The Voss Folkemuseum

January 16, 2020

Although most of Fiddling With Fate centers on the Hardanger Folkemuseum, I also wanted to include the Voss Folkemuseum, a sister site. The museum, founded in 1917, preserves the old farmstead at Mølster (Mølstertunet). That museum has a special claim: all of the buildings at the site stand on their original locations.

Historians believe the farm at Mølster was established over a thousand years ago. In western Norway, it was once common for several small farms to be clustered together.

This drawing showing clustered farms, on exhibit at the museum, was made by historian Arne Berg.

Individual families had their own buildings and plots of land, but shared a common courtyard. In Voss, these jumbled patches didn’t start getting consolidated until about 1860.

(Diorama on exhibit at the museum.)

Two families lived at the farm until 1924, when the property was formally transferred to the folk museum.

The museum board visiting the farm in 1919. (Photo displayed at the museum.)
This old postcard shows the farm perched on a hilltop. (Enerett Normanns Kunstforlag A/S Oslo)

In the book, Chloe visits the Voss Folkemuseum with a colleague. After a meeting, she’s able to enjoy a quick tour of the site:

The guide slogged across the muddy lane. “Let’s start in the barn. We’ll be out of the rain and we can see the whole farmyard from there.” She headed toward a large barn with side bays for hay and grain, and a central drive-through/threshing floor. “There have probably been two families farming here since before the Black Death in the thirteen hundreds …”

Chloe tried to listen, she really did, but on this cloudy day the deserted old homes and cowsheds and storage houses—their logs weathered almost gray, with roofs of slate or turf—seemed especially evocative.

The courtyard, as viewed from the barn.
This is the barn Chloe visited.

Focus, Chloe ordered herself, but the palpable rage and joy lingering in the barn were too strong to ignore. …And from a distance, she heard a hardingfele’s irresistible call.

The barn became the setting for the 1888 fiddle competition and dance which Britta and Erik attended.

My visit to the folk museum provided lots of other details for the mystery. The oldest building is an årestove, a log house with a central open hearth, which has been dated to about 1500.

This provides another view of the type of kitchen described at the high farm, in the early years, in Fiddling With Fate

The cluster includes a more modern home (the building on the left in the photo below).

Some of the artifacts in the home helped inform my descriptions of the later years in Fiddling With Fate’s historical timeline.

The room below, in a storehouse, is similar to the one Lisbet visited with Gudrun in 1838: They climbed to the loft, where the family stored wooden chests filled with rye and barley, her mother’s silver jewelry, her father’s savings, their best clothes. Those included Lisbet’s bridal attire.

And this shows the type of bunks provided in the outbuilding for farm workers. Torhild and Gjertrud slept in a storeroom like this while working at the Hotel Utne in the 1850s.

Mr. Ernst and I visited the Voss Folkemuseum on an evocative rainy day, which turned out to provide lots of inspiration. If you have the chance to visit the Hardanger region, keep this historic site on your list!

Kransekake

January 4, 2020

For the final scene in Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I needed a special and festive Norwegian cake. The decision was easy: kransekake!

The Norwegian kransekake, or wreath cake, is formed from a series of concentric rings, stacked to make a cone.

(Wikipedia)

I like to experiment in the kitchen, but to learn about making kransekakes, I turned to some experts at the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge in Stoughton, WI.

Vicky, Joyce, and Carol

Special pans allow bakers to create perfectly sized tiers.

My reader-friend Larry, who also writes about Norwegian heritage, recently speculated that immigrants would not have been likely to pack such tins in their trunks. It is possible to make the rings without the pans, although it is much harder to get them sized correctly! I don’t know when the special pans became popular, but today you can buy them in a set from most any Scandinavian import shop. (The cakes are also popular in Denmark. Kransekage is the Danish spelling.)

The thick dough is made of almond meal, powdered sugar, and egg whites. You can grind your own almonds, but buying meal saves time.

Once the dough is mixed, small portions are rolled out into long lengths by hand. It takes practice to get them even and sized properly for the pans. (I could identify my rings because they were less uniform than the others!) It’s also best to work quickly so the dough doesn’t dry and crack.

Once a roll is made, the baker breaks off pieces and fits them into the pans.

Kransekakes commonly have eighteen layers (some even more), although you can also make smaller ones. That’s what we did, which is why all the rings weren’t filled.

It takes a careful eye to get the rings baked properly. They must be chewy, but firm enough to stack.

At that point, they come out of the pan to cool. If you’re doing multiple cakes at once, keep the rings organized in sets!

