ABCs of Summer—Nordic Heritage

Scandinavians are great. We’re hearty and hard-working. We’re designed to withstand frigid temperatures. We bake the absolute best desserts. We have fancy letters in our alphabet and can get away with random silent J’s.

I love being Swedish and Norwegian and am proud of my Nordic heritage. If you are Scandinavian, married to a Swede/Finn/Dane/Norwegian/Icelander, or use “Uff da” successfully in a sentence, then here are some resources you might enjoy:

Children’s Books:

Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka picture books by Maj Lindman
Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr picture books by Maj Lindman

These two series of books are delightfully written and beautifully illustrated.

Annika’s Secret Wish by Beverly Lewis—A charming Christmas story with illustrations in the style of Jan Brett.

Middle Readers:

Pippi Longstocking trilogy by Astrid Lindgren—Who wouldn’t love to be the friend of Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking? She’s the sassy but sweet female version of Peter Pan.

Kirsten Larson, An American Girl series by Janet Shaw—My dear Kirsten with the looped braids has been discontinued by the American Girl company, but the books are still available. My Mom read them to me when I was young.

Historical Fiction:

Red River of the North series by Lauraine Snelling—The journey of Norwegian immigrants homesteading in North Dakota during the 1880s remains one of my favorite series. (And gave me unrealistic expectations for a man with “Bjorklund blue eyes.”)

Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin—Three Swedish sisters arrange to marry Wisconsin farmers but end up in bustling Chicago as maids. Another intriguing novel from my beloved Lynn.

Memoirs and Biographies:

I Go to America: Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson by Joy K. Lintelman
Agnes Katarina: A Swedish Girl Grows up in America by Agnes Mesenburg

Two moving and informative recountings of immigrant life in 19th and 20th century America.

Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America by Eric Dregni
In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream by Eric Dreni

Two insightful and funny accounts of this MN man’s exploration into his heritage.

Postscript: What’s your heritage? Why do you love it? If you have books, recipes, or stories, feel free to share!

ABCs of Summer—Music

Isn’t music stunning? The range of instruments, genres, voices, emotions… It’s breathtaking. I love that a song can trigger memories, evoke different responses every time you hear it, play to each of our senses as it creates a scene of tension or euphoria or serenity.

Although I’m not musically inclined (I can sing, but you’d prefer if I didn’t), I appreciate music deeply. I’m constantly listening to music, whether it’s instrumental while I work or blaring Country while I drive or Big Band while I exercise. (Another thing you’d probably prefer not to witness.)

I’ve struggled, though, with one particular genre: praise music. The repetitive choruses, the effusive guitar, the breathy vocals—there are few songs and artists that move me. I love the theology and poignancy of hymns, and some contemporary Christian songs possess those qualities, too, and leave me in awe. But more often than not, I’ll listen to Bing Crosby or Josh Turner before today’s worship music.

I feel like a terrible person for admitting this. But does it make me a bad Christian? I don’t think so. We serve a big God. A vast, enormous God, whose thoughts are too numerous for us to count, who spoke the world into being, who exists infinitely, who knows the number of hairs on each of our heads. I don’t think that this Creator of such breadth and depth is limited to a certain music genre.

Our purpose is to bring glory to Him, and I think we can glorify Him with any style of music. Moreover, I believe that He can speak to us through all forms of music. The song “Smile,” written by Charlie Chaplin, reminds me of joy. “Smile, though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by…” Happiness is circumstantial, but joy is in every circumstance—you just have to look for it. And that’s what this song says to me. It reminds me to remember Who is in control, rest in Him, identify the blessings He’s already placed before me. “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.”

Thank you, Lord, for music. All of it.

Postscript: There are some truly breathtaking arrangements of “Smile.” My favorite versions are from Josh Groban and Robert Downey, Jr. (Yes. Iron Man sings. Where is my Avengers musical?)

ABCs of Summer—Library

Image via Pinterest.

Image via Pinterest.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to help our charming local librarians with their yearly branch inventory.

Despite what my hilarious friends on Parks and Recreation say, the library is not an evil place. (Except when you’re not allowed to properly alphabetize misplaced books, Rule #1 of Inventory Efficiency. I can’t express how much self-restraint that required.)

Rather, the library is a comforting place, a sanctuary of whispered knowledge and muted brilliance.

I wheeled my computer cart through my assigned section (children and young readers), scanning each barcode and reverently replacing the book on the shelf. The friendly beep of the scanners provided a gentle cadence to our
work. I loved it.

So many old friends greeted me—Amber Brown, Joey Pigza, the Tuck family, and all those Dear America girls. I reunited with favorite authors like Sharon Creech, Polly Horvath, Ann M. Martin, Katherine Paterson, and J. K. Rowling.

To my delight, new titles waved at me, like Peter and the Starcatchers or the titillating Seducing Ingrid Bergman. (Though on second thought, perhaps that one was misshelved…)

Introducing children to books is one of the greatest privileges I can imagine. I love reading to my cousins or the kiddos in church nursery, because it’s opening the wardrobe door to something wondrous: a life of adventure and contemplation, greater compassion and observation, that breathtaking sense of awe.

Who wouldn’t love that?

ABCs of Summer—Knowledge

Coming from Jack Lewis, I'll take this as a compliment. Image via Etsy (ArtPrintChicBoutique).

Coming from Jack Lewis, I’ll take this as a compliment. Image via Etsy (ArtPrintChicBoutique).

Last night, I spent a couple of hours searching for English Ph.D. programs.

As Bob Wiley would say, “That was not smart.” *

The variety of programs, emphases, requirements, and courses overwhelmed me until I was flushed with premature anxiety about the modern language I’d have to learn and the oral exams I’d have to pass, not to mention the possibility of attending an out-of-state school in a non-Minnesota-nice environment. (The 187-page dissertation is the least of my worries if I’ll have to find a new Target in a far-flung, foreign land like South Dakota.)

