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February 2018

Planner Goodies: Using a Spiral Snap with my DD

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! I hope your week's going well so far. :)

Today I'd like to show you a neat planner gadget that I've just started using in my Day Designer - it's called a "Spiral Snap" and it's available in sets of four for $5, sold by Anchor Lime Design. What these "snaps" allow me to do is display all kinds of information ... right in the middle of my daily planning spread! Now, truth be told, I'm not always "in the know" when it comes to planner goodies and hacks, but I'm really happy I found these clever little things. I think they have endless uses: lesson plans, menu plans, shopping lists, habit trackers - you name it!

Here's a look at a Spiral Snap before inserting it into my planner:

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So as you can see, these are simply plastic strips that are punched along one edge in order to fit (or "snap") into the coils of a planner. They feature a length of adhesive tape which will securely hold any kind of paper item you'd like. You can easily pluck the Spiral Snap out of the coils as you turn the pages in your planner, thereby moving it along as you go forward, day to day. 

Another great feature? The adhesive is reusable, so as long as you remove your paper items with care, you can re-use your strips multiple times. 

Ok, clearly this is a really neat planner goodie! Now, here is how I'm using it ... :)

I have two stacked in my planner, one for monthly notes and one for weekly routines.

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This top page is made with a sheet from a "March" note pad made by Susan Branch. I have a pad for each month of the year and they are absolutely charming as you can see! On this sheet I listed out our March home learning goals/plans ...

And I'm even using the back side of this sheet!

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Here I listed out March "Events of Note." So it's kind of like a monthly calendar, only vertical! 

Now you might be asking yourself, doesn't she have all this information listed out elsewhere? And well, that's a fair question ... one to which I must sheepishly answer, yes. But I do love having this pretty piece of notepaper here - it's quite inspiring, in both looks and content, and allows me to keep the "big picture" in mind as I hone in on my daily plans.

Now, underneath those monthly notes, I have a second Spiral Snap ...

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... and this one is holding a weekly routines list. I gave a thought to using this sheet as a current agenda, but since I already have - not one, but two - dedicated week-at-a-glance planners in action (as detailed rather obsessively here), I decided use this as a general reference.

A closer look:

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This sheet is from a set of planning pads made by momAgenda. I bought it a while ago on Amazon but could only find it listed currently at the momAgenda website. (Anyone here use momAgenda planners? I did for a couple of years and they were lovely.)

I used blue ink here for my housekeeping tasks, and black ink for our weekly homeschooling rhythm. It's all pretty basic information (things I've written out enough times I'm certain I know by heart), but still nice as a reference when I go to plan out a new day's page.

As for the backside of this sheet ...

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I thought it would make a handy spot for ongoing to-dos. I used a few post-it notes for this ... you all know how much I love post-its!

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Now, the sheets I used are made with rather thin paper, so they do seem a tad fragile. So I'm careful when I turn them but not overly concerned. If I were going to make up my own sheets for these Snaps I'd probably try using cardstock instead to give it a bit of heft. If I did make one up, I'd also like to add a "topper" of some sort that could serve as a bookmark or page-finder. I'll probably fiddle around with some of my scrapbooking paper and random planner supplies when I have a chance.

Ok, full disclosure - I've only just started using these Spiral Snaps and so far I'm finding them quite fun and helpful - a real novelty! I'm not yet in the habit of moving these lists along with me as I turn the pages in my planner - I sometimes forget and then have to retrieve them! - but I think that will just be a matter of time. 

So that's that! I'd love to know if you have something like this in your planner and if so, how do you use it?

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my planner today. I have a couple of new posts in the works and will do my best to get them up in the next week or so. Until then, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


My Primary Planners & (March) Planning

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Hello and Happy Weekend, my friends! I hope your week's been a good one! 

Well as hard as it is to believe, March is arriving at the end of next week, so I thought I'd share a peek into my planners as I start looking ahead to "what's what" next month. I try to do this around the third weekend of each month - in hopes I'll have enough time to gather my thoughts and any materials we'll need for the coming weeks. These items would include library requests, craft supplies, educational resources, ingredients for special recipes, holiday/birthday cards, and any special books we have set aside in our seasonal bins ...

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(Our seasonal theme next week is "thaw/sap" and our March world culture is Germany.)

Now, note I said planners (not planner) and that's because (as I described in this post from January), I find it a challenge to limit myself to just one! Most of the time I'm just fine with that - because I really do enjoy all my planners and each one of them really does meet a particular need. That said, I also feel like I spend a lot of time juggling all these planners - time I don't really have to spend - and often find myself yearning for a much simpler system. In my heart I'd like to be a one-planner gal but I'm not sure if I'll ever get there ...

So if you use just ONE planner, and it works well for you - well, I am in awe of you! (And perhaps even, a wee bit jealous!)

Anyway, all this planner soul-baring will have to wait for a future post - for today let me get on with the ones I'm using at the moment. And first up is a planner I'm not sure I've shown you before!

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This is my sweet and special 2017-2018 Katie Daisy planner! (It can also be found - for a little less money- at Amber Lotus Publishing here.)

Now, very often one of my planners takes the lead in the ongoing race to be "lead planner," and currently this is the one - because I am just SO in love with this lovely little book! It is, without a doubt, the prettiest planner I have EVER seen. It's the one I reach for most often, and the one I prefer to take with me when I'm running out somewhere. It fits perfectly in my purse ...

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(This is actually a rather roomy tote, but as you can see I can easily fit both my KD planner and a slightly larger notebook in this bag.)

