Archive for the ‘Heritage of Darkness’ Category

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.

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(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.

Happy Solstice!

December 21, 2013

It’s the shortest day of the year! In southern Wisconsin, the day was gray and frosty.

Frost

Hoarfrost on spent coneflowers in our yard.

Centuries ago, our ancestors built bonfires on the darkest day of winter. Many Europeans feared the evil spirits that roamed winter skies.

The Wild Hunt

Åsgårdsreien, by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1872.  Many cultures have folktales about “The Wild Hunt.”

I thought a lot about that ancient belief and similar folktales while writing Heritage of Darkness. In isolated rural areas, peasants may have carried a goat head to ward away evil. Servants and employers spread straw on the floor and huddled together for protection.

1986xmas(4)

Photograph of a former exhibit courtesy of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Such  traditions made great fodder for a mystery novel!  But in real life, the winter solstice is one of my favorite days. I love to think about the earth’s cycles. I love to pause and remember that we all have the power to bring a bit of light to the world.

This chip carved candle plate was made by my friend Ellen.

This chip carved candle plate was made by my friend Ellen.

Without these coldest and darkest days, the holiday candles’ glow wouldn’t be so welcome, so cozy, so full of warm and promise.

May your days—and nights—be merry and bright this season!

Solstice observance at the First Unitarian Society, Madison, WI.

Solstice candles at the First Unitarian Society, Madison, WI.

Lefse

October 28, 2013

Since a lefse pin spattered with blood is on the cover of my latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the murder weapon is. . . you guessed it, a lefse pin.

Heritage of Darkness 1

Which has led some readers to ask, What the heck is lefse, anyway?

Lefse is a round flatbread usually made with mashed potatoes (which used up old potatoes, and kept the bread soft) and baked on stovetop or griddle. It was a staple in the diet rural Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans in the 19th century.

LEFSE

This old stereocard image shows a Norwegian woman making lefse on an outdoor griddle. A lefse stick is used to turn the paper-thin round of dough.

I was introduced to lefse when I worked at Old World Wisconsin. Lefse was frequently made at the Fossebrekke cabin, home to young Norwegian immigrants.

KAE at Fossebrekke Web

That’s me at the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin in 1982.

potato masher

Hand-cranked potato masher, Fossebrekke cabin, Old World Wisconsin.

The heavy wooden pins used to roll the dough were deeply scored or grooved, which helped reduce air bubbles, pulverize any bits of unmashed potato, and keep the rounds of lefse quite thin and pliable.

lefse pins - Version 2

Two pins on exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

lefse pin

This pin’s groove’s are nearly worn away. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum Exhibit)

In Norwegian-American communities it can still be found in local stores. . .

Schuberts Mount Horeb lefse

Schubert’s Diner and Bakery in Mount Horeb, WI.

. . .often folded into quarters and offered fresh or frozen.

lefse sale

Oneota Co-Op, Decorah, Iowa.

Although fewer and fewer people make lefse at home, it still holds a special place in good Norwegian-American hearts. Many people have memories of mom or grandma boiling Russet potatoes and making lefse on special occasions.

Last year my friend Martha invited me to the local Sons of Norway – Valdres Lodge Norwegian Constitution Day Dinner on May 15, held at the Washington Prairie Lutheran Church outside of town.  (Learn more here.)

On the way, she told me that when the church needed a new roof, several elderly members of the congregation made hundreds of lefse. They announced sales, to be held at a bank in town. Sales were brisk, and the money raised helped buy the new roof.

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A few weeks later at Nordic Fest, a celebration of Scandinavian heritage and pride held in Decorah each summer, another small army of  lefse bakers reported for duty.

lefse Nordic Fest - Version 2

Warm rounds of lefse are delivered from the griddle to eager buyers, who add whatever toppings they prefer.

lefse Nordic Fest

I’ve read that 10,000 lefse are served at Nordic Fest each year.

lefse Nordic Fest

Me, I love lefse spread with butter and brown sugar, then rolled up tight. Maybe a touch of cinnamon. Or lingonberry jam.

