Advent Feed

Advent Tea, Week 2: Plants & Peace

IMG_1146

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!)

IMG_0895

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 ... :)

IMG_1125

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?

IMG_1024

IMG_1045

IMG_1018

IMG_1016

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 ...

IMG_1066

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

IMG_1141

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) ...

IMG_1136

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!

IMG_1010

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. :)

IMG_1062

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 ...

IMG_1126

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 ...

IMG_1165

... 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 ...

IMG_1143

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 ... 

IMG_1168

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 ...

IMG_1180

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!

IMG_1177 (1)

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!


Advent Tea with Friends ... December 8th ❤

Advent tea with friendsHello and Happy Thursday, my friends! Thank you so much for joining us for 4:00 teatime. :)

As discussed in Monday's post, I'll be sharing readers' favorite cups and mugs here every day (or so) throughout Advent, and returning on Fridays with my own Advent Tea post. Everyone who participates is entered in my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway (a random collection of little wintertime comforts & joys to be mailed out after the new year) ... On New Year's Eve I will announce the basket winner!

If you'd like to join us, please read more giveaway details in this post - but for today, let's pop in at Erin's ... ☕️

"This is my very favorite mug. I gave it to my mother, who was a fan of Polish pottery, as a Christmas gift in 2011. Shortly afterward, in January 2012, she passed away after fighting leukemia for 17 long years. So the cup fell back into my hands. I use it every single day for tea and coffee and always think of my mother ...

Peace tea erin

Warm wishes to your and yours this Christmas."

**

Erin, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful mug and memories of your mother, and I'm so sorry to hear of her passing. Leukemia is such a terrible disease - my maternal grandfather died from acute leukemia 19 years ago. His birthday is tomorrow and as I remember him in my prayers, I will remember your dear mother as well. <3

This picture is so pretty and cozy, Erin. The basketweave angel is beautiful glowing beside your treasured mug. I just adore Polish pottery - it's lovely to behold and wonderful to HOLD. These mugs just fit so nicely in one's hand! Thanks so much for inviting us into your home and sharing a bit of your Advent with us ...

And friends, thanks so much for joining us at teatime ... I hope these posts are a little bright spot in your day. :) I'll be back tomorrow with my own Advent Tea post ... talking about this week's theme of "Plants and Peace" and sharing some of the things we've been getting up to around here lately (crafts, stories, kitchen tasks). There will also be another peek at those Winter Comforts Basket goodies!

Hope you all have a wonderful Thursday evening! See you here again very soon ...



Advent Tea with Friends ... December 7th ❤

Advent tea with friendsHello and Happy Wednesday, my friends! Thank you so much for joining us for 4:00 teatime. :)

As discussed in Monday's post, I'll be sharing readers' favorite cups and mugs here every day (or so) throughout Advent, and returning on Fridays with my own Advent Tea post. Everyone who participates is entered in my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway (a random collection of little wintertime comforts & joys to be mailed out after the new year) ...

On New Year's Eve I will announce the basket winner!

If you'd like to join us, please read more giveaway details in this post - but for today, let's stop to take tea and smell the roses at Cathy's ... ☕️

"Yes, I too cannot believe the first week of Advent is gone! Today I spent the morning cutting out holly, berries, candles, and flames for tomorrow's 1st grade ccd students - to construct an Advent wreath for their refrigerators ... along with a manger which they are to fill in with straw symbolizing their good deeds ...

Advent tea cathy 1

I chose the cup with the lid to keep my tea hot and it still got cold! Busy hands, I forgot to drink. The rubber parts can not be microwaved so I think I'll just grab a favorite mug, heat up my tea and return ...

Advent tea cathy 2

There, much better. I choose COURAGE today because there is not a one room that is in order! I have been making changes in every room! KM'ed all hubby's clothes and redid his closet ... now daughter's room holds all the extras overflowing into the hallway, book cases being moved, extra blankets to be washed and given away, much of his clothing should be sold! Like new! There are boxes need going through .... Yes, more like major overhauls taking place in order to declutter - in the mist Christmas season has arrived - what a mess! I do have a few things up in my kitchen, but again, as usual, it's not the Advent journey I envisioned (is it ever?) and it's going to take lots courage to continue!

 On the Feast of St. Nicholas...

Advent tea cathy 3

... drinking tea, making lists ...

