Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Gift of Wings {Zachary in California}

Sehome High School swim team trains at Belmont Plaza, Long Beach, California.

If you know me, you understand that sending Zachary off for a week of training and fun in California with the local public high school swim team is somewhat of a stretch.  Had this trip been offered in any of his previous three years on the swim team, our decision as to whether or not he could attend would be a foregone conclusion: no way.  And yet, by the grace of God, this special opportunity comes at a time when we are prepared to say "yes" and allow our oldest son this extraordinary experience.  

We parted with Zac at 2AM on the 27th, and so far the only communication arrived in the form of a one word text message "landed."  His coach sent a short email stating the same, with these two photos as evidence.

Zachary (behind blue capped swimmer) and the high school swim team (hopefully wearing sunscreen) at outdoor training in California.

Without a doubt, this trip carries inherent risks.  Leave aside the actual dangers of travel~ Zac's safer on an airplane or in the ocean or on an amusement ride than he is behind the wheel, statistically speaking.  Having traveled extensively with my soccer teams both in high school and in university, I know first-hand the types of temptations and dangers present with improperly supervised youth in out-of-town environments.  Yet I am at perfect peace knowing that Zachary is protected; his guardian angel is right there with him, his patron saints are pulling for him, and his family and Godparents are praying for his safe journey.   Most of all, we see in our oldest son, Zachary, a wise, responsible, trustworthy, faithful, courageous young man who has truly earned our trust and whom we gladly gifted with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stretch his wings.  

Holy Innocents, pray for us!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas {on the Feast of St. Stephen}

Visiting the Nativity Scene on Christmas Day at Sacred Heart Catholic Church;
Peter (11), Joseph (13) and Zachary (17)

The thought suddenly struck me during the Christmas Morning Mass: this is likely the last Christmas Mass our three boys will serve together at this Sacred Heart altar.  Strange, really strange.  For many years Zachary, Joseph and Peter have served Mass together on Sunday mornings and also at funerals, weddings, and many daily Masses, too.  But as Zachary heads off to university in the fall, his name will necessarily be dropped from the altar server roster.  At next year's Christmas Mass he'll be one with us in the congregation~ a visitor in his home parish. 

Following the Midnight Mass, at nearly 2AM; a parking lot pose
Ezra, Joseph, Peter, Chris, T, and Zachary

Zachary's university application process has allowed us to help him fine tune mini-essays on such topics as "What would you do with a $5,000 grant?" and "What would be on your list of once-in-a lifetime activities to accomplish?"  I was hoping for something along the lines of: "keep a clean bedroom" for the latter; but his answer concluded with a final goal of reaching heaven, so I can't really complain.

Joseph (thurifer), Peter (cross bearer), and Zachary (acolyte)
serving with our beloved pastor, Father Qui Thac, and two fine young candle bearers on Christmas morning.

Quite unlike the secular proclamation on A2 in today's paper misinforming us that "Christmas is over...", our universal Church celebrates Christmas from now until the Baptism of our Lord in January.  In the midst of this Christmas Season, we celebrate the feast days of heroes like St. Stephen, St. John, The Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Becket, The Holy Family, St. Sylvester, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God (Holy Day of Obligation, January 1st), St. Basil the Great, The Most Holy Name of Jesus, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann, St. Andre Bessette, The Epiphany of Our Lord... 

The holy Octave of Christmas (8 days following Christmas) is just getting started, so don't give in to the temptation to put away the joy of Christmas too soon.  On that note, we wish you a very Merry Christmas; you are in our prayers!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Countdown to Christmas

Watching and waiting for Christmas with only hours to go...
But first, we celebrated Tim's 44th birthday at his parents house.
Potato pancakes highlighted the birthday menu, thanks to Chef Grandpa Cliff and his Polish family recipe.

Tim takes a trip down memory lane, in search of old DnD books to pass along to Zac (none found); boys delight in his old school caps, pennants and rock-n-roll posters.
44 candles atop the apple crisp birthday 'cake'; the force of extinguishing the flames blew the top of the crisp away.

The highlight of our final week of Advent:
Confession and daily Mass at our home away from home, Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Our pastor, Father Qui Thac, spent an hour before and at least an hour after each day's Mass in order to hear all the confessions... how blessed we are to have such access to this amazing, healing grace!

The wrapping continues~the gift giving bug hits hard at our house, and much extra energy goes toward clever wrapping jobs and guessing games.
Amidst Christmas preparations, university admissions deadlines loom, and a new set of SAT scores (incredible) have Zachary on his toes.  With his swim team trip to California next week, the time available for completing his college applications is running short.

