Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Poem of the Week

(On A Theme by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Pamela Cranston

Look how long
the weary world waited,
locked in its lonely cell,
guilty as a prisoner.

As you can imagine,
it sang and whistled in the dark.
It hoped. It paced and puttered about,
tidying its little piles of inconsequence
It wept from the weight of ennui,
draped like shackles on its wrists.
It raged and wailed against the walls
of its own plight.

But there was nothing
the world could do
to find its own freedom.
The door was shut tight.

It could only be opened
from the outside.

Who could believe the latch
would be turned by a pink flower —
the tiny hand
of a newborn baby?

© by Pamela Cranston, 2011

HT: Journey With Jesus

Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent Plans

It's true: we've been sick, we couldn't travel, we couldn't see family.  But it's an ill wind that blows no good: we have been able to excavate our Advent stuff and get ready in a fairly stress free way!

So, here's our plan.  Once again we have six kids, and therefore, once again, we have six things to do each day of Advent. We rotate through who does what.

Kid 1: The Advent House.  Behind each door is a piece of the Playmobil nativity set and six pieces of candy.

At this point we have many random pieces of many Playmobil nativity sets, and we set them up in a wooden stable from a long lost breakable nativity.

Anyway, the Bible doesn't specify how many kings showed up, or how many donkeys were at the stable, so as long as we stick to one Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, we are fine.

Kid 2: The Jesse Tree.  That's the little tree next to the house.  Each day has scripture readings tracing salvation history and, of course, a matching ornament.

Kid 3: Unwrap a seasonal book.  This was an idea we picked up on the interwebs somewhere and it has been a big hit.

Plus it makes sure nearly all the books get read!

The only challenge is to choose which are the best 25 Christmas books...

Kid 4: The Advent Calendar.  This year I found a really beautiful one on Amazon.  It's big, it's double sided, and the windows are randomly arranged around the main picture so that opening them doesn't destroy the image.  I love it!!

Kid 5: Advent Candles.  They light and blow out the candles on the Advent wreath each day.  We are still using glass enclosed "7 day" candles, and we highly recommend them!

Kid 6: Choose an ornament.  This way our house gets slowly decorated over the course of Advent.

Besides the individual stuff, we always have an empty manger to which we add hay.

 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.

 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.

Other stuff is less tangible.  We'll all donate money for a Heifer project. We'll try for more daily Masses (easier when we have no one sick!), and we like to see how many of the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy we can fit in.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

She's Off!

Yes!  Klenda passed the test with flying colors, and now has her learner's permit!

I took her for her first drive on Saturday, and she took to driving like a duck to water!

Go Klenda!!

But not too fast!!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Cold and Fever Within

Last Thursday, all the kids woke up with a sore throat.  I was delighted.

Not that sickness was good news, but that they all were getting it at the same time.

Let me tell you a story:

Waaaaaay back before I had kids, I was an immunology research lab technician. I had a particular talent for cell culture.  I had excellent aseptic technique.

My technique was good enough that I was able to do intracellular culture in human cells in a bacteria lab without a laminar flow hood and my cultures were never contaminated. All of which just means that I know what it takes to protect something from viruses and bacteria.

Back when I had all little kids, my worst nightmare was a stomach bug.  So when a kid got sick, even though I knew it was likely a highly contagious, super tiny norovirus that would be impossible to contain without a hospital's isolation unit, I had to try.

Using absolute best possible practices, maintaining strict isolation and using copious quantities of bleach, I achieved the following: I delayed the spread of the stomach bug so that, 12-24 hours after one child stopped vomiting, the next one started. And we were sick for a solid month. To add insult to injury, the severity tended to increase with each child.

I don't regret trying, because I had to know if it was humanly possible.  It isn't.  The only way to have only one young child get a stomach bug is to have only one young child.

After that, as soon as one kid got started, I encouraged them all to group hug, and give the sick one lots of kisses.  When they're sick, faster is better.

Back to the present day, I was delighted that they were all getting the cold at the same time, and that they were likely to be all over it by Thanksgiving (we can't visit my folks if we have a respiratory infection).  Alas, this took a turn for the feverish, and on Saturday, 6 of 8 had high fevers.  Today, 7 of 8 have low fevers (I got the fever early and am over it - a brilliant move on my part, since I need to make large quantities of tea right now).

I'm not sure what will happen for Thanksgiving, but, on the bright side, no one feels awful, just feverish, stuffy, and sneezy, so we've been having a nice time relaxing together!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Poem of the Week

The Cold Within

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

By James Patrick Kinney
HT: All Things If

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Secret Body Butter Recipe

It's a secret because I'm making a batch for my mom.  I'll tell you, but don't tell her, ok?

