Saturday, February 28, 2009

Asian Night in SW ND

The university where I work is presenting its production of The Good Woman of Setzuan this weekend, and Susan and I went to see it along with several friends from the university. Beforehand we all gathered for supper at China Doll, a local Chinese restaurant, to socialize in a locale befitting the play itself (which is set in China). We had a great meal and a nice visit with several people whom I don't see regularly.

There weren't many people in the audience, and there were even fewer remaining after intermission. Do you know the play? It's a parable, heavy on the symbolism and metaphor. Some audience members might have been put off by the stylized masks that everyone wore throughout, by the heavy accents of the many international students in the cast, by the mix of surreal elements with realistic plot, by the occasional songs that characters would stop the action for and grab a microphone to perform directly to the audience, by the three-hour running time, by the frigid temperature in the theater, by the play's demand that we consider the effects of capitalism and consumerism on a society's morality (and the director explicitly pointed out the connection to recent economic events and swindling investors in America), etc.

As for myself, I quite enjoyed the work of several performers in particular and laughed out loud at some jokes that caused no reaction whatsoever from other audience members. There were some fun group scenes, well staged as is characteristic of this director's work. And I'm often pleasantly surprised by the technical elements, including the simple but effective way that changes of setting were shown by moving a wooden doorway from one area of the stage to another. All in all, it was a fun themed night out with my wife and some of our friends.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Stage Directions: Enter Little Girls; Exit Daddy

I'm about to go meet my cousin Tyler (well, first cousin once removed) and his friend for some beverages at a local establishment. It's been many months since we have socialized, and tonight seems like the perfect night. Not only is it the end of a very hectic week (I've been going from school to school to supervise my students serving in field experiences in classrooms here in Dickinson as well as in surrounding towns), but it's also the beginning of a very hectic night/morning in our house: Suzanna is having a sleepover!

For Suzanna's belated birthday party (her birthday is in December over Christmas break, when many of her friends are out of town visiting relatives hither and yon and unavailable to celebrate then with her), she is having a "glama-pajama" party--a pajama party with all sorts of glamorous ("glama") events planned, such as manicures and pedicures, a makeup/fashion show, karaoke, movies and popcorn . . . who knows what else? It sounds as though there are 34 girls in the house, but here's the actual crew:

They're already riled up, and they've just arrived! I predict not much slumbering at this slumber party. It's a good night for me to leave the house! (Critics, be advised: my outing with Tyler was scheduled before tonight's birthday mania was.)

Suzanna's belated birthday cake is from The Donut Hole, a good longtime bakery in town.

This 11-year-old girl doesn't look much like a little kid anymore . . .

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

High/Low Tea

Something out of the ordinary: I attended a high tea this afternoon at work! Well, it was called a "high tea," but it was actually an afternoon tea. Those Interwebs have just revealed to me that today's "high tea" organizers are not alone in mistakenly referring to their afternoon tea as a high tea. A high tea is a full meal served with tea in the evening; an afternoon tea or low tea is tea served around 3:00 or 4:00 P.M. with light savories (finger sandwiches) and sweets (cakes, pastries). Go search those Interwebs if you want to know more about the difference or the origins of each kind of tea service; it's kind of interesting.

Nevertheless, I joined other colleagues from across campus for some hot tea, some light sandwiches, and some cookies while we watched an excerpt from a documentary about international students' struggles to learn and use academic English at American universities. Afterward we discussed it as it pertains to our own university, whose international student population continues to rise each semester.

Sadly, some of the professors who most struggle with and/or complain about our international students' writing in English were not present at the high/low tea. Since arriving at this university, I have found that to be typical of voluntary professional development events such as this. But would it be any better to mandate that those professors attend? Knowing them, I think not!

In any case, it was good to get together with colleagues today at an out-of-the-ordinary event to discuss professional issues, even if it felt a bit as though the organizers were preaching to the choir. Perhaps attendance and participation will continue to grow with subsequent events. Hey, call it high, call it low, call it medium--as long as there's food, I'm there!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chalice in Underland

The "clever" title of this post will take more explaining than perhaps it's worth, but I couldn't resist. Today was the last of three PEAK sessions for Suzanna at our church. One of last week's activities to follow our discussion of the sacrament of holy communion was for each child to decorate his/her own paten (the communion plate that holds the bread or wafers)--which, for this craft project, involved using markers on a ceramic plate. One of today's activities was to decorate a chalice (the communion cup), again using markers but this time on a glass water goblet.

