25 April 2010

Norwegians: Hard, Soft, or Both?

Columnist Davd Brooks recently wrote an article discussing "hard and soft" tendencies in people of Norwegian culture. Athletes from Norway have won more gold medals in Winter Olympic games than people from any other nation. Brooks indicates that there must be many reasons for Norway's excellence in winter sports, and some of them are embedded in the story of Jan Baalsrud.

As described in the book, We Die Alone, by David Howarth, Baalsrud was a young instrument maker who was asked to sneak back into Norway to help the anti-Nazi resistance. His mission was betrayed, and the boat he was on was shelled by German troops as it reached the Norwegian coast. Baalsrud swam through icy water to reach an island, and began to climb the mountain there in harsh winter conditions. Shot at and hunted by dozens of Germans, Baalsrud left a bloody trail in the deep snow. In a feat of almost unbelievable determination, he scrambled across the island and down to the beach again, where he swam across the water to two other islands. When he lay dying on the last island, two Norwegian girls found him and took him home, saving his life in spite of the risk involved.

Over the next few months, many Norwegians participated in getting Baalsrud to safety in Sweden. Whole villages risked everything to help a fellow Norwegian in his time of need, providing him with food and clothes. One 72 year old man rowed Baalsrud across the water to the mainland, and gave him skis. Jan Baalsrud continued on, skiing through severe winter weather, minus one toe from the gunshot wound he had sustained. Along his journey, he also suffered being buried by an avalanche, concussion, snow-blindness, frostbite, and even gangrene. When Baalsrud could no longer walk, someone built a sled and carried him and the sled up a mountain in the middle of a winter storm to meet another party who would help from there.

There is much more to this incredible story of survival, but the main point, according to Brooks, is that it could only take place in a country where "people are skilled on skis and in winter conditions," but where an interesting form of "social capital" is on display. Brooks calls it a mixture of hardness and softness:

Baalsrud was kept alive thanks to a serial outpouring of love and nurturing. At the same time, he and his rescuers displayed an unbelievable level of hardheaded toughness and resilience. That's a cultural cocktail bound to produce achievement in many spheres.

Many of us who have studied our Norwegian ancestry have tried to come up with just the right description of the resislience that becomes so prevalent in their personal stories, time after time. Not every Norwegian has suffered the catastropic experiences of Jan Baalsrud on his route to freedom during WWII. But, perhaps there is a common tendency in Norwegians based on necessities derived from living in this particular corner of the world, from learning to deal with extreme winter conditions, unpredictable food supplies, and a lack of arable land. Through the centuries, hospitality and team work, combined with just the right amount of hard headedness, and faith, were all required to get the job done and ensure survival.

Ja, we always knew our Norwegians ancestors were a hardy bunch!

Source: "The Hard and the Soft," New York Times, March 2, 2010, p.A21

Chery Kinnick

29 March 2010

PLU Hosts 34th Norwegian Heritage Festival

On April 24, the Scandinavian Cultural Center of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, is holding the 34th Annual Norwegian Heritage Festival at the University Center, Main Floor, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

There will be musical entertainment, craft demonstrations, vendors, and information booths. Visitors are encouraged to treat themselves to: "pølse med lompe, ertesuppe, rømmegrøt, smørbrød’ and lefse" at the Norwegian Café. The current exhibit, "Nordic Imagery: Pastels and Watercolors," will also be open for viewing.

So, round up your family and your appetite for all things Norwegian, and head for Tacoma on April 24th, whether by air, land, or in the traditional manner--by sea!

13 March 2010

The 82nd Annual Blessing of the Fleet

Sunday, March 14, 2:00 p.m., at the Fisherman's Memorial site, Fisherman's Terminal in Ballard.

For the past 81 years, the ministers from Ballard First Lutheran Church have been blessing the fishing boats that go to sea at the beginning of the halibut season. This wonderful tradition was started in 1929 by the Rev. Olav Haavik, a Norwegian immigrant minister. He ministered to the fishermen and their families, many of whom lived just blocks from the canal. This Norwegian immigrant considered a boat to be his first pulpit. That said, the ceremony is not a Norwegian tradition. It is important, however, to the owners, the wives, the families and survivors of the hundreds of fishing vessels that head to the Puget Sound and Alaska each year.

