The birthday gift | January 25, 2023

It’s my birthday on January 29; and a month or so ago Kyle told me he was busy organizing my gift, “which would be a surprise.”  This was an unnecessary statement, as 100% of my presents from my husband are 100% a surprise.

I know a woman whose husband gives her the exact same present every year: two nights alone at the hotel of her choosing so she can read magazines, catch up on shows, go shopping, and do whatever it is she wants to do in this world without anyone bothering her.  I know another woman who not only sends her husband a link to the gift she wants, if he has too many questions related to the purchase she just goes online and buys it herself.  My husband, on the other hand, spends the 364 days leading up to my birthday listening for things that I like (hint: everything) and things that annoy me (hint: everything), and then either gets me something related to one of those factors or goes totally rogue and picks something out of thin air.  For example, on more than one occasion I’ve been awakened by my sister or my best friend walking in the door after a red-eye flight.  Another time he gave me a t-shirt.  The only commonalities between my birthday gifts is 1) they are always thoughtful, and 2) I never know what’s going to show up.

Here’s a fun fact: I don’t like surprises.  Or, rather, I don’t like being surprised because I’m an ungrateful grump.  So, I’ve had to implement a few rules: If I’m going on a trip, I get to pack for myself.  If I’m participating in an activity or event, I have to have access to a car.  If I’m going to be in a situation where I’m expected to speak intelligently on the musical catalogue of a former-boy-bander-turned-solo-artist, then that boy bander better be Justin Timberlake because I don’t know anyone else.  And if the surprise involves other people, everyone – including Justin Timberlake – needs to be fully briefed on the entire plan.  Beyond that, I’ve learned to just go with the flow because I know whatever it is, I’m gonna like it.

Anyway, when Kyle told me my birthday gift was a surprise and then didn’t offer any other details like, “What’s your understanding of Joey Fatone’s recent activity,” I immediately put it out of my head.

A couple weeks later, Kyle and I were brushing our teeth before bed when he said VERY NONCHALANTLY,

“Oh, hey, I turned on the outlet in the toilet room.”

And so I said,

“What outlet in the toilet room?”

We have a little closet-type thing in our bathroom with just a toilet and a toilet paper dispenser in it.  Kyle pulled me over by my toothbrushing arm and pointed to a plug-in directly below the toilet paper dispenser.  A small light on it glowed green.

“Okay,” I said, a bit confused because I didn’t remember an outlet in the toilet room…but it also wasn’t like I was looking for one because who needs an outlet while you’re on the toilet?

“Has that always been there?”  I asked.

“Yep,” Kyle said.

I went back to brushing my teeth.

“Yeah, so I turned it on,” Kyle said.  “Want to hear something weird?  I had to turn it on in the closet.”

I stopped brushing my teeth.  “You had to turn what on in the closet?”

“The outlet,” he said.  “Weird, right?”

He pulled me over by my formerly-toothbrushing arm to our clothing closet and pointed to the wall.  Another little light glowed green.

“Has THAT always been there?”  I asked.

“Yep,” Kyle said.

I thought about it for a moment.  “But why do we need an outlet by the toilet?”

“For cell phones,” he said.

“Do you think someone is going to be in there long enough to need to plug in a cell phone?”

“And other stuff,” he said.  With that, he immediately set his toothbrush down and walked out into our bedroom.  I looked at the little green light, decided that if Kyle wanted to charge his phone on the toilet who was I to judge, and went back to getting ready for bed.

A few evenings later I was lying on the aforementioned bed with our two sons when Kyle came in and said,

“Don’t come in the bathroom.”

“Why not?”  Our seven-year-old said.

“Because,” he said.  He looked at me with his serious face.  “Don’t come in.”

“Not to worry,” I said.

For the next fifteen minutes, there was a tremendous amount of banging and clanging coming from behind the bathroom door.  At one point, Seven said, “I am going to go downstairs and get a drink of water,” and I said, “For your own safety, I don’t think you should leave the bed.”

Finally, Kyle emerged.

“Do you want your birthday present?”  He asked.

