Sunday, June 29, 2008

Happy Birthday AGAIN, Hillary!

Hillary turned seven a couple weeks ago, but it wasn't until today that she had a birthday party with her friends. This afternoon we picked up Madeline (our neighbor and Hillary's classmate/best friend) and brought her to the West River Community Center to be a guest at Hillary's swimming party. Other guests who are NOT our neighbors were delivered by their own parents! They swam in the leisure pool/water park area for an hour-and-a-half and then reconvened in the poolside community room that we had reserved for this afternoon. The theme for the decorations (cake, napkins, plates, cups, gift bags) was High School Musical. Everybody ate ice cream cake from Dairy Barn (Dairy Queen's competition in Dickinson), drank soda, and watched Hillary open her gifts. Each child went home with a treat bag from Hillary, too.

Hillary and Madeline goofing around in the pool!

Clockwise, starting at the far left: Hillary, Stephanie, Lita, Lexi, Suzanna, Michael (Stephanie's brother and Suzanna's classmate), Abigail, and Madeline. Technically Michael wasn't invited to the party; he's Stephanie's brother, and their mom was supervising his swimming while Stephanie frolicked with Hillary et al. But when it was time to come out of the water and in for cake, Suzanna invited him to join us.

It was a pretty nice day all around, actually. Since we had gone to church Thursday night this week, we didn't go again this morning (we would have heard the same sermon and sung the same hymns). Susan made a big breakfast (cinnamon butter braid, scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, pomegranate and grape juice, and coffee with creamer), after which I mowed the lawn. After the birthday party, I coated some pork spare ribs with a dry rub (thank you, Emeril Lagasse!) and let them sit for an hour. Then I grilled them for an hour on low, indirect heat. Susan made lumberjack potatoes in the oven, and I made corn-on-the-cob on the grill, which we slathered in a garlic and herb compound butter that Susan whipped up (and put on the garlic toast that she served, too). So-o-o-o-o delicious!

We put the barbecue sauce on the table but didn't actually use it; the dry rub on the ribs was fantastic and all the flavor that we needed!

After supper Madeline's family came over, and the kids played in the front yard while the adults had beverages and visited on the veranda out back. Chuck and Reba are a fun couple, and it was a terrific evening of socializing and eating and drinking. We even started planning for this summer's neighborhood block party (recall this?).

Anyhoo, not that you necessarily wish you'd been at the swimming party this afternoon, but just in case you're curious about some of the highlights from that event, here they are for you:

Sundays Songs

Last night's impromptu performances included a couple suitable for the Sabbath--so here ya go! At Bible camp this past month, the girls learned this chant to say as grace before a meal (clever readers will recognize the melody and be able to comment on this post with the name of the original song and artist):

Also this past month (and the last week of May), the girls attended Bible school at St. John each Friday from 9:00 A.M. to noon. The Bible school experience culminated this past Thursday night with a family potluck supper, a chemistry show by a chemistry professor at DSU, and the regular Thursday night church service at which the kids all performed a few songs that they had learned during Bible school. Here's one of their songs (called "Power"):

Susan, as Sunday school director at St. John, was in charge of Bible school, too, and spent NUMEROUS hours at church and at home preparing for each week's session: getting crafts together, setting up the church, ironing logos onto T-shirts, contacting volunteers, planning music, etc. By the registration deadline in May, 78 kids were signed up to participate. However, registrations kept coming in, and children kept arriving each week of Bible school to the point that Susan ended up with 117 kiddos in Bible school--which, according to congregants who've been at St. John longer than we have, is a surprisingly large number. People are crediting it to Susan's enthusiasm and her hard work to carry out an engaging and fun Bible school program, and I don't see why she shouldn't take that credit!

The theme of Bible school this summer was Power Lab: Discovering Jesus' Miraculous Power. It managed to mix Bible study with science (thus the culminating chemistry demonstration Thursday night--I know that you raised your eyebrows when you read about that in the earlier paragraph!) through crafts and "science adventure" videos and "test tube treats" for snacks--all in ways that connected with the daily "Bible points" and showed, through the power of science, analogies to the power of Jesus. There were also mission projects for outreach to needy children throughout the world. It was a high-energy experience that was "awesome," as kids reported to their parents, who then passed on the compliments to Susan.

