Monday, May 31, 2010

Graveyard Tourism

In honor of Memorial Day, we like to visit the cemeteries where our relatives are buried. We admire the flowers and the decorated headstones, we say a few words to honor our loved ones, and we tell stories about them to our daughters to give the girls an idea of the kind of people that their grandmothers or great-grandparents, -aunts, -uncles, etc., were. As Suzanna pointed out yesterday, talking about our deceased relatives helps to keep them alive in our hearts and minds and lets the girls get to know people whom they don't remember well or whom they never even met.

Susan's mom and grandparents are buried in cemeteries in town and nearby, but visiting my relatives' graves involves a trip to northwest ND. It's an opportunity to visit my (living) dad and stepmom along the way, and we often have other mini-adventures, driving by sites of interest from my childhood or stopping at tourist destinations or restaurants that we've never been to before. There are four cemeteries that we usually visit, each just a few minutes' drive away from the next. When we arrive at one, we pile out of the vehicle with our cameras, swat at mosquitoes or tighten our coats against the wind or rain or relax in the warmth of the sun (depending on the weather), and start wandering.

It may sound odd to spend time in graveyards; but really it's a beautiful enterprise to journey through the picturesque countryside to each cemetery, tour the plots, trace our relatives' names on their tombstones, talk to and about them, answer the girls' questions about them, breathe in the fresh air, and take in the beautiful vistas of the surrounding fields and valleys and creeks and tree groves, all beneath the expansive blue sky. It's good for the soul and a fitting way to spend Memorial Day.

Here are Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary with my stepmom Beverly and my dad. Beverly recently had back surgery (and is recovering nicely), so we brought them dinner: fried chicken, fresh fruit, potato chips, and cabbage salad and rhubarb cordial from Saturday night.

When we saw Dad and Beverly last weekend, we gave Beverly a Mother's Day gift: some Hardanger needlework that Susan created. Susan was advised by her fellow Hardanger embroiderers to take photos of all her work--especially any needlework that she gives away--so Susan took advantage of the opportunity to do that today.

The morning was beautiful as we drove to Dad and Beverly's, but it was rainy and cool outside by mid-afternoon when we left their home and headed north to the cemeteries. Here I am doing what Susan and I spent the afternoon doing: taking photos. (We have wa-a-a-a-ay more photographs from today than I am sharing with you in this post, by the way!)

These are my maternal grandparents. I never met this grandfather, but Grandma Roloff was a warm, quiet, gentle woman who lived just a few miles away from us when I was a child, visited us frequently, and even stayed with us a few times (while recovering from illness or to babysit while our parents were away).

These are my paternal grandparents. Their home was only a half-mile away--just a quick bicycle ride down the road--so I spent a lot of time with them when I was growing up, helping in their garden, eating meals or snacks with them, playing card games with them, spending summer evenings with them in lawn chairs out on the driveway, etc. They were not quiet like Grandma Roloff, but they were just as loving.

My mom died just a few months before Hillary was born, so she regrets never having met Grandma, and the other two girls wish they could remember Grandma. My mom loved being a grandmother for the short time that she was one. The girls are lucky to have my stepmom as their grandma now; but, just the same, it's sad to think of what might have been had Mom not died so young and had instead gotten to experience being a grandmother to all three of our daughters.

My sisters and I take turns each year buying flowers for Mom's grave. This year it was Sandy's turn. Isn't this a beautiful bouquet?

On the way home from Mom's cemetery, we drove a route that took us through Stanley, ND, where we ate supper at Frostee Treat, a Dairy Queen-type restaurant at which one steps up to the counter to order ice cream treats or food made on the grill. The burgers were so delicious, as were the waffle-cut fries. We didn't have room for dessert, or else I would have tried a sundae with their homemade rhubarb sauce for a topping.

To get home, we drove south from Stanley and then west into New Town, a route that let us see even more of Lake Sakakawea than we usually do when entering New Town from the north (our usual drive home from visiting Dad). The way the evening sunlight hit the lake and cast shadows on the surrounding landscape was just lovely. The blue of the water matched that of the sky, which featured interesting patterns drawn in the clouds. There is such variety and beauty in the terrain in western ND, and what makes it beautiful changes with every season. It was a nice drive (despite the many deer hoping to commit suicide by leaping in front of us from the ditches along the way, thwarted only by my keen eye and responsive foot on the brake pedal).

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Graduates and Graves

Today was graduation day for the local high schools. As a teacher at one of them, Susan attended its graduation ceremony in the afternoon. Our next-door neighbor Connor graduated from that school, so we went to his open house afterward and enjoyed delicious cake and watched a great video slideshow of photos of him, his family, and his friends throughout the years. We've known him for only four years, so it was interesting to see pictures of him as a little tyke. His younger sister is between Hillary and Abigail in age, so Connor is good with kids and has always been nice to our daughters (and whenever he sees Hillary, he says, "How's it going, Buddy?").

