Monday, December 31, 2007

The Splashdown

I just ordered TWO of these and I am filled with hope for the new year. 2008 is gunna be great. I just know it. Here's a terrific article on how this handy little device "lights the way to family harmony...promotes gender respect, hygiene, safety and goodwill." I'm ready for all that in the one room we've never been able to achieve it.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Picture Post


It's been an eventful last few days, wonderful and exhausting in so many ways. We had a lovely Christmas...


...and made things like this.

Then, it was my birthday and our anniversary and so we hit NYC with ALL the kids (what, you don't go out with all your children into a highly stressful situation on your birthday, much less your anniversary?) Alas, we do. And we call it fun.


We saw the train show...


...and the light show in Grand Central Station.


And we went ice skating in Central Park.

We were given free cake at the restaurant where we had dinner just because the owner thought the boys were cute. He didn't even know it was my birthday.

Nicholas found our adventure absolutely exhausting.

And so did I.

That's all for now.
Goodnight.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Christmas Cake I Always Make


A very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
May the birth of our Lord fill your heart with hope and with love.

Thanks, everyone, for your help with the figgie pudding. It appears I would have had to have started it a while back in order to have it on time for Christmas. Maybe next year.

The Yule Moon

I captured this picture of Mars coming into opposition beside the "Yule Moon" or first full moon after December 22nd. Can you see Mars there on the right? It was much brighter in person (in planet?), but the moon's relative brightness made it difficult to photograph. This a great time for viewing Mars. Read more here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

There's Always Room For...

As I bent down to kiss Jacob goodnight I discovered him under his blanket kicking and punching in every direction.

"Jacob, Jacob, where's your head? That's enough. Come outa there. Get your head out."

His head popped out and there was a silly grin on his face.

"Goodnight, Jacob" I said."What were you doing under there anyway?"

"Nothing really," he replied, "I was just pretending to be Jello."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Over the River and Through the Woods

...to Grandmother's house we go. See you in a few days.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Do You Notice Anything Different About Me?

Anything at all?

That's right.

You got it.

After spending all that money, I knew it would jump out at people right away. It's impossible not to notice, really.

But still, I am a little surprised that you can tell.

I guess getting a new furnace really is a big change. Especially when the old furnace was so very large.



The old furnace is on the left in the picture above and the new one is that little thing on the right with the cardboard box top.


Oh wait, that wasn't the whole of the old furnace in the picture above. There were also these two, huge parts. The plumbers that were here this morning assured me that these weighed about 300 and 400 pounds respectively. They had a heck of a time getting them out of my basement.

This project has been a long time coming.


I love my woodstove, but I feel like a new woman with a new central system. Just think, every time I have to show a plumber or electrician something in our basement he won't laugh and laugh and laugh anymore--he won't point out, after he catches his breath, how our heating system is so old it says "Air Conditioner" on the side of it, like heat is a luxury or something. He won't ask me what my heating bills are like or tell me that I could probably bake a cake in my pilot light.

We're just like other people, now, with regular basements and normal-sized furnaces. We live in New England and our central heating system is finally up to par. I feel so standard so average, so very common and it's an extraordinary feeling.

That's Why We Tip Him

Jacob: Why are there TWO stamps on that Christmas card?

Me: Because it is going to Canada.

Jacob: Whoa! That is a long, long way to walk. Our poor mailman.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

HELP

So, now I have to find out how to make a "Figgie Pudding." Am I even spelling that right?

That's what happens when you ask your husband if there's anything special he would like included in the Christmas menu this year. He thought about it for a few days and came back to me with this. The only thing I know about Figgie Pudding is that it shows up somewhere in the third or fourth verse of We Wish You a Merry Christmas... "Bring us a Figgie Pudding and bring it right here."

I wish it were that simple.

I should have asked him what I really meant to ask which was, "Do you want the Christmas cake I always make again this year, or do you want the Christmas cake I always make?"

Any help, ideas, assistance, or direction on this Figgie thingie would be greatly appreciated. Comments open...

Oh, and I've been watching this over and over and over again as I fold laundry and I just think that boy's mother must be so, so proud.

If you liked that, you'd probably like The Three Kings as well and In Dulci Jublio and not necessarily Chrismassy, but too beautiful not to mention Misere Mei Deus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Make Me a Card For the Mailman Contest...

..resulted in this combined effort. Picture by Alex, coloring and message by Simeon.

Love and Chocolate

Don't miss the Winter issue of Faith and Family. There's lots of great tips in there for surviving the winter.

I love winter...up until Christmas.

