Archive for the ‘Heritage of Darkness’ 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!

Chloe Tours at Vesterheim!

October 21, 2018

Exciting news!  Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has scheduled two special tours based on the fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness.

Here’s the scoop on both tours:

November 10, 2018 | 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Location: Begin at Vesterheim’s main building lobby

Join us for mystery and intrigue at the museum!

This tour is for fans of Kathleen Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series. Kathleen’s fourth book in the series Heritage of Darkness, is set at Vesterheim Museum.

The special tour includes:
• Vesterheim Museum admission
• Guided tour to see Vesterheim artifacts and buildings featured in the mystery
• Special presentation Norwegian Courtship & Betrothal Gifts by woodworker Rebecca Hanna  (Note from Kathleen – Rebecca is wonderful. You’ll love her!)
• Treat break with Norwegian sweets mentioned in the book.

$20 per person

Spoiler alert: Read the book in advance—the ending will be revealed during the tour!

Reservations are due November 3, 2018
To sign up, contact Karla Brown at 563-382-9681 x107, or kbrown@vesterheim.org.

 

Heritage of Darkness Tour

November 30 | 2:00-5:00 p.m.

Location: Begin at Vesterheim’s main building lobby

Join writer Kathleen Ernst for mystery and intrigue at the museum!

This tour is for fans of Kathleen Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series. Kathleen’s fourth book in the series Heritage of Darkness, is set at Vesterheim Museum.

The special tour includes:

• Vesterheim Museum admission
• Guided tour to see Vesterheim artifacts and buildings featured in the mystery
• Special presentation given by Kathleen Ernst “The Chloe Ellefson Mysteries: Behind The Scenes!”
• Treat break with Norwegian sweets mentioned in the book.

 

$25 per person

Spoiler alert: Read the book in advance—the ending will be revealed during the tour!

Reservations are due November 23, 2018
To sign up, contact Karla Brown at 563-382-9681 x107, or kbrown@vesterheim.org.

# # #

I hope you can enjoy one of these special tours. Vesterheim is an amazing museum! I’ll also be signing Chloe books in the gift shop on December 1, from 1-4 PM during Vesterheim’s Norwegian Christmas celebration.

Heritage of Darkness Giveaway Winners!

April 20, 2018

Congratulations to Gloria Browning, Julie Clabots, and Donamae Clasen Kutska! Each won a signed and personalized copy of Heritage of Darkness. Winners were chosen from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

Thanks to all who entered, and for the lovely comments! We’ll hold another giveaway next month.

8ChloeGiveawayWinnersHOD-FB476x476w

Heritage of Darkness Giveaway

April 18, 2018

This year from January through August I’m holding monthly giveaways of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The featured book for April is the fourth in the series, Heritage of Darkness.

To enter the giveaway for Heritage of Darkness, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time) on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Only one entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced Friday. Each will receive a signed, personalized copy of the book.  Good luck everyone!

Researching Heritage Of Darkness

April 11, 2018

 

Image of a wooden Norwegian goat head (Julebukk) with the caption "Sometimes the darkness is inside."

 

Front cover of Heritage of Darkness, the fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery book by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst, published by Midnight Ink Books.Mr. Ernst here. This month the focus is on a surprise that turned up when researching a specific scene in this book, the fourth in Kathleen’s award-winning Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

Heritage Of Darkness (HOD) takes place within and around the wonderful, world-class Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. The story is set during December 1982, with historical flashbacks to the 1940s and 1960s.

This is the first Chloe mystery set at an historic site outside of Wisconsin. Other ‘out-of-state’ stories follow, but Kathleen intends to keep Chloe and Roelke firmly rooted at Old World Wisconsin and the Village of Eagle.

 

Image of a Norwegian wooden message tube (Budstikke) surrounded by text stating Dark Secrets Hidden In Norwegian Traditions.

 

Chapter Thirty

As Kathleen crafted HOD, she decided to add an attempt on Roelke’s life.

An isolated location was required — somewhere between Vesterheim in downtown Decorah and a nearby farm that Roelke would be staying at. After consulting a local map and exploring the area by car, Kathleen picked a farm to the northeast, across the Upper Iowa River. (The farm’s exact location remains a secret to protect the resident’s privacy.)

Part of the farm’s appeal was its proximity to a bridge over the river. Roelke would have to cross it when making the one-mile walk between the farm and Vesterheim where he was taking a Norwegian chip carving class. The solitary red pin on the upper right side of the satellite image below shows where the bridge is located.