Connor with Abigail, Hillary ("Buddy"), and Suzanna

Later in the afternoon, Susan's cousin Robbie graduated from the parochial high school, and we went to his open house afterward. His parents just completed a remodeling project at their house, and the new kitchen and sunroom look great. Also, his mom laid out an impressive spread of food for everybody to eat; there was about ten times more food than needed, and that's exactly the approach that I'm used to from my upbringing--providing a huge feast for family get-togethers in the home (e.g., confirmations, graduations, birthday or anniversary parties, etc.). It was great to eat all the wonderful food and visit with relatives and play with all the little kids running around the house and yard.

Robbie with Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna

Robbie with his proud parents, Terry (Susan's mom's brother) and Audrey

Terry and Audrey with their family: daughter Christie (behind Terry) and sons Brian (in the white), Michael (in the green), and Robbie (in the black). Christy and her husband Cody (behind Michael) have two kids: Matthew (behind Audrey) and Kate (in Christy's arms). Michael and his wife Lindsey (holding Matthew) have two kids: Cadence (in Michael's arms) and Madison (in Audrey's arms). Got that?!

We have planned a trip to the Tioga/McGregor/Battleview, ND area tomorrow to visit family members' graves for Memorial Day. Since we won't be here tomorrow, we made an early Memorial Day visit today to some of Susan's family members' graves here in town.

Abigail, Susan, Hillary, and Suzanna at the grave of Susan's mom Sue, who died 11 years ago. It wasn't easy for Susan to place flowers on her mom's grave and then go to a gathering of her mom's siblings and their extended family, imagining what it would be like to have her mom there.

Susan's maternal grandparents are buried in the same cemetery, so we visited their grave, too, and Susan shared fond memories of them (and of her mom) with the girls as we walked around and admired the pretty headstones and flowers. As Suzanna pointed out, cemeteries aren't really for the dead; they are for the living so that we can remember our departed loved ones, pay our respects, and recall stories about them to keep them "alive" in our minds and hearts. Wise young girl.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dessert Courtesy of Rabarbra Bush

(. . . the rabarbra bushes in our back yard, that is--which actually are plants, not bushes; but I'm trying very hard to be clever with my title, so just work with me, people!)

Faithful readers will recall that, for various reasons, it has been several weeks since I last prepared a Scandinavian Saturday supper for the family. (Forewarning: June is going to be another such month.) But today we were home, so tonight I took over the kitchen again, this time with Abigail as my trusty assistant. Actually, we began preparations last night after returning from Mandan; I put together the menu and sent Abigail to the back yard to cut some fresh rhubarb (with her mom's assistance) while I finished the grocery list. Then we made a late-night run to the grocery store. Afterward I sent Abigail to bed, but I stayed up late preparing the rhubarb for two of this evening's recipes (from Trina Hahnemann). Read on for more details:

Agurksalat ["cucumber salad"], kål med dill og erter ["cabbage with dill and peas"], and laks burgere ["salmon burgers"] with a good view of the cabbage dish . . .

. . . with a good view of the sandwich . . .

. . . and with a good view of the cucumbers.

For the agurksalat, Abigail boiled vinegar and sugar while I sliced a cucumber and the stems of a bunch of dill. We mixed it all together, seasoned it with salt and white pepper, and let it spend most of the afternoon in the refrigerator. The result? Dill pickles that were a mix of sweet and savory with a definite kick (the can't-see-it-so-I'm-not-expecting-it white pepper and the tangy vinegar).

For the kål med dill og erter, I cut half a cabbage into thin strips and mixed in a bunch of roughly chopped dill weed and some peas. I tossed it with a dressing made from the juice of a lemon, honey, vegetable oil, and salt and pepper. What a great combination! The dressing was light and mild, making it easy to taste the dill and emphasizing the freshness of the peas and the crunchy cabbage.

For the laks burgere, I sliced a loaf of thin focaccia (made "everything"-style with a variety of seasonings baked into the top) into five portions, and Abigail got them ready. First she made a dressing of mayonnaise, minced chives, sour cream, and lemon juice, smearing it on the bread. Then she topped each focaccia bottom with a large portion of organic mixed greens and herbs, a handful of fresh chives, and slices of tomato. Meanwhile, I finely chopped a pound of fresh salmon and a half-pound of smoked salmon and added chopped scallion, chopped-up capers, egg, seasoned bread crumbs, and black pepper. I formed oblong patties to fit the focaccia slices and fried the burgers in olive oil until they had a nice crust on the outside and were cooked through. Ab! Solutely! De! Licious!

rabarbra drikke ["rhubarb cordial"]

Two of tonight's recipes called for rhubarb, so last night Susan and Abigail cut down six or seven pounds of rhubarb from the plants in our back yard; and after everyone went to bed, I washed it all and chopped and refrigerated one or two pounds of it for later use. I chopped four pounds of it into two-inch pieces and boiled them in water for a half-hour. I strained it through cheesecloth, added sugar to the cooking liquid, and boiled it again. The result was a light pink simple syrup with a subtle rhubarb flavor. Abigail and I served rhubarb cordials along with supper, pouring the syrup over ice and adding a lemon/lime-flavored carbonated beverage. It was very refreshing! (The recipe made lots of simple syrup, so Susan and I may try it mixed with champagne or with vodka and sparkling water.)

rabarbra bagatell ["rhubarb trifle"]

Last night I cut the remaining rhubarb into bite-sized pieces, tossed them in sugar, baked them, and then refrigerated them until this evening. To prepare the dessert tonight, Abigail beat together egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract while I whipped plain heavy cream, which we then folded into the egg mixture. In each glass, we layered the trifle in this order: cream, crushed macaroons, rhubarb, cream, macaroons, rhubarb, and cream. It was such a tasty dessert. The cream was only slightly sweet, so it balanced the sugared rhubarb nicely. The macaroons added not only crunch but also the flavor of coconut. I have macaroons left over and extra rhubarb in the fridge--pretty sure no one would argue if I made another batch of this trifle!

