Remembering the “Nordic” at Webster School

After nearly forty years, the Nordic Heritage Museum closed its doors after the Yulefest last November. The museum first opened in the old Daniel Webster School on 30th Ave and NW 67th in Ballard in 1980, which was a perfect setting for a history museum.  Especially because I have a personal connection to it.Julefest11-18-17-120

There were first some temporary buildings at that location in the early 1900s comprising Bay View School. Then construction began on a more permanent structure, the beautiful old brick building we have today that opened almost 109 years ago today — January 1908 as was also called Bay View School.  Two months later, though, it was named after Daniel Webster, the great American statesman. The school had a steady enrollment of 400-500 students through the 1920s, and included some immigrant children who could not yet speak English.

Among the students from around 1910-1920 were my grandfather Luthard and his brothers and sisters, Evelyn, Dagna, Valborg, Waldemar, and Gerhard Stavney.  That’s why it’s always been special to me to walk the wood-floor halls of the Nordic Heritage Museum, up and down the old creaky staircases, and marvel at the steam radiators that elementary schools had even in my day.  Just before they closed in November, I got a peak into the boiler room in Webster and saw what must have been the original Kewanee Type C boilers from when the school opened.  Julefest11-18-17-20Pipes and valves bristled from the two giant green loaves of bread with black doors.

Daniel Webster school closed in 1979 and suffered a roof fire, but was repaired by the Pacific Nordic Council.

Soon after it opened in 1980, I brought in a 15 foot Christmas tree into what I guess they call the meeting room/auditorium…but it’s always been the lunchroom for me and had a performance stage like many elementary and middle schools have today. I rented the auditorium for the UW Norwegian Club to host a traditional, classic Norwegian Christmas party even though I never had one growing up.  Some of the older students — the ones over 21 — made gløgg in the kitchen, I learned how to fold woven heart baskets for the tree. That Christmas was the first time I ever danced around a Christmas tree too, which also made it special.

Through the ensuing years, I’ve enjoyed concerts, plays, many travelling exhibitions, Viking days, and crowded julefests.  I went to my first julefest in the lunchroom with my Norwegian language classmate, Kari.  I mention this because here I am on the Scandinavian Hour, hosted for many years by Svein Gilje….from whom Doug and Ron eventually took the program.  Unless I’ve done my homework wrong, my friend Kari Gilje is Svein Gilje’s daughter.  It’s a small world indeed, especially among us Scandinavians.

I’m going to miss the immigrant’s journey — the Dream of America exhibit with old farm houses, a ship deck which even had a creaking soundtrack that made you feel you were really aboard.  The old storefronts and the inner city cobblestone alley where Scandinavian immigrants gathered.  I loved how the vendors at the julefests set up right in the doorways of those stores, as if they were street vendors in old Norway.  For some reason, Santa pictures were always taken in the inner city slum exhibit, which I found amusing.

I’m going to miss the fishing exhibit but especially the logging exhibit.  A recording with a guy singing the classic, “Logger Lover” as you wandered among the sawblades and sharpening shack was nostalgic in the extreme.  I’ll miss all the rooms devoted to Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden. These exhibits were in the 2nd and 3rd floor classrooms of the school, where the lessons were immigrant history instead of the 3 Rs.

Now the museum is moving out — but is far from gone – oh my no.  It’s moving into a beautiful new building on Market Street, set to open May 5th, 2018, with dignitaries from Norway for the opening ceremonies.  And the museum continues to host events in the Seattle community in the meantime, from Nordic Story hours to film festivals and other performances.

I’ve been afraid to ask about the future of Webster School, and have feared the worst – the wrecking ball.  But Eric Nelson, the museum’s director, told me Seattle Public Schools is taking it back again and will renovate it into a school, opening fall 2020.  I hear they’ll even preserve the exterior brickwork, the meeting room/auditorium, and the halls and stairs of the 2nd and 3rd floors – the best parts.  Now I just have to figure out a legitimate reason to visit.

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The Secret of Selje Island

Along the rugged coast of Western Norway lie thousands of desolate, rocky islands. Just north of Måloy, near the mouth of the Nordfjord in Sildegapet Bay, is a hilly green island that at first glance appears just like. But this island, called Selje (or Selja), holds a secret that makes it a unique and significant island in the history of Norway.

Few would suspect that this island, measuring only a mile or so across at its widest, played a central role in the early history of the Christian church in Norway.

