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How to Make a Masterpiece

The Queen’s Rolling Pin.

It started three years ago when I wrote Keep on Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Dan Larson of the Minnesota Woodturners Association (MWA) had won $500 in an MWA contest for who could create the most beautiful lefse rolling pin. The pin was so beautiful that I had to put it on the cover, seen below.

"Keep On Rolling!" Cover Image
“Keep On Rolling!” Cover Image

Ever since publication of Keep On Rolling! a steady stream of customers at the farmers markets I do would ask if Dan would sell that cover pin or could re-create another. Sell it? Absolutely not, says Dan. That stays in his family, and they use it during the holiday season to make lefse.

Understandable that Dan would not sell that pin, but would he make another? Several customers have asked, I said. At first, he declined. Finding the right burl to create an eye-popping barrel was not easy, and the hours and hours of handwork that goes into those handles put him off.

I let it go until last Christmas, when yet another customer asked about having the cover pin re-created. Dan was still hesitant, but he threw out a price high enough that he figured it would put off customers who kept bugging him about making this pin. Turns out, price was not an issue; the customer wanted it for her mother who was in her 90s. She made a deposit, and Dan began his search for wood.

Woodturner Dan Larson

Oh, the Pressure

People who create masterpieces wince at these three words: “Do it again.” Dan explains: “I felt a lot of pressure with duplicating that first pin I did for the contest. I like doing new stuff, freelancing, following the wood to see where it leads. So I was resistant, thinking I had to come up with something as good as the original or better, making sure it was up to my standards of quality. It was a grind but a good exercise in testing my skills.”

His first challenge was coming up with a burl in winter. He had one in his stock, but that didn’t pan out. “I thought, ‘Holy buckets! What am I going to do now?” Dan says. He got help from fellow lefse rolling pin maker and MWA member Bob Puetz, who provided several cherry burls. Even with those burls, Dan had three “crashes” before he got one burl that was not “punky” wood (without big cracks and pits that characterize burls). From that one burl, Dan managed to turn three rolling pin barrels.

Example of roughly turned maple burls. The bottom burl became the rolling pin that appeared on the cover of Keep On Rolling!
Dan Larson making the cherry lefse pin grooves on his lathe.

Handles: Less Drama, More Diligence

Dan turned many more handles than he needed for the three rolling pins, just in case some handles didn’t turn out the way he wanted. The turning was less of an issue than the detail work. It took countless hours of carving and burning a black band that makes five evenly spaced turns from end to end. This detail work was inspired by the designs and techniques made famous by Avelino Samuel of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Between the solid burned band is a barber poling band of about a billion burned dashes that are the finishing touches to a fabulous piece of art. And then to show off the rolling pins, Dan made cherry stands shaped like a Viking ship.

Carving the handles.
Burning the handles.

Oh, by the way, this is a functional piece of art with a stainless steel rod and food-safe stainless steel bearings.

Never Say Never

Dan finished with three masterpieces. The customer had her pick and was thrilled with the result. The other two I sell as The Queen’s Rolling Pin

The Queen’s Rolling Pin.

… and The King’s Rolling Pin, below.

The King’s Rolling Pin.

Whatever I call these masterpieces, Dan calls it quits. “No more,” says Dan about making more lefse rolling pins with this design. “There was a lot of pressure. And the time, oh! Finding the right burls and then getting the details on the handles. I was in the middle of making one handle and said, ‘Damn, I forgot how long it took to carve and burn all these marks.’ No, this is it. I may make another one for love, but not for money.”

Fair enough, Dan. You can rest knowing you have made your mark of beauty on the lefse-rolling community.

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A Big Reason I Joined!

Lowell and Bev Johnson enjoying the good life in Norway. What a view!

Well, I finally joined the Sons of Norway. I have spoken at many lodges and say in my speech that the Sons of Norway and I share the same mission: preserving traditions. The Sons of Norway lodges all over North American hold meetings and create entertainment and educational events throughout the year to keep the culture of Norway, and I write books to keep lefse making alive and well … and to keep those who eat lutefisk alive and well!