Now admittedly, when I first bought this petite planner last summer, it was one of those purchases I absolutely recognized as extraneous but I simply could not help myself. It's just that pretty. The size of it intrigued me, too - but more than anything, I was completely enchanted by the gorgeous seasonally inspired pages!

So I used it on and off beginning last August, but when I added a set of pastel monthly tabs to the edges I found it even more useful!

(And PRETTY!)

(Note: I paid far less for these tabs at Staples, but I can't seem to find them elsewhere online.)

I also added, along the top, more adhesive flags and tabs marking spots for seasonal planning. Honest-to-goodness, I find myself a little obsessed with these tabs, those flags, and this planner ...

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Happily, Katie Daisy - a brilliant watercolor artist whom I follow on Facebook and Instagram - is publishing a 2018-2019 version of this planner! I was able to pre-order mine here ... and I am positively swooning over that new black floral cover!)

To make this planner work even more efficiently, I use a coordinating binder clip to connect the front cover to the current monthly spread. Then I use a simple gold paper clip to do the same between the month-at-a-glance and the current week's spread. This makes it very easy to quickly get to the place in my planner I need to be! 

Here's a closer look at those clips in action ...

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Now, I'm going to "flip" through the pages of my planner, starting with this week (shown above) and moving forward through March - just to give you a sense for how I'm using it and just how LOVELY it is ...

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The last February weekly spread is split because March begins on a Thursday ... above is an example of one of the many inspiration pages found throughout the planner.

And next comes another pretty pair of pages, with one side for notes. I decided to make this my spot for Spring Cleaning notes, and as you can see I have only just begun to plan it out - beginning with a post-it note outline ...

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(I begin so many things with post-it notes ... what would I ever do without them?)

And now here is the March calendar spread:

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The blocks are a bit small, but I found it comfortable to write all the things I need to write here. (It helps of course that I have tiny handwriting.)

And now here's the first weekly spread in March:

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On the left there is a soft green note page which I'm using for "Vernal Equinox" planning, and on the right, the second half of the first week of March. (Also, note - at the very top of each right-hand weekly page I'm writing out our weekly seasonal theme. This way I'm able to find a week I'm looking for in a jiffy!)

Isn't the green and cream palette just perfect for March?

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Each month is similar, in that, the colors and illustrations match the feel of the season perfectly.

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(You can see more page examples at the publisher's site here.)

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And though you can hardly see it in my pictures, the planner paper (which is very smooth and lovely to write on) has a very faint quad-grid - which is SUPER helpful for those of us who appreciate a little help with keeping our handwriting straight!

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Ok, the very last week in March features a small note space where Sunday would be (because that Sunday is APRIL 1st!) and then the next turn of the page leads to another one of those wonderful inspiration spreads  ...

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And then we are in April!

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(This note page is where I'll be writing out Easter Sunday plans.)

So as you can most likely tell I am very much head-over-heels in love with this Katie Daisy planner! I would really like to use it exclusively because it feels so simply sufficient - and E-fficient - but most of all, it's so very ME. I've toyed around a little with trying to make it meet ALL my planning needs - but alas, I have an awful lot of those and it would be a rare planner indeed that would be able to accomplish that!

So with that pronouncement, I turn to my next planner - my Day Designer!

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So this is my 2017-2018 midyear flagship Day Designer - a daily planner (with monthly calendars included) that runs from June 2017 through May 2018. I now only have a few months left to use in this planner and I can honestly say I've used just about every (daily) page!

The monthly spreads however, I don't really use ...

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... though they're great! And since I hate to waste planner space, I've been trying to come up with other uses for this spread. I think I might keep a reading log here! :)

Here though is the meat of this planner ...

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The daily planning pages! There is one for each day of the year (although weekends share a page) and the layout it absolutely perfect for my daily planning needs. Here's today's page for example:

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I took this picture quite early in the day so I hadn't earned too many checks! As you can see I use this page for essential information pertaining to just that one day. Things I need to remember, and do, and places I need to go. If I was paring down to only one planner, this would be a hard one to do without. It's not as portable or endearing as my Katie Daisy planner, but it is a real workhorse when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of managing my family and home every day!

For more about this particular planner, please see my Day Designer archive here, but now let's take a look at my homemade seasonal planner ...

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This too is a planner I've shown you many times before, but here are the March pages:

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The very first pic at the top of this post shows you the charming divider paper I use for each month in this planner (part of this collection), and above is the back side of that sheet (left) and the March title page I created using some vintage clipart I found on Pinterest (right).

And now here is my homemade March calendar spread ...

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When I made up this planner, I made sure to give myself PLENTY of room for monthly planning! I wanted to be able to add stickers and quotes and all kinds of information (days of note, full moons, weekly themes and ideas). And lined calendar blocks were an absolute necessity!

This month I went with a Beatrix Potter theme, and used colored pencils to softy shade in the quotes. So it's different from my Katie Daisy monthly calendar in that I'm able to include much more information - and yet they both appeal to me visually. And they both make me happy!

Now moving on to my next spread you'll see I have YET ANOTHER monthly calendar here! But this one I use specifically for menu planning. Or nature notes, depending on my mood. (It will be the latter this month so I haven't yet written anything down. I've found I can't really plan out a whole month's menus at a time - too impractical. It's a week-to-week thing for us these days.)

And on the right hand side of this spread I have a monthly overview page for to-dos, home and garden notes, seasonal ideas and goals ...

