Monday, April 30, 2007

Poetry Month Comes to a Close

Have you been reading a poem daily throughout National Poetry Month (April)? Today is your last chance. To help you end the month on the right note, here is an April-themed poem from an American poet. See if you think of April--and its tell-tale elements--the same way that this poem's speaker does:

"An April Day"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When the warm sun, that brings
Seed-time and harvest, has returned again,
'T is sweet to visit the still wood, where springs
The first flower of the plain.

I love the season well,
When forest glades are teeming with bright forms,
Nor dark and many-folded clouds foretell
The coming-on of storms.

From the earth's loosened mould
The sapling draws its sustenance, and thrives;
Though stricken to the heart with winter's cold,
The drooping tree revives.

The softly-warbled song
Comes from the pleasant woods, and colored wings
Glance quick in the bright sun, that moves along
The forest openings.

When the bright sunset fills
The silver woods with light, the green slope throws
Its shadows in the hollows of the hills,
And wide the upland glows.

And when the eve is born,
In the blue lake the sky, o'er-reaching far,
Is hollowed out and the moon dips her horn,
And twinkles many a star.

Inverted in the tide
Stand the gray rocks, and trembling shadows throw,
And the fair trees look over, side by side,
And see themselves below.

Sweet April! many a thought
Is wedded unto thee, as hearts are wed;
Nor shall they fail, till, to its autumn brought,
Life's golden fruit is shed.

A Kid with a New Toy

(I'm that kid.)

Yes, the new grill got a workout this weekend. After Friday night's supper, Susan and I sat down with my grilling cookbooks, selected a few recipes, made a grocery list, and went shopping. When we got back from the store Saturday afternoon, I made a vegetable marinade and created shishkebabs with baby potatoes (which Susan parboiled first), green peppers, yellow peppers, red peppers, zucchini, and baby bella mushrooms. I also made a cucumber salsa (with a little crushed red pepper for a kick) to go with the tilapia that I drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt, and layered with lemon slices in a grilling basket. I basted the kebabs with the marinade, which was so good that I basted the fish with it, too. That was one fine meal, which we ended with s'mores, also made on the grill.

I made hot dogs on the grill for dinner yesterday, and for supper I made an Asian soy marinade (including chopped shallots, fresh minced ginger, and two pressed cloves of garlic) and soaked two chicken breasts in it all afternoon. I made a salad dressing from a recipe mocking the one that Applebee's uses on its oriental chicken salad, and Susan put together the greens for it. I used every last drop of that marinade to baste the chicken on the grill, and that was a dang tasty meal, too, for which Susan made Schwan's pot stickers as an accompaniment.

Our neighbors Chuck and Reba and their two kids walked over last night and joined us on the veranda for watermelon and slushes (an adult beverage for the adults) and pink lemonade (for the kids). As the sun set, the adults visited at the table on one end of the veranda while the kids ate at the other end before they began playing hide-and-go-seek and tag in the back and front yards. Our visitors walked the one-house distance home in the dark, just in time to avoid the ferocious thunder, lightning, and rain. The flashes of lightning lit up the whole house, and the thunder cracks sounded like trees falling in our yard. The electricity was knocked out for a couple seconds, too. It was all bluster, though--no harm done. It was very summer-y and, in its own way, a fitting end to a relaxing, summer-y weekend.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

2007 Relay for Life

Susan's cousin Anna is an organizer for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. (In fact, she's on the executive team for the St. Olaf Cancer Connection, sponsoring events throughout the year to raise money for cancer research, education, and services.)

In the past Susan and I walked in Relay for Life, an event for which participants solicit donations to the American Cancer Society and during which, in return, they light a luminary in honor of the cancer survivor or victim of the donor's choice. The luminaries (paper bags with lit candles in them) line the sidewalks or track of whatever venue is the site of the event, and the participants run or walk during the relay. As dusk settles in, the glowing luminaries provide a gentle reminder of the extent of cancer's reach in our lives; the line of luminaries piercing the darkness usually extends as far as the eye can see. It's an opportunity to celebrate those who battled or triumphed over cancer; to donate money to an excellent cause; and to gather with like-minded individuals for an evening of exercise, fundraising, and entertainment (relay sponsors often arrange for music, public addresses, etc.).

Anna is asking for donations of any amount to help their organization reach its goal of $60,000 (last year they raised $58,000). If you are willing to help, please click here to reach Anna's donation page. Every $10 donation offers the opportunity to dedicate a luminary to someone you know who had or has cancer. Feel free to copy and paste the Web site address of Anna's donations page into an e-mail to others who you think would be willing to donate to this cause.

The ultimate goal is a cure for cancer. If you or anyone you know has been touched by cancer, you know how urgent it is to achieve this goal.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Breaking in the New Grill; or, Weber or Not to Barbecue

Last month during a particularly spring-like jag of weather, we were inspired to go to Runnings Farm & Fleet to look at gas grills to buy one for the cement grilling pad adjacent to our veranda. (We abandoned our falling-apart grill when we made the move to Dickinson and waited until this spring to replace it.) One of my students works for Runnings and told me that they offer free assembly of grills. That--plus the affordable price--was enticing!

