Challenging my Texas kinfolks: Our state fair vs. yours

(If you’re new in Minnesota and don’t know what to expect,  there’s still time to catch the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Monday, September 5, Labor Day is the last day. Feel free to read over my shoulder to catch a bit of the State Fair flavor. Keep in mind that the experience will be very different for you, unless you’re stick-in-the-mud seniors like we are.)

Dear cousins who defected to Texas,

I know you think Texas is the biggest and best. But I’m going to challenge you in one category–Our Minnesota State Fair against your State Fair of Texas. Which one is the biggest in the nation?

I’ve googled all around for your 2015 attendance figures, but all I can find are speculations and approximations. (I hope y’all keep better track of your oil and livestock figures). Wikipedia says “the State Fair of Texas considers quantifying its official attendance figures ‘too much of a hassle.'” Yes, I know Wikipedia isn’t an authoritative source, but it looks to be at least as reliable as your attendance figures. Anyway, I’ll be generous and grant you your estimated 3,000,000 attenders in 2015.

Here in Minnesota, somebody does keep attendance records. The 2015 total attendance at the Great Minnesota Get-Together was 1,779,738.

Before you compare those totals and think I’m losing it, answer me this. What was your average daily attendance during the 24 days of the 2015 State Fair of Texas? About 125,000, compared to our daily average of 149, 978 during the 12 days of the Minnesota State Fair. (I’m being precise, instead of saying “approximately 150,000.”)

Here are some highlights from our visit yesterday to the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

We parked at one of the dozens of State Fair Park and Ride lots around the Twin Cities. Free parking. Free bus ride. It’s been 2 or 3 years since my last visit to the fair, so I was surprised when the bus circled to the far side of the fairground, instead of fighting the traffic on Como Avenue. The new Transit Hub is amazing. Lots of ticket windows and entry through one of the white tents into the Transit Plaza, surrounded by those white  flags in the background of the photo.























(The next photo was taken in the Transit Plaza at the end of the sunny, hot day. Note the give-away fan. I was wondering if the new name should be “The Great Minnesota Sweat-Together.”)









As we walked, I took special note of the old classic of fair food on a stick–Pronto Pups, that made their first appearance here the year I was born.













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Our first visit to the fair, in about 1976, we paid 10 cents a cup for all the milk we could drink. I think this year’s price amounts to a 2000% increase.











Elk Breeders? Who knew?











After we re-oriented ourselves to the new entrance that’s on the opposite side of the fairgrounds from where we’ve always entered before, we walked a big circle. Each of us had a couple of must-see stops. First, we hit the animal barns, and the great (literally) highlight there . . .























Gotta love the built-in eyeshades for a daytime nap.












I didn’t catch a photo of any Jerseys who make me think of my 4-H calves, Princess and Cindy.












We were passing the colosseum just at the right time to see the high-stepping, synchronized draft horse 6-horse hitch competition.











Surely there was a better place for the Honey Candy than this particular exhibition wing of the Horticulture Building.












Then our circle took us on around to the building I was waiting for.  For me this is a space filled with beauty and creativity that opens up my soul somehow. I’m sure if you asked my children, they wouldn’t hesitate one second before telling you this was the one place I always wanted to go at the fair, and the one place they didn’t.












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Our path led us by Machinery Hill, where children (and others) love to climb on the equipment. (By the looks of the photo, seems like John Deere is doing its part for a greener environment.)FullSizeRender 2













Full disclosure: I’ve never attended your State Fair of Texas, so I can’t compare activities. But here are 3 things I’m pretty sure you don’t have in Texas.

1. Butter busts of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court, carved as you watch.












2. Paul Bunyan. Who do you have in Texas? Pecos Bill?










4. Goldy, the Minnesota gopher, caught here photobombing our selfie.









Well, Texas cousins, your fair isn’t until the end of September, and ours ends on Labor Day. Ya’ll can come on up sometime to see how we do it in Minnesota and still get back in time for yours!


Esther Expeditions: Packing light

After the first Esther Expedition, I told you what a boon it was to be able to wear my carry-on. My Scottevest with its dozens (or however many) pockets held so much I was able to use only a backpack and a carry-0n roller bag for a month of traveling and research in Sichuan, West China.

IMG_9461This May in Sweden, during the 2nd Esther Expedition, Scottevest was my partner again. This time the vest was the Scottevest Featherweight.

Today Scottevest is offering that vest and quite a few other great pocket-full red, white, or blue men’s and women’s  products for at least 40% off. This is an amazing discount. 

