From Finland to Stardom, an Afternoon with Actress Taina Elg

From Finland to Stardom: An Evening with Taina Elg
Event photos by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Elg_2016-98

 

Finlandia Foundation hosted ‘From Finland to Stardom: An Evening with Taina Elg’. Through anecdotes, Ms. Elg offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life as a young star at MGM Studios and life in Hollywood. She spoked candidly of her experiences and touched on her view of the film industry today.

Taina Elg, who won two Golden Globes, including one for her role in the 1957 film Les Girls starring Gene Kelly, told her story in an intimate interview format conducted by Heli Sirviö, a Finnish television and stage actress.

(more…)

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: A DATE FOR LIFE


AVA

Los Angeles is a city of great love stories—real and fantasy.  Let me tell you one of them.  After all, February 2016 has Valentine’s Day and Sadie Hawkins’ Day—that every 4 year phenomenon of a 29th day Leap Year.  [In days of yore, on Sadie Hawkins’ Day a woman/girl was permitted to ask a man/guy for a date.  Yes, the world has changed.]

Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the November 15, 1937 "Li'l Abner" daily strip.

Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the November 15, 1937 “Li’l Abner” daily strip.

Even in our ‘hook-up’ environment, preliminaries usually begin with a “date”.

A word with multiple meanings, “date” in its simplest form is the fruit of the palm tree (taateli).  Date can mean (treffit) –a potentially romantic meeting between two individuals.  The Internet and all of its iterations has redefined “dating”, but for our purposes we will use its simplest, old-fashioned form where a lady or girl was invited by a gentleman or boy for some alone time with an agreed-upon starting hour, on a specific day, for a shared activity such as a meal, a movie, a concert, or a prom. Both parties played by the same rules hoping to make a romantic connection leading to a possible future relationship—or, at least, another date.  Hollywood made millions on movies of the varieties of good, bad, tragedy, and comedy premises.  My date story is of the ‘50s “… and they lived happily ever after” genre.

palm

But, for an added ‘hook’, there is a palm tree involved!

Our beloved City of Angels is known for its palm trees.  Finns have called it missä palmut huivuu –the place where the palm trees sway.  There are many species of palm trees, but the most prevalent here are the tall coconut and date palms.  If you drive around west LA and Santa Monica, you will see these amazing, tall, skinny ‘towers’ bending and swaying with the wind.  Their supernatural structures endure the Santa Ana winds and other environmental issues in seeming defiance of the laws of nature and physics with a fairly small root structure.  Their inner fortitude seems to say: “I belong here.  I can take it.  I am here to stay.”

Each morning, my first view at first light is of a palm tree across the street.  The palm is probably approaching 150 feet tall, rising majestically above all other trees and landscape in the neighborhood.  Let me tell you the love story behind that palm tree.

(more…)

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Cookies for Fun—and Eating

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Cookies for Fun—and Eating

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Dear Reader:

Are you worn out from  shopping?

Do you need to keep houseguests busy?

Do you need to keep children occupied?

Do you wish you were a kid again?

Do you miss playing with Play-Dough?

Do you feel you have to bake something Finnish to make your end-of the-year complete?

All of the above?

Here is an answer for all your problems. It is so easy –and such fun!

This basic Finnish butter cookie dough can become your artistic medium for many fun versions and diversions. The beauty is in its simplicity!! Once you have mixed the dough, you can make a lovely platter of cookies for a gift or you can just throw a ‘blob’ on the kitchen counter and challenge the creativity of your children, friends, and or family.

It’s OK, I’ll give you’re a little trick that should win the first challenge round without fancy kitchen equipment, cookie cutters, rolling pins, or messy frosting. It is a quick “triple-play” delight (dough goes into thirds).

(more…)

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: HILLS, VALLEYS, & CLEAVAGE

AROUND LA WITH AVA®:  HILLS, VALLEYS, & CLEAVAGE

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Heights, Achievements, and Awards—LA Has What the World Wants

There is something about California that brings the dreamers and the overachievers [sometimes even underachievers who get lucky] to pursue their schemes, to showcase their personae and products, and to defy the STAR odds in amazing and surprising ways.

