Sunday, September 30, 2007

Happy Birthday, E.J.!

Tomorrow is the 96th birthday of Susan's grandpa, E.J. (her dad's dad). Susan's aunts arranged for a few family members to gather this afternoon at the nursing home where E.J. now lives, and we had birthday cake, coffee, and some baked goodies. Susan's grandma, Laura (E.J.'s wife), is soon moving into an apartment in the building connected to the nursing home, so after cake and visiting, we all walked over to view the new apartment. It's new and very nice, and its proximity to E.J.'s home will make it convenient for Susan's grandparents to spend a lot of time together.

The girls were a big hit this afternoon with their great-grandparents. It's especially nice to see E.J. perk up around them, becoming more alert, enjoying their hugs and kisses, holding their hands, remarking on their resemblance to one another, and calling them "cute little guys." (E.J. was not necessarily known for this kind of affectionate reception to children in his earlier years.) It was a leisurely, family-oriented afternoon . . . and here are the pics to prove it:

E.J., the birthday boy

Susan's aunts Patty and Jackie (E.J.'s two eldest daughters) and her cousin Kathy (Patty's daughter) cutting and serving the ice cream cake that Patty and Buddy had made

The girls with their great-grandparents: Laura, Hillary, Abigail, Suzanna, and E.J.

A sight rarely seen: E.J. holding hands with a child! (That's Hillary, by the way, who also gave her great-grandpa lots of kisses on his forehead, stroking his head as though he were a pet golden retriever!)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Georgia on My Mind, Day IV

Today was dedicated to a leisurely return to Dickinson from Atlanta. I slept in, did some work in my hotel room, checked out, took the hotel shuttle back to the airport, made it through security, walked the entire length of the airport to my concourse (as when I arrived in Atlanta, I had plenty of time and no need to ride the airport's inter-concourse railway), and then scoped out the eating places located on the concourse housing the gate for my flight. My pick: Phillips Seafood, where I enjoyed scrumptious seafood salad and delectable hush puppies.

I had finished one book on the flight to Atlanta and knew that I'd finish another partway into the flight out of Atlanta (read about both books--Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Neddiad--here), so I made a stop at a shop to buy a couple magazines to occupy myself on the plane. My DSU colleague Kelly was on the same return flights, so when she arrived at the airport, we visited at the gate until it was time to board. We ate together at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport at Axel's Bonfire, where I had a great sandwich and a cold beer. We sat next to a middle-aged couple from Boston, and that gentleman peppered us with sports trivia questions that anyone who knows me could guess that I was completely unable to answer. They were friendly folks, though.

Kelly was a friendly folk, too, waiting patiently with me for my luggage in the Bismarck airport when she, luggage in hand, could have hit the road and gotten to her mom's house (where she planned to stay overnight) in short order. It was a long, sleepy drive back to Dickinson for me, but I'm home now . . . and so happy to be here, no matter how enjoyable and worthwhile the conference!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Georgia on My Mind, Day III

More sessions to attend today:
  • a session on tutor training (um, kinda lame . . . the presenters told bits and pieces of what they do at their institution but gave no new information and no complete details about what information they did share)
  • a delicious breakfast business meeting (the highlight: peaches 'n' cream French toast . . . gotta love Georgia peaches!)
  • a session on using creative inquiry to develop instructional activities for Supplemental Instruction sections (very useful presentation . . . lots of ideas that can be implemented at DSU)
  • an awards banquet featuring Donna Ford as a speaker (and more great food, including chicken in a delicious Caribbean sauce and genuine key lime pie)
  • a session that I presented on training student paraprofessionals with a foundation course on student development theory (it went very well -- all participants came from institutions without anything like it in place, so they were eager to learn more)
  • a session on using 6 Traits + 1 with picture books to help tutor college students in writing (presented by a woman with an elementary education approach to addressing the crowd, if you know what I mean . . . making it all the more difficult to imagine using this elementary/intermediate education approach with university students)

I could have used my knowledge of the MARTA (see yesterday's post) to go on another downtown adventure this evening, but I was pooped and opted instead to return to my hotel room and do some work. Okay, I also took advantage of the free Showtime in my room to watch Mission: Impossible III.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Georgia on My Mind, Day II

Although my hotel is very nice, it is not the hotel where the conference is being held. That is the Renaissance Concourse Hotel on the other side of the airport from my hotel. Fortunately, my hotel is running a shuttle to the other hotel each day of the conference, so the first order of business this morning was to catch the inter-hotel shuttle. Once at the Renaissance, I had to orient myself to the locale; conference events were happening on three different floors, and I had to find the correct one for registering/checking in! When I found the right room, I was greeted by folks whom I had met at last year's conference, which was a nice feeling and a good way to start off the conference.