I’m not seeing an ending date for the sale, but it’s for only as long as products last.

You’d be wrong if you think Scottevest is only for travelers. I know people who love the variety of Scottevest  products so they don’t have to carry a purse, or because they’re in a wheelchair and want to have personal items within easy reach, or they’re parents or grandparents who need to have hands free during outings with the children.

When you check out the sale, I’d appreciate your connecting through the Scottevest link in my righthand sidebar here. Thanks!

Visiting Narnia


C.S. Lewis, as a boy, saw Narnia on a map of ancient Italy. He liked the sound of the name, and it was in his memory when he named the land where Aslan reigned. Did he ever visit Narni? Some say yes, some say no. In any case, I couldn’t help seeing glimpses of the fictional Narnia of my imagination in this medieval town on a hill.

Medieval Narnia, as it looks even now, could easily have been the model for Pauline Baynes’ illustrations for the Narnia books. City gates, streets barely wider than a van, houses climbing the hillside . . .

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And yes, there was a wardrobe in our room. But no fur coats, so I didn’t bother trying to walk through. But why would I? We were already in Narnia (the Roman name of the town that’s now called Narni).IMG_9827








I even saw Aslan’s name (I think). Aslan means lion in Turkish. Maybe this is an alternate spelling? Or a different dialect?IMG_3067








In a hidden underground room, there was a chair. It wasn’t actually a silver chair, but  one can imagine, can’t one?IMG_2779







I caught sight also of a dragon, the ruins of an ancient bridge, and a castle on a mountain.


















In Narni, nothing is made of the fictional Narnia. It’s likely almost no one there has heard of C. S. Lewis. So all my “sightings” of Narnia were fantasy. But then, that’s appropriate for the land in the books that opened my eyes to fantasy that points to Jesus.


Further up and further in!

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary since Johnny and I met on 6/6/66. We will spend the day in Narnia. Yes, really. Narnia.

Nowadays it’s called Narni, but during the Roman Empire it was Narnia. When C.S. Lewis was a schoolboy, he was poring over a map of ancient Italy and noted the name Narnia, because he liked the sound of it.

And I like the sound of celebrating in Narnia, where it’s springtime.

Esther Expedition 2: Which grandparent?

As I was growing up, my living grandparents were Grandmother and Grandaddy Carpenter and Grandmother Henry. When I mentioned Grandmother, it was usually clear from the context which one I meant. If not, I’d have to specify Grandmother Carpenter or Grandmother Henry.

Other families had different names for each grandmother–Meemaw and Nana, for example. That works within the family, but anyone else would still need the explanation of which was Mom’s mom or Dad’s mom.

The usual grandparent names in Sweden make it perfectly clear on the first go-round.

Far = Father             Mor = Mother


Farfar = father’s father

Farmor – father’s mother

Morfar = mother’s father

Mormor = mother’s mother

“Ah, wonderful,” I said to the one who explained this to me, “your way makes everything clear.”

“Well, not quite,” he said. “When my children get together with their cousins, my mother is Farmor to my children and Mormor to my sister’s children. ‘Why do our cousins call her by the wrong name?’ they ask.”

So I guess it’s just a matter of deciding who we’ll leave in confusion–our kids or non-family members.

By the way, when I wrote “It’s a matter of . . .” I could hear one of the common phrases of my own father when he was trying to simplify some confusion. But I guess some matters can’t be simplified, just shifted?

Tell me some grandparent names that help distinguish one set of grandparents from another.

Esther Expedition 2: Släkt i släkt, stereotypes and snacks

I learned my first Swedish phrase during our early days at Bethlehem. Someone warned me to be careful what I said about anybody because there were a lot of people related to each other (good advice even if people aren’t related!). And, my advisor went on, if they weren’t actually relatives, they probably were släkt i släkt.

That’s a nifty phrase meaning relative of a relative.

IMG_9014Sunday afternoon, I visited Göthe and Sonja in Kristianstad. Göthe is the 2nd or 3rd cousin of my brother-in-law. Dana is a blood relative of his. I’m släkt i släkt. Get it?

Sonja blew apart any stereotypes of Swedes as stoic people of few words. I laughed for 3 hours. (She has lived in Sweden since she was about 7, but she was born in Germany. Does that make a difference?)

Of course there was Fika–the coffee-and-treat time between meals. I added a couple of sugar cubes and some milk to my coffee. “I think I’m the only person in Sweden who uses sugar and milk,” I observed. They didn’t disagree.

