Saturday, June 30, 2007

Summer Wedding #1

It was a beautiful afternoon's drive from Dickinson, ND to my aunt Penny's farm north of Tioga, ND: north on Highway 22 through Manning and Killdeer and past Mandaree [see this and click on its slideshow]; east on Highway 23 through New Town; north onto Highway 1804, which curves west; north on Highway 21; east on Highway 2; and north on Highway 40 through Tioga and on toward the gravel road turnoff west a couple miles to Penny's [see this and try to trace my path yourself!].

I made the trip to attend the wedding of my cousin Jerry to his fiancée Kim. They had their wedding outdoors at Jerry's mom Penny's farm (where Jerry grew up, of course, and where he and Kim now live, too, in their own home [formerly Jerry's grandpa's house] on the same farm). God and Mother Nature worked together to provide a lovely afternoon/evening/night for the outdoor festivities. Jerry and Kim got married beneath an arch against the evergreens on the west side of Penny's yard while the congregation sat on long planks atop straw bales. A church bell choir provided much of the music and was set up off to one side; on the other side were the keyboard and guitar used by the other musicians.

Behind the garage, our cousins Joel and Jeff barbecued the meat (burgers and bratwursts) for supper, which was served afterwards from long tables set up in the garage. We ate at tables set up on Penny's driveway and in the yard near Jerry and Kim's house. Once the eating was done and the band started playing, they moved tables to clear most of Penny's driveway to serve as a dance floor. Some tables remained, and we were able to sit there and visit or stand in the garage and talk while nibbling on baked goods and wedding cake and drinking punch.

With Susan and the girls in Grand Forks, ND tonight for her cousin's wedding (keep an eye on the blog for details soon on that one, too), I was alone . . . and camera-less. I borrowed Dad's and snapped away all night. Some highlights:

Kim's son C.J. gave her away to Jerry. It is Penny whose back is to the camera.

My cousin Jerry. He (two years younger than I) and his brother Darren (the same age as I) were the closest thing to brothers that I ever had, and I spent a lot of time with them at their house growing up.

My cousin Brenda (far right, Jerry's sister) and her daughters (Rachelle, Meghan, and Katrina) sang for the wedding.


The wedding party gathered for a toast in front of the flatbed trailer upon which the band performed shortly thereafter.

My dad (in purple) and his surviving siblings: Ray and Shine in the back and Penny and Rose in the front

Me with my uncle Ray. My grandma (his mom) always used to call me "Ray," and when Ray is around, my dad still calls me by his name and him by my name. Dad says Ray and I are a lot alike. Resemblance? Personality? I don't know. Anyone care to chime in?

All the Moberg first cousins in attendance: in the back are Jeff, Darren, Jerry, me, and Joel; in the front are Laura, Brenda, Myrna, Marsha, and Sheri.

I saved the best for last: my cousins Myrna and Joel (siblings) not acting their age!

Baching It

baching [BATCH-ing], v., living the life of a bachelor, (esp. for a male:) living without women in one's daily life; see also this

Susan and the girls left early Thursday morning to attend the wedding of her cousin Lee in the eastern part of the state. I stuck around to attend (this evening) the wedding of my cousin Jerry in the northwestern part of the state (gotta represent at both, ya know). I will leave shortly to get there and afterward spend the night with my dad and stepmom. Susan, the girls, and I will all return to Dickinson on Sunday (albeit at different times).

