Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spooky in Southwest ND

Whew! I'm exhausted. Our Halloween was chock-full of activity. This morning I got some work done for school, and Susan got some work done for church (as Sunday school director, she was in charge of setting up for one of this afternoon's events at church; more on that in a bit). Then we joined the university president and his wife for a brunch at the Student Center on campus: an indoor tailgating event before the football game in the afternoon. Mrs. McCallum has been arranging these events throughout the fall and inviting various groups of people to each one to mingle with one another, visit with her and her husband, and enjoy the goodwill, school spirit, and delicious food. Early in the week before each pre-football brunch, she invites various people to taste-test all the menu items that she's considering for that weekend, and I was invited to one of those brunches to sample and recommend (remember?). Now, a few weeks later, I got invited to the weekend event itself!

Some other university faculty and staff were there, too, as were selected members of the community. We enjoyed visiting, of course, and Susan found the president and his wife to be very hospitable; but mostly we were all about the food. We started with appetizers: smoked salmon on garlic toast rounds with all the fixin's for lox (cream cheese, capers, red onions); quesadillas and salsa; sweet-'n'-sour meatballs; and deep-fried chicken nuggets and ranch dressing. Then the buffet line: pasta salad; potato salad; a variety of cheeses with a variety of crackers; bread bowls to fill with our choice of beef stew, cream of broccoli soup, or hearty chicken noodle soup; two egg bakes, one with meat and one vegetarian; and sour-dough buns, mustard, and mayo to make sandwiches out of the garlic-crusted roast beef and roast pork that was being sliced at the end of the buffet line. Then dessert: frosted sugar cookies decorated like pumpkins; slices of dessert breads (banana bread, cranberry bread, etc.); a huge slices of cheese cake. It was just delicious.

Then we headed home so that Susan could help the girls with their costumes. Our church has a "fall festival" each Halloween to which children come in their costumes and eat snacks and play games that are more Bible-themed and less monster-themed. Arranging that is one of Susan's duties as Sunday school director, so in addition to getting games and supplies and food ready over the past few days and this morning, she also had to be at church before the festival began to set up and had to stay late to clean up. So I took the girls to church when it was time and snapped some pics of them in their costumes there:

Suzanna dressed up as a grandma. She borrowed the walker from a friend, donned sensible hose and an '80s dress (complete with shoulder pads), packed her purse with facial tissue and cough drops (I suggested that she toss in some Bengay and a plastic rain bonnet, too), attached an eyeglasses chain to her spectacles, and wore curlers to bed last night and sprayed her hair gray today. She shuffled around a lot and used a pinched voice to give the other children grandmotherly lectures about not eating so much candy, being careful with their costumes pieces (e.g., "You could put an eye out with that sword"), and so on. Yep, she was truly "in character."

Abigail dressed up as a professional dancer from Dancing with the Stars, which we enjoy watching as a family and on which Abigail enjoys daydreaming about appearing someday. The pink jazz dress is from a past dance recital; it has glittery beads all over it. She matched it with glittery silver shoes that she bought for a quarter at a rummage sale last summer. (The white tights and long white sleeves aren't realistic considering all the skin shown by the professional dancers on the TV show, but they're more sensible for trick-or-treating in ND.) She wore curlers to bed, too, last night and had Mommy fix her hair in a super-fancy 'do. Her glamorous makeup includes glitter on her face and in her hair. I suppose that she was "in character," too, striking a pose at the drop of a hat, spinning around in impromptu dance routines, etc.--but that's really just Abigail, Halloween costume or not.

Hillary dressed up as a queen bee. She, too, made use of an old dance recital dress, pairing it with outdoor-trick-or-treat-friendly black tights and a long-sleeved shirt for the black-and-yellow bumblebee look. The fairy wings suggest bee wings, and the tiara (pink feathers and all) suggests her royalty. Thus, people who guessed that she was a fairy were first corrected that she was a queen bee; and then when they nodded and said something like, "Oh, yes, I see it now: a bumblebee!" they were again corrected: not just "a bee" but "the queen bee." Yep, Hillary, too, was both "in character" and perfectly herself.

Susan got in the spirit, too, donning kitty-cat ears and a tail (which she's holding in her left hand) for her afternoon with the children at the fall festival.