 

Screen grab of a custom, interactive Google map of Decorah IA with pins marking where key scenes in HOD are located.

Above is a screen grab of a custom, interactive Google map of Decorah. It is one of many reader resources available on Kathleen’s HOD website page. (Map by Bonner Karger and Mr. Ernst.)

 

[NOTE: Each pin marks where a key scene in the book takes place. You can visit the HOD webpage to explore the map’s location photos and descriptions by clicking HERE.]

Kathleen and I initially scouted the book’s locations in warm weather, but given that HOD is set in December, we re-documented them in winter.

 

HOD-TwinSpansModernBridgeWinter500x375w

This photo reveals the partly frozen, snow-covered Upper Iowa River where someone tries to kill Roelke. (Photo by Mr. Ernst.)

 

The modern bridge looked new enough that we decided to confirm it was there in December 1982. Local Archivist Midge Kjome directed me to bridge-related newspaper clippings and photos in the files of the Winneshiek County Historical Society . . . where I found the following.

 

Excerpts from The Decorah Journal Newspaper June 21, 1984 article entitled "City, County cut ribbon to open new bridge."

Excerpts from “City, County Cut Ribbon to Open New Bridge” article, The Decorah Journal Newspaper, June 21, 1984. (Underlining added.)

 

Well, hunh. There was no bridge there when the ‘bridge’ scene was set!

Note from Kathleen:  I hate it when that happens.

Making matters even worse, I discovered that the original “Twin Bridges” was an historic iron truss structure built circa 1880. It had just one-lane, no lighting, and lacked a sidewalk. It also had low, skimpy side-barriers, and offered a steep drop to the river.

In other words, it was perfect for the scene Kathleen envisioned.

 

Black and white photo of the Fifth Street Twin Spans bridge over the Upper Iowa River on the northeast side of Decorah Iowa. Photo courtesy of the Winneshiek County Historical Society.

This undated photograph of the Twin Bridges, also known as the Fifth Street Bridge, looks south across the Upper Iowa River to the City of Decorah, Iowa. (Photo courtesy Winneshiek County Historical Society.)

 

As her readers know, Kathleen is a real stickler for historical accuracy. It’s the museum curator in her. In this case she made an exception, wielding her literary license to shift the tractor-bridge crash forward in time until after the book concludes. Problem solved.

Powerful things, literary licenses.

Below is an excerpt from the resulting scene, which starts on page 284.

 

    Roelke walked north and east to the sounds of boots crunching snow and shovels scrapping sidewalks. The wind drove snowflakes almost sideways through the cones of light cast by street lamps. This may not have been my best-ever idea, Roelke thought as he approached the Upper Iowa River bridge. He was dressed well for wintry weather, but the snow was slowing him down. Best try to pick up the pace.

    Good plan, but he’d no more than tromped onto the bridge when both feet flew out from under him. He landed, once again, on his ass. “Danger,” he muttered as he clambered to his feet. “Bridge surface may freeze before road.”

    There were no lampposts on the bridge. He dug his flashlight from his pocket and scanned the single traffic lane, hoping to identify any additional icy spots. There was nothing to see but snow and the twin ruts of tire tracks. He set out again, this time keeping a hand on the railing.

    He was half way across the narrow bridge when headlights appeared ahead. A car was approaching the bridge, too fast. “Slow down,” Roelke muttered. “Slow down. Slow down, Goddammit!”

    The car didn’t slow down. As it hit the bridge the yellow beams went crazy, slicing the snow-hazy night. The vehicle was a dark blur, whirling, sliding, coming his way–Christ Almighty–coming his way and there was nowhere to go, nowhere to go. The bridge railing bore into Roelke’s hip until something had to give, bone or iron, and the car kept coming.

    Roelke leaned out over the river, away from the speeding mass of steel. He heard the relentless shussh of skidding tires. The car was seconds away from crushing him.

    Instinct pushed him over the railing in a wild twisting scramble. He managed to catch one vertical bar with his right arm. His other arm shot around too, and he clenched his right elbow with his left hand. The car hit the railing inches beyond the spot where he now dangled. The bridge shuddered. Roelke clenched every muscle. The car fish-tailed once or twice before the driver was able to straighten it out.

    Then the car accelerated on toward town. Roelke watched the taillights disappear with stunned disbelief and rising fury.

