Sunday, December 31, 2006

The 12 Days of Christmas

Yes, yes, I know: the 12 days of Christmas actually are those extending from Christmas Day to Epiphany. (You didn't know that? Well, then, you ought to read this. You might like to read this for further details about the familiar Christmas song "The 12 Days of Christmas." This is a clever look at that song using math [Pascal's triangle]. And how much would it cost to give your true love all the gifts from the song? Check out this and this.)

Anyway, back to this post: It feels as though we've had 12 days of Christmas around here for all the Christmas celebrations we've been attending (and all the gifts we've been reaping--though nary a partridge nor a pear tree in sight). On Friday we drove to Mandan, ND to celebrate Christmas with Susan's family, minus her sister, Cassie, and Cassie's husband, Nick, who recently moved together to Raleigh, NC. Susan's dad, Roger, was in Raleigh with them for Christmas and in Mandan Friday with us. Susan's brother, Jerrett, his wife, Cheryl, and Cheryl's son, Arron, live in Mandan and hosted us all at their lovely home.

We had delicious appetizers, including some tasty cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers made by Roger and his friend JoAnn and some bacon-wrapped pheasant bites. We also had vermicelli soup and venison French dips for the main course. We opened gifts (waaay too much for the girls again from their non-parental relatives, a trend that doesn't seem to wane from year to year) and then had birthday cake. For Suzanna's birthday Cheryl made better-than-sex cake (chocolate, caramel, toffee, whipped cream--delicious), although we didn't call it that aloud!

We also watched a few minutes of a movie that JoAnn had bought (from a dollar bin in a video store) and found appalling . . . so appalling that she wanted to share the torture with us! It's called Ole and Lena, and it happens to feature many actors whom Susan and I know and have worked with. It was made by a man for whom I once acted in a commercial that he shot. JoAnn was turned off by the mockery it makes of North Dakotans, portraying them as simple and backwards using the most offensive Scandinavian stereotypes. Ill thoughts were expressed about the quality of the acting and production techniques before we had to turn it off for fear of losing brain cells. (It's unfortunate because I've seen all those involved in Ole and Lena do much better work in other projects.)

Yesterday morning, Jerrett and Cheryl started us off with sausage, hash browns, chocolate chip pancakes, coffee, and juice. And then we were off. After weeks and weeks of no snow in Dickinson, we found ourselves buried under inches and inches of the stuff in Mandan, gently but relentlessly falling all night and all day. Pretty to look at but a pain to drive through, especially up and down the unplowed hills of metropolitan Bismarck/Mandan.

But drive through it we did. It was Suzanna's birthday yesterday; she's now nine years old! She wanted to use a Barnes & Noble gift certificate that she received as a gift and to eat her birthday lunch at Red Lobster, neither of which we have in Dickinson. So we spent the morning and early afternoon in Bismarck, ND, exchanging Christmas gifts (clothes in the wrong sizes) at Target, buying a book (Eragon) and bookmark at Barnes & Noble, buying New Year's Eve meal ingredients at Sam's Club, and dining at Red Lobster. The drive home was treacherous, but the roads got increasingly better the entire way home.

Last night Suzanna hosted a sleep-over for three friends. She requested canned raviolli for supper and carrot cake for her birthday cake, and she got both. She opened birthday gifts, and she and her friends and her sisters played games, and we all watched the movie Hoodwinked, the DVD of which our daughters received for Christmas. The girls kept themselves awake long after being tucked in for the night, coming upstairs a couple times to get me to reassure them of the absence of monsters in the basement, etc. I think they fell asleep finally around 1:30 A.M.! This morning I drove them all home, and then we had a family shovel-thon here with everybody helping to clean off the driveway of the snow that fell last night. The girls are still outside playing in the snow. We didn't have any snow for the first day(s) of Christmas, but maybe we'll have it for remainder of the 12 days . . .

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ramblin' Man (and Woman)

That would be my dad and stepmom. This fall they bought a 2001 Holiday Rambler Endeavor motorhome--40', two slide-outs, automatic leveling jacks, satellite TV, and so on and so on. My dad just retired from his oil field career (of 100 or so years) so that the two of them can hit the road and tour the country in their motorhome, stopping to visit relatives and see the sights (and sites) wherever they happen to drive. They have no schedule, no itinerary, no agenda--just an intention to travel and relax and see what there is to see.