We meet for PEAK sessions in a space in the basement, tucked beneath the nave and the narthex. In terms of our church's geography, it would qualify as the under-land of the church proper. No one else calls it that, however; it was just convenient for the Alice in Wonderland allusion in the post's title.

Main point: decorated a glass and wrapped up Suzanna's pre-confirmation class for this year. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rendezvous in Williston

The girls had a swim meet today in Williston, ND. Because of the questionable weather and our not knowing what the roads would be like, we left early enough to allow plenty of time to get there: 6:30 A.M. Williston time, which is 5:30 A.M. for us. Yikes! Perhaps needless to say, it was very quiet in the vehicle while I drove (at least they didn't snore).

The weather and roads were fine, so we had some extra time once we got to town. I drove us around Williston a little bit, narrating as we passed points of interest from my frequent trips to Williston during my childhood. When we got to the pool, we were glad to be early because the seating is limited, to say the least. Dad and Beverly joined us (they live only about an hour away) to attend their first swim meet and watch their granddaughters compete. It was a good meet for them to have attended because not only did each girl improve on her times from previous meets and earn some ribbons (making parents and grandparents alike proud) but the meet itself was also short and sweet. Unlike the last few swim meets (remember this and this?), this one didn't obligate us to be there very long; all the girls' events started and ended within about two hours.

We're often asked, "Are they twins?" about Suzanna and Abigail. Yes, they look similar--all three of them do, especially with their swim caps on--but twins?

We were all ready to eat dinner at that point, so we joined Dad and Beverly at Dakota Farms, a family restaurant on the Million Dollar Way (Williston's nickname for the stretch of highway that serves both Highways 2 and 85 and becomes 2nd Ave. W in town and leads to Main St.). The servers were busy and not too concerned about approaching our table until they had dealt with every last need of the customers at all the surrounding tables--not even just to say, "I'll return in just a moment." Not only did we have ample time to decide on what we wanted to order, we had time to memorize the menu in its entirety before one server finally came over. She didn't feel compelled to register any friendly signs in her facial expressions, either, so it was hard not to suspect that she resented our being there with our expectation that she serve us when she had better things to do. As a former restaurant server myself, I can understand being harried, but I never can comprehend why some servers--when feeling the pressure of a busy dining room--are outright rude to customers . . . or why they retain their employment when their demeanor repels customers.

Okay, off my soapbox now. The food was fine once it arrived, and of course the company was the main reason for our being there, anyway. After a nice visit, we parted ways with Dad and Beverly, made a quick stop at a grocery store on our way out of town, and returned to Dickinson. The ride home was as quiet and sleepy as the morning's drive. Thank goodness I had bought snacks to keep me awake!

Suzanna, Beverly, Abigail, Dad, and Hillary pose in Dakota Farms.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Vendredi Gras

If you don't speak French, you probably don't get the title of this post--sorry. Susan and I attended a Mardi Gras party tonight. If you've ever heard of people refer to Mardi Gras as "fat Tuesday," it's because "Mardi" is French for "Tuesday" and "gras" for "fat." Since tonight's party was on a Friday ("Vendredi" in French), I thought it apt to refer to it as "fat Friday" ("Vendredi Gras"). Too much? Again, my apologies.

Anyhoo, we were last at our friend Michelle's house for a St. Nicholas Day party, so I'm definitely sensing an ironic theme to her soirées: using religious occasions as the inspiration/excuse for debauchery and revelry. But we're not above that, so we attend when invited! And frankly, the religious history of Mardi Gras is all about "the last hurrah" of celebration one last time before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins and with it a period of solemn fasting and abstinence, so shut up and party!

We had just eaten some tasty homemade pizza before leaving for Michelle's, so I wasn't hungry enough to sample all the delicious food that she had available . . . otherwise it truly would have been Fat Friday (Vendredi Gras)! Instead we visited and enjoyed some beverages (Susan: wine; me: mojitos) and laughed and nibbled. We had a good time! We're home earlier than is customary after a party, though, because we have to leave town dreadfully early tomorrow morning for the girls' swim meet in Williston, ND. Check out Pensive? No, Just Thinking tomorrow for some photos!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tonsils and Tiramisu

When we asked each of the girls what she wanted for Christmas, Suzanna requested a tonsillectomy (remember?). When that's at the top of a child's wish list, a parent realizes how desperate the child is to end the suffering of frequent bouts of tonsillitis. Well, today we took a step toward making Suzanna's dream come true; we took her to Bismarck for an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

First one doctor and then a second examined her and noted how enlarged her tonsils are even when not infected. There's something about the surface of her tonsils, too, that allows germs to set up shop and stick around permanently, meaning that she's destined for a lifetime of regular cycles of infection should she keep those tonsils in. Therefore, they're coming out. We'll be back in April for her tonsillectomy, and Suzanna couldn't be more delighted to have "surgery" on her calendar.

