Friday, December 28, 2012

Butter in the Well: A review, and interview and a giveaway!

   Earlier this year a friend of mine gave me some books, knowing that I am into all things prairie and Swedish and pioneering. 
In the pile of good reading was this slim volume by Kansas author Linda K. Hubalek, "Butter in the Well."
     I found this book very intriguing on many levels--- not only is it written in a diary style that covers 20 years of a Swedish immigrant woman's life on the Kansas prairie-- but the people and places are actually historically true. And in a twist of fate most intriguing, the author grew up on the same farm and in the very house that Kajsa Svensson Runeberg and her family built and lived in for many years. This unique and intimate connection to Kajsa's story and the very land she struggled to make into a home has made Linda's book all the more poignant and real.
    The story begins in 1868, when young Kajsa and her husband Carl Johan and their baby Anna Christina are journeying from Illinois (where they lived for a year after initially arriving from Sweden) to the rough and foreign terrain of central Kansas. The Svensson family tackle almost unimaginable obstacles-- living in a crude earthen dwell dug out of the ground, struggling with the climate, the wild animals (including snakes falling through the sod ceiling!) and building their lives and identities in a new land.
   Kajsa's quiet fortitude in the face of great joy and great sorrow is admirable, and also makes one realize how much our ancestors struggled with in order to survive and thrive in the New World.
   Kajsa's story is amazing in it's quiet simpleness, and I couldn't help but admire her for her fortitude, faith, and ability to keep on going when it seemed almost impossible to do so.
   Ultimately, Butter in the Well is a story that anyone with an interest in pioneering, prairie culture, and Scandinavian immigrants will enjoy. 
   The book is also filled with great family photos of Kajsa and her home and family, maps and even some recipes.
    It is also just the first in a series of books that the prolific author has written, and I can't wait to delve into her other books! 

    Not too long ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Linda K. Hubalek about her books, and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions I had after reading Butter in the Well.
   I thought you might like to hear some of her great answers, and learn a little more about what went in to writing such a unique book:

    How did you first come to learn about Kajsa and the family that built your home and originally
settled your childhood farm? Was it part of your childhood, or something you researched as an

Linda: Kajsa’s (and her sibling’s) descendants lived around our farm, so I knew them growing up. Kajsa’s daughter Julia married the boy next farm over and was like a grandmother to me.
    Over the years Julia gave me things to play with or keep, and as I worked on Kajsa’s book I realized they had been a part of the first pioneer family’s life.
   Julia gave me an old paper tree to put in my playhouse. When I started working on the book I realized it was their ljus korna! (I still have a cluster of tiny glass bulbs that had been fastened to the tree.)
   A quilt she gave me was an 1890’s crazy quilt, sewn and quilted in the house I grew up in, and which Kajsa would have helped made.
    Kajsa’s youngest daughter Mabel had a camera in the early 1900’s and family members shared photos with me. Photos in the house and around the farm put their family in the same place I spent time, only in a different decade.
   So many little things like what I’ve mentioned have tied me to Kajsa and her family while I was growing up, and still do now fifty years later.

2. What inspired you to tell Kajsa's story in diary format?
     My mom gave me a diary for Christmas the year before I was married so I could record my wedding plans. I used it to write about my daily life, and have been doing it now for 36 years.
    When I first started working on the Butter in the Well book, I only have bits and pieces of
Kajsa’s life, so it was easy for me to write her story as diary entries.
  And I don’t like to write dialog- so I write my books more as an insight into the character’s
feelings instead of interacting with other people.

3. What was it about Kajsa as a historical figure and a character that made you want to tell this pioneering story through her perspective?
   I was researching my Swedish Johnson side of the family, but didn’t find much information on their journey to Kansas or their first years on their homestead.
   Then I realized I had a wealth of information on Kajsa because of me growing up on her
homestead, and the neighborhood connection. It just fell in place to write her story because I
could feel the ties and emotions we both had to the same place.

4. In your opinion, what abilities or attributes made Swedish (and Scandinavian settlers in general) succeed in taming the prairie?
    Our community was started by Swedish farmers coming for land, so they knew they were
starting from scratch, plus they had the knowledge to build their homesteads and grow crops.
    I’ve been to Sweden and seen where my ancestors first lived. The scenery happens to be very similar to our part of Kansas, but the weather, especially during the summer, would have been a major adjustment for them. Luckily the Swedes came to this area in groups, or came to join other family members or friends, so there was a network of support for each other.
   In most cases the Swedish immigrants spent all their money getting here, so were forced to make it work. We joke now that we’re “stubborn Swedes” but that was a trait that helped the first Swedes in the area to survive and thrive on the Kansas prairie.