Friday, May 28, 2010

University-Days Friend and University-Bound Nephew

We had three important reasons to go to Bismarck and Mandan, ND today:
  1. shop for summer clothes for Abigail and Suzanna (Hillary has plenty, inherited from her older sisters),

  2. visit our friend Travis, and

  3. attend an open house for our nephew Arron, who is graduating from high school on Sunday.

Travis, his wife Sedie, and their son Vladimir live in MA, but Travis and Vlad are currently spending several weeks in ND visiting his family outside Mandan, where Travis grew up. We met during our university days when we were in plays together. We also have directed each other in plays, and Travis acted with me in a serial theatre production that I co-wrote; he played Ole Bubke, the husband to my character Peggy Bubka-Bubke (which must sound especially odd to anyone who never saw Blood Red River!).

Now Travis is a professor and screenwriter, and he's getting in some peaceful writing time in ND while his son enjoys the attention of his doting grandparents and the freedom to play with all the animals in the wide-open space and the fresh air. We arranged to meet Travis and Vlad today for dinner at Carino's Italian. With our delicious food, we enjoyed easy conversation, hearing stories about Travis and Sedie's jobs, their new home, their adventures with Vlad . . . just generally catching up. Sedie will come to ND later this summer, so we plan to meet up again and see her, too, before they all return to MA.

Vlad and his daddy, Travis

It took Vlad awhile to "warm up" to us strangers, but after eating, he and the girls played together outside while waiting for the adults to finish visiting. Here he is with (from top to bottom) Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary.

As we waited for our table, the ladies posed for some photos. Do you see a family resemblance?!

We did more shopping in the afternoon and then headed to the home of Arron, the stepson of Susan's brother Jerrett. Arron's mom Cheryl held an open house for Arron today, freeing him to attend his classmates' open houses after the graduation ceremony on Sunday. They had the garage set up with tables and chairs and a buffet with tons of food and beverages. The temperature was in the 90s, but the east-facing garage provided shade on the driveway, and there was a nice breeze, making it a fine day for this event.

It had been awhile since we had all seen each other, so we parents made several "Oh my, how they've grown!" comments about the children, sounding thoroughly like grownups. Cheryl had a special table set up with memorabilia and scrapbooks and photos of Arron from throughout his childhood, and perusing those items made it all the clearer just how much he has changed in the years that we've known him--he's a young man now! And, of course, we have photos for proof:

Arron with his proud aunt and uncle.

Arron and Cheryl with his cousins/her nieces: Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna

Congratulations on your upcoming graduation, Arron, and best wishes for the start of your university years in the fall!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bevy of Beauties Among the Bison

We just got back from a day trip to Jamestown, ND to visit our friend Karen!

We met her during our university days when we took classes together and were in plays together. We stayed in contact when she moved to Jamestown to accept a teaching job, visiting her there a few times and doing summer theatre with her during that time. After she moved to MA to work in arts administration, we visited her once and saw the sights in Boston, Concord, Lincoln, and Salem. When she would return to ND to spend holidays with her family, she would often stop by our house for a visit, and she gave Suzanna and Abigail, as babies, pink blankets that they still have to this day.

Those visits fell off in later years, and she never did meet Hillary in person . . . until today! Karen moved back to ND this past winter, so I contacted her recently to see when would be a good time for the Mobergs to journey to Jamestown for a visit. We decided on today, and I told the girls that we were going to see "Auntie Karen." They said, "Okay" . . . and then Hillary asked, "And who is Auntie Karen?" Ha! Well, all the girls definitely know her after today--and love her just as Susan and I do!

After hugs and introductions (e.g., "Hillary, this is Auntie Karen!"), we got a tour of Karen's very lovely house, and we ooh-ed and aah-ed at her great furniture pieces and art work. Jamestown is known as "The Buffalo City" and has the National Buffalo Museum featuring an enormous bison sculpture and a herd of live bison that includes an extremely rare albino bison named White Cloud. Well, Karen had three stuffed animal versions of White Cloud waiting on her dining room table, each one wearing a bison-themed necklace and sporting a tag with an initial to match one of the girls' names. Isn't she thoughtful?! The girls loved their gifts and enjoyed coming up with names for their bison.

Abigail, Karen, Hillary, and Suzanna pose with the herd of albino bison.

Karen was my co-pilot as we drove around town to see points of interest, including Jamestown College, where she now works. The campus is lovely in the spring with oodles of lilac trees in bloom everywhere. She even took us inside the building that houses her office, so now we have a mental frame of reference when we think of her at work.

Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary commandeer Karen's chair as she poses with them behind her desk. This is her office: where the magic happens.

Three long-time friends reunited at last!

