Sunday, December 30, 2007

Suzanna's 10th Birthday!

Once upon a time, we had a baby named Suzanna. She was our first child, and when we took her home from the hospital, we laid her on an afghan on the living room floor and sat and stared at her in awe. She began to teach us how to be parents, and she's still teaching us every day . . . now ten years later!

We drove to Fargo yesterday and found that the farther we got from Dickinson (mild temperatures, no snow whatsoever), the more we discovered typical North Dakota winter weather (drifting snow, snow piled up alongside the roads, cold winds, chilly temperatures). We had supper at Olive Garden (the birthday girl's choice, unanimously seconded by the rest of us). We enjoyed some delicious chicken dishes, each stuffed with cheeses and tasty ingredients like spinach and bacon and covered in sauce and served with pasta. Then we did some shopping, hitting stores that we don't have in Dickinson but for which we had received gift cards over Christmas. The girls chose some great books at Barnes & Noble as part of their Christmas gifts from Grandpa and Grandma Moberg, and Suzanna found some snazzy clothes at both Old Navy and Target (where Abigail, Hillary, and I snuck off to buy birthday gifts for Suzanna from them).

We had a room for the night at an "economical" hotel in which the wall-mounted air conditioning unit doubled as a heater with one simple turn of a knob. It did kick out the heat, but it wasn't much for temperature control. In the "on" position, it bellowed out fire and had us all boiling as well as hard of hearing from the noise. In the "off" position, the frigid arctic winds seeped in through the unit and the adjacent window, rapidly negating whatever work the heater had just done for us. Eh bien, we've had it worse.

This morning Suzanna did some gift opening in the hotel room and found among her other gifts . . . the clothing items that she had helped her mom select last night! She also opened, from her sisters, a DVD of Underdog and a set of infant clothes that she can use with a baby doll that she recently bought for herself using a birthday gift card from her aunt and uncle. Suzanna selected Red Lobster for her birthday dinner around 11:00 A.M. On the way into the restaurant, she said, "Wow, it's cold here in North Dakota." Um, dear, we live in North Dakota, too--it's just not cold in our corner of the state. Inside it was warm, and we had a tasty meal with friendly service. (Abigail had her usual crab legs off the children's menu; I had my usual cold meal by the time I was done cracking her crab legs and extricating the meat for her.)

Suzanna is excited about Underdog from her sisters!

Daddy poses with his little beauties.

We did a little more shopping after dinner, including a stop at Hornbacher's for a cake (Suzanna chose a gigantic frosted chocolate chip cookie to which they added her name). Then we were off to Grand Forks for a birthday party at Red Ray Lanes. Our girls were reunited with several friends from the area--and Susan and I with their parents! We visited with Nicole, Rob, Laurie, and Erin while the girls bowled with Emily, Michael, Big Ethan, Little Ethan, McKenna, Hannah, and Gabriel. We visited with A.J. when he dropped off and picked up his kiddos and with Jesse when he left Nicole and the kids behind (but took young Mya with him). Rob and I joined the kids in bowling. Some of the kids requested bumpers in the gutters of our two lanes, so I was able to knock down many more pins than otherwise by banking my ball off the bumpers as in pool or pinball. Bowling with kids is the best!

The cake is really a cookie?! What'll they think of next?

Feeling sassy at age ten!

Afterward we headed to Rob and Laurie's for an impromptu potluck and had a good ol'-fashioned couples-with-kids game night! The kids seemed to have a good time, and I know the adults surely did. It's great how things just fall into place when we get back together with the gang; it feels as though we haven't been away at all! We even have something new to tease Rob about: DUN-duh-duh-DUN! It's Devil's Advocate! or Captain Contrary! Here to rescue any conversation from the dangers of accord, harmony, or concordance. "Uh oh! This conversation reeks of unanimity of mind amongst those participating. Help us, Captain Contrary! We need you!"

We're spending the night with Jay and Erin, and all the girls are camping out in Hannah's room. It's certainly not the same as it was a decade ago to tuck in little Suzannabear: no more bars on the crib, longer blankies, stuffed animals that don't rattle. But she's still ticklish; she still enjoys hugs and kisses; and she still enjoys being tucked in. Happy birthday, Suzanna! You'll always be our baby girl!

