Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day snuck up on me this year.  I don’t think Satya and I have anything huge planned for tonight.  In a few weeks it will be our first wedding anniversary so we more looking forward to that date.

When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with my mom’s family who lived less than a mile away.  We would go to my grandparent’s house for a big formal meal-nice china, real silverware, a glass or two of wine for the adults, 7 UP and a cherry for the kids, candles, and a beautiful flower centerpiece.   After the meal, we would open our Valentine’s.  This always had a certain hierarchy to it.  My grandfather would go to the mall to get Fanny Farmer candy for everyone.  They would come in red heart shaped cardboard boxes and inside have an assortment of candy.  My grandmother would get the biggest box of candy.  Then, my parents and my aunt would get medium sized boxes.  All of us kids would get the smallest size.  The four of us kids would also get Valentine’s cards from my grandparents, my parents, and my aunt. 

For us, Valentine’s Day was about gathering with the people we loved most and enjoying a nice meal and chocolates.

Scandinavian Humor

Today, my uncle from Iowa sent me an e-mail with a Norwegian joke in it.  If there is one thing that my Swedish-American uncles love, it is jokes about Norwegians.  Why?  I don’t know-proximity I guess.  Swedes make fun of Norwegians; Minnesotans make fun of Iowans or Wisconsinites.  The joke below pokes fun of the Norwegian accent, but the Swedish accent is nearly identical to the Norwegian accent. 


Below, is the joke.  Do not read if you have delicate sensibilities or do not like earthy humor.  Hope you enjoy it!


A Norwegian fella wants a job, but the foreman won’t hire him until he passes a little math test.  
Here is your first question, the foreman said.  ‘Without using numbers, represent the number 9.’  
‘Without numbers?’  The Norwegian says, ‘Dat’s easy.’ and proceeds to draw three trees.  

‘What’s this?’ the boss asks.
‘Vot! you got no brain?  Tree and tree and tree make nine,’ says the Norwegian.  
‘Fair enough,’ says the boss.  ‘Here’s your second question.  Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99.’  
The Norwegian stares into space for a while, then picks up the picture that he has just drawn and makes a smudge on each tree. ‘Dar ya go.’  

The boss scratches his head and says, ‘How on earth do you get that to represent 99?’  

‘Each of da trees is dirty now.  So, it’s dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree.  Dat is 99.’

The boss is getting worried that he’s going to actually have to hire this Norwegian, so he says, ‘All right, l ast question.
Same rules again, but represent the number 100.’  

The Norwegian fella stares into space some more, then he picks up the picture again and makes a little markat the base of each tree and says, ‘Dar ya go.  Von hundred.’  
The boss looks at the attempt.  ‘You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!’  

The Norwegian leans forward and points to the marks at the base of each tree and says, ‘A little dog come along and pooped by each tree.   So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, vich makes von hundred.’

‘So, ven do I start?


A joke that my grandmother wrote down in her booklet of favorite poems is about another Norwegian.  She used to listen to the radio and copy down her favorites in a small notebook.  This one is very common and people throughout the Midwest have recited this one for generations.  Some people even turned it into a song!


My name is Yon Yonson
I come from Visconsin
I work in the lumber mills dere;
Ven I valk down de street,

all de people I meet,
say, “Hello, vat’s your name?”

(repeat ad nauseam)


My dad and my uncles can do those jokes in wonderful fake Swedish accents.  They grew up around people whose first language was Swedish-my dad’s dad for example lived in an isolated Swedish-American farming community.  He did not learn English until he went to school and he and his brothers and sisters retained a slight Swedish accent throughout their lives.  Unfortunately, my siblings and I can’t replicate very authentic Swedish accents. 


