Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guest blog by Mxyl: Merry Christmas from Zoom Extended Edition

This year our grandparents came over to visit us!  Pa, while opening his present, handled it as if it was a bomb (or at least an unidentified object of some type) and by the time it was just about open he had almost convinced all of us that there were three [angry] ferrets inside who were doing everything they could to get out.  It later turned out to be six mugs with designs of fighter planes on them.

We greatly enjoyed the presents and presence of one another.  Oh, yes--I can't do a blog post about this Christmas without noting the Christmas tree.  Last year, it was so big we had trouble finding enough room in the house to put the angel on top!  This year, it was relatively tiny.  The result was that we had a lot of trouble finding enough room
on the tree to put all the ornaments, let alone the presents.

 Baby Jesus's manger was overflowing with straw (literally!), Our other grandmother came over to run a few errands and finish up her Christmas shopping, and we played both video games, outside games, and more.
Just today, we opened the stuff our Aunt Toni gave us.
Choclo & Oob got probably the most difficult-to-build castle in the world (just trust me on this one),

Leena got glowing gloves that glowed different colors (red, green, blue and all three--that is SO cool),
Zorg got a create-and-eat gummy bug set (no, I am not making this up),

Klenda got a new art kit (a calligraphy set, in fact!)
and I got an official Legend of Zelda t-shirt!
Thanks, Aunt Toni!  And a happy new year to all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Scout Party!

Last night was the Boy Scout Christmas party.  I'm not sure how that turned into a costume party, but it did!

I think one scout decided to come as Santa and Mxyl thought of coming as an elf.  Link, the Legend of Zelda elf, to be specific.

From there on it snowballed.  Zorg wanted to be the nightmare before Christmas (or "Oops!  Wrong holiday!").  Leena wanted to be a Christmas tree (although some of her tinsel fell off before I took the picture), and Klenda went as a department store elf.  Her name tag reads: Hello!  My name is Elf Rudolf.

And a very good time was had by all!

FOOTNOTE BY MXYL: I made a photoshop of myself earlier.  It reads, "Legend of Zenda", a pun on Princess Klenda (Hey, our dad is a grand emperor, so "Princess" Klenda really does work!) and has nothing whatsoever to do with The Prisoner of Zenda.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Antiphons

Each December 17th, the Church kicks into high "getting ready for Christmas" gear.  This is marked by two momentous events: 1 we put up our Christmas tree, and 2 the O antiphons.

What's an antiphon, anyway?  An antiphon is a response to a psalm or a scripture canticle.  The O antiphons are responses to the Canticle of Mary, also known as the Magnificat.  The Church sings this every evening, and there are always antiphons said before and after we sing it, but the O antiphons are particularly striking in their beauty and significance.

The antiphon for the 17th, for example is:O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly.  Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Each of the antiphons is a scripture based title for Jesus. There's even a cool "Easter egg" thing: If you take the first letter of each antiphon (not counting the O!) they spell out, "Tomorrow, I come" (in Latin, of course, since they were originally written in Latin!).

Every year, we each randomly pick an antiphon to illustrate on large paper banners.  We draw or paint them secretly, and then post them in the stairwell on the appropriate day.

The top picture shows the first three days.  Star did "O Wisdom," Leena did  the next day "O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.  Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us."

Zorg did "O Root of Jesse..."  

I did " O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens.  Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death."

This is my banner.  In the key hole you may be able to see (from the top down) Adam and Eve, Abel's death,  the Tower of Babel, hatred, money, sadness, the Golden Calf, Fear, slavery, death, human sacrifice, starvation, age, weapons of war, natural disasters, and, at the very bottom, people languishing in chains in the dark.

That was yesterday's antiphon, today's is "O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death."

Klenda did this one, but it's not on the wall yet!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Of Socks and Such

It is a well known fact that socks tend to go missing in my house.  I always thought the drier ate them, but now I need another theory.

I have a dozen Christmas stockings.  I have never put any of them into the drier, yet each Christmas I find fewer stockings.

This year I could only find 7 and I needed 9.  What to do?  The plain ones were on sale at Target for $4, but I just couldn't bring myself to spend the money.  I have yards of fleece stockpiled in my sewing cache, how hard could it be to make them?

