Sunday, September 28, 2008

Uff Da! A Lutefisk Supper!

(Don't "get" the title of this post? Read this and this.)

When I was growing up, it was a common occurrence for my parents to put our family in the car and drive us to lutefisk suppers. (Never heard of lutefisk? Read this for the facts and this for the humor [funny because it, too, is pretty darned factual!].) A lutefisk supper is an annual event held generally at a Lutheran church as a fundraiser, attracting die-hard Scandinavians who travel sometimes literally hundreds of miles and pay good money to fill the tables in a small church basement and ingest platters of air-dried, lye-soaked cod that has been boiled to a gelatinous translucence and drenched in melted butter.

Lutefisk is pretty flavorless, and the butter doesn't exactly add any zip or zing to the experience. In fact, it only heightens the snot-like texture of the fish that has been reduced to a rubbery, jiggly pudding from the combination of chemical destruction (the lye soak) and over-boiling (zealous Lutheran church cooks). In Norwegian-American cuisine, however, the extent of a cook's daring for spice is salt and pepper, so there isn't much one can do to "doctor up" lutefisk. It is what it is.

Still, faithful Lutherans and proud Norskes belly up to the table and slop it down at church supper after church supper, weekend after weekend each fall. I remember going to towns we otherwise never had the occasion to travel to and finding churches we had never been to otherwise in order to pay, get a number, and then sit in the pews upstairs until enough people had cleared out of the overstuffed basement to allow another batch of people downstairs for their meal. The standard procedure is to be seated on either side of a series of long tables scootched end to end and set with placemats and flatware, pots of coffee and pitchers of water, bowls of melted butter, and platters of lefse pre-buttered and accompanied by sugar bowls. (Never heard of lefse? Read this and this.)

At some suppers the food is served family-style; church workers emerge from the kitchen with serving bowls and platters and pass food around continuously, noting who is just arriving and who is about ready to leave. Other times one might have to go through the serving line at the counter between the kitchen and the dining area, dishing up one's own food. The saving grace of a lutefisk supper is that the "fish" is but one of many items served. A good lutefisk supper also has hearty meatballs and gravy on the menu, which means that children, Norske-by-marriage spouses, and sane Scandinavians have something to eat, too. That's in addition to mashed potatoes, corn, coleslaw, dill pickles, and any number of other side dishes to complete the meal.

It had been years since I had been to a lutefisk supper . . . until tonight. The local Sons of Norway lodge serves a lutefisk supper on the last Sunday of each September (it's a requisite of maintaining their charter, I think), and when I saw that announced recently, something Scandinavian stirred in my blond-haired, blue-eyed soul. I looked at my blond-haired, blue-eyed wife and daughters and announced, "To this supper we must go." And go we did . . . without telling our children anything about it in advance.

The supper began at 4:30 P.M., and we arrived not long after to find the dining area already full. The Elks Lodge was the site of this non-church-related event, and it was filled with diners of all denominations. After paying, we entered the dining room and immediately lowered the median age of those in attendance to a much younger 65 years old. We went to the serving line and dished up raw vegetables, black olives, coleslaw, cooked peas and carrots, boiled potatoes in melted herb butter, meatballs in gravy, lefse, and . . . lu-te-fisk! When the girls saw the opaque Jell-O-like blocks (with a see-through quality to them somewhere between that of a jellyfish and an X-ray) wobbling in their metal tray, they asked what it was. I lied, "It's just fish" and scooped some onto their plates. The unsuspecting girlies just continued on their way, and we found ourselves a table amidst the sea of bluehairs.

The lutefisk was every bit as delicious as I remembered, and I wisely alternated bites of it with samples of the other food on my plate. In no time the lutefisk was in my stomach, and what remained on my plate was the majority of every other food item to enjoy. Whew. The girls? They were not so lucky. Abigail and Suzanna, in particular, started with the non-lutefisk food and, enjoying it, continued to eat it, leaving them with mostly lutefisk and little of anything else left on the plate before I noticed what they were doing. "No!!" I screamed, but it was too late. They were faced with room-temperature-and-cooling lutefisk blocks sitting in hardening butter and no meatballs to wash it down.

Still, there is no sympathy to be shown when it comes to lutefisk. I told them to take a bite, and they tried, but it was a struggle even to coax the fish gelatin onto a fork or spoon. That was their first clue. Suspiciously, they looked at me over the tops of their glasses and said a hesitant "Da-a-a-ad?" I held firm and urged them onward. Each girl got some lutefisk into her mouth, and then the entertainment began (well, for Susan and me--not for them). There was the initial chewing followed by the suspended animation of the jaw muscles while the tongue tentatively poked at the cod pudding coating it. Then the taste buds were activated and, in concert with the nerve endings that register a food's texture, they sent a message to the brain to eliminate this potentially poisonous substance immediately.

Knowing better than to spit out "perfectly good food" in my presence, however, the girls instead froze and let their facial expressions do the talking. "Grimace" is an appropriate word for what I saw. They looked at me with eyes that seemed to say, "Dad, you cannot possibly understand what is happening inside my mouth right now. I don't mean to be rude, but something has gone horribly wrong in the preparation of this food. This is unlike any fish I have ever eaten--and I love fish. How do I get rid of this crap without making a scene?"

