Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Last week:
Another yearly tradition, Booboo style.A belated bday party.
The main event:
The Annual Polar Plunge!
{air temp approx 26 degrees}

The payoff: a hot jacuzzi and bragging rights!
Teens are fun.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It begins: Too Many Tamales!

Today I begin the work of what is an annual tradition, one I love, and one that I usually think - about 3/4 of the way through - "what was I thinking?"

Because today we start the tamales!
It takes at least two days for me to make good tamales, the real deal.

That is because the first day is to cook the meat, traditionally brisket, long and slow, simmered in spices until it breaks down into melty shreds of yummy goodness. Then it is taken out and shredded and the broth saved and refrigerated to defat. Next day I make the cornmeal, just the way my mom taught me, do the final seasoning and moistening of the meat with the broth, soak the husks, and then lay out all the items and start the laborious but comforting assembly.

And then I, or we, make tamales! Sometimes the kids, usually the girls, help, sometimes we watch a movie as we do it, or put on music or just talk. It's a nice time and we usually end up with seven or eight dozen tamales. We pressure cook the whole lot in batches to set them and then sneak one or two piping hot, just to taste test, you know. I know, it's a lot but we give some away and freeze the rest and I only make them about once a year, so I might as well make a bunch!

I grew up in the southwest and tamales were a much longed for, much anticipated treat. Because the only "good" tamales were homemade, period. All others were suspect, I mean, who knew what they put in there? But I knew what was supposed to be in there. Because every year I watched my mom and my aunt make tamales. They only did it once a year, maybe twice if some really special occasion arose or some extra effective begging and coercion took place. But for New Year's Eve, we ate tamales!

My father's birthday is New Year's Eve. My sister's birthday is New Year's Day. They both love tamales and so shared this birthday feast, every year. And for me, part of the appeal was sitting near my mom and my favorite aunt, listening to them talk and watching the rhythm of their hands laying out the corn husks, smearing the masa, dabbing on the filling, then folding and rolling up the tamale into a kind of beautiful little present, folded and wrapped up into it's own perfect bundle.

For years, I didn't even like to eat them, just liked to make them. Imagine! But I was a young and stupid and picky child. Now, I know better and happily, children, all of them, are clearly much wiser than me!

So it's a family feast. It's a tradition that calls back to the southwest where both Coffeedoc and I were raised and that we love. It's a connection back to my family and my memories. And it keeps me and my family connected and having a cross country birthday party with my dad and my sister, as we all have our tamales on New Years Eve and toast the new year but also the birthdays.

Anyhow, I love tradition! Heck I went through grad school for folklore/folklife and literature, of course I do! This is one of the oldest in my life and one that is very dear to me. So, I'd better get to work! Time to start the tamales!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Miss M!

Happy Happy Birthday Miss M!
You are ten years old today!
Double digits, already!
You are such a special girl.
Born in Nashville, you were my surprise baby!
The best surprise I've ever had!
You came home to us at two weeks old. You weren't sure about the changes. It took you a bit to get used to us, but we fell fast for you and your big brown eyes. Even today, you don't like change much, but now we can all laugh about it.
You and your sister were teeny babies together, like twins but not. You were almost exactly the same size for years, shared clothes and baskets and beds. But now you are getting bigger, in different ways, but certainly with the clothes. And that is ok, because you love your jeans and today you get your own closet, in the multi-room swap!You, Miss M, are a beauty.
We don't tell you too often because we don't want you to get the big head....but you are beautiful and strong.
Even your hair and your oh so tender head, is a gift that someday (when you alone are doing the brushing) you will appreciate fully.
But best of all, you are beautiful inside as well as out.
You have one of the very biggest hearts I know.
You can well over in tears from just hearing about something sad, be it a kitten or a friend or a movie with your mom.
You worry about others more than others do.
You are considerate and think about things they might need and how to help them.
And then you do it.
That's remarkable.
You are just like me: we call it control freak (but with a smile).
And we saw it early: in your ability, even as a toddler, to bring your temper under control as we watched - a seemingly superhuman effort in such a small girl.
You love having control of your body, your time, your plans, your things.
This will make you nuts some, and does, but it also makes you and I understand each other sw well and work so well together!
And it is one of your strengths.
You are probably one of my strongest kids, on different levels.
Physically, you are an amazing natural athlete.
I half expect to scream my lungs out for you at the Olympics someday; it wouldn't surprise me a bit.
To watch you gallop across a field or shoot those hoops is so fun, it takes my breath.
God made you so well, with a strong coordinated body that can do almost anything you set your mind to.
I marvel at that.
You have a laugh that sounds like water in a brook; and makes the whole family smile and start laughing when we hear it.
You love to laugh, at your brother or giggling with your sisters, or at a joke or at mom.
You are my best eater and the most fun kid to feed, and I wish I had your metabolism!
You love love love the color purple.
And you love love the Little Mermaid!
You are growing into a bigger kid but you are not too big to play with dolls with your sister either.
You are a sleeper: you need it and want it and are happy to do it!
You are a helper, with or without being asked.
You have a strong strong will, that will take you far in life, on big amazing adventures.
You are smart and resilient.
Miss M, you are a giver.
And that, I think, is why your smile is so beautiful and one of the things we love the very most about you: your big giving heart.
You were given to us as a great Christmas season gift, but you give yourself to your family and especially your sister Bird ever so much more.
So Happy Happy Tenth Bday Miss M!
We love you so very much and are so very proud of you.
We hope all your birthday wishes come true!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Feast of the Holy Family