Here are some pics of the RV (this is before they personalized it with their own possessions):

The motorhome is currently parked on our driveway. After packing it up yesterday, Dad and Beverly rambled to our home to celebrate Christmas with us. They will leave tomorrow for parts unknown (actually, their first stop will be Colorado to visit relatives there; thereafter, they're headed for parts unknown). There was much ooh-ing and aww-ing by the Dickinson Mobergs over the new motorhome of the mobile Mobergs. The girls were especially excited to tour it.

Then we went into our own stationary home for visiting. We got phone calls from our much missed out-of-state siblings in Nebraska, Oregon, and North Carolina, and we all took turns on the phone. Visiting was followed by food. Susan made a delicious supper of herb-encrusted beef tenderloin, shrimp pasta alfredo, fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce, cold fruit soup, lefse, milk, and wine (and, for dessert, pear torte and coffee).

Then we gathered in the living room for some more gift unwrapping. In the morning we had read aloud three versions of the Christmas story (focus: Jesus), after which the girls opened gifts from Santa Claus (focus: Santa Claus) and from Mommy and Daddy (before then heading to our friends' house for a brunch of crepes, herbed fingerling potatoes, and roast lamb--yum!!). So last night we opened "exchange" gifts and the girls' gifts from Grandpa and Grandma. It was very enjoyable and made me think of how much fun it must have been for my parents and grandparents to watch my sisters and cousins and me open gifts when we were kids--the excited reactions, the trying out of new toys, the helping with the package opening and battery insertion, etc.

Afterwards we looked at photographs on the computer (the new version of hardcopy photo albums, I guess), and Dad and I played impromptu duets by ear on the piano. We then retired to the family room downstairs so that Dad and Beverly could finish viewing the Christmas decorations and so we adults could enjoy a brandy Tom and Jerry cocktail for a nightcap (Susan's mom used to serve those to us at Christmastime). Dad and Beverly walked home (i.e., across the driveway) to go to bed, and we all retired for some slumber after a most satisfying, snowless, extremely temperate, family-and-friend-filled Christmas day.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Here Comes Santa Claus!

What a relaxing and fun Christmas Eve we had today! Hillary and Abigail helped Susan make homemade caramel rolls for breakfast, and Susan cracked open a Christmas gift she received from our friends last weekend: "reindeer blend" coffee (which was delicious). Reading the newspaper, we discovered that both Suzanna and Susan had their writing published in it today! Both had entered a Christmas story writing contest sponsored by the Dickinson Press, and lo and behold, there were their works, Susan's about a skeptical child who regains her belief in Santa Claus, and Suzanna's about a boy named Ronald who has no luck building a snowman until he decides to do it during the winter rather than the spring.

I played Christmas carols on the piano, and the girls sang along with me. A little later, I discovered a great Web site: It provided a nice variety of Christmas tunes for our listening enjoyment as we cleaned the house in preparation for our visitors tomorrow (my dad and stepmother). We also checked out the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Web site on which they track Santa Claus' progress across the globe. (He was over Saudi Arabia when we checked mid-afternoon.)

We had some family game time this afternoon, too. We all played Monopoly, Jr. When Susan went upstairs to start supper, the girls and I played Pictionary, Jr. and Charades for Kids. We helped Susan to finish up the food preparation and then sat down for a Christmas eve repast: cubed sour dough French baguette dipped in fondue (gruyere cheese, white wine, kirschwasser brandy) made in our very own rarely used fondue pot, shrimp cocktail, shrimp eggrolls, taco dip and tortilla chips, raw veggies (cucumbers, carrots, red peppers, green peppers), dill pickles, fruit juice for the children, and wine for the adults.

There is not a stitch of snow on the ground here, and the weather is mild and lovely. So we bundled up (the night wind was brisk) and went for a walk after supper. We delivered Christmas baking to our neighbors, walked up and down the adjacent blocks admiring people's Christmas lights and yard displays, and sang Christmas carols. When we got home, we piled into the van and drove to Prairie Outpost Park in town, a collection of historical buildings (part of the Dickinson Museum Center) lit up in one couple-blocks-long Christmas display this time of year. We walked from one building to the next, commenting on the lights and getting our fill of hilltop winter gusts.