I hardened my heart and shot them a look that definitely said, "Look, for 15 or so years, I regularly forced that crap into my gullet in the name of honoring my heritage, and, by God, so can you!" Just to be clear that they understood the message, I told them outright that we don't eat lutefisk because it's good; we eat it because it's something that North Dakotan Norwegians do. Oh, sure, some people may try to boost their image in others' eyes and lie by saying that they actually like lutefisk, but nobody ever buys that. We all understand that to back down from the cultural dare that is lutefisk is to lose face in the eyes of your people and to have your commitment to your Scandinavian heritage called into question. We can be honest about the stink of boiling lutefisk and the gag-inducing texture of it in the mouth, but we can not refuse to eat it.

So eat it we did. Each bite for the girls was like another mile marker in a marathon; and each time that their lutefisk-stuffed chipmunk cheeks emptied again, I knew that they were one bite closer to claiming triumph. Klingon honor is to be found on the battlefield; Norske honor is to be found on a buttery dinner plate flaked with the rubbery detritus of a finished lutefisk supper. The reward tonight was a trip to the dessert table, featuring sandbakkels, rosettes, krumkake, sugar cookies, gingersnaps, almond cookies, and brownies. We were disappointed that somebody in the local Sons of Norway lodge is under the mistaken impression that a shaker of store-bought cinnamon-and-sugar blend is a suitable substitute for bowls of white and brown sugar as toppings for buttered lefse, but beneath that foreign cinnamon flavor, the lefse was tender and could have been truly delicious.

(In this community, however, cinnamon is a primary ingredient in homemade chicken noodle soup, too. Somewhere along the line, every spice except cinnamon must have been jostled out of some immigrants' covered wagons on the bumpy trails into the Badlands. How else to explain its inappropriate inclusion in a savory food like chicken broth or a bland food like buttered lefse with white sugar? It's a mystery.)

With any lutefisk supper, one of the most important parts is to see and be seen (to prove, I suppose, that you have actually stood up to the challenge and to be held in esteem by your equally brave and virtuous Scandinavian neighbors), and we saw and visited with several people whom we recognized. I also spent some time at the informational stand that the Sons of Norway lodge had set up near the entrance to provide details on what membership in the organization has to offer. The lutefisk experience activated something inside me, and when we got home, I signed us up. Yes, we're now Sons of Norway, too, with all the benefits to be derived from membership thereof.

Keep your eyes peeled, Faithful Reader. Next autumn you just may be reading about the Mobergs' working our shift in the kitchen for the annual lutefisk supper . . . and, afterwards, burning our clothes and washing the smell out of our hair with canned tomato juice.

So proud to be Scandinavian! Ya, you betcha!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Local Woman Marries Local Man

When I started working at DSU, there was a student employee named Maralee in the unit in which I worked. I got to know her pretty well due to all the time she spent around the office and all the time we all spent together on major projects, such as new student orientation. She graduated at the end of that first year and got a job teaching in the local parochial school system, which employed Susan at that time. So Susan spent a year with Maralee as a co-worker. Thus we were invited to Maralee's wedding today to her long-time boyfriend and fiancé, Klint.

They got married in Queen of Peace, a beautiful Catholic church just on the other side of the Catholic high school four houses to the north of us. When Susan got home, we all walked to the church and were seated near the front. Maralee is a music teacher, so it was no surprise that there were about a dozen musicians in the wedding, including a brass ensemble, various vocalists singing solos and multi-part numbers, and people on keyboards and bass guitar. It was a tasteful and Christ-centered wedding . . . and the assisting priest was a friend of mine in high school! He was a year younger in school and played on the basketball team and in the band with me. Now he's a priest in Belfield. Small world!

Maralee and Klint light their unity candle.

There was a substantial hiatus between the end of the wedding ceremony and the start of the reception activities at a local hotel/convention center (the same one where Susan and I had our wedding reception and dance, by the way), so we hung out at home for a while before heading back out for the evening. We enjoyed a complimentary beverage from the bar (courtesy of the married couple's parents) and nuts, mints, and punch before the meal of tossed greens, pasta salad, buns, cooked carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy, and dee-licious roast beef with wedding cake for dessert.

The bridal party were a lot of fun at the reception. The maid of honor and the best man each had funny stories to share before making their toasts to the bride and groom. One person made Maralee and Klint take off their shoes and hand one shoe to the other and stand back-to-back to take a quiz. Each question asked them "Who is more likely to . . ." or "Who is better at . . ." or something similar, and to show their answers, Maralee and Klint had to hold up the shoe that corresponded with their selection: either Maralee's white shoe to mean her or Klint's black shoe to mean him. They couldn't see which shoe the other was holding up, so it was funny for us to see whether they both held up the same shoe or whether they disagreed on who was the better cook, the better conversationalist, the one who made the first move, the one who will be in charge of the checkbook, etc.

Early in the evening, people started the annoying clinking of glasses with tableware to get the couple to stand and kiss. Maralee and Klint at first obliged, but then Klint made the announcement that, this being his and Maralee's wedding, they were allowed to make the rules for kissing. In order to get them to kiss, someone had to sing a verse from a love song containing the word "love" ("And the Barney theme song does not count!"). With so many musicians in the room, there was no shortage of singers or love songs! The entire bridal party even joined forces a few times! Faithful readers will not be surprised to learn that the three Moberg daughters even made their way to the front to sing "A Bushel and a Peck," a performance that resulted not only in a bride-and-groom smooch but in much applause, ooh's and ahh's from the crowd, and several compliments thereafter.

The tables were decorated simply but tastefully.

Maralee and Klint enjoyed the evening--in part, I'm sure, because of their fun bridesmaids and groomsmen!

This is what a well sung long song resulted in. Well, actually, a couple times after a love song performance, Klint and Maralee said they were "giving" the kissing opportunity to someone else. Once they had her parents kiss after a song, and another time they had his parents kiss. Sweet!

