Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books: Metro, Authors, and even some Geocaching

Last year, as luck would have it, I was able to go to the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books both days. On Saturday, I went alone and explored and lingered as I pleased. On Sunday, Sonny joined me for a more intentional day. It was the perfect combination of experiences.

Saturday was a gray, dreary, rainy day, but I didn’t let that stop me. I donned my rain boots and rain jacket, packed an umbrella, and headed to our nearest Metro stop.

Taking the Metro made the excursion so easy. The closest stop was only a short drive away (and now it’s even closer with the Expo extension completed), and the stop at USC was right at the entrance to the festival. There were no hassles driving and finding my way and no expensive parking fees.

Due to the weather, the festival on Saturday wasn’t as lively as in previous years. There weren’t as many people roaming the grounds, and the booths were more closed up with plastic tarps on the sides. It did make maneuvering around more manageable, though. I easily browsed booths and listened in on stages where poets and authors spoke to more intimate audiences.

A highlight of the day was that I was able to get a ticket to a panel, also known as Conversations. I had never been to a Conversation. I had always been somewhat overwhelmed by the selection of offerings. Also, I’ve always been at the festival with family members who haven’t been interested in that aspect of it. This year, I just went to the ticket booth and looked to see what was still available in the next couple of hours. It limited my choices immensely and I was able to easily find something.

I actually had a choice of many open Conversations from which to choose. I selected a young adult nonfiction panel about bringing history to life for young adult readers. Sonny had recently read the young reader adaptations of the nonfiction books Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, which he had really enjoyed. I’m always on the lookout for possible interesting reads for him, and this panel seemed like a potential opportunity for that.

The panel was very interesting even though I wasn’t familiar with any of participants. Four authors of new non-fiction spoke about the process of bringing history to life for readers and then answered questions from the audience. I even bought a book by one of the panelists, Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, and got it signed for Sonny for his birthday later in the month.

That evening I was on a high from my alone time at the festival. I was thrilled to have discovered how easy it was to go by Metro and how interesting panels could be. I looked to see if anything of interest was offered the next day. I found an available panel with middle grade authors, two of whom were favorites of Sonny’s, Stuart Gibbs (Spy School Series and FunJungle Series) and Pseudonymous Bosch (Secret Series and Bad Books Series). Sonny was interested but had his condition: he didn’t want to spend the whole day there. I reassured him it would only be a trip for the panel and food trucks and we’d be back home about 1 o’clock.

Sunday was a beautiful day, and I noticed a change already at the Metro stop. So many more people were headed to the festival. When we arrived at the festival, only about 30 minutes after opening, it was already very festive. Not only were more people there than the day before, but booths were more welcoming and music was playing.

The panel was a popular one with many young readers in attendance. The panelists were engaging and shared insights into their writing lives. It was interesting to match a face, a voice, and a personality with the names we’d seen on book covers for so long. I wished, however, that Q&A time at the end had been limited to children. Their questions were so much better than adults’ questions.

Afterwards we joined many other fans in line to have books signed. And just as promised, we checked out the food trucks and Sonny settled on some gelato.

Then came the unexpected addition to our festival visit. After Sonny and I had agreed on the plans for the morning, I had looked to see what geocaching possibilities were there. I had totally forgotten about that when I was there alone the day before. It turns out there were three geocaches within the festival grounds, and I secretly planned a route to include those spots.

When Sonny heard about my geocaching hopes, he felt a little deceived. However, when it came down to it, he was eager to be the one to make the finds. He makes a good geocaching partner. We found one right in front of a security guard because no one thinks twice about a kid sticking his head up into a statue but an adult would have attracted attention.

A day alone and a morning with Sonny was the perfect way to experience the festival. I felt like I had a chance to take it all in – browse the booths, listen to authors on stage, attend panels, enjoy music performances, watch artists at work, and indulge in some treats from food trucks.

This year’s festival will take place the weekend of April 22 and 23, and once again, it will be at University of Southern California’s campus. The schedule can be found online, and you can reserve free tickets to indoor Conversations ($1 service fee applies to each ticket). A limited number of tickets for each Conversation will also be available at the festival ticketing booth each day — free of service charges — while supplies last. There are also plenty of outdoor Conversations on stages that do not require tickets. And admission to the whole festival is free. I highly recommend you take advantage of this LA event.