The girls spent most of those same numerous hours at church with Susan, helping most of the time and growing impatient some of the time. Susan has assured them that, now that Bible school is over, she'll have more time to offer them for other activities, like taking them swimming or hauling them around town for play dates or just letting them play at home without having to cut it short and head off to church so that Mommy can work. It also means a little summer vacation for Susan now, too!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Silliness on the Veranda

What a lovely evening it was tonight. The girls were already in their pajamas en route to bed when we decided to sit a spell on the veranda and enjoy the calm summer night. Well, Susan and I were the only ones sitting; the girls were in the mood to perform. Here are some highlights from their goofiness:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Little Music for Ya

Have you ever heard Nickel Creek perform "Doubting Thomas"? Check out that song here.

Then you can compare Emerson College's a capella group NoteWorthy's version:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Camp Tales, Part III

This morning Susan's dad, Roger, drove to Badlands Ministries south of Medora, ND to pick up Suzanna from her week-long session of Bible camp. I have asked her to report on her week as a Pioneer:

I got to Bible camp Sunday at about 4:00 P.M. We signed in, and then we went to our cabins. First we went to Abigail's cabin, and then we went to mine. My counselor's name was Brittany. Some other girls in my cabin were Tori, Autumn, Lataea, Aly, Kaitlynn, and Stephanie. Then Mommy and Daddy had to leave, and I went with my cabin to the playing field by Bethlehem [our dining hall]. We played a game called The Name Train; that way we could all get to know each other better.

Here is my cabin, called Isaiah. [And they called the wind Mariah. --Daddy]

After that we went into Bethlehem for supper. We sang grace, and after every grace, we yelled, "Hey, Ginny and Christina, what's for ___ [name of meal here]?!" It was fun getting not to have to use your indoor voice in Bethlehem! Actually at Bible camp, they encouraged us to use our outdoor voices everywhere . . . but not past 11:00 P.M.; that was bedtime.

We had to wake up at 7:30 each morning. We had half an hour to get to the dining hall. Some people went to Jordan River [our bath house] to shower, and others showered at night. After breakfast we had cabin clean-up time. Some cabins had to clean Jordan River and their cabins; some people had to clean just their cabins. The first day we [our cabin] had to clean Jordan River. Brittany said that was a good thing--then it was over with, and we didn't have to clean the bath house ever again that week.

Here I am goofing off on my bunk.

Then we would have Bible study. Some of the themes for our verses were, "God's justice is surprising," "God's justice is the cross," "God's justice is action," "God's justice is everlasting," and "God's justice is power." Then we would have crafts--but not just any ordinary craft, no, no, no! It would have to do with our themed verse for the day. On the day that God's justice was surprising, we surprised other people in our cabins with bracelets. Then when crafts were over, we would go play a game. During the game when God's justice was everlasting, we pretended that we were mustard seed bushes. Since they don't come out very easily, the game went like this: If one person got caught, then he/she would have to sit down until seeing that the person who caught him/her got down. Then everyone who got caught by that person got to get back up. It might sound confusing, but it was so much fun.

After that we would wash up and get ready for dinner. We would do what we did at every meal: grace and yell at Ginny and Christina. After dinner was over, there was Sabbath; that was a time of rest from 1:00 to 2:00 P.M. No getting out of our bunks, no talking, and no being loud. Pretty strict, huh?! When Sabbath was over, the kids who signed up to ride horse got to ride horse. While we were gone horse-riding, the other kids would play games. Some hiked in the Badlands, and some stayed in Medora. By the time the kids who were riding horse got back, all the other kids were already eating supper. We all got in, and we ate, too.

Here I am on my way to Bible camp; I am so excited!

Then we went to our cabin to get ready for the all-camp game in which the whole camp played a game together, even the counselors, and the only boundary was where camp ended and started. Then it was time for a campfire. We went and had worship around the campfire, sang some songs, and saw a skit done by the counselors. Then the counselors would say, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord," and all the campers would yell in their loudest voice, "PRAISE BE TO GOD, AND WE-E-E-E WILL!"

Then we usually had an hour before bed to go take showers if we wanted to and have devotions [where we just talked about what happened that day and asked questions or told stories or maybe played a game with just our cabin]. Then at 11:00 P.M. sharp, lights out! And then, a new day, which went again just like that. Having Brittany as a counselor was so-o-o-o much fun, and I can't wait until next year!

