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?

April 2017: Los Angeles Culture Challenge – Scandinavian Festival & Festival of Books!

April offers an abundance of special events and activities about a great variety of countries and cultures to occupy your weekends. Browse through the list below to see if anything catches your eye.

Two of my favorite events return this month, Scandinavian Festival at California Lutheran University and LA Times Festival of Books at USC, and I’m relieved they don’t fall on the same weekend which has happened in the past. The Scandinavian Festival took a hiatus last year but returns the first weekend in April. You can read more about what to expect at the festival here. The Festival of Books is not just about books and authors, which is fun in and of itself, but it’s also music, food, art, and culture.

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month?

* WEEKEND OF APRIL 1 & 2 *

African-Print Fashion Now!: A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Westwood, March 26 – July 30. This exhibition introduces visitors to a dynamic and diverse African dress tradition and the increasingly interconnected fashion worlds that it inhabits: “popular” African-print styles created by local seamstresses and tailors across the continent; international runway fashions designed by Africa’s newest generation of couturiers; and boundary-breaking, transnational, and youth styles favored in Africa’s urban centers. All feature the colorful, boldly designed, manufactured cotton textiles that have come to be known as “African-print cloth.” The exhibition tells the global stories of these textiles—the early history of the print cloth trade in West and Central Africa, the expansion of production following independence movements, and the increasing popularity of Asian-made print cloth today. Popular African styles from Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Senegal are featured, as well as groundbreaking runway fashions by some of Africa’s most talented couturiers

Scandinavian Festival, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, Saturday, 4/1, & Sunday, 4/2. The Scandinavian Festival returns for the 42nd year. Both days of the festival are filled with music, dancing, food, lectures, demonstrations, vendors, and activities for young and old alike. The Viking Encampment and Sami Village will once again be present. Family activities include making head wreaths with real flowers, raising the Maypole and dancing around it, learning the ancient Viking game Kubb, playing croquet, and a variety of arts and crafts representative of the Nordic countries.

International Children’s Day Festival, Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, Saturday, 4/1, & Sunday, 4/2. Celebrating the amazing talents of children of all cultures, this festival features West African, Mexican, Pacific Islander, Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Persian dance performances. Enjoy performances by a children’s choir and martial arts demonstrations. Kids of all ages can partake in an international percussion circle, face painting, and Native American and Pacific Islander traditional children’s crafts and games.

The Undiscovered Chinatown Tour, Chinatown, Downtown LA, Saturday, 4/1, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Visit a temple, an herbal shop, art galleries, antique stores, and more! The 2 1/2 hour walking tour will take visitors to a number of off-the-beaten-track points of interest and will guide those interested in shopping to some of Chinatown’s best bargains and its trendiest shops. Wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to wind your way through a myriad of alleyways, plaza stalls, and classical courtyards to discover the charm of L.A’s Chinatown. You must RSVP as group size is limited. This tour is offered every first Saturday of the month.

Reykjavík Festival: Maximus Musicus (Toyota Symphonies for Youth), Walt Disney Concert Hall, Downtown LA, Saturday, 4/1, & Saturday, 4/8, 11:00 a.m. Join Maximus Musicus, a lively Icelandic mouse, on a journey from the sunny shores of Southern California to Reykjavík, where you will explore the music and the great outdoors of Iceland. The concert is preceded by a choice of workshops designed for children ages 5 to 11. These include art-making, a music workshop, an instrument petting zoo, and a dance or theater/storytelling workshop. All activities are free to ticket holders. The Reykjavík Festival is ongoing until June 4 and includes a variety of events. See website for more information and to purchase tickets.

Russia: Lacquerware Mobiles (Family Art Workshop), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 4/2, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Come for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. All materials are provided. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured.

Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, Sunday, 4/2, 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Join Bowers Museum in celebrating the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival. All family festivals include art-making activities and cultural traditions along with live music and dancing.

Ukrainian Pysanka Festival, Ukrainian Culture Center, Los Angeles, Sunday, 4/2, 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Learn to make traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs. Experience Ukrainian culture by viewing the work of many esteemed artists. Enjoy dance performances, music, and food.

Bright Design: Awazu Kiyoshi (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Los Angeles, Sunday, 4/2, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Japanese graphic designer Awazu Kiyoshi had a signature style that wove together folklore and city life, all in bright colors. Check out posters and prints he designed to promote theater and film in the exhibition Awazu Kiyoshi, Graphic Design: Summoning the Outdated. Make your own posters and learn simple printmaking techniques in artist-led workshops. This event repeats every Sunday in April, except Easter Sunday.