In January/February the ‘Hollywood’ beautiful people are out en force.  It is Awards Season.  In other parts of the world, the season is called “winter” and snow falls.  Here, ‘star dust’ is sprinkled with massive publicity campaigns that, when successful, yield ‘gold drifts’ that easily surpass the big Boston piles this winter.

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources.  Each year—at this time of year, there is a fantasy land favorite that keeps running that has the tag line: “…make your body into your personal work of art!”.  The ad features a perfectly shaped sculptress putting the final touches to a perfectly shaped female clay sculpture.  That is all well and good for an advertisement for plastic surgery, a gastric bypass process, or the like, but it sure takes the steam out of mere mortals’ vows to be healthier and thinner in the New Year.

Most of us real people need to have some tailoring tune-ups to good garments we buy—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

[Of course, LA is world headquarters for the newly fashionable transgender plastic surgery.  Earlier this month, I had a scare when an out-of-town friend called to ask if I would pick up her adult son from a procedure he was scheduled to have here.  The doctor had to change the date schedule so Mom could not be here in time.  Having agreed to be a ‘responsible adult’ for patient pick-up, I did an Internet check to be sure I had the right address and enough time to be at the doctor’s clinic for the discharge.  I admit to more than mild panic when I recognized the physician as a premier Beverly Hills plastic surgeon noted for, among other things, transgender innovations.  I could not shake the image of the little boy whose diapers I had changed—now 6’ 4”, emerging from the recovery room on 6” heels and a dress!  Whew!! He was still an adult male who was happy to see his mom’s old friend.  Maybe next time??  It does take some adjustment to do favors for friends as the world’s parameters change.]

Red Carpet Time

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage, it is fascinating to ponder how do they do it –how they achieve that perfection.  Hard work, determination, deprivation, plus lots of time and money are committed to feed this society’s ideal of feminine beauty.

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage.

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage.

The Changing Shape of Beauty

My recipe to share this month was going to be a low calorie spinach concoction I serve with salmon.  I was ‘sipping the Kool-Aid’.  Then, I remembered that currently The Getty Center Museum features an exhibit by the painter Reubens.  If you have not reached your diet goals this Award Season, have a look at a Reubens painting.  Then, go eat a reuben sandwich as you watch the next Fashion Police Red Carpet review and critique of the beautiful people –you will feel better.

Rubens' Jupiter and Callisto

Rubens’ Jupiter and Callisto

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash = Oscar Party Practice

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.  And, it is time to plan for your Oscar party.  The City of Angels Award Winning Wings are perfect!  You can even make them now and freeze them –a perfect party food [even if Birdman were not nominated] for a busy party host.

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.

As usual, I have no idea how many will be at my home for Oscar Night viewing, but I am ready.  You see, I practiced on Super Bowl Sunday with a willing crowd who assembled to watch the game, eat some good food, celebrate 2 birthdays, eat some good food,  welcome East/West Coast family, eat some good food, celebrate 4 generations of family/friends together, and eat some good food.

A LA Perspective on Heights

I find it amazing to learn what people set as goals to achieve.  As a frequent visitor to one of California’s natural wonders, Yosemite National Park, I was awestruck recently by the gumption of two young men determined to climb the face of El Capitan –a 3,000 foot tall vertical granite wall.

Picture of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson at their hanging camp on El Cap at Yosemite

Picture of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson at their hanging camp on El Cap at Yosemite

For perspective, just imagine standing at the foot of the Library Tower (some call it the US Bank Building) in Downtown LA.  It is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.  Look up and imagine a smooth-faced rock 3 times that height!  [I get dizzy just being inside that building.  The last time I was there I was on the 19th floor doing depositions at a law office.  I had to face ‘inward’ to be able to maintain focus.]  Now, imagine climbing for 19 days to reach the top using only your hands and feet.  At night, you sleep in a tent hanging suspended in midair from the largest piece of granite the world.   You watch as a rope and pulley system moves supplies up and down, but the only ropes you use in your climb are safety harnesses to keep your falls from smashing you back to ‘ground zero’.   Occasionally, you take time off from climbing to let your raw finger tips re-grow skin so you can grip yet another crevice in your climb.  A 3 week life of freeze dried meals and baby-wipes.

