Sunday, July 29, 2007

F. Y. Musical I.

In case you like listening to music, you might want to know that Yahoo! Music's LAUNCHcast is pretty handy to listen to when one is signed in to Yahoo! Messenger. I've been listening to its "The Coffeehouse" station and finding it kinda awesome, actually.

When I'm not signed in to Yahoo!, I enjoy listening to Pandora, which allows one to customize one's own stations. I meet all kinds of new and heretofore unheard-of (to me) artists via Pandora and LAUNCHcast, all from the convenience of my desk.

By the by, I'm being paid nothing by either Yahoo! or Pandora to promote their services, although I can't say that I would turn down an honorarium for my unsolicited advertising on their behalf. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

What Is the Neighborhood Coming To? A Party, That's What!!

We happened to move into a pretty wonderful neighborhood, and last night's festivities helped to demonstrate that. We hosted our neighbors at our house for a neighborhood party! People came from both sides of our block, from across the street, and from the blocks to our south and east; it was quite a crowd, and it was wonderful.

Some of the first neighbors we met when we moved here were Chuck, Reba, and their kids. Chuck and Reba used to live in Cheyenne, WY, where they would have block parties occasionally, and they mentioned a while back wanting to host one here. Some weeks later they wondered if Susan and I would volunteer our home for the party, thinking our yard, driveway, and garage were big enough for an outdoor to-do (their plan is to host a winter neighborhood party in their own large, unfinished basement). So one night last week, while I hung out with my sister visiting from OR, Susan joined Chuck and Reba in canvassing the neighborhood, dropping off invitations to the party and encouraging people to attend. (Another neighbor, Ivella, took a stack of invitations to deliver to the other side of the block.)

Who would come? We had no idea. I spent yesterday mowing and watering the lawn, watering the flowers, cleaning the garage, and moving all our furniture from the veranda to the garage. Our next-door neighbors, Leo and Ivella, lent us a card table and chairs to add to our own two tables and sets of chairs and another table and chairs lent by Chuck and Reba. I strung up in the garage several strings of lights with Japanese paper lantern covers, as well as eight large battery-operated Japanese paper lanterns to match. I moved lots of flowers off the veranda and set them up about the garage (we already have numerous pots of flowers set about our driveway), and the girls helped me decorate the driveway with welcome messages and art work using sidewalk chalk.

My tool bench/work area is a set of kitchen cabinets that the previous owners must have moved out of the house during a remodel and installed in the garage, so after I packed up all my tools and moved them temporarily to the storage shed, we had that long expanse of counter top upon which to set all the food (it was BYOB and a snack to share). We provided lemonade and water (in coolers borrowed from Chuck and Reba) and had another cooler of ice for people to store their own beverages. Susan made the lemonade, a couple pans of bars, a platter of raw veggies, and two large batches of baked dips with assorted crackers to start off the snack counter.

I moved the baker's rack off the veranda into the garage with a power strip in case anybody brought food in crock pots. We used that area to house the name tags and sign-in sheet, and Chuck set up a white board on which he had drawn a map of the neighborhood so people could write their names on the house where they live: a visual aid for those wondering where the other guests were coming from.

And come they did! At 7:00 P.M. promptly, people started to arrive, lawn chairs and mini-coolers and plates of food in tow. The map was a great conversation starter, and the name tags were very useful. As it turns out, not only were we getting to know the neighbors who had lived there long before our arrival, but they were getting to know one another depite the fact that many of them had lived in the neighborhood together for many years. All the kids ran from yard to yard, playing tag and hide-and-seek and baseball and keeping themselves occupied. People ate (it turned into a veritable banquet of snacks) and drank and sat in the shade of the garage or the warmth of the setting sun on the driveway and visited and got to know one another.

Once it got dark, one neighbor walked home to get his accordian, and he played a few songs for all of us gathered on chairs on the driveway. He disappeared into the back yard for a while and then returned like a pied piper with all the children following him. They had rehearsed a song, which they then performed for the crowd on the driveway. That inspired another neighbor to walk home and retrieve his guitar, which he then played for us while those who knew the songs sang along. It was like a campfire minus the marshmallows and fire (note to self: buy fire pit for next summer).

We heard so many words of thanks for hosting the event; people were thankful for the opportunity to socialize with those amongst whom they live, to put names to familiar faces, and to have a good time without having to go far. They're all looking forward to gathering again, and Chuck and Reba are already planning for the Christmas party at their house. By midnight, the crowd had dispersed, so while Susan tended to food storage and cleanup, I cleaned up the garage and put everything back in its place (so I could shut the garage doors for the night). Our girls went home with the next-door neighbors to have a slumber party with their youngest daughter, so Susan and I took advantage of the solitude and the serene and breezy night to go for a walk around 1:00 A.M.! What a great night.

