Tuesday, August 30, 2005

First Baby Train trip

Just to make sure we've covered all forms of transport, Peanut and I hopped on a train from Helsinki to Lahti last Friday! We went to visit a long time family friend who had taken care of me when I was a baby.

I purposefully booked in advance to get seats on Intercity (IC) trains since they have special baby carriage and children's wagons. On both trains, this happened to be wagon #4. We boarded at Pasila station and were able to roll right into the train as the door opened even with the platform. Once in, there was a baggage storage section that contained marked spaces for strollers. Though by the looks of it, only one stroller could possibly fit - and not one like ours. So I folded it up and stuffed it into an adjoining space. I had Peanut in her car seat since we'd need that later.

I had reserved two seats next to each other with a 'Family Ticket' (perhe lippu) and we rode comfortably to Lahti.

The bathroom is also designed for handicapped/wheelchair passengers so it has a door that rotates open at the touch of a button and is very spacious. I did find the baby changing table hefty to lower and raise. The bathroom also contained a bottle heater with some not-so-simple-to-decipher pictorial instructions.

On our return from Lahti, we had a few more challenges. It was the afternoon commuter train and booked quite full. The stroller storage space was full, a stroller was already folded down in the walkway, one of the wheelchair spaces was occupied by a stroller and a wheelchair passenger was boarding. I was at a loss as to where on earth I should put my stroller or Peanut for that matter as I tried to get out of the way. Mind you, no one offered to help. Luckily, I didn't have any extra bags or it would have been very stressful.

We were only able to reserve seats upstairs which also contains the children's play area. Not recommended unless you have children the age of those playing - rambunctiously and enjoying every minute of it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bid your way to cheap baby gear

The local e-Bay is called Huuto.net and features a Children's section chock full of furniture, clothes and various other baby gear.

I was cruising through the listings last night and saw plenty of bargains - especially in the baby clothes section. Many times a package is offered that can include 50 pieces of clothing. Much of it looked to be in good condition and the prices were very reasonable.

A few quirky items found their way to the site as well:
> 20 diapers -- ??
> 10 Libero diaper proofs of purchase - ??!! - OK, you can collect them and send them in for a free spoon, but ??
> coupons to Citymarket for discounts on diapers
> issues of Vauva magazine

We have used Huuto.net to sell items in the past and have been very pleased with it. Often the buyer pays the shipping costs. We send the packages COD via Posti and the buyer pays the amount to Posti who transfers to our bank account before releasing the package.

Take baby to the movies

Moms or dads looking for a chance to enjoy a movie can now do it without leaving baby at home with a sitter. Join in on a Baby Movie session and bring the little with you to special viewings.

At the Baby Movies crying, talking, diapering, feeding, breastfeeding, moving about, etc, etc are OK and expected.

What's Playing

Check out the movies in the coming weeks.

In Helsinki and Turku, the Sandrew Metronome movie theaters offer 'babybio'.

In Helsinki:
every other Tuesdays at 10.30 am at Kinopalatsi 2

In Turku:
every other Tuesday at 13.00 at Kinopalatsi 1

In Helsinki also the Naperkino welcomes small moviergoers once a month to their showing during the Fall. The movies are held on Fridays from 10 - 12.

A few hints for baby movie goers:
> the front rows are intended for babies already crawling
> try getting up if baby is not happy sitting - walking up and down the stairs can be soothing
> you can enjoy the movie in almost any position you & baby want - sitting, standing, walking

Story in Helsingin Sanomat

Basics in a Nutshell

Here is a link to an excellent booklet covering the basic facts about having a baby in Finland!

My favorite page was the one with a picture of how much clothing to put on baby in what temperature - always a challenge for me!

The guide "Having Children in Finland" is available in the following languages:
English, Finnish, Albanian, Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, Swedish, Serb Croat.

State provides home assistance to families with children

An article in today's Helsingin Sanomat newspaper highlighted yet another source of assistance for families with children: kotipalvelu or home-based services. It wasn't clear to me what all it covered, but it seems to be various kinds of assistance and services to help families cope with newborns, sick children, sick parents, situations where family counseling is needed or when parents are just plain exhausted.

The article was based on a survey of how well local districts are in providing this legislated support. The legislation is evidently vague enough that districts don't have to provide any specific amount or types of support, but simply have something that qualifies as home-based services which are funded each year.

The current situation varies dramatically among big cities and was described as dire in some areas, such as Oulu. It was best in Tampere and Lahti. In Tampere, the city has made a concerted effort to focus on preventative measures to keep families from falling into crisis situations by supporting families when a new baby arrives, during divorce, and dealing with stress caused by long-term illness or disability in the children or parents. Helsinki was better than average. In Turku and Espoo, the services focus on 'lastensuojeluperheille' (child welfare families)

Help in Oulu
A very nice example of how valuable this assistance can be was of a family in Oulu. The third child had just been born, the birth had been traumatic, the family moved house and dad had to travel on business for several weeks and the new baby hardly slept. As a result, mom was totally burned out, but didn't realize it until she was asked at the neuvola how she was doing. In answer, she burst into tears.

A family worker was requested. She came once a week for 3 - 4 hours to play with the children. It was just what the mom needed - a few hours to sleep, take a bath, go to the store or to talk a walk. This relief gave her new found strength to cope with the situation. The family worker came for four months.

Friday, August 19, 2005

First Baby Flight!

Summer is travel time so soon after our first road trip, Peanut took her first flight.