~and that is a very quick take
on the night before Christmas!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Tis the Season {Prank Candle}

Peter addresses Christmas card envelopes.

Some of you may have chestnuts roasting on open fire; 
we have a fart candle burning while we address Christmas cards.

So, if your Christmas card seems to have a funky odor... perhaps there's a connection to this ridiculous gift Joseph brought home from the Boy Scout gift exchange last night.

Everybody knows a fart candle and some naughtiness,
Help to make a season prank.
Our Boy Scouts with their eyes all aglow,
Will find new ways to share this rank.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hope In Advent

Joseph, Peter, Father Santan Pinto, and Zachary; St. Mary Catholic Church, Anacortes, WA 
July 2010

Our family was blessed to sit at the feet of Father Santan Pinto+, SOLT, when we attended his mission week in the summer of 2010 at St. Mary's in Anacortes.  We were shocked to learn that Father Pinto died suddenly this week in a car accident in  India.  His beautiful Christmas message, distributed before he departed the US for India, inspires the faithful to grow in humility, poverty and silence.  Father Pinto has entered eternity, may he rest in peace with our Lord and our Blessed Mother, whom he loved dearly, followed closely, and served faithfully.

Andi, Hope and Bridget on the steps of Sacred Heart Catholic Church
 #1 early Christmas present: Our Goddaughter HOPE came back to Bellingham from her new home in San Diego for a visit.  We attended Mass together, and Hope and her daddy, Tim (aka Dr. Dude), brought up the gifts.  Our time together included eating satsumas and playing with the twins, as well as lots of wrestling, chasing and laughing.  Hope has an awesome sense of humor, and loves to say, "Just joking!" after answering simple questions with puzzling replies.

No, Zac's not pulling his hair out, but he's sure feeling the weight of his Eagle Project these days.  Scattered work parties accumulating hundreds of volunteer hours have occurred, and the carport is still on paper.  The good news is that Zac still has over six months before his eighteenth birthday, and his Eagle Project should be completed before he's ineligible for Eagle Rank.  The great news is Zac has help from some outstanding men (including his dad/my dear husband) who give generously of their free time to assist with the difficult construction tasks.  The resident priests and parish staff have shown Zac their support, encouragement and been very patient as the project winds its way toward completion.  
Zachary, Joseph and Peter at Mt. Baker Ski Area
With only one disastrous catapult down the face of the mountain, today's ski trip for the boys and Tim could be counted as a great success....except for the rain.  ARGH.  When it rains at the daily rate, that's one thing, but when the rain falls on weekend prices, now that's a crying shame!  They didn't let the heavy snow slow them down, and their enthusiasm for the sport carried them on from opening 'til closing.  Due to high school swimming season conflicting with ski season these past few years, the chances to ski with Zachary mid-week simply don't exist; the extra cost of skiing on a Saturday is well worth it to have Zac along.  Now if only Zac would learn to drive the 4Runner, Tim could enjoy a nice nap on the ride down the mountain!
Two victories down, and a dozen or so to go for Zac's high school swim team.  His role as captain involves leading cheers before, during and after the meets, and it's not as easy as it might seem sometimes.  How loud should your team cheer if you are destroying the other team in every heat?  A few of his teammates have already qualified for the state meet.  They will face some tough challenges ahead, and the hard work at practice (and the cheering and team spirit) will pay off.  Most of them (including Captain Zac) are traveling to California for a week of training and a little sight-seeing over Christmas Break.  Spending New Year's Eve at Disneyland ought to boost team spirit, though the red-eye flight home the following day won't be a real crowd-pleaser.

If there's one thing Ezra's not, it's a cheer-leader.   Despite the fact that leading and encouraging cheering at the meets is part of Ezra's job description as the dive team captain, he just can't bring himself to let out one little hoot or hollar.  For those who know Ezra, this goes without saying, and the thought of Ezra letting loose with loud, emotional outbursts in the presence of *gasp* adults and strangers is absurd.  His diving has improved significantly over the past two seasons, and he scored a PR of 144 points at the home dual meet this week.

What to do when you find yourself near a pool with a few minutes to spare and no bathing suit....

Happy Birthdays this weekend to my dear friends, Nicole of the sun and Renee of the woods!  You are both treasures and incredible role models as mothers, wives and Christian witnesses.  You co-create pretty amazing kids, too.  May God bless you both!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Watching and Waiting {3rd Week of Advent}

Tony places the nativity figures on our mantle. 