At the end of the fall festival, I took the girls and one of their friends around town to trick-or-treat. We hit the houses of their school teachers. Then we went to "Malloween" at the Prairie Hills Mall. Almost every store had employees in Halloween costumes sitting out front with buckets of candy so that children in their own costumes could go from store to store trick-or-treating indoors. It's ideal if you have little kids whom it's a hassle to haul around town; if the weather is cold; or if you like seeing other kids' costumes because they're all on parade as the kids tromp from store to store throughout the mall.

Then we went to "Treat Street" held at Days Hotel Grand Dakota Lodge and Convention Center. Various businesses rent suites there and decorate them according to various themes, stocking them with in-costume people to hand out candy and hide in the dark corners of the rooms and leap out screaming to scare the trick-or-treaters! The line just to get in snaked out the lobby doors, down the parking lot, and around two sides of the building! Thanks goodness the weather was just beautiful--no coats necessary. Inside there were lots of awesomely spooky lights and lit-up monsters and eerie music, and there were cobwebs and black lights and scratchy streamers and mummies and all sorts of creepy stuff in the hallways and each room. Hillary held onto my hand pretty tightly; and people in some of the rooms, seeing a young child entering, called out to their cohorts not to scare our group. When one monster leaped out of the darkness to scare Suzanna, she turned to him and, in character, held out a finger and said, "Stop that!" And he did! Hilarious.

Then we dropped off the girls' friend at her home and went trick-or-treating at our relatives' homes. Susan's uncle Terry and aunt Audrey were at their son Robbie's high school football game, but their daughter Christy happened to be at the house with her kids to let us in and give the girls some candy. We stopped at Susan's other in-town cousins' homes, too, but they must have been out and about with their own kids. We found Susan's aunt Mary and uncle Dale at home and made that our last stop before parking at home and hitting the streets to canvas our own neighborhood. One neighbor across the street always has special treat packages ready for the girls, and we made sure to stop at the homes of all the other neighbors whose lights were still on--including Chuck and Reba's house with its fog machine on the front step going off intermittently and creating an eerie haze on the block!

We didn't get home and sit down to eat supper until about 8:00 P.M.! We were very hungry for the mummies (hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls and baked), the bones in gore (French fries covered in chili and cheese), and the buttered bug eyes (green peas) that Susan had prepared. She had also roasted the pumpkin seeds from Thursday night's jack-o'-lantern carving spree. Once the traffic at our front door had stopped, we went for a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the beautiful weather and work off some of the calories from all the Halloween candy. Tonight: the girls and I are having a slumber party in the family room. (I have been spooking them with stories about all the goblins that are out tonight, so none of them wants to spend the night in her own room, wondering what this or that noise outdoors actually is.) After about six hours of trick-or-treating, they're ready to sleep . . . and so am I.

Susan's cousin Todd and his wife Trista stopped by with their son Trae in his cowboy gear, and Susan just had to snap a picture for us to see once we returned. Howdy, pardner!

Remember the girls' pumpkin carving the other night? Here's what the jack-o'-lanterns looked like tonight on our front step. Spooky, no?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Creepy Carvers

We bought little pumpkins at the grocery store so that our little girlies could create their own jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween. Tonight Susan set them to the task. Here are Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna scraping out the pumpkins and setting aside the seeds to soak, salt, and roast later on.

Hillary needed a little help getting some holes started before she could cut out eyes and a mouth for her jack-o'-lantern. (And I needed not to watch her wield her knife in the unsafest manner possible, causing visions of amputated fingers to dance in my head.)

Punkins with pumpkins! On Halloween night these jack-o'-lanterns will sit on our steps, casting spooky light upon wee trick-or-treaters who approach our front door. Thanks for the exterior home decor, girlies!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Scandinavian Food and American Music

There was another performance last night in the concert series to which we hold season tickets (remember?)--more on that in a minute. But first: Abigail was my helper this week for Scandinavian Saturday supper.

Denmark: tomater med Danablu ["tomatoes with Danish bleu cheese"]

We hollowed out five firm tomatoes and stuffed them with this mixture: diced apple, diced radish, diced celery, diced pimiento-stuffed green olive, chopped fresh dill, crumbled bleu cheese, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce. We served it as an appetizer, and it was a big hit. I think it would go well with a grilled steak in the summertime, too.

The main course! Details to follow . . .

