Friday, March 30, 2007

Parent Locator Update #4

When last we left our vagabond retirees, they were in Casa Grande, AZ. I think in the meantime they've been to Benson, AZ, and probably some other places, too. However, since hitting the road, Dad and Beverly have been mostly incommunicado, so I can't be sure. I have today's locator update only thanks to my sister Sandy, who finally was able to reach them by phone. They are now at . . .

. . . Roswell, NM. Yes, land of extraterrestrials, government secrets, and North Dakotan seniors in motorhomes.

They may be there until Tuesday and then start meandering northward, but they have the luxury of time, so they're not committed to anything . . . and I have the disability of lack of communication from them, so I don't really know. If I hear anything further about their itinerary, I'll post it here.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for their motorhome at an RV campground near you!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ghana but Not Forgotten

The saga in Africa continues for Mary, Susan's cousin who's in Ghana to teach English to middle-school-aged children:

"We went to a neighboring village to celebrate a one-year anniversary of someone's death. Nick and I were honored guests even though we didn't even know the family. There was even more traditional music and drumming and tons of dancing. Also lots of food and alcohol! It was a good time. One woman at the party was pretty drunk, and she didn't like me for some reason. She kept going up to Nick and saying, "Is that your sister or your wife?" And he would say, "That is my sister." She would start yelling, "Why did you marry that woman? She is mean!" I don't know what I did to make her mad, but it was pretty funny."

"On Saturday Nick and I were invited to go eat a rare dish made with 'grass cutter.' I have no idea what grass cutter is, and whenever I ask someone, they just say, 'It is a rodent that is bigger than a rat.' The rats here are huge--I know from experience--so I can't imagine how big this thing is. The people in the villages hunt them, but they are very hard to catch. They make it into a stew and use the animal's feces for flavoring! Yuck. I refused to go, but Nick went and ate it. He said I missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I told him every day here is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I don't need to eat rat stew."

"Well, the population of white people in our town will take a major hit on Saturday when Nick goes back to Canada! It will be sad when he goes, and I will miss him."

"On the way we passed a man holding a gigantic dead lizard by the side of the road. I had seen men holding dead rats the same way, so I asked Mavis what they were doing. Her response was, 'It's like, if you are driving past and in need of it, you can stop and buy it.' I don't know who would be 'in need of' a dead rat. Mavis' explanations for things usually leave me more confused than I was to start with. She really wants to buy me a baby goat, and I have a feeling one will show up at my house soon."

"I went to visit Jon in Abor. Jon was born and raised in London and joined the Peace Corps after finishing school. The school he works at is called Saint Theresa's Vocational School for the Handicapped. It is located two miles from the town and is pretty remote. It is funded by an order of priests in Italy, and the school has a lot of money. It was very, very nice. All my sympathy for Jon left me when I saw his apartment with a toilet, shower, and sink. That is the second toilet I have seen in Ghana; I am not kidding. They even had a computer lab with air-conditioning! . . . He is homesick and doesn't like being so remote, but he has a shower, so I'm sure he'll be fine."

"When we went back to town, someone came over and asked him if I was his sister or his wife (which happened constantly to Nick and me). I told the person I was his American sister. Then he went up to Jon and offered to give him his bicycle if Jon would let him marry me. Jon was tempted, I think. He asked me if I always cause such a scene when I walk down the road. I told him I don't in America, but I do for some reason in Ghana."

"Afterwards he and I went to a bar, and as we were sitting there, a chicken wandered over to our table and dropped dead. A girl came over and picked it up, and Jon started lecturing her about the bird flu. Apparently there have been cases north of here. It is scary because chickens roam absolutely everywhere. I think I will miss all the wandering farm animals when I get home."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Budding Poet

I recently asked for and received from my beautiful wife some collections of poetry by Billy Collins; and in honor of upcoming April (National Poetry Month), I've been reading some of them aloud to my family. (Geek alert: each day of April, our family is going to read aloud poetry with one another. I know, I know: it's not quite the same as gathering around a warm television for quality family time, but it's what English teachers do with [to?] their children.)

Abigail must have been inspired by my most recent reading, because she came upstairs this morning with her own original poem written in red pen on a large sheet of blue craft paper (truly a work of both literary and visual art), and she performed an oral interpretation (very dramatic, too) of it. The best I can do for you, however, is provide the text; you will have to imagine Miss Abigail reading it aloud in all her flair and glory. (It is an acrostic, by the way, so she was working with that constraint when deciding how to begin each line.)

"Dad, Mom"

Dignity is a charm.
Awesome is a pleasure.
Daughters are your best.
My best actor.
Owesome is a sunshine.
My children are my pleasure.