Is that Sisu –or something else that starts with the letter “s”?

Finns in the Hollywood Awards Spotlight

Were you tuned in to the Golden Globes presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association when our Finnish superstar members were personally mentioned in a speech on global TV?

Recent weeks have been huge for Finns in Hollywood, starting with the Golden Globes.  We Finns are proud of our Finnish members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Erkki Kanto and Kirpi Uimonen.  The HFPA is known to be super exclusive.  Erkki and Kirpi are active, influential voting members who, this year, were recognized by The Grand Budapest Hotel Golden Globe winner Wes Anderson in his speech of thanks.  The whole world heard the names “Erkki” and “Kirpi” –and we cheered our friends!

Kirpi Uimonen

Kirpi Uimonen

Scandinavian Film Festival

Finnish films were showcased on January 2-12 at the International Film Festival in Palm Springs.  This exciting venue is the first of the year where international films are presented for Oscar consideration.  Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back.  Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year (Letters to Father Jacob).

Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back.  Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year.

Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back. Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year (Letters to Father Jacob).

The annual SFLA Film Festival in LA was held on January 17 to 25.  Finnish films presented were Concrete Night, Heart of a Lion, and Raspberry Boat Refugee.

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has a Finnish nominee this year.  Cinematographer Peter Finchenger is nominated in the Spotlight Award category for his work in Pirjo Honkasalo’s Concrete Night.  That awards event takes place on February 15th in LA.

Music

This January, Esa-Pekka Salonen was named the Marie-Josée Kravis New York Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence for the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons.

When Esa-Pekka Salonen was Music Director of the LA Philharmonic, he wrote LA Variations. It has become a modern classic and will be featured at the New York Premier in the fall of 2015.

Food

Finland rocked the food world in this years’ ranking—its best ever!  Finland won the prize for the Best Meat Platter and Antti Lukkari was awarded as the competition’s best Commis.

The most noted chefs’ competition in the world, Bocuse d’Or, welcomed Finland’s best placement at fourth when Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.  The Finnish team’s theme was a story of ‘the Finnish forest on a plate’ starring forest berries, mushrooms, caviar, and reindeer in the dishes.  Ohhh!! Yes!!

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.

Sports

Teemu Selänne was celebrated on January 11th on “Teemu Tribute Night” when he was the first Anaheim Ducks player to have his game jersey retired.  Known as the “Finnish Flash”, the 44 year old retired after 21 remarkable seasons as one of the best players in the National Hockey League where he still holds the Rookie Record for Most Goals and Points.  His career 684 goals are the 11th highest total in NHL history.

szzzlt

Teemu Selänne –just another humble Finn with awesome achievements.

American Sport’s Biggest Event—The Super Bowl

The annual Super Bowl has become so big, it is as if it has become part of Awards’ Season.  All of America stops for this grandest of sports/friends/family/communal celebrations.  They say it is the second biggest eating day of the year—after Thanksgiving.

Over 1/3 of all American households are tuned in to the Super Bowl on their televisions.  The commercials are as watched (or more) than the game itself.  Air time alone went for $4.5 million for a 30 second spot!


Tomi Hinkkanen and Nina Sallinen starred in  H-E-B’s 2015 Super Bowl Commercial: “On the Road” (which did not play in California, unfortunately)
What Has Chicken Got to Do With Anything

Now, Finland is not as into American jalkapallo football as it is into soccer.  Nor is it into chicken so much.  Food stores in Finland may have chicken (though not so much), but if you find chicken, it is usually in a tub of some strange orange colored marinade.  When Finns come to visit, they often ask me to cook chicken since that is what they have heard America does best as far as cuisine.

Things to Ponder Category:  Chicken Wings

Chicken wings (kanan siivet) –no, we are not talking about the chicken legs or the thighs [legitimate parts with meat on them], but wings (siivet).  Think about it.  Have you ever seen a chicken fly?  As a lawyer, I rest my case. This is a useless, ‘non-purposeful’ part of the animal with no more meat than a runway model!  Sorry, precious little hens and vegan friends—no harm intended.