There was a lot of waiting for each doctor this morning, so it was already dinner time by the time we left the clinic. First we stopped by Bread Poets Baking Company, a bakery in Bismarck that Susan had heard about and wanted to check out. We left with some wonderful-smelling breads, including cheddar garlic (which will be great with soup) and cinnamon log (which will make a great breakfast treat). Then we went to Carino's, an Italian restaurant that made us very happy, from the fresh bread dipped in olive oil and roasted garlic before the meal to the Gorgonzola dressing on the salad to the multi-layered lasagna and other pasta dishes that filled us up so that we had no room for dessert. (Yes, the "tiramisu" in this post's title is just there for alliteration and the suggestion of Italy. Sorry for the deception.)

Oh, and I just deceived you again: we did have dessert, just not at Carino's. We did a little bit of shopping after dinner and then stopped at Good Times for some of their divine frozen custard before hitting the road to head for home. The mid-afternoon sun shining through the windows onto people with full bellies made for a very sleepy van, but I stayed awake and got us home safe and sound.

P.S. Happy Presidents Day! (Official name: "Washington's Birthday.")

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Norwegian Valentine

It's been a very ethnic Valentine's Day weekend: Chinese last night and Norwegian today. I read in the current issue of Viking magazine that Norwegians don't so much "do" Valentine's Day; it is regarded as a commercialized holiday whose point is to show superficial signs of love one day a year by spending money (on candy, greeting cards, flowers, etc.). Sounds pretty American to me, so maybe it isn't so inappropriate for an American Sons of Norway lodge to have a Valentine's Day celebration. That's what our lodge, Hardanger 4-652, did this afternoon/evening.

We hadn't seen our fellow Sons of Norway for a couple months--not since the Thanksgiving celebration (remember?). There was supposed to have been a Christmas celebration (remember?) at which the girls were going to sing "Jeg Er Så Glad Hver Julekveld" ("I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve"), but that was canceled due to anticipated bad weather. We missed the January meeting for some reason, but the girls were asked to provide music for today's meeting, so yesterday we practiced a couple songs for them to perform.

One was "Pål Sine Høner" ("Paul and His Chickens"), a song that I remember learning in elementary school from Mrs. Davis and later singing with my grandma at her house. Grandma Moberg had a series of decorative plates hanging on one wall with Norwegian words on each plate and pictures of a boy and chickens and a fox. I could kind of make out a "plot" from one plate to the next: something about the boy protecting the chickens from the fox and crying after losing to the crafty predator. After learning the song at school, I realized that it was what was on Grandma's plates, so she and I would sing the song together, and I would do my best to mimic her pronunciation. Well, yesterday I did my best to teach the song to the girls, and today they sang the opening verse first in Norwegian and then in English.

Yesterday we also practiced "Ain't She Sweet"--which I had them switch to "Ain't He Sweet"--and they sang that today, too, to fit the Valentine's Day mood of love (a mood not otherwise established by a song about a fox eating a boy's chickens). Susan captured some of the performance, which I share here for your edification:

I played piano for the girls and, because the usual piano player for the lodge wasn't at today's meeting, they asked me to play for them to sing the table prayer before we ate, so I did that, too. When it was time to eat, we had to find out with whom we would be eating. To encourage mingling with others, they had had us draw a half of a valentine when we entered the room. It had a number on it that matched the number written on the other half, which had been drawn by somebody else. Before we could go through the buffet line, we had to find the matching number/other half of our valentine and then sit with that person during supper.
The food was, again, delicious (chicken cordon bleu and many wonderful side dishes, plus strawberry-covered cheese cake for dessert), and the company was fine. I sat with a gentleman whose grandson is one of Suzanna's best friends (and whose daughter-in-law was one of Susan's high school classmates and currently is her colleague at the high school). The adults paired with each of our daughters were delighted to "take them in" and had compliments for Susan and me afterward on the girls' manners and visiting skills.
We played bingo afterward, and the girls were recruited to help out with the calling of the numbers, the keeping track of called numbers, the checking of cards whenever people claimed to have a bingo, and the distributing of the prizes. We went home with several prize bags ourselves, each containing various treats but, most importantly to me, Norwegian baking: rosettes and sandbakkels. The girls spent part of the time frosting sugar cookies (one of the lodge members brought the supplies thinking it would be a fun thing for the kids to do), which they distributed during bingo, and many of which they brought home with us afterward.
We had a good time celebrating Valentine's Day Norwegian-style (well, ND Norwegian-style, at least)!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chinese Valentine