For the past 21 years, Rev. Malcolm Unseth, Jr. has been "blessing the fleet." He was a member of the Norwegian Commercial Club and was instrumental in the development of the Seattle Fishermen's Memorial, and served as Chalplain to the Seattle Fire Department. Just weeks after the 2009 blessing, Rev. Unseth, age 82, went to meet his Savior, having lost his battle with lung cancer. He will be missed, but the blessings will continue. This Sunday afternoon, the service will be conducted by Pastors Erik R. Wilslon Weiberg and Laurie A. Jones, both of Ballard First Lutheran. They will give prayers of thanksgiving for the fishing community, remembering the risks they take each day in order to provide seafood for our tables, and pray that the families of the fishermen will continue to be healthy and protected during their time of separation. Those who went out to sea and never returned will also be remembered.

Come and join your fellow Norwegian-Americans at this unique Seattle tradition. Cookies and coffee will be served.

"Fleet will be blessed at Fishermen's Terminal in Ballard" (Seattle Times, 2009)
"Under the Needle: Lutheran Church transitions with a changing Ballard" (Seattle P.I, 2008)
"Mixed blessing for Fisherman" (Ballard News Tribune, 2006)

Luci Baker Johnson

20 February 2010

"Don't Think That You Are Special"

We all have varying hobbies, interests and "things we search for on the internet." I'm always looking for relevant information to allow me to expand on my knowledge of all things Norwegian. One way I do this is to follow various blogs, like the Norwegian Blog. To be truthfully honest, I don't know the origin of this blog, or much about the author(s), or the accuracy of the information. BUT I do find the postings interesting, and thus it peaks my curiosity to go on to look for more information

On the Norwegian Blog, Kari writes about the concept of Janteloven, which gives insight into the Norwegian psyche.


"Don’t think you are better than us or that you are special. This statement is the basis of an old Scandinavian concept that has been engrained in Scandinavian societies since before WWII. The author Aksel Sandemose, a Danish/Norwegian novelist created the concept of Janteloven in his book En flygtning krydser sit spor (A Refugee Crosses his Tracks), in which Sandemose portrays a fictional town called Jante, a small town much like his hometown where everyone knows everyone. For those of you that live a small town or perhaps come from a small town, you know how fast gossip spreads. Although hearing gossip can be interesting and spreading it can be all too easy, I think individuals who live in small towns would prefer that there wasn’t so much gossip. Life in a small town is much more comfortable when social stability is intact. Most of Norway up until the last couple of decades consisted of many small towns and villages. Even today most Norwegians live in relatively small communities where it’s difficult to remain anonymous. Aksel Sandemose’s Janteloven have long been believed to assist small communities in remaining stable."

  • Don’t think that you are special.
  • Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
  • Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
  • Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
  • Don’t think that you know more than us.
  • Don’t think that you are more important than us.
  • Don’t think that you are good at anything.
  • Don’t laugh at us.
  • Don’t think that anyone cares about you.
  • Don’t think that you can teach us anything.

Read what else Kari has to say about Janteloven on her Norwegian Blog entry of February 9, 2009.

Luci Baker Johnson


12 February 2010

Norwegian Commercial Club--"Promoting commerce, culture and social connections"

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Norwegian Commercial Club (NCC) with my fellow Nearby Norwegian and NCC member, Luci Baker Johnson. The meetings are held at the historic Son's of Norway Leif Erikson Lodge in the heart of Ballard. The Norwegian Commercial Club is currently the largest ethnic business club in Washington. Started in 1932, the club was attempt to broaden the base of prospective members of the former Odinian Society, made up of Norwegian Masons. It was determined that a larger membership base would make it possible for Norwegians to help one another during the depth of the Great Depression. The many purposes of the modern day NCC include the promotion and encouragement of local civic and commercial activity, fostering trade and commerce among its members, advocating good citizenship, and maintaining a social and business club for Norwegians and Norwegian Americans.