Norway: oksestek med poteter ["roast beef with potatoes"]

This was the easiest meat dish I have ever prepared for Scandinavian Saturday, and here's why: On Thursday Susan put a beef roast in the crockpot, but it wasn't done by suppertime; so she served something else instead, let the roast finish cooking, and later that evening transferred the tender, delicious, uneaten roast from the crockpot to a storage container that went straight into the refrigerator. So Abigail and I reheated the roast in its cooking juices (along with some leftover roasted potatoes in onion from another meal) in the oven for last night's supper, and it was moist and tender and absolutely delicious.

Finland: tilliherneet ["dilled green peas"]

We cooked frozen peas in the microwave, and on the stove we sautéed some scallions in butter. Into the peas went the scallions, chopped fresh dill, and chopped pimiento. Finally we sprinkled shredded Jarlsberg cheese over the top. It was not only fresh-tasting and delicious, but it was also a great burst of color for the plate (gotta please the eye as well as the tongue when serving a meal, don'tcha know).

Denmark: glaserede champignon ["glazed mushrooms"]

Abigail spent a good amount of time slicing a pound of crimini mushrooms for this dish. We heated salt, paprika, a couple cloves of crushed garlic, and chopped scallions in olive oil and then tossed in the mushrooms to sauté. We added dill and dried basil just before serving. This, too, would make an excellent side dish with grilled steak . . . and it certainly was a great accompaniment to the roast beef last night.

Norway: Trondhjem suppe ["Trondheim soup," a lemon-raisin soup]

For dessert, we brought water to boil and added rice and raisins ("fancy mixed raisins": flame raisins, Thompson raisins, and golden raisins) to simmer. Then we added the juice from a lemon, sugar, cream, salt, egg yolks, lemon extract, and vanilla extract. We let it sit for a long time until the raisins had plumped fully and they and the rice had absorbed the extra liquid, so the result was more a raisin pudding than a soup . . . but, oh, what a refreshing dish it was: slightly sweet, faintly lemony, creamy and rich, warm and comforting--really, really good.

Then it was off to the concert for us. The performer was Paul Asaro, a pianist specializing in stride and ragtime piano, adept at playing jazz, boogie woogie, blues, swing, stomps . . . everything and anything related to early 20th-century American piano styles. He was very impressive technically, running his fingers up and down the keyboards so adroitly and unbelievably quickly that I would have guessed only a player-piano could have managed that many notes that rapidly that precisely. He also has an easy-going, warm, mellow and inviting personality. Before playing a song, he would give a short explanation of the style that he was about to demonstrate and how it evolved from a previous style in this country. He told stories about the pianists who composed and made popular each song that he played. He even sang several of the songs, mimicking the singing style of the original performers. It was a great concert. Here's a sample of his playing:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two Web Highlights

Check these out:

Culture Pulse -- A new Web site featuring information on all sorts of arts events in southwest ND: dance, theatre, music, visual art, museums, heritage events, festivals, special events, film showings, literary events, family- and kid-friendly events, classes and workshops . . . there's even a category called "sporting and outdoors"! As more and more regional arts groups become aware of Culture Pulse and start to add information about their own events, it will become a handy hub of information for those wondering, "What's there to do this weekend?"

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me -- This NPR weekly news quiz show is always hilarious, but today's episode features NBC news anchor Brian Williams as a guest engaging in especially amusing repartee with the show's host and panelists. He shares funny stories, comes up with witty rejoinders, and (spoiler alert) wins his game after sharing his hilarious reasoning for arriving at the correct answers. Follow the link above and, if you wish, listen only to the Brian Williams portion (about 15 minutes). If you have more time, listen to the entire episode. It's news/current events-based comedy for people with brains! (And that's you, Faithful Reader.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Moreys: The Next Generation

Susan's aunt Jake and her kids are in town this weekend from CO, so Susan's aunt Kathy invited all the Moreys over for supper tonight. Susan, the girls, and I were there to eat up the sausage/dumplings/peas and to visit with the relatives:
  • Kathy, her daughter Tina, and Tina's son Kylan
  • Susan's aunt Mary and uncle Dale
  • Susan's uncle Terry and aunt Audrey, their son Brian, and their son Mike and his wife Lindsey and their daughters Cadence and Madison
  • Jake, her son Jon, and her daughter Kelli and her daughter Kynnedi
Family get-togethers are so awesome, and Kathy and Pat have a great house for accommodating everybody for such events. I got to hold the sweet little babies and play with Cadence, who took a little while to warm up, but who became my buddy over the course of 43 or 44 consecutive times putting together and then taking apart the same 12-piece wooden puzzle at the dining room table. The girls enjoyed playing with all their cute second-cousins, too. Wanna see the cuties?

