Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Day sauna

My husband and I started 2009 with a New Year's Day sauna in our backyard.

We bought this two-person sauna in 2001 and were fortunate that it wasn't wrecked the first season because we set it on a covered slab next to our back porch. When the rains came Mike wrapped it in tarps and bungied them securely. Needless to say, that made for hassles when we wanted to take a sauna.

Our sauna was made in Finland and sold here by
Finnleo. It has a little electric stove sufficient to heat the area more than satisfactorily after about three hours. The wood is so beautiful, tight grained, full of rich hues and still extremely sweet-smelling when we pour water over the hot rocks and the sauna fills with steam, unlocking the secrets of the green Finnish forests where the wood originated. (I notice at the website that the company now uses wood from the U.S., Canada, and Scandinavia.)

The summer following our purchase of the sauna we bought a wood shed kit from Home Depot and Mike designed window boxes to fit under the roof, giving us privacy with natural light and a view of our three Sequoia trees in the backyard. Raising the roof also gave a more spacious feeling inside the sauna shed. I helped build the window boxes and it was a project I thoroughly enjoyed.

With no intentions of running plumbing out to the sauna we use a portable camp shower/shelter combo, similar to
this. The shower hangs on a hook in the eaves of the roof over a metal farm animal watering trough that we stand in. It's very utilitarian and works just fine. There's room for a small wooden bench facing the door to the sauna and I covered the floors there with rugs that were hand-made by my grandparents, evidently a joint project they enjoyed. We have some hooks on the walls for robes and towels. A beautiful plaque that my sister, Nel, sent for my birthday one year hangs in a spot near the inside peak of the roof. That's about it; any more would be excess.

My first sauna experience was the real deal. I was in Duluth, Minnesota, to meet the Finnish side of my family. I was 21. My paternal grandparents, who immigrated from Finland, were living in their apartment overlooking Lake Superior. My visit with them was the first and only in my life, but it was rich with stories and traditions. I stayed with my brother, Tony, and his family....the first time I'd met any of them, also. Tony's wife was a Finn, and, where they weren't old-school traditionalists, they were very at home with a group of Finn friends there in Duluth. One, now dead, was a man named Penti Korpi. He lived with his wife and children outside of the city, where he had built their sauna according to the specifications he probably recalled as a boy. There was a hand-carved sign on the sauna wall that said it was made by Penti Korpi. The structure was away from the house. It was quite large, suitable for perhaps ten people. I don't recall what powered the stove, but it, too, was large, with big gray stones where I learned we would drop the liquid essence of a piney tar that was marvelous to smell and helped to open the sinuses.

They pronounced it the Finn way:
sow-na instead of saw-na (about the pronunciation of sauna). It took me a long time to get used to that, but now sow-na rolls off my tongue easily, and Mike's too.

All the women and girls took a sauna together before the men. My brother's wife showed me the dipper near the water pail and I had my first experience of going from the super-hot dry sauna to an instant steam bath. When we'd had enough the girls ran ahead of us outside where, for the first time, I realized the sauna had been built near a small stream. Yes, we actually did splash around in it and the little girls tore young branches from the trees nearby and demonstrated how they lightly slapped one another to rev up the circulation (it was very stimulating), after which we all returned for one more go of it in the sauna. Then it was the guys' turn and when they were finished with their saunas we all ate and drank in the house while loud balalaika music played in competition with boisterous conversation.

Have I ever told Tony that it was a defining night in my life? I don't think so and I must.

Last August, J.T. of Finland Blog wrote a wonderful post with pictures of Finnish summer cottages with saunas (
here's the link to that post). J.T. has a great blog that he maintains when he's not out at sea sometimes for months at a stretch. It's a blog worth a look, most definitely.

There's a comprehensive history of the Finnish Sauna to read



francessa said...

What a nice sauna (in German it's also sow-na) and what a great thing to start a new year!

What's your favorite temperature? (As on the photo?) We have a lot of soft saunas here because many people don't get along with very high temperatures.

Carlos Lorenzo said...

So that was a wonderful experience, huh? Maybe it was the ancestors call. I have tried sauna once, but in a special place for that in a town called Caldes de Montbui discovered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. I have never tried a wooden one. I guess the nice smell really makes the difference. By the way thanks for your kind comments and Happy New Year

robin ann mcintosh said...

happy 2009, Lydia!!

