Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is That Norway That I Smell?

Last year about this time, our family was enjoying Disneyworld in Orlando, FL. On Days Four and Six of our trip, we spent time at Epcot and its Norway Pavilion, where we ate, rode the Maelstrom, bought Norwegian baking, and browsed The Puffin's Roost, a shop selling Norwegian products.

It was there that I smelled Geir, a Norwegian cologne for men. It was really appealing, but we didn't buy any. Good thing, too. If my scent memory can be trusted, Geir smells a whole heckuva lot like Bath & Body Works' much less expensive scent Sea Island Cotton.

For Mother's Day, the girls and I bought Susan a variety of body sprays, including a Sea Island Cotton one. While visiting my sister Sandy this summer, we made a stop at Bath & Body Works where Susan bought (several items including) Sea Island Cotton hand soap. Every time I use it, I experience "déjà smell," recalling Epcot's version of Norway and feeling just a little bit more Norwegian.

I'm sure I smell that way, too.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Advent of Advent

This morning I moved an upholstered chair out of our living room and into a storage room in the basement so that we'd have a clearer path to the area where we like to set up our Christmas tree. Well, I write that as though we have a long history of putting up the tree in that particular spot, but truly this is only our third Christmas in this house, and last year we didn't put up the tree at all because over Thanksgiving weekend (the ideal time for decorating one's house for Christmas) we were at Disneyworld with our kids. In any case, this year Suzanna and Abigail helped me set up the tree along the east wall of the living room, a perfect spot for it. We wrapped strings of multi-colored lights within the layers of the branches while Susan and Hillary unpacked Christmas tree decorations. Then I left the hanging of the ornaments to the ladies while I retired to the office to work.

Susan and the girlies did a terrific job of decking the halls for the holidays, being restrained and selective in their choices of what decorations to put up and to what extent to decorate. Susan even left seven tubs of Christmas decorations entirely unopened! (We really can't figure out how we have managed to accumulate so many Christmas decorations, especially considering that our entire stock was wiped out about a decade ago during The Flood of '97.) Here are some of my favorite vignettes from around the house:

I probably should have snapped a pic during the nighttime to show better how beautiful the tree in the living room upstairs looks when it's just a pyramid of colored lights reflected off the balls and glass ornaments.

We have quite a collection of Santa Clauses, which Susan grouped together atop the piano.

The girls decorated this little tree in the family room downstairs with our Mickey Mouse ear ornaments (souvenirs from last year). It's quite pretty when the rest of the lights are out and the strings of Christmas lights are the center of attention (see the pic below). [Each of the girls has a miniature tree in her bedroom, too, decorated with ornaments that she has received as gifts throughout the years.]


This evening Susan's dad, Roger, joined us for a Thanksgiving meal (yes, even though we've had this Thanksgiving meal and this one and this one already!). Susan bought just a turkey breast on the bone rather than an entire turkey, and it was moist and tasty served alongside savory dressing. She cubed potatoes and sweet potatoes, tossed them in seasoning and olive oil, and roasted them together in the oven (to offer a change from the usual mashed potatoes-'n'-gravy and sweet potatoes in brown sugar with marshmallows on top). She made buttered whole-kernel corn, baked some crescent rolls, and made cranberry Jell-O with mandarin oranges. For dessert she baked apple crisp and topped it with cinnamon ice cream from Schwan's. It was, of course, another delicious meal.

I think we might be done having Thanksgivings now, so we can shift into Christmas mode. Having the house festively appointed should help get us into the mood. Tomorrow: the first Sunday of Advent! Bring it on!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving on the Farm

Wednesday night we packed the van with groceries and drove to my dad and stepmom's farm so that we could spend Thanksgiving with them yesterday. Susan worked like a Turk beforehand to plan the menu, buy the food (including lefse made by local church ladies), make the pie crust dough, and pack everything before we hit the road. Yesterday morning she made an apple pie and a pumpkin pie, peeled and sliced sweet potatoes and baked them, made dressing, made a Jell-O and fruit salad, made mashed potatoes, prepared and roasted green beans and Brussels sprouts with bacon and fresh rosemary, made scalloped oysters, and whipped cream for the pies. My stepmom, Beverly, invited her son, Dennis, and his wife, Julie, to join us, and Julie made and brought out the turkey (and a fluffy cookie salad). I filled the pickle dishes and poured the wine (yeah, I know: exhausting!). It was really a terrific meal.

We brought a DVD of the girls' performance in Seussical (remember?) and in the afternoon showed everybody just the scenes featuring the girls (since Dad, Beverly, Dennis, and Julie had wanted to see the show but did not make it to Dickinson to see a performance). Then there was lots of visiting and more eating (turkey leftovers) and goodbyes when it was time for Dennis and Julie to leave and then full-bellied exhaustion as we all fell into our beds.