  I have great news for you now, my readers! Not only is Linda's book available to purchase online, but she has generously donated a FREE Kindle eBook edition of her book Butter in the Well to a lucky reader here at Scandinavian Folk! All you need to do is a leave a comment here on this post. And if you share the review and giveaway info on your own blog or facebook, feel free to post here again to let me know and increase your chances of winning! This giveaway will be open through JANUARY 5, 2013! 

And of course---Thanks SO much to Linda as well for her generosity and the time she took to talk with me and such a great interview!

Happy a happy New Year! And thanks for stopping by!~

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God Jul!

A very merry Christmas and God Jul from Scandinavian Folk!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Sweet Land

     A while back I found a wonderful independent film that I can't say enough good things about. It's called Sweet Land and it is gorgeous and simple, and story that threads its way through love and generations and family. It's one of my favorites.
   The film was written and directed by Ali Selim, and adapted from a short story by Will Weaver.
    The film opens with Lars sitting at the bedside of his dying grandmother in present day Minnesota, and briefly explores his emotions and trepidation at selling his grandparent's farm to housing developers.
    Much like "Up", this film will get you all sobby early on, but quickly you will be thoroughly entertaining and uplifted for the duration of the film. After a brief touch on modern times, the film travels back in history, first to the 60s when Lar's grandfather dies and his determined grandmother insists that they bury him in the dead of night out in the middle of the family wheat field. "He stays here," Inge, the grandmother, says firmly.

    The film then tracks back even farther, to 1920s Minnesota, a place where The Great War is still fresh on everyone's mind and Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) comes by train, to enter into an arranged marriage with Nowegian immigrant, Olaf Torvic (Tim Guinee).
    Although the marriage has been arranged in Norway by Olaf's parents, it is soon learned, to everyone's dismay, that Inge is German.

   After Inge nervously chatters in German at the alter of the little Lutheran Church where she has come to marry Olaf, the preacher refuses to marry them, and the sweetly awkward love story between two strangers begins.
    When it seems no one in the state of Minnesota will marry Inge and Olaf because it's feared she's a degenerate German spy-- Inge goes to live with stoic and silent Olaf's funny and eccentric neighbor and best friend, Franzen, Who is played by the amazing Alan Cumming. Franzen and his wife are very much in love, and have a house full of children to prove it. But soon Inge is longing to start her own life with Olaf on their own farm, and makes herself quite at home in his beautiful little white farm house, much to the horror and gossip of the community around them.
    Slowly though, Inge becomes part of the community and her relationship with Olaf develops at a slow and beautiful pace. The era in which this story is written, and the area in which the story is set, is unique and a treasure to explore. The community is still very rural, settled by many of immigrant backgrounds who are all trying their best to 'be American', but also at the cusp of modernization-- for better or worse.
   The beginning of farmer unions is touched on here, as well as the trap of getting mired in depth for the sake of 'improving the farm' that many farmers fell victim to. Olaf says many times "business and farming don't mix" and by the end of the film, you will agree with him.

    If you have netflix, Sweet Land is currently available for instant viewing, although I think this is a film that more than earns its way into a permanent place in a movie collection. It is simple, sweeping and beautiful, capturing the American prairie in all its glory and making us all look back a little at the immigrants-- and the love stories-- that came before us.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Kringler Recipe

     I had my first Kringler not too long ago and I guess you could say...I am a fan. So far I've made two batches. I've used an ungodly amount of butter. And I'm not a bit sorry. 
   The recipe I initially used seem to come out a little uneven--- too much topping for the crust that was made, so I modified it to make a large pan (share with your family and friends!) because really, isn't more better?

   This is the recipe as it stands now, and I hope you get to try it with a hot cup of coffee! It's pure heaven:


2 cups flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup water

Custard middle:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract

Top glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extrant
1.5 tablespoons milk

sliced almonds for garnish

Start with the crust:
Combine the flour and butter with blender. Add the water and blend until smooth. Using a greased cookie sheet, (I like to line mine with foil for easier clean up) and pat and spread the crust in a thin layer to fit the sheet. It should be pretty even and thing and close to the edges as possible. Put the pan with the crust in the refrigerator to cool.

