Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in New Jersey Part 2

 On Christmas, a flock of over 500 Canada Geese settled on the lake!  The lake changed from being an absolute silent mirror to a cacophony of motion. This neighborhood cat was fascinated!

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

The Zoomlians give to you: the ability to build a Christmas tree in Minecraft!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas in New Jersey Part 1

 Thanks, Mumpy and Pa!  We had a wonderful time!

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

the Zoomlians give to you: a Christmas carol.  Not the Christmas Carol again, just a Christmas carol!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Where Have We Been?

 We've been here, but crazy busy (kind of like everyone else right before Christmas, right?).

We've been crafting cute crafts with cute kids!

And we've been baking cookies and making candy treats, none of which we want to show you in case you are getting some for Christmas!

And we've been decorating and wrapping and checking our spreadsheets, and singing Christmas carols.

And getting wisdom teeth extracted.

And not eating anything crunchy before Christmas!

And making the Tooth Chicken work overtime!

(If you can't read the package, it's a kit for making ninjabread men.  Because we can't get enough gingerbread around here.)

And working out this year's 12 days of Christmas!

(If you weren't here last year, I post a little something for you each of the 12 days of Christmas, starting on Christmas Day.)

And, surprisingly, at the end of what feels like a marathon, having a little time to pray and reflect!

God bless you  and may you have a peaceful and joy filled Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Poem of the Week: Advent Summons

Advent Summons

Come forth from the holy place,
Sweet Child,
Come from the quiet dark
Where virginal heartbeats
Tick your moments. 

Come away from the red music
Of Mary's veins.
Come out from the Tower of David
Sweet Child,
From the House of Gold. 

Leave your lily-cloister,
Leave your holy mansion,
Quit your covenant ark.
O Child, be born! 

Be born, sweet Child,
In our unholy hearts. 

Come to our trembling,
Helpless Child.

Come to our littleness,
Little Child,
Be born unto us
Who have kept the faltering vigil.

Be given, be born,
Be ours again.

Came forth from your holy haven,
Come away from your perfect shrine,
Come to our wind-racked souls
From the flawless tent,
Sweet Child. 

Be born, little Child,
In our unholy hearts.

Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
HT: Advent Poetry, University of Dayton 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Poem of the Week : Gaudete!

Lyrics HT: Steeleye Span

. .
Gaudete, Gaudete, Christus est natus Rejoice, Rejoice, Christ is born
Ex Maria Virgine, Gaudete! of the Virgin Mary, Rejoice!
---- ----
Tempus adest gratiae The hour of grace which we
Hoc quod optabamus, seek is here.
Carmina laetitiae We offer with devotion our
Devote reddamus. songs of gladness.
---- ----
Deus homo factus est, God is made man, a thing of
Natura mirante, wonder.
Mundus renovatus est, The world is renewed by
A Christo regnante. Christ's reign.
---- ----
Ezecheelis porta Light has arisen. Salvation
Clausa pertransitur, is come,
Undelux est orta Bursting the gates of
Salus invenitur. death.
---- ----
Ergo nostra contio Our congregation lustily
Psallat jam in lustro, rejoices now,
Benedicat domino, Giving blessing to God,
Salus Regi nostro. our Saviour and King.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Gingerbread Party!

Birds eye of the fountain

Santa's Sleigh Alternative

Chateau Widmar
Mount Doom (before the eruption)         

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gingerbread Step by Step

First off, start three or four days before you need the house. In a pinch, you could do it in two, but if you need it now, buy a kit or make gingerbread men.  The gingerbread men will even taste good!

Also, I wrote what we did, but Day 1 and 2 could conceivably be a single day if you weren't doing much else. In practice, Day 1 for us happens a week or more before we build, whenever we start doodling ideas.

Day 1: Sketch out your idea.  At this point, don't worry if it seems doable, just dream, and think about  how it will look.

In this case, Choclo, Oob, and I were a team, and Oob came up with the idea of a village.

This is a good team idea because different people can do different buildings.  We sketched both the birds eye map and the ground level view.
 Then we planned each building individually.

This involves ideas for special features, but mostly it's the time to figure out what parts you need for the building.

This is also the point at which impractical ideas become apparent (e.g. making the Death Star is impractical because large gingerbread spheres are nearly impossible).

 A master sheet of all the needed pieces helps a lot!  This is when you make paper patterns.

We made our village to scale for gummy bears, which meant our walls were about 3 inches high and 3-4 inches long.

Day 2: Make the gingerbread

 Roll out the gingerbread on foil (or parchment), cut out the patterns, then slide a cookie sheet under the foil and bake. If you don't have to transfer the pieces, they won't break.

If you want candy windows, cut out the window space before you bake, bake, then add crushed hard candy to the space and reheat the (baked) gingerbread just until the candy melts (watch it so it doesn't burn). Alternatively, you could make hard candy and pour it into the window spaces, but that can get messy.

Make royal icing, gather the candy, and decorate the walls.