For comparison: Here's Suzanna on her fifth birthday . . .

. . . and again five years later.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santa Claus, Scanvenger Hunt, First Communion, and Christmas Feast

Suzanna was awake about 6:00 A.M. and discovered that, lo and behold, the milk and cookies left out for Santa were gone; the stockings were stuffed; and gifts were stacked up on the floor beneath each stocking! Hillary rolled out of bed next, and Abigail needed some smooching from Dad before she roused and joined them for initial gift opening. It seems that Santa brought them stuff they like:


We had to allow time for breakfast and then church, so most of the gifts (anything not from Santa) had to wait for the afternoon. However, Susan and I had devised a Christmas scavenger hunt for the girls that we had them do before we went upstairs to eat brekkie. Several of their gifts were not easily wrapped, so we hid them around the house instead and then hid clues for them to find, leading eventually to the locations of the gifts themselves. It all started in the family room downstairs with our handing them an envelope containing this clue:

Here's a Christmas scavenger hunt / especially for you. / Find Beethoven and Chopin / to find your next clue.

That led them to the miniature busts of classical composers that sit atop our piano upstairs, amongst whom they found another clue:

What keeps a ship from sailing / into rocks while out at sea? / Find a mini one of those; / it's where your clue will be!

We hadn't realized that they didn't know the purpose of a lighthouse, so they were lost on this one. With some prompting, they got it and ran back downstairs to the lighthouse lamp on a stand near the couch where they found another clue:

When you squeeze a cow's ear, / sometimes it will moo. / Find a creature just like that, / and you'll find your next clue.

They started by searching among the cow collection on a table near the couch, but none of those knickknacks makes any cow noises. I have a pair of cow slippers, however, that moo when one squeezes a button in the ear. They ran upstairs to our bedroom to find another clue atop those slippers in our closet:

Next find a machine from which / clean clothes you lift. / That's the spot you all will find / a special Christmas gift.

And it was back downstairs to the washing machine in the laundry room. Inside were stuffed brand new winter coats: multi-layered, warm, fashionable, and functional (to replace old, stained, broken-zippered ones currently in use). There was also another clue:

There's another gift for you; / find it if you're able. / Here's a hint: start your search / around the scrapbook table.

It was a short trip from the laundry room to the craft table in the next room. Under the benches were stuffed snow pants to go with the winter coats. There they also found the last clue:

These should keep you cozy warm / and cuddly as a panda. / But what would these gifts be good for? / Find out on the veranda!

They bolted up the stairs, unlocked the patio door, raced onto the veranda, and discovered three new sleds! Although it was freezing outside and they were just in new Christmas pajamas, the girls didn't care; they each laid claim to a sled and sat down! We snapped a pic and then made them come inside. Then we all stood together and looked out at the green grass in the back yard. I guess we won't be using those sleds anytime too soon . . . which is too bad because we have some awesome sledding hills in the park just behind our house.

Reading a clue before conferring on the solution and then racing off to find the intended location.

New winter coats and snow pants!

SQUEALING and RACING up the stairs to get to the veranda! The girls watch The Amazing Race on TV with us, a worldwide scavenger hunt in which speed and arriving first are crucial. They were in that mode during this hunt, too, I guess!

Brand new sleds! Brand new pajamas! Subzero temperatures! Get inside, girls!!

Susan made a delicious breakfast: Emeril Lagasse's savory breakfast pudding with Fontina and Parmesan cheeses, French bread, spicy smoked sausage, ham, and vegetables, which she served with hash browns, orange juice, and coffee. Then we got dressed and went to 10:00 A.M. church for the girls' first communion!

Ready for church!

St. John Lutheran Church offers communion to children if their parents and the pastors feel that the kids understand its meaning and are ready to partake of the sacrament. Several weeks ago we borrowed from the church some teaching materials on communion and read them with the girls and had them do the activities in the accompanying booklets. Last Thursday we met with Pastor Lisa, who talked with the girls about what they'd learned and then gave them a tour of the sacristy and altar and had them do a "trial run" of taking communion with a wafer and cups half-filled with wine. We decided that today, Christmas, would be a special day for them to take their first communion. They wore the Black Hills gold cross necklaces that my parents gave them at their baptisms. Pastor Lisa announced to the congregation that "the Moberg girls" would be taking their first communion today, and everybody "aw"ed and, afterward, congratulated them. This afternoon they each received from Susan and me an angel bibelot--a pretty miniature angel with outstretched wings wearing a necklace featuring that girl's birthstone.

