Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!!!

I already know what you are thinking. You're looking at the clock and saying to yourself "What? It's not the New Year yet!"

Well, that's all a matter of geography. It's 5 p.m. here in Minnesota, which means that it's now midnight in Norway. Right now people across Norway are celebrating with their families and friends, hosting parties, out dancing or sharing a quiet night with loved ones. Well, to be accurate, they were doing those things a few minutes ago. Now most everyone is probably outside watching the fireworks.

So, with that, on behalf of everyone here, I wish our Norwegian readers and members an exuberant HAPPY NEW YEAR!

An updated Gløgg Recipe for your New Year's Eve Party

In preparations for tonight's New Year festivities our Cultural Advisor, Colin Thomsen, has a great gløgg recipe for you. We've been enjoying it, here at the headquarters, for many years now and we figure there's no reason to keep it a secret. Making gløgg is not only fun, but it's a great way to spend time with others, sharing stories and celebrating Norwegian culture.

Here's what Colin had to say about gløgg:

This recipe for gløgg, Scandinavian mulled wine, comes from a 1968 Time-Life cookbook called The Cooking of Scandinavia. We’re not sure if their intent was to entice or to frighten. The cover features a glass of akevitt next to what looks like a ten gallon jar of pickled herring. The recipe, entitled “Professörens Glögg (The Professor’s Glögg)” is identified as being specifically Swedish, although we have no idea why. Swedish, Norwegian or whatever, this gløgg is the best we’ve had. Here is the original recipe and instructions, followed by our own commentary and notes on preparation.

Professørens gløgg

Adapted from Recipes: The Cooking of Scandinavia. Time-Life Books. New York, 1968

To serve 20-25

2 quarts dry red wine (about 2 standard 750 mL bottles)
2 quarts muscatel (or muscato)
1 pint sweet vermouth
2 tablespoons Angostura bitters
2 cups raisins
Peelings of 1 orange
12 whole cardamoms, bruised in a mortar with a pestle or by covering with a towel and crushing with a rolling pin
10 whole cloves
1 piece (about 2 inches) of fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
1 ½ cups akevitt (preferably Linie)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 cups whole almonds, blanched and peeled

In a 6- to 8-quart enameled or stainless steel pot, mix together the dry red wine, muscatel, sweet vermouth, bitters, raisins, orange peel and the slightly crushed cardamoms, whole cloves, ginger and cinnamon. Cover and let the mixture stand at least 12 hours so that the flavors will develop and mingle. Shortly before serving, add the akevitt and the sugar. Stir well and bring it to a full boil over high heat. Remove at once from the heat, stir in the almonds and serve the hot gløgg in mugs. In Sweden, a small spoon is placed in each mug to scoop up the almonds and raisins.

ALTERNATE: To make a simpler gløgg, divide the quantities of spices in half and mix them with 2 bottles of dry red wine. Leave it overnight, then stir in ¾ cup of sugar and bring it almost to a boil. Remove from the heat, stir in 1 cup of whole, blanched and peeled almonds, and serve hot.

Those are the original ingredients and instructions. Before making gløgg, read our commentary below.

Forty years after this recipe was published, it holds up pretty well. Still, times have changed and moreover through experimentation we have made a number of adjustments and changes of our own.

First off, until this year, we had never made this gløgg the night before it was meant to be served. Frankly, we had never remembered. Every year we would take out the cookbook the day of the big Christmas party and realize we’d blown it yet again. However, we were never disappointed either. Having said that, this year, we did manage to throw the spices in the wine the night before and the result was even more delicious. So, if you’re organized enough to get it together a whole day ahead of time, by all means do so, but if you’re not, don’t let it stop you.

Secondly, muscatel per se can be difficult to find. Strictly speaking, muscatel is a sweet white dessert wine that is derived only from Muscat of Alexandria grapes. We have never been able to find muscatel in our area (Minneapolis/St. Paul) although we were able to find it online, with prices ranging from about $6 to almost $70. However, muscato – derived from the same family of grapes – is widely (and cheaply) available and works great. If you really want to go for higher quality but can’t find a nice muscatel, I’m sure Lillet Blanc would be just fine. We have always used Linie Aquavit which compliments the spices nicely, but the Oslo brand would probably be good as well.

Another point is that we do not recommend simply chucking all the spices into the pot loose. In our experience people do not like finding whole cloves in their cups (or their teeth). Instead, we put the orange peel, the ginger and all of the spices - with the exception of the cinnamon stick - in a piece of cheesecloth, tie that off with a piece of string and toss the whole thing in with the wine at the very beginning, then take it out at the last second before serving. The cinnamon stick (or sticks – you can never have too much fresh cinnamon in there) we leave out to get a better flavor and also for fear they will puncture the cheesecloth. A side note: don’t try to substitute ground spices for the whole ones. We tried this the first time we made it, in order to save a few bucks, and the result was a gritty, chewy gløgg that had the body of coffee dregs. Shell out the extra $2 and buy the whole spices, or you’ll be sorry.

Finally – and most importantly – we never allow the gløgg to boil. We don’t know what “the Professor” was supposed to be a professor of, but it sure wasn’t chemistry. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water so bringing the gløgg to a boil even for a short time can severely deplete its psychoactive properties. We use a liquid thermometer and are careful to keep the mixture below 78°C (173°F), the point at which alcohol boils.

In a nutshell, our preparation is to simply start by mixing the red wine, the muscato, and the spices in the pot over low heat. Once this mixture has warmed up a little, add the akevitt and the vermouth to taste - generally, we use a little less vermouth and a little more akevitt than the recipe calls for. As the drink heats up, we gradually add the sugar, stirring regularly so that the sugar dissolves completely. Once that’s done, add the raisins and almonds. Then add the bitters, one tablespoon at a time, tasting after stirring in the first one. If it doesn’t need the second tablespoon of bitters, don’t add it.

The whole process will take a couple of hours. Don’t try to multitask when you’re making gløgg. You’re going to need every ounce of your steadily diminishing concentration to keep the stuff from boiling. It should be served warm, in small cups, and make sure everyone gets some raisins and almonds in their cup. Some people will complain about this, but after a cup or two, they’ll realize it’s the best gløgg they’ve ever had.


Norwegian Movie Night

As a new parent the option of going out on the town tonight is pretty much out of the question. That being the case, my wife and I are going to have a Norwegian movie marathon tonight. We've got Buddy, Insomnia and Sweetland, all courtesy of Sons of Norway's Media Lending Library!

Buddy is a story about the lives of three guys in an apartment who wind up on television, thanks to one of the guys' video diaries. The story shows the convoluted consequences of baring your inner thoughts to the masses and that only the discovery of true loyalty and redemptive friendship can make experience into something positive.

stars Stellan Skarsgård as a detective who has been sent to a town in Northern Norway, where he investigates the murder of a young girl. This movie is like film noir in reverse, because the movie is set during a time of year when the sun NEVER sets and the characters are forced to face the unfolding mystery in the harsh light of day.

Last of all, Sweetland is about a young German, named Inge Alltenburg, who travels to Minnesota in the 1920's to marry Olaf Torvik, a Norwiegan man who lives there. It is a story about Inge and Olaf not being allowed to marry due to there different citizenship's, and not being accepted because of the war with Germany. Over time she learns English and befriends Olaf, Frances, and Frances' family.

I can't wait to watch them all! And the best part is that it's all free because I am a Sons of Norway member. That's right, Sons of Norway has a complimentary lending library for its members that includes hundreds of music and video titles. It's a great member benefit for individuals and lodges. Check it out sometime if you've got a hankering for some Elling or Cool and Crazy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Did you know?

Did you know...

