Monday, November 29, 2010

Setting up the "Advent tree"

After several years of doing an Advent tree, the kids pretty much expect it. Every year, they help Starling assemble the tree while I stand off to the side and watch. (Our compromise over buying an artificial tree involved her promise to take care of it. I get to take care of the live tree, if we ever get one.)

Yes, I finally relented to help with that saggy star.
Our Advent tree is sort of a compromise -- the tree goes up, but we're not celebrating Christmas for four weeks before it actually starts, because we leave it bare -- other than the star and a string of blue lights, and the Jesse tree ornaments that the kids make by hand. We add another string of lights every week, and another seven Jesse tree ornaments, and then decorate it fully on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

If you're not familiar with the Jesse tree and you have kids at home, it's a great way to educate them about the Old Testament, and its preparation for Christ. Google it online for ideas and patterns.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Yes, Mudpuppy finally got up the gumption to crawl. Actually, the kids tell us he crawled a few feet the other day, which seems likely, given how well he has been doing today. Here is video evidence of the first time WE saw him crawl (while having his godparents over for dinner):

Later, he crawled most of the way across the living room . . . to the stairs. Sigh. Yes, it's time to get a gate. But we're happy he's finally moving, because what would be more frustrating than being a baby who's supposed to be getting into everything, but not being able to go anywhere?

He's also been standing pretty well -- we're thinking he may be walking by Christmas!

This picture was taken by my sister.


What would Thanksgiving be without a turkey disaster? Actually,
even though this one caught fire (!), the meat tasted pretty good.
Thanks to the great cooking by my sister and her oldest daughters, we had
quite a feast--including this yummy pull-apart bread, pumpkin gnocchi, apple dumplings,
and rolls with herb leaves painted on them!
You can see our contribution--cranberry relish and fruit salad--at the top left.
All three of these photos are shamelessly stolen from my sister's blog, 'cause
she took pictures while I took video.
Once again, it is late, so I am not going to go into too much detail about our Thanksgiving; if you want the full scoop, you should visit my sister's great blog here and here.

The short version is that it was a very good Thanksgiving, with the whole family home--including 18 little ankle-biters running around. (OK, the oldest aren't quite so little anymore, at 11 and 13.) So many little ones made it easier to overlook the fact that one important person, Dad, was missing this year--and of course, he's "Home" home. I'm sure he enjoyed the gathering in ways we can only imagine.

The big deal this year was to roast the turkey on a spit. This did not go as planned, as indicated by the remote meat thermometer suddenly sounding an alarm indicating that a temp of 165 had been reached -- way too early. It turned out that with all the butter and grease that had been thrown in and on the turkey, it went up in flames. (See top photo.) The meat tasted perfectly fine, however, as did the rest of the fantastic meal. As a ten-year-old cousin said just before we prayed (lifting one hand to the sky): "Tonight, we feast!"

The cousins had a great time getting to know one another all over again. We also celebrated my sister's birthday--an especially poignant moment, considering how close we are to the anniversary of her near-death. In fact, we marked that anniversary by giving her a copy of her CaringBridge journal, printed out very nicely as a full-color book; we also gave her a book version of the last year of her blog as a sort of counterpoint to the CaringBridge journal. Both were very well done through a service called Blog2Print. It has been quite a year for Becky.

Meagan and her daughter distributed cut-out construction paper "leaves" made by tracing her hand -- everyone wrote something they were grateful for on it, and the "leaves" were all taped to a tree on the wall. A very cute idea, I thought.

And later in the evening, my sister Mary's kids presented several poems they had memorized by heart -- very cute! Our Jaybird wanted to recite a poem, too, so she did, the next day. Sort of. We're not sure whether she learned it somewhere or made it up, but she got very shy halfway through and didn't seem to remember the ending.

Here are some more photos:

Mary, taking a break from her baking, with pull-apart bread.

Bear with his cousin -- fast friends.

Becky with her children. Still amazing to think of how close we
came to losing her. Show your appreciation for people while
they're still here, for pity's sake!

Starling, Jaybird, and Mudpuppy, before the feast.

Grandma and Mudpuppy.

Eating arrangements are kind of ad hoc when you're seating 30.

The cousins went out to play on the snow hill for several hours after dinner.

Watching TV -- an American tradition.

The oldest of the Gundrum children show Mouse how to knit.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Everyone around here, it seems, is in the middle of writing a book.

I am working on the belly button book again, after a long hiatus.

Starling is in the early planning stages of writing her book called Theology of the Body: Extended.

Bear has been writing a book for the past few days about a boy who finds an ancient, magic, time-traveling gear. Shipwrecks at sea and underwater adventures are all part of the mix.

Mouse is writing a series--yes, a series--of four books about princesses, each named for a different season. Book 1 is called "The Princess of Spring," and it opens thusly: "April ran down the steps of her palace look-like-a-church and skidded across the marble-wood floor, grabbing a banner on the way. She SO did not want to be late for her first day of princess school (namely, A Shellington Proper Princess School, 108 Vine Road)." Nice beginning! (I'd quote Bear's here if I had it in front of me -- it's on another computer.)