Then we drove to Frontier Village on a hilltop overlooking the city so that we could see the view and pose for photos with "The World's Largest Buffalo," a gigantic cement sculpture of a bison. Surrounding it is a collection of historic buildings and the museum itself, but we arrived with only enough time to pose beneath the sculpture--but that's okay: I just wanted to be able to say that, yes, I have now seen it.

The girls took a moment to pose for a photo en route to the bison sculpture.

Um, this sign says that Jamestown itself is the world's largest buffalo. Am I being too literal?

At last: the famous bison sculpture with a herd of Mobergs beneath it. Christmas card photo, perhaps?

We continued with a driving tour past some pretty churches and other buildings and beside the lovely Jamestown Reservoir before going to the IDK Bar and Grill for supper (delicious) and the Polar King for dessert (tasty ice cream treats).

What the sign does not advertise is the collection of stuffed teddy bears hanging from the ceiling above the dining tables inside. It's surreal and more than a little bit creepy . . . like a gallows for children's toys. Who wants to eat while seated underneath that? We kept our minds off the executed bears by mentally editing the grammatical errors on all the signs posted throughout the place.

Afterward we spent some time relaxing in Karen's expansive back yard--beautifully landscaped with plants around the house, full bushes around the border, and large shade trees. Well, the adults relaxed while the children ran off some of the calories from supper. They "put on a show" for us, running off to the side of the house to plan a stunt before returning to perform a gymnastic trick followed by a you-can-applaud-for-us-now bow and then another trip out of sight to plan the next stunt. They were goofy and amusing, and it was a lovely evening for spending time out on Karen's patio visiting with her between "acts" of the girls' performance.

Susan enjoys the girls' entertainment. Don'tcha just love Karen's patio furniture?

While the girls performed, I was left to bison-sit. Seeing me holding the miniature White Cloud reminded Karen of me holding Miss Eva about 17 years ago . . . and that's all I'm saying about that.

The girls pose spontaneously whenever a camera is in their presence. From top to bottom, this totem consists of Suzanna, Abigail, and Hillary.

Karen had made a pan of moon cake and treated us to servings of that upon our arrival; and upon our departure, she handed us a plate of chocolate chip cookies that she had made. So nice! We enjoyed spending time with her again, catching up and letting her get to know the girls (and vice versa) a bit. Here's hoping for more frequent visits in upcoming years now that she's just a few hours away.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graduation in the Family

Okay, okay, I know: yet another weekend without a Scandinavian Saturday supper prepared by yours truly! Two weekends ago, I made Scandinavian Sunday breakfast instead; and last weekend, I made Scandinavian meatballs on Saturday that we ate as part of a Scandinavian potluck supper on Sunday. Although not technically Saturday evening meals featuring Nordic dishes created by moi, those culinary events qualify in spirit, at least.

In a similar way, tonight should "count," too. We drove to McGregor, ND to attend an open house for my cousin's daughter, Paige, who is graduating from high school tomorrow. We stopped by my dad and stepmom's home in Tioga first to visit, and then we followed them out to Paige's farm and enjoyed a delicious meal cooked by Norwegian-Americans . . . which is why I'm "counting" that food for this week's Scandinavian Saturday supper!

Some of my readers will immediately understand how deliciously moist this cake was and how rich and wonderful the frosting was as soon as I mention that it was baked and decorated by a Wolla. (Sandy and Cathy, you know what I'm talking about, right?)

We got to visit with several relatives and neighbors near whom I grew up and/or with whom I went to school. I hadn't been to Paige's dad and stepmom's house for many years, so it was fun to see the remodeling and redecorating that they have done. Paige's dad, my cousin Darren, had a significant divisible-by-ten birthday last month, and for that occasion, his wife bought him a fun and zany gift: a Dodge Charger tricked out to resemble the General Lee, the car driven by the main characters in the '80s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard. Its horn even plays the same bars from "Dixie" as those played by the car on the TV show! Darren gave the kids rides in his car, which was a big hit. Our daughters also enjoyed meeting and playing with the other little kids who were there; Susan and I didn't see much of our kids until it was time for us to leave because they were so busy playing outside with their new friends.

Dad visits with Paige, his great-niece (and my first cousin once removed).

This is Dad's brother, my uncle Alden, with his wife Janet.

And here I am with Dad and Alden's sister, my aunt Penny, who is Paige's grandma.

We bid our farewells and then made a quick stop to see the oil wells that have gone up on the land near Dad's farm. There's a lot of oil field activity in that area, as in all of western ND, and it's interesting to see how much the landscape changes from one visit to the next with more and more drilling rigs and pumping units everywhere we look.

P.S. It was just three years ago that we attended the open house for Makenzie, Paige's older sister, when she graduated from high school. Time flies!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Award Winners in Da House

You may recall last year's end-of-the-school-year awards ceremony at the girls' elementary school. A similar event occurred today, and Susan and I were notified in advance by the school that Hillary and Abigail would be receiving awards, in case we wished to attend . . . and so we did. (As a sixth-grader, Suzanna attends a different school, and they don't have this kind of an awards ceremony there.)

