Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sauna stones — a cautionary tale

Once upon a time there was a grandpa whose sons and their wives liked to visit on summer Saturday afternoons. They brought their young children to play and enjoy the sauna. Because the grandpa and his sons and their wives had many things to say to each other, the young ones often had to wait long hours for their parents to finish talking. (Yes, Finnish was often the language they used.)

And so it was one day that, having run out of amusements, those youngsters spied an opportunity. There in the sauna were piles of rocks, which were not doing anything useful and which they could carry out to the yard and to build things — bridges, castles, towers and any number of imaginary dwellings. What a discovery!

But then, a parent wondered why their previously noisy needy children were now unusually quiet and sought out said children. And that parent saw large stones no longer in their sacred heating places but were getting dirty in the garden and the ditch! 

How could this have happened? Did the children not realize the damage they had done? Would the stones ever be returned to their exact location in the sauna? 

And how could it be impressed upon said children that they should never EVER do this again?


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sauna — How to say it

The only Finnish word included in English dictionaries — sauna — is, unfortunately, mispronounced by many Americans. To them it rhymes with “Donna.” I understand why. But I don’t like it. 

We Finns can insist on cultural precision.

Every day we eat international foods like spaghetti and tacos, which we once thought exotic. We’ve learned to pronounce “tortillas,” “quiche” and “sauerkraut,” though their spellings may confuse us. 

Since people say the word “sauerkraut” correctly, perhaps they can also learn “sauna” — the two words share the same beginning sound: “sow.” (Maybe that visual reference gets in their way.)

Or maybe I have to get used to the fact that a “sanna” (rhyming with Donna) is something quite different from a “sauna” (sounds like “sow-na”). The first could describe the hotel or gym variety where the heater only goes up to 150 degrees and users are prohibited from pouring water on the rocks to create steam.

OK. I’m done ranting.  


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Have some more coffee?

After their Saturday sauna, people socialized. At this weekly get-together for far-flung neighbors, conversation would be lively among those who’d “finished and were waiting for other bathers to come out of the sauna.

To prepare for their guests, one friend remembered baking three cakes — one white, one yellow and one chocolate — with her sister each Saturday. Other families served fresh bread, or doughnuts, or head cheese and pickles.

And always coffee.

Did you notice the coffee-drinker at left? He’s sipping from his saucer, the way people did in the country when coffee was too hot to drink. 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Back to the sauna

This silly celebration — St. Urhos Tay — keeps me smiling. 
For about 10 years, my mom, Agnes Peloquin Rajala, presented her extended family with St. Urhos Tay plates. She created Grasshopper Gothic in 1981 (which illustrates the March 12 post) and this one, celebrating the sauna, in 1976. Ive enjoyed sharing them with you.

Now, back to discussing the sauna...


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Celebrate St. Urho’s Tay today

(This poem is written in “Finn-glish.” Its most fun when read aloud.)

Ode to Saint Urho
             by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson from Virginia, Minnesota

Ooksi, kooksi, coolama vee,
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers pig as pirds,
Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words.

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen.
Braffest Finn I effer seen!
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes,
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia* sour
Unt ate kala moyakka** effery hour.
Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles
What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay.
On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho’s Tay!


One, two, three — five,
St. Urho is the boy for me!
He chased those hoppers big as birds,
Never before have I heard those words.

He really told those bugs of green.
Bravest Finn I’ve ever seen.
Some celebrate for St. Pat and his snakes
But Urho, boy, has got what it takes!

He grew tall and strong from feelia* sour
And ate kala moyakka** every hour.
That’s why that guy could chase those beetles
That grew as thick as jack-pine needles.

So let’s give a cheer in our best way,
On the 16th of March,
St. Urho’s Day.

* feelia is a sour yogurt
**kala mojakka is a stew made with fish (other spellings include culla moiakka and calla moyakka). And it has its own website.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Were you wondering what “Tay” means?

Back in the day, some Finns in America had a hard time learning to pronounce English words, and the result was sometimes called “Finn-glish.” For example, the letters “p” and “b” were often interchanged. They meant to say “day” but what came out was “tay” because “d” and “t” sounded the same to them. 


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

St. Urho celebrations abound

The town of Finland, Minnesota, will celebrate St. Urho’s Tay with a season opener for hoppers March 15 and a scavenger hunt March 16. This year’s theme is Hunting and Fishing.

Another Minnesota town, Menagha, plans a pancake breakfast March 15, the changing of the guards at noon, followed by the parade. At 1 p.m. folks can join bar stool races and a golf (kols) tournament on the lake, weather permitting. Last year they held a mojakka cookoff (mojakka is a stew — with its own website).

This St. Urho website lists festivities across the Midwest — among them are Finlayson, Minnesota, Barnes, Wisconsin, and Thunder Bay, Ontario. The dates span back to 2010. (Hope they update in time for this year’s festivities.) 

What celebrations do you know about?


Sunday, March 9, 2014

St. Urho’s Tay — a Finnish-American celebration

My main topic is saunas, but St. Urho’s Tay is March 16. It’s a madcap celebration for people with Finnish roots — or Finnish friends.

The next posts will delve into this fun day while the sauna stove is heating.

The origins of St. Urho’s Tay, these Finnish-American festivities, are clouded in history — or maybe not. But that’s beside the point, which is simply to have as much fun March 16 as the Irish do the following day, on St. Patrick’s Day.

The legend in short: Grasshoppers suddenly overran the country, threatening the grape crops (and others). No one could get rid of them — until Urho, a Finnish boy, used very powerful magic words “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to hell!).

Amazingly, the hoppers disappeared.

This year the big day falls on a Sunday. To support the occasion, wear nile green and royal purple, colors which represent the grasshoppers and grapes. Enjoy a bottle of nice wine. Or sip on a grasshopper cocktail, a minty creamy concoction. Chocolate-covered insects have much less appeal, however. 


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sauna Wise heats up

I had lots of fun while researching for Some Like It Hot: The Sauna, Its Lore and Stories. A dozen times a day I’d interrupt my very best sweetie with “Bill, listen to this.” I’d read him touching, unique, zany and wonderful stories gleaned from letters, interviews and books. There were too many great anecdotes and studies at that time to include in the book’s nearly 200 pages, and it frustrated me to have to set that material aside.

Now, with this blog, I finally can update. I hope to share both the news and the stories that make it personal. I’m eager to start researching again, to find out what’s changed.

Readers from all corners of the sauna world — help! Please share your lore and stories once more —  humorous and serious and anything else. 

I hope you subscribe to this blog or come back and visit often.