Friday, October 31, 2008

Hillary on KQCD's THE NIGHT REPORT!

Hillary was interviewed for the local news that aired tonight! Click here to watch! (That is she in the fairy costume, despite their having called her Hillary "Mobert.")

P.S. Suzanna's Halloween costume was a chef complete with a big poofy white chef's hat that she and Mommy made, and Abigail's costume was a beauty queen with a sash that she and Mommy made. Because of having to perform in Seussical tonight, they didn't get much trick-or-treating in. After school there was a fall festival (that Susan was in charge of) at our church for children to attend in costume to play games, make caramel apples, and eat supper. We had just a few minutes between the end of that and the time at which we needed to have the girls at the theater, so I took the girls to a few of the neighbors' houses for treats. Mr. and Mrs. Mayor, however, had prepared awesome treat bags for all the children in the cast to compensate for the fact that the kids were all there and not out trick-or-treating--isn't that nice? Hillary had forewarned us to record the nightly news tonight, so we got to see the clip above once we got home.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Opening Night for the Girls

Tonight was opening night of Seussical: The Musical, DSU's fall theatre production in which Abigail and Suzanna each have roles (remember?)!

For most of the rehearsal process, the girls' obligation has been to attend rehearsals three nights a week. The first few weeks, I would stay in the auditorium throughout each rehearsal, reading and grading for my classes until the girls were done for the night (the director would start with the little kids and then let them go before moving on to scenes featuring only university students). This past week they had full run-throughs, so the girls had to stay from start to finish, just as with an actual show; during those most recent rehearsals, I simply went to my office across campus to work, and the girls phoned me when they were ready for me to pick them up at the end of the night.

A married couple in the cast play a married couple in the show: the mayor and first lady of Whoville (remember the Whos from Dr. Seuss stories?). Suzanna, Abigail, and all the elementary students in the show play Whos, too, and the mayor and his wife early on took on the responsibility of watching over the children backstage, keeping them quiet and occupied between scenes and scooting them onstage in time for their scenes. They even watched over the children after each rehearsal, waiting with them until the last child had been picked up by his/her parents at the end of each night. Isn't that awesome? All the kids love Mr. and Mrs. Mayor.

Well, Abigail and Suzanna were very excited for opening night, and they did a terrific job. Hillary was with me at most every rehearsal, and Susan took her share of turns, so we all know every word and note of every song in the show and didn't know if that would make actually seeing the show tonight something of a non-event. Nope, it didn't! We loved every minute of it. It was especially terrific to see Abigail and Suzanna performing, emoting with every lyric, dancing around on cue and in tempo, acting as well as anyone else on stage, and bringing a swell of pride to our hearts and to our eyes (as evidenced by the tears).

The show itself is pretty darned fun, especially for audience members familiar with Dr. Seuss, and the cast--a mix of students from the university and local high, junior high, and elementary schools--did a fine job. I had my eyes open for "triple threats" in the cast: actors who are equally good at dancing, singing, and acting. Surprisingly for a musical, there wasn't much for dancing in this show, so instead I looked for double threats, and there were a few. But even for those who were better actors than singers or better singers than actors, they were still notably good at one or the other--nobody too mediocre in the bunch.

The auditorium was pretty full (and word has it that the rest of the nights are nearly sold out already), and among the crowd were Roger (Susan's dad), Laura (Susan's grandma), Patty and Buddy (Susan's aunt and uncle), and Jerrett (Susan's brother) to show their support. Susan, Hillary, and I have tickets for every performance; and tonight we brought along Evan, a classmate and good friend of Suzanna. There was much congratulating and hugging after the show, and it was late once we got the girls home and got them into the shower to scrub off the makeup and remove the pounds of hairspray from their wacky Who hairdos. It'll be a sleepless weekend after many late nights this whole week, but this is an experience that the girls will forever remember fondly, I'm sure.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fall Party

When I made the move from my former position at the university to my current position (remember?), my old job was opened and filled with Michelle, someone who was originally from Dickinson but had lived away for many years and was interested in returning "home." In an effort to meet more people and expand her social network, she threw a "fall party" this evening, and Susan and I were on the guest list!

We dropped Suzanna off at a friend's birthday party and took Abigail and Hillary to Susan's aunt and uncle's house, and then we found Michelle's house. She had invited quite a cross-section--some of her brother's in-town friends, some of her colleagues from the Academic Success Center (where I used to work), some faculty from the Department of Language and Literature, and some other acquaintances whom she has made from the area. In her invitation to us, Michelle had called it "an 'if-you-wanna' potluck," thinking that a few people might bring something to share. Well, she was surprised (but I wasn't) when everybody brought food, and the kitchen and dining room were overflowing with casseroles and serving bowls and platters of tasty foods. There were also coolers of beverages and bottles of wine and plates of sweets for dessert. Everything was delicious.