Advent tea cathy 5

... eating cookies and enjoying roses ...

Advent tea cathy 4

... doesn't get much better than this. 🎄
     
It will be fun to continue this journey with you all and see how we progress with our planning. Yes, that is a leather Travelers Note book system that is to help me plan life and life I want to live. No looking back with any regrets! Doing so does mark my days and allow me to see that I do make progress and I do have goals that I am accomplishing! It's a good thing ... I've even baked cookies twice this year and have plans for a few more kinds. I have created a family exchange of handmade Christmas ornaments, and I will be spending a few nights with Hallmark Christmas movies, candles, popcorn, and Christmas cards and letters...

So may all your Christmas desires and wishes happen! Let us begin! (Yes, that white haze was steam coming off the reheated cup. LOL, it's still too hot!)

May God bless your day 🌹

 **

This was just lovely, Cathy. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your home and your Advent thoughts with us! I think many of us are right where you are ... there's so much going on around us, so many things we want (and need) to get done ... yet we crave the sweet comfort and joy that comes with taking a moment to sit down and truly savor this beautiful season. I'm so glad you did just that ... and shared it with us!

Well friends, thanks once again for joining us at teatime! I'll be back tomorrow with another reader's lovely cup and thoughts to share ... hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday evening!

See you here again very soon ...


Advent Tea with Friends ... December 5th ❤

Advent tea with friendsHello and Happy Monday, my friends!

Today I am kicking off a little something new - well not really new for my blog, but new for this year! As you all know, I am running a "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway this month, and all you have to do to enter is share with me a picture of your favorite hot beverage cup (or mug). The winner of the basket - a random collection of little wintertime comforts & joys - will be announced here on New Year's Eve!

I shared the first few pictures I received last week in my Friday Advent Tea post, but I thought - how about I post all these lovely pictures in their own separate posts? So I'm reviving "Advent Tea with Friends" and will be sharing YOUR pictures here every day at the blog - roundabouts teatime (aka 4 p.m.) More details at the end of this post ... :)

But for now, let's drop in at Denise's for a hot cup of cocoa ...☕️

 

Plant tea 2

"Sitting down to a planning time afternoon
tea, or as is the case today, hot cocoa, when I saw that you had an
afternoon post up ... :)

I can not have a favorite!  I don't have a Christmas/wintry tea cup. I am
still looking for just the right one, as I take Mom flea marketing (those
trips are getting fewer, sadly). But this is the one I used today. It is
actually the cup I use most during the autumn season. :) And I actually
think it 'belongs' to my grand-twin boy. They each have a favorite they
have claimed.

The lighting is terrible, but if I hadn't taken a photo then, I would not
remember to do it! Where I sit in the afternoons, here in front of the
south-facing windows, is so warm! Geese had flown overhead, leaving our
pond & heading to feed & slumber maybe, at the empty soybean field just
west of us, I would imagine. I have these swivel 'talking chairs' as my
husband dubbed them. So, I can swivel to look outside, or look at the
Christmas tree, or the fireplace, or turn all the way around and look at
the grands at the table.

Thanks for asking to see our cups!  This is going to be fun!

Have a blessed season!"

**

Thank you so much for sharing, Denise! Your teatime - or cocoa time as the case was here - sounds so nice!  Planning time teas are so wonderful - "working teas" I call them! :)

So remember dear readers, to join in our Advent Tea fun, please send me a picture (as many as you wish) along with a description and your thoughts on tea (coffee, cocoa or whatever you prefer) by emailing me at drhanigan AT gmail DOT com. Throughout Advent I will share "tea with friends" here at the blog every day (or so) roundabouts 4:00 p.m. Then on each Friday I will put up my usual weekly tea post - this coming week my theme is "Peace and Plants."

Enjoy the rest of your Monday, my friends! 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

IMG_0322 (2)

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 ...

IMG_0632

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 ...

IMG_0613 (1)

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 ...

IMG_0623

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 ...

IMG_0600

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 ...

IMG_0597

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 ....

IMG_0733

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.

IMG_0642

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!

IMG_0563

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:

Friends Tea 7

"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

IMG_0313 (1)

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:

IMG_0242 (1)

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 ... :)

IMG_0247

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 ... ;)

IMG_0252

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) ...

IMG_0255

And then I decorated and filled each pocket ... 

IMG_0254

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 ...

