Thursday, December 25, 2008

Caroling: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Every year we try to go Christmas caroling to all the houses where we went trick or treating. We sing a song and hand out candy canes and wear silly hats. It does tend toward mixed results, but this year was remarkable:

The Good: The L family. They smiled, they clapped, they danced along - they LOVED it!

The Bad: The house where the lights were on but they were taking a while to get to the door. Mxyl said, "Someone's there, I can see them. Hey, look at that! They're drinking wine straight from the bottle!" The Emperor and I (in stereo),"O.K., let's move on to the next house!"

The Ugly: The house of the really nice Chinese folks where we started "Joy to the World" in 2 different keys and never recovered. I am guessing they are still wondering why total strangers showed up, made a horrible noise and then gave them candy. They actually asked, "Where do you live?" and the Emperor pointed out the house on the corner. I doubt it would have helped if I had answered, "We're from the planet Zoom."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Have Yourself a Messy Little Christmas

It looks like a bit of a messy Christmas here.

Leena got sick Sunday and was fine on Monday, so we figured we were out of the woods. We would at last have a Christmas where no one was sick!

Except the Emperor came down with it. Which means it's possible that I haven't had it yet either...

My parents won't be able to make it due to a combination of our health, their health, and bad weather.

Lastly, we had been hoping that Leena would be making her First Communion at Christmas, and, for a variety of reasons, that won't be happening.

Messy. No "perfect" Christmas this year.

Makes me think of the first Christmas.

I have easily more than a dozen nativity scenes around my house and every single one of them show a sweetly smiling Mary on nice clean straw with Baby Jesus tucked just so into an adorable manger.

I've been thinking two things:

1. That would have been really messy. Have you ever been in a stable? Do you know what the straw on the floor is for? It's because the animals aren't house broken. And they were busy - the inn was full. When was the last time that stable had been mucked out?

Let's suppose you haven't spent a lot of time in a stable. That brings me to the second thing.

2. What would a modern equivalent be? My best guess is this: They had to take a bus - the kind you see in third world countries with all the people hanging out of it. It still took 3 days. They got there and there was no room. Someone finally let them sleep in the garage. If you've ever given birth, how would you feel about doing it the first time in an unheated garage without help? Very messy.

So if you could have it absolutely any way you wanted (like if you were, say, God) why would you make it so messy? Wouldn't you have gone the castle/hospital/jacuzzi route?

I think it's because our lives are so messy. He came to help us out of the mess and He couldn't do it without getting His hands dirty, at least not in a way we'd understand.

So He started here. It's like He's showing us that all the external stuff is irrelevant. Christmas isn't about having our messes cleaned up or papered over. It's about Jesus coming into our messy places to bring us joy! It's perfect!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Well Rounded Education

At lunch, further proof that the learning never stops around here:

Klenda: So, who would win, Hulk or... Who's that guy with the really powerful crowbar?
The Emperor: That's the Wrecker. The Hulk would win.

Klenda: That's true, he's not really in the same class as the Hulk.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Quick, Cheap Present Idea

Shhhh! Don't tell the Zoomlians! They LOVE bookmarks.

You can do this in Word or a photo program. Open a document in landscape format and insert a bunch of pictures across the top (I fit in 11 or 12).

If the bookmarks are for a particular kid, I do mostly pictures of things they like. Text (going perpendicular to the picture) is a fun option. Something like a squirrel holding a nut may say "I'm nuts for this book!". Google Images is my friend.

If they are for an adult, like a grandparent, I do pictures of the kids, maybe with funny things the kid has said.

I print it on photo paper and cut with our rotary cutter.

Yeah, it is cheap and easy, but this is a present that the adults and kids have really used, enjoyed and commented on, even several months later and it's a great gift if you have avid readers in your family.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fifth Down

I was making pies with Leena, the Kid of the Week. That means she gets to plan all the weeks meals and help make them. She thought we really ought to have apple pie for breakfast, so we were working on it.

Choclo wandered into the kitchen, "Diaper change, please?"

"OK, honey, in a minute." We finished mixing the spices in, dumped the apples into the crust and put on the top crust.

"Choclo?" He was lying face down in the middle of the kitchen, snoring.