I love that sauna story, reminds me of many summers (and winters) in Canada.

TropiGal said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate the New Year. The sauna looks lovely. There are many Finnish people in the Lake Worth,FL, area, so occasionally when house hunting I have seen a private sauna. How luxurious!

Steve Morozumi said...

wow. awesome sauna story and history!
now, where's my sauna?

have the best year ever!

-Steve @ fluxlife

Elizabeth Halt said...

I am 100% Finnish, but don't love saunas (though in all fairness to my heritage, I was accidentally burned in one so it seems expected). :) I am, however, glad that you enjoy yours.

When we were little, my grampa would cut cedar switches for us to use in the sauna. I loved the smell. When I visit my parents, I use eucalyptus oil so liberally that no one will go in there after I'm done, LOL.

rachael said...

this sounds like such a great way to start off the new year!
oftentimes it's so humid here that walking outside my front door is comparable to a sauna, but i'm sure yours is much more enjoyable (;
happy 2009!

Lydia said...

That's so interesting about the German pronunciation. My favorite temp is between 180-200 degrees. On New Year's Day we were patient until it hit 180. That's about max for our little unit.

The place you describe having a sauna seems very exotic. What was the one you used made of....tile perhaps? I've been in tile ones and they're good for steam, but I miss the aroma of the wood. Thanks for your kind comments, too!

Little Bird,
Thanks for the good wishes and, as always, for visiting. That's fun that you have such memories of your childhood in Canada. I've often wondered when your folks moved and how that time was for you...

How interesting to learn about a large population of Finns in that area of Florida. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

You're so funny! I look forward to your comments, and to visiting your blog.

I kinda gasped when I read that you're 100% Finnish! Your aversion to saunas is understandable given the incident you mentioned. I've been to one of the Scandinavian Festivals in Astoria, Oregon, and wonder if you've attended. Not being raised in the culture I felt lost, but had fun anyway.

Hi! Actually, you'd probably like a dry sauna. It's what I prefer; Mike loves the steam. For you it would be relief from the humidity. :)

sharryb said...

What a way to bring in 2009! Hot! I could imagine, through your great description, what it must have been like to meet your relatives and get a REAL sowna. I'm very impressed with the one you and Mike have created.


Lydia said...

It was very good and I hope the opening of 2009 was very good for you also. Thanks much for your enthusiastic comments. :)

Angela said...

What a great way to start the year. And a wonderful memory to go with it.

j said...

Lydia -- I love the pictures and the description of your first sauna experience, a bit of family culture and a real marking moment. It has to be wonderful to just walk into your backyard sauna!

Lydia said...

Thanks for being here. What are you up to? I'll be by to see!

Glad you enjoyed the post. I do love the sauna shed and sauna, and have thought how fun it would be to build an adjoining spot for writing.

Elizabeth Halt said...

I just heard about it last year, but have never attended. Oddly, I've never felt connected to my heritage, much of it does not resonate with me; I've always wished I was Italian, tee-hee. But I will have to check it out some year!

Lydia said...

That's really interesting about your not feeling connected to the Finnish heritage. Do you think it's because you grew up around the culture and so there's not the mystique (that I definitely see)? When one of my nephews visited some years ago I commented that many of the Finns in that half of my family don't look like Finns, and he told me that my grandfather came from Lapland. He said, "You're a Laplander." That explained the darker coloring and I'd like to know more about it all.
I always identified more strongly with the Scotch-Irish on my mother's side, however.

JT said...

Nice sauna Lydia, though what I've noticed with an electric kiuas (the stove), that sometimes they result with a rather dry sauna, dont know if yours does that but usually helps to splash water on the walls and seats (not on the roof unless you enjoy piping hot drops on yer back :)) a while before actually entering and bathing.

Meh, currently dont have my own sauna except for a 1 hour a week in the building complex public sauna, so unfortunately Ill have wait to almost a week to go again :(

Enjoy your löyly :)

Lydia said...

Thank you, and coming from you that's a real nod of approval. I'm sure that wood-fired stoves would be far superior. I'm pretty sure that's what the one in Duluth had....
After that whole Gaudete thing I ordered a CD titled: Piae Cantiones-Latin Song in Mediaeval Finland. It's very interesting listening to it. (The group is Retrover Ensemble, Markus Tapio director.



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