This is the National College Learning Center Association's 22nd annual conference (faithful readers will recall my blogging about last year's conference in Harrisburg, PA). I had agreed in advance to moderate several sessions (moderate = help that session's presenter with setup, introduce him/her, and collect evaluations from participants afterwards and deliver them to the hotel room serving as conference headquarters), so I did that for two today (and will do two tomorrow) and was simply an attendee/participant for the rest of the day's events, which included
  • a session on conducting reading tutorials
  • a plenary session featuring Jim Jorstad as the speaker on the topic of designing learning centers with technology integrated (very interesting)
  • a session on turning tutor training workshops into for-credit courses
  • a lunch session at which participants sat at themed tables (ours: "program evaluation") to discuss topics of common interest
  • a session on diagnostic interview protocols
  • a session on Supplemental Instruction as it is implemented at a particular institution
Today is the birthday of Kelly, a colleague of mine at Dickinson State University, who happens to be in Atlanta, too, this week, albeit for a different conference held downtown. Before we left ND, I told her that I would take her out for supper on her birthday. Accomplishing that proved to be a little adventure. I took the Renaissance's shuttle to the airport (recall: I am not a paying customer of the Renaissance) and found the airport station for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). A MARTA employee there helped me purchase a round-trip ticket that would allow me to board the train/subway at the airport, get off downtown near Kelly's hotel, and then take the same route back at the end of the night. It was a quick, efficient, clean ride, and when I got off at my stop, another MARTA employee told me the right direction to walk once emerging from underground onto the sidewalks of Atlanta's downtown.

It took me a while to find her hotel amidst the skyscrapers of the area around which I was wandering. (Along the way I got a shoe shine against my wishes from a dude who more or less poured the polish on my shoes and started wiping before I had agreed to the polishing.) Once I found her, Kelly and I walked a short distance to Fire of Brazil, a churrascaria with a delicious and unusual hot- and cold-food salad bar to accompany the many, many different cuts of grilled, roasted, and barbecued meats that servers spent all night bringing to our table, offering us chicken wrapped in bacon, roasted lamb, spicy sausages, ribs, etc. I had crème brûlée for dessert, and they served Kelly a complimentary slice of cheesecake. Over the great food, we enjoyed friendly conversation and a chance to get to know one another better (she's been at DSU only six weeks or so).

I took the MARTA back to the airport and then waited for my hotel's shuttle to get me back "home" for the night. I felt like such a pioneer, having navigated my way through Atlanta for an evening on the town. But my own presentation for the conference is tomorrow . . . time to practice it a bit!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Georgia on My Mind, Day I

Greetings from beautiful Atlanta, GA! I am here to present at a conference this week (more on that to come). This morning I had the pleasure of rising early to drive to Bismarck, ND to catch a flight to Atlanta via Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. I found the Bismarck Airport to be quite nice. All the curves and the glass of the entrance are appealing, as is the light blue ceiling inside with white clouds painted on it here and there (it truly does look like a North Dakota sky).

The Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is much larger, of course, and offers exponentially more to look at than the Bismarck Airport. I enjoyed using up some of my layover time by walking the concourses from one gate to the next rather than taking the light rail transit available through the airport. I got a chicken sandwich from a fast food joint and then sat down to people-watch and to catch highlights from the news channel that was playing in the waiting area outside my gate.

The Hartsfield/Jackson Atlanta International Airport is pretty big, too, with gorgeous marble tiles for flooring that make it look less like an airport than a high-end shopping mall or business complex. Again, I was in no rush to get anywhere in particular, so I walked through the airport to the luggage carousel rather than taking the airport's trains from one end to the other. There is a section of the airport set up with displays of African sculpture and art work with tribal-sounding music playing on the overhead speakers as one walks through the corridor; it was nice to have plenty of time to look at that on my way through.

It was easy to find my luggage and then the area to wait for the shuttles to local hotels. I'm staying at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel Atlanta Airport, and I found its shuttle right away and got a ride to the hotel just a few minutes away. Friendly, efficient front desk staff got me checked into my tenth-floor room (lovely, by the way: modern decor, flat-screen television, beautiful view) and invited me to return to the lobby for a complimentary wine tasting at 6:00 P.M. (Eastern time, that is . . . two hours later than my watch shows). I was happy to oblige!

I asked to try the Riesling, but the sommelier recommended a zippy Chardonnay instead. As he poured, he assured me that, if I didn't like it, I could still get a glass of the fruitier Riesling. Well, I ended up enjoying a glass of each! Those glasses of wine plus the cheese, crackers, and fruit that they served along with the wine served as my supper tonight! Tomorrow: the conference begins.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Happy National Punctuation Day!

In honor of today's holiday, I shall now share with you four amusing punctuation-related items (yes, there is too such a thing as an amusing punctuation-related item!). Item #1 is the clipping above about punctuating the same sentence differently to create two entirely different meanings.

