Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Year in Review

It should come as no surprise, 2009 shaped up to be a very busy year for our family. Here are the happenings in the most abbreviated fashion:

Karate Kid: karate kicking, talented pianist, college planning, soon to be 17--GET OFF THE ROAD--Here she comes!

Stat Boy: sport loving, statistician, karate choppin’, cookie baking, newly Confirmed, 14 year old frosh.

Oleander: award winning pied-piper, ballerina dancer, artist extraordinare, muffin maker, too soon a teenage girl.

Skoshi A: fun loving 10 year old, piano playing, Kennedy Center performing Nutcracker soldier, living up to her “angelic” name

Special K: new pianist, independent reader, ballerina dancin’, always with a song in her 7 year old heart.

Lil' Wingnut: all boy all the time, sweet talkin’, lady lover, so smart he’ll be taking over the world, and he’s only three!

Wingnut: busy workin’, G-III, G-V, and C32 flying, must have dual citizenship in Texas for as often as he travels there, pre-cana teaching, all around wonderful husband and dad.

Maurisa: chauffeur drivin’, homeschool teachin’, pre-cana mentoring, blog writing, just trying to keep the schedules straight and the house from caving in!

We love our busy crazy lives, and wouldn’t have it any other way. We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

He's a Tarheel, Through and Through

Wingnut surprised Stat Boy with tickets to the UNC/Rutgers basketball game on Monday night. Wingnut, Stat Boy, and Karate Kid drove the four plus hours to Chapel Hill. toured the grounds of the University of North Carolina, had dinner on Franklin Street, and took in a fairly competitive game at the Dean Dome. This was a dream come true for Stat Boy and he's been beaming from ear to ear ever since. He and Karate Kid even got the chance to stand on the court for a great photo op. I don't think we'll ever be able to top this Christmas gift, ever. Print Friendly and PDF

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Caroling from a Child's Heart

There is just something about Christmas Carols. For me, carols are among the most beautiful and moving of sacred music. Lil' Wingnut even has a favorite, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,"or as he calls it "Harold Angel". We received a lovely cd of Christmas Carols sung by L'Angelus and it has been playing in the van's cd player since Gaudete Sunday. Lil' Wingnut insists we play "Harold Angel" over and over and over again. I asked him why he wanted that particular tune, to which he replied,"It's a beautiful song. It says born that men no more may die." Fair enough. I told the little guy his favorite carol may be sung at Mass on Christmas. Unfortunately, it wasn't. This Sunday, however, "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" was the closing hymn. Lil' Wingnut was beaming from ear to ear.

We had a lovely Christmas this year, very peaceful and yet joyful. The highlight of my Christmas Day was attending Mass that afternoon. That particular Mass closed with the singing of "Silent Night." Special K was standing next to me, belting out the carol and swaying to the music with her whole heart. Her outpouring of joy and love for Jesus was so touching to me, my eyes began to well up and eventually the tears trickled down my face. There is nothing sweeter than the innocent faith of a child, especially at Christmas.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent Repost #5

How to Make Advent More Like Advent and Less Like Christmas Repost: Get Your Soul in the Box

Go to confession. If you do nothing else to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, at least take your family to confession. Jesus loves a pure heart and soul! Enough said.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movie Review: Arranged

With Wingnut stranded in Texas for Blizzard 2009, I was able to catch up on all the great girly flicks on Netflix :-)

This one was particularly interesting, as well as very respectfully and well done. It is the story of two young women living in New York who are teachers in the same school. Rachel is a 22 year old Orthodox Jew. She works as the special needs teacher of a blind student mainstreamed into the fourth grade classroom of Nasira, a Syrian Muslim. Religious harassment from their principal and innocent yet probing questions from their students result in the forging of an unlikely friendship between the young women.

Despite their religious differences, both young women learn that each is in the process of having a marriage arranged for the other. For Rachel, her family, with considerable input from a matchmaker, dictate which eligible young men would make the best match, whereas Nasira is completely at the mercy of her father to find her a suitable husband.