Checked Off My California Bucket List: See the Poppies!

My wish to see the yearly California poppies finally came true. Every spring for years, when news of the upcoming poppy season and then pictures of the current bloom (some years better than others) would come out, I would yearn to see them in person. It wasn’t until we recently had a soccer tournament in Lancaster that I realized the poppy fields weren’t as far away as I had thought.

The Lancaster tournament was about a 75-minute drive north, and actually a beautiful drive once we got onto the Antelope Valley Freeway (Route 14). From Lancaster, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve was then only about 15 miles west. Our soccer tournament was too early in the season (end of February) to catch the poppies, but I knew then they were within reach.

We stayed in Los Angeles for Spring Break (first week of April), and I made a vow that we would see the poppies this year. The kids weren’t overly thrilled about the plan. They thought I should just be happy with the random poppies that had popped up around town along the roadsides. I powered through with my wish for the whole family to go, and as luck would have it, a friend of Sonny’s came along for the trip as well which was a nice distraction.

There had been news that poppy blooms were expected to be “moderate” this year and not the “jaw-dropping orange carpets” last seen in 2008 and 2010, but that didn’t stop interested people from making the trek. The park was advising visitors to come on weekdays instead of weekends due to the crowds and congested parking, so we headed to the reserve on a Thursday. The traffic cooperated and we were there in the minimum time anticipated. It was windy, as the park’s website had warned it often is, and cloudy, so we were grateful for sweatshirts we had brought along.

We began our visit at the interpretive center. It has an orientation video, some wildflower and wildlife exhibits, a gallery of botanical watercolor paintings, and a gift shop. Here I picked up a map of the trails. I also received one of the newly arrived park brochures that staff members were very excited to be able to hand out. I asked if they had a route to recommend, and of course they did, and then we were on our way.

Map from brochure by The Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert Interpretive Association

The reserve consists of eight miles of trails through hills and fields of wildflowers with benches along way to enjoy the views. Our hike was a 3-mile loop on wide dirt paths with gentle to moderate slopes, nothing difficult at all. From the interpretive center, we headed to Kitanemuk Vista Point. Off in the distance, we saw fields of yellow and orange; and along the trail, we saw a wide variety of colorful wildflowers.

poppies and other wildflowers

The most amazing stretch of poppies was after the vista point and along the Antelope Trail Loop (between North and South trails). It was not a long stretch, but the poppies were close to the trail and abundant and beautiful. We felt lucky to have been guided to this particular area because it made the whole trip worth it.

The poppies weren’t as overall abundant and awe-inspiring as we were expecting, but I believe that was partly due to the weather that day. Since it was windy and cloudy and cool, all the poppies weren’t as open as they could be. Poppies curl up in cold weather.

At the reserve, there are strict rules to stay ON the paths and OUT of the poppy fields. Sadly, many people ignored or were unaware of those rules, and new paths had been created upon trampled flowers and grasses. In particular, I was deeply disturbed by two girls taking pictures of each other doing yoga poses in the field. For people who really want to traipse among the poppies, there’s a stretch along the main road leading to the entrance to the reserve where people can just park off the road and head onto land filled with poppies.

The California poppy was named California’s state flower in 1903, and coincidentally, April 6, the day we visited the reserve, is officially “California Poppy Day” (declared in 2010). “On California Poppy Day, all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to conduct exercises honoring the California Poppy, including instruction about native plants, particularly the California Poppy, and the economic and aesthetic value of wildflowers; promoting responsible behavior toward our natural resources and a spirit of protection toward them; and emphasizing the value of natural resources and conservation of natural resources.”

Here’s some more interesting historical information about California’s state flower from the reserve’s brochure:

From brochure by The Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert Interpretive Association

Staff members anticipate the bloom to possibly last until late April or early May depending on rain fall. Make sure to check Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve’s website for bloom status updates before heading out or call Poppy Reserve Wildflower Hotline at
(661) 724-1180.

Ideally, while in Antelope Valley, I would have liked to have added a visit to Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland to our outing. The woodland is just seven miles west of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. According to its website, it “protects and preserves an impressive stand of native Joshuas and junipers which once grew in great abundance throughout the valley.” Beautiful and interesting pictures can be seen on the Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park Pinterest page. I’ll keep it mind for my next trip to see the poppies.

Have you seen the poppies?

