Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Food

Christmas Eve

blueberry pancakes
Denver omelettes
orange juice

chilled wine for parents; juice with Fresca for daughters
boiled lobster tail with melted butter
broiled seasoned prime rib steak
baked potato with sour cream
steamed asparagus
vanilla ice cream (topped with Bailey's Irish cream for parents)

Christmas Day

scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese on English muffins
coffee with creamer

homemade pizza: Canadian bacon, pepperoni, green olives, black olives, red pepper, green pepper, cheese, sauce

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Visitors

Christmas is a good time for visits from rarely seen friends, and I've had a few drop-ins recently.

Our realtor, Jerry Waletzko (who helped us buy this house), phoned the other night to see if we would be home, and the girls awake, that evening. We said yes, and not long afterward, Santa Claus knocked on our front door! The girls were very excited, invited him in, and offered him a cookie and an M-n-M (yes, one). He asked them to refresh his memory: had they visited already, perhaps at a mall or by mail? Yes, they had sent him an on-line "postcard," to which he had already replied; and they had talked to him at the mall. Thus, Santa did not need to ask them again what they wanted for Christmas, although Suzanna reminded him that all she really wanted was a picture of Rudolph. They admitted that they had been a little bit naughty but mostly nice, so he gave them each a shiny red apple from his bag, wished them a merry Christmas, and went on his way.

The girls stood in the doorway waving to him, so although he was headed for the street where vehicles were parked, he changed his mind and walked toward our garage to get out of their eyesight. I helped him out by rushing the girls into Hillary's bedroom (whose windows do not face the street) and huddling them around a window to look up in the sky. They were all certain they heard sleigh bells, and they did indeed see a blinking red light in the sky that they concluded was Santa's sleigh. This was all uncharacteristically trusting of Suzanna, who, the last time Jerry phoned and Santa then visited, observed that Santa was a fraud because he had to move his beard in order to eat a snack, and because he got into a car when he was ready to leave. No doubts this year, though.

This is also the time of year when last year's graduates from our high school return to their alma mater because they're on Christmas break before we are, and it's a good time for them to check in with former teachers and friends who are still in school. I got to see several the other night at the choir concert, and yesterday five stopped by my room to say "hi": Nick Maloney, Dan Kendall, Diana Driscoll, Zach Hennings, and Holly Boushey, pictured here with me at last spring's senior banquet, for which I delivered the address:

And last night, we hosted our friends Cathy and Eddie from The Cities for supper. It was their wedding for which the girls were flower girls in October. They brought way too many gifts for the girls, and we had a great visit over a wonderful supper: roasted chicken, steamed broccoli, roasted herbed potatoes and carrots, and Christmas baking for dessert (all from the kitchen of Susan). They're in the area for only a few days visiting friends and family, so we were fortunate to be able to see them during their rounds. And the girls L-O-V-E them to pieces--and Susan didn't tell them in advance that Cathy and Eddie would be visiting--so they were mucho excited when Cathy and Eddie arrived.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Weekend of Christmas Events

Okay, I've been kinda Scrooge-y this year about Christmas, and for no particular reason. I've just been busy with so many other things that I didn't take the time to get into the holiday spirit, I guess. I even whined to my wife after Thanksgiving, "Do we have to decorate for Christmas this year?" She did do a moderate amount of decorating indoors, but I never got around to stringing up outdoor lights or putting up our outdoor Santas, etc.

But finally, some of my obligations (writing papers for UND, grading papers for EGFSHS) are winding down for a while, and I'm able to think more clearly about the holiday and to get in the mood for Christmas. Some things this weekend certainly helped:

  1. I spent Saturday finishing writing the annual Christmas letter to send to friends and relatives with our annual Christmas family photograph. It's a doozy to boil down a year in our lives into one letter that goes out once annually, but I enjoy the challenge. I hope recipients enjoy catching up with our lives in this way. I myself certainly enjoy receiving Christmas letters from others and hearing how things have been going with our friends and family. It's one of the highlights of Christmas!
  2. We attended Suzanna's piano recital at the home of her piano teacher, Mrs. Fiedler, Saturday afternoon. It was run very efficiently . . . it has to be in order for her to get so many students into her house, onto the piano, into the kitchen for a treat, and out the door before the next batch of students arrives, all day long! For the second song, "The First Noel," Suzanna asked if I could join her and play the accompaniment (provided at the bottom of the pages for piano teachers' use) while she played the part intended for the student. It was so fun to sit beside my child and create music together! Suzanna did very well on both her pieces.
  3. Susan and I attended a Christmas party thrown by our friends the Almlies. They're great party throwers who know how to go with a theme and carry it out. This past summer, they hosted a Texas barbecue with barbecued meats shipped in from Houston, straw bales scattered around the yard, cowboy boots and hats, etc. Well, for this party, everyone who attended was required to wear a Santa hat, and there were door prizes depending on the Christmas design that appeared on your plastic cup, and there was egg nog among the beverages offered, and a chocolate fountain with plenty of wonderful treats to dip in it, and so much more. It was great to see them and our other friends at the party and to make new friends (the Almlies are also great at inviting a wide range of guests to encourage mingling and meeting new people).
  4. We attended the annual Sunday school Christmas program at Calvary Lutheran Church Sunday morning. What an extravaganza! It is one Sunday likely to get every child's parent not only out of bed but also out of the car and into the church pew! And those are always some pushy parents and grandparents, jockeying for a good view of the front where the kids line up, mount the risers, and sing/yell the lyrics while performing the movements with each song. A perennial favorite: "Go Tell It on the Mountain," essentially a contest to see which kid can incomprehensibly scream the words the loudest. I mean, can sing the most enthusiastically. We were proud of our girls' performances and behavior in front of the congregation.
  5. Tonight I took Suzanna and Abigail to the high school choir concert, preceded by a jazz band mini-concert (Susan and Hillary, both getting sick, stayed home). Now, how can you help but get into the mood for Christmas when you hear "Silent Night" and "The Holly and the Ivy" and a medley of traditional Christmas favorites? The music was great, and it certainly put me in the mood to celebrate Christmas!