And yesterday at the library, Jaybird learned to read "Book." She recognized the "boo" from Halloween and, with some help, put that together with the "k" sound. She has been going around practicing it ever since, writing it down again and again. I guess you could say that she's not writing one book, but many!

Little Mudpuppy is writing anything yet. Slacker.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sales pitch: Gifts made from clay

So my sister (the heart attack one, not the seven kids one -- although why she doesn't have a heart attack too is beyond me) is trying her hand at crafts, specifically clay crafts. She is trying to sell them via a website for handmade craft items called Etsy. Here's my favorite item that she's made:

See the roses on that rosary? They're all handmade from clay. Neat, huh? She also has some wall hangings and some other stuff. Anyway, if it works out with your Christmas list, you can give her a boost by visiting her store:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mudpuppy eating bread


Mudpuppy's progress

Mudpuppy is making very good progress on his locomotion skills. Today he moved from being on his back, to being on his hands and stomach, to sitting up, all on his own. (Not in one smooth motion, but over about half an hour.) He is also figuring out how to move from a crawling position to a sitting position, and from a sitting position to a crawling position. He's still not crawling -- he doesn't seem to know what to do with his hands. He is getting better on the walking front, too. Last week, he moved across a gap between two chairs only very slowly and tentatively. This week, he practically sped across the gap to get to a piece of sweet bread. He also was able to move from standing at his exersaucer to a chair to the couch. He reminds me of someone climbing a rock wall freestyle -- carefully checking and testing every single move.

I finally got to upload a video from the new camera. We've had problems with the videos playing back smoothly on the computer -- they're all jerky. I think that's because the computer doesn't have enough memory to process HD video. I might look into adding some virtual memory. Anyway, here is the video:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marking Veteran's Day

This morning, Mudpuppy and I joined several others at the Veteran's Memorial on the campus of Saint Mary's University for an informal period of reflection and prayer to mark Veteran's Day. As I sat there with Mudpuppy in my lap, I thought of the young men remembered by the memorial, most of whom never returned from World War II. I thought of my grandfather, a young man fighting through southern Italy, watching a distant battle from the second story of a building and wondering why men fight. I thought of my brother-in-law, anxiously waiting out mortar attacks in Baghdad. I thought of the many veterans I've shared meals with over the years at the Winona Catholic Worker; many of them saw combat in Vietnam.

So many generations of young men. And I looked down at the baby in my lap and wondered whether he would join their number.

We ask young men to risk their lives and to do horrific things that leave them with nightmares for the rest of their lives, and then we throw big stones in the ground, fly the flag, and tell them how grateful we are. Perhaps as an afterthought we mourn war as a "necessary evil."

Just as people have been doing, generation after generation, for thousands of years.

Instead of perpetuating this tradition, maybe it's time that we honored our veterans by admitting that the evil of war is never necessary, that it is always a failure of humanity. Perhaps if we could admit that, without castigating ourselves for that failure, perhaps then we could begin to imagine a different path.

Here is what we read, quietly, at the prayer vigil. This is a selection from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, chapter 11:

494. Peace is a value and a universal duty  founded on a rational and moral order of society that has its roots in God himself, "the first source of being, the essential truth and the supreme good".[1017] Peace is not merely the absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity.
Peace is the fruit of justice, (cf. Is 32:17) understood in the broad sense as the respect for the equilibrium of every dimension of the human person. Peace is threatened when man is not given all that is due him as a human person, when his dignity is not respected and when civil life is not directed to the common good. The defence and promotion of human rights is essential for the building up of a peaceful society and the integral development of individuals, peoples and nations.
Peace is also the fruit of love. "True and lasting peace is more a matter of love than of justice, because the function of justice is merely to do away with obstacles to peace: the injury done or the damage caused. Peace itself, however, is an act and results only from love".
495. Peace is built up day after day in the pursuit of an order willed by God and can flourish only when all recognize that everyone is responsible for promoting it. To prevent conflicts and violence, it is absolutely necessary that peace begin to take root as a value rooted deep within the heart of every person. In this way it can spread to families and to the different associations within society until the whole of the political community is involved. In a climate permeated with harmony and respect for justice, an authentic culture of peace can grow and can even pervade the entire international community. Peace is, consequently, the fruit of "that harmony structured into human society by its Divine Founder and which must be actualized by men as they aspire for ever greater justice". Such an ideal of peace "cannot be obtained on earth unless the welfare of man is safeguarded and people freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their minds and their talents".
496. Violence is never a proper response. With the conviction of her faith in Christ and with the awareness of her mission, the Church proclaims "that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings".
The contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule. "Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defence available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risk of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death".
 Let us pray that our children will become prophets of peace.

First word?

I'm not sure, but Mudpuppy may have said his first word this morning as we were leaving the prayer vigil at the Veteran's memorial this morning. "Let's say goodbye!" I prompted. And he raised his hand and waved a little bit (he still doesn't quite get it) while saying something sounding very close to "bye bye." We'll see whether he repeats it. Up until now, he's imitated ("ba ba ba," "da, da, da") but without attaching the sound to anything concrete.