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I had hoped to have this spread filled out to show you but alas - I have not had the time! (Probably spent it all working on those monthly calendars, right?!)

And here is the weekly overview and agenda for next week, the first week in March (2/26-3/4):

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This is also still a work in progress - I just filled in things that quickly came to mind yesterday and will work on it more over the weekend. The post-it note is our weekend to-do list which I will use when I fill out the next week to-dos. (Whatever doesn't get done over the weekend + whatever needs doing next week!)

I like to start my "next week planning" on Thursdays, though I very often end up scrambling to pull it together over the weekend. Ideally if I begin my forward planning at the end of a week, that gives me the weekend to gather resources and prep materials and devote a little more attention to writing out actual lesson plans. The page on the right-hand side of this spread is for these details.

(Note: I plan "lessons" - or better to say, "learning activities" - for my younger two boys. Four year old Little Bear is doing pre-k and 16 year old Earlybird, who has autism, is working at various grade levels. We are blessed to have two wonderful ABA therapists, who come for two hours each (four hours a day, Monday through Friday) to work with Earlybird on all kinds of things. It's up to me to plan and organize most of these activities - which target all kinds of learning and growing experiences: life skills, behavioral management, sensory challenges, community outings, etc. It's a lot of work for sure, but extremely rewarding and it has been a super fit for our son!)

Happily I'm able to coordinate many activities that will appeal to, and include, both of my younger boys - and to an extent, the whole family. My ongoing goal is to weave our seasonal homeschooling themes into as many aspects of learning and living as I can!

So for example, next week, the first week in March, we will be exploring the theme of "thaw/melt/sap," and here are a few of my thoughts ...

Late February and early March is maple sugaring season in New England! A time when the daily temperatures might reach 50Β° while the nights still dip below freezing. When this happens the earth begins to thaw and the sap begins to run - and local sugarhouses open up to visitors! To my mind, this is a wonderful, and most welcome, first sign of spring! And according to my Weather Channel app, next week looks to fit the bill rather nicely, temperature-wise ... so we'll observe the concept of "melt" and "thaw" here at home and of course, try out some "maple" recipes. In addition, our homeschool group has an annual maple sugaring activity and whether or not that falls in our "sap" week, we'll definitely be participating (as we try to every year)! We'll also observe the Full Sap Moon on Thursday night - just after we enjoy a special St. David's supper (potato-leek soup, Welsh Rabbit and daffodil cake). These are all things we've seen/done/eaten before, but happily embrace their familiar and instinctual joy every year. :)

After all the March weekly spreads, I have a page for a month's end review as well as planning pages for special events such as the Vernal Equinox shown here ...

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My entire planner can be found in my printables archive, but I am working just as hard as I can - which means in fits and starts when I find time! - to make this into something I could publish and sell to interested parties. I thank you all for your patience, and will hopefully have something to share with you before too long (or at least, before the academic year begins!). In the meantime, feel free to help yourself to those free printables and let me know if you have any questions!

Well, now - I'd say it's about time for me to wrap up! But I thank you, as always, for stopping by and I wish you all a very nice weekend. Thanks so much for reading and please leave me a comment if you have a moment! I can be terribly slow at responding, but please know I read (and appreciate) each and every comment!

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... see you here again very soon!


Mitten Strings for God, Ch. 12: One-on-One Time

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! Thank you for joining me as we continue to (slowly) work our way through the wonderful Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison - my favorite parenting book of all time! Presently we are on chapter 12, the focus of which is providing our children with "one-on-one time." I am quite eager to hear your thoughts on this particular parenting concept - because maybe you, like me, struggle with this, just a bit?

So I have to admit, I was a little nervous approaching this topic. Well, perhaps "nervous" isn't quite the right word for it - more like, reluctant? Because this is one of those family values that I know in my heart is important, but is not currently a priority in our family. (Not that it shouldn't be a priority, it just isn't right now.) Spending alone time with each of our kids is one of those rather hopeful ideas that (unfortunately) often gets left off the to-do list ... along with "buy local," "exercise more," and "plan more date nights with Bill."

There are valid reasons why we can't seem to manage this kind of activity on any regular basis - we are busy, we are tired, we are stretched thin, our third son's special needs make it challenging to leave him home with others - but I know in my heart we could do this if we tried, and we should do this. Because time is a wonderful gift for a child, especially when we make it all about him. β€

Now, don't get me wrong - we are with our kids a great deal (we do homeschool after all!), but we're hardly ever alone with any one of them, individually. At least not in the way described in this chapter, or the way I envision other, more active families do ... going on random outings and taking fun, spontaneous adventures.

So you can see why I wasn't all that eager to dig into this chapter since I knew it would pinch a little - highlighting, as it would, the kinds of meaningful things we're not doing for our children - and, honestly, who relishes the thought of adding another heap of parenting guilt to their plate?

And yet, I dug in anyway! And of course, I found the chapter ... wonderful. (As all the chapters are!) Because even when the truth is uncomfortable, it's good to just face it so we can start figuring things out ...

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*<

I think it was easier to do "one-on-one time" when all my children were small, back when life seemed to move at a slower pace and we all followed the same schedule. Time is more structured these days, and we're all going in different directions, but that doesn't mean we can't work with what we've got, right?

This quote was an a-ha moment for me:

"Now, some years later, one-on-one time takes different forms." (p. 80)

I love to remember all the sweet things we did with our boys when they were little (though not necessarily one-on-one) but sometimes I think it's too easy to slip into nostalgia and dwell on the fact that those times are over. Aw, remember when we used to sit on that stone wall and just watch the ants? Well, these are new days, and things are different now, but why can't "new and different" make memories that are just as meaningful? We're the same family, and these are the same (albeit taller and busier) kids.

