Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Suzanna, Lab Rat

A colleague in my department at the university teaches a course for which her students do psychology experiments, which amount to various interviews with willing participants. Her students needed access to children recently for a series of questions designed to reveal something about a child's mental stage of development. Abigail was enlisted by her friend's mom, who is a student in the course, to be a participant, and she just had to sit for some questions . . . and then she got to play with her friend!

My colleague has one student, Lilian, from Kenya who has no "connections" to local people who have children, so Lilian was having trouble locating a participant for her study. My colleague asked if I'd give permission for Lilian to interview one of our girls, and I volunteered Suzanna, thinking she'd probably be more diplomatic than Hillary when asking Lilian to repeat sentences (Lilian's accent is rather heavy).

It was kind of a rigmarole to arrange a meeting between Lilian and Suzanna, working around Suzanna's many after-school activities and Lilian's class and work schedule and trying to help Lilian videotape the experiment (she didn't know where to go for a camera, how to get a disk for recording the session, how to operate the camera, etc.). Finally we arranged for me to get Suzanna to campus today to sit for Lilian's questions, which Lilian had a friend videotape for her. Here is what it was like to be the topic of a psychology experiment, in Suzanna's words:

"I got into the room and Lilian, my questioner, got her things together for the first question, which was something about two clay balls. She asked me if they were the same size, and I said yes; and then she asked me if, when she put them in two different glasses of water, the level of the water would rise, and I said yes.

Then she got the second question ready. She put slips of paper on two sheets of paper, and they took up the same amount of space on each. Then on one sheet of paper she moved the slips all over, and she asked if they still took up the same amount of space, and I said yes.

Then she got the third question ready, and it was with two more clay balls. She asked me if, when she changed the shape of one of the clay balls, the water level would rise more than with just the regular clay ball, and I said yes; she asked me why, and I said because it's taking up more space on the bottom of the cup, so the water needs someplace to go.

Then she thanked me, and there was a guy who videotaped me, and he shut off the video camera, and then I left."

If you were Lilian, what would you conclude about Suzanna based on this experiment?

Monday, April 27, 2009

"We've Been Doing University Work?!"

Susan had to be available for parent/teacher conferences at the high school this late afternoon and into the evening, so the girls were with me after school. However, a colleague in my department at the university organizes the annual Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference, which was also this late afternoon--and I wanted to attend in support of his work and that of the students participating. The only solution? Take our daughters with me to the conference.

Yes, we marched in--Papa Duck and his ducklings, ages 11, 9, and 7--and joined the crowd of university professors and students, taking seats in the front row to listen to the keynote speaker's half-hour presentation on his research into range crops and nesting and hunting and such. It was quite interesting, actually, and he was an engaging speaker; but I was a little distracted because of keeping an eye on my kids to gauge their interest throughout the speech. They paid perfect attention throughout and, as it turns out, they retained more details from it than I did when telling Mommy about it later this evening!

There was a brief break after his presentation before we were to move into another ballroom to browse the university students' posters on their own research projects and engage them in conversation about their work. To prepare the girls for what they would see in the next room, I explained the setup by comparing it to something that both Abigail and Suzanna have done, which is participate in Marketplace for Kids. For that event, an elementary student prepares a project, creates a poster with information explaining the project, sets up the poster and stands by it during the exhibition, and discusses the project and answers questions about it for attendees as they wander from poster to poster. Upon hearing that what she, an elementary student, had recently done was so similar to what the university students themselves were about to do, Abigail said, "You mean we've been going university work?!"

In the ballroom with the poster presentations, we helped ourselves to refreshments (finger sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade) and then split up. I politely looked at everybody's poster and took the time to ask questions at a few that represented topics in which I was the most interested. There were lots of science, agriculture, nursing, and psychology research projects at the conference, so I got a lot smarter in those fields. Once in a while Suzanna would appear by my side only to be replaced in a few moments by Hillary, so I knew that they were both around and refreshing their refreshments frequently.

Abigail, however, stayed on her own the whole time. I saw her every so often, and each time she was carefully studying a poster and having a full-on conversation with the university students stationed next to their research. She was taking it all in. Afterward a colleague from my department told me that she had bumped into Abigail and had an in-depth conversation with her about the research on display; my colleague said that Abigail spoke with an insight and understanding beyond her years. Atta girl, Abigail! You are doing university work!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Surprise Visit for a 50th Anniversary

I grew up in a family that stayed connected with extended family members by visiting my relatives' houses regularly for birthdays and anniversaries, by attending my cousins' confirmations and graduations and weddings, by attending my aunts' and uncles' and great-aunts' and great-uncles' funerals, etc. My dad is one of six children, and my mom was one of eight, so I have a lot of cousins. And because I'm the youngest cousin on one side and among the youngest on the other, many of my cousins had children whom I got to know while I was still a kid myself.

On my dad's side, we still get together occasionally, especially for weddings, funerals, and some holidays (and for my cousins' kids' graduations, when the drive isn't too great). On Mom's side, though, it's pretty rare these days. She seemed to be the instigator of get-togethers amongst her siblings, and nobody has stepped up to plan the occasional reunion since Mom died eight years ago. My cousins are spread around the country, busy with their own families (at nearly 40, I'm the youngest cousin--so imagine the ages of my cousins' kids--and grandkids--and how busy their own lives must be!), so it would take some deliberate planning to gather everybody in one spot at the same time. I understand what keeps us apart, but I miss getting together.

