I wish I was Martha

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Something about the pregnancy hormones makes me- how do you say it?- CRAZY. While growing a baby my brain clicks off all reason and I start thinking things like, "I can make all the things!"

It gets me into trouble.

Coming off the All Saints costume fiasco adventure, I should've dried my tears, looked around and decided that a purchased Christmas would be just fine.  But I didn't.  Instead I dug in about THIS being the year to make the girls dresses AND bloomers because obviously it made sense. I mean next year I'll be nursing a baby and will definitely not have the time or energy.  Nevermind the same was true THIS Christmas AND my ankles swelled, my back seized up, and my pelvis went on strike.

The show would go on!

We did very little Black Friday shopping this year but we did go to Hancock Fabrics for their super sale.  The lines!  Oh, the lines.  I knocked over a shelf of polar fleece with a cart loaded with fabric and little girls and set my purse down.  When I realized my mistake, it was gone.  My heart rate quickens just thinking about it. . . but God is good and an employee found it at the register so I was more than a little giddy when the cashier announced we had saved $130+. "Heck yes we did!" I hollered to the rest of the line, pumping my fist in the air for good measure.

Pride goeth before the fall.

The fabric chosen for the dresses- a beautiful pine colored crushed panne velvet - was lovely on the bolt but a NIGHTMARE in every other sense.  And the waist band - how about a matte black satin just to make things interesting?

I wondered where Mama Syd's good sense had gone to encourage such poor choices.  She's the one who taught me 1. Never sew anything stretchy 2. Never sew anything slippery and 3. You've been warned. Sure, I've broken those commandments but never on such a grand scale with so much riding on it or four times over.

It was rough.

Cutting things out started badly with me losing my temper and Jac calling me 'Chris Reyes.' Good times.  Then he googled how to square up knits (because he's a good man and really, really loves me and really, really hates the crazy), pulled out the 4 ft. T-square from the garage and we were on a roll.  That's when I realized we bought a few yards too many and that green fuzz would probably be the death of me.

I took a few days to recover from the cutting and to steel my nerves for the stretchy sewing. And pleating.  And repeat TIMES FOUR.

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I coaxed and cajoled my machine, stopping often to clean the green fuzz from her guts.  We went slow - so very slow! - and I only had to pick two seams out.  Victory was mine!

Fitting was nerve wracking. "That'd suck if they didn't fit, huh?" Jac laughed.  Seeing my crazy eyes he followed that thought very quickly with, "But they'll wear them anyway!"

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Good save.

I saw the Nutcracker for the first time when I was around 10 or so.  I loved the look of the bloomers with the party dresses and promised myself that if I had a daughter someday I would dress her in such a get-up at least one Christmas.

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Boom.  2015 was the year to live the dream!

Gemma ABSOLUTELY flipped out at the thought.  It bled into how she felt about the dress, too, and she almost went to Christmas Eve Mass in just her coat.  Thankfully, she recovered when she learned she could wear her new ballet slippers. Her sisters on the other hand, they were pro bloomers all the way.  And they have asked me every Sunday since if they could wear them with whatever dress is up for the day.  They testify to the comfort and I do think there is something about wearing essentially jammie bottoms under your fancy clothes. . .

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Donning the dresses in preparation for Mass, the girls spun and spun in the living room.  They were warned that there was no puking in the Christmas dresses.  They laughed and spun some more, repeating the performance for the Bishop and all the revelers who visited in the front of Cathedral after mass was over.

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I swore as I sewed that I would never do such a thing again but you know, a few weeks out and it doesn't seem so bad.

It's probably just the crazy talking.

I used this pattern.  It was simple, lined, and easy to follow.  I highly recommend it!  

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The Jesse Tree.

It is central to how we decorate and celebrate and it is one of my favorite traditions. Through symbols made into ornaments, it tells the story of Salvation - of God's faithful, reckless, pursuing love of His people. It is so named after the prophecy about Christ, that a branch will come forth from the roots of the stump of Jesse- Jesus! When Max was a baby, a friend gifted us a beautiful 8 piece set and that goes on a bare branch on the table, all the pieces at once.  But years ago, we took part in a Jesse Tree swap at Cathedral and have enjoyed our set ever since.

Each evening, we turn off all the lights and we light our Advent wreath and pray the prayers the Vocations Office posts online.  Then someone reads the scripture for the Jesse Tree symbol of the day and someone else puts up the corresponding ornament.  It goes right onto our Christmas tree, decorating it a little at a time, adding to the anticipation and build up for Christmas.