Decades ago, I bought a lefse pin at an antique store.  I don’t know how old it is, or who used it, but I liked to wonder. Who once used it to roll out a bit of home or heritage on a flour-dusted table?

lefse pin

My lefse pin is much larger than my regular rolling pin.  Heavier, too.

And one year, while working at Old World Wisconsin, the Norwegian-area interpreters gave me this lovely rosemaled lefse pin at the end of the season. While I treasure the stick, I must admit that I’ve never made lefse at home. After learning how on an antique stove in an 1845 cabin, it just wouldn’t feel the same.

lefse pin

This stick has had a place of honor in my kitchen for 25 years.

At the launch party for Heritage of Darkness held at Mystery To Me (in Madison, WI) I witnessed lefse’s popularity all over again.  My talented baker friend Alisha brought a gorgeous cake.  She also brought a plate of lefse made by Lutheran church ladies, and rolled up with butter and cinnamon and sugar—the combination she’d learned from her Norwegian grandmother.

People who’d never tried lefse were eager for a sample. People who had their own fond memories of lefse munched happily, reminiscing.

Alisha with lefse

This plate of lefse disappeared fast. Really fast.

I think the generations of long-gone lefse makers would be pleased.

Old World Wisconsin Passes!

October 2, 2013

Gratitude Giveaway! While supplies last, I’m giving away two-for-one passes to Old World Wisconsin, the wonderful historic site near Eagle, WI where the protagonist in my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries is employed.

OldWorldWisconsinLogo403w

Here’s the scoop:

Each pass allows you to enjoy one complimentary adult admission with the purchase of a second admission of greater or equal value at the regular price. (You’ll save up to $16.) Passes are valid during normal operating hours through 12/31/13. Passes are not valid for any special events requiring advanced registration, or school or group tour programming.

I would love it, of course, if you used the  passes to visit on Saturday, October 12, when I’ll be signing books and celebrating the release of the newest Chloe mystery, Heritage of Darkness, from noon to 5 PM. Come say hello, get personalized copies of the Chloe mysteries, do some holiday shopping, and visit the site during one of the prettiest times of the year.

Heritage of Darkness 1

You can also explore the setting for the first two books in the series, Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders. Locations Guides, which are available on my website, identify the specific buildings featured in the mysteries.  (You’ll find the Guides, and lots of other resources, by clicking on the title links above.)

To request your pair of passes, simply send me your name and postal address. You can use the contact form on my website:  http://www.kathleenernst.com/contact.php

Or if you prefer, email me directly:

kathleen <at> kathleenernst.com   (use normal email formatting)

Old World Wisconsin is a magical place—I encourage those who can to get out and enjoy the site. Special thanks to our friends at Old World Wisconsin for making this giveaway possible.

Why Vesterheim?

September 13, 2013

“Why is the new Chloe book set in Iowa?” The question came in an email. “Why is Chloe crossing the border? Why not explore other sites in Wisconsin?”

Heritage of Darkness 1

I have no intention of having Chloe leave her job at Old World Wisconsin. Roelke McKenna, suitor and local cop, will remain in the area as well.

But I do plan to get Chloe out and about from time to time. She can travel to other sites for professional and personal reasons, finding mystery and mayhem and historical echoes wherever she goes. Variety will help keep the series fresh. It also gives me the chance to showcase other sites that I find particularly appealing.

That happens in Chloe #4, Heritage of Darkness. Chloe, Mom, and Roelke head to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, for a week’s vacation. So. . .  why Vesterheim?

Vesterheim wikipedia

It’s a stellar museum. Vesterheim is the most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group. The collection is phenomenal.

Vesterheim trunk

Local historians began collecting artifacts over a century ago. The Norwegian government—believing Norwegian-Americans should be able to learn about their heritage—also contributed original pieces to the museum.

