Squirt International | February 23, 2022

Last weekend, my ten-year-old played in the Squirt International hockey tournament in Fargo, North Dakota.  The “Squirt” in “Squirt International” refers to the age group in which he skates – specifically, fourth- and fifth-graders.  My son, a fourth grader, is a first-year Squirt.  I’m not sure why “Squirt” is the nationally-recognized term, but my guess is it has something to do with the fact that kids of this age like to hold their water bottles out in front of their pelvic region and squirt water/Gatorade all over the ice to simulate going to the bathroom.

The “International” part is because this tournament attracts 240 Squirt teams from all over the United States and Canada, who descend on Fargo for three four-day hockey tournaments (80 teams per weekend) in February.

For the past year, my fellow hockey moms have been warning me that Squirt International was “a big deal.”  As a marketing professional, I am permanently skeptical about anything pitched as “a big deal,” as everything about marketing is “a big deal,” even when it’s “not really any kind of a deal at all.”  Also, I started this blog because it’s a best-kept secret that North Dakota is awesome; and, as such, was wary that something of such “International” magnitude would be allowed to be located in Fargo.  I was so convinced that it wasn’t a big deal that I had an entirely different story written for today.

Anyways, I was wrong.

First of all, it turns out that Fargo was an ideal spot for the tournament.  There were enough hockey rinks between Fargo, West Fargo, and Moorhead that all 80 teams were able to play during normal human hours.  While urban areas like the Minneapolis metro also have a lot of rinks, in Fargo all of the rinks were a five-or-so-minute drive from the hotels.  Speaking of hotels, ours was totally cool with hockey families taking over the entire place.  The area restaurants were also cool, the Fargo parents who ran the concessions were cool, and whomever had to sweep up fifty billion pin bags (more on that later) was definitely, definitely cool.  Maybe Fargo should host the next Winter Olympics; the tagline basically writes itself (“Good Sports?  You Betcha!”).

Second of all, I knew I was wrong when I showed up to the Scheels Arena for the Opening Ceremonies and there were so many hockey players on the ice – 600, to be inexact – that I could smell them from the seats.  The music was bumpin’, the beer was flowing, and my shy little goalie was so pumped up that he spent twenty minutes dance-skating in circles with goalies from Grand Forks, Los Angeles, and Nevada.  The Opening Ceremonies included a group photo (somehow they convinced hundreds of children drunk on adrenaline to sit still for ten solid minutes), a warm-up skate, and the Squirt Olympics.

The Squirt Olympics had five(?) events like sharp-shooting, obstacle course skating, and goalie races happening simultaneously on two rinks.  Obviously, Kyle and I were only focused on the goalie races (and getting beer) – and since our son managed to get himself to the very back of a line of 100+ goalies for their timed trials, Kyle figured he had lots of space to procure us the aforementioned beers from a grown-up line equal to that in length of the goalies.  Our son was at the starting gate when Kyle returned sans anything but himself, annoyed because the person in front of him ordered eight vodka-cranberry juices with twists of lime, and those drinks took so long that Kyle had to leave the line to get back for the race.  Fortunately, our son’s team later played the vodka-cran’s team, meaning we got to carry around a pretty solid (one-sided) parental rivalry before the puck even dropped.

Thirdly, there was a huge amount of parental effort that goes into Squirt International.  As you can imagine, it’s hard enough to feed 15 kids, their parents, and their siblings in one go; but even more difficult when there are 79 other teams trying to do the same thing.  As such, the moms on my son’s team organized two potlucks…which meant that two moms had to sleep in hotel rooms with simmering pulled pork and taco meat for the entire weekend.  The moms also printed up Fat Heads (giant pictures of our children’s faces), packed up gift bags and, with the dads, toted kids all over town to games, photo shoots, and whatever else.  For my part, I brought hamburger buns and got myself dressed every day.

Finally, the biggest deal about Squirt International was the pin trading.  You may be thinking, “Like those little buttons we wore on our jean jackets back in the 80s?”  NO.  Fancy enamel pins with additional enamel whosiewhatsits that shift and spin and light up.  One of the teams had a pin that was as large as my hand and weighed a solid two pounds.  Each kid was given a prescribed number of their own team pins, which they used to trade for other team pins.  This trading happened in large piles on the floor; at every rink, hotel, and restaurant there were groups of kids kneeling down, their fabric pin books open to show off their wares – think New York street hawkers with fake Gucci bags.

The pin trading system was vast and complex.  In one instance, my son – who decided to forgo swimming in order to trade – bartered with another kid to swap my son’s biggest pin with a 2019 two-parter pin that was deemed “super-rare.”  When I asked what made it super-rare, my son just looked at me like I had suggested Sidney Crosby was not the best player in the world, so apparently I should stick to fake Gucci bags and stay out of the pin market.