Southern California’s Annual Scandinavian Festival Returns

The annual Southern California Scandinavian Festival took a hiatus last year, but it’s back again this April for the 42nd time. It’s one of my favorite Scandinavian events in the greater Los Angeles area. We’ve gone as a family throughout the years and enjoyed lots of family friendly activities and great food. And the setting in Thousand Oaks is lovely. But then sports began taking over our weekends making it more difficult to attend, especially since the outing required close to an hour drive each way.

At the last festival in 2015, I chose to spend a day there alone instead of squeezing in a visit by the whole family. First I volunteered at an entrance selling tickets for a few hours, and then I wandered the grounds for a couple of hours more. What I love about the festival is that there is something for everyone, whether you’re there as a family with kids (kids 12 and under are free) or as adults enjoying on your own.

When we went as a family, it was all about keeping the kids occupied and happy, which certainly wasn’t hard. During their many visits throughout the years, my kids have made wooden butter knives, created fish print totes, made braided bracelets, marveled at Viking life, been fascinated by Viking weaponry, dressed like Vikings, fought like Vikings, played Kubb and croquet, played bingo, and climbed rock walls. They’ve eaten Swedish meatballs and pancakes, Danish aebleskiver, and Norwegian lefser.

We’ve always had a great time, but I wasn’t left with much of an opportunity to explore the more adult offerings. During visits with the family, I always spotted out of the corner of my eye the booths that demonstrated Nordic arts and crafts and food, but I never had a chance to really take a closer look. The musical performances on the festival stage I only enjoyed from afar. My perusal of the shopping area was always very quick.

Last year when I went alone, I still looked to see what activities were available for kids. Every third year my children’s elementary school has an International Day and I’m always on the lookout for activities that I can offer to highlight Norwegian or Scandinavian culture. I learned about Viking whipcord braiding, where weighted bobbins (in this case bottles) are swung back and forth to create a braid. It certainly looked like something we could do at our school’s International Day. Also, I saw the butter knife making station was as popular as ever.

Needless to say, I was able to leisurely visit the demonstration booths. I learned more about arts and crafts such as bobbin lace making and traditional Norwegian rosemaling. I visited the food demonstration booth while they were making rosettes.

At the Nordic Shopping Mart, I admired a great assortment of products such as jewelry, linens, woodwork, and other Scandinavian inspired items. I enjoyed food from the food court and performances on stage.

This year promises many of the same fun activities and experiences for all, plus more. Kids will want to pick up a Children’s Passport when they arrive and set out on a quest to complete a trip through the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Each country will offer a hands-on craft, and upon completion, the kids can get their passports stamped. In Norway, they will have a chance to make their own rock troll to take home. In Sweden, they can make straw ornaments, and in Denmark, paper fish are the main attraction. There will also be much happening on the Children’s Stage. The schedule includes songs, games, stories, puppet shows, and more. And of course, kids will also be able to visit Torsten the Troll, play Dala Horse croquet and Viking Kubb, make a wooden butter knife, and visit the Viking Encampment and Sami Village.

New for adults this year is a DNA and genealogy expert who will represent Family Tree DNA. DNA kits will be available for purchase if you wish to see how much Viking blood you have. There will also be local experts from the Conejo Valley and Ventura County Genealogical Societies to give advice and assistance.

The festival opens on Saturday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m., with a colorful parade of flags, along with dignitaries from the participating countries. Many will be in traditional costumes which will add a nice festive touch. The festivities then continue with a full schedule of performances, lectures, demonstrations of crafts and foods, and activities.

There will also be screenings of the documentary Yoik Fever, produced by Ellen-Astri Lundby (2013), both Saturday and Sunday at 12 p.m. It’s about “a young Sámi-Norwegian music major yearning to connect to her heritage through the dwindling Sámi singing tradition of yoiking. Part road trip, this wholly inter-generational journey undertaken by Ylva to master the art of yoik reveals the conflicted and courageous state of Sámi identity today… Filmed in an entertaining cabaret-style mash-up of film styles and genres, the film’s ending will leave you with a serious case of ‘yoik fever!'”

I will be returning to the festival this year again as a volunteer. Sports schedules are not set yet so I don’t know if the whole family will be able to go. Whether I go alone or the family joins me, I’m certainly looking forward to the return of the festival.

