Advent Plans & Crafts Feed

Advent Tea, Week 4: Happy Hearts at Home

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday ~ Merry Christmas Eve! As I feared might happen this week, things just got too busy, and I didn't have time to finalize my post yesterday. But I'm here today - on this rainy and mild Christmas eve - to share with you one last cup of Advent Tea. For tonight we begin a most beautiful and blessed new season ...

"Blessed is the season that engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

In our final week of Advent my family continued our celebration of God's amazing creation. We had previously explored the wonder of earth and sky, the peacefulness of plants, the joys of wild (and not so wild) creatures and now, we aim closer to home. This week it's all about God's greatest creation - humankind - and the love He has for us - that we have for each other! So this week we relished our family being together and rejoiced in our beloved home ... while remembering the holiest family, their humble first home, and the noble journey that started it all ...

Let's start with a look at our Advent Garden. This was a really fun project and I am sure we will do this again next year ... remember how it started?

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In week one (earth & sky) we added pebbles (and later soil) and surrounded our garden (a shallow glass terrarium) with beeswax tealights. Well here is how it looks now as Advent comes to a close ...

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Soil was topped with moss from which frosted tiny trees soon sprouted ... then a pretty spotted deer appeared. And this week, up rose a cozy little neighborhood. 

(Note: I bought the trees, deer and houses at my local Michael's craft store. They were fairly inexpensive. The houses were plain but I spread the rooftops with a little white paint and added a few shakes of white glitter. The moss and pebbles came from our yard and the earth was found in a bag of potting soil parked in the garage. The candles I ordered through Amazon.)

Today I moved the Garden off the kitchen table (which will soon be set up for a Christmas buffet!) and into a small nearby alcove ...

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Above it I hung a pretty wooden ornament also embellished this week ...

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This was a very inexpensive wooden craft, one of several I've picked up this season ...

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I actually really love the look of unfinished wood, but the addition of a little white paint and glitter lends a soft and simple touch ...

A few more nativity scenes around the house ...

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This is a new lawn decoration this year! Bill and the boys "gave" me this as a gift last Christmas - but it took me till this fall to find one I really liked. We have this nestled beneath - appropriately enough - our family room windows. :)

Let's pop on out to the library and take a peek at the tree for a moment ... 

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Isn't this ornament gorgeous? You'll probably tire of hearing me say this but this is another treasure I found at Michael's. This was discovered in one of the boys' Advent pockets this past week.

And how about this one? :)

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I found this picture frame ornament up by the registers for a couple of dollars. So very pretty and perfect for a small family photo. I think I'd like to make this a tradition - add a new family picture ornament each year.

Speaking of ornaments, one of our crafts this past week celebrated our family members and what Mama loves most about each of them.  

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I started with a plain plastic ornament ball ... wrote our family names on small heart stickers and placed them all over the ball's surface ... and then filled the ball with colorful strips of construction paper. Each slip of paper was curled up tight, with a hidden message inside.

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I think this might also become a new family tradition ... :)

One more peek at the tree, a few new ornaments were added this week ...

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I found these pretty red glass initial ornaments at Target, and bought one for each of my boys. (The "H" is actually made out of cardboard or some such material.)

And since we're talking about my boys, here's a peek at our Christmas card this year!

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It's the first time we've done a collage and I rather like it! It was such fun to look back over all the photos from last year ... though it proved a shocking reminder just how quickly time has flown. We even added a couple of photos to the back - one of the chickens and one of the cats!

I absolutely adore Christmas cards, don't you? We display ours here on this door leading into the library ...

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Bill sets up the ribbons and then I attach the cards with tiny clothespins. I love to see this doorframe fill up! Visually, it's a wonderfully decorative spot - but also a lovely reminder of the friends and family we have been blessed with over the years.

And though we've been doing "photo cards" for years, I still love traditional Christmas cards. We always bought ours from a company called LANG, and when I spied some boxes of Lang cards at Joann's Arts & Crafts recently (marked down 60%!) I just could not help myself. I bought a few varieties for next year ...

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Switching gears now - because we haven't even talked about tea yet! Now, if you scroll way back up to the top of this post I showed you my teatime spread this week ... or, here it is again ... :)

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As you can see, I was in my glories at Tea this week, surrounded by all my boys. They were supposed to be helping me with neatening the tree - I bribed them with cookies! - while I sat down to look over my holiday notes. In my "Blessed" mug (a new favorite) I had a large serving of my preferred black tea with a lot of milk and a bit of sugar. The cookies are store bought, but were still gobbled up quickly! I had hoped to make Bill's grandmother's much-loved gingerbread recipe this week but that just did not pan out. (I'm going to try again at Epiphany.) So a box of "Gingerbread Family" cookies had to do. Thank you, Pepperidge Farms!

Yes, it is wonderful having our Bookworm home! I never sleep as well as I do when all my sons are home. The older boys do love to sleep in though if they are allowed ... but this morning we needed to get an early start so I made up a platter of cinnamon-sugar toast in hopes that the fond and familiar aroma would get them out of bed!

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Cinnamon-sugar is without a doubt, one of the best things in my kitchen. (Along with my fresh coffee beans and a large bottle of vanilla.) I grew up eating cinnamon-sugar toast made by my mum or grandma and its scent still says "cozy, home, comfort" to me. :)

It's little things like this that make a home feel warm and welcoming. Because a home is so much more than just walls and windows and a (hopefully) sturdy roof. Home is where our loves live ... it's where we come together to share our journey, our thoughts and our memories. We are nurtured and encouraged and accepted here. We are allowed to crave comforts and seek solace ... it's the place we can relax and rejuvenate and gather our strength when we once again face the world outside that front door ...

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Jane Austen had it right. Home is where it's at ... and that's that. :)

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Oh, and how could I forget? Here's another "Giveaway" sneak peek! January is a perfect month for letter writing - in fact, 1/23 is National Handwriting Day! So here are some pretty notecards to help you catch up on all those holiday thank-yous. :) And once the busy-ness of Christmas has past, time frees up again (in theory!) for leisurely pastimes like reading for pleasure ... how about a nice issue of Mary Jane's Farm? Both of these things will be tucked into that Winter Comforts Basket! :)

I am having such fun putting together this basket, and although only one reader will win it, I really wish I could send a little wintertime "comfort and joy" to each and every one of you. I am so grateful for you all - for all your support and kindness and encouragement over the years. I know most of us have never actually "met" in "real life" but I count each of you as my friends. I always look forward to hearing from you and I keep every one of you in my prayers. My wish for you on this beautiful Christmas eve morning is that your coming days are filled with the blessings of family and home, that you know friendship and love, good health and happiness, and that your new year will be an AMAZING one. I look forward to sharing 2017 with you all!

Now, before I go - I am still accepting teacup (mug) submissions! And I have several more friend posts stockpiled to share next week ... if you'd like to join the Giveaway contest, please send me a picture of your favorite mug - whatever you most enjoy drinking your tea (or coffee, cocoa, cider, etc.) from ... and you are entered. I will announce a winner on New Year's Eve - a week from today!

You can reach me at: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Next Friday I'll have a Christmas Tea of my own, but in the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful weekend. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and see you all here again very soon ...

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❤

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Hello and happy weekend, my friends! Welcome to another Advent Tea ... may I pour you a cup of something tasty and warm? :)

Well, our third week of Advent has arrived and the pink candle has been lit ... Oh Joy! And you know how they say "all good things come to those who wait?" Well, that old adage is perhaps never more true than during the season of Advent, because in these special weeks we are a people who wait and wonder ... enjoying the here and now, yet knowing there is a greater joy that lies ahead ... 

Which is why this mug seemed perfect for today's Tea ...

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:)

Now, I am not a patient person by nature, but like most moms I've had plenty of opportunities to work on developing this particular habit. I've learned that life is easier when patience is a daily practice, not just an admirable (if abstract) idea or something left to people with loftier ambitions and/or holier lives than mine. Patience is perhaps the greatest of all virtues when one is a parent ... and if I may so, especially when one is a special needs parent. (Progress can be slow ... perfection is overrated ... patience is essential.)

But whether we're born with a patient nature or not, the world-at-large rushes us all right along, urging us onward with its message of now-now-nowInstant, immediate, super fast results ... no waiting necessary!

If we're aware of this influence we can recognize when it is affecting us falsely or adversely. It's good to pause and ask, whose time clock are we following anyway? Sometimes time is of the essence, but it's important, I think, to remind ourselves to appreciate the here and now ... to savor the wait if you will. Learning to be patient is an excellent exercise in humanity - and humility - and I think one of the greatest teachers of patience (aside from our children!) is nature. As you all know I love nature! I respect its cleverness and consistency. It doesn't rush ... it always has a plan. A plan that has worked for ... well, eons. It glories in every turn of every season, knowing everything happens in its own time ...

"Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Case in point - yesterday was brutally cold with temps barely in the teens, and this morning it's snowing! It's the Saturday before Christmas ... and the weather is just not getting on board with my to-do list! But admittedly, it is doing my spirit a world of good. Because it's been a long - and, frankly tiring - week. We've all been running here, there and everywhere, getting our busy-ness accomplished. But now nature is advising me to sit back and take it slow. Leave the errands for later. Breathe in, breathe out ... maybe let Amazon Prime do the leg work today.

Even my page-a-day calendar is sending me a message ...

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So, ok. Balance is necessary. We can't always rush and we can't always lag ... managing my time and energy accounts is an-going #lifegoal for me! 

But ... that's a topic to explore further, in the new year perhaps. For now, let's get back to the here and now. We're deep in Advent, halfway through December, and it's snowing ... I'm happy in a well-insulated snow globe today. :)

Here's a look outside my window this morning ...

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

As I've been describing, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation ... because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us. So in our first week of Advent we explored the wonder of earth and sky, and in the second week it was the serenity of plants and trees ... and this week we are finding joy in the beautiful wildlife with which God has graced our earth ...

And as we've ambled along our journey, our Advent Garden has slowly been coming to life ...

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Stones and soil were topped with moss and trees ... and now we spy a pretty deer in this tiny forest. Meanwhile, outside there is much evidence of creation all around!

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We've been enjoying a snowy December here in New England and the boys have fun checking for tracks left behind by the creatures who call our habitat home. Mostly it's the usual suspects, but you never know ... sometimes there's something new to investigate!

Now from my pictures you can probably guess we live in a woodsy area, and that's true. We live next to a state forest and our town, while suburban, has old agricultural roots. Our own property is not quite a farm per se - though we are sort of heading that way! This past spring we began keeping hens and I must tell you - they just bring us such joy! The fresh eggs are wonderful, but our girls are such dears ...

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I do relish my "farm chores" such as they area ... walking out to the hen pen to bring them food and checking their water. 

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Good morning, pretty girls!

And how fun to gather eggs with my fellas ... we're still getting several eggs a day even though we were warned they would stop for the winter. Not sure what our girls' game plan is but we're thrilled with our daily harvest!

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I love to tour the corners of our yard and I especially love the mornings when the sun is just rising in the east ...

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Those are my neighbor's horses - aren't they lovely? They also own three goats, six dogs, a flock of ducks and lots of chickens! They are the very nicest people, too. I took this picture yesterday morning as I was visiting the hens. I was channeling a little bit of Tasha Tudor here, walking about my own homestead and tending to my critters, the domestic and the wild. (Only I was in a parka and pajama pants ... not quite Tasha's pretty red cloak!)

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We regularly set out several types of food - black oil seed, suet cakes and nyjer seed for the finches. We use a variety of feeder designs - both tubes and trays - and I throw out seed on the deck every day ...

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Yes, my beloved squirrels get fed right alongside their feathered friends - I don't play favorites! (Well, except when it comes to predators like hawks, owls and foxes. Those creatures I shoo off as best I can.)

But speaking of Tasha Tudor, this is a page from the beautiful book, Forever Christmas, the chapter called, "The Animals' Christmas" ...

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This is a wonderful book, full of old-fashioned goodness and gentle reminders to slow down and let nature be our guide. Tonight we're watching the video Take Peace, which is a tour of Tasha's Corgi Cottage at Christmas. And then perhaps we'll catch the latest episode of "The Great American Baking Show." (Anyone else watching that?) 
 
So yes, there is much joy in creation to be found, all around us and even right in our own backyards - but it's awfully bitter today so let's head back inside! I'm greeting you in the kitchen, wearing my favorite winter apron, a gift from my parents ...

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I find such joy in cooking for my family, especially in preparing seasonal foods! And though I love baking from scratch, sometimes you just have to cut a few corners, right? For example ...

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Last Tuesday was the feast of St. Lucia and once again I did not make the traditional saffron buns as I'd hoped to - BUT! I did throw some cinnamon rolls into a tube pan, baked them, glazed them, decorated them, and then set them aflame. Voila - feast day morning joy!

More joy in our week ... Earlybird celebrated his 15th birthday on Wednesday! Yes, this little boy is now FIFTEEN years old ...

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(That was a book about trains, his FAVORITE subject. He was very happy to receive a couple of books about the planets as well.) And I thought this birthday card was rather fitting - true in every word but also, such a lovely woodland design!

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Ok, since I'm keeping you so long, how about another cup of something hot?

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Snow days call for cocoa, don't you think? Tea soothes me, coffee revives me ... and cocoa brings me joy! And ding-ding-ding ... this is another one of those giveaway gifts! Yes, there will be a tin of this "Warm Me Up Chocolate & Cream Cocoa" in my Winter Comforts Basket! (More giveaway details at the bottom of this post.)