The stories though . . . we love to hear the same scriptures reread.  From Creation to the Fall, through the covenants and prophesies, promise after to promise until they come to their fulfillment in Christ.  We love the way they point always to him and his coming, not just then in a stable in Bethlehem but one day to us. AGAIN! Even when the oldest kiddos were little, we'd have them tell us the stories they knew well so that the greatest story ever told was woven into their own. I love hearing their voices recalling the wonder of God's strength and mercy.

It is so good.

So good in fact, I love to share this tradition with others.  Each time we did the swap at Cathedral, we gave sets to godchildren.  And this year I started thinking that there were people we knew who would probably enjoy the tradition, too.  In the moments of serious stress over All Saints costumes, I would brainstorm Jesse Tree ornament ideas or peruse Pinterest for inspiration.  I wanted ornaments that would be kid friendly and rather sturdy - our set, well loved and all, has some pieces that have fallen apart because they were fragile and excited little hands sometimes drop things. Durability, beauty, and creativity were high on my list for qualifying ornaments.

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I also tried to use things from my stash of crafty supplies.  More than once I heard Randy in my head asking if we were hoarders because I'd see or have an idea and think, "I have just the thing!"  Be prepared, right?!

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And I put the family to work, too.  Jac rolled his eyes and heaved some sighs but when it came down to the leather crafting (and tying bits on and the photography and shopping and . . .) he was all business and the pieces were full of detail I hadn't imagined. The kids each helped and made ornaments and they all gave encouragement and excitement as needed, anxiously awaiting the next thing to be done and crossing things off the list.

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It was a labor of love, to be sure.

Because there were so many great ideas on Pinterest, I thought I'd add our ornaments here.  Warning: there are a lot of images!  I encourage you, if you don't have a set, to make one with your family throughout this Advent, the next year, or make plans for a swap so you have one for the next Advent.  At the end of this post is a link to my Pinterest board, and a link to the booklet document with all of our scriptures. Prepare the way of the Lord!

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Creation- We purchased clear glass ornaments then Gem and El swished in some green acrylic paint with a paintbrush.  They squirted in generous amounts of light and dark blue and swirled it about for a water and cloud affect.  I wish we would have let the green dry first, but now we know.  And I thought I was very clever and original with this only to see others online.  Humility!

_MG_7106The Fall: Finding little apples to add snakes to proved difficult so when the girls spied these at the craft store for 29 cents we snatched 'em up.  Gem and El used acryllic paint again and while it was wet, went hog wild with ultra fine glitter to make it look extra tempting.

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Mary: This one was agonizing for me as I wanted something beautiful to do justice to Our Lady.  Inspired by vintage and mixed media art, this paper, glitter, and doily piece was the final result.

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Noah and the Ark: Jac really outdid himself with this one.  He and Phil traced the pattern I made onto leather and then labored to cut them out and punch them.  Tess strung the rainbow ribbons while Jac decided no one would know what it was without the details and set to work on the boards and nails.  It's one of my faves.

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Blessing of Abraham: Speaking of favorites, I really like this one, too.  It's supposed to be a camel and a tent.  We had left over canvas from FNE banners so I cut out the tents, zig-zagged the edges, painted on the camels. . . but it needed a little something.  Bright tassels seemed to be it!

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Sacrifice of the Son: In remembrance of my great-grandparent's sheep ranching and strong opinions about black faced sheep, I used some tan craft felt, sketched out a lamb silhouette (Phil advised) and cut them out.  Gem helped me dip them in a watered down glue mixture to stiffen them.  When dry, Phil and Tess gave them their fleece by winding some leftover yarn about their middles, necks and haunches.

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Joseph in Egypt: I wanted a colorful fabric but all of my stripes were pretty feminine.  I found a scrap of this from a Holy Handbag commission and it seemed right.  I used the same inexpensive floral wire that I used for Gemma's Mary crown and fashioned little hangers I glued the coats to.

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Passover:  I copied the door from our set, found 4 rectangle tags in a package at the craft store, had Max wood burn the outline of the lintels and then swiped some red acrylic paint on for the blood.

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Ten Commandments: We made cornstarch clay for school at the end of October and I shaped up 8 tablets then.  After baking, I dabbed on different shades of gray acrylic paint and used a toothpick to paint on the numbers.  I used a strong glue to glue them together and to afix a paperclip for hanging.

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The Promised Land: I saw this idea on Pinterest - to use the pompoms to make grapes.  I had the green felt and floral wire in my stash so it seemed right to add leaves and a curly stem.

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Bronze Serpent: This is, hands down, my least favorite of the bunch.  But, do tell, how are you supposed to fashion a serpent on a stick?! I opted for metallic puff paint on a branch. Blah.

