Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Scottish Vikings?

Over the weekend I took my three sons to see How to Train Your Dragon, the new animated film from Dreamworks. Aside from scary scenes that made my three- and five-year-old sons cover their eyes a few times, we all thought the movie was terrific—fantastic animation, interesting characters, and the requisite moral lessons that make for good conversation during the car ride home.

My only quibble? The main character, Hiccup, lives in a village inhabited completely by Vikings—but these “Vikings” all speak with extremely thick Scottish brogues. While history tells us that the Vikings attacked and settled in Scotland, I’ve never read an account of Vikings actually being Celtic. I know, I’s only a movie, and Hollywood isn’t known for letting accuracy trump dramatic appeal. Still, I feel sorry that audiences will come away thinking that the Vikings hailed from Scotland and not from Scandinavia. I guess I feel a little protective of our Scandinavian tradition—whether it’s the food, the music, or some of the most well-known warriors in history.

P.S. If horned Viking helmets are a pet peeve of yours, prepare to be irritated throughout How to Train Your Dragon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Uff da!" Defined

My maternal grandparents, both second-generation Norwegian Americans, sprinkled their conversations with “uff da” and “nei da” as liberally as they used sugar cubes in their coffee. So it was fun when, skimming Sunday’s Star Tribune newspaper, I came across Karen Youso’s column: “Uff da! What it means, when to use it.”

She defines “uff da” as a “Scandinavian expression used to express compassion, empathy or annoyance.” Youso says “nei da” is “used to show surprise or shock in a negative way or when something unbelievable happens.” She also gives a definition for “fy da,” saying it expresses disgust, revulsion and horror. She even gives examples of when each saying is appropriate: “You use ‘nei da’ if your property taxes go up 100 percent.”

I clearly remember Grandma comingling the sayings to become “nei fy da” and “uff da nei.” In fact, my brothers and I still use her hybrid sayings in mock horror or frustration when, for example, we’re playing cards with each other and our partner makes a lousy play.

I’d love to hear if these Scandinavian expressions—or variations of them—are alive and well in your family’s lexicon. Email us at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sven or Lena?

Our fourth child is due in two weeks. We don’t know if we’re having a little Sven or a little Lena, but given that we already have three boys, odds are good that our sons will get their wish with the arrival of a new brother. Either way, I’d love to order a few Norwegian clothing items once the little bundle is here. Last night I entered “Norwegian Baby Clothing” into a search engine. One of the results was the wonderful site, and it gave me a great glimpse into dressing—and caring for—an infant in Norway (think layers and wool!). Even if you’re not in nesting mode like I am, I think you’ll enjoy the tips, insights, and adorable photos posted by L-Jay, the site’s author.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day: A Norwegian Holiday?

Driving in to work today there certainly was a lot of green to be seen (and I don’t mean grass or blooming plants). It's St Patrick’s Day again and there are A LOT of folks “getting their Irish on” today. Be they Irish diaspora or fans of good old fashioned revelry, there’s never a shortage of people who like to make a big celebration of St Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage & culture around these parts.

That being the case, I thought it only fair to blog about Norway’s impact on Irish heritage and culture. For example, can you tell me what Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Limerick, Howth and Fingall all have in common? I’ll give you this one—at one point each of these well-known Irish cities were Norwegian/Viking settlements.

That’s right, in fact the Viking/Irish interaction was so well known it was not only documented in Viking saga’s, it was also detailed in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters the Annals of Clonmacnoise and The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill. Further accounts can be found in the arabic writings of the accounts of Ibn Ghazal.

You see in the 700s, pressure on land in Scandanavia had forced many nobles and warriors to seek land elsewhere. Some of these were younger sons, who stood to inherit nothing of their father's estate. Noblemen with little to lose began to gather together groups of warriors and go down the coast pillaging settlements. With the invention of Viking long boats, the raiders eventually began reaching further across the cold waters of the North Sea. By the late 700’s the Vikings were finding themselves on the shores of modern day England and Ireland.

At first the Vikings came for riches and slaves, finding both in large supply within Ireland’s abundant Christian monasteries. Often, the slaves were sold to Vikings traveling back to Norway, but many were kept in Ireland working in a Viking-held town (I’ve heard that this was such a prevalent practice that even today there are remnants of Irish tartans found in Norwegian bunad materials).

However, this raiding period would not last long, and by 950 the Vikings had stopped raiding in Ireland altogether and developed instead as traders and settled in the lands around their towns. It was during this time that Norwegian culture really affected Ireland by providing place names, like Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Strangford, Leixlip, Carlingford, Youghal, Howth, Dalkey and Fingall [an area of modern-day Dublin]. Also a few of their words were also adopted into the Irish language.

So, today, when you celebrate St Patrick’s Day with a green beer and an old folk song, be sure to offer at least one toast to Norway.

If you want to read more about Norway’s interaction with Ireland, I suggest:

The Viking Answer Lady
Wesley Johnston's pre-Norman history

Reminiscing About Music of the Past's Future

My great uncle Ivan was an accordion player, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the instrument—not to mention admiration for the people who can play it. So it was fun to stumble upon Norwegian jazz accordion artist Frode Haltli. A reviewer for The Wire wrote of Haltli that he “revisits the past without sentimentality and makes it current in music that is both beautiful and exciting.” I have to agree. For me, listening to Haltli’s music conjures up memories of Uncle Ivan playing Norwegian folk music for family and neighbors in the backyard of the south Minneapolis home that he shared with his wife, Inga.