Oh, and that pretty blue notebook sitting beneath the tin?

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There will also be one of these in that giveaway basket! I have strong opinions on notebooks, and this is a notebook I just love! It's so nice to write in - smooth paper, soft lines - with a solid spiral-binding. I also have a pink one (that says, "Create a little magic everyday") that I'll use for a new diary project, but I use this particular blue notebook for my "to-dos, weekend plans and projects." I know I've been asked to post a little more about how I use this notebook and I will ... soon. :)

But since we're talking about notebooks and planners for a moment, let me give you a quick glimpse at a new planner I picked up recently ...

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(If you're thinking I might have a bit of a planner problem ... well, you might be right.)

I found this Woodland Tales planner at Barnes & Noble - it was the last one on the shelf, but I've also seen it online. I liked the layout and just could not resist the charming design! It's a smaller size - nice for the pocketbook - and it's specifically for week-at-a-glance planning. This will be used in addition to my Day Designer and my master planning binder ... and all that too, will be blogged about after the holidays!

Now, getting back to Advent, how about a look around our Christmas room (aka the library) where a woodland theme reigns ...

Starting with the children's nativity set where "all creation waits ... "

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You can just imagine the kinds of stories that get played out in this corner!

This display is set up on a table behind our loveseat and stretched out along the wall behind that is one of my favorite Christmas books, Woodland Christmas ...

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A lovely (and long) fold-out book that tells the tale of the animals preparing for Christmas. It is an Advent countdown too - with flaps on one side and labels for all the creatures on the other. I highly recommend this book if your children love animals! The drawings are soft and pretty but quite realistic.

Now our Christmas tree has a woodland theme going as well ...

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A ribbon of gold encircles the whole tree - featuring a holly-bedecked red squirrel! - as well as several strands of wooden cranberries. We've collected woodland ornaments since we were first married and some of these ornaments we've had for many years. (The birds above are from when I was little!) The reindeer lantern was new this year, though - the boys found it in one of their Advent pockets last week. :)

Even my daily Advent reading has a nature theme this year ...

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All Creation Waits - the very theme of our Advent! - has been a wonderful read so far. Every chapter (25 in all) presents a short meditation on one of God's creatures as it adapts for the long cold winter ahead - never fearing the darkness, knowing there is a new beginning ahead. Accompanied by gorgeous woodcut illustrations ... these reflections are certainly a new take on Advent, but they resonate deeply with me. 

And while we're speaking of books - I am so thrilled for this one! I stumbled across it at B&N yesterday ...

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Yes, a little early Christmas present to myself! Earth Psalms is a weekly devotional reflecting on how God speaks to us through nature. I am beyond excited to read it this year and I don't even feel badly I splurged on myself! (It was 50% off!) Now, I did offer to wrap it up and place it under the tree, but Bill let it slide ... ;)

Another early gift, this one from my husband who knows how much St. Francis means to me ... 

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Such a lovely wooden rosary bracelet. Something comfortable - and comforting - to wear every day. :)

Now, before I go (and yes I am planning to wrap this huge post up!) I'd like to share pictures of my very favorite animals of all - our cats, Archie and Oliver. It gives me such satisfaction and true joy to care for these two sweet boys ...

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Oliver by the heating element, tucked behind the loveseat in the library ...

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And Archie, snuggled up next to the chimney in the dining room. :)

**

Well my friends, as always I thank you for stopping by and I leave you with my wish that each of you are filled with joy, wherever you might find it. I hope your weekend brings you the rest and relaxation you need ... snow or shine, whatever challenges you might face, whatever comforts you crave ... may your time be full of the things that mean most. :)

I'll be back again on Monday - we've a week more of Advent Teatimes to go! I may even double up some of our friends as more readers share their cups with me ...

But oh, yes! So about that giveaway ...

At the start of the year I will be sending out a "Winter Comforts Basket" to one lucky reader. This basket will be filled with little random seasonal comforts and joys. I've been giving you "sneak peeks" each week during my Friday tea posts, and there will be one or two other surprises, as well. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite cup or mug - whatever you use to drink your beverage of choice in the cold winter months. Please email me your picture(s) with description here ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I will share your submission in one of my daily teatime posts and then on New Year's Eve I will announce a winner!

I hope to hear from you! In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 2: Plants & Peace

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday!

And what a fine Friday this is - beautifully bright if perhaps a little colder than is seasonably acceptable in these parts. ***brrrrr*** Still, it's one of those days that make being cozy at home seem all the more wonderful. Well, whatever the weather, I'm so glad to be here and share a cup of something hot and happy with you all ... to slow down for just a moment and catch up. It's hard to believe, but we're making our way through our second week of Advent now, and I hope the season is unfolding in a way that feels right and good for you and your family. I also hope you've all been enjoying our daily "tea with friends" posts! I am very grateful to all who have shared their cups (and thoughts) with us so far this month ... and so pleased there are many more to come!

So this week in my own family's Advent journey we are finding peace in the natural world around us - in trees, plants, and the spices and herbs that are special to this sacred season. We began on Sunday, St. Barbara's Day, with an easy little craft, preparing a small vase to hold our feast day branches. (Legend says that branches snipped on December 4th will bloom come Christmas morning ... this has never failed us before!)

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The vase is an inexpensive terra cotta pot I purchased at the craft store. I spread glue on the sides and wrapped the bottom section with twine and then, using a hot glue gun, covered the upper rim with cloth floral stickers. (Bill sealed the little hole in the bottom of the pot with hot glue so it would hold water.) Next we added forsythia branches from the yard and a few pretty (craft) pine cones just to anchor those branches (and add visual interest). I think it came out very pretty! We'll be making a few more of these for teacher gifts this year ...

But now, about today's Tea ... :)

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Actually, today we're enjoying a hot winter wassail instead of my usual tea. It's easy enough to make your own, but this bottled blend from Trader Joe's is very yummy and quick to prepare. Just heat it up and - voila! - a hot cup of Christmas cheer at the ready! I floated an apple slice on top for an extra bit of fun ...

Would you care to join me in a cup? A little something sweet and spicy to warm us as we walk through my frosty gardens?

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The above photos were taken after an overnight snow, when everything was crunchy icy. Yes, I think we might be in for a white Christmas if this cold and active weather pattern holds over the next couple of weeks! We still have our "mild" days though, and so after yesterday's thaw, we harvested some moss from the stone wall ...

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... to add to our indoor Advent Garden. :)

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As I described in this post, we are rejoicing in God's glorious earth throughout Advent. One of our rituals is the tending of an indoor Advent Garden and we're reveling in the anticipation, slowly building up our tabletop terrarium with a new layer of life each week. Last week we added stones and soil, while this week we added some plants (the aforementioned moss) ...

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Oliver thought this was a GREAT idea.

And the boys found things in their Advent pockets this week that also reflected our theme ... a poinsettia, peppermint candy, fresh mint and evergreen sprigs. Each item symbolized a simple activity or treat or outing ... something to channel some of that wonderful Advent energy!

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Oh, also here in the kitchen - a new bottle of hand soap on the counter. This is such a little thing but I just love changing up the sink soap with the season. :)

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In New England, a touch of frost, a sprinkling of snow and the hint of spices in the air ... these are all hallmarks of the Advent season! Clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, citrus, apple and cranberry ... these are the "inside plants" we're exploring this week. As you see below, I brought out the mortar and pestle so the kids could try grinding some whole spices ...

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I'll be perfectly honest, this activity lasted all of two minutes. Not that it didn't appeal wildly to the younger boys, but the whole "hitting things with a marble wand" was getting a little out of hand. (Straying from the bowl to the table, fingers, etc.) Still, it was a fun activity and the kitchen smelled really good. :)

Soon I'll be starting fruitcakes ...

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... and we'll be filling small muslin bags with a mulling spice blend I purchased. These will be given as gifts along with fresh apples and pretty mugs. And speaking of pretty mugs ...

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Isn't this cup lovely? It is a very generous size and the golden letters spell out PEACE ... with snowdrops and winter greenery all around. I can see myself using this all season ...

AND .... if you enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway ... you might be enjoying it too! This mug will be one of the goodies tucked inside that basket. :)

Before we go, let's talk books and planners for a moment ... two favorite subjects of mine! Here are some of the reads we're enjoying this week ... 

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The bottom two are for the boys (still waiting on a few library requests to come in) and the rest are for me! :)

I'm taking some time this week to revisit one of my favorite author/illustrators, Tasha Tudor. I find such comfort and inspiration in her work - her children's books are family favorites - but I especially admire the way she lived her life. Not that we could all live quite as "off grid" as she did, but there is a lot to be said for "unplugging and slowing down" ... not just at Advent, but in any season. Forever Christmas was a gift from my dad many years ago, who bought this book in Tasha's home state of Vermont. I also absolutely love losing myself in the video, Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas. In this pile there is also a book of Christmas poems (a wonderful rec from my friend, Gill), my daily Advent read, and a fascinating little book about the folklore and tradition of Christmas plants.

I keep this pile of books stacked in a hopeful fashion beside my favorite reading chair ... I've been determined to find a little reading (and resting) time every day. :)

Late in the afternoon, with the sun heading for bed quite early, I took my cup of wassail to the library, so I might sit at my writing desk and get to work on our Christmas cards ...

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Yes, I am just that selfish enough that I need not one, but two desks, lol! The one in the family room (where I am sitting at this very moment) is for my computer and file crate and bill basket, etc. The white window writing desk you see above I keep for ... well, writing! It feels just a little bit "Jane Austen" to sit down at this desk and pen a chatty bit of correspondence to a friend. In January I will share a more thorough post on this happy writing corner ... as I get my holiday thank-you notes in order!

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Now in this "aerial" photo I spy two more small items that will pop up in that Winter Comforts Basket! A small tin of Trader Joe's body butter - just lovely for dry winter skin - and a small monthly purse planner (though in a different print than the one shown here). Fun little things to bring a smile to your winter days ...

Speaking of planners - parked here is my Day Designer and as I mentioned on Instagram last night, I don't usually do much with stickers and whatnot, but I found some very pretty ones at Paper Source this past week and I had to indulge. That washi tape especially is just SO so pretty. 

**

Well my friends, I will wrap up for now, but I hope you enjoyed our time together, sharing another cup of Advent Tea! I have several friends lined up to share tea with you all again next week (every day at 4:00!) and then I will return again on Friday with another longer post. Next week our family's Advent theme is "Joy in the Woodland."

Remember, if you'd like to join us for Advent Tea please send me a picture (or pictures) of your favorite cup by email: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com. I'd love to hear about your cup and any other Advent thoughts you'd like to share! Your pictures will be featured in a daily teatime post and you will be entered in my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway. I'll announce a winner on New Year's Eve and send the basket out shortly after the new year begins. :)

For now though, I will wish you all a wonderful weekend and as always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

See you here again very soon!


Celebrating Advent with Older Kids ... ❤

Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

I'm back to talk a little more about Advent, and what I'd like to discuss today is the topic of celebrating the season with older kids ...

I was inspired by a recent comment from Michelle P., whose three boys are almost exactly the same ages as my older three boys:

I am determined this year to try to do more with my older boys to celebrate Advent. I have a huge binder of ideas (crafts, foods, and activities) that we did when they were younger. I have pulled the binder out and I am pouring over the ideas. It brings such fond memories of when they were young, however I am at a loss for ideas now that they are older. Do you have any suggestions? My boys are 21, 17, and 15.

So Michelle's question got me thinking ... 

I happen to be in a fortunate place right now, with my kids spread out in all age brackets - we have a little guy (3), a middle guy (our 14 yo with autism is still very young developmentally), a high schooler (17) and gulp an adult son (21). When I'm planning out Advent activities I do try to think of the whole family, but so many of my projects are geared towards the younger two. They're the ones who have all kinds of energy to spare and are really looking for something to do every day ... that's not to say however that my older boys don't take pleasure in the Advent atmosphere and partake in the fun now and then!

When thinking about how I hope my older boys view Advent ...

I want them to experience the season with a lightness of spirit and a subtle thrill of anticipation. I want them to be open to letting go of the outside world a little and spending more time with their family, at home. I want them to understand the deep satisfaction of gift-giving and the true beauty of giving non-material things ... and/or items that have been made by hand and with love. I'd like for them to make room in their hearts for faith and trust ... and wonder. And I want their memories to be filled with good smells and yummy flavors, comfort and quiet joy ... and lots of love around them.

(There I go again with those lofty goals, lol!)

Since most older kids spend the bulk of their day busy with educational and/or work things -  whether they be in traditional school or homeschooled - then you'll probably want to plan your activity time for evenings and weekends. My Crackerjack, a high school junior, has a pretty decent-sized work load and is in outside classes several days each week. I try to plan projects he can be part of for the days when I know he (and we) will have more time at home. Also, Bookworm will be returning home after he finishes exams, so needless to say that will be an extra special time for all of us. I try to take these things into consideration when planning out our Advent activity calendar.