 

We’d love to hear what you think, now that you’ve had the chance to compare the scene with some of the historical research used to write it. Please feel free to leave us a comment below.

HOD is available in trade paperback and multiple ebook formats from independent booksellers as well as Amazon and other online resellers. Both formats includes a map of Vesterheim, photos of the Norwegian folk art featured in the book, plus a cast of characters.

But Wait, There’s More!

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ that went into making HOD.

You can find a page full of details about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide, the Google map, the recipe for a dish served in the story, a slide show of objects featured in the book, public radio interviews with Kathleen, plus additional blog posts, links to booksellers that offer HOD — and more — using the link below.

https://www.kathleenernst.com/book_heritage_darkness.php.

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about researching the next book in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, Tradition of Deceit, which takes place in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

 

Heritage of Darkness – A Retrospective

April 4, 2018

Heritage of Darkness, the 4th Chloe Ellefson mystery, was the first to cross state lines. It’s set at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

By the time I started planning this book I’d visited this wonderful museum while writing the first Chloe mystery, Old World Murder, to study ale bowls. I’d also taken several classes through the museum’s folk art school.

Me with my first rosemaling instructor, Gold Medalist Joanne MacVey

 

I also learned the basics of Danish hedebo embroidery (featured in The Lightkeeper’s Legacy)  at Vesterheim. Here instructor Roger Buhr explains motif construction.

I’d enjoyed my own class experiences so much I wanted to feature that element in the book.  I also love Vesterheim’s annual Norwegian Christmas celebration, and decided to feature that as well.

Most importantly, this setting provided the opportunity to develop characters in new ways. A road trip to Vesterheim, where Chloe and her mom take rosemaling classes (Chloe is a beginner; Mom, advanced), let me explore a complicated mother-daughter relationship.

Also, at the end of Book 3, Chloe and Roelke have reached an understanding. They are a couple, and both want to see where their relationship might go. Having Roelke volunteer to come on the trip let their relationship develop as well.

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

A mystery writer is always looking for ways to get characters in trouble, and for situations that might foster conflict. I was familiar with the old adage, Beware the man with many mangles, which referred to the tradition of men carving a mangle board for the woman he hoped to marry. If a mangle was refused, it could not be offered to another woman. How could I not use that bit of folk wisdom? Thus Emil was born.

This is a mangle board I painted as a class project.

I also decided to focus on some ancient winter customs. In the pre-Christianity days, many in northern Europe believed December’s shortest, darkest days brought evil spirits swooping through the sky. People developed traditions to help ward away the evil. By the time Christian Norwegian immigrants came to the Midwest, those traditions had evolved, but still persisted in the form of julebukking. Since the book came out I’ve talked to many people who remember disguising their identity with a costume and going out to visit neighbors.

This reproduction in the Vesterheim collection represents the Christmas goat. In ancient times a goat head, real or effigy, was used to ward away evil.

That offered some interesting possibilities for a mystery plot! The whole notion of having a chance to act up led to the scene near the story’s end, which takes place in Vesterheim’s Open-Air Division:

The julebukker whipped something from behind his back and shoved it toward her. Chloe glimpsed glowing animal eyes, wicked animal teeth, wildly streaming animal hair—all evoking the childhood memory of the threatening strangers brandishing a bloody goat head on a stick.

…Chloe tried again to wrench away from the devil-creature. Her boots slipped over the drop-off beside the house. The julebukker swung her hard, like a mean child playing crack-the-whip, and released her abruptly. Chloe flew head-first toward the home’s stacked-stone foundation.

My working title for the book was The Power of Darkness, harkening back to those old times. My publisher changed it to Heritage of Darkness to get a “history” word in the mix, a trend which had been established in the first three books. (Old, Heirloom, Legacy.) I trust my many Norwegian friends know the sentiment isn’t personal!

I also trust that my many rosemaling friends know how I admire their work, and how much I enjoy painting myself—even though I have no innate aptitude.

I am always the slowest painter in any class. I think just about everyone else had left for the day when this picture was taken.

Chloe has a miserable time in her rosemaling class, but I wanted to leave open the possibility that some of her challenges stemmed from her own preconceived ideas. This led to one of my favorite moments in the story:

“Do you know what I have loved most about rosemaling?” Mom asked.

“Winning your Gold Medal.”