Once we got home, we grabbed Hillary's Ziplock baggie of reindeer feed and headed back outside. At school she was given a mixture of oatmeal, glitter, and other stuffs and told to sprinkle it outside for Santa's team. These lines were taped to the baggie:

Sprinkle on the lawn at night;
The moon will make it sparkle bright.
As Santa's reindeer fly and roam,
This will guide them to your home.

The girls ran around the yard dropping milligrams of the stuff at a time hither and thither. Hillary gave me a handful to toss up on the roof. We then went inside for mugs of hot chocolate (Susan's and mine had butterscotch schnapps added). The dining room table has a plate with a Special-K bar on it, an empty drinking glass, and this note (handwritten by Suzanna):

Dear Santa,
This glass is on the table because you may help yourself to milk (it's in the fridge). The stockings go Suzanna: Santa, Abigail: snowman, Hillary: Christmas tree [to indicate whose stocking is hung by the fireplace upon which illuminated plastic stocking holder]. Have a fun ride and X-mas. We all wish you a happy new year.
Love, the Mobergs

P.S. Only the glass is not on the counter [meaning "don't use the dirty glasses on the counter--use only this one on the table"].

P.P.S. Santa, do you like the Special-K bar? And when is your birthday? Mine is December 30.

Merry Christmas to Santa and his reindeer!
Please write here.
[space provided for Santa to write back to her]

The girls are now tucked in and waiting for Santa to arrive. They're all sleeping in Suzanna's bedroom downstairs so that they won't be awakened by any noise Santa might make in our living room upstairs. Susan has a few more gifts to finish wrapping, and I'm at the computer writing about our day (listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi--thank you,!). Susan and I are amazed that NOT ONCE have the girls made mention of the gifts under the tree, wondered when the gift opening would occur, tried to pick up or shake any packages, speculated on the boxes' contents, begged to open a gift, etc. Susan and I wondered what gifts the girls should open tonight and which ones should wait until tomorrow morning. As it happens, they have opened nothing yet, so I guess it's all waiting for them tomorrow.

I did ask them again this afternoon what they're hoping to receive from Santa. They each named some modest item: a Santa figurine, a glass reindeer, a doll. No Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox, television set, iPod, or other electronic item; no long list of requests or demands; in fact, nothing that would cost more than $10. In fact, they themselves mentioned more than once this afternoon that "Christmas is for giving, not for getting." Would that the world could hear them.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. If you read this, share your reactions or thoughts! Click on "comments" below and let me know that you've been here. Don't be a lurker!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Daddy's Dictionary

I realize that my off-the-cuff definition of "fortitude" isn't perhaps as accurate as it might have been, but it's what came to me at the moment. This interaction from this morning demonstrates the kind of responses the girls are used to getting from their father when they come to him with dilemmas that they ought to be able to resolve on their own. It also reveals their typical reaction to my sometimes bizarre advice. Ready? Read on:

HILLARY: (runs up to bathroom door, knocks, crying) Daddy, I can't find my sisters! What should I do?
ME: (in the shower, yelling back) Show fortitude!
HILLARY: (no pause) What does "fortitude" mean?
ME: Moral strength of character and persistence.
HILLARY: (no pause) Okay. (runs off)

Ethnic Christmas

Last night we attended an "office Christmas party" . . . but not at the office. One of my coworkers (Liz) and her husband (Ken), at their lovely home, hosted the employees in our unit at the university. We all brought our spouses and children, and Liz had her family room set up with Christmas crafts, puzzles, and videos to keep the children entertained while the adults visited.

It was potluck, and we all had decided in advance to bring ethnic appetizers, in part because my boss planned to bring homemade tamales, a family recipe. Susan and I searched the Internet for flavorful recipes that would represent Scandinavian cuisine as savory, not bland (like most of the Scandinavian-American recipes we're familiar with, which use no seasonings or spices bolder than salt, pepper, dried onion, or white sugar--or, if you're really feeling wild, a sprinkle of dried paprika for color on deviled eggs).

As it turns out, not every Scandinavian food needs to be a shade of white! We had a bit of trouble finding appetizer recipes, but we finally decided to bring a crockpot of meatballs (Norway), chunky herring spread on rye bread (Norway), bierkase spread on rye bread (Germany), and black currant vodka (Sweden). Others brought taco dip and tortilla chips, pork potstickers, chili, kolachy, Mexican wedding cakes, creamy garlic potatoes, jumbalaya and corn bread, cucumbers, Jell-O salad, a chocolate dessert, and munchies like Chex mix and nuts. There were hot apple cider, Bahama Mamas, egg nog, and a sherbet punch to drink, and one coworker brought homemade wine in two flavors: plum and gooseberry. It was a real smorgasbord (Scandinavia)!