Then, of course are the old Sven and Ole (and sometimes Lena too) jokes.  There are some jokes that say that Sven and Ole were old batchelor farmers that lived together.  That is another standby of Midwestern culture-the old bachelor farmer.  Unlike India where nearly everyone gets paired off (in Satya’s family there was one aunt that never married, but she was over 6 feet tall so perhaps that is why and another who never married because she was blind), there have always a substantial minority of Swedes and Norwegians that never married.  My grandmother had three bachelor uncles that lived together.  Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion website has a whole bunch of jokes submitted by listeners.

Finally, I will end with my grandfather’s Swedish tongue-twister.  He used to amaze all of us with this feat.  (The “sj” sound is unique to the Swedish language and one that trips up nearly all non-native speakers).  Sadly, no one else in my family can now recite it.I myself can’t recall the exact one, but it did involve that sound and seasick sailors.  Here is one version I found: sjuttiosju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor, which means 77 seasick sailors were nursed by seven fair nurses.

I’m not sure how much longer these jokes will last.  I think the only ones to tell my future hypothetical kids Sven and Ole jokes will be my dad and his brothers. 

 What are some of your favorite jokes?

Celebrating Winter: The St. Paul Winter Carnival

I haven’t written much about Minnesota, so today I thought I’d write about one of St. Paul’s oldest and most beloved festivals-the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  The St. Paul Winter Carnival began yesterday, January 22.  When I was growing up, the St. Paul Winter Carnival helped to liven up the after-Christmas winter doldrums. 


In my family we, like most Twin Cities inhabitants,  all knew the legend behind the carnival…how the good King of the Winds, King Boreas gets defeated by the god of Fire, Vulcanus on the last day of the carnival.  King Boreas promises to return next winter, and Vulcanus brings the warmth of spring and summer.  The winter court gets selected the first day of the carnival.  There are very picturesque titles: Queen of the Snows, Wind Princesses, Klondike Kate, etc.  During our city festival in June, Vulcanus’ followers, the mischievous Vulcans would scare us with their loud horns and grease paint.  The Vulcans would go into the parade crowd and mark people’s cheeks with a black V for Vulcanus.  We would go to one of St. Paul’s parks to see the beautiful ice sculptures and some years we’d see the ice palace-a huge, multistory palace construction of ice made from ice taken from Minnesota’s lakes.  We would eagerly read the St. Paul newspaper, St. Paul Pioneer Press, to try to figure out where the Winter Carnival medallion was hidden.  We never could make sense of the daily clues, but enjoyed following along.  Usually the medallion is buried somewhere under the snow in one of St. Paul’s city parks.  There are parades too, but we preferred to stay away from the crowds and stay indoors.


Why did the Winter Carnival begin?  It began in the 1880s as a way to show off St. Paul and to prove that it is possible to survive and even have fun during the coldest part of a Minnesota winter, contrary to the view of a writer in New York.  In 1886 St. Paul, MN was actually one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and city leaders wanted this to continue.  The festival was modeled after the one in Montreal, Canada.  The Winter Carnival has been held every year since 1886.  To this day the metropolitan area of St. Paul/Minneapolis has the dubious honor of having coldest mean temperature of any metropolitan area in the lower 48 U.S. states.  The weather does play a big factor at the carnival.  Sometimes the weather is unseasonably warm and some events like the ice sculpture contest are cancelled due to melting.  Other years there are sub-zero temperatures that keep even hardy Minnesotans indoors and cause outdoor events to be cancelled. 


I would usually recommend visiting Minnesota in either June or September because those months usually have the best weather, but if you ever find yourself in Minnesota around the last week of January or the first week of February check out the Winter Carnival.  I guarantee it will be a memorable experience!


Satya and I have been watching the election very closely.  He noted a few differences in how voting is done here vs. India.  I think the differences are very interesting and maybe in the future the U.S. will adopt some practices.   Here is how the largest democracy in the world operates its elections:


-Election Day is a holiday in India.


-There is not just one Election Day for the whole country.  This is because the military and the para military keep a close watch to ensure violence does not break out.  The whol military cannot cover the whole country on the same day. 