The day started off with the girls' giving their parents valentines that they had made at school. In fact, two of those valentines were made thanks to me (remember?), so I was not surprised to see Suzanna and Abigail give them to Mommy--although I hadn't seen the content of their Valentine's Day newsletters until this morning after Susan opened them, so that was a sweet surprise. A relaxing day at home followed.

This evening we took Susan out for supper and said that she could choose the restaurant, but she had no strong feelings one way or the other. Therefore I drove to a restaurant that I thought was less likely to be super-busy than some of the more standard spots: we got Chinese food at China Doll, a cozy little spot that's not far from our house, actually, and from which we like to get take-out occasionally. We saw several people there whom we know and got to visit on the way to and fro the buffet. Everything was tasty--and, best of all, Susan didn't have to cook!

Here's a fun Valentine's Day-related tidbit: the girls got a card in the mail the other day from a married couple in our congregation at church. Larry and Margaret were assigned to us as mentors when we first joined St. John (remember?), and we were fine with that; I already knew Margaret as a colleague at work, and they're a friendly, down-to-earth couple whom our girls "took to" right away. Well, Larry and Margaret have "taken to" the girls, too. The card that they sent the girls was a Valentine's Day card in which Margaret wrote a note explaining that, because the girls bring such joy to Larry and Margaret's lives each Sunday with their energetic singing, friendly greetings, and warm hugs, Larry and Margaret decided they wanted to return the love. Inside the card were ten gift certificates to Dairy Queen. How thoughtful! And how wonderful for the girls to receive that gift out of the blue and to read about how their normal behavior and personalities bring joy to others.

I hope somebody brought joy to your life today--and that you did to somebody else's life, too!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Computer Fun Is Done

Today was the second (and last) session of Computer Fun (remember?) at the girls' elementary school. Our goal today was to finish the children's Valentine's Day newsletters and get them printed out so that they could give them as gifts tomorrow. When planning this mini-lesson, I spoke to one of the paraprofessionals at the school, who told me that the children would like nothing more than to play online games when they go to the computer lab. Therefore, I assembled links to several Valentine's Day-themed games for the children to play as soon as they finished their newsletters, thinking perhaps some of the kids would whiz through the project to get to the games. Not the case! Most of the kids had little or no time for the games because they were perfecting their newsletters until the very end! Those who did get to the games seemed to enjoy them, though.

Both Abigail and Suzanna signed up for this mini-lesson led by Daddy, and they were model students! Suzanna was among the first to enter the lab today, so I enlisted her help in passing out the instruction sheets from last time to the right children. She finished her newsletter before Abigail did, so I had Suzanna help me with one final item: taping Valentine's Day marshmallow treats (Little Debbie's version of Rice Krispies Treats, only red) to each finished newsletter so that the children would have a ready-made gift to give to whatever loved one was their intended recipient. Susan bought the treats for me, and I asked her to get enough so that each child could have a treat of his or her own, too--that was their lovely parting gift just for playing.

Would you like to make your own Valentine's Day newsletter, Faithful Reader? Go here to do the Valentine's Day WebQuest, to create your newsletter, and to play the online games. You'll have to buy your own sweet treat, though, to accompany the newsletter. And you'd better get crackin'--Valentine's Day is just a few hours away!

P.S. Although I haven't seen Abigail and Suzanna's newsletters, I happen to know that they wrote theirs to Susan, so she'll be getting two marshmallow treats with her newsletters in the morning. Let's see if she tears up while reading!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Appeal from Lay Minister Moberg

Wednesdays are difficult for us. The girls have swim team practice from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M.; Hillary has church choir practice and Suzanna handbell choir practice at 6:30 P.M.; and Suzanna and Abigail have church choir practice from 7:00 to 7:45 P.M. If we try to eat supper between swimming and church events, we're usually thwarted by the fact that it takes the girls unpredictable amounts of time to shower after swimming so that they're sometimes ready at 6:00, sometimes at 6:25, etc. If we wait to eat supper until they're done with evening activities, it's 8:00 P.M., and we're all starving. We still don't have a solution.