We drove to Runnings to select a grill and schedule a time for them to come and put it together. Guess what? They gave us an already assembled one! Next question: would a fully assembled grill fit in the Explorer? As it turns out, yes . . . but not with three girls sitting in the back seat. We (two teen boys on staff at Runnings and I) loaded it into the vehicle, and I left Susan and the girls at the store to buy a propane tank while I delivered the grill to our home. Once I'd retrieved the ladies and everyone was back together at home, Suzanna helped me with final setup details. When suppertime arrived, we quit before hooking up the tank, and the weather worsened in the following days so that we never got back to the grill . . . until last night.

It's a Weber Genesis Silver B, and it's a beaut. Susan made potato packets, and I grilled them and bratwurst. We had baked beans, too, and ate our supper at the table on the veranda, enjoying the cool breeze and the peaceful setting. If'n you'd like to join us for a meal on the veranda, I'll fire up the grill and put on an extra portion for you.

P.S. Susan just made a double batch last night of the slush that she makes each summer and serves with Fresca for a refreshing fruit-juice-and-alcohol combo that really satisfies. We'll serve you one of those, too, after you've cleaned your plate.

Our Family's Dæmons

A couple summers ago, a former student lent me the His Dark Materials series of books by Philip Pullman, and I loved them. How excited was I to learn that a movie version of the first book, The Golden Compass, is coming out in December?! It stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and it promises to bring to life the fantasy world of the series of books in which the young girl Lyra experiences incredible world-saving adventures.

The movie's Web site has more information (including a movie trailer) and several fun features, including one that allows visitors to take a survey and learn what their dæmon would be were they to live in Lyra's world (in which people's souls do not exist inside their bodies but rather outside in the form of a dæmon, which takes the shape of a particular animal to reflect something about the person's nature). Susan and I learned what our dæmons are, and we answered the questions about our children, too, to see what their dæmons would be. Here are the results:

Kevin's dæmon

Susan's dæmon

Suzanna's dæmon

Abigail's dæmon

Hillary's dæmon

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Parent Locator Update #8

Home again, home again, jiggity jig jig! Dad and Beverly have road-tripped their way right back home to northwestern ND. After four months away, they must have plenty of laundry to unpack and wash (ha!). They also have a dog now that they didn't have when they left. For those of you following their cross-country journey, you might appreciate this visual and this one, too.

Welcome back, Dad and Beverly!

Spiffy Teens and a Strep Throat

Susan and I were invited to the junior/senior banquet hosted tonight by students from the school where she teaches. It was held in a banquet room at the Days Inn, and it featured dee-licious food: lettuce salad, pasta-and-vegetable salad, buns, corn, mashed potatoes, roast beef, and deep-fried turkey. We were able to attend because Susan's aunt Kathy was available to watch the girls tonight.

We sat at a table with a colleague of mine from the university, her husband, and two of their friends (all of them parents of seniors), so we had good visiting companions and heard interesting tales of their life journeys to their current homes and jobs in Dickinson. As for the banquet:

It opened with a blessing by a priest, but thereafter it was run entirely by students. There were two particularly humorous and adept public speakers (students) keeping things moving along apace with especial wit. They awarded silly prizes to various teachers, each one reflecting an "in" joke about that teacher that the students in attendance all "got" but that the adults didn't necessarily. They showed a photo slideshow with some video highlights, too: some funny pics and some sweet of students together in school, at school activities, at home, recently, years ago, etc. Even though I didn't know the students nor "get" the insider references and giggles, I still found it enjoyable to watch and could appreciate the value of the moment to those featured.

Most notably, all the students attending were dressed to the nines: shirts, ties, and dress pants and shoes for the men; cocktail/semi-formal dresses for the ladies. As one of the parents at our table remarked about the students, "They clean up well."

P.S. Suzanna has strep throat! I had to take her home early from school yesterday, and a late-afternoon appointment with the doctor led to the official diagnosis and the prescription of medicine. She stayed home from school today, but finally this evening she has been in better spirits. This morning, however, she told me, "If I have to go to school, I'll be the most miserable girl in the whole world."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On a Somber Note

A friend and former student is in pain tonight: his wife just died after about three years of battling a brain tumor.

It's tempting to wonder why we or those we care about must be confronted with suffering and death in our loved ones. However, as an anonymous author writes, "The only way to take the sorrow out of death is to take love out of life."

Please pray for him, his family, and his wife's family.

Judge Jujudy; or, African Jujustice

Planning to travel the world? Interested in learning what a particular culture is really like? Think you might find out by frequenting the local taverns, or wandering the shops, or reading the newspapers? Instead, you might consider volunteering to serve on a jury for their justice system.