P.S. Sign up to be e-mailed a poem daily throughout April. For a poem per day throughout the school year, check out Poetry 180--or Poetry Daily for one daily throughout the calendar year. Or go to your local library and check out a good, old-fashioned book of poetry. If you were trained to fear or hate poems through your analysis of them in high school, you owe it to yourself to give the genre another try. Browse a bunch of them, find some that catch your attention to re-read, follow up on favorite poets, and go from there!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Of Thee I Sing

You most likely know your country's national anthem well enough to sing along when it's sung at public events. But have you ever really listened to it? Do you appreciate the beauty of its melody and the meaning of its words? Do you feel a chill of patriotism when gathered in a large crowd, everybody silent and rapt out of respect for the anthem, for the flag on display, and for the ideals that both represent?

A few weeks ago I heard the national anthem of Mongolia sung proudly by a group of Mongolian students spending the year studying in ND, and I noticed and appreciated the emotions it inspired in them. My daughters asked me last night if they could listen to it again (they like this version), so we did. One thing led to another, and soon we were exploring the Internet for national anthems of various countries. We checked out those from Scandinavia, home of our ancestors, and we were delighted to hear such beautiful songs. When sung with simplicity and sincerity, they all sound like religious hymns. Check them out for yourself:

Norway -- "Ja, Vi Elsker Dette Landet" ("Yes, We Love This Land")
Here is a gorgeous a capella version sung by Norske Solistkor in the Oslo city hall. The acoustics are superb, and the choir's dynamics bring out the beauty in the song's structure and harmonies. Close your eyes while you listen, and you'll feel the shiver of Norwegian pride, even if you're not Norske!

This version comes with a pretty slideshow of Norwegian scenery to enjoy.

Here is the sheet music for the anthem, in case you're inspired to play it on your home piano. (I am.)

Sweden -- "Du Gamla, Du Fria" ("Thou Ancient, Thou Free")
Here is an exceptionally beautiful, simple, folk-sounding instrumental version with a slideshow of gorgeous Swedish sites. You'll want to book a flight to Sweden after watching/listening. (This one is also a pretty instrumental version--a more traditional orchestration.)

If the Swedish anthem were included on a Celine Dion or Sandi Patty album, it might sound like this. The singer is Carola Häggkvist, and the sound is definitely pop; but you get to hear the words, and she sings them with meaning. (Check out Carola's MySpace page for more of her music.)

And here is the sheet music.

Finland -- "Maamme" ("Our Land")
A men's choir (Polytech Choir) sings this beautiful a capella version, accompanied by photos of Finnish sites as well as the words in Finnish and English so that you might sing along if you wish. I recommend keeping your yap shut and just listening, though--it's that pretty.

Here is an instrumental version that has the drums and brass and cymbals we usually associate with patriotic music.

And here is the sheet music (as well as further information on the song itself).

Denmark -- "Der Er et Yndigt Land" ("There Is a Lovely Land")
What if an American Idol contestant were to join a gospel choir to sing a Scandinavian national anthem? It might sound exactly like this. The artist is Miriam Jul Rasmussen, and I almost wish she would gospel-fy "The Star-Spangled Banner" just to know what that might sound like.

This is the more standard, "patriotic band" version. And here is a lovely choral interpretation--simple, unaccompanied, and sincere.

And here is the sheet music.

Iceland -- "Ó Guð Vors Lands" ("Our Country's God")
Here is a slideshow of Iceland's beauty with the anthem played in the background by an orchestra.

Here is another slideshow, this one with full choral and orchestral accompaniment and a "big" ending (it's my favorite version).

And here is the sheet music (or here, if you're a men's choir).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Robbin' in da 'Hood

Josh, one of the student employees in our division (at the university where I work), is in the cast of the play Robin Hood ("as retold by Cathryn Pisarski"), a children's theatre production intended to raise money for the University Players to attend theatre conferences. You may already be familiar with the tale: Robin is robbin' from the rich in the (neighbor)hood [sorry--I just had to explain the title of this post somehow] and redistributin' the wealth to the poor. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Maid Marian, a noblewoman who is out of his league (caste-wise). Robin's nemesis is the greedy, heartless Sheriff of Nottingham . . . played in this production by Josh.

Our family hosted my boss and her daughter for supper and then accompanied them to the play to see Josh on stage. He was quite funny and easily stood out among a cast mostly doing their best with mediocre material and some poor staging choices. In a very Monty Python-esque nod, the Sheriff and the other residents of the stone, castle-like structure (that differentiated those folks from Robin and his pals, who live and hide out in the forest) started the play by entering in a line from the back of the house, sort of skipping to mimic the galloping of horses whilst one of them clomped two coconut half-shells together rythmically. Josh spoke with an inflated, self-important, faux-classical, semi-British accent, portraying the kind of blunderbuss typical of Disney movie villains. His exaggerated black wig had the height and shape of Captain Hook's hair (Peter Pan) had he gone for a Jheri curl and then not washed his locks for a month. Josh's posture and movements supported his comic characterization of the Sheriff, and it fit in well not only with the plot's needs but also with the atmosphere of the play . . . and he appealed easily to the children in the audience.