The reality of arranged marriages taking place in America was very intriguing to me. This film does a wonderful job exploring the process, pitfalls, and advantages of arranged marriages in these two particular sub-cultures. Both girls come from loving families that truly only want the best for their daughters, giving this film the advantage of showing off the idea of arranged marriage in its very best light. Watching, one is left with the thought that there may be something to this idea of arranging one's children's marriages.

Within the last year, I've learned so much more about the Orthodox Jewish community through the wonderful blog on my sidebar "Domestic Felicity" written by a young Orthodox wife and new mother living in Jerusalem. I highly recommend going to her blog before seeing this movie to learn a little bit more about Orthodox Jewish beliefs regarding femininity, modesty, and familial roles.

I thoroughly enjoyed Arranged and highly recommend it, even to men (I may make Wingnut watch it with me again). Due to some subject content and at least one occurrence of profanity, I would suggest this movie would be best viewed by older teenagers and adults.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Recipe: Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts are packed with vitamin C, Iron, and Thiamine. They can also be absolutely delicious, if prepared correctly. When I tell folks our family loves brussel sprouts, they tend to be incredulous, until I share our favorite method of preparation.

Start with fresh brussel sprouts. For our family of 8 we need approximately 30 sprouts. Make a V cut at the stem end of the sprouts and remove the stem.

This allows for much easier peeling of the outer leaves from the sprouts. Peel off the leaves as far down into the sprout as possible and place in a colander. Our children help with this task as I prep the rest of our dinner. Rinse and drain thoroughly.

No part of the sprout goes unused, as many of our children prefer raw sprouts and will eat whatever is left of the inner core.

Mince two cloves of garlic. Add two teaspoons olive oil and cloves of garlic to a large skillet and heat over medium low heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle and becomes fragrant, add rinsed and drained Brussel sprouts, toss to coat with oil and garlic. Increase heat to medium high and saute until leaves have wilted and turned a deep, emerald green. Serve.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent Repost #4

How to Make Advent More Like Advent and Less Like Christmas Repost: Keep it Simple

Many people fall victim to the piles and piles of gifts under the tree and the mad rush to unwrap them all, we were no exception. A couple years back, I got this very empty and unsatisfied feeling after watching the kids dive into unwrapping gift after gift without stopping to reflect on what had just been opened. It was so overwhelming for me and I believe for them as well. It was then that I decided we needed to really pare down, refocus, and spread things out a bit more.

As mentioned in a previous post, Saint Nicholas now makes his appearance in our home on December 6th, leaving little trinkets and treats in the children's stockings. On Christmas there are usually only two gifts per child under the Christmas tree; one from Wingnut and I and one from their "roommate". Gifts have to wait until we've gone to Mass and have had a sit down family breakfast. On Epiphany the children will receive one more gift, usually a family game, video, or books. The children are allowed to open packages from distant family as they come in over the days before and following Christmas. It has been so much easier to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and celebrate the other wonderful liturgical feasts leading up to Christmas this way. We have ended up becoming more thankful for what we already have, especially for the gift of Christ, himself.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Bracing for the Storm is calling for 10 to 20 inches of snow for our area this weekend. This will be an event for us to look for the silver lining, as it likely means the kit and kabbodle of our anticipated activities will be cancelled: Our parish Christmas Pageant for which Oleander had a staring role, a birthday party for dear friends of Karate Kid, and a Christmas cookie party with our favorite nuns. What is that silver lining? Snow, silly! As disappointing as missing these festivities may be, I don't think the kids would trade them for a good romp in the snow.

We have our boots, snow pants, hats, gloves, and scarves. I'll be stocking the fridge, tonight. Bring on the snow!
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Go, Mom, Go

Small Successes for Thursday, December 17:

1) Cleaned the shower and toilet in the Master Bathroom. Don't you just love the smell of bleach in the morning?

2) Made homemade, completely from scratch, chicken and rice soup and whole wheat bread for dinner last night. It was delicious and so good for us.

3) Shockingly, I reached my goal of running three miles without stopping this week. I reached this goal a full week before I had hoped. I actually got a little emotional over it because it was something I had really wanted to do for myself. Just a note, don't get emotional after running three miles, you just might pass out--I felt just a little hypoxic and realized I needed to calm myself down and focus on cooling down and slowing down my breathing and heart rate before congratulating myself!

