In Sickness and in Health…

The hubster and kid have been wicked sick with some nausea virus for the last few days.  So far I’ve avoided it.  I am just far too busy to get sick.  My defenses are up and my armies of antibodies are on high alert.  After all, next week I go back to the classroom! 🙂

In any case, they are sick and I am taking care of them.  I’m also trying to do all those extras to help me to stay well.  Incessant hand washing. Extra zinc vitamin pill last night.  Emergen-C drink yesterday.  Water.  Peaches. Pesto.  (Yeh, right, you say. Is pesto a miracle cure?  I don’t know, but I had made some over the weekend, so I’ve been eating it this week. Hard to cook for one and pesto on some leftover noodles or bread — whole grain, of course — is yummy and easy.  Especially when the sight of most food makes my family want to, well, you know ….)

Anyway, I’ve been wondering what other folks do to try to stay well.  Any teachers out there?  What do you do to stave off the creepin cruds?  Folks with small children?  How do you stay healthy in the face of so many bodily fluids in your parental presence? For that matter, how do you stay SANE?

Sorry I have nothing more to say today.  My armies of white blood cells are on the move, and I’ve gotta keep movin, keep movin, keep movin. Left… right… left, right, left.

Pickles, Wonder Food of the Future; or all about carflickles

I thought pickles were a nothing food, no value, no calories, not really food, just salt. I thought they were just there on my plate in a restaurant for the crunch and the pucker, you know? Something sorta green on the plate to make it look like there’s more variety? Turns out I was wrong.

According to an old book my mom sent me called All About Pickling (Ortho Books, 1975): “The art of pickling predates recorded history. It’s roots probably go deep into Chinese culture. We know that laborers on the Great Wall of China ate lunches of salted vegetables…. Cleopatra valued pickles as a secret of beauty and health. She introduced them to Julius Caesar and soon he added pickles to the daily diets of the Roman legions and gladiators, thinking pickles would help keep the men in top physical condition…. The ‘new world’ was even named after a Spanish pickle dealer ‘Americus Vespucius.’… Early Puritan settlers believed that pickles should be served daily as a ‘sour’ reminder to be thankful for the ‘sweet’ gifts of the land.”

I had no idea America was named after a pickle dude. How weird is that?

So I just had to make some!!

I made a few other food items this weekend, too, actually. From left to right: six cups of cooked down strawberry puree sweetened with maple syrup to use as flavoring for homemade yogurt (I bought a yogurt maker to start cookin that treat myself!), eight pints of strawberry jam (only three left from the first batch I made in late June), a jar full of apricot fruit leather (yummo!!), a half-filled jar of dried blueberries (eight cups of fresh berries made only THAT much? SOOOO not worth the effort), three quarts of a pickled vegetable medley which I like to call carflickle (carrots and cauliflower, in a pickling brine with purple onions, garlic, and dill), and dilly beans (pickled green beans). Whew! And if you think I’m tuckered out…yup, you’d be guessin right!

But all the produce is local and mostly organic, and I’m trying hard to do what I can within my current means (financial and time) to preserve some of this summer bounty for the long winter ahead when the cool, crisp crunch of pickled cauliflower might bring us back to that lovely Saturday in August when we spent the day at J and S’s house puttin’ up our veggies. (J and S went to Peru in Jan. on the same trip as I did — they are good people, those two.) Ah, but do pickled veggies really have any food value?

On this count the book shared some interesting nutritional facts that surprised me. For instance, the brining solution is high in potassium. The “vitamin A content of fresh produce is actually increased through the pickling process. Even though some of the vitamin C is decreased, pickles still retain richer deposits of the vitamin than other processed foods. … Vinegar prevents oxidation which allows the vitamin to escape from cut surfaces.”

Who knew? Well, other than my grandma, and pretty much all the immigrants who came to our country and homesteaded, and well, most people throughout the world. Ah, yes, well, okay, so I’m late in coming to this but at least I’m gettin there! I’ll be sure to report how they came out when we crack ’em open in November or December. Hope it’s worth the wait. 🙂

On Gratitude…

I’ve read two unrelated articles in the last day that have really made me stop and think. I’ve been in mega self-improvement mode for the last year, and two weeks from tomorrow my sabbatical ends and I go back to teaching full time, so I’m trying to tie up some loose ends.