That today's Featured Article on Wikipedia's homepage is all about Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, who is a prominent figure in many of the Norse Sagas?

That according to the CIA Factbook there were only 1.988 million home telephones in Norway, as of 2007, but at the same time there are 5.192 million cell phones in use? I'm guessing it has something to do with the proliferation of cell phone use by children. A recent article over at Norway Post says that 9 out of 10 Norwegian 10-year-olds have their own cell phone. What makes this even more extraordinary is that there are only 4.7 million people in the country. That means that roughly half a million people have more than one cell phone! For what, I have no idea. I can't get the one I have to stop ringing, so I don't know why anyone would want double the aggravation.

Norway and Russia are currently in a territorial dispute over a chunk of land that is called "Dronning Maud Land" (or Queen Maud Land)? It's about the size of Alaska and Texas combined, but only has an average yearly population of six. That's right, six is not a typo. On average six Norwegians live there year-round at a research station called Troll. The reason, you ask? Because Queen Maud Land is in Antarctica. Hopefully you can see the humor, like I do, in that two first-world nations are arguing over barren chunk of land at the bottom of the world where six people live.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Norwegian Christmas

With tonight being Christmas Eve many families use this time to do something together. I know mine sure does, so in that vein I've got some great places for you to check out if you're looking for something to do tonight.

First of all, Sons of Norway members can check out our Information Banks, where we have a couple great items on Christmas in Norway and, for those who like to sing, Norwegian Christmas Carols.

But for those of us who live in the north with the cold and snow, there are other things you can stay inside and do. How about some last minute decorations? Click here to learn how to make Norwegian Christmas baskets for your tree. Or, if you feel like doing some baking tonight, why not try making some krumkake with a traditional recipe?

There's so much a family can do and that's the best part, I think; being with family and loved ones.

Alright everybody, have a merry Christmas and we'll go back to blogging about winter and the New Year on Friday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We now resume our regular programming

Ok, so I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and comments, in recent days, asking why there hasn’t been as much activity on the blog over the last couple of weeks. I confess it’s entirely my fault. I’ve just been through one of the most exciting (and tiring) experiences of my life, and now that things are starting to settle back into a routine of sorts I can take a moment to tell you about it.

You see, my lovely wife gave birth to our first child, a 6 lb 15 oz boy named Sig, on December 5th and I’ve been spending most of the last two weeks at home with our new bundle of joy! I’m happy to report that he’s healthy, happy and, as of today, a 4th generation Sons of Norway member!

He’s a cutie, right? So, there you have it. I think it’s a pretty good reason to temporarily drop off the radar, don’t you? But never fear because regular blogging has resumed!

Resumption of regular blogging…sort of
You know what one of the hardest parts of having a child can be? Picking a name. Think about it for a second; the name you choose will be one of the first, and most basic, way in which your child will define themselves. It will be a huge part of their identity. Because of this, my wife and I looked for a name that we felt represented our German and Norwegian heritage, but was somewhat unique without being cumbersome. We chose the name Sig because it is somewhat uncommon while also being a shortened version of a number of Germanic and Scandinavian names, like Sigbjörn, Sigefrid, Sigfinn, Sigar, Sigvald or Sigurd.

This kind of got me thinking, though. What if my wife and I lived in Norway when Sig was born? Norway has some pretty strict name laws (though they have reportedly relaxed a bit in the last five years) that date back to the 1800’s. Would we have been able to name him Sig or would we have had to go with the full Sigbjörn? Maybe, maybe not.

The most current version of the law, from 2003, states:

One of the most important differences from the old naming law is that a first name can be given as long as it will not cause significant disadvantage to the person concerned or other strong reasons within the realms of common sense. Previously, the name could not cause “disadvantage” but the addition of the word “significant” means that Norwegians now have more freedom in choosing a name.

A restriction in choosing a first name is that if the name is registered as a surname or middle name, it cannot be given to a child unless that name is already a traditional Norwegian first name, or a name in another country or culture where there is no separation of middle and surnames.

To read the full law, you can view it here in Norwegian or you can read a rough English translation here.

There’s also some interesting blog posts about the name laws here and here as well as news stories about them here and here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seasonal Notes

The moose are loose!
And in the ever popular elgnytt (moose news):
Watch where you drive! As the weather gets cold, moose wander near cars, wreaking havoc wherever they roam! Well, perhaps it’s not quite so dramatic, but one article states that 1,321 moose were killed in traffic accidents last year alone, with many more occurrences in the wintertime versus summertime.
Possible explanations? Tasty shrubs along roadways and the alluring salt on the roads. Either way, if you’re living or vacationing in Norway this over the next few months, watch for the kings (and queens) of the forest…

Santa, errr, Julenisse and Julebukk are coming to town
Who stops at your Norwegian-friendly home on Christmas? Does the julenisse beat Santa to the punch? Are you prepared for his visit?
Here are a few tips to working with the julenisse so he doesn’t play tricks on you:
• do leave the farm animals to his care – he’s supposed to guard them!
• don’t forget to leave him a bowl of porridge – yum!

If you want to write to the julebukk, who will come to your home, bearing gifts, or the julenisse, you can address notes to:
N-1440 Drøbak

Friday, December 12, 2008

Norwegian Population Hits Record High

This article from Dagbladet caught our attention this morning. According to new figures just released from Statistics Norway, by the end of the year there will be 4,801,100 people living in Norway, making a record high increase of 1.3% for the year. The net population increase for the year is estimated to be 63,900 people.

All of Norway’s counties have shown a population increase this year, the largest increases being in Oslo and Akershus with 15,516 and 9,363 persons respectively. In Rogaland the increase is expected to be 7,973 people while Hordaland will be up by 7,051. The lowest population growth is in Finnmark which will grow by only 36 people.

Nearly 30% of the population growth is the result of net births, while 70% comes from net migration from abroad. Two years ago net births accounted for 42% of the increase and migration 58%.

For more information (in English) click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting to Know...District 5 International Director Jostein Bakken

Ah, Jostein Bakken – the enthusiastic International Director from District 5. Read on to reminisce with him about emigrating from Norway and what might make for a stronger Sons of Norway.

Q: How did you get involved with Sons of Norway?

A: It goes back many years, when I first came to this country. My uncle took me to the lodge down here, Skjold 5-100. I was a member from late 1950 to the middle of 1960. Then I moved away, built a house, started a business and then came back again in 1980. Been a member ever since … about 43 years.

Q: What’s different about Sons of Norway now, as compared with then?

A: Not an awful lot has changed, I must admit. We have more young people now, but we had some then .. Of course, I was younger back then… Meetings are getting shorter…
What changes would you like to see in the organization in the next few years?
I think programs have to be improved. I don’t think that giving medallions are doing the job. Of course, I think the tickets to Norway are a good promotion, but it’s so hard to get programs. They aren’t the interesting and educational programs that we should be offering.

Q: Which leadership position within the organization have you enjoyed the most? Why?

A: [without a moment’s hesitation] District president. That was the most fun time in my life in Sons of Norway. The people! I felt at home. The board was really nice to work with, and I enjoyed that the most. And, also, you get to know and visit more people.

Q: When did you come to the U.S.?

A: I came to the United States the 16th of January 1950.

Q: Why?

A: I came for work. I was emigrating.

Q: What do you miss about Norway?

A: Well, of course, I think of Norway because it’s my motherland and it’s a beautiful country – lot of hills, lots of mountains and I was used to it. It was quite a change when I went back for a trip to visit my sister— she is still living there. I didn’t recognize it because it looked so small. I still have Norway in my mind and I frequently go back.

Q: What’s your favorite Norwegian food?

