Images from Helsinki

We left the house at 6:00 am to catch the ferry to Helsinki.  There are many ferries that travel between the Baltic port cities.  It is a relaxing and easy way to travel in Scandinavia.  This particular ferry, the Viking Express, took 2 1/2 hours, but there are faster and slower ones.  It looks like a small cruise ship with 10 decks, including a car/truck holding area, restaurant/nightclub level and of course duty free shopping.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the ship we took, but it is nearly as big as the one in the picture.  This picture  is looking toward the Estonian capital city of Tallinn, with the towers of Old City in view.  To the left of the boat would have been a view of the modern skyscrapers, as well.


Here are the first glimpses of Helsinki.  It is a modern city with a mix of turn of the century and mid century buildings.   Surprising to me it is very hilly and is full of large granite formations.   

I am told it is the second safest city in the world.  Interestingly, there were neither security checks nor passport checks getting on or off the ferry on either end of the trip.

helsinki-harbor-web.jpg helsinki-market-web.jpg

Most of our day was spent entertaining the children.  We went with my cousin Katrin and my other cousin’s 12 year old daughter.  We visited an indoor reptile zoo and then a beautiful aquarium that was attached to an amusement park.  It was a beautiful day and all enjoyed themselves.  We took a tram back to the center of town and walked around a bit before catching the 9:30 ferry back.  Just like any city there were street performers.  This group was just a bit classier than the rest!

  amusement-park-web.jpg street-performers-web.jpg

The trip home included a beautiful sunset sometime around 11:00 pm.  We arrived home at 1:00 am and fell into bed!  Morning did not arrive until 11:00 am for anyone!


Since yesterday was practically 2 days in one and the weather is not so great – I think we’ll just hang out!

Till the next adventure!  Helle-May


The ocean might separate us, but there is still definitely a family resemblance.  Interestingly the similarities do not end with physical appearances.  Personality traits are evidently genetic.  Here are all but one of my first cousins on my father’s side.  I am standing in the middle.  The next generation is showing the same similarities!


My uncle prepared 3 bonfires.  This is the largest, primary one.  It stands in a clearing in the woods. 


Yesterday we drove to the northern part of Estonia to visit with my other cousin for a few days.  She is a speech therapist and her husband is a driver and assistant to the Portugese ambassador in Estonia. 

Our weather prayers have been answered.  The weather has turned beautiful with a promising warm and clear forecast.  This afternoon we’ll go to a northern beach and tomorrow we are taking a ferry to Helsinki for the day.  This is an unexpected bonus trip.  Truly a Scandinavian tour this  trip:  Norway, Estonia, and Finland.


The simple life!

The last few days have been very relaxing, just hanging around the farm.    This is a stork, whose large nest sits atop a utility pole.  Storks mate for life and come back to the same nest every year.  There are 2 babies in the nest.


On Monday, we attended a service at the local ceremony rededicating a monument to those who gave their life for their country.  Monday evening, we attended a celebration in the town square complete with folk dancing, singing and the first official bonfire in the area.


Yesterday was Jaaniõhtu – the shortest night of the year.  After Christmas it is the biggest holiday of the year.   Bonfires are lit all over the countryside and family and friends gather to eat, drink and be merry!  This time, we brought along some American traditions that seemed to go over very well:  marshmallows and glow sticks.  The glow stcicks actually resembled a type of worm that is found in the forest at this time of year that glow similarly to our lightning bugs (which they do not have)  Needless to say roasted marshmallows and s’mores were a big hit with the children!

This was my third Jaaniõhtu in Estonia and it was very comfortable for me now that mostly everyone that was here was familiar and just like visiting with family that you only see at any large holiday family get-together.  Three years can go by very fast! 

For my husband and kids, it was also more comfortable since there is quite a bit more English being spoken, especially by our generation and younger.  Estonian is a language only similar to Finnish and also difficult to learn.  The boys have picked up a few key words, but the Estonians like to practice their English!

More pictures later! 


Summer has begun in Estonia!

I think everyone has adjusted to the time change now – Estonia is 7 hours ahead of US east coast time.  However, I learned my lesson from last time when my cousin told me that “Estonian children don’t sleep in the summer!”  Three years ago I kept trying to get the children in bed at a reasonable hour.  This time around I have relented.  I can’t tell you how cool the boys think going to bed at midnight is – especially when it is still light out!  Now that they are a bit older and do not require my constant attention, it really isn’t an issue.  The interesting thing I realized yesterday is, however, that when active boys are awake that much longer, they require to be fed again!  So at 10:00, they were grilling apples and sausages on the fire. 

