The familiar soft sizzle of lefse hitting the hot skillet grabs my attention. I stand outside of my parents’ trailer under a shade canopy. The sun’s rays still reach my legs below my knees as I take my turn at the propane stove. My mom forms walnut-sized balls of dough and Sarah learns how to roll the lefse out to an even thickness and correct size.

My mouth waters in anticipation. For the first time ever, we prepare our traditional Thanksgiving feast outside. The temperature hovers around 90, and we’ve put off starting the main ingredient of a Bonlie-Strawn-Ojeda Thanksgiving until the shade canopy covers the stove (attached to the trailer).

I hear Sarah and Mom chatting about Sarah’s wedding plans, and the deeper voices of Pedro and my dad as they fill sand bags. The shovel slices through the sandy dirt and clinks on the rim of the chimney pipe inside the bag. I look over my shoulder and see Dad climb to the top of the wall and start tamping another sand bag in place. He’s building a modern-day adobe structure (sandbag bricks held together with cement) around a shipping container.

Dad working on a holiday is a familiar occurrence in our family. We don’t watch parades or football games, or have a friendly game of ball in the back yard. A holiday provides the perfect time to work together. No two holidays ever look the same. Maybe one or two out of a hundred looks like something from a magazine (those hosted by my little sister, perhaps).

Of Bees and the Familiar

When my turn to roll out the lefse comes around, I get distracted by the bees. We’ve never had to contend with honeybees on Thanksgiving before. But then, we’ve never prepared lefse outside, either. We’ve cooked it over a wood stove the year we had no electricity due to an ice storm. One year we cooked it over a camping stove inside the shell of an unfinished house.

My first attempts at solo lefse making ended up with a flour-covered kitchen and an exasperated husband. He vowed that we would never try it again (but of course we did, it’s a tradition). On years when we celebrate a holiday without an expert lefse maker (I don’t consider myself an expert yet), I end up calling my mom on Thanksgiving Eve for the recipe. I no longer coat the kitchen in flour, though.

We happened to spend one Christmas at Epcot Center in Florida. When we went into a Norwegian bakery, we bought some lefse. It tasted ok, but lacked the familiar taste and texture of Mom’s recipe. Norwegians from Norway might look askance at the way we eat lefse: lightly buttered with stuffing, fake turkey, and cranberry sauce rolled up inside it. Amalgamations happen as new traditions get added to the family heritage.

Which brings me back to the bees. Evidently, the worker bee out scouting that day failed fourth-grade spelling. Instead of collecting flower pollen, it busily collected flour ‘pollen.’ Within fifteen minutes, four more workers joined in, busily collecting flour on their legs to carry back to the queen bee. At first, we couldn’t believe it, but then I started filming them in slow motion as they busily gathered flour. I got moved to ball-making duty because I kept shirking my rolling duties.

Familiar Comes from Family

By the time we finished making the lefse, the sun had started its nightly show of color. I set up my phone camera on time lapse to record the sunset, and went back to help prepare the rest of the feast.

Even though we seldom spend our holidays with our entire family, the lefse remains a constant (for Thanksgiving, at least). We might not have Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart spreads on fine china. Our meals don’t turn out Pinterest-worthy. When others talk about the dread holiday dinner-table fights, I feel perplexed. I’ll take my work-bee style, give thanks anywhere family gatherings over anything a magazine can serve up. Familiar, comfortable, ever-changing, family-filled—that’s what Thanksgiving means to me.

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  1. I didn’t know that you know how to make lefse etc. Lefse making is huge around here too. There is something holy about making it. I’m German Russian so I’ve never learned how to make lefse. But it tastes yummy! 🙂 I’m in the 14 spot this week.

  2. Crossway published a book a few years ago that prominently featured Lefse as part of a family’s holiday feast. It reminded me of an old fashioned tale that Louisa May Alcott would have spun, and left me so curious about Lefse! Fun to read about your holiday traditions.
    Michele Morin recently posted…Thanksgiving PrayerMy Profile

  3. Dear Anita, your posts are always intriguing, like reading National Geographic, as you share about your world. Thanksgiving for my family has morphed in the five decades since we moved “up north”. I love that my extended family comes to our home the day after. The menu and activities change, but the constants are the hugs and laughter we share. Family is the best part of any holiday to me. Thanks for sharing a little of yours.

  4. I’ve never had lefse and now with a gluten allergy I probably never will! I hear it tastes like Heaven!
    Sounds like you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. Traditions are big for me. I loved how my mom made birthdays and holidays special times. Friday night Disney movies together and Sunday’s home cooked meals (apple coffee cake for breakfast, fried chicken for lunch, and pizza from scratch for dinner) left me with a sense of love and longing for those treasured moments.

    I’m a quarter Norwegian and have never made Lefse! I’ve had it, I think, but one of these days I’ll have to try making it. Thanks for sharing your traditions with us.

  6. Thank you for sharing your family with us. There is something comforting about the familiar. I had moments over last week that were like that too. There is something that feels so right about gathering with family and working side by side in the kitchen. Those were my favorite moments.
    Mary Geisen recently posted…The Dance of the Empty ChairsMy Profile

  7. This was such a fun post! Thanks for the reminder that familiar comes from family . . . How important these relationships are! Thanks for the glimpse into your world. It was captivating!

    1. So, my parents are building a new home out in the dessert–an off-the-grid establishment. They travel down about two weekends a month (they live on campus at the same school I work at, and they’re supposedly retired, but they work part-almost-full-time at the school) during the school year to develop their place. They have Conex shipping containers as the base of the home, and are doing sand bags and adobe around the outside for insulation. Right now, they have two shipping containers about 40 feet apart from each other with a shade cloth covering their RV and a patio area. They are able to lock all the tools and machinery used in construction up in one of the shipping containers when they are gone. They claim they’ll be done in about ten years, when they are ‘finally’ ready to ‘really’ retire ;).
      Anita recently posted…Grace Camp for GrownupsMy Profile

  8. I loved this post, Anita. Lefse. I’ve never heard of it before. I love that your family has traditions that has you all working together. And multi-generational. That’s special. I’m blessed to have family gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (most years). We love getting the grandkid generation together with the grandparent generation. We have some interesting conversations. 🙂

    1. Oh, I can imagine the intergenerational conversations! I love history because I used to listen to my grandma and her siblings bicker about what happened during their youth when they moved from Concorn, MA to the wilds of Alberta to homestead!
      Anita recently posted…Grace Camp for GrownupsMy Profile

  9. So beautiful, this writing! I forgot to try to make some this year, but there’s always next year. Can’t wait until Christmas and another different and imperfect and beautiful holiday.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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