"Given our other obligations and the length of our to-do lists, it is all too easy to forget the good stuff - namely, how much we like our own kids as people." (p. 81)

Bottom line, spending time together one-on-one can be tremendously fun and rewarding. And it's important too, if we want to connect with our kids outside the role we play in our families - not just as "Mom and Son" (or Daughter, as the case may be), but as complex, creative and curious human beings. Sure, to my boys I am - and will always be - "Mom," first and foremost, but that doesn't mean that's all I am in my life.

"When we do recognize our children in this way we also invite them to see us more fully, not just as a parent but as another human being." (p. 82)

(Of course Little Bear just went through that phase when NOBODY was allowed to call me Dawn. I was Mama ... end of discussion.)

So as I read this chapter I tried to resist the urge to revisit all those old memories - lovely as they are - and instead thought, what about now? What's keeping us from doing this for our kids, and is it really all about time? Or is it perhaps a matter of perspective?

Because it may be clichΓ©, but it's true - so much of parenting is just being here now. Not trying to be where we were three years ago, and not hyper-focusing on where we might be three years from now, but embracing the season we're living at this moment ...

So maybe instead of working against the grain and letting our limits define us, why not find what COULD work for our family? Maybe change our way of thinking a little and think outside the box?

And as I started to brainstorm, I realized - hey, maybe we're not doing as badly as I thought! We may not be getting out for cafe dates and museum excursions, but we are spending some one-on-one time when and where we can, in our own humble-bumble way ...

Here are a few examples ...

As I began this post yesterday, Bill and Little Bear were outside, just the two of them, "cleaning out the hen pen." (Don't laugh! I'm going somewhere with this.) Now, in truth, LB was driving his trucks through the mud outside the pen, while Daddy was doing the actual shoveling out of the you-know-what, but LB chatted away about this and that and was just generally as pleased as all get-out. He and Daddy were doing their work ...

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... and there's nothing LB loves better than working with Dad!

So I started thinking back on a few other "one-on-one" times this week ...

I folded laundry while Earlybird tidied his bedroom across the hall and we brainstormed our Easter Dinner menu. (His idea, not mine, honest! The boy loves his holidays.) And when it's just the two of us up very early in the morning - while Bill's getting ready for work, and the rest of the boys are still asleep - we often end up watching the sunrise together. It's a very special thing, really - and it makes me so happy that EB loves things like sunrises and full moons and the smell of the air when the seasons are changing ...

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(This is us visiting EB's neurologist at Boston Children's Hospital one day. Bill was with us too, but it was special for EB to have Mom and Dad all to himself. And any drive into the big city is "an adventure" according to my kids - especially if we pick up take-out on the ride home!)

Last week I picked up Crackerjack from a class, and I had my van all to myself - and on that 20 minute ride home we talked about something that was bothering him. CJ's a great one for "car talks" ... and I was so glad we found a quiet moment to have that discussion.

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(CJ and I attending Mass alone together, one wintry morning.)

One day last week, Bookworm joined me in the family room where I was having my late afternoon tea and, while Little Bear played with Legos on the floor, we talked about recipes he'd found that he wanted to try. He's developed a real passion for cooking over the past couple of years, and we talk about recipes all the time!

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(Moving him into his college apartment, junior year. Not a one-on-one moment, but the only recent pic of the two of us together I could find!)

Now, spending time alone with Little Bear is very easy to do - because he's my baby and he's with his Mama 24-7! But it's good to remember to slow down and share a little joy - by singing together, playing together, building Legos, reading together (natch), or best of all, spending time in nature ...

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(This is a very old photo - he's about 16 months old here, and we were waiting for his brother to come out of class. A perfect opportunity to "connect!")

Now, not one of these moments described above were very flashy or outrageously fun, but in each there was a true sense of "togetherness" just the same.

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Moving on, I think just making the space in our calendar would be a good first step towards more conscious connecting - and so this is what a I did:

I simply took out my calendar for next week and penciled in the boys' initials!

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(I actually used pen - but it's erasable!) 

I just tried to see where it would be easy enough to spend a little alone time with each of my boys, and here's what I came up with:

R (Earlybird) - Drive over to drop CJ at class, and on the ride back, we can listen to his audiobook or maybe chat about whatever topic he's keen on at the moment. Stop in to mail something at the post office, another favorite activity of his.

O (Little Bear) - Bring him to the library while EB is working with his therapist. Just a quick trip to pick out some fun books to read together this week. So often we pull up to the library and one of the older boys runs in to drop a return or pick up a hold, and then we're on our way again - always on a tight schedule it seems.

L & J (Bookworm and Crackerjack) - Two birds, one stone! We'll leave the "youngers" with Dad, and swing over to the B&N cafe for a cuppa and maybe a new book splurge. (Driving practice there and back! I may make them listen to Mom's disco Pandora station!)

Another thing I'm going to do as I go forward is to not get hung up on ONE on ONE. Sometimes I'll just have to combine two kids at a time - this is just the way it has to be sometimes, especially in families with multiple kids. Sure they have to share me, but they don't usually mind that when we're doing something fun, like here in this memory from years ago ...

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(A ferry ride across Boston Harbor to meet Daddy for lunch! Goodness, just look at those babies!)