Item #2: The following tales from some of my colleagues who work with student writers at universities across the country:
  • "Years ago, probably around 1994, I taught a writing-about-literature course at a New York community college. In the writing sample of one student, I discovered something that I had never seen before: a punctuation blizzard. There were commas, semicolons, exclamation points, colons all over the place, interrupting sentences in the most unlikely places, following single words--in short, you could not see the writing for the profusion of punctuation marks. Astonished, I asked the student why he was placing all these punctuation marks into his sentences without any rhyme or reason. His answer was equally astonishing: without them, he said, the writing looked so naked. I will never forget this episode. A student actually thought that punctuation served to ornament writing, a dress-up of sorts. I need not tell you how long it took me to disabuse him of that notion and to get him to write sentences without using commas and semicolons as seasoning."

  • "Many years ago when I worked as a peer tutor at Mobile College, I had a student come in to work with me on a regular basis. One day when he was drafting in the center as we brainstormed ideas, I noticed that he was marking things off in the left-hand margin. When I looked more closely, I saw rows of commas, periods, and semi-colons, with a few colons thrown in. He was marking these off as he used them in his paper. When I asked him about it, he said that he had worked up a formula for how many of each should be used in a good paper, so he was making sure he met the formula."

  • "We had a student in the Writing Center whose draft was full of sentence fragments. The tutor asked him to explain why he was ending sentences in mid-thought, and he explained that he'd looked at the sample essays in his text and calculated the average sentence length to be about 20 words. So he just stuck in a period after every 20th word."

  • "A student athlete I tutored at Sam Houston State University while I was in grad school (this was before computers) put a period at the end of every line, whether or not the sentence was complete. The right-hand margin of the paper was a straight line of periods! He said a teacher had taught him to do it that way."

  • "I have something of a story, too, but it isn't mine. This was told to me by a colleague at another school. She was teaching research and documentation to a freshman composition class. She reviewed the first drafts of their research papers and then returned them for revision. On one girl's paper, she had written, 'Too many quotes.' When the student turned the final draft in, she had removed all of the quotation marks!"

  • "I once tutored a student whose punctuation was wildly erratic. Sometimes, it would be right. More often, it would make no sense. I could not discern a pattern, no matter how hard I tried. Finally I asked her how she determined where to put punctuation. Well, it turned out that she was a graphic design major. That punctuation carried any meaning was news to her--she had believed that punctuation marks were decorative elements, and she had been applying principles of design to her choices of where to put them. Her choices made sense to her--they were just completely out of context."

  • "And then there's the aesthete's approach to punctuation. Last semester I encountered a writer whose comma placement seemed particularly random. 'How do you determine where a comma should go?' I asked. 'Well, I noticed that the writers I like to read put commas where they look really good. So I put in commas where I think they look good.'"

Item #3: Surely you'll recall having visited this site and having determined your own punctuation personality profile. Right? Well, here's another option (from a student at another university who noticed the absence of the semi-colon from the list):

Semi-colon ( ; ) – You are pretentious and over-informed, or at least seem that way. Others view you as highly literate and thoughtful, but be careful of your mistakes. One false move could expose your charade to other Semi-colons if you're just pretending.

Item #4: You'll enjoy viewing this on-line video called "Passive-Aggressive Communications Solutions: Punctuation Substitution System."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

House Rules

According to a poster that Suzanna just created and brought to me:
  • If you sleep in it, make it!

  • If you drop it, pick it up!

  • If you eat on it, put it in the sink!

  • If you cook with it, clean it!

  • If it tells you it's hungry, feed it!

  • If you do not follow rules, consequence: Dad (A.K.A. Tickler)!

Dragging the Daughters to DSU

Susan, the inspiring and industrious parochial school librarian (those complimentary adjectives belong to Susan, by the way, not to "parochial school"), volunteered to run a book fair this month at her school during which students, parents, and community members could purchase books for themselves, for the school library, or for a particular classroom (for teachers who submit a "wish list"). She contacted Scholastic Book Fairs, who supplied her with the inventory. Volunteers from the community helped her set it up and have been helping with sales the past week.

So far, Catch the Titan "Title" Wave (titan = her school's mascot) has been a great success with hundreds of dollars of sales and numerous books added to the library's holdings. (Heck, considering that this is the first such event at the school ever--or at least in the past several years--selling only one book would have been a success.) It has required Susan to report early to work throughout the fair, though, in order to be available for students arriving to school. She scheduled it to coincide with parent/teacher conferences to take advantage of the presence of parents, who could then be persuaded to buy books for their kids. She also chose to staff the sales table during this weekend's volleyball tournament, nabbing many customers from out of town, too.

This all meant that the girls and I were on our own last evening and all day today. After school yesterday, I brought the girls back to campus for a community service "dinner auction" being sponsored by the Campus Activities Board. The Student Center ballroom was set up with tables for dining, and around the perimeter were serving tables, each staffed by members of a different campus organization. Each student organization had made a particular meal to serve a certain number of people (ranging from five to 15). Attendees first toured the tables to see which menus seemed most appealing. Then an auctioneer went around the room and sold the meals to the highest bidders. Many went for $60 or $70 per plate, with the winning bidders buying three or four plates at a time! By the end of the bidding, the remaining plates were selling for $5 to $10 each, and every available meal was sold.