Susan and I weren't sure what to expect when we arrived, trepidatious about who else would be there and whether we'd "fit in," I guess. We had a great time, though. It was fun to visit with DSU colleagues in a social setting where conversations included topics having nothing whatsoever to do with work! We also met some new people and got to know even Michelle better. She was so pleased with the turnout that she tells us she may have a "winter party" soon! If so, we'll be there, heavy laden with plates and bowls of food to share.

Friday, October 24, 2008

One-Woman Gershwin Extravaganza

Another event in this year's concert series was tonight: Fascinating Gershwin, a vehicle designed to showcase the multiple talents of the featured performer, Janice Martin. At her Web site, you can watch excerpts from past performances! We were pretty impressed with what we saw tonight.

On stage with Janice were a pianist, a percussionist, and an upright bass player, and they were all fine musicians. There was no doubt, however, that they all played second fiddle to Janice . . . who played fiddle herself. Well, violin. And guitar. And piano. And stringed instruments from foreign cultures. And trumpet. And sang--sometimes with a pretty operatic voice, sometimes with a more standard pop voice, and sometimes as she was playing the violin. And "danced"--did a series of high-energy martial arts-inspired moves and Chinese meditation-inspired poses that showed off her flexibility and gymnastic skills, all while playing musical instruments simultaneously.

As you can probably tell, it wasn't a typical concert experience. The first half was done as though Janice were auditioning to be in a Gershwin show. The males on stage kept saying things like, "That's pretty good, but we're not sure you're what we're looking for." That, of course, led her to do yet one more impressive thing as though trying to prove herself to the auditors. The second half was supposed to be the Gershwin show itself, but Janice kept pausing between songs to tell stories about Gershwin and how/when/why he wrote the next songs, thus breaking the illusion of the show-within-a-show concept. No matter--it was probably better just to experience the concert and get the insider stories on Gershwin before hearing her sing/play the music.

Afterward the girls wanted to wait around for a chance to meet Janice, who was gracious and encouraging when she heard that they play musical instruments and sing themselves. Perhaps someday the girls will be accomplished musicians who can look back on their childhood and recall experiences such as this concert that played a role in shaping their musical abilities. In the meantime, taking them to these concerts is just plain fun!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Old-Time Lunch in the Afternoon

Faithful readers will recall our adventures at last month's lutefisk supper and the surge of cultural pride afterward that led to my signing us all up for membership in the Sons of Norway. (The Mobergs now belong to the Hardanger Lodge of Dickinson.) Not long afterward I received a welcoming e-mail from the lodge's membership secretary inviting us to the next regular meeting, which was today at 2:00 P.M.

Susan and I had no idea what to expect. Would it be an intimidatingly huge group? an intimidatingly small group? Would we be looked at suspiciously? expected to do something? recruited to serve as officers or on committees? Still, it being a ND Scandinavian organization, I was relatively certain that there would be food served, so we screwed our courage to the sticking place, left the girls at home, and attended the meeting.

It was held at the Elks Lodge, the parking lot of which was . . . let us say "not full" when we arrived just a few minutes before 2:00 P.M. We walked in with an elderly gentleman who said, "You must be Norwegians." Ah, a fellow Son of Norway! We followed him in and did what he did, signing in at a table near the entrance to the room where the meeting was held. We were greeted at the door by the membership secretary, who was sincerely delighted to see us there. It was a happy surprise for her to have been notified by "the office in Minneapolis" that we had signed up on-line for membership; they don't get many new members who haven't been coaxed and cajoled by a current member into joining during a membership drive.

She was also looking forward to meeting us, however, because she recognized our last name. She is from Columbus, ND, a town about 30 miles from where I grew up, so she knows my relatives and, in fact, once played accordion with my dad at some event, which she said was "a real honor" for her (and a nice compliment to my dad, who is well known in northwestern ND for his accordion playing skills). Later when she introduced us during the meeting, she mentioned our connection via Dad and told the group about our having become members after the lutefisk supper. The other Sons of Norway "Awww"ed approvingly at the thought of our inculcating our daughters in the ways of lutefisk.

There were about two dozen people in attendance, only one of which (besides Susan and me) looked young enough not to have grandchildren yet. But they were a welcoming bunch. Almost everybody there knew Susan's grandparents or parents, and several already knew us because of being members, too, of our church. One woman used to live in Tioga, where I attended school while growing up, so she knew my parents and said that she still reads about me from time to time in the Tioga Tribune (which runs columns telling the goings-on in the community, such as who was home for the weekend visiting whom--"Kevin and Susan and girls were out to the farm this past weekend to help celebrate the birthday of . . .").

