Sunday, September 27, 2009

No Cooking for Us Today!

Immediately after church this morning, we zipped out to the vehicle and jetted off to Medora, braving the ridonculously strong winds while maintaining a brisk pace because we had to get the girls to the Medora Community Center on time for them to sing. Badlands Ministries, which runs the summer Bible camps that our girls attend (remember?) at its site on the Little Missouri River south of Medora, holds an annual fundraiser dinner and auction each fall preceded by a community church service. The camp director asked the children's choir from our church to sing at this year's service, so we had to get the girls (and a couple other kids whom we gave a ride) there straightaway after Sunday school.

There were a few choir members who didn't make it, but the small group did a fine job. The music overall was terrific. The pianist played every hymn at an appropriately vibrant tempo (not the funereal dirge-like tempo preferred by so many church organists); and for her prelude and postlude, she played "old time" hymns and religious songs from memory, rolling her nimble fingers up and down the keyboard in dramatic glissandi and arpeggios that made me think she would be an ideal addition to an office party, stationed at an upright piano in the corner with a brandy snifter on top stuffed with greenbacks from appreciative partygoers.

Can you spot the Mobergs? (Hint: They're blondes.)

After church we got in line for the dinner that followed, admiring the Community Center's facilities as we waited (and thinking more and more that Medora might just make for an idea site for a family reunion the next time that it's our branch's turn to host--family, whaddya think?). We entered the de Mores Hall to enjoy chicken made by the men of First Lutheran Church in Beach. It was served with potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, buns, and ice cream cups for dessert. We were greasy-fingered and -faced little piggies, but it was a delicious meal. We didn't stay for the fundraising auction that followed, though, because we had to get back to Dickinson for our next meal--I mean, event.

Our Sons of Norway lodge served its annual lutefisk ["lye fish"] supper this afternoon/evening at the Elks Lodge in Dickinson. Faithful readers will recall that our attending last year's lutefisk supper is what prompted me to sign our family up for membership in the Sons of Norway (remember?). So this marks one year of membership for the Mobergs! I don't know how we got out of having to do any duties at this year's supper (e.g., serving, cleaning, refilling beverages), but we did.

However, Susan and the girls did volunteer to be part of the cultural skills demonstrations done at the membership booth throughout the event (so that attendees could see some of the cultural skills taught by the lodge and perhaps be enticed to sign up for membership themselves). At Norwegian camp this past summer (remember?), Susan and Suzanna learned to knit, and they have attended weekly cultural skills meetings ever since at which they learn new knitting skills progressively from a mentor (one of our lodge members who is truly multi-talented). Hillary and Abigail have attended those meetings intermittently, so they, too, know the basics of knitting.

Susan, however, has achieved special recognition for her knitting abilities. The Sons of Norway has a Cultural Skills Program with guidelines for how to demonstrate competency in several areas of Norwegian culture (e.g., cooking, needlework, woodwork, music), and Susan earned a pin for showing that she can do the knitting skills required for Level 1 of the Hand Knitting category (remember the afghan that she knitted for our nephew Davis?).

The round metal pin (made to look as though it has been rosemaled) is the indicator of participation in the Cultural Skills Program. Each cultural area has its own bar, and you see that Susan has one now for "Knitting." Under that is a bar indicating the level of achievement for that cultural skill, so under "Knitting" is a bar with one white line for Level 1. When she reaches Level 2, she will get another bar that has two white lines on it. Should she try another cultural area, she will get a bar with the name of that cultural skill on it and start hanging level bars underneath it; but they will all hang from this one round metal pin, forming perhaps a rather lengthy column of metal hanging from Susan's chest someday!

So the Moberg ladies spent some time at the membership booth, their knitting needles click-clacking away while patrons came in to eat lutefisk. When their time at the booth was up, we went in to eat. Before last year's supper, the girls had never eaten lutefisk, and Susan and I took perverse delight in keeping them in the dark and letting them experience "eating lutefisk" for themselves without any preconceptions to color their reactions. It was priceless (remember?). However, there can be only one "first time" with lutefisk, and the girls went in today knowing full well what they were in for.

