Sunday, December 25, 2011

Advent and Christmas 2011

"For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be...." --Luke 17:24

A really good Advent sets up a really good Christmas, and we had a really good Advent this year. As we usually do, we set up the Christmas tree with a few strings of blue and purple lights (Advent colors), but nothing else. Actually, Jaybird had fun coloring and cutting out and hanging up Jesse Tree decorations, so for most of Advent our nearly-bare tree was decorated with those. In a nutshell, Jesse Tree symbols summarize salvation history leading up to the birth of Christ -- each symbol represents a different biblical story or episode.

We also lit the Advent wreath most nights; we sang a new verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" every week, until we were able to sing the first four verses reasonably well. Even little Alleluia Boy was singing along in his own way by the end! Of course, we have read the Scripture readings for the day from the lectionary for years, so that was good too -- hearing all those very hopeful, poetically beautiful readings from Isaiah over several weeks leading up to Christmas.

We went to confession as a family, Advent being a penitential season and all.

And on the day before Christmas Eve, the kids and I ran around town donating things. We saw this story in the Winona Daily News about the 600 families who received a free holiday basket from Winona Volunteer Services. Actually, a friend had driven past on the pickup day and then Facebooked about the line that stretched six blocks. Here's a picture from the Daily News:

That was the prompting we needed to head to the grocery store -- each child got to pick an item to donate. Mouse wanted to donate a 15-pound ham! I nixed that only because I wasn't sure whether they would accept perishable food, so she chose two jars of pickles instead. (Turns out the ham would've been okay -- oh well, next time!) Jaybird donated a bag of potatoes. And Bear donated a can of pineapple. We ran all that over to the food shelf, where it was weighed; we also dropped off a check. Then the kids got a five-minute tour of the food shelf. (Or as Mouse corrected: "Actually, we just stood around while you talked to the lady.") We found out that, indeed, nearly 1,000 families in our area rely on the food shelf once a month or more. That's nearly one in five families in this town. And that, frankly, is amazing.

We also donated a whole bunch of stuffed animals to another charity. Then it was off to Pizza Hut for a bit of a reward!

It was a buffet -- and this being Winona, that meant it was absolutely packed. But the kids enjoyed it anyway. The other thing we'd done in the week leading up to Christmas was to go through all their toys (again!) to organize them and to get rid of some of them. It was a lot of work (again), so the pizza out was well-deserved. By me especially. : )

That night we went down to La Crosse to see the Rotary Lights display in their park along the Mississippi River. This year, Alleluia Boy was properly impressed -- he kept looking around, wide-eyed, pointing out the "light, light!" We think he enjoyed it. And it was unseasonably warm and ice-free this year!

Bear's friend came along for the ride -- far left.

Christmas Eve morning, we decorated the tree with "real" lights and "real" Christmas decorations. It's a wonderful really feels like a turning point, like we've come out of this period of darkness and penance into this time of light and joy.

The kids watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on DVD in the afternoon -- their one and only Christmas special. I have a special place in my heart for that special, because of Linus's speech on the true meaning of Christmas -- the birth of the Christ child. It was fun to hear the kids all laughing like crazy at Snoopy's antics. Some things are just classic!

Also Christmas Eve afternoon, our next door neighbor came over for a small gift exchange and cookies and milk. I shouldn't say "small," since she is always VERY generous with gift certificates to the local book store and Godfather's Pizza.

Another Christmas tradition for our family is Christmas Eve dinner at the local Catholic Worker house. Dinner was great -- ham, turkey, stuffing, and lots of great sides, including a wonderful squash soup. People were a little subdued, for understandable reasons, but there was still a lot of camaraderie and laughter. Bear and I ate with a new guy who regaled us with wonderful and amazing stories of his 19 years working as a carpenter in the Alaska wilderness.

We eat there every week, of course, so many of the regulars have become good friends. I persuaded them to pose for a picture after dinner:

Then it was homeward to get dressed for "Midnight" Mass -- at 8 p.m. (which is good, 'cause we couldn't do any later!). The girls dressed in their Christmas dresses:

Mass was wonderful -- the high point of Christmas, as usual. Although...

...Christmas morning was pretty nice, too.

This little guy had no idea that it was Christmas, but squealed with delight on
seeing the "horsey" anyway.

There is a story about the little prayer book Mouse is holding. I actually "hid" this gift and a few other small religious items too well -- and ended up spending about an hour and a half searching for them on Christmas Eve night, meaning that I didn't actually get to bed until early Christmas Eve morning!

The kids enjoyed all of their many gifts, as you can see in the video below.

We took time out for a walk in the nearby Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge just to get out of the house and to enjoy the beautiful weather. Everyone was in good spirits.

Here is the video of Christmas morning:

One of the highlights of the season for me was listening to Brother Mann, president of Saint Mary's University, deliver some brief remarks before the SMU Christmas dinner. He offered one of the best reflections on the Christmas season that I have heard in a while. The Scripture quotation at the beginning of this post was part of his remarks. I was really struck at the imagery in this quote, especially in the way he connected it to the incarnation.

The Gospel of John gives us that wonderful image of the Christ child as a light in the darkness, but I also like this image of Christ as a bolt of lightning spanning the sky. It really captures just how radical the Incarnation of God is...because if you really are so crazy as to believe in a God whose love for humanity is so great that he becomes one of us in order to draw us to him, then the Incarnation changes everything, absolutely everything. Like a flash of lightning in the night, it lights up our world and our lives, so that we see them as they truly are...and that is a good thing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Short note

Our adoption blog is on private for a little bit...hope it is temporary...if you want an invite and haven't gotten one, email us!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The continuing adventures of Alleluia Boy

First snow of the season...interesting, but cold!