* WEEKEND OF APRIL 8 & 9 *

Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Irwindale, Saturdays & Sundays, April 8 – May 21. Travel back to the 16th century and experience the glory of life during the Renaissance era. The faire provides “a cornucopia of diversity where we are unified in inviting our guests to enjoy an environment we have created to escape from the stresses and demands of the modern day.” There will be artisans of all media, entertainment galore, food trucks and booths, games and rides (including pony and camel rides), a Kids Kingdom (with games, crafts, story-telling, song, shows, and characters), and a gnome quest!

19th Annual Chumash Day Powwow and Inter-Tribal Celebration, Malibu Bluffs Park, Malibu, Saturday, 4/8, & Sunday, 4/9. This year’s 19th annual Chumash Day Powwow will celebrate Native Americans from all over the country. Hundreds of tribes will gather at Malibu Bluffs Park. Native American food, craft vendors, tribal ceremonies, and dances will be a part of the event on both days. Grand Entry will take place 1pm at Saturday and 12pm on Sunday.

Celebrate Japanese American History (JANM Free Family Day), Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo, Downtown LA, Saturday, 4/8, 11:00 a.m. –  4:00 p.m. Learn about Japanese American history and actor/activist George Takei with crafts and activities inspired by the exhibitions Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066 and New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. At crafts stations, learn how to make koinobori (carp streamers), origami samurai hats, and origami bird pins (much like the ones that were made by incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II). Learn about famous Japanese Americans by making comic books and paper puppets. Throughout the day, hear stories that share the Japanese American experience. There will also be a Spam Musubi Workshop where you can learn how to create this delicious and uniquely Japanese American treat. See website for complete schedule of activities.

Reykjavík Festival: Maximus Musicus (Toyota Symphonies for Youth), Walt Disney Concert Hall, Downtown LA, Saturday, 4/8, 11:00 a.m. Join Maximus Musicus, a lively Icelandic mouse, on a journey from the sunny shores of Southern California to Reykjavík, where you will explore the music and the great outdoors of Iceland. The concert is preceded by a choice of workshops designed for children ages 5 to 11. These include art-making, a music workshop, an instrument petting zoo, and a dance or theater/storytelling workshop. All activities are free to ticket holders. The Reykjavík Festival is ongoing until June 4 and includes a variety of events. See website for more information and to purchase tickets.

India: Mughal Painting of the Deities (Family Art Workshop), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 4/9, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Come for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. All materials are provided. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured.

Bright Design: Awazu Kiyoshi (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Los Angeles, Sunday, 4/9, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Japanese graphic designer Awazu Kiyoshi had a signature style that wove together folklore and city life, all in bright colors. Check out posters and prints he designed to promote theater and film in the exhibition Awazu Kiyoshi, Graphic Design: Summoning the Outdated. Make your own posters and learn simple printmaking techniques in artist-led workshops. This event repeats every Sunday in April, except Easter Sunday.

Family Jam: Choose Your Words, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Westwood, Sunday, 4/9, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Drop-in on #FamilyJam, an interactive performance featuring musicians, artists and other performers from all over the world. Families learn dance moves, songs, and stories from a variety of cultures. No reservation required, and it is free of charge. In this session, explore how a picture can inspire a thousand words. In collaboration with Westwind, UCLA’s student-run journal of the arts, learn about types of poetry and create your own using the stories, shapes, and patterns seen in the exhibit African-Print Fashion Now! as inspiration.

* WEEKEND OF APRIL 15 & 16 *

Blessing of the Animals, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, Downtown LA, Saturday, 4/15, 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. This tradition of blessing the animals for the benefits they provide mankind dates back to the 4th century, when San Antonio De Abad was named the patron saint of the animal kingdom and began to bless animals to promote good health. It has been celebrated in the Plaza since 1930. Bring your pets to be blessed. Blessing begins at 2pm and lasts for an hour. Line-up for the blessing begins at 1pm. There will be entertainment from 12pm to 5pm.

Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Irwindale, Saturdays & Sundays, ongoing until May 21. Travel back to the 16th century and experience the glory of life during the Renaissance era. The faire provides “a cornucopia of diversity where we are unified in inviting our guests to enjoy an environment we have created to escape from the stresses and demands of the modern day.” There will be artisans of all media, entertainment galore, food trucks and booths, games and rides (including pony and camel rides), a Kids Kingdom (with games, crafts, story-telling, song, shows, and characters), and a gnome quest!

* WEEKEND OF APRIL 22 & 23 *

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, USC Campus, Exposition Park, Saturday, 4/22, and Sunday, 4/23. Enjoy two days of not only books and authors, but also music, food, art, culture, and fun. The Festival of Books is Los Angeles Times’ annual celebration of ideas, creativity, and the written word. The Festival brings book lovers and fun seekers of all ages together with their favorite authors, artists, chefs, musicians, and entertainers. Go Metro and avoid the expense and hassle of finding parking. You’ll also save 10% on your total purchase of official 2017 Festival of Books merchandise, including mugs, T-shirts, and more. The Expo Line will drop you directly at the south end of the festival. The Program Guide with articles, a map, schedule, exhibitor list, and more will be available April 16.

45th Annual Bunka-Sai Japanese Cultural Festival, Ken Miller Recreation Center, Torrance, Saturday, 4/22, & Sunday, 4/23. Come enjoy Japanese culture at the Bunka-Sai Festival sponsored by the Torrance Sister City Association. There will be an anime contest; Kamishibai storytelling; Aikido, Judo, Kendo, Naginata, and Karate; Koto, Taiko, Minyo, Shamisen, and Odori; Ikebana and Bonsai; Shodo calligraphy and tea ceremony; Origami, Roketsu, and Kimekomi Ningyo Dolls; arts and crafts boutiques, games for children, hourly drawings; and food.

Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Irwindale, Saturdays & Sundays, ongoing until May 21. Travel back to the 16th century and experience the glory of life during the Renaissance era. The faire provides “a cornucopia of diversity where we are unified in inviting our guests to enjoy an environment we have created to escape from the stresses and demands of the modern day.” There will be artisans of all media, entertainment galore, food trucks and booths, games and rides (including pony and camel rides), a Kids Kingdom (with games, crafts, story-telling, song, shows, and characters), and a gnome quest!

Guatemala: Recycled Animals of the Rainforest (Family Art Workshop), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 4/23, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Come for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. All materials are provided. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured.

Bright Design: Awazu Kiyoshi (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Los Angeles, Sunday, 4/23, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Japanese graphic designer Awazu Kiyoshi had a signature style that wove together folklore and city life, all in bright colors. Check out posters and prints he designed to promote theater and film in the exhibition Awazu Kiyoshi, Graphic Design: Summoning the Outdated. Make your own posters and learn simple printmaking techniques in artist-led workshops. This event repeats every Sunday in April.

Kids in the Courtyard: Flippin’ 4 LYF, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Westwood, Sunday, 4/23, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Learn how to create a flipbook, or a non-digital “GIF”, that brings a scene or character to life by connecting one movement to the next through drawings. Don’t forget to check out the fantastic dance movements photographed in the exhibition Pantsula 4 LYF: Popular Dance and Fashion in Johannesburg, as well as a series of animated and non-animated family films in Lenart Auditorium presented by the Dance Camera West Film Festival.

* WEEKEND OF APRIL 29 & 30 *

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, select cinemas in the Los Angeles area, April 27 – May 4. Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2017, the festival will bring the best and brightest of new Asian Pacific American cinema to Los Angeles audiences. Check website for news and updates on the festival.

REDCAT International Children’s Film Festival, Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, Downtown LA, Saturday, April 29, to Sunday, May 7. The annual REDCAT International Children’s Film Festival returns with two full weekends of adventurous short-film programs to appeal to moviegoers of all ages. Magical, exhilarating works made by acclaimed filmmakers and up-and-coming auteurs showcase work from around the globe — including Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Russia, Taiwan, Belarus, Korea, The Netherlands, and Ukraine — to inspire the whole family. Festival highlights include the latest in both live action and animated shorts. See website for the schedule for the two weekends.

Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Irwindale, Saturdays & Sundays, ongoing until May 21. Travel back to the 16th century and experience the glory of life during the Renaissance era. The faire provides “a cornucopia of diversity where we are unified in inviting our guests to enjoy an environment we have created to escape from the stresses and demands of the modern day.” There will be artisans of all media, entertainment galore, food trucks and booths, games and rides (including pony and camel rides), a Kids Kingdom (with games, crafts, story-telling, song, shows, and characters), and a gnome quest!