When we got home, there was more gift opening: the gifts from Mommy and Daddy to each daughter. It was very fun to watch them light up with each gift they opened. Suzanna even had a tearful moment during which she considered how little they "deserved" all these presents. What a sweetie! We cuddled, and I assured her that they don't have to deserve gifts--that that's not the point of giving. We had a good talk about appreciating gifts, too. A high point for each daughter was opening her own Webkinz stuffed animal, which comes with a code to register it and build an on-line home for it.

Abigail's hippo

Hillary's pig

Suzanna's frog

By mid-afternoon, Susan had prepared a wonderful Christmas feast: shrimp cocktail, pickles, and olives for appetizers; Caesar salad with crab meat; shrimp and scallop lasagna (with additions of crab meat and other adjustments by Susan); roasted corn; garlic toast; and icebox cheesecake with blueberry topping for dessert. Susan's dad, Roger, joined us for the meal.

The girls with Grandpa Gustafson

We had a lazy evening of playing with toys (including a card game called In a Pickle that was fun) and watching episodes of the amazing Planet Earth and talking on the phone to relatives (my sisters, Cathy and Sandy; we talked to my dad and Susan's sister, Cassie, earlier in the day) and having leftover appetizers from yesterday for a late-night supper. It was a great day all around and a super way to spend a holiday with family.

Notice the Mickey Mouse ear ornaments on our Christmas tree. They were basically the only souvenir that Susan and I bought for ourselves in Disney World. Aren't they cute? They match the Disney theme of our family photo and Christmas letter stationery this year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hosting the Gustafson Christmas

My Christmas Eve began with four hours of work at DSU! Yes, we had to work today until noon, although--as you might guess--there was little to do. Our offices are accessible only via the library, which was closed and locked up today--so even if students or staff members had wanted service, they would have had no way to get to us! Still, the weather was beautiful, so the walk to and from work was lovely. And when I returned home around noon, it was to find that our guests had arrived!

Susan's brother, Jerrett, and his family from Mandan joined Roger (Susan and Jerrett's dad) and us at our house today for a Gustafson Christmas. We had a huge spread of appetizers at noon, including Buffalo chicken dip and chips, queso con carne and chips, Texas caviar salsa and chips, seafood dip and crackers, cheese ball and crackers, ham-and-pickle rollups, egg rolls, fruit kebabs and chocolate fondue, roasted garlic potato skins with onion and spinach dip, venison sausage, raw carrot medallions, and M&M's mixed with roasted peanuts. There was soda, beer, and hot buttered rum to drink.

Hillary is testing Santa's seriousness about adhering to the "no gifts if you're naughty" rule.

Abigail is practicing for teenagehood with an apathetic over-the-glasses expression.

Suzanna is enjoying some goofiness with her cousin, Arron.

After stuffing ourselves, we retired to the family room to open the presents from our gift exchange (we draw names among Susan's siblings, in-laws, and dad) and to watch the kids open their stacks of gifts (their names are not included in the drawing; everyone buys for their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren). We had hosted family Christmases in our previous house, which was so small that adding Christmas gifts alone made it cramped, let alone adding family members to go with those gifts! This house is a much better setup: spacious enough to spread out for gift opening and, later, for kids to disappear for play breaks without the adults ever seeing or hearing them (recall our family motto).

The patriarch! Roger oversees the gift-opening festivities.

Susan's brother, Jerrett, and his wife, Cheryl . . . love birds on the love seat.

Our nephew, Arron, looks on as his cousins (our daughters) hold court on the floor in front of him.

Yay! My favorite gift! It's always a safe bet to buy me a dress shirt and tie.