Follow the link to Faith and Family Live and leave your list of Small Successes. You know you want to. . .
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Review: Miss Potter

I'm a sucker for costume dramas, and although I'd had this one sitting on the bookcase in it's Netflix envelope for several weeks, I was really looking forward to finally watching it. I'll tell you up front, this one is not for the guys and I did not even attempt to subject Wingnut to viewing it.

Miss Potter is a sweet biopic beginning with the publishing of her first children's books when Beatrix was in her early 30s. The film contains flashbacks of her childhood depicting her inspiration for the illustrations and stories she would become famous and independently wealthy for, and then follows the publishing of her works, as well as the romance that developed between her and her publisher, Norman Warne. As many stories from this time period, this movie explores the struggle of the single woman attempting to break free of the repressive mold of Victorianism (is that a word?), as well as the effort against other social conventions of the time.

This was a lovely and whimsical little film, if not a bit saccharine. The acting was wonderfully done, especially by Rene Zellweger and Ewan Mcgregor. Although light fare, this is a perfect girls night movie and would be completely appropriate for girls of all ages, but may not hold the attention of those under 10 years old.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quality Time

Most evenings find me chauffeuring our six kids to their various activities. It's not one of my favorite chores, but every once in a while I get to experience some actual quality time with my passengers.

Karate Kid and I get to have really meaningful conversations about life, faith, her future, etc. Stat Boy and I talk sports--I really don't listen to him enough. He just trounced me in our fantasy football league :-( Oleander likes to talk ballet and music. Special K likes to hear herself talk, and talk, and talk--LOL! Lil' Wingnut likes to tell me all about Star Wars, or plays his favorite game; "Mom and Dad." Skoshi A just makes me laugh.

Last night, out of the blue she said, "Oh, I just figured out what I'm going to name my children. I'm going to name them after cars. You know, like Toyota and Chevrolet." When I explained that some people really do name their kids after cars, but typically they choose names like Mercedes or Porshe, she got this absolutely incredulous look on her face and asked, "Are you serious? That's just crazy!"

That girl has beer taste to go with her beer budget! I laughed and laughed. What an absolute goof ball!
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Celebrating Advent Repost 3

How to Make Advent More Like Advent and Less Like Christmas Repost:

Hold off on the Christmas decorations and music. During Advent we keep our decorations simple. We make our Advent Wreath the centerpiece, lighting candles during our evening Rosary. We have a small artificial tree we use for hanging up our handmade Jesse Tree ornaments. We put up our nativities, saving Baby Jesus until Christmas morning and the Wise Men for Epiphany. We hang greenery and holly outside on our door, windows, and railing, and that is it for the decorations until the days just before Christmas.

We also prefer to wait on the Christmas Carols. Advent has some beautiful hymns that are so often overlooked due to Christmas Carols. Who doesn't love O Come, O Come Emmanuel? Other hymns include: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Let Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, On Jordan's Banks, O Come Redeemer of the Earth, and many others, all equally as beautiful as your favorite Christmas Carol.

Employing these few simple ideas truly builds the anticipation for Christmas and keeps us focused on Christmas' true meaning.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Big Day for Special K

Our parish takes preparing our children for the sacraments very seriously. In just a few moments, Special K and I will be leaving for church so that she might make her First Confession. She's been studying, practicing, and preparing for today for several months now. The time has finally come. She's a bit emotional, but well prepared to have her sweet little soul washed clean. Say a prayer for her, today. Print Friendly and PDF

Friday, December 11, 2009

Battle Plans

This is Lil' Wingnut's newest game. He loves the dry erase board and will keep entertained drawing his "battle plans" for a good stretch of time. He's been overheard giving orders to his men in his lowest manly voice, "Alright men, we'll start here at the smiley face, and work our way. . . " Only a three year old would think a battle could start with a smiley face. Oh, to be that naive. Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This 'n That

Wow, I really had to rack my brain for Successes this week, but here they are:

1) We did school every day this week, even though there were strong temptations to just blow it off.