IMG_0314

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

IMG_0315

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).

IMG_0316

I really, really love how this came out!

IMG_0312

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 ❤

IMG_8855
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.

IMG_0242

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.)

IMG_8063

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!)

IMG_8064

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! :)

*❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *

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 ....

IMG_0313

(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!

IMG_9030

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 ... :)

IMG_9010

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

IMG_9043

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

IMG_9033

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

IMG_9036

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

IMG_9044

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!


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Welcome Winter!

Advent tea winter 24

Happy Monday, my friends ~ and Happy Winter Solstice, too!

I'm getting a late start on Tea, because it's been a busy one today! And mostly it's been a "working tea," so if you've just stepped into the kitchen to join me, please excuse the mess! There are, however, some good smells in the air and soft music in the background ... the kids are all occupied (bigs watching littles), so I'm ready to sit ...

Please grab yourself a cup (there are plenty in the cupboard) and let's chat! :)

Now as you're probably aware, today we begin a new season: around midnight tonight the seasons will change guard, as Autumn retires and Winter makes its triumphant return. Though to be honest, I don't know how triumphant Old Man Winter is in these parts - we hit 50° earlier today! And not a speck of snow to be seen, which is quite late in the game for New England ...

But snow or no, Winter is arriving at our doortsteps and I think it's a wonderful thing to prepare our hearts and home for all it has to offer. I take joy in all the seasons as they turn (and return) - and I love all of them equally. Each one has its unique pleasures and promises to offer, and I've been taking notes for years on how to make the best of each season of the year. It's such a passion of mine! I will spend more time discussing the new season in upcoming posts, but here are a few questions for us to ponder as we Welcome Winter on this dark, chilly night. I've added my own answers, but I'd love to hear yours, too!

What is Winter like where you live? Is it true to form this year?

Here in New England it's unseasonably mild, and has been for some time. They're predicting near 70° on Christmas Eve! This is just unheard of ... although, after last year's epic snowfall, I should probably be counting our blessings! Things will turn around before long, I am sure ...

What are your favorite things about Winter?

I love SNOW! From gentle flurries to snowstorms - big old Nor'easters thrill me! I just love it. And nothing beats a Winter sunset stretching across a clear, frosty sky. Vivid and breathtaking - God's perfect artistry! I also love watching birds at the feeders at this time of year, and savoring the warmth of home on cold days and nights ... with extra blankets, cozy slippers, and nourishing foods like hot cocoa, baked apples and hearty beef stew.

What are some hobbies you might try over these long winter days?

I'm going to recommit to my journal-keeping this Winter, and get more organized about seasonal crafts.

What foods do you like to serve during the Winter? Are there seasonal meals you return to every year?

I love seasonal meals ... so in Winter, that means potatoes and root vegetables, pot pies, stews and soups, oatmeal, citrus fruits, molasses cookies and hot beverages of all kinds.

*☀️*

And now, for my Tea Journal Notes this week, our fourth week of Advent, just a handful of days from that holiest of nights ...

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea winter 2

We are so grateful to have received a wonderful selection of citrus fruits from Bill's aunt who now lives in Florida. Because I know I'll be "indulging" quite a bit later this week I'm trying to eat as healthy as possible these days, so my "snack" today is hot tea and a very simple (but sweet) clementine. I find oranges and clementines very Christmasy, don't you?

Advent tea winter 14 (1)

Now, if you're "game," maybe you'd care to join me in some last-minute Christmas crafting? :)

As I work, the cider is simmering on the stove and the boys are all busy with their own affairs - Earlybird is working with his therapist and my older boys are taking turns playing with Little Bear. I don't always have my kids at the craft table with me, but I like that they see me here ... being calm and thoughtful and taking joy in the season with my hands and my heart. It's one of those pre-Christmas days when the home atmosphere is so important ... one of quiet anticipation and joyful preparation. I try to model this mindset for my children, and hope that their memories of these days will be dear ones.

 What are you reading this week?

Advent tea winter 18

I'm not doing much "personal reading" this week, but that's to be expected. I do love all those holiday picture books, though! Our book basket is full of "Winter Welcome" this week, and here is a list of some of our favorites:

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

Wintertime

Grandmother Winter

Winter Waits

Winter Lullaby

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here

Waiting for Winter

Winter

When Winter Comes

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits

 Also by my side is Winter: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for Young Children, as I look for little verses to journal or share or write into curriculum plans.