Looking back over the last year, I can see that I’ve made a lot of progress in several areas of family and personal life. There have been some lingering issues that are unresolved, of course, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how far I’ve/we’ve come:

1) My husband and I have a one-on-one meeting each Sunday to discuss any relationship or personal issues and devote some time to maintaining the health of our marriage.

2) On Saturday mornings, the three of us (me, hubster, and son) hold a family meeting to give each of us, and especially our son, a chance to air concerns or make requests. We also use that time to go over our week’s schedule.

3) I lost twenty-five pounds and have kept it off for months now. I have finally recognized that I have a weight problem whether I am currently overweight or not. So I need to be vigilant and keep my physical health front and center. Stress eating is most likely to occur if I do not take time to plan and cook decent food. So I absolutely must make time for planning and preparing. So far, so good. But I continue to go to weight Watchers each month and weigh in and attend a meeting.

4) I started reading again. Not for my job. I read as an English Professor a lot. But I mean reading for pleasure and for enlightenment. I started a book club at my church, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone by forming this club within our “Women’s Group.” There was such a women’s group at our church in the past, but right now our book group is it. The best things about doing the book group this year are getting to read and discuss some terrific books and getting to know these awesome women. I’ve never belonged to a book group before. I highly recommend it!

5) I am exercising more. Okay, not as much as I’d like to or need to, but more than before. And I’m okay with that. It’s improvement. I’ve added regular walking into my fall schedule (along with time to plan, prep food, and read), so I am sure to have the time to exercise if I merely stick to the plan.

6) I have become a writer. Early on in this blog I wondered if I were a “real” writer if I did not write every day. The funny thing is that the more I wrote on this blog, the more I felt like a real writer. The more I wrote, the more I thought of my life in terms of what I would write about it. I love writing now as never before. I’m not sure how I’ll fit blogging into my schedule this fall. But I’m going to try to find a way because it keeps me thinking in terms of words on the page and helps me produce raw material. I have not scheduled time in my week this fall for blogging, but I have, however, scheduled in time for my creative writing. I’ve NEVER done that before. When school started, I used to stop all creative or scholarly writing. I’m not willing to do that anymore.

7) Most recently I’ve also gone a long way toward helping my family to reduce its ecological footprint in terms of food consumption. We had already joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm a couple of years ago. We enjoy getting a share of fresh veggies direct from the farm each week of the growing season. Now I’ve also signed us up for a pasture-raised meat CSA and a fruit CSA. I also just discovered that not five miles from us there is a local dairy (with organic cows) that delivers milk in those old-fashioned glass milk bottles! I still haven’t figured out a good source for other food products like grains, but I’m getting there. It feels SO good NOT to feel guilty about contributing to global warming by eating non-local, highly processed and over-packaged food. We’re not yet where I want us to be, but much improvement on this front!

Now, back to some things left unfixed and the two articles I read.

A lot is unfixed. Such is life. But one thing that I have noticed this year and that really bothers me is a certain bitterness I have been feeling about some things that have happened to me and to loved ones in the last few years. I have also, the more I learn about the state of the world, become more anxious about our planet’s future than I ever have been before. I have been working hard this year to try to find a way to let go of the rancor and fear and to embrace a sense of peace. I am naturally optimistic and positive, but I’ve become less so in recent years. This sabbatical year I have been looking for a way to regain my healthier outlook on life, to restore balance.

So, anyway, yesterday I read this article in the Sept. 2008 issue of Body and Soul magazine: “Thank-You Therapy” by Terri Trespicio. The title may sound like it’s a trite essay, but it contained the right info to help me. Here’s what I learned:

(a) A study showed that people who wrote five things for which they were grateful each week in a journal felt better about their lives than people who kept track of their problems or just kept a record of events. The gratitude group also was healthier physically and, get this, spent more time exercising — up to 80 minutes more a week! Further, people who kept a daily gratitude journal for two weeks were more likely to “offer emotional support and help to others” than those keeping the other journals.

(b) A study showed that the earlier truism that people have a set point for happiness (a predetermined level of happiness that pretty much stays the same over the long term regardless of circumstances) is not exactly true. In fact, they found that about half of a person’s happiness comes from genetics (their set point) and 10% from circumstances, but a full 40% comes from “intentional activity,” our habits, essentially. The author makes the point that you can actually “bump up your happiness set point” if you commit to a regular practice of gratitude. Gratitude can be learned. We get better at it if we practice it. Hmmm.