This morning Susan made pancakes and eggs for breakfast, and my aunt Penny stopped by to visit on her way past the farm. In the afternoon when Dad and Beverly went to town for an appointment, the girls and I took Dad and Beverly's dog, Bandy, and "went on an adventure" to explore the farm. The girls wanted to see some of the places that I used to play with Happy, our family's dog when I was growing up. So I took them into the trees on the east side of the farm and showed them where my sisters and I played in a little crumbling shack and claimed various openings in the trees as our homes during games. I also told them how terrifying it was to play nighttime games of hide-and-go-seek in the summer; when I was "it," I would count to 20, shout "Ready or not, here I come!" and then look up to find myself surrounded by inky black darkness on all sides, knowing that hiding somewhere in the trees were my sisters and our cousins, able to see me standing beneath the yard light but completely hidden from my sight within the twisted branches of the trees, which scraped together ominously as the wind passed through them. It was a test of my bravery just to go off in search of the hiders! Thank goodness for Happy, who could usually be counted on to sniff out the kids no matter how well hidden; I had only to follow her in order to find someone or other!

Then the girls, Bandy, and I walked the prairie trail along the trees north of the house, and I showed them the old combine (parked for eternity just inside the tree rows) that I used to use as a fort. From there it was a short walk westward to the pasture, and I lifted the barbed wire fence to let them in. We walked the fence line northward, alternately looking up to take in the vistas and looking down to avoid the soggy cow pies until we reached the northern border, which we had to climb over in order to get to the old railroad tracks. A few years ago, the railroad company ceased using it and actually removed all the ties and rails, so now it's just a raised path overgrown with weeds. We followed it east until we reached the railroad bridge over the creek running through Dad's pasture . . . except that the railroad had removed the bridge, too! So we climbed down onto the ice and then headed south through the long grasses of the lowest part of the pasture, through the short grass on the hillside (which had been hayed and lay dotted with hay bales), and then through the tall grasses of the field at the top of the hill just north of the house.

By the time we were done, we had walked a few miles, and the girls (including Bandy) were "plumb tuckered out," as we used to say. The girls had a great time, though, asking for details about my childhood trips along those same paths with Happy and listening intently to my stories as we walked. I enjoyed remembering the good times playing outside with our dog and exploring the pastures and trees as though it were all undiscovered country and Happy and I were adventurers investigating the land for the first time. Bandy enjoyed sniffing around and seeing new sights (Dad and Beverly never take her for long hikes across the countryside!), but she wasn't crazy about any terrain that didn't allow her clear sight lines into the distance. When there were tree branches strewn across the ground or taller-than-Bandy grasses surrounding her, she was hesitant and stuck pretty close to my heels. Where there were clearer paths or shorter grass, though, she took the lead and pulled on the leash, letting me know where she thought we should be going.


Susan turned the leftovers into a tasty supper after we got back from our hike, and then we all sat at the kitchen table and played Norwegian whist. It's a variation of whist that my uncle Lawrence taught us years ago and that we used to play all the time when going to his house to visit. My own sisters and parents and I used to play it whenever we were all home together for a holiday. We'd each grab a can of pop and fill a napkin with some snacks: Christmas cookies or peanuts salted in the shell, usually, although Mom and Dad would often polish off a box of chocolate-covered cherries while we played! I looked up "Norwegian whist" on the Internet and found instructions for what we would consider to be basic whist! So perhaps Lawrence's version of "Norwegian whist" was his own invention--who knows? It didn't take long for the girls to get the hang of it tonight, so I think we'll be able to play it in our own house now, only with Susan and I playing the roles that Mom and Dad used to play. Sigh.


After packing the vehicle and saying goodbye, we were off to return to Dickinson. First, however, we pulled over alongside the highway by Dad's house for a photo opportunity. Just a couple miles from his farm is a drilling rig on my uncle Lawrence's land, and it's located mere yards to the north of the highway--much closer to the main road than most drilling locations are. It's brightly lit through the night as the men work continuously to reach oil. We have a vested interest in its success; my mom owned mineral acres beneath that land, so my sisters and I could gain a few bucks if the well is successful. Dad himself is enjoying occasional checks for the oil wells on his land, too. In any case, it's impressive to watch the enterprise of drilling for oil, especially when it's so easy to pull off the road, roll down the windows, and watch.


After the table prayer but before we ate our Thanksgiving dinner, Beverly asked each of us to name something for which we were thankful. The responses were varied and heartwarming. I said that I was thankful for being close enough now that we can make more frequent trips back to the farm, no matter how brief. The girls were definitely thankful for the chance to play on the farm ("I want to live here!" they said more than once) and see Grandpa and Grandma and Bandy. We were all thankful, too, for all the work that Susan did to haul the food and prepare the meals. Finally I was thankful that all the suicidal deer gathered in the ditches and standing on the shoulder of the road decided not to leap into our path as we drove home tonight. At least they kept me alert!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Our Dolphins

When we lived within driving distance of the University of North Dakota, our daughters used to take swimming lessons on campus in the summers. We'd sign them up for two two-week sessions of daily half-hour lessons sponsored by SwimAmerica held in the swimming pool in the Hyslop Sports Center. They really enjoyed it and made good progress, and now every time that we're in a hotel swimming pool or at the lake or at the West River Community Center's water park, Susan and I feel good knowing that our kids are able swimmers. (They even give me, a non-swimmer, mini-lessons when we're swimming together!)

