Syttende Mai :: Norwegian Constitution Day

Constitutions are groundbreaking documents that establish fundamental principles by which a body of people are to be governed. Norway’s Constitution was written in 1814 at a time when cultures were emphasizing democracy and free will. The start of the 19th century brought with it new concepts on politics and national independence. The revolutions in the US (1776) and France (1789) paved the way and Norway was intent on following their lead.

Syttende mai constitution day
Norwegian Constitution Day
 is the National Day of Norway and is an official holiday observed on the 17th of May each year. Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as Syttende Mai. Signed at Eidsvoll on May 17 in the year 1814, the constitution declared Norway to be an independent kingdom in an attempt to avoid being ceded to Sweden after Denmark-Norway’sdevastating defeat in the Napoleonic wars. 

Vi Feirer Grunnlovsubilet :: We Celebrate Constitution Day

A noteworthy aspect of the Norwegian Constitution Day is its very non-military nature. All over Norway, children’s parades with an abundance of flags, national costumes, and big smiles are the heart of the celebration. Decorations of leafy birch branches, in celebration of winter’s end, and ribbons of red, white and blue make for a festive atmosphere.

Syttende Mai is also celebrated in many Norwegian immigrant communities throughout the world, with traditional foods (I share one of our favorite recipes below), sometimes including lefse and lutefisk, but simple hot dogs are equally popular.  In the United States and Canada, the local lodges of the Sons of Norway often play a central part in organizing the festivities. Our small lodge is no different; we gather for an annual brunch and special cultural programming including games and folk dancing.

syttende maiLitt På Norsk :: A Little Norwegian

syttende mai – 17th of May

Norge – Norway

nasjonaldagen – national holiday

festdag – celebration

barnetoget – children’s parade

flagg – flags

Barna jublet og vinket tilbake med sine flagg. :: The children cheered and waved back with their flags.

Barna fant igjen foreldrene sine, og nå fikk de spise så mye de ville av iskrem og varme pølser. ::  The children found their parents, and now they got to eat as much as they wanted of ice cream and hot dogs.


One of our favorite treats on Syttende Mai are Fastelavnsboller:

Fastelavnsboller :: Shrovetide Buns

fastelavnsboller3 1/2 cups (800g) plain white flour
3/4 cups 140g) sugar
10 1/2 tbsp (150g) butter
1 7g package active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups (525g) whole milk
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/3 cups (300g) whipping cream
powdered sugar for garnish
1 egg

  1. In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, cardamom and yeast.
  2. In a medium saucepan melt the butter.
  3. If you are using fresh yeast, in a small bowl mix together the yeast with some of the milk.
  4. Add the remainder of the milk to the melted butter and mix.
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add liquid ingredients. Mix well, work into a smooth dough and knead lightly.
  6. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until it has doubled in size.
  7. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. Form into 20-24 buns, rolling them into an even size with your hands.
  8. Put the buns on a baking sheet and leave to rise for another 15 minutes.
  9. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
  10. Beat the egg and lightly brush onto buns with a basting brush.
  11. Place the buns into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes.
  12. When the tops of the buns are light brown and there is a light brown ring underneath them, remove them from the oven and let cool on a wire cooling rack.
  13. While the buns are cooling whip the cream, add superfine sugar to your taste. Place whip cream in refrigerator while the buns finish cooling.
  14. Halve the cooled buns and fill with the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
  15. ** We like to mix lingonberry preserves into the whipped cream.

For more activities and ideas to explore Scandinavian culture, check out my Barnesklubb Pinterest Board.

A Novel in Letters: Ideas to Integrate Letter Writing in Your Curriculum

We listen to a lot of audio books in the car. It is a wonderful opportunity to share in our love of literature and engage in dialogue about literary techniques, vocabulary, and genres of literature.  I try to select books that the kids wouldn’t normally select for themselves, particularly classics and authors whom they are not yet familiar.

letterwritingWhen I picked up Same Sun Here, I didn’t know what to expect.  I had not heard anything about it but the silhouette on the cover caught my eye and I brought it home. What a delightful surprise it turned out to be.


Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani is a wonderful novel told in letters, centering around an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son.  They find strength and perspective by sharing their true selves across the miles, developing a friendship that builds a bridge between their cultures and the miles between them.


Meena and River discover that they have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. Yet, their lives are very different as well. As Meena’s family studies for citizenship exams and River’s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, this unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing their innermost thoughts as their friendship deepens. With honesty and humor, the duo defeat cultural misconceptions with genuine friendship.

I haven’t seen the print version of this book but I love that the audio was narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by these gifted authors. The kids and I laughed out loud and wept quietly as the protagonists shared their stories. As an adult, I loved the format of letters back and forth. This would be a great book to use to talk about the difference in cultures and how people who come to the US do not see it with the same eyes as a native. Additionally, the story is a wonderful reminder that once you get to know them, people who can seem very different have a lot in common.