Little Tokyo Walking Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 4/29, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Relive history and learn about present-day Little Tokyo with JANM docents. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Weather permitting. Buy tickets in advance. Cost is $12 members, $15 non-members. Museum admission is included. Limited to 20 participants.

Mexico & Dia de los Ninos: Votive Painting Using Tin and Cardboard (Family Art Workshop), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 4/30, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Come for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. All materials are provided. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured.

Bright Design: Awazu Kiyoshi (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Los Angeles, Sunday, 4/30, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Japanese graphic designer Awazu Kiyoshi had a signature style that wove together folklore and city life, all in bright colors. Check out posters and prints he designed to promote theater and film in the exhibition Awazu Kiyoshi, Graphic Design: Summoning the Outdated. Make your own posters and learn simple printmaking techniques in artist-led workshops.

Feel free to add events for this month in the comments below. I also welcome feedback on any events you have attended. If you have suggestions about future events and celebrations to include in upcoming months, please email me here with details. Thank you!

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.

My First Jury Duty Experience

Jury duty, it’s a civic duty that just about every American citizen seems to grumble and complain about and try to get out of. However, one of the things I was most looking forward to when becoming an American citizen was the opportunity to serve on a jury. I was so curious about it and very excited when I finally received my jury summons.

I don’t think I could have asked for a better first jury duty experience. It turned out to be a serious criminal case (gang related murder in my local area) with a judge I respected and who had a great sense of humor and a jury group that was pleasant to be with and took the responsibility seriously. I am looking forward to the next opportunity, which theoretically could come any day now since it’s been a year since my jury duty was completed.

Jury Selection

Luckily, I had completed the online orientation so my report time on Day 1 was a comfortable 9:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Not knowing exactly what to expect, except probably waiting around a lot, I brought my book and made my way to the LAX Courthouse. And waiting I did, but with a view like this of the snow-capped mountains, it wasn’t always so bad.

I was not called for the first panel of potential jurors, but when I returned from lunch, I was called for the next panel along with about 80 other people. In the courtroom, the judge told us about the case and that it would likely take about three weeks(!).

The jury selection process was fascinating. I loved getting an inside look at how a jury is selected. Many people were dismissed right away due to language difficulties or the extreme hardship a 3-week trial would inflict. The rest of us completed a questionnaire that gathered information that the lawyers and judge would use for further questioning in an attempt to select an unbiased jury.

When it was my turn to enter the jury box for questioning, I felt like I was up for an oral exam for which I hadn’t prepared. I was told I had “boring” answers on my questionnaire, no experience with violent crimes, police, or gangs. Apparently, nothing stood out as possibly making me unable to decide the case fairly and impartially. Basically, the only question I was asked by one of the lawyers was how I deal with my kids’ fighting and decide what actually happened. The questioning moved on the other jurors, and then suddenly the day ended with the lawyers saying they accepted the panel as is. There was no warning that those of us sitting in the box would become the jurors of this case. Everyone seemed equally surprised. I was quite happy that I had been picked.

It was interesting to chat with and observe and listen to the other potential jurors during this process. Surprisingly, many actually had a positive attitude towards being there. Maybe the ones who didn’t want to be there had already found a way to postpone or get out of it. A shocking number of people or their families had been victims of violent crimes or had distrust of the police. The judge and lawyers tried to weed out those who might be biased against Latinos and/or gang members. I couldn’t always make sense of why a potential juror was let go, but one potential juror made it very clear. He said he had already made up his mind. “Either way that’s not good,” the judge said and let him go.

Testimonies

 

Day 4 was the beginning of the witness testimonies. We first heard instructions by the judge and then opening statements by both sides. It was interesting to see how the lawyers had hinted at the direction of the case through their juror questioning. It wasn’t just a case of a straight forward murder. The defendant was actually “only” the driver and a buddy of his had shot the gun which caused the death, but according to California law, the drivers are potentially just as guilty as the main perpetrators, though of course innocent until proven guilty.