It helps to have big sisters to pull the sled!

Being a big helper, like his older brother.
While the other kids sled, Alleluia Boy likes just hanging out in the swings.
Not quite the same experience as in summer, is it?

An excellent winter diversion: playing with water in the sink!
Runs up the water bill, but as long as you clear the room and
remove his shirt, it's worth it for half an hour of relatively
peaceful co-existence with the rest of the universe.

Where's baby Jesus? We'll have to wait and see!

This is the smile that may have saved us from making TWO
long trips to get our fingerprints!

And this is toward the END of the trip...what a trooper!

After a hard day, you have to just crash. With your bottom
sticking up, of course. Why is this so comfortable???

Another lost tooth

A couple nice things that happened today...Mouse lost another tooth today at school, during D.E.A.R. time (Drop Everything And Read). She said she just let it knock around her mouth until reading time was over, because it was so quiet that she'd be embarrassed to say anything. The older kids are old pros at this now, so it was amusing to walk past her bedroom a few minutes ago and see a sign taped to the stairwell banister: "Please come, tooth fairy!!!!!!!!" The tooth fairy has a habit of forgetting. Thanks for the reminder, Mouse!

Earlier in the evening we joined the seminarians at Immaculate Heart of Mary seminary for Mass followed by dinner. The kids were somewhat intimidated by being the only kids in a room full of very serious young men who all chanted the Mass parts. But they really enjoyed the formal meal afterward. We sat at the head table, with the priests who run the seminary; the priests explained the etiquette to them (why they had THREE forks and all that) and asked all sorts of questions and generally enjoyed getting to know the kids. The older kids were all on their best behavior, and did really, really well. Alleluia Boy was himself -- mostly sweet, with a few cranky moments thrown in just for good measure. But he totally stole the show when he started singing the "Alleluia." All priestly heads turned his way! Later, Alleluia Boy went around the table offering the sign of peace, and a bit later after that, he and Jaybird sang "Alleluia" followed by "Bless you!" This prompted much story-telling about his other antics -- like receiving a potato chip in cupped hands, then crossing himself, today at lunch.

The seminarians had taken up a collection to help out with Alex's adoption -- a fairly sizable amount, actually. It totally took me by surprise when this was announced before the meal blessing, leaving me a little choked up. I continue to be amazed by people's generosity around this boy. God is good.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adoption stories

Sorry that we haven't posted much here is one of those especially busy times of life, especially with Christmas upon us. Besides my other work and volunteer responsibilities, I'm also trying to learn rudimentary Russian (and am extra motivated by the experience and comments of April Jacobson) and otherwise prepare for the adoption. As we move closer to the adoption date (we just got our $800 USCIS fingerprints done in St. Paul -- see our adoption blog for details), I find myself increasingly immersed in others' adoption stories, probably as a way to prepare myself, both emotionally and practically. I've been particularly interested in Asking with Faith, which is a blog kept by the amazing Canadian teen who did so much to advocate for Alex. Their family just brought a nine-year-old girl home from Bulgaria -- and while it has been joyful, lately it has also been pretty rough. As she points out, it's pretty typical for adopted kids (especially ones who are more cognitively typical) to go through a grieving period that includes lots of rage and anger and defiance. Thank goodness their family knows how to ride it out. They are in our prayers. I read their story knowing that we could be going through the same process in a few months.

It has also been fun to follow the Jacobson's adoption blog, since they are adopting from the same country as Alex, and April Jacobson keeps a fairly detailed account of their process.

And then there's the story of Katie, the nine-year-old girl who weighed just eleven pounds when she was adopted by the Musser family about a month ago. It's amazing to see how she has gone, in just a few weeks, from this... this:

Wow. This family got a lot of flack and resistance from people concerned about them adopting a severely handicapped kid, but they did it anyway -- eyes wide open to the difficulties and necessary sacrifices, but also seeing beyond that to the ultimate reality of Love with a capital "L."

This is the sort of thing I was talking about when I named this blog "Gracewatch." There it is.

More at their blog, The Blessing of Verity.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Counting boy!

Alleluia Boy is now counting with us. If he hears someone counting (or if we get him started), he completes the sequence...up through six or seven, at this point.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

First sentence!

For the past couple weeks, Starling and I have been eating dinner fifteen minutes before the older children so that we can get some time to connect (and eat) without constant interruptions. We figure we put in all the time making the food -- we're tired, we're hungry, we deserve to eat it in relative peace before taking on our nightly waiter/waitress shift. It works out pretty well, because then when the kids sit down, we're able to focus on their needs in a more cheerful frame of mind. I highly recommend it.

Mudpuppy, however, does eat with us -- just to keep him out of trouble. And it was while he was eating with us this past Wednesday that he said his first (real) sentence:

"Dada eat pizza!"

Made it up all on his own. Starling and I stopped in mid-pizza bite, looked at each other, and then started praising him. He just went back to eating his pizza, apparently unfazed. Maybe he's been thinking sentences for a while. Anyway, it is an honor for him to make my homemade pizza the object of his first sentence, since it is so very delicious!

We even took a picture to mark the occasion (see above).

He has also been singing variations of the "Alleluia" pretty nonstop recently -- often at the top of his lungs in various public places, and when he's sitting in his chair. I think he gets enough attention for it that he's kind of addicted to it now. He is actually pretty on key, for a two-year-old. So I am officially changing his nickname on this blog from Mudpuppy to Alleluia Boy.