Then it was off to 3:00 P.M. church at St. John. IT WAS PACKED! There were people in chairs set up in the aisles beside the pews; there were people in chairs set up in the narthex; the balcony was full; and the choir area was full . . . of congregants, not choir members! The post-service count: 638 people. (Average Sunday: two church services averaging 280 per service.) Our daughters sang for church but were not the least bit flummoxed by the gigantic crowd. I accompanied them on piano as they sang a brief medley: two verses of "I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve," two verses of "Sussex Carol," and a verse of the first song again but this time in Norwegian: "Jeg Er Så Glad Hver Julekveld." They did well, and Susan and I were very proud.

When we came home, Susan finished preparing supper while Roger made a batch of warm milk with oysters floating in it to bring to his mom in the nursing home (it's a holiday treat that she enjoys). When he came back from tepid oyster milk delivery, he joined us for the meal: ham, meatballs and gravy, mashed potatoes, oven-roasted corn, scalloped oysters, fruit salad in a creamy orange sauce, wine, and Susan's Christmas baking for dessert. We even got to talk to Susan's sister, Cassie, who phoned from NC where she and her husband were hosting a family-less friend for the holiday. When our own guests left, we sent as much food with them as we could convince them to take, but our fridge is still packed to overflowing.

Before leaving at the end of the night, Arron was a good sport and let the girls fix his hair with clips for their own hair. Isn't he pretty?!

With bellies full, we waddled around the house picking up wrapping paper, washing dishes, writing down who gave whom what gifts (something my mom always did at each holiday and birthday), playing with toys unwrapped in the afternoon, setting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus and writing him a note to tell him which stocking belongs to whom, and finally tucking girls into bed. Susan and I had a few errands to finish once the girls were asleep (ahem), but we're done now, pooped out, and ready for bed. With such spring-like weather and no snow, it doesn't look or feel much like Christmas outside. But with great family, terrific food, a full schedule of church, Christmas songs at the piano, and mountains of gifts, it certainly feels like Christmas inside!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Musical Christmas Family Get-Together

That's Abigail at the baby grand piano and Mrs. Vold with the blond hair seated near the lamp. Read on to learn who Mrs. Vold is and why a roomful of people are watching our daughter play piano!

This post's clunky title refers to tonight's event, which we thought was going to be a piano recital for our daughters and the other students of their piano teacher, Mrs. Vold. Instead, it turned out to be a decidedly religious program during which, yes, Mrs. Vold's students played solos and duets as in a recital, but during which several of her students' families also performed group numbers and the large group sang Christmas hymns and a narrator dressed as a Biblical shepherd introduced each performance with connecting material from the story of Jesus' birth, and which Mrs. Vold herself opened and closed with wishes for a blessed, holy, Christ-focused Christmas. It was all fine by us, but it was much more church-y and less recital-y than we were expecting.

The event was hosted by two of Mrs. Vold's students (siblings) in their parents' home just northwest of town. It was a quick drive to their two-story house, decorated beautifully inside and out for Christmas. They had cleared out their living and dining rooms and set up rows of chairs there and on the second-floor landing at the top of their stairway; each chair faced the baby grand piano near the bay window at the south end of the room. Attendees brought Christmas treats to share, delivering them to the lovely, recently remodeled kitchen before taking a seat for the program.

Abigail and Suzanna joined other students on the floor near the piano where Mrs. Vold and the shepherd sat, and Susan, Hillary, and I took seats at the other end of the room beside the Christmas tree in the corner of the dining room. The classy decorations, the dim lighting, the smell of apple cider in the kitchen, the sight of the polished black piano, and the soft background music of instrumental Christmas songs from the CD beside Mrs. Vold set the proper tone for an evening of truly beautiful musical performances. Mrs. Vold's students are great musicians, no matter their ages; they play with a good sense of tempo and dynamics and the ability to interpret the music rather than just to pound the notes at an erratic pace but consistently loud volume, as we have heard pianists-in-training do at recitals held by our daughters' previous piano teachers. Maybe Mrs. Vold is pickier about whom she accepts for students, but I suspect the better quality performances reflect her approach to teaching and her high expectations of her students.

A late-arriving mother pulled a kitchen stool beside the chairs where Susan and I sat and then offered Hillary a spot on her lap so that Hillary would have a better view of the pianists all the way across the room (Susan and I peered between rows and rows and rows of people's heads). The thoughtful mother didn't even say anything when Hillary delivered an extended and clearly audible outburst of flatulence directly into the unsuspecting woman's lap. Susan and I, on the other hand, experienced a keen sense of combined embarrassment and amusement. Hillary, however, thought nothing of it and continued to enjoy the solo in progress (the pianist's solo, that is, not Hillary's own).

