Thursday, December 31, 2020

Searching for Scandinavian Roots - Guest Author

Happy New Year! Today I'm sharing a post written by my brother, Eric Evenson, about his trip to Norway to learn about Otto Evenson's home and early years.

Searching for Scandinavian Roots by Eric Evenson

I have always been intrigued with the life story of my grandfather, Otto Evenson, who emigrated to the U.S. from Norway at the age of 15. Karen Eastlund has blogged about Otto and his restaurant. I was lucky enough to go to Norway to see where Otto lived and learn a little about his life there. This post will share some of that journey with you.

Otto was born in 1870 and immigrated to Minnesota in 1885. He was 84 when I was born, and I was 16 when he died. We visited my grandparents several times a year, but I never asked him about his youth. However, since I’m the youngest of ten children, I heard stories about Otto from older siblings. We knew the region of Norway that he came from, and we had contact with some distant relatives in Norway who had done some genealogy tracing.

In 2006 my oldest brother, Emil Jr., invited my wife, Karen Fell Evenson, and I to join him and his wife Judy on a trip to Norway. Emil is 25 years older than I and he and Judy had previously visited Norway, so they were experienced and welcome guides for us. Our plans included seeking Otto’s home and church.

After some initial stops in Norway, we made an easy drive from Lillehammer to the Toten District to meet Ole Grannum, our relative and guide to my grandpa’s original stomping grounds. Ole arranged to meet us at an auto service plaza in Gjovik, Norway. I expected a little station with one or two pumps, but it turned out to be a major truck stop, so while Emil, Judy, and Karen stretched their legs, I was sent to find Ole. I wondered how I would find someone I had never met, but halfway around the perimeter Ole walked up to me and said, “You must be Eric. You look just like all the Evensons.”  I was both shocked and happy. Ole joined the group, renewed his acquaintance with Emil, and we got underway.

Left to right: Eric, Ole Grannum, and Emil Jr.

Our first stop was the Hoff kirke, or Hoff Church, about 2 km northeast of the small town of Lena. This was the church that my Grandpa Otto attended, along with ancestors before him. He was baptized and confirmed at this church. It was so cool visiting this place that I can barely contain myself now in telling you about it. You can read about this church here.

 The Hoff Church

Door of the Hoff Church

We walked through the graveyard and talked about the customs of the day. My ancestors would not have been buried in the church cemetery since they were not landowners. The Stabo family, who owned the farm where my great grandfather worked and lived, were buried there however, and we found their graves. We don’t know where my relatives were buried. By 1884, my great grandparents did eventually amass enough funds to buy a small acreage called Evenstad. That would have been about the time that Otto was confirmed in the church, and just a year before he left for the U.S.

Inside the church the architecture was amazing. The altarpiece is dated 1664 and the baptismal font 1703. The same one that my grandpa and his siblings were baptized in! If you look closely, you can see that the font is held up by an angel with a dolphin peeking between his feet. On the walls was a gallery of all the pastors who served the church beginning in 1401… well before Luther’s reformation.


Baptismal Font from 170                                      Altarpiece from 1664

The Stabo Farm is a mile and a half west of the Hoff Church and a mile north of the town square in Lena. That is where Otto’s parents, my great-grandparents, Even Jacobsen Fodstad and Helene Hansdatter Sundbye, lived and worked during Otto’s childhood. They were hearty people, raising eight children while they worked on the farm. They probably walked to church for religious and social events. Helene lived to be 101. It was here that Otto learned to play the accordion well enough that his older brothers took him to surrounding towns and farms to play for dances. 

Photo Even J Fodstad and Helene H. Sundbye, my great grandparents

The farm is down a tree-lined lane directly off Slettavegen, a main road going into Lena. The farm has a white farmhouse centrally located in a ring of stables, barns and outbuildings. 

On the front lawn of the Stabo farmhouse was a stone obelisk, all wrapped in plastic. Ole Grannum explained that it was a rune stone which local universities were studying and preparing to transport to a museum. The stone is dated to the ninth century. Cool!

Photo Eric & Emil at side of the Stabo farmhouse

It was somewhat of a shock, however, to learn that my family did not live in the farmhouse. My great grandparents and their children lived across the farmyard in a building which included living quarters for hired help, stables for animals, and occasionally was used as a jail. Humbling news! I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for Otto to live next to prisoners awaiting trial. 