I sat at a table with a half-dozen of my coworkers, and all our children sat together at an adjacent table. I was out-bid on a number of the menus, and I over-bought when I did get the winning bid. We all shared our plates at our table anyway, so we all got to sample some of everything in the smorgasbord that covered our table after we all had bought way more food than we could possibly eat. The idea was to make sure that every meal was bought so that the organizations' work wouldn't be for naught and so that the maximum amount of money could be collected (all donations went to local charities). Here's what we ate (and what we took home a lot of):
  • corned beef, cabbage, Irish stew, soda bread, lettuce salad, and choice of baked potato or a fried potato patty like a latke, with brownies for dessert [I bought five plates from this organization]
  • stuffed mini-pumpkins (with a hamburger and rice mixture), pumpkin bisque, pumpkin cheescake, and spiced apple cider
  • Jamaican jerk chicken, rice and beans, fruit and lettuce salad, tropical fruit juice, and a chocolate and coconut tart
  • grilled sirloin steak, baked beans, and chocolate cheesecake bars
  • taco bar: nacho chips covered with--or taco shells stuffed with--lettuce, hamburger, tomato, shredded cheese, tomato, black olives, etc., with brownies for dessert
  • buffalo stroganoff, green beans with ham, and biscuits with mixed fruit topping [I bought two plates from this organization]
Dining Services had also made available hot dogs and hamburgers and potato chips for anybody who was outbid and left meal-less. At the end of the night, there were still many dogs and burgers left over (and headed for the garbage anyway), so we took home several of those, too. Our fridge is now overstuffed with delicious food that Susan will get to sample for supper tonight.

This afternoon Dickinson State University's football team is playing South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Prior to the game, there was a free chili feed and pep rally held at King Pavilion on campus, so the girls and I (once again Susan-less) walked back to campus before noon and enjoyed delicious chili with chopped onions and shredded cheddar cheese, crackers, corn bread, and lemonade. A student wearing the Buster Blue Hawk costume (blue hawk = DSU's mascot, and Buster is an oversized version who joins the cheerleaders at games) was at the chili feed, so the girls and I posed with him for a photo, which will be mailed to us free of charge. Soon after we finished eating, the marching band made its way across campus to the pavilion. The cheerleaders joined them and did choreographed routines to several songs as a pep rally before people headed over to Whitney Stadium for the game.

The girls opted out of attending the game afterwards (Suzanna: "I don't get football. I don't understand the rules"), so instead we walked home, made a brownie-vanilla ice cream sundae, and walked it to Susan as a treat in the middle of her long day of book-selling. Tonight, she will get to sample some of what the girls and I enjoyed from our weekend walks to DSU.

Breaking News!

As a follow-up (or is it follow up? or followup?) to yesterday's reminder of Monday's being National Punctuation Day comes this shocking news about the possible demise of one of the punctuation world's most long-standing (long standing? longstanding?) stalwarts. Read it now! (And the story comes directly from the BBC, so it must be true.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Am I a Question Mark?

Monday is National Punctuation Day. In honor of that occasion, I invite you to visit this site to determine which punctuation mark best represents your personality. You may even be inspired to pin to your lapel on Monday a notecard upon which you have written your representative punctuation mark! Don't leave this holiday uncelebrated.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Abigail's Awesome Answer

One of our family's favorite things to do during supper each night (throughout the school year) is to share the assignments, homework, projects, tests, newsletters, handouts, etc., that the girls bring home each day from their teachers. They unload their backpacks, and while we eat, Susan and I go through the stacks with the girls.

We "ooh" and "ah" over their good scores and prompt them to reflect on their errors and plan for doing better on the next such assignment or test. We discuss their report cards and behavior reports and quiz them on their spelling word lists and compliment them on their art projects and sign the forms that require parent signatures and ask them to explain what they're studying when we see their study guides and bug collection project instructions and maps to color and books to read.

We listen to their stories about the school day and about their friends and the kids who frustrated them on the playground and the goings-on in their classrooms. We also help them talk through their after-supper and before-breakfast plans: who will read what before bedtime, who will need help studying over breakfast for an upcoming quiz, who has no homework and will instead get right to practicing her piano lessons after supper, etc. It's a good use of time not only to eat but also to bond as a family and stay informed about our children's lives away from us during the day.

That was a lot of set-up for this amusing anecdote:

Abigail brought home a handout that her teacher gave her class of third-graders to provide them practice reading and using a product manual. The handout defines "manual" at the top ("contains directions that help readers use or understand something") and then includes an excerpt from a bicycle manual followed by five questions that the students were to answer by referring to the information in the excerpt. One section of the manual is titled, "Filling a Tire with Air"; here it is in its entirety:

Locate the nozzle on the inside rim of the tire. Remove the cap from the nozzle. Attach a standard bicycle pump to the nozzle. Use the pump as directed. Fill the tire until it is firm. Remove the pump. Replace the cap and screw it tightly in place.