Susan's cousin Mary continues to have the adventures of a lifetime while in Ghana to teach English to middle school children. Her incredible experience du jour, in her own words:

"I was invited by the social welfare worker to go to court with her. We went to the District Family Tribunal court, and I got to watch thirteen cases go before the judge. This judge was a large, loud Ghanaian woman who could totally put Judge Judy in her place. The court was actually like a live, crazy, African version of the Judge Judy show. I got to be part of a panel to help decide the verdict. How I qualified for that I have no idea, but it was pretty fun. The cases involved child custody, paternity, divorce, and child support. One man was trying to leave his wife because she 'is a witch,' and he had just had a baby with another woman. One man was sent to jail for being unable to provide for his 11 children. One boy had to apologize to a woman for telling her that she earned her money with juju or voodoo."

Did We Enjoy It? You Bet Your Brass!

The final concert in the Dickinson Area Concerts Association's series for this year was last night: a high-energy, high-volume, funny, impressive performance by the brass quintet Synergy. They used no chairs the entire time; they stood and danced while they played and even walked around the auditorium amongst audience members while playing. They used no sheet music, either, remembering their entire repertoire of complicated arrangements of works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Bach, Mozart, Rossini, Copland, and Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and George Gershwin.

The girls had a great time, owing in some part to the fact that the musicians spotted them in the audience and made it a point to target them whenever Synergy was roaming the house! Hillary was seated on my lap, and for one song, the members of the quintet took turns sitting beside her/me, continuing to play but conducting a fun conversation with her through their eye expressions before being replaced by another member of the group.

We knew this would not be your average "clah-ssical" chamber music performance when it began with a burst of fog through which the performers ran onstage. Also, one of the performers had long afro-like hair that stuck out in a bouncy bush about eight inches out from his head on all sides. He's a white man with reddish-blond hair that looks like a Toni Home Perm gone very, very wrong and left untended for about a year (check it out!). Perhaps needless to say, his coiffure drew the immediate attention of our children . . . and just about everybody else in the audience.

Hair, jokes, and theatrics aside, there was no denying their musicality. It was a super night of entertainment.

(Past events in this series: Church Basement Ladies, Presidio Saxophone Quartet, Cadence, and The Golden Strings)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Going, Going, Ghana . . .

Susan's cousin Mary continues to teach and travel in Ghana. Recently she toured neighboring Ivory Coast and then in Ghana the somber slave trading forts of Cape Coast and Elmina, otherwise beautiful and "laid back" fishing towns. The sites on her tours have featured monkeys, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, beaches with "pure white sand," weather that is "insanely hot," uneven electrical service, drumming and dancing, and lots of friendly people. In her own words:

"Tonight is a big party in town for the vocational school graduation. I am so tired, but it should be fun. This week I will head north and see more national parks and a huge waterfall. I am excited, but I need a few good nights' sleep before I will be ready. Traveling here is not for the weak because it is insanely hot, and there are many mosquitoes and rarely running water or electricity. It can really wear you out. Also, I don't know what is going to happen when I leave for good because everyone here in town gets very upset when I leave for a few days. My cell phone was ringing off the hook with people wondering when I was coming home."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

This morning we drove to Bismarck, ND to meet Susan's brother Jerrett and his wife Cheryl at Red Lobster for lunch. We feasted and caught up on all the family goings-on and then followed them to a baseball diamond on the south side of Mandan, ND to watch their son Aaron play. We visited there with Cheryl's parents as well as with several people from Dickinson because, as it turns out, Aaron's team was competing against a team from Dickinson! Suzanna and Abigail's school librarian was there; Susan's teaching colleague was there; our next-door neighbors were there (to watch their son). In addition to visiting, we also helped Jerrett eat his dill pickle-flavored sunflower seeds and cheered on Aaron and his team. They lost, but that was perfectly appropriate for the dreary, overcast, chilly weather; we'll give him points for, in baseball, using the very literary technique of matching the action to the setting.

Afterward we hit the Kirkwood Mall in order to shop for some clothes for Suzanna and Abigail. Their closets are bare (Hillary's is in much better shape since she just keeps inheriting whatever her sisters grow out of), so Target was just what they needed to restock their wardrobes. Then we made a trip to Sam's Club for supplies and sundry food items. (There we visited with another Dickinson neighbor!) On our way out of town, we had supper at Johnny Carino's Italian Grill. The pasta dishes were tasty, but especially good was the crusty, garlic-y bread that was served before the meal with plates of herbs and seasonings to which the server added olive oil to create a savory treat into which to dip the bread. Super yummy! For dessert we all shared a slice of cheesecake with mixed berries atop it.

After stopping to refuel the vehicle, we were on our way back to Dickinson, and the girls were asleep within minutes. Susan and I have unloaded and put away our purchases, and now we're each on a computer in the office working on different projects. It's a way to be together, I suppose, without actually breathing on one another; our dinners and suppers included enough garlic to cause Susan to remark in the vehicle, "I'm in powerful need of a breath mint." But those meals were very much worth the inconvenience of temporary halitosis.