Our foster children will be with their parents over Christmas weekend; the regular visits rearranged to make a holiday weekend together possible.  For Tony this will be the very first sleep-over with his parent in a new 'safe' living space.  He is counting the days in anticipation of his overnight visit, and tells us every day about the rocket ship blankets on his new bed.  Today he exclaimed that his parent got a TV,  "And it won't even hurt my head, not even a little bit!"  Guess he took me seriously when I told him the reason our kids don't watch TV is because it will rot their brains...

Letting these kids go comes with the territory of fostering.  Their schedule and ultimate destination is not of our doing or choosing, doesn't need our approval or permission, and changes and fluctuates rapidly and without notice.   Of course it would be lovely to have them here with us to share the joy and wonder of Christmas morning, and they will be dearly missed in the sacred moments as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.  But they will be in the arms of a parent whose love is immeasurable and whose desire to hold them and treasure them is real, though they may be in difficult circumstances and facing great challenges.

Of course we will make time to celebrate the holiday with each of them and let them know by our shower of love and a little gift giving, too, that they are treasures to us as well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tree Hunting {Chop Chop Chop}

What do the following have in common?
  • cancelled naps
  • three generations
  • three vehicles
  • three cameras
  • double stroller off-roading
  • young children + sharp tools
  • hide and seek
  • candy canes for everyone 
 Tim takes the twins on a bumpy ride at the tree farm

 Joseph carefully inspects the saw blades before choosing his weapon tool of choice; 
Peter heads for the trees.

Our annual tree hunting expedition in the foothills of Mount Baker at a family owned tree farm about 30 minutes from home involved a diaper bag for the first time in who-knows-how-many years.  The twins didn't complain until their little fingers and toes started to freeze get cold.  Theirs was the least exciting role to play: being held hostage in the stroller for a four-wheeling adventure in very monotonous territory.  "Seen one evergreen tree, you've seen them all..."
Zachary and Peter circle their prey.

Unless you're a member of our family, in which case you will likely spend days deliberating over the perfect evergreen tree for the year's haul.   Joseph planned ahead and wore a second hat so he could use one for marking his favorite tree before the family vote.  Since Grandma Billie and Grandpa Cliff also hoped for the perfect tree (of smaller stature) we doubled our searching pleasure.

Joseph takes the prize.

Like any shopping isles, tree farm isles inspire the boys to run, dodge, disappear and hurdle.  Tree hunting is an athletic event, and the competition to find the perfect Christmas Advent Tree {which becomes a Christmas Tree ON Christmas} is fierce.

Peter and Joseph raced with saws to be first to attack the trunk again this year; Zachary still doesn't favor the whole seasonal killing of the trees.  Now say we were going to burn the tree...he would be the first in line.  The boys took turns on saw duty, and Tony experienced the thrill of sawing for the very first time (with close supervision).
Tim, Bridget, Zac, Peter, Joseph, Ezra... and our 2011 tree

A new athletic event was added this year: tree running.   Rather than leaving the chopped tree at the side of the lane for the tractor to haul back to the check-out area, Joseph and Peter decided to race the tractor back to home base.  Other than losing a hat in their mad dash, it all ended well.

Tree runners attempt to beat the tractor back to the base.

Home, lit, and partially decorated, our tree now has to compete with the dogs for water.  Charlie and Rocky seem to think that having a new source of hydration in the home is our early Christmas gift to them.  The lower branches are toddler-proof, the non-breakable items ready to be pulled off and played with.  Only one gift wrapped and placed under the tree so far, and it's already been mauled by an unnamed pet or small person.  The mystery continues...

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Costco Disaster {Rice Spill}

Joseph, displeased with the whole situation.

Today I let my boys loose in Costco with their own cart and a shopping list.  I tasked them with finding the big paper products and a few other easy to find items from one half of the warehouse.  I shopped for the meat, produce and other items, and we rendezvoused near the check-out.  Joseph and Peter tend to love speed walking with shopping carts, and need frequent reminders to watch out for elderly shoppers and keep within the acceptable speed limits. Zachary refuses to use a cart, and will double wield hand baskets, hauling unbelievable loads, avoiding all wheeled assistance.  

Don't get me wrong: I love their 'enthusiasm' for shopping; but it takes a fair amount of parental management to get through a store without incident.  A few years ago, I took them to the mall (the only place selling boys' dress shoes) they made short videos on Zac's phone pretending they had been kidnapped, appealing to authorities for help.  Some were shot from inside clothing display racks.  I now purchase all their dress shoes online... but I digress.