2) I got out and ran twice this week. I'm up to just over 2 miles without stopping to walk. I'm hoping to reach 3 miles without stopping over Christmas break, weather permitting. I'll let you know how it goes.

3) I kept on top of the laundry again this week. It was a real struggle, but I folded two overflowing baskets worth of clean clothing and put it all away last evening just so I could post it as a success this week.

Do you have any Small Successes to share? Post your link over at Faith and Family Live.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Images from the Web

Quite frequently I post images I've found on the web for my posts, especially religious images. Yesterday, for my post on the Immaculate Conception I posted a pretty holy card image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not an hour later I received a frantic call from my blogging and real life buddy Amy. Apparently the image I posted had a strange file attached that caused a message to appear on my blog stating something to the effect that I had stolen web content and then had an image of a profane gesture. If you visited my blog during that hour, I am profoundly sorry!

If you are a blogger and like to decorate your posts with images from the web, be careful and never use images posted on Jackbook! The image I used was one that could be found in many places and it was not an original artwork. It was just a holy card. I believe it was the website I used that was "protecting" the image.

One of these days I hope to only post my own photographs or scanned images. "Borrowing" images from the web is convenient and easy. I really try not to use protected or original work by others. Thankfully I have such a wonderful friend looking out for me! Thanks Amy!
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh Mary, Conceived Without Sin

For more information on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the most misunderstood dogmas of the Church, go here my blogging buddy Sam sent this link this morning with a "laymans" explanation as well as corrections of popular misconceptions of the doctrine.
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Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Repost #3

How to make Advent more like Advent and less like Christmas: Advent Buddies

This works very much like "Secret Santa". We all draw a name from a hat and that person is our Advent Buddy. The mission is to serve our Advent Buddy secretly all throughout Advent. We might say extra prayers, make little gifts for them, make little sacrifices for them, or do their chores when they least expect it. I try to remind the children each day to do something for their Advent Buddy, some need more reminding than others, and of course the little ones need a little help coming up with ways to serve. Eventually they all get into the swing of it. It's truly wonderful to see the children looking for ways to serve one another.
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Celebrating Advent Repost 2

How to Make Advent More Like Advent and Less Like Christmas

Celebrating Advent Saints

Some of our family's favorite Saints' feast days fall during Advent. We are not always on top of celebrating Saint's feast days during the rest of the year but we tend to be pretty good about it during Advent.

December 6

Our children hang their stockings the night before December 6th, in anticipation of a visit from Saint Nicholas who will leave trinkets and treats in their stockings if they've been good little children all year. Santa does not visit our house on Christmas Eve, but Saint Nicholas visits on his Feast day instead. Celebrating this feast has helped reduce the frenzied anticipation of gifts on Christmas morning.

December 8

Catholics take a break from the stress and press of the commercial Christmas season and head to Mass on this Holy Day of obligation. This is a beautiful Church feast celebrating the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

December 12

Our family has a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. We have a lovely "pilgrim" image given to us by our friends from our time in Oklahoma. This is another beautiful Marian feast. In the Southwest there are often elaborate celebrations with plays, Southwest American Indian costume and dance; all culminating in a special celebration of the Mass in honor of Our Lady. One website I came across suggested serving Mexican food in honor of this feast. I'm looking forward to preparing the food for this feast!

December 13

My family is of Scandinavian descent and my girls are fascinated with this feast day. They have all dreamed of getting up early, dressing in a white dress with red ribbons and a wreath candelabrum, while serving the rest of the family breakfast in bed. Somehow this plan falls flat with the getting up early part. I do recall Karate Kid helping her younger sisters do this one year, but none of us really likes to get up that early. I've been hearing little snippets of Saint Lucia plans here and there from the girls. If all else fails, we'll have breakfast for dinner on Saint Lucy's feast day. Nothing beats pancakes, bacon, and sausage for dinner!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bits 'n Pieces

Small Successes for Thursday, December 3rd. Leave your link at Faith and Family Live.

