Saturday, March 29, 2008

Second Trip to Disney in Four Months!

I'm back, kittens. I've just been away for a few days at a conference in Orlando, FL. It was held at Walt Disney World's Coronado Springs Resort, which made for a gorgeous setting. Houghton Mifflin sponsored the conference on developmental education at universities and colleges, and it was one of the most worthwhile conferences I've attended--lots of practical ideas for the classroom, lots of interaction with colleagues at other institutions, and lots of resources for further consultation.

Houghton Mifflin probably chose to hold the conference at a Disney resort to attract potential attendees. In fact, many participants had brought their spouses and children and, when they weren't attending conference sessions, stole away with their families to visit the parks. However, holding it at a Disney resort had two added benefits: the natural beauty and relaxing atmosphere of the resort itself and the superior event planning and customer service of Disney. Every planning and execution detail was attended to, and we were well fed with delicious food throughout each day: breakfast, a session, mid-morning snack, a session, dinner, a session, mid-afternoon snack, a session, supper.

When the girls learned that I was going to Disney World, they asked Susan to buy me a disposable camera to take lots of photos of all the rides and attractions that I enjoyed. However, having just been to Disney World a few months ago with the family, I had no burning desire to find time in my conference schedule for evening trips to the parks. I took the camera and snapped lots of pics of the resort itself (when they're developed, some may even find their way onto the blog), but I exercised restraint and remained at the resort the whole time. There was plenty to see there to keep me occupied when I wasn't otherwise busy with conference sessions.

My next conference: Ames, IA in mid-May. Until then, my frequent flyer card is taking a breather!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Now the Feast and Celebration

P: "Christ is risen!"
C: "Christ is risen indeed!"

Good Lutherans (and Christians of other denominations, too, perhaps) will recognize that Easter morning exchange from their service hymnals. In fact, well trained Lutherans, like Pavlov's dog, will respond automatically with the latter line upon hearing the former line any season of the church year, no matter how out of place--try it Christmas morning, for example, and see if I'm right. [It's the same phenomenon that explains why a Lutheran says, "And also with you" anytime he hears, "Peace be with you." It also sheds some light on why Lutherans say, "And also with you" when a Jedi in any of the Star Wars movies says, "May the Force be with you."]

I tried, "Christ is risen!" with the girls this morning but got nothing in return. That isn't to say that they're not good little Lutherans; it is to say that I had set them in the wrong frame of mind this morning when I wakened them with this whisper: "I think I just stepped in some fresh rabbit poop." Yep, with visions of the Easter bunny hopping around in their heads, they weren't thinking of crosses or empty tombs as they bolted up the stairs in search of their Easter baskets.

While Jesus Christ was on his way to church to wait for the girls, the Easter bunny had been sneaking around the house, tucking their gift- and candy-filled baskets into hiding spots around our home. He also set up some gifts and candy by the fireplace in the living room, which is where we gathered while the girls inspected the contents of their baskets:

We weren't sure which service to attend today. Anticipating a fuller house than normal owing to C & E Christians (who attend only at Christmas and Easter), we chose the 8:00 A.M. service thinking that, if the C & E's cannot be bothered to attend church more than twice a year (or more if there's a family funeral, baptism, or wedding), then certainly they aren't likely to wake up early on a Sunday morning when late-morning options are available to them. We were wrong; even the earliest service was packed, and we ended up in the front pew.

Susan, as Sunday school director, had to stay at church throughout the morning to supervise a craft project ("Create a faux stained-glass cross!") that was available for kids and adults to do whenever they had time. It was set up in the fellowship hall in the lower level of the church, as were tables of doughnuts and coffee, a situation intended to serve as cross-promotion. Alas, the 12 hours that Susan spent cutting crosses out of contact paper and tearing colored tissue paper into little pieces to serve as "stained glass" were all for naught: over 1,500 people attended services today, but only 17 people stopped by to do the activity. That number includes me and our three daughters. It seems that, without regular Sunday school classes scheduled for today, most children (and/or their parents?) took the morning off.