This is the best counselor in the world--Brittany!

P.S. See also this, this, and this.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Happy 7th Birthday, Hillary!

Our baby turned seven years old today, which is amazing to process considering how young Susan and I are. I had to work today, of course, and Susan had to attend the second day of a two-day summer workshop at DSU for teachers working on continuing their own professional development for licensure renewal. So Hillary and Abigail (Suzanna is still at Bible camp) spent the day at Susan's cousin Laura's house, which suited them both just fine because they love Laura and Brian and their son, Kaden. Susan made cupcakes to send along, but first we had Hillary pose with them since they = her birthday cake this year:

The letters in the frosting spell out "Happy 7 Birthday Hillary Ann." The last "N" in "ANN" is actually a sideways "Z," but you're not supposed to notice that.

Per Hillary's request we started the day with breakfast at Hardee's (home of the delicious "cinnamon 'n' raisin biscuit") at 7:00 A.M. before dropping the girls off with Laura and Brian. When I got home from work, per Hillary's request we took her out for supper (and Susan's dad, Roger, joined us) at Sanford's, home of the ridiculously delicious, obscenely gigantic, and incomprehensibly free birthday sundae:

Grandpa Gustafson got to sit next to the birthday girl.

That's three large scoops of vanilla ice cream atop a plate-sized chocolate chip cookie. The scoops are drenched in strawberry sauce, chocolate syrup, and butterscotch topping and sprinkled with butterscotch and chocolate chips with a dollop of "whipped topping" (yuck!) and a maraschino cherry on top. (Notice that Hillary consumed the cherry before I could snap the pic.)

After supper Roger joined us at home for the opening of the presents. That fun was delayed, however, by three wonderful surprises: telephone calls for Hillary from my sisters, Cathy and Sandy; and a visit from my dad and my stepmom, Beverly! Beverly has a medical appointment in Bismarck tomorrow morning, and Dad had one in Williston today; so they decided to drive through Dickinson on their way to the hotel in Bismarck tonight. What great reasons to postpone the present-opening for a while! But all the grandparents were here to watch Hillary open everything. She'll have a party with her friends within the next week or so, too, so the celebratin' ain't over yet!

What a great photo of my dad!

Grandma gets some affection while Hillary gets some advice, apparently, from Abigail!

Bible camper Suzanna wasn't around for this photo opportunity: Grandpa and Grandma Moberg with their grandkids.

Here's something fun for you: a video journal of Hillary's seventh birthday. [Notice how she waves farewell when she says "goodbye" on the telephone!] Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Camp Tales, Part II

This morning Susan drove to Badlands Ministries south of Medora, ND to pick up Abigail from her three-day session of Bible camp. I have asked Abigail to report on her time as a Discovery camper:

This is my cabin, called Elijah.

Sunday Mom and Dad dropped me off and helped me get my luggage into my cabin. I got a top bunk, and I knew everyone there! Then I went with Suzanna, and we dropped her stuff off. Then we went to a huge area where the cabins had gathered and played a game. I joined in with my friends and other cabins. We played Ride That Pony, The Name Train, Do You Like Milkduds in Your Tomato Soup, and one more game that I can't recall.

Then we went to The Porch, a stone slab where there were benches outside of Bethlehem [where we ate]. We sang songs and got to know the counselors. After we sang songs and greeted, we went back to our cabins and unpacked and did other games and activities. That took a while. Then we went to the bathroom and washed our hands, and then we went to Bethlehem and sat on The Porch.

Then we got dismissed by cabins into Bethlehem and sat at tables with our counselors. Our counselors got glasses for us to drink from, and there were pitchers of water on the tables. Then we said grace, and we got dismissed by cabins up to the counter to get our food from Ginny. Ginny's helper for the week was Christina. After that we put the garbage plate in a pile, the plates in a pile, the silverware in a pile, the cups in a pile, the bowls in a pile (if we had any), and the water pitcher next to the rest of the items. Then Jamelle said into the microphone, "Silverware, plates, cups, bowls, water pitchers," and we brought them up when she called their names.