Yet, the fact is chicken wings are a standard item on Super Bowl menus around the country.  According to the National Chicken Council, 1.25 billion wings were to be eaten during Super Bowl XLIX.  For my Grand Canyon fanatic Finnish friends [Pertti, are you listening], 1.25 billion wing segments laid end to end would circle the Grand Canyon 120 times!

[There is more than you will ever want to know at the National Chicken Council website.]

If Finns do not even favor the meaty pieces of chicken, why do Americans obsess over chicken wings?

It is like algebra.  Chicken wings are to Americans like crayfish are to Finns.  Being a lawyer (word person) rather than something else (numbers person), I hope that my effort at an algebraic formula makes sense:

If:

A = y/rapujuhla (crayfish party) and

B = x/chicken wing feast (super bowl party)

Then:

A + B = Fun aka a virtually nonexistent-meat promoted thing to put into your mouth to suck on and to wash down with adult beverages for hours while pursuing communal camaraderie.  [Caution: Do not drive or operate machinery for at least 12 hours.  This has been rumored to cause a condition called “a hangover”.]

A most popular chicken wing in America for sporting events is the Buffalo Wing.  It is cooked with butter and hot sauce; then, served with a blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.  Yum!!  [Note: BWs have nothing to do with the ’buffalo that roam’  who have no useable wings either, but are named for Buffalo, New York where it originated at the Anchor Bar.]  

buffalo

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash Extravaganza

My Super Bowl Sunday this year included human guests ages 2 to 92, 1 dog, two birthday heroes (one a football hero), their fans and loved ones.  Finger food items including the City of Angels Award Winning Wings created a game time ‘groaning board’ on the Aalto table in the Library.  Drinks: hard, medium, and soft were set up for self-service on the back patio.  Greta’s “Chasin’ Chili”, with all the ‘fixins’, and Tamale Pie waited for the half time main course.  Desserts included 2 birthday cakes and three varieties of homemade cookies.

Ava's Super Bowl Helmet Centerpiece

Super Bowl Helmet Centerpiece

Scaling the Heights to the Hollywood Sign to Visit a Finnish Award Winner and Hero

We Finns have heroes still in our midst.I saw both of our Lottas recently. Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California.  Sirkka is a remarkable oral poetry historian/performer, a Finlandia Foundation Honoree –a wonderful person of talent and positive Finnish energy.  And, Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.  Getting up Beachwood Canyon to the city’s most enduring icon [the Sign, not Sirkka !] has become quite an ordeal.  Residents in that area have had it with all the cars and tourists now that mobile Internet connections and navigation systems readily reveal ‘secret’ ways known only to locals in decades past.  Of course, everyone wants that ‘selfie’ to memorialize their conquest of the urban maze.  It is not El Capitan, but crowds are clamoring to make that climb!

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California.

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California (pictured with her longtime friend, Irene Yaro).

Sirkka is lovingly cared for by her longtime friend, Irene Yaro, in a house filled with adoring pets eagerly vying for a turn on Sirkka’s lap.  We shared coyote stories –apparently tourists aren’t the only pesky problem in the neighborhood.  The little dog in the photo was actually snatched by a coyote that Irene had to chase up the street with some neighbors who joined the rout.  Fortunately the coyote dropped the Chihuahua mix in order to jump the fence where it was cornered. The little dog needed stitches [no, no plastic surgery], but has recovered well from her injuries –not usually the fate for small animals in the hills.

Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.

Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.

Speaking of Meals…

AFTER WORD

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash Menu 

Homemade Guacamole in Morcajete with Chips

IMG1855

Homemade Guacamole in Morcajete with Chips

Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl

IMG1842

Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl

Ceviche Style Shrimp

IMG1844

Ceviche Style Shrimp

 

Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla Rolls

IMG1856

Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla Rolls

Blue Cheese Garlic Sauce

Greta’s ‘Chasin’ Chili

City of Angels Award Winning Wings

IMG1838

City of Angels Award Winning Wings

Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

IMG1846

Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

Charcuterie/Pickle Plank

IMG1845

Charcuterie/Pickle Plank

Cheese Board

7 Layer Sunset Beach Dip

IMG1841

7 Layer Sunset Beach Dip

Tamale Pie Bake

Macaroni and Cheese

Vegetarian Butternut Squash, Bean, and Kale Chili

Green Garden Salad

Acanto Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Garlic Fingerling Potatoes