So how have I spent my carefree two womenless nights alone?
  • Thursday -- return home from work around 5:15 P.M.; remove dress clothes and put on comfier shorts/T-shirt; lie on bed to finish reading magazine around 6:00 P.M.; fall asleep; wake up at 6:30 A.M. on Friday!
  • Friday -- return home from work and change, like the night before; go to the hardware store to pick up supplies for a few projects around the house; go to my friends Chris and Heather's for supper (knowing I was alone, they invited me over); play extensively with their son Keaton (a month-and-a-half shy of two years old), part of whose play routine included bonking first me and then him in the forehead with the bottles of bubbles I brought for him to blow in the backyard, each painful bonking of which was followed by a burst of giggles on his part before repeating same

One unit on campus at DSU has recently been cleaning out its supply of gag gifts and novelties (used at children's fairs during alumni days and at campus family events) and donating them to me for our unit to use as door prizes at our various events. I've been sorting through them and, knowing I was going to Keaton's for supper last night, I set aside a bunch of the better (read: "less cheap") toys for him. It was like Christmas when "Nen-nin" ["Kevin"] arrived and starting emptying the box of dinosaurs and cars and baseball-themed stuff and bottles of bubbles and inflatable animals and puzzles, etc. His mom and dad might not have been so pleased about the sudden influx of crappy toys, but I had forewarned them, so they smiled patiently.

Last weekend, our unit was responsible for all-day-and-into-the-evening orientation sessions for incoming students on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, which were preceded by hectic days of preparation the previous week and have been followed by days of exhaustion this week. We've been walking around the office like zombies, tending to the tasks that require the least amount of mental concentration to complete. Well, I think Thursday night's 12-and-a-half hours of slumber just might have been my body's way of catching up on lost sleep--d'ya think?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Now We Smell Like Smoke

We just had a terrific evening at our friends Justin and Janna's home. They had us over for tacos, and we brought a fruit salad and nacho chips with queso and homemade guacemole. We started with a tour of their house (we have had them over to our home a couple times, but this was our first visit to their house), which is an older home that they've done a lot of work on--not only painting but also constructing, wiring, plumbing, tiling, etc. It's very cute. Then we gathered at a picnic table in their back yard to eat. The weather was temperate and slightly breezy, making for a bug-free, perfect night to dine outdoors.

Their one-year-old daughter Eva, dog Snickers, and cat Scout kept our girls entertained until Justin started a fire (with the girls' help, actually) in his outdoor fire pit. We gathered around it and roasted marshmallows. I readied the graham crackers and Hershey's chocolate to turn the marshmallows into s'mores as they came off the fire. The night turned chilly as soon as the sun went down (and the breeze from earlier turned into mild gusts), so we appreciated the fire and the sweatshirts and blankets that Justin brought out.

Justin's hobby: winemaking. He had lined up a few bottles for us for the evening, although we started with a bottle made in SD and given to him for his birthday (which was yesterday). It was a strawberry honey wine . . . simply delicious. After that, he had planned to uncork his homemade sugar beet wine followed by his homemade blueberry wine. We never got around to either of those, but he did send us home with the entire bottle of sugar beet wine. That'll be interesting to tap into. We have a crab apple tree in our front yard, and he can turn those into wine, too, so I will happily donate to him as many buckets as he can make use of, since he is so generous to us with the fruits of his labors.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday Night Live

We really enjoy our wonderful neighbors, no doubt about it. One couple, Chuck and Reba, have children who attend gymnastics camp with our children certain days of the week for a certain span of time this summer (you can tell that I'm not the parent in charge of shuttling our daughters to and fro their summertime activities). Reba and Susan together escort their young charges, and while doing so today, they made a plan for our families to meet up tonight and walk to Young's Park to the Phil Patterson Memorial Bandshell for Tuesday Nite Live at the Bandshell.

Arts on the Prairie sponsors a summer series of free public performances at the bandshell situated at the top of a large hill in this park, which happily is just a few blocks southeast of our house. Chuck and Reba had loaded a wagon with blankets, lawn chairs, and snacks for the kids. We had a blanket, sweatshirts, and lawn chairs of our own. Their three-year-old son Jack pulled the wagon while six-year-old Madeline visited with Hillary as they led the pack of us on our walk.

Tonight's performer was Todd Pechtl, who (the program told us) uses the stage name Neo Briggs and is available for private parties, weddings, and funerals. (Funerals? This guy sang Journey, Johnny Cash, Three Dog Night, and Clearance Clearwater Revival!) He sang solo with no one and nothing else on stage but a CD player to play the prerecorded background music to which he sang the lyrics. Hmmm. He was a fine enough vocalist, but he mostly served as background noise while Chuck, Reba, Susan, and I visited and the girls ran around the park playing with Madeline, Jack, and several other children whose parents or grandparents had dragged them to the concert.