In a shocking development, they turned out to be as easy as I thought they'd be!

I just folded the fabric to make 4 layers, cut out a stocking type shape, and sewed around the outside.

I wasn't sure how to cuff them (or was too lazy!) so I folded down the tops and fringed them.  A little fabric paint and:  Voila!  Stockings!

It would have been nice to trim the seams to get the curves to lie smooth, and I may get around to that... eventually.  But they bulge out when stuffed anyway, so it doesn't show in use!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Crazy Advent

One of the joys of using Playmobil Nativity people is that they are of the right size to interact with other toys.  The creature hiding behind the stable keeps showing up in our nativity...

This week my Advent has kind of felt like there was a giant alien bug hiding behind all the Christmas preparations.

Last week I went in for some minor dental work and got walloped with "the tooth from heck" as my dentist so delicately put it.  By the end of that encounter I had laser gum surgery, a shaved bone, and air in my cheek (not in my mouth, inside my cheek). 

I was an airhead for a few days, but I'm feeling muuuuch better now.  Except that today I had to go back in with a raging gum infection.  I'm glad I live in the time of antibiotics.

Back to last Friday: I was hardly off the pain killers when I got the news that Fr. Pinto had died.  Later that day, my father-in-law went into the hospital with a fever they couldn't control.  The fever broke today, thanks be to God, but prayers for his recovery would be appreciated.

What to make of all this in Advent? 

A parish near me uses blue for Advent instead of purple and pink.  Klenda asked the priest on Gaudete Sunday, why no pink?  He told her that the pink was there to offset the penitential purple, but that Advent wasn't really a penitential time, so they just use blue and therefore don't need the pink..

That's wrong, of course.  The Church has spoken on that one: we use purple because it's a penitential season.  Pink represents joy.  So, he's right about something very basic to the spiritual life: when you skip the penance, you lose the joy.

What does that have to do with my aching gums and battered heart?  Two things.  The first was that when I went in to get that minor dental work done, I was thinking of Annabelle's sister Julie. 

Annabelle comments pretty frequently on my blog, and she happened to mention that she was having a tough Advent because her sister was diagnosed with cancer.   I looked her up on Caring Bridge, and saw that Julie has a cancer that is difficult if not impossible to cure, and she has kids my kids age and younger - her youngest is 2. 

Anyway, I thought I'd offer up any pain or discomfort from having my loose crown fixed for Julie.  Little did I know!  But it's awfully little compared to what she's going through, and it's a gift I can give to the Christ Child.  Essentially, it's a suffering (a penance, if you will) that I chose willingly, if occasionally whinily!

The second thing: What about all this extra suffering?  I didn't choose to suffer my friend's death, or my dear father-in-law's illness.  Why these unlooked for, unchosen "penances" in Advent? 

There is a saying that sorrow carves in your heart the space that joy will fill. 

Put another way, you can't have a resurrection without a death.

This has been a pain that shocked me out of my own busy preparations.  I was at the pharmacy today, waiting for my new antibiotic, and I really looked at the people around me.  It seems so often, I am so busy, I don't really notice other people, especially people in pain.  That's what I saw: people in pain, people who could use a kind word, the suffering Jesus.

These sorrowful Advent experiences have opened my heart to others, and therefore to Christ, in a way I don't think I've ever been, and I'm grateful for that. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Fr. Pinto

Yesterday Angel called with the shocking news that my dear friend, Fr. Pinto, had been killed in a car accident in India.

Please pray for the repose of his soul, and for his family, as well as for all the people whose lives he touched.  For myself, all I can say is that my life is so much better for having known him.  He brought me closer to God, and may the Lord he loved so well, richly reward him.

He taught me that nothing is lost in God, and to trust, always trust in God's love for us, even, perhaps especially, in the face of great suffering..

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fun at the Botannical Gardens

 I thought this year's display was the best ever!

The theme was "animal houses" and they had an amazing variety.

 This was my favorite: an Opposum Opartment!

Each house was a miniature marvel, carefully constructed of twigs, acorn caps and bark.