Friday, April 20, 2007

National Library Week

Yes, dear reader, as I'm sure you already know, National Library Week is drawing to a close. A librarian herself, Susan put up posters and balloons around her school to announce the celebration. She offered bookmarks to all students who checked out books or paid fines this week, and today was "Half-Price Fine Day"--yes, pay your overdue book fines today, and you can keep for yourself half the money owed!

The Stoxen Library at Dickinson State University celebrated the week, too, with various events and displays. I entered my name in a drawing that they held today, and lo and behold: I won something! It's a spanking-new copy of the book The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. (Read also this and this.) Millard was a featured participant in this past fall's Theodore Roosevelt Symposium at DSU. One of the librarians, when handing over the book to me, asked if I would agree to sell it to her when I am done reading it. (I offered simply to give it to her instead.) Judging by the librarians' reactions and the critics' reviews, the book promises to be a good read.

Quickly--before National Library Week ends tomorrow--get yourself to a public library (perhaps this one?) and use its free services and be grateful for such ready access to such a wealth of information and resources. We take for granted--and, often, do not even use--the treasures that, to others in the world, are only to be dreamed of. Stay smart and, thus, interesting; read a book. He/she who does not read is not only bored but also boring.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Appreciating and Being Appreciated

The Dickinson Catholic Schools Educational Foundation and Mardi Gras Committee (two entities--but wouldn't that be one humdinger of a business title?!) hosted an "Appreciation Social" this evening for teachers, staff, and school board members. Susan's dad came over to shuttle the girls to and fro dance rehearsals, feed them supper, and babysit while we were gone for the evening. (The girls unabashedly scooted us out the door as soon as Grandpa walked in the house.) That enabled us to be at the social (held at the school where Susan teaches) for grilled hamburgers, coleslaw, baked beans, punch, coffee, and ice cream, all courtesy the local company who owns the McDonald's in Dickinson (and prepared in part by Susan's uncle, who manages the McDonald's and sent home some ice cream cups for the girls!).

For "entertainment" (ahem), two high schoolers performed their comedic duo for competitive speech. Another high schooler first performed his humorous speech and then sang a solo, accompanied by the high school choir director. There were speeches of gratitude by the president of the Educational Foundation, the chair of the Mardi Gras Committee, and the superintendent of the Catholic schools (who accepted from the Mardi Gras Committee a check for $100,000!). Also, long-serving staff members received awards of recognition for their commitment (and/or longevity).

Since we had a babysitter for the night, afterward we attended Dickinson State University's theatre production of The Miss Firecracker Contest by Beth Henley. I didn't know the play before we saw it, and even now I wouldn't say it's a great play. However, after an uneven Act I, the actors totally won me over during Act II. The play features quite the collection of quirky characters, each with his/her own flaws but with plenty of reasons for us to like him/her. I even teared up a few times as the actors brought out the poignancy in a particular line or a scene. I especially liked the work done by Heather Gall. She played a naïve character with simplicity, avoiding what could easily have devolved into mocking her character's mental ability and instead going for sincerity and a consistent mix of social hesitance and loyalty to those she knows.

I appreciated the fine work done in the play (including how the technical crew used the limited space of the laboratory theater to create a fun, flexible, and functional set); I appreciated Roger's babysitting; and I appreciated that Susan's school appreciates the work that she and her colleagues do every day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Coming Off a Mile-High High

Faithful readers will recall that, just a couple weeks ago, I was in Orlando, FL to present at one national conference and attend another. Well, I just returned from Denver, CO, where I attended and presented at the National Tutoring Association (NTA) conference. Allow me to fill you in:

Fri., Apr. 13

I was supposed to leave Dickinson around 3:00 P.M., but mechanical difficulties with the airplane in Williston, ND required the airline to rebook me on the next flight around 4:30. From the Denver airport, I took the Super Shuttle to the Westin Tabor Center in downtown Denver. The hotel and its conference facilities are quite nice, and my 15th-floor room was huge with a king-sized bed, a chaise longue, and a large window looking out over Denver's downtown ("LoDo") toward the expansive mountains. I enjoyed a seafood supper at Willy G's on the corner of the block.

Sat., Apr. 14

I participated in a pre-conference session (on techniques for training tutors) all day. The Westin provided a tasty lunch: Philly chicken sandwiches. I walked to the Panda Express for an easy Chinese supper of orange chicken, chow mein, and an egg roll--yummmm.

Sun., Apr. 15

I bought the girls each a soft and cuddly teddy bear wearing a miniature T-shirt with the NTA logo on the front. This was day two of my pre-conference session, this one chock full of games and activities to do with tutors (and prospective ones) to "break the ice" and to make various points about tutoring while having fun and being active; I'll be able to make use of many of them, I think. That night I enjoyed hors d'oeuvres at the reception to kick off the conference. There was also a DJ, dancing, and karaoke! (I just ate and watched.)