It was very fun to interact with my coworkers in a social setting, to meet and visit with their spouses and kids, and to taste their cooking and baking! We even got a Christmas invitation out of the deal: we're heading back Christmas morning for crepes and lamb! (We'll bring fruit salad and mimosas to that get-together.) And Ken, a Baptist minister, read aloud a Christmas narrative that imagines the thoughts and conversations of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. Beautifully told, beautifully read, and quite emotional.

P.S. I spilled the crockpot of red-sauce-based meatballs in the van and spent a good portion of time once we got home scrubbing the carpet in the vehicle. Frowny face.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Do They Offer a License to Hunt That?

This morning I asked our five-year-old daughter what she thought we should have for Christmas Eve supper. She asked if I was thinking of foods that we haven't had before, and I said "yes." She suggested macaroni and cheese. I thought of some traditional Norwegian Christmas meals I've been reading about lately (in preparation for an upcoming "bring your own ethnic treats"-themed Christmas party), so I suggested lamb.

She said, "Yeah, we could ask Grandpa to shoot one."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Geography Bee = "zhay-ah-GRIFF-eye" "BOO"

My lovely wife, Susan, sent me an e-mail this morning telling me that she was scheduled to be the announcer for the school geography bee today at the school where she works. Someone neglected to follow through on a promise to give her the materials last week so that she could have looked them over and been sure by today of how to pronounce all the place names, so Susan expressed to me a little anxiety about that. Here was my helpful advice in reply:

Make a lot of gutteral noises and back-of-the-throat hacking to simulate "authentic" local pronunciations. If it's a foreign country, all J's and X's are silent. All R's are rolled exotically. All V's are pronounced as B's, and all C's are pronounced as CH's (as in "church").

Emphasize random syllables. If a student asks you to repeat a pronunciation, roll your eyes extravagantly and say the word louder, but pronounce it slightly differently this time (perhaps just a vowel). Continue this pattern if he/she asks for more repeats, each time altering a different vowel or consonant.

Once the bee moves into the finals round, apply these pronunciation rules even to American place names. "Cincinatti" becomes "CHIN-chin-ah-TEE." "Washington" becomes "bah-SING-tone." "North Dakota" becomes "SHANK-eye-SHEK." Good luck!

Above all, make it fun for you, even if not for the students.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wonderful Weekend

What a terrific weekend we just had! Susan and I took half a day off from work on Friday so that we could drive to Harwood, ND (just north of Fargo) for our annual Christmas celebration with our friends the Zanders. The tradition is that we invade their home for a weekend and let them feed, house, and entertain us before we blast on out again. Accordingly, Janelle made a delicious supper (including two kinds of lasagne, Caesar salad, wine bottled by their neighbors, and a variety of Christmas baking) that we enjoyed before gathering in the living room to exchange gifts. They have three kids with a fourth on the way in February, and the already-born ones and our own three kids have a great time playing together. That affords us quality visiting time of our own.

Saturday Janelle made a huge brunch (eggs, hash browns, French toast, sausage, filled pastry, juice), and the kids continued playing (Abigail made mud pies in the back yard!). We adults continued visiting and reminiscing and laughing--very relaxing. We left around noon for East Grand Forks, MN for the annual Christmas party hosted by our friends the Almlies. They are in a new home as of this fall, so we first got the grand tour of the grand home: three floors, four bathrooms, four garage stalls, beautiful woodwork throughout, lots of space, modern fixtures, etc. It is beautiful and envy-inducing.

Then we helped (very little, I might note) to prepare for their themed Christmas party. The theme? "Get Lei-ed." It was a luau with tropical decorations (inflated fish suspended all over, beach balls, leis and sunglasses available for each guest, a lit palm tree in the corner) and foods (rum punches, coconut and pineapple for dipping, and a huge variety of appetizers). My contribution was to crack open the coconuts and pry out the meat to add to the tray of other fruits for the chocolate fountain (yes, they own a chocolate fountain--this should indicate how often they entertain on a grand scale). They put in a lot of work to plan and execute their parties; it's humbling.