We had a total of seven days of testimonies. We heard from all sorts of witnesses: police officers, motor and traffic officers, dispatchers, detectives, firearms experts, a high tech expert regarding cell phone activity, gang experts, a coroner about the autopsy, and current and former gang members. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but the notes I took had to stay behind in the courtroom. It was fascinating to get the inside look at a real crime investigation. Most eye-opening was what I learned about gang activity and gang rivalry going on in areas I frequent on a daily basis (Santa Monica and West LA) and not far from my own neighborhood!

There was a lot of sitting in a courtroom without windows during these days. I took advantage of the stairs going down from the eighth floor of the courthouse, as did many others, and enjoyed my little circular garden for breaks in the fresh air and sunshine.

Deliberations

During Day 10, the testimonies ended, the lawyers said their final arguments, and the judge gave us strict instructions to follow during deliberations.

We all returned on Day 11 to begin discussing the case. A fellow juror brought a delightful box of donuts to start off the day. This was the first time we discussed the case with our fellow jurors. It soon became clear that we did not all agree on a verdict, but being the conscientious jurors that we were, we went through the testimonies again and thought about and discussed it some more. Everyone was given a chance to share their opinion and thinking. However, we could not come to agreement and saw no way it would happen. We were pretty evenly split. We sent word to the judge that we were ready to share our decision.

Soon we were called into the courtroom. The judge didn’t accept our deadlock and encouraged us to return to the deliberation room and continue discussing. This was towards the end of the day and we made no headway and went home to sleep on it. The second day of deliberations we returned, but there had been no change in minds. We were still evenly split. Once again, we sent word to the judge. This time he accepted our deadlock, and it was over as fast at it had begun. It was somewhat anticlimactic.

The lawyers from both sides were eager to speak to us outside the courtroom afterwards. They wanted to learn the strengths and weaknesses in their cases and to hear why we weren’t able to come a unanimous decision. The People planned to try the defendant again. I’ll continue to cccasionally search online to see the status of the case. It looks like the next hearing date will be next month.

Closing Thoughts

A few days after it was over, I received a letter from the judge. He hoped I found the “experience both interesting and rewarding” and reiterated how “jury service is one of the few acts in which we each can fully participate as Americans” and thanked me for my “contribution to our community and to our legal system”. Little did he know how big a deal this experience was for me and how much I appreciated the opportunity. The letter was probably a form letter that’s sent out to all jurors for all sorts of cases, but I certainly took it to heart.

How have your jury duty experiences been?

March 2017: Los Angeles Culture Challenge & CicLAvia

A new month means new opportunities to explore the rich diversity of Los Angeles. Highlights this month include Brazilian Carnival and Chinese Lantern festivals, a celebration of Iranian New Year, and CicLAvia.

CicLAvia is one of my favorite LA events that happens 3 to 4 times a year around the greater LA area. On Sunday, March 26, it returns to a fan-favorite route, Culver City Meets Venice. Six miles of streets between Culver City and Venice will be closed to cars, and participants will be free to explore as cyclists, pedestrians, runners, or skaters. We did this route a year and a half ago as a family, and I hope to repeat it this month. There is no better way to get to know a part of town than to ride slowly through it stopping as you please along the way. There are hubs at both ends and one in the middle with special activities and food trucks.

I want to give readers a head’s up about a Scandinavian event happening the very first days of next month, April 1 and 2, the Scandinavian Festival at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Mark your calendars now so you don’t miss it!

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month? Continue reading

What I’ve Read: Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) by Roy Jacobsen

Recently, I read Roy Jacobsen’s Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) for my Scandinavian Book Group. I always make a point of reading a Norwegian book in anticipation of (or during) our annual summer trip to Norway to brush up on my Norwegian, but I don’t often read another beyond that. I’m grateful for discovering this book group because it’s given me an added incentive to search out new (to me) Norwegian authors and carve out more time to read Norwegian.

I first became aware of Roy Jacobsen when I was home in Oslo during the summer of 2016. A Roy Jacobsen book, Hvitt hav (published 2015), was on the display of top 10 paperbacks at a local bookstore, and another of his books, De usynlige (published 2013), was on a table of popular books on sale. I was happy to find a contemporary Norwegian non-crime author who wrote novels set in Norway, and I made a mental note to consider him for a future read.

When it came time to pick the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group, the other members of the group were happy to make the next pick a Norwegian one in my honor (it was my first meeting with them). The only requirement was that it had to be available in English, and they preferred a non-crime book. They had already read Jacobsen’s The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (Hoggerne, published 2005), so I suggested Child Wonder (Vidunderbarn, published 2009). The description and reviews sounded interesting, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009 which made it even more promising.