Similar feelings assaulted me when I searched for Master’s programs. Perched on my desk chair one night my senior year, clad in washed-out yoga pants and caffinated with Diet Dr. Pepper, inadequacy and foolishness swept over me. How could I think for a second that I was qualified for any of these graduate schools, that I could complete a Master’s degree?

But as I scrolled through specialized classes about Victorian periodicals and Transatlantic discourse, I was also excited, energized by more than my third can of pop. To dig deeply into these topics, research the time periods I was passionate about, made me bounce a little in my seat.

Because I love, seek, and crave knowledge. I’ve left three-hour grad classes invigorated by our discussions about shifting domestic roles in a Wilde play or parallel symbolism in Elliot and Gaskell novels. When I, the introvert poster child, am energized by conversation, you know something special is sparking. (Even if it is entirely nerdy.)

The Ph.D. remains a few years in the distance. First I need to wrap up my Master’s thesis, then gain a few years of teaching experience (at my beloved undergraduate school, praise the Lord!). I’ll chip away at those student loans and pray like crazy about where, when, and if I should pursue a doctorate. Until then, I’ll keep accumulating knowledge, polishing each bit of rich, rugged truth.

Postscript: *Bonus points to the person who can name that movie!

ABCs of Summer—J for 8 Points

Image via Pinterest, where you will find an inordinate amount of Scrabble-letter projects. But after playing Scrabble for several hours, who has time?

Image via Pinterest, where you will find an inordinate amount of Scrabble-letter projects. But after playing Scrabble for several hours, who has time?

In Scrabble, the letter “J” is worth 8 points. After trying to find an appropriate J-word for this blog post, I understand why. J-words are generally proper nouns, overly long with multiple vowels (which I never draw in a Scrabble game), and/or hopelessly obscure.

Let me demonstrate:

Jesus—My Lord and Savior, plus a proper noun.

Jens—My delightful brother, also a proper noun.

Jocasta—Disturbing figure in Greek mythology. Both a proper noun and obscure.

Jubilee—Four vowels, including two “E’s”. We’re missing some “E’s” from our Scrabble bag, making this word even more difficult to procure. The same goes for Jamboree and Juniper.

Joy—Seemingly simple, but the “O” is usually already paired with the elusive “X” to spell “Ox.” (Not pictorial hugs and kisses.)

Jerkin—A sleeveless jacket worn in the Medieval period and never referenced again until Shrek wore it best.

Jerkin’—A lazy way of saying, “He’s jerking my hair.” (Scrabble frowns on slang.)

Jell-O—No hyphens allowed in Scrabble. Though this does invoke my favorite scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding:
“I could be Jell-O…”
“Crème Brulee could never be Jell-O.”
“I have to be Jell-O!”
“You’re never gonna be Jell-O.”

Jangle—Actually possible. Short with a manageable blend of vowels and consonants. But now I’m singing, “I’ve got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle…”

Jenga—An easier game to play than Scrabble.

ABCs of Summer—Introvert Date

Image via Pinterest.

Image via Pinterest.

I stand in line at the historic movie theater, my shoulders damp from where rain polka-dotted my sweater. One ticket, one medium popcorn, and one Diet Cherry Coke, please.

Of the three theaters, my movie is showing in the long, narrow one (more suitable for a bowling alley than a film), not the large one featuring the restored Greek myth wall mural. But the air conditioning hums, and few seats are taken, so I settle in my own aisle and relish having a popcorn bag all to myself.

The lights dim, the screen flickers, and I lean back in the seat, smiling at the stillness around me.

This is my introvert date. Not “me time,” just some time to myself. Time to recharge after a long, hectic month. Interaction of any kind, with any person, requires energy, and I’ve been around many people 24/7 for days. Like one of my brother’s old remote control cars, I move more and more slowly as my batteries die.

Because I’m a “highly sensitive person,” everything around me is already sharper, brighter, shriller, and the more my energy drains, the less I’m able to filter all of the stimuli. I need time and space by myself, removed from overstimulation, to look inside myself, page through the record of what’s been happening. Then I’m more aware and understanding, steadier and calmer the next time I interact.

So here I am, on a date with myself, and it’s wonderful. I’m like Andy on The Office when he realizes he enjoys spending time with himself. It’s an empowering, contented feeling.

ABCs of Summer—Home

Image via Pinterest.

Image via Pinterest.

One of my professors said that the home is an archive. Isn’t that fascinating? The home captures our lives, preserves this moment in time.

The drawer of magazines, artistically-arranged books, alphabetized DVDs—they tell people about our interests and habits. All those framed pictures of forced Christmas poses where we thought we’d kill each other from frustration, and the summer vacation snapshots where someone had just made a sarcastic comment and all our faces scrunched from laughter—those capture how we interact.

The Goldilocks furniture in the living room (Dad’s chair, Mom’s couch, Brother’s recliner) has molded to our forms, finally broken in to the right level of lumpiness. Our three bedrooms, painted in coordinating-but-not-matching colors, are filled with sepia photos of current and past generations, our changing clothing and hair styles making us alternatively smile or moan.

The dining room is our place to gather, each in our habitual spot, eating voraciously and sharing unimportant but oh-so-significant details about our day. The bathroom is our place to accidentally knock elbows as we rush to get ready for church on Sunday mornings. The deck is our place to rest with a glass of green tea in Adirondack chairs, waiting for the sun to set so the dragonfly lights will turn on and we can exhale.

The home witnesses good news and delight, fierce hurt and anger. It’s not always idyllic here, but it’s safe. And what we accumulate and save and frame here preserves a small part of us.