Tonight I picked up the girls from swimming and took them to church where Susan was waiting for us with supper. For Watery Wednesday, she bought seafood subs from Subway. The girls' church choir director is out of town, so they didn't have practice tonight. However, Suzanna still had handbell choir practice, and she consumed only about four bites before I shooed her off to practice. (She finished her sandwich afterward.)

I had a Wednesday night obligation of my own at 7:00 P.M.: a meeting with one of our pastors. He asked five congregants to serve as lay speakers for Thursday night services during Lent, and he wanted to meet with us tonight to see if we have questions, to hear our plans for what we'll say, etc. I am to deliver a presentation of about 10 minutes on Isaiah 40:31 on March 19. In his written request for me to be a speaker, he included some possible speaking points, including ways to tie in what I say to the Walk to Jerusalem project that our congregation is participating in currently. I shared with him tonight what I'm planning for my talk, and he liked the direction that I'm taking.

Do you, Faithful Reader, have suggestions for my Lenten address to the congregation? Please read the verse and then leave a comment to share your ideas. Many thanks in advance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

School Canceled on Account of Beautiful Weather

The weather forecast predicted a snowstorm for today, so I awoke at 4:30 A.M. to allow myself time to grade a set of quizzes and still have time to snowblow the driveway before needing to get ready for work, drive the girls to school, and make it to my 8:30 A.M. class. I was outside at 6:00 A.M. to discover a lot of snow but an otherwise calm and temperate morning. It was so warm that the bottom layer of snow was slushy, making it heavy and occasionally plugging up the chute through which the snow is thrown. There was a waist-high drift from the front door to the northwest corner of the driveway, so I started there. Two neighbors across the street were out with their snowblowers, too, clearing the concrete of the wet snow before future cold weather could turn it to ice. It was a beautiful morning, and I made good progress.

Then the announcements started coming on the radio, and Susan popped out of the house to relay them to me. School was canceled in several area towns. Makes sense--with so many rural students bussed in to town and so many rural roads inaccessible after a storm, it's common to delay the start of school or even cancel it in those towns on days like today. They're at the mercy of snow plow availability. The majority of Dickinson schools' students, though, live in town, so no need to cancel school here.

Except that was Susan's next announcement. No school for her or the girls! Again (remember?) administrators canceled school on a perfectly beautiful day! After keeping it in session on far worse days--you know, days on which it was actually storming! I don't get it. On the plus side, that enabled all of them to bundle up and come out with shovels to do "cleanup" work, catching the strips of snow left behind by the snowblower and enjoying the lovely morning themselves.

Are you understanding that we had beautiful weather this morning? Is that fact registering with you? Well, it didn't register with DSU administrators who canceled all classes and activities at the university for today! Yep, that was Susan's last major announcement for me; she popped out of the house with a sheet of paper on which she had written in marker "DSU CLOSED" (knowing that I could read better than hear over the noise of the snowblower). As rare as a winter school closing is (or used to be) in ND, a university closing is rarer still. When I was an undergraduate student at UND, the only time it was shut down for winter weather was once when the governor commanded it. And that was because of temperatures around 40 degrees below zero. And the shutdown didn't even happen until late in the day so that I had already been to all my classes that day anyway. So today, with temperatures high enough to melt snow and visibility as far as any day in the summer, we needed to shut down our university? It boggles my mind.

We finished clearing our driveway and sidewalk of snow, and then I--can you guess?--yes, went to work. The snowplows hadn't been out yet (and still haven't), but I just stayed in the ruts of previous drivers (yes, plenty of people were out and about in the beautiful weather that had caused schools and universities to close for the day), drove to my office, and adjusted course schedules to figure out how, in future class sessions, to make up for this lost instructional day. Aargh.

Bright side: Susan felt a "snow day" urge to bake and used some Amish friendship bread starter to bake apple coffee cake, butterscotch bread, and lemon poppy seed bread. Tasty. It would have been an especial treat had the warmth of the freshly baked bread stood in contrast to the cold storminess of the weather. As it was, it was like eating hot food on a summer day. Here's hoping for actual cold temperatures, high winds, and reduced visibility tomorrow so that administrators will leave school in session, and we can get back to normal.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Is Pride Still a Deadly Sin?