Our girls and their kids spent the night with the children of another couple who attended the party, our friends the Langeruds, who happen to live one street over from the Almlies. There were lots of people at the party (they had invited 72!), many of whom we have met at previous Almlie get-togethers and several who have been our good friends for years, including the Langeruds, the Borysewiczes, the Hill-Brandts, and the Christenson-Kropps. It was a terrific party with lots of fun and laughter. Some pictures follow.

Erin and Jay filled the floor of one garage stall with sand for beach fun! Here, Erin builds a sand castle and models her bathing suit and grass skirt.

Here's Jay, my "brutha from anotha mutha." Unfortunately for him, lots of people seem to think we look alike, assuming we're brothers or, even worse for him, mistaking him for me.
Here Erin visits with Nicole and Jesse beneath the parasol of a deck table in one of the garage stalls.

Erin and Job (and, below them, Mishka) model their shades and leis.

Here's Kevin (I) laughing with Kevin (he).

Don't be too awed by the coolness of Nicole and me to notice the inflated tropical fish hanging overhead.

I saved the coconut shells after extricating their meat for the chocolate fountain. At some point Jay scurried into the garage for the tools to string two of the shells into an impromptu brassiere . . . for me! Here, Job fits me with the outer undergarment while Kristen looks on and, finally, Jay feels me up.

We spent the night in the Almlies' guest room. ("Night"? After the last of the guests left, we finally got to bed at 4:00 A.M. The Almlies' kids were in a Sunday school program this morning, so we got up again at 8:00 A.M. to get ready and leave in time for them to make it to church. Yikes!) We headed for Fargo and ate lunch at the Olive Garden. Then we did some shopping and even bought some home decor items for ourselves at Pier 1 Imports. The drive across North Dakota--both directions--was very easy this winter. There was virtually no snow anywhere this weekend, and temperatures were pleasant in the 40s and mid-30s each day. We listened to Christmas music CDs, Susan read, the kids napped, and we all enjoyed a relaxing drive to each of our destinations. We're very appreciative of our wonderful friends and the great times that we have every time we get together.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Postcard Secrets

My supervisor lent me a gift she just received: the book My Secret, a collection of postcards compiled by Frank Warren. He encourages people to send him postcards on which they have written secrets in order to experience the relief of revelation with the safety of anonymity. Many of them are available on the Web site PostSecret. Some of the secrets are goofy, some are heart-warming, others are heart-breaking. The content of each message is only half the overall effect; the way in which the card is decorated and lettered has a lot of impact, too.

The book is a quick read, but it's thought-provoking. What are my own secrets? Which of them are hurting me, and which are good to keep? With whom do I share secrets? How do my secrets define me? What secrets hold me back, and which ones keep me motivated to do certain things? If you'd like to experience the beauty and catharsis of being privvy to others' secrets and to the manner in which they have chosen to express them, check out the Web site or buy the book.

Other PostSecret books:

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Yum . . . Christmas Baking!

'Tis the season for baking Christmas treats to bring as gifts to friends and neighbors, to share with visitors and coworkers, and to fatten our own bellies before resolving to be healthier when the new year begins. Susan and the girls have been baking fiends this weekend. I am to bring to work tomorrow enough dessert items to feed around 150 people at an end-of-semester "open house" that our unit is hosting for campus faculty and staff. Thanks to my lovely ladies, it's all ready. Here's what they have baked--some of which I will take to work tomorrow, and some of which will become gifts for others throughout the holiday season:
  1. monster cookies
  2. Special K bars
  3. holiday snaps
  4. Scandinavian almond bars
  5. caramel crispies
  6. Scandinavian almond bread
  7. peanut butter temptations
  8. double-chocolate brownies
  9. fudge
  10. Almond Joy bars
  11. molasses cookies
  12. butterscotch cookies
  13. butter/vanilla sugar cookies
  14. reindeer eyes (made entirely by our daughters)
  15. hockey pucks (made entirely by our daughters)
My contribution? Supervising the frosting of the sugar cookies. Susan made several colors of powdered sugar frosting, set up frosting stations at the dining room table, and set the girls and me to work. Once I had convinced the girls how little frosting is actually needed per cookie (generally less frosting than cookie, contrary to their initial efforts), we all set to work frosting them and shaking decorative sprinkles upon them. Twelve dozen sugar cookies later, we were done, and the frosting was gone. Very fun!

(Yes, twelve dozen . . . of only one of the fifteen kinds of baking Susan did. Imagine the quantity of bars and cookies overall! Please come and help us eat them!)