 We also enjoyed the rest of their displays, especially their enormous glassed-in two tiered jungle.

I think the best might have been seeing the banana trees with actual bananas and the cocoa tree with real cocoa pods.  Oooh!  We saw a kumquat tree with fruit, also!
They also have a kids exploration room where you can smell all sorts of things that come from plants.  These range from the commonplace cinnamon sticks, to the exotic pampas grass.

It's all done in this amazing giant metal garden where the "flowers" contain all the different things to smell.  Very cool!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Yet More Gingerbread

 There's nothing like gingerbread and 6 bowls of candy to bring out the artist in any kid!

In this case, we sweetened the deal by making a giant batch of royal icing, then separating it into 6 bags with different colors.

This was super easy: we just snipped the corners of the bags and let the kids have at it.  We used freezer strength quart bags to prevent the possibility of blow outs.

We ended up with a wide array of artistic styles, all of which tasted delicious!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reasons for Photoshop

One reason I like the Botannical Gardens is that it's a great place to take Festive Family Fotos Photos.

It's a great theory, and sometimes it even works!  This year however...

Photo 1: Light isn't good, Mxyl appears to be blocking some unseen thing aimed at his ear.
 Photo 2: Zorg looks desperately unhappy, Mxyl doesn't look happy and Klenda looks a little too happy.  Light still isn't right.
 Photo 3: Mxyl still too serious, Zorg looks pained, I feel pained.
I forget about the light because we are obviously having other issues.

 Photo 4: Leena moved, Zorg makes an attempt at sleeping, Oob hides.  I have a creeping sensation that this is not going to work out as planned.
 Photo 5: The Zoomlians, perhaps sense my mood! Klenda is grimacing, Leena is horrified, and Oob attempts to escape.  Mxyl looks great, though, and Choclo is smiling like a champ!  Maybe I should change tactics...
 Photo 6: I take a picture of "only the kids who want to smile."  It comes out like this...  

 Photo 7: Fine!  I try a picture of "only those kids who don't want to smile."  It comes out like this.

Which is enough to entice Oob back since he doesn't want to smile either, which looks like this.
At this point we are actually 16 photos in (I spared you, really I did!) and I realize we are just not going to get a Christmas photo of glowing happy, respectabiggle children this trip and I decide to be all right with that.

There's always Photoshop.

Choclo's Machines

Choclo has been going on a building spree with the big red cardboard blocks.  He likes to build large and fantastically complicated "machines" like this one, which feeds penguins (fish and squid) and  shoots leopard seals (the primary predators of penguins).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Guest blog by Mxyl: Overheard

Something completely random for when you walk into your Mom and Dad's bedroom and see your youngest brothers:
CHOCLO: "No, Oob, 'cause God hasn't died yet."  (suddenly becomes aware of my presence.)  "Oh, Mxyl?  Does God have freckles?"

Big Brothers Little Brothers

Really, does it get any better than this?

Monday, December 12, 2011

If You Can Stand Another Advent Post

 We got our Christmas lights up! 

The four youngest Zoomlians went to a Christmas concert at the BSO, and Mxyl and Klenda stayed home with me.  We had the idea to do the outside decorations as a surprise to the rest.

When we were done, we decided we needed something extra.  More lights? More bows? A gigantic snow globe on the roof?

How about a 4 foot inflatable penguin!?!

You may recall that Choclo and Oob are crazy about penguins.

They are really CRAZY about this one!

Incidentally, I forgot to mention the biggest deal about the Christmas cards.  Mxyl created, printed and cut out the pictures, Zorg folded the letters, Klenda stuffed envelopes, and Choclo put on the stickers.

Then Klenda built a... house of cards!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Getting Things Done

Today we were supposed to go to the Botanical Gardens and see their holiday train display.  As it happened, the combination of cold and rainy and Occupy DC (camping out on the Mall, and presumably taking up parking) was enough to scare us off, temporarily, at least.  We'll try again next week.

In the mean time, it looked like a great day to Get Stuff Done!