Then we went back to our cabins where we hung out until the bell rang, when we went down to the campfire around which we did our worship service. After we did that, we went to the church and did devotions. After devotions we showered, brushed our teeth, and then went to bed. It was freezing cold that night; my sleeping bag was unzipped.

This is the place where I slept.

In the morning the bell rang at 7:30 A.M. We showered, brushed our teeth, got dressed, went to the bathroom, and did anything else that we needed to. We went to The Porch and got dismissed into Bethlehem and sat at our tables. We got dismissed to get up and get breakfast. We had a choice of juice or milk or water. Then we did the same thing as the previous night.

After that we went back to our cabins and waited on our porch for Hannah's and Matt's cabins. Hannah's cabin went to the basement of the church for crafts, and Matt's cabin joined with ours, and we picked up twigs and garbage from the area where the campers slept. Then Hannah's cabin went back to her cabin, and we went down for crafts. We made a birdhouse.

Then we went to The Porch and got dismissed into Bethlehem and, the same as the morning, we ate dinner. Then we bused our dishes and went to our cabins and had Sabbath time. While Nikki (our counselor) slept, the girls (including me) made bracelets. After Sabbath time, we joined with Hannah's group, and we hiked to the three crosses on the side of the hill above the campfire; and we hiked a little higher, and Hannah and the girls who were afraid of heights stayed at that area, and Nikki and the rest of the girls who weren't afraid of heights climbed higher and higher and higher. I thought the scenery was very nice; we were getting higher and higher, and we could see way, way off into the Badlands, so I took a lot of photos. We took one break to get a drink of water. We didn't hike all the way up to the big, huge cross because it was too steep, and all of the girls wouldn't fit. Then we hiked back down.

This is Nikki and I in our cabin.

By that time the girls who were afraid were down by the campfire waiting for us. Then we went to The Porch and waited for the other people because the bell hadn't quite rung yet. Then the people came, and we got dismissed in for supper. Then we did the same and ate and bused our dishes and went to our cabins and put away our backpacks and talked. Then we went to the campfire for our worship service. The cabins that were staying for the rest of the week went back to their cabins for devotions, and Hannah's cabin, Matt's cabin, and our cabin had smores. After smores I kneeled on the ground outside the campfire and took a moment to say a prayer to God before bed. Then we had devotions in the church, and then we brushed our teeth and went to bed.

Here is the sign that shows how to get to Badlands Ministries Bible camp.

In the morning we took showers, brushed our teeth, got dressed, and did the other things that we needed to do. We went to The Porch and got dismissed into Bethlehem and had breakfast. Then we bused our dishes and went to our cabins to pack. That took a very, very, very long time. Then we moved our luggage out to our porches and took photos and talked. Then we went to Bethlehem and sat on the ground and waited for the worship service to start. Then we did the worship service, Mom and Hillary helped me bring my luggage to the car, and I said goodbye to my friends and Nikki. My favorite thing about camp was everybody there--the counselors, my friends, and the new friends that I made.

P.S. See also this, this, and this.

Camp Tales, Part I

Last week Susan drove Monday and Tuesday to Badlands Ministries south of Medora, ND to drop off and pick up Hillary daily for two day-long sessions of Bible camp (without an overnight sleepover). I have asked Hillary to report on her time as a Trail Blazer:

This is I crying with my dad the day we dropped off Abigail and Suzanna at camp. I didn't want to leave my sisters!

Once I got there, we started playing The Name Train. Here's how you play The Name Train: First, the people who help out with the games go around and pick one person. So Zander started, and then he picked Brent, and then it kept going on and on, so the person would ask the other person what his/her name was. He would say, "Hi, my name's Jim; what's your name?" And he would say his name, and then it would go on and on and on and on until it was the last person. And the person I picked was Carter.

At camp when I was dropping off my sisters, Daddy took a photo of Zander (my camp teacher) and me.

Then we played Duck Duck Goose. When I was picked as goose, I caught Morgan, and then I started saying, "Quack" over and over and over. Finally I said, "Honk!" Then we went to the cabin where Zander was staying. We were outside and there were a lot of bugs, so then we went inside Zander's cabin, and he read us "The Rag Man," a story about Jesus.