Michelangelo, The Holy Family

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family!

Now this is a feast that makes me happy (ok, hence the discombobulated mood today).
As you might gather, family is a big deal to me. Literally and figuratively!
And to have a day that puts special emphasis on the beauty and importance of family is just a gift. And what better role models to have than the Holy Family, of course! And all too often St. Joseph, the head of the Holy Family is kind of lost in the Christmas shuffle. Go read Elizabeth Foss for a good article on St. Joseph.

"For the past few weeks, we have been so intensely focused on the coming of Jesus Christ, that today the Church invites us to take a step back and look at a larger picture: The Holy Family. The Son of God, in His Divinity, could have come to us full grown and alone. Or he could have come as a child under the protection of some royal court. Instead, he chose to come to us in the midst of the most fundamental dynamic in human life: the family. The first thing Jesus sanctified by his presence was a family home"
from Phat Catholic, go read

Anyhow, this topic is an important one for me. I look to the Holy Family for inspiration, prayers, and as a role model (that I will never achieve, of course). But really, we are called to be the domestic church, to model that giving service, that love in our own families and homes. And God was so good to provide us with a family that we can look to. They had to go through all sorts of difficulties, stress, fears as well as happiness, companionship, joy and everyday life. Maybe, just maybe, Mary questioned Joseph's ideas once or twice ("really, get up, leave, go to Egypt?, really, now??? Ack, ok!") and surely they worried about work and we know they did chores and got tired and lived quiet mundane regular life for many (well, 30) years.

And that gives me comfort. When I am in the midst of another messy kitchen or loads of laundry, with dinner needing to me cooked and Coffeedoc calling, well, it is nice to know that it is ok, this is how it's supposed to be. It gets messy and tired and worried and quiet and regular too. And I can know that, stone cold, because the Holy Family did it. Period.

There is holiness in the everyday quiet life of the family, big or small. There can certainly be growth in holiness as well (and a big upcurve ahead there, in this house) but this is some of the most fertile ground for it. The family. The linchpin. The foundation. So today, we celebrate, with great thanksgiving the feast of the Holy Family.

Here too are a few more links: to good reads, to good holy families:
The Deacons Bench has a good homily on the Holy Family, worth a look.
Juli at Happy Catholic, always great.
Jennifer, at Conversion Diary, she heads up a holy family!
As does Michele at Family-Centered Life, and Margaret at Minnesota Mom, and Danielle Bean and so many others, but if I start to list them all then I'll get someone mad at me or their feelings hurt. So to make it simpler, go to the sidebar and check out most of the adoptive blogs (because right there, ya got the whole St. Joseph connection in particular) and the Catholic moms links too. That's the other cool thing about this feast: if you look, you'll see examples all around you! How glorious, how cool is that! Thanks be to God!

Holy Family, pray for us!

The Holy Innocents

There are some feast days in the Church that are hard.
I suppose they all should be in a way...in that the term "feast day" when applied to a Catholic memorial, often and traditionally (but not exclusively, see Feast of the Holy Family, above) means the day of passing from this material world into everlasting life. It means death. But it also means a step into the most real life and the one that is eternal, with no suffering and glorious true union with Christ; therefore for that person - unspeakable joy.