Mike and Lindsey's older daugher Cadence concentrates on the puzzle.

Mike and Lindsey's younger daughter Madison models her adorable outer wear, perfect for an autumn evening.

Tina and Craig's son Kylan takes a break from playing with the girls.

Kelli and J.J.'s daughter Kynnedi smiles all the time! What a happy baby.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Abigail: Superstar and Super-sass

Our city has a Mayor's Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities, and it annually organizes Diversity Days, two days of educational sessions in the local elementary schools. At these sessions, designed to heighten students' sensitivity to the disabilities of some of their peers, school children move from station to station to participate in activities that simulate various disabilities; and in trying to complete the tasks at a certain station, the students experience what it might be like for a person with that particular disability.

Faithful readers will recall that the local newspaper loves our daughters; it's nearly a monthly thing to find a photo of one or more of them in the paper. This morning it was Abigail's turn again. I can't find the photo in the online version of the newspaper, but it's of her and a classmate blindfolded at a table, and the caption says, "Fifth-grader Abigail Moberg tries to put shapes in their correct spot during a vision restriction exercise on Tuesday as part of Diversity Days." Superstar.

Many of the volunteers who help run Diversity Days are education students from the university, so most of them know me by virtue of their being or having been my students. Abigail had this conversation with a couple of the university students at one of the stations:

Volunteers: [seeing Abigail's name tag] I think I know your father.
Abigail: I think you do, too. Who do you think he is?
Volunteers: Professor Moberg.
Abigail: You're right.
Volunteers: If you're naughty, we can tell him about it.
Abigail: And if you are naughty, I can tell him about it.
Volunteers: Well, I guess it goes both ways.
Abigail: Yes, it does.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sterke Smaker på en Kjølig Høst Kveld

["bold flavors on a chilly autumn evening"]

After a week off, courtesy of my wife (remember?), I was back in the kjøkken ["kitchen"] tonight preparing another Scandinavian Saturday supper.

Norwegian: stekt reinkjøtt med gjetost saus ["roasted venison with goat cheese sauce"]

I rubbed down a venison rump roast with butter and seared it in the oven before turning down the heat and covering the meat in salt and pepper. Then I roasted it on a rack over a pan filled with wine, chicken stock, and crushed juniper berries (with which I basted it every 15 minutes). The sauce for the roast started as a roux (flour and butter) to which I added the pan juices and then whisked in red raspberry jelly and gjetost ["goat cheese"], letting those dissolve before pulling it off the heat and stirring in sour cream. The venison roast was as tender as a beef roast, and the sauce was thick, smooth, and salty.

Swedish: raggmunk ["potato pancake"]

While I was frying some pepper-bacon, I grated several potatoes, rinsed and drained them, and added flour, chives, milk, an egg, salt, and pepper. Then I used the bacon drippings in place of oil, frying dollops of the potato mixture in it to form large flat pancakes, which I served with the bacon strips on top. Raggmunk is like a cross between a breakfast pancake and a hashbrown. It was good--and, really, how could it not be with bacon on top?!

Swedish: limpa [a rye bread flavored with molasses, anise, and orange zest]

We bought a round loaf of limpa at the Northern Plains Ethnic Festival in August (remember?), and it has been waiting patiently in our deep freeze ever since. So I sliced it and served it tonight, and it was a nice accompaniment to the meal. The anise flavor was noticeable but certainly not overpowering. I'd bet this bread would be good in the morning, too, smeared with marmalade.

Danish: Dansk blåskimmelost salat ["Danish bleu cheese salad"]

I bought some organic butter lettuce--a head of lettuce so fancy that half its plastic container held its root system (so fresh, said the label, that it's actually "still alive" . . . which is a little creepy, but it was genuinely delicious). I tossed the butter lettuce with thinly sliced radishes, sweet onion, and cucumbers and crumbled Danish bleu cheese. I whisked together white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard, and sugar to make a dressing with which I tossed the salad just before serving. It was fantastic. The roots-still-attached lettuce made all the difference (because it actually tasted like lettuce, in contrast to the prewashed, prechopped lettuce that comes in hermetically sealed bags nowadays).