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2017: A Preview

sffla-header

The 18th annual Scandinavian Film Festival LA is around the corner. It is one of my favorite annual Scandinavian events in the Los Angeles area. The festival takes place over two weekends in January (14th and 15th followed by 21st and 22nd) at Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. I always look forward to seeing what’s being offered and hope there’s a movie that will transport me back to Norway through language and setting or bring alive a part of Norwegian history for me. I also don’t mind being an armchair traveler to other countries in the region.

Despite my love of the festival, I have a very big pet peeve – the festival’s name. It is not a Scandinavian film festival in the true sense. Officially, Scandinavia is only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Since its inception, this festival has included films from Iceland and Finland, and a somewhat recent addition has been films from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. It’s too bad the name of the festival doesn’t properly reflect the scope of the festival.

This year’s entries include mostly features (many of them a country’s Oscar entry), a few shorts, and a documentary. There’s comedy, drama, adventure, and mystery. Big news for Scandinavian cinema this year is that three Scandinavian films made the shortlist for an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category – the Danish film Land of Mine, the Swedish film A Man Called Ove, and the Norwegian film The King’s Choice. The Danish and Swedish ones can be seen at this year’s festival, but unfortunately, not the Norwegian one. UPDATE 1/13/17: The Norwegian submission The King’s Choice is coming to the festival after all! It will be closing the festival in the evening of Sunday, January 22.

(If you’re curious about the other shortlisted films and the process of how a country’s entry becomes a nominated film, take a look at Oscars: Nine Films Shortlisted for Foreign Language Prize.)

What festival films look interesting to you? On SFFLA’s website, you can view and download a chronological schedule. Please confirm schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published.

  • NORWAY

THE CROSSING (Flukten), documentary by George Kurian (2015), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 12pm This award-winning documentary takes viewers along on one of the most dangerous journeys of present time. A group of Syrians, including young children, is fleeing war and persecution, crossing a sea, two continents, and five countries searching for a home to rekindle the greatest thing they have lost—hope. (55 minutes)

BIRD HEARTS (Fuglehjerter), short by Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 4:30pm — Benjamin and Maya share a life and an apartment in the center of Oslo. On the occasion of Benjamin’s 26th birthday, Tobias, Benjamin’s younger and more successful brother, comes to visit for the weekend. During a late night dinner party with friends, Maya tells a story about a sexual experience she had in Brazil. As a consequence, Benjamin’s insecurities and vulnerabilities begin to surface. (30 minutes)

alt-det-vakreALL THE BEAUTY (Alt det vakre), feature by Aasne Via Greibrokk (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 5pm — Ten years after their upsetting break-up, Sarah visits David at his summer house. He wants her to help him finish his play, but when he tells her it’s about their relationship, she wants him to abandon it. For decades, the two have been united by a web of paradoxes. Both wanted to be loved by the other, despite their faults, questionable morals, and lack of control. They have been addicted to each other’s company and yet they drove each other crazy. But even after all these years, despite anguish and dispute, they recognize that their relationship is still deeply grounded in humor, respect – and love. (91 minutes)

THE KING’S CHOICE (Kongens nei), feature by Erik Poppe (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 7pm — The King’s Choice is based on the true story about the three dramatic days in April, 1940, when the King of Norway was presented with an unimaginable ultimatum from the German Armed Forces: surrender or die. With German Air Force and soldiers hunting after them, the Royal Family was forced to flee from the capital. They decided to go separate ways, without knowing if they would ever see each other again. (133 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

  • SWEDEN

eternal-summerETERNAL SUMMER (Odödliga), feature by Andreas Öhman (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 12pm — Two young lovers meet in Stockholm and begin a whirlwind romance that sends them on an impromptu road trip through northern Sweden, where their summer adventure turns criminal in this Swedish mix of Bonnie & Clyde with a soft touch of Natural Born Killers. (107 minutes)

GHETTO SWEDISH (Rinkebysvenska), short by Bahar Pars (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 7pm — Aisatou is a black actress who’s been hired to record a voiceover for Stockholm’s top ad agency Måns and Petter. The session starts great, but it’s soon clear Måns and Petter want the ad to be more “gangsta.” Aisatou must chose between keeping her integrity or sacrificing it in order to please her employer’s stereotype. (10 minutes)

a-man-called-oveA MAN CALLED OVE (En man som heter Ove), feature by Hannes Holm (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 7:15pm — Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife’s grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors. (116 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