Just as winter is really getting started, I'm looking for signs of those crocus bulbs I planted in October.

As a life long New Englander, I should know those early signs of spring are a long, long (one more long) ways away.

That's one reason we've always made a big deal of Valentine's day around here. We like to craft and cook for days in early February to pass the blahs. My "Restless Hearts" Valentine craft can be found in this issue as well as Margaret's delectable guide your true love and mine...chocolate.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ever the Optimist

Alexander: I really wouldn't mind getting coal in my stocking, you know why? Cause you can draw with it and I like to draw.

The O Antiphons...


...begin tonight. I had no idea these last eight nights before Christmas Eve were called "The Golden Nights." Nor did I know that the first letter in each of the anitphons, (after the "O" I mean) read "ERO CRAS" backwards which means "Tomorrow, I come" in Latin.

O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Jesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Radix Gentium, O Emmanuel

O Wisdom, O Lord of Israel, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O King of Nations, O God With Us

For more information, relevant scripture passages, audio downloads of the O Anitphons chanted in Latin, and ideas for praying the antiphons as a family, look here.

Wishing you and yours a blessed octave of Golden Nights!
Alex finally got his gingerbread birthday cake yesterday, topped with a Santa coat-deep in egg nog icing. The original recipe is here.

If you can keep a secret, though, I'll let you know that this year I had a little help from an elf named Betty Crocker. You might know her. She's a pretty good little baker. Don't be shy yourself to take her help every now and again, especially when things get busy.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Minty Shouts of Joy

Ever since we decorated our tree with candy canes, Zachary has had perpetually fresh breath. He's been overheard singing Christmas songs as well. My favorite: Handel's great "I'm your Lu-La" chorus...

I'm your Lu-La!
I'm your Lu-La!
I'm your Lu-La! I'm your Lu-La!
I'm your Lae-Luuu-La!

That's my little Lu-La.

Update and A Word From Mary

We received one more donation this morning, though the drawing has been closed, bringing our total to an even $1800.00 Thank you! Thank you again, also, to Linda who was our winner and who donated her prize to Mary and her family. This tangible gift from Linda is the perfect touch to the gift that all of you have given.

And now, Mary has asked me to pass these words of thanks on to all of you...

Thank you. The gift that each of you has given to me and my family is worth so much more than these two simple words, yet these are the only words I have to express my appreciation and gratitude. To each of you individually it may have been a simple donation, but when added together you have raised 1800$. This means that not only will I be able to buy the winter necessities for my girls and myself, I'll also be able to buy a few special gifts and food stuff to help make the holidays special for the girls. Then I will use the leftover money to pay those bills that have started to pile up and never should - electricity and basic insurance. This means that instead of spending the Holidays worrying, I'll be able to focus on the children and celebrating Christmas.

When I asked Suzanne to place a link to my auction on her blog, I was only looking to draw more attention to my auction. I was so discouraged by the situation. When the children brought me their Christmas letters it just broke my heart, and there was nothing that I could do. So I prayed. This is when Suzanne came up with her idea for a draw. She warned me that I shouldn't get my hopes up, and I wasn't. At the same time I knew. I knew that this was the gift from God that I had prayed for. I said to Suzanne:

"I know that (it) may sound weird, but the only thing of value that I have is faith in God. I'm not worried by the amount of money, or the type of help your draw will bring. Every single bit of it will be from God's grace. No matter the amount, it will meet the need that I have so that we can celebrate His Birthday."

And every word of it came to pass and every word was true. I know that Suzanne will spend a very blessed Christmas with her family this year - one where she saw how in the little things that she does, those little things that she thinks are of no consequence, she can be the hands of God. I know that my story has touched many of you - from the person who donated only a few dollars to the the one who donated many many dollars. Not the story of my life, but the miracle that each and every one of you became a part of.

My tears of frustration and discouragement are now tears of joy and appreciation.

So I say a prayer for each of you: May God bless you, each and every one, and your families this Christmas time. May He keep you near His Sacred Heart throughout this new year dawning. May He watch over you and care for you as you have watched over me and cared for me this Christmas season. May He walk with you every day of your lives, and may you never ever doubt of His great mercy and love for you. Amen! Amen! God is good - all the time - God IS good! AMEN!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Drumroll Please....


Christmas Cheer Challenge

With 109 donations,
and 75 claimed chances for a prize,
together we raised...

***UPDATED***
$1,800.00

...for Mary and her girls this Christmas!

The winner Nicholas drew from the manger was our 14th commenter, Linda!

When I contacted Linda, she asked that her prize be donated to Mary.
Thank you, Linda!