I was reminded of Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein and his character's hump each time the Sheriff's assistant Rodrigo entered, severly hunched over and with a noticeable hump on his back. There was a cleverly done archery contest in which the contestants shot imaginary arrows at a target, said "thud" as a cue for the stagehand behind the bullseye, and watched as arrows were pushed out from the back side of the bullseye, looking very much as though they were real arrows that had been shot into the front side of it! There were many other smile-inducing moments, thanks to clever deliveries by the actors and funny bits and "stage business" added to the play.

The pacing of the show overall, however, was hampered--and, often, brought to a screeching halt--by the scene changes. They had built an enormous platform on wheels that, on one side, was a multi-level forest setting and, on the other side (when spun around), was a multi-level castle-like home for the Sheriff and his ilk. It could also be split into two double-sided units so that the forest side could be stage left while the stone side was stage right, visually dividing the stage into two locations at once. Ambitious . . . but ill-conceived and -executed.

Each rotation of the platform or separation-and-rearrangement of it required several moments for the lights to dim, stagehands to enter and release this latch and redo that latch and spin it around or break it apart or move it across stage, props and set pieces to be re-set, and the lights to come back up before the action could resume. Those seconds and minutes add up to an eternity in a show whose many scenes are each pretty short in and of themselves (the whole play, including scene changes, lasted only an hour), meaning the scene changes seemed to last as long as the brief scenes themselves. An audience of kids ought not to be left to wait in the dark multiple times during a children's theatre production. The action of the play should maintain its momentum, unimpeded by scene changes that, were there a less cumbersome set designed, could happen much more quickly and fluidly with hardly an interruption to the pacing of the plot.

(Judgmental much, Kevin?)

There were, however, no complaints from our girls. They have always been excellent audience members, attentive during the play and able afterwards to comment intelligently on it. They especially enjoyed that, following curtain call, the actors remained onstage and invited interested audience members to come up and visit them. The girls brought their programs and had each cast member provide an autograph. They also liked visiting Josh, of course, since they know him. It was, all in all, a fun way to spend a Friday night together as a family (with our friends, too).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Give Me an "S," "U," "S," "A," "N"!

Over the past couple weeks, Susan found herself sucked into the hooplah that results from any American high school's fervor for an upcoming athletic tournament in which its team will compete. Trinity High School's boys basketball team advanced to competition in the regional and then state tournaments, and the days leading up to each game were filled with themed days (e.g., "Everyone dress like a character from a certain movie tomorrow"), pep rallies, and numerous interruptions to the school day, each one designed (implicitly, at least) to celebrate athletics at the expense of academic achievement.

But there's no resisting such a force of excitement for the school community--or, indeed, for the community at large. Even Susan--who, irritated, scrambled to meet curricular goals amidst the constant interruptions to the daily class schedule--could not say "no" to an invitation to participate in a pep rally. The cheerleaders enlisted her to join other female teachers to dress up in cheerleading gear themselves and lead the student body in some cheers and the school song one day.

I wasn't there, so I didn't get to see Susan's performance and, thus, couldn't remark on her skills as a cheerleader or even verify that she had indeed donned the garb and "gone to the dark side," becoming a cog in the very machine that was so effectively undercutting her own efforts to keep teaching and learning alive in the midst of all the athletics-centric madness.

That is, I heretofore could not verify it. Now I can:

P.S. Lest you get the impression that we are Grinches or Scrooges, you should know that our family attended the regional championship game and watched the televised state playoff games, cheering happily for Trinity the whole time. We were especially proud of Susan's ninth-grade cousin Robbie, who was a powerhouse for the team, racking up the points and proving himself a valuable team member. (Yes, as just a freshman!)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who Will Protect the Word?

One aspect of my job is to promote writing across the curriculum at the university. Today I moderated a discussion featuring faculty from each department talking about their practices, theories, and concerns related to student writing in their discplines.

Later in the afternoon, I happened to hear a related essay read by Bruce Berg on Prairie Public Radio's program "Hear It Now." Listen to it by clicking on this link (it will launch Windows Media Player) and fast-forward to about the 42:35 mark. It lasts four minutes or so. See where you stand in regard to Berg's ideas about higher education's duty to preserve "the health of the written word."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"I'm Coming, Elizabeth"

(If the allusion in the title of this post escapes you, read this.)

Today my sister-in-law Cheryl stopped by our house on her way to a wedding in Bowman, ND (home of Miss Rodeo America 2007 Ashley Andrews, by the way). Cheryl shared her scrapbook of photos from her recent trip to Mexico with her husband, Jerrett (Susan's brother), and we gave her a tour of the home improvement projects that she hadn't yet seen.

Then we took her out to eat at a new dining establishment in Dickinson: Sanford's Grub & Pub. I went there for lunch this week to celebrate the birthday of one of our coworkers, and I really enjoyed it; and we enjoyed our meals there today, too. There are burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, and some dinner items, too (pasta, seafood, steaks, etc.). The flatware is oversized (the forks are the same size as those normally used to serve sliced roast beef in most restaurants), and so are the food portions--and everything's good.