So, when I learned that my cousin Jill was throwing a party today in Minot, ND for the 50th anniversary of her parents, Betty and Herman (my mom's oldest brother), I knew that we should attend. Jill is close in age to my sisters and made for a good playmate when we'd get together. Betty is a gentle lady who always fed us well when we'd spend holidays at their house; I especially recall her bundt cake, riced potatoes, and flatbread. Herman liked to tease gently, but he always seemed interested in my school accomplishments and proud of me, reminding me with a smile on each visit, "Remember, I'm your favorite uncle." We were pleased to be able to be at their party this afternoon!

The girls had to sing for church in Dickinson, but we left immediately afterward and arrived an hour into the party held at Herman and Betty's church in Minot. We hadn't told anyone that we'd be coming, so the relatives whom we saw were surprised to see us! There was much ooh-ing and aah-ing over how much everybody had changed since the last time we had seen one another--and, of course, some of them had never even met our children before today. We made sure to take lots of photos and to visit quickly before the party wrapped up and people started heading home. We spent six hours (round-trip) on the road for probably one-and-a-half hours of interaction with relatives, but it was worth it!

Afterward we did a little clothes shopping at the Dakota Square before eating supper at the Royal Fork and then heading back to Dickinson. I'm usually the chauffeur, but Susan drove for this trip so that I could get some work done on the laptop for a meeting first thing tomorrow morning. (Thank you, Susan.) But now it's time to get to what most of you have come here for: the photographs!

The happy couple! Fun fact: Herman is wearing the same suit that he wore for their wedding! It's a dark blue wool suit that still looks in style and not at all "vintage"; if he hadn't told me, I never would have guessed that it was a 50-year-old suit.

And here are Betty and Herman with their youngest nephew (me) and their great-nieces Suzanna, Hillary, and Abigail. Do you see any family resemblance?

And here we are with my cousin Jill, Herman and Betty's daughter and the planner of the day's event.

The oldest of eight children, Herman is followed in the line-up of siblings by William (deceased), Curtis (next to me in the photo above), Marcella (in Washington), Adeline (in Kansas), Lucille (in Williston, ND), Lawrence (in the photo below), and my mom, Mary Ann (deceased).

And here's Lawrence (who's also one of my godparents). Since I see my maternal aunts and uncles infrequently, whenever I do, I am struck by how much more they seem to resemble one another now than they did when I was a child and saw them more often. Also, I saw in Herman, Curtis, and Lawrence today gestures or expressions or facial features that reminded me of Mom or Grandma (their mom, also deceased)--so it was especially nice to be around them and experience the happy reminders.

This is my cousin Cleone, Curtis' oldest child. Our cousin Mary Beth, William's youngest child, had been at the party, too, but left before we arrived, so we didn't get to see her. We also didn't get to see Layne and his wife Jo or Shar and her husband Ben (Layne and Shar are two of Lawrence's kids). Jill, Cleone, Mary Beth, Shar, Layne, and I were the cousins present today.

Well, in fact, another cousin was present today, too: my cousin Myrna, who is actually my cousin on the other side of the family! She's my dad's older brother's youngest child, and next to her is her mom, Goldie (who's also one of my godparents). Both of them live in Minot, and Myrna happens to be Jill's friend as well as my cousin. Myrna helped Jill with organizing the event, keeping the food stocked throughout the afternoon, etc.

Here we are with even more relatives! From left to right: my great-aunt Marian (Dad's dad's sister), Abigail, Gisela (more on her in a second), Hillary, me, my great-aunt Arlene (Dad's dad's other sister), Suzanna, and Carl (Mom and Herman's cousin as well as Dad's former business partner as well as Gisela's husband). Marian and Arlene live in Minot, too, but Carl and Gisela drove from Tioga for the afternoon . . . and they were leaving the Royal Fork just as we were arriving for supper, so we saw a lot of them today!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Week's Worth of Fruits and Veggies in One Meal

The culinary improvisation continued today, this time with Hillary as my helper for Scandinavian Saturday. Again, as with Abigail last weekend, we had no recipes to follow when we went to the grocery store. Instead, I made up a menu "inspired" by Norway, and Hillary helped me toss into the cart food items that seemed like good ingredients for what I had told her we should make. Her helpfulness was over once we got home, however. She preferred to play with her sisters, popping into the kitchen now and then to taste-test before heading off again. So here's what "we" (ahem) made:

appetizer
crab-stuffed mushrooms

I removed the stems from the caps of a dozen large mushrooms. I chopped up the stems and fried them in olive oil with some chopped onion and celery flavored with Worcestershire sauce, pressed garlic, ground pepper, and lemon herb seasoning. To that I added lump crab and seasoned bread crumbs and stuffed the mushrooms. Hillary came upstairs to sample the filling, so she was around to sprinkle some shredded cheese over the mushrooms before I added butter to the baking dish and popped them into the oven. They weren't quite as good as Red Lobster's, but they were tasty.

main course
steamed salmon and vegetable packets
mixed greens and vegetables salad

Into the salad of leafy lettuce, I added chopped red pepper, yellow pepper, celery, radish, sugar snap peas, cucumber, zucchini, and carrot. We served croutons, bacon-flavored sprinkles, and a selection of salad dressings to top the salad. Hillary was in the kitchen for some of the chopping, so she helped to assemble the salad.