Then we went to Bethlehem [one of the big buildings where we ate and did some games; outside of it are benches at the back where we did the songs for the campfire] to play Musical Chairs, and Zander started playing the piano while all of us went around. Guess who won! I did!! Between Hannah and me, there was just one chair, and I crept up on Hannah when she was circling around the chair, and then she was in front and I was in back, and then Zander stopped, so I jumped on the chair, and then Hannah jumped on the chair when I was on it, so Zander said, "I guess Hillary wins because she was on before you, Hannah." It was very, very, very, very fun.

Then we played Duck Duck Goose again. I did the same thing as the last time. Then we went outside onto the benches and sang the songs that we were going to sing for the campfire. One of them was "The Hippo Song," and another was "You're My Friend." Another one was a Medora-themed "Jesus Loves Me"; we would have to repeat verses after Jamell, and it was kind of rock music-themed. Then we went inside to eat. There was to drink water, lemonade, and milk. Since on Monday it was the Badlands Ministries' birthday, we got cake for dessert. The rest of the meal was cottage cheese, some crackers, some corn, and tater tot hot dish.

After that we went to Zander's cabin again, and we read another story about Jesus, who died for us. After that we went back to Bethlehem and played Duck Duck Goose again! I said the same thing that I said the last two times. Then it was time to go to the canteen to get a snack. They had Gatorade, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Squirt, and Fanta. For food, they had Hot Tamales, fruit snacks, Twizzlers, Twix, and that's all. After that we went to the bonfire and sang "The Hippo Song," "You're My Friend," and "Jesus Loves Me." After that we said one prayer, and then we roasted marshmallows. Then my mom and Suzanna came to get me.

This is I posing next to the Bible camp sign in Medora. Momma wanted our photos done really, really badly.

The next day my mom brought me back, and we did all the same things as the previous day. However, instead we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, corn, and raisin cookies. I was supposed to go a third day, but our friends the Zanders came to visit us, and I wanted to hang out with them in Medora, so I did that instead. I loved Bible camp and wished I could have stayed overnight as my sisters got to do. I'm going to go again next year!

P.S. See also this, this, and this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Bittersweet Father's Day

Before we went off to church yesterday morning, my blonde beauties presented me with cards and gifts in honor of Father's Day. One of them was a Flip Ultra digital video camera pre-loaded with this kyoooot video for me! Here I am (photo above) givin' some sugar to the darling stars of the video.

Another gift was Missy Moo-berg, a carved wooden cow that lives now on the veranda next to Lyle Jerome Opdahl, Jr., a pig that we had bought for the veranda several weeks ago.

The bittersweet part of this Father's Day was the fact that we had to drop off Abigail and Suzanna at Bible camp south of Medora yesterday at 4:00 P.M. and say goodbye to Abigail for a few days and to Suzanna for the entire week. [*sad face*] After church we went to Medora to spend the first part of the afternoon together. We ate in the Rough Riders Hotel dining room, whose decor suggests the late 1800s when Theodore Roosevelt called southwest ND home. In the photo above, notice the animal skin on the wall behind us? It and others around the room are there because of Roosevelt's hunting expeditions to Africa. Anyhoo, the food was delicious (I had a buffalo burger with smoked gouda cheese.)

After dinner, we took a guided walking tour of downtown Medora ("Footsteps into Medora's Past") led by the knowledgeable but long-haired ("He needs a haircut, Dad," said the girls) young man in the dark jacket in the photo above. The man in the red shirt is a DSU colleague of mine portraying a German settler from Medora's early days ("time travelers" appear occasionally along the tour route to explain aspects of life in turn-of-the-century Medora).

This statue of the Marquis de Mores (founder of the town of Medora) stands in De Mores Memorial Park, a project of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration ("The New Deal") in the 1930s. A stop at the park was part of the walking tour.

One is not surprised in Medora to see horses, horse-drawn vehicles, and horse-mounted infantries (historical re-enacters, of course) interspersed among bicycles, cars, pickups, and RVs.

One never ceases to be surprised, however, at the beauty of the Badlands in southwest ND. Medora is right in the heart of them and lies at the foot of this range of buttes. In fact, the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park has its entrance in Medora.

After the walking tour, we all went mini-golfing. Susan won but got a sunburn on her chest, so it was a wash. Hillary was averaging 27 strokes per hole, which we found amusing but which didn't bother her in the least. Afterward we had tasty ice cream in waffle cones from the ice cream parlor downtown, sitting outside to eat while people-watching and enjoying the breeze.

