Lost, 1867

My talented friend Kathleen Ernst wrote this evocative poem which won a show at the Pump House “Mark My Words” exhibit.

I’ve been compiling a collection of poetry about immigrant women’s experiences in the Midwest. I can’t possibly use in novels all the compelling tidbits I find when doing historical research! When something calls to me, but it won’t work in whatever book I’m writing, I often channel it into a poem instead.

Two years ago one of my poems, Facing Forward, was chosen for an exhibit called “Mark My Words” at the Pump House Regional Arts Center in La Crosse, WI. The exhibit organizers selected twenty poems and twenty artists, and asked each artist to create a piece in response to one of the poems. I was thrilled to be included! (You can see the poem and accompanying artwork HERE.)

The Pump House

Last spring the good folks at the Pump House put out another call for entries. “Mark My Words Again: Artists Respond To Short Poetry” was more of a challenge because…

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Settlers wanted! Immigrants welcome!

“Settlers wanted!  Immigrants welcome!”  Headlines circulated across the young United States and into Europe, encouraging people to settle in the newly formed state of Wisconsin.

The first settlers in Westby arrived in 1848, quickly followed by relatives and neighbors from Norway in desperate need of land, food, and the chance of a better life.  Peder Oleson Hjelstuen from Gudbrandsdal, Norway was among them, coming in 1857 to join his uncle and cousin Johannes and Chris Berg.

Peder staked out his claim, worked his land and lived in his cabin until 1864 when he registered the deed to his property and enlisted in the Civil War.  He was eager to serve his new-found country.  As happened to so many, he contracted dysentery and died at Camp Reno in Milwaukee.

His parents were notified of his death, and they were also informed of their inheritance of a quarter section of land.  In the meantime, the Berg cousins took care of Peder’s farm, even paying the taxes.  When Peder’s parents, Ole and Anne finally came in 1868, their remaining children came with them.  Knud, Marthe, Anne, John, and Karen lived together on Peder’s little cabin on the farm for a time.  The children ranged in age from 15 to 28 years old.

Ole and his boys, Knud and John, built up the farm as quickly as possible.  One of their first buildings was a corn crib, building it just the way they had been taught by in Norway for their storage stabbur.  This corn crib uses a special Norwegian construction technique called notching. It is built with spaces between the logs and without chinking to allow ventilation for drying the corn on the cob. It was completed in time for the 1870 corn harvest.

In 1977 local families envisioned a museum to recognize and preserve the history of this Wisconsin region. In 1982, this corn crib was the first building moved to the newly established Norskedalen Nature and Heritage homestead.  It was loaded onto a farm wagon and entered as a float in the local Syttende Mai Parade.

With American and Norwegian flags flying on the little building, the corn crib drove through Westby and continued straight out to the Norskedalen homestead, where the corn crib is on display to this day.



Photo by John Zoerb for my private collection.

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Mourning Tears as Towers Fall


On September 11, 2001, We were in Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival.

 I began to set out breakfast in our hotel kitchen for two grandchildren and myself.  One of us turned on the TV to check the weather report.  

The picture on the screen showed the smoking tower as it began to fall.  We reeled in shock with fear, questions, and grief.  Then I wrote the following poem: 

Morning news: towers flame and fall in ash.

People panic. Flee in fear the wayward plane.

Why did that pilot fly?  And plan to crash?

And did another do the same again?

Was this a terrorist who struck at us?

But who it is – we may not surely know.

TV news repeats, all the channels fuss,

And stressed-out newsmen help the rumors grow.

The turmoil in our hearts is great, facts few.

Four liners hi-jacked, loved ones wait and hope.

Families cling together when fear breaks through,

And lift their eyes for help with which to cope:

God’s gracious love will get us through this day.

With mourning tears we bend our knees and pray.

9 11 Memorial

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Higher Ground: Syria and Violence

Praying for all of us, that peace may prevail somehow.

Social Justice For All

SyriaI initially had a Labor Day story prepared, but scrapped it because the impending attack on Syria is sticking in my craw. I’m happy to share last year’s Labor Day story if you would rather read that.

I heard President Obama’s speech imploring congress to give the green light to attack Syria and I was left feeling forlorn and felt somewhat betrayed. I thought President Obama was going to be the President who would find a way to remove the United States from wars, yet we are still in Afghanistan. (“Never fight a land war in Asia” — thank you Princess Bride.) I thought this was the president who learned from history about the spoils of war — the great profit machine.

The President repeated the phrase “national security” in his speech, a verbal tic that was disturbingly Bush-y. Those words ring hollow when lives are at stake…

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How Danish Aebleskiver Arrived in Norwegian Westby!

When Anna Knutsdatter Hjelstuen was born in 1872 on the family farm near Westby, she entered a family whose roots were already deep there, going back to 1853.  Anna, Knud and Bergine’s firstborn, was destined to inherit the family farm when the time came.

However, when Anna married Martin Bakke in 1893, Knud and Bergine Hjelstuen were still running the farm.  So Martin and Anna had to seek their living elsewhere.  After living in Rhinelander for a time, they rented a farm near Withee, Wisconsin, moving there in early spring of 1902.

Their closest neighbors were Rudolph and Nikkoline Nielsen, a family from Denmark.  Farming and milking cows was hard work seven days a week.  The two families always found time to help each other when help was needed.  They shared family celebrations, and often rode to church together on Sundays.  The two families became close friends.  The children, all near the same ages, loved to gather in the evenings to sing, play games, or run races.

After church they often gathered at the Nielsen home for coffee and that Danish delicacy, aebleskiver.  Oh!  How they all loved aebleskiver!Image

One Sunday afternoon in 1906, after enjoying aebleskiver and coffee, Martin and Anna announced it was time to return to their Westby farm.  This was a difficult time for Anna.  With 6 children under 11 years old, it seemed overwhelming.  Worst of all, distance would sever their close friendships.  Tears were shed all around.  The older children cried and held one another.  The grownups talked about writing letters, and perhaps even visiting back and forth sometime.  As children will, the youngsters soon ran off to play.

The last day came all too soon.  On that final morning, with the family and all their goods packed, they stopped for one last goodbye.  Anna and Martin promised they would return to visit; and Rudolph and Nikkoline promised to make the trip to Westby.

With their last farewells, and tears on every face, the Nielsens handed a heavy parcel to Anna.  She opened it – and there was the precious aebleskiver pan, their farewell gift.

Every time the Bakke family ate aebleskiver on the farm on East Ridge, they fondly remembered the Danish Nielsen family up North at Withee.  And whenever they could, both families continued to write letters and to visit one another for the rest of their lives.

And that’s how a Danish aebleskiver pan came to Westby!  That aebleskiver pan is now on display at Norskedalen in the Holte cabin, along with all the other Bakke Farm furnishings from 1857 to 1890.

Aebleskiver are baked in a cast-iron pan on the cook stove. After the pan is heated and oiled, the 7 round holes are filled nearly full of batter.  As it cooks, each little ball is turned with a knitting needle; the finished pastry is about the size of a small tennis ball.  This is served with applesauce, syrup, jam or jelly.  (Image on left is from Solvang Restaurant in Solvang, CA, Home of Arne’s Aebleskiver.)

Recipe_Aebleskiver aebleskivers

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Why the Way of Jesus Is Difficult

Excellent discussion of some things I have been thinking…

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I yearn to be heard,

To be known and understood.

I cry!  Hear my prayer!


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