25 September, 2015


Nothin' much to see here unless you're into old posts - this blog has been inactive for ages now. Ho hum. Ploos me instead or read frugalfinn.blogspot.com, etc.

31 March, 2014

Tweet Power $50 Giveaway!

Tweet Power $50 Giveaway!
How would you like to get your hands on some goodies from Amazon? A $50 gift voucher is up for grabs, thanks to Glow Book Tours and No Added Salt. All you need to do is use the Rafflecopter below, and it's really easy - just follow the sponsors' Twitter accounts or tweet about the giveaway. You can come back and get an extra entry every day and the competition is open worldwide.

By the way - if you're a blogger who would like to grow your followers, you can click here to get on the mailing list for future events. :)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

15 February, 2014


Kindle Fire Valentines
Win a Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash ($229 value)   This is a joint AUTHOR and BLOGGER GIVEAWAY EVENT! Bloggers and Authors have joined together and each chipped in a little money towards a Kindle Fire HDX 7" (or $229 Amazon Gift Card or $229 in Paypal Cash).
All New Kindle Fire HDX 7" Giveaway
The winner will have the option of receiving a 7" Kindle Fire HDX (US Only - $229 Value)
  Or $229 Amazon.com Gift Card (International)
  Or $229 in Paypal Cash (International)
      Giveaway Sponsors
Sign up to sponsor the next Kindle Fire Giveaway: http://www.iamareader.com/category/kindle-giveaway-sign-ups  

Giveaway Details 1 winner will receive their choice of an all new Kindle Fire 7" HDX (US Only - $229 value), $229 Amazon Gift Card or $229 in Paypal Cash (International). There is a second separate giveaway for bloggers who post this giveaway on their blog. See details in the rafflecopter on how to enter to win the 2nd Kindle Fire HDX 7". Ends 3/16/14 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the participating authors & bloggers. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. a Rafflecopter giveaway

12 February, 2014

Blogger Opportunity - April Tweet Power event

APRIL TWEET POWER is coming...

This is a giveaway event to help us all increase our Twitter followers. How it works is that each participant makes a blog post, and in return your Twitter will be put into the Rafflecopter. Then, contestants who want to win the prize will have to follow your Twitter account to enter. The host is No Added Salt, and the prize will be PayPal cash - amount of the giveaway prize will depend on the number of participants.

This is a great way to increase your Twitter followers at no cost - your first Twitter handle is free when you share the giveaway on your blog. If you would like to have an extra Twitter link, or your Facebook link included as well, the fee is $5.00 each.

We'll give you all the info you need for your post, a few days before the posting day of 31st March. The giveaway will run from 31st March - 27th April.

Signups are open until 25th March. Fill out the form here.

Jenny Saved A Penny now has its own domain!

Jenny Saved A Penny » A blog of reviews  sweeps  giveaways and more.
Hi everyone! I am super excited that Jenny Saved A Penny now has its own domain! What better way to celebrate than to host a $100 PayPal giveaway! There is an option for a free sign-up option with announcement of the blogger opp and this giveaway is for everyone. I am so excited to be hosting this giveaway and if you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email at jennysavedapenny@gmail.com. Feel free to check out the website Jenny Saved A Penny and give me feed back. It is still fairly new and a work in progress but I would love the input. The details are as follows.

28 January, 2014

Giveaway - Luxury Linens For Lovers

Luxury Linens For Lovers
Sponsored By: ExceptionalSheets.com
Host: Inside My Head..

Luxury Linens for Lovers

Company Overview: ExceptionalSheets.com is a veteran owned and operated company offering products made in the USA! By supporting this company not only are you supporting jobs in America but also veterans. Not to mention just knowing these guys is fun. Don't believe me check out some of their YouTube videos. They have the best customer service and strive to keep it that way. You can read all about how they became what they are and what inspired this company, as well as their company guarantee and community involvement HERE.

ExceptionalSheets.com is giving one lucky Reader new Sheets, Comforter and Pillows!

Primaloft Luxury Comforter by ExceptionalSheets: Used in countless hotels and fine resorts these down alternative comforters are beloved for their down-like feeling and comfort. You will not find better quality at a better price! Whether the comforters are a gift for a friend or you are buying for yourself, you know you are getting top-quality luxury with Exceptional Sheets. 100% Cotton, 330 Thread Count Cotton Fabric, Primaloft Down Alternative Polyester Filling, 14 Inch Quilted End-To-End Sewn Thru Box Construction, Double Needle Edge Sewn with Matching Piping, Easy Care Machine Washable & Dry-able, Packaged in a Vinyl Zipper Bag with handle, Made In The USA

600 Thread Count - Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set by ExceptionalSheets: Available in multiple size ranges and colors making up almost 200 options! Whether the sheets are a gift for a friend or you are buying for yourself, you know you are getting top-quality luxury with Exceptional Sheets. 100% Egyptian Cotton, Split King set includes fitted sheet, flat sheet AND two Split King pillowcases, Elegant 4" hem with piping on all sheets AND pillowcases, Machine washable!

Set of 2 Down Alternative Hypoallergenic Pillows: Hypoallergenic pillow comes in a 200-thread count, 100% cotton ticking, filled with a hollow, siliconized, polyester cluster fiber. The pillows are non-allergenic, washable, and without exception, the finest pillows of this class anywhere!

Giveaway Time!! 
1/28 -2/28
Be sure to follow ExceptionalSheets.com on their social networking sites to stay up to date on current promotions and special offers!
Facebook / Twitter / YouTube
You can also get 35% off Your Total Purchase at exceptionalsheets.com for social media users who follow and like them on Facebook and Twitter!
Use Code: FBTWES
**Bloggers promoting this giveaway are not responsible for shipment of sponsored prize. If you have any questions or concerns involving this particular giveaway contact: insidemyheadwithkelli@yahoo.com BEFORE entering ~ Thank you and GOOD LUCK to all!

11 January, 2014

A Secret Way to Market Yourself and Your Book

The Long Version: (the short version is down the bottom)

I'm a member of several writing groups, and almost daily I'm bombarded by links and messages about the fabulous ways people should publicise their books and get more readers. Unfortunately, among all those messages are far more messages of woe, people despairing that their books are not selling and that the success they expected has not come. What it means is that either authors aren't listening to the advice, or they are drowning in ineffective ideas, or the ideas are simply rubbish.

So which is it? Probably a little of all three, but mostly, the last one.

Two months ago I stumbled on a blog which did nothing but showcase books, and I discovered the world of book tours. I was looking for a hobby, something to fill a new blog, and there it was. It was a world that interested me, and I signed up to a couple of the operators as a blogger (it's free - this is an arrangement where they give you the book info and all you do is post it on your blog). And so I began. And quite unexpectedly I found something most authors are completely in the dark about. I'll get back to that in a moment.

With my brand new blog I grudgingly set up a new Facebook page for it (hey, everyone seems to have them, and we're expected to have social media presence). I already had 19000 followers on Google+. And I already had 4000 followers on Twitter. So I just linked them all to the new blog, so that people could see I was active in social media. Now, I promised I would get back to the secret for authors, so here it is.