At the Costco check-out conveyor, Joseph and Peter creatively tossed and passed the grocery items from cart to belt, team-style.  Apparently, the bagging clerk was also in the tossing mode, and told his checker, "Go long!" for the paper towels.  As the carts were being unloaded, I noticed that Peter and Joseph had picked up the 50 pound bag of rice, rather than our usual 25 pound bag.  They love sticky rice! 

What a mess!
In an effort to hoist the 50 pound bag of rice from the cart into the back of the van, Joseph inadvertently ripped the bag, spilling about half of the contents onto the pavement.  In less than thirty seconds, the birds appeared, and starting snacking.  Knowing that raw rice can be deadly for birds, we shooed them away and went for help.  A few more attempts to get help finally produced results, and a team of Costco employees scooped up the mess and insisted that we take an unopened bag as a replacement. 

Will this rice disaster, and the resulting inconvenient (embarrassing) parking lot side-show neutralize my impulsive helpers?  Or will we be found at the scene of future shopping catastrophes?  Only time will tell!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Team Captains {Varsity Swim & Dive}

 Ezra  and Zachary with saws

Who would believe that we have varsity swim team and varsity dive team captains living together under our roof?  Like yin and yang in many ways, Zachary and Ezra each have the honor of the title of team captain this season on the defending AA Washington State championship team (swimming).

Zachary's work ethic, determination to improve, and leadership skills will serve his swim team well this season, as they attempt to earn a fourth straight state AA championship title.  After graduating phenomenal swimmers in the past two years, this year's team will need to train hard and pull together for victory.  Zachary's personal goal is to compete at the state meet, where he has served as an alternate for the past two seasons.  He re-joined the local club swim team last spring, trained through the summer and fall in preparation for his senior varsity swim season, earning swimmer of the month in the process.

Coach Helling, coaching Sehome High School swimming for the 26th year, complimented Zac in a recent team round-up published in our local Bellingham Herald:  ...(he) should provide some much needed leadership for the team as well as help Sehome's strength in the freestlye sprints.  Zachary was selected as the stand-out among five returning seniors to become the team captain, and we are proud of his accomplishment, but more so of the fine young man he has become.

"(Ezra)... should be a threat to go to state in diving," said Coach Helling in his season-opening interview with the Bellingham Herald.  Ezra began diving as a freshman three years ago, as we 'forced' him to participate in high school athletics (or get a job).   This season his courage and technique have both improved, and he's already attempting much more difficult dives in his early season training.   As the sole diver on this year's team, he won't necessarily be providing leadership, but the role of team captain will benefit Ezra in many ways. Nearly earning a spot at the state meet last year, Ezra's reaching for a spot on the state diving board next February.  Time will tell...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Let the Elves Out? {Advent Decorating}

Joseph sets the outdoor timer to display the lighted house from dusk 'til dawn.

A passion for festive decorating hit our house this week with a fury.  Ladders scaled, boxes unearthed, extension cords creatively linked, and strings and strings of lights of every variety and color scheme were attached to the front of our house.  Joseph set a timer set for optimal display hours, and WHAMMO, our house stood transformed for the season of anticipation of Christ's Birthday.  Joseph led the charge as our always-ever-so-excited-puppy-like-holiday-spirit guy.  With Peter right by his side, they crafted and conspired to create the desired display.  At this very moment, a 15 foot ladder-on-stairs operation is underway (in the dark) in an attempt to put up $20 of new icicle lights (which Joseph purchased with his own funds on a trip to the hardware store with Grandpa Cliff today).

Peter trades out ordinary white for a colorful bulb at the entry-way.

The boys' desire for a festive environment is a distant second to "beating the neighbors" in the sheer volume of display lights on the property.  It turns out they were born with a few extra 'competitor' genes, and into a family with a master holiday decorator (Grandpa Cliff) to emulate.  With these factors in play, the ongoing efforts at out-doing themselves may well extend into the New Year!

Peter and Joseph work on the roof-top to illuminate the house.

Guests Duncan, Cam and Connor admire the fruits of their friends' decorating labors.

Our Rudolph needs a new nose!  He was a gift crafted many years ago by Zac in Grandpa's shop.

Master decorator and craftsman Grandpa Cliff, with apprentice elves Peter and Joseph, assembled the hand-crafted nativity scene in our front yard.