Eleven jumped up.  “IS IT HERE?!”  He shouted, and raced to the bathroom door.  Seven followed on his heels.  I got up a lot more slowly.  At the bathroom door, Kyle handed me a remote control with a complicated number of buttons – one of which read, “Defecation,” which is exactly what you’d expect in a birthday gift from your spouse – and pointed to my fancy new toilet seat.  A heated, air conditioned, spray-nozzled, probably-sentient toilet seat.  It beeped hello.

With that beep, the boys immediately started fighting about who got to use it first.  Kyle shut them down.

“This is mom’s toilet seat,” he said.  “No one else is allowed to use it.  She’s had to share with us for waaaaaay too long.”  He winked, probably to remind me of the multitude of times I’d SAT DOWN on SOMEONE’S PEE in the middle of the night, or the other multitude of times I’d been minding my own business and someone had been rap-rap-rapping at the door because “they needed to use the bathroom and they ONLY wanted to use THIS BATHROOM and not any of the other bathrooms in the house, and also they needed to tell and show me something.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “I love it.”

I’ve now had my toilet seat for a week, although Kyle’s plan to give me something just my own hasn’t really worked out because once my eleven-year-old figured out it squirted water and hot air at your butt he’s had every other eleven-year-old in Grand Forks up there trying it out.  Eleven has currently spent so much time in the toilet room that he’s needed to plug in his cell phone, so I guess the accuracy of Kyle’s statement about “cell phones and other stuff” related to what turned out to be a newly-installed outlet was also a surprise.

The photo above is of me on my toilet seat (pants on).

Students at Eagles Elementary in Fargo delivered cookies and muffins – and shared gladness – to the residents at Touchmark. (Valley News Live) (KVRR)

The hockey community celebrated long-time superfan Al Pearson at the recent UND-Minnesota Duluth game. (Grand Forks Herald)

Fargo has nine new ice and snow sculptures thanks to Jay Ray, Mike Nelson, and Josh Zeis. (KVRR)

Kyle and I both look for articles during the week, and every once in a while we land on the exact same one – like in this case.  My favorite line: “We’re the best band in the history of the world.  If another band wants to be better they just need 323 copies of the DVD.  It isn’t that hard.(Fargo Forum)

Minot’s Abbie Eads is a special guest artist on an upcoming album with the Seattle Guitar Orchestra. (Minot Daily News)

Make life easier.

Sign up for the weekly North Dakota Nice email and get a story and the news delivered to your inbox once a week (and never more than that).

Ye olde puberty | January 17, 2023

My son’s fifth-grade class recently had the Ye Olde Puberty Talk.  As far as I can tell, my eleven-year-old’s takeaway is that they said the proper word for the male anatomy SIX TIMES.

That’s fine.  As we all know, puberty and adulthood do not live in the same neighborhood, let alone the same time zone.  I personally went through puberty at the ye olde age of ten, which was great because my mom and I could have conversations about excess body hair and use my Barbies for illustration.  It was almost a year later that my teacher finally popped that puberty tape into the VCR, and I was dismayed to find out that my early development had meant I missed a very important milestone.

“MOM,” I shouted the second I walked in the door after school.  “The girl in the video got ice cream.  I DIDN’T GET ICE CREAM.”

We went for ice cream.

Despite the fact I had reached my adult height and, uh, other stuff before I entered Junior High, I was very much in the “I’m a big kid now” camp.  I played with dolls.  I watched Saturday Morning Cartoons.  I filled up Strawberry Shortcake coloring books on a regular basis (which I know is now an all-ages thing but the ‘90s were known for cocaine, not coloring).  My bedtime routine was one of two major points of contention for my parents because every night I spent fifteen minutes kissing and saying good night to my stuffies and then required someone to sit in the hallway with the lights on while I fell asleep.

As you can probably guess, they didn’t care about the stuffies (except that every time I acquired a new one it added two minutes to the process), but they really, really cared about sitting in the hallway as their 13-year-old drifted off into Strawberry Shortcake dreamland.

