Tuesday, August 28, 2007

With Liberty and Justice for All

The back page of today's issue of The Dickinson Press featured a photograph of some students from our daughters' elementary school. To begin yesterday's first-day-of-school, all the children gathered around the flag pole outside the front of the school building where some Boy Scouts raised the American flag while the students said the pledge of allegiance. The newspaper photographer snapped a pic of the event, and who should appear in it with her hand over her heart but our own patriotic fourth-grader, Suzanna!

Faithful readers will recall that this is not the first time the Moberg offspring have been featured in the local media. (Not-so-faithful readers will want to click the link in that last sentence.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

A New (Academic) Year Dawns, Part II

The new semester at Dickinson State University began on Monday (August 20) at 3:00 P.M. The unit in which I work, the Academic Success Center, is responsible for orientation and registration of incoming students, something we did all day and all night both Sunday (for freshmen) and Monday (for transfer students). We spent all day and night Saturday and all day every day last week and most days the rest of the summer preparing for these students' arrival (in addition to hosting three other such sessions in June for the remainder of this fall's incoming students). Will you take my word for it when I say that it was a lot of work, both in preparation and execution, and that I was tired out, both physically and mentally, by the end of the day Monday?

Will you trust me also when I say that nothing slowed down for us Tuesday, Wednesday, yesterday, or today? A number of international students and late-deciding domestic students came to campus each day needing help signing up for classes and were sent to us for assistance. I also had meetings to attend, classes to prepare and teach, and faculty and staff across campus requesting my help and advice each day, too. One evening at home, Hillary got into her pajamas and wanted to cuddle on Susan and my bed before getting tucked into her own bed for the night. Hillary and I leaned against the pillows propped against the headboard to talk and snuggle . . . and I promptly fell asleep. Another night I lay on the living room floor to finish reading a magazine . . . and fell asleep underneath the lit floor lamp.

My point (and I do have one): it's been an exhausting week or so! Please comment with your expressions of sincere sympathy.

P.S. It has been a fun week, too, in that (1) I've met literally hundreds of new people, both students and their family members alike; (2) I've enjoyed collaborating with colleagues across campus on the various projects required to make orientation a success; and (3) I've liked getting to know better the new staff who just recently (i.e., last week) joined our unit and who showed great stamina, initiative, and personable instincts as they navigated the orientation program for new students without themselves knowing much yet about the university.

P.P.S. Read this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A New (Academic) Year Dawns, Part I

Today was Susan's first day of the new school year. It's her second year at this school but her first year serving full-time as the 7-12 school librarian/media center specialist (last year her duties included teaching two sections of seventh-grade English, too). It's also her first year teaching with a master's degree under her belt, by the way!

Her big goal last year was to encourage students' use of the library (which had been discouraged in the years prior to Susan's landing this job), something she did by soliciting the donation of large, comfy furniture for a reading area; rearranging and redecorating the existing furniture and space (do you recall these pics?); coming up with new displays, bulletin boards, and programs for students and faculty; increasing the library's holdings (especially recent young adult literature); and just generally being friendly to the patrons coming to use the library.

This year she's adding other appealing features (modus operandi: make the library a place people want to come to and then trick them into reading/checking out books once they're there): a puzzle table for passers-through to work on a few pieces at a time; a Scrabble board on the wall for an ongoing contest, one player at a time; book-related trivia questions; a "come use the library" presentation that she will take to individual classrooms next week; etc. Isn't she a good school librarian?!

Our daughters' school year begins next Monday (and they will all attend the same elementary school this year), but their school held an open house this evening for students to meet their teachers, find their desks and lockers, drop off their school supplies, etc. Hillary will be in first grade and is seated right beside our across-the-street neighbor, Madeline (Chuck and Reba's daughter)--time will tell whether that's a wise choice. Her teacher gave her a "grab bag" of goodies: a pencil, eraser, bookmark, and some candy. Abigail will be in third grade (with the same teacher who taught Suzanna last year) and found waiting on her desk a sign that said, "Dip into some third-grade fun" with some candy attached that is a hard candy stick that one dips into the accompanying flavored candy powder. Suzanna will be in fourth grade and found on her desk a sign that said, "Wel-'gum'" with a stick of chewing gum taped to it. Even if they're not ready for school, at the very least they'll all be sugared up!

