Christmas Joy

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Christ. Redemption. Joy. Birth. Rebirth. Communion. Family. Friends. Gifts (other than material). Faith. Sacrifice. Reconciliation. Healing. Children. Love. Time. Peace. Hope. Fulfillment. Promises.

Amen

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Hard Core

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Someone referred to our family as “hard core” Catholic when we were at a party this weekend.

Hard core is usually found modifying other choice words, and I’m pretty sure Catholic isn’t one of them. I had to chuckle. Actually, when I started this post, then went back to edit it, my parental controls blocked me. That made me chuckle again.

I couldn’t help but reflect on what makes us worthy of such a description. I don’t sport a mantilla, the girls wear pants, we consider ourselves rather hip. (And now I suppose even contemplating our hipness has knocked us down a few notches.) Henry plays the drums and beat-boxes like a madman. We love Harry Potter and Santa and let the kids dress up as goblins and the like for Halloween.

Okay, we homeschool a Catholic and classical curriculum. But we also gleefully read the Diary of a Wimpy kid. We block out a majority of commercial television and record the Duggars, but we also regularly watch Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs and What Not to Wear. Our favorite family movies are It’s a Wonderful Life and the story of St. Therese of Lisieux, but we can’t get enough of the slapstick mayhem in Home Alone, What’s Up Doc, Nacho Libre and Kicking and Screaming. We love to sing in church, but I also love Lenny Kravitz, Ani DiFranco, Queen and old David Bowie. Go figure.

And yes, we have five children. But that’s only one more than four — and we know many people with four.

After a little more contemplation and some discussion, the only things Richard and I could think of that earned us that moniker are that we pray together (and apart), we still regularly go to church and we try (as much as our imperfect selves can) to teach to our children how to live and love our faith. We try our hardest to help them see this world through the lens of our faith (instead of the opposite), to love one another and to serve — all in the name of Christ. Which hopefully makes our cores not so hard but much more loving.

Do salmon swim upstream?

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Henry and I were looking on Youtube for some video of salmon swimming upstream to go along with our study of vertibrates — fish, specifically.

As I often do, I marvel at the scope of material out there on that new-fangled durn youtubey thangy. It’s amazing — seek and ye shall find. Sort of. We sure were surprised when we came upon this one. A good laugh was had by all.

Jesse is a friend

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A few years back we made a Jesse Tree to use as part of our advent preparation. I believe I said something like, “So help me, we’re going to have a holy advent if it kills me.” So my dear spouse fashioned the tree. Helen decorated the ornaments, I tied ribbons and hot glued and our tree grew from wooden dowels and discs into a much-treasured family tradition.

Starting on the first day of advent, we read daily scripture that tells of the genealogy of  Jesus. Then we hang a little ornament on the tree. It’s similar to an advent countdown, but with a scriptural focus.

Jesse is a friend.

This is our fourth year, so the readings are familiar to the older children. Henry can’t wait to hear about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and the stories of destruction–especially the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the great flood. Mary Claire takes charge and organizes our nightly gathering and does most of the reading or designates a reader.

I’m especially eager this year for the readings about the birth of Jesus because Lillian is all about the nativity. We’ve been reading books and are frequently talking about the birth of Christ. We make special efforts to stop and admire all the outdoor nativity scenes that adorn the local landscape. (Because if we don’t, I’ll never hear the end of it from my 30-pound back-seat driver.) And every time she sees an angel she folds her hands in prayer and says solemnly, “And the angel of the Lord said, hail Mary, full of grace.” I look forward to her recognizing those same stories as we gather as a family and read from our Bible, counting down another day closer to Christmas.

The best part about the Jesse Tree is that it brings us together nightly. It’s a series of quiet (okay, not always quiet) moments that have turned into memories we will treasure. And those memories are centered where they should be — around Christ.

Yogurt

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I bought a yogurt maker a few weeks ago. The thing about a yogurt maker is … it doesn’t make yogurt. You do. You just put the milk in the maker to keep it warm until it turns into yogurt. But, I also discovered, you don’t need a yogurt maker to make it. You can do it very simply in a wide-mouthed Thermos.

It’s really very easy and hands down, the best yogurt I’ve ever consumed. Even people who aren’t really yogurt fans like it. So here goes … This recipe is for two cups (that way you can fit it in a small wide mouth Thermos).

Here’s what you need.