And that is the prelude to today. Today is a double whammy, so to speak.

First, this post, we have to talk about today's feast day, this fourth day of Christmas: the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Or, I have to talk about it because I am out of sorts over it, in a blue funk.

I hate this feast day. It is so hard to wrap my mind around this one and it leaves me out of sorts, every year. My poor skills in communicating, much less writing coherently here, combined with the whole mystery surrounding this feast leaves me stuttering over words.

And yet, this is an important day to remember.

And as mom, it touches a very deep part of me in hurt and anger and sorrow. This part of the Mass reading for this day, it makes me cry:

Matthew 2:18
"Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation:
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled because they were no more."

Therefore, instead of stumbling along with my utterly inadequate words, I leave you with what I turn to: art and the writings of holier, more learned people. The art is posted, a few pieces. The words are below:

Matthew 2:16
"Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men."

"There is no easy explanation for suffering, least of all for the suffering of the innocent. St. Matthew's narrative, which we read in today's Mass, shows us the suffering, apparently useless and unjust, of some children who gave their lives for a Person and for a Truth whom they didn't even know."
In Conversation with God 1, Advent and Christmastide

"There is anguish for us, twenty centuries later, in thinking of the slain babies and their parents. For the babies the agony was soon over; in the next world they would come to know whom they had died to save and for all eternity would have that glory. For the parents, the pain would have lasted longer; but at death they too must have found that there was a special sense in which God was in their debt, as he had never been indebted to any. They and their children were the only ones who ever agonized in order to save God's life"
F. J. Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus

Painting by William Holman Hunt

This feast day, I halfway want to ignore it...certainly not talk about it, explain it. Is recognizing it condoning it? That's a nonsensical question but it springs into my head. It's that torn jumbley feeling.

But it's not that the Church made this stuff up, it's not a novel or a screenplay. It's real. It happened. It's not the Church doing revisionist history or some horror writer hoping to make a buck. It's biblical. It's horror. It's an historical event that makes us weep and cringe even today - because it is evil. It is face to face with unspeakable evil. And it is just too close for comfort. But, then again, evil usually is. That's part of it's whole package. It should make us shrink from it, and shake our heads without comprehending, asking "why, how" as we weep. But even the glory of Christmas, the birth of this baby, cannot be fully comprehended without the cross, and it was found and pointed to, from the very beginning. Go here, to an article by the excellent Amy Welborn for a worthwhile read on that.

"...these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men."
Catholic Culture.org

"Oh God, on this day, the Holy Innocents gave witness to you, not by words but by a martyr's death. We profess our faith in words: grant that the holiness of our lives may confirm the witness of our tongues."
Collect of the Mass

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's Alive!

Baby Alive Doll by Hasbro

I feel like I am in a bad "B" movie..... Because we got Bird a begged for bday gift, to her utter delight and to my dismay. Not that I can actually blame anybody for this, it was my choice to cave.... But we did, I did, I did it. I bought her a Baby Alive doll for her bday.

And oh does she love it.
She carts that baby here and there, up and down the stairs, hither and yon.
They are feeding the baby, changing the baby, dressing the baby in all sorts of getups.

And frankly, it's creeping me out.

The food: it's not edible (because that would cause all sorts of mold growth on the innards of this thing). It looks like baby food mush of some sort but in a nuclear accident sort of way. The diapers, they have pee stains that again, are like pee on some nasty antibiotic: neon. And don't even get me started on the loop this links you into: the surely astronomical cost of these supplies that need replenishing (and nope, I'm not paying for that, and yup, I am cheap).

I know, on one level this is very great role playing for my girl. It is right up her ally to nurture and pretend all this, and on something that isn't living and so it can't be hurt or maimed.

But still...The creepiest part of this doll is the talking. The moving mouth, the blinking eyes, the singsong voice loops: "Mommy, I'm hungry. Oops, I had an accident. Let's play. I need a change! I love you Mommy." And as she says this you hear the whirring of her moving parts and she blinks her big googly disturbing eyes and it just makes me kind of cringe. It makes Sbird giggle in glee.

I don't know. I am not a total Scrooge, I swear. I mean, I bought it for her bday, after much begging. I knew, kind of, what we were getting into (though really, it's just way more disturbing in person than in a catalog pic). And now you all get to realize I have issues, I guess...