Question #5 corresponds to this excerpt and asks, "What tool would you use to fill a tire with air?" Abigail's answer? Nope, not "bicycle pump."

She wrote, "air compressor."

The teacher did not mark Abigail's answer wrong. Should she have? After all, Abigail did not take the information from the excerpt and use it to answer the question. Clearly, "bicycle pump" is the "correct" answer, according to the bicycle manual provided. And the instructions do specify, "Use the bicycle manual page to answer the questions."

The teacher must have inferred that Abigail was relying on personal experience, not the manual, to answer the question. Daddy uses an air compressor to fill bicycle tires at her house; that was the correct answer, manual be damned! An A+ for the teacher for not marking Abigail's answer wrong. Abigail's response certainly revealed to the teacher Abigail's knowledge, and it likely brought a smile to her face, too. It made Susan and me laugh out loud, that's for sure.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Theodore Roosevelt Symposium

Today was Day 2 of a three-day Theodore Roosevelt Symposium featuring speakers and participants from across the country and sponsored by Dickinson State University. I was not able to participate last year, but I registered for it this year (no cost to faculty, staff, or students) so that I might attend as much of it as possible. I've never really known much about President Teddy Roosevelt, but he's a very big deal in southwest ND (and at DSU; check this out) due to his having lived here before his presidency and his having attributed his success in life at least partially to his experiences while here. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more.

I had appointments throughout the day, but I was able to attend a late-afternoon presentation by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton (professor emeritus of history at the University of North Dakota) . . . that focused not on President Roosevelt but instead on the Marquis de Mores, a contemporary of Roosevelt's whose fame in this region comes from his having founded the nearby town of Medora, a major tourist attraction for the state. Although not much about Roosevelt, it was interesting nevertheless; it expanded on what our family had heard about the Marquis from the guides on our tour of the Marquis' chateau in Medora in July.

Afterward I accompanied my colleague Autumn (herself a history major) to a social held at the beautiful Alumni/Foundation House just east of campus. We enjoyed wine, appetizers, and conversation before supper, which was held across the street (and back on campus) in the Student Center ballroom. I sat next to Rebecca, a representative of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Her previous jobs included ten years in the U.S. Navy and some positions with historical preservation groups that purchase and restore Civil War battle sites. As you might imagine, she was an interesting conversationalist. (And the meal was good, too: spinach salad with raspberry dressing, slivered almonds, and craisins; multi-grain dinner rolls and butter; two medallions of steak; mashed potatoes; steamed broccoli; chocolate cake layered with cherries; and coffee and water.) (That description was for our "game night" friends' benefit, by the way.)

The speaker during supper was Lowell Baier, executive vice president of the Boone and Crockett Club, a non-profit organization that is part of President Roosevelt's conservation legacy in America. Tomorrow he and others from his organization will join TR Symposium participants in traveling to Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch about an hour from here in the heart of the ND Badlands. The Boone and Crockett Club was instrumental in the recent purchase of that land by the U.S. Forest Service, and the acquisition of Roosevelt's ranch will be commemorated tomorrow in conjunction with the Symposium. (However, not everyone in the region is happy about the event; read this.)

After supper, we attended the "world premiere" of TR: That Man in the White House (subtitled "How Theodore Roosevelt Thirsted for Re-election in 1904 and Bested His Political Rivals While Refusing to Compromise His Core Political Values"--whew!), a radio drama adapted from a full-length script by Hermann Hagedorn and Allan Kenward. It was broadcast live over local radio and featured DSU students, faculty, and friends portraying the roles in reader's theatre style. Performing the role of Roosevelt was Clay Jenkinson, a regional "man of letters" known nationally for his syndicated radio program The Thomas Jefferson Hour and regionally for his scholarship and "historical interpretations" performing as Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, and Roosevelt. He also serves as director of the newly created Theodore Roosevelt Center on our campus and as moderator of the TR Symposium itself. His performance was appealing, and being part of a live radio broadcast was fun, too.

Although I never particularly enjoyed history in high school, I have found myself more and more intrigued by the subject with each passing year (perhaps due to my becoming more and more historical over time). I'm glad to have taken advantage of this local opportunity for self-enlightenment on historical topics of both regional and national significance. And if you have clicked on any of the links provided above, then you, too, have learned a bit more about Theodore Roosevelt, just as I did from participating in the Symposium.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kevin, Like Marlon Brando, Is "The Godfather"

The shameless reference to The Godfather is simply to draw in readers, I admit. Raise your hand if you're reading this post now solely due to its intriguing title. Anyone?

Nevertheless, I am a godfather to my cousin Herbert's son, Christopher. Herbert's parents are Leroy and Marcella, who is one of my mom's sisters. They used to live in Williston, ND, some forty-five minutes away from the farm upon which I grew up, so I saw them all with regularity throughout my childhood. For the past many years, they have all (including Herbert's wife, Aree, and their daughter, Jennifer) lived in Kennewick, WA. Marcella has been good about staying in contact through the years, often sharing school- and sports-related newspaper clippings about Christopher as he has developed into the 19-year-old man he is today.