She also helped add ingredients to the fish packets. I laid out five sheets of aluminum wrap and added to each a salmon fillet covered in lemon herb seasoning and accompanied by asparagus, potato, zucchini, carrot, and thinly sliced rings of onion. Just as with the appetizer, I had no idea how long to leave them in the oven or at what temperature. The vegetables turned out a bit al dente, but the fish was done, and the flavors were good. We were all pretty stuffed midway through the main course, but no one was willing to say "no" to dessert:

dessert
angel food cake with homemade whipped cream and berry sauce

Hillary and I bought fresh blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, which we washed together. I put the blueberries and blackberries in a sauce pan; and after Hillary helped me quarter the strawberries, I added them to the pan, squeezed half a lemon and added the juice, sprinkled some sugar over the berries, and put them on the heat. After it came to a boil, I kept it boiling and added the dregs of a jar of blackberry jam and of a jar of strawberry sauce (for topping ice cream). I let it all cook down until it was a thick, dark, rich sauce, and then I let it cool.

I added vanilla extract and sugar to some cream, which I whipped until it was about one beater rotation away from becoming butter! It was truly thick and creamy--and, of course, distinctly vanilla-y with crunches of undissolved sugar in random bites. Hillary and I bought an angel food cake from the bakery, sliced it, topped each slice with a generous helping of whipped cream, and ladled the berry sauce over the top. Incredible.

All the fruits and vegetables in this meal are sure to put a smile on our colons. And it was quite a balanced meal: a very healthy main course balanced by unhealthy dishes at the beginning and the end. Not bad for no recipes and an unreliable aide in the kitchen!

Nonwriting for Nonreaders

Anybody else interested in signing up to take this course with me? If so, just post "yes" as your Facebook status.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tasty Taste of Nations

Last night we ate supper at the Taste of Nations, an annual fundraiser for the Business Club at the university. Because of the large number of international students on our campus, Global Awareness Month (April) always means weeks of events (for example) at which we can experience cultures from countries that we will likely never visit. Last night we had our plates dished up with numerous food items that I didn't recognize, but everything was tasty. The dishes featured chicken, pork, vegetables, rice, Asian spices--and, of course, German sausage and sauerkraut (the Business Club advisor is from Germany, as are a handful of DSU students). We ate our fill, visited with the strangers at our table, and enjoyed several students' entertainment (ethnic dancing and singing).

This morning what should appear in the local newspaper? The photo above (see it here with its caption), in which faithful readers should recognize Hillary and Susan (Abigail, Suzanna, and I are in line behind Susan). Now look at the students serving the food. Can you tell on which side of the table are the native North Dakotans and on which side are the students from Mongolia and China? You may have to study the photo awhile . . . I'll wait.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Healed

Today in Bismarck Suzanna had her post-operative checkup with the doctor who performed her recent tonsillectomy. I picked her up from school before her lunch period had rolled around, so we stopped at McDonald's for some dinner before leaving town. She had brought homework to do in the vehicle, so she worked some on a reading assignment; and to study for a science test, she told me the main concepts, and I posed random questions to get her thinking about mass, weight, surface tension, etc., in real-life scenarios. She's a smart cookie.

It took a while for us to be called in to the examination room to meet with the doctor, but it didn't take him long at all to take a gander in her throat and declare her "healing nicely." He and I had a nice chat, too--and even with the extra minutes of our conversation about random things, we still spent no more than 15 minutes with the doctor and were then on our way.

Suzanna thought that we should go shopping, so we went to Target and shopped for items for the girls' bedrooms. Suzanna has a built-in desk in her room but--still after 2.75 years--no chair, so she chose a desk chair as well as a couple flowery pen holders to store her explosion of pens and pencils. Hillary has a lot of knick-knacks but not a lot of horizontal surfaces upon which to display them. To free up the overcrowding atop Hillary's solitary dresser, Suzanna and I bought three shelves that we can mount on Hillary's wall. For Abigail, we picked up a floor fan--an upright oscillating model to provide ambient noise and to keep her cool in the summer. Now we have enough fans for one in each bedroom (sadly, our home does not have duct work for central air).

We left town with plenty of time to get back to Dickinson for supper at home, although Suzanna later told me that she had been trying to stall at Target to keep us in Bismarck until suppertime so that we would "have" to eat there; she was hoping for a trip to Olive Garden and a plate of fettuccine Alfredo. Trickster! Yes, she's definitely feeling better after her surgery. It will be nice for her not to experience the frequent, painful bouts of tonsillitis anymore.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Improvisation with Ethnic Food

Scandinavian Saturday is upon us once more, and today was Abigail's turn to be my sous-chef again (remember?). The past many weeks, I have been looking up Norwegian recipes to prepare for supper each Saturday; but today I decided to wing it, just making up some dishes that seemed Norske to me. Abigail was a great helper in the grocery store and at home, chopping nearly everything that needed to be chopped and providing feedback on the amount of seasonings that I was adding to each dish. Here is what we made:

appetizer
shrimp and seafood salad on rye and caraway crackers

We peeled a few hard-boiled Easter eggs, chopped up the whites, and added that plus chopped dill pickle to our standard crab/shrimp salad. We added mayonnaise to the egg yolks; added dill, cracked pepper, and Old Bay seasoning; and stirred it into the salad. It was a tasty treat, thanks in no small part to the savory crackers.

main course
mixed greens and vegetables salad
baked cod with creamy ham-and-potato side dish

Abigail spent a lot of time dicing and chopping and grating the items for the salad. I washed and ripped up the leafy lettuce, and Abigail added mushroom, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, radish, carrot, and tomato. We served it with cucumber Ranch dressing and croutons seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.

