Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Christmas Update

For anyone who didn't get a hard copy, this is what we sent out this year (with a bonus picture for my blog readers!):
Greetings from the McFarlands! We hope this letter finds you all well and ready for a long winter’s nap. We’ve had a full year of fun and adventures, visiting Goblin Valley and Capitol Reef over spring break, leading a study abroad to Berlin and Tübingen over the summer, and jaunting out to California to see Mary Ann’s brother John marry Clarissa Lyons over Labor Day. We’re happily settling in for the holidays here, with plans of sitting by the fire and not much else. Here is what we have been doing:

Maddie (13) is in her second year attending an accelerated program at the high school here. She says “Just because I’m a nerd doesn’t mean I have no social life!” She lives, eats, drinks and breathes ballroom dance. She has found her niche on the swim team, doing distance freestyle events and is close to making a state cut. She still loves Shakespeare, and got to see All’s Well That Ends Well with her papa at the Globe Theatre inLondon. Asked if she could sum it up, she said "Girl loves boy. Boy doesn't love her back. Oy gevalt!" Maddie has a new dream job. She wants to play Countess Anna at Burg Hohenzollern where she gets to dress up in a white wig and take children on the kids' tour of the castle.

Will (11) is in his second year in his aunt Betsy’s class at school. He loves having her as his teacher and is counting down the days until she returns from maternity leave. He just graduated from cub scouts to boy scouts and can’t wait to go camping. He tolerates school, denigrates swim team and funnels all of his spare resources to Legos, Wii games and Nerf wars. He mostly wanted to play Garage Band and Photo Booth this summer, but he found to his surprise that he actually enjoyed the DDR museum, the Lichtenstein castle filled with armor and weapons, and swimming in the Bodensee. He renamed our much-touted app for public restrooms all over the world the "iPee". Will was a BYU Quidditch player for Halloween -- yet another costume of his own invention.

Sebastian (7) is in his second year of a Mandarin immersion program. While it isn’t easy, he impresses the rest of us no end when we get to hear him speak it. If we try to read the pinyin, he just shakes his head. He is also Maddie’s tutor and secret weapon since she started taking Mandarin this year. Sebi switched over to the pianoand tries desperately to keep up with all of the books his siblings read. Right now he’s plowing through Percy Jackson. This summer Sebastian enjoyed making a custom chocolate bar at the Ritter Sport store, and gleaning blackberries by the S-bahn trains, but his favorite part was having his best friend Tomas come to Berlin to visit.

Joss (3) is still the McFarland dictator. He dictates the CD in the car, the volume of the house, mealtimes, naptimes and bedtimes. His taste in music has evolved from the “Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” to “Good Morning Baltimore” from Hairspray. He calls mama “mudder” and papa “poppy”. We try not to let on how funny he is, but near his birthday, Rob set down his breakfast eggs and said “Now what do we say? . . .” Joss replied “Waateber. Where is the freakin’ keppitch?” He took his first swimming lessons this summer and is now enrolled at a local preschool, run by a woman he refers to as “Mister Kaffee”.

Mary Ann is happy to be nearly through 2011. She made several sweaters for babies of family and friends, and tried her hand at making a quilt this year. She has begun to jog with Rob in the mornings and so far has a pulled muscle and plantar fasciitis to show for it. She saw lots of marvelous things this summer and was most happy to introduce her kids to London, see the Green Vault in Dresden, and go to the Black Forest andHeidelberg.

Rob has had a hugely productive year, teaching five classes and writing an online course in the spring, recruiting for and directing a study abroad over the summer, and sending out his first manuscript to find a publisher this fall. Once again he boldly went where no one had gone before with a group of 32 students. He continues to garden and jog, write poetry and attend Sundance and keeps the primary presidency in stitches with his antics as the primary chorister.