We couldn't delay forever: eventually we had to take the two older girls to Bible camp. Badlands Ministries has a number of camp options for children of all age groups, including day camps for kids Hillary's age; so last week, Susan hauled Hillary to camp south of Medora in the afternoon and went and retrieved her at night both Monday and Tuesday (we opted not to send Hillary the third day of her session since the Zanders were here, and she wanted to spend the day with them instead). Abigail's camp session is a three-day, two-night thing (she comes home tomorrow). Suzanna's lasts until Friday morning. Here they are posing at the camp sign in Medora directing people down the right road to the camp site.

The camp lies along the Little Missouri River and is surrounded by the Badlands. This is a view from the area where the girls' cabins are located. We're hoping that the girls will be too busy to be homesick, but gorgeous scenery like this should help to keep them distracted, too (Abigail's group will be taking a mini-hike into these hills, and Suzanna's group will be horseback riding among them). Watch Pensive? No, Just Thinking for reports from each of the girls upon their return (Hillary has already returned, but she'll get a turn, too).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day to Me!

This morning for Father's Day, I opened this gift to find this video pre-loaded on it for me:

What could be better?! I'm the luckiest daddy in the world.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Old Friends (Who Are Not Old)

(mumble-mumble) years ago, I met Jeff when I got my first teaching job at a Catholic high school where he was already on staff. We became friends, coached track together, coadvised the junior high classes together, and generally kept each other sane at work. We each got married in those first couple years, and Susan and I and Jeff and Janelle started to socialize together and quickly became good friends. Jeff was in our wedding; the two of them are Suzanna's godparents; we have gone on vacations together; and they have hosted us for a Christmastime get-together pretty much annually since they've been living in the Fargo area. Our kids are similar ages, and they all get along famously, too. In short, our families are great friends.

We were delighted to be able to host them in Dickinson this week. Janelle's parents have been volunteering at Medora, so Jeff and Janelle decided to surprise them by just showing up one day in Medora and saying "hi." Their clan came to our house Tuesday night, and Susan and the girls went with them to Medora the next day. Susan brought their two youngest boys back to Dickinson that afternoon, leaving our girls with them to attend the Medora musical that night. Thursday Jeff and Janelle brought their kids back to Medora for part of the day, but that night I brought them and our girls to the West River Community Center for some evening swimming in the water park (while Susan was at a church council meeting). They packed up and headed home this morning.

I didn't see much of our own children this week because they were so busy playing with Jeff and Janelle's kids! Their daughter, Megan, is Abigail's age, so the two of them and Suzanna hung out together; and their son Jaden is Hillary's age, so they were off playing together. Their sons Jordan and Austen are both under three years old, so they kept the adults busy handing them toys and pulling out of their reach any breakables around the house--although their youth made them attractive to our daughters, too, who went into "babysitter" mode around them and entertained the lads during breaks from their own fun and games.

Speaking of games, the only photos we took while they were here were of this rousing game of Barbie Uno:

At one end, Jeff with Hillary to his right and Abigail to his left; at the other end, Suzanna with Megan to her right and Jaden to her left.

Jordan sat out the card game but entertained himself with a cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper.


Jeff and Janelle are the kind of houseguests who bring tons of food with them and tidy up after themselves before leaving. They're also the kind of friends whose kids are well behaved and with whom we're perfectly comfortable sending our own kids off to play without much adult intervention. They might now think that we're big fat liars, though. We're always going on and on about the wonderful weather in Dickinson: hardly any snow or blizzardy temperatures in the winter, temperate summers with no bugs and lots of sunshine. Well--wouldn't you know it?--it was chilly, overcast, and rainy here this entire week . . . great for lawns and gardens but not so much for tramping around Medora, sitting outdoors for the musical, or playing outside and eating on the veranda. We did still manage to serve them grilled food, though; and perhaps they were warmed in a summertime kind of way by the Long Island teas. In any case, we look forward to another visit with them very soon.