I got a few lots of book info and posted them. I was enjoying the traffic - readers were coming to my blog, slowly but surely. One of the tour operators sent me the info on a giveaway for a cash prize. She told me that for five bucks plus putting the giveaway info onto my blog, I would get a spot in the Rafflecopter and gain followers.

WTH is a Rafflecopter? Don't panic. It's the way that fans enter the competition. To be entered into the comp, people have to either leave a comment on your blog, or follow your page on Twitter, or subscribe to your newsletter, or one of a bunch of other options.

So anyway, let's backtrack - I wanted followers and traffic, and thought it was worth risking five bucks. The lady who organised the tour asked me which link to use in the Rafflecopter. I didn't really know what else to give her, so I gave her the link to my brand new Facebook page. It had ONE like at the time (don't laugh) and that one like was ME (ok, you can laugh now). I put my blog post together and scheduled it to post automatically the following week. But I was still hungry for content, so I kinda ignored it and kept posting about books.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I figured I should actually do something with that Facebook page. And it had more than 300 likes. From making ONE blog post and spending five bucks.

If you are an author, stop right now. I am not going to sell you anything in this post, I promise. But how many likes do you have and how long did it take you to get them? Keep reading because I found an even better way that didn't cost anything.

It turns out that a few of those operators actually offer book info which includes giveaways AND you get a spot for doing nothing more than posting about that book on your blog. I'm one of the operators. Or at least, I plan to be. At the moment my tour blog is quite new, but I'm inviting blog owners to be part of it.

I hope I haven't lost you. I am assuming that you, as an author, have a blog. (If not - why not?) If you are typical, there's not much in it. Perhaps a post now and then about your new book, or reminding people of your last book, or about your book coming soon. I am asking whether you'd like to put a book promotion on your blog for another author, and in the process, get a bunch of Likes on your Facebook page. Or your Twitter account - whichever one you prefer.

I can't promise any particular numbers. The more people I get on board, the better the response will be. But by posting about books, you are targetting book-lovers in particular. People who are interested in reading and looking to discover new authors.

A note about which social media links to submit: I will rank them in order of how many people will actually follow through.
Top: Facebook and Twitter are the easiest to boost as they are "one click" in the Rafflecopter.
Medium: Pinterest, "Voting" websites, Following your blog on Bloglovin', Instagram. All of them can be very useful if successful, but they require going to another site to complete which can take your entrants away from your blog post (bad).
OK: Leave a comment on a blog. Easy to understand but not everyone is brave enough or wants to bother, and it's doubtful how useful this is for you.
So-So: Following your blog by RSS or Networked Blogs, Connecting via Friends Connect, visiting your blog and clicking "Follow", circling you on Google+, Reshare a certain Facebook picture/message, "Like" a certain Facebook message, comment on a certain Facebook post, Retweet a certain message on Twitter. People don't always know how to actually do these things and have trouble following the directions to get there, so they tend to just skip these options.
Not recommended: Follow blog by email, sign up for a mailing list. Seriously? Don't bother. You only want genuinely interested people in the first place, which are better to come from natural visitors to your blog.

The Short Version:
  1. Join Glow Tours as a blogger -- Click here
  2. Wait for invitations to tours; when you see one you like, agree to post about the book
  3. Supply the social media link that you want to boost - your Twitter, your Facebook, etc
  4. Profit Gain Followers. Easily. Without paying for them.

10 September, 2013

My 1&1 internet experience

Last week I began getting emails from 1&1 Internet Inc. At first they were just ads, then a thank you for setting up a website. I pretty much ignored those. So someone accidentally put my email address in during signup - oh well, it happens, and they'll figure it out quickly when they don't receive the confirmation email.

Except this company DOESN'T USE THEM. Holy Batmobile, Robin. They then sent me confirmation of having purchased a new domain.

Ok, so money's involved, and this is where I step in - it is not fair to the rightful owner (Jessica M) that she paid for something and can't get into her account. I politely emailed the company to let them know that Jessica had put in the wrong email address and would they please take mine off her account. I shouldn't have access to her private info or her web hosting account. It's not mine and I didn't pay for it.

No reply.

I used the "reset password", had it sent to me, and logged into her account, hoping to find contact info. Unfortunately her name is far too common and a Facebook search turned up dozens with the same name, and none of them in the matching location. I tried, I really did. But I don't think it should be my problem to solve... I figured that since the password had been changed, and she couldn't get the reset email (they come to me), she would call their support people and they'd sort out why she isn't receiving emails. Right? Right? No.

I then received an email addressed to her, apologising for having lost her call, and asking about website colours and setup. I replied that I'm not Jessica, asking them to take my email off the account. No reply from setup support. Jessica has been waiting days and her website is still not working... the host is not listening to me... ok, maybe I can get JESSICA'S attention. I made a free 2-minute website and pointed her domain there. I figured that surely on the website she paid for, she would notice that it says "IT'S NOT YOUR EMAIL JESSICA, CONTACT 1AND1 SUPPORT" and has a huge photo of a coffee cup.

I figured wrong.

Next I received more info about configuring the new domain, and a bill. I made a third request, this time to Billing.

The reply from someone named Quirino was "Dear Jessica" followed by telling ME to contact Jessica to fix the problem. They supplied a login link to her account. Let's get this straight: a total stranger has told this company that they have access to one of their client's personal information. The total stranger should not have this access. The total stranger is luckily not an online creep or thief, but what if I were??? Not only do they not immediately lock me out, but they TELL me to log into SOMEONE ELSE'S ACCOUNT.

If you are considering signing up with them and giving out your credit card information, that should chill you to the bone.

I reply AGAIN saying I'm not Jessica, and asking them clearly to remove my email address from her account.

I get a reply of "Dear Jessica" (wtf!) apologising and telling me to disregard the bill if it's not mine. Um yes. But...

(hits "password reset" and enters ONLY her account number, not my email address)
(receives new password link)
(yes boys and girls they didn't do what I asked, and my email is still in her account.)

I have finally had enough... I came close to just deleting her entire account and domain, to FORCE them to fix the problem. Not just for me but for the poor woman whose private information gets given out to whoever. But I didn't. Instead, I have edited Jessica's personal information and replaced my email address with the main email address for support. Maybe they'll do something when they start getting a bunch of her emails arriving in their support box and Jessica phones to abuse them.

I wrote them a curt reply to tell them what I had done. Probably useless, but there you go. In a rare moment of indecision, I saved the email without sending. And what do you know? Another email from the company.
Dear Jessica M*,

Thank you again for choosing 1&1 web services. We are writing to follow up on your recent contact with Quirino xxxxx. As 1&1 is constantly striving to improve service performance and provide greater value to our customers, we ask that you please take a moment to follow the link below and answer a few survey questions.
Oh really? Why yes. Yes, I will give you feedback. Honest feedback. I don't think you really wanted to hear what I wrote, but you got it.

And then I sent that reply. And I'm posting it on the internet, because really, when this is what you consider "customer service", you deserve the world to see it. And your customers deserve to be warned.
Dear Margaret, Quirino, the CEO of 1and1 Internet Inc., the cleaner, the lady in the lunch room, or anyone really,

Despite me asking four times, you have been incapable of carrying out a simple task, (that is, to not share a total stranger's personal information with me) otherwise known as removing my email address from her account. And you are still addressing me as Jessica despite being told repeatedly that I am not Jessica, you are emailing the wrong person, and you still need to fix Jessica's account. 