“No.” Mom stared at Chloe’s tray, but her gaze had turned inward. “Every time I pick up a brush, I feel connected to the old days when skilled painters traveled through Norway’s remote valleys. Rosemaling was done in the winter, so the artists probably traveled by sleigh, or perhaps just on skis. I picture isolated families welcoming the rosemaler into their dark little cabins—back in the days when most people lived in windowless houses with just an open hearth to provide warmth and light. Can you imagine what a joy it would be to have the painter at work while snow fell and wind howled? Can you imagine how people felt while watching the painter bring such vivid life and color to their world during winter’s bleakest, darkest days?”

“Well…I can now,” Chloe allowed.

A small step forward for Mom and Chloe.

By this point in the series, some readers were asking if/when Chloe and Roelke’s relationship would become intimate. Since this is a Traditional mystery, with no explicit sex or gore, I crafted a scene that I hoped conveyed the moment without spelling it out. Perhaps I should have been a wee bit more explicit, because I heard from a couple of people who’d read the book and were still wondering when the two main characters would have sex.

My talented friend Ellen Macdonald made this chip carved candle plate to represent the gift Roelke gave to Chloe, used in the hotel scene.

I also heard from a reader who complained about my sloppy writing, referring to the fact that about mid-book, I repeated a thought.  Chloe and Roelke are, in their separate lodgings, going to bed.  First Roelke thinks:

Tonight, with a killer wandering Decorah and a December wind rattling the windows, he really, really wished he could fall asleep with Chloe in his arms.

In a later scene, in Chloe’s point of view, she has the same thought:

Tonight, with a killer wandering Decorah and a December wind rattling the windows, she really, really wished she could fall asleep in Roelke’s arms.

I crafted that echo in hopes it would convey the growing bond between them; how they both wanted the same thing; that they were connected in thought even if physically apart. One never knows how such things might strike any individual reader.

While Chloe and Roelke’s relationship took a big step forward, Chloe’s relationship with Mom is only somewhat improved. I could have wrapped the book up with some moment of complete harmony and understanding between the two women, but it would have felt—at least to me—too pat and unrealistic.

What did you think?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my webpage for Heritage of Darkness. Resources include a Google map, color images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, a recipe for Chloe’s Tomato Soup, and links to lots of additional background material.

A final thought:  People often ask how employees feel about me setting a murder mystery at their historic site or museum. I always chat with key staff before starting a new book, and make sure everyone is comfortable with the idea. The staff and volunteers at Vesterheim have been wonderful, and Mr. Ernst and I have made many friends within the Norwegian-American community. (We even celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in Norway!) The decision years ago to create a protagonist of Norwegian descent has brought wonderful things we couldn’t have imagined. We’re grateful.

Chip Carving

April 22, 2014

I knew Roelke McKenna needed to accompany Chloe and Mom to Decorah in Heritage of Darkness. Signing him up for a woodworking class wasn’t hard, either; I’d already established in an earlier book that he enjoying carving. The question was:  what style of carving should he pursue?

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum’s collection includes exquisite pieces of different styles. The museum’s workshop schedule offers lots of diversity as well.

Vesterheim Gallery

Acanthus carving, featuring ornate and flowing leaf designs, is perhaps the most popular style. Acanthus carving dates back centuries. The style of relief carving started in Greece and spread to other area.  

Vesterheim Gallery

Chip carving takes a different approach. Small, precise cuts produce elaborate geometric designs. (They remind me of quilt patterns.)

Vesterheim Gallery

 

Vesterheim Gallery

Some wood carvers produce figures…

Vesterheim Gallery

…or spoons.

Vesterheim Gallery

Which style was right for Roelke? He’s really not a free-flowing kind of guy. He does appreciate precision and order. I decided that chip carving best suited his personality.

I turned to Vesterheim’s chip carving instructor, Ellen Macdonald, for help.

Ellen Mcdonald

She helped me understand the basics of chip carving. We also talked about what Roelke would have experienced in a week-long class.

Ellen Mcdonald chip carving

One of the things many carvers like about this style is that is requires only simple tools, and is very portable.

Ellen Mcdonald chip carving

Ellen’s work is gorgeous. It was easy to imagine Roelke aspiring to such craftsmanship.

Ellen Mcdonald chip carving

Roelke ran a finger over his work. Geometry…maybe that was it. His cousin Libby had called him “rigid” more than once. He preferred “meticulous.” Either way, the precision of chip carving appealed to him.

 …He wanted to learn how to design and carve rosettes. He wanted to design and carve rosettes with, as his classmate Lavinia had observed earlier, stunning energy and symmetry.  And maybe, if Chloe played her cards right, he’d carve something special just for her.

