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.