Finnish: rummipuuro ["rum pudding"]

I started this bad boy early in the afternoon so that I could complete all the steps and get it into the fridge far enough in advance to be ready by the time we finished the meal--and, I'm happy to say, it was worth all the work it took to create. I emptied unflavored gelatin into water to soften and then set about separating several eggs. I beat the yolks with sugar, cream, and milk and then cooked the mixture in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water to form a double boiler, whisking nonstop until it started to thicken. Then I transferred the bowl to an ice bath, whisked in the gelatin, added some rum, and stirred occasionally while waiting for the gelatin to cause it to set.

Meanwhile I whipped some heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract and set that aside. Then I beat the egg whites until stiff and set them aside. By then, the mixture in the ice bath had started to firm up, so I folded in the whipped cream and the whipped egg whites, transferred the rum pudding to a serving dish, and popped it into the fridge to chill and finish setting. After the meal, we dug in and enjoyed it very much. The egg whites in particular gave it a light and fluffy texture so that the pudding seemed to melt in our mouths. I could taste both the vanilla and the rum quite clearly, but the alcohol was pretty mild. It actually reminded me of drinking hot Tom & Jerrys during the holidays. It's a good thing that the pudding is so good because we have an awful lot of it left over.

Whaddya think, Faithful Reader? Is this a menu that appeals to you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"The Talk"!!!

In our school district, fifth-graders may participate in something called the Changing Program, a series of classes during which students from the university's Nursing Department come to the elementary school to teach the students about the changes they will experience as they mature (physical, mental, and emotional changes associated with the onset of puberty).

Our daughters already know a lot about the topic because, when each of them is ten, she receives from us a copy of The Girls' Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You. Not only is it a terrific source of straightforward information, but it's also a good conversation starter. Many times Suzanna or Abigail, while reading her book, has stopped me to say, "Dad, did you know that . . . " and tell me some fact about puberty's effects on the female body, or to ask, "Dad, what does this mean?" and challenge me to expand on this or that detail from the book. On some questions I must defer to Susan; but I have had many conversations with the girls that, when I first became the dad to daughters, I never would have predicted someday having!

We have always used the actual terms (not euphemistic words) for parts of the body and bodily functions, so the girls don't think twice about referring to their body parts accurately or asking us questions when they have them. We want them to talk to us and come to us for information and know the facts about their development from girls into young women so that we can maintain open and honest communication throughout their teen years when they're dating and struggling to make wise decisions regarding young men and other teenage temptations. So far, things have been going pretty well in that regard.

Still, I wasn't quite ready for the conversation that I had with the girls this evening. Before the Changing Program begins, parents are invited to the school one night for an informational meeting, and Susan attended that meeting last year for Suzanna and again this year for Abigail. While Susan was at that meeting tonight, I stayed home with the girls while we all finished our supper. As we ate, I asked Abigail if she had any questions for Suzanna about what the Changing Program would entail, and she did; Abigail had heard from classmates this or that bit of misinformation, so Suzanna set her straight and told her what would actually be covered during the sessions.

Well, in the spirit of getting the facts and clearing up misconceptions, Suzanna turned to me and asked about a term that she had heard some of her classmates using. Abigail and Hillary had also heard this term used and echoed Suzanna's question. When I asked them to share how their friends had used the term, they told me and then asked what it had to do with making babies.

I looked at their curious, honest faces with attentive eyes blinking patiently at me, and I knew that this was it. Susan, the mother of three daughters, by virtue of her volunteering to attend a parent meeting tonight on teaching our kids about the facts of life, had gotten out of having "the talk" with said daughters about the facts of life! Yes, it had fallen to the dad!!

Heavy sigh. In the past whenever we have gotten questions from the girls along the lines of "Where do babies come from?" we have been honest but sparing with the details, figuring that we would tell them only what they wanted to know and only in doses according to what seemed to satisfy their curiosities at the time. But by now, they have heard enough from other kids at school--and noticed enough from the world around them--that they were actually confused about a few things, most notably, "Dad, you have told us that we have to be married to have children, so how is it that some girls in high school can be pregnant if they're not married?"

So tonight, because my daughters were ready to know, I had "the talk" with them about the basic mechanics (using correct clinical terminology) of reproduction in mammals. It was pleasantly uneventful, actually. They already knew all the body parts and their functions, so they just had to make sense of how the body parts work together to accomplish the creation of new life. Once they shook out of their brains the realization that people whom they personally know had used that method to create people whom they personally know (including themselves!), they started to connect other mental dots and make sense of other things they have heard on the playground or seen on magazine covers in the grocery store.