A HOLY MESS (En underbar jävla jul), feature by Helena Bergström (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 1pm Simon and Oscar have been a couple for three years and together with their girlfriend, now nine months pregnant, they have bought an apartment outside Stockholm. They don’t know if Simon or Oscar is the father nor have they revealed any news to their families. They invite their somewhat homophobic families to meet for the first time during a Christmas celebration. (108 minutes)

  • DENMARK

land-of-mineLAND OF MINE (Under Sandet), feature by Martin Pieter Zandvliet (2015), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 7:30pm — A group of young German POWs are ordered by Allied forces to dig up 2 million landmines from the coast of Denmark with their bare hands. (100 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

THE COMMUNE (Kollektivet), feature by Thomas Vinterberg (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 6:30pm —  A middle-aged professional couple in 1970s Denmark decides to experiment with communal living by inviting a group of friends and random eccentrics to cohabit with them and their daughter in a sprawling house in the upmarket district of Copenhagen. It is friendship, love, and togetherness under one roof until an earth-shattering love affair puts the community and the commune to its greatest test. (115 minutes)

  • ICELAND

sparrowsSPARROWS (Prestir), feature by Rúnar Rúnarsson (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 1:30pm — This is a coming-of-age story about the 16-year old boy Ari, who has been living with his mother in Reykjavik and is suddenly sent back to the remote Westfjords to live with his father Gunnar. There, he has to navigate a difficult relationship with his father, and he finds his childhood friends changed. In these hopeless and declining surroundings, Ari has to step up and find his way. (99 minutes, Oscar entry)

HEARTSTONE (Hjartasteinn), feature by Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 1pm — In a remote fishing village in Iceland, two teenage boys Thor and Christian experience a turbulent summer as one tries to win the heart of a girl while the other discovers new feelings toward his best friend. When summer ends and the harsh nature of Iceland takes back its rights, it’s time to leave the playground and face adulthood. (129 minutes)

  • FINLAND

THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI (Hymyilevä mies), feature by Juho Kuosmanen (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 4pm — This is the true story of Olli Mäki, the famous Finnish boxer who had a shot at the 1962 World Featherweight title. Everything is set for him to become the first ever Finn to be the world champion in featherweight boxing. His manager Elis Ask, a former boxer himself, has prepared everything for them to reach fame and fortune. All Olli has to do is loose weight and concentrate. But he has a problem – he has fallen in love with Raija. (92 minutes, Oscar entry)

LITTLE WING (Tyttö nimeltä Varpu), feature by Selma Vihunen (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 5pm — Varpu is a 12-year old girl who learns how to drive when her friends steal a car. Meanwhile her mother is struggling with her own failed driving tests. One night Varpu has had enough of her mother’s misery. She steals a car and drives up north to find her father. (100 minutes)

  • ESTONIA

AN EMPTY SPACE (Tühi ruum), short/animation by Ülo Pikkov (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 3:30pm — A 10-year-old girl longed for a puppy as a birthday present, but instead she got a father she had no idea was alive. (10 minutes)

MOTHER (Ema), feature by Kadri Kõusaar (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 4pm — This darkly comic crime mystery set in small-town Estonia centers on Elsa, the full time caretaker of her comatose son, Lauri, and the locals, who are abuzz with rumors about who shot Lauri and why. But in this tight-knit town, where everyone seems to know everyone and everything except for what’s right under their nose, the world’s clumsiest crime may go unsolved. (89 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • LITHUANIA

SENECA’S DAY (Senekos Diena), feature by Kristijonas Vildziunas (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 2pm In 1989, the final year of the Soviet era in Vilnius, a group of eighteen-year old buddies establish Seneca’s Fellowship. Its motto is “Live each day as if it was your last.” A love triangle breaks up the fellowship right at the time the nation experiences an exceptional sense of community via the Baltic Chain. Twenty-five years later, the main character, who appears to be accompanied by good luck at first glance, is disillusioned with himself. He has betrayed the ideals of his youth and become a cold observer of life. Life forces him to open up his own Pandora’s box. (106 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • LATVIA

AWESOME BEETLE’S COLORS, short/animation by Indra Spronge (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 2:45pm — A nearly impossible story, supported by a catchy melody, guides us through the ABCs – from Awesome Beetles to Yellow Zebra. It is an educational film that offers visual, audio, and kinesthetic associations that help kids learn the alphabet. (3 minutes)

