Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

photo by Katharine “Ingeborg” Spencer

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge invites us to share a picture of a”companion” with an explanation of the choice.  In encouraging bloggers to interpret the theme broadly, the WordPress editor writes:

You might think “companion” refers to a person with whom you share experiences, but the definition is much broader:

  • A person who is frequently in the company of, associates with, or accompanies another.
  • A mate or match for something.
  • A handbook or guide.
  • A member of the lowest rank in an order of knighthood.

(The Weekly Challenge also states: If your companion is actually a low-ranking knight, you win.)

I chose this photo of myself with four (I include my daughter, even though only her blonde curls can be seen in the lower right corner) of my favorite companions.  A dear friend since childhood and former roommate, who has accompanied me though each stage of my life.  The daughter of another dear friend and my own daughter, a new generation seeking guidance as they grow into the women that they will one day be.  Another longtime friend, a leader and mentor to hundreds if not thousands of young people over the past 30 years – who just happens to also be a knight*.

These are all companions who I have met through Skogfjorden, Concordia Language Villages‘ Norwegian immersion program. This is my fourteenth summer and my ninth on staff.  As we sing in Norwegian, “Vi er kompiser på Skogfjorden!” (We are companions at Skogfjorden). This photo captures that spirit of companionship for me.

*In 2009, Tove Irene Dahl, the dean of Skogfjorden, was named a Knight (Ridder) of the First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway for the advancement of Norwegian language and culture in the United States.

The Order of Merit is lower than the Order of St. Olav – does that count as a low-ranking knight?

If so, what do I win?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rosemaling


Rosemaling, the decorative folk painting of Norway, began in the low-land areas of eastern Norway about 1750.  Persons who rosemaled for their livelihood would not have been land owners but poor, city dwellers. After being trained within a “guild” they would travel from county to county painting churches and/or the homes of the wealthy for a commission of either money or merely room and board. Thus rosemaling was carried over the mountains and toward Norway’s western coast. Once farther away from the influence of the guilds, these artists tried new ideas and motifs.


Soon strong regional styles developed. The Telemark and Hallingdal valleys became especially known for their fine rosemaling.Upon their exposure to rosemaling, rural folk would often imitate this folk art. Not having been taught in an urban guild, the amateur became spontaneous and expressive in his work on smaller objects such as drinking vessels and boxes.


Rosemaling went out of style in about 1860-1870. Rosemaling experienced it’s revival in America in the 20th century when Norwegian-Americans gave attention to the painted trunks and other objects brought to America by their ancestors.


The rosemaling pictured above were painted by Sigmund Aarseth.

They decorate the walls and ceiling of Gimle (the dining hall) at Skogfjorden,Concordia College’s Norwegian Language Village in Minnesota.

History from Rosemaling.org

To see other interpretations of the theme Curves, click here.

Så Heldig Jeg Er (How Lucky I Am)

Simon and me in our bunads
I’ve often been asked how I ended up as a human rights lawyer. It would be inaccurate to say that any one event made me decide to go into the human rights field.  Many little, meandering creeks had to come together to make this river flow.  Without a doubt, though, one reason for my career choice was my longstanding interest in all things international. That interest was nurtured during my childhood summers in northern Minnesota at Skogfjorden, the Concordia Language Villages’ Norwegian language camp. It would be hard to deny that the Concordia Language Villages, the mission of which “is to prepare young people for responsible citizenship in our global community,” had a big impact on my life.  (For more on the Concordia Language Villages, check out www.concordialanguagevillages.org)

Here is something that I wrote last year when I went back on staff after 22 years of life in the “real world”. I’m reposting on this blog as Sevrin, Simon and I are leaving shortly for two weeks at the Skog, but also because one of the things that I have learned from doing human rights work is that I am so incredibly lucky.  I am lucky to have my health, my family, my home.  I have plenty of food to eat and good healthcare.  I am lucky to be able to say whatever I want and associate with whomever I want without fear of arrest and imprisonment.  Even though I am a woman, I had the opportunity to get a good education and to make my own decisions about my career.  Nothing reminds you of how lucky you are like spending time with people who don’t have these rights and opportunities.  And I feel so privileged and lucky to be able to do the work that I do.

Så Heldig Jeg Er 

When I hung up my stabsjakke (staff jacket) for the last time in 1988, I fully expected to someday drive up Thorsenveien with a minivan full of kids bound for Skofjorden.  I never imagined that I would park that minivan and spend two weeks here WITH my kids.  But here I am, wearing a navnskilt (nametag), living with the girls in Tromsø, and sharing the Skogfjorden experience with my 10 and 8 year old sons.   

There have been some changes in the 22 years since I was last on staff.  The first thing I noticed was how much taller the trees are in front of Utgard.  The circular staircases are gone, as are the woodburning, metal mid-century modern fireplaces in the hytter (cabins).  There are new places – Fagertun, Låven, Mine’s Brønn – as well as some new names for old places.  There are new hand movements for songs I once knew and a whole lot of new songs.  The schedule has changed a bit, so sometimes I feel like a villager myself, “What happens next?  Where am I supposed to be now?”

Sev playing kubb (that’s a navnskilt/nametag)
As a parent, I can say that I feel that Skogfjorden is even better than when I was a villager or on staff.  It’s a safer place, both in terms of physical plant and safety policies, and staff members receive better and more comprehensive training. I see every day how hard the lederer (counselors) here work, with patience and good humor, to give our kids the best possible experience.  More than ever, this is a place that supports and encourages all levels of learning and abilities. Staff are as creative and energetic as they were in my day, but they do a better job of making this a total Norwegian immersion experience.

One thing that has not changed is that Skogfjorden is a place where kids learn and grow and have fun.  LOTS of fun.  It’s a joy to watch my kids singing their hearts out at allsang (singing) and to eat middag (lunch) with them and hear about what they did during kretser (an activity that was new for me, too).

One of the new songs that I learned this week captures my feelings about this session exactly.  The refrain of the song is, “Å så heldig jeg er, som kan være her med deg.”  “Oh, so lucky I am to be here with you.”  Å så heldig we parents are to be able to give our children the Skogfjorden experience.

Beste hilsen,