P.S. Read more about our good times with Jeff and Janelle here and here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

CITY #1: DICKINSON, ND

After spending months getting ready for the first summer orientation session for incoming students (and their parents) to our university, I am happy to say that it's over as of yesterday afternoon (. . . and now we have to start getting ready for the next session in three weeks . . .). I spent yesterday afternoon into evening and all morning and afternoon today doing yard work, including mowing and trimming the lawn and planting several plants that Beverly had us take home from her flower beds on our last visit: ten peonies around our back yard and ten day lilies and five irises in the flower bed on the west side of our house. I also weeded and worked the soil in all the flower beds around the house and around the bushes, and I put in a decorative concrete border to replace a rotting wooden one by the shed in the back yard.

We've got house guests coming for a visit this week, so--wanting everything to look neat and tidy--I trimmed the sprawling evergreen ground cover shrubs at either end of the driveway and then, exhausted, came inside to shower. Susan's dad, Roger, had brought his own mom, Susan's grandma Laura, over for coffee after church, and while they were here, Susan and I had mentioned that we intended someday to remove those ugly, tangled shrubs and replace them with perennials. After dropping off Laura at the nursing home, Roger decided to surprise us by showing up to help us with that chore.

Unfortunately, it was just after I had showered and sat down to rest every aching muscle in my body after two days of yard work. Added drawback of doing this just two days before our guests arrive: what to do with the shrubbery debris before Tuesday (P.S. garbage pick-up day here is Thursday)? and how to find time to buy and plant perennials to replace the shrubs before Tuesday (P.S. I work all day tomorrow, and Susan has a nighttime meeting to attend)? The best laid plans . . . sigh.

Well, one doesn't say "no" to free labor, so I got dressed again, and Roger used his pruning shears to clip away at the tangled mat of decades-old underlying branches beneath the prickly, overgrown surface of green and brown while I lifted branches to give him access and then tossed the branches onto a steadily growing and unmanageable pile on the driveway as we got closer and closer to the main stump of the shrub and its recalcitrant network of roots shooting both outward and downward into our yard. The cold wind blew relentlessly; intermittent rain showers soaked us; and the grid of bloody scratches along both my arms widened and lengthened as we worked. The root ball defied my spade and refused to budge for the longest time, but eventually we got it out and took a moment to catch our breaths. In just a couple hours, we had finished with ONE of the two shrubs.

Roger and I went to work on the other side of the driveway while Susan and the girls picked up the plastic sheeting and lava rocks that had once served as decoration around the shrub when it was first planted but which have long since been buried beneath the canopy of the shrubs and thick layers of brown, rotting evergreen needles. The second shrub's root ball would not come out until we tied it to the back bumper of the Explorer and pulled it out that way. Then Roger blasted off, leaving us with another mess of plastic sheeting and lava rocks and two towering piles of shrubbery branches swaying in the wind . . . and house guests coming in two days. We got the shrubbery aftermath crammed into the back of the Explorer and parked it in the driveway; Susan and Suzanna will haul it away tomorrow. We finished picking up the lava rocks and plastic sheeting, and I worked and smoothed the soil; we won't have any flowers or plants in place by Tuesday, but at least it will look tidy.


CITY #2: OMAHA, NE

Yesterday my sister Sandy went to Wichita, KS for our cousin JoAnn's daughter Sandi's wedding. While Sandy was there last night, a tornado went through her neighborhood back in Omaha, and she got an unpleasant phone call from a friend asking her whether she'd heard about the tornado. Sandy returned home today to survey the damage. It could have been much worse; her house is still standing with minimal damage inside, at least. However, there is a lot of exterior damage to her roof, her siding, her windows, her fence, her front porch, her central air unit, and her yard and trees. This is what her house looked like last week:

And here it is now:

That's her neighbor's tree in Sandy's driveway.

Another angle of the tree in the driveway/against the house.

Fence damage.

That's Sandy's tree (scroll back up to see it upright in her front yard last week) on top of her neighbor's pickup in his driveway.

Curbside debris from the cleanup.

Sandy has recently been doing a lot of work to her house, including interior painting that has now been affected by water damage and exterior landscaping projects that have now been ripped out. I may complain about sore muscles and having to haul away dead branches, but that's nothing compared to having to clean up after a natural disaster. (Susan and I survived a major flood a decade ago, so we know from disaster cleanup and recuperation.)

Send Sandy your positive thoughts, and check out her blog for updates on the situation in Omaha.