Ellen Mcdonald's candleplate

Vesterheim is open year-round, so you can visit anytime and tour the exhibits.  Click HERE if you’d like more information about the museum’s folk-art classes.

Postcard From Angela

January 1, 2014

I received an amazingly wonderful gift a week or so ago when a postcard arrived in the mail.

postcard from angela

The postcard itself was from a copy of Midnight in Lonesome Hollow, one of my Kit mysteries from American Girl.

postcard Midnight

It was forwarded to me from the publisher. I’d really, really like to write back to Angela, and tell her how much her words mean to me. Unfortunately, no return address was included.

So this seems like a good time and place to tell Angela—and all the readers who got in touch during 2013—how appreciative I am.

Some of my favorite correspondence has come via email, such as this one:

Hi Mrs. Ernst my name is Abigail and I just wanted to wish you a
merry Christmas. My American girl dolls Kit and Caroline say
merry Christmas too.

Here are two letters that arrived in the mail after I did a program about the book-making process at an elementary school.

scan0001

(I do try to encourage kids when I visit schools. I’m not sure about this one.)

letter

(The program includes one photo of my cat Sophie sitting by my computer. Sophie sometimes gets more mail than I do.)

I’ve gotten some special mail from parents this year, such as this one:

My 8 year old daughter and I just finished the first book in your
American Girl Caroline series. We are both hooked and loving it!
She is having a difficult time keeping up with her peers in
reading and this book has sparked an interest in history, sailing,
nautical knots and everything that goes with the story. She could
not wait for the next night to read another chapter. And all this
coming from the girl last year who said reading was boring
(only because she wasn't able to do as well as her classmates).
Now she brings books with her everywhere we go.

And I’ve heard from readers about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, too:

I love the combination of mystery and history in your books!Please
keep this series coming!!!

I just wanted to tell you how MUCH I am enjoying "Chloe's" adventures!
Thanks for your gift of writing, Kathleen!

I've almost finished re-reading all the Chloe books. I'm telling you,
after I read Heritage of Darkness -- I really really really did not want
it to end so I started the whole series over :-)

When I was ten years old, and dreaming of being an author, all I knew to hope for was having stories that I wrote turn into published books. Although that is indeed wonderful, what’s even better connecting with readers.

So for all of you who have taken the time to communicate here, on Facebook, via email or snail mail, or in person at an event—all I can say is thank you.

And for all of you who have taken the time to post an online review, recommend one of my books to a friend, or ask a librarian about my titles—huge thanks to you as well.

Hardangar Heart600w

This lovely Hardanger heart was a gift from two special readers. It hangs in my kitchen window, and reminds me every day of the reader-friends who have come into my life!

You made 2013 very special! I’m grateful, and I wish you all a most wonderful new year.

A Most Mischievous Christmas

December 24, 2013

In honor of Christmas eve, let’s set aside the ancient, spooky traditions featured in Heritage of Darkness, and celebrate one of Norway’s more recent (and fun) bits of folklore:  the nisse.

nisse heritage of darkness

Nisser are household or farm spirits. Belief in these mythological creatures, which resemble garden gnomes, became common in Scandinavia in the late eighteenth century.

nisse might help with  chores, especially those involving animals. A happy nisse could help ensure a farm’s prosperity. The nisse on the old Christmas postcard below is hauling wood for the family. (Artist unknown/author’s collection.)

nisse

That being the case, farm families were careful to acknowledge their nisse with a bowl of porridge with butter on Christmas eve. If they forgot, trouble was sure to follow! One common story tells of a young girl who ate the porridge herself. The nisse was so angry he forced her to dance until she almost died.

Farmers who swore or treated their animals poorly would also be punished. In this painting by Gudmund Stenersen, an angry nisse is stealing hay. (Wikipedia)

220px-Tomtestealinghay
Nisser were also mischievious.  A bored nisse might amuse himself by tying the tails of two cows together. This nisse, on exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, is trying to startle visitors with his dangling spider.
vesterheim nisse
In Heritage of Darkness, one of the projects in Chloe’s rosemaling class is a bowl decorated with nisser—a project inspired by this bowl from Vesterheim’s collection.
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Nisser remain part of Christmas celebrations in many Scandinavian households and communities.
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Who knows—if you set out a bowl of porridge tonight, you just might ensure good luck in the coming year!
I wish you all a most peaceful and lovely holiday season.