And not to turn my back on the advice I gave myself earlier in this post - to avoid mourning days gone by - but I do feel badly sometimes that I'm not as free as I was then to do these kinds of things with my younger two boys. No, it's a different kind of fun we're going for these days ...

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(And some days that's just making ourselves laugh silly over selfies!)

Because the thing is, due to EB's special needs and numerous therapy appointments, we usually have to stick close to home. But in this season, right now, that's where we're at. We're embracing slower days and simpler pastimes, like making crafts and baking goodies - as well as taking nature walks through the yard, feeding the birds or even just getting the mail! (It's a long driveway and there's lots to look at on the way!)

So yeah - mother guilt is always there for the taking, but I'm going to do my best to give it a pass and look for what works and make the best of things as they are. After all, isn't that a lesson I want my boys to take into their adulthood?

Don't let your limits define you!

Now, this post is getting very long, but I'd like to mention one more quote because it makes such a wonderful point: 

 "Mothers can get so caught up in the caretaking that we may overlook each child's need to be seen as an individual, with unique tastes and temperment and gifts." (p. 81)

I fully admit I can be guilty of this. Caring for my family is my full time job - and I'm devoted to it - but we all know there's more to "taking care" than just providing three squares and clean laundry. But the days are often filled with so many tasks and to-dos, it can be hard to make time for less immediate, physical needs. And sure, some kids just naturally (and necessarily) demand more of their parents than others - but I know each of my boys need me (and not just my housekeeping skills), in their own way. 

"Yet when we do that bit of extra juggling required to make a special, separate place for each child, the rewards are well worth the effort."

And what a sweet reward it is to connect with, and truly enjoy, our children. Practically speaking, it's such a smart investment of time that pays handsomely not just in the here and now, but in the future as well. Emotionally speaking, it's a gift - to them and me, both. This kind of time spent is never a waste, and I find when I do have a personal moment with one of my sons we both come away feeling deeply content. I can see it in their behavior and I feel it in my heart. If ever there was something essential to plan, this is it ...

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Well my friends, I'm going to let you go now, before I make a very long post even longer, but I thank you for reading and would love to hear from you too if you have time. All are welcome to join in on these MSfG conversations ... by leaving a comment here, or linking me up to something posted somewhere else, or sending me a blurb or a photo by email ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

We have many more Mitten Strings chapters to cover (18 in fact!) and at the rate we're going it will take us many months to finish! But of course finishing isn't the point ... savoring is! Although I'm sure you're all thinking: Why can't she just finish this post, lol?! 

So! Leave a note if you can, but as always, I wish you well and hope that we'll connect here agin another time. For now, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. If you're wondering what on earth that top photo has to do with this post - ha ha! -well, it is a picture of my tea spot as I started this post. I guess I forgot all about it! I'll have to do another post just about tea, another time. :)


Lent at Our House πŸ’œ

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! We are now two full days into Lent, and so that means ... this post was meant to have posted two days ago!

But - and stop me if you've heard this one before - such is the way this week is rolling. The boys have all come down with a cold and it's really gumming up the works around here. (Just a garden variety thing I'm pretty sure - no fever or body aches, thank goodness.) So classes are being missed, lessons are being skipped and our free time is being spent lolling around on the couch with a handful of cough drops, the tv clicker and tea ...

Anyhoo.

(It's rather ironic I felt compelled to give up "complaining" for Lent this year, because I feel like I've been more prone to it than ever lately ... and that's not normally my nature. Generally speaking, I'm very much a "glass is half full" kind of gal - but then maybe that's the point? Lent is a great time to work on one's weaknesses and address any negativity in one's life. So my strategy is this - each time I find myself complaining or feeling the urge to do so, I stop and think about (or ideally, write down) something to be grateful for right that very moment. I'm two days in and so far, I've surprised myself with how often this happens!

So in the spirit of (over?) sharing, I've gathered these beautiful blessings today ...

  • freshly brewed coffee
  • Burts Bees Honey Throat Drops
  • open windows
  • a good book to read at bedtime
  • the sound of the wind in the trees
  • daily behavioral support for my son

And now I'll add (in response to my opening paragraph) ...

The blessing of being at home, with my kids, allowing ourselves a low-energy day and working on things like this ...

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πŸ’œ

Temps were in the 50s today, so boy did it feel good to stand in an open front door while I worked on this wreath! It was, rather sadly, still dressed for the winter holidays so instead, for the new season upon us - I removed the red-berries-and-golden-bells garland, left the ecru lace ribbon in place and added a dark purple ribbon on top. Pretty plain, maybe - but pretty enough! On Gaudete Sunday (March 11th) I'll switch out the purple for soft rose and then on the Vernal Equinox (March 20th) I'll add some pale speckled eggs. When Easter arrives 12 days later there will also be a host of brilliant silk butterflies fluttering here. :)

In my top photo you can see the wreath on our front door as it opens into the foyer and the kitchen door beyond that upon which I hung our Lenten cross countdown (detailed in this post). You might note there are no fingerprints on the cross yet ... ahem ... and I might remind you that I saw that coming! Definitely going to be a weekend activity, that fingerprint thing. So on Sundays I'll invite the boys to add their colorful fingerprints in multiples as they think back on how their week went. (Easier for washing the ink off, as well - to just do it all in one go.) It's a little strange to see this doorway shut like this because the door to the kitchen is almost never shut! (The door to the left leads to the basement, in case you were wondering.)

Now, moving on through the door to the right (which is not in the picture, but is there all the same), we step into the living room where I set up our Lenten mantle today ...