The theme is most interesting. The walls inside are covered within an inch of their life with--for lack of a better word--"crap." It is supposed to evoke the atmosphere of a junk yard, and it looks like the interior decorators raided every antique shop, flea market, garage sale, and defunct county museum within a hundred-mile radius. Nothing is dirty or run-down, mind you; but everything is "of another era," and there is a lot of it, with one item screwed over the edge of another and half-hidden behind another, etc., for a distinctly "layered" three-dimensional effect on every wall, as well as on the exposed rafters in the ceiling, as well as in the lobby area, as well as on the ground outside the restaurant. There are road signs and old dolls and stuffed animals and kitchen gadgets and gas station memorabilia and ladies' hats and on and on and on.

There are no napkins. Instead, a roll of paper towels rests on pipes fitted into automobile wheel rims on the floor at the end of each table. The plates are made of molded, worn aluminum. The menu items have names that brag about the junk yard theme ("Bent Bumper") as well as the deep-fried theme ("Kardiac Arrest," "Angioplasty"). It's an overall approach that ought to turn someone off ("Why would I want to sit in a junk yard and eat food that's bad for me?"), but it's actually an appealing atmosphere. There is something to look at no matter where one's eyes might wander, and one could never manage to take in everything no matter how many visits one makes. The menu is huge, too--both figuratively (lots of choices) and literally (if it were firmer, it would make a good-sized tray for the servers to deliver plates of food).

We had a good time and have a photograph to prove it:

Abigail, Susan, Hillary, Cheryl, and Suzanna outside Sanford's Grub & Pub in Dickinson, ND

P.S. There are Sanford's restaurants in WY and SD, too. Read about them here and here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Glazed Over at School (but in a Good Way)

(The doughnuts were glazed over, not my eyes.)

This morning, parents of students whose last names begin with the letters A through M were invited to Jefferson Elementary School between 7:15 and 8:20 A.M. for "Pastries for Parents." It's an annual thing, sponsored by who knows whom--the school? the parent volunteer organization? the NAACP?

In any case, it was a very nice event. The tables in the gymnasium (each one a set of two tables hinged in the middle for ease of folding-and-storing, with their benches welded to them--standard school issue), usually set out at right angles for morning breakfast, were today laid out diagonally for an extra-fancy effect. The cloth flowers in Easter hues stuck in silver-painted plastic vases (I'm pronouncing that "VAH-zez," by the way) added that special somethin'-somethin' that just seemed to say, "This is one hoity-toity shindig, Maynard."

We arrived around 7:20 A.M. (Abigail: "Are we late?") and helped ourselves to the continental breakfast buffet: two metal school lunch multi-shelved, rollable trays, one set with open boxes of doughnuts, the other laid out with little Dixie cups of juice (our choice of apple, orange, grape, or "mixed fruit"). The principal was stationed at the coffee percolator, offering coffee-colored hot water in foam cups (not Styrofoam cups; you had better read this). We helped ourselves to the goods and followed the lead of those parents and kids who had already arrived: we found an empty table and sat as far away from other human life as possible, talking to no one outside our immediate family as we ate quickly and checked the clock frequently.

I jest! I jest! Actually, although the beverages were weak, the dougnuts were fantastic: The Donut Hole doughnuts. I had the best blueberry muffin I can recall ever eating, and the girls were not disappointed with their glazed, chocolate-dipped, and maple-drizzled choices, either. Susan and I agreed that, much as we like the glazed blueberry cake doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, we'd choose anything from The Donut Hole any day. Furthermore, we like the girls' principal, Mrs. Meduna. She's a very friendly principal who recognizes us, compliments us on our kids, and welcomes us sincerely whenever we come to the school for an event. And she offered frequently to "top off" our coffee.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Several Thousand Words: Garrison Dam

Faithful readers will recall our family's scenic tour of central ND en route to Dickinson from Minot last weekend. Here are some photographic highlights:

Garrison Dam--north side of the road

Garrison Dam--south side of the road

Scenery surrounding Garrison Dam

Several Thousand Words: Birthday Girl

While in Minot with friends, we were able to celebrate the birthday of Nicole (the baby among us adults). On Saturday night, we had Cold Stone Creamery ice cream cake ("Strawberry Passion"); and on Sunday (the actual birthday), we ate together at Paradiso Mexican restaurant.

Nicole, looking very natural in Mexican head gear

Mya, looking "Mayan," perhaps?

Suzanna and "Big" Ethan (not his mafia name; just a way to differentiate the two same-named children in our group), who were thick as thieves all weekend . . . and the source of much fatherly consternation on my part (she's too young to date . . . and he's Catholic!)