The ladies assured me that all the wobbles and bobbles in my rings would disappear when the traditional drizzle of frosting was applied. Below is my first mini-kransekake, and it did look much nicer once I decorated it.

It’s also possible to pack the baked rings away in the freezer, to be assembled right before serving.

When I celebrated the launch of Fiddling With Fate with a special dinner and program at the Lodge, my baker-friends kindly agreed to make kransekakes so guests could enjoy the cake Kari made for Chloe and Roelke in the book. We baked a small one for each individual table. Doesn’t it look festive?

The ladies also made one full-sized kransekake so guests could get the impact of a full tower!

It also let Mr. Ernst and I demonstrate a wedding tradition. After the feast the groom covers the bride’s eyes, and she picks up the top layer of the kransekake. However many layers come up with it, attached by frosting, indicate how many children the couple will have!

I’m glad I had tutelage, but once you get the hang of it, making kransekakes is easier than it might appear. And while the simple loops of white frosting might be most common, bakers can decorate however they wish. Sometimes small gifts are attached, or—at weddings—tiny objects of importance for the bride and groom.

If you want to try baking a kransekake, a set of purchased pans will come with a recipe. You can also find recipes online and if you feel daring, try baking one free-form. Let me know how it turns out!

Exploring Your Heritage: A Writing Sampler

December 10, 2019

I’m delighted to announce that I will be teaching a writing workshop at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa, on April 24-26, 2020.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Cherished family stories can be preserved in many ways. This workshop will introduce you to several types of writing, including poetry, memoir, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

You will enjoy a variety of short writing activities designed to help capture memories or explore what interests you most about your unique family, ethnic group, or community heritage.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Inspired by Vesterheim’s rich collections and your own personal memories or heirlooms, you will leave with drafts of several poems, character sketches, essays, and short stories.

(photo by Rebecca Hanna)

Both beginning writers and those with some experience are welcome. Returning students will find some familiar activities, some new, and a chance to continue your work.

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

I hope you will consider gifting yourself a weekend of creativity and reflection. If you have any questions, let me know. I look forward to seeing you!

Giving Thanks For Volunteers

November 28, 2019

When I give programs about the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series, I often mention overarching goals I developed long ago for the series: celebrating real historic places, highlighting folk arts, using artifacts from museum collections to help tell stories, and honoring our ancestors.

Ten books in, I need to add one more goal. I hope that each Chloe book can honor the volunteers who do so much to make sure local history, family stories, or cultural heritage isn’t lost.

Barb Chisolm telling the story of the Great Fire as seen through her own ancestor’s eyes.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit many local historical societies in Wisconsin and neighboring states—sometimes to do research, sometimes because I’m invited to make a presentation about the Chloe mysteries or my nonfiction book, A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons. I usually leave feeling awed that a small group of people is making such a big difference in their community.

Three generations of milling technology, from ancient stone grinding to the modern roller mill to modern electricity, are preserved in The Messer/Mayer Mill, owned by the Richfield County Historical Society, WI. (RCHS Photo)

Some groups focus on ethnic heritage, preserving important traditions brought to the Upper Midwest by their own parents and grandparents.

Volunteers often perpetuate food traditions—often giving their time to support bake sales that fund educational programs and other projects.

Vicky, Joyce, and Carol taught me how to make Kransekake, a traditional Norwegian almond cake made of stacked rings that I mentioned in Fiddling With Fate. These ladies and many other bakers at the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge in Stoughton bake lots of goodies to raise money for important programs.

Some share music…

Alphorn players at Swiss Volksfest, New Glarus, WI.
Hardanger fiddle players, members of Fykerud’n Spelemannslag, performing at Syttende Mai, Stoughton, WI.

…and some dance.

The Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt dancers are organized into three age groups. I love seeing the young ones involved! The group is located in Western Ozaukee County, WI, site of the oldest German settlement in the state.
Stoughton High School Norwegian Dancers have been delighting crowds since the 1950s.

Some individuals focus on folk arts, honing their own understanding of techniques and, often, sharing it with others by teaching or giving presentations.

Kasia Drake-Hames (in tan sweater) teaching a workshop in Polish paper cutting, wycinanki. I featured this folk art in Tradition of Deceit.
Susan Slinde sharing some history about Hardanger embroidery, illustrated by one of her own gorgeous pieces.
Rebecca Hanna teaching carving to young people through the Whittling Klubb for Kids at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. (Photo http://www.thegazette.com)

Many artifacts are saved by the volunteers who preserve them at local historical societies.