They were willing to fulfill their ethnic duty to take some lutefisk along with the other items being served, but they were not about to repeat last year's mistake of assuming that lutefisk was real fish and, thus, leaving it for last to "enjoy" after all the potatoes and meatballs were already gone from their plates. This year they screwed their courage to the sticking place and faced the lutefisk head-on right away, pushing it down into their cups of melted butter to soak while they buttered their lefse. After a few minutes of marination, out came the lutefisk and into their mouths and down their hatches, and they were done and ready to start the real meal of cooked vegetables, boiled potatoes, meatballs and gravy, lefse, pickles and crudités, and riskrem ["rice cream"].

Cooked peas and carrots, boiled potatoes, meatballs in gravy, and . . . lutefisk!!

You know, it doesn't really look all that gross here, does it? Until you have to dig into that heap of gelatinous blobs and try to get some portion to stop wobbling long enough to stay on the spoon and then transport it precariously to your plate and find a spot to set it and watch it start to decompose and ooze into the nooks and crannies of your other food items, spreading like goo instead of sitting where you put it as a real chunk of fish ought to. That's when you know that something just ain't right about lutefisk.

Guess what Suzanna has stuffed into her cheeks?!

Their riskrem looks pretty good, but it really wasn't. We have had good riskrem (remember?), and this did not compare. The rice was undercooked, and the cream did not seem real. It was a nice thought, though. And the lefse was truly delicious (made just two days earlier by members of our lodge)!!

It was a busy day, but it was busy with fun activities. And we had two meals that others cooked for us, so we felt very pampered!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Scandinavian Food with Italian Wine

Having spent last weekend at my dad's, I haven't made a meal for Scandinavian Saturday for two weeks, so I was eager to get back at it today. Finding recipes for these weekly meals is a snap now that I have a new mentor in the kjøkken ["kitchen"]: Beatrice Ojakangas. I consulted her Scandinvian Cooking and found some recipes to try, made a shopping list, and sent my kitchen-helper-o'-the-week, Suzanna, to the grocery store to shop (well, she tagged along with Mommy, who had her own grocery list).

While they shopped, I mowed the lawn. Once they had returned and put away the groceries and I had cleaned up after the yard work, we all walked to campus for a free chili feed, part of the university's annual Family Days weekend. The weather was perfectly beautiful, the food was delicious, and we got to visit with some coworkers whom I don't get to see very often anymore. When we returned home, Suzanna and I got to work.


There is nothing remotely Scandinavian about chicken Marsala, whose name comes from the Italian wine used for the chicken's sauce. However, because we still had Marsala in the fridge, I decided to make this dish to make use of what was on hand. Suzanna and I flattened some chicken breasts, dredged them in seasoned flour, sautéed them, and set them aside. We sautéed fresh white mushrooms, added Marsala and the juice from a lemon, and let frozen asparagus spears simmer in the sauce as it reduced and thickened. We returned the chicken to the pan to reheat before serving it, and it was an attractive, tasty dish.

To go with the chicken, we made something Swedish called Janssons frestelse ["Jansson's temptation"], an anchovy and potato casserole. We sautéed onions and then filled a buttered casserole dish with layers of julienned raw potatoes, the onions, and tinned anchovy fillets. We added half-and-half and popped it in the oven to bake. The anchovy added a subtle saltiness--and fishiness--to what otherwise might have passed for scalloped potatoes (except for the julienne slice). It was a good match for the chicken Marsala.

While home on the farm last weekend, I picked up some jars of dill pickles that my mom had canned years ago, so Suzanna and I put together a pickle tray (of Mom's dill pickles and of canned black olives) to accompany the chicken and potatoes. Unfortunately, the glass tray of pickles sat in its plastic wrap inside the refrigerator throughout the meal, making an appearance only once we had all finished dessert and I went to the fridge to put away leftovers. So we shrugged our shoulders and had pickles for a post-dessert dessert! Because that's how we roll.