Hot Off the Grill LA Bacon Wrapped Street Dogs with Peppers and Onions

IMG1865

Hot Off the Grill LA Bacon Wrapped Street Dogs with Peppers and Onions

Kiwi, Blackberry, Blueberry Angel Food Dessert

IMG1859

Kiwi, Blackberry, Blueberry Angel Food Dessert

Chocolate Cake with a Homemade Chocolate Dipped Lemon Truffle Crown

IMG1860

Chocolate Cake with a Homemade Chocolate Dipped Lemon Truffle Crown

Ava’s Cookies: Candy Corn Ginger Blocks, Meyer Lemon Bars, Chocolate Coconut Squares

IMG1858

Ava’s Cookies: Candy Corn Ginger Blocks, Meyer Lemon Bars, Chocolate Coconut Squares

Finnish Chocolates

Icelandic & Belgian Beer, Chalk Hill & Geyser Peak Chardonnay, Niebaum-Coppola Claret

Recipe

Award Winning City of Angels Wings

A foody friend once asked me for this recipe.  He won a contest with it!
4-5 lbs of chicken wings*

1 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup Marsala or sherry

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1 cup soy sauce

2-4 cloves of garlic, minced

IMG1805

Place wings on baking sheet [11” x 15” rimmed pan] in a single layer (jelly roll pan) and bake at 350º F for 30 minutes.

ava Feb1

 

 

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, Marsala, mustard, soy sauce, and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
ava Feb1aaa
Pour over wings and continue cooking for 1½ to 2 more hours, turning occasionally, until sauce has been absorbed and wings are deeply glazed.  [Yield: about 50-60 pieces.]

ava Febwwwww3

ava Feb22222

IMG1837

* Butchers/markets sell whole chicken wings which have three sections to them: two with meat and the tiny wing tip.  You can cut them up yourself with poultry shears and use the two portions with meat to please your friends’ appetites.  Discard the wing tips or save them to make stock.  I usually buy the wings already in pieces called “drummettes” or “party wings” –they look like baby drumsticks.  Four packets fit perfectly in a pan.   

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Saying Goodbyes

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Saying Goodbyes

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Candles From Above

Sometimes saying goodbye comes with a ‘wink from above’.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column entitled Pennies From Heaven to describe a phenomenon my father and I experienced when my dear mother passed away. Then, shiny new pennies suddenly began appearing in places and at times that ‘meant’ Ӓiti was with us and paying attention. Goodbye 101 is on the record.

Penny from heaven

Penny from heaven

Well, it has happened again.

Before you write me off as being a little off, let me tell you what has happened that looks an awful lot like Goodbye 102!

A few years ago while visiting in Minnesota, I saw realistic, wax, battery operated, ‘flameless candles’ for the first time. Like all Finns, I have always loved candlelight, use candles as a decorating statement, and look for interesting ways to place candles to enhance the mood of a party. Since my home is in a high fire risk area, ‘cool candles’ seemed pretty cool to me. I resolved to look for some flameless candles back home.

I saw sets of flameless candles at Costco many months later. Of course, I bought the box of various sizes. I had no real candle plan in mind so I just placed the candles up high on the open rafters of my parents’ suite just to get them out of the way. I never put batteries in them, tried to see if they worked, or read any directions. There they sat, out of the way, and virtually forgotten.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened. I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit! Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit.   It stayed on all night.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened.  I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit!  Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit.  It stayed on all night.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened. I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit! Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit. It stayed on all night.

The very next night, the tallest candle [–the one next to the shortest candle] had come on too! Those who knew my parents know that my mother was 5’2” and that my father was 6’2”. The message seemed clear: my mother was saying “I am here –and, then the next evening, Isä is now with me. All is good.” Those two candle lights […only those two] continued to come on every night for a month. I smiled –and was comforted.