I could share photos and video clips with you, Faithful Reader, but they're of poor quality due to our distance from our award-winning daughters. (A new seating arrangement in the gymnasium this year pushed the parents farther away from "the action," and additionally we were seated behind several rows of other parents. Tall parents. With big heads.) But the girls won the President's Award for Educational Excellence and awards for displaying good character, and Abigail "graduated" from fifth grade and was congratulated, handed a certificate, and wished a fond farewell (because, as a sixth-grader, she will move on to the sixth-grade building that Suzanna has gone to all year).

Susan and I were as proud as could be as we watched Hillary and Abigail accept their awards. It was especially fun to watch Abigail as she stood in line with her classmates, waiting for her turn to shake her teacher's hand and receive her "diploma." We weren't too far away for me to see the eagerness on Abigail's face and the excitement in her body language; it looked as though it was taking all the self-control she could muster just to keep from leaping up and down! Congratulations, Abigail, on this momentous occasion; and congratulations, both of you, on your honors.

P.S. Next fall, each of the girls will be the only Moberg in her building. Hillary will "represent" at her grades K-5 school; Abigail will be alone at her grade 6 school; and Suzanna will move to the grades 7-8 school. Transitions!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Potluck, Patriotism, and Piano

Yes, Faithful Reader, I know what you're thinking: Yet another weekend without a Scandinavian Saturday supper! But, like last week, we opted for a Scandinavian Sunday instead. Today we traveled to Richardton, ND for our monthly Sons of Norway lodge meeting, which was followed by a potluck supper at which we knew we'd be getting plenty of Scandinavian food. Yesterday Susan and I prepared the dishes that we brought today to the potluck, so technically we did do some Scandinavian Saturday cooking . . . but we left the actual ethnic culinary experience for today.

Yesterday Susan made a roaster full of scalloped potatoes with ham, and I made a batch of Scandinavian meatballs in gravy that we brought in a crock pot to the American Legion hall in Richardton. There were three tables full of food: cold salads (including a tasty German potato salad), hot dishes, and desserts (including delicious homemade riskrem [rice in whipped cream served today with lingonberries] and vaffel kaker [thick cookies made in a heart-shaped waffle iron]). Before we ate, our family sang a capella the table prayer that we learned at Norwegian camp last summer.

Although for me the highlight of the afternoon was the meal (ha!), it was in fact preceded and followed by other events. First was the business meeting, at the end of which Suzanna sang a solo for the group: "Gjæter-livet" ["Herd Life"], a song about herding the cows, goats, and sheep "when May days are calling" once again. Suzanna has never herded these animals, nor does she get the urge to do so once May rolls around; but we felt it an appropriate song for a lodge meeting held in May.

Then lodge member Paul read aloud some information on the history of Syttende Mai ["May 17th"], Norwegian Constitution Day--the Norwegian national holiday analogous to Independence Day on July 4 in the United States. (Today's potluck was to celebrate Syttende Mai.)

After the meal, we all planned to drive out to the Schnell Recreation Area (just three miles outside of Richardton) to meander the hiking trails, view the wildlife, and enjoy the beautiful weather. Our lodge president had arranged for a gentleman who works at Schnell to join us at the Legion hall beforehand, and he gave a presentation on the types of birds and other wildlife likely to be seen and on some of the history of the area.

However, as everyone else was getting into their vehicles to drive out to Schnell, the Mobergs packed up to head back to Dickinson so that the girls could perform in a piano recital. At the end of each school year, Mrs. Vold (the girls' piano teacher) has all her students perform in a "musicale" (remember last year's?) at which she also presents any awards that they have earned at various piano contests. Although Suzanna and Abigail earned trophies at this spring's piano festival (remember?), Mrs. Vold kept those trophies until now so that she could present them tonight. And she had had the plate on each trophy engraved! So nice.

It was an emotional evening because it was also a goodbye for Mrs. Vold. She and her husband will be moving away, so this was her last recital with her students in Dickinson. She has been an excellent teacher for the girls, and we will miss her and will have a difficult time finding another teacher to replace her. Mrs. Vold focused on proper technique and had the girls learn theory and vocabulary and read about composers and so much more than just having them play a new song each week (well, this is further evidence of her high standards for, and confidence in, the girls). She was trained by excellent professors of music herself, and she took pride in passing along to her own students what she had learned from her esteemed teachers. Thank you for everything, Mrs. Vold; we wish you well.

Here is Hillary with Madeline, her best friend (and our neighbor), who just started taking piano lessons from Mrs. Vold this year.

A goodbye hug from Mrs. Vold for Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Parties and Celebrations

Susan and I went out with a group of friends last night to wish a fond farewell to our friend Steph, who has resigned her position at the university in order to embark on a new career opportunity. Steph is feeling good about this transition, and the mood of the group was upbeat with lots of laughter. Some gentlemen, who were at the establishment for a bachelor party, sat down at our tables for part of the night and started visiting. Quotations from their conversation supplied a good deal of the laughter before we called it a night and left!

Tonight Susan and I attended another gathering of university folk, this one a general "thank God that this semester has ended" party at our friend Holly's apartment. Holly has a deck of playing cards that feature a different cocktail recipe on each card, and she chose three of them to serve her guests tonight--tasty! Everybody brought an appetizer or dessert item to share, too, ranging from a traditional Middle Eastern dish (made by an untraditional Middle Eastern professor) to s'mores (made using a torch supplied, along with the s'mores ingredients, by one of the guests). Holly is a generous hostess who invited entertaining guests, and we had a great time.

