Gone… but not Forgotten!

Did absence make the heart grow fonder?  Yes! I miss researching and writing these stories and I certainly miss hearing from and connecting to people back at home.

Did my actions speak louder than my words? Yes! Considering there were literally no words.

Was an idle brain the devil’s workshop? Wait… what?

No… I did NOT forget about my BLOG! I didn’t suddenly have nothing more to write about.  I also didn’t forget about the joy it brought me via connecting with you.

I require some kind of creation on a daily basis…. be it gardening, house reno projects, maker / electronics / smart home projects, taking pictures, telling stories, writing…. something / anything that I can imagine and produce and ultimately share in some way. This I’ve learned.

But a funny thing happened here in Oulu.

Let these pictures be worth 1000 words:

As it turns out, away from friends and family, away from pets and home, away from ‘normal life’, there is plenty of time.

I arrived back in Oulu early February and spent most of the month sick in bed. And in that vein, the world turned upside down in early March. Hard stop to my long walks, to my library visits, to meeting up after work for a glass of wine somewhere in city center (keskusta), to sightseeing weekend trips, to tagging along on company trips, to planning for visitors from elsewhere, etc…

As it also turns out, money doesn’t grow on trees. 

Side Note: if it did, Finns would be awash.  This beautiful country is 72% forest (higher than any other European country)!! Sadly, as many times as I’ve walked or cycled along forested paths while living here, I’ve not yet been successful at finding any money trees.

In summary, the combination of having time, needing to create, and wishing to replenish ye olde checking account… in conjunction with not being in the US (and thus unable to leverage my real estate license or other potential business ventures) culminated in a job search.  Why not!

It was with a mix of excitement and terror that I launched my search using tools from the UChicago Booth Re-Launch Program that I had attended in 2019, LinkedIn, and networking contacts. I spent much of March working on my Resume, my Cover Letter, my Pitch and my confidence.  How was it that I walked away from a successful telecom engineering and leadership career of 24 years!? And what exactly had I been doing for the past 8 years anyway?  Write it up, read it, review it, practice it.  Tie the flow together in an intelligent story that can quickly be shared. Tie the story to some kind of “why now?” “why Oulu?”.  Practice Q&A and being able to pivot to including something you want to share while seeming to answer their actual question.  Practice some more.  Revise cover letter.  Revise resume.  Lather Rinse Repeat.

Grateful for Tammy’s network introductions, in April I scored 3 interviews with 3 different companies here in the Oulu area. Everything was via Zoom or WebEx of course.  I refer to the clothing choice for those events as my ‘wardrobe mullet’, business on the top half, sweatpants & house slippers on the bottom. Research, prepare, practice, smile, chat, explain, answer, wait.

I ended up with 3 offers and selected the one that was a sort of ‘coming home’ for me.  Back at the company that had bought Motorola Cellular Infrastructure, back in telecom, back even with some former colleagues. And I have really (surprise) enjoyed it. On May 11, feeling like a kid on the first day back at school, I tentatively drove to my managers home, stood safely 2 meters away and received my new business laptop. I have been to the office here on only a handful of occasions, and I’ve quickly ramped back up with remote work corporate tools.

I am currently tasked with leading one of several ‘Transformation’ work streams within a 2000+ person organization spread across the globe, establishing the development environment paradigm called “Continuous Development / Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery” sometimes known as DevOps.  Its really an incredible advancement to Software Engineering practice. The idea that a developer presses enter on a code change and the environment / machinery rumbles to life and does all of the checks and compilations and builds and integrations and runs all of the required automated tests in all of the required radio hardware configurations, and when it all works as planned, automagically promotes the release to a central location and potentially even directly into one of our customers’ pre-deployment labs. Amazing.  Establishing this kind of development infrastructure and the accompanying processes is not a small effort, and trying to do it all while the developers are frantically trying to get product out the door is akin to a giant game of ‘Operation!’. Surgical additions and subtractions required. Plenty of buzzes along the way. 

Ultimately, I’m glad to be working and I’m gratified that it appears that my efforts are helping advance the goals of delivery predictability and product quality.

What in the world does any of this have to do with my BLOG?