Only five more days before Christmas (which will arrive six days from now). Get in the holiday spirit!

Christmas Stories

American Literature On-line Discussion

In the spirit of the season, I'm asking you this time to write about something that isn't directly related to our course work.

What's your favorite Christmas story, and why do you like it? By "Christmas," think of the holiday season in general.
  • You're free to write about a religious story--one about Jesus Christ, or about Hanukkah, etc.
  • You're also free to write about a general holiday story--one about Santa Claus, or Frosty the Snowman, or Kwanzaa, etc.
  • Think back to stories you first heard in childhood--at home, at school, at church.
  • Think about stories or books you've read in more recent years.
  • Think about Christmas-themed movies you've seen in theaters or on television.
  • Think about favorite Christmas songs and the stories that they tell.
  • Think about cartoons/animated shows you've seen that have told Christmas stories.
  • Think about family Christmas stories--ones that you heard from Grandma or Uncle Pete and that you associate with this holiday.
You should tell a little something about this favorite Christmas story's plot, as well as about your fond memories of it. Why is it a favorite? What happy memories do you associate with it? Why do you still remember it?

This topic will be available to you for posting through January 1, 2006. Have a great break and a merry Christmas! And enjoy telling one another your Christmas stories.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Poe Showdown

American Literature On-line Discussion

Most of you recall having read Edgar Allan Poe stories before now: "The Tell-Tale Heart" in middle school, "The Cask of Amontillado" in ninth grade, and perhaps others. Think of those now in comparison to "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher."

Which story is the most Gothic, and why? Which story is the best, and why? Use the links above to skim the stories to refresh your memory. Then, let's have a Poe showdown! Agree with one another, disagree with one another, impress one another with your thoughts about Poe's writing. Discuss amongst yourselves which story of Poe's best demonstrates both his talent and the characteristics of Gothic Romanticism.

And support what you say with evidence from the story itself! If you read some lame reasoning or lack of evidence by someone else (such as, "It was the best story because I really liked it"), do NOT let that go unpunished!

Let the showdown begin!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Images of Life at UND

The campus of the University of North Dakota, where I've spent oh so many years of my life, is actually quite beautiful (if photographed correctly--ha!). Here are some pics for those of you unfortunate enough never to have seen the campus. (And in the summer, all the flower displays make it a great place for a stroll or picnic or outdoor study session.)
Merrifield Hall, home of the English Department where I did most of my course work for my bachelor's and master's degrees in English

the campus in autumn

the campus in summer

the English Coulee in the foreground, the Chester Fritz Auditorium in the background

the Eternal Flame sculpture between Twamley Hall and Merrifield Hall

a view of Merrifield Hall in the autumn

the Ralph Engelstad Arena at night

another autumn shot

the fountain near the English Coulee and the Hughes Fine Arts Center

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Teeth, Pucks, and Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

(Provocative title, no?!)

One reward for having recently acted in a commercial for UND Athletics was free tickets to a couple hockey games. So last night, the fam and I attended the game between the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux and the University of Minnesota Gophers (who ended up winning 4 to 3). It was at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, and we knew it would be a sold-out event, so we left home 45 minutes early to find a parking spot, enjoy the sight of falling snow in the spotlights scanning the skies over the arena (which looked like glitter in a snowglobe), walk around the arena so the girls could gawk at the extravagance, buy some (outrageously overpriced) snacks, and find our seats.

We shared some popcorn and pop and tried not to get nosebleeds in our mile-high top-level seats. We also tried to ignore the swearing of the boorish (and possibly drunk) oafs a few rows behind us, upon whom the irony was obviously lost of being seated so near the very family featured in the between-periods commercial whose message is NOT to swear while at UND athletic events! Ingress to and egress from our seats was an ordeal, because there is so little room between rows, necessitating that everyone between the exiter and the aisle stand up or leave the row, too, in order for the exiter to get out. Because of that fact, it was not surprising that two of our daughters had the urge to urinate immediately upon our being seated. We delayed attending to that potential emergency, however, because we didn't want to be in the restroom when the commercial played on the scoreboard big-screen. As soon as it did play, however, Susan was out the door with three little pottiers (not me) in tow.

