Saturday, December 26, 2015

An emoji for "Eating one too many Joulutorttu"

Recently I learned that Finland has produced emojis that explain, and subtly poke fun at, themselves. In fact they are the only country to do so, and made about 30 emojis to explain some of the unique but hard-to-describe customs.
This emoji, for Dec. 18 is a joulutorttu, a Christmas pastry. (It looks like ones we ate, not knowing which ethnic group should get the credit.) 

This emoji of the joulutorttu is meant to exemplify "the feeling of having (eaten) one too many." 
According to the website This is Finland  "Every year you burn your mouth on the first one – beware of the plum jam in the middle! The sweet taste and nostalgia make up for it."

After stocking up at two church bake sales featuring Scandinavian treats and a cookie exchange at work, I understand the feeling. I have eaten more than one too many!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hyvaa Joulua

It's time to wish my friends a Merry Christmas, Finnish-style. What fun words to pronounce.

A Finnish cousin sent an email a few days ago, noting that the greetings were coming from where Santa Claus lives. 

The header said "Santa Claus has left the Korvatunturi." Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I now know that "Korvatunturi" is a fell in Lapland, located in the Urho Kekkonen National Park, featuring thick pine forests, frozen lakes and gazillions of reindeer. So Santa would have the best reindeer to choose from, and alternates in case one of their antlers stops picking up the signals properly.

I also wanted to revisit the Christmas peace, joulurauha, a tradition I learned about last year.

Declaring a Christmas peace goes back to the 13th century. Once this tradition was common to all the Nordic countries, but only in Finland has it been maintained, almost uninterruptedly, to this day.

A special ceremony is held in Turku, Finland, to declare a period of Christmas peace. It begins at noon on Christmas Eve and lasts for 20 days. 

May this year's joulurauha last much longer and be world-wide. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bronze Age sauna unearthed on the Orkneys

Imagine a sauna 6,000 years old, now being excavated. Because the ones we most often think of are wooden, it's hard to conceive of a sauna surviving a single century, not to mention 60 centuries.

But steam bathing was used world-wide over the years, for a variety of needs — body cleansing and mind-purification among them. With their understanding of wood and fire, it's natural that they would consider building a sauna with stone. For one thing, the heat would last much much longer.

An archaeological dig in the Orkney Islands of Scotland has unearthed network of buildings. With a water-holding area and places for fires, steam could be created. Why?
Here's the text (for the pictures, click the link):
“The fact that tap water was thousands of years away from being invented didn't stop ancient people who wanted a good soak in a steam bath. Archaeologists studying the Links of Noltland in Scotland's Orkney islands believe they have found a 6,000-year-old sauna, complete with a water tank, The National reports.
“The sauna is one of 30 buildings investigators are hastening to uncover and learn more about before the site potentially succumbs to erosion. Thankfully, the sauna remains remarkably intact, allowing researchers a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived at the site between 4,000 and 1,000 B.C.
“ 'We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure, which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam, which would have been used to create a sauna effect,' Rod McCullagh, the deputy head of archaeology strategy at Historic Scotland, told The National.
“He added that 'What this would have been used for we don't know exactly, but the large-scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking.'
“The sauna could have been used in rituals, for example, or for healing and hygiene. Likewise, it could have been a place for women to give birth, or for elderly people to use while dying, or perhaps it functioned as a room to prepare the dead for burial. Then again, ancient people might simply have used it for a good ol' soak.” Jeva Lange
For this news, I thank my friend Barry Radin, who kept me abreast of this interesting development about the sauna.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Beatles and the sauna

The Beatles tried a sauna?? You're kidding?
The anniversary of this important sauna event occurred Aug. 21. But, because we were traveling, I missed doing anything about it. Here is the note I received from Joe Young:
“Fifty years ago today the Beatles made their only appearance in Minnesota, at a concert Aug. 21, 1965, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington (now the site of the Mall of America). Ray Crump, equipment manager for the Minnesota Twins (Met Stadium’s baseball tenants who would next month clinch the American League Pennant, but then lose to the Dodgers in the World Series), was charged with the task of squiring the mop-topped lads around the stadium clubhouse, Ray’s bailiwick, before the concert. At one point he asked them if they wanted to relax pre-performance with a sauna. They did.”
It was the Beatles' first sauna ever! KARE-11 interviewed Ray Crump about his memories of the day, which included his taking pictures with them.
Interestingly, though they were young kids from Liverpool, they knew of Harmon Killebrew and wanted to know which locker was his.
Thanks to my friend Joe, we will now be able to nail the answer when — in some bar bet or trivia contest — we are asked, “Where did the Beatles enjoy their first sauna?”
By the way Joe Young has the most amazing puzzle blog, Each week he swaps a “pizza puzzle menu” of appetizers and main slices. I've never got a single one, but they're still amazing.