I seasoned the cod with Old Bay and baked it. Meanwhile, I fried potatoes and onion, added sweet peas and cubed ham (left over from Easter), made a cream sauce for it, topped it with grated Jarlsberg cheese, and served it alongside the fish. We got very, very full and still have plenty of seafood salad left, a good amount of the potatoes/peas/ham, and a gigantic bowl of vegetable salad to finish up tomorrow.

dessert
almond cookies

I baked sugar cookies with honey roasted almond slices pressed into them. After they had cooled, I made a powdered sugar frosting with almond extract in it and drizzled it over the cookies, sprinkling more almonds atop the frosting before it dried. These were a big hit. Even though our tummies were over-stuffed, we all had room for almond cookies.

The Norwegian elements were all the fish, the rye and caraway, the creamed vegetables, and the almond flavoring. It was kind of fun to invent this time instead of to follow a recipe. Stay tuned to see how adventurous I become for upcoming Scandinavian Saturdays!

Nurse Camp

Today's guest blogger is Suzanna:

"Today I got to go to Nurse Camp. It was held at Dickinson State University, so it was very close and convenient. We got there to register at about 8:40 A.M. When we registered, we got a bag that contained a T-shirt and an actual working stethoscope! The real program was supposed to start at 9:00 A.M., but they had so many people registering that they didn't start until about 9:15 A.M.

They played a movie for us starring people telling about their experiences with nurses. Then we got divided into about seven groups, and we each went to different stations. My first station: OB (obstetrics). We learned how to measure a baby, wrap up a baby, and change a baby's diaper. Then we went to another room where we learned how to put in staples and take out staples from a person's arm, head, etc. We also learned how a nurse would wash his/her hands so as to be clean before a patient's arrival.

In our next room we learned how to clean off a wound, listen to a patient's heartbeat, get our blood pressure and blood oxygen level taken, and check our reflexes on our knees. We also took a flashlight and shone it into each other's eyes to make sure that our brains were working correctly. You see, if one's pupil expands when the light hits it, his/her brain is not functioning correctly. If a flashlight is shining in one's eye, one's pupil would get smaller so as to take in less light; but if it were dark, one's pupil would get bigger so as to take in more light.

Next we went to a classroom set up like an emergency room where we learned how to give CPR. Then we performed it on a little dummy. Our next class was about our skeletal system. We learned that, if one's bones were completely solid, one would sink when one got into water. Our bones have this webbing inside of them so that the blood can flow easily. Yes, there is blood inside our bones. Then we learned what sort of devices would help keep a bone in place if it were sprained, broken, or fractured. We also learned different types of things that nurses use to help get people walking again after they have had a cast on their leg for a very, very long time.

After that we did operating room. We got all dressed up like a nurse who would be in an operating room helping a doctor, and we learned how they wash their hands: by scrubbing all the way up to their elbows and then rinsing off with tons of water on their hands and then holding them upwards, as though saying 'touchdown.' Then the nurse helps them get all their equipment on while their hands are still up in that formation. They don't put their hands down because if they were to brush up against something else, they'd have to start all over again. That would take a long time.

The next station we went to was one where we had to take care of a dummy that they had named Mr. Hideman. We had to check his heartbeat. There was a woman sitting behind a computer, and she gave him all these little problems that we had to fix. We had to give him medicine through his IV, and we had to listen to his bowel movements. Then we moved on to the next station. We learned how nurses in nursing homes are not allowed to touch their patients' medicine, so they just pop it out of these little containers and hand it to their patients because if the patients touch their own medication, that's just fine. We also learned that some patients can't swallow their own food, so they have to have a tube going right into their stomach so they still can get all of the food that they need. So the nurses sometimes have to crush medicine, so we put Smarties into a little bag and crushed them as though we were crushing real medicine. Then we got to eat it.

Then we moved on. Some nurses aren't strong enough to pick up a patient from a bed, and some patients are too weak to climb out of the bed by themselves, so they would lie on a chair-like thing that is flat across the bed, and a nurse would put chains into it and pump the machine up, and it would be lifted up off the bed and onto the floor or into their chair or next to their cane or wherever they needed to go. Then we went into our last room for the day where we got to play Nurse Jeopardy, testing all of the things we had learned today. We were divided into two teams: two girls on one team and three girls on the other team. I was on the team with three girls, and our name was Oreos. The other team's name was Eagles, and the Oreos won. We got a sucker, a poster, a magazine, and an evaluation form.

Then we went downstairs and, considering that nurses are very, very healthy, we had a very healthy snack of popcorn and juice boxes. Then we went out and toured an ambulance. They had to bring a smaller ambulance because all the big-box ambulances were out on actual calls for help. That was my morning. It was very hectic and very, very fun."

Friday, April 17, 2009

World Tour

It's Global Awareness Month, and our university is offering lots of events to celebrate the diversity of our student body and honor the many cultures from across the globe that are represented by our students. Tonight Susan and I took the girls to World Tour, a culture fair and talent show held in the Student Center ballrooms. One ballroom had tables lining the perimeter, each table representing one nation and staffed by students from that country. The students were in native garb and had lain out on their tables clothes, jewelry, games, currency and coins, flags, books, slideshows on laptops, etc., to offer some insight into life "back home." Behind each table was the appropriate flag for that particular country. We took our time strolling from one table to the next, hearing the students' explanations of the artifacts laid out on the tables, asking questions, and taking it all in.