Suzanna, Hillary, and Abigail sing "I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck . . ." to the applause of onlookers (the groomsmen are behind them, and the bride's mother is in front of them).

Surviving Without Mommy's Cooking!

Over the past two years, I have been away from home numerous times--for several days each time--to attend and/or present at professional conferences for work (refresh your memory). Each time, Susan has been left alone with the girls, responsible for approving their choice of clothes and fixing their hair in the morning, feeding them, getting them to school and to all their extracurricular activities, helping them with homework, and tucking them in each night.

Well, the shoe has been on the other foot the past several days. Susan has been in Mandan since Wednesday morning to participate in the North Dakota Library Association's annual conference. We've been getting nightly telephone calls from her with reports on her days, and it sounds like a productive conference resulting in her professional development and giving her ideas for use in her school library. She's been staying with her brother, who lives in Mandan, and she's been able to see their dad, too, who has spent some time with them.

Meanwhile, Daddy has been solely parenting the children in Dickinson. Thank goodness that they're pretty low-maintenance! They always get themselves ready in the morning and usually prepare their own breakfast, and I take them to school each day anyway, so our morning routine hasn't changed. I have had to pick them up from school at the end of the day, though, whereas they usually walk to the high school where Susan works and wait for her to take them home. I've also done all the driving to and fro church choir, piano lessons, ballet class, and theatre rehearsals, which Susan and I have been trading off.

Furthermore, I've been in charge of the evening meals, which is really Susan's domain. Here's how things have gone in that regard since she's been gone:

This has been Homecoming week at Dickinson State University, and I noted that one scheduled Homecoming activity was a carnival on campus Wednesday from 3:00 to 7:00 P.M. The girls have church choir Wednesdays starting at 6:30, so I figured I'd pick them up from school, take them to the carnival, buy them something for supper at one of the food booths (as we did at the last carnival on campus a couple weeks ago), and then make it on time to choir at church just a few blocks away.

Well, there was no food being served at this carnival--only tons and tons of candy being doled out as prizes for the activities at each booth (including, ironically, the Nursing Students' Association's booth!). A quick survey of the number of booths and the amount of time remaining before church choir told me that there would be no time to go home for supper between the carnival and the trip to church. So I told the girls to eat as much of their hard-won candy as they felt like! (I know: "Bad Dad!") That plus the weekly treat given out at choir* had to tide the girls over until I could make them supper once we got home (about 8:00 P.M.--"Bad Dad!"). However, I made them taco salads full of fresh tomatoes and lettuce and low-fat cheese served on whole wheat tortillas, so I should get props for that.

Always a tricky evening: the girls' activities overlap, so one has to be dropped off early and another picked up late in order to get everybody where she needs to go and then back home before the next trip out for another activity. Take Abigail to piano; take Hillary to dance; take Suzanna to piano and pick up Abigail; pick up Suzanna and feed her and Abigail; take Suzanna and Abigail to dance, pick up Hillary, and feed her; pick up Suzanna and Abigail from dance, take them to theatre rehearsal, and remain there with Hillary until they're done and ready to go home and go to bed.

Thanks to Susan's cooking earlier in the week, there were leftovers for me to work with. I found some julienned beef (from fajitas) and some round steak in brown gravy, and I chopped it all, threw it together in a pot, and "doctored" the gravy by adding creamy mushroom and garlic soup, vegetable beef soup, and milk. I reheated some mashed potatoes and served the meat-in-gravy mixture over it. I reheated some steamed broccoli, too, as well as some whole wheat focaccia buns, which I smeared with leftover garlic-herb butter. All that plus leftover fruity Jell-O and glasses of milk equalled supper (dessert was leftover bars*).

More Homecoming-related plans gone awry. The schedule of DSU activities included a buffet yesterday afternoon/evening, served outdoors at the King Pavilion and "free and open to the public," according to the university's Web-based calendar. So we planned to go to campus to eat. When we got there, however, we found not a trace of food being served outdoors. It was a little chilly and windy, so perhaps they had moved the food indoors and just neglected to post signage to alert people as to where to go for supper. We, therefore, neglected to join them.

Instead, I kept driving in the direction of several restaurants, telling the girls that we would go inside the Student Center to ask about the buffet and that I was just looking for a parking spot. As I got farther and farther away, Suzanna and Abigail caught on that I was headed toward places to dine out, but Hillary took my "just looking for a parking spot" at face value. As we neared several fast food restaurants, I invited the girls to let me know whether we should turn left or right to look for a parking spot. Suzanna directed me right and into the parking lot of McDonald's. She and Abigail joined in my joke, saying that this looked like an excellent parking spot.

Hillary, though, was nearly in tears as we got out and walked up to the entrance to McDonald's. "You mean we have to walk all the way from here?!" Poor little literal child. I saw her point: had I been serious, it would have been a several-mile trek back to campus. As I held open the door to the restaurant, I said, "Well, let's just step in here to get out of the wind and warm up first," but still Hillary was pouting, finding it outrageous that I would propose such a long walk back to campus for the free buffet. Had she had it her way, we would have marched out of McDonald's immediately and gotten back into the vehicle to find a better parking spot closer to campus. Instead, I invited them to select something from the menu, and we ate supper there. It didn't take long for a smile to replace Hillary's frown.

We intended to be at the university's Homecoming parade this morning and then to eat afterward at the free hot dog feed that I saw on the list of the week's Homecoming activities. Well, last night we stayed up late watching TV and eating popcorn, so I let the girls sleep in. By the time Abigail (the last to rise) woke up, the parade had already started, so we hunkered down for a nice brunch at home instead.