This sampler is on display at the William H. Upham House, owned by the North Wood County Historical Society, Marshfield, WI. It was just what I needed when looking for a sampler to reflect a character in A Memory of Muskets.

Volunteers preserve buildings…

Reedsburg Area Pioneer Log Village, WI. I’m looking forward to visiting!
No only did descendants of early Belgian settlers save this historic church, they turned it into a gathering place with museum exhibits and cultural programs, preserving immigrant stories, the Walloon language, and local history. I visited to do research, but decided I had to include it in The Lacemaker’s Secret.
The Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island State Park, WI, was in sad shape before volunteers organized to preserve and restore the building. Mr. Ernst and I was privileged to serve as docents there for eight years, sharing the stories of lighthouse families who once lived and worked there. Part of The Lightkeeper’s Legacy was written in the lighthouse.

…and sometimes volunteers even recreate buildings, because they understand that place is important.

The Little House Wayside Cabin allows fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods to walk the ground where the Ingalls family once walked, and imagine. I enjoyed visiting while writing Death on the Prairie.

Family volunteers—those who collect and stories about their ancestors–make a difference too, in ways larger than they might imagine. Many of my books include details inspired by a reminiscence or family history I discovered.

The list could go on, but suffice it to say that I’m enormously grateful to everyone who helps preserve, protect, perpetuate, and share.

Many of the dedicated and generous people I’ve met on the road merge and blend into characters in the Chloe books. Chloe, and I, couldn’t do our work without you. We’re grateful!

Rømmegrøt Bars

November 21, 2019

I love exploring historic and ethnic food traditions. Working at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s and ’90s provided my first opportunity to delve into traditional Norwegian foodways.

Making krumkake on a wood stove at the 1865 Kvaale Farm.

Deciding to make Chloe Ellefson (protagonist of my mystery series) a Norwegian-American rekindled my interest in traditional foods. I imagined taking plates of Norwegian cookies to every library program and bookstore visit.

While writing Heritage of Darkness, a Norwegian-themed book that mentions traditional holiday baking, I took a hands-on class about Norwegian cookies. (You can get a peek at that experience HERE.)

Sandbakkels

I’m sorry to say that the whole idea of baking dozens of cookies for readers never materialized. The traditional Norwegian treats I’m familiar with are putzy. I’m not opposed to putzing; I just don’t have time.

So when I contemplated the idea of refreshments for the launch party for Fiddling With Fate, which is largely set in Norway, I compromised. First, I ordered rosettes from the Fosdal Home Bakery in Stoughton, WI.

Second, I whipped up a couple of batches of rømmegrøt bars.

Rømmegrøt is a Norwegian porridge. In the summer, Norwegian women at the high pastures mixed together sour cream, milk, flour, and butter to make a rich, thick dish topped with melted butter and, sometimes, sugar and cinnamon.

(Wikipedia)

Although I love rømmegrøt, the logistics involved with serving warm porridge in a bookstore seemed challenging.

Rømmegrøt bars are reminiscent of the porridge, delicious, and super-easy to make. I got the recipe from my friend Darlene, who often baked them for students attending folk art classes at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Rømmegrøt Bars

  • 2 tubes Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (or Pillsbury Baking Sheets, which do not have perforations; I’ve also used Crescent Rounds)
  • 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened (I’ve used Neufchatel)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon

Grease a 9 x 12 ” pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Open one can of crescent rolls and carefully unroll the dough. Place on the bottom of the pan. Gently spread the dough with your fingers until it touches the sides of the pan. Try not to let it get too thick along the edges.

Cream together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and the egg yolk. Spread this mixture over the dough in the pan. Unroll the second can of dough and place over this filling.

Beat the egg white until foamy and spread on top of the dough. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cool and cut. Store in refrigerator. Cut bars can be frozen.

Enjoy!

The Oldest House

October 10, 2019

The Hardanger Folkemuseum‘s traditional exhibits are amazing, but there is more to see at this museum in Utne, Norway! Up the hill from the museum proper is an open-air division. Two of the buildings there were original to the grounds, but most have been moved from other locations in the Hardanger area, and restored. It’s a gorgeous setting.

Eldhuset, a Cook House.

The buildings have been arranged to suggest a cluster farm, which was common in the 1800s. Several families often shared a courtyard or common area while farming their own holdings beyond.

Hardanger Folk Museum

When I was planning Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I chose to feature the Hardanger Folkemuseum in part because of the open-air division. My favorite building is Tveismestova (Tveisme House), which inspired the fictional Høygård used in the novel.