So below are some ideas for involving the older kids in our Advent journey - I've been jotting them down for the past couple of days and I fear I've gotten a bit carried away. Yet I'm sure there are many things I haven't thought of! Dear readers, if you have some ideas for older kids participating in and celebrating Advent, I would love to hear them! Please leave a comment and I will add your thoughts to my post. This would be a great resource to grow over the years ... :)

  • How about choosing a multi-chapter book to read over Advent? Something the whole family will enjoy? It could be read aloud by one or more family members or perhaps you all might listen to an audiobook. (Add extra pillows and throw blankets to the family room - create a cozy, relaxing atmosphere!)
  • Perhaps each family member could take a turn finding a quote, verse, song lyrics or a bit of Scripture to share each day? This would be fun to do with a chalkboard placed in a central location, spruced up with some holiday flair.
  • A nice family table tradition is to read aloud any holiday cards that arrived in the day's mail. Together say a prayer for the sender's health and happiness.
  • How about encouraging the kids to send Season's Greetings of their own? They could pick out a package of cards (available any and everywhere these days) and mail them off to surprise friends! Elderly relatives, especially, would delight in receiving messages of good cheer.
  • Maybe older kids would enjoy actually making the family Christmas cards this year? Leave it all up to them - organizing photos, choosing a design, creating artwork. Encourage them to begin early, though!
  • Surprise community workers and volunteers (think post office, school offices, library, fire station, etc.) with home baked goodies one day.
  • Revisit favorite tv shows as a family - for us it might be Northern Exposure, Downton Abbey, Sherlock or Fawlty Towers (an old British comedy). I find my older boys more willingly join us for evening television if there are some yummy refreshments involved!
  • How about surprising them with a dinner out one night at a new restaurant you've all wanted to try?
  • Ask one or more of your kids to join you on a neighborhood walk after supper - admire the lights and decorations around the neighborhood.
  • For active families, a day of skiing, skating, snowboarding or sledding would be great fun.
  • What about taking a family hike at a local nature spot? Find out if there are workshops, programs or guided walks available. Here in Massachusetts, the Audubon sanctuaries are a perfect place for this kind of experience.
  • Plan a shopping excursion as a family - how about splitting up (or pairing up) to buy secret gifts for each other?
  • There are plenty of parish and community events to check out at the holidays (tree lightings, Christmas pageants and concerts, outdoor nativities, etc.). Look in your local papers and church bulletins. Or call town hall!
  • How about taking a train ride somewhere? This could be a transit ride into the nearest city to soak in a little of that holiday "hustle and bustle?" Pick up some goodies and a hot beverage for the ride back ...
  • Help your kids use their Advent season for giving of themselves. They can offer their time and talents where there is need - how about reading aloud to nursing home residents or spending an hour playing with shelter animals? Encourage teens to call around (nursing homes, children's hospitals, homeless shelters and animal shelters) to see what is needed. Then brainstorm and organize as a family!
  • Can the kids offer to help an older relative or neighbor around the house? Does Grandma do Christmas dinner every year? Could she use a hand with vacuuming and hauling out dishes? Could the kids offer to help with yard work or putting up a tree ... could young drivers run holiday errands for those who are more housebound these days?
  • Babysitting services! How about offering a few hours of child care to help out busy parents? 
  • What about organizing a holiday play? The kids can write up a story and assign lines to each family member. The play to be performed at the extended family Christmas gathering ...
  • And what about organizing a holiday party for their friends? Something festive but informal - good food and movies or music. A community service project to work on together? How about creating cards and/or packages for soldiers?
  • What about investigating holiday handcrafts? So many older kids (mine included!) are all about the audio/video at this age but what about getting them to slow down a little and try something new? Or revisit something they might have enjoyed when younger? Perhaps try their hand at hobbies that were too challenging when they were little - candlemaking, soap making, wood-whittling? Bookworm used to love origami ... I bet I could get him to try his hand at it again, if only for one night.
  • Why not bring out the Legos? Hold a contest - who can build the most holiday-related Lego creation? Or everyone builds "something" and then the rest of the family must guess what it is ...
  • Start a family puzzle - set up a table where it can be worked on little by little throughout Advent.
  • Board games are always a great source of family fun. Maybe surprise the kids with a new game to try this year ...
  • What is each older child interested in? Is there something they absolutely love to explore? Rent a documentary about a favorite subject and watch it together.
  • How about a museum visit? Or play tourist and investigate a local attraction.
  • Attend a matinee movie on the first day of Christmas vacation ... or perhaps a Christmas concert or holiday play?
  • Have the kids offer piano lessons (or something else they can teach) to someone (young or old) who would love the time and attention.
  • Why not go caroling through the neighborhood one night? Surprise local friends and family? At a nursing home or hospital ward? (Obviously call ahead to ask about this idea!)
  • Call your parish center and ask what your kids could be doing to help out. Where is help needed? Could they perhaps organize a teen night with cookies and a movie?
  • Movie nights - each of you shares a movie you love and want the others to appreciate. These could be action, suspense, comedies, classics, etc. 
  • Visit a local historic site - these places often run special holiday-themed programs. For example, if you live in Massachusetts, there is "An Alcott Christmas Stocking" at the Louisa May Alcott House in Concord.
  • Have the kids help make something for the yard - a creche? A birch-log reindeer or family yule log?
  • Entice them with food! Trader Joes, for example, has all kinds of delicious-sounding, limited-time, holiday goodies. Pick up a few things to try one weekend. Let the kids plan out (and maybe help prepare?) their own family supper one night. Sit down and list out favorite holiday foods - plan to make one of those things together one weekend or evening.
  • Work on a family scrapbook together. Plan a page for each month of the past year ... organize photos, mementos, ticket stubs ... jot down notes and memories! Reveal the final product on New Year's Eve ...
  • If it seems like a lot to fit in during this busy season, work on a list of Christmas vacation ideas ... brainstorm fun family ideas for 12/26-1/6 (or until whenever your kids return to lessons). Fill a jar with ideas, and then read them aloud Christmas eve ...

**

So I hope this list might have sparked a few ideas but dear readers, please jump in and add to my list if you have a moment! How do you involve your older kids in this beautiful season of Advent? I think being together is what's key here so even if an activity doesn't seem very "Christmassy" to you, if it's appealing to the kids, and brings you all together, then I say just roll with it! Inevitably there will be holiday atmosphere all around you - at home or out and about - whatever you decide to do!

Thank you, Michelle, for asking this important question ... it was good for me to step back and remember that my young men are still my boys and they still look to me for guidance in many ways. As mothers, the holidays very often start with us ... what we do at home becomes memories these kids carry with them throughout life. They might have gotten taller, more informed and aware of the outside world, but that doesn't mean they don't still want to be kids again at Christmas - because don't we all?

Well, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend, and thanks so much for stopping by! I will see you here again very soon ...


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! Did this week go by REALLY fast or is it just me? Seriously - it feels like we were just finishing up Thanksgiving dinner and now here we are nearing the end of the first week of Advent! 

Well, at any rate - welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and, goodness - please come on in out of the cold and let me offer you something warm to drink. Or maybe it's raining where you are ... or perhaps it's perfectly sunny and warm? But whatever the weather, please do come in! Let's pause together for some rest and refreshment ... time passes too quickly nowadays. We should sit down and savor the season while we can!

Now, my Tea theme this week, as you've probably gathered from the post title, is reflective of where we are in Advent this week. As described in yesterday's post, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation, because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us ...

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2:43 p.m. and yes, the sun is going down ...

So this week we are focusing on the beauty of "earth and sky" - stars, stones, shells, sun and soil. We'll be making crafts that utilize and rejoice in these blessings of creation. Because when you take the time to really observe and think about these things - particularly if you look through the eyes of a child - you get such a sense for how wondrous our world truly is.

And for me personally, I really do relish crafting with natural materials ... these kinds of projects, most of which become gifts or tree ornaments, just seem especially meaningful to me. :)

Ok, so I have several things to tell you about, but let's start with my tea mug this week ...

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This mug is an oldie but goodie and some readers might recognize it since I've shared it a few times before! But it's my favorite and most comfortable mug. And though it feels wintry to me, I use it all year round. And today in this mug I'm enjoying another old Advent favorite - Harney & Sons' Holiday Tea. This is a black tea blended with subtle spices with a lovely vanilla-type of taste. (I don't believe there's any vanilla in the tea itself, but it just seems creamy and comforting to me.) It's GREAT with a wee bit of sugar and a healthy dose of whole milk. :)

The shortbread you see on the plate - one piece for me, one for Little Bear - was baked Wednesday in honor of St. Andrew (of Scotland). Maybe it's because I'm part Scottish (my maternal grandmother was born in Edinburgh), but shortbread is my hands-down favorite type of cookie! I just love the simplicity of shortbread - the flavor and texture is perfect to my mind (or I should say, palate). I'm always tempted to dip the ends of the bars in melted dark chocolate or thick caramel but then never do. Maybe I'll try that for Christmas this year.

In these pictures you can see I was sitting in a rather sunny spot ...

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The kitchen table gets such wonderful light all day. Usually I "take tea" in the library, but this is where I spread out yesterday - it was bit of a "working" tea. ;)

Here is a closer picture of our Advent Garden-in-progress ...

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Last year we set up an Advent Garden on the patio and while I enjoyed having it there very much, I decided to do something different this year. (Ok, truth be told I had a much larger scale project in mind originally - turning a small section of the yard into a grotto of sorts - but that was deemed a project better suited to spring!)

So instead, we're bringing our garden indoors. Throughout Advent, each week we will add a new layer of creation to this terrarium bowl. This week we've added stones (and soon to come soil), then next week will be plants (aka moss from the garden). In the third week of Advent, we'll add some small animal figures, and then finally, in the last week before Christmas, we will celebrate our own kingdom of creation, humankind - with tiny peg people and little wooden houses.

I'm really excited for this project and I love how it's being done in stages ... really highlighting the "waiting" aspect of Advent. It's certainly piqued the curiosity of my cats and kids ... and even guests to our home!

Now the candles around the bowl technically number 23 instead of 24 - but you didn't hear that from me. *wink* It's all I could scrape up! I had purchased glittery battery-lit tealights for this project but then they didn't really all fit ... size-wise nor sense-wise. (Glitter is lovely but not necessarily, natural.) Then I remembered my collection of beeswax tealights and thought how much more fitting they would be. Some have already been burned a little but that's ok. We'll light a candle each night throughout Advent (one will be lit twice) and that will be another nice way for us to pace ourselves a bit. To gather around the supper table and talk about the good things that happened that day ...

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Here are a couple of stories we're reading during this week of "stones and stars." Three Pebbles and a Song is actually one of our November books but I kept it aside just for this week. It is such a sweet little tale, perfect for this time of year - all about preparing for the long winter and appreciating that we all have gifts to offer. The illustrations - in grays, blues, browns and beige - perfectly suit these bleak days of early December. And another favorite book is this retelling of the fairy tale The Star Child - with its gorgeous illustrations and heartwarming tale of generosity and selflessness. I love how the little girl in the story is so selfless and never once hesitates to hand over something of her own to help another in need. Little ones might fret a bit over the girl's condition (as she slowly sheds her belongings) but her reward at the end of the story is simple and satisfying. 

Speaking of stories ....

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Another thing I'm doing this year is creating an Advent nature story to share with my younger boys - in particular my Little Bear who loves to snuggle and "hear stories."  I bought a couple of bags of "river" stones at the craft store (they're cleaner and more uniformly shaped than our yard stones!) and each stone is painted with a symbol from nature. The story is very simple (just a few lines a day) but it leads us towards Christmas in a way that meanders through creation ...

So ... we begin with a sleepy sun, a friendly starfish, a lonely rock, and a generous star ... and then next week we'll meet proud trees and humble plants ... later on there will be hungry birds, silly crows, clever bees ... and at last ... a humble home, a friendly barn and a very loving family. :)

I'm storing the stones in the 24 little drawers of that wooden Advent tree seen below, and each day we'll pull out a stone, tell its tale (Earlybird can read the card) and then nestle it in amongst the green branches.

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I'm having a lot of fun with it so far! And the boys seem intrigued. :) And since my artistic talents are somewhat limited, I have enlisted our resident 17 year-old artist, Crackerjack, to help me out with painting the stones ... 

Now I have one more thing to show you ... something that will be part of my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway!

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These pretty soaps are made by a company called Hand in Hand, and whether you buy them for yourself or a friend (online or at Target), they are a gift that truly gives back. Because for every purchase, HiH gives a month's worth of soap and clean water to a needy child.  These soaps are so well-crafted, softly-scented, earth-friendly AND gorgeously-wrapped. (I love the subtle colors and natural themes!) I'm giving several people on my gift list a bar of this beautiful soap, and ...

... whoever wins my "Winter Comforts Basket" will receive one as well!

(Remember - to enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite mug or cup. It can be a special one you use at the holidays, throughout the winter, or any old day. You can send me your picture by attaching it to an email (send to drhanigan AT gmail DOT com). Feel free to tell me as much as you'd like about your mug - we love to talk tea here! (And cocoa, coffee, mulled cider, etc.!) I will share these pictures in my weekly Tea posts and then, on New Year's Eve, I will randomly pick a winner! 

So without further ado, here are this week's Tea Friends ... :)

From Elizabeth: "I'm sending you a picture of my favorite mug that I use all the time. I love to enjoy hot chocolate, herbal tea and spiced apple cider in the evenings. Especially with a good book or favorite episode of a beloved TV show or movie."

Friends Tea 1

 

From Lauren: "For your tea post, I wanted to share my favorite tea cup that I use during the winter season."