The business meeting started with the pledge of allegiance followed by the singing of the national anthems of Canada, Norway, and the United States of America. Then there were minutes to read, old business to review, a treasurer's report to hear, new business to discuss, and a report to hear of a recent Sons of Norway conference in Grand Forks. When we voted on a motion, we didn't say "aye" or "nay"; instead we were supposed to indicate our assent by using a hand signal that has meaning to the lodge but that is a mystery to me. (The president afterward promised to explain it, saying that the symbolism in it is significant. I'll reserve judgment.)

This was all followed by "lunch" at 3:00 P.M. Where I'm from, "lunch" means a light snack served between meals (the main three meals being breakfast in the morning, dinner at noon, and supper in the evening). City folk, however, often call dinner "lunch," call supper "dinner," and don't eat anything at all that they would call "supper." This can result in confusion. Once when I was a child and our out-of-state relatives came for a visit, my mom invited them over for dinner, but they didn't show up until suppertime; they thought they were right on time, but we had long since finished the meal and cleaned up. There's a lesson in that for you, Dear Reader: Not using the correct term for your meal can leave you hungry.

Back to lunch: Morning lunch consists of a cookie or bar and a cup of coffee; afternoon lunch involves baked goods but might also include a sandwich or some potato salad left over from dinner (the noon meal, that is). And where I'm from, if company comes in the evening, there will be lunch served again at night, perhaps around 9:00 or 9:30 P.M., and it will include sandwiches, salads, potato chips, pickles, cake and sweets, Kool-Aid, and coffee. I love lunch in all its forms.

And apparently being Scandinavian is the tie that binds lunch-eaters, no matter what part of the state they're in and no matter their status as farmers or city slickers. Today's lunch included a tray of black olives, pickled okra, and raw carrots, cauliflower, and radishes; ham sandwiches with lettuce and Miracle Whip, some on white buns and some on wheat; an assortment of cookies; pitchers of water; and a large dispenser of coffee. Business being done, it was time to sit down in the middle of the afternoon with a plate full of food over which to visit. Just like my childhood.

We made arrangements to get Sons of Norway memberships for the girls, too, and official name badges for all five of us. I also bought from the president/fundraiser two jars of lingonberry jam, which we plan to sample tonight over vanilla ice cream. We had come a bit nervous, not knowing just what to expect, but we left feeling assured that this is a good group of people in an organization with lots to offer in terms of staying connected to our heritage. We also couldn't help but notice everyone's palpable excitement at having such young members (and that's not just our daughters--they consider Susan and me to be "young"!) join the fold. I wonder how long until that novelty wears off and we're expected to start doing something to earn our keep!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brand Spankin' New

We really love our house, but it came with mismatched kitchen appliances that have been unattractive since Day 1 and have steadily grown more and more unreliable ever since. Purchased over a six-month time frame in 1989-90, the dishwasher, stove, microwave oven, and refrigerator had already seen better days when we moved in, and they have tested Susan's patience these past two years. Here's a quick rundown:

The best of the bunch, this off-white fridge has served us pretty well. It's noisy, though, and the metal handle covers have broken off the drawers inside. And it's the lone appliance of its color in the kitchen.

This almond-and-black stove is less reliable--the front right burner requires jiggling in order to make a connection and start heating up (electrical hazard, anyone?); the oven doesn't register the right temperature (everything takes longer to bake in our oven than it's supposed to); and the light inside the oven no longer works.

This black microwave oven serves as an over-the-range hood with lights underneath to see the stove top better. The lights, however, are a dim, murky yellow; the loud exhaust fan rattles the windows in our house; and the microwave's door handle came into our possession with black electrician's tape lightly adhering it to the door. Perhaps needless to say, the tape did not hold, and the handle came off in our hands. Gorilla glue has kept the handle on ever since, but the visible drips of the butterscotch-colored permanent glue do not enhance this appliance's attractiveness (look at where the bottom of the handle attaches to the door).

This black dishwasher has been deteriorating slowly over the years, various plastic parts melting and breaking off with every third or fourth load, it seems. Tines of both the top and bottom trays have disappeared or have cracked and are on their way to snapping off, and the bottom tray is missing a wheel, making it quite a feat simply to push it back in after loading it with dishes. The odds of every dish in a load coming out clean are pretty low, too.

Still this is a kitchen in which Susan has successfully made wonderful meal after wonderful meal for two years, adjusting to the limitations of the appliances and still managing to keep us all healthy and well fed. She daydreamed about better equipment, but we put off making that kind of an investment until it was absolutely necessary.

And when the dishwasher stopped working altogether the week of September 15, it became absolutely necessary.

As luck would have it, Sears was having a sale that weekend that, in light of our appliance-related needs, was too good to pass up. So we spent that week researching our options, looking for models that had the features we wanted and that rated highly according to Consumer Reports, against which Susan checked each of our options. On September 19, we loaded up the girls, headed off to Sears with our list in hand, and bought a slug of new stuff.