It's so nice to have a baker's rack on our veranda. As Susan finishes and packages a particular batch of baked goods, she adds the container to the growing collection on the baker's rack, just a few convenient steps out the patio door off our dining room. The cookies, bars, and breads stay cold outdoors but are readily accessible when needed and don't take up room in our fridge or freezers. (If you have a sweet tooth, you now know where to find a Christmas treat when we're not home to offer you one!)

Party with the President

(not the actual buffet)

Dickinson State University President Vickers and his wife hosted a "holiday social buffet" last Wednesday night, and Susan and I attended. It was at the Elks lodge (very nicely decorated for Christmas, by the way), and it was very fun. Mrs. Vickers greeted us at the door, and President Vickers greeted us once we stepped into the ballroom. We were told how great it is to have us in Dickinson and at DSU (the President mentioned specific things I have done for DSU!), and we were invited to enter, get food, and socialize. The place was packed with DSU faculty, staff, and their spouses or guests. We had wondered in advance whether it would be uncomfortable to search there for someone I knew for us to sit with, but I was surprised to know the vast majority of people there because of having worked with so many different departments and units on campus this semester.

One table had punch, cider, and flavored coffees. One table had sandwiches, fruit, and a hot fruit dip with Brie cheese and nuts in it. One table had vegetables, deviled eggs, three varieties of herb-encrusted smoked salmon, and garlic toast rounds. One table had hot hors d'oeuvre: meatballs in barbecue sauce, mini tomales, mini quiches, etc. One table had every variety of dessert and holiday sweet imaginable. And the bar was available for people wishing to purchase alcoholic beverages. It was quite the delicious spread.

We went from table to table, visiting people I (or Susan, in a couple cases) knew and meeting others whom we didn't. We sat at a table that, as people came and went, ended up populated with most of the faculty from the nursing department. At the end of the evening, the Vickerses drew names for door prizes: they gave away the elaborate centerpieces on several of the tables (no winners here, though).

It was another opportunity for Susan and me to go out together, an opportunity for her to meet several of the people whom I work with, and a chance to socialize with people whom I otherwise know in only a limited fashion--through our workplace interactions. What a great event!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Look! It's Christmas!

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, the girls and I put together a gingerbread train, hauling candy to all the good little girls and boys. We had spent the weekend putting Christmas decorations up around the house and were in the mood for a holiday project, so Susan helped us make the royal icing and let us make a royal mess in the kitchen. Here are some highlights:

Just the other night on my way home from work, I saw a Christmas yard light display that was so pretty, I just had to show my family. So I pulled into the garage, stepped into the house, grabbed each child and carried her uncloaked and unshod into the warm vehicle, had Susan grab the camera, and drove them all to the house with these lights (below) to enjoy the sight/site:

Minors in Consumption

The title of this blog entry is overly clever, methinks. I'll explain: last night Susan and I attended a performance of the play The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, adapted by Sean Graney. It was part of Dickinson State University's theatre season. The main character is a French lady suffering from consumption. Being an underaged college student, the actress was, in a way, a minor in consumption. Sorry about the convoluted wit.

Anyway, it was my first time in DSU's Backstage Theater, a small venue for more intimate productions. It looked to seat about 70 or 80 people, but it was very comfortable seating on wide risers with plenty of leg room. The small set had backlit panels, faux-painted walls, and a variety of props, furniture, and set dressing that suggested an era long past. I couldn't say that they all worked in union to suggest the same time period, however; and I wouldn't say that any of them suggested the correct time period or setting (late 19th-century Paris). The costumes, too, were elaborate--some of them quite beautiful--all of them functional--but few of them truly "period."

The music started off appropriate (classical violins for background parlor music) but devolved into melodramatic (the crash of cymbals and swelling of strings came from the sound system as soon as certain Act II scenes ended--presumably to emphasize for the audience the seriousness of the main character's impending death--but I, for one, don't need to be hit over the head with such anvils in order to realize details of plot that I can otherwise see and hear for myself).

The acting was a mish-mash, too, but kudos to Todd Selle, Jesse Tallmon, and Jarvis Jahner for their even, realistic work. Even Lydia Johnson was able to ground her somewhat thankless second-banana role, despite the costumes she was required to wear (purple and red, tight, sequined, side-slit dress = 1800s Parisien couture?!). And Beth Hurt, as the consumptive title character, did fine, too.