Since joining St. John Lutheran Church, I am back to attending Sunday school almost as regularly as when I was a kid! Once a month, St. John replaces its regular Sunday morning classes (with kids separated by age into different classrooms) with one "family Sunday school" session for which all the kids and their parents are supposed to gather in the fellowship hall in the basement for a large-group session. Most families take that Sunday off each month, but not the Mobergs (Mommy is the Sunday school director upon whom our absence would reflect poorly). We belly up to the round tables, and I join the girls in the craft projects and wonder why so many other parents feel no compunction over being truant.

Parents are better at attending PEAK (Parents Educating and Affirming Kids) and pre-confirmation classes with their children on the Sundays when those are held. Those sessions are two or three consecutive Sundays, and then they're done. In October, I joined Hillary for two classes on fairness and forgiveness. Last month I joined Abigail for three classes on baptism (remember?). And today Suzanna and I attended the first of three sessions for her on the sacraments. Susan has her Sunday school director duties to tend to, but she pops in and joins us when she has a free moment.

When children take confirmation classes at our church, one of their tasks is to memorize all the books of the Bible. To that end, they are asked to begin memorizing the books in small chunks during pre-confirmation classes in grades three through six. Last year when Suzanna was assigned to start memorizing the first few books (remember?), we just went ahead and memorized all the books. As a family. Last month Abigail got the same homework assignment, and it took her about three seconds to rattle off from memory the list of books that had been given her as memory work. This morning Suzanna saw that her homework includes memorizing a few more books than those assigned last year. We winked at each other; her homework is already done.

When I was a kid, the ladies who ran our Sunday school program kept track of our attendance, and we children made it a goal to earn "perfect attendance" pins in the spring. Now that I'm back in Sunday school, I wish our current church did the same thing. I have unChristian thoughts about going to church with my attendance pins on my shirt, initiating conversation with other parents--the parents whom I do not see at family Sunday school or PEAK or pre-confirmation--just so that I can nonchalantly adjust my pins to draw attention to them while we talk, or perhaps even boldly ask where their pins are. Parents who don't attend family Sunday school, though, are likely to be parents who punch smart-asses who make snide comments about their non-attendance, so it's best to keep this daydream to myself. I'd better not even write a blog post about it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Few Things to Share Tonight

The flu flew into our house Monday night of this week and nested inside both Hillary and me. That lucky devil got to stay home from school Tuesday; but Tuesdays and Thursdays are my teaching days, so I dragged myself to work. (FRIEND: "And how many people did you infect?" ME: "All of them. They're teachers-in-training; they've got to start building up their immunity.")

Things seemed better by Tuesday night, and Hillary returned to school Wednesday (although neither of us was necessarily craving chili or spaghetti or anything spicier than Cream of Wheat). This morning, however, the flu flew back . . . to Hillary, that is. I had awoken très early to get some work done on the computer, so I was in the office with the door closed when I heard Hillary "experiencing flu symptoms" on her way from her bedroom into the bathroom. I opened the door to find Susan across the hallway in our bedroom doorway, and we both went into action--she in tending to our child and I in cleaning up the hallway and bathroom floors and walls.

I stayed home with Hillary this morning, and Susan came home for the afternoon so that I could tend to appointments that I had today. One of those was teaching a mini-lesson on computers at the girls' elementary school. The Parent Advisory Council (PAC) sponsors various "mini-lessons" to give children a chance to learn a little more about specialized topics of interest to them. For an hour today and an hour next Friday, kids have signed up to attend mini-lessons on cooking, hunter safety, judo, babysitting, and so on.

The PAC asked me to teach one called Computer Fun, so I used the theme of Valentine's Day (our last session will be February 13) to create a WebQuest for them to do, and I'm showing them how to use Microsoft Office Publisher to make a valentine newsletter for a family member. In the newsletter they're including facts about Valentine's Day that they learned from the WebQuest; they're including digital photographs of themselves that we took today; they're inserting Microsoft clip art of their choosing (hearts, Cupid, roses, etc.); and they're writing a personal Valentine's Day message to the recipients of their newsletters. Next week they'll finish and print out their newsletters and play some online games with a Valentine's Day theme. They might also be receiving some sweet treats from me, too, in honor of the holiday.