But they are ready. That was evident in their excitement to attend the open house, in their pride in their new school supplies as they placed them inside their desks and lockers, and in their joy as they greeted friends in the hallways and hugged teachers who remarked on how much the girls have grown over the summer. Our daughters are looking forward to seeing old friends, making new ones, getting to know a new school (in Hillary's case), walking to school every day with Daddy (their school is adjacent to the university), and learning. At what age American students decide school is no longer fun I'm not sure, but whatever it is, our kids haven't reached it yet.

P.S. After the open house, Susan and I took the girls to campus where one of the first-week-o'-the-semester fun activities was set up in the galleria of the Student Center: a photographer who would take one's photo posed on a giant chair (making anyone seated on it look like an infant, an effect completed by the use of oversized bottle and rattle props) and another who would take one's photo against a blank wall and then insert it into a snow globe. We got one "big chair" photo of the three girls together and had them pose together again for a snow globe, but that photographer printed out three copies and made a snow globe for each of them. Best part: it was all free!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Disappearing Man

Being married to a woman who loves to cook and bake (and who does both well) and living a hectic lifestyle that, ironically, leaves me too exhausted to exercise have not necessarily been good for my body. I'm healthy, yes, but there's just too much of me. Thus, on July 16, I started weighing myself daily and tracking my weight as Susan and I set about to eat more sensibly on a daily basis.

A few years ago, Susan followed a certain internationally known weight loss plan and found success with it. She still has the materials from that plan: cookbooks, reference books to look up certain foods, a slide rule-type device for calculating how much of a food item one can eat depending on its calories, fiber, and fat grams, etc. We've been following that plan more or less this past month, measuring our portions and eating plenty to get us full . . . just not so much of the fattiest foods and a lot more of the better-for-us foods.

Some keys to success for me: reducing portions of high-calorie foods; upping my daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains; eating breakfast regularly; cutting out the daily sodas (I used to drink at least one at noon with my meal and often another one or two in the evening); drinking water throughout the day (previously, my daily water intake was zilch); and virtually eliminating nighttime snacking (I used to enjoy ice cream or buttered popcorn or nacho chips with ground-beef-and-cheese dip and soda while watching TV of an evening).

I still need to add regular exercise to my lifestyle, which will help not only with the weight loss but also with the fit of my clothes as my body shape improves. However, even with just the effort to eat better, as of this morning, compared to a month ago, I'm 12.6 pounds lighter . . . and counting!

Lucky Nieces

Faithful readers will recall Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary's recent slumber party at their aunt and uncle's home in Mandan, ND. Aunt Cheryl has written about it--and posted related photos--elsewhere. Check it out!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Great North

Ever been to Alaska? Now you have . . . kinda. These pics are courtesy a former student of mine who has been to Alaska . . . and who happens to take excellent photos to boot. Thanks, Chad.

Currently Listening to . . .

. . . Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah"--check it out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

We're Famous!

Faithful readers, do you remember my family's recent trip to Battleview, ND to celebrate the 100th birthday of Bethel Lutheran Church there? Well, the Burke County Tribune has published an article about that celebration that proclaims that my family "sang beautifully" for the church service and afternoon program that day. Go ahead; read all about it. You know you want to.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

14 on the 14th

Faithful readers will recall that today marks a special occasion: the wedding anniversary of Susan and me. In fact, today on the 14th we're celebrating our 14th year of marriage! Yes, I know: we're so old.

We awoke to a quiet household this morning. Our sister-in-law/saint-in-training, Cheryl, asked several weeks ago whether she could come get our girls and take them to Mandan, ND for a slumber party at their house (she's married to Susan's brother, Jerrett, and they have a son, Arron). We spent almost an entire half-minute considering it before finally giving her our permission. So Cheryl arrived yesterday (and delivered a box spring and mattress that Susan's sister, Cassie, and her husband, Nick, left behind in Fargo, ND for us when they moved to NC last year, and that Cheryl and Jerrett this past weekend retrieved for us to use on Suzanna's bed) to get the girls, and we drove to Mandan this evening to retrieve them.

