Friday, December 31, 2010

Wrapping Up 2010

Top 10 memorable things about 2010:
10. Snowpocolypse: we finally get serious about winter.
9. Snowmaggedon: we get way too serious about winter.
Klenda: "How can I play in this much snow?"
The Emperor: "Tunnel."
8. The US History mega unit.
7.The trip to the beach.
6. The trip to NYC!
5.Discovering and fixing the void under the basement floor; ending up with a brand new and improved family room.
4. My sister making her final profession and the trip out to see it.
3.Our 20th wedding anniversary and the trip back to where we met!
2.Choclo becoming a Big Guy - now we have five Big Guys and only one little Guy!
1. Mxyl becoming a teenager!

Good Morning

Oob is very particular in the morning. Ordinarily, no one but the Emperor himself may attend him. This morning, however, he wanted me.

Me: Good morning, Ooby! Would you like a song?

Oob: Yes!

Me: Twinkle, twinkle, little nose,
How I love you, I suppose.
Up upon my belly round,
Hope you won't fall on the ground.
Twinkle, twinkle, little nose,
How I love you, I suppose.

Oob: ... Maybe I'll try Daddy.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Christmas!

We finally did clear that virus - on the third day of Christmas- but it was a wonderful Christmas all the same!

My folks risked the fever to come visit us. Going to Mass on Christmas with my parents and my kids and my sweetie is just the best ever!

Baby Jesus had a nice soft crib despite the thieving birds...

We had a fabulous Christmas on Boxing Day with my much adored in-laws. I left my camera there, so no pictures until my favorite MIL comes for tea (hint! hint!)

We are still opening presents. We open a present and then play with it, so we generally take a week or so to get to everything. It's been a nice quiet, happy week!

The Emperor and I have been spending time doing little projects in a relaxed way. Plus I've started getting together our stuff for the home school portfolio review on Monday.

More details and some pictures later.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mostly Better

The score is:
Mxyl, Klenda and Zorg have cleared the fever! They all are in various stages of voice lost, but I'll take "Silent Night" over "Random Fever Bizarreness."

Leena and Choclo still have the fever, but are happy with ibuprofen and a blessedly long Busytown Mysteries DVD.

Oob... I just can't tell. I can't get an accurate reading on the thermometer, possibly because he finds the instruction "put it under your tongue" quite hilarious.

He seems chipper enough. On the other hand, he felt warm to me this morning.

I told him, "I think you have a fever."

He looked at me, then at himself and answered quizzically, "I don't see any fevers on me!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Baking Bonanza

I have been having a great time doing holiday baking. We usually start in November and do one kind of cookie a week, storing them in the freezer. Whenever we have a Christmas event or friend drop by, I just open the freezer and assemble a cookie plate!

Lets see what's on this year's plate:

1. Mxyl chose chocolate cherry cookies. These are easy: make chocolate chip cookies, but add 1/2 c. cocoa after you cream the sugar. We also add cherry extract at that point, but you could skip it if you can find cherry chips at Target. We did extract and red cherry chips and white chips and chocolate chips, but then, we're not really into understated.

2. Klenda chose candy cane cookies. We added peppermint oil instead of almond extract. This is one of my favorites from childhood - I remember shaping them with my sister! As it turned out, however, they weren't what Klenda wanted.

3. Klenda actually meant the chocolate chip cookies where you crush candy canes and put them in the batter when you add the chips. Since I now can make chocolate chip cookies in ten minutes, in my sleep, with one apron tied behind my back, that was an easy yes.

4. Leena chose chocolate chocolate chip mint with candy canes (are you detecting a theme, here?) These are chocolate chip cookies, but you add 1/2 cup of cocoa after you cream the butter and then add peppermint oil. The finished cookies are frosted with buttercream frosting (we added more peppermint) and topped with crushed candy canes. Very pretty.

I wonder if my kids are super into candy canes or do they just like baking projects that involve smashing things with hammers...

5. Zorg chose meringues. I love meringues... We have to make another batch...

6. I chose these lovely caramel oat bars. I drizzle them with chocolate and cut them into diamonds. So pretty! So tasty! Probably a billion calories a piece!

7. We made some Jello spritz cookies, but not a lot made it into the freezer. If cookies using a hammer are popular, cookies using a "gun" cause stampedes. We made raspberry ones. I used some cream cheese for part of the butter with the idea it would be like raspberry cheesecake, but I used a touch too much and they were a little too tart. Still very yummy, and a good looking one for the plate.

8. I also made eggnog cookies for the Emperor. Not flashy, but one of his favorites. I used eggnog extract to boost the flavor.