"Big" Ethan, "Little" Ethan, and Abigail

An exultation of children, starting in back: McKenna, Hannah, Suzanna, Hillary, Abigail, "Big" Ethan, and "Little" Ethan; and in front: Mya and Gabriel

Several Thousand Words: Splashdown Dakota Super Slides

Faithful readers will recall that we spent last weekend with three other families, friends who met us in Minot for swimming, shopping, snacking, and laughing. Here are some highlights:

Hillary and I spent a lot of time going down the slides together

Gabriel warms up in daddy Jay's lap . . .

. . . and then sleeps in it.

The slides, viewed from the second story seating area

The slides, viewed from the exit point--site of many a person-on-person landing

Erin and Susan (sexy mommas!) wait for their husbands to toss down their flip-flops

One of my 300 trips down the slides--this time without a little kid in my lap!

"Please, no more photos; I have a movie premiere to attend."

"Little" Ethan and Suzanna chum around at the pool

Suzanna in the pool

Hannah at the pool

Hillary at the pool

Abigail at the pool

Hillary and Abigail playing together ("She ain't heavy; she's my sister.")

More sisterly frolicking and shenanigans

Susan and Hillary helping Mya to navigate the dangerous waters beneath the slides' exit point

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Web Site Upgrade

Compare this to this. Which do you suppose is the "new and improved" version?

Aren't You Ghana Drink That Whiskey?

My new obsession: my wife's cousin's updates on her adventures teaching middle schoolers in Ghana. I don't even know the whole story of why she chose to go there, how long she will be there, who is sponsoring her being there, etc. I just know that when she e-mails an update--or when her mom forwards one of hers to me--I'm rapt.

Mary, until I hear from you that I have no permission to do this, I'm going to include some excerpts from your on-going tale of living, learning, and teaching in Africa. Readers, enjoy:

Evidently some American friends and relatives sent supplies and money to Mary to use for the good of the town she's in in Ghana. "I have been talking about the money with the social worker in town, and we decided to use some of it to pay for students' school fees. Some students, the poorest of the poor and the orphans, come to the social welfare office and ask for money. The social worker then goes to the school and pays the fees if she has any funds. She hasn't had any money for a long time and is unbelievably happy to be able to help the students now with the money you raised. One boy whose fees I paid came to my house last night to thank me. He was in his final year, and all he needed was the fees for his final exams and he could get his diploma. He started crying, and then I actually started crying, and it was really sad. But that boy is happy and can graduate now because of you!"

"I spent Sunday with Nick at a fishing village on the coast and got to swim in the ocean and lie on the beach. It was good to have a relaxing day for once! That village was gorgeous but primitive. The children there would run after us and yell, "Hello! Give me money!" over and over. I swear, some days I feel like I am trapped in an episode of National Geographic and can't get out!"

"I went to a funeral the other day, and that was amazing. Ghana's burial rites are insane! The body of the person is propped up in a chair in the center of the village. The visitors have to go from hut to hut and say hello to everyone, and people get super offended if you pass them. Nick and I were invited into the elders' hut, which is an honor, and given shots of Akateshi or African whiskey. It is insanely strong. I literally was wasted in about ten minutes and even spit some of the whiskey out all over the ground. Nick pretty much had to carry me out of the hut. Then it got really nuts. The drumming and dancing started and lasted for hours. It was a huge party. Funerals here are 'life celebrations,' and the mood is very festive. Ghana is famous for the coffins they make, and they are unbelievable. They make each coffin according to the individual's life and personality, and they are super intricate and artistic. For example, if you are a fisherman, it might even be in the shape of a fish or have carvings on the side of the ocean and boats, etc."

"The winds here have been strong and blow sand from the Sahara Desert. It is murder on your eyes so I have been staying indoors a lot."

Monday, March 12, 2007

At One with Nature (from Inside a Car)

One of the treats of our weekend trip to Minot was the drive itself. We left late enough in the afternoon Friday and stayed long enough at our supper stop along the way to end up driving in relative darkness most of the time. Thus, it wasn't until our drive back yesterday that we were able to take in the beauty of the scenic route we had chosen.

Driving south out of Minot, we could have gone to Bismarck and then driven west to Dickinson on I-94. Instead, we took the route Susan used to travel with her family when she was younger. We traveled on Highway 83 through Max and across the highway causeway that separates Lake Sakakawea from Lake Audubon. Just before Coleharbor, we turned south on County Road 19, then west on Highway 200 to Riverdale and on to Pick City.

I don't know what it is about bodies of water, but they do seem to have a humbling, awing effect on me. Just ask my family about our 2004 trip to Oregon to visit my sister Cathy. There wasn't a lake, river, waterfall, creek, babbling brook, or mighty ocean on the way there or back that I didn't point out to them with an excited "Lookit!" or a "Wow!" I like to imagine being out in the middle of the water--as a fish or a bird, perhaps--truly "experiencing" the water, getting a good sense for its true depth or expanse. That's all pretty ironic, too, since I can't swim and would surely die if dropped off, in human form, in the middle of a river and told to "experience" it.

