Saturday, August 30, 2008

One Week Down

Well, the first week of the semester has ended for me, and Susan and the girls have completed their first week-and-two-days. We're all ready for some down time this weekend.

Susan worked the first couple days to get the library in order after an entire summer of its being used as a storage area for science supplies and equipment during a science pod remodeling project at the high school. This past week teachers have been bringing classes in to use the library, and students have been in on their own to use the computer lab and to check out books. Susan has created and implemented procedures for the students who work as library aides and enlisted her paraprofessional to help with other organizational tasks, including sorting and storing the astounding amount of craft supplies that were stockpiled through the decades by the previous librarian. There are now plants in the library, and Susan just ordered posters for the walls and is ready to place a huge book order to update the library's holdings. She has also tackled the task of organizing her office and feels better now that her surroundings are less chaotic.

Suzanna is very happy with her new teacher, Mrs. Manns, who happened to be Susan's occasional substitute teacher, too (and mom to one of Susan's good friends in high school). Mrs. Manns, thinking Suzanna looks so much like Susan, sometimes refers to Suzanna as "Suzie." Suzanna and all her classmates respond in unison, "It's 'Suzanna.'" Suzanna likes Mrs. Manns' sense of humor but also her ability to discuss serious topics with the students, like current events, and her willingness to change the subject if students have off-topic questions for her. Suzanna has loved being reunited with friends she hasn't seen in months and has been enjoying the outdoors: running around non-stop during recess and playing tennis and soccer outdoors for phy ed. (All this activity outdoors has exacerbated her complaints about the summer heat.) At the end of the day, Mrs. Manns sets aside time for the students to work on homework with her there to guide them, and it is during this time that, twice a week starting next week, Suzanna will leave the room with a couple other classmates (Chris, another trombonist, and Jaiden, who plays trumpet) for band sectional rehearsals (remember?).

Last year after school each day, the girls reported to the gymnasium for an after-school program in which they did their homework, worked on educational projects, and participated in games and physical activities until I was done with work and could go pick them up. (It's a regional after-school program that is a convenient and productive alternative to daycare for school-age kids.) This year, however, they join three other kids and walk together to the high school where Susan works and, after her work day ends, Susan walks them home. The other kids also have parents who work at the high school; one of the kids, Susan's friend Evan, is the son of a teacher who is now Susan's colleague but who was also her high school friend mumble-mumble years ago. Suzanna sees her own friendship with Evan, then, as "family tradition, I guess."

Abigail thinks her first days of the new school year were "just really crazy--there was so much to do." She thinks her teacher, Mrs. Bauer (who taught Suzanna last year), is "awesome--so fun and really energetic and so much fun to listen to," but she gave them a big assignment right off the bat: an insect collection. We don't necessarily have a lot of pesky bugs around here, so it was actually a bit of a challenge to find the ten different insects required. Abigail had us all on the alert for new bugs, and the alcohol-soaked cotton balls were ever at the ready. She mounted the bugs on a piece of foam board decorated to look like a flashlight with the bugs hovering in the beam of light. (Last year Suzanna decorated her board to look like a bug zapper with the bugs killed in the trap.) Abigail also enjoyed an art project requiring the kids to do what amounted to embroidery, stitching a yarn outline around a construction paper apple. It made her recall that Grandma Moberg once promised to show Abigail how to crochet, so I have the feeling that Abigail will be bringing up that topic the next time we're at the farm!

Here's Suzanna from a year ago.

After having missed the first day of school for her plastic surgery, Hillary quickly got into the swing of things with her new teacher, Mrs. Kadrmas (who was also Abigail's second grade teacher), whom she likes because of all the reading she does to the class and has the students do on their own. Hillary noted that she was the only one to "get all the words correct" on the Dibbles test, a test of reading fluency that Mrs. Kadrmas gave the class. Other highlights so far for Hillary have been the math lessons and the music classes, in which they've been learning Spanish and German songs. She also always comes home with stories about her recess activities. Even her sisters sometimes join her on the playground for games; it's a mix of being good sisters to one another, I think, and being monitors to see to it that Hillary doesn't do anything likely to rip out her stitches (like playing on the monkeybars).