9. OK, this is getting silly, but a dear friend told me her favorite was shortbread...

10. And then I made fruitcake... I tried it last year because it turned out that my Mom likes it. I never liked it, but have discovered that what I don't like about fruitcake is the corn syrupy glaceed fruit. Made with dried fruit and home made orange peel candy, it is really quite nice.

And I think that's it! You know except for cinnamon rolls and that kind of stuff...

Monday, December 20, 2010

What We've Been Up To, Part 3

We've been plugging away with the schooling. We've been holding the course with Math. That seems to be the one thing you never want to take a break from. It seems like everything is built on everything and the information seems to leak out their ears if you go too long without accessing it.

Leena and Zorg are enjoying their copy work. Leena is nearing the end of her story about a squirrel and a dolphin. Zorg has just killed a dragon and discovered a mysterious jewel in his story. I make the stories up as we go along and write them in their notebooks. When they were little, they traced my printing. Now they write it over themselves. It's an easy way to teach handwriting, grammar, punctuation, spelling and capitalization.

Mxyl and Klenda are still going on "Trials of Furno." I'll try to post more of it later. This is something they beg to do in their spare time! The Emperor is signing on as editor. It's amazingly convenient to have a professional writer (and English teacher!) on staff!!

We are taking a break on our US History mega unit. Science has been mostly revolving around weather and the relationship of heat/energy to density. Lots of interesting conversations and guesses about why things do what they do. Questions like, "Why does hot air rise?"

And then we got around to haircuts! The girls were especially pleased with their results. The boys were fine with whatever was going on atop of their heads. It's not that they don't appreciate a haircut, it's that they don't get excited about it. Girls are kind of fun that way.

The older four were easy. Oob is hard, but doable. I think I will have to go back and even some things out.

Choclo, however, well, the last time I had tried the "big boy haircut" I really had not liked the results...for about three months. I felt so clueless about what to do with his hair, that I finally broke down and sent him to a barber(with the Emperor).

First time any of my kids have had their hair professionally cut! It looks great! Plus, I looked at what the pro did, and I think I can do it next time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What We've Been Up To, Part 2

We've been decorating everything that isn't nailed down, and some things that are.

Here you see our Jesse Tree, the manger, and Courage and Love stealing hay from Baby Jesus.

We got the tree early on, but only put it up this weekend. It's been so cold that when we hauled the tree out of the water we had been keeping it in on the deck, it came out in a block of ice...

No permanent damage, though.

We've also been decorating kids.

I'm not sure we're doing it right.

Zorg is doing a very fine Grinch, I think.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What We've Been Up To, Part 1

Sorry for the long silence. Most recently, we performed the hitherto unguessable feat of all six Zoomlians getting sick on the same day. Fortunately, that day was last Friday, and three have recovered so far, so I think we've missed having a Green Christmas, this year.

Will they all be well and the house decontaminated for a visit from my folks on Thursday?

I think we can. I think we can. I think we can. I think we can.

The good news is that it is not a stomach bug, just a fever.

Klenda has fully recovered from her sprain. She was even well enough to do her horseback riding lesson the Saturday after her spill.

Of course, she missed this week because of the fever...

The riding lessons are her Christmas present from Grammy. When Grammy asked her if she wanted lessons even if it meant she wouldn't get many other presents, she answered that they would be better than a million other presents!

She's one happy horse loving girl!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Lame Excuse

for not posting! Klenda sprained her ankle last Sunday.

Unbelievably, she is off crutches as of today! We'll keep the splint on a while longer.

The doctor had said she would likely be running around as if nothing had happened by the end of the week. Looking at her then, I found that assessment... questionable. But it looks like he was spot on. Thanks be to God!

Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day and the Virtue of Hope

Did you put your shoes out last night?

The Zoomlians did. Hope springs eternal. Abundant hope, in this case.

The idea is that you put out your shoes on St. Nicholas Eve and you find them filled with candy in the morning. A visit from St. Nicholas, indeed!

In some cultures the kids leave hay in their shoes for the good bishop's horse. I'm sweeping up enough hay from our manger as it is, so we skip that part...

We don't "do " Santa, but we love St. Nicholas, as we explained here.

Why would a fourth century bishop want to stuff shoes full of candy? When he was on Earth, he did a lot of "Secret Santa" stuff like that, especially for children. You can find that story and many more (as well as fun activities) here!

And, in honor of the day, here is a little gift for you. Hold out your shoe:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Botannical Garden

Last week we went off with friends to see the Botannical Garden's holiday display. This is the one where they make scale models of landmarks from natural materials.

These are pictures of the US Capitol building an the Lincoln Memorial, but the main display had various wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid, Petra, the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and, my favorite, the Hagia Sophia!

Having done this sort of thing with gingerbread gives a new appreciation for the difficulty of the task!