We will wait and see.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

They've got the floor

Some photos taken with the new camera -- all in low light (floor lamps) with no flash. Still a little blurry, but a lot better lighting, I think.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Your kid quote for today

I asked Bear to take Jaybird over to a friend's house several blocks away in the neighborhood. He took a manual kitchen timer with him. This is because every afternoon after school he has to spend 15 minutes practicing violin, 10 minutes playing with the baby (yes, this has to be mandated, or the kid gets ignored), and a certain amount of time outside before he can play his Nintendo DS. Apparently, he was timing his time helping Jaybird to make sure he didn't get cheated out of any credit for time spent with siblings.

The way I heard about this was when the neighbor (later on) said, "So, Bear was carrying a ticking kitchen timer with him when he dropped Jaybird off...." Apparently he didn't hang around to chat -- just said he was short on time and sprinted home.

10-year-old boys.

Then there's Jaybird, who yesterday had a major meltdown -- a real no-holds-barred fit -- after I insisted that she flush the toilet. (She'd been afraid of flushing it ever since she witnessed it overflowing.) Today, after school, she went into the bathroom, used it, then flushed. I wasn't going to say anything -- you never know what might send her off. But after standing in the kitchen with her hands on her hips for a few moments, she finally said, "Well! Don't I get a 'gratulations?!"

Happy birthday to Dad!

Well, we celebrated my 41st birthday in fine fashion on Sunday. We kicked things off with a public speaking engagement at church that turned out just fine. Then the girls and I went canoeing on the lake one last time; Mouse taught me to sing, "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream -- until you hit the waterfall, then you start to scream!" Which we sang in rounds, very loudly, as we paddled around the lake.

We had a delicious chocolate cake from a recipe supplied by Starling's mother. I'll include the recipe below for posterity.

I got a VERY nice subcompact camera -- a Canon Powershot SD1400 IS -- that I absolutely love. I have been playing with it, getting to know it and exploring its limits. Much faster shutter speed, and much better tolerance for low light situations. I'll post the results here soon.

Every year, one of the kids wants to know my best present. This year, it was Jaybird. Every year, I have the same answer, so I turned to the older kids and asked them. "Kids, what's my best present?"


That made Jaybird smile. She was adorable, by the way, giving out lots of hugs and many homemade cards and presents.

Mudpuppy got to share in the cake!

And there is the masterpiece -- the cake, I mean, although the kid is remarkable, too!

Once a Year Super Rich Chocolate Cake recipe

1 box chocolate cake mix
1 small package chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Canola oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2 cups mini chocolate chips

Mix all except chips, beat two minutes. Batter will be very thick. Add chips.

Pour into greased 9-inch pans. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

About a bazillion calories, which is why it's a once a year cake. :)

Friday, November 05, 2010

There's a first time for everything

This morning, as I was changing Mudpuppy, I thought, "Hmm, this little boy has never really tinkled on me like my first one did."

Need I say more?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Quotable kids

We now know the name of our granddaughter. According to Mouse, she will be naming her first daughter "Clare Emmanuel."

Tonight as we were doing dishes, Bear said to me: "Dad, when you get angry, can you remember not to do an LBL?"

"A what?"

"LBL! You know -- a long boring lecture."

Me (rolling eyes): "OK, how about an SEL instead?"

"SEL? What's an SEL? Short, interesting lecture?"

"No, Short Exciting Lecture."

"Oh. What's that like?"

Perfect setup. "Well, it's like this. AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!" And I leaped at him, tackled him, and tickled him. Don't worry, we were both laughing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Halloween fun

At our house, Halloween ranks second only to Christmas as the kids' favorite holiday. You get to dress up. You can to go out late at night. You get candy. What could be better? I should say, though, that Bear is over Halloween. He doesn't like dressing up, and he doesn't like the trick-or-treat thing -- which is why he's virtually absent from the photos below.

This year some people at church pulled together an All Saints Day party for the afternoon of Halloween. As you'd expect, people came dressed up as saints. I've never been a big fan of this idea, since everyone ends up looking pretty much alike. (If you're a saint, most likely you wore plain, simple clothes that made you virtually indistinguishable from all the other ordinary people or religious at the time. Where's the creativity, people?) The highlight for me -- and a lot of the adults -- was the folk dancing. We had a couple who knew how to do this sort of thing, and they walked everyone through all the steps before starting the music. That was FUN! Everyone participated, and everyone had a big smile on their face; for once, the kids were laughing, and so were all the adults. What a great family activity. I will post some video here later this week.

I am also inordinately proud of my Holy Spirit jack-o-lantern -- NOT carved from a pattern, thank you very much. See if you can spot it among the photos.

The girls carved their own jack-o-lanterns, with some minor assistance from Dad.

Did I mention that they wore their Mary/desert princess headdress???

The girls went to the saints party as Mary (yes, both of them).

And here they are, later in the evening, as a desert princess and a fairy.

Our jack-o-lanterns.

My Holy Spirit jack-o-lantern.

Bear was satisfied to hand out candy.

The neighbor kids visiting our house.

The look says it all. "This is the greatest night ever!" Scarfed probably half her bag before I took  it away.