So it was a no-brainer that I finally became a member. I joined the Synnove-Nordkap lodge in St. Paul because I know a few members in that lodge and have been impressed by the lodge’s vitality. I enjoyed my first meeting at the annual summer picnic last month.

Image from the Synnove-Nordkap lodge of the Sons of Norway.

When I arrived at the picnic, I did some standing around with my hands in my pockets, feeling awkward and like the newcomer that I was. And then Lowell Johnson (pictured above) introduced himself. He’s a funny guy who is easy to talk with, so the time passed quickly and the evening was fun. Nothing like that personal connection and the power of simply saying, “Hello!” I’ll be back and am glad I now support an organization that has meant a great deal to so many who love the Norwegian ways.

Oh, Lowell reminded me that he had submitted two jokes to my newsletter, The Lefse & Lutefisk News. Here they are:

What did Ole say the first time he saw pizza? “Uff da!  Who ‘trew up on the lefse?”

Lars was having trouble getting rid of the skunks under his porch.  Ole told him to put some lutefisk under there.  Well, the skunks are gone, but now Lars can’t get rid of the Knutsons!

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The Verse of My Lefse Novel

The final page proofs of Final Rounds were sent to the printer today! A key part of this coming-of-age novel involves a lefse-making marathon that features stacks of beautiful lefse bowls and lefse-inspired rhymes. Verse is throughout Final Rounds, which makes this novel about how a 12-year-old girl handles grief both moving and joyous.

The release of Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse is only a month away! I cannot take orders yet, but today I sent the final page proofs to the printer.

Final Rounds is a simple novel about a complex character, 12-year-old Amaya, who handles the loss of Papa, her grandfather, by 1) pulling off an end-of-life celebration for Papa never heard of before in Amaya’s small town and 2) by writing—which she hates. Amaya writes about her memories of Papa and makes writing less loathsome—even enjoyable—by writing part of her story in verse.

Below is a peaceful scene involving Papa, Amaya, and Mrs. Taylor, Papa’s neighbor and a high school English teacher who helps Papa and Amaya make 630 rounds of lefse for a Christmas lefse giveaway in New Seljord, their small town in Minnesota. The blizzard and the lefse-making marathon have ended, and the three exhausted-but-grateful lefse makers are reflecting on life and the wonder of the sun emerging as the snow ends. Lefse has inspired all three of them to make up verse throughout the day, and now Amaya and then Mrs. Taylor each add one more verse. Mrs. Taylor, who grew up in Mississippi and has a different appreciation of snow than most folks from the North, has probably the best line in the book with her verse.

Papa closed the barn door. The late afternoon was now tinted with a dreamy, peachy light. It was still snowing, but the sun was pressing its way through the clouds from the west. Reds and oranges and yellows and pinks were everywhere. Even floating snowflakes carried flecks of paint. Mrs. T and I were gaping, and Papa stopped walking to the house and turned to look at us. Then he also looked at the sunset. None of us spoke until a rhyme came over me.

The sun . . . so fun; the snow’s the show.
Please let it last. . . . Don’t let it go.

Mrs. T and Papa smiled and nodded but did not speak.

The sun did not last, but we stood and stood and stood. The sun lowered, and the colors slowly dulled on the final few snowflakes.

“Mrs. Taylor,” said Papa, still looking at the sun, which was just on the roof of her house down the hill, “for a Mississippi girl, you must have had your fill of Old Man Winter.”

She smiled but never took her eyes off the horizon. Finally, she said in a sweet, low voice:

Rain has its rhythm, its charm, and its sound.
Its route is just straight, from the sky to the ground.
But a raindrop may wonder: Where is the romance?
Then winter gives water a chance to dance.

Final Rounds has much more of this kind of verse to complement a heart-rending story that, like grief, is sad and sweet. I won’t see the pages of the book again until it is actually a bound book—mid-August! Very exciting time!

The cover of my new novel, coming next month!