Suzanna and I made dessert early in the afternoon before starting either the potatoes or the chicken. We made a Finnish butter cookie dough and used it for a Danish cookie called raspberry ribbons. To make the pikkuleipienperustaikina ["basic dough biscuits"], we mixed together butter, sugar, egg, flour, vanilla extract, and salt. After the dough had spent a half-hour in the refrigerator, we rolled it into logs, pressed grooves into the length of each log, baked the logs partially, filled them with two kinds of raspberry jam, finished the baking, and then frosted the hindbærkager ["raspberry cake"] with a powdered sugar glaze before cutting them into one- or two-inch lengths. We sampled quite liberally as we transferred them from the pan to cool! For dessert we served them along with bowls of Schwan's vanilla ice cream. Wonderful!

The entire time that we worked side-by-side in the kjøkken today, Suzanna and I conversed, covering numerous topics and sharing many laughs throughout the day. That (in addition to teaching the girls about their cultural heritage and about how to cook) is a great reason to continue our family Scandinavian Saturday meals!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Status Update: Still Cute

Time for some more photos of one of the cutest kids in the world: our nephew Davis!

That frowny-faced pic is my favorite of this batch, but I thought I'd end on a postive note and leave you with his sweet little grin.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

We're back, kittens; did you miss us? (Did you even know we were gone?) Friday night the girls and I drove north to help my dad and stepmom move into a new house. As I phrased it this weekend, they'll be "summering in the country and wintering in the city" . . . which means that they're keeping the farm and spending time there whenever they feel like it; but during nasty winter weather, they plan to spend their time in the new home in town where they'll be close to everything they need (e.g., grocery store, clinic) and won't have to worry about plowing any roads leading to their house!

Susan did not accompany us due to obligations for her church job: a conference in Bismarck yesterday and Sunday school this morning. So our daughters and I packed up after school Friday, grabbed some fast food on our way out of town, pulled over along the highway several times during the drive to roll down the windows and talk to cattle and horses roaming in the ditches (ranchers along that route aren't so good at maintaining sturdy fences around their pastures), and arrived at Dad and Beverly's new house after everyone had wrapped up the day's work and was resting while eating some late-night pizza. Yes, our timing was impeccable.

Suzanna was eager Friday night to give Grandma a homemade gift: this washcloth that Suzanna knitted for her.

My sisters from NE and OR had flown in a few days earlier and had been helping Dad and Beverly pack and haul loads of stuff from one house to the other, and Beverly's son Dennis and his wife Julie (who live there in town) lent their trailer and their strong backs and arms to the cause, too. As a consequence, there wasn't so much left for the girls and me to help with this weekend. My sisters and I did move a load of big items (e.g., couch, bed frame, desks) and bring several boxes of smaller items (e.g., computer equipment, clothes, kitchen ware) yesterday. And both yesterday and today we helped unpack boxes in town, set up electronics, organize the kitchen and laundry room and spare bedroom, arrange the living room furniture . . . whatever needed doing in town. It was low-key but productive.

I don't recall ever having seen the living room at home (the house in which I grew up on the farm) empty. Yet just look at it. If one were a sentimental type of person, one would probably tear up at the thought of saying goodbye to one's childhood home as one's parent moves on to another house. (sniff, sniff)

Dad and Beverly spent each night in their new house, but the girls and I joined my sisters on the floor of the empty living room on the farm, spreading out our sleeping bags and having one big slumber party. We scavenged for food in the fridge, freezer, and pantry and made some tasty breakfasts (I made scrambled eggs on Saturday, and Sandy made French toast on Sunday) to start each day. My sisters and I had lots of "Aw, remember when . . . ?" moments as we packed up items in each room and found papers or objects from our childhood. When we didn't need the girls to help us pack for a few minutes, they built forts in the garage using empty cardboard boxes and ran around the yard, enjoying the fresh air and open spaces. It's always nice to be back home on the farm, even if for a bittersweet occasion such as this weekend.