My parents’ second point of contention was that I didn’t hang with my friends outside of school.  Sure, I saw them at activities – I was, after all, the co-manager of the girls’ basketball team, as well as a lackluster ballerina (those two things were both related and not related) – but girls my age were interested in Aquanet and MTV, and I was perfectly happy coming home to choreograph solo dances to my Raffi records.  Besides, I told them, I wasn’t alone; I had my little sister and her friends, and they needed someone to choreograph their dances (and force them to dance to choreographed dances).

Every Friday morning my mother would say to me with the hope-iest of hope:

“Do you think you’ll need a ride to the mall this weekend?  I hear Brittany is going to get her ears pierced.”

And I would say, “Oh, no, all she wants to do is walk around, which is, like, so boring.  I’m going to categorize my Barbie furniture by room and color!”

This tete-a-tete went on well into the fall of eighth grade.  Sure, I had a couple of boyfriends during that time thanks to Brittany, who would broker the relationships with the boyfriends’ friends and then give me the news a few weeks later when we had broken up, having never said a word directly to one another.  And sure, I had started wearing Hypercolor t-shirts and tight-rolled jeans with penny loafers instead of sweatshirts with curly ribbon monkey tails.  And SURE, I suppose I changed my music taste from Raffi to Janet Jackson because that’s what was on the radio.  However, each evening I still flipped on the hall light and kissed those stuffies while my dad deep-sighed against the stairway railing.

That is, until one fateful day.

A few days before that fateful day, I was sitting on the gym stage with my co-basketball manager, Crystal (as well as Brittany, who was not a basketball manager but supportive of our efforts) while the team did warm-up lay-ups.  We were doing what co-basketball managers did best, which was to sing Little Mermaid songs.  As we hit the crescendo of “Part of Your World,” a boy named Chad Hart (I suppose this is where I should say that none of these names are real) popped out from behind the curtain.

“Hey,” he said to us.

“Hey,” we said back.

“I’m having a party on Friday if you want to come,” Chad Hart, who looked a little like Luke Perry and actually spoke to the girls he dated, said.

“Sure,” Crystal, Chad Perry’s current girlfriend, said.

“Sure,” Brittany said.

Chad Perry looked at me.  “Amanda?”

“Sure,” I said.

At dinner, I casually mentioned that I had been invited to a party.  My mother did her best to seem casually interested.

“A birthday party?”  She asked.

“I think just a regular party,” I said.

“That’s nice,” my mom said.  “Whose party?”

“Chad Perry,” I said.

My mom jumped up from the table, caught herself, and returned more composed and holding the phone book.  She flipped to the P’s.

“Here’s the address,” she said, showing everyone at the table as if our dinner depended on it.  “Dad will take you.”

“Brittany said her dad can drive us,” I said.

“Oh,” my mom said, choking back her glee.  “That’s nice.”

Chad Perry’s party was held in his basement.  He had covered the lamps with his football t-shirts so the room glowed red.  On the radio, Janet Jackson rocked.  There were twelve of us – six boys, six girls – and so we settled (crammed) ourselves on the two couches, boys on one, girls on the other.  Chad Perry lounged on the arm of the boys’ couch, talking about something that was probably worldly and important with the other guys.  On our couch, Crystal showed us her new slap bracelet.

The radio changed to “Red Red Wine,” and Chad Perry asked Crystal to dance.  They moved towards the back of the basement until they were fully ensconced in the red light.  She put his arms around his neck.  He put his hands on her waist – and then, after swaying back and forth a bunch of times, slid them down into the back pocket of her jeans.  And with that, as quickly as a teacher pressing play on a VCR or a mom taking her daughter for ice cream, I grew up.

Brittany’s dad brought us home at 10.  I got ready for bed, patting my stuffies on the head instead of my usual ritual.

“You don’t have to sit in the hall, Dad,” I said as he hugged me good night.  Teenagers who went to parties where people put their hands in other peoples’ back pockets weren’t afraid of the dark.

“Oh, okay,” my dad said, surprised.  He turned off the light, and I drifted off into UB40 (and maybe just a little Strawberry Shortcake) dreamland.

