the moment, watching most of the other exchange students meet their families and talk to them. There are only a few of us leaving here without meeting our families face to face. Us Estonians make up the majority of this group, as we will be meeting them in Taallin (sp?).  The rest is the people whose families are unable to be here at this time for one reason or another.

Earlier today we met with our correspondents and district leaders. The USA correspondent was with the Finnish Outbounds in New York, so we meet with Liisa instead. Then I went to the district meeting and was with Liisa again. She brought up my blog and observed that it was last updated early in the morning, at about 5. I was a bit confused, so I checked it out and turns out the clock is off by a lot. I'm not even sure what time zone it's on.

In my district there are the Estonians, obviously, some Japanese, one Korean, some of my housemates, of American nationality, quite a few people I don't know, and Zorro.

Most likely, you have concluded that it cannot possibly be his real name. You would be right, his real name is Alejandro. He doesn't know I call him that yet, but he will soon. He probably won't realize that I actually do know his name. The story behind it comes from last night, Cosy Night. We had a large talent show with both individual and country acts. I recited a poem and there were three people playing the piano and Alaska playing violin. There were others as well, there was a funny video about why Italy is no different than the rest of Europe, and Japanese exercises, and dances. The country acts were great. The Mexicans danced several common dances to music, Alejandro is Mexican, by the way. He was wearing a black Mexican suit with silver embroidery, and a black sombrero. When he sat down and took off his hat, I looked at him and the first thing I thought was Zorro! so I started to refer to him as Zorro.

There was also a German boy who beat out the rhythm of every song against his chair so I refer to him as 'music in his soul', however, I actually do not know his name. The name is because of the thought thread that drifted through my mind as I looked at him. He  is not in my district though.

My blazer is getting heavy to wear.

Also, I dropped a glass cup in the cafeteria today and it shattered.

Not looking forward to the eight hour trip to Elva, but at least 5 1/2 hours of it I will be with Anett and the other four Estonian Inbounds.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Yesterday, instead of afternoon lessons we all piled onto three buses to Tampere. When we first arrived in the city, we  stopped at a park and collected a guide for each bus. Our guide talked to us about the history of Tampere and pointed out all the things that make Tampere special.

We learned that Tampere is the third largest city in Finland, home to the largest gravel cliff in the world and two splendid buildings built with absolutely no straight lines or corners. One is a library, and one is a cathedral. We stopped at the cathedral and went inside because it is open to the public. Inside we saw the majestic stained-glass windows and large paintings stretching across whole walls, each with its own potential for a story to be told of it. The artist did not paint all of them with something in mind, but by the time he finished they all had been given stories. There is one that stretches across the upper wall of naked boys carrying a long garland of roses that is said to represent life. The boys show how life feels at different times, sometimes it is easily carried under the left arm, sometimes it is heavy enough to make you stoop under the weight, and sometimes it pricks you. Another painting shows death pruning the gardens of life, and the ceiling shows the snake of evil with an apple in its mouth hemmed in by the angel wings of good. My favorite however, is a smaller painting that we could glimpse on the second floor of two men carrying a wounded angel with a white cloth tied around her eyes on a stretcher. Now I know where Nightwish got the idea for their Aramanth music video.

Later, we got to explore the city in groups. I went out with three others and we walked around and found a mall with three! bookstores and lots of other shops and then we found a small out-of-the-way pizza place and got pizza before goin back to the mall.

I spent the whole time people watching and learned a couple things about Finns. They are very quiet when walking outside, we could only here their conversations when we were right next to them. As all four of us were American, our loud voices stood out, but no one stared, as a matter of fact, no one made eye contact for more than a few seconds, even if they were having a conversation. Also, Finn walk close to each other, a matter of inches, but do not touch each other at all. The one people I saw touching were married or dating couples or parents with their children. Even friends walking together did not even bump arms occasionally.

It was quite interesting, and one of my friends nearly got hit by a bus. The Finns make an art of not making contact, whether person to person or bus to person or bikes to person. There were a lot of bikes and people could be seen riding everywhere. Outside nearly every store there was a collection of bikes in a bike rack.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


All the food here is wonderful. For breakfast there is cereal, potato porridge with jam, and bread with what we would consider lunch meat to go with it.

For the Finns, there are five times to eat. Breakfast, as I just described, lunch, Kaffe, dinner, and evening snack. You would think that we would be eating a ton of food, but no one really is. At lunch there is usually potatoes, salad, rice sometimes, and meat sauce. To drink there is water, milk, and home-brewed beer (ick). There is also a sort of soft creamy berry dessert to go with lunch. For Kaffe, there is one sort of food, a coffee cake, muffin, or bun sort of thing, and juice that also appears at breakfast. Of course, there is also tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Dinner is more meat and potatoes, and tends to have fish. They serve home-brewed beer at this time too. Evening snack is usually something that is considered very finnish, like the thin pancakes, like crepes, that were served with sugar and jam.

It is all very good food and I am pretty sure everyone likes it.