Child Wonder takes place in Norway in the early 1960’s and is about 10-year Finn who lives with his working mother in an apartment complex in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He is a boy who does well in school and enjoys playing outside with his friends. He and his mother get along well. Then their world begins to change. First, they convert Finn’s bedroom into a room that they can rent out, and soon a lodger is staying with them in their apartment. And he brings along a television that ends up in the shared family room. Next, they welcome Linda, Finn’s unknown 6-year old half-sister, into their family.

The book looks at their life together for a little over a year through the eyes of Finn. We see Finn’s relationship with the lodger take shape. We see Finn being a surprisingly mature support and help to his new half-sister. We see his relationship with his mother progress. We see Finn wonder about his worth and place in the family. We also begin to understand that the mother is struggling with something unknown to Finn.

My favorite part of the book is the summer they spend on the island of Håøya, the largest island in the inner Oslo Fjord. The lodger lets them borrow his 6-person tent that is set up on the island. Finn and his half-sister spend a few weeks there enjoying the “green paradise”.

One of the things that makes this book interesting is that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He is young and obviously doesn’t know or understand everything yet. He also doesn’t share everything he experiences. We are left to question and wonder about what we read, in particular about the half-sister (there’s something not right about her), the lodger and the mother’s relationship with him, and the nature of the mother’s struggle. It makes for a good discussion with others who have read the book.

I actually read part of the book in English (the e-book is available through Los Angeles Public Library). Jacobsen’s writing style consisted of very long sentences with very few periods and it slowed down my reading pace, so I had to switch over to English for a few chapters to get through it a little faster in order to finish in time for the book group meeting.

It was interesting to read part of it in translation. It was a British English translation so I had to think twice about some translated words and phrases. In particular, the British word “estate,” used very often, did not suggest the right meaning to me, but I understood what was meant. I found the translation to be consistent with Jacobsen’s writing style. One thing that shocked me, however, was that the translator didn’t just translate, he actually added to the English text. I noticed it in one case, but since I only read a small part in both languages, it made me wonder what other additions or changes the translator may have made in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed the book very much. This was a character-driven story that was both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times and that kept me questioning and wondering, even after finishing the book. I’m open to giving one of his newer books a chance. Norwegian readers, please let me know if you have a recommendation – whether it’s one of Roy Jacobsen’s books or another Norwegian read.

February 2017: Los Angeles Culture Challenge & Nordic Spirit Symposium

February brings another month of many opportunities to explore the rich diversity of Los Angeles. Highlights this month include a multitude of events to celebrate Chinese New Year and to honor African-American history and contributions.

For those interested in delving deep into Scandinavian history, there’s the Nordic Spirit Symposium hosted by Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation happening at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks this month. It’s a unique lecture/performance program that “blends music, dining and the free exchange of ideas to enhance the pleasure of learning.” For more details, see Weekend of February 11 & 12 below.

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month? Continue reading

My First Presidential Election as a U.S. Citizen & How I’m Moving Forward

It’s coming up on my four-year anniversary as a U.S. citizen. Becoming an American citizen was not an easy choice, but the rewards have been worthwhile, in particular the right to vote and opportunity to serve on a jury. I made a pact to vote in every election, and it wasn’t until this last election that I was finally able to vote for a United States president.

For me, the presidential choice was an easy one. I was with her, especially considering whom she was running against. On Election Day, I was proud to cast my vote for Hillary and optimistic about the future. However, I was stunned and unprepared to see how quickly my optimism dwindled and left me feeling gutted. It wasn’t long after we began watching the election returns that dread and disbelief entered my consciousness, and I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t realize I was so personally invested in the results.

The next day, when I woke up to what our new world would be, I felt like I was in an alternate reality. I couldn’t even look at our newspaper. I was embarrassed and shocked that we had such a man as Trump as our new head of state. In social media and in real life, I saw so many other people’s disbelief and anger at the results as well. It didn’t help me feel any better.

Staying angry, depressed, and full of despair and saying that Trump is not my president doesn’t help me going forward. Hillary won the popular vote. Most of our country supported her. However, he is our country’s new president and we need to do what we can to make sure America doesn’t fail miserably and is better prepared for the next presidential election.