This is #1 in a series of famous people in the sauna.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sigurd Olson and his sauna

At the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards in Duluth in late May, I had the good fortune to be placed next to Kristin Eggerling who’d been nominated for her children’s biography “Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson.” 

We chatted, found common ground (both graduates of Augsburg College!) — and exchanged books.

How serendipitous to be reminded of Sigurd Olson’s contributions to the north woods.

After devouring her book, I looked on my shelves — and found 2 copies of “Singing Wilderness.” The public library had them all. I chose “Runes of the North,” a collection of legends, reflections and adventures following voyageur trails in the Quetico-Superior to Hudson Bay, Yukon and Alaska.

Of course Sig Olson had something to say about saunas: a whole chapter in “Runes.” 

I liked how he built his sauna — primitive, “one step removed from the first excavations in the hillsides of Finland.” He nestled his 10-by-10-foot log structure in a grove of cedars and aspens, among the birds and paved a trail to the lake with large mossy stones.

And I loved his lyrical recounting of a September sauna with his son, selecting spruce to burn, cedar for switches. They enjoyed the full course — three steams, three swims in the lake, enjoying the temperature differences.

“The water was like silk to us and we did not feel the cold, were conscious only of floating without effort and drifting in a medium as warm as our own bodies.”

Afterwards, they finished a pot of coffee noticing the changing light of the sunset on the water, the smoky smell mixed with cedar, the loons' wild laughing and mournful calls, the breeze ruffling the trees, a sliver of new moon and a few stars.

“There was nothing of great moment to talk about, but within us was a feeling of well-being in which the affairs of the world seemed far away and unimportant. Ours was a sense of fullness and belonging to a past of simple ways. … This was the time of magic when the world was still, the the feel of dawns and of awakenings at night, of hush and quiet. Life was simple and complete.”

Perfectly said.

Plus, he began — and ended — his book with quotes from the Kalevala.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Pesäpallo — Finland’s 2nd favorite pastime

Sauna is, of course, the top Finnish way to relax.

But I just learned about pesäpallo, a wildly popular major sport played in Finland. Some years ago I visited a Finnish festival in Embarrass, Minnesota. During the afternoon they played pesäpallo, but I never took the time to watch. Now — I wish I had.

The name pesäpallo makes it seem like baseball, but it’s entirely different — with a fast pace, a zigzag pattern for base running in a vast pentagon-shaped field. It’s clearly not baseball as we know it. In fact, Finns apparently define our baseball as “the lukewarm version of pesäpallo!”

To start with, the pitcher stands next to the batter and the catcher is midway to second base, which is sorta where a major league baseball’s first baseman might play. Second base is out in a MLB right field. First base is about where third base would be. Third base is where left field is.

The outfield in pesäpallo more than doubles the size of a MLB outfield — an entire MLB field fits into a pesäpallo infield! According to a Wall Street Journal story, one player racked up 10.5 kilometers during a game.

To play, the pitcher tosses the ball up, at least one meter above the batter’s head, psyching him with an assortment of heights and locations.

The hitter’s team stands behind the home plate area— to better heckle the opposing pitcher. Batters hit nearly every pitch, so the four fielders are running all the time.
Four, yes, the left — and right — shortstops, along with the left and right fielders. There aren’t relief pitchers, but designated hitters are called “jokers” (like a “wild card”). The game is played with two periods of four innings each.

Pesäpallo is the second most popular sport for boys, trailing only ice hockey. It’s the most popular sport for girls and it’s cheaper to boot.

And it sounds like fun! Especially if you can have a sauna afterwards.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

A DIY sauna kit

A few years ago, I received a do-it-yourself sauna kit that included a book of matches, a selection of rocks and a small bottle of water. Which are the bare essentials that make a sauna what it is — heat, rocks, steam.

It was the funniest gift — every time I’d come upon the pieces, whether in my desk drawer or on our 0-season porch, I’d grin. It was a great reminder that a sauna can be enjoyed in many places.

Recently, we traveled to North Dakota’s Badlands — with massive boulders, great vistas and unusual landforms, and even this shelter. I’d brought that kit with me, planning to add it to the pix I was taking of the scenery. But I forgot. Yes, I could photoshop the kit in, but it’d be so much funnier if it had really been in the photo instead of just in the car.