DAWN (Ausma), feature by Laila Pakalniņa (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 3pm — This film is based on a Soviet propaganda story about Young Pioneer (the Soviet equivalent of a Boy Scout) Morozov, who denounced his father to Stalin’s secret police and was in turn killed by his family. His life exemplified the duty of all good Soviet citizens to become informers, at any expense. In this film, Janis is a pioneer who lives on the Soviet collective farm “Dawn”. His father is an enemy of the farm (and the Soviet system) and plots against it. Little Janis betrays his father; his father takes revenge upon his son. Who then in this old Soviet tale is good and who is bad? This film reveals that a distorted brain is always dangerous. Even nowadays. (90 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • CLOSING THOUGHTS

Many interesting and intriguing images and themes jumped out at me when looking over these offerings. I loved reading phrases like “an apartment in the center of Oslo”, “summer house” (in Norway, along coast according to poster), “road trip through northern Sweden”, and “remote fishing village in Iceland”. Family relationships, friendships, gender identity, and racial stereotypes are explored. History is examined – Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe, World War II in Denmark, and Soviet rule in the Baltic countries. There is something for almost everyone in this selection of works.

Before an unexpected trip to Norway came on my calendar, it was looking like it would be a busy first weekend for me. I had planned to see Norway’s All the Beauty along with possibly Denmark’s Land of Mine and Iceland’s Sparrows. I also had my eyes on Bird Hearts until I read this article which stated, “If you see one sex-film this summer, make it this one. If nothing else, it will all be over in half an hour, even allowing for a cigarette and a decent scrub-down.” (Though Bird Hearts’ filmmaker Tøndel is apparently “an exciting new talent… barely out of film-school… [who] already commands his medium like an old hand.”) I would have loved to see A Man Called Ove, but I haven’t read the book yet so I wanted to wait anyway. Instead of transporting myself to Norway and environs via the screen, I’ll get to immerse myself in Norwegian language and setting in real life.

I’ll be back in time to catch the second weekend. I may visit a remote fishing village during summertime in Iceland in Heartstone and possibly join a 12-year-old as she drives up north in Finland to find her father in Little Wing.

My biggest disappointment is that Norway’s The King’s Choice (Kongens nei) is not being screened at the festival. I am very happy that The King’s Choice will be at the festival after all and I’ll be able to see it. Barnevakten, a Norwegian website that gives advice about media and children, recommends the movie for kids 9 years and older (though they warn that some scenes could be somewhat disturbing to kids on the younger side). Though the movie would have been a good opportunity for my kids to learn more about Norwegian history, it turns out the screening is too late on a school night. I’ll keep an eye out for it on Netflix.

Volunteering at Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar 2016

volunteering

This year I switched things up and volunteered at the Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar instead of just attending as a guest. My day was all about food which suited me perfectly.

For me, food has always been a main reason for going to the event. I come to eat foods I only eat once a year, to buy freshly baked goods from the bakery, and to stock up on foods and drinks for Christmas time. On this occasion, I was assigned to the kitchen and café, and that was an assignment I appreciated and enjoyed greatly.

My day started out with getting wienerpølser (Norwegian sausages) in a pot for simmering, stirring lapskaus (meat stew), and slicing geitost (goat cheese) for julebrød (sweet bread with raisins). Once the event officially began, I headed out to the café and served cake and sandwiches to eager guests. Continue reading

Norwegian Language Opportunities in Los Angeles

norwegian-alphabet-jana-johnson-schnoor

Norwegian Alphabet by Jana Johnson Schnoor

Norwegian is not in high demand so opportunities to learn and use the language here in Los Angeles are very limited. There are, however, two establishments that stand out as centers for Norwegian language and culture here in the Los Angeles area: Norwegian Church in San Pedro and Scandinavian Center in Thousand Oaks. At both places, you can not only pursue your interest in learning Norwegian, but you can also learn about Norwegian culture and customs. Continue reading

Family Hike: Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon has been in the news a bit this summer due its recent facelift. It’s an extremely popular urban LA hike in the Hollywood Hills that is known as not only a great workout but also an interesting people watching place and “Instagram photo opp”.