It wasn't until yesterday, though, that (most of it) was delivered to our house. And it just had to be on one of the busiest days of the week for our household, too. I had to chauffeur Hillary to and fro piano lessons after school; Susan had to attend a meeting at church after work; and in the evening, Susan and I had a parent meeting to attend at the girls' elementary school; Suzanna and Abigail had musical rehearsal at the university; and Abigail and Hillary had gymnastics class at the public high school. And at the same time, two guys from Sears needed to move a truckload of used appliances out of our house and replace them with a truckload of new.

After dropping off Hillary, I enlisted Suzanna and Abigail's help to unload the refrigerator of its contents, the oven drawer of its contents (broiler pans and pot lids), the under-the-sink cabinet of its contents (to allow access to the plumbing for the dishwasher), and the countertops of their contents. I left the girls home to let the Sears delivery men in while I picked up Hillary, and once we returned, I was in it for the long haul. Susan did the rest of the running last night while I stayed home and helped with the appliances.

Refrigerator contents on the dining room table.

Under-the-sink contents on the kitchen counter.

Assorted cookware cleared out of the way from the kitchen into the living room.

The deliver-and-install men were keener to deliver than to install--and more qualified, too, in the former regard than in the latter. They were supposed to take out the old dishwasher but were mystified about how to begin. It should tell you something, Faithful Readers, that I had to step in and take over. While they puzzled over how to attach to the wall the mounting bracket for the microwave, I disconnected the plumbing and the wiring from the dishwasher and readied it for them to move out.

They did fine unplugging the old stove and plugging in the new one, and the fridge seemed like an easy switcheroo, too, what with the unplugging and the plugging in and the sliding into place . . . until I pointed out that the doors were set to open the wrong direction (one would have had to go out into the front foyer just to reach into the fridge). Moving the hinges to the other side of the doors (so they would open up for access from the kitchen instead) wasn't difficult, but again, I had to offer the gentlemen direction and monitor them throughout and re-do some of their work after they left. And how many kitchen appliances have I installed and/or serviced in my lifetime? Exactly.

They were nice, well meaning young men who thanked me for my patience when they left, so I oughtn't to complain. I won't even mention that their inexpert shenanigans under the kitchen sink left the water connection to the dishwasher jostled and the shut-off valve unable to be shut off. It wouldn't be polite for me to note that I had to make a just-before-closing run to the hardware store to buy parts to keep water from spraying until I was ready to hook up the dishwasher (which I wasn't at that point--by 10:00 P.M., I was just interested in finally sitting down to eat the supper that Susan had set out for me at 6:00 P.M.).

The next evening Susan's dad came over to help with the hookup of the dishwasher. It involved replacing the shut-off valve under the sink, hooking up the water intake and the drain tubing to the dishwasher, and direct-wiring the dishwasher into the house (and praying that I had shut off the correct breakers before we started twisting wires together).

When all was done, we found ourselves with brand spankin' new kitchen appliances that all match and that all work:

white Kenmore 30-inch freestanding electric range (link)
white Kenmore 30-inch microhood combination (
link)

white Kenmore 18.5 cubic foot bottom-freezer refrigerator (link)

white Kenmore Elite 24-inch Elite built-in dishwasher with Ultra Wash filtration (link)

Oh, and did I forget to mention? We didn't think it fair for Susan alone to be getting so many fun, new toys, so we had them bring something for me, too:

Sony 46-inch class LCD full HD (1080p) television, BRAVIA (link)


Just over a decade ago, we (and our house at the time) experienced this, after which we bought a new TV that has since served us pretty well but whose picture quality has been deteriorating over the years to the point that any text scrolling along the bottom of the screen is blurry and difficult to read, and the color is hard to regulate, as well. We have those troubles no more with our new flat-screen that's as wide diagonally as Hillary is tall. Now Daddy's happy, too!

P.S. I wrote earlier that most of what we ordered in September was delivered yesterday. We had also ordered pedestals for our front-load clothes washer and dryer (to save Susan from weekly back stress), but the woman who rang up our order last month entered into the computer a code that indicated that we were taking the pedestals with us that day. But we didn't because they weren't in stock and needed to be ordered and delivered along with everything else. Susan has been assured that they have now been ordered and will arrive next week. Once they do, we will also be the proud owners of two white Kenmore Laundry Plus 15.5-inch pedestals with storage drawers (link).

We're doing our part to get the country's economy back on track.

Friday, October 10, 2008

OLD FOUR EYES

I have made my triumphant return to the stage! Since moving to Dickinson, Susan and I have kept our past involvement in the arts pretty low-key. As a consequence, few people have asked us to join any choirs, audition for any plays, direct any plays or choirs, accompany any singers or choirs, etc.--not knowing, of course, that we could do any of that--and we've had time to spend with our family in the evenings. Fancy that!