But from the safety of our vehicle, I was able to enjoy the endless, frosty surfaces of Lakes Audubon and Sakakawea as we drove across them on Highway 83. I could see swirls of melted water running between the thin, cracking sheets of ice atop the lakes, each sheet dusted with highlights of snow like icing on a gingerbread house. To get from Riverdale to Pick City on Highway 200, one crosses the Garrison Dam. We pulled over, rolled down the windows, and snapped several photographs of the site (and sights). There's a kind of majesty to a gigantic construction like a dam--this mammoth, man-made monster sitting quietly amongst the hills and trees and rocks, overseeing the water like a lioness near her cubs--calm but attentive and dangerous. The placards posted around the "scenic view" area on the side of the road are modest about the size and scope of the dam-building project itself as well as of its current function. Check out these sites for interesting facts, photos, and videos about one of the world's largest earth-filled dams:

We got off Highway 200 temporarily to take the scenic route around the north side of Riverdale and noted the many beautiful red brick houses in a kind of colonial style that all line the roads--laid out in a curving fan shape--facing Lake Sakakawea. There must be a story behind that phenomenon; I think Riverdale was built to accommodate workers during the construction of the dam, so maybe the government duplicated a model house of one style, and many of them remain to this day.

It was just as beautiful to take in the views along the way from Pick City to Hazen (whose boys basketball team we had watched lose to the team from Susan's school Thursday night) to Beulah to where we got onto I-94 north of Glen Ullin. The terrain reminded me of driving around the country in the northwest corner of the state, where I grew up. There were lots of curves and dips in the road and plenty of gentle hills and valleys and creeks and fields and pastures and groves of trees to enjoy. (We took the business loop through Beulah and found similar hills and creeks in town, too.) The land isn't quite so rugged as the Badlands buttes and plateaux surrounding Dickinson, but the landforms are varied nevertheless.

My disposition may have been affected, too, by the ever-increasing temperatures as we made our way back home to Dickinson, where we ate our supper on the veranda while we wore T-shirts and shorts . . . on March 11 . . . in the winter . . . in North Dakota! Incredible. The girls played with sidewalk chalk on the driveway when we got home, and Susan and I opened all the windows while we unpacked from the trip. The evening had the feel of a late-spring night and had us eager to buy a barbecue grill and start enjoying our veranda and back yard fully. It was a peaceful end to a wonderful weekend.

P.S. Beulah's new motto: "Home of a Subway restaurant that still offers creamy Italian dressing and features employees who smile genuinely, initiate pleasant conversation, inquire about the customer's needs, and compliment the customer's children ['You have such beautiful daughters']." A little clunky for a motto, perhaps, but accurate.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

P-Shaped Octopi

The bottoms of my feet are sore; the skin on my inner thighs is chafed; my abdominal muscles ache; my elbows are bruised and cut; my tongue is raw from being burnt and exposed to too much salt; and I'm exhausted. All in all, a fantastic weekend.

On Friday Susan, the girls, and I packed up the van and drove to Minot, ND. We checked in to the Sleep Inn attached to the Dakota Square, the mall that represented "shopping" to me when I was growing up. My family would go to Minot occasionally for specialty doctor appointments (optometrist, dermatologist, etc.) and for school and holiday shopping, and we would always end up at the Dakota Square, which I loved for a few specific reasons:
  1. It used to have a Hickory Farms store that offered free samples. When our family split into girls and boys and agreed to regroup later in the day at a certain time under the giant clock in the mall's center, my dad and I would head to Hickory Farms to taste the beer cheese soup. It was tasty in itself, but it had the added appeal of containing alcohol, the consumption of which was sanctioned by my dad who blatantly joined me in eating it. It wouldn't be until years later that I learned about alcohol's burning away during the cooking process.
  2. It had (and still has) bookstores. If Dad wasn't along on a trip to Minot, Mom and my sisters could go off shopping together and know that, if I didn't show up at the clock at the appointed time, I could be found in the shelves of a bookstore, sampling books. I was rarely permitted to buy books, just as I was rarely permitted to buy anything that wasn't a necessity for school--a new pair of jeans, a tablet, etc. But I could window-shop all I wanted, and it was satisfying enough to peruse the books without actually purchasing anything.
  3. It had (and still has) a food court. At meal time, we would head over to the food court with permission to select food from whichever vendor we desired. Cathy wanted pizza but Sandy wanted a hamburger but I wanted Chinese? Absolutely no problem in the Dakota Square food court! Mom gave us each a little money, sent us off to buy what we wanted, and waited for us to join her at a table to eat together, each with our favorite meal.

I also remember, on those occasions when I had to accompany my mom and sisters in their shopping rather than being able to go off on my own, being intensely bored, unexplainably fatigued, and unabashedly impatient. And it all came back to me on Saturday when I went with Susan and the girls shopping for Easter dresses. The shopping bags became very heavy, and the minutes they spent in the fitting rooms felt like hours. But this time, I kept my audible sighs and visible eye rolling in check and even appreciated the results: some very cute outfits for my precious little petunias.