I have had an overall good week, but I am exhausted. Not only am I teaching courses that I've never taught before, but I'm also trying to figure out the procedures and rhythms of a new work environment (remember?). The students are all great so far (knock on wood), but preparing for classes takes a long time because of having to create new materials for each lesson (never having taught the courses before, you see--and having been left precious few materials by the previous instructors). We've also been holding morning seminars each day for students getting ready to do their student-teaching this semester. It has been fun to observe their teaching sample lessons and to respond to their concerns (most all of which relate to classroom management and student behavior issues, things that I remember having been worried about myself before going out to student-teach), but those sessions cut into my class preparation time. Thus I've had very late nights all week, and Pensive? No, Just Thinking has been pretty quiet as a result.

Our busy-ness will increase next week when the girls' after-school activities get underway: piano lessons, gymnastics, ballet, and church choir. Area children in grades four and higher have been invited to audition for DSU's fall theatre production, Seussical, a musical based on the stories and characters of Dr. Seuss. Hillary was disappointed not to qualify, but she has been supportive of her sisters, both of whom plan to audition next week. We have a CD of the original cast recording of Seussical, and the girls already have every song memorized. We've had whole-family feedback sessions as each girl has performed her audition song at home. If they impress the director and don't scare him off with their weekly schedule conflicts, we may be adding "university theatre rehearsals" to our list of things to drive our daughters to and from.

So long as (1) we still get to eat supper nightly as a family and (2) the girls keep their grades up in school and their attitudes positive at home, we will be happy for the girls to have this opportunity. Come back, Dear Reader, to find out if the girls make it into the cast!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

First Day of Homework, Last Day of Birthmark

(Caution: Those with weak stomachs should be warned that this post includes photos of a bandaged post-operative wound. Not graphic, but a little bloody.)

Today was the first day of school in Dickinson. Susan started her first school year as librarian at the public high school, and she headed off to work early to start all the projects she's got to do. Because of some remodeling projects in the science pod, all the science furniture, equipment, and textbooks have been stored helter-skelter in the library throughout the summer, and Susan hasn't had access to "her space" to get it ready for the school year. Today and tomorrow the library will be closed to students as Susan cajoles the custodians and science teachers into removing the rest of the non-library-related stuff so that she can clean, sort, arrange, organize, etc. Not exactly how she had hoped to start her new job, but whaddya gonna do?

I took the girls to school today after having them pose for our traditional first-day-of-school photos on the front steps:

Hillary = 2nd grade, Abigail = 4th grade, and Suzanna = 5th grade

At the end of the day, Abigail and Suzanna had long, detailed stories to share, which was awesome. They love school and their new teachers and being with their friends, and they even got right to their homework (Suzanna has a spelling test tomorrow [review of words that her class ought to remember from past years--not too tough], and Abigail started her insect collection due next week [first victim: a grasshopper that she named Popcorn the Hopper because of the popping popcorn sound he makes when trying in vain to escape the GladWare container by throwing himself violently against the transparent plastic sides]).

Hillary had no first-day-of-school tales to share because she spent the day in Bismarck with me for her plastic surgery. After dropping off her sisters, she and I drove to Bismarck and headed to the St. Alexius Same-Day Surgery Center, checked in at 9:30 A.M. (mountain time), and were escorted to a pre-/post-surgery room to meet her nurses (Greta and Dave), discuss the surgery, get her into a gown, have her vital signs recorded, and meet the anesthesiologist (Dr. Beauchamp). The device that clamps onto a finger to record one's pulse and blood oxygen level wasn't working, so we teased that Hillary didn't have a pulse today--but a replacement machine found that she actually did. We watched a bit of Cinderella while we waited, and Hillary was calm and patient (pardon the pun).

Dr. Beauchamp ordered a sedative for Hillary to take orally and timed it so that it would kick in by the time Dr. Paulson (the plastic surgeon) was ready for her. Then Hillary and I both donned surgical caps, the nurse helped me get into a surgical gown, and we all went back to the operating room at 11:00 A.M. Two nurses helped Hillary crawl up onto the operating table because she was a bit woozy from the sedative. I sat on a stool and wheeled up beside her and held her hand and stroked her arm while a nurse put a mask over her face, told her to take deep breaths, and started asking Hillary questions about school: her teacher's name, her favorite subject, etc. Hillary kept her eyes on me but answered all the questions until finally her eyes rolled back, her eyelids closed, and a nurse escorted me out to the waiting room. I wasn't dry-eyed, I must say, watching her drift off into anesthetized slumber and then leaving her behind for surgery.