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I kept it pretty simple as I usually do at this time of year. After removing all the winter items from last month, I wiped down the woodwork (carefully supervised by Archie) then set the following things along the mantelpiece:

  • a glass jam jar for collecting alms
  • our brass crucifix, draped with sheer purple ribbon
  • six tea-light candles, each set in a small grapevine wreath (one to be lit each Lenten Sunday)
  • a large pillar "paschal" candle, also set in a grapevine wreath - which will stand unlit until the Easter Vigil
  • a vase of freshly snipped forsythia branches (in hopes they'll bloom by April 2nd)
  • a plain brown butterfly box in which we've "buried" our alleluia ...

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For this I printed out the words "Alleluia Alleluia" on paper, cut them into a small strip and then we tucked that paper inside a small sack (a muslin mulling bag!). That sack was then placed inside the plain brown, butterfly-shaped box shown above. On Easter morning the boys will find the box open, and the sack empty. There will be, however, a beautiful banner strung across the grapevine cross hanging above the mantle, joyously announcing, the theme of the day: ALLELUIA!

Speaking of that cross ...

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We've had this cross for years and I'm fairly certain I bought it at Michaels Arts & Crafts. (I've seen similar ones at Amazon, but for WAY more than I paid! I think I paid well under $10.) True, it's a little worse for wear, with one or two broken vines now, but I adore it - nature and faith in one symbol - and use it pretty much year round. At this time of year, though, it plays a very special role!

Throughout Lent then, I start adding little bits of (silk) greenery and so the boys see this cross as very much "coming to life" as we near Resurrection Sunday. On Easter eve, before heading to bed - because NOBODY beats Earlybird when it comes to waking - I stuff this cross full of fresh, colorful blossoms. (I always buy an extra bunch of flowers just for this purpose. Nothing is blooming in New England in March and April except possibly for a few tender crocus!) Across the front of the cross, covering up those wooden letters, I hang the aforementioned Alleluia banner.

(Here's a peek back at the cross as it appeared on Easter morning, 2008!)

For now though, I love the "Be Still" phrase on this cross, which I added using a hot glue gun some time ago. It's a wonderful concept to teach children - to be able to slow down and just BE - but I find it especially fitting during Lent. In fact, I find myself using this concept of "stillness" as we talk about the sleeping earth and how we must wait for it to awaken ...

Right now, in the dead of winter, all seems very still. But it's good to be quiet and let the earth sleep - it needs it! Soon though, if we are patient and pay close attention, we will be rewarded with signs of new life!

I love how so much of the rhythm of nature ties in so beautifully with the traditions of our faith, and so I am quite pleased when I find resources to support this connection! Which brings me to this book ...

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Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter

Published in 2016, but new for us, I will be using this LOVELY resource with my younger boys this year. Soothing, peaceful, child-friendly ... infused with gentle connections and meaningful suggestions - this is already a new family favorite! πŸ’œ

Here are a few peeks inside:

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I just love how it explains Lent to children in a way they can easily understand, posing thoughtful questions and highlighting their own feelings ...

"I like to have nice things. I like to buy treats. And I like to eat my favorite foods. But not all the time. There are times for filling up and times for emptying out. Lent is a time for emptying, for sharing, for giving away. It is good to make space."

I have collected so many books through the years - for just about every season, holiday and feast you can think of - but I often find choosing Easter books for my children rather tricky. The story of the Cross is not an easy one for tender hearts, especially the very young and those with special needs. I might find a book appealing but fear it will frighten or confuse my younger boys. But while the true Easter story is right here in this book, I appreciate that it's done in a way that remembers its audience ...

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If you are looking for a new Easter read this year, I highly recommend Make Room. (If you couldn't tell by my glowing review, lol!) It's realistic and soft-hearted and wise ... and oh so lovely to look at! I feel it was $15 well spent. :)

(Because I've made it a goal this year to spend less on non-essentials, I did check my library system before "splurging" - but I'll admit I was relieved to learn they did not in fact carry a copy!)

Well my friends, I thank you for joining me and I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my home (and my reading basket!) as we begin our Lenten journey. I so love this time of year, a kind of "pre-spring" when winter is waning and hope is building, and we must muster our resolve and weather on through many dull and dreary weeks before LIFE returns to our world ...

Wishing all a peaceful Lent, however you spend it, and hoping to see you all here again soon! πŸ’œ

p.s. Mitten Strings Tea is coming but MAY not be up Friday afternoon as originally promised. I will do my very best to have it up by Sunday at the latest!


Our Lenten Cross Countdown ❀

Lent 1

Hello my friends and Happy Monday!

Today I am popping in to share what we're doing for Lent this year - because good grief! Ash Wednesday is THIS Wednesday! It catches me off-guard every year - even though I've had "work on Lent plans" in my planner since Epiphany! πŸ˜œ  Well, I'm keeping things pretty simple this year, though I am scanning back through my post-it notes with a purpose for some inspiration. I also shopped Pinterest for ideas and saw a couple of things I liked - a hanging paper-chain (because we are always up for a paper-chain in this house!) as well as a fingerprint-filled cross. I combined the two projects and this is what I came up with ...