I know you have not corrected this after four requests because the "forgot password" link still sends login access to me.

I have taken care of it by logging into her account (yuck - it feels horrible to invade someone's paid account) and putting YOUR email address in as her contact info. You will now receive all her emails. Perhaps you will be interested in fixing the issue now. Oh and do something about your terrible security policy which allowed this to happen in the first place. People should be able to expect that a reputable company does not send their private information to strangers. It's called "requiring an email confirmation link to be clicked before granting that address access rights to personal information".

Elisa in Finland (not Jessica - no really - I'm not Jessica. Really. Please don't reply to this with "Dear Jessica".)
PS. Her domain is still showing my pic of a coffee cup. I even put some ads on the page. I might earn a couple of cents.

Another staff member from billing has replied to the above email explaining that they can't really delete email addresses based on a request via email. (So they intend to intentionally continue spamming me. Ain't there laws against refusing to remove someone from a mailing list they didn't sign up to?) But anyway, why do you suppose they have this policy? Maybe they think... that email is insecure. (!?)

She added this awesome line: "If this account isn't yours, please disregard"

IF? IF? Seriously, IF? Perhaps she's still unsure. All I can do is laugh.

After contacting them six times, I have received another email addressed to Dear Jessica. I've politely asked them to remove me. From everywhere. No reply.

Unrelated: someone from 1&1 has found this page and left a comment asking me to send him everything. I'm a bit hesitant... his profile has a grand total of 1 post to Google+ and no indication of who he is and whether he can do more than anyone else who has seen my previous requests. And really, after six failed requests, can anyone really fix this? And will anything actually happen to fix the cause (ie. I think they need a security policy)? Shouldn't my honest & scathing feedback through their questionnaire have gone somewhere and fixed the problem? It didn't - what's the point of asking for feedback and not doing anything with it?

Googling has led me to discover who it is, and it was the Director of Customer Relations. I have communicated with him via email and passed on the information on Jessica's account. He kindly offered to take ownership of the issue and sort it out, and he was good enough to hear my thoughts on the issue. The management team has now reviewed this case and acknowledged that errors were made, and they will continue to use such cases to improve. They are continuing to focus on making sure employees take ownership of issues through to resolution.

+10 for customer relations done right. Thank you, Aaron.

I expect that this is probably the last update I will have on this, but I welcome comments from people who have opened accounts with 1&1. I would especially like to hear from people whose problems were successfully resolved. You can leave comments anonymously (if you wish).

14 August, 2013


I had a dream that I was some kind of superhero trying to defeat some other kind of superhero group, in a crowded multi-storey building. The group included a guy I went to school with, Rich. Suddenly I realised Will Riker was missing and I asked where he was. "He's up the top floor, near the statue. He's not looking good." I was terribly, terribly upset at his death. Then of course I had to battle my way up to the top through all the people, because I was determined to see his body and cry over it. As I was fighting my way back up I started to become aware that it was a dream, and somehow I knew that at the end of my dream he wouldn't be quite dead and I'd be the one to discover that. I woke up thinking that the scene had to go in my book somehow (obviously, not Commander Riker). So I tell my husband and what does he say?

"Did Riker have a beard, or not?"


This is going to haunt me, I just know it.

11 August, 2013

Learning online

So I signed up for a free course named Foundations of Teaching for Learning 1: Introduction. I also paid for the official certificate showing that I really sat the course. It was intended for anyone teaching, thinking of teaching or planning to teach, and made it quite clear you don't need to be a teacher to do the course. It also noted that it's about teaching students of any age. The course is supposed to be an introduction to what's in the following 7 parts. I still have no idea about anything in the following parts. It simply isn't what was claimed.
"...this course provides an overview of what you will go on to study in greater depth"
"Being a teacher: an ambassador to the kingdom of the child"
Do either of those look like they're diverse? Or accurate? No. My score: 4/10.

The course material was dreary videos with a professor just rambling about learning, without actually saying much. He constantly made reference to my classroom and my children (remember when I noted that the description said it was suitable for those who are not actually qualified teachers? And people who teach adults? Yeah). The assessment involved four quizzes and two assessments (graded by your peers - many of whom can barely write English).

The quiz for the first week contained questions not answered in the course material. The quiz also claimed you'd get immediate feedback on where you went wrong (but it didn't, because they set the quiz up wrong). People began to complain in the forums and wonder aloud what to do. Many of them noted that the material was centred on elementary-school age; several people admitted they weren't teachers and felt that this wasn't aimed at them; more felt that it used terminology way beyond a layperson and assumed professional knowledge and qualifications. One lady said she taught handicapped adults and felt that the material wasn't useful for her needs.

Cue the self-righteous and pretentious twats blabbing on about how you're supposed to do your own research. Um, how can you know what to research if the question has nothing to do with what's in the lectures and reading material? Then someone else haughtily suggests you keep the quiz open while googling for information to answer each question.

That's not an assessment, sunshine, that's a learning exercise. You don't put that into the EXAM. Exams are supposed to check whether you did the groundwork to understand the learning material supplied. If you study, then a multiple-choice quiz should be easy.

Oh and by the way, there was also a bonus YouTube video in the first week. It was ok, but nobody can actually figure out how it had anything to do with the course at all. AT ALL. It showed us the relative poverty of major nations in the last 200 years.

I've studied online before - I was enrolled in university and took four of the courses online (brilliant, well-organised and all the material was supplied). But on this one, I've demanded a refund. I consider this course to be a piece of shit. Other courses from the same provider might be excellent, but this is your warning on this course in particular. Beware of shit.

16 July, 2013

Because you wanted to know...

...I got the grill out tonight and we had kebabs. First time this year.

That'd be embarrassing if I were actually a Finn. As only a pretend one, I think I get away with it. It wasn't even my idea - husband came home with the kebabs, expecting me to cook them (do I look like a master chef to you?) - at least they were already marinated. They were delicious :)

14 July, 2013

Lazy Saturday

So my sister-in-law came over to visit, and we had a picnic in the park then played Ticket to Ride and drank long drinks.

  • Having a picnic in the park is nice.
  • Calling it "my famous bean salad" does not make me famous, even if it's good.
  • I'm not as good at the game as I thought (came 4th out of 5... boo)
  • Salmiakki & Lemon long drink is apparently foul, even worse than chilli vodka.
  • The buses are still running at 2am.
Now you know.

Elisa's Famous Bean Salad

6 sticks of celery, diced
1 can of kidney beans plus 1 can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
(or you can just use two cans of "bean mix")
1 spring onion, finely chopped (or green onion, or ½ red onion)
1 can of corn kernels, drained
1 punnet chopped cherry tomatoes
1 diced orange or red capsicum (some people call these bell peppers)

freshly-ground black pepper
sprinkle of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of 1 lime (or more, to taste)
optional: finely chopped coriander

01 July, 2013

The "AND THEN" Argument of stupid debts and student loans

WHAT IF the biggest "hell no" argument was just removed from a discussion? It'd start like this: Hey, did you know, you could study overseas and get your degree much cheaper. Normally, they'd interject with all the things that they didn't like about that, all the things they saw as negative. But what if, what if those things are (gasp) potential positives after all? It's a whole new discussion:

I COULD go overseas and get my education.