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Jonah: What fun it was to make these guys!  It was my first go at amirugumi and it sure was easy and satisfying.  It was also satisfying to have just enough! of the two blue yarns I used.

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Ruth and Boaz: I can't hear 'Boaz' without thinking of my cousin Tom suggesting it as a name for his son. . . Anyway, I wrapped two strands of raffia around my hand, tied it in the middle with some fabric scraps and trimmed the ends.  Ta da!  Wheat!

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David and Goliath: I saw it on Pinterest and it seemed the sturdiest way to make a slingshot.  Phil and Jac cut these out of buffalo leather and Tess and I strung them with old cotton rope.

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God's Forgotten Scroll is Found: Old scrapbooking paper rolled up and tied with seam binding.  Jac opted to make these instead of using the stamps on the hearts and I think he wished he had chosen otherwise in the end.

_MG_7084Prophecy: A Shoot From the Stump of Jesse: Max cut a branch into little stumps, Jac drilled a tiny hole and I hot glued a bit of a silk flower leaf in the hole.  Tiny eye screws provide the hanging spot.

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Prophecy: The New Creation:  I fretted over this one, too.  How to do the lion and the lamb together?  SIMPLY. Lots of ideas online had them back to back, but I wanted them side by side.  The Holy Spirit inspired this as I worked on another project and it ended up being my favorite piece. Two wooden beads painted (faces and tails!) and hung on twine.

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Prophecy: The Prince of Peace: I didn't find anything inspiring online until I ran across this little pattern.  Just a pattern and picture and no instructions, I did as I saw fit.  He's stitched of flannel, has a felt crown and his less-than-thrilled eyes are embroidered knots.

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Prophecy: The Good Shepherd: Max cut a metal hanger into lengths and then bent them into staffs.  We worked together to attach twine with glue and wrap the length of the crook.  Gemma loved these "Bishop thingies."

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Prophecy: Suffering Servant: Like the Mary piece, I wanted a beautiful cross.  I found this searching for Cross Ornament on Pinterest.  Two nails, silver wire and beads. I got the wire wrapped around the center of the nails, but Tess and Ellie finished the rest themselves.

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The New Covenant: I was inspired by folksy, mixed media hearts online. It seemed fitting to use scraps from a quilt I made for Nate and Lace's wedding to stitch these up.  Jac helped me decide on the words and I used a stamp set he gave me long ago to stamp onto scrap fabric.

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Bethlehem: Again, I copied the ornament from our set.  These globes were at the Craft store for a steal so even though I was unimpressed with the glitter, I got them.  It worked out in the end, i think.  I painted a Bethlehem skyline, added yellow, glowing windows and stars.

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Exile and Persecution: I made the flames the same way I made them for Gemma's costume, stitching flame-like shapes onto two layers of gold fabric.  I cut them out and layered them and then finished them off with a bit of netting I had.

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Return to Jerusalem: The same day I made the Ten Commandments, I made the walls.  I pressed the pattern into the clay and painted them later.

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Christmas Star: So very many beautiful options out there, it was hard to choose.  In the end, I went with crochet because I wanted to see if it really was possible to use bakers twine.  It was!  We stiffened these with the same watered down glue mixture we used with the lambs, pinning the points to some wax papered cardboard to help shape them. I should've added glitter. . .

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Light of the World: I found this one online.  A little white felt rolled up and a tiny felt (and craft foam, in this case) flame glued in.

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Angels Proclaim the Miraculous Birth: Again, so many choices, but not many met up with my qualifying standards.  Maybe it's because Gemma is still so enamored with Angels and Mary that I wanted something that could be handled and still look good.  I found the instructions for this on Pinterest . . . but they were in Russian.  The pictures helped and I made things up when needed.  Made of pieces of satin, lace, tulle, and ribbon.

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The Birth of Jesus: Found on Pinterest, I used raffia for the hay, wrapped a little peg doll in white flannel (helped with hot glue) and wrapped it in twine.  Aside from the swaddling, it was super simple.

Four sets of these were made and sent to friends. I told Jac, as we put the last ornaments together, that I wish I had done more.  Next year!

My Pinterest Board of Jesse Tree Inspiration

The Scriptures we use in PDF format.

Prepare the way of the Lord!

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I am a rule follower through and through so it makes sense that (for the most part . . . ) my children are legalistic about traditions.  This is how things like Mardi Gras, Extravaganzas, The Aminal Tree, and the like have been born.  I happen to do something once that seems like fun then they hammer it down as an ALWAYS and EVER thing.

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I like it, I really do . . .