And thank you to everyone who donated, everyone who spread the word about the challenge by word of mouth or by sending readers from your blogs. Thanks to everyone who left kind wishes either in the comment box or by email. Your support, your kindness, your friendship, your generosity, your amazing Christmas Cheer...

...has made a very special Christmas for a very special family this year!


We thank you, each and every one of you, Thank You Very Much!

* * *

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Birthday in a Box

This year, Alex's birthday coincided with the first real blizzard of the year. So, it looked liked this outside my window all day...


...and like this just inside my door.

I'd planned to make Alex his favorite gingerbread cake with egg nog icing this morning, but the snow prevented me from going anywhere. We were homebound and I wouldn't have minded at all if it weren't for Alex's birthday and the ingredients and things I still needed for a celebration. Alex amicably agreed to wait for the weekend when we could make his gingerbread cake-- topped with this year's dollar store trinket, and bring home our Christmas tree as we always do on his birthday. And we will still do that...

...but were we ever surprised when a cake came in the mail today! This is the first cake I have ever gotten in the mail, I'm sure, and the chocolatiest and the cake with the best timing of all. It came in a package from my brother who was sending us, among other things, a chocolate cake for Christmas. It wasn't large, but it looked rich and we thought it could do since no other cakes came in the mail that day. I asked Alex if he would like it with candles and he thought he would though he had one question,

"How did Uncle D- know we needed a cake today?"


It's hard to say just what anyone knows or if what we give will give more than we ever knew, but the one thing I know is this: This cake was the perfect gift and it arrived on the perfect day.


Thank you, Uncle D-, we love you!

Last Call...


...for the Christmas Cheer Challenge. Nicholas will draw a winner from this manger at noon tomorrow.

Thank you, again, to all who have participated.

Happy Birthday, Alexander

Happy Birthday to my first-grader! Alex, your grownup teeth have come in on top (and on the bottom, too, where you lost the baby ones in that horrible sledding accident two years ago...shudder...). You're looking so grown up! You're reading Bob Books like a pro and you draw the coolest insects of anyone I know!

You are looked up to by three little men and I know you think your big brother is the center of the universe and that's OK for now, but one day you will realize that you, too, have smarts and talents and charms and your own little quirky something to offer the world. We love you to bits and we're so glad that God chose us to be your family. Happy seventh birthday!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lady of Guadalupe

Guadalupe Montage: Vincent Barzoni

Ora pro nobis.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thank You!

With seventy three donations and fifty claimed chances at a prize, the total funds donated to the Christmas Cheer Challenge just passed the $1,000.00 mark. I cannot express how grateful I am to all of you for your generosity and your kindness--many of you showing your kindness even in the smallest details by leaving kind words for Mary in the comment box. You know, she is reading every one of your words and looking at your names like signatures on a very special Christmas card. She thanks you. I thank you.

Last night, after a day of watching donations roll in well beyond my expectations and reading all of your kind comments to Mary, I had a hard time falling asleep. I felt so silly--like a child on Christmas Eve--but it wasn't sugarplums that kept me awake, it was the vision of human kindness and the beauty of the Christmas spirit.

For that, I thank you.

Scratch That

Me: What do you say after lunch we dress up nice for a Christmas picture?

Older Son: Hmmmm. That sounds....itchy.

St. Nicholas

We had a surprise second visit from that jolly old soul St. Nick, though he's looking more boyish and bashful pictured here. This quality hand made garment arrived yesterday courtesy of Our Coat of Many Colors. I cannot emphasize enough the quality of Debra's work and the beautiful attention to detail. This St Nicholas costume will become a family heirloom for us with our honorary St Nicholas Bishop presiding over family Christmas traditions. Thank you, Debra!


Oh, and Dasher and Donner made appearances yesterday, too. These two love to wear antlers and pull an empty laundry basket sleigh around the house.

(The trouble is that around here the only way to get an empty laundry basket is to dump laundry.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Can Hardly Believe My Eyes

I'm sitting here with the goofiest grin on my face looking at the totals so far for the Christmas Cheer Challenge. I feel like a supporting character in the closing scene of some sappy Christmas movie because I am so amazed and so overwhelmed with your generosity. You see, I was hoping to raise two hundred dollars for Mary and her girls this week and I'm looking at nearly three times that amount before the close of the first day!

You are amazing! I need to say that again. You are amazing!