There are various businesses and professions represented within the membership of the NCC, everything from accountants to educators, fishermen to importers, as well as ministers, real estate agents, surveyors, and more; over 90 different vocations are listed in the Club brochure. Participants meet on the second and fourth Thursday of every month, excluding summers, and engage in a social and networking hour, dinner, and then a program/speaker, followed by general business. Dinner offerings are of a Scandinavian flavor. Last night the repertoire included drinks, coffee, an assortment of flat breads offered with butter, yellow pea soup, followed by a main course of breaded and stuffed cod, white potatoes, peas and carrots, and finally, applesauce topped with whipped cream. Ja, it was all very tasty, indeed!

Astrid Karlsen Scott

The guest speaker of the night was Astrid Karlsen Scott, who talked about her recent book, In the Shadow of the Gestapo. Astrid Karlsen Scott ws born in Oslo, Norway and currently lives in Olympia, Washington. She is considered an expert on Norway's culture, traditions, folklore and culinary customs and has conducted professional tours throughout Scandinavia. A free lance writer, Astrid has published about ten books on topics such as: WWII and the Norwegian underground, Norwegian cooking, and Christmas traditions in Norway. She has appeared on television and radio talk shows throughout the United States.

In the Shadow of the Gestapo is a true story about 21-year-old Gunvald Tomstad, a farmer from Flekkefjord, Norway. A pacifist at the beginning of World War II, Tomstad soon joined the Norwegian Nazi party, ascended to a trusted leadership position, and for two years sent radio transmissions revealing Nazi secrets to the Allies in London from his farm house. It is a story of patriotism and courage, and of the great personal sacrifice of Tomstad, his family, and friends.

Read more about Astrid Karlsen Scott, her publications, and activities at Nordic Adventures.

If the Norwegian Commercial Club continues to have such interesting guest speakers (as well as that wonderful Norwegian cooking), I will surely attend again. It was a warm and welcoming group of about a hundred people present last night, talking and joking, and relishing one another's company. Annual membership is $40, with a $10 initial application. Dinners are $25 each, or $23 for early registration, and guests are always welcome. Though, I have to warn that the inviting member is expected to introduce each guest, and following desert, just as you are settling in with a happy tummy to hear a wonderful lecture, you might just find yourself being handed a microphone!


Chery Kinnick

08 February 2010

Inventory of Morning Norwegian Cuisine

In a small town in southern Minnesota lives my father's youngest sister, Shirley and her husband, Burdette. My aunt and uncle will celebrate 61 years of marriage on the 12th of February and she will be 81 on the 28th. Blue Earth (Minnesota) is just 3.2 square miles and is located just off Interstate-Highway 90 and a few miles north of the Iowa border. There are less 4,000 residents and about 900 families. A small town - yes, but a town with heart, history and yes - the Green Giant.

"Flights, Freeways, and Detours," cover image

My Aunt Shirley is a marvel. For nearly her entire life she has written poems - snippets of life through the eyes of a daughter, sister, mother, grand-mother, great-grandmother, co-worker, friend, and neighbor. She was a secretary, bookkeeper and Licensed Public Accountant before retiring in 1993. She's written over 700 poems and in 1998 published her first book of poetry "Buckwheat Cakes and Cornmeal Mush (Growing Up in the Thirties)" She has a talent for capturing the surprise of language or perception. "She has a knack for presenting the exactly appropriate word for the exactly fresh metaphor ..." said one peer poet, author and editor. "She is both an astute observer and accurate reporter, pulling the reader into each event with delightful images."

In February 1999 the famous Minnesotan, Garrison Keillor, read one of her poems ("Country Haircuts") on The Writer's Almanac on NPR Radio. In the past decade she has published eight books of poetry, each one focusing on a facet of life as an american from the heartland.

Below I share with you one of my favorites. A poem written about a vacation she and Uncle Burdette took to Norway, the home of his ancestors. As you read the poem you can almost taste and smell the delicious Norwegian morsels of food.