Friends Tea 2

 ❤

From Heather: "I have to share more than one ... They are all perfect for the season! Happy Advent!"

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

"My 'Home is the Nicest Word There is' Mug."

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

"And these little glass mugs in our hot chocolate bar!"

 ❤

And from Gill:

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"This is a photo of the corner of my kitchen, where I stand to make tea or coffee, cook and bake, or turn 90' to wash up! I spend many contented hours exactly here working or dreaming or gazing out of my window to the front yard, where the dog, cats, hens and wild birds all interact!

In the summer the troughs against the yard wall are overflowing with flowers, now they are stuffed full of daffodil, crocus and narcissus bulbs, covered over with pine branches. The tree is the one we went into the forest to cut down last weekend. The bird feeders are usually busy. It is the funniest thing that the wild birds throw down seed to the hens beneath, and the hens keep the cats away!

You can just see that I have hung my Christmas curtains and that they are swathed with fairy lights. I have my breakfast ready: Norwegian brown goats cheese on bread and a cafe latte in my favorite Emma Bridgewater JOY mug. The board I have my bread on says " A friendly word can work wonders" which is so very true. I had just poured my coffee when your post pinged in, so I snapped the photo and hope you won't mind an Advent breakfast instead of tea!

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

Oh my goodness, wasn't that fun? I just love talking "tea" (etc.) with friends. I do so wish we could all sit down in person and chat, but I guess for now this is the next best thing. (Maybe someday I'll figure out that periscope trend, lol ... or maybe host a "seasonal tea" webinar??)

My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Mary, Lauren, Heather and Gill for sharing their beautiful cups! I loved seeing them and hearing their thoughts on this cozy, happy topic!

And thank you all for joining me today ... I hope you enjoyed our teatime and hearing a little more about my family's Advent rituals. I will share Tea again here next Friday, and all are welcome to partake. If you'd like to send me a picture for the post (and giveaway!) please do so at your earliest convenience, by attaching a photo to an email addressed to ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you! Until then, have a happy and restful weekend and I will see you all here again very soon!


Our 2016 Advent Calendar ~ Themes & Ideas

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Hello again, my friends! It's a busy posting week here as we get our Advent season underway! This Friday I will host my first Advent Tea - and I am so excited about that! - but right now I'd like to share with you what we're doing for an Advent Calendar this year. (Daily activities are listed below.) I've teased a few pictures on FB and IG but here are ALL the details ... :)

Now, first of all, I cannot take credit for this idea. I first saw it on Pinterest as I searched for "nature-oriented Advent ideas" which led me to this lovely blog post by Kelly Rowe. As soon as I saw Kelly's Advent calendar project - which brilliantly utilizes an over-the-door, 24-pocket shoe organizer - I knew immediately we must do this! I am ALL about interesting visuals and hands-on holiday projects, so needless to say ... this really got my wheels turning!

First I ordered a plain plastic shoe-organizer from Amazon and hung it up in the kitchen. I did this before Thanksgiving to give it some time to air out. (Our guests were wondering what on earth we were getting up to!) Then I got my thinking cap on and started brainstorming our Advent activities.

Just like last year (and in Waldorf tradition - though that's not why I do it) I assigned each week of Advent an aspect of nature. So the weeks unfold like this: earth and sky (11/27-12/4), plants (12/5-12/11), animals (12/12-12/18) and humankind (12/19-12/25).

*Note: if you're wondering why I connect the two concepts - Advent and Nature - my reasons are explained in this post. :)

Next I listed liturgical feast days and natural phenomena such as the full moon and winter solstice ... as well as birthdays and any family/community events. Then I started brainstorming potential activities, going from pages of scattered notes to a more organized grid of 24 post-it notes, one for each day of each week:

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As you can see in the picture above, I also added book titles to each day's note. Some of these we own, but many we request from the library. (Note to self - I've got to get on that!)

With our activities decided, it was time to get those 24 pockets filled! So after Thanksgiving I stopped by the craft store with a hefty supplies list in hand. Thankfully I had coupons, plus there were plenty of sales. It was a MADHOUSE though and about 10 minutes in ... I really just wanted to be done and go home! But I kept going and got most of the things I needed. (A few things will be ordered or picked up at a later date.) As you'll see in my activities list below, we don't really do candy or toys, but rather, simple crafts and seasonal projects. They might take a little more effort and preparation but I feel it's worth it ... :)

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Now I'll admit I'm a bit like a kid in a candy store when I'm at the craft store. Can anyone relate, lol? I try so hard to stick to my list, but then I keep seeing all these neat things and envisioning all these "potential" projects - so I can hardly resist picking up extra supplies "just in case." Sometimes that turns out to be a good thing though, because an original idea might not work out right and something I picked up randomly might work even better. In any case, I am not ashamed to say I have a pretty healthy craft stash - but it all gets used in one way or another before too long.

Ok, enough of my explaining myself ... ;)

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So now it was time to make that shoe organizer look pretty! So I tied a ribbon to each hook and wrote down the four weekly Advent candle themes (with a fabric marker) ...

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And then I decorated and filled each pocket ... 

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On the front of each pocket is a small beige doily with a woodland-themed adhesive chipboard number. (They look like a slice of log with a little holly sprig and a red number.) I found these in the final moments of my HOUR-long craft store expedition! Just as I was about to give up on finding number stickers I liked, I stumbled across (literally) this last package dangling from a hook. And they are so perfect! If they had had a second package I would have bought more ...

Each pocket was then fitted with a small brown treat bag ...

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... and then filled with a few simple items.

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Some bags just have one or two things that will suggest what it is we'll be doing (while the bulk of the supplies are set aside).

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I really, really love how this came out!

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Now admittedly, it will be a challenge to keep my younger two boys out of these pockets! Earlybird (growing like a weed) can peek into most of them and Little Bear is just the right height (and age) to be filching through the lower bags whenever he gets a chance! So far though they are taking it to heart that they MUST keep their hands off ... and wait for it. 

In the meantime, I have a "key" to all these bags and I will check in with it each night. If tomorrow's project doesn't seem "doable" (due to time, energy or weather) I will change things up before morning comes - by either switching bags around or changing a bag's contents for something simpler.

Now finally, here is the description of each pocket - organized by weekly themes and listed by ...

Date: (items found in the bag), activities for the day, the book we will read. :)

Week One: Earth and Sky (Hope)

12/1: (stationary) Write a letter to Santa. What are you hoping for? The Christmas Cat

12/2: (starfish) Make a shell ornament for the tree. Song of the Stars

12/3: (pipe cleaners, colorful beads) Make a star ornament. The Christmas Star

12/4: (decorative items and paint) Decorate a small vase for our St. Barbara's Day branches. Let's hope they bloom by Christmas! The Star Child

Week Two: Plants (Peace)

12/5: (silk poinsettia bloom) Field trip to the nursery to buy poinsettia plants. (gifts) It's so peaceful in the greenhouse. The Legend of the Poinsettia

12/6: (candy canes & cocoa packs) Enjoy a special St. Nicholas Day treat! The Baker's Dozen: A Colonial American Tale

12/7: (mint sprig) Make mint-scented play-dough and small jars of mint-sugar-scrub. (gifts). Mint is a calming, peaceful herb. The Legend of the Candy Cane

12/8: (apple, small star cookie cutter) Enjoy a cup of spiced cider and grind spices for "glogg." The Tomten

12/9: (muslin spice bags, cinnamon stick, lemon) Fill spice bags (gifts) and help make a dried fruit garland. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

12/10: (evergreen sprig) Make salt dough ornaments (with evergreen impressions), make silver pinecones (gifts). Cobweb Christmas

12/11: (red candles): Walk with dad to find our yule log in the woods. Isn't it peaceful out here? Christmas Farm

Week Three: Animals (Joy)

12/12: (polar bear wooden ornament) Let's learn about the arctic! What can we do to help the polar bear? Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?

12/13: (reindeer lantern) Field trip to a local farm to see the lovely herd of reindeer. The Wild Christmas Reindeer

12/14: (new train ornament and "15" candles) Happy Birthday, EB! Here's the story of when you were born ... A Night of Great Joy

12/15: (colored Christmas light bulbs) Look outside - our solstice tree is all lit up! We hope the critters enjoy! Night Tree

12/16: (baby food jar, white glitter) Make a snowglobe. Decorate the solstice tree with edible ornaments. The Animals' Santa

12/17: (beeswax) Make candle jars and rolled candles. (gifts) An Early American Christmas

12/18: (mitten-shaped cookie cutter) Bake sugar cookies with Mom. The Mitten

Week Four: Humankind (Love)

12/19: (jingle bell ornament) Watch the Polar Express as a family. Discuss trust. The Polar Express

12/20: (clementine) Bake clementine snowball cookies and watch The Snowman. Discuss friendship. An Orange for Frankie

12/21: (snowflake cupcake liners) Bake "welcome winter" cupcakes. Discuss comfort. Sleep Tight Farm

12/22: (nativity ornament) As night falls, a surprise in the garden (new nativity figures under spotlight). Discuss family. B is for Bethlehem

12/23: (frame ornament) Make a family picture ornament for the tree. Discuss love. The Christmas Story

12/24: (felt heart shape) Make a scented heart tree ornament (stuffed with wool and herbs). Discuss giving. The Christmas Baby

*** 

Ok so that was a very long post! But I hope you enjoyed hearing about our Advent Calendar project this year and that maybe you found a few new ideas for your family. I am really looking forward to giving a little of my time and energy each day this Advent to this project. I think my children will enjoy it - I KNOW I will enjoy it. I know it probably sounds like a lot, but truly, these are all simple activities. They won't take up too much of our day. We have a few other Advent rituals planned and I will discuss them a bit more in my Tea post on Friday ...

What a wonderful season this is! So rich with potential and promise ... a wonderful time to shape how our children view the world. The one they live in at home and the one they face when they step outside their doors. My HOPE is that I bring a little peace, a little joy and a whole lot of LOVE into their Advent journey. So grateful to have these days before us!

So enjoy the rest of your evening, my friends! I will see you here again very soon ... later on Friday ... with a cup of tea and some pics to share ... and more thoughts on this most wonderful time of the year. :)

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


Some Thoughts on My Advent Planning Sheets ❤

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Hello, my friends and a Good Tuesday to all! I hope your new week is off to a great start. :)

In today's post I'd like to share some thoughts on each of the sections in my Advent Planner. I had hoped to get this post up before the first Sunday in Advent, but alas, that was not meant to be. But here I am today ... so I'll get on with my notes before I get carried away rambling!

Note: Green or red text indicates one section (or box) from the Planner. I'm starting with the first sheet ...

Hopes for the Coming Season (Describe our ideal Advent atmosphere ...):

As I said in my earlier post, I think it's a great idea to sit down as a family and talk about the month of December and the season of Advent, in particular. Are we happy with the way the season has unfolded in the past? Were there aspects of Advent we missed that we'd like to include this year? I have pretty strong ideas about this time of year, and as the main family planner, things tend to go my way, lol. But our family plan should be just that - one that reflects the hopes of each family member.

Now, for me, I like a quiet and cozy Advent. I don't mind that there is all kinds of hustle and flash and noise out there ... but in here ... I try to keep things a little simpler. There is still joy for certain - but it's a joy tempered with a bit of restraint. We're building anticipation ... and fostering a quiet peace that is supported even by the nature all around. Darkness is descending outside, but there's a light growing steadily within us. In Winter the earth may slow down, but it's never completely still ...

I like to take my cues from nature when I can and I do feel Advent connects so beautifully to the natural world. I am always weaving nature into our family life, and this includes our faith life as well. I think it's because I see and feel and hear God so strongly when I am feeling a part of His amazing creation. He did this for us! He created this glorious world - every creature and every miraculous, awesome layer of life - and I am thankful for all of it. So for me, an Advent with "a natural feel" is deeply satisfying.

But practically speaking ...

I envision candles in the windows, lighting up dark December afternoons. The tree in the library imparting a similar glow as the sun sets earlier each day. Fresh greenery and old-fashioned decorations - some borrowed from nature, some found in the attic. As much time spent at home together as possible, with good scents in the air and the promise of something special on its way. We're busy, but there's a quiet purpose to our busy-ness. Soft Christmas music as we drive around town ... noticing nature whenever we can with daily walks around the yard, taking care of our animals (both wild and domesticated). A few busy baking and crafting days planned so we can feel part of the season's bustle!

But that's me ... others might want a different feel to their Advent. My kids might want to be out and about a little bit more - their audio selections are probably a little different too! I'm sure if they were asked to think about it, they'd have their own ideas about this beloved season - and I want to hear them!

(Remember this section is for describing our "ideal" atmosphere - not always realistic, but something to work towards!)

This Year's Advent Calendar Project (How will we count down the days?):

An Advent Calendar is a special tradition for a lot of families. We do something every year to count down the days until Christmas. I use this as an opportunity to give my children something meaningful to do that will burn a little energy! Having something small to look forward to each day is a nice way to pace that Advent joy! Because I love crafting I tend to come up with a new idea every year, but it's usually connected with the natural world and special liturgical feast days. (I have a post coming up about this year's project!)

Advent Countdown:

In this box I will be noting each day's planned activity. It takes me a bit to get to this point ... I start with brainstorming themes and general ideas and then I narrow things down into individual activities - a la post-it note planning.