Some of the food set up on the counter in the garage. (The sheet is tacked up to cover the otherwise unsightly display of paint cans, etc.)

The new Japanese paper lantern lights with the garage light on . . .

. . . and off (much prettier).

Jim and his guitar

Rick and his accordian

Rick and the kids rehearsing in the back yard

Rick accompanying the kids for their performance on the driveway

Friday, July 27, 2007

Relay for Life: Walking for a Cure

Well, my incessent nudging of faithful (and intermittent) readers to donate money to the American Cancer Society will now, in fact, cease . . . for about a year, probably! Yes, the regional Relay for Life has begun and will likely have ended by the time you read this, and the Mobergs participated for the first three hours. (More die-hard team members will remain for the entire relay from 7:00 P.M. today to 7:00 A.M. tomorrow. Those people either do not have small children or, if they do, are insane.)

We arrived at Whitney Stadium at Dickinson State University and found the tent that served as home base for the team of which we were honorary members: the Pirates for the Cure. The all-too-familiar flamingos were flocked in front of the tent, and there were various pirate-themed items around the tent. The team captains even gave our girls bandanas with skulls and crossbones printed all over them to suit the theme. The track in the stadium was lined on both sides with luminaria inscribed with the names of cancer survivors or victims whose friends or loved ones honored them by purchasing luminaria in their names.

All the participating teams' tents and stands lined the east side of the track's interior, and along the south and southeast of the track's exterior were food stands, silent auction tables, and raffle tables to raise more money. The bleachers on the west side held people there just to watch the start of the event, and microphones and speakers were set up on the southwest side of the track's exterior for all the musical performers throughout the night (with a dance floor on the interior of the track's south side for several dance performances that we saw).

Each team provided a contestant for the night's beauty pageant that consisted of the contestants using their gorgeousness to hit up others in attendance for donations. Teams were vying for the honor of raising the most money in the limited amount of time allotted, so they worked especially hard to beautify their contestants. Our team's contestant arrived after we did, so we watched the team captains do the fitting of the dress and tiara and the application of makeup and nail polish right there in the tent. Oh, yeah, one stipulation: each contestant had to be a male dressed as a female. Yep, "beauty" pageant in quotation marks.

After some opening remarks that we couldn't hear much of (the microphones were cutting out), the event began with cancer survivors making the first lap around the track. (I should mention that this was a walking relay; nobody intended to run for the 12 hours, nor did anyone attempt to run for even a few minutes, which would have set an intimidating precedent.) Their families joined them for a second lap, and then all the teams assembled for a lap. All teams need to have at least one member on the track at all times, so we Mobergs volunteered to start out since we intended to stay only a few hours. While we walked, we enjoyed the music and dancing, we visited with others we knew who also were participating, and we slowed down enough to examine the luminaries until we found the names of Susan's mom, Sue, and my mom, Mary Ann, as well as those of my stepmom's first husband, Kenneth, and several other people we know in the community.

Abigail and Hillary were ready to be done with walking around the track long before Susan, Suzanna, and I were, but they toughed it out reluctantly until finally Susan and I granted them a reprieve, took them back to the tent to bid the team farewell, and headed on home. Thank you to everybody who heeded my calls for donations and responded with monetary contributions to cancer research. Your help enabled the team to raise more than $1,000 to add to whatever the total will be for the night's/morning's overall Relay for Life effort.

The Pirates of the Cure tent/home base

The girls got to carry the banner for the team.

I told them to "look tough like pirates." Here you have it, then.

There's that darned Hillary making Dad do all the work again!

Here's Adam, our team's contestant in the beauty pageant!

Elizabeth Taylor likes to be filmed through a layer of gauze to soften the hard lines of time. I figured it would help Adam's femininity, but maybe I needed more layers . . .

Once dusk fell and the luminaries were lit, it was especially sobering to walk around the track.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chillin' in the Burning Hills

(HELP US FIGHT CANCER! CLICK HERE.)

Monday evening my sister Cathy and her roommate Kathy arrived for a visit from Woodburn, OR. They drove Cathy's pickup so that she can haul back to OR several items being stored at our house and at Dad's house. They had the distinct pleasure of arriving during our several-day span of 100-degree-plus weather (hovering between a sweltering 107 and a chilly 104 Monday afternoon), which was perhaps fitting because the temperature reached 108 degrees three years ago when we traveled to OR to visit them.

It was terrific to have them here. They got to spend time with the girls bicycling and swimming and watching them at gymnastics and playing around the house. Susan and I got to visit with them and enjoy great meals along with the local wines that Cathy and Kathy brought: a 2005 Riesling from Willamette Valley Vineyards in OR and a 2005 Gewürztraminer from Chateau Ste. Michelle in WA ("yum" to both). They got a tour of my workplace and learned more about what I do in my job, and they enjoyed Dickinson's impressive West River Community Center for water fun with Susan and the girls (while I worked--sad face) on a hot Tuesday afternoon.