And, on their own, they offered the conclusion that, although teenagers physically can create babies before they're married, they really should not because of the difficulty of raising a baby while trying to be a student, raising a baby alone should the father not be committed to a long-term relationship, giving up a baby for adoption and later wishing you could have raised it yourself, etc. They are thinkers, those daughters of ours. I pray that our openness with them and their willingness to confide in us will reap benefits as we work to guide them safely through the rocky teenage years ahead.

Still, the dad had "the talk" with the daughters? Susan found that an amusing turn of events when she returned home from the meeting. I guess it went pretty well, considering the fact that it was an impromptu conversation; it was probably just as well that I didn't have time to plan or rehearse or worry in advance. But I can't help but think that it would have been much easier had the girls grown up on a farm, where watching the animals themselves is exactly the educational experience a kid needs to understand reproduction--and usually takes the place of even having "the talk" at all!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Exhausting Week

(This is a post in which I whine; you have been forewarned.)

My job normally consumes a lot of my waking hours. After spending my time with students and colleagues all day long, I come home to spend some time with my family. However, there is always more work to do than there are hours during the work day to complete it--so if I am not too tired to stay up, I crack out the laptop and work into the night; and if I inadvertently slip into an exhaustion-induced coma, I wake myself up early in the morning to get some work done before showering, dressing, and returning to the office for another day.

There are times, though, when the hours that I spend on my job are even more insane than usual, and this past week was a good example.

We've got students intending to graduate in the spring who had to meet a Thursday deadline for completing their portfolios (of their best work in several required categories, maintained in an electronic format online), and I had to read several of those, each one taking several hours to read and comment on.

I teach one course for which students spend two non-consecutive weeks in area schools, teaching alongside a cooperating teacher in order to practice and develop their teaching skills before having to pre-service teach (often called student-teaching at other universities) for an entire semester. At the end of each day, each student e-mails me a reflective log, and I read it and e-mail back my comments so that we can engage electronically in a conversation throughout the week. This was one of the weeks that those students were out in the local schools, so I had those e-mails to read and respond to each night, each set taking several hours.

At the same time, I had my regular duties of teaching courses, supervising my assigned pre-service teachers (student-teachers) in area schools, advising students, and attending meetings for the various committees upon which I serve. One set of meetings--a new obligation this semester--is both a blessing and a curse. Our department has the opportunity to participate in an exciting grant-funded initiative, but it has required many hours of research and planning by all of us in the department--and these meetings have been squeezed into our already busy weekly schedules (including an evening meeting with area teachers and administrators on Tuesday).

This is how things played out for me this past week:
  • Sunday: read portfolios from 3:30 P.M. to midnight (with an hour break for supper)
  • Monday: prep for my classes and reply to my students' daily reflective e-mails from 9:oo P.M. to 4:00 A.M. Tuesday
  • Tuesday: in addition to the hours above: reply to my students' daily e-mails from 7:30 P.M. to midnight
  • Wednesday: reply to my students' daily e-mails from 5:30 to 7:00 A.M. and again from 7:00 P.M. to 4:45 A.M. Thursday
  • Thursday: in addition to the hours above: after Abigail's music program (remember?), work for an hour and then pass out
  • Friday: reply to my students' daily e-mails from 3:00 to 7:00 A.M. and then spend all day driving around the region to visit students teaching in outlying schools: South Heart, New England, Richardton, and Killdeer
  • Saturday: reply to my students' daily e-mails, grade tests, and prep for my classes from 5:00 A.M. to 12:45 A.M. Sunday
  • Sunday: in addition to the 45 minutes above: grade students' assignments and prep for my classes from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

I had so much to do that I skipped church this morning; and Susan agreed to prepare Scandinavian Saturday supper on her own while I worked yesterday. Here's what she made last night (very delicious, btw):

  • ertesuppe ["split pea soup" using a ham bone from a ham that she baked the other night]
  • smørbrød ["open-faced sandwiches" using fresh bread that she baked and then spread with an egg salad to which she added cubed ham and cucumbers]
  • eple melboller ["apple dumplings" drizzled in a powdered sugar/apple juice glaze and served with Schwan's vanilla ice cream]

So thank you, Family, for your patience and accommodation during these crazy weeks of the semester. The girls see me sitting at the computer when they go to bed and again when they wake up, and they ask if I even went to bed at all . . . and sometimes the answer is "no." My body isn't in love with my too-few hours of sleep or with my irregular schedule of when I get to sleep and when I wake up, but so far it has kept me healthy despite it all. Here's hoping for a return to (relative) sanity for a while--at least until the next week that all my students go back to teach in their assigned schools . . .