At 11:30 A.M., Dr. Paulson came to the waiting room to tell me that the surgery had gone well and to explain the bandaging and how to care for the wound (including how to remove the stitches myself in three weeks!). (Myself!!) I went back to Hillary's room to find her lying on the side of her stitches and snoring peacefully. There were three pads still stuck to her chest to which they had attached cords for a heart monitor during the surgery. There was an IV inserted on top of her right hand and held in place with an elastic wrap (the gauze pads and black-and-blue marks on top of her left hand and inside both wrists told me that they'd had some difficulty finding a vein for the IV). Dr. Beauchamp lingered nearby waiting for Hillary to awaken. She took longer than he expected, so both he and I tried shaking her leg and calling her name loudly. He let her sleep a while longer before trying it again, and finally she opened her eyes.

It took Hillary a while to take in the scene and remember where she was and what she had undergone. She was dizzy and chilly and, once she saw the pads stuck to her chest and the IV stuck into her hand, a little panicky. She was also hungry and thirsty (no food or drink since late the night before [per hospital instructions]), so they brought her a grape freeze pop and then a cup of apple juice and then a cherry freeze pop and then a graham cracker, each of which she wolfed down. Because she had taken in so many fluids and was a little freaked out by the IV, Dr. Beachamp removed it from her hand, and Greta took off the other pads and tape, and Hillary calmed down. She wanted to go back to sleep, but we kept her awake so that they could monitor the medicine's progress at wearing off. They kept bringing her warm blankets to cover her, and slowly she stopped whimpering and returned to her normal self.

Then she threw up.

Yes, one of the side effects of the anesthesia is nausea, and it snuck up on her (and onto my right leg and sandaled foot) with no warning. I got much of the first wave into the garbage can, but the second and third waves got past me, and I had to make a trip to the restroom to clean up while Greta got Hillary cleaned up and moved her to another room. Vomiting seemed to be just what Hillary needed because her color returned, she perked up, and she started to inquire about going home. She drank a cup of water while we watched a Winnie the Pooh movie, and the nurses decided she was behaving normally again and could go home. We got her dressed, and I pulled the van up to the door while Dave brought Hillary outside in a wheelchair. It was about 2:00, and we were both hungry (I hadn't eaten since breakfast, but Hillary hadn't had a meal for 16 hours), so we considered which restaurants might have light meal options for her: soup, crackers, etc.

Then she threw up again.

It was mostly water, of course, but it required a stop at a gas station where we got her out of her clothes, wrapped her naked body in her blankie, did some cleaning of her seat in the vehicle, and then headed out of town, bypassing food altogether. She was asleep before I'd even gotten to Mandan, and she slept almost the entire way home. She ate some crackers and water when we got home and then a full meal for supper with no more problems. We told all the details to Mommy and then repeated them for her sisters, who gave her homemade cards and notes wishing her a speedy recovery. The pain medication had worn off by bedtime tonight, but otherwise Hillary is doing well: figuring out how to pick things off the floor without stretching the skin on her side, taking a shower, and behaving pretty normally. Now she is looking forward to her own first day of school tomorrow!



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Surgery and Four Other Important Items

So much to tell! This post has gotta have a checklist (in rhyme, for your edification):
  1. school shopping
  2. birthday greeting
  3. skin chopping
  4. outdoor eating
  5. classroom hopping/teacher meeting
Yesterday Hillary had a medical appointment in Bismarck (more on that in a moment), so we left early enough to spend the morning there shopping for school supplies (1) and a li'l' home decor (photo frames). Then we met the girls' aunt Cheryl and cousin Arron for dinner at T.G.I. Friday's; it was also Cheryl's birthday yesterday (2), so I allowed her to sit directly across from me as a special birthday treat for her. I'm nice that way. That Arron just keeps maturing--he looks years older every time I see him! The girls just love him, and he's so tolerant of their hugging and hanging on and storytelling, etc.

We love the kinds of expressions we get from subjects when we make them pose with the sun shining directly into their eyeballs. Left to right: Hillary, Cheryl, Abigail, Arron, and Suzanna outside T.G.I. Friday's.