I just purchased Haltli’s Passing Images album on iTunes. I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorites.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Eggs Have Arrived! Can Easter Be Far Behind?

I'm no farm girl. While I was born and raised in a small, rural community, the closest thing to livestock in my childhood was a couple of cats. So when my family adopted seven chickens last summer, I really had no idea what to expect. I learned that chickens lay an egg about once every 26 hours during the summer, but their production drops off dramatically during the winter. This was true of our little flock. We went from collecting our usual six eggs a day to one or two eggs a day this winter. Some days, we found nothing in the nesting boxes.

In the upcoming April issue of Viking, Lene Johansen writes about celebrating Easter in her native Norway. Easter is generally the time when the hens really being laying again. That's why karamell pudding, Norway's answer to crème caramel, is a dessert eaten traditionally at Easter time, and Johansen shares her recipe with readers.

Well, I just happen to love karamell pudding. And Johansen was right: as if someone flipped the "egg switch" back on, our hens started laying in earnest again this week. While there's still plenty of snow in my yard, spring--and Easter--aren't far away. With the sudden abundance of fresh eggs around my house, you can bet I'll be trying the karamell pudding recipe. Look for it in the April issue of Viking, and try it yourself!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Name Days: New Old Traditions

By now I'm sure everyone has had a chance to devour the March issue of Viking magazine, right? Personally I think this issue is a real champ, with its features on Norwegian businesses making their own mark in America and the great article about Nynorsk by Colin Thomsen. Two very different topics, to be sure, but that's always been part of the allure of Viking magazine--the variety of subject matter it offers readers every month. At least that's my take on it.

Anyhow, my favorite part of this month's issue was the cover story on Name Days (and not just because I was lucky enough to try the cupcakes and cookies featured on the cover). Up until the story idea was first mentioned by our editor, I'd never heard of "name days" or the idea behind them. Now I think it's an awesome idea and possibly a new tradition around the Evans household. You see my son's birthday is very close to Christmas and I worry that as he gets older his birthday may get lost in the chaos of the season. But, by making his name day a tradition, we can celebrate in May.

I'd love to hear from anyone else who celebrates name days within their family. If you do, leave a comment!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Does Conan O'Brien Have a Dobbeltgjenger?

Doppelgänger: a German word that in English vernacular refers to any double or look-alike of a person. In Norwegian the word is "dobbeltgjenger". The reason I mention this at all is because of something I came across the other day while surfing the blogosphere.

Apparently Statoil has a new head of media relations, named Jannik Lindbæk, who i think looks uncannily similar to Conan O'Brien. Could he be Conan's dobbeltgjenger? OR could "Mr. Lindbæk" and Conan be the same person?

Think about it--Conan is recently unemployed, in need of new challenges AND according to his Twitter account, he's getting desperate. Taken with the fact that you NEVER see "Mr. Lindbæk" and Conan together at parties, I have to wonder if Mr. O'Brien has pulled a Charlie Chaplain and forsaken America?

Look at the photographic evidence and you be the judge.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Norway: #1 in our hearts and on skis

One of the first Norwegian phrases I learned as a kid was nordmenn er fodt med ski på beina: “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.” It’s no wonder this old saying has became a truism, since Norway won a whopping 23 medals in this year’s Winter Olympic Games. While the U.S. had a great showing, winning 37 medals, Norway still holds first place in the overall medal count, with 303 hard-earned medals from 1924 to today. The U.S. is currently in second place overall with 254. Heia Norge!

While I don’t normally watch televised sports, I’ll admit that I watched as much of the Winter Olympics as I could make time for. My kids were interested, so viewing became great family time. The competitions sparked conversations about the many sports, languages and cultures represented at the Games. Of course the kids followed Team USA closely, but they were also interested in the Norwegians, particularly those profiled in the February issue of Viking magazine. On the final night of the games, during the Men’s Cross Country medal ceremony, it was fun—and a bit surprising—to hear my kids singing along to the Norwegian national anthem, thanks to their time spent raising the flag at Norwegian language camp!

The Legacy of Family Recipes

My grandmother was an incredible cook. She would get up at five o’clock every morning to make fresh bread, always had homemade sugar cookies or caramel rolls ready for guests, brought her coveted lefse to church gatherings and picnics, and made the best barbecued ribs I’ve ever had. Ever. But one of the dishes my three brothers and I enjoyed most was Grandma’s fish balls. She would take a can of King Oscar’s fish balls, make an incredibly delicious creamy gravy, boil some red potatoes, and serve it all piping hot. Yes, it was a stereotypical Scandinavian plate of food—three shades of white—but it was so simple and satisfying. Most importantly, it was cooked with love by Grandma.

Grandma passed away nearly 15 years ago, but her food legacy lives on. We try to recreate some of her specialties (they’re never as good as hers), we marvel at how she was able to cook so well for so many people in such a tiny farmhouse kitchen, and we reflect on how special she made us all feel through the food she so lovingly cooked and served.

This is a busier-than-normal time for my family, and as I toss frozen pizzas in the oven and run into the sandwich shop to pick up dinner on the go, my appreciation for Grandma—and the time she invested in making delicious food for her family—continues to grow. I think we have a few hours free this Sunday. Maybe I’ll dig out Grandma’s fish ball recipe and do some cooking with my boys.