They also have a marvelous model train set up, as well as their usual three story jungle space - tons of fun!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seven Quick takes Advent

Happy Advent! It's not that I'm doing a ton of stuff for Advent, it's that all six kids are now old enough (or young enough ) to want to do something each day of Advent, so we do the first 6 things each day in rotation.

The Advent House. Each door has 6 pieces of candy and a piece of the Playmobil Nativity. Each year, we lose more pieces of the set, so I usually buy a new set every other year. This year I couldn't find it!

This morning, Choclo opened door 3 and was surprised to find 6 lemon drops and a wooden dog from a puzzle. Ummm. A sheepdog, that's it, the shepherds could have brought a dog...

2. A paper Advent calendar. This one has doors that start before December 1st and goes through the Baptism of the Lord. I like that. I also like that each door has matching scripture and the images go with the saint of the day. It even has the O antiphons. It's also very cool that it's 3 D and you can put a light inside. But I can't fully recommend it.

I do not like that it has Rosa Parks on December 1st. Why? Dorothy Day on December 4th I can kinda see, but Rosa Parks for Advent? I'm all for Rosa Parks, but it's an odd choice. These are the only two like that in the whole calendar, but they are both in the first week. I also feel one of the less noticeable images over one of the doors is kinda immodest. My kids haven't noticed it, but why put it in? That being said, I got it from LTP.

3. The Jesse Tree. Every year I want to give my friend a hug (you know who you are!). It was she who organized the Jesse tree swap. She found 28 people and we each made 28 of one kind of ornament. Then we all got together and, you know, swapped! She even made a little booklet of all the scripture passages for each day.

If you haven't heard of it, the Jesse Tree goes through Salvation History one ornament at a time. We start with a little salt dough Earth and read the Creation story. Then we had a play-doh apple for the fall of man. Today we had a fabric camel to symbolize the covenant with Abraham. This may be my favorite Advent activity.

4. The velcro calendar. I'm afraid I should have gotten a new one this year, ours is looking a bit shabby! I got this one cheaply at Oriental Trading 3 years ago. I think it's time to invest in an upgrade.

5. Choose a decoration. We have all our Christmas decorations in a big heap on the guest room bed and #5 gets to choose one each day.

This actually is a nice, low stress way to decorate. I also like the gradual build up better than the *poof* now it's Christmas approach, although I can see why some people prefer the latter.

If the house were all decorated I would feel like the presents all ought to be wrapped (or at least bought). For me, that way lies madness!

6.Zorg and I built our Advent wreath last weekend. We've found having the glass pillar candles solves a lot of the problems with little kids and Advent candles (no picking apart the wax, the flames are less accessible, etc.)

It didn't occur to me that it looked less like a wreath until Choclo explained to (non-Catholic) guests, "This is our Advent nest."

Now, every time I look at it, I think, "Nest." Not a bad image for Advent, actually, I guess. # 6 gets to light and/or blow out the Advent wreath/nest.

7. The hay in the manger. This isn't rotating. We try to do good deeds, make small sacrifices, or spend extra time praying to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Each time, we put a little hay in the manger to make Baby Jesus' bed (and our hearts) a little softer when He comes.

OK, this has to be my favorite! We have a very beautiful statue that we put in the manger at Christmas and it is always the first thing the kids look for on Christmas morning.

My all time favorite Christmas memory was the year the Mxyl was 4, Klenda was 3, and Zorg was 1. They were completely focused on Christmas as Jesus coming. They had filled the manger with cotton balls (instead of hay). They had made presents for other people as a way of giving presents to Jesus. It hadn't occurred to them that they would get any presents themselves. The pure joy on their face that morning when they saw the Baby Jesus in the manger is something I will always treasure. They were fully and completely happy with Jesus. The presents later were just nice extras.

Happy Advent!!

More with Jen!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Leena's Gingerbread

After the big rush to get the other houses out in time for the contest, it was very nice to do a "relaxed" house.

Leena's idea was an apartment building with a Christmas tree. I think it came out rather well!

Here's how to do it the easy way:

1. We used a box as a base pattern (we actually laid the box on the gingerbread and cut around it).

2.We made the royal icing very thick (whip 4 egg whites and keep adding powdered sugar) so that it's a toothpaste texture.

When it's that thick, it holds the walls and roof on very well and dries quickly. It also holds candy on a vertical surface.

If you are careful (i.e. an adult) you can keep the surface of the house very clean for "professional" results. If you are a kid, you can build and decorate by yourself. You can always thin it later (with lemon juice) if you want to do fancy icing.

Somewhere along the line, we lost the roof on Leena's house, so she improvised with pretzel logs and frosting. We actually like this roof better, especially with the candy canes!

The only downside is that now Choclo wants to know when we will do his gingerbread house...

I also wanted to note that I use the gingerbread houses as a major home schooling art project as well as an opportunity to teach project planning for the older kids.