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Food: Lefse

July 10, 2011 | Family,Food,Marie's recipes,Norway

This is for Lance, whose people are, in part, Norwegian — from what I’ve heard.


1 large egg
2 cups kefir*
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons hornsalt**
1 cup melted butter

Makes about 15 lefse. The less flour and less preparation time used, the better. After you grill each lefse, cover with a tea towel to keep them from drying out. When done grilling, lay them out and let them cool off. Spread filling on one lefse and cover with another of a similar size. Cut in half. Eat some now; freeze the rest.


1 1/4 cups butter
1 cup sugar

Mix on high speed until smooth and spreadable.

*I find kefir in the organic dairy section of my grocery store. Some people make their own, but I haven’t tried that.

**I usually buy hornsalt when I’m in Norway. Otherwise, I can get it through Ingebretsen’s in Minneapolis. It’s a raising agent that smells like ammonia, and it always reminds me of smelling salts (and, wouldn’t you know it … they’re both the same thing). Seems like a smelly thing to use for baking. But, remember, these Norwegians also soak their fish in lye.

***Prim is a spreadable brown cheese. I’ve always gotten it in Norway, but I bet I could check with Ingebretsen’s or Willy’s Products to see if they could get it. It’s not completely necessary, but it adds a nice flavor to the filling.

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Breaking in the lefse grill

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 2 Comments  

Books: The Mermaid Chair

December 21, 2010 | Books

I read The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd for book club this month. I was a bit annoyed with the main character and the monk … it just seemed as if they tried too hard. But I really enjoyed the story, and the author surprised me, which is always a bonus. The best thing about book club (besides the wine) is getting an explanation for something from another person’s point of view and realizing, wow, that is so true! I don’t like to do spoilers, so I won’t explain in detail. I’ll just say that I got another perspective on the main character’s father … that his act was selfish instead of selfless, as it was portrayed. Brilliant.

What is it about reading books lately about midlife-identity crises? I didn’t even pick this book! In any case, here are a couple of quotes that stuck with me.

The mind is so good at revising reality to suit our needs. I had seen what I wanted. I had reinvented the objectionable, the most indigestible pieces of my life into something just palatable enough to bear. (p. 246)

I can’t explain that, except to say there’s release in knowing the truth no matter how anguishing it is. You come finally to the irreducible thing, and there’s nothing left to do but pick it up and hold it. Then, at least, you can enter the severe mercy of acceptance. (p. 304)

Oh, yeah. I also read the Norwegian version, Havfruestolen, which my friend Else gave to me this summer. The translation was actually very accurate (which isn’t always the case).

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | Comments  

Books: Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder

December 20, 2010 | Books,Family,Norway

The kids and I finished reading Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø. He’s one of Norway’s most popular authors, and this is his first children’s book. I read one of his grown-up books (he writes mostly crime novels) in September and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had lots of giggles with the fart powder too.

He’s got another Doctor Proctor book coming out in January. Whee!

Posted by Becky @ 9:39 pm | Comments  

It’s the season for lutefisk

December 17, 2010 | Holidays,Norway

I just learned that lutefisk is sold at my local grocery store. Lots of Norsky-Americans in these parts.

Posted by Becky @ 8:00 pm | 2 Comments  

Books: Reshaping the Work-Family Debate

December 5, 2010 | Books,Devra Renner,Economics,Education,Ethics,Family,Getting sick,Journalism,Leslie Bennetts,Linda Hirshman,Motherhood,Norway,Parenting,Politics,PR,Research,Sarah Palin,U.S. government,Vacation,Work,Working Mother

“Writ small, this book is about reframing debates about work and family. … Writ large, this book is about reframing American politics. Work-family issues have not been placed at the center of an analysis of U.S. politics, but it is time to rethink the assumption that they do not belong there.”

Wow. Joan C. Williams knows how to start off a book. She knows how to end it and fill the middle, too. But I’ll let you find that out by reading Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter. (I highly recommend reading it. Williams is brilliant.)

It’s what she said in a Wilson Center discussion with Barbara Ehrenreich in September, though, that really gets to the heart of the matter of this book:

Litigation has accomplished a lot, but federal employment law cannot give us social subsidies or workers’ rights. The only way we can get those things is through legislation. The only way we can get that legislation is by very significantly shifting the political culture in the United States.