The other ballroom was set up with a stage area and several rows of chairs for spectators. The talent show featured actual talent (snotty, yes, but so often the people who sign up for a talent show are blissfully unaware of their underqualifications for such an event--but not so tonight) from singing to playing guitar or piano to dancing to caligraphy. They served cheese and crackers, lemonade, and coffee, so we got treats, and Susan and the girls took seats to watch while I stood in the back and chatted with colleagues. It ended with a fashion show during which students paraded in their traditional clothes and then explained what each clothing item was called, why and when it would be worn at home, and so on.

For some reason, the girls were a big hit; each time we approached another table, someone else popped up to snap photos of the girls as they talked to the university students and pawed the objects on the table. Maybe the international students just want to have photographic proof to send home of what stereotpyical North Dakotans look like. I can just imagine "the folks" back home in Nepal and Mongolia and Nigeria and Zimbabwe and Kenya and Ghana and Brazil and France and China and Russia checking their e-mail inboxes in the morning and finding pics of three intensely blue-eyed blondes staring back at them.

The girls impressed the French student with their good pronunciation of the French words ("Thank you, Daddy!") that she taught them at her table. And Hillary managed to snag a ten-rupee note from the Nepali table. The men staffing that table did a great job of explaining to us their display, which included quite a variety of coins and currency. Some of the bills were paper-ish, like American bills; others looked the same as their paper counterparts but were plasticized somehow, as though they'd been laminated. One of the men explained that this is done during the printing process so that the money, if soiled, can be wiped clean easily with no damage done to the bill. Hillary's face lit up with such obvious delight in the concept of wipe-clean-able money that they told her to take the ten-rupee note. I urged her to politely decline, but as it turns out, it's equivalent to about ten cents in American currency--so maybe it was no big deal to them to let it go.

Next week: Taste of Nations (buffet of foods from around the world--our international students' favorite recipes) and Nepali New Year (it's the year 2066, according to the Nepali calendar--we're wa-a-a-ay behind in our celebrating!).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Observing Students and Nature

I'm back tonight from an overnight stay in New Town, ND. Yep, another field experience in their public schools for our students majoring in education. We spend two days in the elementary school, middle school, and high school and stay overnight at Four Bears Casino and Lodge just outside of town. Our university students serve as aides to the teachers, helping out however possible, interacting with students, observing instructional techniques, and getting a feel for another community, its school system, and its student body.

It's a good opportunity for me to get to know the university students better, too, since we spend time together on the bus traveling to and fro New Town, in the schools each day, and of course at the lodge at night. I like this group of students and look forward to working with them in future courses, too. They're just starting their education course work, but already they have keen insights into what to do and what not to do as teachers--and why to do or not do it.

Our rooms last night were on the third floor of the lodge, and I had a south-facing window looking out over the rising Missouri River, covered in patches of snow-dusted, melting ice. The hills above the river banks rise up toward the vast blue sky, and as evening falls, the line blurs between the hilltops and the sky; but the lights from the casino and the bridge spanning Lake Sakakawea cast a glow on the water and make it look like the river is the only thing to see outdoors. It's quite beautiful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Suzanna's Band Concert Debut

Suzanna, as a fifth-grader, is nearing the end of her first full year as a band member (remember?). Tonight was her first official school band concert: the All-City Band Concert featuring separate performances by the fifth-grade band, sixth-grade band, seventh-grade band, eighth-grade band, and each of the two high school bands in addition to a final song performed by all the bands combined. After spending all year honing her trombone skills, she performed tonight . . . on percussion!

Yes, due to her recent tonsillectomy (remember?), playing her trombone is a no-no until her doctor gives her the okay (she has a post-op checkup next Monday). How nice that the music directors could allow her still to perform in the concert, though. Here she is performing:

Watching the music intently for her cue to play the wooden block.

And here she is telling all about the day and evening:

"We went for practice in the afternoon. We left during lunch, packed up all our stuff, and went to the high school. As you all know, I got my tonsils removed, and so I couldn't play my trombone. Therefore I played percussion: the jingle bells and the wood block. We got to the high school at about 12:45 P.M., and we unpacked all of our things, got our stands ready, and went out into the old gym.

Then Mr. Jangula, the sixth-grade band director, showed us how he would count it off, and he had us play our warm-up song. He tuned a couple instruments and helped us go through our songs. Later we packed up our instruments and left them right where they were. Then we went out into the entryway and got cookies and bottled water. Then we went and loaded onto the bus, came back to the school, and had a normal rest of the day.

At 6:00 P.M. Mommy, Abigail, Hillary, and I went out for supper at Perkin's. We left at about 6:40 P.M. and went to the high school to get ready for the concert. I got in at about 6:50 P.M. and went to make sure my wood block was where I knew it needed to be and my jingle bells were ready for me to play right away. Then the fifth-grade band went out, we played our three songs, and then we went and sat on the bleachers.

About an hour later, all the bands performed a final song. It was a wreck! Mr. Jangula started so quickly, but the seventh-grade and older bands thought they'd take it nice and slowly for us little kids. The high schoolers wouldn't let our drummers on the bass drum, so the beat was off, and no one started at the same time! The high schoolers hadn't even looked at their music for that song yet, so that was the first time that they had seen the music. It was just a disaster, but it was kind of funny at the same time. Everyone was complimenting everyone else, and everyone was saying how well we all performed . . . except for the last song. It was a pretty fun night."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter!