Eric & Emil in front of Otto’s living quarters

I was struck by the austere life that they must have led, concurrent with the post-Civil War era in the U.S. At that time, Norway was ruled by Sweden. Emigration from Norway to North America started in 1825 with the first mass emigration in the 1860s. That was about when Otto’s older brothers started thinking of leaving Norway. No doubt they heard of a better life here, with the potential for property ownership.

A main takeaway from my visit to Stabo Farm and the Lena area is this: If your name is Evenson and your ancestors came from Spring Grove, MN, and you’ve been tempted to buy a Family Crest of Coat of Arms, save your money! I can confidently tell you that we do not come from royalty. The only coats our ancestors had were to save them from hypothermia. We come from humble stock, but I found many reasons to be proud of them. They were bold, sturdy, religious, hard-working, musical, and blessed with longevity. That is enough for me.

I am grateful for the opportunity to visit the Norwegian branch of my family and absorb the culture and history my Grandpa Otto grew up in. I’m glad Emil Jr. suggested the trip, and I’m happy I met Ole Grannum and learned some of our history straight from him. And I’m thankful that Grandpa Otto got on that ship at age 15 to come to the United States to start a new life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Images of Patience

I've chosen to reflect on my 2020 One Little Word for this post. My word was PATIENCE. And what a year for practicing patience!  I definitely have needed to practice patience this year.  

I'll begin with a confession: I don't know if I've gained much ground. Patience is a big order, and I expect I'll be working on it to my dying day. I may have exercised new kinds of patience this year, but often I have come to a patient stance the hard way, after much flailing about, finally realizing that I am powerless over many things. The world is not in my hands. I need to take a long view, to "let go and let God."  

Recently I received a Frederick Buechner quote about trees, and although it did not mention patience per se, it seemed pertinent because it offered me an image.  Especially this part:

Photo by my brother, Don Evenson

Sycamore, willow, catalpa, ash—who knows what their true names are? We know only that they are most beautiful in the fall when they are dying. They are craziest when the wind is blowing. In the snow they are holiest.

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay


Maybe what is most precious about them is their silence. Maybe what is most touching about them is the way they reach out to us as we pass. -Frederick Buechner...Originally published in Beyond Words  

Photo by me!

Buechner's words led me to think of trees as images of patience.  There they stand, season after season, year after year... silent and steadfast. Sometimes even hollow trees manage to stand upright and put out leaves in the spring. They reach out to us, shake their limbs at us. They patiently witness our world as they provide shade, fruit, and shelter. 

Photo by my brother, Don Evenson

Romans 12:12 tells us: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 

In their own ways, I imagine trees rejoicing in due season, hopeful in their growing and flowering, reaching out... patient in drought or as they lose their leaves and endure the winter months... constant as they cling to the earth and reach toward the heavens. 

Some Native American tribes have a myth about cottonwood trees. If you cut a limb of a cottonwood tree, you will see a star in the cross section, much as you see a star at the middle of an apple's cross-section. Some tribes believe that when a big wind comes along, these stars shake loose from the tree and go up to shine in the heavens. I love this beautiful idea! And sometimes I feel that it is in our hours of tribulation, as we patiently endure the whirlwinds around us, that our stars may be released to shine also. 

Photo by my brother, Don Evenson

Advent has begun, a time of patience and preparation, and this carol is one we often sang:


The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.     See the entire lyrics here.  Listen here.

Photo by my brother, Don Evenson

I hope these images will be helpful, and maybe even inspire your stars to shine. Many blessings in the days to come.

Thanks to Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise for hosting this month. She and others will be posting today on spiritual journey topics. Find the links here.


Friday, November 13, 2020

November thoughts

It's Friday and time for a poetry break. Find the round-up of today's poems at Robyn Hood Black's blog, Life on the Deckle Edge.  You will find a plethora of poetic ideas there.

The week started very warm, then rain and now a cool brisk breeze. On Tuesday my hubby and I headed to Hacklebarney State Park, one of our favorites places.

The freshwater Black River briskly cuts its way through rocky Hacklebarney State Park, cascading around boulders in the hemlock-lined ravine. Two tributaries, Rinehart and Trout Brooks, also course their way through this glacial valley, feeding the Black River. Even in the heat of midsummer, the temperature of Black River gorge is cool and refreshing.    