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The ruins of the kloister (Klostret) are found on the NW side of the island. From

The secret of Selje Island is found on the flatlands of the western, or seaward, side. Hidden from the mainland, ruins of an ancient stone building stand silently on a green plain. The broken marble walls define a large building with many rooms, now open to the sky. Rising up out of the ruins is a four-sided tower with a peaked roof and windows near the top. Within the tower, a set of crude stone stairs winds upwards into an attic room, where windows in each wall look out in all four directions.

A short distance from the tower building lies a series of steps and terraces cut into the hillside, leading up to the high cliffs overlooking the plain. The steps end abruptly under the cliffs in a small cave in the hillside.

The mysterious ruins of Selje and how they came to be on this small island date back around 1067 A.D., when Olav Tryggvason was king of Norway. The cave in the hillside, which shows signs of human occupation, is even older. It is the site of the great legend of Selje Island.

The Kloiser of St. Albans

In 950 A.D., an Irish princess named Sunniva was attacked by Viking raiders invading Ireland. The leader, a heathen, threated to kill Sunniva’s loyal Christian followers one by one unless she joined him in marriage. However, Sunniva and some 1,100 of her followers escaped from Ireland in boats, drifting eastward for several weeks in the story North Sea.


The princess eventually sighted land, having lost contact with many of the other boats carrying her people. Sunniva and some of her followers landed on Selje Island and took up residence there, living in and around the cave in the cliffs. Some of Sunniva’s people are thought to have landed on the island of Kinn south of Selje, near the modern-day town of Fløro, but not much is known about this latter group.

At the time of Sunniva’s landing, Norway was not yet Christianized. Haakon Jarl, the last of the Viking pagan king, rule Western Norway. Haakon had a reputation of dealing with Christians with his sword whenever possible. So when the mainland folk near Selje noticed their sheep were mysteriously disappearing and discovered that a group of Christians were living on the island, they complained to Haakon Jarl. Haakon soon gathered his men and sailed south from Trondheim to investigate.

As the story goes, Sunniva saw Haakon’s ships rounding the Statlandet Peninsula to the north. She gathered her followers in the hillside cave to pray for deliverance from the Viking heathen certain to slay them all. Their prayers, it is said, cause the roof of the cave to collapse in a catastrophic avalanche, killing Sunniva and all her followers. When Haakon arrived, there were no Christians to be found, only a fresh rockfall. He left, disappointed and mystified.

The evidence of Sunniva and her people had disappeared, but rumors and tales of the colony remained. The island was said to have a strange supernatural radiating from its western side at night. Cargo ships sailing up and down the coast reported seeing weird lights and hearing strange noises whenever they passed Selje. A human skull was discovered on the island strangely well preserved. Yet no one could account for the body it came from, or whose head it was.

During this time in Norway’s history, Olav Tryggvason succeeded Haakon Jarl and became the first Christian kind of Norway. Just as Haakon was dedicated to keeping the country heathen, so was Olav in converting all Norwegians to Christianity. Olav ravaged the countryside with his army, “persuading” the populace to convert – or else. He came eventually, in 992, to the Statlandet Peninsula north of Selje to Christianize the locals, by sword if necessary. He was told about the strange lights and odd reports about Selje, and knowing that Christians had been on the island several years earlier, he had his men explore the island and dig out the cave.

In the back of the cave, Olav’s men uncovered what they believed to be the body of Sunniva, well preserved and allegedly as fresh as the day she died. Such remarkable preservation of the body was considered a sign of sainthood. Largely due to Olav’s efforts, Sunniva was subsequently sanctified as the first saint of Western Norway. The cave was named Sunniva’s Cave in her honor, and a church erected later outside the cave was named Sunniva’s Church. Sunniva remains perhaps the most important saint in Norway.

After the discovery and sanctification of Sunniva, Selje grew in importance in the Norwegian Catholic Church. Native clergymen were now ordained as local priests instead of the English and German missionaries. Because of its important as the site of Sunniva’s internment, the first bishopric in Norway was established on Selje in 1067.   The first cathedral in Norway was built on a terrace just below the cave, and other buildings were constructed nearby to house the bishop and his people. The stone foundations of this cathedral still stand on the hillside today.

The first bishop of Selje was German, but apparently the remote location and solitude was too much for him, so he got permission to move to Bergen. The seat of the bishopric still remained, however, on Selje. In all, five bishops served on Selje until 1170, when the seat of the bishopric was formally moved to Bergen. Sunniva’s remains and other relics were also moved to Bergen during this time.