So it is with The Christmas Jammies.  We've always done new jammies for Christmas Eve because, well, my family did that when I was growing up as did my mom's family before that.  It's tradition! It happened by accident the year that Gemma was born that my hormone fueled mind thought that homemade jammies would be a good idea/cheaper.  I didn't mean for it to become a THING . . .

I never quite got my act in gear this year.  There was no excuse (could the stress of a new engine for the 'burb and assorted dramatic relationships count?), I just didn't get things together.  I did pray through advent- which was very, very good - but the tub for all the decorations never went downstairs and the rocking chair didn't move either, we just tripped over it every day.  We schooled and made things and cookies and even got our shopping done early.  However, the wrapping, which happens to be one of my most favorite things in the world, REALLY!, I didn't start until 2 am Christmas Eve night.   I just struggled.

So it was with dread rather than with joy that I overheard my children in the weeks leading up to Christmas that we open our gifts on Christmas except for one present on Christmas Eve, which is ALWAYS jammies.  And not just any jammies, but "the best jammies in the world because our mom makes them."

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Ugh.

I told myself that Mama Syd would say to look at the positives: they love the tradition and they love my jammies.  I'm not so good at the bright side though.

Last year I was sewing as we walked out the door to Mass on the 24th.  I didn't want to do that again so I vowed I'd have them done before Christmas Eve.  They were complete at 3:30 am on the 24th but since I didn't go to bed on the 23rd, I'm calling it as keeping my promise.

Earlier in the day I had worked on an 'Anna from Fwozen' cape for Gem because she had spent the summer and fall with a fleece blanket tied around her neck. I had set out on THAT adventure in high spirits but picking stitches out of fleece is soul crushing and it sucked up a good chunk of the day. (That pattern is here. All mistakes were mine as it was very well done.) I was rather bleary eyed and shot when we gathered to pray with the kids before bedtime.

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"Lord, we pray for Annie and her sewing tonight.  Give her the energy she needs, a clear mind, and help her not to make any mistakes." Jac pleaded for me. At that point I was rather incredulous that anything could go right, but we all said a rousing, "Lord, hear our prayer!" anyway and sent the troops to bed.

I count it as a bonafide miracle that I began sewing 6 jammies at 10:00 pm and did not make a single mistake.  Not a single stitch was ripped, hallelujah, thank you sweet baby Jesus! (Let me know if you have intentions you'd like Jac to pray over because seriously.)

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The kids were pleased with them and they fit much to my relief.  When I bought the flannel, I didn't think twice about making a Von Trapp Family set but the guy at the fabric store seemed doubtful.  "A whole matching set, hmmm?  What ages?" I told him and then informed him I'd do it until they wouldn't let me any more and I figured it gave them good fodder for their therapy later.

Yes, I did!

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Anyway, for the boys, I drafted my own pattern for their pants from their measurements and current pants.  For the girls, I used this pattern for the base and then embellished from my own mind.  I used t-shirts and skirts from my stash and again thanked the Lord that I was able to sew knits without swearing or crying.

Shoot, reading this, it almost sounds like I had fun!

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You know who did not have fun?  Gemma.  Gemma hated the jammies (still does) because they aren't 'Fwozen' or 'from Mama Syd' or her 'warm ones.'  Really, it's fine that she doesn't like them.  It keeps the tradition of naming the jammies alive. '2014- The Year Gemma Hated.'

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*For those of you with RS feeds - hello 8 readers! - I posted about 2014 All Saints Day costumes today, too.  I placed it in October where it should have gone because, Lord knows, next year or a few down the road, someone will want to remember what it was like and we won't remember and we will come here expecting to find it.  And now we can.  It's here if you want to check it out.

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As we left the library on Saturday, I noticed the metermaid.  Is that what you kids call them these days?  Probably not as the term "maid" implies it's a female only position and is therefore sexist and therefore gone the way of the secretary, hostess and stewardess.

I digress.

There are just a few meter folk in town, all of them female.  We know who they are not just because of their smart uniforms (can you call navy cargo pants and a white polo "smart"?  I just did. . .) and the marking stick thing but because of the speed with which they walk. And THAT'S what caught my attention on Saturday.

My thought went something like this:

"Ugh. These kids!  Why do they have to fight? I'm gonna run away.  Hey!  Look at her!  She's FAST!  I wonder if she runs races on her off time. "Her off time.!!"  Psh!  Like she'd run races while she's working!  No, but seriously, that walking? That's some good training right there."

My train of thought is usually like this.  Frightening, no?

Then I thought, Why would she race in her off time?  It'd be like me folding clothes in my down time.