Well, after our children auditioned for, and got parts in, the musical at the university, the suspicions of the theatre personnel were raised. (Could it have been the professional theatre résumés and head shots that I prepared for the girls to bring to auditions? Not even the university-aged theatre majors themselves brought those.) When it came time to assemble a cast for a theatre project that he was directing, the chair of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts phoned me to ask if I'd be interested in participating. It didn't involve much of a time commitment, so I said "yes."

The university hosts annual humanities symposia on Theodore Roosevelt, each of which features a theatrical diversion after the second night's banquet. This year it was a cutting of the play Old Four Eyes by Thomas Patterson. 40 years ago the play was the featured evening event of the Medora experience, offering theatre-goers a fully developed plot and characters in a full-length reenactment of some of Roosevelt's experiences from his time spent in Dakota Territory. It has long since been replaced by the Medora Musical, a song-and-dance extravaganza with modern production values and a "plot" only insofar as one is needed to tie one country or patriotic song to the next.

So the department chair directing this year's symposium production dusted off the original play, cut it to about 40 minutes, and invited several men to play the roles in a staged reading following tonight's banquet. We had just three meetings beforehand: one to block the play, one to read through it and practice our blocking, and one for a dress rehearsal. I played two characters: Rancher #2 and Sylvane. Rancher #2 is a rabble-rouser, a representative of the angry masses of homesteading ranchers who are sick and tired of having their horses and cattle stolen in the night with no follow-up by the crooked federal marshal appointed to keep peace in Dakota.

Sylvane is a rancher whom Roosevelt hires to run his ranching enterprise in what is now southwest ND. Sylvane shares Roosevelt's view that the law must be enforced even in the wild Badlands, but that it must not be done by citizens themselves using means such as lynching suspected horse thieves. Sylvane and Roosevelt believe in capturing criminals and turning them over instead to officials of the law. The plot of tonight's cutting culminates with the capture of one such baddie. It also features, as a theme throughout, the idea that Dakotans turned to Roosevelt to offer his sound perspective on their problems and to take a leadership role while he was living here.

The banquet was delicious: spinach salad, wheat buns, steak filet, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed carrots and green beans, and three-layer frosted birthday cake for dessert (in honor of Roosevelt's 150th birthday this month). Afterward we performed to a very receptive audience who "bought" the combination of actors reading from small black scripts yet wearing costumes and moving about stage as in a typical play. In fact, in tonight's audience were three people who performed in Old Four Eyes during the first few years of its run in Medora! No pressure on us actors tonight, huh?!

Actually it was quite a low-pressure event--an easy way to slip back into acting. Still I can't imagine that I'll find many plays in the future that expect so little of me: no auditions, no memorizing, and only three rehearsals. Well, at least I've discovered that I can live quite happily without the hectic play schedule that I used to have (as both director and actor). When not in the audience watching our children perform, Susan and I can be at home cuddling with them. "Dad" is a better role than anything I could possibly be offered on stage, anyway.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

PROUD TO BE AMERICAN

Suzanna and Abigail have been excited for today to come: they were both featured singers in their elementary school music program, performed once this afternoon for the school and again this evening for parents, grandparents, and truly dedicated friends and neighbors. The gymnasium isn't a patron-friendly venue for artistic events. Unless we get a spot in the very first row, we're pretty much guaranteed to miss a lot because so many of the children will be hidden from view by all the backs-of-heads of others in the audience. I arrived earlier than usual to stake out a spot near the front because both Suzanna and Abigail were featured singers in a couple numbers, and we wanted a good position from which to snap pics and shoot video.

It was all for naught; we still ended up sitting several rows from the front, right behind a man who spent a great deal of time leaning to his right to coax his spoiled brat of a granddaughter to come to him, then sitting up, then leaning over to try again, all of this done ad infinitum, continuously blocking my view of the goings-on. Aargh!

Anyhoo, we enjoyed hearing the program (and seeing what precious little we could), a tribute to American patriotism with every decoration and costume in red, white, or blue. We were proud as punch of our daughters' singing, too. For each song, the music teacher, Mrs. Selle, assigned "solos" to several children to sing together (so, what part of "solo" doesn't she get?). Suzanna and another girl sang their "solo" in unison for one song, and Abigail and two other girls sang their "solo" in unison for another. I asked each daughter to say a little something about the experience:

ABIGAIL: In Proud to Be American, I was a soloist for "Heart of America." I sang a solo part along with Chelsea and Michaela. In one of the songs were strobe lights and a fog machine. It was a different mix of the pledge that we say every day, and it was called "Allegiance Rap." It was a very, very exciting and wonderful program, and I was very, very pleased at both of the performances.