Before picking them up, however, we took advantage of the opportunity for a delicious meal alone at DiDonna's, an excellent Italian restaurant in Bismarck, ND. We each had a glass of wine and shared wild mushroom shrimp bruschetta for an appetizer, a portion so large that it alone could have been our meal. But we forged ahead to the soup course: tomato basil for Susan, potato pepperoni for me. We knew we were too full for our meals, but we had already ordered and felt we needed to put a dent in the main course: chicken paesano for Susan, chicken rolatini for me. We ate only a few bites before stopping and asking for "to go" boxes . . . and then ordering dessert! We shared one piece of chocolate mousse cake, which was sinful and divine, both at the same time. The meal did nothing to help with our recent weight loss efforts, but was it ever delicious!

We got to Cheryl and Jerrett's in time to watch them eat their own supper (lasagne that looked delicious, by the way):

The girls let us know all the wonderful things that Cheryl did with them, including but not limited to
  • going to the Raging Rivers Waterpark in Mandan
  • going to the Sertoma Amusement Park in Bismarck
  • eating at Space Aliens restaurant in Bismarck
  • having a slumber party in the family room after watching the movie Charlotte's Web and enjoying snacks that the girls got to select while shopping with Cheryl
  • fixing the girls' hair
  • painting the girls' nails
  • making crafts together
  • playing with Jerrett and Cheryl's dogs, Mojo and Max

Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary had an awesome time, and Susan and I were grateful that their stay with Cheryl hadn't scared her away from inviting them to do it again in the future. When we got home, the girls stripped to change into their pajamas, which were still in their overnight bag from staying with Cheryl. So, until Mommy got around to getting out the pajamas, the girls wrapped themselves in their blankies:

Abigail even took a photo of us. Here's what we look like after 14 years of marriage:

P.S. Thanks to Dad and Beverly for the card and beautiful candle, which will match our kitchen decor perfectly. Thanks to my sisters, Cathy and Sandy, for the cards (both paper and electronic) and for the phone call, Cathy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Abigail's 8th Birthday!

Today's guest blogger is Abigail, the birthday girl:

I woke up, and right when I got upstairs, my mom saw me and asked if I wanted fried eggs for breakfast, and I said, "Yes, please." I went into the office, and Hillary and my dad were watching video clips of Hairspray on the computer. Hillary stole the first batch of eggs, so I had to wait my turn to get some more. I ate breakfast, and I went downstairs, washed up, and brushed my teeth. I had to go back upstairs to ask Mom what I should wear. I got into my black "A" [monogrammed] T-shirt and into my white skirt that goes with it. Mom had to pin up my skirt so that it would stay on me.

Then we went to Peace Lutheran Church. On the way there, the van made funny sounds, so my dad started to turn around. When he pressed on the brake, the sound stopped. We turned back around and went to church. When we first got there, a lady asked us girls if we wanted coloring sheets. We said, "No, thank you." We walked around the corner and saw that there were chairs lined up in rows like pews. There was a kids' time when we went up front, and we talked about one of the day's Bible readings about the stars in the sky [Genesis 15:1-6]. The Silver Sage Quartet [four elderly gentlemen singing in four-part harmony à la barbershop quartets] sang three songs of worship during church; one of the songs they sang was a prayer ["The Lord's Prayer"].

After church we were about to leave when a man came up to us and asked if we wanted to stay for coffee. Of course, we said, "Yes." So we chatted and met some new friends. We ate fruit and a roll; the grown-ups drank coffee, and we (meaning my sisters and I) drank orange punch. Then we went to Applebee's. I shared with Daddy because the meals were so big. We shared a tortilla chicken melt and teriyaki steak 'n' shrimp skewers. I told our server that it was my birthday, so after I was done with my meal, I got a balloon and a birthday sundae, and I got a birthday song from Applebee's.

Abigail, the beautiful eight-year-old

Her complimentary balloon and birthday sundae from Applebee's

We came back home, and I opened presents. From Grandpa and Grandma Moberg, I got an Eeyore pen, lotion, body spray, a dress, denim capris, and a T-shirt. From Hillary, I got a Littlest Pet Shop toy. From Suzanna, I got a Polly Pocket toy car. From Mom and Dad, I got a pink CD player [when she unwrapped it and saw what it was, she exclaimed, "Hot dog!"], a Hannah Montana soundtrack CD, a fuzzy bear bookmark, an anklet, and a toe ring. I got a greeting card and savings bond from my aunt, uncle, and cousin Cheryl, Jerrett, and Arron (with the rest of the gift to come, Cheryl wrote) and a card from our neighbors the Olsens.