Body butter is for when you live in a very cold and/or dry place where lotions aren't enough to moisturize your skin. If your skin gets dry enough to crack, body butter is for you!

There are a lot of recipes, and I have made several.  My favorite to make for my mom is this:

1 part vitamin E oil
1 part almond oil (more if you need it softer)
3 parts cocoa butter
3 parts coconut oil
3 parts shea butter

The cheapest source for most of the ingredients seems to be Bulk Apothecary.  I'm guessing if you got the one pound sizes, you'd spend about $35 counting shipping, and have 4 batches or so: 8-12 Christmas presents, although you wouldn't need them all to be in the same season - the ingredients will be good for several years. They also have containers, I think.

Also, most recipes don't include vitamin E, but it's wonderful stuff for people whose skin gets really damaged by the cold. 

Melt all the solids in a microwave, mix it all together, and let it cool a little.

Now it can be poured into soap molds to make body butter "bars," or into a container for a tub of body butter.  I've never been able to figure out what the exact consistency will be until it's cooled.

If it's too firm, I often remelt it and add more almond oil to loosen it up (or pour it into bars).

If it's too soft, I can either whip it into "whipped body butter," or remelt it and add either cocoa butter, or beeswax.

You'll note my recipe has no additional scent.  It does smell subtly of coconut and chocolate, which works well for my mom (allergic to every fragrance known to man), but you could add any fragrance oil you like.

I do a lot with fragrance oils in soap, and my suggestion with body butter would be to add half of what you think you need to start out.  Also, try out different scent combinations on cotton balls before committing it to more expensive materials,  A fringe benefit: the cotton balls make nice drawer sachets!

I think a peppermint with orange or vanilla would be nice, particularly as a Christmas gift, and it's hard to go wrong with bergamot (a citrusy herbal scent) and jasmine. You might want to stay away from peppermint, ginger, or cinnamon oils if it's for someone whose skin is damaged - those oils could irritate sore skin.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Anybody Need Some Cute?

I don't know if you do Cute Overload, but we use it as instant mood modification.  Everyone feeling grumpy?  Let's scroll through a few pages of Cute Overload: awwwwwwwww.  We're all feeling better! 

Anyway, Cute Overload has "rules of cuteness" and one of them is that anything in pairs is cute.

 Traditional brown paper and feathers turkeys?

Cuter when there are two.

Explanation of why Choclo and Oob can not share a bedroom?

Definitely involves a pair.


All. Night. Long.

But very cute!

Another cuteness rule is that a thing accompanied by a smaller version of itself, is cute.

Coupled with my love of matching pajamas.... pretty darn cute!

 But matching fake mustaches... that's a whole nother level.

I crack up every time I see this picture!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Random Science: Part 2

 Continuing on (this was actually all in one day!), Zorg created an experiment using the lazer tag guns, looking at which surfaces would block, absorb, or redirect the invisible beams.

He worked this up on his own, and did it with a bunch of the Zoomlians while I was working on the dissections.

He used a mirror as a reflection control, and discovered, among other things, that the beams were not absorbed by black surfaces.  Very cool!
 I ran a quick fun experiment looking at surface tension.  You pour a little milk in a plate, then drop in some coloring.

The diffusion of the color is interesting of itself, but the real fun is when you add a drop of dish soap.

When the surface tension is broken, the colors go crazy!

We also did a bunch of chromatography experiments, and we put some celery and some white snapdragons into blue colored water (both of which continued to amuse for several days).

And we ended up with a somewhat unintentional science project when the Queen of the Squirrels decided to feed her subjects to help them prepare for winter.

The internet is full of videos of squirrels stealing bird food.  We have cardinals and jays poaching squirrel food! Every time this little fellow turns his back...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Random Science: Part 1

 Last Saturday was the feast of one of my favorite saints: St. Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists!

He was a marvelous theologian, an excellent bishop, and a holy man.  Additionally he was a scientist whose keen insight into the natural world left us the first recorded use of the scientific method. 

He was interested in every branch of science, and was said to be the last man to know everything that was known in Western culture.

And he was the teacher and defender of some other famous guy. 

We did lots of fun experiments in honor of St. Albert!

Zorg wanted to try using a magnet on an old cathode ray TV we were getting rid of.  Not only could he change the colors on the screen by passing the magnet near it, but when he placed the magnet on the screen, it formed rainbow lines along the magnetic fields!

We used an extra long slinky to look at waves.  You can do this with a regular slinky, too!