As an educated professional woman, good sense suggested I show this unique happening to others for personal confirmation that my mind was not playing tricks. Just to be ‘safe’, I took pictures which do show the lighted flameless candles on the rafter. The calm, the peace, and the majesty of the original occurrence and the repeated reprieves are not captured!

Life Goes On

Even with death, life goes on.

In the year just passed, our local Finnish community said goodbye to many including: Alvar Kauti, Anja Reynolds, Dave Larsen, Eino Nurminen, and Marjatta Coughlan –a longtime staff member of the Finnish Consulate who taught me how to make her famous sourdough rye bread with her parrot, Pepe, on her shoulder.

May each of us leave values, memories, a recipe, and/or a technique true to our heritage for the following generations to cherish and to sanctify with loving use.

Holiday Happenings

The Finnish community’s social calendar was chock-a-block starting right after Thanksgiving.

The grand and glorious Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence was both respectful and fun. December 6th was on a weekend this year so it coincided with many other local Finnish and non-Finnish festivities.

Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence .

Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence .

I began the ‘season’ that day at my friend Mona’s Annual Luncheon at the Valley Hunt Club [creator of the original Rose Parade] which always kick-starts me into the holiday spirit. On the weekend schedule was Finnish artist Seija Gerdt’s annual glass sale, the Marimekko store’s holiday event and sale, my legal colleagues at Holland & Knight’s “Shopping at Bloomingdales” fundraising party with a significant portion of the proceeds going to the Downtown Women’s Shelter, and some of my own ‘what do I want to give—or get’ looking. We were not even to Sunday yet and, already, I had missed SWEA’s Annual Santa Lucia Pageant and Sale (which was at a new location on Broadway this year).   There was just too much to do!   I rationalized that making salmon sandwiches for the next day’s Finnish Church “Most Beautiful Christmas Carols” program was more urgent than spending money buying SWEA’s Scandinavian ‘goodies’ even if it was for a good cause.

marimekko

The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols were as advertised. From my usual place in the back of the church pew section [a good site for counting heads], it looked like more than 140 of all ages were in attendance.   As I sat there looking up to the forward, center aisle place my dad always sat so he could better hear the Pastor, the Lessons, and the music—and so he did not have far to walk to take Communion, my heart and my eyes welled up. The contemplation of my vision from just weeks ago was interrupted by the banter of the youngsters seated with their parents in the pew behind me.   My pending melancholy was aborted by hearing young children excitedly explaining to each other “…in Finland, at Christmas… !!!”. The music of the season began before the music of the season began! The music was beautiful indeed!

IMG1549

The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols at our local Finnish Lutheran Church

Even without the preamble above, hearing those Most Beautiful Christmas Carols in Finnish would have gotten my ‘waterworks going’! Thanks to a comforting hand from Barbara Tuuri sitting to my right and a fresh hankie handed to me from my left, I made it through the service.

The music was beautiful indeed!   HALLELUJAH!!

And the Beat Goes On

The following weekend was equally jam-packed.   Our Annual Bel Air Christmas Dinner with friends was scheduled for the same evening as the Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party.   I got to the North Hollywood clubhouse where the SK fun was just starting. While I arrived at the announced ‘start time’ for their famous Bake Sale, half of the prized Finnish delicacies had been ‘captured’ already by ‘early birds’.   I knew I could not stay for the Christmas dinner and festivities, but I did have a flashback to several years ago when my dad and I attended the same event together. Then, my father’s prankish Finnish sense of humor got the best of him—and me. Without warning, he had secretly bought, wrapped, labeled, and handed over a present with my name on it for joulupukki to hand out to me as if I were his 5 year old daughter. Santa called my name and insisted that I sit on his lap to get my present. Fun —and a few good laughs, were had by all! Well, almost all.

Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party

Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party

Reflections on my dad’s impish sense of humor occupied my thoughts as I headed off to participate in a tradition of over 25 years, the ‘so-called’ Bel Air Dinner. Through the years, the same 4 or 5 couples scheduled a ‘start of the Season’ dinner together where good food, good wine, and good humor made for good friendships and good fellowship. The Bel Air Dinner was traditionally held at the restrained Bel Air Hotel where the elegant main dining room tolerated our disruption of their traditional tranquility because we had become one of their traditions, their normally staid clientele seemed to enjoy our fun, their normally stuffy staff did enjoy our fun, and our end-of-evening bill reflected our enjoyment.