Abigail and Suzanna each played a solo tonight, and "the musical Mobergs" were one of the family performers: Suzanna, Abigail, and I played a three-hand arrangement of "Silent Night" on the piano while Susan accompanied on the flute. Afterward, while people milled about and enjoyed treats from the kitchen, all Mrs. Vold's students took their turns at the piano again playing more solos as background music while the adults visited. It was a terrific evening enjoyable not only as a showcase for our talented children, whose musicianship at the piano makes us proud, but also as a pleasant Christmas concert featuring great musical performances all around. We (the girls as well as Susan and I) are so pleased to have Mrs. Vold teaching Abigail and Suzanna. [Hillary will begin piano lessons next year.]

This was the view immediately to my right. Branches of the Christmas tree rested on my shoulder as I sat beside it in the corner farthest away from the piano.

While attendees enjoyed treats afterward, the girls took their turns playing more solos to provide background music. Here's Suzanna.

And here's Abigail. Mrs. Vold is visible in the background looking on.

Here are Abigail and Suzanna waiting their turns to play after the formal "program" portion of the evening.

Abigail, Mrs. Vold, and Suzanna!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gymnastics Awards Night

Tonight was the end of another session of gymnastics lessons, which the girls take every Thursday night. Here are some pics from tonight:

Abigail is in the purple pants arching her back in a way that defies human anatomy and nature's intent; Hillary is the blur, having just kicked herself out of a backward arch into a standing position.

Suzanna is using the mat to practice backward rolls and here has just landed on her knees rather than her feet . . . ouch!

Hillary and Abigail continue to court spinal injury and chiropractor appointments.

The Girls' Christmas Fun at School


Faithful readers will recall that I recently had fun playing Secret Santa for a coworker at DSU (and being the recipient of his Secret Santa shenanigans, as it turns out). Just as that was ending for me at work, Suzanna's fourth-grade class voted to have a Secret Santa week at school. She drew the name of Jaiden, a boy who she told me is shy, really nice, and interested in BMX racing (bicycle motocross) and reading.

Secret Santa week started this Monday with the "reveal" and gift exchange today, so Suzanna needed to shop last weekend for an around-$5 gift for today. She thought he might like a bicycle or motorcycle toy, so off we went to shop Friday evening. We started at Runnings Farm & Fleet, which I knew has a great offering of toy versions of vehicles and farm machinery. The girls enjoyed perusing the selections of toy cars, farm implements, semi trucks, and tractors--toys that they don't see much of usually in our dolls-and-dress-up-clothes household. I'm pretty sure it was more fun for me, though; it brought me back to my childhood toy collection, and I kept "ooh"-ing and "aw"-ing and "lookit"-ing at toys that reminded me of those that I played with as a boy. We actually ended up elsewhere to buy Jaiden this toy motorcycle.

At home Suzanna devised surprises for Jaiden to find in his desk each morning of the week. Here's what Jaiden discovered each day from his Secret Santa:

Monday
a baggie with homemade frosted butter-sugar cookies and a note (typed with a Christmas-y font on the computer): "I hope you have a wonderful day! You have a very big talent in reading. I hope you use that because, if you read, you get smarter. I hope you get the grades you deserve: A plusses. Have a super day!"

Tuesday
a package of homemade "snowman soup" and a note: "You’re very friendly. I enjoy being your friend. You’re so nice, helpful, and caring. I hope you enjoy your treat."

Wednesday
a homemade Christmas-themed crossword puzzle and a note: "I hope the puzzle I gave you doesn’t twist your mind too much! You’re so talented; you can probably figure this puzzle out in a second. Have fun!"

Thursday
the toy motorcycle and a Christmas card

Meanwhile, Suzanna's friend, Michael had drawn her name and served as her Secret Santa throughout the week. From him she discovered cinnamon-graham crackers and a candy cane on Monday; chocolate kisses, a candy cane, and a note on Tuesday; chocolate kisses, a candy cane, a bottle of bubbles, Christmas-y stickers, and a note on Wednesday; and on Thursday a chocolate kiss, a candy cane, a note, and a matching set of note pads, a diary, a pen, and a pencil (because he knows that she likes to write). Each daily note was very complimentary, too. She (and we) thought that he made for a very thoughtful Secret Santa!