(c) The article gives a lot of examples of how to practice gratitude. Here are some of the ones I most liked: “enjoy a mindful meal,” reflecting with gratitude on the people who helped bring that food to your table; “start a gratitude wall” by writing things for which you’re grateful on stickie notes and putting them on a wall (I’m thinking of doing this on my office window); “pay a thank you visit” to someone you appreciate ; “flip your complaints” (i.e., every time you complain stop and think of something for which you are grateful); “set an alarm” to go off during the day and when it does, stop what you are doing and focus on something for which you are grateful; “count blessings, not sheep” before bed; for five minutes write “a bliss list” of as many things that you can remember for which you are grateful and keep the list in your purse or pocket to look at when you are waiting in lines.

The other article appeared in the UU World in Spring 2007, but I just got around to reading it this morning: “The Heart of Our Faith: Gratitude Should Be the Center of Unitarian Universalist Theology” by Galen Guengerich. This article clinched the whole gratitude thing for me, providing another reason for cultivating gratitude in my own and our family life. Here’s an excerpt that hits at the heart of gratitude as a religious principle:

… A sense of awe and a sense of obligation, religion’s basic impulses, are both experiences of transcendence, of being part of something much larger than ourselves.

The feeling of awe emerges from experiences of the grandeur of life and the mystery of the divine. We happen upon a sense of inexpressible exhilaration at being alive and a sense of utter dependence upon sources of being beyond ourselves. This sense of awe and dependence should engender in us a discipline of gratitude, which constantly acknowledges that our present experience depends upon the sources that make it possible. The feeling of obligation lays claim to us when we sense our duty to the larger life we share. As we glimpse our dependence upon other people and things, we also glimpse our duty to them. This sense of obligation leads to an ethic of gratitude, which takes our experience of transcendence in the present and works for a future in which all relationships—among humans, as well as between humans and the physical world—are fair, constructive, and beautiful.

Gratitude. Yup. That’ll work, I think. When one is filled with gratitude, there is no room for bitterness. When one is deliberately grateful, one turns away from fear. When one feels ones extreme good fortune, one works willingly and gladly for the good of others. When one is thankful, one is FULL of thanks, not rancor or fear. Not that I am FULL of rancor and fear, but I’d rather squeeze out those emotions and make room for thanks.

Now, I’ve got two weeks before school starts to try to get a habit of gratefulness started!

More Writing Assignments for Kids: Writing Under Pressure

Yeh, so after I returned from Scandinavia, it was back to work for that kid o’ mine! I’m a regular crack the whip kinda mom. SO MEAN! Yes, I re-instituted the three-hour work cycle that I was having him complete earlier in the summer.

Anyway, this week it occurred to me that since my son was mostly having trouble in his writing with the first draft part, especially writing quickly, that I ought to give him some practice just churning out some short essays. SO … for the last three days, I’ve given him a timed writing assignment each day. No revision, no great length of time allowed for writing (30 minutes). Just think for a couple of minutes and write like the wind.

Here are the topics I gave him:

(1) It is better to be safe than sorry. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? (I got this one from the SSAT website as a sample question — in fact, they sparked the idea in me of doing this kind of assignment.)

(2) Is war ever justified? Is yes, under what circumstances? If no, then why not?

(3) Is it better to buy organic food from really far away or local food that is not organic?

I was shooting for questions with no right answer so he would feel safe in giving his own opinions. And I found it fascinating to read his ideas. For instance, war against aliens who are taking over the planet is acceptable. “It’s clearly self-defense.” Oh, and it is better to buy local conventional than global organic because we have to sacrifice our own individual health for the good of the planet, though he’d “rather have both organic and local.”

Isn’t that last one intriguing, though? Clearly my child doesn’t yet understand how organic is better for the planet, as well as for our bodies. But his answer was pretty revealing, I thought. I had no idea that he held so dear the idea of individual sacrifice for the common good. Surprising.

The best part is that I was able to tell him that I had no idea how I myself would answer, so I wanted to hear his thoughts. As keeps happening lately, he blew me away. Who is this little man?

Restaurant Review: The Only Place for Tea in Liverpool

The Adelphi? No, that old rundown hotel was blaring Barry Manilow as we walked into the ballroom to enjoy a lovely afternoon tea. The desk clerk had confirmed that they served until four o’clock, so we had hustled up from our Mersey Ferry ride to the Adelphi and arrived at 3:30 expecting a nice treat for our last day in Europe.