Some of you have given more than once, others have donated large amounts, and many of you have donated money without even claiming your chance to win a prize. I have over 50 donation receipts and only 35 claimed chances. Still others donated and then donated their chance to win as well. This is such a beautiful outpouring of generosity in the true spirit of Christmas and I am honored to watch it all from a front row seat. I've never seen anything like it this close before. To be honest, it's making me a little dizzy. You are amazing!

I just reached Mary and she is absolutely speechless. She did manage, though, to get out the words asking me to pass on her appreciation and deepest gratitude to all of you! I'll say it again: You are amazing!

Thank You!

Christmas Cheer Challenge

***Now Closed***

A regular reader -- we'll call her Mary-- emailed me yesterday to ask if I would post a link to her ebay auction for a broken down Chevy Lumina. She's trying to sell the van in order to buy Christmas gifts for her daughters. Now I know Mary and I know a little bit about her situation. She's a single mother with four girls ages 12, 10, 7, and 5. This has been a particularly hard year for the family and it has left them with nothing with which to celebrate Christmas. Many of the gifts her children want are basic necessities like winter boots and warm pajamas, but sadly, Mary finds she just can't meet these needs.

Well, I don't know how much my link will help Mary to sell her van and so, with her permission, I've decided to do a little something more. Welcome to the...

Christmas Cheer Challenge.

It's a fun and simple game and it's played like this...

1. You make a donation in any amount using the Paypal "Donate" button in my sidebar. You can donate one dollar, two dollars, five, ten, twenty or more. You decide. The dollar amount is entirely up to you.

2. Leave your name in the comment box of this post for a chance to win your choice of one of three great prizes (the prize is my donation to the Christmas Cheer Challenge)...
The Starbucks Collection for coffee fans.
The Chocolate Tower for chocolate lovers.

Or the Christmas Cheer Basket.

There is no limit to number of times you donate and every time you give, you earn another chance to win-- just leave your name in the comment box once for each time you donate. You decide how much you donate, you decide how many chances you want to earn, and if you win--you choose your prize. You really can't lose. Remember to show your Christmas spirit and above all, have fun!

As the week goes by, I'll write the names that appear in this comment box on paper straw and place them in our wooden manger. On Friday, December 14th at 12:00 noon my youngest son, Nicholas, will draw one winner. There will be ONE winner and that winner will choose ONE of the three great prize options above.

All funds donated will be given to Mary in the form of a gift certificate to a department store where she will be able to buy some much needed clothing items and a few simple toys for her daughters this Christmas.

So, what are you waiting for? Play now, have fun, and spread a little Christmas Cheer!


No purchase necessary to participate.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Just Wanted to Say...

...I think it's really cute that whenever someone asks Zachary what he wants for Christmas he always ends his list with,

"...and a toy car for Nicholas."

He's thinking of his brother or looking to insure his own property. Either way, it makes me smile.

Go Read

I have plenty to do today, but nothing to say so I direct you to Marcellino D'Ambrosio's article that recently appeared at Catholic Exchange, "The Real Meaning of Christmas Lights."

It reminded me of the Minor Friar's Christmas Rant that SFO Mom linked to yesterday. Both are short reads and well worth your time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Roses in December

I'm thinking of Rosemary Teresa's parents today, her nine brothers, her grandparents, and 85 cousins.

With Hopes That St Nicholas Soon Would Be There...

Up until now, St Nicholas Day has not been celebrated in our house. Growing up, my younger sister's birthday trumped any thoughts of St Nicholas' Day. Happy Birthday, sis!

Since then, our Alex's birthday has offered us a break every year from increasingly hectic Christmas shopping. I feel that that's what the celebration of St Nicholas' Day offers a lot of families-- it's a splash of joy and holiday cheer, a chance to put aside the list of things to be done and just enjoy the season.


So, we're joining the throngs of wise people who celebrate St Nicholas' Day this year and we're wondering why we didn't do this sooner.


Happy feast day, sweet little Nicholas!

Now, in an effort to spread a little holiday cheer, I post a list of my favorite things about this time of year in the order they pop into my head...

  1. Marshmallows. Square ones, round ones, even those tiny chalky ones found in store-bought cocoa mixes, but not so much the colored ones.
  2. Snowflakes and snowmen illustrated in children's books, pictured on mugs and dinner plates, happy little snowmen and paper snowflakes, or these (HT: Lifenut).
  3. Flannel sheets, slippers, and quilts with wool batting.
  4. Candle lit dinners around our Our Advent wreath and the late evening glow from our Nativity.
  5. Knitted hats and scarves and mittens with strings.
  6. Boy's woolen church coats with toggles or buttons.
  7. Christmas carolers and song books.
  8. "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!"
  9. Our woodstove burning bright with a trivet of steaming cinnamon and cloves on top.
  10. A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Choir of King's College Cambridge. It begins with the single voice of a young boy leading "Once in Royal David's City." I understand a new child is selected every year, quite an honor (terrifying too, I'm sure). Also, this recording of the Congregational Hymn "While Shepherds Watched" captures the very essence of Christmas in sound.
So, what are some of your favorite things about this time of year?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Control

Not too long ago a woman of my acquaintance accused me educating my children at home in order to satisfy some excessive desire of mine to "control every aspect of their lives."