Suzanna helped me by making toast (whole wheat with peanut butter and blackberry jelly) and hot chocolate. I chopped some red onion and celery and put it in a pan with some butter and Worcestershire sauce. Then I wilted some fresh spinach into the mixture. I chopped some smoked turkey sausage and some roasted white chicken meat and added it. Then I mixed together six eggs and scrambled them into the concoction. I put shredded Romano cheese on top and melted Swiss cheese slices over that and then served the dish with fresh chopped parsley on it. It was a big hit.

So we did survive Mommy's absence and Daddy's culinary leadership, but we're all looking forward to Susan's return from the conference early this afternoon!

*The kids in children's choir at church sign up to take turns bringing treats for their fellow choir members. Wednesday was the Mobergs' turn to bring treats, by the way, so before she left for the conference, Susan made two pans of bars for me to take on the girls' behalf Wednesday night.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Relatives in the Newspaper!

Look what was in the Minot Daily News today! (Terry and Tracy Knutson's mom is my cousin, whose dad is my dad's brother.)

They're Homecoming Royalty . . . and Twin Siblings
By Andrea Johnson
Minot Daily News

BOWBELLS, N.D. -- When you're the homecoming king and your queen is your twin sister, there isn't a lot of romance involved.

When it came time for homecoming king Terry Knutson to crown his sister, Tracy, the homecoming queen, "He just plopped it on her head," said an amused superintendent Brent Johnston. The twins also weren't eager to ride together in a car during the homecoming parade at Bowbells High School, waving to all the people in the crowd. "They just rode with their own classes," Johnston said.

The twins make up a third of the six-member senior class at Bowbells High School. In such a small school, they do everything together, Tracy Knutson said. Everyone in the class was a member of the homecoming court. "They're twins, but they're two individuals," Johnston said. "They're both really good kids, participate in everything."

The result of the election was a coincidence. Their classmates voted separately for the homecoming king and queen, and the brother and sister just happened to get the most votes.
But everyone thinks it's pretty neat that the class elected a set of twins homecoming king and queen.

Homecoming coronation has become something of a family tradition for the Knutsons. Their older sister was homecoming queen three years ago, and their dad was a homecoming king years earlier.

The homecoming coronation will be given a page in the school yearbook. "It's pretty cool," said Terry Knutson. "It's kind of different."

["Different" from what, Terry doesn't specify . . .]

Terry Knutson and Tracy Knutson, Bowbells (ND) High School homecoming king and queen for 2008 -- and first cousins once removed of yours truly!

Five Reassuring Minutes

Two-and-a-half hours of driving for five minutes of medical consultation.  Hm.

Faithful followers of this blog (see "Followers" in the right sidebar--and join the list!) already know that Hillary recently had plastic surgery to remove a congenital nevus from the skin on the left side of her torso (refresh your memory).  Today she had an appointment with her surgeon in Bismarck to take a look at the wound and see how well it's healing.  I picked her up from school and drove her to Bismarck, arriving about a half-hour early and hoping to be seen early, but no dice.

However, we made good time anyway because it took no more than five minutes for her actual visit with the doctor.  He looked at the wound, declared the healing to be right on track, gave me some advice for massaging the scar to reduce the swelling and applying sunscreen next summer to keep the scar from darkening, and let me know (when I asked) that over-the-counter scar-fading creams are a bunch of bunk.  Then he wished us well, and we were on our way.

It was about 12:05 P.M. our time, so we went to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  I had the roast beef with hashbrown casserole, whole kernel corn, and country green beans (served with a biscuit and a cornbread muffin).  Hillary had a cheeseburger (huge on a delicious homemade bun) with a side of macaroni and cheese.  We ate very well and had a lovely dinner date with quality Daddy/daughter time.

She took a little nap on the way home, and I got to enjoy driving in the rain (one of life's simple pleasures for me).  We were back to Dickinson in time for her to spend a half-hour in school to get the day's assignments before we were off on our regular Tuesday P.M. extracurricular activities.  Getting to and from a five-minute medical appointment killed most of the day, but I'd rather make that trip and find out that all is well than not make that trip and not know . . . or make that trip and have a longer appointment due to something's being wrong!  Here's to a happy, healing, healthy Hillary!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Very Moberg Sunday

Mobergs featured very prominently in today's church services at St. John. Not only did Suzanna and Abigail's children's choir sing during the second service (Hillary's choir sang last Sunday), but Susan, Suzanna, and Abigail pretty much WERE the sermon (see the church bulletin for today)! They attended church last Thursday evening and at 8:00 and 10:30 this morning so that they could join Pastor Lisa in delivering the sermon each time. The sermon was based on the Gospel reading from Matthew 20:1-16. Lisa read the first part of the scripture and then paused for Suzanna and Susan to take their seats with microphones placed behind the altar railing and start performing a "staged reading" of a skit. Abigail entered later, followed by the second part of the scripture from Pastor Lisa, followed by the final scene with Susan, Suzanna, and Abigail all together.

The skit was directly related to the Gospel reading. In it Susan played a mom, and Suzanna and Abigail played her daughters. The plot: When Dad has to work late, Mom agrees to lead family devotions with an activity to teach a lesson from a parable. She meets with Suzanna and offers her $10 to clean the garage. Suzanna agrees to the job because she could use the money to buy the CD she has been wanting. Later Mom meets with Abigail and offers her $10 to clean her bedroom. Abigail happily agrees because Mom never pays the kids to perform chores that are normally an expected part of their family life--this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for easy money. Finally Mom brings both girls together and pays each her promised $10. Suzanna cries "No fair!" when she sees that Abigail gets the same amount for an easy, standard chore that she herself gets for a difficult, yucky task. Mom points out that each daughter knew in advance what was expected in order to receive the money, and each daughter agreed to perform those duties. The daughters come to realize that Mom is free to do as she pleases with her money and that we all have the freedom to be generous with our gifts (be they money or talent). Abigail then exercises generosity in offering part of her money to Suzanna.