“I write the songs that make the whole world sing…” and an empty, formerly grand, space greeted us. This did not bode well. A passing waitress told us those blokes over there got the last of the scones. When we asked where else we might find a good English tea, she shrugged and said , “If you’re hungry, there’s a McDonalds and KFC down that road over there.”

AARGGH! Our final day of the trip and stymied at last. We would have no tea, it seemed, for everyone we asked for the next five minutes (and we tried all sorts, believe me) stared at us as if we were asking for a salad bar in Antarctica. So we gave up and decided to eat lunch at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms restaurant near our hostel again. We knew at least they’d be willing to feed us something, and they’d be open.

Along the way, a sign caught the corner of my eye: Afternoon Tea. Ah ha! Turns out we found the best, no, the only, place in Liverpool to have a delicious afternoon tea in a modern and stylish environment.

The Rivva Room, at # 1-11 Hardman Street, Liverpool, L19AS, boasts a fine menu of sandwiches and cakes, some scrumptious sounding pannini and exactly what one wants when one is a hungry and tired American who craves the afternoon tea days of her junior year abroad in London…. Fresh butter scones, Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam, freshly made sandwiches (one of which was chicken salad with a hint of bacon), fresh strawberries and the absolute best chocolate sauce I’ve ever tasted (we poured it on our forks when we had eaten all the berries and there was nothing left to dip). Hot tea and milk in a creamer shaped like a cow. Charming. But chic, too.

Black and white interior with chrome and dark wood floors, and no Barry Manilow. Only some cool piano pieces appropriately subdued but still audible. Summertime and the livin’ is easy…. Man, ain’t that the truth.

Turns out that the owner came to Liverpool only recently from London. He had gone to the Adelphi, too, for tea and found it lacking. In fact, he said, “There was no place to get a decent afternoon tea.” So he opened The Rivva Room two months ago. Already I can see he’s getting a following. As we sat there for the next hour and a half, enjoying an unhurried meal, we saw several people come and go, some clearly regulars. The table for four of dressed-up ladies who ordered American milkshakes. The elderly woman and her daughter who ordered coffee and a croissant. The salesman who was offered a glass of sherry and a friendly handshake. The Rivva Room is very close to the Philharmonic Auditorium and sees a steady stream of concert goers, too.

Next time you’re in Liverpool…seven days a week, 12-6 p.m., stop by and enjoy whatever strikes your fancy. Cheers!

A Whirlwind Trip Across England: On the Trail of the Immigrants

We arrived in Newcastle, in the northeast of England, on Monday morning and disembarked from our ship, The Queen of Scandinavia.  What we didn’t know was that we were not actually in Newcastle and had to catch one of the DFDS Seaways buses to the city.  Having waited until the majority of people left the boat to get off because our backpacks were so heavy to carry as we just stood around in line, we missed the bus.  Not knowing there was such a thing as this bus, we had not realized how waiting our turn would mean a costly cab ride.  Ah, and then there’s the fact that we had acquired no English money yet and the bureau de change was closed in the boat terminal!  So we walked with our heavy packs to a mall down the road and got some cash.  Then we stopped in at a hotel and asked the receptionist to call us a cab.  Turns out we had a very interesting taxi ride into the city with an entertaining cabbie who pointed out all the best drinking spots in the neighborhood on the way to the train station.  Great guy, very friendly.  Even gave us a break on the cost of the trip.

Discovered that trains do not run as often out of Newcastle as the internet had indicated, but only had to wait an hour and a half.  Ah, well.  Ate a picnic lunch of some leftover bread and cheese and apples from Norway and bought some nice little chocabits, our word for anything sweet, in this case freshly baked cookies. Took the train to York and transfered to a train to Hull. Only one minute to spare but the train was waiting for our delayed train from Newcastle, and it was literally sitting right beside our train when it arrived.  Nice!

Once in Hull I was quite struck with the similarities with my own city of Lowell, Massachusetts.  Both cities have a reputation as a bit on the rough side, a lot of immigrants and poverty, industrial, but rich history.  I found Hull to be an interesting city with quite a lot to offer.  Would have been able to fill our time if we had been able to stay longer, but this was a short visit.

