Friday, December 26, 2014


In my work-in-progress children’s pioneer novel, “The Wormy Bean Winter,” six-year old Emmi tells two-year-old Sunni about Aunt Riika’s famous Nissa-Nassu (Finnish Christmas Piggy Cookies) that they always have at their aunts for Thanksgiving. This results in their saying the name both forward and backwards, "Nassu-Nissa...Nissa-Nassa," as well as much noisy “oinking” and even noisier giggling!

Jana attempted to nurture her Finnish heritage by making Piggy Cookies for Christmas.

In the photo they did look “piggy.” (Messy like pigs anyway!), due to coloring the frosting with some seedy raspberry jelly or something to make them pink!  I’m sure they were delicious. And I admire her spirit in fostering our Finnish traditions.

Happy Holidays!

Lorna Kerin Beall

Note from Jana: Inspired by my mom's story, I decided to try my hand at Finnish Piggy Cookies. Dan combined the Finnish tradition of baking ginger cookies with his own love of local Tohono O'odham heritage ingredients by making yummy mesquite-ginger cookies. Unfortunately, the piggy shape and ginger-mesquite taste was covered by the raspberry frosting. I didn't have a pig cookie cutter so I cut out circles and sculpted piggy ears, snout, legs and tail with my fingers. I made another cookie of a piggy face with a raised snout. They sorta looked like pigs until I put the speckled pink frosting on them. I tried making eyes with little dollops of white icing and a shiny round sprinkle. When I applied black eye lasses on it, Dan's mom exclaimed, "Oh! It's a face!" 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Heirloom Traditions

Our little "Tree of Life" represents our relationship. Can it withstand the weight of our first Christmas? 

Traditions are like heirlooms handed down by families through generations: trimming the tree, sending Christmas cards, favorite holiday treats, singing Christmas carols, hanging lights, going to Christmas Services, and the big family dinner.

Are family traditions worth the time and effort? Actually, the busier we get, the more important it is to hold onto them. Traditions help us stay connected to lost loved ones, ethnic heritage, religion, family, and friends.

One vanishing tradition is sending Christmas cards. I remember looking up in wonder at Mom's many Christmas cards hanging from a red ribbon.  This year I got five cards. Five! For years I sent newsletters sharing our family story to keep distant friends and relatives in the loop. But now I can’t seem to find the time. Instead I post Christmas greetings on Facebook and find personalized memes for friends. (I sent a Finnish Christmas stamp meme to my cousin and a Christmas gnome to my sister.) The great thing about sending cards is that it keeps us connected to distant family and friends.

This year we combined new technology with old. We took a photo with our cell and created the card on the computer.

Another tradition is holiday baking. Sure, it’s easier to buy cookie-cutter perfect cookies from the bakery, but what are we missing?  When I mix up a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough, it brings back warm memories of making cookies with our mom, with all of us kids waiting around to lick the bowl. What better way to spend precious time with your family. This year we added a cookie decorating party to our traditions and shared a delightful afternoon with friends.

The "Cookie Queen" reigns over her subject.

Dan and I are spending our first Christmas together. After our Thanksgiving fiasco caused by warring traditions (when the words, “Scott doesn’t do that,” were uttered); Dan and I discussed how we can better handle the holidays. We have decided to meld our traditions and make some of our own. We’ll open our presents on Christmas Eve (my tradition) and eat tamales (Dan’s tradition). Today we were googling new Finnish recipes (reflecting my ethnic heritage.) We got a good laugh at the Finnish comfort food (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) nakkikastike – hot dog sauce! Lol! (I also posted the picture on my mom’s Facebook page – along with a squeaky cheese recipe (leipajuusto) that mom mentions in, “Model-T Biscuits.”) For the first time, we will be making Finnish cardamom coffee cake and coffee for breakfast Christmas morning.

To deal with the addition of two cats in the house (Dan's), we decided to forgo a traditional Christmas tree (Jana's). I realized that the part I would miss the most were our sentimental ornaments and lights reflected in shiny red and gold bulbs.  So we decorated a pole over the sliding glass door (Dan called it our festivus pole) and hung the boys' baby ornaments on our tree lamp.

One reason we hold onto Christmas traditions is to recreate the magical memories we experienced as children. A favorite memory was going Christmas caroling with our church youth group. I loved belting out Christmas songs until my throat was raw. My ex and I recreated that magic by hosting popular Christmas Sing-a-long parties. But trappings of those parties - the song books, candles (lit during Silent Night) and jingle bells have been packed away in the shed ever since my eldest son became an atheist.

Another cherished tradition was to make Nana’s chicken soup with homemade noodles.  Carrying on that tradition, I can feel her presence as the noodle dough sticks to my fingers. This year I saved time by using roasted chicken and broth in the chicken soup. And I still got to make the homemade noodles (the part that made her soup special.)  I imagine Nana is looking down and shaking her head in distaste. 

One way to make traditions last is to simplify them. Mom calls me every year to ask for my easy fudge recipe. We set out several fun ingredients (marshmallows, Reese’s Pieces, coconut, nuts, raisins, etc.) and the boys come up with their own creations.

It is so easy and fun that it's become a Christmas tradition. Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it...


3 cups chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for two minutes (stirring after one minute and at the end), and spread onto a greased cookie sheet (or into a giftable mug) and refrigerate. Easy!

Why is it as we get older we care more about Christmas traditions? We long for that connection with our past and the joys of our youth. 

Have a Merry Christmas full of heirloom traditions!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mining for Authentic Details

Lorna Kerin Beall
In the children’s novel I’m writing, The Wormy Bean Winter, Kata’s Finnish Pappa and her thirteen-year-old brother, Jari, go to work in a Copper Mine in Butte, Montana.
Vanadium, Colorado mine, ca 1900. Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.

I needed to find out if they used Carbide helmet-lamps there in 1919. So I called a librarian in Butte and, surprise of surprises, she’d seen a photograph of a miner wearing one for the very first time in that mine in 1912!  She also explained in detail how the carbide “lumps” worked. I owe her many thanks.
I also needed to know the name and description of the contraption (elevator?) the miners took to enter the mine. My daughter (who had done some research for her own screenplay) hooked me up with Carey Granger, the tour guide and care-taker of the Good Enough Silver Mine in Tombstone, Arizona. Carey told me it was called a cage.
In, The Wormy Bean Winter, Pappa and Jari have to go in the cage for the first time. I likened it to a cage of chickens they’d seen fall off a buckboard and clatter down a cliff.  Carey, thanks for sharing the authentic details that help make my story a little more accurate. I probably still need to double-check some of my mining details... 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas in the Trenches

Christmas 2007, Cousin Willo sent an e-card with the video, "Christmas in the Trenches." The song is about a truce Christmas Eve on the Western Front during WWI.  It includes songwriter John McCutcheon's reflections on writing the song.  It is so touching, I had to share it with you. Thanks, Cousin Willo! 

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth! 


Read more on the Christmas Truce...