Monday, December 22, 2014

Don't Panic!

We're still here and we're all well. (Apologies to the people who were beginning to panic and worried something was terribly wrong because of the lack of posts.) Losing the first two weeks of December to medical drama combined with the usual busyness that happens as Christmas gets closer meant that blogging was one of the many things which fell to the wayside.

It's been fun, if a bit exhausting. Here's what we've been doing.

A very dear friend came over because she had a craft she wanted to do with everyone. They are little angel ornaments made out of pasta. They have been drying and are now ready to spray paint white.

There are very few times in my children's lives when adults have said to them, "Use more glue! More!"

That evening we did our annual Hannukah celebration with latkes, dreidles and chocolate coins.

Friday morning brought another doctor's appointment. This time a regular follow-up with the neurologist for H.

Friday afternoon was scheduled for making gingerbread houses.

Saturday morning was the last Christmas pageant rehearsal all morning.

In the evening we had invited friends over to sing Christmas carols together and eat cookies.

Sunday morning was church followed by a Christmas brunch at a friend's.

Later that day, we joined some other families from church to go caroling at the local retirement community.

And in between all of that I also did some laundry, taught some piano lessons, nearly finished sewing some gifts, and wrote a couple of articles. You now understand why blogging didn't make the cut. Even though my lists of things to do are not short, there is blessedly little on the calendar for between now and Christmas. I might be able to catch my breath.

One funny L. story about the caroling. For the past three weeks, L. has had it in her head that she wants to 'sing Christmas carols outside." She has tried and tried and tried to get her brothers and sisters to join her in the front yard to sing. No one would cooperate with her plans. But yesterday, we sang outside. She loved it. After every song she would look up at me and say, "I love singing outside. This is fun!" She dutifully carried her song book (though she can't read) and insisted that I find the correct page each time. Even though most other people were getting cold and a little tired at the end, I'm pretty sure she would have happily continued on for quite some time. It's so nice when a child's fantasy about what something will be like matches the actual event.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Well, I know what we are eating for lunch

We made approximately 250 tamales yesterday... pork with a spicy red sauce, onions and peppers with cheese, and chicken with green salsa. These pictures show what was left after everyone ate their fill for dinner. I would freeze some if my freezers were not completely full of beef. I guess that means we have no choice but to continue to gorge ourselves on them.

It's only once a year, right?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drains are out!

It only took twelve days and three different trips up to the plastic surgeon's but H.'s drains are finally out and she can go back to being a child who doesn't look ill (because of the bandages and tubing). They were also able to do another expansion and things look very, very good. What a relief!

So that's done and now we are on to tamales. We're just about ready to begin and hope to get about 200 this time. It smells so good everyone is eagerly anticipating dinner.

Obviously, I am otherwise occupied, so enjoy the posts related to Christmas from past years.

Mary was not a Teenager

Have you Fought with this Mercy You Don't Understand?

The Twelve Days Before Christmas

Gingerbread Houses

Homemade Gifts

Making Room in the Inn

Christmas Preparations... or Baby Jesus Found!

Tree Trimming 2011

Crafty Christmas Gift Ideas

Advent and the Liturgical Calendar

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tree Trimming 2014

We trimmed our tree yesterday. We usually have more people, but it didn't work out for most people to join us and after the past two weeks we've had it was really nice to have a low-key day. Everyone was pretty tired. 

Some things stayed the same. We had a lot of treats which people enjoyed while waiting for the lights to be put on the tree.

Once the lights were up, TM and J. worked on putting other lights up in other places.

More decorating...








H.  H-S - aka B.'s girlfriend

And still the lights are being put up. They did eventually get everything sorted out and displayed.

A funny G. story. After most of the tree was decorated and we were cleaning up and people were eating more snacks, G. took herself upstairs and crawled into bed unbeknowst to anyone. A couple of hours later, A. comes down to ask if G. didn't want to watch the Christmas movie because she was upstairs sound asleep. I had A. bring her down and she woke up to watch the end of the movie, but as you might guess, at 9:15, Cindy Lu Who comes walking into our room saying she can't sleep. It wasn't until we got B. (her very special brother) to carry her back to bed would she agree to go. I do wonder how those two survive when he is away at school.
I have a new article up: Virtual Triplets and Biological Twins Please feel free to read and share.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Magna cum laude

We all had a very late night last night because we are now the proud parents of our first college graduate. M. graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree from North Park University last night. The perk of having a father who works at the same institution is that at the last moment he was able to snag a few extra tickets, thus saving me extensive game plans as to how we would all get in and have a seat for the ceremony. But he did and we all got seats with very little drama... a lot of waiting, but I came prepared with a bag full of activities for the littles.

It was a very nice ceremony and because M. graduated magna cum laude, she was asked to carry the school banner. It was easy to pick her out in the processional. Well, she is also currently sporting bright blue hair, so we would have found her in any case, but it was still nice.  Here are some photos from the evening.

Here we are waiting for the ceremony to start. In order to get seats, we first got to the school 45 minutes before the doors opened and then had 45 minutes to wait for the ceremony. The small people did a remarkably good job with the waiting business.

I don't have any good pictures of M. walking in with the banner or of her getting her diploma. One of the nice things about North Park is that they have a tradition that if your parent teaches there (and it is not terribly uncommon for professor's children to attend), then your parent gets to step in and award the diploma. So M. got to receive her diploma from J. It was very sweet.

We (and by 'we' I mean B., because my camera battery died) did get some good photos afterwards.