The performance lasted about an hour-and-a-half, after which we walked back to Chuck and Reba's and had snacks: bowls of ice cream for the children, and salty, crunchy snacks and adult beverages for the rest of us. The kids play together often and get along great, and we always enjoy visiting with Chuck and Reba, who have great senses of humor and are generous folks. Chuck is a jack of all trades and is going to come over to fix one of our underground lawn sprinklers because, yes, doing so used to be one of his jobs, and he still has scads of equipment for that profession. Well, of course you do, Chuck; why wouldn't you?

Here are some picks of Todd/Neo, the bandshell, and the girls at the concert:

Chuck and Reba put all the kids' Kool-Aid in Jack's sippy cups for ease of transporting and for prevention of spillage while at the park. Chuck thought I should take a pic of nine-and-a-half-year-old Suzanna using a sippy cup for potential future blackmail or humiliation . . . a high school graduation slideshow, perhaps? a wedding reception?

Poor Todd/Neo and his sad little non-space-taking-up CD player . . .

The crowd looks a little sparse, but it really wasn't; people were just sitting off to the sides and behind us.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pool Party

Today worked better than Hillary's actual birthday to gather her sisters and friends for a swimming party at the West River Community Center, so that's what we did. Susan made all the preparations while I was at work, so all I had to do was come home, change, and help haul the stuff to the party room at the Center. The girls all swam for a long while before coming in for cake and soda to eat and gifts to open. Susan made one of her signature Barbie cakes. Here are some photographic highlights:


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hot Stuff on Stage

Missoula Children's Theatre, Inc., came to town, and the girls participated all week. There were auditions on Monday, rehearsals at various times of the day Tuesday through Friday, three free workshops throughout the week--all leading to dress rehearsal and a matinée today plus an evening performance to wrap things up tonight.

I must honestly say that I didn't really catch much of the plot. The grade school gymnasium upon whose stage (you all recall stages built into the ends of rectangular gymnasia in schools, right?) the troupe performed the play was so hot and devoid of air flow that I felt I might pass out. I got up and stood in the back throughout the entire show, swaying back and forth to keep myself alert and fanning myself continously with my program. There was something about a vain stepmother, an innocent beauty sent into the forest, seven peculiar midgets, and a simple-minded woodsman who inadvertently saves the day. The script seemed appropriate for children and had a few laughs for adult audience members, too; but let's face it: no one was there having been drawn by the prospect of encountering excellent theatrical literature. We were all there to watch our children, grandchildren, neighbors' children, etc., put on stinky animal costumes and sweat under the stage lights for over an hour.

Truly they all did very well, especially considering the limited time they had to put together the production. The speaking roles went to older children, and kids our children's ages played forest creatures. Suzanna was a bluebird, and Abigail and Hillary were bats.

They weren't on stage much, but they were committed and energetic when they were on stage--especially Hillary, who really got into the facial grimace and intimidating stance when the bats were supposed to be scary. This was in stark contrast to her audition earlier in the week when she hid her face and feigned bashfulness when asked to state her name. Our daughter shy? Right.

The girls enjoyed the experience but were perfectly happy to turn in their animal costumes. They were not amused by the expectation that, between scenes, they and the other children sit perfectly still backstage side by side in their hot costumes in the stifling, still air of the "theater" (gym with stage at end). "Dad, there weren't even any fans!" That's because the noise would have distracted from our ability to hear the kids speaking on stage. However, I should think it's no easier to hear from the audience when one is in a heat-stroke-induced coma. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Adding to Our Friend Collection

We had a couple friends and their almost-two-year-old boy over for supper tonight. I grilled marinated prime rib steaks, barbecued chicken, hot dogs, fresh asparagus, and mushroom/onion packets (to top the steaks). Our guests brought potato salad and cut-up watermelon, and we had cold drinks to accompany our meal. Susan made fruit pizza for dessert. It was a great meal. The weather was beautiful, and we spent the entire evening on the veranda (they left around 10:00 P.M.).