BUT THEN, I'd have to stretch my brain and learn a foreign language.

AND THEN, I'd have to learn to live in a modest apartment while I studied.

AND THEN, I'd have to eat home-cooked food and avoid spending money on useless junk.

AND THEN, I'd have a world-class education.

AND THEN, I'd have no student debts.

AND THEN, I'd have a broader perspective on life than just the town I grew up in.

But why stop there? We could do it with work, too.

I COULD move overseas and work in another country.

BUT THEN, I'd have to adapt to a totally new culture.

AND THEN, then I'd have to pay more tax.

AND THEN, I'd have a lower salary.

AND THEN, I'd have to live in a modest home.

AND THEN, I'd have fewer things.

AND THEN, I'd have free health care, excellent public services, reliable public transport, and good, free education for my children.

AND THEN, I'd be happier.

Unfortunately most people just derail the entire conversation when the tax and salary thing starts. As if tax and salaries are the only things that matter in life.

Sure, you can't pay the bills with shiny-happy-thoughts, but you're still missing the point. I'm absolutely tired of people who have a LOT of money but still think that they don't. They still want more. They still think they pay too much tax compared with Joe Average. They still think things suck more for them than they suck for everyone else.

And the people who think money is more important than everything. That the only way to happiness is enormous debts. That these things are necessary, because there is no other way to eventual financial freedom. That they will need to do all these things because the big salary at the end is the only way to be happy in life. The ones who think they would never give up expensive luxuries in exchange for living without masses of debt.

Take a lesson from a culture which values simple things. You don't need that new (whatever) and you don't need a 300 square metre apartment for just you and your frickin' cat. Lower your expectations and you could magically find that you have everything that matters.

Imagine you thought that 30 square metres for yourself was plenty. Imagine that you were perfectly content with having your bed at the other end of the living room. Now imagine that you could work part time and have no mortgage as long as you were happy with that. Or imagine that you could retire earlier, and do whatever the heck you please, as long as you're content with your two-year-old phone and your three-year-old computer and no cable tv. Or you could give up your yearly holiday to the Bahamas and just spend a month in the countryside without indoor plumbing. You could read a book by day, go fishing, then cook your dinner over an open fire.

Imagine that was enough. Imagine you had already achieved it all. Imagine the satisfaction of knowing: I did it! We made it!


It's not like that in the whole world, you know. This might mean you have to challenge what you thought you knew. Maybe you thought that the way your homeland does it is the best. Maybe you just assumed that because nobody told you any differently.

There are many of us who don't think education should be about profit. Look into it. Find out where we are. Learn something.

27 June, 2013

So I went for a walk

...and according to some random calorie counter page thingy I burned four hundred calories. In other words, a drop in the ocean. They should just get rid of the calculator code altogether and replace it with this text:
Don't bother counting calories. One 75-minute walk isn't going to do jack for your fitness, weight or life expectancy. Start eating less and start moving more often. Sincerely, calorie counter thingy.
It was nice to begin with. But then I started thinking that the stupid path signs were screwed up and I might be going the wrong way. So I was grrr-ing in my head. And I didn't want to stop and look at Google Maps because that defeats the whole purpose of getting my heart rate up. And then it was getting too hot and sweaty to enjoy (24° Celsius at 5.40am, wtf Finland) and I finally gave in and looked, and I was going the right way, but had already taken a pretty big detour. So I walked back on a more direct route, feeling all dizzy and annoyed.

Good: Found enough cans to cash in and buy an orange juice and a banana. Resisted the chocolate aisle.

05 June, 2013

Ticket to Ride Android App Review - Days of Wonder

Yeah, it had to be done - SOMEONE needs to write a review for this new Android app, because when I went searching to find a review for the new Android App for Days of Wonder's Ticket To Ride game, I couldn't find one! Since I'm conceited, I am assuming there aren't many reviews online yet (we could never claim my Googling skills were to blame...)

I must admit up front that I own the classic Ticket To Ride board game, but I'm still quite new to it. Having said that, the board game is a total blast (and you should buy it for yourself). It is a fabulous mix of strategy and simplicity. If you've only ever played board games with a dice, you're in for a treat. This is a game that even young kids can learn to play and yet it can give real enjoyment to adults, and somehow it still satisfies that one person at every gathering who simply must figure out the best way to win (you know who I mean - every family has an Uncle Steve who gets so serious about a game you have to wonder if they're even having any fun). You don't need to adore trains, either, although, if you do, you'll like Ticket to Ride.

The first time I played it I went looking for an Android app afterwards. You can imagine my disappointment to learn it wasn't yet available on Android at the time. You can imagine my fury to learn that iPhone users had one. (Sniff.) Fortunately our prayers have been answered and Days of Wonder have released the Ticket to Ride app for Android. Yay! Winnar!

Board Game
If you've never seen the original classic board game, it's a map filled with destinations all over mainland North America. Your task is to complete routes between certain cities, by collecting the right kinds of cards to fill them (matching by colour). You collect, say, three matching orange cards, then place your little plastic train widgets onto an orange section of track to show that you've claimed the tracks between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, and nobody else can get that same track. You're holding several long distance route cards, and this little section is a part of your long-distance route. Once you fill up all the sections on the long-distance route, you score the points listed on your card (perhaps your route card goes all the way to Los Angeles, so you need to get the next section as well). No dice are involved - apart from which cards you draw, nothing more is really down to chance, but to brains. It's a little complicated to explain the scoring, so an awesome aspect of it being in an Android app is that the app does the scoring for you. More awesomeness! More win! Lots more winnaring!

The music fits well with the app, even if you're not a big fan of background music. One thing that bothered me was the constant jumping and pausing - I felt a bit like I was streaming video on a 28K modem. I'm running the game on a Samsung Galaxy S3 with Jellybean and a ton of free space (hardly an old or lame phone just yet), and the game constantly lags, so it won't be long before I just turn the music off to keep my sanity. Yes, it's the entire app lagging and not just the music, but as long as I can't hear it I'll cope :)

As expected, absolutely beautiful artwork. Days of Wonder do not disappoint in the aesthetics department. Those of you familiar with the board game will know it's on the large size, which makes things interesting to fit into a smartphone screen, and yeah, if you're old and ancient like me (in your 30s) you will be squinting to read the text, especially the destinations on the map. Fortunately, with continued play you'll get to know what is where. And kindly, they've included a handy zoom function, which will get a ton of use by Yours Truly. If you're good at geography or grew up in the USA, you probably know where... um, some place named Duluth... is anyway. For the rest of us, lots of squinting, zooming and practice, hey?

I really, really, like, REALLY love the board game. Having said that, it is so disappointing to me just how confusing the hand-holding tutorial part is at the very start - and I'm someone who knows how to play. Just as you're learning how to control your own cards, they point at something different. So - if you don't know the Ticket To Ride board game works, definitely go to YouTube first and watch a bunch of videos on how the gameplay progresses. Then you'll have a fighting chance of following the "how to work this baby" part at the beginning of the Android App. It definitely improves as it progresses. It feels good once you understand where everything is, and is relatively simple to control. Thumbs up for the interface itself.