I have never really been extremely interested in politics nor actively involved in it. Maybe it’s because I’ve had no say in the outcomes. This election made me realize that just voting isn’t always enough; it’s equally important to actively participate in the democratic process as it is to vote.

Going forward, I vow to do the following:

  • I will not tune out politics, but instead I will stay informed and follow political issues. I will seek out sources of respected, high-quality media. I will also look for new sources that help me exit the echo chamber. I want to hear other people’s points of view. If you’re looking for a new source, consider a new favorite podcast of mine, Pantsuit Politics, where two women, one from the left and one from the right, discuss politics in a fresh and nuanced way. Similarly, I will not let inaccurate, incomplete, fake news, or my new favorite phrase, “alternative facts” pass me by without commenting.
  • I will make a conscious effort to read books outside my normal tendency and comfort zone – more books by diverse authors and about issues or experiences new or unfamiliar to me. To start with, I’m adding these books to my to-be-read list (and I welcome suggestions):
  • Similarly, I will make sure to continue to provide opportunities to strengthen my kids’ understanding, empathy, and compassion for people unlike themselves both at home and abroad, and books is a great place to do so. I’m lucky and grateful both my boys are avid and voracious readers and generally accept the book recommendations I pass along. I’ve sought out books to help them understand and appreciate their Norwegian heritage. Now I’ll make a conscious effort to suggest and offer books that will help them understand the experiences of marginalized groups and causes affected by our political discussions. I’ve got a list in progress and welcome suggestions.
  • I will take action and let my elected officials hear my voice. This has always been a big unknown for me. Who exactly do I call and what do I say? But now I’ve been motivated to find out the details. There’s been lots of help floating around the internet these past couple of months. To begin with, I’ve confirmed who all my elected officials are in Congress (representatives here and senators here). Next I’ve found sources that address issues of concern. The 65 (referring to the more than 65 million Americans who rejected Trump on Election Day) is a website dedicated to Weekly Calls to Action. They provide scripts for a long list of issues along with contact info for party leadership and tips and strategies. Another site is Women’s March: 10 Actions/100 Days. It’s a campaign aimed at mobilizing the energy from the Women’s Marches of January 21, 2017, across the country and the world and encouraging everyone to take action on issues we all care about.

These action items might not seem like much to some, but for me they are a good place to start. What are you doing in the aftermath of this election?

My Favorite Books of 2016

I’m getting back into my reading groove. I was proud of my 14 books in 2015, but it turns out I read more than twice that in 2016, 33 to be precise. A few factors influenced the increase in books read. First of all, my renewed interest in reading the previous year caused me to want to read even more, and I was constantly adding to my what-to-read-next list and always had a book ready when I finished the last one. Secondly, I finally tried audiobooks, which definitely helped add books to my completed list. It was great to have an audiobook available for runs, walks, and drives. I often found myself walking or running a little extra just to finish the chapter, and I didn’t mind if there was a little bit of traffic. And lastly, being a member of two book clubs is definitely an incentive to read.

I read many very good books last year, but there were only three books that earned the top rating of five stars, books I thought were “amazing” (description used by Goodreads): The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, and Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. These are books whose stories absorbed me and have stuck with me. I’ve recommended them without hesitation to friends and family and even given them as gifts. In the following list, I also included some other books that I really enjoyed, two of which are Scandinavian.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

If I had to choose my absolute favorite book of 2016, it would probably be The Nightingale. It was a pick by my book club. It is a WWII book like so many others, but it explores what I feel is a fascinating, hidden story of WWII. It looks at the lives of two sisters and the roles they played during the war. One sister lived in Paris and became actively involved in the resistance. The other lived in the countryside with her husband and daughter. The husband had to go off to fight, and soon her town was occupied by the Nazi Germans. Both women experienced frightening and difficult situations, but they showed great strength, courage, and perseverance. This book is often mentioned in the same breath as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, another WWII book that takes place in France. I read that one in 2015 and enjoyed it greatly, but The Nightingale is my favorite by far.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Almost tied for first place is Behold the Dreamers, my Book of the Month pick for September, 2016. It’s a look at the life of an immigrant couple and their child who came from Cameroon to New York City to fulfill the American dream right before the financial crisis of 2007–2008. At first, I was turned off by the fact that they were trying to game the system, coming as refugees when they really weren’t, but I quickly let that feeling go as I was absorbed into their daily lives filled with struggles, joys, and difficult decisions. The ending was not what I expected but I was very satisfied with it. The author Imbolo Mbue is a native of Cameroon and now lives in New York City. I highly recommend this book for anyone eager to diversify their reading with an #ownvoices or immigrant story pick.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