The first summer that we lived in Dickinson, the girls took swimming lessons at the outdoor pool across from the park just a couple blocks from our house, and Susan and our neighbor Reba together walked all the kids to the pool for their two weeks of half-hour lessons. The swimming program was run a little differently from SwimAmerica's, but the girls had a good time and wanted to do it again this past summer. However, the times for swimming lessons conflicted with the times of their numerous other activities. We chose the other activities and decided to skip swimming lessons since we have memberships to the West River Community Center and can go there whenever we'd like to swim. So it has been a while since they've received any instruction in swimming.

Well, a week or so ago, the girls came home from school with information about the Dickinson Dolphin Swim Team, a chance for kids to take swimming lessons and swim competitively for much of the year (quite a bit more intense than a two-week session in the summer!). There was a "come and try it out" week, so Susan took the girls . . . and they loved it! Susan was impressed with the instruction that the girls received; she herself will be able to work out while the girls are at practice (the Dolphins use the lap pool at the West River Community Center); and the girls will get excellent exercise on a regular basis (thrice weekly) in a sport for which they seem well suited (you should see them in the water, Dear Reader!).

All three of them started gymnastics lessons once we moved here, but Suzanna asked to stop this year, and the other two are more than happy to give it up in favor of swimming. None of them started gymnastics early enough to really get the basics down, and their once-a-week practices aren't frequent enough for them to have made any notable progress in that sport. They're like fish in the water, though, so we're hoping that they'll find success as Dolphins. At the very least, they should have a good time and get some good exercise in the process.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Early Turkey Supper

Fun event tonight: Susan and I were invited to a coworker's house for a potluck Thanksgiving meal. Actually, this coworker, Deana, used to be more directly a coworker; she's the secretary to the vice president of the division in which I used to work before moving into a faculty position. She was also Susan's classmate in high school! Anyhoo, Deana and her husband had a handful of friends over, and we were among those invited.

She served deep-fried turkey*, and the other dishes contributed included chicken/wild rice soup (deliciously savory . . . and made by Susan), roasted herbed potatoes, green bean/French onion casserole, meatballs in white gravy, buns, pumpkin roll, pumpkin bars, and cookies. Our friends Jason (also a coworker) and Miranda (remember?) had their toddler, Arabella, along, and she kept us all entertained thoughout the evening.

Good food and drink + good friends = good times.

* Note to non-residents of southwest ND: "deep-fried turkey" here does not mean a turkey that has been cooked by submerging it into a pot of boiling oil. It means turkey that has been cut into cubes, marinated, breaded, fried to form a savory crust, and then baked until done. I don't get the nomenclature either, but it is truly delicious . . . and ubiquitous at special gatherings, it seems: catered wedding receptions, holiday get-togethers, potlucks, etc. Nummy!

Linkers vs. Thinkers

Several months ago I read on-line an article by someone criticizing modern writers of Web logs, or blogs. The author's assertion was that blogs were first intended to be collections of links to other sites of interest, not sites with substantial content themselves. The author decried the trend of bloggers' using the form to diarize or to write expository essays or to critique social or political events, claiming that on-line diaries clog the blogosphere with irrelevant content and that bloggers' opinion pieces make it difficult for consumers of news to differentiate between laypersons' contributions and the work of legitimate journalists.

I haven't been able to find evidence to substantiate the claim that early blogs were all aggregators. Several sites about the history of blogs, in fact, point to on-line personal journals as early examples of the form (in the first part of the 1990s). In any case, even if blogs once were something more limited than the wide variety of forms and purposes that they represent today, why shouldn't they evolve? It seems that most everything else in life does. And although I can agree that there's plenty of (pardon my French:) crap on the Internet due to the ease of on-line publishing (via free blog services and free or cheap Web site hosting services), wouldn't it be better to educate Netizens (Internet users or cybercitizens) to be more critical readers than to limit their access to things to read, regardless of the quality or type of the blog?

I myself use this blog mostly to diarize for the sake of relatives and friends who don't see us very often but might be interested in the goings on in our lives [and who could share the love a little by at least leaving a comment from time to time to let me know they've visited and read what I've written--ahem!]--although I've been known to be an essayist and critic on this blog from time to time . . . and even an aggregator, assembling lists of links that I recommend my readers check out, if interested. More recently I read on-line about the distinction between "linkers" and "thinkers": bloggers who aggregate and share links to other sites of interest versus bloggers who write their own content for others' consideration. It made me wonder whether I ought to be linking more and thinking less (or linking totally and thinking not at all, to suit the tastes of the writer whom I mentioned at the start).