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I arrange the notes under their week - according to theme and any special days of note.

Family Holiday Traditions (What do we most look forward to?):

Another "agenda item" for the pre-Advent family meeting! It's always neat to find out what things really make the holidays for different people. A trip to the Tree Farm ... Secret Santa ... Christmas Breakfast ... Midnight Mass ... watching A Charlie Brown Christmas ... singing carols ... lighting the Advent wreath ... driving around town to see the lights ... Grammie's gingerbread  ... adopting a needy child's Christmas List ... visiting a beloved relative ... displaying cards from friends and family ... ?

These are the kinds of things we might want to work into that Advent plan!

Gatherings:

It is what it says it is! I will use this section to plan our annual Family Christmas Gathering. (Christmas Day, late afternoon.) I might also print a second copy in case we host a second (or rather, first) gathering with Bill's side of the family on Christmas eve. Actually, come to think of it, I might also print a third copy for Earlybird's family birthday party! (Which takes place on the weekend before Christmas.)

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Savoring the Season:

This is where I go a little outside the lines of a traditional holiday planner. These are concepts that are very important to me during Advent and so I designated a special spot for each area of planning.

Creating cozy corners, finding moments of peace ...

I try to envision where it would be nice to have a spot for resting and reflecting. Near the tree, perhaps ... with all the necessary comforts around me. A basket of books and a couple of throw blankets. Maybe a special journal and pen. Then I try to find a regular time for getting myself into this space each day, even if it's only for 30 minutes. I think of this place as my charging spot. :) I also like to place a pretty candle (or candles) in my kitchen window. For one thing, this spot is out of reach of my kids - and for another, the window faces the setting sun. On December days, setting my own little light against the gathering darkness is a wonderful feeling. :)

For the kids, a quiet place where they too can feel cozy and peaceful is such a nice idea. Reading corners are perfect for this, but so too are bedrooms! I like to make up my boys' beds with flannel sheets and ask Bill to add some lights, too. And how about a special Christmas bath time? It's very simple to pick up some seasonally-scented soap or bath gel - pine, clove, peppermint, orange, etc. Or better yet, find a recipe for a natural herbal blend if time allows! (Note to self for next year!) The older kids can use the bath products as they shower and younger children will enjoy a bath with sweet scents and maybe even a little holiday lighting? A candle in the window or a holiday nightlight perhaps?

Special time with the children ...

Christmas is especially beautiful when you have children to join you in celebrating! Our Advent Calendar project will provide the boys with daily "special time," but I also like to plan a separate activity for each of my children. The older boys and I will visit our favorite bookstore for a little browsing and a delicious holiday beverage. We'll also plan a fun family movie night for after the younger boys are in bed. Earlybird and I will be delivering goodies to community friends (the mailman, the postal office, the librarians). And Little Bear (my nature nut) will receive a new Advent story stone every morning ... :)

This is also a good time to consult those ideas mentioned by my kids when we held our family meeting!

 Enjoying Advent in nature ...

This is where I'll jot down ideas for bringing nature into my own Advent. In addition to our Advent Calendar activities (most of which are nature-related), I like to plan some opportunities for sending off autumn and welcoming winter myself. Gazing upon the sunset each evening as I work in the kitchen. Feeding the birds (and squirrels) and sitting by the window to watch them flit about the garden. Taking a walk under the stars with my best fella. Stopping by a favorite pond to admire the quiet, resting habitat. Noticing the frost in the morning. Working with favorite natural materials as I bake and craft (spices, herbs, beeswax, wool, shells, pretty stones, pinecones, etc.).

Baking-making days ...

Crafting and baking (especially making gifts to give) is a big part of the season for us (me especially) but it's one thing to say I'm going to bake a lot and craft a bunch, and another thing entirely to have the time to do just that! So again, looking at the calendar with the family and budgeting in a few days when there will be adequate time at home, a bit earlier in the season, will be key in making it happen. 

Family Attire (Special clothing for special events ...):

Who needs what? What holiday occasions require a particular kind of outfit - something dressy for an elegant event, festive outerwear for a tree lighting or skating party, a funny sweater for a family party, holiday PJs for Christmas morning! 

Outside Decorations (Shining our light ...): 

A space to take inventory of outdoor decorations - lights, wreaths/swags/garlands, garden flag, figurines, creche, etc. What needs replacing or new batteries/bulbs? Also, for us, it's a good idea to pick a weekend to devote to setting up these decorations. We actually don't do a lot but it still takes us some time! (And patience, lol.) Perhaps plan a special warming meal for the hard workers and helpers! Crockpot chili comes to mind ...

Inside Decorations (Adding festive touches here and there ...):

As above - we start by taking inventory. We bring down the Christmas bins once the fall bins have been packed away! Then I work on setting out decorations through the first week (or sometimes two) of Advent. I'm in mid-transition right now, fall to winter ... hoping to add my "festive touches" this weekend while Bill and the boys get the outside and windows all arranged. (And of course, right now we have a 3 year old and a couple of young cats, so breakables are on a "break" for a few years.)

The Tree! (Theme? Notes ...):

Several things to think about here! Real or artificial? Where to get it - farm-fresh or pre-cut? Then of course, where does it go and do we have all the "stuff?" Stand, skirt, star, working lights? Who's in charge of keeping the tree watered? Are we doing a special theme or certain colors or just "anything goes?" Do we need any extra items or replacements? Are there little ones in the house and therefore a "soft" tree is the way to go this year? Is there a special tree blessing we could say as a family? Should we have a tree-trimming party? And we must be sure to leave room for all the ornaments we'll be making this Advent!

Family Faith Traditions (Keeping things real ...):

In all we do throughout Advent, I hope the undercurrent is the sweet anticipation of our most Holy Night - and not just because Santa is coming! I hope to share with my children the wonder and appreciation I feel for the world God has created because He loves us so much. I hope to instill in them a sense of gratitude for the vastness of our blessings. I hope to share with them the joy that is living with Christ by our side. I hope to foster a sense of peace in our family, that it might be our small part in striving for peace among all people. I hope our own inner light shines so brightly the darkness of the world shrinks before us. I hope to kindle a love for all mankind, especially our nearest and dearest. These are my highest goals when shaping our Advent plans ...

But those are lofty goals, aren't they? ;)

I guess what I hope is that our family's faith is lived out in our most common days ... sometimes in the simplest of ways but also in special observances. At Mass or during a quiet, prayerful conversation at home. I hope we achieve a good balance, and I hope I do the best I can by my family. I think it's easy to get caught up in society's view of this season - the candy canes and silver lanes and elves that sit on shelves. And truly all those are special, fun things - but I like to be sure we're remembering what it is we're really celebrating here ...

All that said, our family faith traditions are sacred to us but understandably not for everyone, and that's as it should be. I point out to my children that we all celebrate the year differently and all families are to be respected however they live out this particular season. In other words - whether you wish us Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas or Blessed Yule, we will be honored you shared a smile and a bit of your own faith tradition with us. :)

Town & Parish Events (Special activities, service opportunities ...):

A listing of things we'd like to consider for participation. The Village Tree Lighting or the Angel Tree at Church - things like that. Once we know what is happening we can decide what fits our time, resources and expectations best. (I check our parish bulletin and tri-town newspaper for information and ideas!)

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Errands & To-Dos:

Well, this is pretty self-explanatory! Here I list where I need to go and what I need to do. Stop by the post office for more stamps. Order Christmas cards. Order cookie packages. Clean this-that-and-the-other-thing before guests arrive. I like to keep organized about these kinds of things because it keeps our Advent a little more peaceful. As hard as I try to stay calm about things, I can get as stressed as the next mom when Christmas draws near and important tasks are left undone. Plus, if I have that list handy (and written up early) I can delegate more smoothly!

Recipes & Projects to Try (*find on Pinterest):

I use Pinterest for keeping these kinds of things organized but I am using this section to make note of the pins I really want to remember! If you're interested, here are my pin boards called 2016 Planner: November-December and Happy Christmas. :)

Advent Week-by-Week:

This section can either be used for a breakdown of To-Dos (what needs to be done each week) or a breakdown of themes. The four Advent candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy and Love ... and this could be a place for reflecting on those themes, how each concept might be woven into your family's week. I'm actually writing out notes for my Advent Teas here! ❤️

Gift-Giving:

Also self-explanatory! I'm waaaay behind on this!

Our Season's Greetings:

Another obvious section! :) I've just ordered our cards and will be organizing the addresses over the next few days. Got my Christmas stamps, so that's done! I'm going to set up a little "work" basket at my writing desk in the library. I will share how it all looks in my Week Two Advent Tea. :)

Advent Calendar:

Can I just say I really like how this calendar came out? :) Bill helped me with it and I was so excited to find a way to make those blocks lined! I may be using this template to make up some monthly calendars to go along with my 2017 planning sheets. But that's getting ahead of myself (though not by much!) and off-topic! In this planner I will use it specifically for Advent-related activities. 

And finally ...

Notes:

A space for anything that doesn't fit anywhere else! :)

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So there we have it, friends! My notes on Advent planning and then some! I hope this was helpful or at least fun to read. I can hardly believe Advent is already underway! I have my first Advent Tea planned for this coming Friday (and there will be one each Friday throughout Advent). I would love to see your favorite mug (or cup) for tea (or coffee or cocoa) and if you send me a picture of it I will share it in one of my Tea posts AND enter you in my Winter Comforts Package giveaway. You can send me your pic(s) by sending an email to:

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope you'll join me for Tea!

Also, I have another post I hope to get up in between now and Friday (I know, I'm setting more of those lofty goals, lol) describing our Advent Calendar this year. I am so happy with how it's come out! Some of you might have seen a little of it on Facebook or Instagram (or both) but I'll share a pic here too ....

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(Speaking of pics, the ones above are from a beautiful book illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. I absolutely adore this book and in particular, those two illustrations. They are so perfectly in line with the kind of simple, homey, natural Advent I aspire to!)

Ok, I've kept you long enough - I'm off! I wish you all a pleasant evening. Please drop a note if  you have time. I'd love to hear from you! :)

BLESSED ADVENT!


Planning Sheets for Advent & Christmas ~ from Me to You!

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Hello and Happy Friday, my friends! I am back with those planning sheets as promised, so before I get on with my post, here they are:

Celebrating Advent & Christmas Planning Sheets (a 14-page PDF document)

And here's a second set of Advent planning sheets for writing down daily reflections:

Advent Daily Journaling Pages (11/27-12/24)

And now, a little about why I made up these sheets and how I'm going to use them ... :)

Very simply, I love planning - paper planning in particular - and now that I've figured out how to create personalized planning sheets with a seasonal flair  ... well I must say, I'm a little addicted! I've created planning sheets for each week of the year and recently, a Thanksgiving Day planner, too. Needless to say, Advent deserves a few planning sheets of its own!

But the tricky thing about Advent is - it's such a special time of year and so highly anticipated - but too often our reality falls far short of our "vision." So we have all these meaningful intentions but then all of a sudden it's Christmas Eve and ... we're not at Midnight Mass or sipping cocoa by the fire (or in bed early!) as we'd hoped. Instead, once again, we're scrambling to run last-minute errands and finish all those Christmas to-dos. Feeling all edgy and exhausted and maybe even - dare I say it - a little bit scroogey.

So the first step in sticking with a vision is a plan. A plan is always a good place to start ... but a realistic plan is even better! And by realistic I mean - something that will reflect your family's real situation, not what everyone else seems to be doing. Praying over an Advent wreath each night might seem right for your family ... but maybe not. Perhaps a star-lit walk through the forest is more appealing? Or a car-ride to look at the neighborhood lights. Younger children rely on us to start (and keep) traditions but older kids may have their own ideas and expectations. So talk with your family about their own seasonal hopes! What does their Advent vision look like? What makes the holiday - and the days leading up to it - for each of them? How can you pare down the have-tos to make room for the hope-tos? Maybe get everyone on board with a little more family-time this month? Then - together - build space into the family schedule for the wants and the needs. (And I mean this literally - work with a calendar and mark out those times!) Divvy up some of those holiday tasks, too. If you're like me, you may feel like most of it needs to be done by you ... or it just won't get done right. Well, that's not doing anyone any favors, least of all us! (I admit - I'm a bit of a control freak, lol.)

Try to organize some in-home, family-only activities - an evening movie with popcorn, an hour of gift wrapping followed by hot cocoa, a baking afternoon with favorite music - those times need to be scheduled as much as any outside commitment! I say this from experience! Create rituals and visuals that help keep everyone in the Advent spirit and on the Christmas ball ...

As with all the year's seasons - but especially at Advent - there's just so much to enjoy, and so many little things that might get swept away with the rushing of time and to-dos. This is why I make up seasonal planning sheets. They are my gift to myself and my family - a way of slowing us down and keeping us aware of the smallest blessings. I'd guess my schedule is as busy as anyone's, but I am happiest when I am feeling a part of the season - not standing aside watching it pass by. And you all know what they say about a happy mama ... !

As for how I plan to use these sheets, - well, just as I do with my weekly planning sheets, I'll be filing them in my homekeeping binder. In the spirit of keeping things simple, I'm trying not to spread my thoughts and my stuff out too far. Keeping my "tools" to a minimum, so to say. Because my binder is open on my kitchen counter all the time, and because I'm already in there keeping my family's week in order - then this is where I'll be planning our Advent.