It was an out-of-the-ordinary way to see the sermon text in action ("Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?"). It was also a good way to continue our church's series of conversations on the theme "Share, Save, Spend" on being fiscally responsible both personally and in terms of giving money to the church.

It was also a button-popping moment for Dad. All three ladies did a terrific job, and our daughters were so confident, so "in character," and so clear and easy to hear that others in the congregation felt good on their behalf, I think, while watching their sermon performance! There were certainly plenty of compliments after each church service. It's good to see all three girls involved in church life and understanding what's going on in church (and not just sitting and staring off into space, impatiently waiting for the end of the service).

P.S. Here is an interesting children's sermon related to today's Gospel text.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Video Potpourri

It all started with the girls' and my watching some reruns of The Golden Girls last night.

When I was a kid, my mom used to struggle to stay awake through a television show; no matter how much she wanted to watch a program, it seemed that the moment her butt hit the living room chair, her eyelids closed. She even resorted to watching while standing up if it was something she was really determined to see. But she never had that problem with The Golden Girls, a show at which I have clear memories of her laughing to the point of tears. "Those damned old ladies!" she would remark affectionately. Those golden girls are still funny in syndication, and our three little golden girlies like to watch episodes of it with Daddy occasionally.

The girls were singing the lyrics to the theme song during breakfast this morning, which prompted us to make a trip afterward to the Interwebs to see if we could find the full version (in syndication, the episodes begin with a shortened version of the original opening). We did find the full opening version, but we also found a version of the song that preceded its selection (and its popularity) as The Golden Girls' theme:

Since Mom was already on my mind because of The Golden Girls, I thought of "Because He Lives," a hymn she liked so much that she wrote a note requesting that it be sung/played at her own funeral--a note that my sisters and I found in the piano bench after her death, and a request that we were able to honor. The music and lyrics are by Bill and Gloria Gaither, longtime musicians with a ministry, who explain the song's origins here:

And here is a concert performance of the song involving the entire Gaither musical crew:

Considering the meaning of the lyrics and absorbing the full effect of the music and the words and the sincerity of the performers and recalling memories of Mom had us all in tears. So we continued our cathartic Christian music video watching with this number that is one of the girls' favorites: "I Can Only Imagine" performed by Mercy Me:

And finally, to wring out any fluid that might possibly have been remaining in our tear ducts at that point, we watched one more video that always leaves Susan and me sobbing at the thought of our daughters' persistent and inevitable daily march toward adulthood: "Let Them Be Little" performed by Billy Dean:

I hope you, too, enjoy them (and cry, if you have a heart!). And Mom, thanks for a morning of good memories and healthy tears. We love you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cocktails and Cookies with Cousins

Last night I got to reconnect with some relatives on my mom's side of the family, whom I don't get to see very often. I see family members on my dad's side at occasional weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and get-togethers when we're home to visit Dad, but there don't seem to be very frequent events to bring together Mom's relatives. Many of those aunts, uncles, and cousins I haven't seen since Mom's funeral seven years ago.

In any case, my mom's brother Lawrence's youngest son Layne's son Tyler just recently moved back to Dickinson (where he spent much of his childhood when he, his sister, and their parents used to live here), and yesterday was his 21st birthday. Tyler phoned and invited me to join him and his parents at the bar that Tyler had chosen, and I was happy to do so for the opportunity to see everybody. Not only did I see Tyler and his parents, Layne and Jo (who live now in Devils Lake), but I also saw Shar (Layne's sister) and her husband Ben (both of Watford City) and their younger son Shawn (also of Devils Lake). Tyler had a good time celebrating his legality, and I had a good time catching up on Layne and Jo's lives.

This afternoon they stopped by our house to see Susan and the girls, and we were able to visit some more and snap the requisite photographs (that's the Moberg in me). Layne grew up on a farm just a couple miles west of the farm that I grew up on, and his parents are not only my aunt and uncle but also my godparents. We spent a lot of time at each other's homes growing up, sometimes to celebrate birthdays but just as often simply to "go visiting" and play cards and, of course, eat. Layne's a guy of constrasting talents: automotive and home repair as well as culinary and parenting skills. Growing up, he was known for making terrific chocolate chip cookies ("He still does," says Jo) and for putting his vanilla ice cream in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up, adding chocolate syrup, and then stirring the concoction into a silky, whipped dairy treat. When I do that even now, I tell the girls that I acquired the "recipe" from my cousin Layne, so that's what they had in their minds when they met/re-met him today!

Having Tyler in town will likely bring Layne and Jo to Dickinson more often. They have numerous friends here from when they used to live here, so I'm sure they'll take the opportunity to visit those friends when they come, but we'll try to get them back to our house for a full-scale meal on one of those visits (today there was time only for beverages and baked goodies). In the meantime we'll have Tyler over for some home-cooked food, too.

Layne, Jo, and Tyler (does he look 21 to you?)

Posing with Hillary and Abigail. Suzanna's friend Evan had phoned earlier this afternoon and invited her over to play, so she rode her bike over to his house shortly before Layne's family arrived and, thus, missed out on the visit. One more reason for us to do this again soon!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fundraise, Touchdown, and Sleepover

We had a full social agenda last night.