The exciting part:  Met an old fisherman, Bill (according to his tattoo), who talked with me a good quarter of an hour about tides and fishing and boats and all that.  Pointed out a fantastic statue on another pier that I made sure to see the next morning.  Amazing guy — real salt of the earth.  Only understood every fifth word, though!  Harder to understand the peopl in these parts of England than in Scandinavia!  He said if we were “loaded with cash” we could go to the Minerva Pub right at the end of the street at the water’s edge.  I had read of this place since it is almost 200 years old and would surely have been seen by my ancestors.

We weren’t rolling in dough, but I did want to go to the place.  Turns out it was quite reasonable.  We had a lengthy talk with the cook who kept getting in trouble because he was talking to us iunstead of cooking. Told us about how the place is haunted.  Showed us all the spots where supernatural things have happened.  Sadly, the pub is set to be closed in the fall.  I can hardly believe it, but they can’t break even, let alone make a profit.  We ordered the only thing on the menu that the chef said he cooks fresh: fish and chips.  My, oh, my!  Fresh indeed.  Lovely.  Had a half pint of cider to wash it down, too.  Got the tour of the place and took a thousand pictures of all the photos and drawings on the walls.  That place is a museum!

Unfortunately, we also found out that our hotel was in a bad part of town.  We had already checked in and noticed some of the telltale signs on our walk downtown, but we figured we’d just take a cab home instead of walking it at night.  It wasn’t that bad!  But the folks at the Minerva were so shocked. To me, though, I thought, “I’ve seen much worse.”  Turns out our B & B is a sort of rooming house for working class folks and a place where people can get breakfast.  Good, solid citizens, just trying to make a living.  I was glad we did not get scared away by the reaction of the pub staff. This, too, is Hull.

Well, anyway, before we left in the morning, I ran down to the statue that Bill the fisherman mentioned and was glad to have done it.  There were several plaques with immigrant information and the statue was wonderful — looked like my Swedish ancestors, a family of four with children just the right ages.  Ran, literally, back to the station to catch the train to Liverpool, via Manchester.

What we didn’t realize was that we had booked seats with built in entertainment: Wendy and Carol, two Hull women going on a shopping extravaganza in Leeds, cracked us up with their recounting of various shenanigans and their boisterous stories.  When they departed, they left a gap we could feel.  We had a quiet journey the rest of the way.

Once in Liverpool we were surprised once again by the kindness of strangers. A man approached us just outside the train station and excused himself and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear that you are going to the International Hostel.  I work near there but it’s a bit tricky to find.  If you’d like, I can show you the way?” We gladly accepted, though we both eyed the stranger with a little suspicion.  When he asked if he could help carry our bags, we both declined and kept feeling wary.  But it soon became clear as we walked through crowded streets where each block the road changed names that this bloke was truly just doing us a good turn.  Along the way, he told us all about where we should go when we were in the city.  Lovely!  Our own personal tour guide.

By the late afternoon when we had checked into our room, there was little time to do any research, so we visited the Tate Liverpool, a fantastic modern art museum.  Had a delicious meal at an Indian restaurant (always have had super good Indian food when I’ve visited the UK). This morning I spent a few hours at the archives at the Maritime Museum and discovered that the dates I had for my ancestors’ departure from the UK were wrong.  In fact, they spent only about 24 hours in the country!  Also, I learned that they stopped in Queenstown, Ireland, ony the way to New York.  Who knew?  Glad I spent the time tracking down those last details.  At least for the Norwegians.  The Swedes’ journey beyond Hull remains a mystery for now, but I have a better idea of how to pick up their trail later.

Having completed that research, we hopped on the famous Mersey Ferry and then high-tailed it to the Adelphi Hotel for afternoon tea, having been told that they serve until 4 o’clock.  NOT true.  And the odd thing was that the people there had absolutely no idea of an alternative place.  Starbucks said one.  McDonalds or KFC said another.  As if!!  So we began to walk back to our hotel area, hoping to find something.  Now almost four and absolutely starving, having skipped lunch, we were getting desperate and cranky.

Stopped to take a photo of a strange sign across the street and when I turned around a sign behind me caught my eye: “Afternoon Tea.”  Bingo!  Ah, but that place is too above and beyond expectations to include at the end of this very long post.  I am going to post a proper review once I return home so I can give it it’s proper due!  Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves, walked around a bit, packed back at our hotel, and then stuffed ourselves again at a dinner place that the tea guy recommended.  What a perfect end to an incredibly fruitful and fun adventure.