The girls arose bright and early to prod Mommy and Daddy into getting up so that the hunt could begin for the Easter baskets that the Easter Bunny had hidden in the night!

On your marks! Get set! Go search for your baskets!

Hillary found hers hidden beneath her piano lesson music bag beside the piano.

Abigail was the first to find her basket, giving her a lot of extra time to sit on the couch, force herself not to look in her Easter basket before her sisters had a chance to find theirs, and beam with anticipation.

Suzanna's pose with the contents of her Easter basket demonstrates what the Easter Bunny left for her sisters, too: a summery blouse and matching flip-flops, a Lil Kinz stuffed animal, a karaoke CD (for use with the girls' karaoke machine), and crackers and cookies.

Oh, and for the whole family, the Easter Bunny brought a DVD of the Disney movie Bolt. We watched it together this afternoon.

Don't look at the photo above just yet! After finding Easter baskets, we went into the kitchen and made "resurrection rolls" together. Susan fried some bacon and hash browns while I made scrambled eggs (with the rest of the smoked salmon left over from last night's appetizer). It was quite the tasty breakfast followed several hours later by . . . (okay, now you may look at the photo above) a delicious Easter dinner of ham, roasted asparagus, smashed potatoes, fruit salad, crescent rolls, Jell-O egg jigglers, Easter eggs, pickles and olives, milk for the girls, and wine for the parents.

The smashed potatoes had bleu cheese and crispy bacon in them and fresh parsley on top. A great match with the baked ham.

The girls helped with cleanup while I cut the rest of the ham off the bone, sliced it up, and popped it in the fridge.

Dessert was a blueberry cream cheese dessert that Susan made smothered with whipped cream that I made (heavy on the sugar, heavy on the vanilla extract). After this meal, we were so full that all we ate for supper was popcorn . . . well, liberally buttered and salted popcorn . . . with cups of chocolated malted milkshakes. You know, just a light supper.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hey, Good Lookin', Whatcha Got Cookin'?

Another Scandinavian Saturday is upon us; and having already prepared tasty Norwegian cuisine with each of our children taking a turn as my helper the past several weeks, tonight I was joined by Susan herself as my kitchen companion. She started by offering to give me the night off so that she cook using up some of the ingredients bought for a (non-Scandinavian) meal earlier in the week that she never got to make due to all the leftovers that had to be consumed instead. However, I found some recipes that would enable us to use our on-hand ingredients in a Norwegian way, so together we made this meal:


appetizer
smoked salmon deviled eggs

We ate 'em before we got the camera out, so no photo available. However, this one was a no-brainer. We had most of the three dozen dyed Easter eggs (remember?) still on hand, so the boiling and cooling was already done. Hard-boiled eggs are easy for Suzanna to swallow (remember?), and deviled eggs are a treat that we don't often have but that are a logical menu item at Easter (along with potato salad and egg salad). I peeled the eggs, halved them, removed the yolks, and arranged them on a decorative glass platter made especially for deviled eggs. Susan deviled the yolks and folded chopped red onion, capers, and smoked salmon into the mix before filling each egg half. The girls wolfed them down in no time at all.

main course
chicken in gjetost sauce
roasted root vegetables

Susan cut a variety of root vegetables into rough cubes: parsnip, turnip, rutabaga, carrot, sweet potato, onion, and potato. She tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and grilling seasoning and roasted them in the oven. Delicious--and we predict that the leftovers will make a delicious soup (thrown into a food processor and then heated in a pot with chicken stock, seasonings, cream . . . yum!).


We had a whole chicken in the freezer, so I removed the skin and cut it into serving-sized pieces, rubbed them with salt and white pepper, and browned them in butter. Then I simmered the chicken in sherry and chicken stock. I removed the chicken and added heavy cream and chopped parsley to the sauce. Once it was thickened, I added a cup of shredded gjetost cheese, poured the sauce over the chicken, and garnished it with more fresh parsley. The sauce had a rich, salty flavor, and the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender. Except for the butchering of the poultry, this was an easy-to-make recipe that I would happily make again.


dessert
lingonberry cake

Susan tossed together the ingredients and baked this before preparing the vegetables, so it was cooled sufficiently and ready to serve by the end of the meal. She poured into a baking pan a standard batter--flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, and egg--and then spread over it some lingonberry preserves. She sprinkled a streusel over the top--oatmeal, butter, sugar, and vanilla--before baking. I topped each piece of cake with a generous amount of Schwan's vanilla ice cream before serving, and Susan and I had coffee with our dessert.


It was fun to cook alongside Susan, and it was another great meal as part of our new tradition of Scandinavian recipes on Saturdays.

P.S. Another great new tradition on Saturdays: having the girls wash and dry dishes with me afterward. Not content merely to dry while I wash, they have taken to bargaining with me: if they dry such-and-such, may they be allowed to take over the washing of this and that? So we switch off the washing and drying duties, and I put away whatever belongs on shelves beyond their reach. Great to have the help and the additional visiting time!

Eggs

Suzanna has been recovering slowly but surely (remember?), even weaning herself gradually from her pain medication--brave girl! She joined her sisters yesterday for some Easter egg dyeing (yep, three dozen hard-boiled eggs):


And today she felt up to joining her sisters for an outdoor Easter egg hunt! Jodeen (one of Susan's coworkers from church) and her husband Jerry (remember?) have been inviting children to their home for ten years to "search" for hundreds of "hidden" eggs in their yard--brightly colored plastic eggs filled with candy and treats, easily visible this year upon the snow-covered ground. Then the children and their parents are invited inside for juice, muffins, and other baked goods while they take inventory of the booty.