Ha!  Down time . . . 

From there I began to consider what sorts of things I could do competively simply by what I do on a regular basis.  Behold the Mom Olympics!

Laundry folding - a timed event judged on neatness and the ability to get things in the correct stacks

Laundry stacking - from the days laundry doesn't get folded and is just piled up, the event would measure how high the laundry can be stacked and then scaled by a small child

Dishwasher Loading - Who can get the most dishes in the dishwasher and have them come out clean?

Diapering - obviously a speed-based event to get a child out of poopy clothes and diaper and into clean stuff

Child wrestling - self explanatory

Car loading - A more artitistic event (think rhythmic gymnastics) that involves multiple children, coats, a diaper bag, stroller(s), and 3 car seats.  

Grocery Shopping Slalom - 1 list, 1 cart, 6 children, and a busy store.  Can the competitor make it through the course before someone has a tantrum/wets their pants/breaks something? This is the parenting X-Games.

By the time we got home, I was dreaming up logos and sponsorships - the works.  I came to realize that maybe the meter lady wasn't a racer but I bet she would be if she could do it for fun and profit.  I totally would.  So who's in?  I'm basically in constant training so I'm ready when you are.

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Before we left California, I stole something.

And by "stole" I mean I announced to Mama Syd that I liked a particular item and would like it for the baby.

"Take it." she said.

"But it belongs to my brother . . . "

"What makes you say that?"

"Um . . . his name is on it."

She assured me my brother wouldn't mind.  Maybe stealing is too harsh a term for whatever offense it is that I made . . .

I never really knew my Nana Mickey's mother.  I met her a few times, saw us together in pictures and owned doll-size quilts she made for us.  Those quilts were the greatest connection I felt to her.  Garrish and loud with uneven edges, they were well played with but not particularly beloved.

Then I grew up and became a mother.  I learned some more about Grandma Ruby and life and the few things I have of her I treasure.  Then I lost my own grandmother and suddenly the love and thought that went into those quilts, the memories they hold, well, they were very important.

This quilt I claimed for Sixtus, I don't remember being around.  It's larger than a doll's blanket and has Grandma Ruby's record on the back.  It says it was made in 1972 though my brother wasn't born until 1982.  Maybe she had a stock pile?

The loud, dated colors that didn't impress me as a kid are just right to me now.  I love that the pieces are real live scraps and patches.  I dig the terry towels printed with flowers used near the plaid.  There are silks and flannels and all sorts of polyesters.  My favorite piece is the nose of a golden lion.  Just the nose and whiskers.  Awesome.

It was a little worse for wear.  It's 41 years old if the date is right.  The quilt needed a little TLC to be sure.  I set about embroidering over seams.  This evolved into cutting out frayed pieces (just 3!) and patching over the blank spaces.  I loved adding my touches to a piece my great-grandmother made but even better was when the girls asked if they could help.

Yes, they were eager and sometimes impatient, but they were serious and overjoyed to be making something for Sixtus.  We talked about Grandma Ruby and Nana Mickey while they worked.  This piece, this simple blanket for a sibling they don't know yet already loved, was made by their great-great-grandmother. They don't know her either but I'm pretty sure that while sewing on her quilt, they came to love her, too.

Tess outlined a cat on the patch with the Dutch woman.  Ellie chose to embroider a "swirl" on a floral piece.  They both searched out any holes that needed to be covered and picked out the thread for the spiderwebs I stitched over them.

When we were done, we washed the blanket and held our breath.  We all oohed an ahhed when it came out softer and just a little brighter than when it had gone in.  Now it sits patiently in the Suburban with the car seat, waiting for baby's ride home.

"Do you think Sixtus will like it?" Ellie was anxious to know. I assured her I think he'll love it as much a we all do.  "What piece will be his favorite?" she wondered.  Only time will tell, but I hope when this child can understand he will love the whole of it and the memory of the woman who made it, too.

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On the 'winner" list of books from the library this year, is this title:

I won't give anything away, but it is a beautiful lesson in the Golden Rule, tradition, family, God's provision - really, anything you could want and more. The kids came back to it again and again and we read it numerous times.

For days I wondered how to make web ornaments with them, then finally decided, the morning the book was opened *ahem!* on spiders instead.  The crowd was leery.  The boys have recently learned the meaning of "Arachnophobia" and have become self-proclaimed 'phobes after some personal run-ins and an unfortuunate Bugs Bunny episode viewed at Grandma's house.  The last thing they thought they wanted to do was make spiders and they whipped themselves and their sisters into a fine frenzy at the suggestion.  We soldiered on.  Oh, how we soldiered on.