Warning: Mild plot spoilers ahead!

Tveismestova is the oldest building in the museum’s collection. Scholars believe the home was constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries.

Taken from inside the entryway, this shows the front door on left and the doorway to the main room on the right.
This single space was used for everything. Note the raised hearth in the center and the kroting on the back wall. The wooden shutters in the back wall covered the hatch.

As tour guide Klara explained in the book, In the old days, people believed that a dead person’s soul would try to return to the house where it had lived, using the entrance where it last emerged.  So bodies were removed through the hatch, which was kept closed at all other times.  That way the soul wouldn’t return through the door.

A closer look at the raised fireplace, with iron kettle hanging above.
Tveismestova, Hardanger Folk Museum.
Looking up at the smoke hole. It could be covered with a greased animal bladder.

The house has only one window, which replaced the original hatch. In one of the final chapters in Fiddling With Fate, Chloe approaches the house from this side, and peeks in the only window.

Tveismestova had a turf roof, constructed on top of a layer of birchbark…

…but some the buildings in the open-air division had slate roofs. This is the type of slate tile Chloe picks up in the book.

The real Tveisme Farm was struck by more than one tragedy. An avalanche struck the farm in 1781, killing the farmwife. The house, barn, and sheep barns survived, but the farm was moved to a safer location nearby–all except the old original house. When the farm burned down five years later, only the cabin remained.

Once moved to the Hardanger Folkemuseum in 1931, it had many stories to tell.

The Hardanger Folkemuseum

September 19, 2019

If you’re traveling in southwest Norway, and appreciate folk traditions, the Hardanger Folkemuseum is a must-see.

After my first visit, I knew I had to get my protagonist Chloe Ellefson there.

Most of Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe mystery, takes pace in Hardanger, and the museum is prominently featured.

The region is famous for its folk costumes and textiles. The museum’s collection is stunning.

Textile gallery, Hardanger Folk Museum.
Textile gallery, Hardanger Folkemuseum.
The Hardanger bunad, or folk costume. Bunads are folk costumes based on traditional folk costumes from rural areas. The Hardanger bunad has been widely adopted in modern Norway. Construction techniques used include elaborate beadwork, embroidery, and cutwork.
The museum recently displayed 1,000 bodice inserts. You can see how they were worn with a vest in the photo above, and see some of the oldest in the photo below.
Agnete Sivertsen, museum director, is an expert in regional textiles. When Mr. Ernst and I visited while on a group tour in 2015, she gave us a fantastic tour.

Music is another aspect of local culture. Hardanger fiddles, which have also come to represent the nation, are the region’s most famous instrument.

Another instrument, the Psalmodikon, has one string and is played with a bow. They were often used in the 1800s to accompany hymns, or to teach songs in school.

Psalmodikons, Hardanger Folk Museum

Other folk traditions are preserved and displayed at the museum as well, such as these pieces carved by Lars Trondson Kinsarvik.

The Hardanger Folkemuseum is a gem. After exploring the traditional exhibits, be sure to tour the open air division. (More on that next time.)

And if you’re like me, you may want to linger on the grounds, soaking in the landscape and thinking about people long gone…but not forgotten.

A Fiddling With Fate Celebration!

September 3, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Fiddling With Fate, officially launches on September 8th! That’s quite a milestone.

And the story includes a major milestone for main characters Chloe and Roelke, too.

Chloe was born and raised in the charming town of Stoughton, Wisconsin—where Fiddling With Fate begins and ends. Chloe’s backstory, everything that makes her unique, is rooted there. So what could be better than letting Chloe readers explore her heritage with people who are actively working to preserve Stoughton’s history and Norwegian cultural traditions?

To that end, I’ve partnered with the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge, with help from the Stoughton Historical Society, to plan a unique event.

The celebration will begin at 3:00 PM, Saturday, October 26th. Attendees will visit the Society’s museum to hear about Stoughton’s history, Norwegian settlement, and its role in reviving the folk art of rosemaling (rose painting).

The Stoughton Historical Society Museum.

At the Mandt Lodge there will be folk art demonstrations and a live performance of Hardanger fiddle music. Afterwards we’ll enjoy a traditional cod dinner and Norwegian dessert.

The Sons of Norway Lodge in Stoughton.

I’ll provide a richly illustrated program about the people, artifacts, and historic sites featured in Fiddling With Fate.

(Photo by Solveig Lund)

Event Time & Date:  Saturday, October 26, 2019, 3 PM – 7:30 PM.