So far we've done the Christmas cards!  Really that doesn't capture it. We are DONE, do you hear me, DONE with the Christmas cards!!!  That means: Christmas letter, Christmas picture, addresses found and  written, stamps and address labels applied mostly right side up (Choclo did those), envelopes stuffed and all, DONE!  Did I mention we're done?

Did  you know that one thing that stresses me out about Christmas is Christmas cards?  You did?  I'm surprised.  I've never mentioned it to anyone.  But as long as they are in the house I feel creeping guilt that I need to add (to the Christmas letter, mind you!) a newsy personal note to each person.  I mean to each person in each household.  That's about 200 newsy personal notes.  Seriously, I would need to start in August. But, when the cards are sent, the guilt evaporates, because... it's done.

Did I mention that when I ran out of stamps, I sent Mxyl and Klenda to the post office to buy stamps, stamp the remaining cards and mail the whole shebang?  Having older kids rocks!

We've also been making cookies and candy and starting to wrap the presents.  And the kids all cleaned their rooms.  And we finished the cards! And we're listening to Christmas music!

I am having an awesome day (as measured by I feel great)!  And I hope you are, too.

Here, listen to some Christmas music:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Musings

As usual, slow posting means fast real life!

We are rolling along with our Advent theme song, People Look East.

The first verse goes:
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.

The First week of Advent we had unexpected, but delightful, house guests.  That was incredibly fun! Love, the guest was closer than we thought!  We set aside our regular plans and thoroughly enjoyed our guests.

The second verse goes:
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.

This Sunday, I came down with a fever that has totally sapped my strength.  The Emperor took off  today to help me recover.  In fact, he is off at the toy store with all six Zoomlians so they can buy presents for each other.  He's my hero...

I'm supposed to be writing the Christmas letter right now, but, as I was checking the blog for what we did this year, I noticed that I hadn't posted for a while. I'm not dilly dallying around to avoid writing the letter.  Really.

I find it interesting that this is the first year in a long time I have felt ready for Advent.  Not ready in the sense of having everything ready, by any means!  Just that I felt ready.  Maybe God's using this Advent to get me ready, get my heart ready for Christmas.  All the losses this year may have cracked my heart open enough for Him to have room to work.  What I mostly feel now is joy.

I did not start Advent with a grand spiritual plan of how I was going to prepare my heart for Christmas, but God has stepped in with a better plan than I could have imagined. 

Here is a video.  The video itself is very amateurish, but I love the way he sings it.  There's a bright and beautiful spirit there that seems to mean the words.  This is also the arrangement I like best (by Eleanor Farjeon).  My copy is sung by the angelic Amy White (not a high and inaccessible kind of angelic, her voice seems more rich and golden)  but I can't find a You Tube of it. You can hear the sample if you click the link.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy Advent!

It used to annoy me that all the Advent Calendars started on December first, while Advent itself only managed that trick once every seven years or so.  But I'm feeling muuuuch better now!

Actually, I love Advent, but now I find it's nice to ease into it. I've found I need to do 6 Advent things a day so that everyone can do something each day.  Plus everyone has a paper calendar of their own this year.  Plus putting hay in the manger.  Plus, to start out, I need to strip all the walls... I love it all, but it's tough to do from a standing start.

We got back from Mumpy and Pa's Saturday night (Blue Streak blew the radiator on the way back, so we got home late).  On Sunday I went digging through the Advent and Christmas stuff in the back basement in a wild effort to get my act together.  I wonder if this is a metaphor for what the Second Coming is going to be like that for me...

Anyway, our 6 daily activities this year are:

1. The Advent House, full of Playmobil nativity figures and candy (6 pieces plus a figure behind each door).

2. The velcro calendar: faded and missing a piece or two, but we love it!

3. The Jesse Tree.  This is doubling as our Bible time since each day goes through a part of salvation history in both the Old and New Testaments.

4. The ornament: a new Christmas decoration picked out each day!

5. Lighting (or just blowing out ) the Advent wreath candles.

6.  This is new!  A kid gets to pick one thing we all can do as a gift to God that day.

You can see pictures of everything Advent here.

I also love online Advent calendars!  My favorite religious one is on Busted Halo, my favorite secular one is Boola and Kwala.