Here's an example of a blog that both links and thinks: Fimoculous. Rex, the blogger, is an example of a linker, who I happen to know is also a thinker, whose thinking is reflected clearly in his linking. He's an acquaintance of mine from our university student days; we have a mutual friend, Darin, with whom I made a trip to St. Paul several years ago and who made arrangements for the two of us to meet Rex for supper at Moscow on the Hill for a fantastic Russian meal. Rex has a wide variety of interests, and he links to other sites dealing with current events, politics, pop culture, music, technology, literature, fine arts, commerce, and on and on. Keep an eye on his annual list of lists, an über-aggregator of aggregators of links to sites on a wide array of topics.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Investiture

I really can't figure out why, exactly, but I like pomp and ceremony and am often moved to tears by an event that is conducted according to tradition and filled with symbolic meaning to those in attendance. I just as easily get irritated when others in attendance act inappropriately out of ignorance of the rules of conduct or lack of respect for tradition: not removing head gear and covering the heart when the U.S. flag passes during a parade or during the singing of the national anthem, for example; or wearing a T-shirt and jeans or other inappropriately casual clothing to a wedding, funeral, or weekly church service; or wearing the mortarboard vertically in order to display curled and hairsprayed bangs during a commencement ceremony; etc. I must have been taught by parents and teachers to be respectful of traditions and to follow ceremonial rules and procedures, I guess. And I definitely like the feeling of participating in a ceremony with others who also know the meanings behind what we're doing and why we're doing it as we are.

That's a preface to telling you that I participated today in the investiture of Dr. Richard McCallum as our university's president. It was my first such ceremony, and it was carried out formally and beautifully by the committee appointed to conduct it. All classes on campus were canceled after 2:00 P.M. and offices closed after 3:00 P.M. to enable faculty, staff, and students to participate and/or attend. We faculty gathered in the library before the 3:30 P.M. ceremony to get into our academic garb (gowns, hoods, and mortarboards) and line up to process into the auditorium through hallways lined with stands bearing the flags of all the nations from which our students come (which makes for quite an impressive array of flags). We were seated in the front rows and had an excellent view of the proceedings on the stage.

The university band played the processional, and the senior faculty member on campus declared the ceremony opened. There were addresses by Al Jaeger, the Secretary of State of North Dakota; Dennis Johnson, mayor of Dickinson; officers of the faculty, staff, and student senates on campus; representatives of the DSU Alumni Association and Foundation Board; and North Dakota University System chancellor Bill Goetz and North Dakota State Board of Higher Education member Pam Kostelecky, both of whom installed Dr. McCallum by presenting him with the mace, the alumni cane, and the presidential medallion to be worn at official university ceremonies. Dr. McCallum delivered an intelligent, extempore speech on the theme "Reflecting on the Past, Embracing the Present, Forging the Future." He's an excellent public speaker who makes a terrific impression and seems so far to be a visionary leader with integrity. The university chorale sang an arrangement of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," and the band played a recessional after the senior faculty member declared the ceremony closed.

The sun had gone down by that time, and the investiture committee had lined the sidewalks leading from the auditorium to the Student Center across campus with luminaries, hundreds of white paper bags filled with sand and tealight candles flickering gently and casting a soft white glow upon the walkways to mark the path to the reception. So simple yet beautiful! The galleria of the Student Center was hung with large prints of photographs representing hallmarks from the university's past: buildings, dignitaries, athletes, etc. Inside the ballroom were numerous tables featuring appetizers from the various cultures represented by our diverse student body. Not only was every food item delicious, but the Food Service staff presented them elegantly (e.g., one appetizer was set out upon various overlapping pieces of slate laid out randomly upon the table like a mis-shuffled deck of cards--clever!). The overhead lights were dimmed, and strings of blue lights wrapped in gauzy ribbon cast a glow upon each tabletop. People moved from table to table, sampling appetizers and mingling, all the while enjoying jazz music played by an ensemble of music professors and senior students. It was very classy.

And at the sidelines all evening were the president and his wife, shaking hands and accepting congratulations and visiting easily with students, faculty, dignitaries, and community members alike (and probably forgoing the food in order to keep their hands empty for shaking, poor dears). They have been here since April and have made a good impression so far on campus and in the community. Here's looking forward to great things from this presidency, started off formally and impressively with today's investiture ceremony.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Taste of Nations

The Dickinson State University Business Club held a Taste of Nations fundraising event tonight: a buffet of ethnic foods from several of the countries represented by our many, many international students on campus. We enjoy a good buffet and think it's a terrific opportunity for our kids to try food, hear entertainment, and meet people from Mongolia, China, Russia, Nepal, and numerous other countries to which they might not ever travel--so we were there shortly after the doors opened!

The ballroom in the Student Center on campus was packed with people there to eat. We went through a buffet loaded with lots of food served by international students who dished up heaping portions regardless of how much room was available on our plates! As we sat and ate (and, referring to a menu on the table, tried to figure out what each food item was), we were "entertained" by various students' performances. Some were quite good, but the opening act was a Mongolian student whose "talent" was beatboxing and whose self-confidence far exceeded his artistry (and certainly far exceeded his humility). The second act was an American student who had written a "song" that he "sang" while accompanying himself on the guitar. It was completely unintelligible, so I couldn't tell ya what it was about, but the experience itself exemplified the concept of infinity (and not in a good way). Far better talent (yes, legitimate talent this time) followed with music and dancing by students with names such as Xu Lu, Amour, Zara, Shiny, and Yang Ning.