We last saw them all about three years ago when we stopped by Marcella and Leroy's house on our way through Kennewick en route to my sister Cathy's home in Gresham, OR (at the time). Well, tonight was their turn to visit us! Marcella sent us a card in August saying they would be in ND September 10 and would stop to visit us in Dickinson. Susan prepared a turkey/mashed potatoes/stuffing/gravy/sweet potatoes/corn/Jell-O salad + chocolate cake supper last night in case they arrived on the 10th and could dine with us. They arrived this evening instead and phoned us from their hotel after they'd eaten.

So, after the girls were done with ballet lessons, we met them at their hotel and visited for several hours. Christopher didn't really remember our visit three years ago, and Herbert had been at work and wasn't able to see us back then . . . and hadn't seen me since moving to WA, so he had never even met Susan or the girls! We had a good visit and got caught up on the big goings-on in one another's lives. I was looking forward to seeing Marcella because she resembles her mom, my grandma Mary (deceased), so very much that seeing Marcella is like seeing Grandma Roloff again! She even has Grandma's hands and soft arms (my sisters will know exactly what I mean by that). The girls took to her right away, too, hugging her and sitting in her lap and treating her like a grandma.

So there was much hugging and handshaking all around. There was also much giggling on the part of the girls at Herbert's jokes and good-natured teasing and goofiness. And, of course, there were many photos taken. Here's one of the Roloff relatives:

front row: Christopher, Herbert, Marcella, Hillary, Abigail, Suzanna
back row: Kevin, Leroy

In addition, Marcella came bearing gifts: an afghan and two doilies that she herself had crocheted:

As you can see, they're beautiful, and I very much appreciate their keepsake value: they will always remind me of her and her lifetime of needlework, something that I associate, too, with Grandma Roloff (as well as many other relatives, for that matter). It was good to visit with them all and to see Christopher again, who just keeps getting taller and more muscular with every passing year and who seems to be a very fine young man. It's difficult to imagine that he's the same guy I held as a baby at his baptism nearly twenty years ago!

They will leave tomorrow to continue their travels through ND, reintroducing--or, in some cases, introducing--Christopher to his relatives from this part of the world. We're so glad they included us in their itinerary!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Piecing It Together

A great (and traditional) way to spend a Sunday evening? Working with your family to put together a puzzle. The girls all headed to the table in the homework/crafts/scrapbooking/stamping/cardmaking corner of the family room downstairs. Hillary spent her time coloring while Suzanna and Abigail put together a colorful puzzle. They borrowed the digital camera to capture their handiwork in perpetuity:

Abigail

Suzanna

A New Home for Us

Today at St. John Lutheran Church was Rally Sunday--the day each September that the church kicks off its fall worship and class schedule. Various series of classes for adults and families (on becoming new members, on being good stewards, on studying the Bible, on strengthening one's marriage, etc.) will begin soon. Today also marked the return to the school-year schedule of worship services: one at 8:00 A.M. and one at 10:30 A.M., leaving time in between for coffee at 9:00 A.M. and Sunday school at 9:15 A.M.

Because Sunday school doesn't begin until next week, that interim span of time today was dedicated to "rallying" parents to sign up their children for Sunday school. The lawn on the west and south sides of the church was set up with a gigantic inflatable slide and another inflatable castle for children to play on and in while their parents approached the tables set up on the lawn to register children for Sunday school, to get a doughnut, to see photos from a recent church mission trip, and then to visit in the beautiful, cool, end-of-summer/beginning-of-autumn morning weather.

We "rallied" up our courage, too, to fill in the paperwork to become members of St. John. Related dates to add to our calendar:
  • Wed., Oct. 10, 7:00 P.M. -- new member information session: learn about the history of St. John, meet the staff and clergy, meet other new members
  • Wed., Oct. 24, 6:00 P.M. -- pizza with the pastors: casual meal with time for conversation and a special service project
  • Sun., Oct. 28, 9:50 A.M. -- new member reception and introduction to sponsors, followed by welcome to the church during 10:30 A.M. service

Although St. John is no Calvary Lutheran Church, our beloved church that we left behind when we moved to Dickinson, it does seem to be a good church with active members and plenty of programs to encourage and nurture one's faith. (Calvary just has such energy--from its young and old members alike--and optimism and an innovative perspective on serving its members, the community, and the world. When we told our friend and fellow Calvary member, Judd, last weekend that "St. John is no Calvary," he said, "No church is like Calvary.") Susan's grandma, Laura, is a member of St. John, as are several of my colleagues from the university. It seems, too, that each time we attend a service, we note more people whom we recognize from the girls' school or as parents of the girls' friends. After a year of sampling and delaying, we're looking forward to having, finally, a church home in Dickinson.