First, we stretched out the slinky between two kids and made waves: transverse waves are the kind you make when you wave one end of the slinky back and forth (or up and down, but that's harder to see and complicated by gravity).

These are super fun! Plus they are a fantastic illustration of the fact that waves are energy moving through something, not really the thing moving.

If you make a wave on one end while the other is still, you can see the wave move through the coil, hit the end, and bounce back reflected (moving upside down in the opposite direction).

If both sides make waves at the same speed (frequency) you can make standing waves! 

These are waves where there are parts of the slinky that look like they are standing still (nodes) and parts that are looping up and down (anti nodes).

The kids had fun using different frequencies to make different nodes, and, of course, jumping over the nodes!

We also did some longitudinal waves (waves that move along the length of the slinky, not back and forth), and had fun trying to make opposite waves.

When a wave meets it's exact opposite, it disappears (the principle behind noise cancelling headphones: they are generating tones that are the exact opposite of the sound you don't want to hear).  This is much easier for a computer than a human being!

And what would a science day be with out a dissection?

Choclo and I did the "sheep pluck," and it was very cool!

The "pluck" is the heart and lungs together, all the way out to the trachea.  I had done the heart, but never the lungs, let alone the entire cardiopulmonary system!

We used Just Bob (our anatomical model) alongside the disssection to see how everything worked in people.

Choclo: "I liked how it showed the tube you breathe with and how it turned into lots and lots of tubes in the lungs, and how they got smaller and smaller and smaller.  And I liked to see how the heart went pump, pump, pump.  I liked how when one part opened, the other part closed.  The small side went to the lungs, but the big side went to the whole body."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Eeling Thankful

 Every November, in preparation for Thanksgiving, we like to write down some of the many things for which we're thankful.

Some years, we've made a big paper turkey and written things down on feathers.

Some years, we wrote things down on links and made a paper chain.

But, this year, we thought we'd try something a little more obviously "Thanksgiving." 

Yes, the pilgrims ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving, but their favorite dish was probably a delicacy in England that also happened to be plentiful in the New World.


 So we've been writing our gratitude on eels this month, and taping them at the tops of the walls.

Because, you know, seeing eelings on the ceiling is such a good feeling!
By the way, did you know that baby eels are called elvers?

Elvers are flat and clear and so non-eel like that they were thought to be an unrelated species.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Poem of the Week

To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

By William Blake, 1757 - 1827

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How Awesome?

Me, to Oob in the back seat: How are you doing back there?

Oob: Awesome!!!

Me (laughing): Awesome like a possum.

Oob: NO!  MORE awesome than a possum!

Me: More awesome than a possum?

Oob: Sure!  I can do stuff besides eat and play dead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Farm to Table

 Our artist friend, whom we'll call Joy, was doing some play-doh sculpting with Choclo and Oob.

I had found some play-doh sample packs in the dollar section at Target.

 She ended up calling it "Farm to Table" since the kids wanted a cow, than a cheeseburger, a pig, then a ham...

That's Oob, in the background, making pizza!

I'm not sure which pizza bearing animal he started with.

And here's Choclo, doing some careful sculpting with scissors.

Not a bad hours fun for $2!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Saturday Was Crazy!

We started out picking up canned goods for the poor from around our neighborhood as part of Scouting for Food.  We took it all to our drop off point, our daily Mass parish, Holy Redeemer.

This was a great drop off place since Holy Redeemer was doing it's biggest fundraiser, the Harvest Bazaar.

The Boy Scouts were, for the first time ever, doing their Chicken BBQ, for the Harvest Bazaar, which meant I needed to drop off the 380 Scout Rolls we had made over the last few weeks.

Did I mention the Boy scouts were also doing their annual popcorn booth?  And the Cub Scouts were running a softball toss booth?  And Klenda and Leena were helping at the Coke Toss booth?  Ummm, and the adults needed to help, too?

It was CRAZY!  It was amazingly fun!

Did I mention there were prizes?

Choclo won a rubber shark!

Klenda won the Balloon Pop grand prize (a tiny frisbee!).

Oob won the Coke Toss (and this bottle of Coke!).

I was so busy, I only managed this one picture, but I think it says it all!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Poem of the Week

Among the Rocks

By Robert Browning
Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
      This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
      Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
      Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
      Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!

HT: Poetry Foundation

Friday, November 7, 2014

True Story

I was out shopping for fabric softener sheets.  This is a rare, but fun occurrence where we go through all options to pick our favorite smell.

In the process, Zorg found this.  It says,"For men and those who smell them."

Zorg hazarded a guess:"It smells like beef jerky?"