We attended a carnival at DSU! It was a fundraiser to help cover the medical expenses of a friend of mine who works at DSU. She is being treated for a recurrence of cancer, and the department in which she teaches and numerous other groups on campus (student organizations, departmental clubs, etc.) organized a night of food and fun-'n'-games to raise money to help cover the expenses of her frequent travels out of state for medical appointments. The King Pavilion on campus was the center of the carnival with numerous games and food booths set up on the surrounding grounds.

We bought $40 worth of tickets and then took the girls from booth to booth where they
  1. got their faces painted,
  2. had their fortunes told,
  3. played musical rugs,
  4. had their photo taken with DSU's mascot, Buster Blue Hawk,
  5. fished for toys,
  6. threw balls at the target of a dunking booth (and sent my own departmental chair into the water--a colleague then told me, "Don't expect a raise."),
  7. jousted with oversized padded sticks in a gigantic inflated boxing ring,
  8. threw footballs into a hole cut out of plywood,
  9. played a ring toss game,
  10. did a cake walk, and
  11. tossed footballs into hula hoops lying at various distances (the farther the target, the better the prize).
We ate supper from the taco-in-a-bag booth and admired the bake sale table but didn't buy any goodies (although Susan had donated a couple pans' worth of bars to the cause). We listened to music provided throughout the night by students from the Music Department and by a local DJ service. Some agriculture students had a chicken there so that people could play chicken bingo: pay so many tickets to select a number from a grid underneath the chicken and then hope that the chicken poops on your number so that you win the prize. We didn't play that. There was a great turnout; I hope that they ended up raising a ton of money for my friend.

Suzanna had a friend (Brittany) sleep over last night, so Brittany came home with the girls after school and accompanied us to the carnival. Hillary was invited to sleep over at her friend Ava's for a birthday party, so after the carnival, Susan dropped Hillary off at Ava's house. Susan also dropped Abigail off at her friend Hannah's house for a sleepover last night. Then Susan came home to get Suzanna, Brittany, and me, and we all went to the DHS homecoming football game at DSU's Whitney Stadium. Hannah's parents brought Hannah and Abigail to the game, too, and Susan and I ended up sitting right behind them in the stands. Brittany and Suzanna joined their friends down in the front; they were wearing T-shirts upon which they had written a letter each so that, when they stood side-by-side, they spelled out "D-H-S-!"

Afterward Suzanna and Brittany got into their pajamas and hunkered down beneath blankets to watch a movie. They slept in pretty late this morning. Susan and I tried to, too, but a telemarketer had other plans for us in the wee hours of the morning. By now both Abigail and Hillary are home again, and they've shared stories of all the fun they had at their friends' homes. It was a pretty fun way to start the weekend.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


(Caution: Those with weak stomachs should be warned that this post includes photos of a healing surgical wound.  Nothing too graphic, but maybe too much for the extremely squeamish.)

Faithful Readers, you'll recall that Hillary underwent plastic surgery a few weeks ago and that the surgeon told me how to remove the stitches myself three weeks afterward.  Well, today marks three weeks later.

Whereas Susan and I had expected Hillary to be grateful for the removal of her large birthmark, she was actually sad: it was a part of her that had always been with her, and it made her unique, especially in comparison to her sisters, to whom she is otherwise so similar.  After the initial visits to the offices of the dermatologist and the plastic surgeon, Hillary started referring to her birthmark as Bertrude, thanked it for being a faithful companion, told it that she would miss it, and started counting down the days until they would have to say goodbye to each other.  Kinda tugged at her parents' hearts a little!

Well, ever since the surgery, she's been counting down the days until the removal of the bandages and the stitches.  After removing the birthmark and stitching the incision, the plastic surgeon added strips of tape to draw together the skin from either side of the wound and then covered the whole shebang with a large rectangle of transparent surgical tape, which kept the surrounding skin in place and prevented it from bunching up or pulling apart whenever Hillary lifted her arm or turned at her waist.  It also flattened out and kept visible the few drops of blood that escaped the cut right after surgery so that the site of the incision has looked more hideous than it really is.

(Imagine putting one tiny drop of ketchup on a white kitchen counter and then covering it with a sheet of clear plastic wrap and pressing that flat against the counter . . . and then leaving it there for three weeks.  That little drop of ketchup would appear to be huge, and it would probably darken and get a bit crusty over three weeks.  That's what we saw on Hillary's side.)

This evening Hillary and I went into the bathroom to uncover the wound, remove the stitches, see her "new skin," and start life without Bertrude:

Here's what it looked like three weeks ago after the surgery.  Tiny drops of blood appear to be kinda nasty beneath the see-through patch of surgical tape keeping the surrounding skin in place.

The plastic surgeon warned me that the clear adhesive patch would loosen around the edges over subsequent weeks and instructed me to trim it off as it pulled away from Hillary's skin.  This was Hillary today.  Notice how little of the surgical patch is left . . . and how discolored it has become.

In the bathroom, we began by pulling off the remainder of the adhesive patch from over the incision.  Despite my assurances to the contrary, Hillary was expecting stitch removal to be painful, so she whimpered and teared up and gasped as I loosened the edges of the bandage and she felt her skin being tugged.  Lightweight.

The stitches themselves looked like fishing line and were difficult to see.  There was one plastic-y string sticking out from either end of the incision and one from above the middle of it.  I used tweezers to pull each stitch away from her skin and cuticle scissors to snip it off.  Hillary did not wince or make a peep at this stage of the process; she basically couldn't feel a thing.