I really wanted to take a picture, but just didn't have the heart to leave him there. Instead, I carried him upstairs and changed his diaper. He actually woke up in the middle to give me a chipper, "Hi, Mommy." And he was out again.

By the time we got him up for dinner, the fever had hit. Not too bad, controllable with ibuprofen. He'll have a happy truck video day tomorrow and probably be fine the next day. The first 4 kids have recovered and the grown ups only had a mild case. This just leaves Leena... Waiting for the 6th shoe to drop...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Zorg was just born with the heart of a hero. I have seriously never appealed to this kid's noble spirit in vain.

Today I was already going in 6 directions when I picked up the mail and realized I had been delivered my neighbors outgoing mortgage check. Oops. On the 16th of the month, that can't be good.

No mailman in sight, but the truck was still there. Oob chose that moment to wake up crying.

Zorg to the rescue!

He waited at the door, watching for the mailman. When he finally saw him across the way, he dashed out into the chilly rain, (looked both ways before crossing the street) and gave the mailman the envelope. Through the window I saw him explain to the mailman and the guy give Zorg a hearty slap on the back.

When he came in, I said, "Zorg, you are a superhero!"

"No," he replied, "I don't have any special powers. I'm just a hero."

All this and modesty, too.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Lights

We are having a small year for Christmas lights. We have fake evergreen garland (wound about the part of the porch that frames the door) threaded with purple and white lights. The purple lights are for Advent; we'll light the white ones during Christmas proper. We also have a boy scout wreath on the front door (thank you, Mxyl). And the outdoor nativity, of course.

We are much more decorated inside, but I do feel the outside could be more festive.

So maybe next year we could do something like this:

Or perhaps this, if you don't think it's too much.

Hmm, we have all year to plan...and get the degree in computer science...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fame and Fortune

Well, fame, anyway! We are featured in a fun article by Kate Tsubata in the Washington Times .

In a bizarre coincidence, we are also in an article in Faith and Family this month, but that won't be available online until next month.

We'll just bask in the glory for a moment...

OK, times up!

Happy Gaudete Sunday! I guess that's redundant, since "gaudete" means "rejoice!"
For your rejoicing, my favorite version of "Gaudete" on You Tube:

Friday, December 12, 2008

7 Quick Takes

1. Cool home made present for kids: get 2 ten foot lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe and one bag each bag of (1/2") end caps, T connectors and elbows (make sure they are "slip", not threaded). Cut the pipes to various lengths and sand the edges (if you want to be fancy). Presto! A building set which can be used plain, with water, or air pressure. Total cost: $13. This is what the Zoomlians used to build marshmallow blasters.

2.I really like to knit...scarves. I don't have the, how shall we say? Attention, precision, presence of mind, moral fortitude to do sweaters. I like to just sit and knit while listening to the Emperor read without really having to think about it much. And all my hats come out funny. OK, the matching blue frog hats I knit for my parents were meant to be funny, but the rest of them weren't.

3. Secret of the Universe: If you don't want to be late, don't try to be on time. Aim for a little early and the last minute traffic/diaper change/baby blurp will be factored in. You will be a little early some of the time, on time most of the time, and sometimes a little bit late. If you think I'm being extreme, I'm a moderate: my Dad always says, "Five minutes early is ten minutes late."

4. Oob has learned to say, "Pleeeeese!" The only way he knows how to say it is in the tone of a starving child begging for a dry crust with large eyes and furrowed brow. And he says it often. I feel like Scrooge: No, you can't eat the entire package of marshmallows, bah, humbug!

5. I want to visit Mongolia. When I was a kid, my Dad traveled the world and brought me dolls from different countries. I look at the cluster map here and think, I have a doll from your country, and your country...

6. Ah, Mongolia... As I got older, he brought me a wide variety of Mongolian arrow heads. From rough cast in sand to a sleek barbed 3D triangle, I could touch the evolution of the arrowhead. I devoured all information about the Khans. Then I got older and saw The Story of the Weeping Camel. Some people wish for gondolas or towers; me, I yearn for a yurt.

7. My husband would like some of the quality attention I have been lavishing on this blog.

But you can read more with Jen!