Before the last bishop on Selje moved south, a group of Benedictine monks arrive on the island (circa 1100 A.D.) and built a cloister dedicated to St. Alban on the plain below the cave. The monks were given he land where the old cathedral stood to build their monastery. The cloister they constructed was one of three Benedictine houses in Norway in the 13th century. The large tower and stone walls visible today were built during that time and through the subsequent 200 years. Some of the marble used to build the tower and a second one at the other corner of the cloister (since fallen down) was quarried on the north side of the Statlandet.


The Kloister of St. Alban includes the tower on the NE corner and the monastery garden (now filled in) in the center.

According to historian Knut Djupedal (now at the Emigrant Museum in Hamar), who studied Selje Cloister for several years, Alban’s Church or Cloister had a matsal (refectory), kjøken (kitchen, kyrkja (chapel), sakristi (sacristy), opphalasrom (livingroom), møterom (meeting room), and possibly some søverom (bedrooms) – all within its walls. The roof was undoubtedly made of wood, and supported in some places by stone pillars. In the center of the cloister was the monastary garden, where plants and herbs from all over Europe were brought for cultivation. Many of these plants still grow wild on Selje and on the Statlandet Peninsula.

In 1349, the Black Death struck Norway and nearly half of the country’s population succumbed (about 200,000 people). Many monks died on Selje, as did many of Norway’s priests. In their selfless dedication towards caring for the sick, most of the clergy in Norway died of the plague. The cloister on Selje never recovered its former prosperity after this catastrophe.

The Reformation came in 1530 and Catholic clergy were ordered to leave the country in 1536 to make way for the Lutheran State Church. The remaining monks cleaned out the cloister and moved south.

When the monks left, the monastery buildings soon began to fall into disrepair. Norway subsequently fell under Danish rule in 1380, and the area around Selje became the property of the renowned Danish astronomer, Tyco Brahe. Some of the stone from the cloister was removed and shipped to Copenhagen to become part of Brahe’s new observatory there.

In the late 1900s, interest in Selje and the role it played in Norwegian history was rekindled. The one surviving tower was restored in the 1930’s with new stones and a peaked copper roof. Many of the walls also received new stones. Excavations and studies of the island revealed some of its previously clouded history.

Local people in the mainland town of Selje continue to keep alive the secrets of the island by offering tours of the ruins, and dramatically retelling the legend of St. Sunniva and the mysterious ruins on the plain below the cliffs. Five kings of Norway have visited Selje, recognizing its importance in history, including King Olav in 1965. Sigrid Undset, visited Selje in 1926 and mentions the legend of St. Sunniva in the first volume of Kristin Lavransdatter (The Bridal Wreath).

Still, the island is a relatively quiet monument to the early days of Christianity. A traveler can hire a boat in Selje to see the ruins, but there are no signs of modern structures on the seaward side to destroy the sanctity and mystery of the place. Only the silent, ancient ruins remain, standing witness to the great legend of St. Sunniva and the secret of Selje Island.

Knut Djupedal, now Deputy Director of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Hamar, deserves my grateful thanks for his contribution to this article originally published at greater length in the Sons of Norway Viking in 1989.

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My first podcast: How to Become and Instructional Designer

LearningSeatLogoI started a podcast series called In the Learners Seat with its first episode: How to Become an Instructional Designer. I gathered together ideas from across the internet and added a few of my own to produce what I hope is an encouragement to anyone seeking to try this career.

I’m definitely still on this journey myself, and will continue to be as long as I work.  I just keep learning how to learn and help others do the same.

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My company asked Rand Fishkin of to come talk about search engine optomization and current trends in the digital advertising world.  Search engine optimization, or “SEO

Photograph of Rand Fishkin in front of his company logo, SEOmoz

” for short, refers to strategies that get a particular website near the top of the “hit list” (also called the “search results page” or SERP).  Getting your website to be close to the first result on the list is obviously advantageous to people advertising their services.  But understanding the process or algorithm by which a search engine like Google operates is shrouded in mystery (at least by Google) so that eager beaver advertisers cannot “game” the system.

In authoring a webpage, I know that one of the first things that you write in HTML code, in what is called the “Head” of the document, are a series of “meta tags”. Meta tags are essentially keywords that search engines use to tailor the results of a search to what the user put in the search window. For a bread company, they might have a meta tag list like “bread, baking, bakery, store, baked goods, Tacoma, Puget Sound Area, 98104, etc. It does no good to write the same word multiple times;  Google will ignore that.  But Google does look for images, videos, and links on a website — besides meta tags — in ordering that site on the results list.  So companies that are tech savvy and struggling for visibility on the web try to do what they can to get their website to come to the top.