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills for that year—and for additional years. I am sure there are Congressional leaders, Presidential advisors, TV news anchors, and the like at the Bel Air who are happy not to have to find an excuse to decline invitations to join our table revelries—just as I am sure there is a ‘bean counter’ somewhere in a Bel Air backroom wondering what happened to their early December profits without our ‘contribution’ for the past several years!

More 2014

The week after Suomi Kerho held its tradition laden Finnish Christmas and the ‘Bel Air’ Dinner happened at the Peninsula, the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Pikku Joulu and the Suomi Koulu and Katirilli held their special Christmas Party in Costa Mesa.

Friends from law school whom I had not seen in decades were in town the following week. So, of course, we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica. What a fun afternoon of ‘catch-up’ on old times and colorful ‘war’ stories.

..we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica

..we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica

 

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists.   But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace.

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists

But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace.

But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace

Memorial Preparations

A Celebration of Life suits my preference over the term Memorial Service. While some may say that is just semantics, I feel the difference is in focus. ‘Memorial’ suggests ‘done’/ready to be ‘filed’ under history.   ‘Celebration’ suggests that we will put the spotlight on your life’s accomplishments and rejoice in your qualities, your accomplishments, and your contributions to our lives and the lives of others.

Either is so hard for people who lose loved ones –especially at this time of year. It is difficult to sing Joy to the World when all you feel is a great sense of loss. If not for the candle incident, the flickering winks, and the pennies from heaven, I might not have been able to cope with all that needed to be done to properly honor my father. With out of state family in town, it made sense to do something while they were here. If we were going to do anything, it had to be put together quickly.

Thanks be to God for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, for Sirpa Welch with her new Scandinavian Kitchen in LA catering business, and for Michael Armstrong (my Dad’s favorite pianist from the old Finnish Church in Van Nuys)

Thanks be to God for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, for Sirpa Welch with her new Scandinavian Kitchen in LA catering business, and for Michael Armstrong (my Dad’s favorite pianist from the old Finnish Church in Van Nuys)—all of whom rose to the occasion to create the most wonderful, warm, and comforting Celebration of Life imaginable. So many friends from the Finnish community and organizations came together, shared their memories, and brought such love and good feelings to the day.

A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie.

A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie.

Jonny Kahleyn Dieb, photographer and photo editor for Finntimes, made a beautiful pictorial tribute from old photographs from my dad’s albums. Tomi Hinkkanen, international journalist and Finntimes editor, memorialized the Celebration Service on video.   My children, now accomplished adults with families of their own, spoke with loving and touching words describing the impact and value Iso Vaari had in shaping their lives. A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie. The special foods were expertly homemade by Sirpa and beautifully presented with the help of Sirpa’s professional staff including table stylist extraordinaire, Brain Gandolfo.

Everyone present had to feel my father’s presence, his modest appreciation at being Celebrated, and his smiles from heaven.

Eino Nurminen Has Left Us Too

All of this talk of celebrations, of food, and of Sirpa carrying on the Finnish/Scandinavian catering tradition in Los Angeles reminds me of the legacy she is following. I wanted to share some memories of another Finnish culinary legend who passed on last year.

The Finnish American community in Southern California has lost one of its most remarkable icons. Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description. I labored over the order of those descriptors until I realized that the ‘order’ was dependent solely upon the hat(s) that fit the circumstances in which he found himself—often more than one was appropriately worn!

Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description

Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description

Anja, otamme osaa (we take part in your grief). You were Eino’s great partner in a life of adventures and accomplishments. You were a fantastic team.

Kiitos Eino for your friendship, joy, inspiration, and the Finnish spirit you demonstrated to (and for) all of us. We will miss you. We thank you for all you did for the Finnish American community when you were here in Los Angeles. Your contribution is permanent and indelible.