Price:  $20.00 per person. Registration is limited, and pre-registration is required. Click HERE to access a registration form.

I’m enormously grateful to my friends in Stoughton who are making this event possible. I hope you can join us!

And to see all of the events scheduled for September and October, please visit my Calendar page.

The National Quilt Museum

August 30, 2019

“Phenomenal” is not a word I use lightly. The National Quilt Museum, in Paducah, Kentucky, deserves the description.

According to its website, the National Quilt Museum “works to advance the art of today’s quilters by bringing it to new and expanding audiences worldwide.” 

This is not the place to look for antique quilts. Instead, expect to see the work of extraordinary contemporary quilters. Some are inspired by traditional patterns; others develop totally original designs and techniques.

I noticed two things in particular during my recent visit. Visitors often felt compelled to speak to strangers: “Did you see such-and-such?” or “Isn’t that one amazing?”

It was also common to hear murmured exclamations of “Oh my God!” (or similar sentiments) when a visitor discovered some particularly astounding quilt.

One exhibit prompting such astonishment, aptly named “OH WOW!”, was a collection of miniature quilts. To be included, a quilt must be no more than 24″ on a side.

A sampling. Remember, these quilts are 24″ per side–or smaller.
Dollhouse quilts by Pat Kuhns.
Idlewood Rose, by June Kempston. (17″ x 17″)

To give you a sense of scale:

Idlewood Rose, by June Kempston (Detail)
Illusions, by George Siciliano (10-3/4 x 10-3/4″)
Tulip Star, by Lynne Taylor (17″ x 17″)
Tulip Star, by Lynne Taylor (Detail)

I can’t imagine working with such tiny pieces! These quilts are made the same way full-sized quilts are; only the scale is different. Phenomenal.

I’m grateful to the National Quilt Museum for permitting photography. Nothing compares, however, to seeing the quilts for real. I hope you can visit the museum yourself!

Hardanger Fiddles

August 8, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery sends Chloe and her fiancé, Roelke McKenna, to Norway. Given the book’s title, it’s probably obvious that the plot involves Hardanger Fiddles.

Historians believe that violins arrived in Norway by the 1600s, probably from Germany and Italy. The first known Hardanger fiddle (the Jaastad fiddle) dates to 1651. The Hardanger region in SW Norway became famous for its fiddle makers—and fiddlers!

When Chloe arrives in Norway, the director of the Hardanger Folk Museum introduces her to the instrument:

“How much do you know about Hardanger fiddles?
“Not a lot,” Chloe allowed humbly.
“This region is, of course, the birthplace of the hardingfele—the Hardanger fiddle. They have understrings that resonate when the top four are played. That gives the instruments a unique sound.”
“Haunting, I’d call it,” Chloe offered.

Fiddler at the Norsk Folk Museum, Oslo

Later, a fiddler explains why the instrument was so important in rural Norway:

“Hardingfele tunes once measured everyday life. Music was deeply rooted in rituals and traditions. There were specific tunes for every aspect of a Hardanger wedding. There were tunes for planting, for harvesting, for celebrating a good yield.”

As beloved as the instruments were, there was a time when Hardanger fiddles were considered, by some, to be “the devil’s instrument.” They were associated with parties, heavy drinking, and casual sex.

(Adolph Tideman)

One particular tune, Fanitullen, was supposedly taught to a fiddler by the devil himself.

(Adolph Tideman)

Some zealots went so far as to destroy any fiddles they could find.

Such violence must have been wrenching to the fiddlers and fiddle makers, especially because Hardanger fiddles are gorgeous, decorated with intricate inked designs and mother-of-pearl inlay.

(Hardanger Folk Museum)

Many also feature an elaborately carved figure at the scroll on top of the instrument.

(Met Museum/Wikimedia)

Some fiddlers and makers emigrated, bringing their skills to the new world. The Helland brothers, who arrived in Wisconsin in 1901, became famous for their fiddles and violins.

Knut and Gunnar outside their fiddle workshop in Chippewa Falls. Picture taken before 1920. (Wikipedia)

And happily, the traditions continue today. I had the chance to learn more about Hardanger fiddle construction when Madison, WI resident Karen Rebholz made a presentation at Livsreise in Stoughton.

Karen Rebholz and several exquisite fiddles she made.
Fiddle by Karen Rebholz.
Fykerud’n Spelemannslag, which performed at Syttende May in Stoughton, WI, 2019.

I’m not a fiddle player, but I loved exploring the music and traditions while writing Fiddling With Fate!

To learn more, visit the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America. You can also find lots of performances on YouTube.