Mon., Apr. 16

The conference proper began with a keynote address by Dr. Rita Smilkstein, who shared some fascinating brain research about how the human brain learns (the physiology behind the heretofore mysterious processes of learning and remembering). I attended sessions throughout the day and then for supper joined my boss and a friend of hers from her graduate school days (I met Derek at the pre-conference session and later introduced him to her as my friend, whereupon the two of them began to realize that they already knew each other). We ate an incredibly expensive meal at Ruth's Chris Steak House (just glance at the prices on their menu) followed by dessert at The Cheesecake Factory.

Tue., Apr. 17

The morning keynote speaker was Mario Williams, principal of George Washington High School in Denver. He had us thinking about color (of others' skin) and the judgments we make based upon that. The luncheon keynote was given by Willey Jolley, a motivational speaker. There were Western decorations up in the luncheon ballroom to remind everyone to get excited about next year's conference in Dallas. I took a few of the bandanas tied to the backs of the chairs and paired them with the bears to give the girls. I (and about a dozen others) had signed up for dinner with Dr. Smilkstein, and that evening we enjoyed interesting conversation over a delicious meal. In between meals (!), I attended more sessions throughout the day.

Wed., Apr. 18

I gave my presentation in the morning . . . despite the fact that the presenter before me just wouldn't leave the room! He had a laptop and LCD projector set up for his own use and didn't watch the clock to see that he was running over into my setup time. I needed the overhead projector, which he had taken down in order to put his LCD projector in place. He never did put the overhead projector back for me to use, so in order to start on time, I skipped it and forged ahead using the handouts that I provided my attendees. Once I began, he finally took note that he was no longer supposed to be in the room and at that point began to dismantle his equipment. He even answered a cell phone call while I was presenting! He did not leave the room until 20 minutes into my presentation. Despite all that, it went well and was well received by participants. I had a post-conference session to attend, and then I got a ride to the airport with Derek and flew back to Dickinson, arriving home a bit after 10:00 P.M.

Beautiful as was Denver and luxurious as was the Westin, it's good to be back home.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Parent Locator Update #7

This one is courtesy my sister, who has made a first-hand sighting of Dad and Beverly at her home in Omaha, NE. Read all about it here. (Thanks, Sis!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Walking in a Spring Wonderland

We've been having some strange weather the past couple of days. It has snowed more or less continuously throughout the day and night. However, the daytime temperatures have been high enough to turn the snow into water upon contact with the surfaces of sidewalks, driveways, and streets. The sky right now has the same gauzy gray look it has on a mid-winter evening when it plans to shake its snowy contents out slowly all night long like sifted confectioner's sugar on an expansive sheet of cake.

This snow is different, though, in that it is heavy with its own water suspended within its dense structure, just as the liquid flavoring drizzled over an ice cone at the state fair spreads throughout the compact, icy mound without pooling in the bottom. This snow will turn to ice overnight if one doesn't shovel it off the driveway. This snow weighs a ton and sticks to the shovel and forms stubborn piles as one tries to push it to the driveway's edge.

This snow melts upon contact with one's face and upon contact with a dark surface, such as an exposed driveway, but it piles up upon contact with a light surface, such as other snow; this makes it crucial for one to shovel overnight accumulations off the driveway in order for the new day's amounts to make contact with dark, melt-inducing concrete rather than light, pile-inducing snow.

This snow means that little girls' snowpants and gloves are soaked through at the end of the day and need a trip through the clothes dryer so as not to be soggy and cold to slip on in the morning. This snow is awfully fun to play in--it is slushy and splatters when stomped in; it makes superb and dangerous snowballs that are a cross between water balloons and rocks; and it leaves clear evidence of one's presence, showing the outline and pattern of every shoe and boot step in bas-relief.

This snow inspired me to think of just the right words to describe it, and that reminded me of others who have tried to describe snow in fresh, accurate, original, thought-provoking ways. Remember: it's still April, and that's still National Poetry Month. So poke around a bit below and peruse some poems (the Frost and Whittier poems are classics, and Billy Collins' poems is, as usual, a hoot) inspired by snow.

"Dust of Snow" by Robert Frost

"Falling Snow" (anonymous)

"The Japanese Garden" by Shirley Ann Norman (check out the interesting electronic music that plays in the background)

"Snow" by David Berman

"Snow" by Jared Carter

"Snow" by E. E. Cummings

"Snow Day" by Billy Collins

"The Snow Man" by Wallace Stevens

"The Snow Storm" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll" by John Greenleaf Whittier

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost

sundry snow-related poems

miscellaneous snow-related poems

divers snow-related poems

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Parent Locator Update #6

Whew! I think someone put some caffeine in their Metamucil or something! Dad and Beverly are on the road yet again, this time lighting in Enid, OK. Come on, Progressive Farmer calls Enid the "eighth best place to live in rural America" (not only did no place in ND make it into the overall top ten, but also no place in ND made it into the top 60 Midwestern places . . . and that was with no competition from the West, Southwest, Southeast, or Northeast!).