What can I say - it's the Ticket to Ride board game, put into an app, so it's awesome. I might even like it better than the board game because it doesn't involve actually trying to corral my family into one room at the same time. The game itself gets this as a recommendation: two surly teenagers who were torn away from their computers and forced to try out Mum's new board game actually wanted to stay and play it a second time. What better testimonial is there than that?

Days of Wonder - Ticket to Ride app for Android

5.43€ / $6.99

Post Script: the game doesn't always turn off when you forcefully "sleep" your phone. I pressed the side button to turn off the display, and the music keeps jumping back on for a second or two then disappearing. Possibly related to it lagging on my phone... possibly.

20 May, 2013

SO I did a thing at the library.

It's going well. More wrapping tomorrow, this time with the pages of a Gauguin art book (ouch). Can't help it, the boss said I had to!

29 April, 2013

Every now and then

...I find an article that has me nodding, and nodding, and o-my-godding. This is one I shared on Google+ a while back, but it deserves revisiting.

The article is here: http://ogodsendhelp.blogspot.fi/2012/05/kielipaa-on-finnish-language.html (you can go read it now. Don't worry, I'll wait until you come back.)

In particular, this is one of the first real parts that resonates with me:
"At the moment, I've taken a year's worth of Finnish, and I'm at the awkward transitional stage where I can ask questions, but I never understand the answers."
You betcha. I'm still at that point after three and a half years. I (usually) have time to rehearse what I'm going to say, for example at the newsagent's. I announce what I need, silently congratulating myself on asking correctly, and then all my poise is undone in an instant as the sales assistant asks me a question in return. I haven't a clue what they asked; even if it's a six-word question, not a single word sounds like anything familiar. Were it written down, it's possible I'd have identified four words of the six, but in another slap to my pride, they will always be words which are unhelpful at deciphering the sentence (of course, however something or something).

I discovered early in my residence here that it's no use telling people that I don't understand Finnish. I am blessed (cursed?) with not having any discernible accent, so they hear my announcement in fluent Finnish and don't believe it, ignoring me as if I'd begun to small-talk about the weather. I resolved to be more specific and switched to, "I don't speak Finnish well," but since it's an opening line, it's having a similar effect, and is sometimes treated as an invitation to speak freely at top speed. To their credit, most people at least forgive me being slow or not understanding. They can't say they weren't warned, after all.

It's been in evidence many times since I started my volunteer work at the library. They approach me and begin to ask something complicated, and if I can manage to interject and apologise before they finish their request, my declaration cuts them off dead. I'm not even 100% sure how to correctly tell them they should ask someone at the front desk, but they get the idea when I mumble "ask, table" and motion in that direction.

But the older people in particular are not intimidated by a dirty furriner. Maybe it's because I'm female; maybe it's because I smile as I apologise; maybe it's because I don't "look foreign". I'm keeping score. So far I've successfully helped two people find books in the library while not understanding a dang thing they babbled at me about the books they wanted. They both had their titles written down. The second one, today, had a long list of classics - Moliere, Voltaire, T.S. Eliot. We found about half of them, and I managed to explain that the others weren't at this branch, which she had apparently expected. She was evidently very pleased with me, although I haven't a clue what she said beyond "good help" and "I can't work the computer, myself".

Now as for words and vocabularies, I was reminded of this today. I am conducting inventory of the entire collection's reference books, pulling out anything that is marked "lost" in the database, or hasn't been borrowed since 2009, or has had less than 10 uses in the past 10 years. Today I pulled unwanted enormous Finnish translation dictionaries from the shelf one by one.
"...dictionaries are just an inside joke played on foreigners by Finnish publishers."
Oh yes. In so many ways. Finns even know how ridiculous the language is - wait, that's unfair, let's call it "unique" instead. They are unanimously impressed when someone tries to learn, no matter how stupid I know I must sound. They are also unanimously incredulous that anyone would want to come from Australia to live in Finland. Most of them (being Finns) have nothing more to say on the matter beyond a vague wow-type gesture, but the friendlier ones will then describe Australia as being warm, sunny and filled with wonderful beach-going. Australia is, I am assured, a dream destination for many Finns. Left unsaid is that I must be an idiot. It is an ironic thing, because Finns consider their culture and nature infinitely valuable and precious, yet can't understand how any of it could appeal to anyone else. Perhaps this is why Finland has never had a tourism industry. Those in the game will be upset (hey! We've got the Northern Lights and Helsinki's got beautiful architecture, and there's Santa's post office and there's reindeer and fantastic fashion and design) but it's part of an all-pervading idea that nobody else will ever be interested in what Finns have. Especially the language. Why bother, when everyone under 50 can get by in English?

Why bother indeed. I guess it's hard for anyone to understand if they haven't been there. But it gets old, really fast, to always be perceived as stupid because you have to constantly explain to the checkout operator (or the bank, or the doctor) that you don't understand the language. The thing is, being Finnish and all, they don't always switch to English. They think their excellent English isn't perfect enough, so they don't want to use it. They just fall into silence and don't bother, leaving me feeling abandoned.

And it really sucks to get home and discover what they had tried to tell me - that my yoghurt has been opened, or the cheese is expired, or the coffee was full price because only the other type was on special. That's why I want to learn the language...

27 April, 2013

Work Placement

As part of my course, I am spending 6 weeks in a voluntary work placement. I say voluntary because it's not paid, but it's not actually voluntary. Or, you could say, I'm being paid by way of the unemployment benefit.

The reasons... I'm not entirely sure. I bet if you ask the politicians it's because I need experience in being part of the workplace. Fair enough; except, this course contains only people with educations - there are no illiterates in the class and it is primarily people with work histories and tertiary qualifications. We know that you need to dress appropriately, turn up on time, and be respectful. In that regard, the work placement scheme would be more appropriate for the "slow" class (primarily refugees and other immigrants who arrived in Finland unable to read or write in their native languages). I had these kinds of clients in my previous life, people who honestly didn't know that you should dress nicely for a job interview. Well, how could they know, if nobody in their social circles had ever been to one? Sometimes, what appears to be stupidity is merely a lack of life experience. Without having seen a formal dinner table, you'd never know that the knives go on the right, and so on.

However, the teachers have all talked about this work placement as being a time to practice speaking Finnish. Sadly most of us, at around level B1, are not at the level required to understand ordinary conversation from a Finn.

I'm doing mine at the local library. I quite like it - the people are pleasant enough and the work is not stressful. In the first few days I spent most of the time on my feet. I swear, I have not known such foot-agony in my life. Even back in the days of a checkout operator when I was standing up for 8 hours. But the biggest frustration is the language. I have now lost my chance to practice each day at the lunch table with my friends (the library staff carefully stagger their lunchtimes to be alone, so I just sit and read as I eat). The main supervisor is very nice, but I understand almost nothing that she says. She will repeat it when I'm confused, but it still isn't any easier for my beginner ears. Then, she'll just pantomime it or switch to English.