Before they knew it, they were having a good time.  Not even  just good, they were actually enjoying themselves in spite of themselves.  Oh, sweet consolation of being right now and again!

We had such a good time making our spiders, we thought we'd share our process with you.  You know, just in case your tree doesn't have a spider.

Supplies Needed

4 pipe cleaners

4 plastic straws

16 pony beads

1 large pom pom

1 small pom pom

googly eyes or small beads

glue gun

 

1. First we selected 4 straws that coordinated with the  bodies.  We used what was on hand, so color choices were very narrow. Then we cut each straw into 6 segments, roughly about an inch and a quarter or so.

 

2. Next we discussed our legs and patterns.  Each pipe cleaner would be for two legs (4x2=8 Spiders have 8 legs!  Ta da! Math for the day!) For our legs, we put  a little curl on the end of a pipe cleaner (this becomes the spidey's  foot, if they had feet) then strung our pattern onto the pipe cleaner for two legs in one.  Our pattern was 'straw bead straw bead straw SPACE straw bead straw bead straw.' At the end of the pipe cleaner, we put another curl in for the other foot.

 

3. We repeated the beading process 3 more times.

 

4. Then we let our 'helper' crawl on the table.  This is an unnecessary step, FYI.

 

I turned the big kids (the oldest three) loose with the glue gun for the first time.  This was a VERY. BIG. DEAL. for them.  And, best of all, no one got burned but me and I did it to myself.  Impressive.

5. With the hot glue, we attached the small pompom (the 'head') to the large pompom (the 'body). We waited a few seconds for the glue to dry and then set to work inspecting our spiders for their top and bottom sides.

 

6. Once we found their 'bottom' side (or bellies, more accurately), we prepared to attach the legs.  Each pipe cleaner had two halves with 3 straws and 2 beads on either side of a good 2 inch space.  With that ready, they laid down a thick strip of glue and pressed the' space'section of each leg to the glue, careful not to burn themselves.

 

7. After the glue set, we turned our spidies over and, with one hand firmly on the spiders back, we gently pulled each leg directly up towards the ceiling. Then, at the bead 'joint' closest to the body on each leg, we bent the leg back down.  At the second bead, we bent the leg even closer in. They strated to look like th real deal!

 

8. At this point, some of the kids chose seed beads or googly eyes to glue on for the face.  It really brought out the spidey's personality.

 

"I don't like spiiiiiiderrrrrrs!" was soon replaced by, "Oh!  It's so cute!"

The best part of this project was the way the project took on a life of it's own.  Before I knew it, second and third spiders were being constructed in addition to webs and flies ("Because spiders get hungry, too, right mama?"

 

 

Teamwork, cooperation and good will toward men flourished.

 

Spider-man even made an appearance and ended up restraining a few minifigures in the boughs of the tree. I feel safer when he's around.

 

The spideys turned out beautifully (Tess made a rainbow one, of course, that is impressive) and now 7 of them beautify our tree, too.  They are welcome indeed.

 

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The Olympics are here, old Sport!

We have been on countdown since Vancouver. Really, looking forward to the London 2012 games are the only thing that have taken away the sting of Mama Syd and Papa Chris leaving. We went to the library in search of books about the Olympics, ancient Greece and Great Britain. We came home with over 60 books and we promptly immersed ourselves in the Olympic Spirit.

Come the 27th, we took the day to ready ourselves for the Opening Ceremonies that night. We made fish and chips with this recipe (perfect for Fish Fridays! papa Chris, you would have loved it!) and served it up with malt vinegar. The little buggers had fish sticks and frozen fries - there's only so far they will be pushed. We toasted the Queen with The Big Liz cocktail (Turns out, I like gin. The Queen has good taste!) and The Little Lizzie for the kiddos and discussed the finer points of "God Save the Queen."

"Confound their politics!
Frustrate their knavish tricks!
On Thee our hopes we fix!
God save us all!

Jac baked a bread pudding that the kids deemed less than impressive but managed to eat half of anyway and we ate and drank ourselves into a fine frenzy then tore into the English crackers I made for the occasion. My favorite part? The tissue paper laurel wreaths I cut out that were such a hit.

We retreated to the cool of the basement for the ceremony, bells in hand to chime along with Big Ben. (We cleaned Salvation Army out of all of their bells and are now the proud owners of several Santa shaped ringers and even a ceramic unicorn. Fancy!) While we never did hear that happen (darn Internet rumors!), we rang with abandon during the final fireworks.