The food laid out included German sausage and sauerkraut, Mongolian buuz and tomato salad, Nepalese chicken curry, South American lamb stew, Russian eggplant and a vegetable pie, and Chinese pork stew and Kung Pao chicken, among other dishes. The dessert, however, was decidedly uninternational: generic vanilla ice cream with sundae toppings. Yawn. We certainly did not leave hungry, though, and we were happy to have this opportunity to "globalize" our daughters' cultural experiences without having to leave southwestern North Dakota!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Turkey with Norwegians

We attended our second Sons of Norway meeting this afternoon, and it doubled as the lodge's Thanksgiving meal. It was only the second meeting that we have attended (or been members for--remember?), so we didn't know quite what to expect. Neither did our daughters, who attended the meeting with us. The first part of the event was similar to last month's regular meeting: an agenda, parliamentary procedure, reports, old and new business, etc. The girls enjoyed the singing of the national anthems (Canada, Norway, and the United States of America) that opened the meeting and then sat patiently throughout the rest, but the dry content and the very leisurely pace did not give our daughters a thrilling first impression of being new Sons of Norway members.

However, the meeting was followed by an absolutely delicious meal: thick slices of juicy, savory turkey (perhaps the tastiest I have ever eaten), dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, side dishes and salads and crudités--the works. We were all seated at round tables and invited one table at a time to go through the buffet line, and for once at such an event we managed to sit at the table that was selected to go first! (I think having our kids at the table is what got us chosen. A roomful of grandparents and great-grandparents isn't going to make the youngsters sit right beside the food and wait!)

There was coffee and pumpkin pie for dessert, and as we finished our meals, some members went to the stage area to sing and play music for us on the accordion, violin, and guitar. There was one other child (well, a junior high school-aged student) in attendance, and her mom invited Susan and the girls over to their table to see the Norwegian knitting that the daughter was learning (the mom is the lodge member in charge of programming for children and was thrilled to learn that we, with our children, had joined). I enjoyed visiting with an in-their-seventies couple seated at our table and kept conversing with the wife even after the husband left us to go play accordion with the other musicians.

The December meeting will double as the lodge's Christmas meal, and the children's programmer, knowing that we'll be there, plans to have Norwegian Christmas craft projects available for the girls to work on with her daughter. We're looking forward to another delicious meal. It would be nice, too, if some Norwegian foods were included. Today's meal was fantastic, but it was prepared by the kitchen staff at the Elk's Lodge (where the Sons of Norway meetings are held)--no Norwegian foods in sight. I wonder if members will supplement the meal by bringing homemade Norwegian Christmas baking . . . or if, in the future, the lodge ever sponsors potluck meals to which members bring Norwegian dishes to eat. I mean, the Norwegian music and cultural events and craft projects and so on are great, but isn't Scandinavian food really the main point of joining this organization? (Ha!)

How to Be Mean to Your Sister

  1. After she has taken time off work and driven about 12 hours to see your dad and stepmom and to do more work [helping them with various projects around the house], have her drive another 2.5 hours to your home to do even more work [running a Tastefully Simple party hosted by your wife].

  2. After she has set up for the party, delivered her sales pitch to all the attendees, and then rung up all the orders, make her stand around the kitchen eating the leftover food samples from the party instead of preparing her a legitimate supper.

  3. Make her sit at the dining room table and play charades and Apples to Apples with your daughters, who are all so "into" both games that it's a continuous scream-fest that almost certainly bores into her brain and exacerbates her fatigue.

  4. Drag her to an evening showing of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (let her pay for her own $5 ticket) and make her share a large bag of buttery popcorn with two of her nieces.

  5. The next morning [today], make her eat toast and cold cereal for breakfast while you ignore her and concentrate instead on helping your kids find appropriate clothes for church and prodding them to brush their teeth and fix their hair.

  6. Make her pose for photos with your kids before rushing her out the door on your way to deliver your kids to Sunday school.

Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna with Auntie Sandy!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Followup on Snowman

The girls took advantage of a day off from school Tuesday (Veterans Day) to play outside and build a snowman with the help of our next-door neighbor, Jordanne. The Dickinson Press came around, snapped their photo, and ran it on the front page of the next day's newspaper (surely you've already read this, Faithful Reader). For your aesthetic edification, here are some better photos both of the snow artists and of the snow sculpture itself:

back row: Suzanna and Abigail; front row: Hillary, snowman, and Jordanne

snowman

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stars of the Stage and the Page

The press seems to love our children. Photos of our girls have been featured in the Dickinson Press weekly for the past three weeks! Susan and I are getting gentle ribbings from our neighbors and coworkers. If you, Faithful Reader, do not subscribe to our local newspaper, you may have missed these:

October 26 -- one of a couple photos of various members of the cast of DSU's theatre production of Seussical -- can you spot Suzanna and Abigail amongst the crowd?

November 2 -- a photo to accompany a story about our church's participation in Operation Christmas Child -- here is the photo from the newspaper, and here is a copy of the article that accompanied the photo

November 12 -- a feature photo from the front page of the newspaper -- here is the photo and caption from the paper

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Trumpet Invasion

The concert series continued tonight with a show titled Trumpet Invasion. One just never can tell from the title alone, and the printed descriptions sometimes can give one pause, too: piano and trumpet duo? a father/son team with "a comedic presence only father and son can share on a stage"? Hm. Visions of Hee Haw or the Chmielewski Funtime Variety Show Band momentarily danced about in my head (readers who were kids in ND when I was may recall those two TV staples). So I checked them out on the Internet in advance, and guess what? They sounded good!