(Suzanna and Abigail both signed up for my session and were model students today. Should you like to try the WebQuest yourself or learn more about what we did, check out the Computer Fun mini-lesson here.)

Tonight was another concert in the series to which we have season tickets. Susan took the two older girls while I stayed home with Hillary, so I don't have much to say about the concert other than that Susan, Suzanna, and Abigail reported afterward that it was terrific. (Hillary and I played with baby dolls and watched cartoons while they were at the concert.) The group was the Joe Trio, and judging by their Web site, the concert program, and the girls' synopsis of tonight's concert, they're as funny as they are talented. One of the musicians' biography in the program, for example, says, "Charles was born at a very early age." All the songs in the program are listed with random numbers: 37 -- 99 -- 14 -- Any Prime # -- 6 -- 72 -- 1 -- 4,789,324.65 -- Infinity. The cover of the program has a photo of the three musicians; the middle guy is upside-down, so under the photo his name is printed upside-down, too. Check out their site for more humor and samples of their music.

So, to review: flu, Computer Fun, Joe Trio. That about does it for tonight's post, folks. Drive safely, and good night.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Mourning a Friend

I have terribly sad news to share: a dear friend has died. CJ Hosier, a university friend with whom I acted in plays, died in his sleep at the astonishingly young age of 34.

He was funny, faithful, energetic, eccentric, hard-working, multi-talented, generous, and positive, bringing happy energy into others' lives--a kind spirit and a good friend. I have great memories of being on stage with him, of performing improv with him, of working backstage with him, of hanging out on campus with him, and especially of attending parties with him. CJ was always a benign, friendly, humorous presence at a party, equally at ease with being the center of attention or watching from the side. Great guy all around.

After university, he moved back to Denver and made a name for himself in the theatre scene there--so much so that the Denver Post ran a multi-media article on him this week. Check it out for a slideshow of him in some notable roles in Denver, an audio clip of an interview with him a couple years ago, and an article about him that features praise from a wide variety of people, each of whose life he brightened by simply being in it. You'll get a good impression of the type of man he was by reading others' words about him.

[ADDED FEB. 6: And his obituary from the Rocky Mountain News is here.]

My friends from our university days are spread across the country, and I don't hear from them all frequently; but we've been in contact this week, exchanging condolences and sharing some of our favorite memories of CJ. It's polite to share only positive stories and not to mention the negative when a person dies, but in CJ's case, we likely couldn't come up with something negative if we tried. This may sound cliché, but he truly was a man who brought goodness into the lives of everyone who was lucky enough to get to know him.

Rest in peace, CJ.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Super Buffet Sunday

Oh, how our family looks forward to Super Bowl Sunday each year! We're just as excited as the rest of the country to clear our schedule for the afternoon and evening, hunker down in front of a television, and dig into some delicious appetizer-y, snack-y food while we watch. I suppose one difference between our household and others is that, instead of watching the football game, we're watching HGTV or Food Network or a family-friendly movie. Otherwise, we're just exactly like everybody else!

I wouldn't want to disappoint those faithful readers who tune in to Pensive? No, Just Thinking solely to keep abreast of our most recent culinary adventures. Here ya go:

We spread a tablecloth on the family room floor in front of the TV and laid out all the tasty comestibles.

With the spinach dip, Susan served snow peas, jicama, celery, mushrooms, cucumbers, and carrots (notice the ridged slices thanks to her Pampered Chef equipment).

This plate holds both Buffalo chicken strips (that's what the bleu cheese dressing to the upper left is for) and pizza rolls.

These are overloaded potato skins similar to those we used to enjoy at the Ground Round when we used to work there in our university days. Potato skins, Tex-Mex-spiced ground beef, chili con queso y carne, jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, black olives, and shredded cheese all topped with the salsa and sour cream that can be seen in other photos from this bunch.

Bruschetta! Susan sliced up a bread loaf, slathered the pieces with a garlic-y spread, and toasted them. We topped the garlic toasts with the mixture of tomatoes, basil, parsley, balsamic vinegar, and seasonings.

Shrimp cocktail. Our children would eat this with every meal if we let them.

Chile con queso y carne (melted cheese, Tex-Mex-spiced ground beef, and Rotel diced chilis and tomatoes). Served with corn chips.

"On the count of three, say 'Super Bowl'!" I snapped the pic while they were speaking. Now, let the eating begin!