Faithful readers will recall (from the other entry I made earlier TODAY!) that Dad and Beverly were last (i.e., earlier today) at Pampa, TX. Have you guessed yet their next destination? Come on, study the map carefully . . .

Fly the Funny Skies

Because this is a month of lots of flying for me, I would like to share an airline-related poem with you--in honor of National Poetry Month (April). It's "Passengers" by Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate and one funny poet. Enjoy!

Parent Update Locator #5

They're on the road again. Dad and Beverly have made their way from Roswell, NM to Pampa, TX, known alternately as "the pulse of the panhandle" or "the top of Texas." Here is where they're staying.

Can you guess where they're headed next? (Click "made their way" above and maneuver around the map a bit. HINT: If you're a relative of mine, you have a better chance of guessing, especially if you're a Roloff.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

I'm Ghana Togo to Church Now

I apologize for the increasing stretches I must take in order to make puns on the names of the African countries [see the title of this blog post] that Susan's cousin Mary is visiting and working in. I'm torn between my limitless desire to be clever and my limited ability to do so. In stark contrast, Mary herself is at no loss of clever ways to express her experiences abroad. The latest update:

"On Good Friday I went to Aflao with Mavis to her church, the Church of Pentecost in Aflao. Aflao is the border town between Ghana and Togo. The service, like all services here, was very long. I stayed entertained by Mavis' interpreting the Ewe for me, the 'healing' of people who were sick, and the removing of voodoo curses. As always in Ghana there was tons of singing and dancing. On Sunday I finally got to the Catholic church, and . . . the service was five hours and also conducted in Ewe. The music and drumming were beautiful, and at one point the service turned into a full-out dance party. People here are not shy about singing and dancing. If I ask my class for a volunteer to show me a native dance, I have no shortage of willing students."

"On the way home from church on Sunday, I passed a dead cow on the road that someone was sitting next to and cutting up. He would then sell parts of it to people passing on the road. It was gross."

"Tomorrow Jon and I are going to bike to Keta by the ocean. He estimates that it is 'five or ten miles' there and back. One or both of us might pass out from heat stroke."

"On Wednesday I am going with Mavis to Accra to meet her aunt, who is from India and apparently keeps a handgun in her purse. That is all Mavis has told me about her."

"Mavis wants to cook Jon a big African meal on Saturday and says she needs me to help her. That means I will sit and watch her cook, and then she will make me do the dishes. . . . Mavis is an excellent cook, so I hope she changes his mind about the native cuisine. Every day I get fed enough for five people by my family and every other woman in town. I think I might be the only person in history to travel to rural Africa and gain weight."

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!

Today's guest blogger is Abigail:

In the morning we got up, and we all went into Mom and Dad's bedroom and cuddled. Then we went to look for the Easter baskets. Then we had blueberry-and-cream-cheese butter braid for breakfast. Then we got ready for church. After church, we had Grandpa and Great-Grandma come over for dinner. After that, we visited all afternoon. Right before supper, they went home.

(Dad's two cents:)

Dinner was delicious. Susan served herb-encrusted pork loin, baby potatoes roasted in herbs, steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce, my aunt Sharon's shrimp and pasta salad, freshly baked wheat bread, fresh fruit salad, Jell-O eggs (from an egg-shaped mold), and hard-boiled eggs (decorated by the girls--see this). We drank milk, water, sparkling grape juice, and/or white zinfandel. For dessert, we drank coffee and enjoyed layered chocolate cake with raspberry sauce, the whole cake frosted in chocolate mousse.

My dad and my sister Sandy both phoned before dinner to tell about their Easter plans. Roger, Laura, Susan, and I had a leisurely afternoon of visiting--in stark contrast to their high-energy morning of entertainment by the girls while Susan finished cooking and I set the table (there were piano solos, elaborate stories, and poetry readings . . . very typical of our children, actually).

The Easter bunny had hidden the goody-filled baskets around the living room. Hillary poses with hers after she located it but before she was allowed to inventory its contents.

Abigail with her Easter basket

Suzanna with her basket

Along with candy, each basket contained a terry-cloth swimsuit coverup and a couple pairs of flip-flops. Here, Hillary models hers (pink, like her bedroom).

Abigail's is blue, like her bedroom.

Suzanna's is (yes, you guessed it) green . . . as is her bedroom.

Four generations! In the middle, Laura; in the back, her son Roger; to his right, his daughter Susan; surrounding their great-grandma are Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary

Saturday, April 07, 2007


High-tech egg decorating method

Suzanna is today's guest blogger:

Today we decorated eggs. Each person got eight eggs. Dad decided to work on the computer instead. My little sister Hillary had stains all over her hands, and her shirt probably got stained--I don't know yet. There were lots of colors of dye, and there was paint! I mean, who puts paint in an egg dye kit?! Hillary also spilled it on the table--what a mess! It almost stained the table, too. It was very eggs-citing and fun.