One of my last memories of Eino was when Anja and he attended one of my father’s “big” birthday gatherings at the lake cabin in Finland a few years ago. Eino was wearing a snazzy fedora to shade him from the long day’s Summer sun. With the hat tilted at a rakish angle, he looked a bit like Indiana Jones! But, his Hollywood days were behind him. Anja and Eino had come to the party from their home in a neighboring Finnish village where they were enjoying their retirement.

As always, Eino brought that warm smile and twinkle in his eye that we all had experienced for so many years when he was evolving as a Renaissance Man during his ‘prime time’ in Southern California. Those who knew Eino, know what I am talking about.

Eino had the best qualities a Finn could have: a happy hard work ethic, perseverance, a quiet sense of humor, humility backed with significant accomplishment, a vision for the future, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done, and an appreciation for Finnish culture and tradition—and a desire to make sure those values were passed on.

Most knew Eino had talent as a chef—they had eaten at his restaurant (The Nordic Inn on Ventura Boulevard), been to a party at the Finnish Consulate that Anja and he catered, or participated in a Finnish community event where he volunteered his considerable talents.   Some simply bought his Chef Eino’s Finnish Mustard to impress their friends. Eino’s creativity served many of us well when entertaining since we were able to order his laatikkos, karjalan piirakkas, and the special Christmas hams for our Finnish festivities.

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications. Anja and he were supreme Finnish folk dancers (Katirilli) sharing and passing on this joyous tradition to everyone who would watch. When Finnair commissioned a film special on The Naked Truth About the Finnish Sauna, there was Eino sitting on his Finnish porch demonstrating the proper techniques for preparing a hand-made vihta from fresh birch branches.

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications

Eino was always there at whatever Finnish event was going on with whatever organization. One of my favorite and definitive Eino memories occurred at Suomi Kerho many years ago. I had volunteered to make Finnish Field Marshall Mannerheim’s favorite food (vorschmak) for an event being held at the clubhouse. My now daughter-in-law was game to have a real Finnish exposure—and did she ever! We brought the enormous pot that had been cooking for literally days [54 hours is prescribed by the General’s favorite Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki] and the large oven baking potatoes to be prepared on the premises. We were quite proud of ourselves because we had done all of the hard work.   All we had to do was set the huge SK gas stove ovens for potato baking and wait—we had planned our time well and were quite pleased with ourselves.

Fate takes care of smugness quickly! We could not get the monster gas stove and its cavernous ovens lit! My panic at the prospect of serving ‘candle-baked’ potatoes to demanding Finns was compounded by the Finnish National Costume I was wearing so proudly.   Literally, I could not move or take a deep breath because of the cinched laced waist of my grandmother’s kansallispuku from Ikaallinen. I did not want to risk a ripped lace or a bodice ‘malfunction’. Figuring out how to fire up that recalcitrant potato baking machine was a punishing time-line challenge I was losing.   Then, like the Lone Ranger to the rescue, Eino arrived, laughed at the quirky oven he knew so well [and us!], and quickly solved our problem by crawling on his back to get under the stove to light it successfully. Eino always went the extra mile—with a smile.

Eino mastered working with his hands and with his mind. For so many years generations of us were amazed at his many and varied talents. I can remember so many events and so many dishes that made me proud to be a Finn.   Some of the dishes that remain in my memory are the Salmon Rice Pie in a Crust, the Dried Plum Mousse, a Whitefish Gravlax!  Eino’s food was exquisite before anyone in LA knew what a “foodie” was!

Celebrate Being Alive In Two Oh One Five

As we remember those who have gone beyond last year, it is always good to get perspective on our own mortality. I was abruptly reminded of mine when my perceptive little grandson who is always full of questions said: “Iso Vaari died, right”? Yes. “And, that is because he was really old, right?” Yes. His third and final volley: “I guess that means you are almost dead!!!”

Out of the mouths of babes!

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

AFTERWORD

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

Oh yes, as I was clearing out a clean white box of receipts from my dad’s medical expenses in 2014 just after finishing the first draft of this article, there at the bottom of the storage box was another of those shiny new pennies smiling up at me! You tell me!!

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Helpful New Year!!!!