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 Nilsdotter 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.



Esther Expedition 2: Parenthesis

Yesterday afternoon, I was taken on a short personal tour of the city of Åhus. Åhus is not part of Esther Nelson’s story, but I was staying overnight there with Benny and Lillemor.

IMG_8117The city is on the Baltic Sea, and is a popular vacation spot in the summer holidays. Teams all over Sweden and other countries in northern Europe are in training for the Handball Festival (the link is the “translate this page” version–not perfect, but you get the idea). I thought I knew what handball is, but this runs more like a soccer game, with each team trying to gain a goal in the net at the other end of the field—but not like a soccer game because players use only their hands for advancing the ball. Oh yes, and the playing field is the sandy beach. In fact, one of Benny and Lillemor’s grandsons was practicing yesterday.

IMG_8124IMG_8125I asked Benny what people from other parts of Sweden think of when they think of Åhus. “Absolut,” he answered instantly. Yes, this is the home of Absolut Vodka.

In Minnesota, we have our disputedly genuine Rune Stone that purportedly is proof that the Vikings traveled that far inland. Åhus has its own rune stone that probably has to prove nothing, since Sweden is a Viking homeland.

IMG_8138In the parish church you can see parts that date back to the earliest building, centuries ago.

Just like some towns in Minnesota, you may spy a deer crossing the road, or hiding in the bushes outside your house.

Outside the local museum, the medieval history of the city is highlighted. At one point we drove along a narrow lane between some of the oldest houses.


Back at Benny and Lillemor’s, our evening meal was Swedish meatballs and potatoes with lingonberry jam, a favorite meal of their grandsons who joined us with their parents. And breakfast this morning included a variety of bread, cheese, cold cuts, and yogurt. Yum—no worries about starving.

Oh yes, did I mention coffee? At home, I’ve heard it called “Swedish gasoline.” I can believe it. In my 2 days’ worth of experience here, I’d say coffee is to Swedes as tea is to the English—offered at every possible occasion, not to mention any possible non-occasion. I guess I’ll have to wait till I’m home again to resume my almost-caffeine-free life.

(Benny and Lillemor, please correct me if I got anything wrong or left out anything important!)


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Esther Expedition 2: Arrival

On Sunday, at Bethlehem Baptist downtown campus, Pastor Kenny led us in prayer for a group of Bethlehem people coming to Sweden (just after I leave) to pray for Sweden and to pray for and with individuals. This is significant, he explained, because our church was begun in 1871 by Swedes who came to America. In the beginning, we were First Swedish Baptist of Minneapolis. Now we are sending people back to Sweden in the name of Jesus.

“I don’t know if all of you knew about these roots, ” he said, and went on half-jokingly, “That means if you’re here, you’re part Swedish.”

I left the next day: Flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, flight Amsterdam to Copenhagen, Denmark, and rental car to Sweden.

If you look at National censuses from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the names in some Minneapolis neighborhoods would lead you to believe the census was taken in Sweden. Minnesota was one of the main destinations for immigrants from Sweden.

As I waited in Amsterdam for the flight to Copenhagen, I looked around at all the people waiting for the flight and I kept seeing near-doubles for Bethlehem-related people. Yes, I know the travelers were probably Danish and not Swedish, but history has the borders moving back and forth, so . . . Anyway, all that’s to say Minneapolis has had a strong Swedish influence and we can still see it today.

Tonight I stay at the home of Benny and his wife. Benny was born in the same house in Kåraboda that Ester Nilsdotter (Esther Nelson) had been born in quite a few years earlier. Tomorrow he’ll help me get oriented, and I’ll move over stay in Kåraboda.


The Esther Expedition continues

IMG_9462You may remember Esther Expedition Part 1, the search for the life and work of Esther Nelson in Sichuan, China.

Now I’m off on Esther Expedition Part 2, searching in Esther’s birthplace trying to discover the impact of her Swedish roots on her family and her life and Christianity.

All this is research for the biography I’m writing of Esther Nelson.

She was born in southern Sweden, in Kåraboda, a small community in the Kyrkhult parish in Blekinge County.

I plan to visit the house where she was born (found by roaming the roads via Google map, satellite view), attend Sunday service at the Kyrkhult parish church where she was baptized as a baby of a Lutheran family. I’ll want to explore the cemetery. There’s also a history museum in Kyrkhult.

In addition, Swedish Genealogists has given me amazing help in clearing up some questions about Esther’s ancestors, in providing me new information, and in finding some of Esther’s cousins who live in the general area. I don’t know yet if it will happen, but I’m hoping to visit with them.

In other words, I hope to have lots to share in the next week.

Food critic: “Can’t tell the difference.”

IMG_7510The pickier-than-me diner who sits across the table from me is the true taste tester for any recipe. His judgments range from a polite silence to “Mmm-hmm, that was very good.”

This weekend I experimented twice, to see if I could make an excellent gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. The grandchildren loved the Saturday effort, but the food critic remained silent.

However, the assessment of Sunday evening’s production was. “If I didn’t know it was gluten-free, I’d never know it was anything different than our usual good Thanksgiving pie.” Success!

So here are 3 recipes: pie crust, pumpkin filling, and whipped cream–all dairy-free, gluten-free, and almost-not-quite free of refined sugar (the 6th ingredient out of 12 in the bread mix is evaporated cane sugar)


Crust recipe from the Pamela’s Products website.