A: At Christmastime, I miss the lutefisk. Every Christmas Eve in Norway, we had lutefisk and ribbe and rømmegrøt.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Norwegian Court Decides Landmark War Crimes Case

This week a court in Oslo sentenced a 42 year-old Bosnian man to five years in prison for his role in war crimes committed in 1992 during the Yugoslav Wars. The case was the first ever prosecuted under new laws allowing Norwegian courts to try cases for crimes against humanity committed outside of Norway.

According to Reuters the convicted man, Misrad Repak, came to Norway in 1993 seeking asylum, and became a Norwegian citizen in 2001. Aftenposten reported that the case began with a tip from Danish police, who were conducting their own investigation into war crimes committed during the conflict. The prosecution’s case alleged that Repak was a mid-level leader in HOS, a Croatian militia, and that he participated in an internment camp were Serbs from the towns Stolac and Capljina were rounded up in 1992. The conviction was for crimes committed in the camp, including torture. Repak was found not guilty on some counts, and the five year sentence is only half of what prosecutors asked for.

Human rights advocates have long been concerned that the generous asylum policies of Norway and the other Nordic countries may have unintentionally made them into safe havens for war criminals. According to Aftenposten there are about 100 persons in Norway suspected of war crimes, including 15 individuals that the Rwandan government has requested be extradited for prosecution for their role in the genocide there in 1994. The new laws, which were passed in 2005 but only came into effect just this year, are intended to show that war criminals will not be tolerated in Norway. Still, the case was extremely complex and the constitutionality of the new laws is yet to be tested. Judge Finn Haugen told the Norwegian press that he believes that the case will and should go to the Norwegian Supreme Court so that the legal principles underlying it can be fully evaluated.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting to Know…District 7 International Director Erik Brochmann

The vivacious Erik Brochmann has been an upstanding Sons of Norway member since 1970. Currently hailing from Vancouver, Erik is doing a bang-up job as the International Director for District 7.

Q: What drew you to Sons of Norway?

A: When I got to Canada in 1970--the day after I arrived--I was approached by the field representative at that time, and he sold me insurance. That’s how I got involved, and I’ve been a member ever since, and I haven’t regretted it. It’s been a great 38 years.

Q: What positions have you held within the organization?

A: We’ll start with the beginning. Lodge: assistant social director counselor president oh, and financial secretary At the district level: publicity director vice president president And then international director!

Q: Which was your favorite? Why?

A: Well, I think the publicity director position was very interesting, but I don’t know if that was my favorite... I think the international director has been very interesting, it’s been a learning curve from day one. I think from a lodge level, it’s hard to see the whole perspective. We see, especially in Canada, the fraternal portion more than the business portion.

Q: How does District 7 differ from the other districts?

A: There is some difference – the insurance thing is the big difference – but apart from that we’re not really that different.

Q: Where are you from? What brought you to Canada?

A: I was born in Bergen, Norway. In 1970, I moved to Canada. I was actually at sea, sailing as an electrician on an ocean going vessel. The ship was called Vancouver and I was asked if I wanted a job with a shipping company there in Vancouver. We moved back to Norway, but we only lasted two years, two and a half… Then I was relocated to Savannah, GA. There was no lodge there, but I stayed connected to Sons of Norway.
After a few more moves, Erik and his wife, Veronica, and their children finally came back to Vancouver to settle in 1986.

Q: What’s your favorite Norwegian food?

A: Fårikål – lamb and cabbage – that’s the Norwegian national dish!

Q: Favorite Sons of Norway memory?

A: That’s a tough one…to be involved in putting on the international convention in 2006 was a great experience. The way the members got together and chipped in. It was a big undertaking when we decided to do this.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

100th Post!

Hey everyone, guess what??? This is the blog's 100th post!

This is a bit of a milestone for Sons of Norway. When we first launched back in July there were a lot of us at the headquarters (myself included) who wondered how long we'd be able to maintain this blog and keep the information fresh and interesting. Trust, me it's no easy task and takes a lot of effort even on its best days.

But, with 4 months, 100 posts and thousands of visitors so far, I think it's all been well worth it. Nichole, Colin and I hope you feel the same way; that our work in this little corner of the web has been at turns helpful, informative and entertaining for everyone.

So, with that, on to the next post and hopefully 100 more!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Blog Exclusive: Interview with Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen

Friendship Trees
Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen took a minute to talk with Viking magazine about the annual Norwegian Christmas tree ceremony at Union Station in Washington, D.C. This year, Norway gives the U.S. a 32-foot tall spruce as a symbol of friendship and gratitude. The lighting takes place on Nov. 25.

Q: Why is the tree ceremony at Union Station an important tradition for both Americans and Norwegians?

Ambassador Strømmen: Norwegian Christmas at Union Station is a month-long festival celebrating Norwegian culture and the holidays. Since the festival is now in its 12th year, the tree lighting ceremony has become a holiday season kick-off for many people in Washington, D.C.

Q: What is the tree intended to symbolize?

AS: The tree is a symbol of friendship between the United States and Norway. It also expresses Norway’s gratitude for assistance received from the United States during and after World War II.

Q: Do you include any other Norwegian Christmas traditions in the ceremony at Union Station?

AS: On the morning of the ceremony, the Norwegian Embassy helps kick-off the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots campaign. Children from a local elementary school attend, visit with Santa Claus, and see a giant model train start winding its way through a landscape of Norwegian fjords and mountains. The ceremony itself features choir music, speeches and the tree lighting. We also have a Norwegian-American holiday bazaar on a weekend in early December. Norwegian performers in collaboration with the New York Opera Society sing "Music of the sea: A Norwegian Christmas" at the National Gallery of Art, and there will be a Norwegian jazz concert at the Kennedy Center.

What organizations are involved with making this event happen?

AS: The greater Washington chapter of Sons of Norway and other local Norwegian-American organizations contribute, especially to the holiday bazaar. Each year someone is invited to flip the switch to light the 8,000 lights on the tree (TBD for 2008). Previous attendees have been Princess Märtha Louise, the former Mayor of Oslo, and Earl Hyman, whose career in acting was inspired by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

A Norwegian Christmas tree is also gifted each year to England and placed on display in London’s Trafalgar Square. This tree, like the tree given to the United States, is a symbol of friendship as well as a show of thanks for support during World War II.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Holmenkollen Diamanten for Sale to the Highest Bidder

If you remember about a month-and-a-half ago I posted about the closure of Holmenkollen and its impending demolition. Now, in a new, curious turn of events it appears that the Norwegian government is selling part of the world famous Holmenkollen ski jump on e-bay.

Yeah, according to news reports, the "Diamanten" has been placed for auction on e-bay, with a starting bid of $5,000 USD or about NOK 35,000. The diamenten is the diamond shaped cabin space at the top of the ski-jump and has been an iconic symbol of Norway's place as the inventor of skiing. As of the writing of this post, there have been 12 bids and the price is up to $6,500 already.

The e-bay description of the sale is:

Unique chance to buy the top of Norways national pride: Holmenkollen ski jump!

Holmenkollen is about to undergo a huge rebuilding, and in the process the old ski jump and its top "Diamanten" has been separated. The pavilion is filled with drawings and autographs from a lot of great ski jumpers throughout time and is a real collectors item . Holmenkollen is about to undergo a huge rebuilding, and in the process the old ski jump and its top "Diamanten" has been separated. The pavilion is filled with drawings and autographs from a lot of great ski jumper throughout time and is a real collectors item . It is in a great condition and can be used in any number of ways. "Diamanten" is now ready for a new home, so place a bid on this unique memorable, and impress your friends, collea gues or business partners by having the one and only "Diamanten"... It is in a great condition and can be used in any number of ways. "Diamanten" is now ready for a new home, so place a bid on this unique memorable, and impress your friends, Colleen gues or business partners by having the one and only "Diamanten" ...

