Saturday, December 27, 2014

Advent 2014, week four

Day twenty-two, Sunday, December 21st

In the U.S., we always had an Advent wreath with three purple candles, one pink, and one white. I guess Jörn heard part of that, because he brought home six red candles (red are the most traditional in Germany), one purple, and one white. We did start with four red ones (and the white one in the middle being the unity candle from our wedding), but as they were lit at nearly every meal all week long, not even six candles were enough. By the time we got to the fourth Sunday, three of the red candles, were completely gone and a fourth one quite small, half of an old gold one had been completely used, and a second half of an old gold one was nearly gone.

Day twenty-three, Monday, December 22nd
Jörn wouldn't give any hints, and Louisa was the only other person who knew, as he'd told her so that she could decide whether to join us or not. (She did. :-) ) All I knew was that we were leaving at 5:45, in cars, and wouldn't be home until about 8:00. About an hour before we left, I suddenly guessed what we were doing and asked Jörn, who confirmed that I'd guessed correctly. It was good that I knew, because then I could (secretly) grab socks for the sockless people.
It was fun listening to the children try to figure out where we were going on the way there, especially when Lukas was sure he was right (and WAS right), and then I drove right past it. We did eventually arrive at the bowling alley, where I took exactly one photo:
I also took a couple of videos, and then the camera batteries died. (Don't turn the sound on, or if your sound IS on, you might want to turn it off: it's just bowling-alley loudness.)
I think Marie and I together might have gotten as many points as whichever person had the third lowest score, but we never really looked. It was too sad to think about. Louisa definitely was much better than all the rest of us, even the three girls with bumpers. I was so good at playing badly that more than once when I took a turn for Helen or Elisabeth because they'd lost interest during the second game, I managed a gutter ball WITH bumpers.
We had "dinner" there, hot dogs with French fries and a drink. Katie didn't want to play a second game (we hadn't intended to play a second game at all, but the manager offered us a very good deal, because of being such a large family) and just sat at a table watching, not feeling well at all. I thought maybe it was the food, since that's not a normal part of our diet at all, but by the next day it was clear that she wasn't very well. She spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday lying on the couch.
Day twenty-four, Tuesday, December 23rd
I loved Marie's clues for this, and nobody had to think long to figure them out:

 She was quick to point out that we were not limited to these two games (Settlers of Catan and Monopoly), and in fact, neither of them got played. In fact, in the end, no games got played, because of Christmas preparations and Katie not well. Tuesday afternoon, when Louisa would normally take care of Helen and Elisabeth for a couple of hours while I do schoolwork with Lukas and Katie, Jörn took various children shopping one at a time while Louisa took care of the others and I wrapped Christmas presents.

For someone who really would rather do away with all gift-giving and getting, it sure took me a long time. You know the concept of the "five love languages"? "Gift-giving" is a totally foreign language for me, which I do attempt to speak, but my Greek is better. So therefore, despite all my grumbling and annoyance and not wanting to do it, in fact, BECAUSE of those, I maintain that the fact that I give any gifts at all expresses MORE love than it does from someone who ENJOYS doing that. So there.

And it took me THREE HOURS!!! At the end of that time, I had two small shopping bags full of gifts. That's because I'm in charge of the stockings, and it takes as much time to wrap an eraser as it does to wrap a big box. And for everyone, I had erasers, glue sticks, tape, pencils, pens, and other such stuff. I think the single most expensive item was about €1.50. No, I guess the socks (three pairs each) were the most expensive, but they didn't go in the stockings. The only gift I was excited (and nervous and proud and anxious) about giving didn't cost me a single cent, but it did cost me about six hours of time, but I'll get to that later.

Oh, yeah, I digress. So we were supposed to play games. We didn't.

Day twenty-five, Wednesday, December 24th

 Here's a photo of Jörn reading this passage in German, which was interesting, because it wasn't a particularly modern translation, and the children who were actually listening kept asking what words meant, and I even learned a few new ones.
 I then read the same passage in English, and in contrast to the Luther Bible in German, I read it off of my Kindle. :-)

Then we finally got around to decorating the tree:
 We even managed to hang ten candles on the tree, although not all of them were in places that were safe to light.
 The above photo has an angel given to me by one of my paper route customers when I was ten, a nativity set from Peru given to me by my grandma, and a nativity set from Guatemala given to me by my mother.