SUZANNA: I sang a solo part in the song "American Tears." The chorus says, "For the heroes, for the patriots, for the soldiers, for all the pioneers . . ." It's to show how many people in our nation give their lives to help ours. I held up a sign in our song "Fifty Nifty," a song about all the 50 states. The program was really, really fun. It made a record of 15 songs in one performance! Mrs. Selle usually does five songs plus speaking parts, and this year she didn't choreograph one dance (because there were too many songs). I really am going to miss Mrs. Selle and her programs next year when I'm at Berg Elementary School because I know that Mrs. Selle won't be there making the play much more fun than it really seems. However, I think that next year we'll probably have really good performances, too, even without Mrs. Selle directing them.

From my less-than-ideal position, and with Hillary balanced on my lap (limited seating in the gymnasium) and knocking into my arm occasionally, I did manage to capture both songs on video. Enjoy!

"American Tears" featuring Suzanna -- Listen for her voice at about the 2:00 mark and again singing counter-melody at about the 4:00 mark. I'll bet you'll be able to pick her out!

"Heart of America" featuring Abigail -- Be on the alert at about the 1:40 mark. Abigail's harder to pick out because she's not standing directly in front of the microphone.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Road Trips

One part of my job involves supervising pre-service teachers (also often referred to as student-teachers) doing their internships in area schools. Most of those schools are within the city, but this semester I also have a per-service teacher in Hettinger, ND and another in Sidney, MT. Furthermore, twice per semester another professor and I take a busload of prospective Teacher Education majors to New Town, ND for a field experience during which they observe classrooms and help out however the teachers choose (e.g., handing out papers, working with small groups, etc.).

Moral of the story: I have been doing a lot of driving recently for work. The route southward to Hettinger takes me on gently curving roads through occasionally hilly terrain past vast fields and pastures toward the SD border. The road also happens to be a grotesque battlefield strewn with the corpses of pheasants, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, cats, deer, and other critters that have "played chicken" with oncoming vehicles and lost. Hettinger takes two-and-a-half hours round trip.

The route to Sidney takes me first on Interstate 94 through the rugged Badlands of southwest ND and into the plains of eastern MT until I get to Glendive. Then I head north on a curvy, hilly highway alongside the impressive Yellowstone River and through some alternating areas of woods and fields and pastures. Homicidal deer lie in wait along either side of the highway between Glendive and Sidney, the animal kingdom's equivalent of suicide bombers. Sidney takes four-and-a-half hours round trip.

The route to New Town takes me north through the Killdeer Mountains, a gorgeous part of the state but a treacherous section of highway on which motorists are well advised to heed the ever-changing speed limit advisories. 45 miles per hour may be fine for this half-mile, but when the sign says to drive 20 miles per hour when rounding the next curve, it means it. Going off the road would mean tumbling to a certain death at the foot of the mountains, careening first through trees and rocks past many thousands of years of layers of minerals exposed by glacial activity and finally coming to rest in a tangled heap of metal and charred flesh upon the grassy grazing grounds of bison (a scenic route toward death, I suppose, should one have the wits about him/her at the time to take in the beauty en route to one's demise).

You might have already guessed this, but deer hide out in the ditches along this stretch of the road, too, waiting to leap out at the most inopportune time. It requires a keen eye, enjoying not only the beauty of the terrain but also watching out for deer and paying close attention to the speed limits. Cattle, too, are a common sight right in the middle of the highway. There are certain parts of the highway at which I know that I will see a rogue cow, having escaped the fence and "making a run for it," albeit with the speed of a bovine . . . which, to the human eye, looks like a film in slow motion mode. Why those particular ranchers don't fix their fences is beyond me. There was a cow out on the road on my way back from Sidney, too, this week, so perhaps modern cattle have evolved into wilier creatures than I remember.

After making it alive to the north side of the Killdeer Mountains, one finds oneself on the Fort Berthold Reservation, and the section through which the highway winds has steep hills and winding roads and gorgeous trees. Nearing New Town, one discovers the Four Bears Bridge spanning Lake Sakakawea. Large bodies of water always impress me, and the bridge offers an excellent vantage point for taking in the grandeur of the incoming Missouri River and the lake that stretches off to the north and west. New Town takes three hours round trip.

Once I'm in Hettinger or Sidney or New Town, I'm busy in the school observing the pre-service teacher or supervising the field experience students in their classrooms. However, there isn't much to do while driving to each destination besides take in the scenery and think--sometimes in my head, sometimes aloud (worthwhile radio stations fade out of reach long before I get wherever I'm going). When I ignore the carnage of roadkill and the threatening stare of diabolical roadside ungulates, I can appreciate the beauty of the rugged buttes and verdant valleys, the rolling rivers and majestic lakes, the fading grasses, and the trees whose leaves are bright green at the bottom but progressively more golden toward the top.