"Diamanten" is ready to be picked up from the sight at any given moment. "Diamanten" is ready to be picked up from the sight at any given moment.

Getting to Know…District 4 International Director Elaine Nelson

Back from a great Thanksgiving we've got a great new profile of the International Director from District 4, Elaine Nelson, who has almost forty years of committed membership under her belt. After joining when she was just 19, Elaine has seen the organization change and grow. Read on to see what’s kept her involved all these years!

Q: What was your proudest moment in Sons of Norway?

A: I would have to say, when I made a presentation to a member where there had been a tornado. I was proud to be an international director and was proud of our Helping Hands to Members grants. I was proud that Sons of Norway does that for our members.

Q: How long have you held a Sons of Norway financial product?

A: Since the convention in Philadelphia. I was a delegate and I needed insurance.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to have one?

A: I feel it’s one of the benefits we have of being a Sons of Norway member, and it’s a quality product.

Q: What other positions have you held in Sons of Norway?

A: I came on the district board as district treasurer. I had four years as district counselor, four years as district vice president and four years as district president. I’ve also held positions in my local lodge. I haven’t been secretary and that’s a good position…

Q: What prompted you to join Sons of Norway at such a young age?

A: My parents and I joined 4-087 when our district was having a reorganization of lodges. We joined because of our Norwegian heritage. I didn’t become too active till 1983. My parents and I took our first trip to Norway to visit relatives. I saw the beautiful scenery and my connection to Norway and I came back and became lodge president.

Q: Throughout the years, what has Sons of Norway done to continually engage you?

A: The fraternal friendship from lodges in Canada, Norway and the United States; the heritage; I love the Viking magazine; the web site. We’ve had a lot of great changes. It’s a great organization.

Q: Why is recruitment so important to you?

A: I guess if you like an organization you belong to, you like to tell people the story of Sons of Norway. There’s a lot of people that don’t know about Sons of Norway, and we like to tell of our benefits and how it was started. People can join of all ages. One of the things that I think has really helped in the past few years is the family membership.

Q: What’s your favorite Norwegian food?

A: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. Probably lefse and krumkake.
Q: How do you eat your lefse?

A: Just sugar and butter.

Q: Where in Norway would you like to yet visit? Why?

A: Grimstad, Norway. I have a penpal there. I’ve met her, but I’ve never been to her city.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all our members and Norwegian-Americans, happy Thanksgiving! We'll return tomorrow with a new post profiling D4 International Director, Elaine Nelson. Until then enjoy the turkey, the lefse and time with loved ones!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is it summer yet?

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I'm already thinking about next summer. Why, you ask? Three words: Scandinavian. Hjemkomst. Festival. Yep, it's already time to start thinking about the 2009 festival and all the cool things that are going on. In the 8 or 9 years that I've been with Sons of Norway I've had the pleasure of traveling to a lot of different events and I must say that next to Nork Høstfest this is one of my absolute favorites. I suppose it helps that I spent about 13 years living in Fargo as a kid, so its like old home week. But I digress.

There's always something new and cool happening, the folks that run the festival are very nice and the attendees are great. All reasons why we decided to become the top-level Festival Sponsor for 2007-2009. This next year is definitely going to be awesome. We had a meeting with the festival director recently and she showed us what the upcoming theme is going to be. I wish I could tell you about it, but I'm not sure if Hjemkomst is ready to debut it yet (there's nothing on their website about so far) so I'll have to hold off for now. I will say this, though, I'm really excited about it because I think the festival has a great opportunity to tap into the youth if the Red River Valley this time. If you live in ND, SD, IA, or MN I definitely suggest you make plans to visit the 2009 Hjemkomst Festival. You won't be dissapointed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nordic American Thanksgivin Breakfast

Tomorrow is going to be a full day for sure.

It's time for the 24th Annual Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast (NATB). Always a great time, even if it does mean getting up early, and this year's event certainly won't disappoint. As always, the purpose of the NATB is for folks of the Scandinavian-American community to come together in the celebration of faith, freedom, family & friendship. It's also an opportunity for attendees to support important causes, like the Marie Sandvik Center and the Minnesota Military Family Foundation. Even if you can't make it to this year's event, check out the information on the breakfast here, and take a look at this year's charities.

We've got some great speakers this year, like Minnehaha Academy President John Engstrom, Jeanette Trompeter and Donna Erickson. Each of whom brings their own take on the important issues of faith, freedom, family & friendship, respectively. Personally, I can't wait to hear their thoughts.

Though, what I like even better about the event is the camaraderie. I've been to this event for the past 9 years and every time I'm always amazed to see folks from difference Scandinavian backgrounds coming together with hugs and handshakes. It's all for one good, a common cause if you will. It's a very cool thing to see and be part of, so if you can't make it this year, make sure to try next year.

Come back tomorrow and learn why my thoughts are already turning to next summer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Norway Chooses American Fighter

The Norwegian government announced this week that the Norwegian Ministry of Defense will recommend that Norway replace its fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft with the American-built F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The decision comes at the end of a long competition between the JSF and the Swedish-built SAAB Gripen NG fighter. The Prime Minister’s office sighted the JSF’s superior performance as the primary factor in their decision, as well as the lower initial and operating costs. You can read an English-language version of the press release announcing the decision here and the longer Norwegian version here.

The Ministry of Defense’s recommendation will still need to be approved by Parliament next year. According to the plan, the JSF will be phased in between 2016 and 2020, as the F-16s are gradually phased out.

The choice will likely bring some welcome warmth to US-Norway relations which have been decidedly chilly in the last few years. US Ambassador to Norway Benson K Whitney has advocated strongly for the JSF, and personally delivered the initial bid to Norwegian Minister of Defense Anne Grethe Strøm-Erichsen back in April. The US Embassy webpage has extensive information about JSF here.

The decision wasn’t scheduled to be made public until December 19th, and both the American and Swedish teams have reacted with surprise. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has been criticized from both the right and the left within Norway for the early announcement. The Socialist Left party, which is a member of Stoltenberg’s governing coalition, has expressed disappointment in the announcement. Jan Peterson, a Conservative Party member of parliament and a defense committee chair told Dagbladet “This is a majority government at its worst. There has been no attempt at dialog from the government’s side between them and the committee or the rest of Parliament.” However, Peterson added that he thought the JSF was a good choice, and said he was glad the government chose “the best plane, and not prioritized industrial cooperation.”

The project has been stalked by controversy almost since the beginning. About a year ago a Eurpoean consortium withdrew their bid for the Eurofighter Typhoon from consideration because they felt the process favored the Americans too heavily.

SAAB and others from the Swedish side have also expressed their disappointment. Their chances could not have been helped by this photo, which has appeared widely in the Norwegian press in the last week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting to Know…District Two International Director Bill Fosmoe

Today, Nichole Neuman had a very lively and lovely discussion with International Director Bill Fosmoe about why he joined Sons of Norway back in 1982, what makes his lodge (Bothell 2-106) so darned great and why he likes lutefisk more than any other Norwegian (ahem) delicacy. Enjoy getting to know Bill better!

Q: What was your first connection to Sons of Norway?

A: We had a friend who thought we should join the Sons of Norway and if we did, we should join her lodge, which we did. Actually, it’s not the closest lodge to us, but she convinced us. It’s really a nice organization, and we have a beautiful piece of property. If you ever do come out this way I’d love to show you. (ed: This membership coordinator is more than willing to journey to District 2!)

Q: What did it offer you that other organizations of its ilk did not?