Vibrant red and gold near the river.

Those of you who have been there know about the huge rock outcroppings, paths winding through fields of rocks, and a stream running through a valley of boulders, finally ending at the Black River. 

Steep stone steps
Littered with leaves--
Blond, mustard, saffron, gold--
Shards of summer sun.

© Karen Eastlund

Freerange Stock Photo: Hacklebarney

The way was rocky...
  Have a good week, everyone...

Thursday, November 5, 2020

In Everything Give Thanks


In everything, give thanks... 

Easier said than done, right? Keeping a grateful heart is a challenge. So how do we find gratitude in a year that feels like hardship? I don't have easy answers. I have felt great sadness this year, yet I realize that I am more fortunate than most. 

I am reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren, which is helping me cultivate more God-centered practices in my day. The process is called formation... forming a faithful life. I am grateful for this insightful book and for the women with whom I discuss it.

It can be easy to overlook the gifts in life... I remember my reaction when a friend opened her prayer with: Father, thank you for another day...  The day itself... I had taken the actual day for granted! I had overlooked the gift of time. What else had I overlooked?

Here is a small example of the gifts of my day...

Cool autumn air.

My family... huge, extended, diverse and hilarious. I love you all..

Bright autumn colors. Glorious!

The ability and freedom to express myself... to write, vote, sing, etc.

My body.  I can still stand in tree pose (on one foot)... then transition my body into a letter T. sometimes I need to hold onto something for balance. I'm grateful anyway. 😄

Fresh bedsheets and a warm robe.


Hot running water...

Books, of which I am abundantly blessed.

The quiet understanding of a spouse.


Praise God from whom all blessings flow.... The brilliant blue sky seems to dance with the bright autumn leaves. 

If I take time to be still, to focus on the here and now, I find that gratitude will come. I pray it will be so for you also.

Thanks to Ruth Hersey for hosting our Spiritual Journey Thursday group this month! Find her post and links to others here.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween 2020: Vegetables!!!

 Okay, let's face it... Halloween may not be to our liking this year. Yes, we are wearing masks, and some of us have been overdoing a bit on the candy, but that isn't really the point, right?  I did, however, get a cackle over this:

And speaking of vegetables, I helped with a pumpkin sale again this year. What is it about pumpkins? They always make me smile. Every one has a personality and a bright outfit. This one, for instance, seems to be blushing.

And this one is SO TALL!

What a swirl of delight!  

I learned this year that the gray-green ones are HEAVY!

But I do enjoy them... warts and all...

So... I took a challenge from Matt Forrest Esenwine and tried a triolet...

Pumpkins squat and bright and round
Gathered now in autumn's hold
Your droll expressions so renowned
Pumpkins squat and bright and round
What message in this fall playground?
Leave a seed! Shine your light! Be bold!
Pumpkins squat and bright and round
Gathered now in autumn's hold.

© Karen Eastlund

Join the Poetry Friday gang at Linda Baie's Teacher Dance for more Halloween fun.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Autumn Haikus and an Anniversary...

 Had a lovely drive along the Black River last week, enjoying the glories of autumn. Colors are just peaking here, but the beauty of the river and the beginning of color filled my happy basket. 

Though snaky limbs hold

sway - no saving stubborn leaves

 from fateful free fall

© Karen Eastlund

Serenity flows

Burbling a bewitching song

Never looking back

© Karen Eastlund

Celebrating our 49th anniversary today...

the adventure continues! 


Don't miss my recent post about my Grandpa Otto's Restaurant,

you can find it here.

It's Poetry Friday again. I can hardly believe it... can barely keep up!

Thanks to Jama for hosting today. Join the gang for an autumn poem 

and scrumptious photos... as always.  Click here.

Husker Du? Part II of Otto Evenson's Restaurant

Long before "husker du?" referred to a rock band, it was a phrase used by many Scandinavians.  "Husker du?" asks... do you remember?  Although I remember my grandparents and the town of Spring Grove, I don't personally remember the restaurant. It closed before my time. Still, it has been a rich topic of conversation with family members as I've asked... husker du?  Here are some of our stories.