Afterward we went shoe shopping for the girls, and even I got a new pair! (I'm suddenly picturing myself at a craps table, blowing on the dice: "Come on! Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!" I'm weird.) Then it was on to Hillary's appointment.

Hillary has a good-sized congenital nevus (mole present at birth) on her left side, and in recent months two darkish spots have appeared near its center. We had her doctor in Dickinson look at it, and he referred us to a dermatologist in Bismarck. The dermatologist (Dr. Cornatzer) recommended removing it--not only for cosmetic reasons (which aren't on Hillary's mind now but which will become important to her as she ages) but also to prevent the risk of its becoming malignant in the future, especially in light of the recent changes to its appearance. We were in and out of his office in a half-hour, and before we left, he had arranged an appointment for us later that very day with a plastic surgeon!

We did a little clothes shopping for Susan between appointments and then met the plastic surgeon (Dr. Paulson), who concurred with the dermatologist and then set about seeing when there would be openings in the Bismarck hospitals for him to perform Hillary's surgery (3). The earliest option: Thursday! of this week! that's tomorrow! That's the first day of the school year in Dickinson, and Susan cannot miss opening day at her new job; so I'll accompany Hillary tomorrow.

Missing the first day of the new school year is not bothering Hillary. Nor is the prospect of going under the knife. When the dermatologist left the room to phone the plastic surgeon, Hillary did cry, but for a very different reason: she's going to miss her birthmark. It's something that she and she alone has; it makes her different from her sisters, whom she is alike in so many other ways, and it certainly makes her different from most other kids. In conversations later last night and today, she anthropomorphized the mole, telling me that "he" is always with her, that she enjoys seeing him and washing him in the shower or the bathtub, etc.

Susan and I were thinking as Future Hillary might: that, if she has to have a lesion surgically removed, at least it's a plastic surgeon doing it whose skill will leave minimal evidence of the mole. However we suddenly found ourselves trying to comfort Hillary instead with the thought that, although the birthmark will be gone, at least she'll always have a scar to remind her of happier days with her mole. It's such a sweet perspective that she has toward the nevus . . . and undeniably odd, too.

All this has been in the midst of preparations for the start of another school year. We left Bismarck Tuesday right after the appointment with the plastic surgeon and made it back in time to attend (Susan and I; her dad, Roger, came to our house to stay with the girls) a pre-semester social (4) at the home of DSU's new president and his wife. Their back yard was elegantly appointed with numerous tables set with linens and summery decorations. Three food stations were situated beneath tents around the yard: a beverage table, an appetizer table, and tables for the entrées (toward the end of the evening, the appetizer table was reset with desserts). The food was fantastic, the weather was perfect, and we enjoyed visiting with the other faculty and staff members in attendance.

Tonight we attended (as a family this time--kids were invited to this one) a barbecue at the home of the chair of my department. He and his wife had all departmental faculty members and their families over for hamburgers and bratwursts made on the grill, and everybody who came brought a salad or dessert so that there was quite a feast laid out for us! It was my first social occasion with my new colleagues, and again, Susan and I had a good time getting to know people. One professor new to our department is new to the state, too, so she, her husband, and their son had the opportunity tonight to meet new people, get some questions answered (e.g., "What bank do you recommend?"), and start to feel a little more at home in Dickinson.

Before the barbecue, however, we went to the girls' elementary school for an open house (5). All the teachers were in their rooms ready to meet the students, show them to their desks, and answer any questions that kids or parents might have about the start of school tomorrow. Hillary's second-grade teacher was also Abigail's, so we knew her already when we stopped by with Hillary's school supplies (and with the news that Hillary will miss the first day due to her surgery). Abigail's fourth-grade teacher was also Suzanna's, and Suzanna's fifth-grade teacher was also Susan's sister Cassie's many a year ago . . . so, again, no new faces to meet for either our kids or their teachers. Still it's exciting to get the notebooks and pencils into the desks, the name tags on top of the desks, the lockers assigned, the friends in the hallways hugged after weeks or months of not having seen them, etc. The girls are all very excited for school to start!

Hillary agrees with the "School is fun" motto pasted on her second-grade classroom door.

Abigail is all smiles in anticipation of her fourth-grade year!