“And from my visits in other homes, I think the proper sugar for coffee must be cubes?” Yes, that’s true. They remember people in the past who would pour some of their too-hot coffee into the saucer to cool and dip in a sugar cube and eat it.

There was a platter of coffee cake slices, cookies, and chocolate-covered somethings. I noted that this was the first Fika during my visit with a fork at each place. All the other times, everyone had used the tiny coffee spoon if a treat was too messy to be finger food. (But nobody except me needed the spoon for coffee, so it must have been for eating). Sonja had given us tiny forks that in America some might use for serving pickles or olives. “No, no,” she shook her head and stepped into the kitchen, returning with a single-layer cake. “The forks are for this.” This was a fudge pudding cake to which we added strawberries and whipped cream.

“First we have these,” she said, pointing to the plate of cookies and coffee cake. “Then this.” Well, what do you know, the chocolate cake was dessert to all the other sweets. And I probably was uncouth in picking up the chocolate thingy from the first plate instead of starting with cookies Sonja had baked.

IMG_9305It was hard to leave. A happy ending to my last day in Sweden.

The next day, Monday, I flew to Poland (in I’d call an outrigger airplane), where my husband is speaking at a gathering of Christian workers from around Europe.

But I expect there will be more to write about Sweden.

Esther Expedition 2: Is Bob the Builder Swedish?

(I’ve inserted the photos in yesterday’s post that I couldn’t get to upload yesterday.) 

Road signs and advertisements in other languages, places, & cultures may have a serious purpose, but look strange to an outsider. I’ve collected a few here in Sweden.

One appeared and disappeared too quickly to snap it, and I’m disappointed, because I think It would have indicated that Bob the Builder is Swedish. It said, “VI  KAN  FIXA.”

First, there are place names that are perfectly normal to a Swede, but may earn a smile from an English speaker. Note that ö is pronounced something like oo in book.









And then, warnings for some of the things you may encounter along the road:

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Esther Expedition 2: People I’ve seen today

UPDATE: The photos I couldn’t upload yesterday are included now.

Today, I was on my own. Up till now, Benny has made phone calls and connections, translated for me, and made sure I went to the right places at the right times. His help was invaluable. Now he’s busy with his family.

IMG_8259A couple of days ago, Benny, Arne and I had been to visit 94-year-old Evert and had helped him dig out some old property and farm records that I scanned.

Between his house and barn was a mountain of firewood. I wondered who had cut it for him.

Yesterday, Evert sent word through Benny that he had something else I might be interested in seeing.

IMG_8733So I launched out this morning without translator to see what he had. And we managed to communicate what we needed too. He knew why I’d come, so I didn’t need to explain anything. And he’s a happy man, so if we didn’t catch particular details from each other, who cares?

I gave him a print of a photo Esther had taken in 1930 of her Uncle and his family. “Sven Magnus!” Evert recognized him immediately.

IMG_8730And the woodpile? Today his son was there. He’s the woodcutter. How old is the son of a 94-year-old? I don’t know, but not young.

Then this afternoon, I met with 4 of Esther’s relatives (and through them found out names of some of her relatives in America!). A son of one of her first cousins, and the grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson of another cousin. The great-great-grandson had very good English.

IMG_8741I think the best result for me were a couple of photos of Esther I hadn’t seen before, including one sent over here from Minnesota, taken apparently while she still lived on her family’s farm in Bogus Brook and the names and addresses of some of Esther’s American cousins who had visited 2-3 years ago. Funny, coming to Sweden to get info on American relatives.

I had printouts of their family tree information to give them, which led to a few they gave me–“No, he was born in Vrigstad, then later his family moved to Trojemäla.”

IMG_8749Then the older 3 cousins mainly had a good time at their mini-reunion, while Markus and I exchanged information about what life is like now in Sweden and America.

And of course, there was coffee. Fika, I learned, is the coffee-and-cake time between meals.

A good day.

Esther Expedition 2: Esther’s house

I visited the house where Esther Nelson was born and lived for the 2-3 years until her family immigrated to Minnesota. I heard lots of stories and explanation from Benny, who was with me and who grew up in the house, and also from the current owner who bought it from Benny. There have been changes in the house during the 126 years since Esther was born, but not enough to hide 1890s life from the imagination.

Perhaps pictures will be the best commentary, starting with some Esther took when she visited in 1930. As far as I know, this was the only time she returned to Sweden.

house where I was born








another view of house where I was born







another view of house where I was born







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Original ceiling wood.   Original walls.   Original front doors, waiting to be restored.

