I know I've been promising this post for some time now, and my sincere apologies that it's taken me so long! (I have come to realize that I have a very poor grip on time management. I always think I can do so much more than is actually feasible.) Anyhoo, a while back I was kindly asked to share how I put together my monthly Themes & Plans posts and today, as I sat down to work on the May installment, I took a few pictures and jotted down notes as I went ...
And here they are. :)
Pictured above is my workspace ("Mama's side" of the learning table). This is going to sound kind of nutty, but I always clean the room before starting. I clear off and wipe down the table. I neaten the side tables, countertops and bookshelves around me. I vacuum. I have to feel really free of distractions, and I like to spread out as I work. I don't kid myself and think I'm going to sit down and work for hours at a time on this post. I will do it in bits and pieces as I have time throughout the day, or as the case may be, days. But gathering all my things and setting them up nicely always gets me off to a good start.
So, with everything piled neatly in front of me, I then start working my way through the piles. (Not shown, off to the left, is my laptop parked on a folding table.)
I should start by saying that the first thing I do is to print out a copy of my previous month's Themes & Plans (in this case, April). I jot all my notes for the new post directly on those papers; this way I don't repeat myself and I remember all the lists I need to fill out.
I also pull every seasonal and liturgical idea book I own off the shelf (or at least the ones I like best) and set them on the table. You can see them in the top photo, and find them at the links listed throughout this post. (Yep, there's a lot of them. But you know, I've been collecting for years.) :)
I also bring out my past journals from this time of year, and the hanging file that holds my weekly folders for May and June:
Also at hand, my month-at-a-glance calendar, and a hot cup of tea.
I begin with the first list of the post: Nature. I jot down things that come to mind right away (apple blossoms, for instance). I look at my calendar for the date of the full moon, and if I can't remember the name of this month's moon, I check here. Then I look through my favorite seasonal/nature books:
- The Kids' Nature Almanac
- The Beginning Naturalist
- A Field Guide to your Own Backyard
- New England Nature Watch
- The Curious Naturalist
- Let Nature Be the Teacher
My next list is Folklore, which generally means the birthstone and flower of the month as well as any old sayings or farmer's wisdom. I find things like this in The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac, The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady (which really should have been in my book pile, but somehow got left out) and I also find a lot of lovely nature poems and sayings at this site.
For the Food list, I kind of work off memory (I was once, briefly, a food writer) and my years of experience reading foodie magazines. ;) If I am stumped, I do a quick google for something like: in season food May and find more ideas at sites like this. I can also look through my Martha magazines for meal ideas (like November is the time to start your fruitcake, and baked apples make a perfect breakfast in October), but generally, I just think about what kinds of things are plentiful, flavorful and comforting at this particular time of year.
My post next addresses Faith, and for that list I consult my calendar, as well as the website, Catholic Culture. I list feast days (solemnities and memorials) as well as any other notables (like Sacraments being made or when the Pope visited last month). This is just a (partial) list of what's happening on the Catholic calendar this month - actual ideas for activities and celebrations come further down in the post.
Household (& Garden) is my next list and for that I just think about what needs to be done around the house! I have a general outline of seasonal maintenance that needs to happen ~ culled from years of reading Martha and other housekeeping mags and paying attention to the routines of my mother and grandmother. I might also do another quick google for, say, a spring cleaning checklist, and from there find plenty of sites like this. And of course there is always Martha for great housekeeping tips.
Then we have the list called Life, and by that I mean any kind of holiday or event that takes place this month (other than those liturgical days already listed). Again, I turn to my calendar (and my blog archive from last year) for initial information (things like birthdays, local sports and events). As for all those obscure holidays - National This or That Day - I find them in a couple of different books (Literature for Lively Lessons and China Bayle's Book of Days) as well as a website or two (Web-Holidays and About.com).
And then comes the Book Basket - which is so much fun to fill up! :) I start with my own basket (I organize our books by season), and list all those titles. Then I consider what special themes we're exporing this month (honeybees or rivers for example) and look online for new (sometimes familiar but forgotten) titles, cross-referencing with my library (natch). Most of our books reflect nature themes and holidays. It is very easy to find titles at Amazon - in fact you can get quite carried away. ;) By the way, the aforementioned Literature for Lively Lessons has lots of book suggestions for all the special days of the year (many of which are author or illustrator birthdays).
After the Book Basket, I brainstorm a few ideas for possible Field Trips & Outings. These usually jive with our studies that month, but almost always are seasonal in nature. (Much of what we do as home learners is seasonal in nature.) I list three or four ideas, hoping we'll do at least one or two. I can tell you right now, there will be a field trip to a local orchard to sketch the apple trees in bloom. :)
My final list is usually my biggest - Crafts & Activities - and these ideas I find, literally, everywhere. I bookmark them at blogs and boards and I dog-ear them in magazines like Family Fun, Faith & Family, Wondertime, and Living Crafts (a new favorite). Some things I brainstorm myself (because I so love to dream up nature-inspired activities and crafts for the children) but many of my ideas come from books, and here are some of my favorites (and I've *starred* my very, very favorites):
- Hollyhock Days
- Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots
- Sunflower Houses*
- All Year Round*
- The Children's Year
- Festivals, Family and Food
- The Creative Family
- A Child's Seasonal Treasury
- Mrs. Sharp's Traditions*
- Project Seasons
- Hands-On Nature
- The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions
- A Book of Feasts and Seasons*
- The Catholic Parent's Book of Feasts
- The Catholic Home
As a last step, because it's most indulgent, I go through my journals for any other ideas I might have had in the past. I've been keeping journals off and on for years, but devotedly in the last two or three. I know I've posted about my journals before, but they are basically a holding zone for every idea, clipping or article I might come across (as well as my own thoughts, of course). I never expect to get to each and every possibility, but keeping them on file in this way means there's a chance they might be useful to my family someday.
Well, this was a mighty long post, and if you've stayed with me this long, I thank you! And if this is helpful to someone, I am thrilled. (That's the whole point to blogging, isn't it?) Seasons come and go so quickly, and each one is, truly, a gift. Planning and enjoying the seasons has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. Somewhere around here I have the "Autumn Planbook" I made when I was in - oh, I think, 7th grade? A bunch of loose-leaf paper stapled together, decorated with drawings and big bubbly printing. It was all about the "whispy tendrils of woodsmoke," "the golden leaves fluttering by on the crisp breeze" and the "apple crisp baking in the oven." And, because I was 12, it was also all about the Holly Hobbie skirts, penny loafers and the fair isle sweaters for the new school year. :) Yes, I've always been a sap for the seasons, and I guess I'll never change ...
Have a wonderful night, my friends. I'll see you again sometime tomorrow. :)