(Or at least, that's the general idea.)

Note: When I print out the documents, I choose two-sided and then three-hole punch the sheets to fit in my binder. You might print them the same way but use a slimmer binder devoted to holiday planning. (Decorating the cover with some pretty stickers or clippings from magazines perhaps.) Or you could print the pages one-sided and keep them on a handy clipboard. As for making them portable, the slimmer binder would be easy enough to pop in your bag or you could do as I do - I take a picture of the pages I need with my phone and then I have the information available to me when I'm out and about.

Now here are some planner visuals, just because ... :)

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The pretty December cover page in my binder - I love vintage scrapbook supplies! Purple flag marking the Advent planner's place in the binder ...

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Which is just behind this floral cover page, in front of the December calendar ...

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Here's my homekeeping binder on the left, parked next to my Day Designer ...

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And here it is as it looks today - November @ a glance calendar on the left, and this week's planning sheet on the right.

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And finally, here the binder is open to the Advent planning section itself. 

Well since I went on so long, in a follow up post - sometime next week - I will talk about each page of the Advent planner and how I plan to "tackle" all those boxes. Just some of my thoughts on each area of Advent planning. :)

But for now I'll wrap up because I've kept you quite long and I know you all have other things to do besides listen to me ramble! I myself am going to make another cup of tea and ... fold some laundry! Whoo ... I know, I'm living it up here today! Actually though, we spent the morning at a salt marsh with our homeschool Nature Club positively SOAKING in the glory of this beautiful November day. Even the car ride over and back was nice - nobody argued (I packed snacks) and we played the very last chapter of our current audiobook as we neared home. So the rest of the day stretches before me ... as does my task list! Because the house - which we left in a rush this morning - is in quite a state. Very glad I got in a little seasonal appreciation earlier today! So I'm off ...

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


Advent Crafts: Pretty Pebbles, Sparkly Stars ...

Happy Weekend, my friends! I have two quick crafts to share today!

Throughout Advent we are reveling in the beauty of creation, and how the whole wondrous world awaits the birth of its King. This week our focus was "earth and sky." We have been reading books and working on crafts with a focus on stars, shells, rocks and the returning sun. Today's activities included taking the boys outside after lunch to gather branches for St. Barbara's Day (an old fashioned, annual tradition) and gathering "rocks" for an afternoon craft ...

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"Daddy said it was ok to harvest pebbles from the driveway ... "

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Little Bear's favorite toy of the moment - this crazy little grabber thing. No idea where it came from but he loves to use it to pick things up and move them around. It came in very handy for all that gravel!

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So many colors and sizes and shapes! Cool to the touch and such gritty, crunchy sounds!

While Bill assisted Little Bear in rock retrieval, Earlybird and I snipped some forsythia branches ...

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 Per St. Barbara's Day tradition, these should be blooming by Christmas ... :)

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Meanwhile, Little Bear explored a very large rock in our yard - his favorite digging spot - and the soft, pretty moss growing along our stone walls. We have lots of rocks in our yard - New England soil is very rocky!

Back inside, while the gravel was soaking (removing dirt and debris), the boys decorated some popsicle stick stars I had made up the day before ...

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I used a hot glue gun to form the star shapes and attached colorful yarn loops to the top. I think the shiny rainbow-colored stickers will look very pretty against the lights on the tree!

Now, here's the base for the grotto: a $1 frame I bought at the craft store.

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The little wooden stand I had on hand, but I also got that at the craft store some time ago, for just a few dollars.

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Pretty pebbles drying on a dishcloth ... such an array!

As the rocks were drying and the kids were busy with stickers, I did a quick internet search for an image of the Holy Family ...

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I loved the colors and style of this one. I printed it out on paper and then used a simple tacky glue to adhere it to the center of the frame.

Here's my work station on the kitchen island ...

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Clean and dry rocks, frame and glue gun.

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Now, I won't lie ... this did take some time and patience. But I found it very satisfying ... I kind of felt like a stone mason! Children who are old enough to handle a low-temp glue gun could do this craft on their own (what a nice activity for a dark afternoon), but neither of my younger boys fits that bill. And my 16yo was sick with a cold, so he was out of the loop ... and of course the 20 yo is off at college, preparing for exams! He'll be pressed into craft service once he's home later this month. ;)

Here is the grotto, finished at last:

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I LOVE how the candlelight reflects on the stones. :)

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I think this would make a nice gift, but I'm loving it on my desk windowsill!

There is also a rope attached to the back of the frame and it does seem strong enough for hanging. (The rocks weigh down the wooden frame a good deal.) But I like this arrangement and I could see making this with all kinds of images. I'm already thinking of one with St. Francis for our nature shelf ...

So over the weekend we have a pretty seashell ornament to make and a couple more star ornaments if time allows. Next week we'll be admiring the plants and trees of creation and gathering "Christmas greenery" which will add to our craft stash considerably! (Dried fruit, spices, evergreens, holiday flowers and berries, etc.)

Before I go, here are the books in our Advent basket this week. Some we owned and several I requested ahead from the library ...

The Star Child

Three Pebbles and a Song

The Christmas Star

Star Mother's Youngest Child

Only a Star

The Tiny Star

This is the Star

Lucia and the Light

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

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 Well my friends, I'll be off for now. It's Saturday morning here and all my troops are up and about. Time to get the day rolling! But as always, thanks so much for stopping by ...

I will see you here again very soon!


Our Advent Garden: A Christmas Countdown!

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"Winter is dark, yet each tiny spark, brightens the way, to Christmas Day ... " ~ H. St. John

Two of my goals for Advent this year: keep things simple (yet meaningful), and weave nature into our days where we can. Happily, our 2015 Advent "calendar" meets both of these goals!

Every December I make a Christmas countdown of some sort for the boys. Usually there is a lot of busy-ness involved and the calendar itself is made of paper, involving pockets or post-its or tags of one kind or another. I love coming up with the daily activities but this year I'm scaling back on "scheduled" ideas and letting things just happen as time, energy and inspiration allows. A countdown, however, is always a must! It helps my special needs son practice patience and it adds to the overall atmosphere of anticipation in our Advent home.

So, as I jotted down nature notes for the coming weeks, inspiration struck! I love the Waldorf tradition of an Advent "spiral garden," and I kept returning to the idea of a hidden creche in the woods ...

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(Remember this scene in Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep? This has been on my to-do list for years!)

So I decided to combine these two ideas, and this is what I came up with ...

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I had Bill move an old round patio table in front of the bird feeders, in plain view of the kitchen nook window. (I could have placed this project far out in our woods, but practically speaking, it will be easier to get the kids about as far as the patio on a cold, wet or snowy afternoon.)

He also gathered some cedar branches which I laid out in a circle along the edge of the table. 

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(We have all kinds of evergreens in our yard, but the cedars have soft, feathery branches - a little easier to shape and softer on little hands.)

Next I gathered 24 rocks ... and my original idea was to have the boys find suitable rocks through the month of November (similar size, flattish shape) but since we didn't have much success in that endeavor, I bought two bags of river rocks at the craft store. I think they were about $4 a bag. I spaced them out on the table, nestling them into the cedar boughs ...

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I also purchased an outdoor (led), white pillar candle for the center of the table. I stood it on a red wooden heart in the very center of the table. This candle automatically turns on each day around 3 p.m. (just as it's getting dark) and shuts off around 8 p.m. (about the time the younger boys go to bed). It "burns" for 500 hours total, so that's plenty of light to get us through Advent!

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We can see the candle from the house and it's just magical! That one lonely light shining brightly through the darkness is powerful. I haven't said much about it so far ... I'm just letting the boys absorb the image ... and wonder.

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:)

At the four "corners" of the table, I placed a bright red apple (more on those in a minute) ...

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... and on each rock there is a gold star and a number.

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Underneath each rock is a word, written in black Sharpie.

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So each day through Advent, the boys will turn over one rock and find a word. I've set that daily activity for when the candle comes on. This gives us a rhythm to follow, and it's such a nice time of day when the sunlight dims and the world settles down. There's that air of transition and expectancy ...

Oh, look! It's getting dark and the candle is lit! Let's go check today's rock!

(Or at least this is how I imagine it happening.)

By the time we get to the last rock on December 24th, a special message will be revealed:

"And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.'" (Luke 2:10)

Now back to those apples! On each Sunday, I will prepare an apple to hold a beeswax tea light candle, and it will be lit, while we gather 'round ...

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... and say a simple prayer for the week ahead, focusing on hope (11/30), peace (12/6), joy (12/13), and love (12/20).

(Keeping the apples intact until their particular Sunday should, hopefully, keep them fresh longer - and make them less enticing to the birds and critters who visit our patio throughout the day.)

 

On Christmas eve, hovering over the white candle, a shining star will have appeared ...

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See the shepherd's hook above the candle? We'll hang a star we've made and painted with glow-in-the-dark paint/glitter. A homemade Star of Bethlehem!

Come Christmas morning, in place of the candle, there will be a lovely surprise ..

Can you guess?

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*

*

Yes, there will be a small homemade creche in the center of the table! And if it's not quite "in the woods," it will be very close! Now, I'm sure we'll be up VERY early Christmas morning, so it will still be somewhat dark outside. We'll lead the boys out with candles (LED, natch) to discover the first and best gift of the year!

Of course, there will still be some hands-on activities throughout the month of December. I have assigned a theme to each week and I have some books, a little music and a few craft ideas in mind - and most of what we make will be a gift to give or a decoration for our tree. But I will have an outline of these themes and resources in a following post ... I have kept you here long enough for today!

I hope you enjoyed seeing how we put together our Advent Garden/Wreath/Calendar this year! It's something new and fun for my family and I love how it brings us outside each day ... even when the weather is so very December. It reminds us, in a very visual way, that ... though our days may be dark, the Light IS coming ... He gets a little closer every day.

:)

Enjoy the rest of your Thursday, my friends! See you here again very soon ...


Advent Plans & Crafts: The Archives!

Happy Weekend, my friends!

I am very late with this post, because as many of you know, Advent begins in the morning! (Or maybe technically midnight, but who's counting?) And you know, I have been blogging for a while now (nearly 10 years) so I have accumulated a lot of Advent-tagged posts over time. But I tend to get wordy and off-topic, and while some of these posts are, in fact, detailed craft projects and long lists of activity ideas, some are simply reflections on the season itself, and some are just posts filled with pretty pictures (usually of trees and sunsets and such).

So I wanted to give you all a way to access just the posts that pertain to crafts and activities if you're planning out an Advent journey with your family ... without having to weed through all the excess! So I went through my archives and re-tagged those crafty/planning posts with the tag, "Advent Plans & Crafts." (Clever, I know.) Then I went and played around with that vintage clipart I like so much and made up a button - which I plugged into my lefthand sidebar. And that will take you right to that archive!

Advent Plans & Crafts Button

:)

It was fun for me to go back through these older posts and revisit how we celebrated our Advent seasons in years past ... and to see all those sweet little faces - when they were still so very little!

But Advent does in fact begin tomorrow and I will have a lot to say on the season in the days ahead. We will share our first Advent Tea on Monday afternoon ... we'll be talking about "gifts from the heart" and our usual tea notes and pics. (Remember, I'd love to hear from you - in the comments or by email or link to your blog!)

And tomorrow I have a lovely post with cozy nests and thankful tea notes from readers to share. I know you will all enjoy it!

But for now, I must wrap up because we have dinner to get on the table and I've been tooling around on my computer long enough. There's a two year old climbing my back at the moment - sorry, make that, two and a HALF year old - and a few older boys wandering about making noises about being fed ...

Thanks so much for stopping by, my friends! See you here again very soon!


More Advent Fun: "The Snowman"

Snowman 3

Yesterday's Christmas vocabulary word was: snowman.

And so ... I planned to watch The Snowman with the boys, which is an animated version of an absolutely wonderful storybook by Raymond Briggs. I have loved this short movie for many years - I adore the soft animation, the dreamy music and the simple, sweet story. If you're unfamiliar with the plot, well, in a nutshell - a young boy (in what appears to be the English countryside) awakens to a snowy day and so, of course, rushes outside to build a snowman. And then, overnight (this is Christmas), the snowman comes to life and befriends the boy - taking him on a scenic journey to the north pole.

Magic.

I can watch it again and again - or just listen to it! - and all my boys have been riveted by it through the years. EB gets a little nervous sometimes so we have to skip forwards here and there ... and we also have to talk a bit about some of the boy's riskier behavior! (Leaving the house without his parent's permission, plugging in the tree lights, getting in a freezer, turning the key on his Dad's motorcycle, for instance!) Little Bear loved the motorcycle ride through the woods especially, and all the woodland animals that dashed out of the way.

Once the video had ended, we talked about how it's hard to say goodbye to someone we love. But then - when someone is gone from our life, can they still be with us in a way? I asked Earlybird: Why did the little boy feel sad in the morning? (The snowman had melted.) How could he remember the snowman when he was missing him? (Draw pictures, tell stories about him, build him again, believe he'll be with him again someday ...)

After the movie we set to work on a simple snowglobe craft. (Another Pinterest idea!)

Snowman 4

All we needed were a few pieces of construction paper, some white paint, colored Sharpies and a few cute thumbs. 

Check, check, check and double check!