Here are two of the places we liked in the north unit of Teddy Roosevelt Park. To add the kit, you have to use your imagination. But — can you imagine taking a sauna here?  It’s still a DIY project.



Saturday, June 13, 2015

Celebrate Sauna Day today

My grandpa Ivar, grandma Anna Kaisa and their children are all enjoying saunas in the great beyond. And we should too.
Happy Sauna Day!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Still only Saturdays in 1932

On a page of the Bigfork Times (from about 1932 in Bigfork, Minnesota) I discovered this notice for a public sauna. When they got paid, lumberjacks would go to visit the town of Craigville.

While I had always heard that liquor and female company were in large supply in Craigville (which was NOT true in a lumber camp), this ad confirms that there was a healthy alternative. And it was probably lots less expensive.

The sauna was called a steam bath, possibly to appeal to a wider demographic. John Welsh does not seem like a Finnish name, but how would I know. Once-a-week Saturday saunas were when everybody else took theirs.


Friday, May 29, 2015

coming soon-- Sauna Day

The second Saturday in June has been designated as Sauna Day. Now if only I can think of a fun way to celebrate the occasion.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Finding life's solutions in a sauna

"Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."
           ~ Thomas Alva Edison

I wonder if Edison meant to credit the sauna for his inventions, but it makes sense to me. I get my best answers when I'm sitting on the sauna bench. Even when I wasn't thinking hard about my problems.     


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Saint Urho's Day--tomorrow!


Come March 16, be prepared to celebrate Saint Urho, a mythical hero. Hes so mythical that folks from the motherland are not always familiar with this North American legend. 

But on both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border, those with Finnish heritage — and other wanna-bes — have discovered how much fun it is. 
Did you notice its suspiciously the day before another ethnic holiday?

Heres the backstory: In a verdant grape-growing country (possibly northern Minnesota), grasshoppers suddenly abounded. This threatened the grape crops (oh, dear — no wine??). As happened to folks in the 1880s hereabouts, no one knew how to get rid of them. 

Then, along came Urho, a Finnish boy though not yet a saint, who saidHeinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen.” Which means “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to hell!” or so Ive been told.

And — can you believe it — the grasshoppers disappeared!

This year St. Urhos Day (or Tay, for the more authentic pronunciation) is a Monday. Wear bright green for grasshoppers, and royal purple for grapes. (Helpful hint: Should you have trouble finding those colors, use items from the football season for the Vikings and Packers.) 

If you desire goofy fun, several communities know how to do that with scavenger hunts, beauty queen contests, parades and more.


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Kalevala on the sauna

While The Kalevalas mythical heroes enjoy their saunas, the gender roles are clear. Men are depicted bathing and talking while women attend to the tasks: cutting and making whisks, lighting a fire to heat the sauna — and making sure a fresh shirt is available.

In Rune 4:1-8, Aino prepares bundles of whisks for her family. In Rune 18, Annikki takes a secret sauna. In Rune 23, lines 351-370 tell how a young bride-to-be is taught to prepare an evening sauna for her new in-laws.

I particularly like the section of Rune 45:211-228 (Magoun translation in which Vainamoinen prepares the sauna and then cures the people of diseases that Louhi (the old witch woman from the North with teeth few and far between) has cursed them with.

Steadfast old Vainamoinen
    Produced honeyed vapor.
Through the glowing stove stones
    He speaks with these words:
“Come now, God, into the sauna.
    To the warmth, heavenly Father,
Healthfulness to bring us,
    And the peace secure to us.”

Welcome löyly, welcome warmth!
    Welcome healing power!
Löyly into the floor and ceiling,
     Löyly into the moss in walls,
Löyly to the top of the platform,
    Löyly onto the stones of the stove!
Drive the Evil far away,
    Far away from under my skin,
From the flesh made by God!
    Come now, God, into the sauna,
Healthfulness to bring to us,
    And the peace secure to us.

This just in:
The Kalevala Day is celebrated Feb. 28 in Finland, to match Elias Lönnrots first version of The Kalevala in 1835, and is the same day as Finnish Culture Day.

What great background for my Saturday night sauna!


Need a personally inscribed copy of “Some Like it Hot: The Sauna, Its Lore and Stories”?
Send $20 (which includes tax and shipping costs) to:
Nikki Rajala
P.O. Box 372
Rockville, MN 56369

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Kalevala, Finland’s national epic poem

The Kalevala is the national epic poem of Finland. It was compiled by Elias Lönnrot between 1833 and 1840. Full of stories of heroes who do great, mystifying, even senseless, deeds, The Kalevalas 23,795 verses are divided into 50 songs.