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IMG_8461Family vehicles, one for snow and one for not-snow. Picture them on their way to church. Sven driving the horses, Johanna Maria beside him holding baby Esther, and the 4 older children squeezed onto the back bench. The 5 km drive probably took about 1/2 hour. That’s a long time in winter.









The old road to church still winds through the woods to the church or to the house that was Uncle Sven Magnus Karlsson’s. There are a fair number of yellow houses around now, but he had it painted in the traditional red with white trim that is still most prevalent.







It was the responsibility of the farmers whose land abutted the road to keep it maintained. Stones like this marked where one farmer’s responsibility left off and another’s began. Somewhere there would have been one for Esther’s father.

A few of the necessities of life:








Filling up the area of this corner was a bread baking oven of stone (another use for the small-enough field stones!). It was built up from the ground in the cellar and the kitchen floor was built around it. And then right next to it was the wood stove for other cooking.










Right about here was a traditional-type tall ceramic heater. Everything was fueled with wood.

And rocks. Did I mention rocks?

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Then to top off an already amazing day, we sat down to coffee with our host and he served us pekannöt torte (translation: pecan pie). Pecans. In Sweden. Pecan Pie–one of my top 5 favorites. In Sweden. I thought pecans were Southern in the US. I can live with this kind  of culture shock.














Esther Expedition 2: The Ice Age did its bit

sweden-map-584The Ice Age did its bit to drive farmers of the 19th century in southern Sweden away from the homes of their forefathers. When mighty glaciers ground their way from the north, they pushed boulders southward as if each ton of stone were a pebble. Eventually the mountains of ice suffered a slow, melting death in the next age—global warming. What had been the frozen, bulldozing front edge crept backward leaving the earth of tiny Blekinge County imbedded with truck-sized monuments of that long ago era.

In the 1100s, when the Vikings turned from seafaring to farming, the men in Blekinge turned their strength and wiliness toward a battle against boulders. Soil was the victor’s prize—land to be plowed if it was the farmer who won.

Even now, there are fields—if an expanse can be called a field when scattered through it are outcroppings that, like icebergs, are nine-tenths below the surface—fields that would make you think the rocks have won the soil there. IMG_8252But the determined farmer won’t concede. He leaves his tractor in the barn so it won’t be knocked apart by crashing into the immovable enemy. Instead, he curves his way between the barriers with his scythe to cut hay for his animals.

The glacier did its damage by delivering stones to Blekinge before it retreated. Then, as if that weren’t enough, the earth continues its own effort to squeeze out the pieces that were ground deep under its skin. IMG_8256So when a field seems finally cleared, it’s not final at all. Every planting season there are more rocks available to make taller the miles of stone walls dividing fields. But a stone wall can go only so high, and once a barn is raised or a foundation is laid, all the rest are rolled onto growing piles of discarded rocks in a corner of the farm.

Some time in the 1800s Nils Nilsson began to farm in Kåraboda, a cluster of three or four farms in the Parish of Kyrkhult in the county of Blekinge. Or maybe it was Nils, his son. IMG_8238Even if you’d never met him or his family, you would know his father was named Nils, because his full name was Nils Nil’s Son—Nils Nilsson, that is. And since his father was also Nils Nilsson, that means there was an earlier Nils. Perhaps there have been Nils Nilssons since almost the beginning of time.

After a while, all of Nils’ sons–including Nils Nilsson– had left for America, except Sven Nilsson, who farmed the rockiness with his father until, in 1891, Sven hoped there might be a better way, so he went to an auction and bought himself a new coat and a blanket (Johanna Maria still needed the one they slept under together), and he sailed to America to prepare the way for his IMG_8330wife Johanna Maria Karlsdotter and their five children. In 1893, she and the children joined him in Minneapolis. Ester Svensdotter (=Ester, Sven’s daughter), 3 years old, was the youngest. In America, they became the Nelson family, Swan, Johanna, Esther and the rest.

At first, Swan worked as an unskilled laborer in Minneapolis— until 1900, when he’d saved enough to buy land in Bogus Brook, Milles Lacs County, Minnesota. His years of labor in Minneapolis allowed him to return to the farming life he’d known in Sweden, except that the Minnesota soil was fertile and rocks were fewer and smaller.

So the Ice Age did its part in bringing little Ester Svensdotter to Minnesota, where she became Esther Nelson, grew up, found 1st Swedish Baptist Church and Jesus, and was sent by the church to Sichuan, China as a missionary from 1924 until 1951.

God works in mysterious ways. He knew how that Ice Age glacier would affect Sven Nilsson in 1891, even before the first Nils Nilsson was born.