Saturday evening Dennis and Julie had us all over to their house for supper: grilled burgers and hot dogs, cheesy potatoes, and whipped orange dessert. Abigail and Hillary went grocery shopping beforehand with Julie and then helped her make supper--what a special treat for them to spend that time alone with Dennis and Julie! We ate on the patio in their back yard, and it was awesome: a serene summer evening with a light breeze spent in their lovely back yard with its carefully groomed grass and well tended flowers eating delicious food and enjoying their company. The girls, Julie, and my sister Sandy even played several games of Simon Says on the lawn while the rest of us looked on and laughed. After supper they invited us to their high-tech family room to watch a movie on their huge TV with surround sound. Julie made us ice cream sundaes while we laughed and cried at Snow Dogs. It was a terrific night!

The girls and I returned to Dickinson tonight (school tomorrow, you know), and my sisters will fly back to their own homes in the next couple days, giving Dad and Beverly some "alone time" to unpack and put things away and hang things on the walls without extra bodies underfoot. While my sisters and I were all still around, we wanted to take Dad and Beverly out for a nice supper to celebrate their wedding anniversary (which is tomorrow). We thought of driving to a steakhouse in some town in the area, but we couldn't find one that was open on a Sunday . . . even in Williston! We ended up eating at Applebee's in Williston, and it was an absolutely delicious meal (I recommend the steak and riblets combo with garlic smashed potatoes).

Beverly, Dad, Abigail, Suzanna, Hillary, Sandy, and Cathy in the lobby of Applebee's

We said our goodbyes at the restaurant, and then the girls and I headed south while Dad, Beverly, and my sisters drove north to go back to the house in town. At 8:30 P.M., I had the girls "go to bed," snuggling together in the back seat with their blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals so that they wouldn't be sleep-deprived for school tomorrow. It was a quiet drive through the pitch-black night that hung over the winding roads through the Badlands of western ND. Even though I was "home" this weekend, it's good to be home now for real.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Suzanna the Patriot

Suzanna's elementary school held a Constitution Day assembly today, part of which involved having one of the students' dad, who is in the military, raise the flag while a few students sang the national anthem. Guess who was one of the children chosen to sing. Yep, Suzanna!

After school Suzanna told me that a photographer from the Dickinson Press had been there for the assembly, so I made a mental note to check the newspaper tomorrow morning to see if a photo of Suzanna would make it into the paper. Lo and behold, it's in the online version of the newspaper tonight! (The newspaper managed to misspell our last name in the caption below the photo. A name as simple as "Moberg"? Really?!)

Here's the photo. Notice the red-white-and-blue theme to the girls' outfits--very fitting for a patriotic day such as today. And see the pin on Suzanna's chest? It's a bejeweled American flag . . . that happened to belong to my mom!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Music from Those Who Should Know It!

My lovely ladies and I just returned from a mid-afternoon music recital at the university. It featured the Music Department's faculty, and many of their students were there to see if their professors could do the very singing and performing that they teach their students to do. And the professors proved themselves very able! We took our standard seats ("standard" being as close to the front as possible) and got comfortable, hearing a wide range of music from the 1600s through the 2000s. I don't have access to video from today's recital, but I have found others' performances of many of the songs to give you an idea of what we heard today.

My favorite was the Noznys' marimba/flute duet of three "musical snapshots of Asia": the first suggesting Bali, the second Japan, and the third southern India. The link above will let you hear two other musicians' performance, and it's well worth a listen. Recitals such as this are one of many benefits of living in a university community, and I'm glad we took advantage of the opportunity to hear the music faculty perform today.

Another New School Year Begins

This morning was an important one for Susan: the first day of Sunday school for this school year. She's the director of Sunday school for our church, so she has been busy since August making phone calls and holding training meetings and running errands and organizing materials and setting up classrooms at the church, etc. In fact she spent most of yesterday at church finalizing arrangements for today.

Since it was a "first day of school" for her and our daughters, I decided to make them all a hot breakfast to start the day. I cubed Spam* and fried it with chopped scallions, added that mixture to scrambled eggs, folded in some bleu cheese crumbles, and served it with toast with red currant jelly. I made coffee with chocolate syrup and vanilla creamer for Susan and me, so I also made chocolate milk for the girls to drink (we had no fruit juice for me to serve). It was a quick and tasty impromptu meal.