At the beginning of the day, my cousin’s husband, Mati,  and two beekeeper friends showed us the family beehive and took the season’s first bucket of honey.  There is nothing sweeter than fresh honey!  My favorite way to eat it is simply spreading it on traditional Estonian black rye bread, sort of like a dark, dense sourdough.  I expect that my clothes will not be fitting so well in a few weks!


 Sunday was a gorgeous day.  Very fittingly it also marked the official start of summer in Estonia, literally.  On June 21st, the mayor of Tallinn, the capital city, symbolically hands over the title of the Estonian capital to the mayor of Pärnu.  Pärnu is Estonia’s summer resort town and about a 20 minute drive from where we are staying.  Many of the country’s political officials have summer homes here, so I suppose if they wanted, they probably could hold government session here, especially since a few years back, Parliament business officially went paperless. This is a very connected country!  (More about that later.)  Anyway, we went to the beach to watch the flag raised to announce the start of summer.  The water was a bit cold, but the boys enjoyed building a sand castle nonetheless. Pärnu’s long stretch of beach actually lies on the Gulf of Riga, a very shallow body of water, with very little wave and no undertow.  A mother’s dream beach!  The cildren can go quite far out with the water barely getting more than 3 feet deep.  Being so shallow, we hope that before our time is up here, the water warms up a bit. 

beach-boys-web.jpg     parnu-flag-web.jpg

Today, Monday is the beginning of three days of important national Estonian holidays.  Today is Võidupüha (Victory Day – anniversary of the Battle of Võnnu) somewhat equivalent to our Memorial Day.    To learn more about these holidays – please follow this link that I think offers a good summary:

On a lighter note – I’m off to hanging the laundry out to dry!


Greetings from Estonia!

This post is coming 4 days into our trip, but there just hasn’t been time!  So a bit of catching up to do! 

The first leg of our trip to Oslo went very smoothly.  It is impossible to fly directly to Estonia, so you must make a connection in Europe.  Used to be that only meant Helsinki or Stockholm, but now you can catch a connection nearly anywhere in Europe.  We chose Oslo this time for the reason that my Estonian cousin (my cousins’s daughter – so that makes her once removed?)  is working for an American company in Oslo and living with her Norewgian boyfriend she met in South Africa!  How’s that for international!  We found a reasonably priced flight that allowed us to stay overnight and leave Friday night for Estonia.  Fortunately the weather cooperated and we toured Oslo a bit for a day and a half.  Oslo is right on the Baltic Sea and has a beautiful harbor. 

oslo-boats-web.jpg    oslo-harbor-web.jpg

oslo-clock-web1.jpgAs I have mentioned this is the land of the midnight sun!  Here is a clock to prove it – 9:00 and no hint of sunset!

On Friday, we took a boat ride to an island right off the mainland where there were several museums.  We went to the Viking Ship museum.  On display were 3 viking ships that were discovered in the late 1800’s.  They had been buried in the 800’s along with high ranking officials.  Similar to the Egyptians, the Vikings must have believed in an afterlife and buried their dead along with food and tools.   Also of interest to me was the fact that only the wool and silk weavings remained somewhat intact but not the linen.  They were small fragments but amazing nonetheless for their

Before we left the harbor area on Friday, we bought some freshly caught and cooked prawns off a boat.  Evidently that is one of the first signs of Norwegian summer.  As a send off, we enjoyed a dinner of fresh Norwegian prawns and salmon.  Yum!

We arrived just before midnight at the Estonian airport in the capital city of Tallinn.  I think we literally closed the airport, being the last people off the plane.  Even the passport control agents were so eager to go home that they met us at the plane. When I couldn’t find our passports fast enough, they waved us along. 

Saturday was our day of rest.  It is a sure sign that we have visited often enough now, that we are not barraged by countless receptions upon arrival by my many relatives.  Each time I come it feels more and more like coming home to visit with relatives that I just haven’t seen in a while rather than meeting people who are more like related strangers. 

Estonia has caught up quickly with the west in the past 18 years and so the cultural and economic differences between us are also not so great.  For example, I am writing this from the 100 year old farmhouse that survived with the family through Soviet occupation and am connected to the internet via a wireless router.  On my first visit here in 1994, there was barely indoor plumbing!  Amazing!

The sheep have come home!  More tomorrow!  Helle-May


What a week!

Our retreat ended Sunday after a filling brunch.  By all accounts it was a very productive one.  After getting the binding on my queen size block exchange quilt, I spent the rest of the weekend working on diagrams for the Treasure Chest pattern.  It’s still taking me longer than I’d like, but it is getting easier.   Here’s a pic of all of us.  Not a very flattering picture of me on the right side. 