Lent 1

The paper chain is filled with all the colors of Lent - as well as the last two days of Winter Ordinary Time, since my younger boys did *not* want to wait for Wednesday once they saw those links hanging on the kitchen door! So there are purple links for regular Lenten days, white links for Sundays, a pink link for Gaudete (Rose) Sunday, and three red links for the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). At the very bottom you also see - two green links for today and tomorrow! πŸ’š

It's probably pretty obvious what we'll do with this chain, but the plan is to allow one of the younger boys to remove one link for each day throughout Lent. But since they both LOVE to do this they will have to take alternating days and patiently wait their turn. Showing patience does not always come easy around here - going by Little Bear's tearful reaction this morning as EB won the "first link" coin toss - so this little sacrifice will work in nicely with the overall Lent theme. πŸ˜‰

Next I affixed the chain to the bottom of a plain white (posterboard) cross, and then added simple black stickers to spell out - PRAY FAST GIVE - the three main pillars of Lent. Now here's what I plan to do with that ...

Lent 1

I bought this multi-color ink pad at the craft store, and it has enough colors for each person in our family, if Mom and Dad share a color. Each evening at suppertime we will press our fingers on that pad and then add our own unique fingerprint to the plain cross on our door. (Little Bear will need to be lifted, natch!) These prints will represent our daily Lenten offerings, whatever they may be. (The boys will be welcome to share with the family or keep their actions between them and God.) In theory, we will do this each night but I know how "daily activities" tend to slide as time goes on ... so I'm prepared to do a weekend "catch up" if needs be. :) I also checked that the ink is washable since Earlybird is so sensitive to dyes and fragrance. I tried each of the colors on my own fingers and they all washed off readily.

I also made up a Lenten binder for myself (since I'm the designated cruise director on this here family ship!) and inside I have a page for each day throughout Lent with an idea of something easy to do or suggest to the boys.

Lent 9

Here are a few sample pages ...

Lent 7

Lent 9

Lent 9

There are so many wonderful Lent activity charts and lists readily available online and off, but in order to keep things as manageable and meaningful for my family as possible, I find it works best if I design our own unique plan. Basically I try to keep things simple, easily adjustable, and compatible with our interests and limitations. (Something that might work for us might seem silly to someone else, whereas an idea that makes sense for another family might be impossible for us to do with our special needs child.)

I've also been adding some small post-it notes when I get an additional idea for a certain day. For example, I remembered a book we had about Pope Francis that would be nice to read on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (Feb. 22nd). Also, I remembered the Full Sap Moon is rising on March 1st, St. David's Day, so I added a "family moon walk" for listening to spring sounds and feeling blessed by the turn of the seasons. 

I could have added these sheets to my main planning/home & family binder but since they are quite bulky and because I had an extra PURPLE binder on hand, I decided to make it a special book of its own. πŸ’œ  Filed in the remainder of the sheet protectors I have printouts from the library of all the books I want to request over the next several weeks, as well as a list of seasonal books we already own. (I spent the weekend unearthing those books from the basement!) I MAY also add coloring pages and/or craft projects/recipes as I have time to print them out ... but that seems a little ambitious at the moment, so we'll see how it goes!

(By the way, I originally thought to have our fingerprints kept in the binder, right on the daily pages, but then saw the cross craft on Pinterest and decided I liked that better. I think it will be nice for the boys to watch this rather plain cross "bloom" with our actions and be bursting with bright colors come Easter Sunday.)

The last part of our Lenten prep is to re-do our winter mantle ...

Winter mantle

But I have not gotten that done yet! I hope to work on this project tomorrow and will probably post "after" pictures at Facebook and/or Instagram. :)

Well, everyone, thanks so much for stopping by and if you have a moment, I hope you'll say hi! I will be back again later this week with our next Mitten Strings for God Tea and chapter discussion. (We are up to chapter 12 now, "One on One Time.") You can read more about that upcoming post here ... but either way, I hope you might join me! In the meantime ...

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... See you here again very soon!


Bits, Bobs & Mitten Strings ... ❀

Candle tea cup

Hello my friends, and Happy Monday Tuesday! I'm popping in today to share some Mitten Strings for God book study scheduling news, as well as a few other bits and bobs. :) I had meant to do this over the weekend, but alas ... life! And in particular, special needs parenting life. I won't get into the details of all that right now, but if I may ask for your prayers/good thoughts for Earlybird, who's having a rough time at the moment, I'd be sincerely grateful. β€

But on with the good stuff! First I'd like to share this quote from our next chapter in MSfG, "One-on-One Time" ...

MSfG quote bigger font

That is Little Bear of course, but the picture's a couple of years old. (It's weird that I can say that about his pictures now. Wasn't he JUST a couple of years old himself?!) It was taken during a woodsy winter solstice walk, and technically, it wasn't a "one-on-one" outing - because Bill was there, too! But I feel like this kind of picture represents the quiet times I spend connecting with LB apart from the bustle of everyday life. For this outing, we had left the noise and demands of the household behind us for a bit and it was a wonderful thing - to just focus on LB and his dear developing personality, to watch his funny expressions and listen to his very interesting thoughts. Young children have such a wonderful perspective on life, don't you think? And that's not to say I don't enjoy time spent with each of my boys, but I find myself alone with Little Bear most often these days. Spending one-on-one time definitely comes with more conscious effort as the kids grow older ... they get busy, and seem less enthralled with what their parents might have to say ... but more thoughts on all this at our next MSfG Tea!

And speaking of! Our next Mitten Strings for God study/tea will take place on Friday, February 16th. It's a bit later than I originally proposed, but I am trying to be very honest with myself about my free time - eg. how much I do and don't have! (Not nearly as much as I'd like but that's just the season of life that I'm in!) So please join me a week from this Friday for a wee chat and a winter's tea here at the blog. Let's talk about chapter 12, and the importance of making time for each of our children - while appreciating each of them for who they are. (As the mother of four sons I can honestly say that children are all just SO different, even same gender siblings raised in the very same way!)