This might be Suzanna's teacher's final year after a long career in the district, so Suzanna might have the distinction of being in her final class. Only spring will tell . . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Torch Is Passed

Suzanna will begin fifth grade next week, and that's the year in our school system (as in many others) that interested students begin participating in band. At the end of May, folks from Jacobsen Music came to her school to demonstrate the variety of band instruments so that students might know what their options were when selecting what to play in band. Suzanna already knew her choice. Both Susan and I have kept our own high school band instruments, so Suzanna has grown up seeing and knowing about the flute (Susan) and the trombone (moi). She asked me in May if she could use my trombone to play in band, and I proudly handed it over to the next generation.

Last week and this week, Mr. Dykema, one of the school district's music teachers, offered a band camp for beginners, an optional way for incoming fifth graders to prepare for the upcoming year of band. Suzanna was interested in participating, so we signed her up. Kids playing like instruments were grouped together for 45-minute daily lessons: how to put together their instruments, how to make sounds come out, how to read music for each instrument, how to make specific notes come out, and how to play simple songs. Today for the first time, all the kids gathered as a large group, and the band as a whole rehearsed all the songs. This was followed by a "demonstration concert" for family and friends to hear the fruits of Mr. Dykema and the children's labors.

Can you spot Suzanna in the back of the right third of the photo? Here, let's zoom in . . .

. . . now can you see her?

Proudly displaying the program following the concert.

It's pretty impressive that, after so little time with their instruments, these kids were able to produce anything remotely recognizable as music. Mr. Dykema must be a miracle worker. Susan and I were so impressed with Suzanna when, after just two or three lessons, she was practicing the trombone at home and already playing quite well--strong sounds, notes in tune, rhythmic songs, etc. (I've gotta admit: It does make me a little teary to see our children becoming involved in music--band, piano, choir--the way we were throughout childhood and adolescence. My piano and elementary music teacher, Mrs. Davis, and my high school band director, Mr. Grubb, would be so proud! Ditto my mom! I'm sure they're all watching from Heaven and applauding.)

Last week I took Suzanna to the music store to buy slide oil for the trombone and a collapsible music stand for home practice. While there we saw a cute pin shaped like a trombone, so I bought that for her, too. She wore it on her shirt for today's concert! The ceremonial handing over of the trombone from Daddy to daughter included our having sat down a few weeks ago to go through the case together, throw out old items from my heyday as a trombonist, and remove from the outside of the case my taped-on name, which Suzanna replaced with a sticker bearing her own name. A bittersweet moment, to be sure; but it's great that the ol' trombone is getting a second life with another family member.

Our daughters tell me that, when we were at my sister's recently, she told them that she still has her alto saxophone from her own high school band days. If that's true (is it, Sandy?), and if she's willing to part with it (are you, Sandy?), we could be set when it comes time for Abigail and Hillary to acquire instruments for band: one of them plays Susan's flute and the other Sandy's saxophone. (My sister Cathy is a professional musician part-time, so if she still has her drum set from high school band, she's probably not willing to part with it--and in terms of musical instruments that the girls are likely to be practicing in our house, the eardrums of both Susan and me vote against percussion!)

Small problem: both Abigail and Hillary have called dibs on the saxophone and are resisting my pro-flute encouragement. Another twist: Abigail would like to play the guitar. In addition to the piano (which she plays currently). And the saxophone (which she will be wrestling both Sandy and Hillary for). Oh, well, there are far worse problems to be had, I suppose. It's not as though they're asking for video games or tattoos. Too much music in this household? Impossible.

Here's a little clip from the concert. It features two songs: "Lightly Row" and "DHS" (a song that the pep band might play during an athletic event to rally the fans' support for the home team). Notice how "Lightly Row" derails in the eighth measure when several musicians ignore the music and just forge ahead while the rest are holding their whole notes and observing their rests. Misreading (or not reading) the music isn't the worst offense, either; it's not listening to the rest of the band to hear that they're "off." They redeem themselves, though, with a strong finish.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

15 Years . . . and We're Just Beginning!

Susan and I had something awesome to celebrate today: our 15th wedding anniversary! Faithful readers will recall that we surprised our children with a trip to Disney World last November (read this and then click the "Disney" label beneath it for follow-up posts with photos), so we reminded ourselves of that before running out and buying additional presents for one another this month. However, we didn't want to just sit around the house today, quietly sipping milk and fondly recalling our months-ago vacation; so when Susan noticed a special event scheduled for today, we decided not to pass up the opportunity. We got tickets to see Garrison Keillor in Bismarck!

