Archive for the ‘Fiddling With Fate’ Category

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.

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.

Fiddling With Fate Giveaway Winners!

July 30, 2019

Congratulations to  Megan Barry, Merry Chapman, Carol Pasbrig, Sue Wendt, Christine Witherill, and Moscato Zingler! Each won a signed Advance Review Copy of the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Fiddling With Fate.

Thanks to all who entered! Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

The official release date for Fiddling With Fate is September 8th. Happy reading!

Fiddling With Fate Giveaway!

July 28, 2019

How would you like to read my new Chloe Ellefson mystery a month before it is officially released?

Fiddling with Fate is a riveting page-turner that culminates in a nail-biting ending. It is more than superlative fiction. It’s a masterpiece. -Author Maddy Hunter, Passport to Peril Mysteries

Publishers prepare Advance Review Copies (ARCs) in order to get some buzz going prior to publication. And I have six to give away.

The six winners will be randomly selected from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Each will receive a signed paperback ARC—which I will send via priority mail.

Enter to win by leaving a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), Monday, July 29, 2019. One entry per person, please.

The winners’ names will be posted here the following day. Good luck!

Fiddling with Fate is a story about proud, strong women and bitter dark secrets. In her richly-detailed and multi-faceted mystery, Kathleen Ernst skillfully intertwines the past with the present as Chloe and Roelke search for her family roots in Norway amid escalating danger. Author Patricia Skalka, Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries

Norwegian Folk Dance

July 23, 2019

It’s no secret that Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my historic sites mystery series, loves folk dancing. In the second book, The Heirloom Murders, she dances with her Swiss ex, Markus.

The 10th book, Fiddling With Fate, reveals that she was a member of Stoughton High School’s Norwegian Dancers group. (Stoughton, WI, is well known for its Norwegian heritage.)

The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers formed in 1953 to help foster ethnic pride in the community.

Scrapbook with Yearbook photo. (Stoughton Public Library)

Those early years were challenging. Jeanne Reek, the first director, had no experience with folk dance or Norwegian heritage. Money for costumes or travel was minimal.

But the group was something special. The director traveled to Norway to learn all she could about traditional dance. The dancers’ parents organized to raise funds. The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers quickly became a beloved community institution.

That story is part of Chloe’s background.

1967-68 Stoughton Norwegian Dancers (Stoughton Public Library)

I planned Fiddling With Fate with the premise that a research expedition takes her to Norway. What would appeal to her more than learning about folk dance and music?

This travel poster beautifully captures the romance of Norwegian folk dance. (Artist unknown)

Once in Norway, Chloe finds plenty of information about traditional dances. However, she’s interested in more than documenting dance steps and styles. Here’s a scene where she and Roelke McKenna, her fiancé, visit an old dance site:

“There’s the platform.”  Roelke strode over to inspect the crumbling wooden structure.  “What’s left of it, anyway.  Do not try to climb on that.”

Already enchanted, Chloe didn’t need to climb on anything.  She quivered with the joyful energy left by generations of people who’d barely scraped a living from the rugged landscape.  This is what I need to capture back in Stoughton, she thought. How important music and dance were to rural people who worked hard for every morsel.  

I think about that every time I watch a folk dance performance. In fact, when I recently watched the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers perform for Syttende Mai (Constitution Day), I got a little emotional.

The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.
Always a crowd pleaser!

One dance, the Halling, lets boys show off their athletic ability in hopes of impressing the girls.

The Halling ends with a particular feat. A female dancer holds a hat high on a stick, and then male dancers attempt to kick it free.

Scrapbook, Stoughton Public Library.
The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.

What would the early Norwegian immigrants have thought to know that over a century after their arrival, a group of high school students would work so hard to preserve and share this aspect of Norwegian heritage?

Scrapbook, Stoughton Public Library.

And that these beloved dance traditions are still enjoyed today?

Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.

I can only imagine they’d be pleased.

# # #

Many thanks to Susan Slinde for sharing her memories of the Norwegian Dancers.

Why Norway?

July 10, 2019

Cultural identity, and the many ways people explore and express their own, is one of the recurring themes in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series.

When readers meet Chloe in Book 1, Old World Murder, she takes her own Norwegian heritage largely for granted. Her feelings evolve over time, and by Book 10, she is eager to learn more about her ancestors.

Mr. Ernst and I were lucky enough to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to Norway arranged by Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

We loved every minute in that beautiful country, but the place I was most reluctant to leave was Utne, in the Hardanger District of Hordaland County.

Utne, Norway.
The village of Utne marks the northern tip of the Folgefonna peninsula between the Hardangerfjord and one of its branches, the Sørfjord.

The charming village is home to the Utne Hotel. It opened in 1722, and may well be Norway’s oldest continuously operating inn.

Hotel Utne

The region is famous for its rich folk heritage, including Hardanger fiddles and exquisite textiles. Utne is home to the Hardanger Folkemuseum, which preserves and celebrates these traditions.

Tradtional folk clothing on display at the museum. The couple on the left are dressed as bride and groom.
The museum has a fine collection of Hardanger fiddles.

In addition to formal exhibits, the museum includes an open-air division. Most of the buildings have been moved from locations within the Hardanger region and restored on the museum grounds.

I wanted to get Chloe and her fiancé Roelke McKenna to Norway. When I started conceptualizing the 10th Chloe mystery, I knew what region they would explore. Quests both professional and personal send them to Utne.

Are you up for some armchair travel? I hope I captured a bit of the Hardanger area’s magic in Fiddling With Fate!

Fiddling With Fate cover

The book will be published on September 8, 2019. Stay tuned for more peeks behind the scenes.