The girls and I took our crosses, left Susan behind to staff the craft table, and headed to the grocery store to buy a few ingredients for dinner. At home, I doctored up some leftover chili to increase the spiciness level and baked some chicken, and Susan joined us to eat when she got home. For supper she made ham, scalloped potatoes, a shrimp/macaroni salad that my aunt Sharon often made, and multiple flavors of Jell-O egg jigglers. We also ate some of the hard-boiled eggs that the girls had decorated, and for dessert we ate the apple pie that Susan had baked (with crust that she had made from scratch, I might add). Delicious!

We visited by telephone with my dad, my sister Cathy, Susan's dad, her sister Cassie, and her aunt Jake, whose call was a very pleasant surprise! We also moaned from being stuffed with delicious food and Easter candy. Why do we celebrate religious holidays by overeating? "And on the third day, Christ" did not head off to an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, did he? Oh, well, by now it's a firmly ensconced extended family tradition--too late to give it up (even if we wanted to). Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Catch the Easter Spirit . . . If You Can!

I'd like to shoot a little Easter spirit your direction. Click here for it!

Old Abigail MacDonald Co-Owned a Farm . . .

The Dickinson Press likes our children. I've written about this before, but even since then, the girls' photos have appeared in the newspaper (most recently they were snapped while participating in a kids' fitness class at the West River Community Center). This morning we opened the paper to discover a photo of Abigail performing in her elementary school music program a couple nights ago.

On Tuesday, March 18, the second- and third-grade students at the girls' elementary school had their music program, and Abigail played the role of Mrs. Old MacDonald in E-I-E-I Oops!, a farmyard-themed musical in which the animals try to convince the mute cow to moo. Along with Old MacDonald, the Farmer in the Dell, and Mrs. Farmer in the Dell, Abigail's character provides the narration that links the musical numbers and pushes the "plot" along.

Well, of course, Abigail was terrific. She was cute as a button in her farm wife garb (wearing one of my aprons for barbecuing), and she was confident and clearly audible on every line. Abigail was also fun to watch during the musical numbers that other groups of kids performed; she couldn't help moving her body to the rhythm of the song, bouncing up and down, mouthing the words--just getting caught up in the music as she watched them! Suzanna and Hillary had seen the program in the afternoon with their classes, but they were eager to see it again in the evening with Mommy and Daddy, telling me in advance which songs listed in the program were their favorites.

Yep, that's Daddy's apron!

A similar photo appeared in today's newspaper. That's Old MacDonald with the pitchfork, by the way. Does the pose remind you of anything?

Doesn't that just capture Abigail's spirit?!

[Faithful readers will recall that both Hillary and Suzanna already had their own star turns on stage this school year. If you're not a faithful reader, click the links in the previous sentence!]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


An exchange I overheard this morning from the next room:

HILLARY: [looking out the window] Hey, look! It snowed!
MOMMY: [glancing out at the white driveway] No, honey, that's not snow; that's frost.
HILLARY: Oh. Well, then, it frosted!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Readers' Contributions: Notable Quotables

Dear friend Erin knows how much I like a pithy retort or clever quotable nugget of wisdom, so she sends one my way occasionally. She shared this one recently:

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to serve as a horrible warning."
--Catherine Aird

Here's another one from her: When their daughter was listening to a certain song on a CD, Erin's hubby, dear friend Jay, told their child that it had first come out when he was about her age. Precious Daughter said, "You mean in the olden days?" Jay's response: "Ouch!"