Letter Writing in Social Studies

The book is wonderful but it does have a political spin. House has a cause. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that he is strongly campaigning to stop the mining of coal by mountain top removal in Appalachian Kentucky.  As Oregonians now living in California, I was not previously familiar with this and thus the kids and I looked into a little more. As a result of this book, we talked about environmental causes – both locally and globally – that were important to us. We talked about ideas for how we, as individuals, can make a difference.

Letter writing, boycotting products (and companies), and protesting were discussed. My kids have had some experience with boycotting.  Since attending their first Roots & Shoots conference a few years ago, they have actively read the ingredients list of products and choose to avoid anything that has Palm Oil.  Additionally, they have learned to recognize brand names and try not to purchase anything by Nestlé. Relatedly, are also beginning to make a more concerned effort to purchase food grown locally.

Same Sun Here encouraged the kids to consider writing letters to companies to request they change their practices, suggesting alternatives to Palm Oil, for example.

STEMLetter Writing in Science

Relatedly, letter writing is also applicable in sciences.  In addition to writing persuasive letters about environmental issues, students should be encouraged to write letters to scientists in fields of interest.  If a child is interested in engineering, for example, seek out an engineer willing to mentor your child.  Better yet – attend conferences, for example, and encourage your child to seek out those relationships themselves.

My daughter recently attended a Women in STEM Conference and personally thanked each presenter.  In doing so, she made a point to ask specific questions and to express what she enjoyed most about her presentation.  She thereafter asked for contact information and is presently working to reach out to each woman scientist she met at the conference.

Letter Writing in Literature

My daughter loves to write stories modeled after her favorite books – Redwall and Warriors.  She engages in these creative writing without prompting from me and will occasionally share excerpts with me.  As a result of listening to Same Sun Here, she recently included a couple of  letters exchanged between two characters in her book.

In the past, I have also encouraged the kids to write letters to their favorite authors.  Jan Brett, Seymour Simon, and Jim Arnosky are wonderful examples of authors who love hearing from their readers.

52 Weeks of Mail


52weeksmailWe have always enjoyed writing letters to friends and family.  In the past, we have taken part in the 52 Weeks of Mail challenge but as life tends to do, we have been lead astray and haven’t been very consistent.  This book gave us new inspiration to do so.

I have a 52 Weeks of Mail Pinterest board where I pin creative letters and packaging.  Who doesn’t love to receive mail?  Especially when the cover is so beautiful?

Each of the kids have pen pals and I encourage them to write as often as possible.  I try to model this myself, but I have to admit it is so easy to let modern technology distract us.


Interested in more ideas for literature? Visit the iHomeschool Network’s A Book and a Big Idea Blog Hop.

Genealogy with Kids

Exploring the family genealogy with kids is a great way for young people to learn about their history and understand the world. Kids love to hear about their own family history.

Digging into the family tree gives kids a sense of connection within their families, as well as a sense of general history. It also can provide a context for understanding complex issues, such as war and immigration. Exploring genealogy together offers a practical benefit for adults as well.

genealogy with kidsGetting the next generation curious about family history means there will be someone to take care of family artifacts after you’re gone.  An intergenerational connection is critical in order to pass down the story and to keep the family history alive. 

Family History provides the opportunity to learn about family members who are living and those who have passed away. Photos, letters, awards, and newspaper articles are often items left behind that tell the story of your ancestors. Sharing and organizing this information can be a lot of fun!

There are many ways in which to integrate genealogy with kids into your homeschool curriculum beginning with the youngest of learners.


  • Bring genealogy to life by sharing family stories. Children can relate especially well to others’ childhood tales. Be animated and use a unique voice for each character to increase the entertainment factor.
  • Use family photos and other artifacts to enhance your storytelling.
  • Learn what your family surname means.
  • Attend family reunions whenever possible.

grotnesElementary Ages

  • Tailor a family tree project to your child’s age and interests. Kids can draw, paint or cut out a tree using large sheets of paper. Draw pictures or paste photos on the branches. Together, record family members’ names.
  • Learn a few words and phrases in your ancestral language. Consider using your new language when creating your family tree (for example in Norwegian, mother = mor, father = far, sister = søster, etc.).
  • Begin to create family group sheets for your relatives.
  • Create a timeline either for you or an ancestor.
  • Visit ancestral homesites if possible.  We were blessed with that opportunity in 2011 – Read about it here, Scandinavia – Day 12.