The only way to shift the political culture is to start a national conversation about gender pressures on men, she said. Until we do that, we won’t see much progress for women.

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, authors of Mommy Guilt, will understand this book. Even though their book is about mothers, most of the work they do is about parenting. They spend a lot of time reminding others that parenting is something both mothers and fathers do.

Statistics show that both mothers and fathers in the United States feel the scales overwhelmingly tip in favor of work and short-change their family lives.

When asked, American parents — 90% of American mothers and 95% of American fathers — say that they wish they had more time with their children. These levels are sharply lower in Europe. (p. 2, Introduction)

Why are these levels lower in Europe? Because European countries structure workplaces around their workforces, recognizing that everyone has a right to a personal life.

They have a saying in Norway, “We don’t live to work, we work to live.” It’s just the opposite in America, a Norwegian might say, as he straps his baby on his back for a mountain hike — one of many during his nine weeks of “pappa leave.” When the leave is over, he will return to his 35-hour workweek, which enables him to pick up his child from daycare in the afternoon and still have several hours of family time before bedtime. Every day.

A Swedish father wrote a guest post for me about his experience as a parent in Sweden. He asked three years ago, regarding non-existent benefits in the United States, “… how do we change the system to make it easier to combine children, family and work?”

He’s not the only one who’s been asking that question. Many have been asking how to get family-friendly legislation passed. Williams looks at why we haven’t been able to get it. To answer the first question, we must first have an answer to the second question.

For one, there’s a class culture gap that polarizes employees and keeps them from coming together on specific issues.

For another — and Williams doesn’t discuss this in her book — companies don’t want legislation. They want to handle “family-friendly benefits” on their own. That means offering very little with a big splash of advertising and PR to make some magazine’s “best companies” list.

In reality, most companies on that list don’t want to offer comprehensive benefits or even one guaranteed sick day for each employee, based on lobbying efforts on their behalf by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As the largest lobbying organiztion in the United States, the Chamber spent $91.7 million on lobbying in 2008 and $144.5 million in 2009. It — along with the companies it respresents — opposes any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act leave or to mandate paid sick leave. It opposed a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days a year. It opposed SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Employee Free Choice Act. It aggressively opposes union-backed proposals to increase minimum wage.

Some of these “listed” companies are multinational corporations with offices not only in the United States but also in Norway and Sweden. Benefits for white-collar American workers at these companies might be better than most: six weeks of paid maternity leave (and maybe up to a week of paternity leave for fathers), lactation rooms and maybe they can even buy vacation time. (Yes, that was touted as a “benefit.”)

Their employees in Norway and Sweden, however, get paid family leave of one to three years, the option of part-time work, shorter workweeks, paid sick leave and paid vacation. Why? Because all of that is legally required in those countries.

In Europe, … paid leaves are financed through social insurance, which leaves European employers more competitive than U.S. employers, for two reasons. First, European businesses do not have to pay the steep 30% ‘benefits load’ — the cost of a benefits package as a percentage of a worker’s salary — that many U.S. businesses pay. Second, because European employers are not responsible for covering the cost of paid leave themselves, they can afford to replace the worker on leave. In contrast, when U.S. employers pay the wages of workers on leave, often they simply heap leave-takers’ responsibilities onto their remaining workers, with no compensating increase in pay. This practice fuels workplace resentment. (p. 35)

In the United States, “The notion that having a child is a private frolic that does not deserve community support is implausible. There is no reason to expect that society should be able to privatize the costs of raising the next generation of citizens — from which all society will benefit — onto the backs of the women who bear them. This habit impoverishes women economically and men emotionally.” (p. 107)

Williams finally, finally, finally asks (and answers) the same question I’ve been asking for years. It’s not, “What’s wrong with women?” as Leslie Bennetts, Linda Hirshman and several others have asked. It’s, “What’s wrong with the workplace?”

Somewhat “coming full circle,” Williams starts with Lisa Belkin’s 2003 article, The Opt-Out Revolution, and I learned about Williams’ new book from Belkin’s more recent article, Calling Mr. Mom? and blog post of the same name.

In the first chapter, Williams expands on work she did in 2006 on a paper called “Opt Out” or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict, The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce, which debunked the “opt-out revolution” myth perpetuated by media reports.