What are you listening to this week?

Advent tea winter 20

And Winter Came ... by Enya. It is just so lovely, and an early Christmas present for me! :)

When Bill and I were first dating (in the late 80s/early 90s) then engaged ('91) and then married ('93), Northern Exposure was our favorite tv show ... for its quirky plotlines and lovable characters as well as the very cool soundtrack. Several Enya songs were used throughout the series and we just fell in love with her music. To listen to this or this just takes me right back to those sweet, early days! We're actually re-watching this series with the boys over vacation, and loving it all over again. :)

What are you working on this week?

Advent tea winter 1

Setting up a Blessings Jar for the New Year, organizing a family meeting, and finishing my monthly calendar for the file crate ... as well as my 2016 planner. The notebook above is - potentially - my new daybook for 2016. I found it at Paper Source (while Christmas shopping with Bill!) and not only did I love the cover, but the pages are gorgeous. It's a nice size, too. I have to play around with it a bit - but of course, I will let you all know how it turns out!

 In addition, this week is all about readying ourselves for Christmas ... a bit more in the practical sense than the pensive, but I'm trying desperately to keep things in perspective. To keep the peace we've cultivated ... in me and around me. 

A couple of projects:

Advent tea winter 10

Sun and moon ornaments I made for the tree ... :) I have a plan to make "nature" ornaments throughout next year - a couple each month to reflect the changing seasons and natural phenomena. I found some plain, kraft-brown, round ornaments at AC Moore that are very easy to paint up and decorate. On the back of each ornament will be a quote or sentiment I wish to pass on to my children ...

Advent tea winter 11

I also made this ornament, a mama robin on her nest ...

Advent tea winter 13 (1)

(The eggs are painted whole nutmeg!) 

What's happening in nature this week?

 Mostly, we've been taking advantage of dry, mild weather and enjoying the last sunsets of Autumn ...

Advent tea winter 4

Advent tea winter 3

Advent tea winter 7

Any projects with the children this week?

We set up a Solstice Tree for our little furred and feathered friends ...

Advent tea winter 6

Advent tea winter 25

And this week in our Advent plans we're focusing on "Friends, Family and Fellow Man," so it was time to move our Holy Family into the manger where the rocks, plants and animals have gathered to welcome them ...

Advent tea winter 23

Shepherds wait on the windowsill amongst the nativity-themed books ...

Advent tea winter 21

While the wise men began their journey in the bookcase across the room. :)

(and finally)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

For my friends who are not quite as pleased to see Winter makes its appearance:

Advent tea winter 12

**

Now, speaking of Winter, I am so pleased to tell you all that there will be ANOTHER Live Planing Chat between Jen, Mystie and myself sometime next month! Details to come, (and of course I'll share them as soon as I can) but I do know we'll talk further about planning strategies (nitty-gritty stuff!) and brainstorm ideas for the first couple of months of the year. If you have any suggestions please drop me a note! I will be picking up speed with my Fresh Start series starting next week, and I will address the "mind map" I mentioned in the talk last week as a couple of you have asked about it. I think it's a great tool for anyone thinking about their responsibilities and routines or perhaps beginning a new planner. A timely topic for sure!

As always, I would LOVE to hear from you, my friends, about your own Tea this week and/or your thoughts on welcoming Winter. If you have a moment, please drop me a note below or send me an email here:

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

(Pics are always welcome!)

I look forward to hearing from you and chatting more about all these fun topics! Thank you so much for joining me today and letting me prattle on about this and that ... I appreciate your time and kind attention! :)

See you here again very soon ...


Tea with Friends ... ❤

Advent Tea with Friends button

Happy Sunday, my friends, and blessings to all on this 4th Sunday in Advent! I can hardly believe our Advent Teas are winding down ... it feels like I just posted the idea! But here we are with Christmas but a few days away ... are you ready? Wrapped presents and cookie platters aside, are you ready in your heart to embrace Christmas? Did your Advent go the way you had hoped?

Well, tomorrow afternoon I will post my final Advent Tea, and our theme will be one of "Welcome." We will be welcoming Winter (which arrives tomorrow night!) and looking for ways to embrace this new season in our hearts and in our homes. There will be lots to talk about there! But for today, I'd like to share a lovely cup of Advent Tea, poured by my dear friend Denise ... I hope you enjoy! 