A: I think it was the hospitality of the people in the lodge, and getting involved. When we first got into the lodge, we weren’t able to get involved. We thoroughly have enjoyed working with these people and we have a number of events with which we get involved. You really get to know people and having to work with them is really enjoyable.

Q: What positions have you held within Sons of Norway?

A: Well, I’ve been treasurer for our lodge and building association for a total of ten years, also on board of directors of Trollhaugen for six years. I was on the board of directors for Norse Home which is a retirement home for Scandinavians. Also, district president for four years and district treasurer for six years. Now I’ve been on the board for two years.
I’ve always enjoyed the relationship we had with the home office, too. One of the benefits of being district president is that you get to travel around to the various lodges throughout the district, and it’s great to meet the people.

Q: What compelled you to take on leadership roles?

A: When I retired I had more time than I knew what to do with, so I got more involved. I’ve mostly done the accounting part of it. It’s just something I enjoy doing, getting involved.

Q: What changes have you witnessed since you first joined?

A: I think the biggest change is the personnel at the office, how they’ve turned around to help anybody and everybody. And then the technology – the older people don’t have computers, so that’s very difficult to overcome. And also, the cultural. You’ve done a fantastic job with the culture end of it. And generating new ideas!

Q: What’s your favorite Norwegian food?

A: Lutefisk. I like some of the other things and krumkake, but that’s more fattening. Of course, I was brought up with, on Christmas Eve, for my dad and I to have lutefisk. There’s a lot of food that I really thoroughly enjoy.

Q: Is there a Norwegian holiday tradition you and your family observe?

A: Actually, the only thing we do observe is going to these lutefisk dinners particularly. We usually go out with another couple for a Norwegian dinner on Christmas Eve.

Q: Do you do any Norwegian Crafts?

A: I hate to admit this, but I don’t. Probably the simplest one, which would be reading. I don’t have any other talent….but as far as the sporting end of it, I’m a couch potato.

Sons of Norway on Facebook

This morning as I was sipping my first cup of decaffeinated brown water coffee and thinking about what's left to be done before the next issue of the Sons of Norway Adivsor goes to print I decided I needed a 5-minute mental vacation. So, I started doing some random searches for "Sons of Norway" on the internet and found some pretty interesting stuff.

For example, did you know that there are more than 20 different groups on Facebook that are dedicated to Sons of Norway? They range in membership from just one or two members into the hundreds. I think this is great. In fact, I even set up an international Sons of Norway group this morning. If you're interested, please join the group by clicking here. If you want to view all the Facebook groups for Sons of Norway, you can click here. What's more, there are even some lodges that have Facebook pages now. I think that's a great idea, especially for lodges who don't have a "web person" to create a lodge website. Kudos to Southern Star Lodge 3-360, Nordahl Grieg Lodge 6-052 and Northern Lights Lodge 4-493, among others!

After finding all that, I had to check out MySpace to see if there was more to be found. There sure were. For example, Edvard Grieg Lodge 6-074 has a Myspace page for lodge information and announcements, which is very nice looking with clean design. Good job.

It's nice to see our members are starting to embrace the social media channels. Whether you like them or not (I have a mixed opinion myself) they're most likely here to stay. That being the case, I'd love to hear if any of the readers have some ideas about how these websites could be used by lodges or districts for recruitment or retention purposes. If you have some thoughts, please leave a comment below so others can read it as well.

Ok, back to the Advisor. Have a great day and be sure to check back later today or tomorrow morning for the Bill Fosmoe interview!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

DIY with Sons of Norway

With experts expecting a bleak economic landscape this holiday season many Americans are looking for ways to cut expenses. If you're like me, you may be looking for some DIY (Do It Yourself) projects that would make for decent Christmas presents. There are a number of places for us like minded folks to look, like the DIY Network, where you'll find do it yourself instruction on everything from quilting to crafts to jewelry making. All of which can be made into easy, inexpensive yet meaningful gifts.

Now, you may be wondering why is the Sons of Norway Blog running a piece on something non-Norwegian? Well there's a couple of reasons.

First, the DIY mentality is very Scandinavian and very, very,very Norwegian. For centuries people in Norway, and their descendants who immigrated to the United States, were proud of their ability to be self sustaining while doing more with less (the cornerstone of the DIY movement). So much so that I'd argue Scandinavians were more proficient at it than almost any other culture.

Also, did you know that Sons of Norway offers some great DIY projects that can be turned into the perfect Christmas gift? We do, and that's the second reason for today's post. All members of Sons of Norway have access to a number of different Cultural Skills lessons that can teach you how to rosemal, chip carve, knit or make a hardanger embroidery piece (among other things). I've personally seen what members are capable of making after going through a CS program and these items can make the best gifts imaginable. Not only are they hand-made, but they are also one-of-a-kind gifts that can have more meaning than a store-bought gift.

Another DIY offering from Sons of Norway, which could be very helpful this holiday season, is our recipe collection. Often, gifts of food are the most practical and cherished. Consider making some lefse or krumkake to give as gifts this year. Just remember that many baked goods, like krumkake are very fragile, so they don't do well if you are planning on mailing them to a loved one who lives far away. If that's the situation you find yourself in, I suggest you check out Viking magazine to see if there is a Scandinavian food seller closer to your loved one and order from them.

Well that's all for now, but be sure to check back tomorrow when I'll have a post from Nichole Neumann where she interviews District 2 International Director Bill Fosmoe.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Norwegian Musicians on Myspace

This week the Sons of Norway culture desk brings you some new Norwegian music that you can sample for free on Myspace.

Valkyrien Allstars consists of three young Hardanger fiddle players from Eastern Norway. Three unaccompanied Hardanger fiddles grinding away at the same time could be excessive under the direction of less creative musicians, but Valkyrien Allstars keep things fresh by blending in elements of blues and jazz to keep things fresh. One of the members also sings, and her throaty, soulful voice fits perfectly in the mix of old and new sounds.

Sami musician Mari Boine has been re-interpreting the traditional music of her people for almost twenty years. Never a strict traditionalist, Boine became an international star with the release of her debut album in 1989 which blended classic Sami joik signing with electronic music and other modern styles. Boine has never stopped pursuing her original vision and has collaborated widely with artists from around the world.

Hanne Hukkelberg is one of our favorite musical discoveries of the last few years. She’s a singer, but beyond that it’s almost impossible to say what genre her music belongs to. Some writers call it jazz, others say it’s alternative or indie, but to our way of thinking Hukkelberg is an excellent case in point of why those genre labels are so meaningless. Her voice is unique, but what really sets her apart is how she uses it – she has this strange, unhurried way of teasing expressive gestures out of a simple phrase or line. Her producer, fellow Norwegian Kåre Vestrheim also makes a major contribution, most importantly by staying out of the way of the vocals, but also by including unexpected sounds to the instrumentation, like the sound of a typewriter clacking in one song, or the sound of a boat passing through water in another.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Getting to Know…New International Director Jon Tehven

A member only since 1996, John Tehven from Iowa in District One, has quickly rose to the recently elected position of International Director. Let’s find out a little more about this motivated man.

Q: Compared to some of our other officers, you’re a relatively new member of Sons of Norway. What drew you to the organization?

A: My job was training director for an insurance company, so I was on the airplane and traveling all the time. I didn’t belong to much besides church and I had friends that kept saying you need to join Sons of Norway. When my traveling stopped, I did.

Q: What positions have you held besides district president?

A: Lodge vice president, lodge president and then zone director. After that, district secretary and then district president. I had some significant encouragement.

Q: And why did you get involved after just a few years with district leadership?

A: I have never actively sought office; others have come to me and said, “You should do this.” I had some very good mentors.

Q: What has the transition been like from district president to international director?

A: As district president, there is a huge amount of functional things that have to happen, and the international board will be more visionary.