P.S. With five simple words following church today, Suzanna resurrected a tradition from our years at Calvary: the weekly post-church dining-out experience. On our way back to the vehicle this morning, Suzanna asked, "May we go to Jack's?" Jack's Family Restaurant and Catering is a great little place, not far from the university, that Susan remembers fondly from her childhood when her aunts would take her there for a treat. Years ago it had drive-up service, but now it's a sit-down restaurant with surprisingly tasteful rooster decor throughout and a decidedly "small town café" feel about it, including a seat-yourself-if-you-can-find-an-available-table policy (even if the table is currently dirty--the server will clear it off once she finally gets around to bringing glasses of water and menus to the table).

I've enjoyed Jack's ever since my days of first dating Susan; each trip back to Dickinson from then on included a stop at Jack's for a bowl of their homemade borscht (their version: a creamy ham and vegetable soup with cabbage and just enough beets for color) and a Jack's burger (essentially a cheeseburger with Thousand Island dressing and coleslaw on it). Those items were on our table today, too, along with broasted chicken and potato salad for me (two more items that Jack's does exceptionally well). Jack's never has enough servers on staff, so the wait to get a menu and place an order can test one's patience. However, the food always arrives quickly thereafter, and it's always delicious and satisfying.

By the way, does anybody who knows us fairly well recall our daughters' favorite restaurant to go to after a Calvary service? Not-terribly-helpful-hint: It's a restaurant that Dickinson does not have. Click "comments" below to venture a guess. The winner gets a bowl of borscht at Jack's. (Susan, you do not qualify to play.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Nostalgia-vision

My sisters and I are reminiscing on-line about television shows from our childhood. Check out this post on my sister's blog as well as the comments for that post. Feel free to add your own opinions, too!

Are there shows from your childhood that you'd like to comment on? Click on "comments" below and fire away!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Made Ya Smile!

Two funny things I encountered today, thanks to listserves to which I subscribe:

(1) A haiku that is itself a comment on haiku:

Haiku are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense
Refrigerator


(2) A T-shirt slogan:

I have upped my standards; up yours.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Burst of Sun

Look what's growing on the west side of our house amidst the moss roses:

This spring, BP was offering free packets of sunflower seeds at its gas stations as part of a pro-environmental yet self-promotional campaign (the tie-in? its logo is a geometric representation of a sunflower).

So I picked up a packet, went home, and planted the complimentary sunflower seeds. Two plants popped up, and one just began to blossom over the past few days. It's the first sunflower that our daughters have seen up close (whereas I grew up with entire fields of sunflowers on surrounding farms in northwestern ND).

P.S. Those of you dragging your feet to put in an offer on the for-sale house across the street from ours are now out of luck. Today a "sold" sign went up in the yard, and our daughters immediately registered their wishes: "I hope they [the new homeowners] have a fourth-grader/third-grader/first-grader." We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, "Pensive? No, Just Thinking"!

Three years ago today, I started this humble little Web log ("blog"), writing basically for an audience of two (my wife and me). Gradually my students discovered it and started to read and comment, and even later my family and friends took note and started checking in from time to time.

(Note: There are still some of you who "lurk," reading but never commenting to let me know that you've visitied. You are pure evil!)

So what was on my mind on this day three years ago? Come back in time with me and revisit, if you will, that inaugural post, curious reader.

P.S. Two years ago, I was pooped! One year ago on this date, I posted nothing.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Start-of-School Photo Album

Faithful readers, you are accustomed to copious photographs of the Moberg children. Were you wondering how we could have neglected to snap pics of our daughters at the beginning of the school year? Then you have misjudged us! It is for you, dear reader, that I now share these photographs:

Hillary, Suzanna, and Abigail march off to school on Open House night.

First-grader Hillary at her desk and locker.

Third-grader Abigail (who has the same teacher this year whom Suzanna had last year, by the way) at her desk and locker.

Fourth-grader Suzanna at her desk and locker.

The lovely darlings posing the morning of the first day of school.

Papa Duck marching off to school with his ducklings. The girls' school is adjacent to the university campus, so in the mornings I've been walking them to school and then continuing on to work myself. After work, I've been picking the girls up at their after-school program (held at the school) and walking them home. We get lots of good conversation going during our walks!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Surprises for the Girls

Just 'cause I thought it was a cute pic!

The Sunday of Labor Day weekend definitely has the potential to be such a lazy, relaxing day. Alas, that was not to pass for the Mobergs today--but we had a pretty darned good day anyway, including a couple of surprises for the girls.

Despite our having arrived home really late last night from our shopping day in Bismarck, we woke the girls pretty early this morning to eat breakfast and get ready for church. One of the day's surprises involved meeting our friends Chris and Heather and their son, Keaton, for dinner at 11:30 A.M., so we didn't want the girls sleeping in and eating a late breakfast and having no appetite later on. After church we spent an hour getting started on a thorough house-cleaning in preparation for the evening's surprise (more on that in a moment) and then were off to Sanford's for dinner and visiting/catching up. (By the way, while there we saw our neighbors Chuck and Reba, whose visiting family [Chuck's mom from NE and Reba's sister from MT] we got to meet.)