Set oven to 350 degrees and then start on custard.

  Combine the butter and cup of water in a small sauce pan, bringing to a boil. Then remove from heat and add flour, mixing until it becomes smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. The mixture should be looking very custardy now! Blend in the almond extract and then smooth this mixture on top of the cooled crust. Bake until custard is a light golden, 50-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool, the custard top with settle and flatten a bit into the crust.

   Combine 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and 1.5 tablespoons milk until smooth and white. Drizzle over the top of the kringles with a fork. Sprinkle with toasted almonds, then cut into strips (I like to use a pizza cutter to do this quick and evenly) and serve either hot or cold.


Friday, December 14, 2012

    Good evening, and so happy to find you here as I start this new Scandinavian endeavor! I hope you had a fantastic St. Lucia Day-- I had a little one home from school sick, but we made some Christmas treats and she dragged out about every toy she owns to celebrate "Lucia" who was really my old Kirsten doll!

   For many of Swedish or Norwegian descent, Dec. 13 is the kick off to the Christmas season--- ending with St. Knut's day on Jan. 13, when the tree finally gets put out. Of course, in my mind, when I think of a Scandinavian Christmas, the images of one of my most favorite artists-- Carl Larsson-- comes to mind.

Painting by Carl Larsson

   Larsson is one of Sweden's most celebrated painters, born into poverty 1853, his talent gave him many opportunities at life- and love. He worked as an illustrator and raised a very large family with his beloved wife and fellow artist, Karin. He used his beautiful family as models for his paintings, and many of the interiors he pained came from their home, Sundborn.

   Seeing photos and paintings of the Larsson home makes me a little giddy because I am know to be a little bit of a serial house stenciler myself. So far my living room, kitchen and bedroom have succumbed to my paintbrush, and I love the look. When I see Carl and Karin's home, I feel a bit of artsy kinship to them. And think "hey, I should totally paint that on my walls..."

Painting by Carl Larsson
     And while Larrson's homey paintings are beautifuly, I especially love any and all paintings he did involving Christmas. I recently came across this image, Kersti Sledging, and just fell in love! The tomte, the goats, the pretty little girl. It's just all so sweet. And makes me motivated to get my own paints out. Because to me, that is what real art does--- it inspires you to create in your own way.

   Also, I just loved all of the entries in the St. Lucia Blog Procession that started yesterday! Everyone did such fantastic posts! I love finding these common loves with others. It makes the world a much friendlier place.

   Here are some of the blogs participating, if you haven't visited them, I highly suggest it!~

Good night, and god jul!~

Thursday, December 13, 2012


     Hello there, and welcome to the first, shiny new post here at the Scandinavian Folk blog! I'm so happy that you've stopped by! This is a new endeavor for me, and I hope that you'll enjoy! Scandinavian Folk is something that has been rolling around in my brain for a bit, but then just sporadically came into being. Here I would love to share with you my love and interest in Scandinavian art, culture, folk lore, decorating, history, traditions and much more.
    My first introduction to Scandinavia and its people was really in the form of pioneers--- I live in the middle of the United States, in the prairie 'where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.' Many Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and other Scandinavian people came to this country as pioneers-- living in sod houses, braving the harsh elements-- to build prosperous lives for themselves. These stories were favorites of mine growing up as a child, and later I developed a love for their folk tales (especially St. Lucia) traditions, food, and as an artist now-- their folk art.
     It seems only fitting then that today, St. Lucia Day, this blog will official come into being!

     I don't claim to be an expert on 'things Scandinavian' by any stretch of the imagination--- but I do have a love of learning about other cultures, languages, quirky facts, beautiful art, and food traditions. This blog will be like a little adventure for me-- and for you! It is my hope that it will be as interactive as possible, and I've even set up a facebook page for us to chat on as well.
   I'd love to hear from you-- What your interests in Scandinavia are, if you have any family stories or traditions going back to Sweden, Norway, or the like, if you have any favorite Scandinavian books or stories, all that. 

  This first post is also a stop in the St. Lucia Blog Procession, which starts at my art blog, Audrey Eclectic! Please visit there to see a link to all the other blogs participating in the procession and see all their wonderful posts!

   Thanks for stopping by, and hope to see you again very soon!~
God Jul,