Now, you'll notice there are no pictures of the baby making his thumbprint snowman ... and that's because it was very much a four-hand project (his and mine). As you can probably imagine, I held his hand and assisted him with the thumbprint making. (Keeping the paint on the paper and out of his mouth!) There are also no pictures of Earlybird making a snowman -and that's because he just flat out refused to do it, lol. Oh well, it happens that way sometimes ...

But here's how LB's craft looked (once I "finished" it up for him) ...

Snowman 2

Cute, right?

And then, while the baby napped, I had time to make some simple snowball cookies. These are a variation of the lemon snowballs I've made (and blogged about) for years - but in keeping with the snowman story, I used clementine zest and juice to flavor the dough ...

Snowman 5

I just dusted them with confectioner's sugar but they'd be such fun glazed with an orange-tinted icing (powdered sugar + milk + food dye) to look just like The Snowman's tangerine nose!

(Are oranges generally used for snowmen noses in Europe? As opposed to carrots which are the norm in the US? Just curious!)

Snowman 1

 Ah, a hot mug of tea and a tiny bite of cookie - enjoyed in a warm kitchen while the rain pelts the windows and the baby sleeps upstairs ...

* advent ❤ peace *

Well my friends, thanks for once again joining me for a little crafty fun. I hope you all had a nice Thursday! Enjoy your evening and I will see you here again very soon ...


Advent Activities: Think, Do, Read

Advent calendar 23

Well my friends ... here, at last, is my Advent activity outline! Below I have listed each date in Advent, the sticker (vocab word) I've chosen for that day, and the activity ideas I have noted in my plans.

As we are a Catholic family, many activities tie into our liturgical calendar and family faith traditions. There's also a good bit of baking and nature study, some simple conversation as well as several crafts. There are not too many outings, as we tend to stick close to home at this time of year. And it goes without saying there will be days when only a fraction of my "plans" are put into action. I try to respect energy, interest levels and moods (theirs and mine) as much as possible.

(Note: The books listed are ones we own as well as some I have on request from our local library. With the exception of the book for 12/23, which I purchased new for our collection ... because I couldn't resist!)

November 30th: evergreens

Today is the 1st day of Advent and a new Church year begins! We'll gather evergreens in the afternoon to place next to our Advent candles. Why are they called evergreens? (everlasting life) Light the first purple candle tonight.

Read: The Littlest Evergreen

December 1st: cookies

Happy December! "Rabbit, Rabbit!" Today we'll bake some cookies and talk about our favorite kinds at Christmas. (Who could we surprise with cookies who might not expect it? Let's make a plan.)

Read: The Gift of the Christmas Cookie

December 2nd: nuts and spices

Today we'll check our stock of baking supplies, especially spices. How do they smell? What makes spices so special? Why did the Magi bring spices as gifts for the Baby Jesus? We'll place our wise men dolls at the start of their journey (in a far corner of the house).

Read: We Three Kings

December 3rd: presents

Today we'll write (and decorate) a letter to Santa and then compose a list of gifts to give to our loved ones this year. What would make people happy and feel loved? (Stress actions and gestures over material gifts.) Also, we'll watch the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree on tv tonight!

Read: The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree

December 4th: winter birds

Today is the Feast of St. Barbara! We'll say a special prayer for Grandma Barbara and later on we'll snip a forsythia branch to place in water. (Might it bloom by Christmas eve?) While we're outside, we'll check the state of our birdfeeders and feed our hungry bird friends. 

Read: Merry Christmas, Merry Crow 

December 5th: ornament

Today we'll bring our Christmas ornaments down from the attic and take a look through the boxes. We'll talk about family favorites and the stories behind special ornaments. We'll make some homemade ornaments together in the afternoon.

Read: The Spider's Gift: A Ukranian Christmas Story

December 6th: St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, EB's patron saint! We'll watch St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (Veggie Tales) with a snack of popcorn and hot cocoa (there might be a bishop's staff/candy cane stirrer in our mugs!). We'll clean the corner for the Christmas tree and at nightfall look for the Full Cold Moon in the dark, cold sky ...

Read: The Baker's Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale

December 7th: Christmas tree 

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent and tonight we light our second purple candle. Where did the custom of Christmas trees come from? We'll read "The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy," by Cicely Mary Barker. After Mass we'll head to the woods and cut down our Christmas tree! (Can we identify what kind of evergreen it is? Bring a field guide to the farm ...)

Read: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

December 8th: dove 

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception! We'll set up our children's nativity and arrange star candles and flowers around our Mary statue. How can we be more peaceful - at home and in the world? Let's brainstorm some ideas and write them in a peace & prayer journal. 

Read: Can You Say Peace?

December 9th: bell

Today we will listen for the afternoon bells at church, and make some bells of our own at home! We'll listen to Mama's favorite carol, "The Carol of the Bells," which is based on a Ukranian folk chant. We will also read: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Read: Jingle Bells

December 10th: snowman

Today we'll make thumbprint snowglobes and once we're done, we'll watch The Snowman on dvd. After Little Bear's nap, we'll have some warm milk with honey and almond and Mama's tangerine snowball cookies. We'll also read The Snowman aloud to LB. (And naturally, if we have snow, we'll build our own snowman!)

Read: The Snowman

December 11th: pinecone

Today we'll make pinecone seed ornaments for our bird tree, as well as some silver (glitter) pinecones to give as gifts. We'll attach tags that describe "The Legend of the Silver Pinecone." After dark we'll walk out to the bird tree and there will be a surprise ... colorful lights!

Read: Night Tree

December 12th: poinsettia

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! We'll visit a local nursery to see all the poinsettias - the greenhouse, with its steamy warmth, will be a nice break from the chill December air. While we're there, we'll buy some amaryllis/paperwhite bulbs to prepare as gifts. At home, while Mama works on a poinsettia ornament, we'll watch Frosty the Snowman (note the scene when he gets stuck in the greenhouse!). For snack, we'll have cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars and "sangria" (fruit punch with chunky winter fruits).

Read: The Legend of the Poinsettia

December 13th: orange 

Today is the Feast of St. Lucia! For breakfast we'll have orange-cranberry muffins (lit by beeswax candles!) and spicy Swedish "glogg" (non-alcoholic version). Later on we'll slice oranges and hang them to dry in the kitchen window - they'll smell so good! We'll also say a prayer for big brother Bookworm who starts his final exams today!

An Orange for Frankie

December 14th: gingerbread

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, and today we celebrate one of our greatest joys - our Earlybird himself! It's his 13th birthday!!! Earlybird (and his Papa, with whom he shares his birthday) will be honored at a special lunch with all his favorite foods and a delicious gingerbread cake! Tonight we light the pink candle.

Read: The Gingerbread Pirates

December 15th: fruitcake

Today we'll bake mini "fruitcake" breads for our neighbors. We'll be using the delicious fruits and nuts we ordered from King Arthur Flour. Once the breads are cool we'll wrap them well and store them somewhere cold. Then we'll make tags for the breads (which will be delivered on Christmas eve).

Read: The Polar Express

December 16th: reindeer

Today we'll watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and talk about what made him special and how it's ok to be different! How that which makes us different can also make us shine! We'll do a little research: Where do reindeer live? How do they live? Let's add some reindeer stickers to our map. Weather permitting, we'll visit our local farm to feed their beautiful reindeer.

Read: The Wild Christmas Reindeer

December 17th: stockings

Today we'll hang our Christmas stockings along the mantel and make a donation to a local toy drive. These will be items we've been adding to a bag all month. We'll talk about why it's important to help those who have less than we do, and sometimes that is in material form and sometimes it's through our time and actions. Let's brainstorm ways we as a family can help others in the new year.

Read: The Legend of the Christmas Stocking

December 18th: mint

Today we are going to bake all-natural candy-cane cookies and enjoy them with homemade hot peppermint cocoa. We will also have some homemade play-dough to shape and bake into letters. (upside down candy cane = j for Jesus) Before bed we will enjoy a minty herbal foot bath.

Read: The Legend of the Candy Cane

December 19th: candle

Today we'll roll beeswax candles to give as gifts and enjoy our supper by candlelight. We'll discuss light - the type and amount of light at this time of year (natural world) and also, why do we call Jesus the Light of the world? And tonight, a special dinner to welcome Bookworm home for Christmas break!

Read: An Early American Christmas

December 20th: snowflake

Today is the last day of Autumn! Let's talk about how seasons change, and how the Winter season is different from the Christmas season (natural/liturgical). We'll make snowflakes to celebrate the new season (either paper ones or these depending on energy and time) and brainstorm ways to get ready for winter storms!

Read: Snowflakes Fall

December 21st: yule log

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent! It is also the Winter Solstice (6:03 p.m.), the shortest day of the year! After Mass we'll go for a walk (weather permitting) and listen to the silence of the woods. We'll bring home a fallen branch to make a 12 Days of Christmas Log. We'll talk about why we love our cats and how we can show them our love (care, kind words, special attention). As a special treat there will be a yule log for dessert at Sunday dinner!

Read: The Christmas Cat

December 22nd: holly

Today we'll walk around our property and look for what's still green. Are there any holly and ivy plants? As we walk, we'll listen to the old English carol, "The Holly and Ivy" (on Pandora). Back inside we'll have a coloring picture to do (this will be the first entry in our new nature logs) and we'll copy "The Song of the Holly Fairy" to accompany the picture. Why is the holly plant like a crown? (pointy edges) Who is the newborn king - why/how/when does he wear a crown?

Read: The Story of Holly & Ivy

December 23rd: star

Today we'll put the star on top of the Christmas tree and make some simple star ornaments using cardboard and yarn. We'll find Bethlehem on the world map (approximately) and place a glittery star sticker above it. Let's look at the night sky and see what stars we can pick out. And before bed, a special surprise! A new Christmas book for our collection ...

Read: Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story

December 24th: heart

Very simply: What (Who) is the heart of Christmas? Let's talk about the love Jesus has for us ... the love His parents had for Him ... and how we can we show Jesus we love Him this year? (stress the idea that Jesus is in everyone we meet) As the sun goes down we will pay a visit to the outdoor creche, and inside we'll light all our Advent candles and say a special prayer (one we've composed) together. Before bed, EB will have an herbal "Christmas" bath - soothing and softly scented.

Read: Manger

25 - Holy Family

Merry Christmas! Let's have a wonderful day!

**

Now, this calendar is primarily organized with Earlybird in mind (my 12 year old autistic son who is, developmentally, much younger than his calendar age) but as you can see, many activities involve the whole family and can be adapted for children of all ages. And as I said before, this will not all flow as smoothly as described - some days will just not go as planned. And that's ok, I've come to accept this aspect of special needs parenting! Each weekend I'll prepare in advance in hopes that things will work out, and then we'll take it day by day. I'm looking to establish a hopeful mood and make warm memories - not wear anyone out (most of all me!)

I hope, overall, that my children will remember the days of Advent as time well spent together - in a peaceful spirit, with present minds - as we prepared our hearts for the coming of Christ.

Blessings to all on this late Thursday eve ... see you here again very soon!


Our Advent Calendar this Year (2014)

Advent calendar 15

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

Today I'd like to share our Advent calendar with you all. In keeping with my hopes for the season, I tried to keep this project simple and use mostly what I had on hand. Not that I don't love me a craft store trip, but I haven't been able to get over there in a while, so I worked with what I found in various old craft bins (that have yet to be organized since the move!).

Anyhoo ... I decided to use the posterboard in the kitchen where the Blessed Turkey sat last month. I ordered adhesive library pockets online and, as neatly as I could, arranged 25 of them on the front of the posterboard ...

Advent calendar 3

The envelopes needed some decoration, so I scattered paper-punched snowflakes across them (applied with a glue stick). (Stamping would have been nice here.) I also trimmed the edges of the board with some seasonal washi tape. 

Advent calendar 4

So far so good!

Earlier last month, I ordered a book of 400 reusable Christmas stickers. It's filled with all kinds of very life-like, photgraphed images. Realistic pictures work best for EB.

Advent calendar 5 

I went through the book and chose 25 stickers to use as Christmas vocabulary. Then I rifled through my index card stash and pulled out 25 cards: 21 white + 3 purple + 1 pink. After trimming about an inch off one end (so it would better fit inside the library pocket), I wrote the date at the top of each card in green pen. (Holding the card vertically.) Each card has a sticker with a vocabulary word describing what it is. 

Advent calendar 7

And then on the back of the card there is a note about the date and a simple seasonal activity we'll do that day.

Advent calendar 8

Here they are all laid out ...

Advent calendar 17

Now, though I have all the dates organized in my planner, I am writing the cards out each night before bed. This buys me some time and discretion. For one thing, EB is quite likely to pull out a card in advance - thereby ruining the surprise! - but also, I need to gauge mood/energy and weather on a day-to-day basis before committing to an activity. (Such is life with a special needs kid!)

So here's how it all shaped up ...

Advent calendar 9

Hope 3

 (Sorry the pictures are all kind of dark. I took these photos late on a cloudy day!)

To jazz the calendar up a bit, I used some sparkly letters in the empty bottom right corner ... 

Advent calendar 1

... and some vintage silver-lined postcards along the top of the calendar.

Advent calendar 13 

(I've had these cards for years and years - I'm glad to finally put them to good use!)

So there you have it - an Advent activity calendar to guide a young child through the weeks leading up to Christmas. We are on day three and so far it has been really nice for EB. He was SO excited for Thanksgiving I was afraid he'd have a hard time switching gears, but now it's all about Christmas is coming and how many more days? With this calendar, he'll have a visual way to see The Day get closer and some fun to make the waiting a little easier!