But this doll, she creeps me out. She's like a little nightmare event waiting to happen in the house, huh? Every time she is playing with that doll, a voiceover plays in my head of the mid 1960's announcer saying "It's Aliiiivveeee."

I have clearly watched too many Twilight Zone's when I was younger.
But this doll: on that show, she'd be a star!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Best Christmas Gift Ever!

Yes, that's right, it's Sbird's Birthday today!
Ten years old, already!Sbird is our Christmas baby!
It's not always easy to have a Christmas birthday, but we think it's extra special!
Although it can make it even harder to wait for this big day!Born in Philadelphia, we flew to you during a blizzard, excited and terrified, both, to meet you.
You were my teensiest baby.
The smallest baby I've held, period.
We met you at five days old, and you were not even five pounds then.
I fell in love in an instant.
You had your father blinking back tears and saying, "Let me hold her!"
But I wasn't letting go, not yet.
I couldn't.
I was falling fast, for this teeny tiny little girl with soft curls and tiny chubby cheeks, I had to hold on.From that moment, you were electric.
You were our "peanut sized package of joy."
You were funny and a jabberbox (ok, still a talker) and you were inseperable from your sister, Miss M.
You used to tell us what she was saying before she even talked.
And you seemed to get it right!
Even as tiny babies, you shared a Moses Basket and our bed.
You have shared a room since -
And your giggles and scowls and clothes and whispers and tears and toys.You were our best Christmas gift ever, but you are probably each others best gift ever too.
And I think you always will be.You came to us as a Christmas surprise, I think as a literal living reminder of what love means.
You have taught me so much, and keep teaching me the things I need so much to learn:
How to love unconditionally, how to slow down, how to live in the moment, to take one day at a time, to not give up, no matter what.
You are a remarkable child.You have always had a smile that can light up a room like a candle.
And I see you work harder, give more, every day than most of us ever know, or do.
I see your strength, so much in such a tiny wiry little body.
And then I see you fall asleep and am reminded that you are just an amazing sweet small girl, even though you are ten.
Things for you can seem complicated, but they are not, not really.
They are simple in so many ways, in the important ones.
You love your family.
Your family loves you.
You are one of the sisters.
You are a girly girl!
You are a fashion fanatic!
You are crazy creative!
You love a party!
You have a sweet tooth to challenge your mom's!
You are an early bird like me too.
We love our time in the morning, just the two of us.
You have the biggest brown eyes, and if I remember, I can fall into them again.
And then Dad says, again, "Let me hold her!"
And you giggle and smile and climb on his lap for a Dad hug.
Happy Happy Tenth Birthday Sbird!
We love you so much and are so proud of you!

You are our Christmas baby.
And yes, it makes you extra special;
God knew you were, he sent you to us on Christmas so we would never forget it.

Merry Christmas Birthday Baby!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve.

Possibly the most beautiful day - well, night - of the year.
Certainly one of my top favorites!
Despite the sleepy fatigue.
Despite the to-do list, hopefully checked off, twice.

We are going to midnight Mass.
And yes, it's at midnight!
{And yes, it makes me crazy when they have midnight Mass or services not at midnight...I mean, what's up with that??? It misses the whole point, for goodness sake! But I digress.....}

So, yup, we are going to midnight Mass.
All of us.
And it will be hard to re-wake the kiddles, and dress them and nudge them out the door.
But once the whining and moaning and groaning is done, I, erk, I mean they, we, are all so glad we made the effort.

Because midnight Mass is like magic.
It's better than magic.
It is sacred.
It's the Incarnation!

And it's cold and dark outside and hushed.
And we file into the warm church from the deep cold night.
And we step in and we see....the church transformed.
It is filled with lights, white lights, greens and poinsettas bursting and filling the church with color and sparkling light, flickering candles and hymns by the choir.
And in the middle of it, in front of the altar is now the manger.
The church is filled to overflowing, with folks from all over, and all denominations, and that is so happy and awesome too.
And as we settle into our pew (and yes, we now take up a whole pew, just us), we unload our coats and bags and kneel.
And some of the kids fall asleep again, some big, some small.

And every year, I just about cry.
I can't help it, I take a deep breath and close my eyes for a minute.
It makes tears spring to my eyes, and smile...because it is just so, well, happy, so literally joyous.
We grin at each other like fools, and yes, sometimes a teen will roll their eyes at the doofy parents.
But we can't help it.