In between these parties was the 90th annual commencement ceremony for the university. We faculty wear our academic regalia and march in and out before the students, so I spent this morning on campus. Afterwards I went to the house of one of the graduates, Ryan, for his reception. Ryan was never my student; he and I became friends through his cousin, Chris, who is my friend and a colleague at the university. Not only Ryan but also his parents urged me to come over to their house for sandwiches, salads, punch, and cake and ice cream--and who am I to refuse homemade food?

Incidentally, Ryan and I are featured (photos and biographies) on side-by-side pages of the commencement program! He won an outstanding graduate award, and I was recognized for having won the Innovative Teacher of the Year award (remember?). I'm not sure who wrote the blurb that got published next to my picture, but it's quite flattering! Read it for yourself:

"KEVIN MOBERG, assistant professor of education, received the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award. Moberg has been with the Department of Teacher Education for two years, during which time he has transformed the technology course to truly prepare teachers for the 21st Century classroom. Many educational technology courses show students tools, but Moberg has his students learn by actually using these technological tools, such as PowerSchool, Moodle, IVN technology, and electronic portfolios. Moberg also has introduced his students to the concept of 'teacher as researcher,' requiring that they develop research questions related to their classroom observations, conduct a review of current research, collect data, and make decisions based on this data. This process is rarely done at the undergraduate level. He is truly preparing students to teach 21st Century learners, students who learn differently from those in previous generations. Moberg's students know him as a teacher who is intensely interested in their success and is always available to help. He is recognized by his peers for his ability to draw students into reflective conversation in a personable and approachable manner."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another Transition for Suzanna

On Wednesday nights, the girls have church choir rehearsal. Their two choirs for children (organized by age group) sing regularly for church throughout the school year, and they even performed at a local nursing home last week. Before breaking for the summer, they have a talent show and pizza party at their last Wednesday get-together in May, and the parents are invited to enjoy the talent and eat with their kids. So that's what we did tonight.

It was Suzanna's last time in the children's choir. After sixth grade, if one wishes to continue singing in a choir at church, one joins the adult choir (which she plans to do). The end of sixth grade will mark another transition for her: the end of weekly Sunday school classes* and the beginning of confirmation classes. In fact, after eating our pizza tonight, we joined Suzanna and the other sixth-graders and their parents in the church sanctuary for an informational meeting on confirmation classes, which Suzanna will begin attending this summer. She was a little excited and a little nervous to embark on this new journey, but Susan and I know that Suzanna will do fine. We're just not so sure about ourselves as we have to check off one more item on Suzanna's "growing up" list.

*There are Sunday school classes for junior high school students, too, but they're not so well attended because those students have weekly confirmation classes and mentor group meetings to attend, too. They also occur at the same time as adult choir rehearsals, and the organizer of junior high Sunday school classes herself told us to send Suzanna to choir rehearsal instead! So we will.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day Meals and Miscellany

At our university, the semester ended Friday, and final examinations begin tomorrow. I have had end-of-term projects to grade, exams to write, meetings to attend, and other projects to complete before the semester officially comes to a close. This has caused me to experience some stress! That stress has been compounded by other time-sensitive duties, such as mowing the lawn before it's so long that I need to hay it instead . . . and, of course, planning for Mother's Day.

So there was no Scandinavian Saturday this weekend. I spent part of yesterday at work preparing a final examination, part of the day mowing the lawn and doing yard work, and part of the day shopping for Mother's Day gifts with the girls. There was just no time in there to select a menu, purchase groceries, and prepare several Nordic dishes for an ethnic supper before heading off to the dance performance (remember?). Instead, today was Scandinavian Sunday, and I got up early to make a breakfast that would suit the theme:

The fresh watermelon and the raspberry hot cocoa aren't Scandinavian, but on the large plate are smoked salmon scrambled eggs and a juneberry Danish pastry.

I didn't follow a recipe for the scrambled eggs; I made them more or less as I usually do but added scallions, white cheddar cheese, and smoked salmon for a Scandinavian flair. What a delicious combination!

To make the Danish, I filled puff pastry with a mixture of mascarpone cheese, egg yolk, sugar, flour, and vanilla extract. Then I topped the schmear of cheese with wild juneberry jam. Then I fringed the sides of the puff pastry and folded each strip over a strip from the other side to create a braided effect down the middle. The filling bubbled up through the braid and covered up that design, but it still tasted good. (You can't go wrong with juneberry.)

Susan opened her Mother's Day gifts at the breakfast table: greeting cards, a bouquet of flowers, a "cashmere"-scented candle, and a framed mini-quilt (suitable for hanging on the wall) with this Abraham Lincoln quotation stitched in the cloth: "All that I am or hope to be I owe to my mother." Then we put Mother's Day on hold and rushed off to Sunday school and church. Then we returned to celebrating the holiday by taking Susan out to dinner at El Sombrero, a terrific Mexican restaurant that, once again, did not disappoint. The wait to get in was long (as it was at every restaurant in town today), but the food was delicious; and they even brought Susan a complimentary strawberry margarita in honor of her fruitful womb. Olé!