Afterwards we headed to the Prairie Hills Mall for "Dollar Days." I got a great deal on a shirt from Herberger's, and we got to visit with Susan's aunt Mary, her daughter Laura, and Laura's son, Kaden, at Kmart (where a woman helping us at the checkout counter wore a name tag with the job title "People Coach" on it . . . what exactly is that, anyway?!). We got home to a phone message from my sister Sandy, so I phoned her and had a nice visit with her (as did the three girls, who kept her entertained with their comments). Then we went back into house-cleaning mode, getting every room vacuumed, dusted, and put into good order in anticipation of the next surprise.

As a college student, Susan used to babysit for a family whose daughters eventually babysat for our children years later! That family was in Medora, ND this weekend (from Grand Forks, ND) for a wedding, and they arranged to meet us this evening for supper, and we chose not to tell the girls. Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary were delighted to walk into El Sombrero for supper and be greeted by Megan (daughter) and Idette (mom)! Judd (dad) and Alyssa (other daughter) were waiting for us at the table. Perhaps needless to say, there was much squealing and hugging before we could sit down, and then much visiting and catching up throughout the meal. Afterwards, they came over for a tour of our home before heading back to Medora to catch the musical. (The day o' cleaning was for the possibility of their wanting to see our house--good forethought, eh?)

Hillary, Alyssa, Suzanna, Megan, and Abigail

We ended our evening with a 45-minute walk around the neighborhood and some HGTV and Food Network before bedtime. Great day!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Shopped 'Til We Dropped

(Happy anniversary, Cheryl and Jerrett!)

We had hoped to be able to see Susan's brother and his wife in Mandan, ND today and maybe take them out to supper for their anniversary, but their work schedules and prior commitments made them unavailable today. That didn't stop us, however, from making the trip to Bismarck/Mandan anyway. After all, we had shopping to do!

We arrived at Sam's Club late in the morning having worked up just enough of a pre-dinner appetite to fully appreciate all the food samples being doled out at stations set up throughout the store. We loaded up the van with our purchases, filled on gas ($3.11 per gallon at Sam's Club--I can't believe that that price is a bargain in ND at the moment!!), bought some items at a dollar store (including supplies for Suzanna's bug collection due this week at school as well as tchotchkes for the girls' bedrooms), and made our way to the Ground Round for dinner.

Then we went to the Kirkwood Mall to shop, getting clothing items as well as supplies for Susan's library at school. We made a stop at the candy shop in Scheels Sports (strange place for a specialty candy store, I realize) and enjoyed samples from a variety of fudges and candied almonds that they make there (and Susan and I refueled with some gourmet coffees). Our mall adventures ended in Target, where even I got some clothes--which I say because I don't usually clothes-shop. Actually, I even left Sam's Club and Payless ShoeSource with a couple pairs of shoes.

The sun was going down, but we were not deterred. We shopped at Hobby Lobby, Old Navy, and Kohl's, too (by the way, even more clothes for Kevin), arriving at each with just enough time before closing time to get what we needed and get out (one store closed at 8:00 P.M., the next at 9:00, and the next at 10:00). We were all still stuffed from our afternoon dinner and later afternoon snacks, but we still stopped at Texas Roadhouse (which closed at 11:00 P.M.--notice a theme?) to share some appetizers as a late-late supper before returning to Dickinson.

The girls found Texas Roadhouse to be, in their words, "freezing," so some cuddling was called for while we waited for our cheesecake-to-share to arrive.

The girls pooped out in the vehicle on the way home and quickly got into bed once we entered the house. Susan and I stayed up to clip tags off clothes and put everything away--and to comment on the serendipitous reunions we experienced in Bismarck. At Sam's Club, we saw Susan's cousin Todd, his wife, Trista, and their son, Trae--who live in Dickinson, but whom we don't often see here! At Old Navy, we were reunited with Liz, a theatre friend from years ago in Grand Forks, ND. Her two now-pretty-much-grown daughters recognized us as we shopped and phoned her to tell her to stop by, so we had a good visit there in the store! Liz's family moved to Bismarck several years ago, and they're enjoying life and work there.

P.S. Loaded in the CD player as we drove: Värttinä's album Seleniko, the tribute album If I Were a Carpenter, a collection of television themes songs, Paul Simon's album Graceland, Sting's album Ten Summoner's Tales, and Ricky Martin's album Vuelve.

Tried-and-True, Traditional Parenting Techniques

Welcome to September

Let's start off the month with a little innocent humor, shall we? Faithful readers, you're all aware of personal care products that are two-in-one--that both cleanse and soften one's hair all at once, right? Well, fair Hillary is, too, and after her shower this morning, she was telling Mommy a story that included a reference to her having used the "air conditioner slash shampoo." No, faithful readers, that's not a typo; that's what she said. Cute, no?