It was impressive, the Brits third go. Quirky and a little odd, it was them . We liked that. As always, we also liked the parade of nations and we voted on our favorite outfits and flag bearers. We giggled over awkward camera angles and oohed and ahhed about inspiring stories. But my favorite moments? When Fr. Would yell,

"Shut up, Matt Lauer! I hate you so much! Stop talking now!" It was perfect.

The kids were Olympic in their endurance, managing to stay awake through it all and then sleeping downstairs together to cap off the celebration.

They awoke early Saturday requesting to watch more Olympics.

It's been on ever since.

Let the games begin!

 

 

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After this last month, I am just about birthday-ed out. We had celebrations of some sort at least once a week through all of April. It made the month fly by and lat forever all at once. I have let them eat cake so very many times that I now have the recipe memorized.

It's a good one, that cake.

So good, in fact, Grandpa Raul changed his order from 2 pies to a cake and a pie for a dinner he is hosting. From the pie-lover and cake baker himself, that is high praise!

I can't take credit for it. It was Raul who gave me the recipe book from which it hails. Gifted before we were married, The Cake Mix Doctor is one of my most favorite recipe books. Mine is falling apart and stained and creased and now even committed to memory.

Anyway, back to the cake. It will be made a few more times this month, too. And if you are looking for a little something for your Motherly, graduate-y, Memorially or birthday-ish celebrations, this is it.

My tips are these: If you can find someone to smuggle clear Mexican vanilla in a 1 liter bottle across the border for you, bribe who you must and DO IT. It's worth it. If, like me, you don't keep buttermilk on hand, you can make some by adding one Tbsp of vinegar to 1 c. of milk. For this recipe I do a Tbsp and a splash, give it a stir and let it sit for 15 minutes until it gets lumpy. You'll forget all about the curdles when you smell the cake baking, trust me. This recipe calls for a Devil's food cake, but I've made it twice now with a milk chocolate mix and, my sources tell me, it is just as tasty. ( I can't actually partake of the cake because of the buttermilk. I just am tempted by the smell and taunted by the frosting and the kids crumb covered smiles. Begin feeling sorry for me now and send Oreos.)

BASIC BUTTERMILK DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE

1 box Devil's Food Cake Mix
1 1/3 c. Buttermilk
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c. Vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour ( or spray with baking spray ) two 9" round pans. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. With an electric mixer set on low, beat ingredients for 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl, increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more. Mixture will be thick and well combined. Pour batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the edges just start to pull away from the pans and the center bounces back when touched lightly. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn out and cool completely on wire racks.

Frost with the Best Buttercream

1 stick butter, room temperature
3 3/4 c. Powdered sugar
3-4 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the butter with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and beat on low for another minute until combined. Increase speed to medium and beat one minute more until the frosting is fluffy and of good consistency. Add up to 1 Tbsp more milk if frosting is too thick. Try to keep greedy fingers out of the good stuff until it's time to cut the cake.

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Have I mentioned lately what great friends I have? No? Well, let. me. tell. You! Proof? Lacey is teaching my co op class. All semester long. Early, cold mornings and all. AWESOME, that's what she is. I thank the Lord several times a day for her and her generosity. She's the best.

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We just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods for the co op colloquium. We all learned a lot (Panthers are scary! Pig tail is tasty! You can get whipped for pitching a fit on Sundays!) but two things really stood out for me:

First, I'm not really a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's writing. I know this is borderline blasphemy for a South Dakotan and daughter of pioneers to utter, but it's true. I devoured the books as a child and I am fond of the stories but the writing is just eh. You can tar and feather me later.

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Second, I don't know how to do ANYTHING.

I hear your eyes rolling. I can feel your exasperation but again, I have evidence.

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Ma Ingalls? She knew how to do EVERYTHING. She could
Cure meat
Make head cheese (do you even know what head cheese is?)
Make sausage
Build a fire
Cook on a wood burning stove
Light a lamp
Make lard
Make soap
Do laundry without a machine
Grow a garden
Preserve food
Use herbs as medicine
Gather wild plants for food
Sew
Make patterns for clothing
Make quilts
Knit
Milk a cow
Make butter
Mold butter
Make cheese (start to finish, by herself)
Make sugar
Make candy (without a candy thermometer!)
Make bread
Weave straw hats
Clarify honey
Aaaaaaaand curl hair without heat.

Seriously.

What I know how to do:
Use a sewing machine
Make frosting- with an electric mixer- from scratch
Make a pie
Crochet (kind of. . . )
Make pizza dough
French braid
Fold a fitted sheet (I worked In a laundromat in college. Dark days but I did come away with that singular skill. Oh, and an aversion to the smell of detergent.)

