Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Many Happy Returns??  Americans have never quite bought into Boxing Day when the rest of the world blatantly returns gifts that “… do not fit” without guilt.  And, to be perfectly honest, I am not anxious for some marketing guru to find the “hook” to get us back into the stores.  I know, the drones are coming –but I really can wait!

The happiest returns of the holiday season—or of any season, always seem to involve a renewed acquaintance, the return of a favor long forgotten, the return to a location with fond memories, or just a chance recollection of times gone by through a serendipity of circumstances for an unknown purpose.  The momentary smile on my face may be the only physical manifestation of a profound experience.  I like that.  It feels good.  Yes, I am Finnish.

As another frantic year draws to a close, our souls recall the beautiful Peace of Finnish Christmas.

024  But

As the distal boom of the old year melds into the crescendo of the year ahead on the ever spinning, ever so busy cycle of life here, recent events have been so fun to look back on with fondness.

A Personal Favorite: Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen’s return to Los Angeles for a major speaking engagement at the World Affairs Council luncheon at Spago was the culmination of this Finn’s ‘season’.  I had been present at her first World Affairs Council speech as Foreign Minister and, now again, as a former Finnish President at the pinnacle of her status as an influential world leader sharing her perspective of times past and present.  I was fortunate to be able to raise a question referencing her answer to one issue raised on her last visit regarding defense of Finland’s border with Russia.  It was fun to recollect on years past from old and new perspectives.


AROUND LA WITH AVA®: A Talk at the Tupa



AROUND LA WITH AVA®: A Talk at the Tupa

Following is the text of a presentation made by Ava Anttila to the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation at the Pasadena [CA] Museum of History on October 18, 2015.

It is so wonderful to be here today!! The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation has a special place in my heart. Thank you for inviting me.

As a Finnish born/American educated immigrant, I have consistently sought the company of ‘Friends of Finland’ in my new home. I began my search early [age 7—-seems like yesterday!!].

I have been fortunate to have been consistently successful in finding others who cherish their Finnish heritage, ancestry, culture, and language. Actually, as a little girl, my primary challenge was to learn the new language everyone around me spoke—except for my Parents!


Typically ‘Finnish shy’, I learned SISU before I knew how to spell the word—in either Finnish or English. Gone were the days of blond-haired, blue-eyed friends at the French School my Uncle ran in Helsinki!! I was a stranger in a strange land—my immersion French did me no good.   Now, I stand here before you giving a speech in English with three degrees from good American schools behind my name.

In other words, I am just like you and your kin who made the long trip, found a new home, and learned new ways. I was fortunate in other aspects, as well.   My Parents continued to use Finnish as the household language while they learned the words and ways of the worlds in which they now worked. Also, I soon learned that my American friends did not care that Santa was Finnish and came to our home on Christmas Eve—as long as he made it to their house before dawn!

Life happened.




Katéa in Hollywood.

Katéa in Hollywood.

Finnish singer Katéa was introduced to the Hollywood music professionals at the annual Musexpo music convention held at the Roosevelt Hotel across TCL Chinese Theatre. She made a splash at a showcase, in which she performed five of her songs to music moguls. Finntimes met with the singer at Musexpo for an exclusive interview.

The singer and the manager - Katéa and Sami Peura on Hollywood Boulevard.

The singer and the manager – Katéa and Sami Peura in Hollywood.

Katéa is escorted to the Rosevelt lobby by her manager Sami Peura. The experienced manager has been working toward this event for the past year and a half. There’s a badge that says ”artist” hanging on the singer’s chest.

Katéa’s real name is Katja Pihlainen. She was born in Vaasa, Finland 21 years ago. Since then she has lived in many places – Joensuu, Häneenlinna, Turku and nowadays she resides in Helsinki.

“I’ve always made music and sung since I was a child. I started writing music at nine. Since then, I have written and sung even more. This has been an interesting journey”, Katéa describes.


She studied jazz under Taina Lehto in Hämeenlinna and classical music in Montana, where she spent a year as an exchange student at 15 some six years ago. Other than that, she is self-taught.

How did you end up in Montana?

“I looked at brochures with people running with surfboards on the beach, but I found myself in Polson, Montana, living on an Indian reservation (Her host family however, were not indigenous people). It was a really interesting experience. American culture opened to me there in a new way. It was also interesting to go to the Polson High School with my peers. It helped my career and I learned English there.”