"You talkin' to me?!" -- Suzanna being goofy while watching Abigail open gifts

Loving every gift she opened!

Stylish clothing from Grandma and Grandpa

"Thanks for the gifts, Dad and Mom!"

Negotiating the clasp on the ankle bracelet

Modeling the new jewelry

Then somebody ding-donged on the doorbell. It was our neighbor Jordanne. She came into our living room, and we listened to my Hannah Montana CD, and then we had some cake. Then she left, and we played with my birthday gifts. Then we went mini-golfing. It was the first time I ever mini-golfed--or golfed--in my lifetime. It was really fun. Daddy won the game.

With birthdays so close together, Daddy and Abigail shared one cake.

Pre-candle-blowout: Hillary, Daddy, Abigail, Jordanne, Suzanna

Suzanna perfecting her form

Abigail following through

Hillary averaging ten strokes per hole (maximum par on any hole in the course: four)

Then we went to Wal-Mart to exchange my birthday clothes to get bigger sizes. After that we went to Sanford's for supper. Daddy and I shared a Cajun chicken Caesar salad, and we all shared an appetizer (chili cheese fries). Then we had dessert (they brought me ice cream piled on top of a big cookie), and I got a birthday song from Sanford's.

Abigail with her monstrous birthday cookie sundae from Sanford's (she shared, by the way)

After that we started off to Belfield. When we got there, we had to wander a little bit to find the movie theater. When we got there, we were early, so we talked a little bit, and then Mom got two large bags of popcorn (they use real butter) and a root beer. We watched the movie Hairspray. It is a movie that features a time when blacks and whites didn't really go well together, and Tracy Turnblad makes them both friends. The movie was very, very exciting and nice, and there were really no scary parts to me. I really enjoyed it, especially because of all the great songs that people sang and the great acting. I thought that [the character] Seaweed was a very nice dancer.

After the movie, we were the last people out of the theater. We listened to the soundtrack from the movie on CD as we drove back to Dickinson. My eighth birthday was the best of all my birthdays because I got to see the best movie ever, and I spent the day with my family.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

More Supper Guests

Daddy: Children should be . . .
Daughters: Seen!
Daddy: . . . and not . . .
Daughters: Heard!

They know the saying, but do they follow it? Not usually. Tonight they were both seen and heard as they kept our supper guests entertained. My coworker/friend Steph has a birthday tomorrow (as does Abigail . . . return, faithful readers, tomorrow for news about her birthday celebration), and she thought we should celebrate our close-together birthdays together. Steph, her fiancé John, and her sister Jenny had plans to go out tonight for adult beverages and invited Susan and me to join them. Instead, we invited them over to our house for supper and beverages as a warm-up to their going out afterwards without us.

As it turns out, John was called in to work tonight, but Steph and Jenny came over. The girls were energized and gave an animated, detailed tour of the house while Susan finished preparations for supper. We grilled burgers and enjoyed rum/brandy/fruit juice slushes and Long Island teas, moving indoors as the sun disappeared and the evening breeze froze us off the veranda! We had our dessert in the living room: Susan had softened vanilla ice cream and mixed into it chunks of brownie that she had baked and fresh raspberries that she had frozen--yum! Any time people gather in our living room, our daughters end up singing/performing, and tonight was no exception. We keep reminding them to be seen and not heard, but to them, to be seen requires also being heard. Love 'em!

Great Birthday

Although I spent my birthday yesterday at work, all in all it was a great day.

Thanks to my on-line presence, throughout the day I received electronic birthday greetings from a cousin (Rachelle K.), four Mobergs I don't know (Chris, Chris, Marcus, and Lars Henrik), two former coworkers (Wendy S.-P., Leif O.), two current coworkers (Steph S., Heather M.), four dear friends (Erin A., Darin K., Mishka K., Ruth T.), and a slug of former students (Cody B., Julie B., Kristina B., Nick B., Sara B., Seth B., Cory C., John D., Aaron E., Tony F., Ashley H., Matt H., Rikki H., Adam K., Herb K., Megan K., Mitch M., Nick M., Robert M., Dan N., Heidi P., Jeremy R., Brianna S., Eric S., Savannah S., Eric V., Haley V., Laura V., Luke V., Paul V., Heidi Z.).