One doesn't normally associate such a mix of beauty and danger with training future teachers, but that's my life! (Or maybe it's just life as I see it.)

Laissez-Faire Parenting

Read this and tell me if it describes the parenting style of you or anyone else you know!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Share, Save, Spend

Today was a "family Sunday school" day at church. Once a month individual Sunday school classes are replaced by one large-group session in the fellowship hall on the church's lower level to which parents accompany their children for songs, lessons, and projects that a family can do together. (Sadly some families make this their monthly "day off" from Sunday school, neither attending with their children nor sending their children with someone else.) Everything that we did during today's class elaborated on the "Share, Save, Spend" theme that has been our church's focus for several months. (Refresh your memory here.) The craft project was decorating three small banks for at-home use and labeling them "Share," "Save," and "Spend." We were given some discussion questions to facilitate a family meeting once we got home, so we held a family meeting while we ate at the dinner table after church.

The point of the meeting was to plan what to do with the three banks: to think ahead about our planned sharing, saving, and spending. Because Christmas is a major spending occasion, that was a major topic of conversation. We tried to name some things that we need (that we could request of one another for Christmas), but, not surprisingly, we couldn't think of anything. Not one thing! So why should we keep buying one another things that we don't need, that use up our money, and that take up space in our home? Is it only because "that's what we always do at Christmas"? Is it just for the temporary joy of gift buying or gift receiving? Is it to avoid feeling guilty for not buying gifts? How does our spending money on gifts at Christmas relate to the reason for Christmas? What does commercialism have to do with Jesus' birth? It was a good discussion.

We came to some conclusions. We realize that we won't be able to convince our relatives not to buy us gifts at Christmas. It is a fun thing to do, and it's nice to watch someone open a gift that you have spent time selecting based on what you know about that person's preferences and needs. So we'll still participate in the gift exchange that we usually do on both sides of our family. Also, there's no way to interfere with Santa, so our girls can still expect him to visit our home. However, instead of buying one another a bunch of gifts this Christmas, we're going to think of something that we can do as a family that will serve as a gift to others (and that will bring us satisfaction to serve as a gift to ourselves).

We thought of serving a meal at the Welcome Table Soup Kitchen in town (that is, if they serve a Christmas or Christmas Eve meal--we'll have to do some research). We thought of bringing a meal or baked goods to people who have to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas (an idea that Susan got from our friends Jay and Erin). We thought of putting together a recital of Christmas carols and performing for area nursing homes (and bringing them baked goods). We do plan to do a bunch of Christmas baking together as a family. Afterward we will bring plates of the holiday goodies to our neighbors, and we just may combine Chrismas caroling with delivering the treats.

These ideas all stemmed from our talking about what to do with the three banks that we made at Sunday school. We decided to make daily deposits in each bank throughout the month of October. The girls each made a one-time deposit of $1 of their own money, putting it into the bank that she had decorated in the morning. Then Susan and I committed to giving the girls some money to use for the banks: a quarter per bank per girl per day throughout the month. Susan and I will also drop $1 a day in each bank. (Susan will be making a trip to get a bag full of quarters and a stack of dollar bills from our bank tomorrow!)

At the end of the month, we will empty the banks and use the money for these purposes: The "Share" money we will use to buy gift items to fill shoe boxes to send to needy children through Operation Christmas Child at church. The extra money we will donate to the church to help pay for the shipping of all the boxes collected in our congregation. The "Save" money we will put into the girls' savings accounts at our bank. The "Spend" money we will use to buy ingredients for the Christmas baking that we plan to do so that we can then share the goodies with our neighbors, our friends and family, and perhaps local nursing home residents.

I don't know if this is something that we'll do every Christmas, but we got into it during our family meeting today and were inspired by the banks that we made and by the "Share, Save, Spend" conversation that our church has been promoting. We'll see how it goes with the depositing this month and with the sharing, saving, and spending thereafter!

P.S. If you, Dear Reader, have any other ideas for something that we could do as a family at Christmas that would serve as a gift to others, please do share by adding a comment below.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Gratulerer med Dagen, Pappa!

It was my Dad's birthday on Thursday, so we drove to the farm today to spend some time with him and bring him some cake! Both he and Beverly have had recent stints in the hospital and continue to travel to doctor appointments here and there, so we brought food, too, to make the meals and let Beverly rest. We arrived midmorning and visited while the girls played outside and wore out Bandy, the dog. Before noon Susan made a huge lettuce salad tossed with fresh vegetables and served it with bagels and lox: "everything" bagels (rolled by the baker in a mixture of seeds, dried onion and garlic, and salt and pepper) sliced and smeared with cream cheese and then topped with slices of cold-smoked salmon, sliced red onion, and lots of capers. The girls (and Susan and I) love bagels and lox, and we thought it would be something out of the ordinary for Dad and Beverly. They liked it, too.