And having just returned from the actual concert, I can confirm that they are, in fact, terrific! The dad, Rich Ridenour, plays piano, and his son, Brandon, plays the trumpet, the flugelhorn, and the piccolo trumpet. They're both alumni of Juilliard, and Brandon is a current member of the Canadian Brass, so they're both pretty hot stuff musically speaking. Brandon is a great brass player with super breath support, nimble lips, and fast-moving fingers and a tongue that can make the notes fly out accurately and musically at an astonishing pace. His dad is an accomplished pianist who makes it look effortless to play concert-difficulty arrangements with a ready smile on his face and a keen eye on his son, ever mindful that his job as accompanist is to accompany the soloist, not just to charge ahead regardless of the trumpeter's tempo.

Not only did the two of them play well together, but they also played off one another well. Rich was the emcee, introducing songs and keeping things lighthearted with jokes and "bits" with his son and direct references to audience members (e.g., chastising people returning to their seats late after intermission). Brandon played the straight man, a man of few words whose few words mattered all the more whenever he chose to say them. Brandon played piano, too, on a couple songs, joining his dad on the bench and impressing with his own ivory-tickling skills . . . but one time, his dad started moving up the keyboard and used his hip to push Brandon off the bench in order to take over the high keys of the piano himself! A few times at the end of a song, after rising and bowing in thanks for our applause, Rich would gesture toward the piano as one might toward a fellow musician on stage as though to say, "Me? What about him? He was terrific, too."

Faithful Reader, if you know my uncle Ray, you can picture Rich Ridenour, who has the same animated face and twinky-eyed grin. Even when not using his face to emphasize jokes or evoke laughter from the audience, Rich couldn't keep his face from displaying emotion: a full-faced smile would take over many times during a song as he would look across the piano at his son playing so expertly and impressively on the trumpet. Picture Ray (those of you who know him) looking at one of his grandchildren tottering across the room toward him, and you'll know the facial expression that I mean.

The music was great (click Brandon's name above to listen), but the entire experience was enhanced by their humor and their willingness to interact with the audience. One of Rich's jokes: "What do you get when you cross a tiger with a bicycle? Gershwin." (Grr = tiger, Schwinn = bike) Another: "What do polar bears get from sitting around all day on ice caps? Polaroids." (polar + hemorrhoids) When Rich then wondered aloud why we don't call hemorrhoids "asteroids," Brandon cut him off and moved on to the next song!

Later on, before one song toward the end of the concert, Brandon looked at me in the second row with a sleeping Hillary in my lap and said, "You might want to wake her up before this one starts." I tried, but Hillary was fast asleep, so Brandon said, "Okay, then I will!" ["wake her up," that is]. The crowd laughed . . . and laughed all the more when Hillary still didn't wake up, even after the very loud blaring of the opening notes on the trumpet. (After a few moments, Hillary did wake up and, feeling that she was the butt of some joke that the entire audience was in on, started to cry. After the show Brandon apologized to Hillary while providing his autograph on her program.) (And, while signing Suzanna and Abigail's programs, Brandon asked what has, by now, become to us a familiar question about them: "Are you two twins?")

Before crawling into my lap and falling alseep, Hillary was seated on the other side of Susan, so I couldn't see how she was responding to the concert. But Abigail was right beside me and Suzanna beside her, so I could easily glance over and see their eyes wide open and their mouths pulled back into impressed smiles during each song. When they "got" Rich's jokes or understood the difficulty of something that either Rich or Brandon was doing, they would look at me with even wider eyes, jump up and down a little in their seats, and then quickly return their gaze to the stage. It's awesome to see our kids' not only enjoying good music but also appreciating the quality of a performance (technique, difficulty, musicianship, etc.). These season tickets are an excellent investment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Yesterday we got hit with the first snowstorm of the season. We awoke to a driveway full of snow and a fierce wind that made it difficult to distinguish between existing snow being whipped around and new snow coming down. We did a bit of preliminary shoveling before heading off to school and work--just enough to get out of the garage--but I knew that the day's snowfall had only just begun.

Wednesday's rain was an unwelcome prelude to the snowstorm, covering the roads in a sheet of ice made worse by subsequent layers of wet snow and then dry snow for the ultimate in slippery streets and sidewalks. I had the pleasure of driving all over town yesterday to supervise field experience students in the local schools, so I was out in the thick of it all day (neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds).

I picked up the girls from school, brought them home, handed them each a shovel, and set them to work while I fired up the snowblower (after first dragging it out of the backyard shed, through the snow piles in the yard, and onto the driveway) and got to work on the expanse of compacted snow and slush on the driveway. It was at least two feet high in spots, and it took us a couple hours to get everything cleared off . . . and even then scattered patches of ice remained. Aargh!