12 Days

The Zoomlians love "The Twelve days of Christmas"( partly due to this You Tube, no doubt). At lunch today, we discovered a really interesting number pattern in the song.

There was a heated discussion about whether the person gave every single item listed on a given day ("Today, I give you 3 French hens and another 2 turtledoves, and yet another partridge in a another pear tree." as opposed to "Today, I give you 3 French hens, and remember those turtle doves and so forth I've given you so far.")

I flatly stated that it was the first option. We designed a chart to show how many of each gift you would end up with. We wrote the numbers 1-12 down the page and placed an icon for each gift on the appropriate day. We kind of ended up with a tall column of pear trees, a shorter column of turtledoves, etc. Then we skip counted them (the older kids multiplied).

To see the number pattern we found, highlight the next space (or, even better, find out be doing it yourself!):
12, 22, 30, 36, 40, 42, 40, 36, 30, 22, 12

Once we saw the pattern, we could see why it had to be that way, but it had never occurred to me to even look! How cool is that?!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zoomlian Games: If I Had a Rutabaga

This is another game born out of difficult circumstances.

I was in the emergency room with Klenda. She was feeling much better thanks to a liter of IV fluids and anti nausea medication, and she wanted to Go Home Now. Of course, we couldn't until all the paperwork had gone through....

So I told her, "You know, if I had a rutabaga, a really BIG rutabaga, I'd carve it into a boat and sail you home right now."

She answered, "Well, if I had a rutabaga, a really BIG rutabaga, I'd carve it into a giant squid, just for you." (Isn't that just the sweetest thing?!)

This is a great game for the random pauses of life when your kids really want to be doing something or want something they can't have.

Some things we would have done if we had rutabagas (some require Very Large Rutabagas):
Carved a play castle,
Spun it like a top,
Carved a working rocking horse,
Carved a working rutabaga plane,
Made paper from it and used the top as a quill and the juice as ink and write out Carl Sandberg's Rootabaga Stories,
Used it as a ball,
Made a chess set,
Carved and played a violin (Stradabagius),
Steamed, mashed, and eaten it.

What would you do if you had a rutabaga?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Gray Hair

I was looking at e mail when I heard a long scream followed by Choclo shrieking over and over, "My eye! My Eye! My eye!"

I covered the 30 ft between us in .7 seconds only to discover that I had misheard him. He was actually shrieking, "My I! My I! My I!"

He had been trying to make a capital letter I with the big red cardboard blocks, and it kept falling over. When I had recovered all my internal organs, I helped him find some of the more stable, less chewed on blocks.

That fixed his I problem.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portfolio Time!

Warning: This is a brag post. If you're not in the mood, skip it! I had tough day with the little guys and a stomach bug scare. Everyone's OK, but I was a bit frazzled. So I decided to work on my portfolio review tonight because it always makes me feel better.

Yes! It's almost time for my home school portfolio review! I would have thought this would be incredibly stressful and my least favorite thing about home schooling.

It would be except: 1. I have the best home school reviewer in the world (and no, she has no idea about this blog) and 2. Once I start looking back on all the cool stuff we've done, I get really jazzed up: Hey! We're LEARNING here! What else can we do?
1 + 2 = 3: The portfolio review is a big brag fest and the reviewer is excited and encouraging.

The only down side is the time it takes to write out all the "materials utilized" and "concepts completed." For example, this school year so far, in science, Mxyl has used: Lego Mindstorm NXT robotics kit, computer, Popular Science and Science Illustrated, Bill Nye videos and books, Magic School Bus videos, models,books and computer games, salt, borax, and other chemicals, periodic table, wire, lamp hardware, household wiring, library books and other videos, websites, experiment books, zoo, Boy Scouts, microscope, binoculars, magnifying glasses, flower bulbs and plants, pets, parks, wild animals, APOD, Snap Circuits, public works, nature walks, found objects, star charts, cooking (and then we run out of space) and he learned the concepts:Robotics, programming, making circuits, electricity (static and current), basic household wiring, creating a lamp, amps, volts, watts,energy, alternative sources of energy, pollution, ecology, endangered species, habitats, food web, domestication of animals, simple machines, power, force, friction, work, air pressure, crystallization patterns, salt, hypertonic, isotonic, hypotonic (review of cells and human body systems), DNA, genetics, cybernetics, periodic table, elements, reactions, atomic models, creating and maintaining our museum(and we are out of space in this little rectangle, too).

It's all in tiny type because there 6 subjects on the first page of the form! How are you supposed to squish it all in? But it's fun to try!

It's also fun to bring in some of the stuff we've done. I'll bring Mxyl's latest robot as his science example, and some of the Egyptian stuff, the ribbons from the gingerbread houses, and lots and lots of pictures. This year I will have some special extras: an article in the latest Faith and Family featuring our Plutarch Party, and possibly a column by the excellent Kate Tsubata in the Washington Times about our home school. I don't know if it will be out in time. When they come out on the net, I'll link to them.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Zoomlian Games: When I Was a Kid

It started with whining. The Zoomlians don't tend to whine a lot, but it was a hot muggy July afternoon at the zoo. Like every zoo I have ever visited, the zoo in DC is built on an enormous hill. Naturally, the default setting is to go merrily down the hill in the cool of the morning and trudge up the mountain after the weather has warmed 20 degrees and the kids are melting down and the stroller has mysteriously gained 10 pounds (I'm not complaining, I've done that too).

The Zoomlians noticed that it was hot. Very hot. Unbearably hot. Mom, I'm hot! I'm hot... I'm sure your kids have never done this, but I'll bet you get the idea.

The Emperor finally said, "You think this is hot? This is nothing! When I was a kid it was so hot..." How hot was it? "It was so hot that you had to drink your popsicle through a straw!"

Well, that was nothing, when I was a kid it was so hot... How hot was it? It was so hot that we had to put a bun on the dog. We were off and running!

The whole thing ended with Zorg. When he was a kid, it was so hot...How hot was it? It was so hot that everybody just...died. Um. OK.

It turns out this also works for cold (when I was a kid, it got so cold we all climbed in the freezer to warm up [yes, they know not to really play in the freezer...]) , wet/rainy (it was so rainy that we had animals gathering 2 by 2 outside our house), hungry (we ate real pop rocks), and messes you have to clean up (when I was a kid, my room was so messy that my Mom got the big leaf vacuum truck and... SLLLLUUURRRRPP!")

If life was tough when you were a kid, (how tough was it?) leave it in the comments!

Next time: the classic Zoomlian game If I Had a Rutabaga.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

We love St. Nicholas (we don't really do Santa, as explained here) and today is his feast day!

Last night, the Zoomlians left their shoes out and are just discovering the candy inside...

Do you know why St. Nicholas is associated with presents? It's not like his feast is that close to Christmas - St. Lucy is much closer.

St. Nicholas lived in the 300s in the Roman city of Myra. There were two easy ways to become a slave in the Roman empire: be conquered or be poor enough to be sold by your parents. (Are we getting too far from Christmas for you?)

St. Nicholas was not poor (and he was a Roman citizen)! In fact, his parents had just died and left him fabulous wealth. But Nicholas wanted to give everything to God and, as his first step, decided to give away his money. He prayed for guidance and looked for opportunities.

He heard of about a poor man with three daughters. Back in the day you needed a dowry to marry, and he had no way to provide for any of his daughters so he had determined to sell them into the, er, worst kind of slavery.

St. Nick wanted to help the man, but mindful of Jesus' "not letting the left hand know what the right hand was doing", wanted it to be anonymus. So...

He put enough money for a dowry in a bag and dropped it down their chimney in the middle of the night... where it fell into a sock that had been hung near the hearth to dry... Sound more familiar? He did that three nights in a row and saved all three girls.

St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of children.

Best St. Nicholas site ever.

And, to fill your shoe, This Fabulous Meme!

If you were trapped on a desert island and it was Christmas and all you had was a small generator, Christmas lights for your coconut tree, an endless supply of Christmas cookies and eggnog, your CD player and 6 Christmas CDs , which 6 albums would you want them to be?

If you can find Amazon links, we can listen to snippets...

My answers:
1 Theatre of Voices, Carols from the Old and New Worlds
2 Paul Hillier, Traditional and Modern Carols
3 Canadian Brass, The Christmas Album
4 Anonymus 4, Wolcum Yule
5 Westminster Cathedral Choir, Christmas Carols (not in print)
6 A Very Veggie Christmas

Why 6? St. Nicholas' feast day is December 6th. Plus I started with 5, but couldn't whittle the list down enough. And I still didn't get Mitch Miller in there!

I will tag The Emperor over at The Inside Blog, The Queen of Carrots, Tracy at Organic Learning, Kate in NJ, and Melissa in the Bonny Glen

Friday, December 5, 2008


The Zoomlians have been going around singing this since last Sunday when we started bringing out the Christmas stuff. They only know the refrain, but they sing it over and over. I've been meaning to teach them the verses... after I learn them. Here is a you tube with many versions of the song, some of which I love (I hear Theater of Voices in there!), and some... well...not so much! (What were they thinking with the German rock version?!)

I find the different versions of songs fascinating in the same way I find word etymology fascinating. My advice, skip the versions you dislike.

Which reminds me of my other favorite Latin carol: Personent Hodie. Same deal:

7 Quick Takes

Thanks Jen for starting this!

1. If I do one random thought about each Zoomlian, does that still count as random? Why do I worry about it?

2. Oob: Dorito breath is bad. Coffee breath is worse. Both are lovely compared to fish food breath.

3. Choclo: I forget that he confuses his pronouns, so we have conversations like this:
Choclo: Mommy, you like chocolate milk?
Me: No, actually, I don't like chocolate milk.
Choclo: (perplexed): You like apple juice?
Me: Yes, apple juice is nice.
Choclo (getting concerned): Mommy, you like metalmaid (lemonade)?
Me: Ooooh! YOU want a drink!
Choclo (nodding vigorously): YOU want a drink!

4: Leena is very concerned about the acorn shortage. The squirrels are everywhere: into our garbage and climbing on our window screens. After a few days of handing out the spare Brazil nuts from last Christmas (someone must like those, but no one here), I finally broke down and bought squirrel food. We haven't seen a squirrel since.

5. Zorg: I would have home schooled for no other reason that this rough and tumble, wrestling, weapon crazy, cub scouting boy still loves to snuggle up and give everyone in the family hugs and kisses.

6. Klenda and I saw the Dancing White Horses! I've wanted to see them since I was a horse crazy 9 year old myself, but it was incredibly more fun to see them for the first time with her! That's something we'll both remember all our lives and it was a window into my childhood. I'd forgotten how beautiful horses are!

7. I told Mxyl that our home school portfolio review was coming up and I'd like to be able to show his advancing skills in robotics. Could he build me a robot to take in? Sure! He is in the last stages of programming Spike, a scorpian robot. When it senses something in it's path, it backs up. If the thing advances, Spike "stings" it. It's very cool, even though all actual arachnids give me the screaming heebie jeebies. But then, I don't live near any actual scorpians (sorry, Jen!).

Favorite Advent Resource Ever

It's a lovely book in the Walter Wick I Spy tradition. Mine is called Do You See What I See?, but it seems to have been renamed . As you look for an item each day (there is a new picture every two days) the book goes through Salvation history, applying it to common childhood experiences, and inviting kids to enter into the Christmas mystery and search for Jesus (and many related items!). The rhymes are decent and the pictures, while not on Wick's level, are suitably intriguing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poster Post 2

Here's how our Advent themed posters turned out! You can click on it for a better picture.

The borders are just construction paper cut into fanciful shapes, but I think it gives a more finished look. I think I need to outline Baby Jesus when we're closer to Christmas: as is, he fades into the hay.

Leena helped cut out the borders and is showing her approval.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Leena's Gingerbread Christmas Tree

As you can see, it's not actually gingerbread!

It's cream cheese sugar cookie dough tinted green and flavored with peppermint oil. We knew we were eating this one!

But it is what she wanted: a Christmas tree decorated with candy! Yum!

Monday, December 1, 2008

For the Queen of Carrots

Who is celebrating The First Day of Christmas Music. Sorry, we're a bit late; on Zoom this holiday is not celebrated until December 1st...