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Movin' in the Right Direction

Tonight was Abigail's music program at school. You might wonder about the program's theme when you see its title (seen on the back wall of the gymnasium in the photo above): a music program about using GPS instruments? about cartography and transportation? about joining the Republican Party? "No" to all of those; it was about kids' developing good character traits as they grow older:

"Movin' in the Right Direction! is a vibrant and contemporary 20-minute program designed to help build character and integrity in . . . young singers. Teachers, students, and parents will enjoy the lessons that can be learned through this presentation. The texts reinforce positive concepts and goals" (citation).

We did not know what to expect before arriving for the program. Abigail had withheld all details about it--including the little detail that she had several featured moments in it! After the program, her music teacher came up to us to ask if we were surprised, so even she knew that Abigail had been keeping us in the dark so that we would be amazed when we saw Abigail holding up a sign during one number and speaking lines between two songs and singing harmony in a duet with a classmate during another song! Afterward, Abigail told us that it had been so difficult to keep quiet about everything--that she had had to practice her harmony quietly in her bedroom with the door closed so that we wouldn't know what she was doing. I don't know why she wanted it all to be a secret, but she was certainly dedicated in that regard; and it was very fun to be pleasantly surprised each time she got up to do something during the program.

Abigail had her eye on Susan and me the whole time, intent on seeing whether we were noticing all her featured spots in the program. She even (in violation of everything she has learned about professional stage behavior, mind you) "broke character" to make direct eye contact with us from time to time, raising her eyebrows and jerking her head toward our cameras as though to ask, "Are you capturing this?" Sadly, the batteries in our camcorder died just before Abigail stepped to the microphone for her featured duet, so I can't share with you, Faithful Reader, what Abigail sounded like singing harmony to her partner's melody--but it really was good: clear, strong, in tune, musical, and such a treat for her parents to hear! I was bursting with pride, and my eyes were watering like Pa Ingalls' on Little House on the Prairie.

I will share this highlight with you, though. This is an excerpt from "Step by Step," the song in which Abigail sang the (unrecorded) harmony. Just watch her enthusiasm and commitment when performing the choreography:

Monday, October 05, 2009

Cute Nephews (Plural)

Our newest nephew, Davis, continues to be cute (no surprise). Here are some samples of his seven-month-old cuteness:

This is from his cuteness-on-a-couch series.

Here, Davis demonstrates that he can be cute on the floor, too.

Davis has a keen interest in literature.

He also enjoys the outdoors.

Because Davis is a baby, he seems to get all the cute-nephew-attention around this-here blog. But we've got three other nephews who, despite being years away from babyhood, have maintained their own cuteness (come on, gentlemen, don't blush--own it!) into adulthood.

My sister Sandy's stepson Aaron, who just turned 22 this month.

My sister Sandy's stepson Ryan, turning 21 next month.

Susan's brother Jerrett's stepson Arron, who just turned 18 this month and will graduate from high school in the spring.

Fine-lookin' group, huh?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Norske Stew

It was a pretty quiet house for most of the day. Susan and the girls went to Badlands Ministries south of Medora for its Fall Family Day . . . and left me behind! Some family event, huh? No, really, that was at my request so that I could catch up on some work. While they were painting pumpkins and roasting hot dogs and singing songs and having a worship service, I was at the computer and then at the grocery store and then at the stove. Yes, it was time for another Scandinavian Saturday, and today I was on my own in the kitchen.

It has been cold and windy and rainy the last several days, and today was chilly and overcast. I decided it was a good day for lapskaus ["stew"]. We had lapskaus at Norwegian camp this past summer (remember?), so I recalled generally what should go into it. I also found several recipes online and in a Scandinavian cookbook that I have. I took the best from each and made up my own recipe! When the ladies returned home, they reported that the smell in the house was heavenly--and I must admit: it did smell good. Here's what I served for supper:

It's always a Scandinavian touch to serve fish, so here in the bowl is shrimp-'n'-crab salad sprinkled with Danish bleu cheese. We ate it as an appetizer on celery sticks and rye knekkebrød ["crispbread" or hardtack]. And those are my mom's dill pickles in the bowl on the plate.