-There are symbols for each candidate (a wheel, hand, etc.) so that even illiterate people or those unable to read the local language can vote.  This already happens in some places here.  A woman from NY was saying that there people stamp either an elephant or donkey for their choices. 


-Voters get one of their fingers dipped in indelible ink to prevent repeat voting.  The ink is very noticeable and lasts for nearly a month.  When Satya’s parents arrived here last May, this ink was on their fingers and lasted for a long time.  The ink is called “Mysore Ink” and is owned and operated by Karnataka’s government.  Other countries using the ink include such varied countries as Canada, Singapore, Afganistan, Ghana. http://www.mysorepaints.in/profile.html


-Electronic voting machines.  I think the whole of India uses the same style of machines vs. the U.S.’s variety of voting mechanisms (touch screens, pencil and paper, stamps, etc.).  I think for fairness that the whole country should use the same type of machine. 


-Campaigning stops 48 hours before the election.  In the U.S. both Obama and McCain were campaigning the morning of Election Day.


-People in India do not directly vote for the prime minister or president.  They are selected by the parties in power and are chosen from the members of parliament. 


I do think that Election Day should be a holiday so that everyone gets a chance to vote and that the same style of voting machine should be used by all.  That will increase fairness and help those who move often. 


Also, I think all U.S. states should agree on how people can register to vote.  In my home state of Minnesota, people can register to vote on the day of the election itself.  Where I live now, the deadline to register was one month before the election which I think is ridiculous because it potentially excludes a lot of people because people may not know about the registration deadline.  Without being registered, people cannot vote.  Voting should be made as simple as possible to include the greatest number of people.


Overall, both Satya and I were very relieved that yesterday’s election went much smoother than those of 2000 and 2004.  The results are clear-Obama won both the popular and electoral votes and there were no major repeats of the previous fiascos in Florida and Ohio.

The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowdrop by H.M. Bouwman

At the moment, this is the book I’m reading.  I’m writing about it here because I think the book has a lot to say about colonialism and race and because the writer currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Genre:  Fantasy, Adventure


Target Audience:  Ages 10-14 although anyone can enjoy the story. 


Plot Summary:  Two 12 year old girls try to save their island from conniving, evil politicians.  Each girl comes from a different background.  Lucy is one of the Colay, the original inhabitants of the island group.  Snowdrop is the daughter of the leaders of newcomers (prisoners from England destined to 7 years of indentured servitude in Virginia until they get shipwrecked on the islands).  Snowdrop’s parents die through mysterious circumstances.  Snowdrop flees to avoid being kidnapped by the politicians.  Lucy flees her island to save her brother from the fate of all the other native men, being turned to stone. 


Lucy and Snowdrop start as grudging friends, but eventually learn to trust each other.


Best Parts of the Book:  Humor.  Phillip the Tutor with his grandiose ideas and cowardliness is the funniest character.  In him and his writings you can see how explorers and their recorders made sense of and tried to rewrite their experiences. 


Phillip the Tutor, Lucy, and Snowdrop all grew and transformed in realistic ways throughout the book.  This gave the book a realistic and hopeful mood even though the book contained some fantastic elements.



  • English renamed cities on the islands. For example, Lucy’s hometown is Sunset, but the English renamed it Dover.


  • The Colays are used as a scapegoat by conniving politicians. They blame the crimes they committed themselves to increase their political power on the Colay.


  • The Colays are punished when they try to profit by trading their own resources. For example, Lucy’s father wants to trade in the native rock, lifestone. The English conniver asks him where the lifestone is so that the English can control the trade. Lucy’s father refuses to tell and the Colays are punished.


  •  The Colay are seen as inferior. The connivers see Snowdrop with Lucy. They try to divide the girls by mocking Snowdrop for spending time with Lucy.

Recommended?  Yes!  Short, entertaining read with some great truths in it.