The kids all picnicked on a blanket on the lawn. Before and after the meal, the girls spent the whole night "babysitting." Keaton is a good little boy who didn't need much entertaining or monitoring. He took to the girls and to our house and yard right away and was perfectly content to be outside all night long. His parents were calm about him, too, even when he and the girls were out of sight in the front yard or the garage. We had spent some time before they arrived determining which of the girls' toys in the house might appeal to a little boy, but we never had the opportunity to get them out since it was a very outdoorsy evening.

Keaton's dad is a good friend of mine from work, and it was nice to get to know his wife and their little guy. We like that we're gradually collecting more couple/family friends (although, Game Night Friends, they'll never replace you, nor do we want them to!).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hillary's Birthday

Our baby is six years old! She and her sisters had a slumber party in Suzanna's bedroom downstairs last night, and they were all still sleeping when I left for work, so Susan instant-messaged me at work and took dictation from Hillary once she woke up. Some highlights:

"I love you, Daddy!"

"I asked Abigail not to put her feet on me so that I could go back to sleep, but she wouldn't listen to a six-year-old's commands."

"Look what happened to my foot! It grew bigger! Must be because I'm six."

Faithful readers will recall that Hillary has been learning to ride a bike without training wheels, having gone straight from a tricycle to a bike. Well, she's done it: she's now an independent bicycle rider! So many other things that she does she now does because she's six years old (e.g., "See, Dad? I'm not fussing about ___ because I'm six now" or "Look, Mom--I can ___ because I'm six now").

She will have a birthday party with friends next week, so today was all about hanging out with her family. While I was at work, she opened some gifts and got to request what Susan would make for dinner at noon (macaroni and cheese). When I got home, we went to Hillary's choice of restaurant for supper: El Sombrero, a local Mexican eatery that we enjoy. Susan's dad joined us there and then returned with us to our home for birthday cake (angel food cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries). There was more gift opening and general delight-taking in the fact that we have Hillary in our family and lives (our general attitude toward all family members on their birthdays, by the way).

Does she look six to you? She got to request breakfast: homemade ice cream caramel rolls.

Hillary told the server at El Sombrero that it was her birthday, so the server brought her some fried ice cream for dessert. Hillary shared it with everybody at our table--had to save room for birthday cake at home, you know.

Grandpa Gustafson is such a good sport, letting Abigail dress him up.

Hillary blows out the six candles poked into her individual slice of birthday cake. I hope all your wishes come true, sweetie!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Comforting Poem

"Pensive? No, Just Thinking" readers haven't tended to respond to poetry when I post it, but still I persist. Why? A good poem entertains or provides insight using words in an interesting, thought-provoking way. Poetry is an underappreciated art in America, although it's been making a resurgence in our society in recent years. I am part of that movement, albeit in a small and perhaps-not-far-reaching way.

Okay, off my soapbox now. After the recent sudden death of a member of a professional listserve to which I belong, another listserve member offered this poem as comfort to those who knew well the dearly departed and were shocked at his loss. If you have ever had a loved one (family or friend) die, you may appreciate this poem's important message delivered in simple language and compelling images:

"In Blackwater Woods"
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Special Day

When I work up this morning, I was led to this:

The four gorgeous blond ladies of the house prepared for me a special Fathers Day breakfast: egg cakes, bacon, hash browns, fresh fruit/yogurt/granola parfait, orange juice, and coffee. While we ate the delicious food and enjoyed the love and mutual appreciation filling the room, I asked the beauties to pose while I snapped pics (arranged here in groups of three per person in order of age, starting with the almost-six-year-old blond):

Here I pose with the wrapping paper from my gift:

I received a grilling cookbook, a roasting cookbook, a pair of shorts, and some electronic utensils for the grill. They are a spatula and a serving fork, each with probes at the end to stick into the meat on the grill to determine its internal temperature to make deciding its doneness easier. I gave thanks and received smooches in return:

We were all too full for words at noon, so we didn't even eat dinner! But supper was another delicious feast. I grilled salmon, and Susan made fettuccine alfredo with crumbled bacon and fresh parley. We served the fish on the pasta and covered both with a shrimp and crab white sauce that Susan made. Fresh green beans and cheesy garlic Texas toast completed the meal.