M. and A. (I love this picture!)

M. with her roommate of the past three years who was valedictorian.

As we were heading towards M.'s graduation, I did a little investigating. It turns out that M. is the fourth generation of women in our family to receive a college degree. That's pretty remarkable. My grandmother (M.'s great-grandmother) received her bachelor's degree in English with a classics minor from Northwestern at the time when they still had the women's college. She then went on to receive a master's degree in English from Columbia. My mother has a college degree and I have a bachelor's and master's degree. Not only this, but M.'s great-grandmother on J.'s side also received a bachelor's and a master's degree in classics.

So, congratulations to my wonderful daughter. We love you and are so proud of you!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lunch time read alouds

A reader commented asking about the details of how our lunch time read alouds go. Here is what I expect you all imagine they look like.

At noon, the children close up their school books, put things away, and come back to get lunch. We set out the leftovers and other lunch options and people quietly get what they want while helping little people get their food. I grab a quick bite while this is happening and get our book. Everyone sits quietly at the table eating while I read. If they need more food, they quietly help themselves (or a small person) so I can continue reading. When the chapter ends, they wish aloud that we could read more, but stand up and put away their lunch things, wipe the table, and head off to quiet time.

I wish I could say this is what life looks like. No, I really wish I could. But, in all honesty, the only things that are similar are the fact that people eat food and I read a story. Here is the more truthful version.

We finish whatever group project we were doing and I ask people to gather up their things and put them away. Often their idea of what put away looks like and what my idea is are two different things. I think they should gather their books and take them upstairs to their assigned bookshelves, they are under the impression that it means make a pile and leave it on the table. If I insist they move the books, then it means take the whole pile and move it to the next available flat surface.

When there is enough table showing to allow people to eat their lunch, we get out the food. Thus begins the daily bargaining of who eats what, who gets to eat the last serving of the popular dish, who can and cannot make a smoothie, and discussions of what actually constitutes a decent and sufficient lunch. Because I am refereeing this little scene, I often wait to eat my lunch until after I read.

Once everyone has some food before them, I commence reading. It often goes like this.

Read, read, read, read.

"No, please don't bang you cars together while I'm reading."

Read, read, read.

"Stop it with the cars."

Read, read.

Pause to glare at the boy still banging the cars.

Read, read, read, read, read, read.

"Yes, you may have another cracker. No you may not have a cookie yet."

Read, read, read, read.

"Please close the book while I'm reading."


The phone rings. I decide to let the answering machine answer it.


"No, it's OK, I'm going to let the machine answer it."

Read, read (a little louder to be heard over the noise.)

Pause to listen who is leaving the message, realize I really do have to answer it. Briefly deal with whoever is on the phone. Try to call everyone back. "Yes, you may color while I read. No I'm not printing out a page for you to color."

Read, read, read, read, read.

"Quick! Get some paper towels to wipe up the water! Ack! Move the books!!!"

Read, read, read, read.

"Yes, everyone can have a cookie now."

Read, read, read, read, and finish the chapter.

The children run off, leaving disaster in the wake. If I'm feeling up to it I call them back to help clean-up, but usually not until I've had a quiet moment to eat some lunch. I often wonder if anyone actually managed to follow the story during all of that, yet, more often than not, at some later point, what we read will be discussed. It's messy, but it works.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Christmas Read Aloud

For our lunch time read aloud sessions during December, I try to read a book that is more Christmas-y than our usual fare. Our favorite December read has been The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. (I wrote more about in my post about Christmas books.) Last Monday, I blithely went to the bookshelf with our Christmas books to pull it out so we could enjoy it again. And it wasn't there. As I thought about it, I couldn't actually remember seeing it when we brought our Christmas books out of storage. This must mean it didn't go into storage last January. It makes me wonder where it will turn up. In any case, I didn't have it to read. We needed a new plan.

My new plan involved Charles Dickens. All my children were a little older and anther year of English under their belt. My older people were about the same age when we drove across the country and listened to the complete and unabridged Oliver Twist. It was time to read A Christmas Carol. So that is what we have been doing. It is incredibly gratifying to be reading and come to a place in the story that you find particularly witty and realize that some of your children are also chuckling. Most people seem to be enjoying it. L. is amenable enough to listen to it in the daytime, but absolutely refuses to allow us to discuss the book at dinner time after the sun has gone down. She finds it too scary which shows both that she is understanding the story and that she has a fantastic imagination. (Not that we doubted her imagination at any point in her existence.)

I personally love Dickens. (And boy did he have a sweet deal getting paid by the word. I could clean up if that system were still in place. Imagine... I could be even wordier!) I love his use of language. I love his humor. I love his ability to develop characters. I've also discovered that I love reading his stories out loud even more. I read fast and do have a tendency to skim a bit. When you are reading out loud, skimming is not possible, so you don't inadvertently miss something. I've read this story before, but missed this wonderful line. It's from when Scrooge is heading home and Dickens is describing what his life outside his office is like.

"They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again."

You can just picture it, can't you.

My children may not catch everything in the story and we may have to stop occasionally so I can explain something that confuses someone, but it can never heard to be exposed to that level of language. Dickens (and all the other Victorian writers) write sentences and use vocabulary that are much more complex than we come across in any modern medium. It takes more mental effort to make sense of them and reading them (or listening to them being read) is like a workout for the brain. And like all other exercise, it may be difficult at first, but as the brain becomes accustomed to it, understanding comes much easier.
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