A N Y W A Y, we had a suite in the Sleep Inn with a comfortable sitting area (couch, chairs, tables, refrigerator, microwave) separate from the comfortable bed + dresser + TV area separate from the sink/vanity area separate from the toilet/shower room (and what a huge shower--our entire family [fully clothed, mind you] stood in it at once just to test its capacity). We then kept an eye out for the arrival of our friends: the Almlies, the Jungs, and the Langeruds--three couples and their children, all families with whom we regularly socialized in East Grand Forks, MN. We had arranged to rendezvous this weekend in Minot as a central meeting place. This particular Sleep Inn features the Splashdown Dakota Super Slides water park with three huge, winding, very fast slides and four pool areas, one of which is a hot tub that can accommodate 45 people at once. Our plan was to enjoy the water park with the children each day and use the "living room" area of our suite for visiting with the adults each night.

And it was a great weekend. It was super to reunite with all our friends, and the water park was fun for the adults and kids alike. (It also was the cause of all the aches and pains I listed at the top of this post, except for the sore tongue. For that I have my snacking habits this weekend to blame.) I made hundreds of trips down each slide, not only with my own kids (particularly Hillary) but with the others, too, who liked the addition of an adult to the voyage downward because my weight seemed to increase the velocity. At night the kids were able to snack and watch movies in one room while the adults had beverages and food and played games in our room. (Jay and Erin even bought two-way radios in order to monitor the children without having to interrupt the adult festivities.)

As always with these friends, there was lots and lots of laughter, too. We visited over meals (breakfast Saturday and Sunday in the hotel, dinner Saturday in the mall's food court, pizza delivery for supper Saturday night, and dinner Sunday at Paradiso, a Mexican restaurant next to the mall) and while playing The Newlywed Game and "I have never . . . " Saturday night. The Newlywed Game's questions prompted some revealing answers from each couple (and is the source of this post's title, "P-shaped octupi," an amalgamation of answers from two separate questions, each one asking for a description of one's partner . . . and that's all I'm saying about that one). Perhaps even more interesting (and/or salacious?) details were revealed by playing "I have never . . ."--including the fact that the Jungs cannot grasp how to play "I have never . . ." We were all in fine form, however, naughty as ever and enjoying one another's company, as well as all the food that everyone brought to snack on for the weekend (ergo the over-salted tongue symptoms).

I now offer an assortment of observations about our weekend:

  • Not everybody needs alcohol in order to act drunk.
  • There is NO place the Mobergs can go without seeing/speaking to people whom we know. (I saw a doctoral cohort classmate who lives in Montana; Suzanna saw a former third-grade classmate who moved several months ago to Minot; and Susan saw her current boss and his wife, as well as a man who she thinks could have been my cousin Scott, who lives in California.)
  • Until they install opaque panels in the totally enclosed, pitch-black-inside purple tube at the water park, I will continue to scream like a little girl every time I go shooting down it.
  • Jay truly is my brother.
  • The Almlies continue to be enterprising folks, willing to make any purchase in order to faciliate fun (e.g., the two-way radios).
  • Like E.F. Hutton, when Jesse talks, people listen . . . because otherwise they will miss his rare but worthwhile witticisms.
  • Pre-marital coitus is not the sole domain of non-Catholics.
  • "Lunch" is an extremely funny word if spoken by a year-and-a-half old girl, who somehow can give it a multi-syllabic enunciation.
  • On the outside I can joke about my third-grade daughter getting macked on by a fifth-grade boy, even if the thought of her slipping away into maturity and romances tears me up inside.
  • Nicole is weird for not liking chocolate, but her strawberry-themed birthday ice cream cake was delicious.
  • Rob should be seen on stage. (In a play, not a strip show.)
  • Laurie and I together make a fun but naughty combination. (She told me today at dinner, "You know, before I met you, I was confident I was going to Heaven. Now I'm not so sure.")
  • People DO read this blog, even if only to lurk and then, much later, tease about the level of detail provided RE: meals.
  • Good friends can "pick right up" again as though they've never spent any time apart.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Guest Musher: Anna

Faithful readers will recall that Suzanna's latest topic in school has been dogsledding and, in particular, the Iditarod. Susan's cousin Anna (sister of Mary) is today's guest blogger--and guest musher, apparently, judging by the photos that she sent in response to my post about Suzanna's following the results of the Iditarod. Read on:

My mom told me that I should check out your blog entry. She said Suzanna was studying the Iditarod. I thought I would send some pictures of us last year when we were in Colorado. We had the opportunity to try our hand at dogsledding and, despite the original skepticism by some, everyone had fun in the end. Suzanna, you'll just have to talk your Grandpa Roger into helping you start your own sled dog team. He'll probably be easier to persuade than your mom and dad!