My sister Cathy saw a funny sign hung by the daycare room at her gym: "Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy." She found that a clever way to get their point across!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I've Been in Beantown

Patient Reader, you've been wondering where I've been, haven't you? Yes, Pensive? No, Just Thinking has been quiet for a while, in part due to my recent trip to Boston, MA. I attended the annual conference of NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, March 8-12. At this conference last year, I was impressed with the sessions that I attended. This year, not so much. I happened to select sessions that were delivered by people with minimal public presentation skills, unfortunately. Nevertheless, I gained much valuable information as well as access to additional resources that I will be able to apply in my work. Here are highlights from my time away:
  • on the flight from Denver to Boston, a seatmate who did not stop talking the entire four-hour flight! I heard about his past jobs, current position, and future career plans; his romantic woes and current engagement; his upbringing; his world travels; his educational history; his recent home purchase; his political stance; his religious beliefs; and perhaps much more that I simply couldn't retain from the verbal onslaught! He was a clean-cut professional gentleman my age to whom I said, "Hi," as he took his seat in Denver . . . and that proved to be my undoing. At the luggage carousel in Boston, a woman approached me to ask if I was the man to whom this other dude was talking the entire flight. She said that I deserved a medal! She said, "My husband and I have been married for over 30 years, and I know he hasn't said that many words to me in all that time!" I didn't mind meeting this fellow and visiting with him, but it was a decidedly one-way "visit"--and I had been looking forward to four hours of uninterrupted reading time. Alack and alas.
  • wild taxi rides fro and to the airport
  • luxurious accommodations at the historic four-star, four-diamond Omni Parker House, the longest continuously operating hotel in America, located on the corner of School and Tremont Streets across from Old City Hall (map)
  • scenic walks around downtown Boston, where a skyscraper is next to an historic church next to a colonial cemetery next to another modern office building--wild!
  • daily rides on the subway to and fro the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, where most conference events were held
  • browsing, shopping, and dining at Prudential Center, an architecturally beautiful and conceptually clever enclosure connecting the convention center, adjacent hotels, an office complex, and numerous stores and restaurants under one series of roofs
  • hearing Soledad O'Brien deliver the conference's opening address
  • walking around the Back Bay neighborhood and seeing its many old churches, new buildings, apartments, shops, and restaurants--beautiful!
  • eating at all sorts of places I've never been before: Au Bon Pain, Tossed, Boston Chowda Cafe, and Grill 23 & Bar, an upscale joint where I ate a Maine crabcake, fresh halibut, mushroom ragoĆ»t, bleu cheese mashed potatoes, and a lemon meringue miniature pie--delicious! (also had a wonderful crabcake and a slice of superb vanilla bean cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant I've eaten at once before [in Denver])
  • visiting with my relatively new boss, who drove us to and fro Bismarck (out of which we flew on the very same airline that would have taken us directly out of and into Dickinson, had that crossed the minds of our secretary and travel agent!)
  • returning to my family!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Superior Pianists in Da House!

Whilst I was away in Boston (patience, kittens--a post on that trip is a-comin' soon!), Abigail and Suzanna performed in their first-ever piano festival, just as my sisters and I used to do as kids. They each prepared two piano solos to perform from memory, spending the past several weeks working on their festival pieces with their wonderful piano teacher, Mrs. Vold. On Saturday, March 8, they performed for judges at southwest ND's site (Dickinson State University) for the ND Federation of Music Clubs Festival.

I remember well this annual event from my own childhood. Mrs. Davis, the wonderful piano teacher whom my sisters and I were blessed to have, assigned us "festival pieces" to memorize and perfect in time for our regional festival in Williston (held usually at Williston State College but some years at a church instead). We would dress up and go, nervous on the entire drive to Williston. We would spend the whole day on-site, and Mom would accompany each child at his or her appointed performance time and then wait with us for the results to be posted. A "superior" rating was the highest available, worth five points--and for every 15 points earned, a pianist got a brass trophy, each one larger than the last. In my 11 years of piano lessons, I earned over 45 points, and those three trophies sit atop our piano today!

Because I wasn't present for our daughters' own festival, Susan e-mailed me the results to read while I was in Boston: "superior" ratings for both Suzanna and Abigail!! Suzanna said the day was nerve-wracking, and Abigail said she was nervous; but they both were happy with the results and thought it was fun in retrospect. Susan treated them afterward with dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants, Sanford's. Here are highlights from the judges' comments (the exclamation points are the judges', not mine):

"A Merry March"
  • "notes and rhythms excellent!"
  • "staccatos were crisp and light -- great!"
  • "wonderful!"