  • Encourage young people to preserve family stories by videotaping a relative’s oral history. All that is needed is a quiet space, an audio recorder or video camera, a list of questions and a willing subject.
  • Expand upon your family tree to include vital facts (birth date, birth place, marriage date and place, death date and place).  This is called a pedigree.
  • Consider earning a scout badge or cultural skills pin in genealogy.
  • Get creative and preserve a family story using an online tool, such as Family History Kids or Ancestry.
  • Travel to ancestral homelands if possible.

Is family history important in your family?  What are some ways that you have explored genealogy with kids?

Barnesklubb Fair Booth 2013 :: Perseverance

kids club fair boothA year ago .. our Barnesklubb (Scandinavian Kids Club) took part in the county fair and entered a  Junior Feature Booth  exhibit (or fair booth) in the ‘Activity Class’.  To our surprise, our entry was not judged – we were informed that we did not meet enough of the criteria and were thereby ‘disqualified’.  We were heartbroken. Angry. Mystified.

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.  

~  Thomas Carlyle 

As we reflected on the experience and reviewed the score sheet, we had to agree that we missed the mark in numerous areas (we lacked lighting, we didn’t use all of the available space, and our message was indeed unclear); though we are still perplexed as to why they claim to use the American System of Judging.  We talked it over and conferred with our other Barnesklubb members.  Everyone agreed we wanted to give it another go, proving Vikings are persistent and will persevere!

youth group fair boothWe opted to use the same Viking ship we had used a year ago, though we had to create a new mast.  Fortunately, we were able to salvage the Sons of Norway logo.  For a backdrop, we hung a tie-dyed sheet with white holiday lights twinkling behind to resemble an Aurora Borealis.

To fill the space, the kids created cardboard cut-outs of all the club members (a mini-me, as we came to call them).  The kids had a blast cutting out their mini-me and personalizing it.  The girls created Norwegian bunads for each mini-mi, whereas the two youngest (both boys) decorated theirs to match their Viking spirit.  The oldest (also a boy), dressed his mini-me in modern day clothes, jeans and a Lego mini-fig t-shirt.  After all, Legos were invented in Denmark.  For the faces – we wanted the judges to know that this club is indeed youth – and we thereby used a photograph on each mini-me.

Regardless of the result come Wednesday, we know in our hearts that we did an awesome job. Ultimately, it was the joy of coming together and collaborating on a fun project that we will remember.

Have We Lost Our Cultural Identity and Sense of Community?

Throughout life, I suppose, everyone looks for connections with others, a feeling of worth within a community.  For some, this need is met through Greek fraternities and sororities at the university. For others, this need is met through their church or spiritual center.  While attending university, I sought out cultural groups in an effort to discover who I was and where I fit in.  As I was minoring in Spanish, I joined the Latin American Cultural Center – but as I was too timid to speak in Spanish in small groups, I often felt out of place.
When I had submitted a paper for my U.S. History class about Norwegian Americans, my professor had asked if I was familiar with the fraternal organization, Sons of Norway.  To his surprise, I was not. I had come from a small community on the coast where the lodge did not have a presence, despite a large number of Scandinavians.  Upon looking into Sonja Lodge in Eugene (where I was attending school),  I also learned that an aunt and uncle were active members.  I thereby joined the lodge and attended a few social events.
Within a few years however, I sadly let my membership lapse because as a university student paying my own way and thus working 30+ hours a week, my social calendar and my pocket book were both pretty slim.  I had enjoyed receiving the Viking magazines in the mail, however, and often wished that I had had the opportunity growing up to take part in a lodge.
After graduating, I returned to the same community where I had grown up.  I taught in the public school for several years and then welcomed my first child.  Shortly thereafter, we moved to central Oregon where I rediscovered Sons of Norway.   Fjeldheim Lodge is very active in the community and has a strong public presence, taking part in the annual Christmas parade, hosting an annual bake sale, and coordinating Ski for Light programs.  They are also very fortunate to have a broad, multi-generational membership – with an active youth group, engaged adults who were active in the community, as well as numerous retired members.   We joined as a family and immediately felt a sense of family and connection.  I knew this is where we belonged.
We now belong to Shastafjell Lodge in northern California.  While I still have that same sense of family and the connections with the other members are strong, I realize more than ever the struggles that fraternal organizations are encountering today.  Like many lodges, Shastafjell’s membership is declining and we struggle with filling board positions.  The active members are frankly tired.  They are willing to pass the torch to the next generation.  The problem is, this generation – MY generation – are not involved in the organization.  Why?? Are we too busy? Perhaps we aren’t interested?  Maybe we just aren’t aware?   I really don’t know the answer and as I discuss this with other members and other fraternal organizations, I have come to discover we all have the same concerns and frustrations.
This past weekend, the Sheriff’s Association put on their 17th Annual Multicultural Faire. I coordinated our lodge’s participation in this event and helped to man the booth while also enjoying the entertainment.  The older members of the lodge remember in years past that the mall was lined with booths from a large number of different organizations.  This year, there were only eleven.  The bag pipers were noticeably absent.  The German Edelweiss Singers and Folk Dancers performed but did not have a booth for the first time.
As I looked around at the cultural groups that were taking part in the event and observed the interactions between visitors, a few things became evident.  First, as a society, we are distracted.  The majority of people walked past the booths without making eye contact or smiling.  Many walked with their heads down, intent on whatever was engaging them on their mobile phones.   I realize that we have become immune to salespeople pushing products and trying to sell us something.  In essence, that is what we are trying to do as a fraternal organization.  But what I observed was also a lack of social courtesy and community engagement.  We seem to be scared to talk to people, to hear their story.
I also observed that the cultural groups from Europe that took part in the faire were represented by the ‘Greatest Generation’ as coined by Tom Brokaw (with the exception of myself and my two children).  The cultural groups and dancers from Asia and Latin America, had participants of all ages.  When immigrants come to a new country, they typically settle in areas where there are similar ethnic groups for support both spiritually and financially.  The groups taking part on Saturday were representative of the immigration trends in the U.S.  Perhaps over time, as successive generations begin to identify themselves more as American, they begin to loose the connection with their ancestral heritage?  Here is an interesting graphic I found to illustrate this.