The key here is that you want to decorate the walls before you construct the house!

Trust us, everything will stick better and you will be able to get better detail if you decorate the walls while they are still flat.

Let it dry a few hours, ideally overnight. If you started early, you might save a day here by building the walls at night.

If not...

 Day 3: Build the walls.

We use a fairly dry royal icing (more powdered sugar but still a little sticky) to connect walls or any other structural support.

On larger projects, we support the walls with jars and cans to keep things square, but the little houses didn't need support.

Let dry at least 6 and preferably 8 hours.

We did walls in the morning and roofs in the evening.

You'll notice our seams aren't very nice.  That's OK because these are construction seams.  We go over them with pretty piping near the end.

Now we wait overnight for the roofs to dry. This is especially important if you built the walls and roof on the same day.

Day 4: Add shingles, royal icing to cover the base, and fancy piping to the seams.

 In fact, now is the time to fancy everything up!

You can add lots of cute gum drops and funny details.  You can make shrubs out of rice crispy treats, and/or trees out of ice cream cones. Marshmallows make great snowmen.  You can melt or make hard candy to make ice or water. It's these fun details that make a good house great!

We'll show you how our village turned out tomorrow!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Poem of the Week: Annunciation


By Denise Levertov  

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos 
HymnGreece, VIc
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

HT: Coffeehouse Junkie

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Making a List, Checking it Twice

I usually try to wrap things up before Thanksgiving, but this year ran late.

No!  I'm not talking about presents!  I'm talking about Adventurers, and Biology, and all that stuff that I try to finish early so we can focus on Advent.

Biology: CHECK!  We finished this week with classes on pre-natal development , genetics, and early Christmas cookies.  I think the kids enjoyed all three.

Adventurers: CHECK! Botanical Gardens was our last trip this semester with the group, although we may manage another trip on our own. 

Gingerbread Contest and Party: Yikes!  We're hosting it next Tuesday, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and we are still in the preliminary gingerbread sketching phase.

Presents: this is the problem when the schedule runneth over, we're just starting to get a handle on the Christmas shopping.  With 6 kids, we have been charged with getting gifts from both sets of grandparents, and ourselves, and helping manage the kids' gifts to each other. 

There are a lot of logistics and tracking involved: What's been ordered? What's arrived? Who has what, for whom?  Has it been wrapped?  How will we find it when we need it? 

Oh, the spreadsheets!  Still, it's a good problem to have.

Also, we are feeding Christmas cookies by the handful to our friendly neighborhood delivery people: our mail carrier, the Fed Ex guy, the UPS guy (whom Oob calls "Ups"), the fire fighter who delivered the tree, and whomever else shows up with a box. 

As for cards and a Christmas letter/photo:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Botanical Gardens Part 2

 Continuing the "made from natural materials" theme, the Botanical Gardens had a couple of stands for kids to do pictures.

Here we have the girls.

Then the younger boys.

Then the older boys.

All very silly!

I think our favorite was the little train.

In the center was an enormous Douglas Fir from somewhere out west. It was dripping with lights and ornaments and skirted by a tiny town and a Christmas train - the perfect place for a family picture!

You may remember that this is my annual moment of thanks for Photoshop.
This year, with Mxyl at college, I knew we weren't getting that picture here, so I just went with it. Some kids wanted to look tough, some wanted to look silly, some (evidently) wanted to go hitch hiking, and I wanted to give Zorg rabbit ears.  I think it turned out rather well, actually- probably because my friend Shelli took the picture!

One last picture from their outside gardens.  I love this picture partly because I lucked into a beautiful composition, but mostly because Choclo is wearing his coat upside down.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Guest Blog By Mxyl: Oops

Okay, so I was making a minor tweak to my website and it turned out that my academic server was locked.  Some of you may have noticed the results: the file was replaced by a completely blank slate and the main page is now completely gone.  The other pages still worked, but there was nothing I could do about the home page.

After a while, I decided to find a completely different site to host the files on; the new address is (I'll probably shorten down the address once I get past finals, but this link should still work).  Very sorry for any inconvenience! 

Botanical Gardens Part 1

 It was the third gray, rainy, chilly day in a row: the perfect day to visit the Botanical Gardens holiday train display!

This year's theme was "Pollination Station," sort of a mash up of the trains and, well pollinators, all made of natural objects.
 Some of these were amazingly creative, like this giant butterfly made of gourds, twigs, and leaves.
 Hummingbirds are Oob's favorite animals.  Here he's trying to look like this hummer!

 My favorite was the hummingbird feeding babies in a tiny nest.
But some of them came off a little...oddly, like these very large bats.

Not pictured are the (rather creepy) meter long centipedes made of seed pods.

Overall, I liked the display, but I think I prefer when they do buildings!

The gardens are all indoors in different sections of the glass building, all beautifully decorated.

We had a lot of fun looking through the sections of jungle and desert (the kids are putting on their invisible cowboy costumes).

 They have an entire section of hundreds of kinds of poinsettias!