Runyon Canyon east trail

It was closed for four months (April – July 2016) to replace a water pipeline and renovate the main trail. Now it has a newly paved fire road and new water fountains. It hadn’t been on my list of hikes I really wanted to do, but now that I had read about it in blogs and newspapers, I wanted to check it out – and I rallied the family to join me. Continue reading

CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard (2016)

Another CicLAvia is in the books for me, my fifth one. It was a ride along Wilshire Boulevard starting in Downtown LA and going to Koreatown. I was actually considering not doing this ride because it was a partial repeat of a previous route I had already done, but then Doobie expressed interest in joining me and how could I resist that?

The first Iconic Wilshire Boulevard ride in 2014 was quite the city adventure on wheels for me. This one turned out to be much more relaxing. I really enjoyed the experience and am so glad I took advantage of the event and that Doobie joined me.

One Wilshire Hub

One Wilshire Hub

Now with the Metro Expo Line extended through our neighborhood, we had easy access to Downtown LA and we were at One Wilshire Hub in no time. Our biggest challenge was getting the bikes up from the underground station. We missed the elevator and Doobie had a little trouble holding on to his bike on the busy escalators. But it all worked out with the help of friendly and helpful fellow commuters.

CicLAvia Wilshire routemap

Since I had already done this route (although the 2014 version was about twice as long), I did not really have any particular plans, unlike CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2015)  when I had a whole wishlist of places I wanted to see and visit. This time, I just wanted to enjoy and take advantage of the open streets (and hopefully find one geocache that was along the route, a new one since my last ride there).

Doobie, however, had an agenda. He wanted to hunt Pokémon, stop at PokéStops and Gyms, and hatch eggs. I was totally okay with that. It would give me ample time to people watch and take in the whole atmosphere of the event. On their website, CicLAvia even had a list of the 56 PokéStops along the route with a reminder to be mindful and not to stop in the middle of the route. Continue reading

Barcelona and Salvador Dalí right here in Los Angeles!

Exhibition PosterIt’s always hard to return to real life after a vacation full of unique and interesting experiences. This week we seized the opportunity to relive a bit of our recent vacation in Catalonia, Spain, right here at home. We learned that there was an exhibition of Salvador Dalí sculptures in Beverly Hills – an open-air exhibit of 12 “monumental and museum sized” bronze sculptures, free and open to the public at Two Rodeo Drive. We were intrigued.

As usual we went to Norway this summer, but afterwards we ventured onwards to the region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain for a 5-day self-guided bike tour. (Bike tours have become a favorite type of family vacation; this was our third one.) After our bike tour ended, we rented a car to explore the Costa Brava area (“brave or wild coast”) for a few days. One of our stops en route was Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum in Púbol, one of three sites in Catalonia dedicated to the life and works of Salvador Dalí.

Touring the castle and grounds was a highlight of our car ride. In the middle of nowhere was suddenly this site full of interesting history and unique and unusual design elements. Our guide gave us tidbits of information that brought the artist to life for us. Through this visit, we felt like we got to know the artist a little bit, got some insight into his personality and sense of humor. So, when my husband learned there was an exhibit of Dalí sculptures right here at home, we were quick to plan an outing. He even knew of a Barcelona-inspired restaurant nearby that he had meant for us to try before going on our trip that he added to our excursion for the day.

The exhibition in Beverly Hills was so much more fun and interesting than I expected. Twelve large Dalí statues were located throughout the Two Rodeo Drive area. His iconic melting clocks were represented, and we were reunited with his fantastical elephants which we had seen in the gardens at Púbol. Continue reading

Welcome to the neighborhood, Expo Line!

Westwood Ranch Park StationOn the weekend of May 20, the long awaited Expo Line extension from Culver City to Santa Monica opened with great fanfare. There were free rides for all Expo Line riders and parties with food trucks, entertainment, and children’s activities at new stations. Despite there not being an official party at our new station, there was still a very festive feel. So many interested and curious people had come to check out the new light rail service, so many that they all couldn’t get on the train to Santa Monica when it came.

Train to Santa MonicaI tested the new line the other day. I had to serve hot lunch at my kids’ school in Santa Monica, an activity which has kind of lost its luster because they’re not as eager to let me hang with them while they eat with their friends. It all became much more alluring when I decided to make a little adventure out of it for myself. I made a pact to take public transit to the school. Continue reading