We feel so fortunate to have had a year full of blessings and activities, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, security, peace and health. We wish a similar 2012 for all of you. We love you and you enrich our lives with your friendship and love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent 2011

We've been busy around here for Advent. Rob had three musical numbers at church. Maddie had a ballroom concert and two choir concerts. We had ward friends over for soup and cookie decorating. We attended the Adventsingen of the German department (held this year in the DeJong concert hall in the absence of the Provo Tabernacle). Maddie and Rob dressed up in their TrachtenMode again for the ward Christmas breakfast and Maddie found to her dismay that her dirndl was not even close to fitting. I did a quick and dirty alteration (my mother is never allowed to see it), but in the end she wore a very pretty one borrowed from the Isaaks. Sebastian had a Christmas program too, and they sang all of those chinese classics like We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Fa-ra-ra-ra-rah I mean Silent Night.
In addition, just before Thanksgiving Grandpa was hired up in Salt Lake by one of his favorite clients. This has meant that we're all getting spoiled by him at restaurants near and far (and exotic grocery trips full of junque food). He has also donated his time and talents to fixing things around our house, and there are a lot of them. He decluttered my hard drive so that it quit giving me dire warnings, fixed this shower door, a toilet seat and two doorknobs and gave us sage advice on varied and sundry car issues. Invaluable.
St. Niklaus came on December 6th with peppermint lotion and Ritter Sport chocolate and hats. I know there are more winsome and twinkling pictures of Niklaus celebrations elsewhere, but around here we are just happy that no one has any foot fungus in their shoes.
We ate traditional Leyden cookies which were packed up specially for Utah. It has to take hundreds of hours to make these. Each tin has dozens of cookies of different kinds, and each cookie is very work intensive -- I've tried to recreate two and they take time!
Grandma taught Maddie how to bead the traditional Shumway family stockings and she was great at it! She finished the a large portion of the bow on that candy cane.
I got Grandpa to help me assemble a new toy kitchen for the nursery at church. It was well-crafted but time consuming to put together. This picture shows one of Grandpa's tips: he uses a muffin tin to keep track of all the little nuts, bolts, screws and thingamagidgets that come with a job like this.
The grandparents also stayed with the boys on Sunday morning so that we could go to the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas concert with Nathan Gunn and Jane Seymour with Maddie. Will was going to come too, but he was sick in the night. So just the three of us went and had a good time and actually smooth going for once. Nathan Gunn's voice was magnificent and Maddie fell in love with Jane Seymour.
Tuesday night Rob and I went back up to SLC with the Buskirks to attend the carol service at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I've fallen completely for this event. The choir is accomplished [and cute!] the music is beautiful and it is so Christmasy with the congregation standing and joining in. After all of this, I was still wishing it was one more week until Christmas, but we were all ready. Then on the 22nd, our friends came from out of town and we all [all!] stayed up until midnight. It was so good to see them! I think I should get credit for New Years though, and I'll go to bed at 9:30pm on the 31st.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Gingerbread 2011: the Pious Edition

This year for our gingerbread house, I checked three books out of the library and looked for ideas. And for future years and generations, here's a good rule to live by: "if you ain't baking' it, you don't get to vote on it." Without this rule we ended up choosing a church and I said some truly unholy words while the candy rose window wouldn't cooperate three times.
This is always the point where I contemplate running out and buying a kit. Then I look down and see that I'm covered in molasses and powdered sugar and surrender. In the end, it has always turned out just fine:
We had a good time, but the kids were playing happily downstairs and we didn't want their pestering hands to bother them, so Rob and I did a lot of the decorating. Sebastian put on the roof, Joss placed the shrubs, and Maddie decorated the trees with coconut and candies.
This is the only fuzzy shot we got of the Isaaks' magnificent manor house, which was based on an actual British estate complete with dozens of windows. Curtis decided where certain candies went, particularly on the roofline, from years of experience at picking them off when his mom was looking the other way.
Here's one of my favorite parts of this year's design: the parish cemetery with Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano tombstones. Not our idea, though Maddie's memorial wreath was her own addition.
This is another favorite: the Hershey's Kiss church bell (also borrowed from one of the books).
And finally, a shot of the windows. We set it up as high as we could, but it was still within the reach of Jossmonster and it was only a matter of days before he'd eaten the yogurt pretzel fence and some tree decorations off of the front side only. C'est la vie!