Whenever we find ourselves driving somewhere on a weekend, we tune into public radio and hope that we're in the car whenever Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion comes on. We love the mix of music and skits and guest stars and the folksy, nostalgic, literate humor of his weekly updates on the goings-on in his fictional hometown of Lake Wobegon. When Suzanna heard that we were taking them to see Garrison Keillor, she squealed and jumped up and down! (Our kids, however, were among precious few in their age bracket in attendance, as it turned out.)

The Bismarck Civic Center was one stop on The Rhubarb Tour: A Summer Evening in Lake Wobegon, so we got tickets a few weeks ago for the whole family. Suzanna has been taking band lessons last week and this week, so we waited for her to be done with those today and then left town at 2:45 P.M. (our time), arriving in Bismarck around 5:00 P.M. (their time) and heading straight for Red Lobster for supper (Abigail and I shared a healthy meal: salad with vinaigrette dressing, broiled cod, steamed broccoli, and a baked potato topped with pico de gallo). We had time afterward for a quick stop at Cold Stone Creamery for dessert (nothing healthy there: cake batter ice cream topped with Twix bars for me) before heading over to the Civic Center and finding our seats.

Suzanna snapped this pic of us waiting for our entrées to arrive at Red Lobster. Do we look as though we've been married 15 years? (Including our dating years, we've been together for 17-and-a-half.)

"Say wha-a-at?!" Here are the girlies enjoying ice cream at Cold Stone before the performance.

It was a drizzly-but-pleasant summer night: slightly cool with intermittent showers but just enough sunshine to keep things upbeat.

The Bismarck Civic Center

Our seats were so far up in the air and away from the stage for what we paid that I can't imagine what kind of short-term loans needed to be taken out by those with tickets to be seated right up front. Not to worry, though: the sound system was more than adequate for us to hear everything, and our digital camera's zoom lens served to give us a glimpse of the performers' facial features whenever the hankerin' arose. Garrison opened the evening by standing out in the house--smack dab in the middle of the audience--and singing. He wandered amongst the attendees and told stories and jokes between songs and then finally made his way up onto the stage.

Out amongst the audience . . .

. . . and on stage. He's got a face for radio!

The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band, led by Richard Dworsky, is Keillor's regular band on the radio show, and they were phenomenal tonight--very gifted musically with incredible range and versatility, all of them. Keillor also had sound effects artist Fred Newman (from public television's program Between the Lions) as a guest. Keillor would tell a rambling story with elements in it related to sounds, and Newman would respond by making the sounds using his mouth (e.g., Keillor made up a story about Newman's going to a rodeo in his youth, and as Keillor told about this event or that animal, Newman came up with the corresponding sounds). Newman was terrific at making the sounds and very funny at adding facial expressions and body language to enhance the noises. It seemed that Keillor was making it all up as he went along so that Newman himself didn't know what to expect; if so, all the more impressive!

The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band with Richard Dworsky on the piano.

Fred Newman

Newman responding with sounds to Keillor's apparently improvised tales!

Another terrific element of the night was Keillor's guest musician, country music singer Suzy Bogguss. I guess I've heard her on the radio before; I recognized "Outbound Plane" (which you can hear by clicking her name in the previous sentence) when she sang it tonight. However, I wasn't really familiar with her other than recognizing her name. Tonight she demonstrated great guitar-playing skill and a beautiful voice when singing both high and low. We'll definitely be adding her to our music library in the future!

Bogguss and Keillor doing a duet.

Midway through the night, Keillor announced an intermission and encouraged people to excuse themselves if they needed to use the restroom. However, he himself went nowhere. He called it "a standing intermission"; he asked us all to rise, and he spent about 15 minutes wandering the audience again, leading us all in a group sing-along of patriotic songs, hymns, and other common songs as we stood near our seats and stretched and got the blood flowing to our legs and buttocks again. How fun! (He wasn't even flustered when a stage hand came out and asked him to see if there was a doctor in attendance for a patron who had taken ill and was lying off to the side of the auditorium. He calmly asked for the doctor and then went on with his singing, keeping our attention away from the person on the floor. One would think that the paramedics could have helped out by actually removing the person from the auditorium.)