The lapskaus was an enormous hit. I fried pepper-bacon and onions to which I added chicken, pork, more onions, leeks, garlic, celery, carrots, rutabaga, and potatoes. I added seasonings and fresh thyme and bay leaves and turkey stock and then let it sit on the burner for a long time to stew. It's safe to say that I made enough to have plenty for leftovers; I filled a 1.5-gallon container with what remained after we gobbled up our supper portions! But it's so good that I'm already looking forward to having it again for dinner tomorrow.

For dessert I sliced some fresh strawberries and macerated them in sugar and kirschwasser (a German cherry brandy). I whipped some cream with sugar and vanilla extract and served slices of angel food cake covered in the fluffy whipped cream over which we spooned the strawberries. It was my version of bløtkake ["cream cake"], which really should have several layers with whipped cream and fruit between them . . . and then over the whole thing. But this was a delicious substitute nevertheless.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Week of Fun Events

I was invited to a taste-testing at noon. The university president's wife is hosting an event tomorrow before the Homecoming football game, and she invited me to taste all the food that she's considering serving and provide feedback so that she can finalize her menu. Well, not only me, of course; she invited about a dozen of us, some faculty and some staff. What a great idea for establishing goodwill and enouraging interaction . . . and treating us with some great food! Dining Services prepared all the food using the first lady's recipes, and she provided us with folders containing all the recipes featured on the menu. We ate, wrote down our feedback, and left with plastic-wrap-covered plates of leftovers!

I attended a banquet honoring this year's Alumni Fellows, distinguished alumni chosen from each department to return to campus during Homecoming and be honored for their accomplishments after graduating from our university. Our department's alumna spoke to one of my classes yesterday morning, and she gave an eloquent acceptance speech at last night's banquet. The alumna from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science happens to be a woman who used to teach at the high school that I attended! Her husband (himself a DSU grad) got a job at our school and taught me geometry and computer programming. After they got married, she got hired at our school, too. In the years since, they have moved on to another district where he has become the superintendent, and she has distinguished herself in educational technology. It was a fun blast from the past to see them again and visit briefly. (And the food was delicious: salad with a teriyaki/mandarin orange dressing, marinated roast pork tenderloin, new potatoes, green beans almondine, and pineapple cake for dessert.)

Our family attended an absolutely phenomenal concert. We have tickets to the Dickinson Area Concert Association's series again this year (it has been a wonderful annual investment that's worth far more than what the tickets cost--incredible!), and tonight's concert was a performance by Stringfever, a "genetically modified" quartet of players of "violectric" instruments. They're genetically modified in that they are three brothers and a cousin. And the instruments are electric violins and cellos--much like electric guitars--made by Violectra. I had never seen or heard of such a thing: instead of solid bodies, the instruments consisted of strings over the plastic?/metal? outline of a tradition violin/cello shape! And they achieved sounds both traditional and funkadelic, making some songs sound like rock concerts and others like classical concerts.

They were talented and technically adept with their instruments, and they were also funny and fun to watch. And the highlight of the night was when they asked for volunteers from the audience who would be willing to come up on stage and help them with a certain song. Abigail turned to me immediately to ask permission to raise her hand, and both she and Hillary had their arms raised so quickly that I think I heard them slicing through the air!

And guess what. The two of them were selected to join Stringfever on stage! The song was a demonstration of how all four musicians could play one song using the same instrument: the cello. They gave Abigail and Hillary each one of the violins, showed them how to hold them, and instructed them to pluck a particular string on cue. Then the men played the song beautifully but comedically, making much ado of intertwining their arms, trading bows, taking over one another's parts, etc.

Hillary and Abigail waited patiently throughout the song, their violins in position and their fingers on the correct string, tapping their feet and keeping an eye out for the cue to play. A few measures before the song's end, the two men who had shown the girls what to do leapt away from the cello, crouched in front of the girls, and finally give them the go-ahead. Their simultaneous string plucks produced the note that ended the song! That in itself (i.e., all that waiting for just one note) added to the humor of the song, but it was thrilling for the girls to be on stage; and they hugged me so hard when they sat back down that I knew they were absolutely delighted. They got many compliments by other patrons after the concert; and in addition to autographing the girls' programs, the musicians gave them key chains and a magnet with "Stringfever" on them. Even Suzanna--as sister of the volunteers--received that treat afterwards!

I highly advise you to give yourself a treat and watch some of Stringfever's videos from their Web site. Those excerpts will give you a sense of what we enjoyed tonight. It was a great end to a busy, stressful week.