See Hillary's rabbit whiskers on her cheeks? They're left over from this morning's Easter parade.

Abigail concentrates.

Suzanna worries about her egg--will she drop it?!

The girls check on the progress of Abigail's eggs (two are soaking at once).

Easter Parade

"Kevin, do you want to go to Albertson's for their Easter parade?" Um, no. But go we did, and we arrived in time for the 9:00 A.M. festivities to begin. The "parade" was really a guided tour around the grocery store with stations set up here and there staffed by other children. The stations and what the young staffers did at each:

  1. distribute plastic grocery bags stuffed with Easter-themed coloring sheets
  2. hand out apples
  3. hand out cans of soda pop
  4. hand out bags of corn tortilla chips
  5. have parents register their children for a drawing, the prize for which was a gigantic Easter basket stuffed with candy, toys, and other treats (we haven't gotten a phone call, so we probably didn't win)
  6. hand out cookies
  7. paint a pink lipstick bunny nose and brown mascara whiskers on the children's faces
  8. hand out plastic eggs with Tootsie rolls in them
  9. hand out Easter candy
  10. take a photo of the children posing on a bench with a gigantic, living, adult-sized Easter bunny

Susan bought a few more items for tomorrow's Easter meal while I accompanied our three bunnies along the route, clearly marked by an orderly series of paper Easter eggs colored by local school children and taped to the floor like footprints to guide us along the path. The girls ate their chips and apples with dinner when we got home, and Suzanna and Abigail asked permission to drink their cans of pop (Pepsi and Mountain Dew--they're not usually given caffeinated soda, so they felt especially liberated when we granted them permission to drink it today) (Hillary had non-caffeinated orange soda--no problem there).

There was a little disappointment when we arrived for the Easter parade only to find that we were the ones on parade--no floats or horses or fire trucks were on hand to go past us for our review. Because the temperature this morning was around 20 degrees, that's probably just as well.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bedroom Redesign

Faithful readers will recall the arrival last month of comfy reading chairs and ottomans (ottomen?) for the bedrooms of Abigail and Suzanna. Today Hillary's chair and ottoman finally arrived. Moving that furniture in required some rearranging of her bed and side table to make room, and that work inspired even more work: tackling the stacks of clothes packed into and stacked atop plastic storage tubs in her closet. Hillary was a very patient and willing fashion model, trying on every stitch of clothing (minus the socks, underwear, and pajamas) in her dresser and on her closet rod and in her storage crates (turned on their sides and stacked within her closet as an impromptu shelving system) and within the plastic tubs so that we could set aside what was too small and categorize and reorganize what fit or would soon fit.

Tidy now are her dresser drawers, her hanging clothes, and her stacks of like items in the crates and on the shelves in her closet. Down side: her forehead hurt from having so many shirts slip on and off her head throughout the afternoon. Plus side: her room is well organized and now features a huge, inviting chair for cuddling up with a book and, perhaps, a sister or parent. (Or a relative or friend. Any takers out there?)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Divers and Sundry Items of a Thursday

Grandparents Day

The girls' elementary school invited "grandparents (or grandparent substitutes)" to visit their grandkids' classrooms today. Grandpa Gustafson came to Abigail's classroom, and Great-Aunt Kathy (Susan's mom's sister) came to Suzanna's. When Grandpa arrived, the class were drawing pictures; Abigail's drawing featured our family sitting on our veranda. Grandpa sat with her and looked through her journal as she took a spelling test. He then helped her with her writing during a small-group activity that followed: each of four students in her group took turns writing a couple sentences about what they observed in another group member's drawing and then passed it on, finally sharing with the group the results of the writing.

Meanwhile, Kathy entered Suzanna's classroom, sat with her at her desk, and looked through her journal and memory book. After that, Kathy helped Suzanna study her spelling words. Then they organized Suzanna's desk. After that, Kathy joined Grandpa Gustafson and the other grandparents in the gym for coffee and cookies while the school children continued with their classroom activities for the day. It's awfully nice to be in a town with family available to participate in activities such as this; thank you, Grandpa and Kathy!

Abigail's Glasses

Before any grandparental units arrived for the day, Abigail had some unwelcome excitement on the playground when another child swung his lunch box and accidentally knocked her glasses off her face. She and the playground supervisor scanned the area for the spectacles but couldn't find them. The school made an announcement about the missing glasses, but still they didn't turn up. While I was out of my office for an event elsewhere on campus, Susan left a series of voice mail messages for me about the missing glasses and her search for them at home, thinking perhaps Abigail hadn't even left the house wearing them this morning (but she had) and asking me to check my vehicle for them in case Abigail had dropped them in there (but she hadn't).