The gang gathers on the driveway before the hunt begins.

Can you spot any of the hidden Easter eggs? Hillary is using her keen eyes to locate and collect them.

Our recent nice weather has been melting some of the penultimately recent snowfall, so some of the actual lawn is exposed for Abigail to explore during her hunt for eggs.

Suzanna takes a break from filling her bucket with eggs to give Jodeen and Jerry's friendly cat some affection.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Post-Operative Suzanna

This blog has been all about Suzanna recently, hasn't it? Well, it's going to be again because today she underwent a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy (remember the initial announcement?). (And remember when Abigail underwent the same procedure a few years back?)

Suzanna has been requesting a tonsillectomy for a long, long time; you may recall that it was her only request for Christmas! She has been sick of (pardon the pun) the constant bouts of tonsillitis and eager to be rid of the tonsils. Each night that we tucked her in this past week, she has been counting down the number of days until her tonsils would be gone. Last night we went out for supper (at JD's Barbecue) for Suzanna's last meal with her tonsils. This morning when she got up, she said, "Say goodbye to my tonsils! This is the last time that you're going to see them!"

The surgery was in Bismarck, and Susan and Suzanna had to leave by 5:00 A.M. I had planned to go with them, but yesterday on the telephone, the admit nurse said to "pack a bag" because the doctor often asks to keep patients overnight . . . after a same-day surgery! Go figure. Well, I teach tomorrow, so I couldn't be gone overnight and instead stayed behind to work and to shuttle Abigail and Hillary to/fro school today and church this evening (Abigail's choir sang for the service). Meanwhile, here's how things went for Susan and Suzanna, according the patient herself:

We got there at 6:30 A.M., and some guy parked our car for us. [Medcenter One in Bismarck has free valet parking for patients.] We went to the front desk, and Mom filled out some paperwork. We went up to the Child and Adolescent Same-Day Surgery Center. I went to my room and got changed into my hospital jammies. I watched a little TV, and I got to play in the play area. Mom read some of Runaway Ralph to me, and then we watched a little more TV.

Then we went downstairs to the pre-op room. I got my IV. I met with the anesthesiologist, and then I went into my surgery room. I got put to sleep by the medicine through my IV. Then they did the surgery, and a half-hour later I was in the recovery room talking to the nurses. Mom came in, and we sat there for about ten minutes. Then I got to sit in a wheelchair and go up to my new room.

When I went into my new room, I got a glass of water and some Jell-O. Then I got a photo with Meddy Bear, the Medcenter One bear. Then I watched some TV, drank some Powerade, had a popsicle, watched Shrek III, and ate chicken noodle soup. After that I had macaroni and cheese, and we read some more Runaway Ralph, and I watched some more TV. We tried calling Daddy.

Then the nurse came in, gave us some information, and told us we could go home. I got dressed, went to the bathroom, and got into a wheelchair. They rolled me out front, Mom got my prescription, our car was brought up, and we went to Good Times where I got a chocolate frozen custard sundae. Then we went home, and I slept all the way home.

I left this morning excited but came home totally tired out. It's hard to talk, and it's hard to eat. But from now on instead of having all these really bad pains every month, this is just one big pain that I'm never going to have again.

She's doing surprisingly well this evening. When Abigail, Hillary, and I returned home from church, we were happy to see that Susan and Suzanna were home (the doctor didn't have her stay overnight because of her quick recovery/peppy demeanor following surgery), but we figured that we should tiptoe into the house and look for Suzanna to be huddled pathetically on the couch or something. Nope, she was up and greeted us and told us all about her day!

She stands with her shoulders touching her ears, though, and bobs her head when she swallows; so she's adjusting for the pain in her throat. She also speaks with a higher, softer voice and avoids any pronunciation that requires her to push the back of her tongue against the roof of her mouth. The result is that, when she speaks, it sounds as though the doctor removed her tonsils and implanted an upperclass New England prep school accent!

Our Easter plans depend in part on how she's feeling this weekend. Susan took tomorrow off from work to be home with Suzanna, and everybody has Friday off from school; so we're hoping that, over the long weekend, Suzanna will rest and recover. It's a good thing that hard-boiled Easter eggs are soft enough to chew and swallow easily!

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Results Are In

Dedicated readers will recall that, on Saturday, Suzanna sang in a music festival. At the end of the day, the results were given to her music teacher, who gave them to Suzanna today in school:

A blue ribbon and a "Superior" rating (out of three options: "I. Superior," "II. Excellent," or "III. Good")!

Suzanna received the judge's critique sheet with these written comments:

Quality of Selection: "I remember watching and hearing this on Sesame Street!" [She sang "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie. Did the Muppets ever do a guest stint on Sesame Street to sing this diddy? We can't be sure.]

Intonation: "What a voice! You already have a vibrato!"

Musical Effect/State Presence: "Great audience scanning! You are very dramatic--makes it fun to watch."

General Comments: "Do you take lessons? It sounded like it! Sorry I didn't write much . . . I was busy enjoying your performance!" [And no, she doesn't take voice lessons.]