I'm not sure how much actual learning has been happening in school for the girls this week; there were lots of fun activities for the students and teachers to have Christmas celebrations together. Everyone in the school will play Christmas bingo and then watch Swiss Family Robinson tomorrow while enjoying popcorn and fruit juice (and Abigail's class will also watch Herbie Fully Loaded tomorrow as they drink hot chocolate and eat Christmas cookies from a classmate) (but what either of those movies has to do with Christmas, I cannot tell). Abigail's class went ice skating today, and Hillary's class has had extra-long playtime this week. Our daughters just blink their eyes naïvely when I ask them, "And just what curricular goals are being met with these activities?"

Meh, it's all in fun, and it's certainly helping to get our kids in the Christmas spirit. The girls have gotten little Christmas gifts from their teachers: Christmas tree ornaments and notepads and pencils and books and candy canes and cards. And the girls delivered to their teachers and school secretary and principal gifts of Christmas baking that they made with Susan last weekend. I wonder what kind of haul an elementary teacher makes around each holiday! All our girls' teachers are great and deserve every gift they get.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Very Punny

Thanks to Erin for e-mailing me this list of puns. I hope it puts a smile on your face, as it did mine!
  1. A vulture boarded an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looked at him and said, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
  2. Two fish swam into a concrete wall. One turned to the other and said, "Dam!"
  3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly, it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it, too.
  4. Two hydrogen atoms met. One said, "I've lost my electron." The other said, "Are you sure?" The first replied, "Yes, I'm positive."
  5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
  6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."
  7. A woman had identical twins and gave them up for adoption. One of them went to Spain and was named "Juan"; the other went to a family in Egypt who named him "Ahmal." Years later, Juan sent a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she told her husband that she wished she had a picture of Ahmal, too. Her husband responded, "They're identical twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."
  8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town, to persuade them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.
  9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
  10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends in the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday School Christmas Program

Today was the girls' Sunday school Christmas program at St. John, which turned out to be a relatively low-stress affair all around. None of them had much to do in/for it: Suzanna handed out bulletins to comers-in but wasn't otherwise in the program; and Abigail and Hillary sat with Susan and me, getting up just once to join others in preschool through grade three to sing two group numbers. That was it. No group rehearsals in advance to practice for the program; no special costumes or dress codes required; no extra-super early time to have them at the church in advance. It wasn't even that crowded in the church; if grandparents and extended relatives did come to see Junior and Sissy in the program, they certainly didn't come an hour early and reserve all the front-pew spots for photography priority, as we were accustomed to having happen at our previous church. In fact, we quite easily found spots near the very front with a minimum of waiting before the service began.

The service consisted of congregational hymns, Bible verses read by the Sunday schoolers, musical numbers performed by the Sunday schoolers, and a puppet show performed by Sunday schoolers. Except for getting all the seated-at-random preschoolers-through-third-graders up to the front and lined up appropriately to sing their songs, the entire program moved along at a fine pace and lasted about 45 minutes. Here are our cherubs participating:

As Sunday school music leaders are wont to do, the kids' teachers have them enact "sleeping" for the congregation so as to clarify for us just what the children (including Abigail, here) mean when they sing "asleep" in the song lyrics. So helpful.

Hillary waits her turn to head back to her pew after singing.

We didn't snap a pic of Suzanna "in action" before the program/service, so here she is re-enacting her duties afterward with the help of Abigail posing as an appreciative bulletin recipient.

After the program, all the children received Christmas treat bags: brown paper bags filled with salted-in-the-shell peanuts, candy bars, candy canes, red apples, bookmarks, Bible stories, and assorted suckers and other hard candies. Such a nice Lutheran church tradition that I remember from my own childhood, and that my own parents told me their churches did for them as children at Christmastime.