Keillor ended the night with a Lake Wobegon tale so convoluted and filled with Midwestern details that we were all in stitches, including the girls! He has a knack for starting one story and then going off on a tangent with another story and then doing it again until finally expertly bringing all the seemingly unrelated characters and plots together for one climactic event. Tonight's Lake Wobegon update featured the disastrous meeting of a balloonist and two rose-petal-scattering giant duck decoy pilots who weren't told about a wedding's cancellation; the surprise depantsing of an earnest grandson trying to scatter his randy granny's ashes via parasail; and the addition into this mix of an overloaded pontoon carrying 22 fatigued Lutheran ministers (and a smoking barbecue full of shrimp shish kabobs) so low on the lake that onlookers might have thought they were walking on the water (appropriately enough). It sounds utterly ridiculous when I type it, but it made perfect (and perfectly hilarious) sense when Keillor told it from the edge of the stage, never once looking at a note or a teleprompter for assistance. Impressive. It was a great way to end a very satisfying, eclectic, impressive three-hour performance.

The view from our nosebleed seats.

Before heading home, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a couple items that Susan can never seem to find in Dickinson's grocery stores. It was a sleepy drive home, both for the slumbering children in the back and for the heavy eye lidded driver (moi). But it was a great way for us to celebrate, as a family, today's milestone.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Happy 9th Birthday, Abigail!

Our little girl Abigail turned nine years old today! She still has the same bubbly, energetic personality that she had when she was born, and Susan and I enjoyed telling her stories about her birth and what she was like as a baby. Now she's old enough to tell her own stories; Abigail is today's guest blogger:

"I woke up and had this funny feeling: it was nervousness and excitement because it is my birthday! I got upstairs, and there were Daddy and Mom, and they were both wishing me 'Happy Birthday'! Mom was making waffles for my birthday breakfast, and they were very good.

"Then we started getting ready for my birthday party. Suzanna and I made signs that told where we were going to have the party [in the family room downstairs]. The games that we set up were Pin Your Name on the Purse, Charades, and Cake Station, which is a coloring station at our craft table with cake-themed coloring sheets [which they found on the Internet and printed off; they also set out markers, crayons, stickers, scissors--all the things they figured kids would want in order to decorate their own birthday cakes]. That took a long time. We made signs that said, 'Partyland This Way!' and 'Warning! Now Entering Partyland!' Another sign we made was 'Presents,' and we put it over the presents area.

"At dinner time, we went to Sanford's, and Suzanna and I shared the Where the Buffalo Roam salad [featuring chicken tenders in Buffalo sauce with bleu cheese dressing], and Hillary had the Humpty Dumpty [a fried egg sandwich]. Daddy and Mommy shared a chef salad. For dessert, they served me a triple-scoop ice cream sundae on a giant chocolate chip cookie [this is Sanford's' gift to customers who come in on their birthdays; faithful readers will recall that we usually make a stop at Sanford's on our birthdays just for this reason!].

"Then we dropped Suzanna off at band lessons. After we picked her up again, we came back home and did more preparations: finished decorating the purse with the rest of the stickies; organized the Cake Station; did last-minute cleaning; and finished the clues for a scavenger hunt, planned by Suzanna. And then, 'Ding-dong!' and in walked Hannah! We gave her a tour, and she put her present down, and she put her stuff down for a sleepover. A few minutes later, yet again: 'Ding-dong!' and in came Kaina! We gave her a tour, she put down her present, and we just sat down and talked

"In a few minutes, pizza was ready, so we came upstairs, got our pizza, and we went onto the veranda to eat with our tropical punch. After supper, we loaded into our van and went mini-golfing. Hannah won, of course. Then we came back home, and we had our scavenger hunt. We had ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, and then we opened presents. Then we went downstairs and played Pin Your Name on the Purse and then Charades. Then it was time for Kaina to go home. We changed into our pajamas. Hannah and I chose a movie (High School Musical 2) and watched it. Now it is time for us to go to sleep.

Abigail, Hanna, Kaina (back to camera), Hillary, and Suzanna eating pizza, carrot sticks, apple slices, and celery boats (some loaded with peanut butter and some with spreadable cheese) and drinking Kool-Aid on our veranda.

Abigail's warming up on the first hole.

Suzanna's unorthodox golfing stance allowed her to extricate her ball from beneath the fire engine trap on the fifth hole.