Tomorrow we’re for home.  I’m ready to return to my life at home and my family.  Also, a bit of sadness for the end of such an incredible journey. At dinner tonight we drank a toast, to the immigrants, for their courage and for giving us such a lovely excuse to take this journey, two friends exploring together the past and the present.

Cheers!

Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and
Grandma’s Stinky Cheese

Today I learned a lot about Norwegan food, mostly how everything I
thought I knew about it was wrong. Or at least not quite right. We
had a chance to visit again with my oldest relative in Norway,
Kristianna, and I asked her a lot of questions about many topics,
including Norwegian food from the old days.

Lefse, as some of my readers have pointed out, is not made with
potatoes in Nowegian cuisine, as a matter of course. Most lefse seems
to be made of flour not potatoes. One can find potato lefse here in
the Old Country, but it tastes a little sour. In fact, I am told that
sour milk is an ingredient in both kinds of lefse. Hmmm. I had an
opportunity to buy some at the local grocery store tonight. Okay but
not as good as my Grandma made.

Rommegrot. That is what I always make with lefse at Christmas, or so
I thought that was what I was making. Turns out I was making what is
called flotegrot! The difference is one makes flotegrot from cream,
and rommegrot is actually made from sour cream (one part sour cream to
two parts milk). Still cooked using the same method, but different
end product. Also, I discovered that rommegrot and flotegrot are
summer/fall dishes not Christmas time because in the winter the cows
stopped producing milk. Rommegrot, in fact, was the star dish of the
autumn harvest festival. Go figure.

I also heard a little about gammelost, what my grandma always called
stinky cheese. Her grandma from Norway always brought this
foul-smelling homemade cheese with her when she came to visit.
Grandma talks in her book about how that cheese reeked. We cannot get
it in the US (I have tried), but I was able to buy some in that same
grocery store tonight. Oh my goodness. Talk about disgustingly
foul!!! Not only does it smell bad (though not as bad as I had
imagined), but the taste is utterly unpalatable. How anyone can like,
let alone ingest such a substance is beyond me.

All kinds of myths shattered, folks!

And while I’m at it, turns out also that those beautifully
embroidered, traditional native costumes (called bunads) that they
“wear in Norway” are an early twentieth-century invention from
Southern Norway. My forebearers never wore such clothes. They wore
black wool maybe with a white colar to spice things up a bit, never
danced or drank, and spent long winter nights reading sermons and
other religious texts aloud to the family as they knitted or mended
fishing nets.

In some ways, my grandma had more in common with this lovely elderly
relative, Kristianna, that I met with today than I had in common with
grandma myself, despite the language barrier (K. does not speak
English) and different nationalities. Life when they were young was
similar in Norway and Minnesota — both on farms in rural and somewhat
isolated areas. I just kept thinking today how alike they were, how
much seeing K. reminded me of my wonderful grandma. It was a good day
today, but like so much on this trip, bitter sweet.

With internet problems continuing, I am not sure when I can post
again. Until we meet again, takk and ha det!

Vikings, Farmers, and Fiskers: A Day in Oslo

Blood rains from the cloudy web on the broad loom of slaughter.  The web of man, grey as armour, is now being woven; The Valkyries will cross it with a crimson weft.

Okay, not my words!  This comes from the Great Icelandic work, Njal’s Saga, written around 1200 AD. But I thought I’d start with it because my friend and I began our day today (after a leisurely and HUGE Norwegian breakfast) by going to the Vikings Museum across the bay.  It rained all morning but cleared around the time we walked over to the Folk Museum, which was a good thing since the first place was indoors and the second largely outdoors.

Vikings are amazing.  Okay, so I’m not thrilled about all the rape and pillage, kill and slaughter, etc. part.  But I saw and read a lot in the museum about Viking culture and how varied it really was.  Farmers and traders were even more numerous than warriors.  It’s just that the blood and guts stuff captures our imagination the most.  Well, I tell you, seeing a real 850 AD Viking ship is impressive!