Despite both sons being home sick all week (again! – it’s been a rough year!), I managed to finish the pattern and approved the proof on Thursday.  I should have the pattern in the shop just before I leave for Estonia.

Best laid plans…  I promised more about Estonia, but it’s been a little crazy here.   We will be staying with family on my father’s side.  Despite being an only child with virtually no family here, I have a pretty good size extended family in Estonia.  Our trip is planned to get there just before one of the best holidays – Jaanipaev.  It is  a summer solstice celebration, complete with family get togethers and big bonfires.  Unfortunately, this year the weather does not seem to be cooperating.  It’s still pretty chilly, reaching only into the 60’s during the day and back down to the 30’s at night, with plenty of rain.  3 years ago, it was 3 weeks of sunny nearly 80 degree weather. 

In addition, we will also be there for the National Song and Dance Festival.  Estonians love to sing and dance in their national costume.  The song festival has been going on since 1869!  The song festival will included 1,000’s of people singing on stage at on outdoor ampitheater in the capital city of Tallinn.   Learn more about it at

Each area of Estonia has a different national dress and it differs by century.  The women have beautiful full skirts made from woven striped wool – the colors determined by region.  The blouse is made from white cotton, and embellished with beautiful embroidery.    At my wedding, I changed into the national costume for a portion of the reception and my cousin who attended from Estonia, wore a costume from the 19th century.  Everyone danced to some traditional Estonian waltzes.  It was a really neat part of the wedding that everyone remembers. 

Estonia is an interesting country in that although mostly an agrarian scoiety, the people are very highly cultured and have a great appreciation for the arts, theater, music, and art galleries abound.  I am sure it has to do with it’s strategic position on the Baltic Sea and the fact that it is been an important part of trading routes for centuries.  Estonia has only been independent for small pockets of time, having been ruled at diffeent times by the Germans, Russians, and the Danes.  Nonetheless, Estonians have still managed to maintain a strong sense of national pride.  We are a strong and stubborn breed – my husband would heartily agree to that!

Best get back to laundry and packing!


Coming to you from the Endless Mountains!

One more little trip before the big one!  I am writing from our guild retreat weekend at Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat and Conference Center.  (  We are just north of Honesdale, PA at the tip of the Endless Mountains. 

Fortunately the rains cleared up overnight and it promises to be a beautiful weekend.  This is my second time here.  I am with a group of 10 other fantastic quilters and we have the whole place to ourselves this weekend.   It is primarily a summer camp for girls (think Parent Trap!) but they host all sorts of groups, including weddings.  It is beautiful, family run facility.  I would highly recommend it to any group looking for a retreat center.  We have a beautiful sunny room to sew in and delicious and nutricious meals served buffet style right outside the room.

bryn-mawr-retreat-ctr.jpg          The Retreat Center Main Building

   retreat-1.jpg     The Sewing Room       

  annie-carol-web.jpg      Pajama buddies:  Annie and Carol

I don’t have a lot to sew on right now, so I’m using the time to finish the pattern for Treasure Chest.  I did get the binding sewn on a block exchange quilt that I finally put together at last year’s retreat.  I came up with my own setting for the blocks, so I’m thinking about patterning the quilt. 

Back to work!  More pictures later!


Last day of school!

When I started this whole idea of going into business, it was predicated on the fact that last September, my youngest son started full day Kindergarten.  Where did the time go?  Yesterday was his last day of Kindergarten and I will admit that I cried! Not because he won’t be in school for the summer, but because I can’t believe my baby is a first grader!  He spent his Kindergarten year at St. Paul’s Christian School which houses pre-school through 1st grade.  Next year he will attend public school.  The only year he and his brother will actually be in the same school.  I am looking forward to that!

I asked him on Thursday if he was sad that school was ending.  His response was classic:  “No, Mommy”, he said, “I’m going to first grade in September and there will be even more work!”  No, I did not make that up – he really said that!  He loves school and loves learning new things!  Fortunately, 2 of his best friends will be attending the same school with him in the fall.  I, on the other hand, was very sad to be leaving such a wonderful school.  Each day, as I would bring him and pick him up from school, I had the opportunity to interact daily with the teacher, other children and parents.  Putting him on the bus every day will just not be the same!

Since I had done the quilt project back in February with the kids during “Q” week, I thought it be would be great to make quilted teacher’s gifts to remember Andrew.  Each month, Quilters’ Newsletter prints a 3″ paper pieced pattern.  I selected 4 that would be  appropriate and asked Andrew to pick out the fabrics.  At the local Michael’s craft shop, I found these cute little wood frames and easles, that Andrew painted to match.  They were a big hit!

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