That's in addition to e-mailed greetings from my two sisters (plus an "adult" e-card from Sandy) and e-cards from my wife (here and here and here and here) and three daughters (from Suzanna, from Abigail, and from Hillary) that kept me preoccupied all day long.

And at work, I received birthday wishes from the library staff as I passed through on my way to my office (how did they know? they didn't confess). Everybody I work with said "Happy birthday!" individually, but I also got a card from one of our student paraprofessionals on which she had put a photo of Mark-Paul Gosselaar (who played Zach on TV's Saved by the Bell) with the caption, "Those were the days" (the student paraprofessionals think I remind them of Zach). One of the library workers and a professor of choral music joined my coworkers in singing me "Happy Birthday" (the day before, my coworkers had sung to me "Old People," a silly-lyric version of the song "Short People"). I also got a "Happy birthday!" from the chair of the nursing department.

My coworker Josh gave me a framed photo of himself for my birthday (ha!); below his face, he wrote, "I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow"--a line from a funny moment in the movie Top Secret that I once said to him instead of "goodbye," and which was so random to him that he still thinks it's the most hilarious thing I've ever said (so far, that is). He and everybody else in our unit took me out for dinner at noon at Applebee's, where I ordered off the Weight Watchers menu but then unhesitatingly ate the complimentary chocolate sundae that our server brought me for dessert.

My family took me out for supper at Sanford's, where I had a burger with bleu cheese and Buffalo sauce on it, served with onion rings. Yes, it did nothing for my weight watching (other than to help me watch the weight go back on), but it was health food compared to the complimentary birthday dessert I was served afterwards: a plate-sized chocolate chip cookie topped with three large scoops of vanilla ice cream--one covered with strawberries and strawberry sauce, the next with chocolate chips and chocolate syrup, and the third with butterscotch chips and butterscotch syrup, and all of it decorated with canned faux whipped cream and sprinkles. Susan and the girls helped me, but I consumed the majority of the dessert myself. (I'm sore afraid of stepping on the scale today.)

When we got home, it was time for gift opening. Each of my daughters had made me fancy birthday cards, some requiring multiple unfoldings, some with poetry, and each requiring some oral interpretation/performance on their part. Susan made me a lovely card, too, with a sweet, sincere message inside. The gifts included a fire pit (and logs) for our back yard, a grilling mitt and grilling baskets (to hold fish or vegetables that might otherwise slip through the grate of the grill itself), two dress shirts with matching ties, and a CD of the soundtrack to the movie Hairspray (which we plan to see tomorrow night on Abigail's birthday). Dad and Beverly gave me a lovely card, too, as well as an assortment of seven ties that I can wear with my dress shirts for work (in the card, Beverly wrote that this is a "tied-up" birthday--ha!). I got greetings cards, too, from both my sisters and from my in-laws Jerrett & Cheryl and Arron.

We sang some songs at the piano for a while, and then changed into our pajamas. We spent the rest of the night checking out the extras on the Hairspray DVD/CD set, listening to the songs from the sountrack, and dancing around the office (yes, we truly did dance around the office, all five of us). It was so great to spend the day with coworkers and family who care about me and to hear from so many others who feel the same. Thank you, everybody! I had a great birthday.

P.S. My coworker/friend Steph told me that more people have birthdays in August than in any other month. Whaddya make of that, faithful readers?

The ridiculously bad-for-you, sinfully delicious birthday dessert from Sanford's

Me unwrapping the fire pit

My girlies and I on the veranda

Modeling my new grilling mitt

A bouquet of ties from Dad and Beverly

Family music time at the piano

Birthday smooch from Suzanna

Birthday smooch from Abigail

Birthday smooch from Hillary . . .

. . . and another . . .

. . . and another . . .

. . . and another . . .