This fellow Fishkin is the head of a very successful company that does search engine optimization, and he’s an engaging, energetic, and funny speaker.   In this talk about search engine optimization  (, Fishkin says that nobody can guarantee that any particular website will always list first (unless you pay for that privledge). But, he argues, being first on the list isn’t always the best place to be.  If a website contains video, or an interesting image, that image may display in the search results, drawing the interest of a searcher.  In fact, having video on your website is an excellent way to attract viewers.

Fishkin also recommends that organizations have a Google+ account, along with the very common Facebook page, to increase exposure for that organization.  So I’m trying this out.  I’ve put links to SEOmoz and Fishkin’s talk into this email, and heck, I’ll even shamelessly plug my portfolio at www. to see what comes up when I search for my name, and/or SEO.  Should be interesting.

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Thick skin, warm heart. An oxymoron?

How thick a skin does a teacher these days need to have?

A friend of mine recently related a horror story about his time as a public high school teacher.  He explained that he gave detention to a young woman who chronically talked in class despite being asked not to.  She rarely turned in an assignment on time or if she did, it was never completed.  She eventually earned detention one day for failing to write a single word while the whole class diligently completed an in-class assignment.  She sat in the back of the classroom for forty-five minutes doing the assignment while my teaching friend was at his desk.  He had arranged for other teachers to poke their heads in the door during this time to see that things were going as they should (he had a premonition, apparently).  After she was done and apparently waiting down the hall for a ride after school, my teacher friend graciously asked her if she needed to use his classroom phone to call for someone to pick her up.

Within a day the young woman decided to exact her revenge by saying my friend made sexually explicit comments while she was being kept after school, against her will, for no reason at all, in the classroom.  She claimed that my friend then asked for her phone number and wanted to give her a ride somewhere.

This has got to be a nightmare that many male teachers have.  I can’t speak to what nightmares female teachers have, but I certainly know this one.  Despite being highly principled, ethical, a good teacher, a responsible disciplinarian, gentle, caring, and a consummate gentleman, he was brought before the principal, the young woman, and her mother to answer questions about his alleged behavior.

Fortunately, the non-threatening situation in the classroom, while the woman was completing her assignment, was corroborated by the teachers who my friend had asked to stop by.  At the kind suggestion of my teacher friend, the young woman transferred into another teachers class, and her outspoken, hostile, and flippant behavior completely disappeared.  It was as if the young woman was a dedicated student and my teacher friends “caused” her to “act out”.

End of story?  Not for my friend.  This was one of many straws that broke the camel’s back.  School teachers get beat up emotionally every day.  Students bring charges of emotional abuse, suggestive language, inappropriate advances,  and all manner of things against faculty members because they can.  In our hypervigilence to be sure that the tiny minority of unethical and immoral faculty members are swiftly brought to justice, we’ve lost sight of the unseen damage this does to reputations and mental health.

My friend has dropped out of teaching, discouraged and disenchanted. We’re losing good teachers like him because the cost of dealing with such a barrage isn’t worth  the damage to their emotional health.

I don’t know the answer to this.  There are those who would say that regular challenges to one’s integrity are all part of the job of teaching.  I’ve noticed that those who say that aren’t teachers themselves.

The irony is this:  In order to be a really empathetic, understanding, and excellent mentor, teacher, and role model, you have to be vulnerable.  But in order to survive in teaching you have to have extremely thick skin, and be essentially invulnerable.

I just know that you can’t have it both ways.

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The “Five Paragraph Style” is Alive and Well

One of my early English teachers in high school was a man named Roger Bass.  And one of the signature moments I remember about him was his advocacy of what he called the “Five-paragraph Style”.  He claimed that scores of his ex-students had approached him years after they graduated, saying that this method of organizing a piece of writing made their careers.  He even climbed up on his desk, waved his arms, and said “I’m making a complete fool of myself so you’ll pay attention.  The five-paragraph style is all you’ll ever need to write a good essay”.

As I moved on in life and became a college science instructor (who as a group, are allegedly poor at expressing themselves — what a crock!), I also found the five-paragraph style to be great starting place, whether I was writing a short lesson or a chapter in a book.  As students in my science classes (somewhat bitterly) discovered, I required them to write one essays on every exam.  Oh how they chafed!  How dare I base their grade on their “writing ability”!