Now, this might be a tricky chapter for me, because I don't think we (as in, Bill and I) do exceptionally well with this concept. As homeschoolers I think there's a bit of the feeling that "well, we spend tons of time together, anyway!" And special needs parenting comes into this, too - the demands it places on family life and the effects it has on maintaining balance - not to mention, sibling relationships. So I have some deep reading and thinking to do ...

As always, I'll be very eager to hear all of your thoughts on this, too! I invite you to send me those thoughts (with or without photo) or just chime in at the post itself. All are welcome to join this ongoing book study! (And at this rate we'll be talking about Mitten Strings all year!)

Now, while I'm here, I thought I'd share some photos from the past couple of weeks, beginning with Little Bear's first visit to the Lego Store ...

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Can you even believe how big he's getting? Granted, we're all crouched down around him, but he's truly getting quite tall. And the way he's talking has changed, you know? Even the way he walks is different now. It's a little heartbreaking how quickly time flies when our children are small ...

Well, about those Legos ...

Last fall, Little Bear - already a huge Duplo fan - discovered the extra-special magic of building with REAL Legos. Like the ones that BIG boys (and girls) build with. He's just four, so he's a bit young for such Lego building - they can be frustrating for little hands - but he's handling it pretty well and just loving all the creating and getting his biggest brothers (longtime Lego fans themselves) to help him out. I love this picture above because it's me with my Lego kids, big and small. And not to keep harping on the "time-flying" thing, but I swear those older boys were just the "little" Lego kids in my house. I certainly have the zillions of Legos to prove it - stashed in the attic AND the basement - not to mention the scars on my feet!

So since I'm now a bonafide 18 years + Lego Mom, I bought myself a minifig for my key ring ...

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That's "Rey" from Star Wars, in case you were wondering! :)

Now, here are some books from my "Deep Winter" basket ...

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Books that had gone MISSING because  - well, I'm not sure why they went missing. It's a bit of a mystery! Usually I'm very careful about our seasonal book collections, but somehow last year our Deep Winter and Early Spring bin got divvied up and the books ended up here and there in our basement. *GASP* Thankfully though, I found them all on Candlemas morning (Feb. 2nd) just in the nick of time to celebrate Groundhog Day!

But to back up a day, here are some pics from our February 1st, also known as "St. Brigid's Day," a lovely feast we enjoy celebrating each year ...

Butter

Firstly, by making our own butter! (St. Brigid, is patroness of Ireland and dairymaids.) This is that ol' marble-and-cream-in-a-ball-jar trick - the one the children think is SO cool until they realize just how hard and how long they have to shake that dang jar! (Mama gets quite an arm-workout on Brigid's Day, let me tell you!) We like to serve the smidgen of butter we end up making with our bread rolls at supper. Daddy always makes sure to be suitably impressed!

We also like to make a Brigid's Cross for this feast, a craft I've only in recent years gotten the hang of ...

Soaking rushes

We started with "rushes" from our yard. (Actually, dried ornamental grass, but they work!) Because the material was rather stiff though, we soaked them in snowmelt for about an hour before attempting to weave our cross.

(And note I said, "cross," not "crosses." Clearly we gathered enough grass to make several crosses, but in truth I overestimated the interest and energy levels of my children and their mama!)

Here's the end result:

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Now this was Brigid's Day morning ...

Muddy melty

Muddy, melty and the ground still smattered with snow ...

Ice

Not to mention ice once the temperature dropped! February can be a fickle month in New England, but mostly it's just cold and snowy ... and cold.

And YET ...

Eggs

Our hens have started laying again!! To me that's a sure sign spring is in the air ... or at least, in the amount of light we are getting every day. (Which has been increasing every day since the winter solstice.) I try to keep my senses very keen to the nuances of each season and I can tell you - the light is changing, and the bird song is different ... and yes, the air smells a little different on those drippy days. I feel certain that spring is stirring in the woods, underneath the half-frozen ground, deep inside those tough yet tender branches ...

Meanwhile, back inside ...

Archie in basket

Archie is purrfectly content (sorry, had to) soaking up the afternoon sun, spending his winter days in a cozy basket. Even when said basket is not meant for him (but rather, my books) Archie considers it fair game.

But really, how could I move him?

So instead I set up at the kitchen table a little to the left ... 

Cirtus week

And worked in my homemade planner to iron out some lesson plans for the week ahead. The current week's seasonal theme? Winter citrus ... :)

Last shot:

Daffs

My kitchen window yesterday morning. It was so bright and beautiful and the air was a balmy 40Β° ... I allowed myself to focus on these delightful daffs and those fresh eggs from my hens. It made washing dishes a little less of a chore and a bit more of a blessing ... I was home, I had my family to care for, and that sunshine was so good for my soul ...

Oh, and by the way - the first picture in this post is a shot of my writing desk, with a teacup candle I made for Candlemas. Very easy to do with a bit of beeswax and a simple wick ... I think I have a post that explains how this works somewhere here, hang on ...

Yup! Here it is. Same method, just a different vessel this year! :)

Well, my friends, I'd best be off now ... but I wish you all well and thank you, as always, for joining me! I hope you enjoyed these rambling thoughts and photos and I look forward to chatting once again in the not so distant future! For now though, enjoy these lingering winter days, and please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!