Abigail, Hannah, Hillary, Kaina, and Suzanna pose at the lighthouse on the 18th hole.

Kaina, Abigail (notice where she has the chin strap), Hannah, Suzanna, and Hillary

"My birthday was awesome, and I was glad I could share it with my family and friends. I even got to talk on the phone to my aunties Cathy and Cheryl. Here are the presents I got:

  • from Hannah: an eyeglasses case and a T-shirt, both of them with High School Musical logos on them

  • from Kaina: an "A" necklace, a pink-with-butterfly T-shirt, some candy, a purse, and a ballet shoe charm to attach to a backpack

  • from Hillary: a Barbie car and clothes for Banana, my Build-a-Bear

  • from Suzanna: a Lil' Kinz dog and Webkinz clothes for it

  • from Mom and Dad: the Disney Mania 6 CD, a purple personalized piano bag to carry my music for piano lessons, clothes, and a body book

  • from Cheryl and Arron: a savings bond, T-shirts and jeans, and Polly Pocket Pop 'n' Swap Fashion Frenzy toy

  • from Grandpa and Grandma Moberg: a card with a check in it for me to buy my own present

  • from Cassie and Nick: pajamas, a dress, a pencil, a sharpener, a pencil top stamp, an eraser, and a pack of stationery"

It's so fun to watch Abigail open gifts; she's so delighted by and grateful for everything!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Funny, I Don't FEEL One Year Older . . .

Today was my birthday! Yeah, yeah, so I'm another year older--whatever. I had lots of attention and great food today, so that's what I'm focusing on! Here's what I found at the table this morning:

Susan made frou-frou coffee and eggs Benedict, which she served with yogurt for breakfast. More about those presents in a minute.

The girls sang a special version of "Happy Birthday to You" that involves cheer moves and the phrases "cha cha cha" and "ooh la la." Never a dull moment in our household.

One of my birthday gifts (which you see wrapped in the first photo above) was this framed photo of our daughters, a pose from a sitting we did for church directory portraits in May. The sleek black frame matches the long, six-photo frame lying in the orange gift wrapping. This afternoon I printed out photos from our recent trip to the zoo in Omaha to fill the long frame, and both frames are now featured prominently in my new office at DSU.

Other gifts include the book When You Are Engulfed in Flames by one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris (hear him here); the CD As I Am by one of my favorite entertainers, Kristin Chenoweth (the album features her version of a song sung at my mom's funeral, "Because He Lives"; listening to it reduced Suzanna and me to tears this afternoon); and gift certificates for new dress pants, a new dress shirt, and a new tie from a store or on-line site of my choice.

After gifts, it was time for church. We went out to eat afterward at Applebee's, where I enjoyed the grilled chili-lime chicken salad but declined to mention that it was my birthday; I didn't want them to bring me the free ice cream sundae because I knew what dessert was waiting for me at home! (More on that in a minute.) The ladies went shopping with me after that; inspired by the frames (mentioned above), we got some artwork for the walls of my office. They even accompanied me to the office to help me set up a new lamp and shelf, re-pot a plant, and hang all the pictures. The afternoon sped by (well, for me, at least; I can't imagine that the girls found it all that thrilling, but they didn't complain).

Susan made a fantastic supper (faithful readers are not the least bit surprised by this): steak Oscar (pan steak crusted in crab meat and covered in fresh asparagus and Béarnaise sauce), steamed broccoli, and creamy three-cheese potatoes and peas. The very best part, however, was the luxurious cake that Susan made for me. I had requested a tres leches cake--a Mexican three-milk cake that I had never had before but that I had read about and thought sounded interesting. It's essentially a butter cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. To frost it, Susan made dulce de leche buttercream icing. It is simply the most sinful, delectable frosting ever to cross my lips (so far)--buttery, custardy, sweet, and a perfect match for the simple flavor of the cake. I don't understand how anyone can ever serve a cake with store-bought frosting from a can. The girls and I were ridiculous: using our fingers to slurp up the leftover frosting from the bowl and being sure to get every last ounce off our plates (yes, the girls licked). Here's Suzanna reveling in the joy of my birthday cake:

Well wishing phone calls came from my friend Theresa in Mississippi, my sister Sandy (do you recognize her below? that's she on the other end of the line while I'm eating cake), and my dad. It was a terrific day! Here's to another fantastic year!