After church, we visited Susan's grandparents, Laura and E.J., at the nursing home (read the first comment here to know why Laura is now there; E.J. has lived there for about three years). They have separate rooms but were both asleep in his single bed in his room when we arrived! (Sweet!) We gave them time to wake up and get dressed before stopping in to visit. E.J. seems to enjoy visits from the girls, calling them "cute little guys" and always remarking on their resemblance ("God d@*&, they sure look alike, don't they, Laura?!").

Dinner at home today was leftover broasted chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, and borscht from Jack's Family Restaurant (the other half of which we ate for supper last night--delicious!). The girls are now enjoying hot apple cider and Scandinavian almond cake; Susan is finishing a batch of caramel puffcorn; and I'm listening to instrumental Christmas tunes on Pandora as I type. Next on the agenda: the annual Christmas letter. You have been forewarned.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Baking

'Tis the season for baking holiday treats, and Susan and the girls have been doing just that--some last weekend and some this weekend. As they finish a batch of something, they store it on the baker's rack on the veranda outdoors just off the dining room (everything stays nice and cold there and easily within reach):


Can you tell what these are (below)? Probably not, but I thought it made a nice pic. These are numerous packets of "snowman soup," each an individual serving of hot chocolate mix along with two Hershey's kisses, four marshmallows, and a candy cane for stirring, all put into a Christmas-themed baggie to which is attached a brief poem with rhyming directions for making the snowman soup (with a snowman picture on it, too):


The ladies also made cinnamon puffcorn, which requires melting Red Hots candy for the cinnamon flavoring. These portions will go to the girls' Sunday school and elementary school teachers:


Other items in the inventory of Christmas baking: almond roca, peanut brittle, fudge, frosted butter-sugar cookies, Scandinavian almond cake, caramel puffcorn, "hockey pucks" (two Ritz crackers with peanut butter between them, dunked in melted chocolate, and decorated with sprinkles), "reindeer eyes" (a caramel-filled Hershey's Kiss placed atop a round bite-sized pretzel, softened in the oven, and then impressed with an M&M), and "porcupines" (large marshmallows dunked in melted caramel and rolled in Rice Krispies).

For our own bodies' sake, we're planning to give away most of it. So if you want some, you'd better visit us soon before we've delivered it all on holiday plates to our neighbors and coworkers!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Secret Santa Exposed

Faithful readers will recall (here and here) that my coworkers and I have been participating in an office Secret Santa activity. It was set to begin Monday, December 3 and end Friday, December 21 with a "reveal" party--exchanging final gifts, eating, celebrating, etc. I drew Josh's name and decided to get him a little something for him to find waiting on his desk every work day between the 3rd and the 21st. Susan and the girls helped me shop at a discount store for inexpensive items that would be appropriate for him or that he would find funny. At the end of each day the first week, I typed up a note (using a Christmas-themed font) for him and left it and one of the daily gifts on his desk for him to discover the following morning.

All was going well until someone in the office wondered if we could move up the date of the reveal party . . . to today!! That left me with a whole week's worth of daily gifts that I wouldn't be able to deliver next week as planned, so I started leaving him two things a day and even left him items for over the weekend. His office has been filling up with Secret Santa gifts!

Meanwhile, my Secret Santa has been leaving me mean notes--threatening ones saying that I had better be sure to increase my holiday cheer this season or bad things would happen. My Secret Santa stole the clock off my wall one day, only to return it as a "gift" to me a couple days ago. One day my Secret Santa left me bags of candy . . . that I myself had contributed to the community candy bucket in our office only days earlier! The only real gifts that I got from my Secret Santa were a mini dart board, a potato shooter (toy gun that shoots chunks of potato), and a business card holder made to resemble a miniature briefcase.

At the reveal party today, it was revealed that . . . Josh and I were each other's Secret Santa! He redeemed himself with me by giving me a DVD of the Strangers with Candy movie (based on a TV series that I absolutely love; I haven't seen the movie but am very eager to do so). He was stressed, though, because it just arrived in today's mail; he was prepared to give me a "sorry that your gift isn't here yet" note in its place. I told him that the writing in his evil notes made me suspect him; and he told me that the choice of amusing daily gifts made him suspect me. ("Plus," he said, "I figured you were the only other person in the office who could figure out how to download a holiday font.")

It was a fun holiday activity for our office . . . even if my Santa was malicious!