Is it apparent to faithful readers that food is an important part of life in our home? So is love, and I was feeling it today. What a great and relaxing Fathers Day! I'm a pretty lucky guy. (So is my dad, whom I phoned this evening. Didn't that just make your day, Dad? Yes, of course it did.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Out Motoring

This evening after supper (burgers on the grill), we were in the front yard playing and tending to plants, and we heard an amplified announcer as well as the shouts of a crowd in the distance. The sky was a bit overcast, the breeze was picking up, but the evening was still young, so I asked, "Who wants to go for a drive?" Everybody did, and we packed into the Explorer, opened the windows, and went in search of the noise.

We found it: the Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl, a high school all-star football game with ND students vs. MT students, held at DSU's Whitney Stadium. (ND won.) We pulled up on the street, parked, and peeked in on the game for a while. Then we kept driving, windows open, just enjoying the breezy weather. Susan directed me to the scenic Patterson Lake Recreation Area and Dickinson Dam and Reservoir, each a short drive west of the city on the north side of the lake. We also drove around some lakeside neighborhoods as well as the new houses in the State Ave. neighborhood west of the city, admiring some of the homes . . . and being thankful for our own house when seeing some others!

It felt stormy outside, and Suzanna and Hillary were quick to close their window against the strong breeze. Abigail, however, took off her glasses ("I don't want them to blow away") and leaned her face as far into her open window as she could to experience the wind in her face and hair, just the way a puppy dog usually sticks its snout out the window when riding in a vehicle. Cute as the dickens.

It all reminded me of my own childhood when Dad would sometimes offer to take us for a drive of an evening to go "look at the fields," although it always turned into a peaceful, meandering ride across the gravel roads to admire people's yards, to check out cemeteries, and to see sights (and sites) off the beaten path. Fond memories and a fun evening tonight, too.

Friday, June 15, 2007

You're It!

Tonight's grilling menu: potato packets (with butter, onions, and crushed garlic) and barbecued pork loins served with broccoli followed by vanilla sundae cones from Schwan's for dessert. While the food was cooking, the girls and I walked around the back yard and admired all the perennials blooming (thank you, previous owners of the house). I don't know what they are, but perhaps some astute blog readers have a horticultural bent and can identify them for me?

After dessert, the girls moved to the driveway for more bike-riding lessons for Hillary, and Susan and I joined them to examine the flowers around the driveway and front yard and to sit on the bench and enjoy the beautiful weather. (This always makes me feel a bit like my own grandparents, who used to spend a summer evening seated in lawn chairs on the driveway, watching traffic on the highway past their house, petting their cats whenever they'd get near, and using broomsticks to squash ants within reach of the stick. We don't have cats, but our neighbors' cats run loose and spend quite a bit of time at our house. I have not, however, gotten to the bug-killing stage yet.)

At some point, I hopped up off the bench, tapped one of the girls, and shouted, "You're it!" Thus began a lengthy game of tag. Susan quickly became everyone's favorite target. She was quick in her tag-backs, making it nearly impossible for a daughter to tag Mommy and get away before Mommy had retagged the child. This tagging/retagging could have gone on in perpetuity had I not generously offered my outstretched hand to the child to tag me so that I might tag Mommy and get away before Mommy could retag me.

Yes, two adults somewhere in their 30s running around in circles on the driveway in their flip-flops chasing three little children in full view of the entire neighborhood and passersby both vehicular and pedestrian. What a blast! What a great summer!