Then we put Mother's Day on hold again as I rushed off to work to do more grading and write final exams. Then we returned to celebrating the holiday once again when the girls joined forces to make supper for Mommy:

The girls made New England clam chowder and pasta in a light al fredo sauce with seafood and vegetables. For dessert they served strawberry ice cream.

After supper we gathered around a warm TV for some family time, catching up on viewing some of the programs on our DVR. It was a Mother's Day focused on Susan at meal times with breaks for other obligations in between. Still we hope she felt as appreciated today as she is by us each and every day.

Here are the reasons that Susan can celebrate Mother's Day: Abigail (10), Hillary (8), and Suzanna (12)!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

So We Think We Can Judge?

Ever since moving here, we have attended the annual spring performance by Form & Fusion, the university dance company. We enjoy how all the factors come together to make up the "experience" of each number: the eclectic music, the choice of costumes and lights, the choreography, and the mix of dancing abilities (there are a lot of male athletes in the troupe, recruited more for their ability to lift the female dancers than for their own dancing prowess). We're no dance experts, but we've been in and around the performing arts long enough to be able to appreciate what makes a dance good and to enjoy the artistry.

Well, Susan and I had to be more keen as audience members tonight than in past years because we were asked to judge this year's performance. The dance company's artistic director asked me in advance if I would judge; and when we arrived, she handed Susan an extra ballot and asked her, too, to fill one in. We were given these "points to consider when evaluating the dances":
  • Was the music appropriate for the movement?
  • Did the steps reflect the music?
  • Were the patterns on stage interesting?
  • Was there clarity of purpose?
  • Did the costumes enhance the movement?
  • Did the dance keep your attention?

The dances were separated by category (large-group, small-group, and solo), and we were to select one winner in each. I knew that it would be difficult to recall dances from the first part of the program by the time we got to the final numbers of the night, so I jotted notes in the program during each dance. It was still tricky, though, because some dances were so similar in style to previous dances (and thus didn't "stand out" clearly in my mind after they were done) and because my notes were so unscientific (e.g., "ballet-ish to rock beat," "in synch to song," "glittery Wacko-Jacko tap dance," etc.).

The stress of watching in judge-it-but-try-to-enjoy-it-simultaneously mode was coupled with self-doubt at the end of the night when Susan and I compared ballots before turning them in. We had not selected any of the same dances in any of the categories. I'm hoping that the other judges' votes will lead to clear winners for the choreography awards, which are to be given out next week. If were to be called back to judge a "dance off," there's no telling how useless I would be.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Capell-awesome

We have season tickets to the Dickinson Area Concert Association's series of performances by various musicians on national tour, and the final concert of this season was tonight. It was a concert by Home Free, and they were just terrific! You'll get a good sense of their awesomeness by going to their site to listen to their music and view their videos yourself.

We liked their tight and accurate harmonies and rhythms, their outgoing personalities and humor (verbal, physical, and musical), and their contemporaneity (they used a digital projector for various purposes throughout the concert, they collected our e-mail addresses to add to an electronic mailing list, and they stood on stage and took digital photos of the crowd and then posted the pics to their Facebook page). They won us over; afterward we bought all their CDs and got in line for the girls to hug them and get their autographs.

And we're already looking forward to the next season of concerts. Each year that we have been season ticket holders, we have felt that it has been a very good investment, that's for sure.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Guild-ed Age

Faithful readers will recall that our daughters' piano teacher, Mrs. Vold, has them participate in an annual piano performance festival sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs. As children, my sisters and I did the same thing with our own piano teacher, so I was already familiar with how the judging and awards system would work for our daughters.

However, I was not familiar with another program in which some of Mrs. Vold's students participate: annual auditions for the National Guild of Piano Teachers. The organization has a system in place by which a student, with the aid of her teacher, chooses a personal repertoire and then plays her memorized pieces and demonstrates scales and other skills to a professional musician in a one-to-one audition. The judge rates the student's accuracy, continuity, phrasing, pedaling, dynamics, rhythm, tempo, tone, interpretation, style, and technique.

Mrs. Vold felt that Suzanna was ready to begin participating in Guild auditions this year, so Suzanna has been preparing all school year for her own private audition, which occurred today at a local church. For the past several months, Suzanna has practiced 45 to 60 minutes a day, six days a week, memorizing and then perfecting six songs and learning all the scales, chords, cadences, and tonic major and minor triads so that she could respond no matter what the judge might ask her to demonstrate. Here's what Suzanna told me about today's audition:

  • Only Suzanna was allowed in the room with the judge (who traveled here from Washington, by the way)--no teacher, no parents, no observers, etc.
  • "The judge called out what she wanted me to play, and I played it, and she marked things on a report card." On this report card, one wants to get C's, not A's. C = "commendable," and A = "needs attention." Out of 32 areas to be marked on the report card, Suzanna got 31 C's and 1 A.
  • The judge gave Suzanna a "superior plus: top talent" rating, telling her she's ready to play in front of any audience. The judge wrote, "You had such a wonderfully prepared program. Your attention to everything--louds, softs, accents, and phrasing--was super! I loved hearing you play today. Keep up your good practice!"
  • In addition to a report card with that high rating, Suzanna received a pin and a certificate with a blue star.