This morning I left before dawn to drive to Sidney, MT to supervise a pre-service teacher (student-teacher) placed in the schools there. The Interstate was intermittently icy from Dickinson to the MT border and continuously icy from there to Glendive (tense driving!) . . . at which point the roads were perfectly clear north to Sidney. And by the time I returned midday, even the Interstate was clear. I made a couple of stops in Belfield and South Heart to supervise field experience students in those schools, and it seems that those towns' snow plow drivers are on vacation!

I returned to a fairly sunny Dickinson (with fairly yucky city streets) while listening to radio reports of continuing stormy weather in the central part of the state. Some small ND burg was reporting 22 inches of snowfall, and parts of SD near Deadwood had 44 inches! The comparatively tiny amount of snow that we removed from the driveway yesterday was nuthin--and even so, it was probably more than we got all of last winter!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Three Items

I. On the Road Again

I took advantage of Stark County's early voting last Friday (at the court house here in Dickinson) because I knew that I would be out of town all day yesterday (Election Day) and today for work: I accompanied 29 education majors on a field experience to New Town, ND where they served as student aides in the public schools. We left on a charter bus at 5:30 A.M. yesterday and spent all day in the elementary, middle, and high schools. We spent the night at the Four Bears Lodge, where we also ate supper and breakfast. At the end of the school day today, we drove home through the rain, making it back by 4:30 P.M. before the nasty weather began!

The population of the student body in schools on the Fort Berthold Reservation is more diverse (both ethnically and socioeconomically) than that in Dickinson's schools, so this field experience was enlightening for the education majors in many ways. It was also pretty fun because the DSU students got to teach lessons and interact with students one-to-one both days. I'm friends with the elementary school principal and the school district superintendent there, so I enjoyed getting to see them again, too. I'm exhausted, but it was a good trip.


II. Meeting with Teachers

The girls' parent/teacher conferences were yesterday, so Susan had to attend them without me; but she filled me in tonight, and the teachers seem to think that everything is going well with our daughters in their classrooms. Their report cards certainly couldn't be better. Each of the girls was tested and identified to receive instruction in the Gifted and Talented Program, so they leave their classrooms some times of the day for small-group work with the Gifted and Talented teacher--but the same Gifted and Talented teacher works with all three girls, so that meant just one additional stop last night for Susan.

The school recently administered some NWEA assessments, so our daughters' results on those tests were available, too. Their math, language, and reading skills are above their grade levels, according to NWEA. That matches what we see in the results of their Accelerated Reader tests, too (to determine at what grade level each of them is able to read). Once a teacher at our children's school has taught a Moberg, she can be sure that the administration will place future Mobergs in her classroom, too (Abigail's teacher had Suzanna last year; Hillary's teacher had Abigail two years ago). However, Susan said that the teachers were good about not comparing one daughter to another, instead talking only about the girl currently in the class and her unique strengths and areas to work on.

I must say, for as much as those kids read and tend to their homework each night, I'd have been very surprised to hear anything less flattering from the teachers.


III. Playing with Adults

There is a handbell choir at our church, and the director asked Suzanna if she'd like to join and learn to play handbells. They rehearse Wednesday nights, and tonight was Suzanna's first time with them. I asked her to tell all about it:

"I said, 'Yes!' It works out really well with my schedule because at 6:30 P.M. Wednesdays is when it starts, and that's when Hillary has church choir, so I'm there at the church anyway. Handbell choir goes from 6:30 to 7:30 P.M., but I have my own church choir from 7:00 to 7:45 P.M., so I get to play with the handbell choir for only a half-hour. However, at my first half-hour, I think I learned tons. I know which three bells are mine, and I know what the notes are for those three bells. My three bells are high B, B flat, and C. It's really fun because I'm getting to meet lots of other people, and I'm learning how to play bells at the same time. There is a middle school-aged girl and one high school-aged girl in the handbell choir, too, but the rest of the bell ringers are adults."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

SEUSSICAL Pics

Today was the closing performance of Seussical at DSU, and just like last night's show, this one started late to accommodate the lineup of people extending out the door and onto the street hoping for tickets. (Meanwhile those of us who had reserved our tickets in advance and had arrived early enough to be seated before show time had to sit and wait and wait and wait . . .)

Afterward Susan snapped a few pics of the girls with their new friends in the cast. Following last night's performance, the director held a photo call (when the director has the cast pose onstage for photos from each major scene of the production), but we didn't have our camera along; so the grandmother to another child in the cast sent us a copy of her photos from last night. Here are selections from both sets of photos:

a poster outside the auditorium

the cast and crew

Here's a scene featuring the entire cast on stage with the Cat in the Hat in the center and Abigail and Suzanna amongst the Whos (in the yellow T-shirts) in Whoville to the left in this photo.

Zooming in a bit on (from left to right in this photo) the Wickersham Brothers, the Sour Kangaroo, the Cat in the Hat, assorted residents of the Jungle of Nool, Mayzie, and the Bird Girls.

Zooming in even more on Mayzie and the Bird Girls, who had nothing to do with the scenes that our daughters were in but whose costumes are fun--and the actors in the hot pink and red nylons were fun to watch!