Even better for me, at that time, was a journalist debunking the myth — which had been perpetuated by journalists — for an audience of journalists when E.J. Graff wrote The Opt-Out Myth essay for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2007.

Graff explained: “Here’s why this matters: if journalism repeatedly frames the wrong problem, then the folks who make public policy may very well deliver the wrong solution. If women are happily choosing to stay home with their babies, that’s a private decision. But it’s a public policy issue if most women (and men) need to work to support their families, and if the economy needs women’s skills to remain competitive. It’s a public policy issue if schools, jobs, and other American institutions are structured in ways that make it frustratingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, for parents to manage both their jobs and family responsibilities.”

And how are American institutions structured? With masculine workplace norms.

… although work-family conflict traditionally is associated with women, a prime mover of work-family conflict is masculinity. Inflexible workplaces have proved so hard to change, in significant part, because of the intertwining of masculinity with work schedules and current understandings of work commitment. (p. 33)

What do masculine workplace norms get us? No paid family leave. Long hours. Unequal pay. And motherhood as the strongest trigger for gender bias.

As a culture, we need to stop lying to ourselves, stop pretending that the ‘choices’ thrust on us by outmoded norms are actually choices made of free will. We need to stop ignoring the fact that the available choices are dismally inadequate. (p. 40)

I couldn’t help thinking of the movie 9 to 5 when reading this book. Didn’t Judy, Violet and Doralee take care of flexible work schedules and job sharing 30 years ago? Sure, they had to poison, hogtie and hold captive their sexist boss. But, hey, they got the job done, right?

Well, OK. Real life is much harsher. Many employees are “one sick child away from being fired.” They are often forced to make the impossible decision to choose between work or their children. When they pick their children (because they’re sick and daycare or school won’t take them or, worse, they’re headed to the emergency room), employees are often fired.

This is not just a working-mother issue. It affects fathers, too. Current research shows that this kind of inflexibility is not just an issue for women:

“Roughly 55% of the arbitration that WorkLife Law studied involved men.” (p. 56)

But it’s time to realize that the workplace is a “gender factory” constructed for “ideal workers” without family responsibilities.

Let’s begin with pregnancy. The only reason pregnancy represents a problem for employed women is because the ideal-worker norm is designed around someone with a man’s body (no time off for childbearing) and men’s traditional life patterns (no time off for child rearing or other care work). Once again, the issue is not whether men and women are really different; the issue is why this particular difference matters in this context. As Martha Minow pointed out long ago, men are as different from women as women are from men. What gives women’s difference salience in the workplace is the weight of unstated masculine norms. (p. 129)

“The ideal-worker standard and norm of work devotion push mothers to the margins of economic life. And a society that marginalizes its mothers impoverishes its children. That is why the paradigmatic poor family in the United States is a single mother and her child.” (p. 103) Emphasis added.

Williams does a great job of breaking down the differences between classes and explaining the need to bridge those gaps and rebuild an alliance between progressives and “the Missing Middle.”

“The most refined fuel for class resentments is the culture of casual insults leveled by progressives toward the white working class. Changing U.S. politics will require an embargo on such insults.” (p. 152)

“As Theda Skocpol pointed out nearly a decade ago, progressives tend to focus so intently on poverty that they miss Americans in the middle of the income distribution. Skocpol finds it ‘puzzling’ that ‘our policy debates deal so little with the fate of working families of modest means.’ She recommended ‘a new family-oriented populism’ that offers supoprt for working families on the type that exists in Europe, namely, universal programs, rather than means-tested programs that are limited to the poor. Her analysis has been largely ignored.” (p. 161)

Maybe it’s time to stop ignoring this.

Williams challenges cultural fantasies about feminism (especially Sarah Palin‘s version of it — the five pages she spends deconstructing Palin alone is worth the price of the book), and she says she wants to start a national conversation about gender issues.

A conversation.

Is that enough? Who participates? Then what?

Posted by Becky @ 7:50 pm | 8 Comments  

Books: Eat, Pray, Love

November 9, 2010 | Books

I read my friend Randi’s copy of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert this summer in Norway. I’m finally getting back around to it.

I recently wrote this on Cindy La Ferle‘s Facebook page when she was wondering what others thought of the book:

I read it this summer, and I still haven’t figured out what to say about it. In the first section, I had to put it down several times just to catch my breath. She was like a 3-year-old, distracted by every shiny object … I was exhausted. (But I love Italy, and I suppose identical Italian twins might make me breathless too.)