 Mauri, my Finnish go-to guy while I was writing “Some Like it Hot,” said, “The Kalevala is not easy reading for a modern person, with the curious poetic structure of the language. Its made of 4-phrase poems which sound very nice (but kind of archaic) to a modern Finnish ear. The national epic has, of course, inspired countless artistic minds, including that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela in painting and Jean Sibelius in music.”

Among those tales in its 50 runes, or poems, The Kalevala described common sauna scenes of daily life in 15 of the runes — which is where I come in. What was the sauna like back in the day?

In the next post, Ive included some lines from the Magoun translation. Notice the rhythm — if it reminds you of Henry Wadsworth Longfellows “The Song of Hiawatha,” its believed that the Kalevala was part of his inspiration. J.R.R Tolkien credited the Kalevala in his “Silmarillion.”

Plus, that particular tale from The Kalevala ends my series on what health concerns the sauna can cure — and why. That bit of tradition makes the perfect transition to Saint Urhos Tay (coming March 16). The Kalevala even has its own holiday.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sauna — the poor man's* drugstore

#5: Is sauna a miracle treatment?

Sauna — the poor mans* drugstore (old Finnish proverb)

* and healthy woman’s
Given all the info about the variety of ways sauna is being used for different medical concerns, it could be a miracle treatment. Given the high cost of tests and procedures, I will use this healthy womans drugstore when its a feasible choice for the concerns I have. It doesn’t cure everything (though I did feel that way when I wrote “Some Like it Hot:The Sauna, Its Lore and Stories”). 
Here’s an incomplete list of health benefits that I havent found proof for: 
migraine (rare occurrence in my life now)
hangover (rare occurrence in my life now), 
overeating (but I can take care of that on my own), 
warding off flu, 
removing toxins.

Using myself as the guinea pig, I have found sauna helps me by
soothing sore muscles and sunburn, 
easing stress and headaches, 
better sleep, 
cleansing of the skin, 
releasing of personal irritations.

Its not bad for just sitting there. But to simply relax — thats enough for me tonight.


Copies of Some Like It Hot: The Sauna, Its Lore and Stories are available from the publisher, North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minnesota, or from local booksellers. For a personally inscribed copy, send $20 (which includes tax and shipping costs) to: Nikki Rajala, P.O. Box 372, Rockville, Minnesota 56369.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Did sauna help my cold?

#4: Is sauna a miracle treatment?

If a sauna, whiskey and tar do not help, the disease is fatal. 
       (old Finnish proverb) Jos ei sauna ja viina ja terva auta niin se tauti on kuolemaksi.

That trio of treatment choices gives me pause. Apparently I haven’t been using the whole pharmacy —or maybe I’ve improved in it.

A couple of months ago I picked up a cold. Day One brought the usual range of symptoms — slight fever, sore throat, less energy, achy sinus, occasional sneezing and drippy nose. Except for the day the virus attacked, I never felt sick or totally exhausted. It was luckily a mild case.

That first evening I gave it the “sauna test” — a round of steam to knock it out. And repeated the sauna treatment several more nights in the next 14 days. Im disappointed to report that löyly didnt totally destroy that virus.

To update the whiskey and tar regimen, I maximized getting well (after a few days of sauna-only) by supplementing, with elderberry tea, zinc tabs, echinacea, lots of water and extra sleep among the new health additions. While my extra treatments didn't blast the virus either, my symptoms eased.

I’ll give credit to the sauna, not the supplements. Unfortunately I was too impatient to try only one cure at a time. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What is far infrared-sauna therapy?

#3: Is sauna a miracle treatment? 
Among the surprises in my reading was learning that teams of Japanese doctors are spearheading research in the use of sauna to treat cardiovascular problems. In Japan, short treatments (about 15 minutes) with a dry sauna at 60°C (140°F) are called “Waon” therapy. Waon is Japanese for “soothing warmth.”

Another surprise is that they and other researchers are using far-infrared saunas, sometimes called FIRS. Why?

In response to someone elses question “What is a far infrared sauna? Does it have health benefits?” Brent A. Bauer, M.D, wrote this:
 A far-infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses light to create heat. 'Far' describes where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum. A traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air, which in turn warms your body. An infrared sauna heats your body directly without warming the air around you.
The appeal of saunas in general is that they cause reactions such as vigorous sweating and increased heart rate, similar to those elicited by moderate exercise. An infrared sauna produces those results at lower temperatures than does a regular sauna, which makes it accessible to people who cant tolerate the heat of a conventional sauna. But does that translate into tangible health benefits? Perhaps.
Several studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and rheumatoid arthritis, and found evidence of benefit. However, larger and more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these results.
On the other hand, no adverse effects have been reported with infrared saunas.”