I must say that, although the costume and set choices were uneven in terms of appropriateness to the time and place of the play, they were well constructed and quite beautiful--some of the loveliest I've seen on stage in a college production . . . well, maybe any production. I was impressed by the direction of the party scenes, in which 16 or so people had to mill about on a postage stamp-sized stage without distracting the audience from its focus on the two or three characters speaking the main lines at any particular moment. The throng of actors moved across the room; they talked first to this group of people, then to that; they ate and poured beverages and laughed; but they never pulled focus, and that's tricky, especially in such a confined performance space with the audience mere feet away at the closest and mere yards away at the farthest.

Susan's aunt Kathy came over early enough that Susan and I had time to go out for supper (Chinese at King Buffet) before the show. It was a lovely evening out.

More Furniture!

Our last piece of furniture (so far as we've planned) arrived Thursday of this week. With the extra room in our new house, we've had spaces to fill. We have a crafts-and-homework corner of our large family room. It has a bookshelf for the girls' homework reference books (encyclopedia, dictionary, etc.); a table and benches and chairs for doing homework, crafts, stamping, scrapbooking, playing games and cards, etc.; and a pie-chest-style cupboard for storing coloring books, crayons, markers, and so on. We needed something to house the computer that the girls will (eventually) use for homework, so we got this:

(No, that's not our house.) Earlier this fall we got a console-style entertainment center for our family room TV, DVR, DVD player, VCR, and stereo. It's similar in style to this one, but this isn't the exact model:

Meh, at least you get the idea. Ours actually is pretty close in style to the computer desk above with the same kind of lead work in the glass door. (Our entertainment console has one glass door on the left and one solid door on the right.)

Next mission: buy a new computer for Susan and me to use in the main office, shuffle our computer downstairs for the girls to use, and dump the one currently down there. (Cathy or Jay, any recommendations or advice?)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I Thought of You, Mrs. Davis . . .

Last night, all three girls were in elementary school Christmas programs (no, not "winter" programs or "holiday" programs--this community seems content with its traditions). Suzanna and Abigail go to the same public school, and their programs were one after the other. Hillary goes to kindergarten at a different (parochial) school, and her program was at the same time! So Susan saw the older girls' programs during the day and attended Hillary's at night (Grandpa Gustafson accompanied her at each). I missed Hillary's altogether but saw the other girls' programs in the evening.

It was PACKED! Suzanna and I stood at the back of the gym to watch Abigail's. When that throng trooped out, there was room for me to sit just seconds before the next crowd refilled the gym. So Abigail and I sat to watch Suzanna's program. There was a raised platform at the end of the gym with risers set on the floor in front of it. Metal folding chairs were set up in rows from that point to the back of the gym. Every kid's parents, siblings, grandparents, and neighbors must have been there to fill that place so full!

There were plots connecting the Christmas songs, so kids had speaking lines here and there. There was choreography to the songs, so kids moved and danced and gestured along with the words. And there were "messages" in each "play," so the Christmas spirit came through. In Abigail's, the kids were dressed like cats and dogs. One cat and one dog become friends, and their fellow cats and dogs can't understand it; cats hating dogs and vice versa is just the way things are supposed to be. The message was about overlooking differences. In Suzanna's, Santa Claus thinks he needs to act like The Fonz (think Happy Days) to be cool enough for "kids these days" to like (during what "these days" was this play written, anyway?!). The kids convince him that they like him the traditional way: without the leather jacket.

I couldn't help but recall elementary school programs in Tioga, ND with Mrs. Davis, our beloved music teacher who could organize and execute a well run music program involving over a hundred kids with costumes and props and sets and dancing and moving from one location to the next, all of which she orchestrated while seated at the piano and accompanying every song herself (albeit sometimes with one hand while using the other hand to give cues or point ominously at naughty children).

The girls' program was accompanied by pre-recorded music (presumably from the company that supplied the script). The music teacher pointed a remote control to start each number and sat at her chair, acting out the gestures and movements for the kids to duplicate. There was enthusiasm in the kids and true musicianship in their voices, so I have no doubt she's a good teacher. And the programs certainly drew the big crowds that I remember attending elementary school music programs. But seeing how things have changed over the years (or, at least, compared to my memories of my childhood) made me fondly recall Mary Ellen Davis and appreciate all the work it must have been for her to stage the kinds of grand music programs for which she was always known in our district.