Marie and I then had fun playing Christmas carols.
I sight-read better than she does, but she's more musical than I am and can play chords quickly and easily, so I played the treble clef as written and she played chords in the bass to go with it, and we found it easiest to sit this way around.

After the children were in bed, Jörn put presents around the tree (he'd been the official collection point for most of the children, and Marie also put hers out, and I had a few too-big-for-stocking things, so those all went out as well, as well as the gifts that had arrived in the mail from my parents and from my brother an sister-in-law, and a couple of things from other people) and I filled the stockings.

And that concludes Advent 2014, because the next morning, the waiting for the coming of Christ's birthday was over!

Christmas morning we lit all five candles, the four Advent candles by now down to two stubs of the original six red ones, half of a beeswax one that one of the children made at least six years ago, and a just-started beeswax one also made by one of the children at least six years ago.
Our first Christmas together, Jörn was quite startled when I insisted on five candles. In German they even have a rhyme that says, "Advent, Advent, the candles burn. First one, then, two, then three, then four. If the fifth candle burns, you've slept through Christmas." Personally, I feel that if one leaves out the fifth candle, the Christ candle, one has rather missed the point of Christmas.
At 8:30 Jacob arrived from where he is house- and dog-sitting, and Louisa came upstairs, and we gathered in the living room, where we woke Louisa up by belting out a birthday song for Jesus. I tried to find it on youtube, but only found a video that was so corny and even worse than us, that I refuse to link it.

The boys:

The girls:

Opening stockings (which we do all at the same time):

Once the stockings are open, we go from youngest to oldest, choosing a present and giving it to the right person. Once more, I was surprised and pleased at how very focused every single one of the children was on GIVING: if they didn't choose a random present, they didn't ever look for one with their own name, but one that they had for someone else.

Oh, and my favorite present, the one that I was most nervous about, was well received: out of an old backpack of mine with a broken zipper, and a pair of jeans with big holes in the knees, I made Jacob a new case for his djembe:

And Marie, who had unpicked the fuzzy top from the rubbery backings of some bathmats for a friend a few weeks ago, since the friend needed only the fuzzy parts for a craft project, used the backing to make this costume for Lukas:

We only managed about two and a half rounds of passing out presents before Jacob and Marie had to leave for church for band practice, and the rest of us not much later for the church service. It was less than an hour, then we stopped at a friend's house and sang "Away in a Manger" for her, then came home and finished opening presents. This time, we remembered to light some candles on the tree. I only deemed five of them safe to light, and it not being dark out, they're not very easy to see, but they're there:

We left in a rush for Christmas dinner with friends, where we stayed the whole afternoon and into the evening, and had a very nice time and didn't take a single decent photo. Katie was much better than she had been, but was coughing non-stop the whole day. I think some other people were coughing by the end of the day, but I couldn't really keep track. Yesterday there were scattered coughs, and today (Saturday) it was definite that Helen and Elisabeth had joined the coughing party, and Katie's not completely over it. I think I'm on my way there, too, and while Marie's not coughing, she has a terrible cold.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent 2014, week three

We didn't do too well this week with opening the Advent calendar in a timely manner, nor in completing the activities, but we did get some done...
Day fifteen, Sunday, December 14th
Lighting the third Advent candle:

Days sixteen and seventeen, Monday, December 15th, and Tuesday, December 16th

This week was rather busy, to put it mildly. I lost count of just how many Christmas parties there were, what with drama classes, Discoveries, Tots, Youth, birthdays, and Nativities. We just plain forgot to open the calendar on Monday, and on Tuesday, Marie confessed that she hadn't even made the clue for it yet, but that it went rather well with Tuesday's anyway, so she went off and made a clue to cover both days, which Jacob, in one of his rare appearances at home, opened:

Everyone figured this one out easily: go for a walk (Monday's) and eat ice cream (Tuesday's).