This morning was important for the girls for another reason. There are two children's choirs at our church--one for kids in grades three through six, and another for kids from age four to grade two--and this year all three of our daughters are in the same choir . . . so no more going to the early service to hear one daughter sing and then to the late service to hear the other two sing (as often happened last year). Yippee!

Anyhoo, today was the girls' choir's first performance of the Sunday school year--and their first performance all together--so I captured it on video for you, Faithful Reader. Unfortunately the choir director is standing directly in front of Hillary, so she's not visible through most of the video; but I'll bet you can make out her and her sisters' voices amongst the choir.

"Seek Ye First" sung by the Carol Choir, directed by Dr. Carolyn Burns

*We are not regular consumers of Spam, but I remember having had it occasionally as a child and liking it especially when my mom would fry it and serve it nice-'n'-crispy as a side for eggs or on a sandwich. One day in the grocery store, I saw Spam on the shelf, and the girls told me that they didn't know what it was . . . so of course I bought a can so that I could rectify the situation! They all--Susan included--liked it as crispy cubes stirred into the scrambled eggs this morning. It was a fun blast from the past for me, too.

P.S. The girls' church choir director will be one of several university music faculty performing in a recital on campus this afternoon. We'll be there (front and center, if possible, knowing us) to support my colleagues and enjoy the performances.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Acting Like an Actor

For one of Abigail's classes at school, she's working on a project about what she likes to do. She was asked to supply a photo of herself doing a favorite activity, the plan being for her to write about that photo as part of the project overall. Abigail asked Susan if she would photograph Abigail and then e-mail the photo to Abigail's teacher to have it on the computer the next day for Abigail to add her own word-processed words.

And what favorite activity did Abigail want to be photographed doing? Acting. Before she could have her picture taken, of course, she had to get into makeup and costume. She did her hair in a "fancy" style, added some color to her lips, donned a glamorous dress from her collection of dress-up clothes, and took Susan out to the veranda to photograph Abigail in various "acting" poses against the dramatic backdrop of the dark night sky. Wanna see some highlights?

She wore her hair up in a sophisticated 'do and chose a dark lip color to indicate the seriousness of her craft.

A serious actor can suggest longing or regret with but one carefully chosen facial expression.

Abigail is what is known as "a triple threat": at auditions, she can out-show others with her skills at acting, singing, and dancing. Here's an elegant dance pose.

Norma Desmond, eat your heart out!

Ah, now there's our Abigail!

Brev til et annet Skandinavisk Kokk

["letter to another Scandinavian cook"]

Dear Beatrice Ojakangas:

Thank you for another delicious Scandinavian Saturday supper. Your book Scandinavian Cooking gave me the inspiration (and the recipes) for yet another meal of dishes we had never even heard of before. My adventuresome family are always happy to try whatever I make, so I enjoyed leafing through the pages of your cookbook last evening to find unfamiliar items to make up tonight's menu.

It was Hillary's turn to be my helper today, but she ended up drawing a bye. She spent the night with a friend (who had a birthday party and invited Hillary to join several other girls for a sleepover last night), so she wasn't home this morning when I went grocery shopping for the ingredients for tonight's supper. The slumber party participants didn't slumber until the wee hours of the morning, so Hillary needed a nap once she got home--and slept through my late-morning food preparation. I woke her up to join us for dinner at noon, after which she and her sisters hunkered down in the family room to watch a Disney movie that we had recorded several days ago and saved for their weekend viewing--so Hillary missed all the food preparation throughout the afternoon, too.

I didn't really mind, though. In fact, it was kind of funny to note her obliviousness throughout the day. Whenever she would pass through the kitchen, I'd say, "Hillary, should we turn on the oven light and peek at the pork that we're making?" She'd say, "Sure!" and take a look, note how nummy it appeared, and then continue on her way, apparently feeling no guilt that her part of "we" was not helping my part of "we" in the least bit. Cute!

Anyway, Beatrice (may I call you "Beatrice"?), this morning I made the marinade and got the meat into it, made the dessert and got it into the refrigerator, and prepped the vegetables for the side dishes (marinating the sliced veggies for the cold dish and shredding the veggies for the baked dish to make this afternoon). This afternoon I set the table, baked and basted the pork, assembled and baked the casserole, whipped some cream for the dessert, and made the sauce for the meat. May I tell you which of your recipes I used?