I came across this YA book just by chance. The cover jumped out at me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April, 2016. How could I resist a cover with Norwegian heart waffles? It turns out Tell Me Three Things has nothing to do with Norwegian heart waffles, but the cover stuck with me. Then, shortly thereafter, I saw it recommended by the teen readers council at our local children’s bookstore. I figured, let’s just give it a try. I loved it. It was a light but moving unputdownable book that I forced myself to put down so it would last longer. It’s about 17-year-old Jessie who moves to Los Angeles to live with her dad (and his new wife and her teen son) after her mother dies. She has to attend a small, private high school, and soon an anonymous person calling themselves Somebody Nobody offers to help her navigate school life. They communicate through emails and texts. I loved the sweet mystery that was wrapped up into this story as Jessie tried to find her way at her new school and figure out who the mystery person was.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

This was another book club pick, one that I would not have picked up otherwise. The story takes place in North Korea and is about Pak Jun Do, the son of a woman who was “stolen” and a man who ran a work camp for orphans. During Jun Do’s years growing up at the orphanage, he gets his first taste of power as he decides such things as which orphans get to eat first or assigned certain jobs. From there he rises in the ranks and he eventually takes on the life of a rival to the supreme leader Kim Jong-il (1994-2011). Though the book is fiction, it was highly researched by the author and even included a (very supervised) trip the country. The book is a fascinating but extremely disturbing look at life in North Korea. It was one of our book club’s best discussions.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, narrated by Tavia Gilbert

I came across this book when looking over a list of 15 audiobooks that enhance your reading experience. This is the story of Alice who is sent to Los Angeles to be an assistant to Mimi Banning, a reclusive author who has only published one very successful book decades ago but now needs to complete another since she has become broke. Alice is supposed to monitor Mimi’s progress, but instead she becomes full time caregiver for Mimi’s 9-year-old son, “a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders”. I loved Frank and was so glad he finally had someone who appreciated and understood him and gave him the time and attention he deserved. If you want to give the audiobook a try, the narrator Tavia Gilbert really did a wonderful job enhancing the reading experience.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves

I read this book many years ago but decided to reread it for our summer trip to Barcelona. I loved it then and yet again now. It takes place in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War (1945 and onwards) and is about young boy Daniel who discovers a book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and becomes obsessed with it. He sets out to discover all he can about about the mysterious author. Along the way, he encounters murder, madness, and love.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

I read this book for my Scandinavian Book Group. It is a wonderfully sweet story about the relationship between a girl and her grandmother. Elsa is not your normal seven-year-old. She is unusually mature for her years, and her best friend is her crazy but devoted grandmother. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is sent on an unusual quest through letters left behind by her grandmother. Elsa’s quest is interwoven with a fairytale story that her grandmother told her growing up. Slowly but surely, we learn more and more about the complicated life of the grandmother and the others living in the apartment building. The ending was surprising but very satisfying.

Blindgang by Jørn Lier Horst

This was my Norwegian read this summer while in Norway, a compelling “cozy” crime story that kept me reading throughout the long summer days. (The English version Ordeal translated by Anne Bruce will be available August 8, 2017.) It is book #10 in the William Wisting series (5th to be translated into English). I had already read #9 Hulemannen (available in English as The Caveman) and knew I liked the police investigator William Wisting, so I had no hesitation picking up another by Horst. It’s really a story of everyday life in a small Norwegian coastal town. A single mother and her one-year-old daughter move into a house inherited from a grandfather with whom she had a rocky relationship. As she makes the house her own, she comes across a locked safe that is bolted to the basement floor. It turns out the safe contains important evidence to a crime that has given the police trouble for a while. This is a character-driven police procedural. The main characters are very likable and relatable. Horst writes about normal daily routines and unusual happenings with equal clarity. I’m looking forward to reading another William Wisting book next summer.

Thinking back about the books I read in 2016 was a fun experience. It’s like revisiting with old friends. Comparing them to ones I read in 2015 was interesting. I’m learning more and more about my reading likes and dislikes, and I’m reading more books outside my normal tendency and seeking out more diverse books. I look forward to another productive and diverse year of reading!

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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.