Well, every ounce of my mental energy and creation energy and computer-facing time has been consumed with rejoining the corporate world.  I have pushed myself and my tasks hard for these past 4+ months…. My poor BLOG sat lonely in the corner waiting for the shine to wear off my new job.  Not that it has, but there are moments now that I see some daylight, and today I was able to actually write something, not just think fondly about doing so.

So… Don’t bite off more than you can chew!  Sometimes leaving something to one side for a while is quite simply necessary.

But…Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! If there was one thing that I learned in my 8 years away from Corporate Telecom life its that the job != me.  I need to continue to engage in other things, stay in some kind of contact with people that are important to me, create for me, not just for them, etc…  so I will.

Better late than never…  Hopefully I’m back at it.  Still a pile of Finland-related stories to share! (A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step)

Thanks for tuning back in 😊

PS why all the old timey english proverbs? I work now in Finland, for a global company that is nearly completely run by people using English as a second (or third+!) language. The idea that individuals literally around the world from countless different countries and cultures can somehow communicate and collaborate to produce an incredibly complex radio product line is regularly astounding to me. English is a lingua franca for business here, and serves its purpose effectively. But engineers (of any origin) are sometimes known to be socially awkward creatures, and even when endowed with perhaps a higher than average IQ, may have a lower than average EQ. It’s not hard to imagine then that engineers using a non-native language tend to focus on work tasks and leave aside chit chat and humor that might otherwise be sprinkled into daily conversations. I have tried (and as yet have failed) to learn that my dry American humor falls 100% flat and sadly serves absolutely no purpose. I have missed the tiny spark of recognition and connection that a joke or shared cultural reference creates. And somehow when I started this particular BLOG post, my memory trotted out all of these old ‘sayings’, so I left them in. A stitch in time saves 9.

Finnish Brands… ironically iconic

I will periodically see the phrase “Finnish marketing” used in jest… mostly referring to it as some kind of oxymoron. Finnish marketing can be characterized as soft spoken, unnecessarily modest, and perhaps even self-effacing. In the US you are downright bludgeoned with how great this or that brand is. Subtlety could mean failure within a loud, garish marketing environment where unimaginable amounts of money is spent on brand messaging. “Marketing” techniques, when compared across Finland and the US, symbolize yet again dramatic cultural differences…

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I’m putting tonight’s dinner in the oven… thought I’d share!

In the Karelian region, this long-cooking braised meat kind of stew is usually referred to as merely ‘oven stew’ (uunipaisti). In the rest of Finland, its known as Karjalanpaisti (Karelian Stew), and is very popular. The stew was traditionally prepared with wood-burning ovens after bread had been baked, the leftover oven heat utilized to slowly cook the contents of the hot pot…

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mayday mayday mayday… It’s VAPPU in Finland!

I grew up with Dachshunds.  They are smart fierce dogs bred for hunting wild rabbits and badgers in their underground dens. I learned the phrase “weaseling a dog” somewhere along the line… Apparently at some point, the practice for those that wanted to really hone their Dachshund’s mindset and ensure winning the dog vs. varmint battles, was to dump said dog and example varmint into a barrel together and close the lid.  The beast that came out was either the most aggressive varmint dog it could possibly become, or, um, it wasn’t…

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Salmiakki: Lava, Leather, and Licorice

Is there is a flavor more polarizing than Salmiakki? Most Finns love the stuff, but do a quick YouTube search and you’ll find a host of videos named something like “Visitors taste Finnish candy!?” which chronicle unsuspecting newbies’ first forays into the dark art of salmiakki. Cringing faces contort with surprise and distaste. Talk about needing Sisu! It’s very comical and all… but I’m here to tell you that salmiakki needs a new PR agent.

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It’s Been a Month!

So this week marks one month that I’ve had my WebSite and Blog on the air, and have been writing and encouraging people to read.

I thought I’d post this brief note to just say THANK YOU! to those that have read, have shared the www.talesfromabroad.com URL with their friends, and to those that have commented on the blog, offered me additional info or corrections, or sent me an email with their thoughts… the response has been really special.

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Suomen Kielen Päivää

Today, April 9th (9 huhtikuu) is suomen kielen päivää, The Day of Finnish Language. (side note: In Finnish grammar, the months of the year do not get capitalized, April is “huhtikuu”.)