Source –
I am not exactly sure what contributes to what I perceive to be a decline in volunteerism and participation in fraternal organizations.  I know, however, that it is not restricted to cultural groups.  Lions Clubs, The Grange, and Kiwanis groups are experiencing the same declines.  Lodges and Grange halls are closing all over.  It saddens me that we as a society no longer see the value in these unique communities.

I want to encourage you to consider joining a lodge as a family.  Look around you and see what opportunities may be available to you. If you are interested in getting involved in a fraternal organization yourself, there are many organizations to choose from.  I have listed a few below.  I encourage you to take some time to explore those of interest to you.  Read their missions statements.  Talk with members in your community.   Discuss the options available with your family.  Perhaps you will find a group that feels like home to you as well.

Alternatively, if you are a member of one of these groups, I would love to hear about it.  How long have you been involved?   How did you first discover the group?  If you know of a group that I neglected to mention – please leave a comment.   Perhaps your family volunteers in other ways.  Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Bierkebieners & Luminaries

For Barnesklubb this past week, we met at the local library and I read aloud The Race of the Birkebeiners Lisa Lunge-Larsen.  It is the story of two brave Birkebeiners and how they saved the infant Prince Håkon by skiing across the mountains in the dead of winter.  It is a true story of bravery and tenderness set in the year 1206, deep in the snow-covered mountains and valleys of Norway.  The kids and moms all enjoyed the story and it was pointed out to me later that all the boys (there were four in all) sat cuddled up with their mother as I read aloud.

This 1869 painting by Knud Bergslien portrays
the story of young Håkon Håkonsson.

On the nights of a full moon in Central Oregon, the Nordic Ski Club coordinates a moonlight snowshoe or nordic ski outing.  While the moon and stars are bright enough to make your way to the shelter (if you desire to go that far), a smaller loop trail is also marked at regular intervals with luminaries.  As we don’t have snow in town to go nordic skiing as I would have liked and an outing to Mt. Lassen or Mt. Shasta would have taken considerable more time and effort (and thereby fewer participants), we made luminaries.

From one gathering to the next, I never quite know how many children to expect at Barnesklubb.  Generally, there are only 5 children (two of which are my own) but on occasion there are significantly more.  I was quite surprised, therefore, when I arrived at the library to see a small crowd of young, smiling faces awaiting my arrival.  I didn’t have quite enough tin cans for everyone to create their own, but I did think ahead and had brought along my stash of candy tins just in case.  Thus, every family was able to create a luminary while every individual (if desired) was also able to embellish the candy tin as a special treasure box.  Ideally, you would want to first sand off the paint of the candy tin – this gives a much nicer presentation and the design stands out much better against the silver aluminum rather than the distracting colors of the candy label.

I have been collecting Barnesklubb ideas on Pinterest for sometime and luminaries are one that I see pop up frequently.  The morning of our gathering, I went to Pinterest and clicked upon my pin, Tin Can Luminaries, to print a few templates and/or ideas for the kids and realized I had made a mistake.  As an experienced teacher, I should have know better, but life tends to derail even the best of educators.  Sadly, I didn’t plan ahead enough to freeze water inside the cans. I had to instead make do with a stack of newspaper that the kids rolled up and stuffed into their cans so as to provide support when they began to puncture the tiny holes in the cans with a hammer and nail. This worked well enough, but I am sure a can of frozen water would have worked better.  Ah … next time.