Q: What would you like to see for Sons of Norway in the next decade?

A: I think we need to have greater insurance participation, need to grow and retain our membership and keep building the Foundation.

I’m very encouraged by the proactiveness of the Sons of Norway and the strategic planning committees of the board. I think that they’re very effective and a good way to build our organization.

I think that we need to continue workshops that train our leaders in the many parts of the Sons of Norway.

Q: What is a characteristic of our fraternal benefit society unique to Sons of Norway?

A: I think that there are some parts here. I think that what happens here at the international office, that the leadership here is individually and collectively as good a leadership experience as I’ve had anywhere.

And in our lodges, I think we have, as a volunteer organization, exceptional leaders. We ask a lot of them and they respond because they think it’s important.

Q: Favorite Norwegian food?

A: My mother’s lefse, but I like rommegrøt also.

Q: Favorite skol?

A: Every year at our house we have a Superbowl party, so that’s our favorite party. Go Bears!

Q: Most amazing experience in Norway?

A: It was visiting my cousins in the Lofoten Islands. We stayed with them, and they came and stayed with us.

Q: Favorite convention memory?

A: Solglimt lodge getting Lodge of the Year; I’m very proud of it. We celebrated at our lodge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back to Normal

Well, things are back to normal this week at the Sons of Norway Headquarters. Last week we played host to the biannual International Board of Directors meeting. The meetings, which occur in the fall and spring of every year, are a great opportunity for all the board member to meet face to face and discuss the pressing issues of the organization. This being the end of a convention year, the board met and discussed a lot of the resolutions that resulted from our time in San Diego this past August.

It was also a time for the District Presidents to get together and talk about issues that affect lodges and ways for districts to work together towards common goals. With four new District Presidents and four returning presidents it sounds like the perfect combination of experience and new ideas to result in good progress.

For the staffers who work at the Headquarters Office, the Board Meetings can make for a very hectic week. You have board members from all over North America and Norway coming together for a few days and they want to make the most of the time. This means their schedules are very full, meeting with staff members, the rest of the Board of Directors and the District Presidents. Typically, for those of us in the Fraternal Department, there are lots of requests for materials and information related to new initiatives, questions about current programs and time spent discussing various issues with the committees that have been assigned. It makes for a very hectic week balancing all these things with our day-to-day job duties, but in the end the stress isn't so bad because it's all for the good of Sons of Norway.

Overall it sounds like the time spent was very successful and International President Dan Rude ran the meetings very well. I haven't heard, yet about what new initiatives have come out of this fall's meeting, but as soon as I do I'll be sure to share.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oslo in 3D

This week we stumbled across a cool new high-resolution map of Oslo. Developed by Sesam, a Norwegian search engine and based on missile-guidance technology, the map looks and feels like Google Earth but has far better 3D images.

The map uses up a lot of bandwidth, so you will definitely need high-speed internet service to use it. You will also need to install a custom plug-in (a mini-application that works from inside your browser). Click here and you’ll be taken to a demo page with a button that says “Installer.” Click that button and follow your browser’s instructions to either run or install the plug-in. The map will then either automatically load, or you’ll have to hit your browser’s “refresh” button.

You can zoom in and out, and also change the angle from which you view the city. This is a “beta” or test version so it does have some bugs, and it does not include street names or a search function. According to this article, the map will one day be expanded to include several other cities in Norway.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Aftenposten English Goes Dark.

In what was stated to be a “cost-cutting move,” Aftenposten announced on Monday, November 03, 2008 that it would be closing its News in English desk, effective Friday. It’s a sad state for those of us who do not read Norwegian, but still carry an interest in the current social, political and moose happenings in the old country.

On the upside, the site promises to keep a searchable archive of their previously published English stories for those who want to relive the drunken moose rampage heydays. For those interested, simply click through to and enter a search term in the “søk” field.

What a great opportunity, however, to take advantage of the Sons of Norway Norwegian-learning resources! Twenty-four hours a day, members can access our online language lessons. For those who wish to continue reading their daily news from Norway, members can get a great start with Sons of Norway’s Norwegian for Reading Comprehension guide, also available in the members section of

To read the full story:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween in Norway

Since today is Halloween, we decided to bring you a post about Halloween in Norway, written by our own Cultural Advisor, Colin Thomsen.

Until recently, Norwegians by and large did not celebrate Halloween. In fact, Halloween was virtually unknown in Norway before the late ‘90s. When the cartoon classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was translated into Norwegian, the Great Pumpkin became the Old Man of Olsok. It’s not completely clear how the holiday started to catch on over there. Many Norwegians feel that American candy companies have tried to market trick-or-treating, while others say Donald Duck comics have helped promote the holiday. Whatever the origins, Halloween in Norway is a lot like Halloween in the States, even if some of the finer points have gotten lost in the translation.

Instead of saying “trick or treat” in English when the door is answered, Norwegian kids say “knask eller knep” or “digg eller deng” which both mean about the same thing as the English phrase. According to recent media reports, Norwegian kids tend to take the “trick” part a little too seriously. Egging and other forms of vandalism are quite common, especially because not every household participates.

This recent article from NRK quotes Asbjørn Schølberg, head of Eldreklubben (a club for older people) in Elverum who is not amused by Halloween pranks:

[Schølberg] has himself been the target of the kinds of tricks kids can get up to on Halloween. He has occasionally had to repaint his front door after it’s been ruined by egging…

“Older people are alone and scared of what kids might do when they come…Also it’s very annoying to have so many people coming to the door” says Schølberg.

According to another article, some Norwegian kids don’t stop celebrating on the 31st. If Halloween falls on or near a weekend as it does this year, the trick-or-treating can go on for one or two extra days.

Of course, the vast majority of Norwegian trick-or-treaters are just out for a good time, and the holiday seems like a natural fit for a society that’s so focused on its children. This article from Aftenposten is a virtual how-to for anyone looking to get in on the fun.

Have a fun and safe Halloween everyone!

Getting to Know…District 3 International Director Barbara Berntsen

Our dedicated Barbara Berntsen, recently elected to the position of District Three International Director, began her time with Sons of Norway when she was just nineteen years old! Since then, she can boast a long history with district three, and also a strong family connection—every single family member and in-law belongs to Sons of Norway! What’s kept her going in this great organization? Read on!

Q: Why did you join Sons of Norway? What did it offer you as a young adult that ?

A: At the time, my future in laws were members, so I wanted to get involved in an organization that we could do as a family.

Barbara also said that Sons of Norway was the “night out.” There were a lot of people her age and their kids grew up together in this organization; it was a very big family group.

Q: What initiatives did you start whilst D3 President?

A: I started a new strategic meeting plan. What had happened is, people used to come with reports intact. I started that…everybody now presents their reports early … this way when we got to the board meeting, we had more time for brainstorming, organization and committees. It gave us more time to work things out instead of being more rigid.

Also, as a district board, we revamped and wrote many new procedures for this district for the future.

Q: What changes do you anticipate between being a District President and an International Director?

A: I feel it’s a natural progression, but I also feel that one of my main responsibilities is to report all the great things that are happening in the third district to the international board.

Q: Favorite Norwegian Food?

A: Sylteflesk – like head cheese. My mother in law makes it.

You cook pork and then make a lot of slices and put it together with a lot spice. Then you have to squish it in a press and then cool it down and put in a salt brine. You put in fridge for a month, then serve with boiled potatoes.

That, and waffles.

Q: From what region is your bunad? Does that have personal significance for you / your family?

A: It’s from hardanger. My mother-in-law’s best friend used to be a folk dancer. When she felt that she and her husband were not going to dance any more, [she] asked if anyone wanted a bunad.