Her host family were the Mattsons. The wife as working in a bank and the husband owned a mechanic shop. Their children had already flown the coop but there was another exchange student, a Norwegian boy also staying with the family.

“My ‘host-brother’ was a year older than myself. It was nice to have another Scandinavian in the family. Together we were able to discuss the things that were strange to us. It helped the culture shock.”

Speaking of which:

“People are quite different in Finland and America. Here, people are really social. I had to practice small talk at the beginning, so that it would come naturally. That year taught me to be a lot more independent. I learned to appreciate many things from Finland, and started to see the country with different eyes.”


Polson High School was accommodating to her music.

“They had a serious work ethic. They allowed me to take singing lessons. I got a room at my disposal for an hour a day in which I was able to write and rehearse”, the singer reminisces.

A local school teacher taught her classical singing.

“He advised you should hang out with more talented people than yourself. If you play with musicians, make sure they are better than yourself. It has been a good piece of advice, which could be recommended for everyone.”

Although not a classical musician, she admires the genre.

“I admire the discipline and perfection. It cannot be done half-baked. I also like the work ethic. I like classical music, even though I would not do it myself for a living. I could practice it more. Classical training has taught me about voice and vocalization in many different ways.”


After returning to Finland, Katéa enrolled in Juhana Herttua’s Performing Arts School in Turku.

“I composed a lot of music there. I got acquainted with musician and mixer Timo Haanpää, who owns a studio in Turku. We started collaborating, performing cover songs to gain experience in performing.”

Together they played at local clubs and rehearsed in a studio built in a bomb shelter.

“I started to bring my own songs to the studio. We discussed them and began to produce them together. Timo taught me about producing and technology. I spent a lot of time in there. I learned how to use a microphone, and what happens in the mixing process. I am a perfectionist and want to understand the whole palette. It was a fruitful time for me as a musician.”

At 18 Katéa moved to The Netherlands for six months.

“I worked, composed and got to know some rappers in Rotterdam.”


She plays the piano and the guitar ‘sufficiently’, as she puts it in her own words. Her work method in the beginning was quite unusual.

“The text is terribly important to me. So, I wrote the lyrics first and then started to think about what kind of world it is musically. I didn’t realize that it’s a strange way to make music, but it suited me back then.”

Her process has since changed as producers and other professionals have entered the picture. Katéa has purposefully kept a low profile, finessing her art, fine tuning her songs. In fact the world had not heard of her until a song called ‘That Ain’t Love’ came about.

“It was born last December in Stockholm. I was in the studio with three Swedish producers and a New Zealand lyricist. The song was created in collaboration with this young production team called Money Bridge.”


After presenting their demo for the song ‘That Ain’t Love’, the production team got a music publishing contract with BMG Chrysalis. BMG is a big international music company focused on the management of music publishing, recording rights and music distribution. The single came out in April and can be heard here:


Katéa returned to America for the first time since her exchange student year. This time around she is accompanied by two Finnish musicians, pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo, as well as manager Sami Peura. ‘That Ain’t Love’ could be heard everywhere at Musexpo – at the café, by the swimming pool and in between panel discussions on the hallways. Katéa also performed it for a local LA station Radio Summit.

Katéa and Sami Peura

Katéa and Sami Peura

As the interview took place, manager Peura was preparing for Katéa’s big night – a 20 minute showcase at a studio instruments rental company S.I.R. stage on Sunset Boulevard.

“There will be representatives from record companies, representatives of the American and the international program office, TV, film and game industry people. Some of them have come specifically to watch the Katéa”, Peura, who has been in music business for 20 years, tells.

“I hope to pique people’s interest and to be able to continue to work with these people”, Katéa says before the big night.

Performing at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset.

Performing at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset.

And what a night it was. S.I.R. Studios was teaming with young and hip music people. Katéa’s showcase started promptly at 8.30 pm. First pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo appeared. The strong Southern California sun had taken Antti by surprise – he had painful looking sunburn. Then, dressed in a black top and a yellow skirt, her raven black hair tied in a bun, songstress Katéa took the stage. She performed five original songs – ballads and pop tunes, culminating with ‘That Ain’t Love’. It was a fantastic performance full of emotion, incredible range and interpretation. The material she was working with was also very high class. If one had to compare her with other artists, Björk and Amy Winehouse would come to mind. We will be sure to hear from this singer in the near future. Right now Katéa is back in Europe and making rounds in Scandinavia, but California has left an indelible mark in her heart.