Knowing that we were coming, Beverly had arranged for her son, Dennis, and his wife, Julie, to come out for supper. She ordered broasted chicken, pasta salad, and buns (baked from scratch) from The Drive In in Tioga and had Dennis and Julie deliver the food when they arrived. Julie brought also a tray of tomatoes from her garden. Dad's sister Penny joined us for supper, too (after having spent the previous day helping Dad and Beverly clean the house). Beverly had ordered a birthday cake from the Wollas, two sisters well known in northwest ND for the tasty cakes they bake and decorate for weddings, graduations, church confirmations, and birthdays. She had also made a whipped Jell-O/Cool Whip salad. I chopped up some fresh fruit that we brought to make a fruit salad, and Susan made scalloped potatoes.

For dessert we set aside the Wollas' cake in order to cut into the cake that Susan had made: a yellow sheet cake frosted with the homemade dulce de leche frosting that our family swooned over on my own birthday. It earned new fans amongst the crowd at Dad and Beverly's, too!

It was a good day of visiting and eating and seeing family members whom we don't see all that often. Julie even brought Halloween treats for the girls: miniature metal lunch boxes stuffed with candy! That was so sweet (pun intended). Before we got there, the girls were looking forward to playing outside, which they love doing on the farm, but it was a might too chilly and windy for extended periods outdoors. Still they kept themselves busy playing in the garage and the living room while we visited in the dining room and kitchen. We tuckered out Bandy with all the attention and walks/runs outside. We may have tuckered out Dad and Beverly, too! But we left early enough in the evening to let them get to bed at a reasonable hour . . . and to enjoy the unpredictable danger of driving the curvy, hilly roads through deer country on the way home. Always fun.

Happy birthday, Dad! (Gratulerer med dagen, Pappa!)

Dad poses with the beautifully decorated cake from the Wollas.

Dad and his granddaughters (Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary) pose with the decadently delicious cake that Susan made.

Dad poses with his favorite (and only) son.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Jazzed About Jazz

We have paid for a family membership to the Dickinson Area Concert Association yearly since moving here, and we have greatly enjoyed the concerts and plays that have been part of each season. Tonight was no exception. The opening event of this season was a concert by Chris Brubeck's Triple Play. Chris Brubeck's father is the legendary American jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, some of whose music includes "Take Five," "Unsquare Dance" (in 7/4 time), and "Blue Rondo à la Turk" (in 9/8 time).

Well, Chris certainly has inherited his father's musical talents--and developed some of his own, too. He and two fellow members of the ensemble came out on stage in pretty casual clothes and played a variety of funk and jazz. Chris himself alternated between bass trombone, piano, and fretless electric bass guitar. Joel stuck with guitar, and "Madcat" played a kind of hi-hat cymbal and a variety of harmonicas and jaw harps. They all took turns singing, too.

Their enjoyment over playing together was contagious. They laughed and exchanged one-liners and played without looking at music sheets and improvised and interacted with the audience and paused to tell stories or explain interesting aspects of upcoming songs and switched instruments and thoroughly impressed those of us in the audience for whom jazz isn't a first choice when selecting music to listen to.

For a play date after school today, Hillary had her friend Lexi over, whose parents were planning to go to the concert, too. So Lexi stayed for supper, and we brought her along to the concert, where we sat beside her parents and her toddler sister. Her dad (a colleague in my department at work, by the way) is a jazz aficionado, so he was lovin' every minute of it. Lexi even got invited onstage to help Madcat play one song. He had a container of all sorts of noise makers: toys and party favors that one winds up, blows through, shakes, or taps in order to make sound. He told her that he was going to start the song and occasionally reach out his hand, and she was to place into it anything at all from the box. Each time she did that, he kept the song going on the harmonica and added to the rhythm whatever she handed him. At one point he was even playing two harmonicas with his mouth and a third with his nose!

We had to tell Hillary all about it, though, because she slept through that song! The night just got a wee bit too long for her, and she nodded off toward the end. But we all had a great time.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

97 Years Young

Susan's grandpa turned 97 today! This afternoon several of us gathered for a birthday party at the nursing home where Susan's grandparents live. There were E.J. and Laura (Susan's grandparents), of course, but also three of their children: Patty (and her husband Buddy and their daughter Kathy), Jackie, and Roger (and his daughter Susan, her husband Kevin, and their daughters Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary). Cake, cookies, birthday gifts, puzzles, games, visiting, photos . . . we did it all.

Here are some pics of E.J. (the birthday boy), Laura, Roger, and Susan. Do they look related?