(P.S. In case my children read this sometime in the future and decide they can slow dance with their hand in someone else’s back pocket, there are two things they should know: One, none of the other party guests, including myself, got off our respective couches for absolutely any reason until it was time to go home. Two, being 14 in the ’90s was a lot different than it is now. Fourteen-year-olds then were only a few years away from carving themselves a wagon out of a couple of trees and setting off in order to raise a family and settle distance lands. Fourteen-year-olds now are expected not to swear on YouTube.)

The photo above was taken at my Bat Mitzvah when I was 13 (the man in the photo is my dad). I have that dress and the matching Dyeable pumps in my closet. If I could squeeze even one leg into that dress, I would wear it every single day.

Hope you’re hungry!  Minto is shaping up for the 37th annual bologna feed. (Grand Forks Herald)

Fargo’s Jacob Hansen will make his Carnegie Hall debut as a percussionist with the Honors Performance Series. (Valley News Live)

Lia Karjalainen of West Fargo, Heidi Holt of Bismarck, and Makenzie Vangstad and Lily Rokke of Fargo are some of the youngest athletes to participate in USA U18 National Curling Championship in Lafayette, Colorado. (Fargo Forum)

The “Ling King” has set a new record after hooking a 41-3/4” burbot. (Grand Forks Herald)

Best of luck to the University of North Dakota dance team, who are headed off to the Universal Dance Association College National Championship this weekend! (Grand Forks Herald)

Grand Forks professor Michael Lents is buckling up with Team USA  as they prepare to fly at the 2023 World Advanced Aerobatic Championships in Las Vegas, NV (fun fact, he placed 5th overall and took home Silver with Team USA in 2018). (Go Fund Me)

Make life easier.

Sign up for the weekly North Dakota Nice email and get a story and the news delivered to your inbox once a week (and never more than that).

Somehow, they manage | January 11, 2023

A month or so ago, Kyle texted me at work and said, “Do you want to be the team manager?”

To which I replied, “I’m sorry, I regretfully have to pass; thank you for asking.”  (I actually think I said, “No frickin’ way,” but this is my story and I’ll tell it how I want.)

Our eleven-year-old is in his second year as a Squirt hockey player.  Grand Forks Youth Hockey recently kicked off the travel portion of the Squirt winter season, meaning the kids now play teams in other cities and not just one another.  The “team manager” Kyle referred to is a Mom who somehow miraculously finds an extra ten hours in a day to arrange all of the non-game activities that come along with toting around fifteen kids and their families from place to place.  Specifically:

  1. Selecting hotels and negotiating room blocks.  A good hockey hotel is located close to the rink; offers rooms with enough space for a hockey bag to be opened and everything inside to spread out to dry without stinking up an entire family’s worth of clothing, snacks, drinks, pool toys, blankets, pillows, takeout pizza boxes, and extra children; serves a free breakfast; has a pool and/or a place for everyone to hang out between games (preferably away from other guests on the RARE occasion someone isn’t giddy with excitement about relaxing in the middle of the equivalent of a Mardi Gras parade); and costs $100 a night.  Did I mention that sometimes the rinks are located in a town with only one option…and it’s an 8-room motel with a shared bathroom and you have to take one of those Tom Sawyer rafts to the rink?
  2. Ordering stuff.  In addition to the briefcases full of cash regularly doled out for skates, pads, helmets, gloves, sticks, practice jerseys, Gatorade, registration fees, gas, hotel rooms, and takeout pizza boxes, it is widely agreed that our little popsicles need promo items to effectively play hockey.  From hats to eight-person ice houses – if you can embroider a last name and a jersey number on it, the team manager has to source, organize, order, distribute, and troubleshoot it.  Also, it sure would be nice if the kids had gift bags filled with tape, snacks (the aforementioned hotel room snacks don’t count), energy chews, knee hockey pucks, and stickers, wouldn’t it?  Yeah, it would.
  3. Coordinating team meals, social activities, and related.  Turns out, restaurants aren’t immediately ready for 50 people who need to eat, drink, and get out of there in an hour.  Who knew?  Fortunately, that’s only one person’s problem – the team manager.
  4. Doing actual management things.  Grand Forks Youth Hockey gives every team manager a backpack filled with all sorts of important gameday items – like, you know, the record book and the First Aid kit.  And, like, you know, Grand Forks Youth Hockey expects someone to do whatever it is they do with all of those objects…which, I wouldn’t know, since I’m not the team manager.