--Luci Baker Johnson


Cold fish for breakfast—

in red sauce, creamy sauce, vinegar

Cold meats, thin sliced, arranged on platters

Pickles-cucumber and beet

Great chunks of cheese—

white, yellow, brown

with slicer provided

Water pitchers of milk and orange juice

Soup bowls stored beside cornflakes,

museli, vegetable bowl of sugar

Baskets or porcelain hens

with nests of soft-boiled eggs

near stacks of egg cups

Pyramid of saucers and cups

beside pots of strong coffee,

hot water for tea

In most hotels, yogurt and fresh fruit—

in some, caviar

Little plastic boxes of smor (butter in English)

vegetable bowls of jam—

strawberry, orange marmalade, and one other

Generous trays of breads—

coarse white, whole wheat, hard crusted buns

that sprinkle crumbs onto the lap

of one who presumes to split them

by Shirley Ensrud Flights, Freeways and Detours (of Vacations and Travel) © 2008

30 January 2010

Nearby History Participant to Receive Nursing Honor

Mary Bartholet is to be inducted into the 2010 Washington State Nurses Association Hall of Fame on the evening of March 18, at Salty's restaurant in Alki Point.. Mary is a past participant of the Nearby History writing program, held at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). The WSNA Hall of Fame award, which began in 1996, honors nurses in Washington State who have made significant contributions to nursing, and to the community.

Each inductee into the Washington State Nurses Association Hall of Fame has demonstrated excellence in the areas of patient care, leadership, education, public service, nurse advocacy, heroism, patient advocacy, or clinical practice, and for achievements that have ending value to nursing beyond the inductee's lifetime. In addition, each has demonstrated excellence that affected the health and/or social history of Washington state through sustained, lifelong contributions.

Nearby Norwegian member, Barbara Holz Sullivan, a retired nurse and co-participant in Nearby History seminars, nominated Mary Bartholet for the WSNA award after conducting research on her personal and professional achievements.

You can read about the 2010 Hall of Fame induction event at the Washington State Nurses Association website. More information concerning Mary's specific contributions will be added after the award ceremony.

The Nearby Norwegians heartily congratulate Mary, our friend and collaborator in historical and genealogical research, on her induction into the 2010 Washington State Nurses Association Hall of Fame.

27 January 2010

PNW Historians Guild Conference in March

On Saturday, March 6, 2010, Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) will host the 24th annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Historians Guild. This year's topic is "The Northwest Borderlands":

The Pacific Northwest is a diverse region geographically, politically and culturally. Its history is therefore equally diverse. What does the Northwest's past mean to the various and varied populations living with the region? At this annual full day conference, history lovers can experience new work by academic historians and independent scholars as well as by community historians, journalists, filmmakers, genealogists, oral historians, students and folklorists.

Nearby Norwegian member, Luci Baker Johnson, will speak at this year's conference on "The Reindeer Expedition: the missionaries, teachers, reindeer herders, government officials, and indigenous peoples of Alaska, 1890-1900." Luci's research on this topic involves the Sami from northern Norway, the Esquimaux (Yupick and Inuit) from Siberia and Alaska, and Caucasions from Washington D.C., Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Seattle, Washington. "Between 1890 and 1900, there were two inter-continental expeditions of people and reindeer that journeyed from northern Norway to New York; New York to Seattle by train; Seattle to San Francisco (by boat), with the final destination as the Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Both expeditions were initiated by the U.S. Governement through the Department of Interior and expenses covered by the Department of Eduation." See image.

This year's PNW Historians Guild Conference marks yet another participation by Nearby Norwegians. During last year's conference, dealing with Seattle's Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909, Luci Baker Johnson and Barbara Holz Sullivan offered a presentation on "Scandinavians at the AYP," including Norway Day at the Fair, and Cathy Lykes presented her in-depth research on "Health and Medicine and the AYP."


Chery Kinnick

16 January 2010

Nearby Norwegians Play Peek-a-Boo

Maybe the Nearby Norwegians have been busy playing peek-a-boo lately by not updating this blog regularly. But, we assure you that we are still kicking! To start off the new year, here are some photos of Young Nearby Norwegians: Barbara, Carolyn, Cathy, Chery, and Luci. I'm sure our loving parents had no idea what we would get up to as we grew: rooting around in family documents, asking pesky questions, and being nosy, budding genealogists, in general. Can you match the little faces with the names? If you look closely, you'll spy at least one hint!