 Otto's business evolved over its 40-year lifetime. Below is a photo showing Otto Evenson's Cafe in the early 1900s. 

By the time my dad was four or five years old, serving as the batboy for the the Spring Grove Baseball team as seen in this photo circa 1908, you can see at least one team member and possibly several are sponsored by Otto Evenson's Restaurant. No longer a cafe, it was now a restaurant. When I imagine sewing all those letters on a shirt, I have to laugh. By current standards we might name the restaurant Otto's, or Otto's and Etta's... and the name would be embroidered or printed on by machine. Not so easy in 1908.

Anyway, that's my dad, Emil Evenson, in front of my Grandpa Otto. Otto loved sports, but especially baseball. He often listened to games on the radio and attended local games whenever he could. Fact: The first World Series was played in 1903. Baseball was big...

Spring Grove was never big, but in the early 1900's it had something of a heyday. It had a baseball team, an opera house and it also hosted Chautauqua assemblies. I was pleased to learn that Spring Grove also had it's own cartoonist, Peter J. Rosendahl, who included Otto in some of his cartoons. This one shows a Totning festival... folks from the Toten area of Norway celebrating their heritage. Otto was a Totning, and you can see him in the middle right of the cartoon, standing next to barrels labelled Flatbrød and Sur Melk.  Flatbrød is a traditional Norwegian unleavened bread that has a long history, a staple food for shepherds, peasants and Vikings. The original ingredients were barley flour, salt and water, although over time every family made their own variations on this theme. It is served with just about anything, often fish and potatoes topped with sour cream. Otto may have sold it as a light meal, or as a sweet treat with berries and sour cream or "sur melk." From what I can gather, Norwegians love milk, cream, cheese, and butter... and more is better.

Speaking of dairy products, Grandpa always served ice cream at his soda fountain and with his desserts. The grandkids loved it! Talking about ice cream brought up a story about Grandpa Otto and an ice cream salesman. In the early '40s when money was tight, the Dolly Madison ice cream supplier came to the restaurant and took pains to show Grandpa how to save money by serving a scoop of ice cream that looked full and round, but was actually hollow. Grandpa watched, becoming more and more irate as the salesman proceeded. Otto Evenson's Restaurant was known to serve a good honest meal. How dare someone suggest he cheat his customers out of a full scoop of ice cream? He couldn't stand for such a thing! Otto took the salesman by the neck... and I remember that Grandpa had big strong hands... and ushered him out of his restaurant.  No trickery! Otto would serve a full scoop!

Located at Front and Main streets in downtown La Crosse, the Dolly Madison Dairy began in 1919 as the Tri-State Ice Cream Corp., a company formed from two earlier companies.

In 1939, the company’s name became Dolly Madison, in honor of President James Madison’s wife, Dolley, who was the first person to serve ice cream in the White House. In the 1970s the company became part of Marigold Foods and later was absorbed by Kemp's.

That's my post for today. If you missed the first post about Otto's Restaurant, you can find it here.  I'll share more about Otto and the restaurant in the future. Don't miss it, I've saved some of the funniest stories just for you.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Autumn Garden

 By October I lose my zeal for gardening, although I'm finally quite happy with my zinnias (some creature ate the tender tips off them just after transplanting, so it took most of the summer to get any blooms) and just behind them this year are some gangly spider flowers. They had been volunteering in front of my house and I decided to move them. I rather like the two together.

See the little orange pumpkin, peeking in the corner?  I had plans for it as well as another which was still green, but one night I had a visitor. A deer! I don't usually get them, but I've seen them just west of me. Honestly, I'm just as happy without them. But, one found me and ate the little green pumpkin, half of the leaves on my geranium, and some of my day lily leaves. Left calling cards all across my lawn as well. No manners at all. Later, something came along and finished off this little orange pumpkin too, so... no luck with pumpkins this year. It was a volunteer, too... I moved it to the garden.

So this week I paid little attention to my garden until I wanted some parsley. (Cue the melodramatic music... dun dun DUHhh.)  This is what I found...  if you look carefully you can count seven!

I knew I had to write something....