According to ancient Finnish mythology as recorded in the Kalevala (more on that coming…), the creation myth says that Ilmatar, the virgin daughter of Sky, went floating in the primordial seas for 700 years and eventually let a teal (duck) lay six eggs on her knee. As the eggs were being incubated, Ilmatar’s knee got hot. She shifted with discomfort, and whoops, the eggs fell, broke, and their parts formed the universe.

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About Paradise, and Fishing

Lintukoto is one of those special kinds of words. It’s based in Finnish Mythology and literally means “home of birds”, but figuratively connotes an “imaginary warm peaceful, safe paradise”…  You see, way back, the world was considered a flat disc under a giant glass dome.  In the winter, no one was really sure where the birds went, but people hopefully imagined they’d escape to a warmer more hospitable climate out along the furthest perimeter of the dome, a place known as Lintukoto.  I love the idea of the earliest Finns thinking of this great unknown as a paradise, as compared to maps we have from other ancient explorers. Those less optimistic cartographers drew terrifying sea monsters out along the edges of their unknowns… definitely not paradise. Let’s stick with the Finnish Mythological notion for now. In our current era of volatile uncertainty and genuine fear, it feels okay to let ourselves consider, even if only briefly, migrating to a place like Lintukoto… Paradise.

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The First Two Things You’ll Hear

When we first starting interacting with Finns, whether they were work colleagues, relo related, or whomever we’d have a brief conversation with, two things would be mentioned. No kidding. These same two things. Every time. We have duly loaded these into our hearts and minds as foundational for our existence here in Finland. I’m sure there are many many other things that should be in that baseline set of cornerstone knowledge and we’ll continue to build on that as we go… but these are the main two as initially instructed: Finland has 1) ‘Everyman’s Rights’ and 2) The highest quality tap water in the world.

Let’s break them down:

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What were we getting ourselves into?  For years we have played “where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” about our families travel adventures, particularly Tammy’s far flung and frequent business trips.  I had certainly travelled extensively both for work as well as personally, including extended stays in Manila, Tel Aviv, and Cork.  But to actually MOVE!?!  Well, this was an entirely new vedenkeitin kaloja (kettle of fish 😉 )…

I guess I’ll start at a very high level overview of the country itself.  In fact, this is so high level as to have been inspired by the Finnair in-flight magazine, BlueWings.  I’m completely enamored with this graphic, and spend many minutes staring at it each and every time I’m on a Finnair leg. I’ve snipped a version from a recent issue to share with you here…

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A Year Ago: ¡Olé!

Early March 2019 had us in Mexico! Coincident with Tammy’s birthday week was a work-related trip to a manufacturing facility outside of Guadalajara. As luck would have it, Jacob’s spring break from Georgetown was the same week. Another special piece of that week was the fact that our brother Braulio agreed to join us (by bus all the way from Vera Cruz!) After not having seen him since he left the US for his daughter’s Quinceañera, there were hugs and tears all around. We stayed in Guadalajara for a few days at historic Hotel Morales. While Tammy managed the business portion of the schedule, Jacob, Braulio and myself toured the beautiful old city center, had afternoon cocktails at the legendary Cantina La Fuente, visited the magnificent Jardín Botánico and sent photos of selected beautiful flowers to Tammy’s Mom, Dorothy, for her birthday on March 5th.

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Setting up this WebSite and Blog

I knew I wanted share pictures, recipes and stories from our stay here in Finland.  As many of you are no doubt aware, I love to share even the most mundane!?! So, this ‘moving to Finland’ non-mundane-ish-ness seemed as good an opportunity as any to figure out how to share stories.  Initially, I imagined I’d make and mail some snapfish-esque hardcover photo books as I have done in the past, but they can get pricey and don’t allow for more than a caption’s worth of words.  I’ve been reminded that the tide of my words cannot be stemmed, so printed photo books just weren’t going to cut it.  Further, books are fixed in time, and thus the need to create multiple iterations as our stay progressed.

So… I got to thinking that an ongoing live WebSite might be just the ticket.  It would allow for multi-media content, unrestrained verbiage, ongoing updates, and anyone could see it from anywhere they happened to be in the world. Bingo!  Now I just had to figure out how. 

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