Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Significant Birthday for Kevin

Okay, today's my birthday, and I'm now as old as Susan, and it's a "significant" age . . . let's not dwell on that.  (Besides, I've already written about it here.)  Instead, let's dwell on all the wonderful things that Susan planned for today to celebrate my birthday.  It was a terrific day!

The day began with a wonderful breakfast: French toast made from cinnamon bread, boysenberry syrup and real maple syrup, bacon, scrambled eggs with peppers and bleu cheese, yogurt topped with fresh peaches and homemade granola, fruit juice, and cappuccino.

Then I opened my gifts, which turned out to be an excellent collection of Scandinavian items: the book Norwegian National Recipes (for my weekly Scandinavian Saturday suppers), a bottle of Geir cologne (a wonderful scent that we first discovered at the Norway Pavilion while at Disney World for our honeymoon), a Norwegian flag silk tie, and a sterling silver tie clip designed after Nordic jewelry from 300-1000 A.D.  Awesome!!

Susan had planned a series of surprises for the afternoon and evening, the first of which required that we drive to Mandan.

We parked below the depot for the Fort Lincoln Trolley Company so that we could take "a scenic rail excursion from Mandan to Ft. Abraham Lincoln State Park."  The trolley travels on abandoned railroad tracks alongside the Heart and Missouri Rivers until it reaches the state park.  It's an open-air trolley, making for a refreshingly breezy ride with unobstructed views of the surroundings.

Once we'd arrived at Fort Abraham Lincoln, we walked around the grounds, checked out the commissary, and got a guided tour of Gen. George Custer's house (above).

The tour guide asked if anyone played piano and then asked if I'd like to try out the general's piano.  I played a few bars of the sheet music already on the piano, and we all heard how out-of-tune the instrument was!  The tour guide let us know that that was because the Custers had no piano tuner nearby, so they enlisted the company blacksmith to do the job (badly).

The tour guide was excellent, sharing details about each room, its furnishings, and their relation to the lifestyles and events of the time period.  Here is Gen. Custer's desk in the office just off the entryway.  (The tour guide also was a gentleman, offering his arm to Hillary before they led the rest of us down the stairs from the second story.  Hillary was impressed.)

Then we took a self-guided tour of the central barracks across the way from the general's house.  There was a stark contrast between the living quarters for the general and those of his troops!

Then we walked north a ways to On-a-Slant Village, a reproduction of a Mandan Tribe settlement.  We got a guided tour and learned a lot about the lifestyle and culture of the Mandan people.

The guide told us that this structure, outside one of the earthlodges, was used as a place to dry meat and hides after a hunt or fruits and vegetables for the winter.

The Mandan men erected the large cottonwood poles that served as the central support of the lodge, but then the women completed construction of the home.  Since women did the bulk of the work, they were considered the homeowners!

This is a painted elk skin hanging on a wall in the center of the lodge.  In front of the wall is the fire pit; leaning against the wall are two "lazy backs" (where elders or guests of honor were allowed to sit; all others were expected to sit cross-legged with an upright posture at various spots on the floor); and on the opposite side of the wall is the lodge's entrance.

These poles stand outside the central earthlodge that served as a "community center" for the village.  These were intended to ward off evil spirits.

The village was protected on one side by a river, on another by a large hill, on another by a tall fence built by the Mandan, and on another by a deep ravine that the Mandan kept cleared of brush in order to see on-comers.  That ravine now has tall trees growing in it, and this bridge allows tourists to cross it into the village.  Here are the ladies posing above the ravine.

Looking northeast from the trolley on the return trip north to our vehicle after an afternoon at the state park.

Once back in our vehicle, Susan directed me to drive to a certain address.  It turned out to be the location of The Bistro, where she had made supper reservations for us.  The building is beautiful inside and out, and the menu is unusual and enticing.  I chose sautéed ostrich!  (No, it doesn't taste like chicken.  It's more of a cross between beef and venison.)  Suzanna and Abigail chose pizzas from the children's menu, and they were invited to sit at the bar to put the toppings on themselves.  Afterward the server treated this birthday boy to a slice of chocolate tart in a sabayon made with champagne.  A terrific meal!

(Compare this to the previous photo.  We don't plan these poses; they're just automatic!)  After supper, Susan gave me driving directions to our next destination: the Port of Bismarck, where we boarded the Lewis and Clark Riverboat for a sunset cruise of the Missouri River!  (We're on the boat in this photo.)

Here's the riverboat.  We sat under the canopy on the upper deck and had terrific views and fresh air for the entire 1.5-hour cruise.  After a hot day, it was so relaxing just to sit and feel the cool breeze and take in the sights and peaceful sounds of an evening on the Missouri River.

It was fairly light out at the start of the cruise . . .

. . . and pretty dark out by the cruise's end.

I feel completely spoiled to have had a great birthday party last week and then today's bounty of gifts and surprises.  I must be loved--which is good because I certainly love my family.  Thanks for an absolutely amazing birthday!


  1. It was fun to play tourist in Bismarck -- and to celebrate YOU. I love you, and I'm glad you enjoyed your birthday celebration.

  2. Wow....fun day! It's about time that you were surprised for a change! Love you little brother!