  • 2 cups of milk (whole, skim, you choose)
  • 1 Tablespoon of store-bought active culture yogurt (that’s plain old, plain yogurt. It can be Greek yogurt, organic yogurt, lowfat Dannon plain, you name it. Not sweetened and not thick and creamy)
  • A candy thermometer
  • Saucepan (with higher sides, if you have one)
  • A wide mouthed Thermos

Heat two cups of milk in a tall saucepan. Bring it to a boil (so it climbs the sides of the pan) for two minutes. (Watch it! Because it will happily bubble over and make a mess.) Stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. If it does, just scoop it out and discard. This is only a few- minute process with only two cups of milk. You can use whole milk to skim milk. You choose.

After the milk has boiled, let it cool to 110-100 degrees (use a candy thermometer. $3 at Kroger). You can just let it cool on the stove top. I put the pan in a bath of cold water and stir. If I let it cool on the stove, I’d get distracted and then it would cool too much, then I’d have to heat it again … blah, blah.

While the milk is cooling, I fill my Thermos with warm water (to prime it). I just use water from the tap. Not boiling hot water but from-the-tap-really warm water.

When it reaches 110, you need to stir in one tablespoon of live active yogurt. That means plain yogurt. It can be Greek yogurt or any variety of plain yogurt with active yogurt culture. Use a milder yogurt, you’ll get a milder yogurt, etc. I’ve discovered it’s better to stir the yogurt with a few tablespoons of the cooled milk, so I can be sure it’s all dissolved, then I stir it into the rest of the milk.

I then empty the water from the Thermos. Wipe it dry and pour in the warm milk and tightly close the cap. That’s all the work. Now you just let that yogurt do it’s thing. In about 4- 5 hours, check it to see if it’s getting a custardy consistency. If it’s not thick enough, let it sit longer. Check it every hour or so. After you’ve done this once, you’ll know how long to leave it when you make future batches.

That’s it. Here’s key stuff to know.

  • All your utensils need to be really clean.
  • Don’t add your yogurt starter to milk higher than 115 degrees. It’ll kill it. Under 90 degrees will make it inactive, so it won’t repopulate and firm up.
  • Skim milk takes longer to get to the right consistency than whole or two-percent milk.
  • Refrigerate for four or so hours before you eat it.
  • It’s good for about 5-6 days
  • And … you can use one tablespoon of your homemade yogurt as a starter for your next batch.

Give it a try. If it’s too tangy, you used too much started yogurt or let it sit too long prior to refrigeration. The nice thing about the yogurt maker is I can make 4 cups at once in separate little jars. I make organic whole-milk yogurt for the baby and include a little heavy cream when boiling the milk. The cream then settles on the top, it’s beautiful and so rich and creamy. (Babies need all that fat for brain development. I just want the fat … because it’s yummy.) Lowfat works beautifully, too.

I buy frozen berries from Trader Joe’s, put about a tablespoon in a bowl, heat for about 30 second on high in the microwave, then one teaspoon of brown sugar, a small handful of walnuts and 1/2 cup of yummy homemade yogurt. Heavenly. You can add honey or jelly or whatever. The nice thing is, you’re in control. The texture is beautiful and makes me wonder what the heck is in store-bought yogurt that makes it so springy. Yuck.

Yello!

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I hate yelling at my kids. But like many moms who philosophically disagree with yelling, I still find myself doing it more than I’d like.  Why? What’s the secret to getting their attention without raising my voice? Have I conditioned them not to respond unless I yell? Is a normal toned request the white noise of their lives? Is it normal to yell when you leave the house with simple instructions to follow through on one or two simple things and you return without those things being done? How, then do I make my point? It seems ridiculous to punish someone for not putting the milk back in the fridge, so I raise my voice instead. As if that’s punishment enough and going to drive home the point. And guess what? Next time, they probably will still forget to put the milk in the fridge, even if I asked.  And the only thing I accomplished is breaking my own desire for calm parenting. I’m all for suggestions. Got any?

Can you spell S-L-A-C-K-E-R?

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I’ve been a complete blog slacker these past few weeks. I’ve started about a dozen posts, all requiring more thought than my time allows.  With Thanksgiving and a bunch of other important things — like our dear priest in critical condition with H1N1, I’ve just had other things on my heart and mind. Please continue to pray for Fr. Gerry. He needs our continued prayers.