In digging deeper, I learned that the air in far-infrared saunas is heated to 60°C (140°F) while in traditional saunas its about 85°C (185°F). With far-infrared saunas, the wave apparently heats more deeply than warmed air so FIRS users develop a vigorous sweat and an increased heart rate at lower temps. So that might make it more accessible for those with osteoarthritis or cardiovascular or respiratory problems.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

More noteworthy studies on sauna

#2: Is sauna a miracle treatment?

Because some of those studies I mentioned in the previous post dated back 20 years, I was interested in what research is being done currently. I used site for my research, from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. My medical vocabulary is admittedly not up to this task.

The Japanese Heart Journal reported in January 2004 that far-infrared sauna usage (15 minutes per day) with 28 subjects over a two-week period significantly reduced their systolic blood pressure and increased urinary 8-epi-PGF(2alpha) levels. The results suggest that repeated FIRS sauna therapy may protect against oxidative stress, which leads to the prevention of atherosclerosis. A 5-year study in Japan using far-infrared saunas showed a decrease in cardiac death and rehospitalization, as reported in a 2009 Journal of Cardiology.

A study reported in August 2011 in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice: Sauna therapy was used with underwater exercise to assist patients suffering from fibromyalgia. For 12 weeks, 44 female patients were treated with sauna 3 days a week and underwater exercise for 2 days a week. All patients reported significant reductions in pain and symptoms as well as quality of life.

In August 2012, the Journal of Clinical Hypertension reported on tests of sauna and postexercise sauna baths on blood pressure and hemodynamic variables in 16 patients with untreated hypertension. They found that both exercise and sauna as well as sauna alone reduce the total vascular resistance with positive effects lasting up to 120 minutes after heat exposure.

In September 2012, The Toxicology and Industrial Health reported that sauna therapy brought significant improvement to 69 police officers in Utah repeatedly exposed to methamphetamine and similar compounds. While an uncontrolled study, it suggests that sauna combined with nutrition therapy may alleviate some of their symptoms.

In June 2103 the Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology reported that 26 Thai patients with allergic rhinitis significantly increased their peak nasal inspiratory flow and lunch functions with 6 weeks of repeated sauna treatment — 6 sets of 5-minute treatments, followed by rests.

In July 2013 the International Journal of Cardiology reported that repeated daily Waon (the Japanese term for soothing warm sauna) therapy for 3 weeks improved myocardial perfusion in 16 patients with chronically occluded coronary artery-related ischemia. (More on waon therapy, which uses far-infrared saunas, in the next post.

In December 2013, the Journal of Human Kinetics reported the effects of a single sauna on white blood profile and cortisol levels for 9 athletes and 9 non-athletes — increased white blood cells, lymphocyte, neurtrophil and basophil counts. Which indicates that sauna stimulated the immune system of athletes to a higher degree than the untrained control group.

And to summarize it all, from the Alternative Medicine Review of September 2011:
In Scandinavia, sauna therapy has been used for hundreds of years for people with hypertension, congestive heart failure, and those needing myocardial infarction care. There is benefit to some with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic fatigue, chronic pain or addictions, and sauna's ability to purify or cleanse in environmentally-induced illnesses. Both radiant heat and far infrared-saunas were deemed safe.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Proven evidence for the benefits of sauna

#1: Is sauna a miracle treatment?

While researching, I found Ken Swearengen had worked on the same topic — reported Jan 20, 2014, at

He said: “Turns out there is a good amount of evidence to support the positive benefits of sauna use. Now, I won't delve into 'sweating out toxins' or other holistic mumbo-jumbo here, which is hard to scientifically measure and for which no studies are available. No, Im talking about evidenced benefits like:
Swearengen footnoted the studies; I included the references on the same line, with the journal name and date. (I tried to link them but they don't look the usual way. Then I ran out of time.) He located impressive evidence of the health aspects of sauna. 

After reading each of those studies, I then looked for more. There were so many I need to make it a separate post. Coming next...


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Coming next: a series on sauna and health claims

For the last several months Ive been reading about the sauna and its relationship to our health — does sauna make a difference? What health claims have people (including me, in “Some Like it Hot”) made about sauna? Which ones can be verified by medical studies?

The research, of course, is never done — studies are regularly being reported.

To start the year, Ill be posting what I've learned from sites which summarize articles in medical journals. The series is titled: Is sauna a miracle treatment?