We stayed through the first two periods before leaving. For one, the girls were pretty much over the excitement of UND Fighting Sioux hockey sometime between the opening laser show/introduction of players and the bottom of the popcorn bag. For another, we had been invited to a birthday party for our friend Job, and the girls had made presents for him and were eager to deliver them. That soiree was at his dad Duane's condo, and it was very civilized: wine, hot apple cider, cheesecake, chocolate-covered strawberries, spinach dip on rye, seafood and artichoke dip on toasted Italian bread, chicken legs (not those dinky wings that are all the rage in restaurants, no sirree), chips and dips, cookies, fruit, cheese and crackers . . . and I'll bet there was even more, too. Job was very welcoming of the girls, even though it was definitely an adult party (we had permission to bring the girls, who asked to see the birthday boy). We didn't stay long, but it was fun to see Job, Duane, Mishka, Darin, Sandee, and many other friends and acquaintances who are fast becoming friends after seeing them at so many social events recently.

Before we left for either the hockey game or the party, however, Abigail and I went into the bathroom where we wrapped a string of dental floss around her sole remaining upper central incisor and yanked it out. Yes, now all she wants for Christmas is her two front teeth, the lack of both of which makes her speech distinctly impeded now. With those and other teeth either gone or only slightly grown in, her mouth looks like a jack-o'-lantern. She's cute as can be!

Tonight: our faculty's biennial Christmas party, done as a progressive dinner. The bus leaves at 6:20 P.M. for the first of four stops (appetizers at House #1, then soup/bread/salad at the next, then the dinner course at House #3, followed by dessert at the last home). Fun and laughs guaranteed!

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Gothic in "Usher"

American Literature On-line Discussion

So, I've told you that Edgar Allan Poe is a Gothic Romantic writer, but how do you know that's true? Now that you've read his story "The Fall of the House of Usher" and had some time to ponder it and discuss it in class, return to it and look it over again, this time as evidence of Poe's status as a Gothic writer.

Read these university lecture notes on Poe and the Gothic short story, particularly Roman numerals III. and IV. (you'll see what I mean when you click the link and start reading). Prove that Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" demonstrates at least one of the qualities listed in the lecture notes. Support your proof with a direct quotation from the story.
  1. Do not use the same quotation as anyone who has posted before you.
  2. Do not merely provide a brief two-part response in your post ("the story has this Gothic trait" and "that trait is evident in this quotation"), but do provide at least those two parts.
  3. Do comment further: How does having that Gothic characteristic add to the story's overall effect? How does Poe's choice of words (in the quotation you select) communicate or reflect something Gothic? Now that you've gone back to the story for a second pondering, what are you noticing about Poe's Gothic writing?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Wonderful Workshop

I spent Wednesday and Thursday of this week in Bemidji, MN with three teachers from our district's middle school: Teri Hammarback, Deb Schantzen, and Randy Galstad. They are so fun to work with and are a lot of the reason that I enjoyed this week's workshop so much. They and I are participants in a three-year grant-supported Teaching American History (and Literature) series of workshops and seminars (we're just beginning the second year of the grant). Twice during the school year, we attend a two-day workshop designed to teach us about Minnesota history and how to teach it using primary sources and innovative teaching techniques. That's followed by a five-day seminar each summer in which we read and discuss primary sources of American history, investigating the national events that parallel what we've learned about Minnesota history. The workshops and seminars feature presentations by scholars in the field, some of whom have given terrific lectures.

The Minnesota Historical Society runs the two-day workshops and has done a great job. They have us read the primary sources and do the activities that we would then use with our own students. This time we learned about the treaties from the mid- to late 1800s that removed much of Minnesotan land from the hands of Native Americans and made it available for the government to give to white settlers. We learned about Minnesota's efforts to advertise itself to prospective immigrants. We learned about George Bonga, an African American/Ojibwe man in Minnesota. We learned about the ox cart trade that made Minnesota an important part of the northern fur trade. We created posters, wrote songs and poems, performed in skits, and discussed a lot.

Undeniably most of what we do is geared toward history teachers more than literature teachers. In fact, many of our activities come from the wonderful sixth-grade Minnesota history textbook Northern Lights: Stories from Minnesota's Past that makes me want to be in sixth grade again! However, we English teachers did meet with a presenter who teaches English in Thief River Falls, MN about his use of historical documents in a themed unit on the American Dream in his literature course and the writing assignment that comes from it. Also, all of the activities can be adapted for use with literature--and I have already used some of them from last year!

Our workshop in the spring will be held in St. Paul, MN. We will be touring several historical sites in the Twin Cities and getting a "backstage peek" in order to be more knowledgeable about the places when/if we take our own students to them in the future. I'm very much looking forward to it. The Historical Society folks have also promised some sessions on Minnesota literature of the period that should be of more specific use to us English teachers, which will be great.