(Anna's completely right about Suzanna's mom and dad, by the way.)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Triumphant Titans

The Trinity High School Titans are this year's ND Region 7 Class B boys basketball champions! They now advance to the state tournament held next week in Bismarck to defend their state champion title from last year.

The Knights of Columbus Activities Center (Trinity High School's gym--can you tell who funded its construction?) in Dickinson was the site of the Region 7 championship game tonight. Susan's cousin Robbie plays on the team--and plays a lot . . . and quite well . . . and is only a freshman! So we wanted to see him in action in this very important game. Alas, basketball is king in this community (as in most western ND towns), and the line for tickets into the gym--er, Activities Center--started as soon as school ended this afternoon. Our daughters had ballet until 6:30 P.M., so there was no hope for us to make it into the bleachers for the 7:30 P.M. game. We would need to have been seated at least three hours in advance.

But wait! Susan is the librarian at Trinity, and the library has a large window overlooking the gym--er, the Activities Center. Susan's dad stopped by our house, and we all walked the four houses to the school (good thing, too, that we didn't need to drive, because the parking situation was a nightmare) and made our way upstairs to the library. There we found that some other teachers had the same idea! There was a small crowd of us gathered around the window to watch what we could see of the game from that vantage point. We stood the whole time (our daughters got the chairs and stools), but that was probably just as well, for it was an exciting game. Trinity's opponents were the Hazen Bison, who took the lead right away. Before half-time, Trinity gained a slight lead and ended up winning by only a small margin (42 to 35).

The girls had a good time hanging out in our cuckoo's nest, eating concessions stand popcorn and waving at their relatives in the bleachers below (Robbie's proud family). It was fun to hear the others in our impromptu gathering commenting on the game and giving their insight into this player's skills and that player's strengths. It was also fun to be back in the heartland of basketball . . . and a bit ironic to see that one of the game's refs was my own high school basketball coach, who is now the public high school principal in Dickinson! It truly is a small world.

Congratulations, Titans! Best wishes for another state championship next week!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ah, Those Fond Medieval Memories

For an excellent companion to the article above, read humorous American poet Billy Collins' poem "Nostalgia" here.

Out of Africa

My wife's cousin Mary is in Africa teaching English to middle school-age kids. She e-mailed an update on her adventures there so far, and she seems to have inherited her mom's witty style of reportage. I have received absolutely no permission from Mary to excerpt her e-mail here, so I will not. Instead, I will share snippets of a hypothetical update that I imagine could potentially come from an imaginary white Minnesotan female writing straight from the heart of Africa:

"Yesterday when I was walking to school, I passed my students in the streets doing 'town clean-up.' It consisted of their gathering piles of trash and starting them on fire. My students were literally running around in the road, lighting things on fire. That gives you a little bit of an idea how different things are here."

"This weekend my sisters at my house are teaching me to cook, and we are going to cook the chicken that Nick got as a present for being the first white person to visit the neighboring village. I refuse to kill for him."

"This region doesn't get much tourism, so the people here make a very big deal over us. It is always friendly, but I get sick of children running after me yeling, 'White person!' all the time."

"Enjoy the snow; it is insanely hot here."

"But where in Africa is Mary?" you might ask. Well, I might answer, "Ghana." And it might be right here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Y'All Set Down and Read a Spell

Doesn't this look inviting?

Well, you can have one of your very own by ordering it here. As for us, we have three of our very own. Let me explain.

This house is considerably more spacious than our previous abode. We have "had to" buy additional items of furniture, in fact, to fill the space. We decided that, since each of the girls has plenty of room in her bedroom, it would be nice to supply each with a reading chair so that she would be able to spend some time before going to bed just relaxing with a good book in her own room. We ordered one deck-chair-and-ottoman set for each girl's room.

Two of them arrived today, and all three girls and I spent some time this evening rearranging Abigail's and Suzanna's rooms to accommodate the new chairs. (When Hillary's arrives in a few weeks, we'll do the same for her.) Even with the new furniture, their rooms still don't seem crowded, which we love. Our next purchase: floor lamps to complete the reading corners in each bedroom.

We hadn't told the girls in advance that we were doing this, so they were delightfully surprised by the additions to their bedrooms. They already read like fiends, so we look forward to their getting comfy in their new reading nooks and continuing the reading habit.

P.S. This week in school, Suzanna has been learning about dog sledding and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that starts tomorrow. She chose one of the mushers (Deborah Molburg Bicknell), did some research on her, created a PowerPoint presentation on her, and will follow her progress throughout the race. The other day she came home from school and started telling me about dog sled racing . . . and kept telling and kept telling and kept telling. She knew the terminology and facts about the dogs and details about racing procedures--she was really "into" it. So Susan checked out a few books at the public library for Suzanna today. If you're interested in the Iditarod and are in elementary school (or still have a youthful curiosity), you might like to read these, too: