Thursday, December 31, 2009


What a fun year!

It was the first year that the giant leaf vacuum truck came around and I did not think, "Oh, please! Come through my living room!!"

It was a year with lots of out and about adventures, not the least of which were the family vacations.

It was the year Oob really started talking.

It was the year Choclo became one of the big kids.

Best of all, it was the year Leena made her First Communion.

It was the year Zorg switched from a struggling reader to a reader who had to be told to put the book down, already!

It was the year Klenda hit double digits and started trouncing her parents with puns (dare we turn her loose on the world?).

It was the year Mxyl became one of the big scouts: everything from Summer camp to the Polar Bear Plunge.

It was the year the Emperor, into a bigger kid? Some milestone was reached, I'm sure!

For me, I think it was the year we transitioned from being a family with lots of little kids into a family with lots of kids. It's a bigger difference than I would have guessed.

Here's hoping you had a great year, and may next year be filled with love, joy and many blessings!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Christmas!

We spent the first few days of Christmas with Mumpy and Pa!

What a great time! One of the best things about blogs is that they are good for recording all the little lovely bits that otherwise evaporate with the onward sweep of life.

Things I want to remember: Oob getting tickly kissed by Mumpy and then running over to me saying, "She kissed me!" before running back for more kisses. Over and over!

Pa and Mumpy gave Klenda some face paint. She promptly put this to good use by painting anybody and everybody with progressively more extravagant designs.

I begged to try, but when she saw what I did to Oob, she just shook her head and sighed.

Oh, well. Oob loved it!

Choclo was quite pleased with his armor.

Naturally, a large box was the best present possible, especially when Mumpy started giving rides.

Mumpy and Pa live on a lake which had obligingly frozen. We had a fantastic time sledding around and running on the ice. I ended up a bit sore for a few days, but that was quite worth dragging four kids on sleds at the same time and then letting them go sliding off!

We're back home now, and still celebrating. We only open a present or two a day so that we really enjoy and play with everything.

One of the best things about Christmas now is that the older kids save up their allowance to buy stuff for their brothers and sisters. They come up with some of the biggest hits! A bonus effect is that the thing they are most excited about (besides Jesus' birthday) for Christmas is giving their presents.

Zorg bought Choclo this set of kitchen equipment: a "working" mixer, blender, and coffee machine. Choclo and Oob have been happily playing with them for more than an hour now...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Problem!

Today's science lesson: structural engineering! The Zoomlians spent several hours building an elaborate series of tunnels with camouflaged entrances. There was much talk of the structural benefits of arches and how the tunnels could be reinforced with ice.

Could icicles be used? That's not such a far fetched idea, actually! We certainly have them on hand.

We also followed our tradition of making a gingerbread house during the first big snow. The usual advantage of having this activity NOT part of Christmas preparations (we usually don't get snow until mid January), was lost this year, but having an extra few days with the Emperor home more than made up for it!

Here we are before:

And after:


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Day!

Eight inches and counting! Now they are saying we'll get over 20"!

You know what that means? It means they'll close the schools for those last three days before Christmas vacation and the Emperor will not have to go to work for the rest of the year!!!

Lots of smiles here!

You know we put them to work young. Here is Oob shoveling.
He did such a nice job, we gave him the big shovel and made him do the whole sidewalk. And the driveway. Or he wouldn't get any hot chocolate. Kidding!

Here is my favorite tree in the snow - my "Harry Lauder's Walking Stick." It's a form of hazelnut, I believe. No nuts, but it's actually blooming under the snow. Those are light green catkins hanging down, although Choclo has been collecting them and asking if I wanted to eat the "green worms" (I didn't) .

And here are the Zoomlians reporting for snow duty! The snow is too fluffy for packing and sledding right now, but they made snow angels and crawled around a lot in it.

After they've warmed up, we will collect a bowl of this fresh light snow and make snow ice cream from it. You just fold in condensed milk flavored with vanilla and/or almond. I have also just used half in half sweetened with sugar. Yum, yum!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Purple and Silver

These are the Emperor's two favorite colors. When we were taking stock of our Christmas tree ornaments this year, two things occurred to us: many of our breakable ornaments have broken, and they now sell glass looking plastic ornaments (and they are cheap {and so are we}).

Two other things occurred to me privately: this was the Emperor's 40th Christmas, and we'd never done a purple Christmas tree. So, when I saw the gigantic bin of purple and silver at Target, I went a little wild.

Here you see the result! We also used our old white and silver ornaments and the applesauce ornaments we made this year.

Have you made applesauce ornaments? You just dump all your old cooking spices in a bowl (I'm thinking cinnamon and allspice more than, say, curry powder and Italian seasoning) and add enough applesauce to get it to stick together. Roll it out (1/4" worked for us) and use cookie cutters to cut them out. We also rolled them into candy cane shapes. Don't forget to make a hole to put a hanger through later (we used a straw). Bake on low until dry (2 hours?), maybe flipping them after an hour. Your house will smell fantastic! The ornaments can be painted and so forth. One year we pressed glitter on them before we baked them, and that was very nice (and easy).

Of course, being brown, you don't notice them on the tree, except for the lovely smell. Mmmmm. Pine and cinnamon!

In other news, the parakeets are stealing Baby Jesus' hay. I must apologize to Oob - I thought he was the one taking the hay. The kids put in a bit of hay whenever they do a good deed (a symbol of making a soft bed for Jesus by getting their hearts ready).

The parakeets are also having a marvelous time playing with the stuffed Nativity we made a few years ago. They land on the pieces (which makes them fall over) and then they pick at the loose threads and roll the pieces around until they (and the parakeets) fall off the finch cage.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Lovely Day

We went off to the Botanical Garden with friends!

They have a lovely display of what I think of as gingerbread houses. They're actually made of leaves and sticks and other natural materials, and they are lovely and intricate beyond words!

One room was a reproduction of the National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial on one end, the Washington Monument in the middle and the Capitol Building on the other end.

The first picture shows Zorg and Leena taking a look at the Smithsonian Castle.

Another room had a fairy land of trains and special buildings: everything from Cinderella's castle to Santa's workshop!

This was the favorite train.

Choclo and Oob were quite taken with the excursion!

We then went through their regular exhibits: a series of interconnected greenhouses with different themes. We walked from jungles to deserts to a room of orchids. Just beautiful!

The main center room (maybe 5 stories tall?) was a towering jungle. You could climb steps to stroll around the canopy - truly amazing!

They also have an astonishing array of food plants: fruiting bananas, dates, cocoa, pineapple, orange, lemon, and palm oil plants, not to mention all the herb and spice plants!

Mostly, we were all overwhelmed with the beauty and variety of the plants. It's one of those places you feel privileged to visit.

We even wandered about a (chilly) bit in one of the outer gardens before heading home.

Back at home we relaxed with tea while the kids played.

After days of pre-Christmas busy, having a lovely relaxed day with friends is what we all needed!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Bags

Here's a fun thing to do in Advent (any time of the year, really).

Living near a large city, we encounter panhandlers from time to time. I don't usually carry money with me, but I don't want to ignore them, either.

Twice a year (Summer and Winter) we make up bags to give out whenever we meet someone in need. We keep one in each car, and a few spares to replenish them.

Here's what we have in our Winter bags this year:
  • Gloves, Hat, and Scarf (we get these from the thrift store because one gentleman told us that he couldn't accept nice leather gloves because someone would beat him up for them)
  • Warm socks
  • Hand warmers
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Emergency blanket
  • Bandaids
  • Gatorade
  • Crackers and cheese packages
  • Trail bars
  • Christmas candy
These are what we've come up with. I guess we are spending $7 - $10 a bag, probably less because the toiletries we reused from our extra summer bags. Some years the kids make an "I'm praying for you" drawing or note to put in also.

I had a friend that founded a homeless shelter and I asked her what she did when she met a panhandler. Her answer surprised me; she said the best thing was to look at them and talk to them if you were able. Essentially, treat them like a human being because the cost of being looked through all day was very high. Obviously, use prudence, but I must say I've never had a problem.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Out and About

I just got back from mailing our last package... so now we can start the Christmas cards.

Last night we had the last Boy and Cub scout meetings, the night before we had our last CCD (Sunday School) meeting, and last Wednesday was our last co-op (until next year, of course).

I'm not sure if I mentioned that this year I have been "teaching" the oldest kids in the co-op every week. I call them Adventurers, and each Wednesday, we (the 6 oldest kids, Choclo, Oob and a dear friend who rides shotgun for me) take off on an adventure. The kids, armed with sketch books and colored pencils, draw 3 things that catch their interest.

We have 2 hours each week, not counting travel time. I now think two hours is the golden time limit. If you are really looking at things in depth, after 2 hours your brain is full. After 2 hours the little fellows have had enough also, so I think it's some kind of general stimulation threshold.

Anyway, the benefits to me have been remarkable! The biggest thing is that I am no longer afraid of getting lost in DC. I know where and how to park on the National Mall for $4, without parallel parking the big van. I have a great route that gets me in and out in 30 minutes each way. It's no longer a big deal!!!

It's also been great to spend time with all these great home schooled kids as they reach the threshold of adolescence. I am seeing glimpses of who they will be as adults, and I think they are turning into the nicest, most interesting people!

I've had a fantastic time with my shotgun partner. We went from a casual acquaintance to really good friends. Having an hour each week to chat (while driving) with a good friend has been really delightful.

So far this year we've done the National Air and Space Museum, The Natural History Museum, The National Arboretum, part of the National Gallery, the National Botanical Garden and we've toured the Capitol Building. Going through at our own speed, we've made as many as 3 or 4 visits to some museums.

I've been trying not to feel like the co-op is "my outing for the week", since only half of my own kids are going, so I have been trying to take my guys out frequently also. We've been doing a lot of field trips. One thing we've seen is that December is a great month to go places. Most people are busy doing other things, so you have lots of space at the museums.

Yesterday we went to the Natural History Museum, tomorrow we are going back to the Botanical gardens (if you have never been there, their Christmas displays are jaw dropping!). Last week we went up to Baltimore to the Aquarium. We've also recently done the Zoo, and the B& O Railroad Museum, also. I'm on the fence about visiting Air and Space next week.

We are so blessed to live so close to so much - with most of it free. I've lived here for 8 years, but I was always afraid to go downtown by myself because I was afraid I'd get lost and wouldn't be able to find parking. To be fair, I've also had more small children than I felt I could solo with in a big museum.

It's been such a blessing to have this time to go places and do stuff with my kids. I can see the difference from Mxyl down to Oob. They ask all kinds of questions and they notice all kinds of things and they pretend all kinds of play. It's giving them a bigger world!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Do I

keep checking my own blog and then be surprised, and slightly annoyed, that I haven't written anything yet?

We are nearing the end of blog silence, I hope. We had a great Thanksgiving up with my folks in NJ, but we came back to find ourselves in Advent.

As in, "Advent? We aren't ready!" Which I guess is part of the point of Advent, the Lord must like kids' games because He is going to come, ready or not!

In our case, we need to finish up the home made gifts to be mailed across the country. We hope to ship next Monday, but until then, there will be light blogging.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unit Studies Run Amuck

Leena (cheerfully, before breakfast): Mom! I read that Thomas Jefferson invented a teeny tiny elevator for his house! Can we do that?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday

This would be the "Random Things on the Camera" edition!
At long last, we finally have a picture of Mxyl as St. Anthony of Padua! He was too sick to even dress up for a picture on Halloween, but he's feeling muuuuch better now. Especially after eating all the candy Klenda collected for him!


I think this may have something to do with not having another baby on the way, but I think it's so cute when Choclo wants to be wrapped up like a baby. Evidently, someone else does also.

I neither wrapped him up, nor took the picture. I'm guessing it was Klenda.


Speaking of cute Choclo pictures which I didn't take, I think Mxyl took this one of Choclo feeding Courage. Willing to eat from a four year old's hand is pretty tame!

Alas, Love just discovered this morning that, while a four year old is pretty safe, a two year old will not be able to resist your beautiful tail. Love still has the tail, by the way. The urgent squawks brought us running to the rescue.


Here is this year's Leaf Tree. This is a project which we do every year by popular demand. As usual, the trunk is a paper bag and the leaves are just taped to the wall.

The remarkable thing about this tree is that the leaves were all collected on November 18th. Where I grew up, the leaves are gone by Halloween!

Even stranger, we also just brought in a large bunch of roses from the garden! We also are being inundated by camellias, but, somehow, I find that less strange than the roses.

Our (burgundy) couch cover finally wore through, and our recliner was giving up the ghost, so we got these "beach house tan" slip covers.

I love the covers (from Target), they are stretchy and soft and they fit better than any cover I've ever had. BUT. They don't go with the clear sunny yellow walls.

The walls have been suffering from Choclo's Harold and the Purple Crayon phase, so they needed to be repainted anyway. You can count this as the "before" shot.

While looking for color ideas to go with the tan covers and burgandy drapes and carpet, I, with the help of the intrepid Grammy, discovered that there are tons of color scheme websites!

This one was my favorite! This was too cool - color scheme by Yahoo! Here is another that lets you convert a picture into a color scheme (which is why the curtain is hanging on the couch, I wanted to crop those two colors).

Evidently, these are used primarily for website design, but they can also be used to coordinate rooms and wardrobes. Who knew?

And here is a gratuitous Oob shot. Not totally gratuitous, I guess, since he's actually demonstrating the need for couch covers.

He is standing on the couch and flopping back on it (no Oobs were injured in the making of this blog post).

More with Jen!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guest Blog by Mxyl: Story time!!!!

And now it's time for Story Time with Mxyl:

Hello cute earthlings! I have made a story about an animal from our home planet, Zoom.
Here it is. Enjoy!
by Mxyl.

A new animal is at the now-crowded zoo. He is invisible. His fearsome roar cannot be heard. He is also transparent.
A person asked the zookeepers how they caught the creature. The keepers said, "Um...Hold don't really know. We weren't the ones who caught him. Maybe... You could ask... the Hunters?"
"I KNEW IT!" Said one of the people, throwing open the door.
"IT WAS JUST A TRICK!", said another.
"Thar's nuth'n' in ahear, just air," said still another.
The zookeepers said,"No!!! you opened the door! That's one of the most dangerous animals on the planet!!"
"Yea, right," laughed one of the people.
But, seen by no one, something jumped out of cage and ate everybody up.
The moral of the story is: Don't jump to conclusions. Trust your superiors.

I hope you have enjoyed my story! Bye for now, earthlings!
This has been Story time with Mxyl.
As they say in Zoomlian, "Fhlshsush!"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A More Appalling Thought

This Sunday is the feast of Christ the King, which means the next Sunday will start Advent! Yikes!
Time to start planning out Advent!

I've actually had a lovely year or two where I was done Christmas shopping by Advent. Not this year, I think. :)

On the plus side, this gets easier to plan since we have settled into some fun traditions and I don't feel like I have to "come up with" something each year.

I like to print out a blank calendar to plan on so I don't try to stuff in too much.

It helps that we have a tradition of decorating slowly. The big stuff gets scheduled: the second Sunday of Advent we put out our outside decorations and lights, the family creche goes up on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the third Sunday we do the inside greenery, beads and bows (we decorate the light fixtures and doorways), and the fourth Sunday we do the tree.

All the rest of the decorations are hauled into the guest room. Each day a kid gets to go in and pick a decoration to put up. Naturally, what gets picked first every year is the light up talking Nativity.

The figures don't actually talk, instead there is a narration with music. Inexplicably, they start with the Wise men and then do the shepherds. It is played some 5 or 6 hundred times a day for the entire Advent and Christmas season. $10 at Walmart 5 years ago. Who knew?

Then I poll the kids about their favorite Advent activities. The results this year?

We will definitely do the manger (you put a straw in every time you do a good deed and, by Christmas, Baby Jesus has a nice soft bed).

We will also do the Advent house (each day you open a door and find a piece of the playmobil nativity and some candy) .

We will do the sticker book if I can find the stickers. I had thought I'd just buy a new one, but $268 seems a bit steep. I mean, it was great, but not enough for a second mortgage!

The Jesse tree.

Paper advent calendars for each kid.

The Advent wreath, of course. We'll probably make a paper one for the children's altar.

We'll do the O Antiphons, when they come around. We print them out and distribute them at random with a sheet of poster paper. Everyone does their antiphon, and we put them up on the appropriate day.

And then, each week, we'll have a day to make cookies, a day to do make presents, and a day to make a decoration.

I have been thinking of themes. Advent is so big, I like to have a focus. I am thinking of using a song this year. O Come O Come Emmanuel is obvious, but I've never liked it musically. Growing up, it was sung every Advent (sometimes every Advent Sunday!) and always with a dirge like tempo. The words are great, but...

We used People Look East a few years back, and I liked it very much. There are four verses, with a fifth for Christmas Eve, and each one can be thought of as a different kind of preparation. I may do it again this year. Here are the words:

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

And here we have it sung:

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Appalling Thought

Do you remember A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?

A 19th century smith is transported back in time, and wows King Arthur with modern technology.

If that happened to me, with 2 centuries more technology, they would be considerably less impressed.

What would I do? Build them an airplane? How about a computer? Umm. A car? Anything?

I think the best I could do would be to pull out my cell phone and show them the screen lighting up (until the battery ran out)!

I'm not worried that I am going to be swept back in time (with a career as the Village Idiot), but it is an uncomfortable realization that my own level of technology- the things I understand well enough to recreate, is probably lower than that of the average person 100 years ago.

My friend Bill, on the other hand, probably doesn't need to worry about these things!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Off to the Zoo

After a week and half of being stuck inside, we needed to get out, so we headed off to our favorite zoo.

It always amazes me that, although we live within sight of Washington DC, it is actually as fast or faster to drive up to Baltimore for either the Zoo or the symphony.

We used to live in Baltimore, so this was the Zoo I took Mxyl to when he was a baby. It was a nice zoo then, but now, it's fantastic!

We particularly liked the tundra buggy/polar bear exhibit.

Here is Leena, "driving" the tundra buggy!

And here are Choclo and Oob, playing in a bear trap (What? Like you never let your kids play with bear traps?)

This visit we did their African trail . This actually includes African penguins next door to their elephants!

Mxyl pointed out that it looked like the penguins had feet without legs and the elephants had legs without feet. I never thought of it that way before, but it was pretty funny going from one to the other!

Then we discovered they had a baby elephant! Way too cute!

I let the kids loose with the camera, and they came up with some very nice shots.

All in all a lovely day!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

US History: Colonial Times, Living

We've been doing lots of daily life activities in our Colonial unit!

Our favorite was making this little wattle and daub house. We had intended to make it on a plastic tray with the posts supported by homemade clay, but there was just no way to get the posts secured strongly enough to counteract the tension of the weaving process.

We ended up doing it the old fashioned way: pushing the posts deeply into the ground, about 3 inches apart, then interweaving small flexible branches for the wattle. We used shoots from out red twig dogwood, which made a very pretty little framework. You could also use willow, I believe both are even historically accurate! Anything very flexible would work.

The tension made our rectangle look a little round as we were weaving.
We added thicker "logs" on the top to bring it back into shape.

Then we added the daub. The colonists would have used clay mixed with manure (to prevent cracks from forming as the clay dried). After everything had dried, the smell was "hardly noticeable." Umm.

We used plain garden soil mixed with water!!!

Sometimes it doesn't pay to be too historically accurate.
Next came the framework for the roof.
And then the thatching!

We found a great You Tube video of a master thatcher. Very fun! It looks like it would be very easy to do a terrible job.

We also braided a rag rug or two with some sewing scraps.

I very much wanted to spin wool with a drop spindle, put I couldn't figure out how to buy wool. I knew if I bought "raw" wool I would need to wash it (not sure how but we could probably figure it out), pick it (we can do that), and comb it (can it be done without carding combs? wouldn't that cost a lot to buy them?). What with losing a week and a half to a(nother!) bad flu, I was starting to feel like we should move on, so I punted and we watched it all on You Tube. Here we have shearing, preparing, spinning, and weaving. All four are the same group and they take a total of less than 10 minutes. It was wonderful to see so many different ways to spin!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Infallible Cure for Hiccups

Zorg showed up while I was sweeping the living room, "Mom, I have hiccups and the other kids told me you can cure them."

Sure, first you have to sweep the living room, dining room, and kitchen, then you need to mop. Then clean all the bathrooms and fold all the laundry. Then clean the boys' room, the girls' room and the library.

He gaped at me as I started to hand him the broom.

Oh no! Your hiccups are all gone already.

"Thanks, Mom!" Huge grin as he ran off.

Which goes to show there is more than one way to scare the hiccups out of someone.

And if it hadn't, at least I would have had the whole house cleaned!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

US History: Colonial Ink Video

This was our first try for a "how to" movie. I now have better editing software, so I think I'll have better sound quality on future videos. We had a lot of fun making it, but we are definitely still figuring things out!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Surprise Benefits

It's Math U Feed!

A surprise benefit of a flock of birds in the house has been Choclo's interest in counting, adding and subtracting parakeets.

If I am feeding 3 parakeets and 2 more come along, how many parakeets are there?

A surprise benefit of having 5 kids really sick at the same time has been having 6 kids willing to watch Blue's Big Musical Movie... Which lasted long enough for me to file that entire overgrown pile of home school papers you see in the background!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

US History: Colonial Times, Lighting

We've been stuck with another flu strain the past few days, but, before we got sick, we were starting some fun Colonial activities.

We've been dipping candles. What you are seeing here is a coffee can inside a pot. We have simmering water in the pot, keeping the can warm and the wax melted.

It turns out there is a trick to dipping candles with out using lots of wax! We filled the can 2/3 full of boiling water, then put in chunks of paraffin (in the canning section of your grocery store). The hot water melted the wax, and the wax floated on the water. We also added part of a crayon for color.

We kept a tall container of cool water handy.

We tied 2 lengths of string to a dowel so that there were 4 ends hanging down. We then put washers on the ends of the strings to keep the candles straight.

Then we dipped the strings, first into wax, then into cool water. If you keep them in the cool water long enough to get chilled (we used ice), the wax builds up faster.

After the first batch, we also added bergamot oil to make them smell good!

Eventually, I hope to make candle clocks out of some of them. To do this, you take several candles which were dipped together. You burn one and, at hourly intervals, you mark on the rest of the candles how far the first candle has burned. Since our candles are short, we'll use half hour intervals!