When I got the messages, I walked over to the school (it's adjacent to our campus) and got Abigail to show me where on the playground the glasses went missing. It was the cement slab on which the children gather in lines to await the playground supervisor's permission to file into the building following recess. It made no sense not to find the glasses lying there, and it made less sense to search the snow-covered lawns surrounding the slab because the child would have had to hit Abigail's glasses with a baseball bat to send them flying that far. I asked Abigail to consider whether the glasses might have landed in the backpack or coat hood of someone else near her in line. At my urging, Abigail asked her teacher to ask her classmates to do a quick check of their backpacks before going home for the day, and lo and behold, one little girl found them in her bag.

I'm not sure why that hadn't occurred to the building full of educators (minimum of four years of college per person), but that solution saved us about $400 for a replacement pair of eyeglasses.

Book of Poetry

A university colleague of mine spent the last week of March at the 38th Annual Writers Conference at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Before she left, I asked her to say "hi" to Li-Young Lee, a poet who was a featured presenter/speaker at this year's conference. A hundred years ago while teaching poetry to high school freshmen, I first read his poem "The Gift" and was inspired to read more of his poems and found, along with my students, more that I enjoyed.

Well, said colleague returned while I was away in Orlando and left a little gift on my desk: "The City in Which I Love You," a book of poems by Lee. On the title page, in Lee's handwriting, is this: "Kevin, City to city, heart to heart, peace," followed by his signature. I have to think of a really good way to thank her for doing this for me!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

From 88 Degrees to 12 Degrees in a Day

Faithful readers will recall that, last fall, I attended a national conference in Harrisburg, PA and returned professionally invigorated and enlightened. I just had a similar experience, attending two national conferences--and making a presentation at one!--in Orlando, FL. An overview (replete with links for your further edification):

Sat., Mar. 31

Sun., Apr. 1

Mon., Apr. 2

  • Back to the International Plaza for ATP sessions on hosting a campus fair on college study skills and working with international students in a college learning center
  • I won a door prize: a coupon redeemable for a free trade title from Houghton Mifflin.
  • I gave my first presentation at a national conference (see this and this): "A Return on Your Investment: Tapping Already-Trained Tutors to Train New Tutors." It went well and was well received. Each presenter was given five tickets for the drawing for door prizes, and we were each told to distribute them at our presentations however we saw fit. I saw fit to stop occasionally and award a ticket to someone who could tell me one accurate thing he/she knew about North Dakota (this stemmed from my having been barraged with inaccuracies and misconceptions about our state each time someone asked me where I was from). I awarded people who knew the state capital, the mascot of the University of North Dakota, the location of the Enchanted Highway, the presence of many Mongolians at Dickinson State University, and the generosity of North Dakota to its Grand Forks citizens after the Red River's flooding in 1997.

Tue., Apr. 3

  • Remain at the Marriott for ACPA/NASPA sessions on assessing campus advising and tutorial services, preventing international students' academic dishonesty, teaching freshman initiation courses with a strengths-based approach, and determining the key factors underlying student success
  • This evening, the vice president for student development at our university treated me and a few others from DSU to a supper at Hawk's Landing Steakhouse and Grille, where we had appetizers (crab cakes, mushrooms, beef medallions, scallops), cocktails (me: whiskey neat), delicious meals (me: yellow-tailed snapper in lobster sauce over sautéed fennel with asparagus in hollandaise sauce), and dessert (me: key lime pie).

Wed., Apr. 4

  • Check out, return the rental car, and fly from Orlando to Denver to Dickinson
  • A colleague from DSU happened to be on my flights both ways, so he was good company during layovers and on the rides to and from the airports. A third colleague joined us between ACPA/NASPA conference events for meals and socialization, and a fourth colleague joined me and the first on our flight back to Denver.
  • It was 88 degrees Fahreheit in Orlando when I left and 12 degrees in Dickinson when I returned tonight. Still, despite enjoying the conferences, the food, the weather, and the good company in Orlando, it's good to be home.

P.S. A week from Friday, I fly to Denver, CO to present at my second national conference! Watch "Pensive? No, Just Thinking" for more details forthcoming.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Three Rings

I'm in Orlando, but Susan and the girls are at the circus! Yes, they're attending the 45th Annual Badlands Shrine Circus Program at the Dickinson Recreation Center. Just thought I'd let ya know!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Let the Poetry Begin!

Today National Poetry Month begins. If you and your spouse are both English majors, you, too, are probably spending all of April reading your three daughters several poems each night before they go to bed. If you want to do that and want quick and easy access to some poems, try this or this. (If you first need to acquire an English major, a spouse, and/or three daughters, you'll need to start somewhere else.)

According to Susan's aunt Patti, Grandma Morey (mother of Patti and Sue [Susan's mom], et al.) loved poetry. Patti shared with me two poems that Grandma Morey had to learn when she was in school; Patti muses, "I can still hear her reciting them to us." Happy Poetry Month, Grandma Morey (and everybody else)! Here are those poems:

"A Mortifying Mistake" by Anna M. Pratt

"Somebody's Mother" by Mary Dow Brine

P.S. Do you have a favorite poem--or a memorable one from your past? Click "comments" below and share!