Liv remade the skirt and 90 year old Sigrid made apron. My mother-in-law helped me re-bead certain parts. It was a mini-lodge event!

I wore it for the first time at my installation.

Q: What is your favorite Sons of Norway memory?

A: One of them would be having my lodge watch me grow up. We joined the lodge, then got engaged, then married, then children, now I have grand-children. And really move in the organization. We have a great lodge.

When I was elected the first time to the district board. I knew I was prepared, but when I got involved with the district is how I really saw the big picture. That was really a nice time.

Q: What activities do you most enjoy participating in through Sons of Norway?

A: Just visiting with other people when we’re up at Land of the Vikings. A lot of times, we would go up on a lot of weekends (Barbara’s husband, Roy, works on building and grounds). Making new friends from other lodge and meeting the old…

Q: What’s one thing the blog readers should definitely know about you? Any hidden talents?

A: I’m a colonial oil painter, it’s all over my house. I’m from a family of painters.

We’re very involved in the 17th of May parade in Bayridge, Brooklyn. We have a lot of Scandinavian groups--it’s the civic groups, the Sons of Norway groups and the churches.

I’m very involved in the Norwegian Immigration Association. We put on exhibits from late 1800s through just after World War II, mainly about the contributions Norwegians have made to society.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Oslo Goes California

There's an interesting article over at Aftenposten English today. Apparently nearly 40 years after they first appeared in places like Los Angeles, vanity license plates are debuting in Norway.

After public sentiment showed that many Norwegians were not opposed to the idea of having personalized license plates on their automobiles, Transport Minister Liv Signe Navarsete reversed her earlier veto of the idea. The change probably also had something to do with the potential for increased revenue for Norway since vanity plates normally carry extra fees and increased prices. It sounds like that extra revenue will be pumped back into the Norwegian government for things like road construction.

Also, with this change, for the first time license plates will follow the driver, rather than the automobile. You see, in the past when a driver sold their car the license plate stayed with the car. Now, however, if a driver has a vanity plate they can keep it to use on the next car they buy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dan Rude in the News

There's a great article about International President Dan Rude in today's Missoulian newspaper online edition. It's a nice profile/interview that expands a bit upon what Dan told us back in mid-September. It's nice to see other news outlets are picking up on stories we think are important.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Our English Cousins

Anyone who has used Sons of Norway’s Norwegian for Reading Comprehension program knows that modern English and Norwegian are closely related languages, due to a shared ancestry and a long history of contact between the cultures that spawned them. But the connections between Britain and Scandinavia go far beyond the languages. To get a sense of why and what that means, we have to go all the way back to Roman times.

Julius Caesar, who had been busy conquering Gaul (modern France, more or less), led the first Roman expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC. Over the next hundred years other Roman generals would visit the island, gradually bringing most of it under Roman rule. The native people living there belonged to various Celtic tribes. The tribes living in modern England and Wales we now call Brythonic peoples, or Britons and they were related to the other local Celts, the Goidelic or Gaelic peoples, living then mostly in Ireland. Later, around 400 AD, the Romans left Britain and some ambitious Germanic tribes called the Angles, Saxons and Jutes swept in from their homelands in Northern Germany. It’s not clear as to whether the invading Germans (typically known as Anglo-Saxons) mixed with the indigenous Britons, suppressed them or just wiped them out. But whatever the case, in a very short time the Anglo-Saxons were the dominant group in central Britain and would remain so until 1066 (see my earlier blog post about that).

When the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain, they brought with them languages, cultures and customs that were very similar to those of their Germanic relatives. The early Anglo-Saxons were pagans, and worshipped more or less the same gods their Scandinavian cousins did, including Woden (Odin) the chief god, Thunor (Thor) the god of thunder and Tiw (Tyr) the god of war, among many others. Although we tend to think of these as being “Norse” gods because the Scandinavians preserved more of their pagan culture, they were in fact worshipped by all Germanic peoples before the expansion of Christianity. The Anglo-Saxons wrote in runes, composed heroic poetry, and buried their honored dead in mounds, sometimes with ships, weapons and armor – much as the Vikings later did.

Relative to Scandinavia, Christianity was established quite early in England, in about 600AD, and so very little information about Anglo-Saxon paganism survives. However there is a wealth of fascinating literature and history from the Anglo-Saxon period including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Domesday Book, the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem and most famously, the epic poem Beowulf. The story of Beowulf actually takes place in Scandinavia, mostly Denmark and Sweden, and contains references to characters later mentioned in Norse sagas.

The Anglo-Saxons also left behind many material artifacts. The greatest Anglo-Saxon archeological site is at a place in Suffolk called Sutton Hoo, which is understood to have been a cemetery in the 6th and 7th centuries. The Sutton Hoo site contains the ship grave of a high-status person, and dozens of other graves. Some of the artifacts have actually been connected to Sweden, indicating that the Anglo-Saxons traded far beyond Britain. Check out this and this for more information and pictures from the Sutton Hoo excavations.

During the Viking Age (approximately 800-1100 AD), Britain was invaded, plundered and at times settled or governed by various groups of Scandinavians, mostly Norwegians and Danes. In the 860s an enormous Danish army terrorized England, and for a time Danish law actually held sway over most of Central England, an area known as the Danelaw. They also established a kingdom in Northern England called Jorvik – modern York – that was later taken over by Norwegians. Other (mostly Norwegian) Vikings expanded into the Northern Isles of Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Vikings also raided in Ireland, and established the city of Dublin.

The common ancestry and long contacts between the British and the Norse made deep impression on both cultures. Long after the end of the Viking Age Orkney and Shetland were considered part of the Scandinavian community, and a Scandinavian language called Norn was spoken there until as late as the 1800s. Recent research has indicated that a large part of the genetic makeup of modern British people comes from Scandinavia. More obviously, a large number of British places names come from Old Norse. To learn more about these click here and here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Secession in Norway?

I was just reading the My Little Norway blog and saw something interesting. It looks like there are the beginnings of a secession movement developing within northern Norway.

Apparently following Tromsø having its 2018 Olympic bid denied a gentleman named Håkon Winther has begun leading a movement to make Northern Norway a separate state. While the movement is still in its infancy, it is starting to get a little traction. Mr. Winther has started a Facebook group for supporters of his cause and it already has 6,000 members. This may not seem like a lot, but remember the northern part of Norway only has about 460,000 total residents. Mr. Winther also has started his own political party in anticipation of success. If you want to read more about it, you can read the full story by clicking here (LGT My Little Norway).

Sounds a little crazy doesn't it? Actually, the idea of secession is as old as time itself. Groups of people who differ in opinion with their neighbors have been splitting up land and geographic lines for coutless centuries, whether it was done under the name of secession or not.

In fact, in the 19th and 20th centuries alone there were more than 30 secession movements around the world. Think about that--a secession every 6 years.

Heck, even the United States has a long history of secession. Think Texas; think The Civil War; think Key West, Florida. Wait--what?

That's right, on April 23rd, 1982 Key West seceded from the Union and declared itself the Conch Republic--independant from the U.S.

Now some will say it was done mostly tongue-in-cheek, but for a few days it was as real as the initial cause of the conflict. The point being that in you have enough people coming together under the banner of geographic identity, you never know what might happen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting to Know…New International Vice President Marit Kristansen

The lovely Marit Kristiansen moved up to the role of International Vice President at this year's International Convention in San Diego. That convention kicked off a very looong trip for VP Kristiansen, so I was lucky to catch her when she had only just returned. Read on to find out more about this outgoing woman who joined Sons of Norway when she was just 24 years old!

Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born in Norway in a little place called Vaag and that’s in the kommune of Gildeskaal, but I came to Seattle at the age of five.

Q: Why did you join Sons of Norway back in ’68?

A: Because it was a family organization; it was a place where when my husband was working out of town I could go and bring my two daughters. Everyone was so welcoming, it became my social outlet. And of course my Norwegian roots.

Q: How has the organization changed over the past forty years?

A: It has become more informal in its business meetings and ritual. I do like the ritual, I think it gives it meaning. I think s/n has hit a good balance by having various ceremonies so we can choose what suits out lodge best. I think lodges are doing a good job with programming, and it has changed by focusing on better programming.

Q: What made you initially want to get involved with Sons of Norway leadership?

A: At my very first meeting, the secretary was absent so they asked, ‘Marit, can you take minutes? Can you write English?” I like parliamentary procedure and the business aspect. Once I got involved, it was fun. I went through district board and lodge positions and so moved on up.

Q: Any VP initiatives you are considering for the next biennium?

A: The vice president’s work basically focuses on membership. I think where we need to focus is membership retention. We sign them up right and left, but I think we have to focus more on keeping them.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?

A: To spend time with the family. I have four grandkids. That, and I like to go dancing. And I like play my accordion.

Q: Best vacation? Why?

A: I think the best vacation I had was when my husband and I (back in ‘85) spent two months traveling. We went to London and Aberdeen, then flew to Nice and took a cruise in the Mediterranean and spent some days in Venice and Paris. Then up to Norway. That was the best – that one stands out because we saw so much we hadn’t seen before.

Q: Favorite Norwegian food?

A: Homemade bread with gjetost. I can’t live without my gjetost!

Q: Top convention memory from any convention?

A: Perhaps the one that was meaningful for me was the installation ceremony in Stavanger in Norway. It happened in my husband’s town and my family was there and that they could be present for my installation as international director.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lutefisk: It's Not So Bad

If you read my post about lutefisk yesterday, two things should have been clear. First, that I am not a fan of the gelatinous whitefish holiday staple that is lutefisk. Second, and more importantly, that even though I am not a fan of the dish, there are a lot of people who are and I think that lutefisk has gotten a bad rap over the years. In an effort to remedy this situation I want to put the spotlight on some other Nordic dishes that are much stranger, in some cases, much more dangerous and would make for a much bigger surprise were you to find them on the table at your family's Thanksgiving or Christmas get-together.

So, here it is, the top five strangest Nordic dishes:

5. Gravlax: Number five on this list is a food that can be found throughout Scandinavia by various names, including gravad lax (Sweden, Denmark), gravlaks (Norway), graavilohi (Finnland) and graflax (Iceland). This dish dates back to the middle ages and found its popularity throughout Scandinavia via trade amongst different countries.

One would think that it must be a very tasty appetizer due to its long history and widespread acceptance throughout the various Nordic countries, right? Maybe it is. If you've tried it, please let me know.

Gravlax made this list (just barely I might add) because of the way it was historically prepared. During the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen, who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand above the high-tide line. The word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which means literally "grave" or "hole in the ground" (in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Estonian), and lax (or laks), which means "salmon", thus gravlax is "salmon dug into the ground."

Today, that fermentation process is no longer used, rather the fish is cured in salt, sugar, and dill. That actually sounds tasty to me. How about you?

Danger factor: None.

Surströmming: The name means "soured herring" and is considered a Swedish delicacy. The herring are caught in spring, when it is in prime condition and they just about to spawn. Then, the herring are fermented in barrels for one to two months, then tinned where the fermentation continues. Half a year to a year later, gases have built up sufficiently for the once cylindrical tins to bulge into a more rounded shape.

Weren't we all warned as kids/young adults that bulging cans in the cupboard or on the market shelves were never to be consumed for fear of botulism? I'm just asking. In this case species of Haloanaerobium bacteria are responsible for the in-can ripening/bulging. Also, these bacteria produce carbon dioxide and a number of compounds that account for the unique odor: pungent propionic acid, hydrogen sulfide, butyric acid, and vinegary acetic acid. Now here's where it all comes together:

Danger factor: Certain airlines have banned the tins on their flights, considering the pressurized containers to be potentially dangerous. In April 2006, several major airlines, including Air France and British Airways, banned the fish citing that the pressurized cans of fish are potentially explosive.

Now imagine this, you're cruising at 35,000 feet in the middle of a 10 hour flight home from your holiday in Sweden when you hear a loud bang or explosion. Then the air in the airplane's cabin is filled with the smell of rotten-egg, rancid-butter and vinegar. And you've still got at least a couple hours before you are over North-America, where you could land and deplane. Doesn't sound like a very fun scenario to me.

Hákarl or kæstur hákarl: This one is is from our Icelandic brethren and the name translates into "fermented shark" (Now we're getting to the really good stuff, right? Typically made from basking sharks that have been fermented for 6-12 weeks underground, cured and then hung to dry for 4-5 months, Hákarl is known for its "ammonia-rich" smell. Mmmmmm...ammonia...

Danger Factor: What makes this dish interesting is that consumption of this type of shark without proper preparation would be quite dangerous. In fact, due to this species of shark's high content of uric acid and trimethylamine oxide, it would be downright poisonous. It's only during the fermentation process that these toxins are flushed from the sharks body. If the process isn't done properly, some of these poisons can still be found in the shark meat.

The best that can be said about this dish (and it is said by some) is that Hákarl is an acquired taste.

2. Smalahove: The only non-fish entry to this list comes in at number two on today's list. Smalahove, also called Smalehovud or Skjelte, is a Norwegian dish that's typically served up at, or around, Christmas. The reason this dish made the list is because of its danger factor and because its made of sheep's head.

The. Entire. Sheep's. Head.

Once only a food for the poor, but now considered a delicacy, Smalahove is prepared by torching the skin and fleece of the head, removing the brain and salting the head. Then The head is boiled for about 3 hours.

Danger factor: While this dish may seem a bit more benign than the previous dishes listed, Smalahove makes number two on this list due to the fact that the EU forbids the production of smalahove from adult sheep, due to fear of the possibility of transmission of scrapie, a deadly, degenerative prion disease of sheep and goats, even though scrapie does not appear to be transmissible to humans. It is now only allowed to be produced from the heads of lambs.

Rakfisk: This traditional eastern Norwegian dish is the ultimate in my book. Made typically from fermented trout or char, this dish is usually served sliced or as a fillet with raw red onion, lefse, sour cream, and almond potatoes. Some also use mustard-sauce, a mild form of mustard with dill. It is not recommended that Rakfisk be eaten by people with a reduced immune defense or by pregnant women.

Danger factor: This "delicacy" is number one on the list for a reason. The preparation is ver stringent and if done wrong the result can be deadly. You see, to make Rakfisk you need to gut a fish, put it into a vinger solution for a short while, then treat with salt and sugar before burying the fish for two to three months. The danger is that if the Rakfisk comes in contact with with soil there is a great risk of the "wrong" bacteria growing in the fish, especially Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism.

Now, I can't speak to the veracity of this, but I have heard anecdotally about a family in Norway who, a couple weeks after burying their Rakfisk, found their dog dead on the back steps after having dug up the fermenting fish. To me, it would seem that Rakfisk is the Norwegian answer to Fugu and that consuming it would be the ultimate act of culinary bravery.

Yet, even with all that, approximately 500 tonnes of rakfisk are consumed in Norway annually. There's even a festival devoted to this questionable dish!

So there you have it. Five different Nordic dishes that would make anyone glad to see lutefisk as an alternative for dinner. Now, there may be some of you out there who are much braver than I and want the recipes so they can try some of these dishes. You'll have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid, because I don't want to be held liable for a shark attack or botulism poisoning.

Have a great day everyone!