“Los Angeles is an interesting town with interesting people who have lots of stories. It has been interesting to hear them. I’m interested in human psychology and how people  think. It is a big source of inspiration for me and I will use it in my writing”, Katéa sums up.



Antti Kiljunen reinvented the Christmas calendar.

Antti Kiljunen reinvented the Christmas calendar.

Christmas, or Advent calendars have been around as long as anyone can remember. Antti’s digital Christmas Calendar especially customized for Finntimes readers can be found at the end of this story.

An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. Many take the form of a large rectangular card with “windows” of which there are usually 24: one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. The doors are opened starting with the first one. Consecutive doors are opened every day leading up to Christmas. The calendar windows open to reveal an image, poem, a portion of a story or a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. Some calendars are strictly religious, whereas others are secular in content.

An Advent calendar.

An Advent calendar.

Now Antti Kiljunen has come up with an updated version of this timeless classic. Finntimes is proud  to announce that our readers have been chosen as test subjects for Antti’s Christmas Calendar of the 21st century. And here is the man behind the invention:

-I’m 33 year-old guy, originally from Paimio, southwest Finland. I graduated from Turku University, earning a B.S. in Business Administration. I now live in Espoo and work in Helsinki in the Financial/IT sector. My current job title is “Solutions Specialist”. I live with my fiancée and two crazy dogs. Right now I am anxiously waiting for our child to be born. That should take place in about two weeks from now.

Antti Kiljunen brought the Advent Calendar to the 21st century.

Antti Kiljunen brought the Advent Calendar to the 21st century.

For the past three years Antti has been fine tuning his invention.

-In the beginning there was no software component in the concept. It was all about the physical calendar. Then I realized you can use either the physical or digital version of the calendar, or both. The idea was to create the ultimate Christmas calendar. It would be something different from the ones on the market – educational and as customized as possible. So, I ordered luggage locks from China and bought hinges and lots of wood from a local hardware store and built the first prototype.

Antti the inventor.

Antti the inventor.


Antti has already had some publicity for his invention in Finland.

-I contacted a radio reporter from the Finnish Broadcasting Company, the channel that I listen on my way to work. Why him? Because by coincidence one morning he was talking about his tradition of making a Christmas calendar “box” for his kids every year – a big locked box that has a new surprise in it every morning. That’s sweet, I thought. This guy will like my idea for sure. And he did. We met and I gave him a prototype for testing. It was a huge hit with his three boys. This Christmas the reporter will pilot the current version of calendar.

A nativity scene.

A nativity scene.

Antti is currently testing his calendar.

-Last Christmas I got nine more pilot families to test the physical calendar. Now that I have the software too, they will use that with the physical calendar. A few companies, families and communities will pilot the digital only version, since it can be used as “stand alone”, without the physical calendar. Companies can insert digital sales coupons, company info, or season’s greetings for their customers. Families can insert texts like “Good Mike! That is the right answer. Now look in to the upper left closet in kitchen.”

A lock box.

A lock box.

Parents have hidden candies, coins, or small items to be found by kids who know the right answers. The questions are adaptable to the children’s skill level, so the calendar can be used with kids of all ages. Questions can be educational or social, like: “What is the register number of Granddad’s car?” Seldom do kids remember that kind of things, but they must either visit Grandpa, or call him. Either way, Grandpa will be very happy that his grandchildren contact him. Using the combo of physical and digital calendar, when a kid has the correct answer to the day’s question in the digital calendar, he or she gets the right lock combination number : “Way to go Paul! Good job. Open the day’s lock with code 344.”

Antti Kiljunen in New York.

Antti Kiljunen in New York.

The inventor got some help from friends and colleagues in creating the software and drawings. He hopes his invention will catch on and be found in stores – both brick and mortar and the internet kind in the future. And how is Mr. Christmas Calendar himself going to spend the holidays?

-We are probably going to stay home with our newborn and ask our relatives to visit us at Christmas.

This is the front page of Antti's calendar. DON'T CLICK ON THIS BUT THE LINK BELOW!

This is the front page of Antti’s calendar. DON’T CLICK ON THIS BUT THE LINK BELOW!