I had a lot of trouble trying to get photos on the way there, because I kept going ahead, but when I turned around, everyone came running towards me. Here's one I got of everyone except Elisabeth, even Louisa, down at the beach at Finikoudes. Those mounds are seaweed, which has been raked together and we only see in the winter. I don't know if that's because seaweed doesn't come up the rest of the year, or if the city disposes of it more promptly when there are more tourists.
 Getting ice cream:

All the children in one photo!!

Katie and Elisabeth used their ice cream as microphones on the outdoor stage:

Jacob is popular with the girls:

All eight of us together, and Louisa there too, we thought this might be a good opportunity to get a family photo. Our most recent decent one was taken in summer 2013, and is still our most recent decent one. Here are a couple of the least bad attempts at a new one:

I like this photo of Lukas and Jacob:

On the way home, we decided to have a look at the Christmas trees at the forestry department, since nobody was very happy with the branch we'd sort of planned to use. Everyone wanted a different tree:

There's not even a photo here of the TWO trees we eventually took! While everyone was standing around holding up a different tree, the man there came over to me carrying a tree and pointed to the one I was holding up and said that because it was so small, we could have another one, free. I would have been happier trying to negotiate the normal price of 8 Euros for one tree down to 4 Euros for such a little tree, but since the rest of the family stopped arguing and agreed to take two small trees, that's what we did. There's another photo later on...

The rest of the walk home was fun, too:

 Day eighteen, Wednesday, December 17th

By the time the clue got hung up, it had gotten rather grubby, but at least that makes it more visible in the photo!
 Not that we ever actually got around to making any paper snowflakes...

Day nineteen, Thursday, December 18th

Our names were all put in a hat and everyone drew one out, with the idea of secretly doing something nice for that person by the end of the day.
We talked about it the next day at lunch and discovered it had mostly been successful. One person did not get around to doing anything, and I was the one for whom nothing was done, and the person for whom I had done something hadn't noticed it. Also, Lukas had made a note for Elisabeth and hidden it under her pillow, which she hadn't found, but was thrilled when she went and got it, and even read it out loud: "I love you Elisabeth, love, love, love." It actually said "I love Elisabeth" and had three hearts and I thought it was totally cool that Elisabeth "read" the hearts as "love".

Day twenty, Friday, December 19th

A little branch with yarn on it was correctly interpreted as that we should decorate the Christmas tree:
However...we hadn't even figured out a way to stand up the Christmas tree (or trees), and didn't get around to doing that until the next day, and we haven't gotten around to decorating it, either. The fact that some of the paper chains have been falling down and somebody has stretched them over to the tree had me try to declare that the tree IS already decorated...
It looks fine to me, but I'm the only one who thinks so. Since the branches won't hold candles, I don't really care what we do with it.
Day twenty-one, Saturday, December 20th

Just for this one day, I'll list what we (or I, anyway), did, as an example of what the whole week was like.

First, I got back from my walk in time to have a COLD shower (I'd forgotten to turn on the hot water heater before I left, and only got home 20 minutes before I needed to leave again), then Marie and I went to the monthly ladies' breakfast, which I've gone to three or four times in the last couple of years.

It ran longer than usual, so I had Marie text Jörn to tell Lukas to walk to MTB Bible study (MTB stands for More Than Bacon, and is the Larnaka Community Church youth ministry, which was originally just breakfast, and now has various things), since I wasn't going to be home in time to pick him up. We left the breakfast early so I could drop Marie off at Bible study not TOO late. (As it turned out, the person with the keys was late, so half a dozen people or so, including Lukas, were waiting outside.)

Once I was home, we looked for library books and the three little girls and I went to the library, dropping Jörn off to pick up our other car, which we'd lent to someone on Friday.

After the library I did some laundry, then rode my bicycle to meet Lukas at a friend's house, where we took their two dogs for a half hour walk.

We got home just in time for lunch, then after lunch Marie whispered the Advent calendar clue to Helen, who announced it to the family: tell a round-robin story. There wasn't time then, though, as Marie and I left immediately to spend an hour and a half working on a project that will be revealed on the 25th.