We’re back home now, still trying to catch up with laundry and basking in the glow of all of our super-rare pins.  I’m going to celebrate Squirt International’s conclusion with a vodka-cranberry (with a twist of lime) and make a mental note to tell all of the next year’s first-time Squirt moms that Squirt International is a big deal.

The photos above are as follows (left to right):

  • The Lakeville South (MN) pin was one of the most popular because it was giant (that’s Kyle’s hand for scale) and the hockey player moved back and forth.
  • Approximately 1/5th of the goalies in the Olympics goalie race. Kyle took this photo, and I’m not even sure our kid is in it.
  • Kyle has been streaming our son’s games on Facebook Live.  The moms and dads on our team were so appreciative of his commentary that they made him this rad t-shirt.

This week’s news has t-shirts, Top Chefs, and grandmas.  Read on.

The (very large) Marsh family in Dickinson is selling t-shirts in support of the Stark County Association of Deputy’s youth-and-resident-in-need program. (Dickinson Press)

Students in Wahpeton put together a fast – and highly effective – gift basket auction (with thanks to many area businesses) to raise money for a local family who lost a son on February. (Wahpeton Daily News)

Bismarck’s Stephanie Miller is typing up her apron as a contestant on the Bravo TV show “Top Chef.” (KX Net)

Employees at Dickinson’s CountryHouse Residence got grandma Marilyn Wert to Bozeman, Montana so she could surprise her granddaughter at her college basketball game. (Dickinson Press)

I put up another one of my Flash Fiction stories – this one based on a conversation I had with another hockey mom, who said her son only scores when she’s in the bathroom.  You can read it here.

Road trip | October 27, 2021

The boys were off from school last week – and after deciding that we were definitely, definitely going to stay home and just chill, come Friday Kyle got antsy in his pantsy and quickly planned an overnight excursion to what was supposed to be Medora.  If you have read North Dakota Nice for a while you’ll know that “planning” a trip for Kyle consists of packing a suitcase and maybe having a hotel room and/or destination in advance of departing the house; while I, on the other hand, require every single second of the day scheduled and reserved from start to finish.  We met in the middle for this particular trip in that I got a handshake agreement that we would drive to Bismarck via Jamestown, sleep in Bismarck so the kids could get a swim in the (reserved) hotel pool, and then wake up early and head to Medora for a day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’m not sure you can get from Grand Forks to Bismarck without going through Jamestown, but we specifically planned a stop in the ‘Town so we could visit the National Buffalo Museum.  I am sure that this is not geographically accurate but Jamestown is, for me, the dividing line between the lovely, rolling western part of the state and the expansive, flat east.  The National Buffalo Museum is set atop of (what I’m going to say is) a hill, tucked within the Frontier Village and overlooking a series of meandering and graduating elevations down to the community below.  If that vague description doesn’t do it for you, the Museum is probably best known for its proximity to Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo – Reader’s Digest’s third-best roadside attraction in the U.S, no big deal.

The backside of the Museum faces what is probably grazing land for the buffalo.  I say “probably” because there weren’t any actual buffalo there that day – maybe because they move somewhere else in the Fall, or maybe related to the fact that they are…let’s say…a form of subsistence.  Despite the fact that my ten-year-old was originally jacked up about the idea of feeding one of said buffalo, he was more excited to take a picture with the large sign at the edge of the field which read, “Do not cross this field unless you can do it in 9.9 seconds.  The bull can do it in 10!”

We spent over an hour in the National Buffalo Museum because there is a lot to see and read, and also because it’s very wisely laid out with a big play area for kids so that non-kids can actually take in the content.  About half of the museum is dedicated to the near-extinction – the record for a single buffalo hunter was 120 buffalo in 40 minutes back in the late 1800’s – and later preservation of the remaining herds; the other half covers the buffalo itself, including its use as a…you know…form of subsistence.

We also spent over an hour in the Museum because there is a three-room gift shop and the Kosiors never met a gift shop we didn’t like.  (Kyle thinks I should review all of the interpretive center-related gift shops in North Dakota and if I did, this one would be near the top but below Fort Abraham Lincoln, which has a separate room entirely dedicated to books.)

Anyways, after spending a million dollars, taking a million pictures with Dakota Thunder, and getting coffee and a snack, we moved on to Bismarck.