Now this woman had no experience of home education in her own life or among her family or friends. She sends her children to a private school and I think she is satisfied with the formation they receive there. Her remark was indirect in that it was spoken to another woman in our presence, but it was clearly directed at me and I carried it around for days, mulling it over, turning it in my mind, defending myself as I argued with her in my head.

My first thought on the matter is this: Why do women do this? Why do we look for the selfish motives of other women? Whether it's the number of children they have, if they have home or hospital births, nurse or bottle feed, educate their children at home or send them to school, why do we automatically look for a selfish motive when the choice is different from our own? I say "we" because I know I've fallen prey to this tendency, even when I've tried to avoid it. In the past, I think the reason I did this was rooted in insecurity. I wanted to do what was best for my family and before I gained a certain confidence in my judgment and abilities, I tended to see other women's choices as a judgment on my own.

But some of it, too, was just plain small mindedness.

I'm pretty sure that that was the case here. This woman simply couldn't see beyond her own circumstances. She has a good job that gives her satisfaction. She lives within a reasonable commuting distance from a private school that offers a fine academic formation and a community of dedicated parents and teachers. She and her husband can easily afford the tuition there and enjoy being a part of the community that surrounds the school, themselves. She did mention that there are some things that her children learn from other children at school that she and her husband disapprove of, but they take the time and make the effort to talk with their children about these matters and work through them as a family. These are the blessings this woman has been given and the environment in which she has made her decision to send her children to school. She cannot understand why anyone would choose differently unless they had an excessive fear of those things that give her pause and a selfish need to feel in control.

But her blessings are not the blessings I have been given and I do not homeschool for the reasons she would homeschool if she did.

I was raised in a family that valued education for its own sake. I attended a Liberal Arts college where the concept of learning for its own sake fostered a desire to become a life long learner. There, I met my husband and a few of the students we knew had been educated at home. The idea of educating my own children fascinated me more than any other career path. Since that time, we have been blessed to know countless families in several different states that educate their children at home, including several members of my own family. We have been amazed at the great variety of approaches to homeschooling and feel confident in our ability to provide a rich educational experience in a way that is uniquely suited to the needs of our children. I enjoy teaching my children and learning right alongside them. These are some of the blessings that I have been given and this is the environment in which I made my decision to educate my children at home.

As for controlling our children excessively, I do worry occasionally if we are doing enough to ensure that they will transition smoothly into the larger world when the time comes. It occurs to me, though, that if parents can send their children to school and stay on top of whatever issues arise there and deal with them at home as a family, then surely a homeschooling family can find the time and make the effort to expose their children to the world in healthy, age appropriate ways. Far from shunning such opportunities, I welcome them wholeheartedly.

Comments Open...

Union Rules

Overheard ...

Savvy Son: We're almost done here. Mom said when we're finished cleaning our room we can have some computer time.

Young Upstart: But I don't want computer time.

Savvy Son: What? (taking on a hushed serious tone) Young Upstart, never do the work and not take your reward.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Driving A Bargain

Whenever we're on the road, I ask my oldest son to hand me the things I need from my purse.

"Could you get out my bank card?"

"Here, will you put this back in my wallet?"

"Could you find me my lipstick?"

"Oops. that's not it."

"This isn't lipstick?" he asked this morning.

"No, that's lipstick. It's just not the right color."

"I sure am Mama's purse boy when we're driving," he observed.

"It's true. I'm sorry," I said.

"I'm happy to do it," he replied and then he ventured, "....forrr seven dollars a week."

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Many Blessings of Television

This morning we learned that when there's ice on everything we can't watch PBS Kids. Bummer. But it forced us to look through other channels and we happened upon a televised Mass. Jacob had never seen the Mass on television before and was surprised,

"Wow. It's Church on TV!"

"That's right, Jacob" I explained, "They televise it for people who are sick at home."

"That's great!" Jacob replied enthusiastically and I was proud of my pious son. Then he added,

"We won't ever have to go to Church again!"

Extinguished


Our burning bush is coated in ice this morning.