. . . and another! What a smoochy child. What a lucky dad!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

August Celebrations

For those of you keeping score at home (and/or wanting to send greeting cards, gifts of money, or other fabulous prizes), August is a commemorational month for our immediate family:
  • August 1 -- anniversary of my start of employment at Dickinson State University
  • August 10 (tomorrow!!) -- my birthday (age: unspecified)
  • August 11 -- anniversary of our departure from our previous home
  • August 12 -- Abigail's birthday (8 years old)
  • August 14 -- our wedding anniversary (14 years)
  • August 15 -- anniversary of our entrance into our current home

Hurrah for August, a time to recall many new beginnings for our family!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Yay!" for Grandparents

Well, my dad and stepmom have completed their two-day tour of duty watching the girls by day while Susan was at workshops for school and I was at work. According to Dad and Beverly, the girls were well behaved. According to our daughters, they had a terrific time with Grandpa and Grandma. The festivities included
  • Grandma's putting the girls' hair up in pin curls [see photos below]
  • conversing and dining together
  • playing board games
  • playing card games
  • playing with Bandy (Dad and Beverly's puppy)
  • walking Bandy . . . and picking up her poo (a first for Suzanna since we don't have pets of our own)
  • going for a bicycle ride with Grandpa, who rode his motorized scooter as they biked
  • having Grandpa replace a bike tire that blew out on Suzanna's bike

Each night after Susan and I returned from work, we all had supper together on the veranda. Monday evening Susan's dad Roger joined us for grilled pork loins with barbecue sauce, potato-carrot-onion-garlic packets on the grill, steamed green beans, nectarine-kiwi-blueberry-strawberry fresh fruit salad, and ice cream sundaes for dessert. Tuesday night Susan made turkey-'n'-pasta primavera, nectarine-kiwi-banana fresh fruit salad, 12-grain bread, and homemade orange dreamsicle pie for dessert.

Last night we followed Dad and Beverly back to the RV park so we could see it. Camp on the Heart is located on the banks of the meandering Heart River, and it's a lovely setting. The weather was a little severe; dark clouds covered the sky, the wind was very strong, and there were intermittent bursts of rain. Nothing more came of it, however, and Dad and Beverly didn't have to take us up on our offer to take shelter in our basement if the motorhome seemed unsafe.

They stopped by the house for a final goodbye today while I was at work. It was so nice to leave the children in their capable hands, as well as to have them around each evening to join us for supper and visit. It's also fun to play with Bandy, who seems to like us all pretty well.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Time with the Grandparents

Susan has a two-day workshop at school today and tomorrow, and I have to be at work, of course, so we asked my dad and stepmom if they would like to come for a visit and watch the girls during the day today and tomorrow. They arrived yesterday afternoon and parked their RV at Camp on the Heart before coming over to our house for a supper of grilled Oregon salmon (thank you, Cathy and Kathy!), cucumber salad, beets (both the cukes and beets were from a local farmers' market), and couscous. Their dog, Bandy, nearly goes insane when she comes for a visit, so excited she is to see us all (probably especially the girls, who love to play with her, run with her, and take her for walks). Bandy discovered our backyard neighbors' dog, Maggie, last night, and the two of them almost clawed through the wooden fence to see one another . . . and all that barking? Oy vey.

I'll find out this evening how the day went with Grandpa and Grandma watching the girls. We might have to take those two home early and tuck them into bed with Bandy, depending on how tuckered out our daughters have made them! Faithful readers, I'll keep you posted.

(But isn't it great to be so near relatives who can do this kind of thing? And to have relatives who are willing to do this kind of thing? We love it here.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

From Start to Finnish

Are you willing to expand your musical horizons a bit? For the adventurous, I recommend the Finnish band Värttinä.

Years ago Susan and I received for a while the National Public Radio catalog in the mail (raise your hand if you're surprised--anyone?), and it had a section dedicated to international music. I ordered the Värttinä album Seleniko [sample select tracks from that album here], not a word of which I could understand (um, it's in Finnish) but all of which I loved. The album features some beautiful a capella numbers with close harmonies, some lively traditional folk tunes, lots of violent staccato enunciations of the consonants that seem to pile up in Finnish sentences, and overall an aura of weirdness (at least to the untrained non-Finnish ear). In short, it is wonderful for its uniqueness. It didn't seem to impress many of my friends for whom I played samples, but it wasn't off-putting to me.

I haven't listened to that album for a long time, but I was reminded of Värttinä when I recently read an interview of actor Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry in the Harry Potter movies) in which he talks about reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while listening to the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. I sampled some of that group's music on their MySpace page and thought of Värttinä. And guess what? Värttinä has a MySpace page, too! Now you can experience their music for yourself--if you're musically open-minded and curious enough to, that is. If you give them a try, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

P.S. Also loving at the moment? Much more mainstream (albeit indie) American artist Ingrid Michaelson, whose name sounds northern European but who hails from New York City. Even if you don't know the name, you might recognize "The Way I Am," which you can listen to here. Again, leave a comment below with your reactions.