The drive into The Biz is distinctive in that you are going up, up, up a slope and then – ta da! – the whole of the city comes into focus in a big, beautiful valley.  It’s so distinctive that Ten perked up as soon as he saw it and screeched, “Let’s go to the Mastodon Museum!” – meaning the North Dakota Heritage Center, which features a mastodon skeleton in the lobby and was also closed for the night so that all of the exhibits could come to life and have playful and meaningful adventures.

The next morning, both Ten and our six-year-old had taken to chanting, “Mastodon Museum” and so we decided to pass on Medora and instead go to Fort Lincoln, the Lewis & Clark Museum, and the Heritage Center.  We also decided to go to the pumpkin patch, but that never happened because I’m not sure in what world we thought we could cram four stops and three meals in before 7pm.

Many of the North Dakota historical sites shut down their outside interpretive exhibits after Labor Day, which is a little weird since many of their stories are all about preparing for and surviving the winter but understandable because it probably turns into a The Shining-type situation come January for the tour guides.  The On-A-Slant Mandan Village was one of said exhibits in that you couldn’t go inside the mounds, but you could still hike around the park and site, which we did.  I then spent a million hours making a pretty subpar video to prove that it happened, which you can see here.

We’ve been to the Heritage Center many times (humble brag), but this was the first time that both boys were interested in the actual exhibits and not just toddling around.  Since I didn’t have to spend as much time trying to keep anyone from eating a barrier rope, I paid closer attention than usual to all of the written artifacts and displays.  Two items of note were 1) the “Dino-Mummy,” a dinosaur discovered with its scales intact, and 2) a rotating series of cards in the exhibit about settlers in North Dakota, in which visitors to the Center could submit their own stories, including this gem: “I moved to North Dakota in 1998.  My first job was located in Medora, out in the Badlands.  One breezy day, a visitor from New York was passing through and asked, ‘Does the wind always blow like this?’  My reply, ‘No, sometimes it blows harder.’”

The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is located at Fort Mandan near Washburn and, so far, is my favorite North Dakota historic site because we always get really great docents (humble brag) and the Lewis & Clark story is much more about learning about the land and much less about conflict and death.  Fort Mandan was also closed for the winter but the center was open and had what I thought was a new – or at least new to me – exhibit on an artist named Karl Bodmer, who was one of the first European artists to document the landscape and people in what would become the Dakotas.  Here’s a picture of Six in “Karl Bodmer’s” hat:

We ended the trip with dinner at the Chieftain Sports Bar/Conference Center & Hotel in Carrington where we ate fry bread and roast beef and watched the Wild-Ducks hockey game, and then drove home so that we could have a day to recover and decontaminate the car before the start of the week.  Success.

The photo above is of Kyle and Dakota Thunder.  My second choice was the photo below, which makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.  It’s a bench at Dakota Thunder.  My kids decided it was one of those “put your face in it and take a picture” situations, and so the front half of the buffalo is Six, who is using his hand to make the horns, and the back half is Ten, who is growing out his hair right now and thought it would make the perfect buffalo tail.  I agree.

This week’s news has competitive meat, drive-thru pancakes, and mobile apples.  Read on.

A group of 4-H’ers from Stark-Billings County took second place in a national competition for retail meat. (Dickinson Press)

There are a bunch of shiny domes protecting and serving the Bismarck community in support of Brave the Shave. (KFYR TV)

Grand Forks’ Jody Hodgson and former UND hockey player Brad Miller are hosting a luncheon at this year’s U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game in support of 7Element’s mission of preventing veteran suicide and benefiting mental health. (Grand Forks Herald)

The North Dakota National Guard is celebrating the homecoming of the Bismarck-based 2-285th Aviation Regiment’s recent deployment. (Devils Lake Journal)

Over 400 people rolled through a drive-thru pancake breakfast in support of Trinity Health’s cancer rehab patients. (Minot Daily News)

The Richland-Wilkin Food Pantry is now mobile and delivering fresh produce to 16 families and individuals at 200% of the federal poverty level. (Wahpeton Daily News)

Fort Abercrombie | June 10, 2021

My ideal vacation consists of strategic lounging.  I lounge on beaches; by pools; in restaurants; on patios.  In the early morning I lounge with books; midday I lounge with pina coladas; and in the late afternoon I lounge with my eyes closed.

On the other hand, the only time anyone lounges on a Kyle-planned trip is when you’re provided a brief bathroom break.  It’s fairly common for Kyle to lament that we “didn’t get to do everything on the list” due to inconveniences such as “the kids want to go swimming again” and “there aren’t any showtimes at 5am on a Wednesday.”

Anyways, after years of being dragged off of lovely padded umbrella chaises and forced to put on socks, I’ve come to actually look forward to our aggressive schedule of activities.  One of my family favorites?  Touring historical forts.

