I always wondered what I’d do with those two labels I’d so carefully soaked off a couple of magnificent bottles of booze from many Christmases ago.  They rested in a plastic basket next to my blue recliner amongst all the other stuff I didn’t know what to do with.  With my unexpected but wonderful reacquaintance with my Arlington rugrat cousins (1), a big window opened.  My late Uncle Jim had a real thing for nicknames and all his kids had one.  See my wife and me with 3 of them at cousin Linda’s Arlington house Saturday before last:

Left to right, it’s Rinnie-Linnie, me, Kathy, Sandy (forgot what her nickname was), Rugged Rick, and Maria, Linda’s EMT/firefighter daughter.  Not pictured is Uncle Jim’s son after Rick: Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy (Joe), currently a preacher. There are 5 more.

“Rinnie-Linnie” grew out of Linda’s girlhood love of the TV show about the intrepid German Shepherd Rin-Tin-Tin.  So, easy slip from “Rinnie” into “Rinnie-Linnie”.  When this accomplished schoolteacher in her 60s needs a nickname these days, she chooses “Linnie”.

So, when I was tidying up the many piles around my blue recliner and came across those labels (again!), it was obvious what needed to be done.  I made this scan:

and fired off an e-mail to my Rinnie-Linnie.  It would require some education for the teacher.  I wrote: “So they forgot a consonant – those Norskis – but still pronounced the same!  Kathy and I are both about a quarter Norwegian, with her mom’s sibs very big on observing their traditions, especially around Christmas.  One of them is aquavit (“water of life”), distilled from grain or potato and seasoned with caraway.  Especially good aquavit – like the stuff in the bottle that wore your label – spends at least one circumnavigation of the globe in the hold of a ship, the gentle sloshing said to enhance the flavor, especially if the ship crosses the equator.  The backside of the label (also shown) has a map of the voyage taken, dates of the voyage, and a tally of the number of times it crossed the equator.  Twice, for this bottle.  “Linie” is Norwegian for equator.

Drinking it is quite the ritual, as important a part of Little Christmas Eve (eve before Christmas Eve) as the gravlax (which we make).  The closer to frozen the aquavit gets, the more palatable it is.  I take an empty half gallon milk carton, put in the aquavit bottle, cover it with water, and let it freeze solid.  Peel away the milk carton and you’ve got an impressive looking chunk of ice with a perfect-temperature bottle of aquavit inside. Of course, the 80-proof aquavit doesn’t freeze, but it does get a little slushy.  The drinker pours out a shot glass, looks soulfully into the eyes of another in the room, raises his/her glass and says “skōl” meaning “cheers” or “good health”.  The person addressed just then must take a glass, fill it, then throw down the aquavit in one gulp at the same time the skōl-er does.  An aggressive skōl-er can get the room pretty shitfaced pretty quickly.  By tradition, the hostess/host is exempt from this ritual, as she/he must stay sober enough to keep the party going.

The Slaters I knew might have tippled a bit around Christmas, but I never saw them doing anything like this

As the Norwegians say: god jul!



While I didn’t include it in Linda’s e-mail, here’s the recipe I use for gravlax.  Tim Laing is my colleague who gave us the recipe years ago, written out on 3 pages of a Naprosyn notepad.  We prescribed the stuff, a real good anti-inflammatory, in buckets back in the day.  Today it’s Aleve, over the counter in a much wimpier dose than what we use to dish out.


  1. Ike B.  after Terry.  WordPress 11/11/22.

Published by rike52

I retired from the Rheumatology division of Michigan Medicine end of June '19 after 36 years there. Upon hitting Ann Arbor for the second time (I went to school here) it took me almost 8 months to meet Kathy, 17 months to buy her a house (on Harbal, where we still live), and 37 months to marry her. Kids never came, but we've been blessed with a crowd of colleagues, friends, neighbors and family that continues to grow. Lots of them are going to show up in this log eventually. Stay tuned.

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