The big boss is very patient with me and dumbs it down so I understand, but she's got other libraries to run as well, and I'm lucky if I see her for ten minutes a day. The other staff mostly just switch to English, or begin in English. I also spend long hours of the day doing tasks by myself.

None of it is the fault of the library staff. Really, they have been very kind and appreciative of me. They've even offered me things for free - like, food - why there's so much in the library kitchen I don't understand, but there always is - and any of the books for sale, I can take home for free. It's not their job to improve my Finnish. I'm just really frustrated and worried that I'm going backwards. Worse, even if I don't go backwards, I will be sliding down the class as all the others improve.

I had coffee with my classmates on Thursday (it was WONDERFUL!) and two of them have noticeably more fluent Finnish already, after just 6 days in the placement. One has hit the jackpot, with two co-workers whose entire working lives now seem to revolve around their new helper. A second one's boss has thoughtfully forbidden anyone from using English or Russian with her, ensuring that she gets plenty of practice in nothing but Finnish for at least half her work day.

But I'm not alone. One guy is chopping vegetables all day. His Finnish knowledge is excellent, but he says he's completely unable to talk as he works. Another student (also excellent Finnish) has unwittingly discovered that her boss cherishes her other language skills, and she has found herself speaking Russian all day with tourists.

I suppose on the balance of things I have it ok. It is merely marking time; we all know that in about 6 weeks' time we will be forcibly ejected back into the world of unemployment, equal to Finns in the eyes of the law, but with a myriad comparative disadvantages, meaning we'll never get selected from a pool of applicants, unless we somehow find the position which only a foreigner can fill. We (mostly) haven't got enough Finnish to even function in a conversation with the local shopkeeper. The Finns, meanwhile, pretty much all have the English skills that some jobs require. And yet we can't study to improve our Finnish. Those magical skill numbers declare that we're finished. If we want that, we're kicked off unemployment and told to go apply for student benefit - which will be rejected (there is no provision for an adult wanting to study at anything less than degree level). No, we can't even go to a course that's ONE night per week, ONE hour per week.

Where's the logic? They say they need immigrants - particularly skilled ones - but let's imagine I were a trained nurse. How many of us would still bother to stay, after being here almost four years and still can't get work thanks to the language? Even the ones who WANT to stay, aren't allowed to study Finnish in order to get there. Net result: we nurses take our (educated, skilled, Finnish) partners and children and we leave Finland. Net result, Finland just lost four potential taxpayers.

The only recourse for me is to choose between three difficult roads. Illegal study using a false name (I am not very fond of this route). Or sitting at home unemployed, looking for work and being slapped down non-stop (not fond of this one either; even the main employer of cleaners requires fluent Finnish, and supposing I got work from somewhere else, I would still be... a cleaner, not a life's ambition of mine). Or, thirdly, somehow using my own skills to become self-employed. Except I don't know what I can do. English is not a selling point for me and no advantage whatsoever, despite being not only native and fluent but able to use it to a business level. I don't have relevant qualifications (my computer skills are excellent but so are half the country's). I have, variously, made money by blogging, writing articles, selling jewellery, and completing surveys, but none of these really suit me as a full-time career.

My career is just... it's an endless cycle of wondering. It's an exercise bike. It's not goin' anywhere. I don't know what I am. Husband just tells me to continue being "awesome" but it's just more spinning wheels, in my head. I don't know...

04 April, 2013


Today with school we went back to Musiikkitalo (Music House) to see the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. It was really great :) The price was right - free for school groups booked in advance, and only €3 to get in otherwise. It was the final rehearsal for their concert which begins tonight. They played Schumann, Prokofiev and Beethoven, and the solo violinist was Viviane Hagner from Germany - very talented. I took my 17yo daughter with me. She even said that she had enjoyed it, and wished she played the violin herself :)

Pro tip: if you live in Helsinki, these shows happen regularly. You can check out the website to see the dates, www.musiikkitalo.fi (it's also in English). They have a lovely sunny cafe indoors, and fresh pastries for sale. Unfortunately there's quite a rush at intermission, so if you want to buy something, sit close to the door and make a dash for it the moment intermission starts. They won't let you into the doors if you're late, so arrive in time to use the cloaking service.


The rehearsals are informal - leave your furs at home and wear jeans (the whole orchestra will be in jeans too). The musicians ignore the audience, so this is a little different to "going to the symphony". The conductor often asks them to play small sections of the pieces again, asking them to play louder in the horn part, or tell the violinists they're a bit slow to begin the fast section, and so on. It's kinda interesting :) Even the building is spectacular.

20 March, 2013

Let me tell you of an interview with an Old Man Emu
He's got a beak and feathers and things but the poor old fella ain't got no wings

Aren't you jealous of the wedge-tailed eagle - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
While the eagle's flyin' round and round I keep my two feet firmly on the ground
Now I can't fly but I'm tellin' you, I can run the pants off a kangaroo
...Ba-da-doo-doo... He can't fly but I'm tellin' you, he can run the pants off a kangaroo

Well he was the model for the fifty cents - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
The designer should have had more sense - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
If you take a look it'll prove to you (ha-ha-ha-ha), I ran the pants off that kangaroo
...Ba-da-doo-doo... Take a look, it'll prove to you, he ran the pants off the kangaroo

You can't loop the loop like a cockatoo - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
Swoop and toss like an albatross - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
You silly galah, I'm better by far, than a white cockatoo or a budgerigar
They squeak and squawk and try to talk, why me and them's like cheese and chalk
...Ba-da-doo-doo... He can't fly but I'm tellin' you, he can run the pants off a kangaroo

Well the last time I saw Old Man Emu - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
He was chasing a female he knew- Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
As he shot past I heard him say, Hoo-choo-ah-hoo-choo-ah-hoo-choo-ah-hoo-choo
She can't fly but I'm tellin' you, she can run the pants off a kangaroo
...Ba-da-doo-doo... She can't fly but I'm tellin' you, she can run the pants off a kangaroo

Well there is a moral to this ditty - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
Thrush can sing, but he ain't pretty - Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
Duck can swim but he can't sing, nor can the eagle on the wing
Emu can't fly but I'm tellin' you he can run the pants off the kangaroo

Well the kookaburra laughed and he said it's true, Um-ba-da-litch-a-da-da-da
(ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-hoo) he can run the pants off the kangaroo

13 March, 2013

What's new

...in my world?

Well... still studying. It's still difficult, unfortunately. But I started getting itchy for a hobby, so I have a table at the flea market now, permanently. It doesn't really make me a great deal of money (actually I think the table cost comes close to eating every cent of my profit) but it keeps me busy and it's kind of interesting to see what people will buy and what they won't.

Lately I've been making jewellery. I also make a few other bits and pieces, like denim handbags. Yay sewing machine! Stuff for mobile phones works - cases and styluses and so on. Cool and funky clothing items sell pretty well too, but ready-made ones are hard to find for a good price. So I was thinking about personalised t-shirts, making them myself instead of ordering them in. I had a look around and got a few places for printing t-shirts - holy wow there are a lot of websites for t-shirt printing out there. Every second place lets you design your own t-shirt nowadays and duh, I thought there were only about five sites haha.

The other option is kid's toys... but I always stress about them getting opened. Some parents are pretty rough with the merchandise. I think clothing works a lot better.