Vesterheim

It is not, however, a museum only of interest to those with Scandinavian heritage.  Vesterheim’s mission is to “explore the diversity of American immigration through the lens of Norwegian-American experience.” I can attest to that. I have no Norwegian heritage, but I find that each visit helps me reflect upon what my own Swiss, Dutch, and Irish ancestors experienced.

Vesterheim knitting

The Open Air Division of the museum contains twelve buildings, ranging from the tiny homes of new arrivals to a huge commercial mill. I only recently learned that Vesterheim’s collection has special significance. Sten Rentzhog, in his book Open Air Museums: The History and Future of a Visionary Idea (2007), notes that “The oldest American outdoor museum appears to be Vesterheim. . . ”

Vesterheim Valdres snow

I had visited Vesterheim several times since moving to the Midwest in 1982, but returned with special purpose in 2005 while doing research for Old World Murder, the first Chloe mystery. That mystery centers on a missing antique ale bowl, and I made arrangements to visit collections storage so I could study Vesterheim’s bowls.

Vesterheim ale bowls

I thought I’d visit, say thanks, and that would be that. Instead, I’ve gotten more involved. My husband and I have returned to enjoy a variety of special events.

Vesterheim syttende mai

Vesterheim Christmas

Another part of Vesterheim’s mission is to “showcase the best in historic and contemporary Norwegian folk and fine arts, and preserve living traditions through classes in Norwegian culture and folk art, including rosemaling (decorative painting), woodcarving and woodworking, knifemaking, and textile arts.”

Vesterheim rosemaling

I’m a heritage arts junkie, and have enjoyed classes in painting, fiber arts, and foodways. Vesterheim’s combination of top-notch instructors and behind-the-scenes access to artifacts for study is unparalleled.

Kate demonstrating the basic stitch.

Vesterheim Laurann

When I took my first rosemaling class, the Education Specialist spoke of “the Vesterheim Family.” It does exist. There’s a special sense of sharing and camaraderie that helps explain why so many people return to Vesterheim again and again.

Writing a Chloe mystery involves several years of thinking, researching, and writing. I can only pick locations that I love—and that I believe readers will love too.

KAE ale bowl Vesterheim

Heritage of Darkness Launch Events!

September 8, 2013

Heritage of Darkness, the 4th Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery, will soon be published!  And I have some great launch events—including two special Chloe’s World Tours at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum—planned for my wonderful readers.

For curator Chloe Ellefson, a family bonding trip to Decorah, Iowa for rosemaling classes seems like a great idea—until the drive begins. Chloe’s cop friend Roelke takes her mother’s talk of romantic customs good-naturedly, but it inflates Chloe’s emotional distress higher with each passing mile. After finally reaching Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Chloe’s resolve to remain positive is squashed when she and Roelke find Petra Lekstrom’s body in one of the antique immigrant trunks. Everyone is shaken by the instructor’s murder, and when Mom volunteers to take over the beginners’ class, Chloe is put in the hot seat of motherly criticism. As she investigates, Chloe uncovers dark family secrets that could be deadly for Mom . . . and even herself.

Heritage of Darkness 1

Here’s the calendar:

1.  Book Signing, Saturday, October 12, Noon – 5 PM;  Old World Wisconsin,  Eagle, WI.

The award-winning Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries feature protagonists who work at Old World Wisconsin and in the nearby Village of Eagle. I will be greeting visitors and signing books from Noon to 5 PM in the museum store, which will have copies of my mysteries for sale. Get an autographed copy of Heritage of Darkness, and then explore the locations at Old World where key scenes in the series take place. Free “Locations Guides” can be downloaded from the Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders pages on my website. Note: while tickets are not needed to visit the store, there is a fee to explore the museum’s extensive grounds and buildings.

Old World Wisconsin – (262) 594-6301 – W372 S9727 Hwy 67, just south of Eagle, WI.