This is a new experience for our family, so we're still learning how it all works and figuring out what it all means--but by all accounts it seems that Suzanna did really well! We're quite proud of her, as she is of herself, and she's eager to continue next year. Her sisters, too, now know something about this opportunity and will likely wish to participate in Guild auditions when Mrs. Vold feels that each of them is ready.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Lutefisk, I'm Calling It Quits!

The Sons of Norway lodge of which we are members (Hardanger Lodge) held a membership luncheon today that we attended. It's an annual event, and the idea is for current members to invite prospective members to attend the luncheon, learn more about the organization, eat some free food, meet some fun people, and sign up to become members themselves. We invited our friends/neighbors Chuck and Reba to attend; Reba and their daughter had an errand to run, but Chuck and their son Jack came. We had a good time and enjoyed some homemade rosettes and krumkake for dessert (and even got to bring home some leftover rosettes--awesome!).

(The luncheon was held at the Dickinson Public Library in a large community room that is the result of a recent remodeling/expansion project. I haven't been in the building much, but Susan and the girls are regular visitors and gave me a full tour today before we left. There are some terrific architectural features, including original tin ceilings uncovered and restored during the remodeling project. There's a Frank Lloyd Wright "feel" to the furniture, woodwork, and other details throughout the building. It's really a lovely space.)

It was Susan's turn to help with the weekly Scandinavian Saturday supper, and I took advantage of her culinary expertise by selecting a dessert that seemed kinda difficult to make . . . and then assigning it to her. It turned out great; sadly, that's much, much more than I can say about the fish that I selected for the centerpiece of the meal. Read on:

Colorful plate, huh? The beverages are milk and Rosa Regale. That's lefse rolled up at the top of the plate and a dish of melted butter beside it for the lutefisk at the bottom of the plate. To the left is a portion of gulrot salat med persille og pinjekjerner, and to the right is bakt asparges salat.

Here's the platterful of the fish that made us all sad during supper. You may recall my rants and stories about lutefisk ["lye fish"] or my failed experiment last summer during which I tried to cook it on the grill to make it less disgusting than it is when baked or boiled (the traditional means of preparation). I decided to give it another try tonight, this time baking it in the oven as the instructions on the package recommended. I then sprinkled it with allspice, salt, and ground black pepper as recommended by a recipe that I found online.

Well, the baking in the oven allowed the chemically treated fish to stew in its own juices and boil away into a puddle of dissolved fish substance--i.e., the same gelatinous goo that I've encountered at pretty much every lutefisk supper I've ever attended. (Seriously, reread this.) The color and texture on the plate and the texture and flavor in the mouth were unappetizing, to say the least, and the allspice and melted butter didn't do enough to elevate the gustatory experience to an acceptable level. We soldiered on until we had eaten about half of our portions, and then we called it quits, finishing everything else and throwing the remaining lutefisk (and, later, making a large bowl of popcorn to share--a much better use of melted butter).

We love asparagus, so we were likely to enjoy the bakt asparges salat ["baked asparagus salad"] no matter what. We coated the spears in a mixture of olive oil, lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper and baked them until just tender (and still slightly crunchy). It was an interesting variation from the usual steaming, roasting, and grilling recipes that we use for fresh asparagus.

This was a tasty twist on serving carrots, too. The gulrot salat med persille og pinjekjerner ["carrot salad with parsley and pine nuts"] required us to use a vegetable peeler to cut carrots into long, thin ribbons; toast pine nuts on the stove top; and toss them with chopped parsley, olive oil, the juice from a lemon, and salt and pepper. The lemon juice and the crunchiness made this carrot salad a good match for the asparagus salad. (By the way, both vegetable recipes came from a cookbook by Trina Hahnemann.)

Last Saturday Susan and the girls bought homemade lefse [a soft flatbread made from potatoes] at a bake sale sponsored by Hardanger Lodge, so we ate some with supper tonight. It was perfectly made and so delicious spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar (brown or white, according to one's mood). Those fingers are Susan's as she prepares some lefse for a daughter. Notice that the lefse has been rolled out expertly and is so thin that the pattern on our place mat can be seen through it! Lefse aficionados will note, too, the perfect semicircular shape and the color: just enough brown spots from the griddle to prove that it has been cooked without being burnt.

For dessert we enjoyed ingefær kake med kremfløte ["ginger cake with whipped cream"]. I whipped the cream into a sweet, vanilla-y cloud of goodness, and Susan made the rather time- and work-intensive cake recipe. She pulsed flour and crystallized ginger in a food processor until finely chopped. In a separate bowl, she beat together butter and salt and then gradually added dark brown sugar, egg yolks, corn syrup, and the ginger/flour mixture. In yet another bowl, she beat egg whites with salt and then folded them into the batter a little at a time, alternating the whites with more flour.

The cake was cooled enough to remove from the pan by the time we were ready for dessert but still slightly warm. Each slice was soft and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside but crunchy on the outside with a crust that was sugary and chewy, as though ribbons of toffee ran throughout it. The crystallized ginger gave the cake a distinctive flavor that was offset nicely by the whipped cream. And what a pleasant way to end a meal that started so nastily.