Oh well, time to go do homework (we got into trouble today because only 3 people in the class actually did theirs).

sponsored post

19 January, 2013

Web Hosting

True story: I used to host Legend of the Green Dragon, a text-based RPG based on the BBS classic of the similar name. This was my web host, LunarPages, who suited the site brilliantly.

If you need hosting for your website, at the moment you can use the coupon code "aff15off" for 15% off hosting plans.


09 November, 2012

Fazer Chocolate Factory Tour

I'm not sure about the rules. Are you allowed to complain about something that's free? I think maybe I am. At least I'll try and be impartial.

I went to Fazer this week, on a tour. It was free. I was looking forward to it.

It's outside of Helsinki so you either pay extra to get there by public transport or you walk about 20 minutes from the Helsinki transport border.

We watched a few short YouTube-style videos, maybe 5-10 minutes long, plus a bunch of powerpoint slides, that I think were about the history of Fazer and the tour itself. The tour guide number 1 was great, he used slow and clear Finnish so that I understood maybe half of what he said. My eyes glazed over whenever he mentioned numbers and dates, though (everyone knows that once you start talking numbers it's like a whole different language).

Good: seeing the old tv ads for Fazer. I love old ads. Even if I don't understand them, the black and white and the animations are cool.

Good: we got one free Angry Birds lollipop to eat.

Then we did the "tour".

Bad: Tour guide #2 spoke complicated and fast Finnish and I understood not one single word during the tour. Nobody in the group did, I don't think. And she knew we were only learning the language.

Bad: the tour comprised walking along a hallway for about 10 whole minutes, stopping 3 times to look at pictures of machinery on the walls. We got to poke our heads into one room where they kept factory uniforms. Wow, white aprons, exciting.

Bad: they say you can eat as much as you like. They failed to mention that it would be a postage-stamp square of rye bread and then about five minutes at the chocolate sample area. And then while you're still deciding whether to try the lemon or the praline, you get told you have to leave. No, you can't take it with you (that's ok) but damnit, I wanted to try the lemon.

Good: The shop is, indeed, cheap. Chocolates are about 25-50% off. Sweets are not very cheap, and I don't think they sell bread or cookies at all.

Good: You get a few samples in a free showbag. I just love pear-flavoured chewing gum (not) but they were free.

Bad: It was all over in an hour, including the shop, the cloakroom, and standing around waiting for it to start.

Bad: there was absolutely no tour of any part of the factory. Not even through a glass window or anything. Not even of shelves of finished, packed, hygienic products. What's a factory tour when you just look at videos and pictures? Answer: it's not a tour, it's a slideshow.

Verdict: 3/10.

27 October, 2012

Culinary Genius


The culinary genius burnt the toast, setting off every smoke alarm in the house and prompting us to run around fanning them and pulling out batteries. Then we opened all the windows and the balcony glass (yes, it's so refreshing to "air" the house down to near-zero temperatures). And then we couldn't find the cat, who was thought to have escaped from the peal of the alarms and the stink aroma of wheaten charcoal, via the nearest wall-hole aka open window.

Culinary Genius™ launched a search effort, mostly composed of whining about how the cat was missing, how it's someone else's fault for turning the toast gauge up to 6, how the cat is missing, how the alarms are really quite annoying, how it's cold, how it isn't her fault and how the cat is missing. Turns out the moggy was perched over the radiator, behind the curtain, appropriately nonplussed.

My apologies to the circa-dozen apartments enjoying enduring the smell and the noise. I have my jacket and blanket on. I am not amused.

26 October, 2012

Good, bad, ugly, sad

Good: Wedding party on the weekend for my brother-in-law and new sister-in-law!

Bad: Eight days and counting of being sick with the flu.

Ugly: The sky thought it would be funny and threw down snow this morning, and it has not melted by afternoon. It is still October. I am not amused.

Sad: That the little old lady selling clothes in the mall thought her pair of knitted socks were worth 23€ (circa $30).

Good (2): K-market had a nice pair of thick, warm boot socks for 10€.

Good (3): New phone! Woodiddles! (Thank you Amanda for that word.)

Good (4): On the first day of light snow, the mall was already gritted. I am not a fan of slippery ground, so this is great (and surprising).

18 October, 2012

A Plus

On the (more) plus side, it turns out that I am not the only student who wants to practice conversation and has noticed that all Finnish courses seem to be severely lacking in speaking practice.

Since we finish early on Fridays, P and I have tentative informal plans to regularly hang out at the school for a while after class and just chinwag in Finnish over a cup of tea. I am hoping to get other students involved, since I've tried to do it before at other classes but didn't have any other students with the same enthusiasm like P does. She truly grasps exactly why it's in our best interests to do it and how badly we'll stumble if it doesn't happen.

She has also noted the general assumption by schools and teachers that "all students have somewhere to practice what they learn". No, no, hell no! I did a quick poll of who has Finnish friends. Only P does, and she stated firmly that personal friends are not interested in spending precious scarce quality time together teaching her Finnish. I agree, because that's not fun for the friends, just like it's not fun for my family.

We have a golden opportunity to practice and it's with new acquaintances. There is no friendship-history in English or Russian or Chinese. There's no past bullshit in the way and no time-pressured environment. Fellow-students are still relative strangers, so there is new information to learn at a level we can understand (where you grew up, talking about your family or interests, discussing the weather, and so on). You already know where your best friend grew up... and your best friend is more interested in talking about what happened this week, which probably isn't in the Finnish 101 handbook.

I never have managed to form long friendships with other students, because mostly, they left me behind in Finnish and now have other things to occupy their time. I really hope that this time I can keep pace with others' learning and make a friend or two.

16 October, 2012

If you live in Helsinki

...GO AND READ this page. (I'll wait until you come back.)


She is Veronika Honkasalo and she just got my vote.

First I found my party (Left Alliance - "a modern labor party that pursues a just, independent, and free society where the people and the environment are a top priority"). Then I had to somehow pick one candidate. Sadly I found only 4 candidates (of about 70) who bothered to write a detailed information page in English.

I understand that. It's Finland. English isn't an official language and my problems understanding Finnish are MY PROBLEMS and nobody else's.

But here's the thing: we foreigners make up 12% of the population here, and we're mostly allowed to vote. It seems as if most candidates WANT equality for all, but only for the people who are already equal (and understand Finnish).

News flash people, if you don't bother to put English, Swedish or Russian pages up, you just threw away thousands of votes. And in this lady's case, the fact that she DID put up English was most of the reason she got my vote - I sincerely hope she gets a ton of votes from all the foreigners just because we only have a handful to choose from and she's the best (imo).

15 October, 2012

Guilt and Cash

Feel guilty for staying home today when I could have made the superhuman effort and gone to class.

Tried to make up for it with a concerted effort at surveys. Grand total eight bucks (so about 6 euros or so) which was annoying and lame.

Designed two new shirt logos. This one's my fave, Coffee Zombie:

(Go and buy one, they start at $11.99. http://www.cafepress.com/gemdust/8398623 )

12 October, 2012

What a week

A ridiculous rollercoaster, but at least we got off the ride without vomiting.