“No problem,” Kyle said.  “I’m sure Youth Hockey will find someone.”

Later that night, after the kids had been scrubbed down and put to bed, Kyle said to me,

“Good news!  We have a team manager.”

And then I said,

“Great!  Who is it?”

And then Kyle said,

“This Other Dad and I are going to split it.”

So then I said,


We blinked at each other for a while.

“Why not?”  Kyle asked.

“Because,” I said.  “It has to be a second-year mom.”  (PS, kids play Squirts for two years, so a second-year mom is someone who has a kid that has already been a Squirt for a year.)

“Why?”  He said.

“Because,” I said.  “That’s just the way it’s done.”

“But why?”  He said.

“Because the second-year moms learn from the previous year’s second-year moms,”  I said, exasperated.  “You were never a first-year mom, so you’re not going to know what to do…which means [deep breath, pause for dramatic effect] NOW I’M GOING TO HAVE TO DO IT.”

“Oh, that’s no big deal,” he said, brushing me off.  “You can tell me what to do.  Besides, the other team manager is our friend, and she can help us.  Like a partnership!”

“Harumph, Kyle,” I said.  “HARUMPH.”

The next day, Kyle met me for lunch.

“We got the hotel for the Duluth tournament,” he said.  “I also went to the embroiderer and picked out a beanie for the boys.”

“Harumph,” I said.

“The Other Dad is going to coordinate the book and the box workers for this weekend,” he said.  “And check it out – he made a song playlist for between whistles.”

“Harumph,” I said, and then, “What about the door signs?”

“What door signs?”  Kyle asked.

Every year, the moms and grandmas get together during a practice to paint large paper signs for the front doors of our houses.  These signs have the kids’ names and numbers and say something like, “Go team!” to make it easier for burglars to figure out who is out of town for the weekend.

Kyle pulled out his phone and typed something.

“Okay, one of the moms said she’d be in charge of the door signs,” Kyle said.  “By the way, I was thinking we should organize a group dinner after the Park River game.”

“Harumph, Kyle,” I said, pulling out my own phone.  “Fine.  Here’s a restaurant in Park River with a kid’s menu.  I’ll call them after we eat.”

“I called them already,” Kyle said.  “They are going to get a bunch of tables ready for us.”


We’ve now had two weekends’ worth of games – and in the most annoying situation ever, Kyle and the Other Dad continue to do a good job as co-team managers.  I keep telling myself it’s because all of us moms have such low expectations for their output that whatever they do seems acceptable – but they approach everything with such gusto that it’s hard to find fault.  They send messages!  They buy pin bags!  They hang out with other dads in the scorer’s box!  They bring the backpack to the rink!  They take the backpack back home!  Sure, the moms have had to redo a few things, but overall they are a major success; so much so, that I’m thinking Grand Forks Youth Hockey should always have dads be team managers – second-year dads, of course.

The photo above is of one of our two team managers.

The Three River Crisis Center in Wahpeton had 1,762 (after finding one hidden away!) pairs of undergarments under the tree this year. (Wahpeton Daily News)

In North Dakota-adjacent news, Red Lake Falls’ Alex Gullingsrud is back on the ice. (Grand Forks Herald)

This is a story about a clock. (KFYR TV)

Teen author and Lansford-ian Lindsey Undlin has written a second book. (Minot Daily News)

Fargo’s Russ and Robin Nelson ate at a different locally-owned restaurant every week and wrote about it on Facebook. (Fargo Forum)

Trust no one at the Dickinson Public Schools Foundation’s annual murder mystery dinner. (Dickinson Press)

Make life easier.

Sign up for the weekly North Dakota Nice email and get a story and the news delivered to your inbox once a week (and never more than that).