[Makes 2 crusts. I cut the recipe in half for the pumpkin pie]

    • 1 bag (3-1/2 cups) Pamela’s Gluten-Free Bread Mix (no yeast is used in this recipe)
    • 8 TBSP butter, chilled and cubed
    • 8 TBSP shortening, chilled and cubed
      • [my substitute for the above 2 ingredients: 1 cup Butter Flavored Crisco]
    • 7 to 8 TBSP ice cold water
  • You can use all butter in place of shortening
  • For a non-dairy crust, use 8 TBSP dairy-free butter and 8 TBSP shortening
    • [Note: Butter is a dairy product. But note that many margarines also contain some dairy ingredients, so read the labels.]


Pre-heat oven to 350° [for pre-baked single-crust pie].

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using paddle attachment, cut chilled shortening and butter into bread mix until small pea-sized pieces form (or use pastry blender or two knives). Slowly add ice water just until dough comes together (not sticky). Add 1 tsp additional water at a time if dough is too dry. Do not over-handle dough.

Divide dough in half. [I formed into ball and placed in fridge for 1/2 hour.] Roll between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap [I used wax paper and sprayed each sheet lightly with olive oil non-stick spray], to about 1/8″ thick. Peel off top layer and invert into lightly greased pie plate. Peel off second sheet and fix crust edge. (Cover and chill if dough is too soft.) [As I rolled out the crust, I stopped as needed to “clean up” the edges that tended to splay out.]

For pre-baked shell: bake in middle of oven for 28 to 30 minutes. If filling, bake in the bottom third of the oven, according to individual recipe. Dough may be frozen for later use; wrap in plastic and freeze, and thaw completely before use.

Chef’s note: This crust is perfect pre-baked and then filled with pudding, fresh fruit or your favorite filling. Or, for pies that bake with their crust, do not pre-bake, fill with quiche, pumpkin pie, or apple pie filling and bake the crust with the pie as directed. [I avoided burned crust edges by loosely crimping  strips of foil around the pie plate before baking.]

© Pamela’s Products, Inc. [Italics are my added notes.]

IMG_7513For the Saturday experimental crust, I used Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix. The baked texture was more like graham cracker crust, not what I wanted for pumpkin pie. But that recipe is worth remembering for a pudding pie or fresh fruit pie sometime.

This crust from the Pamela’s Bread Mix tastes great. Full disclosure: even the master food critic mentioned that my crust was a bit too firm–not the ideal flaky texture. I think that’s due to my lack of experience. I don’t do pie crusts. My usual homemade pie filling goes into a crust from the grocery freezer section. So 2 pie crust experiments and the Thanksgiving pie-to-come is proof of how much I love certain people. They know who they are.

Noel’s Pumpkin Pie Filling

(gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free. fills 1 single-crust 9-inch pie)

1-1/2 cups pumpkin (cooked fresh or 15-oz. can)

3/4 cup maple syrup (or honey)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

4 eggs

1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (regular, NOT light)

Mix together all ingredients well.

(If using fresh home-cooked pumpkin, a blender smooths it well. In blender, combine all ingredients and as much coconut milk as the blender jar accommodates. The rest of the milk can be stirred in gently and thoroughly after pouring the mixture into the pie crust).

Pour into crust. Crimp foil around crust edge to prevent over browning.

400 degrees. 1 hour–until knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving.

IMG_7506If there’s too much filling for your crust, bake the extra amount as pudding (crustless) in a small baking bowl. Don’t follow my example and think, “Surely I can pour it all in and still lift it into the oven without spilling anything.” Hmph. It’s also a good idea to put the pie onto a cookie sheet you’ve already placed on the oven shelf to protect the oven from any drips that do happen.

Dairy-free Whipped Cream

Refrigerate mixing bowl at least an hour beforehand.

14-oz can Coconut Cream (refrigerated at least overnight)

1/2 – 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey, if avoiding refined sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Use whisk attachment if your mixer has it.

Beat the coconut cream until soft and smooth. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Continue beating at high speed until achieving the whipped texture you prefer. (If it doesn’t whip up light, no problem. Just as it is, with all the ingredients mixed together, it’s delicious and thick.)

(I found canned coconut cream locally at Trader Joe’s. Even my usual grocery co-op didn’t have it.)

IMG_7515I’ve also used canned regular coconut–regular, not light. You want the heavy cream to separate from the rest of the liquid, so do not shake can. Refrigerate at least overnight. Again, do not shake when removing it from the fridge. The cream will be at the top of the can. Scoop it out carefully (I used a smallish gravy ladle) and follow the above directions. Save the remaining liquid for use later.

I used the leftover liquid instead of water to make gluten-free, dairy-free dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, from Pamela’s Bread Mix. The taste tester and I had to restrain each other to eating just one, so the rest could go in the freezer until Thursday. They are good.

What are your special-dietary Thanksgiving ideas or favorites? If you have time in this busy week, share your recipe(s). Thanks!

When there are few accommodations for disability

One child was abandoned by his parents for being physically disabled. His uncle does the best he can for him, but he must work to earn a bare living as well as take care of the child.

Another would go to school if he could, but he cannot walk, and it is too far for him.

This video is from Busia, Uganda, where our team will be working.

This is life for many people in many places in the world where facilities, therapy, and equipment aren’t available, except perhaps at such a price as to be unreachable for almost everyone.

Our team will put dozens of people in their first wheelchairs. This is a small number compared to the need, but we remember that Jesus healed just one person at a time, a small number compared to the total number of blind, ill, or disabled in Judea.

It is in his name that we go, praying to give even greater hope than mobility. Even the best wheelchair will fall apart someday, but Jesus will never forsake the ones who are his.

Our team will be working under the leadership of the Ugandan mission, Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry. The chairs are provided by  Free Wheelchair Mission.

If you feel inclined to connect with our team through prayer and/or a gift, Bethlehem Baptist’s Short Term Ministry Committee offers suggestions and instructions. We leave this Friday, October 16.