We flew Finnair from Helsinki to Amsterdam. As with the car travel, it was all much smoother than I expected :-)

When we arrived at the airport, the check-in lines were as usual extremely long and slow moving. We didn't have a stroller or carseat with us so dad was carrying Peanut. We spotted an empty Business Class check-in counter and the ticket agent agreed to check us in there.

She put us in a row of three seats and blocked the middle seat so in essence Peanut was given her own seat even though we had reserved her as a 'sylilapsi' or travelling in parent's lap. We had the same arrangement on the flight back. This works as long as the flight isn't fully booked and someone doesn't need a seat last minute.

I had seen on the Helsinki Vantaa website that strollers were available at the airport, but they turned out to be made of metal with no cushions and permanently in a full sitting position so intended for older children. So, we continued to hold Peanut in our laps until boarding.

Finnair does not have a policy of letting hchildren/babies board first. When we asked if we could, the gate agend told us that we should just get ourselves to the front of the line... not the easiest thing when having to hold baby especially since everyone likes to line up 20 mins before boarding begins!

Once on board, a flight attendent brough over a baby seat belt which is like a mini-seat belt with a loop to connect to the parent's seat belt. I was told the baby should face forward for take-off and landing, but I was able to breastfeed her during both. We were also given a bear hand puppet and a Finnair bib.

For breastfeeding I grabbed a blanket to cover myself from the 1st class overhead bin as we boarded and requested a pillow. I was also wearing a special breastfeeding top from Expressiva.

The changing table in the lavatory was spacious enough for a 4 mos old.

I didn't call to make any requests in advance.

AtSchiphol airport in Amsterdam we found a baby care room near the restrooms. It was clean, spacious and had a comfortable chair for feeding.

We packed a babycare bag that included:

> diapers
> baby wipes
> a small cushioned changing pad
> bibs (for drool and spit up)
> a few favorite toys and a book
> saline nose drops for baby
> pacifiers even though Peanut prefers her thumb
> an extra change of baby clothes
> a back-up shirt for mom

Baby Passports
Even for travel within the EU, baby needs to either be in her parents passport or to have her own.

We opted to get Peanut her own since for travel to the US, a baby must have her own passport.

The photos were taken at a local photo shop just like adult passport photos. I had to hold Peanut up and try to keep her still while the photographer attempted to attract her attention!

In Finland, the options for passports are for one or ten years (the ten year being slightly cheaper). We took ten years with the thought that we'll get her a new one in about 5 yrs or so. It seems silly to travel with a 2 mos old baby picture when peanut is 9 yrs old!

Car Rental
We rented a car from Sixt at the airport because they were one car rental company that didn't require you notify them 24 hrs in advance if you need a baby/child car seat. On our reservation form we had indicated that we would need a baby seat.

We were extremely disappointed in their service and do not recommend them at all. The baby seat was nowhere to be found. They had to dig one out of storage - it took nearly an hour and it was disgustingly dirty and horribly outdated!! But, at the point we had no choice. After extensive complaining, they offered to not charge us the daily 7EUR fee for the seat.

I'll definately bring our own car seat in the future. Car seats can be brought on board the plane or go in cargo and not count towards the luggage allowance.

Travel Strollers
We bought a Maclaren travel stroller from Prenatal in the Netherlands. The brand was highly recommended by friends who travel alot. The price carries a premium, but we hope to see many years of quality use from it.

It was very nice to have the stroller on the return trip in the airport. It folded and unfolded easily and quickly for putting through the metal detector. Very lightweight and easy to manuveur. It was taken from us at the gate in Amsterdam where they promised we would get it back at the gate in Helsinki. Not so. We didn't see it again until baggage claim.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

First Baby Road Trip!

We've just returned from our first vacation with Peanut. We visited our family summer cottage out in Pohjois Karjala. This meant a 7 hour car ride, 20 mins in a motor boat, living on an island without electricity or running water (or indoor toilet!), a few nights in hotels and restaurant meals.

And, it all went just fine :-)

Hitting the road with baby
The drive went surprisingly well. We would drive for about 2 - 2.5 hrs and then make a pitstop for about an hour to feed Peanut (she's still only breastfeeding), change diapers, let her stretch out and play.

The first gas station we stopped at I searched and searched for the baby bathroom -- i now know its often shared with the handicap WC. Just pack everything you need with you and don't forget a diaper changing cloth or cushion to lay the baby on.

I also sat in the back seat with her the whole trip so I could pass toys to her and better monitor her moods -- and respond quickly.

Hotel stays
We stayed overnight in the Sokos Hotel Kimmel in Joensuu. Reserving a baby bed was just a matter of mentioning it. The hotel provided a cot complete with child-sized bedding and a potty in the bathroom. We found the bed to be a bit flimsy and on further stays there used our own travel bed, but continued to request bedding from them.

For the breakfast and dinner, we just wheeled Peanut to the restaurant in her stroller and pulled up a spot. No one minded.

We also stayed a few nights at the Anttolanhovi outside of Mikkeli. Their restaurant provided a selection of canned baby food at each meal. And the HoviNeidit spa was also very accomodating about having Peanut with us. We enjoyed a facial, pedicure, Indian head massage and back massage while Peanut took turns sitting with either mom, dad or in her stroller.

Cat babysitter
Somewhat unrelated to baby, but still good to know information for cat parents who need the occassion care for longer times.

We had a cat sitter visit our house to feed Miuku & Mauku while we were gone. He also cleaned the litter box and spent lots of time just entertaining the kitties. We came home to a detailed daily report and two happy cats.