Also, the beer is non-alcoholic.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


There's nothing quite like being told that the beliefs you had of Santa in your childhood were stupid. This is essentially what happened to me today when we discussed the Christmas traditions of Finland. The lady giving the lecture was describing the Santa of Finland. "Santa comes in the door," she says, "not the chimney, because that is stupid, there's a door!" "He doesn't fly, because that is stupid, his sleigh is pulled by reindeer. Reindeer walk across the snow." "He doesn't live at the North Pole, that's stupid, no one lives there. He lives on a mountain in the northeast part of Finland."

Apparently, in Finland each family hires a Santa to visit their house and bring presents to their children. The good children sing  a special song to welcome Santa into their homes. It seems that it is quite a good way to celebrate the holiday. Also, I learned that to the Finns, the Santa's Workshop in the north is just a tourist attraction and that Santa really lives on ear mountain. At least, that's what I think it is.

Please comment on my posts, I feel like I'm babbling to myself.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Inbound Conclomaration

So I'm here at language camp with at least a hundred other inbounds from all over the world. Walking through the camp, I can hear at least four other languages, and each being spoken at a rapid-fire pace. However, most of the people hear speak English at least passingly well, and it is the language most people are being taught in.

We are split into cabins, and all the people in mine are wonderful. Last night Rowan, someone from my cabin, cooked up scrambled brownies in a pan using only Nesquick chocolate mix, flour, and milk. They actually tasted like brownies too.

I have met a lot of people already and I am meeting more every day. My blazer is growing heavy already under the weight of so many pins that I traded for. I also have a lot of business cards.

The only place in the camp that has wifi is here, in the lobby, so people congregate here with there devices. I only just managed to get my iPad to accept the wifi so I could find out who was cast as the 12th Doctor, obviously the most important thing to do with the Internet.

There are six of us going to Estonia, two Canadians, two Americans, one German, and one Mexican. However, the Mexican hasn't arrived yet. We have separate lessons with the Rotex student from Estonia. They are going well, the lessons that is.

Yesterday, I experienced my first true Finnish sauna. It was amazing. Afterwards, I jumped into the lake and came out feeling quite refreshed. Before the sauna, I had been swimming, which was great, and rowing, which was also fun.

I have to go now.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Iceland Interlude

On the plane I sat between two ladies and had a good long conversation with the one to my right. She was from Houston, Texas and was going to Iceland for a holiday. Previously, for work, she had traveled a lot and had been to Estonia once.

As we left the Boston airport, I felt an overwhelming desire to turn and run away and go back home to the life I knew, but I quelled it within myself and looked to the new horizons.

Once we got low enough to see the ground, I could see it held the same wild beauty of the tundras of Alaska. I could see the tracings of the coast against the white-capped ocean and the brown scrub fading into the beyond before rising into a range of towering mountains.

As I walked out of the plane onto the Tarmac I felt the wind buffet me as if in rage at my daring to fly in on its back. Walking into the building, I again felt the confidence in my ability to travel by myself across the Atlantic.

In the terminal, much warmer than outside in the wind, I met three other exchange students who had come together on a 9 hour flight from Canada. Now we are hanging out while waiting for the next flight.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

On the Way

I am now in the airport in Boston awaiting the plane that will take me to Iceland. As I arrived in Boston I had butterflies fluttering about in my stomach and I felt anxious and nervous along with a mounting sense of excitement and adventure. Once I checked my bag, we had dinner at a grill in the airport and I felt the nervousness burn away and I was almost giddy with excitement. When I said good-bye to my parents, my mom kept hugging me so I had to remind her to let me hug dad too.

Once I got beyond the security check without any complications, I felt overwhelmingly confident and ecstatic, so much that I could feel it in my stride down to the gate. Now I am waiting for the plane and I still feel excited, but some feelings of nervousness have crept back in. However, on the whole, I feel like I am going to have one hell of a good exchange year!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Multi-country Rotary Districts

I learned the city where I would be staying in Finland on the day I landed in JFK airport in New York. I would be going to the very capital: Helsinki!

Well first I had to get my residency permit. So we went at one o'clock the next morning back to New York City to visit the Finnish Consulate and apply for my residency permit. It all went smoothly, and we went home feeling very lighthearted. However, now it is August first and it has not arrived yet. The last possible day for it to arrive if I am to attend the language camp on time is tomorrow.

No worries though. If I'm late, I'm late. However, this morning another situation arose that calls for even more paperwork. I am being sent to District 1420, one that includes Helsinki and all of Estonia. I got an email telling me that I was being moved to another city in the District, one that had its exchange student drop out at the last minute. Another city. In Estonia.

So now I need paperwork that lets me study in Estonia with a Finnish residency permit, and school records so they can put me in classes, and all the paperwork we sent to Helsinki needs to go there.

Well, it's a process and I'll get there eventually. The new city is Tartu by the way.

Plus, I have to begin again on a new language and try to figure out how to change the name of this confounded thing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Prelude

My first post on my soon-to-be-wonderful blog.

I am still waiting to hear from Rotary as to where I will be spending my year in Finland. Intelligence suggests that I will know within a week or so. Before I leave for China I hope.

I am spending my time at home emptying my room so that Carlota (the Rotary Exchange student staying with my family) can live there, making pins for exchange, and watching Doctor Who. The pins took me six hours to complete all 120 of them, but they turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

Today I started my blog to record the tales of my exchange for everyone to see, and to reassure Mom of my continued existence.