Danish stegt svinekam ["roast pork"]

I couldn't get one pork loin roast big enough to meet your recommendation, so I got two and marinated them in port wine, red wine vinegar, juniper berries, ground allspice, ground ginger, and salt. The roasts soaked in that for about six hours and then were basted in it during their three hours in the oven. You told me to use the pan drippings to make the sauce, but much of the basting liquid had evaporated; so I improvised, stretching the pan drippings with chicken stock that we had in the fridge. I completed the sauce with cream, crumbled Danish bleu cheese, and red currant jelly. The basting created a delicious crust on the outside of the meat, which was tender and moist inside; and the sauce was a savory accompaniment to the pork.

Finnish porkkanalaatikko ["the carrot box"]

I shredded the carrots this morning and let them sit in the refrigerator until I was ready to make this carrot casserole once the pork was nearly done. I cooked some white rice and combined it with the shredded carrots, milk, brown sugar, eggs, and seasoned salt (I know, I know--you said to use just salt). I stirred garlic breadcrumbs (I know, I know--you said to use just breadcrumbs) into melted butter and then sprinkled that atop the carrot-and-rice mixture in a baking pan. The carrots were tender but still tasted fresh and slightly sweet, which was a pleasant contrast to the savory crust created by the breadcrumbs. Once on our plates, the casserole soaked up a bit of the bleu cheese sauce from the pork, which gave it a bite that tasted great with the carrots.

Danish agurkesalat ["cucumber salad"]

Yesterday my boss brought to work a bag of cucumbers from his garden and offered them to anybody who was interested. I took several home and used a couple for this recipe, slicing them paper-thin and marinating them for six hours in water, white vinegar, ground white pepper, salt, and sugar. I drained them before serving them. They had a distinct sweetness to them, but the pepper took us all by surprise by giving the cucumbers a certain level of heat that we weren't prepared for since we couldn't see the white pepper on the cukes. Crunchy, fresh, sweet-'n'-spicy, and delicious.

Norwegian lefse (a potato-based soft flatbread)

Yesterday some members of our Sons of Norway lodge were at the high school where Susan works to join a cooking class there as guests to help the students make lefse. They gave Susan some rounds of lefse to take home, and we ate them with supper tonight. Let me tell ya, those high school students learned very well from the expert Sons of Norway bakers! The lefse was soft and moist, just exactly the right thickness, and melt-in-your-mouth rich with butter and sugar on them.

Finnish ruismarjapuuro ["rye berry pudding"]

I cooked together rye flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cranberry juice, and dark corn syrup, whisking nearly continuously for the 20 minutes that it was on the heat and the 10 minutes that it cooled over an ice bath afterward. I let it chill in the refrigerator all day long, and just before supper, I made homemade whipped cream (with lots of sugar and vanilla extract) that was light-as-air but so thick and firm that I could probably have made a spoon stand upright in it! We liked the unusual flavor of the cranberry-rye pudding. The "dark" flavors of the rye, the cranberry, and the dark syrup were subtle but definitely noticeable, making the "light" flavor of the whipped cream the perfect accompaniment.


Along with water in drinking glasses, I served goblets of cranberry juice (with vodka added for Susan and me) to round out the meal. We thoroughly enjoyed every dish, Beatrice, and left the table satisfied but not miserable (or, as Abigail put it, "I'm full but not Thanksgiving full"). The agurkesalat made one hearty serving for each of us, but there is enough left over of everything else for another meal tomorrow. Thanks again for assembling all these recipes in one terrific Scandinavian cookbook. (And thanks for writing more than one such cookbook, two more of which I own, too!) Stay tuned to see what other recipes of yours will show up on our table in the coming weeks and months.