"Katie Cricket"

  • "wonderful dynamics! wow!"
  • "crisp and clean staccatos!"
  • "excellent memory work!"
  • "tempo just right!"
  • "your release at the end was awesome!"
  • "you played with such confidence and knew your pieces so well! hurray!"
"Told You So"
  • "love the solid beginning!"
  • "excellent memory work!"
  • "release at end just right!"
  • "tempo fit perfectly"
  • "such wonderful, confident playing! way to go!"

"Open Seas"

  • "posture and hand positions -- excellent!"
  • "love the dynamic contrasts -- super!"
  • "love the releases to your phrases!"
  • "keep up the totally awesome playing!"

Another official (who has seen the girls at church where she, too, is a member) added these comments to the judges' comment sheets:

  • "you look so lovely!"
  • "thank you for the bow!"
  • "thank your parents and teacher for their help and support!"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

We Have a Winner (or Two)!

Hello, kittens! I'm back from hiatus (and a trip to Boston, which necessitated the time away from Pensive? No, Just Thinking--but more on that in a subsequent post) with the results from the recent quiz on which precious darling said which amusing and precocious thing. First, the answers (verified by the girls themselves; in the fortnight since posting the quiz, I myself forgot who said what!):
  1. A (Hillary -- "Well, that was quite unexpected.")
  2. C (Suzanna -- "And what if I were one of those babysitters?")
  3. B (Abigail -- "Oh, you could help or help not.")
  4. B (Abigail -- "comma-ment")
  5. A (Hillary -- "Yes, other than those four things that I said, I'm feeling just fine.")
  6. B (Abigail -- "Daddy, you are one outrageous boy.")
  7. A (Hillary -- "I would like to multiplicate.")

Second, the winners (from the whopping three contestants--so-o-o lame, O Ye Lurkers Who Read but Do Not Comment!): my sisters, Cathy and Sandy! Each of them got three wrong (and two of those three wrong were the same ones), but Cody wasn't far behind with four wrong.

Finally, the prize: a free subscription for one entire year to this very blog! Yes, dear sisters, read away for twelve glorious months knowing that you are paying absolutely nothing for that privilege, thanks to your knowledge of your nieces and your ability to guess.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Suzanna the Entrepreneuse

Marketplace for Kids is a program in ND to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship among young people in the state (its motto: "Growing Young Entrepreneurs!"). Suzanna's grade (fourth) at her elementary school participated in the regional Marketplace today, and because it was held at Dickinson State University, I was able to see her and her partner with their invention on display for the public over my noon dinner break. I was very proud!!

Here's the little dear herself with an explanation of the experience and the invention that she and her partner, McKenzie, created:

Our invention was Tidy Baby, a diaper bag organizer with different compartments in it to separate one's cell phone and car keys, the baby's diapers, rattles, a bottle and formula, and a clean change of clothes. It was a very fun experience to get to invent something that we thought would help the world in one way or another. Working with McKenzie was great fun, although we had a couple arguments on how we were going to make it. Finally we figured out something, and in our opinion it was pretty cool.

The day of Marketplace was very, very fun . . . and stressful at the same time! We didn't know what we were going to say when people came to our display. We had a couple classes in the morning (one on meth and a presentation from Gary Greff, the guy who made The Enchanted Highway). Then, at 11:00 A.M., we had dinner: a sub sandwich, carrots, chips, fruit snacks, and a bottle of water. It was delicious! Then, at 11:30 A.M., we had to stand beside our display while people from the community came in and looked at all our inventions. Soon a woman came along and handed us ribbons for participating in--and putting so much hard work into--Marketplace for Kids.

In the afternoon we went to another class (on parasites). It was kind of gross! After that, we went to Dorothy Stickney Auditorium for a closing presentation. My day at Marketplace was amazing, and I'd love to relive it!