* * *

2.  Book Signing, Sunday, October 13, 10 AM – Noon;  Islandtime Books,  Washington Island, WI; 10 AM. 

I’ll be greeting guests and signing copies of Heritage of Darkness at this wonderful independent bookstore.  You can also get The Light Keeper’s Legacy, which is set on Rock and Washington Islands, and the first two books in the series.

Islandtime Books – (920) 847-2565 – 1885 Detroit Harbor Rd., Washington Island, WI.

* * *

3.  Launch Party, Tuesday, October 22, 6 – 7:30 PM;   Mystery To Me Bookstore,  Madison, WI. 

I’ll be introducing the latest Chloe adventure and signing books from 6 to 7:30 PM in Madison’s newest mystery bookstore, which will have copies of all the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries for sale. There will be mementos for all guests, great door prizes, and another fabulous cake by Alisha Rapp.

Mystery To Me Bookstore – (608) 283-9332 – 1863 Monroe Street, Madison, WI.

* * *

4. Book Signing,  Thursday, October 31, 5 – 7 PM; Vesterheim Museum,  Decorah, IA.

Heritage of Darkness is set in Decorah at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. I’ll be signing books from 5:00 to 7:00 PM, Thursday (Halloween Night) in the museum’s Bruening Visitor Center at the corner of West Water and Mechanic Streets.

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum – (563) 382-9681 – 502 West Water St., Decorah, IA.

* * *

5.  Ticketed Chloe’s World Tour, Wednesday, December 4, 5:30 – 8:30 PM; Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

This tour, which is limited to 25 participants, includes:

    • An after-hours Chloe’s World tour.  The tour will take readers through the museum, highlighting the locations featured in Heritage of Darkness.  Stops will include the Norwegian House, the rosemaling and woodworking exhibit galleries, the vault, and the Valdres House in the Open-Air Division.  The tour also includes a stop at one of the museum’s collections storage facilities for a peek at some hidden treasures.
    • A visit to the rosemaling classroom featured in the book, where participants will enjoy dinner with the author.  The meal will include the soup featured in Heritage of Darkness, salad, and drinks.
    • A sampling of Norwegian Christmas cookies and a book discussion in Vesterheim’s new Visitor’s Center.
    • Favors for all participants, plus special door prizes.

Tickets for this event cost $25.  Reservations are required and can be made by calling 563-382-9681 and asking for Jocelyn.

The tour will begin in the lobby of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 502 W. Water Street, Decorah, Iowa. Please gather at 5:20 PM. Since the tour and discussion will include major plot points, guests are encouraged to read Heritage of Darkness in advance. Museum members and those registered for the ticketed tour who order the book through Vesterheim’s Museum Store will receive a 10% discount.

* * *

6. Free Chloe’s World Tour, Thursday, December 5, 10 AM – Noon; Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

The tour will take readers through the museum, highlighting the locations featured in Heritage of Darkness.  Stops will include the Norwegian House, the rosemaling and woodworking exhibit galleries, the vault, and the Valdres House in the Open-Air Division.  The tour also includes a stop at one of the museum’s collections storage facilities for a peek at some hidden treasures.

The tour will begin in the lobby of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 502 W. Water Street, Decorah, Iowa.  Please gather at 9:50 AM. Since the tour will include discussion of major plot points, guests are encouraged to read Heritage of Darkness in advance.

Heritage of Darkness teaser 1

7.  Blog Tour
I’ll be visiting several blogs in coming weeks—and doing a Giveaway at each stop! Visit and leave a comment, and you’ll be eligible to win your choice of the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mysteries.
Monday, September 16: http://sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/index.html
Wednesday, October 9:  http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, October 23:  http://www.escapewithdollycas.com/
Saturday, November 23:  http://www.killercharacters.com/
More tour stops will be added, and posted on my Facebook Author Page.

Heritage of Darkness Teaser 2

There is nothing better than connecting with readers! I hope to see you, or hear from you, during one of these events.