Best wishes,
Kevin

Friday, September 11, 2009

Restaurant Makes Headlines After Mobergs Dine There

Remember our having dined at Theodore's, the Rough Riders Hotel's restaurant last Sunday? The Dickinson Press today features an article on the hotel's remodeling (and expansion--adding a convention center) project. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Freebies

I ran across this article from Kiplinger, whose staff "looked for primo goods and services--no useless junk allowed" and came up with a list of "fabulous freebies"--"30 valuable goods and services that don't cost a thing." Some of the most appealing items from the list:
  • free birthday goodies
  • free software
  • airline freebies
  • free TV shows, movies, books, music, and cultural events (e.g., museums, zoos, galleries, concerts)
  • free kids' meals
  • free sheet music

The other items on the list are worth checking out, too.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Rugged Outdoor Life for Us

I went outdoors last night to shake off a tablecloth and found that the weather had cooled down considerably since the afternoon. There was a steady breeze and a bright moon, and it reminded me of summer nights when I was a kid. Sometimes when relatives would be over visiting, my sisters and our cousins and I would head outside to play hide-and-seek late at night. The yard would be lit by the moon, but the trees surrounding the yard were pitch-black and eerie from the sound of the wind moving through the branches and leaves. I'd find a hiding spot in the trees and sit quietly, enjoying the coolness of the wind, the blanket of darkness, and the sounds of the night . . . as I waited to be discovered either by the person who was "it" or by our pet dog, Happy, who would invariable give away everybody's hiding spot as soon as she found each hider and started barking and licking and making a fuss.

Sorry for that aside; that all came rushing back as I stood on the veranda last night. When I came back inside, I mentioned to Hillary--who was marching up the stairs heading to her bed for the night--that it would be a good night for camping out. In seconds she had returned from her bedroom with her pillow, blankie, stuffed animal, and sleeping bag in tow. Her sisters were game, too, so we gathered our stuff and went outside to sleep beneath the stars.

Except that our idea of "camping out" is spreading a quilt on the veranda, laying our sleeping bags out next to the patio door, and sleeping there within inches of the door and just a few steps away from a bathroom. The last time we did this, the nighttime weather became so frigid in the early morning hours that we had to head indoors. Not last night, though. The breeze was cool, but we were nice and cozy inside our sleeping bags. The moon was so bright that it took awhile to get to sleep! The wind chimes, too, played their music loudly and steadily throughout the night, but that became a restful background noise that blocked out the other sounds of the city.

Now when we hear friends' and coworkers' tales of their Labor Day weekend camping trips, we can contribute to the conversation with our own tales of roughing it. We just didn't have to fuss with putting up or taking down a tent, and it was only a matter of steps to a hot shower and a batch of freshly baked muffins. (Susan is not an outdoor sleeper. She was content to spend the night indoors in our bed and then to treat us with a hot breakfast.)

Daddy, Hillary, Abigail (with her head at the opposite end--that's our Abigail), and Suzanna

Sunday, September 06, 2009

End-of-Summer Jaunt to Medora

After church today, it was too early to go out for dinner, yet the girls were dropping unsubtle hints (e.g., "I wonder if [insert name of restaurant here] is open today") that showed they were just as in the mood to go out to eat as I was. So, without responding to their hints or revealing my plan, I took them on a drive that would pass some time, show us some sights, and put us at a restaurant right around dinnertime.

Highway 10 connects Dickinson to South Heart to Belfield with a hilly, winding, scenic route roughly parallel to Interstate 94. I pulled over a few times to snap some pics, listen to the wind's rustling of the crops and tree leaves, and smell the terrific scents of prairie flowers and wild grasses carried upon the hot, persistent wind.


West of Belfield, we turned south off Highway 10 to drive into Fryburg, a sleepy town of just a few streets--not all of them paved--and perhaps an equal number of houses. On the south edge of town sits an elementary school that closed nine years ago but whose gym is still used for sports events by Billings County Public Schools. (Interesting tidbit: The production crew for the movie Wooly Boys--starring Keith Carradine, Peter Fonda, and Kris Kristofferson--used the school as production headquarters and built a set in the gymnasium during filming of portions of the movie!) We turned around and went north again out of Fryburg to get onto Interstate 94 and drive west into Medora.

In the middle of a cluster of trees just north of Fryburg is this curving path, which just looks so inviting! But I think it's private property, so we looked but didn't touch.