Of course I wasn’t grading their writing ability, although for a long time I marked up their copies by circling spelling errors, indicating where I was confused, etc.  What I sought was that they could express themselves clearly in an organized fashion, so I could tell that they really understood the material.

In response to criticism of my outrageous expectations (“This isn’t an English class!”), I wrote up a little guide on how to write an essay answer.  Make it five paragraphs long.  The first paragraph introduces the topic/exam question and lays out three points that will be covered in the essay.  The next three paragraphs took up each point, one by one.  The last paragraph was a summary of what was said.  To make it even easier, I usually asked essay questions like, “Name and explain three ways that microbes can gain access to your body”.

To be frank, my crusade to include essay questions died out after several years.  I fell back into the default position of giving short answer, multiple-choice tests.  It was just easier.  Students didn’t get in my face anymore (about writing, anyway).

But as a teacher, and now an instructional designer, I kept writing manuals and lessons and courses using that old format I learned from Mr. Bass.

Fast forward ten years to when my kids have started writing reports and essays for school.  Thinking I could offer them some tips, I mentioned something about five paragraphs.  “Yeah, yeah dad….we know….introduction, point one, point two, point three, summary.  We hear that every day at school.”.

Really?  Apparently the five-paragraph style is alive and well…although it is called something else these days.  I’d like to think it’s lasted the test of time because it is simple to remember but a powerful organizer.  It helps you get started with writing, having a structure to write within.

Mr. Bass, wherever you are……thank you.  Here’s one guy who agrees.  You can’t beat it.

P.S. I found Mr. Bass online at  He’s also alive and well. 🙂

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Learning Styles – Useful Concept or Old Hat?

In the 1990s, every community college teacher had to sit through workshops about learning styles and how to plan our teaching to address these  styles.  The idea was that you’d give students a test (we all had to take it too) to identify what style or mode they’d learn in best: tactile, auditory, visual, spoken word, etc.  Supposedly then, a teacher would try to deliver content in your best (self-identified) learning style, to maximize your learning and retention.

But while the learning styles concept was great for pigeon-holing, how was a teacher supposed to tailor the curriculum specifically to each and every student?  And what if, as a student, your teacher taught mostly using a learning style you supposedly didn’t have?  Does that mean you’d flunk the course because you wouldn’t learn anything?   About the only useful thing I got out of it was to take a multimedia approach to teaching, so the same content was available across several learning modes– something for everybody.

But “learning styles” have fallen on hard times, and they’re almost unheard of in colleges now.  Are they considered “old hat”, or are learning styles still useful.  Julian Stodd moderates a lively discussion of whether “learning styles”  is still a useful concept in instructional design. Thanks to Julian for weaving so many opinions together and Christy Tucker for the heads up on this post.

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My time on the Friends of the Hylebos Board of Directors

Excerpt from Chris Carrel’s Hylebos Blog (CC was Executive Director)

Eric Stavney served for a little over 6 years and during that time he’s been Vice-President and served two stints as President. Eric stepped up to leadership roles in the board despite this not being his first choice. He did it because the borrd needed someone to fill the roles at the time.

Eric’s first love is on-the-ground restoration work. He has been involved in, I believe just about every restoration project we’ve done, as a volunteer. A devoted father of two really wonderful children, Carl & Linnea, Eric often brings his kids to the events. Both father and children have racked up huge volunteer hours and garnered just about every volunteer reward we offer.

Eric, thank you for years of service to the Hylebos, and your friendship, as well as putting up with me all those times you were President!

All three served on the board during a time of significant growth and substantial achievements in our conservation goals. While board members don’t always get a lot of recognition, and much of their work is done behind the scenes, we wouldn’t be the organization we are today, and we wouldn’t have the acres preserved and restored that we do, without Jim, Eric & Judy. Thank you for being on the board!

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This fuzzy little beast has moved on to the next phase of existence.  Where will we get our cardboard shredded now that he’s gone?  Image

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Passing on

Today I’m thoughtful and sad about a friend’s dad who lays dying.  My daughter’s gerbil is probably dead in its little house, for it looked to be in a bad way this morning.  Both of these spirits will soon flee this world, carried onward by the breeze that move through our life.

While I know that death is an essential part of what it means to be alive, there’s no solace there….just acknowledgement that you can’t have one without the other.  As Ursula LeGuin so poetically laid the overarching theme in A Wizard of Earthsea (I’ve added a few commas):

Only in silence, the word,

only in dark, the light,

only in dying, life:

bright the hawk’s flight

on the empty sky.

May departing spirits have an easy journey to where ever they’re going next.

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