P.P.S. Don't leave before listening to "Maamme," the Finnish national anthem, performed a capella by the all-male Polytech Choir. Lovely.

P.P.P.S. For those with a hardcore appetite for Finnish music:
  • Philomela -- An a capella choir with gorgeous songs that will send a chill down your spine.
  • Maija Vilkkumaa -- She sounds like an indie rock singer but can do harder stuff, too.
  • Antti Tuisku -- Music with a dance beat but Finnish words. Still, in an American club, who would be alert enough to know while going nuts on the dance floor?
  • The Rasmus -- The is the Euro club music that has made the group popular in Europe. You'll hear metal, garage band, and country music influences -- plus, the lyrics are in English.
  • Kimmo Pohjonen -- Hard metal accordian? Give it a try. Start with "Keko," which isn't as metal as "Optikus" nor as Rosemary's Baby as "Mantis."
  • Arto Järvelä -- Unusual melodies and harmonies on undeniably beautiful strings. Try the hauntingly beautiful "Over the Banks."
  • Troka -- "Finnish chamber folk." Come on, people, live a little! All their tracks are truly beautiful.
  • Johanna Juhola -- A little harder to categorize--tuba + accordian + electronica + Euro discothèque might make you feel as though you're listening to music of cafés from along the Venetian canals while lying in a nearby alley in a drug-induced stupor.
  • Timo Alakotila -- Finland's answer to America's John Tesh or Lorie Line? But don't hold that against him (ha!); his music is gorgeous and serene and uplifting . . . not to be overlooked (overheard?).
  • Maria Kalaniemi -- "Bellow poetry." More with the accordian! Listen to these sophisticated melodies--you've not heard anything like it before.
  • Pekka Koponen -- "Ethnic" instruments and voice; it could be ambient music if it weren't so ear-catching in its singularity.
  • Samuli Karjalainen -- From the MySpace page: "Samuli Karjalainen plays tin whistles, bamboo whistles and flutes, wooden whistles, guitar, vocals, bodhran, and fiddle." Don't you kinda have to check it out?
  • Markus Asunta -- Didn't you think it was pretty much just a matter of time until someone melded the traditions of Irish wooden flute and Finnish folk music? Me, either. But here it is!
  • Finski Folk -- Sounds like a cross between Lawrence Welk and Olive Garden! Ah, Finland, what a casserole of musical sounds!
  • Rainer Angervo & Leijat -- The name sounds like a Saturday morning children's show (by way of eastern Europe), but the music sounds like a Croatian lounge act.
  • At the End -- "Weaponized with pop and dark indie with distinct aftertaste of industrial metal and progressive rock" -- does that sound Finnish to you? Does their music? You be the judge.
  • Apulanta -- The aggressive metal instrumentals of At the End with the addition of Finnish lyrics--music you neither enjoy listening to nor can comprehend!
  • Ultra Bra Suomi -- Easier to listen to than Apulanta. Neo-punk and garage band influences (with a splash of '60s rock) underlie the Finnish lyrics and mainstream melodies.
  • 22-Pistepirkko -- "Electronic country garage rock." But what does that even mean?
  • Apocalyptica -- A cross between metal and classical! It sounds more inaccessible than it actually is.
  • Bomfunk MC's -- Hip hop/funk? In Northern Europe?! I know, it sounds like a Vanilla Ice redux, but it doesn't sound any worse than the American groups whom they're imitating.
  • JPP -- If you were to attend the wedding of a long-lost Finnish relative whose neighbors got out their instruments to play some jigs for the wedding dance, this is what you'd expect to hear.
  • Scandinavian Music Group -- Isn't the name alone reason enough to sample? You could also listen for the musical banjo, the melodic vocals, and the full orchestrations.
  • Finland's Eurovision songs from over the years -- Take a tour of the past few decades of Finnish music by sampling its entries in the annual Eurovision Song Contest (perennial underdog Finland finally placed first in 2006 with Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah," which may take you right back to the American music scene of the 1980s).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Goodbye, Harry Potter

*sniff, sniff*

I finished reading the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series of novels: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Did I like it? Did I hate it? Find out here.