**

Advent tea magic denise 3

We love weaving our faith and the true meaning of Christ-mass in our Holy-Day celebrating, (which for us begins with Thanksgiving) especially with our grandchildren. We do that in lots of various ways. Decorating the tree, which has many faith-symbols and talking about what they are, what they stand for. Another I think I wrote about, our Jesus gifts. When they were a bit younger, we would find the Christ-babe for our nativities. I have a couple who still enjoy the hunt, and now for the older ones especially, we also add in a time of discussion, "How can we *find* the
Christ-babe in our lives today? How have we LIVED the Christ to those around us?" As the Scripture says, "One generation will praise Your works to another and will declare Your mighty acts." (Psalm 145:4) Oh for us to take *every opportunity* to declare HIS mighty acts to our progeny! Passing on our love for the One who first loved us!

~~ Advent Tea Journal ~~

Refreshments:

Advent tea magic denise 2

An assortment this week: Chai Tea Latte (homemade!), peppermint tea, hot cocoa! These little Grinch cookies, that did NOT turn out like Pinterest! I only had brown candy hearts (what?) and they weren't supposed to spread out quite so much. Next time bake in mini-muffin tin, maybe??? But cute all the same. Family story that goes along with this, so the Grands will have quite a laugh!! 

Reading:

The prophecy of the Messiah - and then the FULFILLMENT of those prophecies, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures!  WOW! The lineage is spelled out. The locations are pin-pointed! The most miraculous, the Holy Son being born of a virgin! WOW! Oh, help us, Holy Father, not miss the Christ-child, who grew to be a man freely giving Himself a sacrifice for all who would receive in faith! Now, I'm not a great woman of faith, but I know Almighty God who is ever-faithful, fulfilling ALL His promises!!

Listening: 

Christmas music continues. I've been enjoying Christmas music by Third Day this week! And a little David Crowder Band Christmas as well.

Working On:

Thinking of the new year, the great growth potential! Praying about what the LORD wants to do in my life, what my "focus" of the year will be.  Trying to see how this new planner will fit me(?) It's a fun thing, playing in new planners, but I am a little timid about how this one is going to work!

Nature Notes:

Advent tea magic denise 1

We've had rain so that was good! But, we had a Christmas surprise! We've lived here 6 years and this is the first year these big, green leafy bushes (out front, facing south) have flowered! White flowers (which I didn't get a picture of) and then these adorable RED BERRIES! Not many, but a few bits of bright color here & there! I can't wait to get down to Mom's to cut the red berry-limbs that will last until March!!! Also, I am trying to identify a new-to-me bird that has been visiting our home. Has just a slight bit of red on its head, and maybe in the folds of its wings.

Projects with children:

Our focus this week is our Children/Community theater's production of Elf, Jr.!! My husband (Gramps) is co-directing this one & three grands are IN it, and one is backstage hand! They have been working diligently and I am sure it will come together beautifully, although there is some worry. Opening night is THIS Friday (18th)!! So, we are busy & excited around here, and to be candid, tired!

It seems like just yesterday you were announcing your Advent Tea, Dawn! Yet, here it is so very close to end our waiting! It has been a time of calming for me, to come to your "web-home" and join you in the pausing, the calming, the anticipating, the sharing. Thank you!

~~Denise

**

Thank you so much for sharing your Advent Tea Journal with us, Denise - such beautiful thoughts and pictures! I hope the play was a success for you all on Friday night ... I am sure you all must be exhausted, but what memories you are making! Do you know, I have never seen the movie, Elf?! It seems to have become quite the holiday favorite, but so far it has slipped under my radar. I will have to sit down with the boys and check it out sometime as I know many people enjoy it. :)

Well, my friends, as I mentioned above, tomorrow I will share a last pot of Advent Tea with you all, as Winter slips into our lives and we consider how to best make it welcome. And following that, on the very next Monday (the 28th) I will have one more Tea to share, and that will be my Christmastide Tea, with thoughts on celebrating the 12 days of Christmas at home with the children. I hope you will join me!

For today though, on this beautiful 4th Sunday in Advent - bright and cold here! - I wish you all a wonderful start to your week. I hope these next days bring you little stress and much peace as we head towards The Moment we've all been waiting for ... hearts and arms wide open. :)

See you here again very soon ...