The thermometer in our living room read 105 degrees last weekend, so naturally we felt it would be a good time to pack up the boys (ages nine and six, as a reminder) and take a wander around an open field and several unairconditioned buildings at Fort Abercrombie in Abercrombie, ND.  This is how we came to that decision:

Kyle, drinking coffee in his pajamas: What do you want to do today?

Me, drinking coffee in my pajamas: I need to clean out the guest room closet and do a bit of work.

Kyle, pulls out a packed backpack and four bottles of water: Want to go to Fort Abercrombie?

Me, fully dressed, camera around my neck: Sure.

Fort Abercrombie was the first military fort in North Dakota (or what is now North Dakota), and was set up to guard fur trade, gold rush, and military trails, as well as steamboat travel.  It was established by Lieutenant Colonel John J. Abercrombie, who showed up in August of 1858 and declared a beautiful spot alongside the Red River the perfect site for such an important endeavor.  A year later, after springtime flooding inevitably occurred, Abercrombie declared a higher point directly across the river an even better spot, and the fort was moved to where it sits today.

These days, Fort Abercrombie is an official state historic site, and consists of an interpretive center, three reconstructed Blockhouses and a Guard House, and site markers and signage for all of the remaining now-long-gone structures.

We have learned from experience that if a site offers any kind of guided tour, we take it.  First of all, if we go on our own, we end up scattered all over the place (me still in the car meticulously reading the guidebook, Kyle wandering around seeing what he sees, Nine hidden in a corner memorizing a painting, and Six in the gift shop complaining he is hungry).  Second, it’s good to have an expert around to answer our family’s constant barrage of questions, such as, “Which direction do you think this fort is the most susceptible to attack?” (Nine) and “Have you ever seen a bee before?” (Six).

And third, and most importantly, tour guides know all of the juicy stories that aren’t fit to print.  For example, at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Mandan – home of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer – our tour guide told us that prior to George’s Last Stand, the most common cause of death among the troops was by drowning in the river while attempting to swim back from town after having too much to drink. 

The site of Fort Abercrombie the First was replaced by a small slab town and its own brewery, and the considering our tour guide made a point to explain one of the punishments for over-imbibing (digging a hole with increasingly-smaller implements), I have to assume the troops at Fort Abercrombie were affected by a similar fate.

I’m sure it will surprise you to hear that the 1800s weren’t exactly kittens and rainbows for the Indian tribes and early settlers, and so Fort Abercrombie is infamously known for holding off a six-week siege against the Dakota (Sioux) Indian tribe after the government traded food for land to the starving Dakota, and then reneged on the payment.  The fort was defended by a rag-tag group of volunteer troops (all of the “real” soldiers had left to fight the Civil War) and a slap-dash wall made of food barrels.

Kyle’s favorite part of the Abercrombie tour was a hidden tunnel through the trees that the children of the fort took to get water during the siege.  Mine was that our tour guide took us around on a golf cart, which is basically the perfect way to experience history.  Nine’s favorite thing was “everything,” which was also his answer at Fort Lincoln, On-A-Slant Indian Village, Fort Mandan, Fort Snelling, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead.  Six’s favorite thing was that he met his new best friends, all three of the guides working in the Interpretive Center.  We celebrated the amazing history we learned by spending so much money at the gift shop that we now own Fort Abercrombie Kosior.

My parents published an actual photo book of North Dakota landscapes, so I’m sure they are very proud of this picture I took at Fort Abercrombie, posted above.  The clump of trees in the background is the site of the original (flooded out) fort, which later became a slab town.  The blue thing in the corner is our tour guide’s shoulder.  Email me in the next 30 minutes for my free e-book, “Tips and tricks for mediocre art.”

This week’s news has a field of dreams, a dusty crophopper, and a hunted house.  Read on.

If you are a kid and you are riding a bike and you are wearing a helmet, you’ve upped your chances of getting a free ice cream cone. (KX Net)

Grand Forks’ Shawn Urban is thankful to be alive after the quick-action efforts by coworker Shauna Weber and Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Vonasek. (Grand Forks Herald)

North Dakota’s Nikki Blowers is sharing her personal story of human trafficking in support of the 31:8 Project. (KX Net)

Grand Forks’ Anna Hovet Dias and her husband will be featured on an episode of House Hunters. (Grand Forks Herald)

Holmes, ND now has it’s own “field of dreams” after their original field was abandoned in the late 90’s. (Grand Forks Herald)

Wahpeton’s Eric Klindt has built his own Dusty Crophopper and his fuel truck friend, Chug, to give kids “a good toy” to better understand aeronautics. (Wahpeton Daily News)