It's the best news of all: a baby!
A baby has been born!
God himself has come down to us, in a tiny new little one.
The most special of babies; look, see and hear the heavens rejoicing!

And we all smile and breath deep and sigh.
It's midnight Mass.

And it is simply glorious.

And the veil between heaven and earth is somehow thinner in this nighttime moment.
And we can feel the rejoicing running through us, right here in our little church.
The bells will ring in the night and as we head out back to home, awake and cold in the dark but filled with the biggest of celebrations: the warm of the church and the Mass, the Incarnation.

The little boy in the photo above gets the great privilege of lighting a candle at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
But we get the great privilege of going to Mass tonight, at midnight, sleepy and cold and tired....to wake our very souls up once more to the pure unspeakable joy that rings out tonight. It's a baby, He is born!
It's Christmas!

If you feel like seeing the most real miracle, go to midnight Mass.
I am so grateful for, and love, this Mass, this Christmas, this Gift.

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

O Tannenbaum

Oh yeah. Oh Christmas Tree!

This year we went (or, Coffeedoc and most of the kiddles went) over the river and through the woods. Not to Grandmother's house, but rather to the perfect Christmas tree farm. It's almost the same thing.... Because Coffeedoc was in search of the perfect Christmas tree and wanted one fresh, not cut a month ago. Because, yes that's right, we are only just now getting our tree up. Because some might say we are behind the curve. And they do. But we like to think we are right on time. Heck, even the Vatican just put up it's tree. And if it's good enough for the Pope, then it's good enough for us! (Ok, so maybe we are week behind the curve...it's a busy house, c'mon)
Because we have been celebrating and living advent. And Christmas lasts through Epiphany, which is, of course, on January 6th. And most of the trees found on the corner lot, well, they've been dead since Thanksgiving or before. So, by golly, this year we were gonna do it differently. No more fretting about the house going up in flames as the clock ticked the year away. No more squabbles about watering the tree when it wasn't drinking. This year, we were gonna go get a tree, not a day too early.
And so we did.

Which means that Sunday Coffeedoc and bigger kids (save for Gabe and Miss M, we had a lovely day) went to find the best tree ever. And so they did.
Which means that yesterday was spent in the annual lighting tangle with requisite trips to various stores to find them empty of Christmas lights, stripped bare shelves all ready for post Christmas sales (sheesh!). Which means that after the manly grumbling teens got the lights around the very largish tree we were ready.
We were ready and small ones chomping at the bit for the the annual free-for-all of ornament giddyness and nostalgia called trimming the tree.
In years past, it seemed to take for-ever. This year, it went at warp speed. Even Boobo noticed it, and as a teen, any family activity tends to take too too long. Coffeedoc and I both laughed and said at the same time, "lots of hands, light work!" (Yeah, we've been married a long time, gotta love that mind meld stuff).
Of course, no surprise is the fun we all had watching Gabriel point and "ooh" and "Oh!" over the lights and the exciting ornaments; being lifted high by Buddybug to help.
So, we did it. Got the perfect tree: my favorite (thank you Coffeedoc!), a Frasier fir. It's the biggest tree we've ever had. It's the prettiest. And by golly, it IS the freshest too. It should certainly last in beauty and safety through the whole Christmas season: to Epiphany.

But what is even better is the fun and wonder that lights up the eyes of our youngest sweet son. I watch him park himself, legs out, in front of the tree early in the morning. Then soon enough wander over to see if he can grab an ornament (yes, the tree if bottom half bare, classic toddler decor) or click the light switch. So of course it's one of my best gifts of all and the most fun: seeing Christmas for the first time, through his eyes.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14), our king and lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22),
hope and salvation of the peoples (Genesis 49:10; John 4:42):
come to save us, O Lord our God (Isaiah 37:20).

O EMMANUEL, rex et legifer noster,
expectatio gentium et salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Dominus Deus noster.

And you really can't finish advent, or these O antiphons, without hearing this hymn. This is it. It is our cry in advent (well, always, but especially now). And it is one of my very very favorites, especially in this season. Enjoy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations (Jeremiah 10:7) and their desire (Haggai 2:7),
cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16), who reunite Jews and pagans into one (Ephesians 2:14):
come and save the man whom you formed from the earth (Genesis 2:7).

O REX gentium et desideratus earum,
lapis angularis qui facis utraque unum:
veni et salva hominem quel de limo formasti.