Leaving there, I called Jörn to ask him to have Helen and Elisabeth get their shoes on and get in the car, so that I could just switch from one car to the other and leave immediately for The Polar Express. I took lots of photos of that, but here's my favorite one, from after it was actually over:

And then we got home at about 6:00 p.m., and I sat down and did Sudokus until dinner. :-)

At dinner, we remembered that we were going to do a story, so we did do several of them, but without Marie there (she'd gone to a birthday party), it wasn't much fun. People (and chickens and halloumi and pretty much anything else at all that was mentioned) kept getting killed off and eaten, ending stories after a round or less. We then switched to Chinese whispers (or "grapevine" or "telephone" or "operator" or whatever the politically correct term should be...), which led to a lot of hilarity, which was okay, but when they started on "I Spy", I decided that it was an excellent time to do laundry.

And that concludes the third week of Advent in our house...


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent 2014, week two

Day eight, Sunday, December 7th
Rather predictable, so predictable, in fact, that Marie didn't even make a note or clue for this one: light the second Advent candle. This isn't exactly the best photo we've ever had of Jörn, but the best taken that day...

Day nine, Monday, December 8th

Marie held Elisabeth up to get the note out:
...and we really liked the 3D clue for listening to Christmas music:

And here is our family listening to Christmas music (Jacob and Louisa not home, as usual)...

Day ten, Tuesday, December 9th

When I'd gotten out the Nativity scenes the week before, I'd taken the miniature stocking off of Jörn's stocking and slipped it to Marie, so she could put it in for the 9th, which was to hang up stockings.
 And here they are:
For Christmas 1981, after our house had burned down, a neighbor had given the four children (I was 10, my siblings were 8, 5, and 2) identical stockings, so my mother quickly made some little ones for us with our names. By the next year, she'd knitted new ones for us, so my little one is pinned to my name one, and those four identical ones became "guest stockings". When Jörn used one of those in 1993, my sister Ruth embroidered a miniature one for him to pin on, which is now pinned to his big stocking, which I made for him in 1995. In 1999, my Costa Rican brother, Eduardo, spent Christmas with us, so I made a "guest stocking" for him to use, putting his name on it with a piece of paper. That stocking has since been used for quite a few other people, and this year, is Louisa's. None of my children have needed to have a miniature one, because I did manage to make each of them a stocking in time for their respective first Christmases, although it was sometimes very, very close. At least two of them were finished on Christmas Eve, and one on Christmas morning.

Day eleven, Wednesday, December 10th

The note for this day, which has been lost, said something like, "I like it, but I don't, you've been asking for this for awhile." There was some puzzlement for all of maybe two or three minutes before people started shouting, "Make gingerbread houses!" The reference in the note was to the fact that Marie loves making them, but doesn't like gingerbread.

Lukas, Katie, Helen, and Elisabeth all drew plans for what they wanted and I made patterns for them, then cut them out of the dough. I also made a bunch of extra random squares, rectangles, and triangles, for anybody to use. Jörn made his house from those, Lukas used some of them, and some of them got eaten.

I helped a little bit with the initial "gluing together" of the houses, with melted chocolate:

Once Marie and Jacob had finally finished their patterns, they cut them out themselves:

Elisabeth, of course, was perfectly willing and able to do everything "all by herself."

Finished creations with proud creators:


And...I hadn't actually planned on making anything myself (making the dough and dealing with the chocolate and everything else kept me quite busy enough), but Marie and Jacob had left a small amount of dough in the bowl, so I used it up to make something unoriginal and corny:
We ate Helen's house the next day and Marie and Lukas took theirs to a Christmas party on Saturday. Katie and Elisabeth plan to take theirs to Christmas parties next week, Jörn and I are taking mine on our anniversary trip at the end of December, and I don't know what will happen with Jörn's and Jacob's.
Day twelve, Thursday, December 11th
Lukas was quite pleased to open the not-at-all-cryptic-but-very-cute clue of a paper chain:

He was also very pleased to be chief paper cutter:

Day thirteen, Friday, December 12th

This was the VERY first time that Louisa was home, and Jacob wasn't anyway, so she took his turn to open the calendar:

The idea had been to walk to the forestry department and choose a Christmas tree, as we did last year. However, most of us hadn't actually been happy with last year's tree, because with it's droopy branches and long needles, we could hardly hang any ornaments on it, and certainly no candles. In addition to that, the day before this, Lukas had brought home some branches from a cedar tree a neighbor was trimming, so...we sort of kind of decided that maybe this will be our tree this year. Louisa trimmed off a broken part, but the "tree" is still outside, awaiting a final decision, not to mention a way to keep it upright and watered. (With rain nearly all day yesterday, it at least stayed well-watered for one day...)

Day fourteen, Saturday, December 13th

It was pretty funny how everyone just stared for awhile when I read this out. It was finally Katie, my most literal child, who finally said, "Okay, Mommy, what are we doing?"
Now, since Marie and Jacob are both likely to read this blog, I can't say what I ORIGINALLY planned to do, because they'll likely be very annoyed with me that we didn't do it. (It was going to be complicated, messy, and basically pointless, and anyway, I couldn't find the necessary supplies, not that I actually looked very hard...) My plan B was to make cookies, but we already have SO much sweet stuff, I decided against that. And plan C was to go for a walk, but it rained and rained and rained most of the day yesterday, and as that is not something we are used to, we don't have much in the way of appropriate clothing. (Katie has a pair of boots, and some of us have rain coats, and I think we have two umbrellas...) So while they were all staring at me, I thought fast, and said that it was that we play games, that each of them could choose a game, and I would play it, and anyone who wanted to could join in.
Elisabeth had first choice and chose "hide and seek." After she'd found one or two people, though, it started pouring again, so they all went outside! My hiding place was getting uncomfortable, and Marie had been discovered by Helen in our room, not knowing that our room was off limits, so Marie and I both went and hid in the bathroom. We started having a loud conversation about the acoustics and ended up singing, waiting for Elisabeth to finally come back in and look for us. Elisabeth finally did, and told me off for changing hiding places, so I went back to my original hiding place, and Elisabeth marched right back out of the bathroom without even finding Marie at that point! Anyway, it was a lot of fun, the best parts being singing with Marie, and only having one round. :-)
Helen said she didn't want to choose anything, and Katie chose Monopoly:

Which took, as Monopoly does, FOREVER. Lukas was a good sport about being the first one out, and Helen, who had never played before, did great with counting money, but also quickly got bored. She auctioned all her property off to the rest of us and left, leaving us to roll for her and try to use up her 50,000 DM. She went to jail about 10 times and kept going right past all of our expensive properties, landed on Free Parking more than once, and kept GETTING money every time she landed on Community Chest or Chance. It was looking rather like she might win the game, with no property and without being there. However, she did finally land once on one of Marie's expensive ones, then landed on my Schloßallee (Boardwalk in the American version) with four houses, so I got the 10,000 or so DM she had left, only a quarter of what she owed me. I was in a much better position than Katie, but I was the one who eventually landed on Marie's green ones with hotels one too many times, and cheered loudly when it finally happened. I'd behaved myself very well up to that point, truly, I had. The first thing I said/did to indicate my total boredom was to hope that I got a 5, 7, or 8 just before I rolled, to which Jörn, not understanding my point, said in horror, "You want to PROLONG the game?!?" Happily, I got an 8, landing on Marie's most expensive green, so I handed over all of my cash, which wasn't more than about 2000 DM (that would be 100 dollars in the American version), and my five mortgaged properties, and left Marie to finish creaming Katie while I went shopping. Not something I love, but after two hours of Monopoly, I was much more inclined to such an activity than otherwise.
I still owe Helen a game of Enchanted Forest (or something else, if she changes her mind again), Lukas a game of Risk, Jacob a two-person game of Settlers of Catan, and Marie a two-person game of Risk.
And that concludes the documentation of the second week of Advent in our house this year...