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For Father’s Day Travelers

Traffic will be heavy for Father’s Day drivers, so consider the unique experience of flying with Lutran Air.

For Father’s Day, many in Lefse Land will be traveling to celebrate the day with dear old dad. I pass along this travel tip from Sharon, my “Texas friend,” as she likes to call herself. I see plenty of this kind of Scandinavian humor, and some of it is actually funny … in spots. Like this announcement:


If you are travelin soon, consider Lutran Air, the no-frills airline. You’re all in da same boat on Lutran Air, where flyin is a upliftin experience:

  • Dair is no first class on any Lutran Air flight.
  • Meals are potluck. Rows 1 tru 6, bring rolls; 7 tru 15, bring a salad; 16 tru 21, a hot dish; and 22-30, a dessert.
  • Basses and tenors, please sit in da rear of da aircraft.
  • Everyone is responsible for his or her own baggage.
  • All fares are by free-will offering, and da plane will not land til da budget is met.

Pay attention to your flight attendant, who vill acquaint you wit da safety system aboard dis Lutran Air:

“Okay den, listen up! I’m only gonna say dis vonce: In da event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, I am frankly gonna be real surprised and so vill Captain Olson, because ve fly right around two tousand feet. So loss of cabin pressure would probably mean da Second Coming or someting of dat nature, and I wouldn’t bodder with doze liddle masks on da rubber tubes. You’re gonna have bigger tings to worry about den dat. Just stuff doze back up in dair liddle holes.

“Probably da masks fell out because of turbulence which, to be honest wit you, we’re gonna have quite a bit of at two tousand feet. Sorta like driving across a plowed field, but after a while you get used to it. In da event of a water landing, I’d say forget it. Start saying da Lord’s Prayer and just hope you get to da part about forgive us our sins as we forgive dose who sin against us, which some people say ‘trespass against us,’ which isn’t right! But what can you do?

“Da use of cell phones on da plane is strictly forbidden, not because day may confuse da plane’s navigation system, which is by da seat of da pants all da way. No, it’s because cell phones are a pain in da wazoo, and if God had meant you to use a cell phone, God wudda put your mout on da side of your head!

“We start lunch right about noon, and it’s buffet style wit da coffeepot up front. Den we’ll have da hymn sing. Hymnals are in da seat pockets in front of you. Don’t take yours wit you when you go, or I am gonna be real upset—and I am NOT kiddin!

Right now I’ll say Grace: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let deze gifts to us be blessed. Fader, Son, and Holy Ghost, may we land in Dulut or pretty close.

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Off to the Norsk Hostfest!

Plenty of places to learn to make lefse at the Norsk Hostfest. There is also a Lefse Masters competition, and I will be a judge.

Tomorrow, it’s off Minot, North Dakota, for the 40th annual Norsk Hostfest. I’ll be toting my four books, my Keep On Rolling!-related products, and great expectations in the eight-hour drive from Minneapolis to Minot. This is the largest Scandinavian festival in the U.S., attracting 55,000 to 60,000 people to the North Dakota State Fairgrounds, where the Hostfest takes place.

I remember my first Hostfest in 1993. I had one book to sell then, The Last Word on Lefse. On opening day of the festival, I stacked copies of the book on my eight-foot table in what is now called the Author’s Corner, and I waited. It was morning, and shoppers were excitedly checking out books and products but not buying much. I made a few sales but decided to take a break and leave the table to get coffee.

I returned 20 minutes later to a clutch of shoppers waiting by my table—for me to sign books! I did, and then more buyers came, and more, and more. All day there were lively conversations about lefse and the new book—and steady sales. That continued for the final three days of the festival, and I left the Hostfest exhausted but elated!

The Author’s Corner now has a small stage, and authors are interviewed there throughout the day. My time is 4 p.m. each day. I’ll talk about my new book, Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, and then end my time by singing the song I co-wrote with Erik Sherburne, “Keep On Rollin’”. This will be the first time I sing my song, so if you go to the Hostfest, stop by and let me know what you think!