1) We survived Nutcracker week! Hooray! We had a wonderful time, made new friends, and Skoshi A danced her little heart out. She's already looking forward to next year's auditions.

2) Even with all the Nutcracker and Thanksgiving bearing down on us, I managed to stay on top of the laundry. I do have one more basket to fold and put away, put I am satisfied to not have fallen too far behind.

3) The Christmas shopping is completed, the Advent decor is out, and we are deep into celebrating Advent, with a little help from Holy Heroes: Advent Adventure and a wonderful booklet of Advent meditations Oleander brought home from CCD. Here's to a Holy Advent!
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why West Point?

Chris Matthews may have blundered when he called West Point "the enemy camp", but I agree with the idea that West Point was a "strange venue" to make his case for sending more troops to Afganistan. From what I saw of his speech, the cadets were less than enthusiastic with Obama's appearance there. One poor cadet was caught on camera snoozing.

Why in the world did Obama choose this venue? First of all, he most likely got a warmer welcome from the cadets than he would have received from active duty personnel on an actively deployed base. I sure his handlers believed cadets were a better choice due to their youth, idealism, and distance from the realities of war. They were likely counting on a more liberally minded audience among academia.

Did you think Obama appeared arrogant, angry, even hateful during his speech? Either his applause lines were poorly written, or the cadets found very little to applaud, but as the speech wore on I felt Obama's jaw was set tighter and tighter in frustration over the tepid response. I could be projecting, but I think I really did see exactly that happening over the course of the evening.

The speech was a complete failure. The man cannot lead. Gen. McChrystal asked for 60,000 troops, the Dems want us out. Obama compromised and gave the General 30,000. No one is happy with his plan. Compromise in this situation is not leadership. If our goal is to win in Afganistan give the military what it needs to win; the troops, the equipment, the time, and the full fledged support of the presidency. Otherwise, we may as well cut and run. What a complete and utter waste.

And so ends my rant for the day.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sweet 'Taters

Sweet potatoes are awesome! Guess what? They are also incredibly good for you. We substitute sweet potatoes for white potatoes quite frequently in our house. They are wonderful baked or mashed, just as one would bake or mash conventional potatoes. Stat Boy's absolute favorite sweet potato application is Sweet Potato Casserole. When he is tasked with making his famous casserole, the added sugar and butter fairly negates any of the health benefits one would get from eating sweet potatoes, in general, but it sure is delicious! You can get that particular recipe here.

I've recently been experimenting with sweet potatoes and have come up with easy recipes for sweet potato hash browns and sweet potato chips.

Sweet Potato Hash Browns

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and shredded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large flat bottom skillet heat 1 tablespoon butter along with 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat until butter melts and begins to foam. When foaming as subsided add about half of the sweet potatoes to the skillet, distributing evenly into one layer. Allow potatoes to fry without stirring for 3-5 minutes or until you see the edges begin to brown. Gently turn the hash browns over and allow to fry for another 3-5 minutes until crispy and golden brown, stirring only occasionally and with a gentle hand. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a serving dish and repeat with remaining butter, oil, and potatoes.

Sweet Potato Chips

Two large sweet potatoes, peeled
1-2 quart(s) peanut oil
salt to taste

In a heavy dutch oven heat oil to 350 degrees. While oil is heating use a potato peeler to peel layers from the sweet potatoes. This is the absolute best way to get the sweet potato thin enough to fry up as chips. They may not look pretty at first but once they are fried it they will shrink and crinkle up to a beautiful golden brown. Once oil is to temp add a handful of sliced sweet potato and fry until the chips begin to color and crisp up (about 3 to 5 minutes). Be sure not to over fill the pan as that will reduce the temp of the oil too much and leave you with oily and soggy chips. Remove chips with a slotted metal spoon and let drain on several layers of paper towel. Salt to taste. Allow oil to return to 350 degrees between each batch of chips. Two large sweet potatoes made enough chips for our family of eight to enjoy along with our dinner last night.

Of course these recipes are not nearly as good for you as eating a baked sweet potato with a little plain yogurt as a topping, but they are easy, fun, and delicious and you are at least putting a few more nutrients into your diet than you would if using your typical spud.
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