Party in the Parsley Pot

I hadn't planned to throw a party

But my guests were all dressed up

Striped green suits with yellow spots

Wee little spats on their feet

And when I tried to say hello

Orange feathers rose from their heads

So... for now... 'til I lose patience

There's a party in the parsley pot

                © Karen Eastlund

Have a good week and remember... it's Poetry Friday. Bridget is hosting today at Wee Words for Wee Ones.  Find more poetry fun there.  

Friday, October 2, 2020

New Car... Whoopie!

 I got a new car, and actually I love it, but one issue prompted this poem:

Me in new car!

A Full Six-Year Warranty

My auto blew a gasket
Which began my current tale
Repair was much too costly to endure

So for forty-days and matching nights
I searched and surfed and mused
A used car would suffice, I felt secure

At last I cast my lot and got
A wagon of my liking
Style, pep and cost all fit me well

But driving home at highway speed
A rhythmic moaning hounded me
And where it came from, I just couldn't tell

So I returned to Service
Inquired about the moan
"It's tire noise, no worries!" he said to me

"In time it may get better...
Tires are fine... See ya later..."
I love my car... but can't help moaning about the six-year warranty.

© Karen Eastlund

It's Poetry Friday... join the crowd at Tabatha's to learn about a new novel in verse called Beauty Mark, all about Marilyn Monroe. Did you know she owned over 400 books!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

When Stars Sing

The world around us goes it's way ...blithely...confidently...blooming in season and then letting go, each in turn...rising and falling... with little regard for us. Summer turns to fall, and fall to winter, in spite of our messes, our dishonesties, our foul ups, our inequities. That is something to ponder. Sometimes I need to look outside of the human sphere for wisdom or hope. Consider the lilies of the field... or the stars above...

Image by Pexels of Pixabay

A verse from Job caught my imagination this week:  The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.  Job 38:7

Recently I saw a Great Performances PBS show, one in a series called "Now Hear This" with Scott Yoo. In his discussion of Schubert, he mentioned the ephemeral quality of music, how invisible threads of harmony ... or sometimes dissonance...come together to create something of great beauty. But those same threads seem to wander off, or maybe dance off, into the universe once the piece is over. There's something so beautiful and ephemeral and mysterious about that idea, and for me it connects with the idea of the stars singing. Think of the universe in concert: twirling, revolving, dancing, humming, singing... sometimes even twanging away. Day in and day out, the stars sing and twirl without one worry about us. The glory and the majesty of it is overwhelming. I want to be part of that choir!

The best and perhaps only way I can expand on this idea is to share a favorite piece of music. I hope you will enjoy it, and perhaps even shout for joy!

October is my favorite month of the year; the cool air, the beauty of the leaves, several personal celebrations. It is also a time of grief for me. It was in October that I lost a child to bacterial meningitis, many years ago. In one way or another, we all carry grief with us, especially this year... and so I hope that in sharing and honoring our memories we might all know we are not alone, that our separateness will dissolve as quoted below, and that we might grow in understanding and empathy. If you wish, feel free to share the names of your loved ones in the comments below. God bless you all.

Andrew Owen Eastlund, 1982

These musing are in response to this quote from Enneathought which arrived via Margaret Simon:
"Consider the Holy Ideas today: No matter what type you are, in Holy Love, our sense of separateness dissolves, and we know ourselves as arising from the brilliant light of Divine Love that creates and sustains the universe."

Margaret hosts our Spiritual Journey group today at Reflections on the Teche. Thanks, Margaret!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Morning Kitchen

 It's Friday, time for a little poetry. The poem below is all about sound. And coffee.  Do they go together? Of course!  

Favorite mug waits for that first cup of coffee

Morning Kitchen

Slippers shuffle on the hard surface
Like brooms whisking away the last wisps of sleep

Water whooshes on and off
Last drips plink, plink, plink in the sink

Coffee beans shudder into the hopper

Water splashed, lid stumbles into place
Firm SNAP of switch

Gurgle gurgle hiss... gurgle gurgle hiss... gurgle...
Drip, drip, drip

Slippers shuffle in anticipation
At last, the splish splash of coffee

Sip... hot, hot, hot! Wheeze into steaming mug
Chair creaks...I slurp... gulp...Aaaaaahhhh!

Slippers tap, tap, tapping
Coaxing rhythm into my day

© Karen Eastlund

It's Poetry Friday, so join the fun! Matt Forest Esenwine is hosting today at his blog, Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. I'll look for you there!