Isn't it sickening how some parents just love to tell others all about their children's accomplishments, barely containing their pride? (Aren't you glad that I'm doing so via a blog, which is easier to ignore if you get sick of me than I myself would be were we face-to-face?)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Kevin's Kitchen

Well, each of our daughters has now had a turn helping me to prepare supper for Scandinavian Saturday (remember?), so last night was my turn to go it alone in the kitchen. I went grocery shopping in the afternoon and got right to work when I returned, preparing this meal for my family:

appetizer
mango sardines

I mixed cream cheese with the juice of an orange and added small shrimp and chopped sugar snap peas. I diced a mango and chopped a tin's worth of Brisling sardines and gently folded both into the mixture. I topped the mixture with dried onion and ground black pepper and served it with wheat crackers.

Gotta tell ya, I won't be making it again. The notes from the chef who created the recipe say, "It looks surprising, but it tastes like the most natural thing in the world." Um, yeah, no. Perhaps with better ingredients--a mango that hadn't been picked super-early in order to survive shipment to central North America, shrimp and sardines freshly harvested from icy Norwegian waters, cream cheese made from goat's milk as recommended by the chef--the dip would have been more flavorful. Still, nobody complained, and in fact everybody had several helpings. Go figure.

main course
goulash soup
fresh asparagus and cucumber salad

I was surprised to find a recipe for goulash, an Eastern European dish, offered by a contemporary Norwegian chef; but it looked good, so I gave it a try--and it was a huge hit with the whole family. I improvised a bit, adding things not in the recipe, but the result was tasty. I sautéed a mix of diced vegetables--yellow onions, red bell pepper, potatoes, kohlrabi, and parsnip--with pressed garlic in canola oil and added celery salt, ground black papper, and salt. I browned some ground hamburger and ground pork seasoned with marjoram, cumin, and paprika and added the meat to the vegetables. I added tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and chicken stock and let it simmer for a couple hours. It became a deep orangy-red stew that I served topped with sour cream and more freshly ground pepper.

For the salad, I chopped asparagus, spring onions, and a cucumber into roughly equal-sized pieces and tossed them with olive oil, the juice of a lemon, salt, pepper, and tarragon and let it chill for a good while in the refrigerator. The many shades of green looked especially appealing in the white serving bowl, and it was a delicious side dish: fresh, crunchy, tangy from the lemon juice, and bright from the taragon.

dessert
rømmegrøt

I remember my mom's telling me that one reason she always looked forward to attending the annual Norsk Høstfest in Minot, ND was the tasty rømmegrøt served there. I went to the Høstfest with my parents once and, of course, accompanied my mom to a food counter where rømmegrøt was being sold--and it was delicious. Rømmegrøt is a sour cream porridge: thick, creamy, and frankly bland (other than the rich dairy flavor) until sugar and cinnamon are liberally sprinkled on top. A little cup was just enough to serve as a treat in the middle of the day at the Høstfest. It is vaguely similar, I suppose, to custard or vanilla pudding.

The recipe that I used last night probably would have been better had I had access to fattier ingredients. It called for 35% fat sour cream and full-fat milk. Without ready access to a dairy farm, I had to go with what I could get in the dairy case at the grocery store, which resulted in a version of rømmegrøt decidedly less rich than I recollect from the Høstfest. In fact, one step in the recipe is to "simmer until the butterfat begins to leach out and skim off the fat." Yeah, there was nothing to skim off. And, therefore, I couldn't strictly follow the serving suggestion, either: "Serve with sugar, cinnamon, and the fat."

When I served the rømmegrøt, I told the girls to add plenty of sugar and cinnamon, but they underestimated the amount needed to sweeten the porridge, and we had to re-pass the sugar/cinnamon blend around the table. It was a creamy enough dessert; but once in the refrigerator, the leftovers hardened into a playdough-like substance (there's a lot of flour in it) that didn't seem so appealing when we pulled it out to reheat today. I may keep experimenting with this recipe, or I may just let it be a treat that draws our family to attend the Høstfest ourselves someday.

Okay, Faithful Reader, have you been wearing your thinking cap over the past several weeks? Do you have any suggestions for me of Scandinavian recipes that I might serve of a Saturday night? Please share!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Suzanna's Solo

This morning Suzanna performed in the 2009 Trinity Junior High and Elementary Solo and Ensemble Music Festival at Trinity High School, a short walk just four houses away from our home. The music teacher at the girls' elementary school invited interested fifth-graders to enter, so Suzanna signed up to sing "The Rainbow Connection," made famous by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie 30 years ago. We rehearsed a bit at home last night and this morning (I accompanied her on the piano), and Susan and I gave her feedback as though we were the judges (we had the critique sheet in advance containing the judging criteria). Then the whole family headed over to the school this morning to meet her music teacher and find the classroom where she would sing.

It happened to be the classroom in which Susan taught when she worked there last year! We figured that was a good omen. A bad omen was that I spied in the room a fake piano (pianos are not supposed to require electricity in order to operate), but nobody was there to focus on my playing anyway, so I bit the bullet and accompanied her using the tinny toy keyboard instead of a legitimate piano. Suzanna was dressed formally and appeared calm and confident. She performed well and received very complimentary oral feedback from the judge afterward, who remarked on the quality of her song selection, her tone and musicality, and her expression and interpretation.

On Monday at school, her music teacher will have for her the critique sheet with the judge's written comments and perhaps a ribbon, if she earned one with today's performance. Faithful Reader, you might regret that you couldn't be there to hear Suzanna's performance. Well, lucky for you that, after returning home, we recorded Suzanna's singing the song in our living room! Enjoy:

"The Rainbow Connection" by Williams and Ascher