Next, at the Folk Museum, we got to see houses and other buildings from different regions of the country.  And lo and behold, in one of the houses a woman was making LEFSE!!  I just about flipped.  Certainly I whipped out the 20 kroners fee and enjoyed every last bite.  I’ve written a lot about lefse and won’t bore you with that stuff now.  Suffice it to say that THIS lefse was soft and chewy and rather thicker than I had ever seen.  But it was also a potato-less lefse.  Several people have come to my blog looking for such recipes (lefse no potatoes), so here’s the one the museum provided:

Hardangerlefse

2 eggs

250 grams sugar

125 grams melted butter/margarine

1/2 litre buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

about 1 kilo wheat flour

Barley flour

butter, sugar, cinnamon

Mix eggs with sugar and butter, and stir into the milk.  Mix the baking powder with some flour and stir into the blend.  Mix with so much flour that the dough is easy to roll.  Barley flour makes it easier to roll out the lefse.  Bake the lefse ona  griddle or in a dry frying pan. Serve with butter, sugar, and cinnamon on top.

Now, it was a pretty good treat and all, but NOT real lefse as far as I am concerned.  The lady making the lefse told me that this recipe is for special occasion lefse, and potato lefse is for everyday .  Yeh, that’s fine by me.

The Folk Museum was wonderful.  I learned a lot about Norwegian farming in the nineteenth century as well as architecture and culture.  Very cool place to visit, especially the stave church on the grounds.  Oh, and the funniest thing…we met a high school girl there who was born in the city where I now live.  Talk about “it’s a small world”!

Our final museums were nearby: the Kon Tiki where we saw the flimsy ships that Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific from Peru to Tahiti.  Cool but the museum was closing, so we just popped in for a glimpse. We had a little more time at the Norwegian Maritime Museum, which stays open later.  Also very interesting and helpful for my research, too.  I got to see the kinds of boats used by my ancestors when they fished in the Lofoten fisheries in the far north in Norway.  Hard to imagine such work being done in relatively small craft.  I’ll be up north tomorrow, though, and will hopefully be going out to a nearby island off the coast of Bodø, so I’ll get to try out the whole boat thing on the coast.  We’ll see how my stomach likes that!

So, it was a day of vikings, farmers, and fiskers (fishermen).  Tomorrow we fly to north of the Arctic Circle to Bodø.  I am unsure about internet connection in the apartment where we will be staying, so don’t be surprised if I do not post every day, as I have been doing.  I’ll try to get on the web every day if I can, but I have no idea if this will be possible.  For now, it’s time to pack for our early morning flight to the far north!

Last Night in Sweden…Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry

At dinner tonight, at yet another cousin’s house, we ate Swedish smörgasbord, complete with herring with mustard sauce, herring with tomato sauce, and regular pickled herring with spices, and, of course, Swedish meatballs, potatoes, ‘house cheese,’ and crackers.  I tried everything.  Very proud of that.  Not the herring type.  But surprised myself with liking the regular herring pretty well. Oh.  And then there was also the Swedish aquavit (shnapps).

The son of our hosts told me that they sing when they drink this particular drink.  I thought he was joking, but it’s true.  When someone lifts his or her glass to drink, everyone must drink, but before anyone can sip, all must sing in unison a song.  My friend, W., and I were sitting with glasses in hand listening to the first boisterous song.  Then everyone drank, and so we drank a little.  We put the glasses down and everyone suddenly sprang back into song. We jumped with surprise! Then everyone howled with laughter.  That was the beginning of the end of any remaining barrier between us.  The ice was broken.  We were real with each other.

Relatives came and went, weaving in and out of our lives throughout the last few days. As we said goodbye to each person in the end, though, it got harder and harder for me.  When I planned this trip, how could I have thought this would be enough time in this place? I just found these people.  How could I now turn around and leave?  Further, if it’s this hard now, for me, how much more terrible for Oscar and his family to leave forever for America….

When the last two cousins brought us back to the hotel late tonight, they told us they would see us in the morning, even though we leave early for Göteborg, and the train station is right next to the hotel, so we could walk the three steps to the platform alone.  🙂  No, they said, we will not say goodbye now.  I was relieved beyond words.  I am not ready to part either. How I’ll manage it tomorrow I don’t know.

Then again, already we are planning our next meeting, me and my twenty-two Swedish cousins.  What will come first: my return (with my son and husband or an American relative) to these ‘new’ cousins, OR a visit from them to my home, where I have invited them?  Time will tell, but one thing’s for sure, now that we have found each other, we will not be lost to one another again.