Here's the view of Medora from the highway that leads into town from the north (after exiting south off the Interstate). Can you see the rooftops in the center of the photo? How awesome it must be to have the surrounding Badlands as one's view whenever one leaves the house!

Once in Medora, we ate dinner at Theodore's, the restaurant in the Rough Rider Hotel. It has undergone extensive renovations since the last time we ate there (for Father's Day last year) and looks just awesome with dark stain on the wood trim, a patterned tin ceiling, stained glass windows, a big brick fireplace, light fixtures designed to suggest the 1800s but clearly new, rich carpet, beautiful tile in the restrooms . . . oh, and the food is good, too (we had bison hamburger, turkey press sandwich, hot pastrami, and grilled chicken fettucine alfredo). The Rough Rider Hotel redid the dining room after last summer and is currently building an attached convention center. Take a moment to read a brief history of the hotel and enjoy a slideshow of photos of the hotel and its restaurant.

The Badlands form the backdrop for the hotel and convention center.

Suzanna, Abigail, Susan, and Hillary posed on the stairway in the north entrance to Theodore's. This room will serve as the foyer for guests checking in once the hotel completes construction of its convention center.

The girls and I posed on the veranda just outside the foyer with the grand staircase (from the photo above).

After dinner we walked around town a little bit, stopping in several shops to look around and see what they had to offer. All the shops were offering big discounts; Labor Day weekend marks the end of Medora's tourist season, so the stores are trying to reduce inventory before closing--or limiting their hours--for the fall. Each of the girls got an embroidered "Medora" baseball cap at one store, and Susan bought a "thank you" gift at another. Even the Fudge and Ice Cream Depot was trying to get rid of its product. We stopped there for a little ice cream, each of us ordering a single scoop in a bowl, which is what they charged us for; however, they piled the ice cream up so high that we easily could have shared one heaping bowl amongst the five of us!

Pretty flowers all around town.

We saw this little train chugging on by no matter where we happened to be around town!

It was 92° in Medora, which, frankly, is cooler than it has been during previous trips to the town. Still we were happy to get into the vehicle with its air conditioning as we drove on the Interstate to one final stop: the Painted Canyon Visitor Center a few miles east of Medora. The view is stunning, and the visitor center offers guide books and history books and biographies and park-related toys (e.g., hand puppets of local wildlife) and photographs and kid-friendly "you're welcome to touch these" artifacts that could easily have kept us occupied for hours had we not needed to get home and tend to other obligations. It was a fun little spur-of-the-moment trip that served as a welcome break on this Labor Day weekend. Now, it's back to work . . .

The view of the Badlands from the Painted Canyon Overlook just east of Medora. (Remember my writing about/sharing photos from this locale two years ago?)

P.S. Here are some gems from the mouths of our babes today:

  • Once Hillary's fettucine arrived, she dug right in, made the "yummm" sound, and said, "It warms up my soul."
  • Not too long afterward, she slowed down her pace of eating and said, "I'm really full." That's pretty typical of her, so I put my hand against my cheek and opened my mouth as though to register my faux astonishment. She responded, "It's not a shocking thing."
  • Toward the end of the meal, Hillary asked if we could go to the playground, and I said that we weren't there for fun; we were there for photographs. She replied, "No trip is made without having fun."
  • On the drive to Medora, we heard a radio show that had invited listeners to write and mail in their original haiku related to the program's topics. Since we had haiku on our minds, we tried our hand at creating one of the five-syllable, seven-syllable, five-syllable three-line poems while we were seated at the restaurant. Here's what we came up with: "We're in Medora / Land of trains and horse manure / Love this scenic town."
  • When we were shopping for baseball caps, Suzanna selected a pink one, and it was immediately clear from the expression on Hillary's face that she felt she ought to have the pink hat (since her bedroom is pink, much of her clothing is pink, etc.). In explaining that to Suzanna, Hillary said, "Pink's my go-to color."
  • As we walked with our ice cream bowls back toward our parking spot, Susan gave the girls directions, telling Suzanna, "Turn left at the corner." Abigail added, "Then straight on 'til morning." (Do you recognize that allusion to Peter Pan?)