It was very self-indulgent (on her part), but I did take lots of notes of things she said that resonated with me. While I don’t dig meditation, blue lights & dreaming of serpents, I do believe self-examination is essential. It’s just not always easy to go along on someone else’s intimate and very personal journey. I often felt like I was reading a diary that I shouldn’t have been.

I, too, spent a year going through a midlife identity crisis. Not in Italy, India or Indonesia, though. In Iowa. I had the I-place. Just not the book deal, darnit. Or … well … anything else she wrote about, except the parts about figuring out who she is. In the true spirit of her book, which was all about her, this post is all about me. I don’t think Julia Roberts will play me in the movie, though.

Looking back is hard. And painful. But we can never really know who we are today until we know who we were. I feel as though I’ve been putting together a big jigsaw puzzle all my life, but I only had some of the pieces, some of the time. Last year, when my crisis began (that’s a nice way of saying “when the shit hit the fan”), all the rest of the pieces were dumped in my lap. I’ve spent the time since then fitting those pieces into the puzzle.

Here are a couple of passages that resonated with me.

p. 19 I inflicted upon him my every hope for my salvation and happiness. And, yes, I did love him. But if I could think of a stronger word than “desperately” to describe how I loved David, I would use that word here, and desperate love is always the toughest way to do it.

p. 68 But I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time — everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else.

The specifics may not be the same, but I get the whole “desperate” thing. Someone told me once, “You need me more than I need you.” Ouch. Damn, that hurt! Then it made me angry. But you know what? It was true. Not only that, but I realize I’ve needed everyone in my life more than they ever needed me. Oh, yes. I’ve turned myself inside-out for people. Then I’d hit a rough spot and needed a shoulder or a hand. I’d look around and … nobody was there. I hadn’t seen that clearly until recently. So, yeah. I get it.

The whole crisis killed that desperate part of me. OK, it’s not really dead, but it’s been rendered comatose. Because I’ve also realized I am completely and utterly alone. I know that now. And every time I’ve felt that way throughout my life has come flooding back to me. It’s been a really hard fucking year. But I’m getting ready to pull the plug, to take it off life support. Because really? It’s been sucking the life out of me. She’s right. Desperation is the hardest way to do it. And I need to learn to be OK with Just Me.

My track record sucks, but the puzzling I’ve done over the last year has helped me figure out why. The even harder part now will be to figure out how to change that.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey was deeply personal (some might say selfish). I was on a similar journey, though, and her words helped me.

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 10 Comments  

TV: Himmelblå

November 1, 2010 | Norway,Television

We finished watching Season 3 of Himmelblå, full of expectation for the next season — whenever we might get our hands on it. We watched the first two seasons earlier and became fans.

I just went online to check and … what?!? The last show we watched was The Last Show of the last season. Wah! I guess you can’t miss what never will be, but we’re disappointed there won’t be more new Himmelblå stories. *sad face*

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | Comments  

Books: Calling Out for You

September 16, 2010 | Books

I just finished reading Calling Out for You by Karin Fossum, a Norwegian author. (The book is also known as The Indian Bride, as it was published in the United States.) Interesting read, but the book ended so abruptly that I wondered if something was missing from the book. I liked her writing well enough to read another of her books, but I feel as if three chapters got lopped off the end of this book.

I still get hung up on some of the translations. In some other books written by Norwegian authors, I thought it was odd to see a napkin called a serviette, which is what it’s called in Norway. But, no, I guess that’s what they call it in British English too. In this Fossum book, the one that popped out at me was when someone took out a “griddle cake,” which I believe was probably lefse. It would have made more sense to me to call that a flatbread.

Ah well. That’s the fun of reading various translations.

Posted by Becky @ 2:34 pm | 1 Comment  

Books: Berlin Poplars

September 12, 2010 | Books

I just finished reading Berlin Poplars by Anne B. Ragde, a Norwegian author. This was also recommended to me this summer in Norway. Wow. Love this story. Love this author.

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | Comments  

Books: Astrid & Veronika

September 11, 2010 | Books

I recently read Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson, a Swedish writer. I’d heard about this in Norway this summer. It’s an amazing story by an amazing author!

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | Comments  


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