Here's the finished product.  What was once a long oval mole that grew as Hillary did is now a line on the left side of her ribcage.  Looks like a pretty clean scar to me that will only improve with time as the redness disappears and the scar fades a bit.  She may miss Bertrude for now, but as she gets older she should come to appreciate having just a faint scar there instead of a large dark nevus.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Moreys in Da House

Monday evening Susan's sister, Cassie, arrived at our house to stay for a few days. She and her husband, Nick, live in SC but are back for a week or so to visit; he stayed in Fargo, ND to work at his employer's branch office there and to see his friends and family in that area, and Cassie borrowed a car to come to southwest ND to see her relatives here. So Susan invited the local members of her mom's side of the family (the Morey side) over to our house for supper to see Cassie.

[Here's some lineage for those of you who might wonder at the similar names in upcoming sentences: our daughter is Suzanna; her mom is my wife, Susan; her mom was Suzanne, or "Sue"; her mom (Susan's grandma) was Susan; her mom (Susan's great-grandma) was Susanna; and her mom (Susan's great-great-grandma) was Susan. Got it?]

When I first started dating Susan--and through the majority of our marriage--I got to participate in weekly Morey get-togethers at Susan's grandma's house. Grandma Susan's kids and grandkids would gather at her house every Sunday morning after church, and the women would start making a huge breakfast that we liked to call "heart attack on a plate": bacon, sausage, fried eggs, toast, and pancakes. I was amazed at how smoothly it always went considering how casual it was; whoever happened to get there first started to make one food item, and subequent arrivals looked around to see what still needed to be made and then started making it. Eating was in shifts: grandkids first followed by adults, most of whom sat around the table in Grandma Susan's small kitchen, squished but content. As food ran out, Sue or one of her sisters noticed and got up to make another batch of that item. No one left Grandma Susan's house hungry on a Sunday.

Years later Sue passed away followed some time later by Grandma Susan, and the adult children sold Grandma's house--and with it went the central Sunday morning meeting place. There have been subsequent Sunday get-togethers at Susan's aunts' homes, and everybody still enjoys those occasional heart attacks on a plate (which are still made with the same casual, unplanned look-around-to-see-what-needs-to-be-made-and-then-make-it approach to cooking); but the weekly gathering happens no more, and we miss getting together with the Moreys as often as we used to.

Monday night was a little bit like a return to past form. Well, not all the women were in the kitchen together cooking, but they all contributed dishes to the food that Susan laid out for the meal--and just having everyone together made it feel like old times. We stocked coolers on the veranda with beer and soda, and I took my station at the grill to make hot dogs and burgers (some of them uncharacteristically pink--sorry about that!). Susan laid out the fixin's: lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, ketchup, and mustard. She made a huge bowl of potato salad and a crockpot of baked beans. She made a batch of hummus, which she served with pita chips, and she laid out fresh veggies alongside her chocolate chip/toffee bit oatmeal cookies (for balance). Once we added the other food that arrived (crab pasta salad from Kathy, Jell-O salad from Mary, Rice Krispie bars from Laura, a variety of chips from Trista, and homemade granola bars from Audrey), the kitchen counters--and our plates--were overflowing.

Not all the Morey clan were here, of course, but still we had quite a houseful of Grandma Susan's offspring:
  • Sue's widower Roger and all their children: daughter Susan, me, and our children Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary; son Jerrett; and daughter Cassie
  • Kathy and her husband Pat, their daughter Tina, their daughter-in-law Trista, and Trista and Todd's son Trae
  • Terry and his wife Audrey
  • Mary and her husband Dale, their daughter Laura, and Laura and Brian's sons Caden and Jordan
Some relatives hadn't seen our house since we did our post-move-in redecorating (remember this and this?), so they got tours of our home. Meanwhile our daughters appointed themselves babysitters of Trae and Caden, and the womenfolk passed around Jordan all night long, so the kids were all in good hands. The kids ate at the table in the family room, the women ate in the dining room, and the men ate out on the veranda. When the sun went down and it got too cool out there, they came inside and joined the ladies. Our kitchen and dining room and living room are all open to one another, so it was easy for people to spread out but still stay within visiting distance. It was a great night of food, visiting, and just general family bonding time.

Last night Roger and Jerrett came over again to join us for supper. Susan ordered brisket, pork, chicken, jambalaya, and corn bread from JD's Barbecue, a terrific local restaurant, and I picked it up on my way home from work. Leftovers from the night before rounded out the meal. We said our goodbyes to Cassie this morning, and she returned to Fargo today. Before she left town, she made a stop at the girls' elementary school to visit Abigail's teacher, Mrs. Bauer, who happened to be Cassie's grade school teacher, too! Cute!

So, it's just Mobergs in this house again, but we surely enjoyed having extended family here the past few days.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I Heart Billy Collins

Just a quick post here, Faithful Readers. You may recall my admiration for the work of American poet Billy Collins. Here's another treasure from him that came my way via my wife via a teaching colleague of hers (and neighbor of ours, too, by the way). If you've ever been either a parent or a child, you may find that this poem expresses a truth about both.

"The Lanyard"
by Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Classy Wedding

Yesterday we went to Mandan, ND for the wedding of Desareé (pronounced "Desirée" -- yes, "Desareé" is how she really spells it, including the illogically placed accent aigu, in absolute defiance of basic phonetic rules), the daughter of Susan's cousin Marty (who is the son of Susan's dad's sister Bonnie). We found the wedding/reception combo to be an overall classy affair.