We have a main teacher who's Russian (and great), plus a second teacher who's a native Finn, and I'm sure she must be one of the most intelligent teachers I've ever had. I say "must be" because there is no way to know for sure apart from the fact that I don't understand 99% of what she says.

Last week (and the week before) I practically lost my voice saying "slow down" and "we don't understand" and "please speak more simply". Over and over again. Alright, I didn't come close to losing my voice, but I sure said those things so many times that she should have heard me. To no avail. I know that my comprehension is poor, but in this class I'm somewhere near the top and I happened to know that another 16 people in the class didn't understand her. (Lunchtime discussions are great.)

Finally on Tuesday she began revising something that we hadn't understood the first time, didn't understand the second time, and she managed to confuse half the class and send people into panic mode over finding their own workplace practice position. (Mention "writing up your CVs" and that people have to go to work soon, and students "wtf" and "huh" quite a bit.) I turned around and loudly asked who understood. Nobody. I started simplifying it based on my memories of last year's class mentioning it. The smart guy asked me to use English because he didn't even understand the basics in Finnish.

And once he understood what she had been talking about over and over that day, he exploded. "Half an hour! Half an hour we have been discussing this, and we don't even need it! This is high school work! We have all had jobs, we are not children, we know how to write our CVs! Why? Why? (He repeated the Finnish word for comprehensive school, which doesn't even apply to immigrants, the Finnish word for compulsory army conscription, which doesn't even apply to immigrants, and the Finnish word for being able to speak Finnish fluently, which doesn't even apply to us.) Why we need these words? How this help us learn Finnish?"

I felt sorry for the teacher, because on a personal level, I like her a lot. And she has to teach what she's told, because the government makes the rules. But she also has to teach so that we understand, and she wasn't.

She wisely put the jobsearch-talk away and gave us a pamphlet on the health benefits of milk. And then, unbelievably, she talked for an hour in such ridiculous complexity that I'm not sure anyone understood a thing. We are people still struggling to form sentences about what we did on our weekends, and faced with information on complex carbohydrates, saturated fat's effect on blood cholesterol levels and the natural food sources of the chemical Selenium, it was an exercise in futility. I'd say half the class don't even understand those things in their native languages.

At the end she tried to tell us it was good practice. I disagreed, loudly. She tried to tell me that I understood the idea and it was good to learn new words. I explained that the text was far too difficult, that if there had been 20 new words perhaps it would be ok, but 100 is too many and that on our own it would have taken four hours to look up every word in the dictionary to understand.

She kinda went quiet as classmates nodded.

The next day she turned up with a far easier exercise and spoke noticeably slower and more simply. I probably hurt her feelings, but there are only so many times that a whole classroom should be expected to endure a lesson which wastes their time, regardless of the fact we HAD to attend.

But I gave her feedback, that I had spoken with others at lunch and people could now understand her, and I thanked her for slowing down.

And then we had the third teacher today. I like her too, because she's also Russian, so she knows how to speak simply to other immigrants. At the end of the day I thanked her for being a teacher who speaks slowly so that we understand. She commented that sometimes she doesn't understand native Finn teacher herself.

So it's not just students having problems understanding native Finn teacher. Hallelujah, there is a Dog.


08 October, 2012

Constructive Conformity

Been thinking lately about schools' insistence on conformity.

We constantly measure each other and compare each other to a norm. Having grown up in Australia, it's something we evolve into as we progress through schooling... there are no exams in the beginning (or at least we are unaware we're being tested) but as we get to high school they are the benchmark for whether we are a success as a student. And the pressure to conform is even greater in places such as the USA and Japan.

I used to have a preconception that standardised tests were a necessary evil. How else can you measure whether a child is achieving what they ought to achieve? What I hadn't considered was that it just isn't necessary for a small child to "achieve" any set standard in the first place! As soon as you remove a time-sensitive goal and replace it with "in progress" learning, then every child is succeeding, each and every day. You see, children are always learning, whether we try to teach them or not. They are observing and modelling themselves based on the world they see.

Finland's approach to compulsory schooling for children: every child can learn. No ifs, ands or buts, no exceptions, children learn. They can and they will. There is no question of not succeeding. The teachers know they children will succeed. Wherever they need to get to, the teachers know they'll get there.

This is not about putting pressure on a child and telling them that they must achieve. This is about displaying trust that the child can do it. When you cannot even conceive that something might go wrong, think about how much easier the task becomes! What would you do right now, if you knew you could not fail? The answer: Anything you want. What can a child learn, if they know they cannot fail? Anything.

Most of the grading system used with school children here (peruskoulu / compulsory years) is about the personal effort they put in. Yes, even if you're naturally capable of learning, it's still possible to try and achieve better. Some kids do try harder, and they get the better results. Thus the grades become about effort and not about brains or ability, and still they're only a vague measure. This, imo, is a far better focus for school success than whether or not you are a "failure" - understanding that effort brings success. It equips children for the competitive nature of high school, of university, of life in general. Effort = Reward. Not Brain = Award, a huge failing on the part of test-based schooling, which leaves the bright middle school students utterly unable to motivate themselves to study - why bother studying when you're accustomed to getting your results handed to you? What happens to those kids when the work becomes more difficult? Sink or swim... hardly a pleasant life experience at the age of 11 or 12.

Teachers in Finland are very well trained (probably among the best-trained teachers in the world). Their overriding goal is to support a child into achieving success - a concept very different from "ensuring all kids meet a benchmark". The reality of life is that we have benchmarks. Doctors measure our weight and compare it to a healthy norm. Professors measure our university work. Bosses measure whether we've done our job to a certain standard. In an adult world we know about benchmarks and we expect them. But for a child, they hinder healthy growth and the love of learning.

This is not to say that you need to move to Finland if you want a healthy learning environment for your child. (Although it might be the simplest way.) There are very similar aims in Steiner schooling, and other independent schools embrace the same concepts. Many might consider these child-centric methods to be "hocus pocus" - yes, they do seem strange and "not serious" when you are used to traditional test-based schooling in rigid setups. The thing to understand is that there is still very real learning going on despite the lack of school desks, or the lack of times tables. The learning is just not according to the timing you might expect. These children frequently out-perform their peers when they reach high school age as they have learned to teach themselves. Their teachers do not have "no goals" for the kids - just no pressure to meet a timetable with them, no pressure to get there in a certain predictable way. The kids will get there anyway.

When you think about it, what do you really need to start high school? The ability to read and write. The ability to do basic arithmetic. The ability to get along with your peers; to tell the time; to respect the teachers. Despite what you might assume, you don't actually need much else - even the kids that can't do complicated mathematics are still accepted into high school! Think about the endless hours and tests and homework and practice and stress and useless knowledge that school kids pick up along the way. Traditional schooling seems as if it's a relic which has been untouched for decades; nobody has pulled it apart completely and questioned what's useful and what's not.

But you can still nurture a love of learning, even if your child attends a strict traditional school. It's about investigating things because you can. Of reading for the fun of it. Of collecting rocks and leaves, of playing with berries and learning that they stain your fingers. It's genuine enjoyment of learning. It's about praise for effort rather than for success. It's about trusting in your child to learn despite what benchmarks say. Every child learns.