None of the items on my list are imperative or beneficial to my families daily survival or well being, though Philip might argue the pizza dough's case. . . At any rate, Ma was a super woman though in her time most women had to have those basic skills. Me? I got nothin'! I can be lazy ALL DAY LONG and still have my dishes done, laundry washed (though probably not dried because, well, let's be realistic) and dinner nuked or opened or picked up and my family will flourish.

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It's disgusting.

So this is my plan. This year I will learn how to do something new every month. EVERY MONTH. It might be useful like how to knit, make bread or keep a garden alive. Maybe it will be frivolous like how to cart wheel (I never learned), use Jac's camera (still don't know how) or how to yodel (Jac's idea). Either way, it's a step toward curbing the laziness and working towards wonder woman status.

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To begin, inspired by the Ingalls', we made butter. Miracle of miracles, Philip tasted the mixture at every stage. The kid who gags at the mere mention of whipped cream and refuses to put milk in his cereal tasted the whipped cream, the buttermilk and the butter and deemed it all delicious. Ellie loved the buttermilk so much we had to cut her off. So the first attempt at something new was a rousing success.

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Being it on Caroline Ingalls. Bring. It. On.

Last week kicked off the baking/making frenzy around these parts. It seemed early to me, too, but I figured that planning for the first part of the month would up the chances the baking would actually get done. With this baby on
the launch pad as it were, who knows how much longer we have for anything besides feeding and sleeping.

Anyway, first up we're the cookies. The pantry was scoured for fixings while Jac and the girls crushed dum dums to make rainbow jewels. Ellie was EFFICIENT, completing a cookie and asking, "I have a-other one?" before I could get anyone else started. We used our Ninja cookie cutters for the first time (thank you Lang's for the new tradition!) and ended up with not just ninjas but Santa with his sack, Elvis with a white and silver jumpsuit and microphone and even Spiderman. There was a baby ninja in a diaper, too, that Jac made and all found hilarious.

A few days later it was onto the Ginger bread houses. Or, as Ellie says, "Ninjabread house!" because, really, she has no idea what a gingerman is. This year we scaled back the size of the houses slightly, and after putting them together, set the kids loose. Philip was all about the yard accessories and planning but not so much the execution. Let's hope that's just a stage and not a life pattern, hmmm? Max decided early on he was going for an "East meets West" theme and diligently worked to carry that out. Ellie, meanwhile, ate more candy than she used on her house and after chattering like a squirrel for over an hour, lapsed into a diabetic coma. And Tess? She was the art-teest. Patterns and matching and much detail went into her abode. Incidentally, if she is engrossed like that there is very little talking. Good to keep in mind. . . The final touch for the oldest three was a dusting of powdered sugar for snow. Philip, distracted as usual, chatted about what would be cool if blah-blah-blah-flamethrower until Max broke into the plan by bellowing, "Shake it like you mean it, boy!" Perfect.

Thursday brought pulling taffy with Fr. Tyler. He had made the request a month or so ago and we were happy to oblige. Then I started simmering ingredients and had some serious self doubts. Candy thermometers and I just don't get along and it is so easy to really mess things up. Hands were washed and buttered, (except for Susan who, God love her, doesn't like to get slimy) and the pulling commenced. In the end, Fr. and his muscles saved the day. His wad was the only stuff that became taffy- Philip and then the girls just didn't have enough brute strength to get 'er done. Instead, we had vanilla flavored hard candy. Philip sighed and pined over the taffy until Fr. wisely told him, "You lose enough teeth all on your own, you don't need any help." His spacers thank you for that, Fr.!

Lastly, today we made Mexican sweet bread. We figured if we can't go to it, it can come to us! And with today being the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it seemed fitting and right. Just the ladies helped on this one-the boys were otherwise occupied- and Tess hand ground the cinnamon all by herself. Believe me, she deserved it. The rolls turned out pretty good in our estimation but fantastic to the kiddos. "Where did you find the recipe?" Max asked. "'Cause I think I might want to take that one to college with me." Always good to plan ahead.

*Lest you think everything is all lemon drops and gumdrops (and cavities) around here. . . We had a leak in the bathroom, from the ceiling. I spent an entire morning cleaning out the innards of the exhaust fan. The dog is still sick. There was some experimental hair cutting during the making of our St. Nicholas ornaments and they broke their light switch. I thought I had lost my purse and was in tears when we asked the kids if they had seen it. " N-n-n-o-o-o-o" Tess said slowly and then disappeared. She came back quickly with the purse and admitted to boxing it up with Philip's shoes because she thought it'd make a good present. They are adding to my insanity, I tell you! It's the hap, happiest season of all!!!!