The wedding gown and bridesmaids' gowns (in a deep red) were tasteful, and the groomsmen's black pin-striped tuxedos with tails and deep red vests looked very sharp. The vocalist had a beautiful soprano voice and sang precisely and was accompanied by an equally talented pianist. The music was all clearly religious (no "Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong" or "Endless Love" at this wedding) and helped to reinforce the sacred nature of the event. The priest was
excellent: a nice mix of casual and serious in his homily, and perfectly sincere in the prayers, the sacraments, and, interestingly enough, in his listening--he closed his eyes and listened intently to each of the readings as well as to each of the vocal solos as though he wanted to concentrate fully as each person spoke/sang. Even the programs were simple and tasteful! Susan and I agreed that it's a shame that it should strike us as unusual when a couple does a good job of planning a God-centered and non-tacky wedding ceremony, but such is the state of modern society. So "Good job!" to Jody and Desareé (but as for that spelling . . .).

There was a hiatus of several hours between the end of the wedding and the beginning of the wedding reception, so we connected with Susan's dad, Roger, and he took us out to the new house of Susan's brother, Jerrett. Jerrett didn't get back into town until evening, but Roger had a key and Jerrett's permission to show us the place, so we looked around Jerrett's ranch house with an eye out for what he might need as a housewarming gift. After the tour, we went shopping and bought him a toaster, a blender, and a coffee maker to match some of his other applicances. Yesterday was also Jerrett's birthday, so we made it a combo housewarming/birthday gift.

By then, we could no longer fend off our hunger. The wedding reception was held at the Best Western Seven Seas Hotel and was just as impressive as the wedding. Flowers, candles, and lots of glass made up the centerpieces, and strings of white lights ran beneath table skirts to illuminate the table of the wedding party and the wedding cake table in a lovely yet simple way. We got to visit with some relatives on Roger's side of the family (although considerably fewer than we thought ought to have been there considering the number of aunts, uncles, and cousins who live either an hour or less away or else right in town . . . and yet didn't show up . . . very sad), eat a delicious meal, enjoy the cake, visit with Jerrett (who arrived sometime after supper had been served), and do some dancing (well, the girls danced while we adults sat and talked).

We don't see Desareé (argh, that spelling!) much to really know her well, and we had never met Jody before, but we surely appreciated the wedding invitation and were definitely impressed with the planning and execution of both the wedding and the reception. It was nice to see a wedding focused on the religious aspect of the ceremony (and not just on pomp, circumstance, and showiness) and a reception for which every detail seemed to be well thought out. And it was fun to be at a gathering that brought together several members of Susan's dad's family, whom we don't see as often as Susan's mom's family. And good, too, to see Jerrett on his birthday!

The stained glass windows at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Manda, ND are beautiful. The church is in the midst of a comprehensive redorating/remodeling project that will result in even more interior art for congregants to enjoy.

Desareé and Jody look on as the priest leads them in saying their vows.

The wedding cake at the reception.

The table for the wedding party.

The flowers and centerpiece adorning the wedding party's table.

Suzanna's artistic take on the centerpiece. (Give a girl a camera, and she thinks she's Ansel Adams).

Many of the tables featured these towering, long-stemmed glass vases stuffed with beautiful roses. They seemed to be inviting some young rapscallion to start running around the room and bang into a table and send one of these toppling to the floor. However, they all held up fine while we were there.

The meal was great. It was preceded by wheat or white dinner rolls with butter and small plates of tossed greens with three salad dressing choices. The main course was a chicken breast rolled around a generous portion of dressing, a rice pilaf mix, tasty carrots in a sweet herb sauce, and an edible flower for garnish! The wedding cake came in two flavors: vanilla and chocolate-red velvet. We drank coffee with our dessert and had the girls go get us samples of of the homemade bars and cookies that were laid out alongside the cake!

Ding, ding, ding went the flatware against the glassware, and up out of their seats popped Jody and Desareé to lay one on each other for the benefit of the crowd. By the way, another tasteful component of the wedding/reception was the toast by the groom's best man. It was a nice mix of humor and seriousness, and it merited a hug from the groom. Ah, but the maid of honor's speech? Now that was terrible.

Susan's dad, Roger, and his mom, Laura. Laura lives in Dickinson but caught a ride to Mandan for the day with her daughter, Patty, and Patty's husband, Buddy. I complimented Buddy on his attractive new car, which happens to be a fuel-efficient model. His joking response? "Yeah, I'm pretty disappointed in it. I got only 50-some miles to the gallon on the way here."

Susan, Abigail, Laura (Susan's grandma and the girls' great-grandma), Hillary, and Suzanna

Add in Roger, and we've got a four-generation photo!

Laura and Susan

We did not know in advance that the wedding colors were black, white, and deep red, but look at what we chose to wear!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Another Week Down: Tale #4: Flowers

You have been misled by the title of this post: there isn't really much of a tale here . . . just pics. On Labor Day before heading to the office to do some work (yeah, I know: a day off from work means one is not supposed to go to work . . . but who's going to get the work done if I don't?!), I did some early morning watering of the potted flowers on our driveway and the flower bed on the west side of our house. I'm trying to make the blooms last, of course, as long as they can. Even though they're not at the peak of their summertime beauty, the ol' gals have still got some life left in 'em:

Aster. No flowers here yet -- we just planted this perennial a couple months ago. However, it has really bushed out and stayed green and vibrant. I think it likes its new home!



Double peppermint supertunia


Gerbera daisy

We don't know what this is! But isn't it pretty?


Moss rose


Sedum. Planted the same time as the aster, but this one has got some pretty near-autumn color in it. (The purple buds were light green and closed tightly until a week or so ago.)