The highlight of their stay here, however, was yesterday when we all went to Medora, ND. Faithful readers know enough to expect pics of the all-day, all-night event that was our day-trip 30 miles west of here in the heart of the ND Badlands. We left after an early breakfast and made a stop at the Painted Canyon Overlook en route to Medora:

Thanks to the camera's excellent zoom lens, I was able to focus in on the herd of bison moving swiftly in the distance.

Hillary, Susan, Abigail, Cathy, Suzanna, and Kathy

We arrived forthwith in Medora where our adventures started with a scenic drive and a short hike on the Coal Vein Trail in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's south unit (which happened to be lousy with bison yesterday):

The hike begins.

Does it still count as "hiking" if your dad is carrying you on his back? Hillary says "yes."

Lewis and Clark (Suzanna and Abigail) trailblazed, forging ahead of the rest of us. They were in an exploratory mood.

We descended a steep and treacherous path through a vale. We had to walk sideways down the hillside and cling to that large outcropping to keep from tumbling to our sure and certain deaths.

Notice the formation upon which I'm leaning? The next two pics are of it, too. I thought the pattern was interesting. It's made of a rock called clinker, but everybody in western ND calls it scoria.

See the ever-so-tiny frog in the middle of the clinker pile? That dude was about the width of a half-dollar.

My dad and stepmom, Beverly, had their motorhome at the campground in Medora, and we made several stops there throughout the day to refresh ourselves between jaunts. Dad and Beverly met us for dinner at noon at the Chuckwagon Buffet, where we had a delicious meal near large windows looking out over downtown Medora (with taxidermified bison and elk standing watch near the windows and hovering over our shoulders). Then we went for a trail ride at the Medora Riding Stables. The horses were docile and knew exactly where to go and what to do, making for a peaceful hour-long ride through the Badlands. Two guides rode along; one took the lead position followed by Hillary, Abigail, and Suzanna, and the other guide lingered toward the back of the line where Susan rode Bullwinkle and I rode Bobbi:

Hillary on Moose

Abigail on Nugget

Suzanna on Flash

The afternoon was spent eating ice cream at the Fudge Depot, browsing all the downtown shops (Susan and the C/Kathys), and frolicking at the playground (the girls and I). Then we all toured the Chateau de Mores, which the Marquis de Mores built as a residence for his wife, Medora, and their family during the summers that he had business interests in the area:

A majestic backdrop for an impressive set of playground equipment

These pics of Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary are taken looking down through a stacked-tire vertical tunnel opening onto a tire swing; I stood at the top looking down at each beauty in turn.

Daddy and daughters on the porch of the Chateau de Mores


That was followed be a deeeelicious meal at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue on the Tjaden Terrace overlooking Medora. The view of the Badlands was beautiful, and the meal was so scrumptious: seasoned, marinated steaks skewered on pitchforks and fondued in oil; baked potatoes; baked beans; cole slaw; garlic toast; crudités; beverages; and brownies for dessert. We enjoyed walking around both before the meal (to work up an appetite) and after (to work off the calories)!

Hillary poses beneath the flags that separate the Tjaden Terrace from the Badlands below.

The line for supper was long, but it moved quickly thanks to the efficient set-up.

Our steaks: all pitchforked and ready to be fondued

What a lovely setting for supper!

Abigail, Cathy, Hillary, Kathy, and Suzanna

To end our stay in Medora, we attended the Medora Musical in the Burning Hills Amphitheater adjacent to the Tjaden Terrace. It was an incredible show: a high-energy mix of comedy and regional and national pride, of dance showmanship and musicality, and of history and pop cultural references. The girls got to join approximately four million other children on stage for one number and receive a gift: a pin-on button celebrating the 60th birthday of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We were especially impressed with the keyboard player in the pit: Jared Lillis, who surprised us once with an incredible yodeling performance (yes, "incredible"--such vocal dexterity and precision) . . . and then surprised us again with an awesome gospel solo, grabbing a guitar and dancing around the stage, leading the ensemble around like a pied piper. We bought one of his CDs on our way out after the show. (I highly recommend that you check out his Web presence here and here, where he uses the stage name Jared Mason.)

The view of the Burning Hills Amphitheater from the Tjaden Terrace

Stage right

Stage left

The Burning Hills Singers and the dude who served as narrator

The dude who portrayed President Theodore Roosevelt

The four million children who responded to the actors' invitation for all the children to come down onto the stage -- can you spot the Moberg children?

Oh, okay, I'll help you out in your search: they're here. (Hillary and Suzanna look a little shell-shocked, but they really were having a good time. This picture is worth only a couple hundred words in their case.)