In most of their scenes, Abigail and Suzanna played Whos in Whoville. Abigail is in the front row, the third person in from the left in this photo; and Suzanna is standing on the third step up from the bottom. (Notice the Grinch in his cave in the upper left corner of this photo.)

In the musical's plot, Whoville is on a planet so tiny that it rests easily on top of a clover. This photo is of a scene in which the life-sized characters are shaking the clover so that everybody in Whoville is struggling to stay upright!

In the musical's plot, the Whos applaud the Grinch when he annually retells the story of his long ago having tried to steal Christmas from them before finally coming to his senses. There's Abigail grinning to the right in this photo.

In the musical's plot, the mayor of Whoville and his wife send their son Jojo (who was their daughter Jojo in DSU's version) to a military academy run by General Genghis Kahn Schmitz. Playing serious young cadets are Suzanna (farthest left in this photo) and Abigail (to the right of the General).

Since Abigail got a "feature photo" in the Grinch photo, here's one of Suzanna. Notice how serious she is about military academy!

In the musical's plot, Jojo (in the yellow vest) is reunited with his (her) parents after the Cat in the Hat enlists the help of the spooky Hunches to encourage Jojo to "follow your hunch" and let it lead "you home." Suzanna is the Hunch being clutched by several big people to the left in this photo, and Abigail is the Hunch with the Cat in the Hat's arm around her. Suzanna and Abigail had a feature scene, singing with the Cat in the Hat in the first part of the scene with Jojo.

This is from the scene right after Jojo is reunited with his (her) parents. The Cat in the Hat is turning to the Hunches (Suzanna and Abigail) to high-five them and bask in the pleasure of success (getting Jojo back to his parents).

the girls with the director

the girls with the mayor of Whoville and his wife (played by a couple married in real life, too!)

the girls with the Grinch

the girls with the Cat in the Hat

For all the nights of rehearsal that Hillary attended with me or Susan (waiting for her sisters to be done), memorizing every line of every song and every movement of every scene, she could just as well have been in the play, too (but wasn't eligible to audition--only students in fourth grade or up). After the show each night, she had to go hug all the cast members, so they all knew her about as well as they did Suzanna and Abigail!

It was a great experience for us all, and I hope it leads to many more theatre productions for the girls . . . but we're glad for it to be over, too. Tonight was the first time in a long time that the girls actually got to bed on time! Now let's see how long it takes for us all to stop humming the tunes from the musical!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Saturday Miscellany

Well, the late nights and lack of sleep took their toll on Suzanna: she woke up today with a nasty case of tonsillitis. Susan took her to the doctor and got her some medicine, and we've got tentative plans for her tonsillectomy over Christmas break (per Suzanna's own request). There were two more performances of Seussical in her future (tonight and tomorrow afternoon), and the show must go on; so Suzanna steeled herself for the challenge, started her meds, and napped throughout most of the day.

En route to the doctor with Suzanna, Susan dropped off Abigail and Hillary at the riding arena on DSU's campus. A friend of the girls had invited them to join him for a trick roping class held by an expert, Felix Lopez, who was on campus this weekend for a rodeo event. So the girls donned their cowboy boots (yes, they have cowboy boots--we're in Dickinson), joined their friend and a bunch of other kids, and tried their hand at roping.

Here's the whole gang of youngsters being taught trick roping by the expert (the gentleman in the black hat, blue vest, and green shirt in the back) and his son (the boy in the red coat and black hat on the left). Can't find the Mobergs? Abigail is in a brown shirt on the left, Hillary is in a blue shirt in the front, and Suzanna is in a green coat on the right (and on her way out the door to the doctor's).

Hillary and her friend Sam, who invited the girls.

Abigail the trick roper!


Mr. Lopez's son, showing the other kids how it's done.

And where was I, you might wonder, during all this fun? On the floor in the laundry room installing the pedestals for the washer and dryer. There were supposed to have arrived weeks ago with the rest of our new appliances, but they took another week to get here, and I took yet another week to finally remove them from their boxes and read to find out what was involved in installing them. Just pick up the washer and dryer, slide the pedestals underneath, and set down the appliances on top of them? Nope. I had to disconnect both the washer and dryer, drain the washer, lay them both on their backs, bolt the pedestals to the bottoms, get the washer and dryer upright again and back into place, level them, and reconnect them. Good times. But they look snazzy, they make both appliances easier to access, and they offer convenient storage in their drawers.


My department colleagues and their families attended Seussical tonight, and beforehand we all met at Sanford's for supper together. It was a crowded table, and the Mobergs had to eat in shifts (we had to get Abigail and Suzanna fed and off to the theater before the others even arrived, but Susan, Hillary, and I waited to eat with everyone else), but it was fun to spend time with them.

The show started approximately 25 minutes late because people were lined up out the front door and onto the street outside waiting for tickets! Yes, it was sold out. Tomorrow's show is predicted to be the same, and Thursday's show had a full house, too. (Friday's wasn't completely full, but it was Halloween night, after all.) The audiences have included people of all ages: a good number of university students, lots of families with small children, parents and grandparents of the cast members, adults from the community and from the faculty and staff, etc. How nice to see the arts so well supported in this community!