***

(By the way, we follow Advent according to the church calendar, so it doesn't always begin with December 1st as do most Advent calendars. This one began on Sunday, November 30th (the First Sunday in Advent) and will continue through Christmas Day. And yes, we include Christmas Day itself, because that just makes sense to EB. When that last card is read he will be told that Advent is actually over and Christmas has finally begun!)

:)

Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone ... have a great night and I will see you here again very soon!

 p.s. I will do a post on the 25 images and the proposed activities next!


From My Advent Notebook (Week 2)

Vh advent angel{Notes for December 10th ~ the 16th}

        * At CCD and at home, read The Lady of Guadalupe in honor of Saint Juan Diego (feast day 12/9), and light our lovely OLoG candle.

* Wish our neighbors a Happy Hanukkah this week. :)

* Attend a homeschool field trip to see A Christmas Carol, a wonderful local musical. Enjoy a little "Dickens feast" for supper that night (roast beef, potatoes & roots, Yorkshire puddings, and mini mince pies). Listen to Inside Fezziwig's, a wonderful collection of merry olde Christmas music.

* Celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (12/12) with a poinsettia ornament project, cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars served with fresh pineapple salsa, and soft chicken tacos for supper. This is also National Poinsettia Day so we'll read The Legend of the Poinsettia today.

* The lovely feast of light, St. Lucia Day (12/13) is a favorite in our home. We always have a scented (and candle-lit) breakfast bread on this morning - something homemade with citrus and cranberries or simply some refrigerated orange-cinnamon rolls if the day is busy. A few special books are placed about (Lucia and the Light, Christmas in Noisy Village, The Tomten) while our wee star boys will be on display ... and for supper there will be Swedish meatballs over noodles and hot (child-friendly) glogg!

* Earlybird's 11th birthday arrives! How can this little boy be 11 already? We'll have Daddy's "flying flapjacks" for breakfast, and he'll get to choose supper (most likely, Dominos pizza, lol). There will be cupcakes with friends mid-week and a family party over the weekend. His birthday theme this year is "The Winter Woods" :)

* If we can swing it, schedule-wise, we'll be seeing The Hobbit at our earliest convenience. The boys (and I) are ridiculously excited to see one of our favorite novels brought to life!

* And there's Gaudete Sunday to close out the week ~ which means we light the pink candle! A little party for my CCD class. Las Posadas begin on this night ... another favorite book to read aloud!

***

Our Tree, stage one (lights only so far) ... :)

Tree lights 1

Looking forward to a quiet, mostly-homey week ... Are we halfway to Christmas already?

Have a lovely Sunday, my friends!

 **


From My Advent Notebook ...

Vh advent angel 

{Notes for December 2nd ~ the 8th}

        * Set up the children's creche in the learning room.

    * Fill Advent calendar boxes with little messages or treats.

    * Decorate Christmas tree ~ I love natural decorations, and these would be lovely!    

    * Light our first Advent candle ~ Add sprigs of (kitty-safe) greenery gathered on this week's nature walk.

* On St. Barbara's Day (Dec. 4th) ~ Gather bare branches to force in a bucket of water, in hopes they'll bloom by Christmas Day.

    * On St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) ~ Hang candy canes in the tree - one for each boy - with a little note describing something he has done this year of which he should be proud. Also, place a new Christmas book for our collection under the tree.

        * Mail Christmas cards ~ Prepare a plate of cookies for the lovely ladies at the post office. :)

     * Begin "Animals of Christmas" with Earlybird ~ Organize notebook, visit "our" farm, add wooden animals to creche, and read books centering on animals of the manger.

    * Honor the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) ~ Make some pure vanilla cookies (I get these aptly named treats at Whole Foods), hang our symbolic ornament on the tree and listen to this song which never fails to move me to tears.

* Set up our Christmas card display ~ Hang felt ribbons along the windowpanes with tiny clothespins attached.

***

As the first Sunday of Advent approaches, I'm reminding myself that this can be a time of quiet and peace, despite the "hustle and bustle" of the cultural norm. I'm trying to focus on family- and home-centered activities ... less "out and about," more "in and within." I'm also considering our Advent home atmosphere ... the sights, sounds and stimuli that surround us. Being pregnant has added a whole new dimension to the season for me - in the practical and personal sense. I am truly relishing this time of year ... waiting, watching, wondering ... there are some very special weeks just ahead.

Have a lovely weekend, my friends!



A last-minute (child-friendly) gift ...

Now I know I keep revisiting this tissue-candle craft, but honestly, I'm a little in love with it! It's such an easy project and it makes such a pretty gift ... something you could make with your kids (of all ages) in a jiffy. Keep the supplies on hand and in the space of an hour you'll have a wonderful last-minute gift ... for a teacher or coach, your pastor, a neighbor or anyone, really. Because who wouldn't love a sparkly, colorful candle handmade by a child just for them? 

Crackerjack made one yesterday morning for his Art teacher ...

Candlecraft1

(Two things to note in this picture (aside from the kid and the craft) ... 1. the cat (helping as usual) and, 2. the new yellow paint in my dining room. I love it! :D)

Supplies:

glass candle holder

tealight candle

colorful art tissue paper

dry-clear glue

paint brush

clear, white or iridescent glitter

(*fixative?)

(Note: I think tearing the tissue paper into bits and setting out the pile for the kids to work from, saves time and makes the whole project less fussy.)

Working in small sections, let the kids brush the glass with glue, and then stick on bits of colorful paper.

Candlecraft2

Once the glass is covered (encourage the kids to fill in any gaps), apply one final *very thin* coat of glue all over the outside. This will smooth down any edges and keep the paper from peeling over time. (Depending on the age - and patience - of your child, this might be best done by Mama.)

The glue also creates the perfect sticky surface for sparkles! Just shake glitter over the candleholder (or roll it in glitter set on a paper plate).

Now let it dry!

Candlecraft3

The glitter idea was my mum's, and it really lends just the right festive touch to the final project. My mum made so many crafts with us when we were kids - all year long, but especially at Christmas. (I think that's why Christmas is so linked with crafting in my mind!)

One thing I wondered, though, (and it's too early right now to call Mum up and ask) is whether or not we should spray the final project with a fixative of some sort. If only to keep the glitter from shaking off. Any thoughts, dear crafty readers? :)

While I cleaned up the mess, CJ set our projects in the sunny front window ...

Candlecraft4

And before heading to class, we packed CJ's craft in a pretty little bag. We also added a small "tin" of our favorite holiday cookies:

Candlecraft5

But as pretty as the candle looks sparkling in the sun, I think it looks especially lovely shining in the dark:

Candlecraft6

:)

So there you have it! A quick and easy last minute gift - or a New Year's craft? - or maybe just a nice winter's day project. Something to keep in mind for after the holidays when Winter really sets in - as does cabin fever!

(Now, I promise to lay off the tissue-candle craft for a little while, lol!)

And it was so lovely to "have tea" with you all yesterday. As soon as I finish this post, I'll be jumping into the comments to catch up ... Maybe you'll consider joining me again today?

4:00 my time ~ I'll be here with another cup and another kind of tea ... or maybe something stronger, lol. ;)

Whether you join me or not, I do hope you all have a wonderful day! Take care of yourselves (and your loved ones!) and I will do my best to do the same.

See you all again sometime soon!

**


A Simple St. Lucia Day

Stlucia1

Happy Tuesday, everyone ~ and a Happy Feast Day, too!

Now, by St. Lucia tradition, the children of the household are encouraged to wake their parents with a special breakfast on this day, but it just doesn't work that way in our family! For one thing, we had our coffee roundabouts 5 a.m. - and for another, Bill left for work shortly thereafter! So instead, I wake my boys - my older boys that is, Earlybird is quite awake by now - by filling the house with the wonderful smell of cinnamon.

One of these years I will make homemade St. Lucia rolls, but canned rolls work all right, too. Stumbling into the kitchen, with sleepy faces and rumpled hair, my boys are quite pleased to find a plate of warm, spicy buns on the counter. They know right away just what day it is. :)

In years past, I've made star hats with the boys, but this year I'll have to content myself with the three little star children perched on our nature shelf:

Stlucia2

That's not to say we won't spend part of our day crafting - we have teacher gifts to work on today! Also, Earlybird and I will make a quick run to the library to pick up this sweet book which just arrived on the hold shelf for us.

Tonight for supper, I'm making Swedish meatballs - to serve with simple noodles, bread and salad - and I'll mull a little fruit juice for a child-friendly "glogg." And after supper, while Bill has Bookworm at Confirmation class, the younger boys and I will work on assembling the Christmas cards. They're due to arrive today (at last!) and I have everything all ready to go - labels, stamps, favorite pens, etc.

So it's just another Tuesday, but with a little "faith & fun" woven in ~ another step forward on our family Advent journey. :)

Well, my friends, I wish you all a very nice Tuesday ~ take care and take joy ~ I will see you all again very soon!



Little Lights for Dark Days

Pinkweek4

Earlybird and and I were discussing just how dark it is at this time of year - and what a blessing "light" is, especially on these very dark days (and nights). So I thought it would be fun to make some lovely little lights in the colors of the season - informal Advent candles to place on our nature shelf. There was glue involved, so EB was on board!

EB worked on a plastic cup and I worked on four glass votives (one for each week of the season).

Pinkweek3

Using paint brushes, we just spread mod podge on the sides of the cups/candleholders and then stuck bits of purple and pink tissue paper all along the outside.

We did, of course, have help.

Pinkweek5

We placed our final crafts in the windows to set:

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While the candles dried, I cleaned up the glue/tissue paper mess and then EB and I made up a batch of brownies for tonight. (They'll be served with peppermint stick ice cream - for "Pink Sunday!"). By the time the brownies were in the oven, the sun had gone below the horizon and the house fell into shadow ...

It was time to light the candles!

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Earlybird placed his Advent candle in the empty manger. Here it will shine as we wait for the Big Night.

(Note: EB's candle is battery-lit, while my glass votives hold real wax-and-flame tealights.)

I placed my Advent candles on the Nature Table: 

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EB said they look just like the sunrise!

:)

This week we'll be logging the hours of sunlight and paying special attention to the sky at the start and the close of the day. (Goodness knows, we're up for both ends of the day!) These are the darkest days of the year ... so every little bit of light counts. But the week after next brings us the solstice, and with it the return of the light. Slowly and surely, the days will get longer ... and brighter.

Well, my friends ... I hope you all had a nice weekend. Did yours go by as quickly as mine did? (Which was pretty darn fast!)

Thanks so much for stopping by ... have a good night, and I will see you all sometime tomorrow ...



Our Advent Calendar is Ready to Go!

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Finished just in the nick of time ... with a little a lot of help from my mum!

Remember all those months ago, when I came home from the craft store with this?

Well, I really must laugh at myself. There I was thinking I was so ahead of the game, when that tree sat on the top of my bookshelf until just after Thanksgiving! Honestly, I was thisclose to just leaving it plain! But my mother very kindly offered to take it home to paint in time for December 1st. We discussed colors and design, and off she went to the craft store ...

And just 24 hours later, she brought over the nearly finished product! (I say nearly finished only because it still needed numbers and a few embellishments which we did together while the boys ate lunch.)

And here's how it turned out!

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I just love how it looks!

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As you can see, we chose soft Christmas-y shades of red, gold, green and blue ... and my mum picked out lovely, silvery snowflakes and tiny bits of vintage clip art. For the countdown, we used simple black number stickers (I attached them with tweezers as they were fairly fragile).

And at the very top we placed a beautiful angel ...

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Inside the drawers will be tiny treats and notes for the boys ...

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And on the back of the tree is a special message:

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Now, earlier today I started organizing the things for inside the drawers ...

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These are strips of scrapbooking paper and some brightly wrapped chocolates. On the strips of paper I will write an activity or idea for each day (sometimes something special, often very simple) and then roll it up tightly and tuck it inside the drawer alongside a chocolate.

(Note: I write out the strips one night at a time, working off my big list of ideas. I find it hard to plan too far ahead when weather, sickness, and all kinds of other intrusions can upset our plans.)

Now, a word on the chocolates ...

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I bought a couple of bags of mixed Lindt "Lindor" truffles, and they conveniently come wrapped in three different colors. So each boy gets a chocolate every third day. Bookworm's are blue (dark chocolate), Crackerjack's are red (milk chocolate) and Earlybird's are gold (white chocolate). Except that, EB can't eat these particular chocolates ...

So what we will do is this:

He will trade me his truffle for a special treat I have on hand just for him.

That's a win-win situation in my book! ;)

Now, I took the above pictures in the front room because it had such great light, but I've since moved the Advent tree to its permanent home, on top of the nature shelf:

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The Tree is surrounded by favorite (nature-related) Christmas books, as well as ...

... our little Star Children ...

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... and my Holiday Peace candle:

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I'm just so very pleased.

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So here we are on the last night of November, and our Advent Tree is ready to go! I can't wait for tomorrow ... December is such a wonderful month, because there are so many special pleasures in which to take comfort and joy. It's my hope our Tree will guide us through Advent, and help us prepare - inside and out - for the happiest day of the year.

~****~

Have a lovely night, my friends, and thank you very much for stopping by. I will see you all again here very soon ...

:)