Tea with Friends ... ❤

Advent Tea with Friends button

Happy Wednesday, my friends ... I hope your week's going well!

I am so pleased to share some Advent Tea with you today ... these lovely thoughts and images come from Cath, and I know you will enjoy them. :)

***

Advent tea tree cath 1

The tree:

This year my tree is white and has all the counted cross-stitch ornaments I have made (except for one I received as a gift I'll always treasure!). The shading of white and dark ... so peaceful as the tree turns round and round in a revolving stand. It's as if I'm driving on a back county road at night in a snow storm. I do miss the real tree I have gone and cut the last few years ... We started a tradition of naming our trees. I can't seem to name the fake tree this year. It's fake! No life ... no name?  
  

Past trees have been named Twinkle, Noel, Wenceslas, Genevieve, Stanislaus, and last years name being Shalom ... They started taking on Saintly names and meanings. Last year was special hosting the family for Christmas Eve and Shalom was my prayer for all entering my home. So yes, needless to say I am missing the personality in my home but thrilled to know the tradition has carried on in my baby girl's home and this year they have welcomed Alfred into their home and even bought him a red tree skirt to keep his toes warm. He is simply decorated, not overloaded with lights or ornaments, and elegantly beautiful in his simplicity!

Advent tea magic cath 5

Reading:

I am sticking with Ann Voskamp's Book for Advent and enjoying it very much. Pretty good for someone who forgets to keep up with her nine-day novenas!

Drinking:

I am out for lunch having pizza and not drinking this ...

Advent tea tree cath 2

I don't like it ... clove and spearmint are not for me. I must have grabbed the wrong box after reading the ingredients ... I hope the other box isn't this same stuff! 😕 Looks like there will be some gifts in a few Christmas cards ... Mom, do you like cloves?

I am just returning from a weekend retreat about the direction of the four gospels with a twist on Therese. Leaving, I looked down and found a fresh red rose petal on the side walk. Fresh, like it just fell off, was pulled off? Wish I would have taken a picture before giving it to the priest who walked right past it ... I went back inside to ask the sister if she brought in roses ... Nope? Therese said she will let flowers fall from heaven ... Seems we may have just received one? What a blessing ...

Advent tea magic cath 4
 

My word for Advent has been PEACE... 

Quote:   

“To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world. 
Presidential message, December 25, 1927” ~ Calvin Coolidge

Thoughts:

Advent is moving along too quickly. Let's take it back to 6 weeks. I need more work on me!

Looking forward to: 

Being back home, getting things in order and crafting - that hasn't happened yet! And I guess it may not if I don't get started ... or should I say ... settled!

Advent tea magic cath 1

Pink Sunday....  the "Shepherds Candle"  to represent joy.

And today my cup holds ...

Advent tea magic cath 2

Good old fashioned Campbell's vegetable soup ...

(The kind grandma served for lunch with sandwiches before Marketing created 3 or 4 different types!)

Advent tea magic cath 3

My favorite ornament made by someone else...

I don't usually watch much TV ... But today I did eat breakfast (something I don't usually do), I did turn on the TV and enjoyed some of the morning shows like Rachel Ray, and The View... Trying to create some kind of routine. Trying to place some everyday joy into my life ... Trying to create chunks of time for different things that bring joy and bring something to show for my time?

Advent tea magic cath 7

Needless to say ... Baby girl will be 25, and her stocking was done for her 1st Christmas ... The man's a few years later ... And mine? Still a work in progress? Some of that used-to-have TV time kept me sitting in my chair and I have treasures to show for that time ...  Internet time? Not a lot around here to show for it? Need a plan.

And waiting.....

Advent tea magic cath 6

Until next time ... 🎄
   Cath++

***

This was just so lovely, Cath - thank you so much for sharing a little of your Advent here with me (us). It is such a privilege to share my readers' tea notes and pictures at my blog. I am so honored each time someone - YOU - share your time, your thoughts and your wide open heart. It's such a generous thing, to share in this way ... and my blog shines a little brighter each time I post "Tea with Friends."

:)

Well my friends, I hope you are able to find some time for Tea this week, a quiet hour to just sit and do something for YOU - read a little, pray a little, plan a little ... snooze a little! Recharge your batteries in some way ... and don't think for a second you don't need it ... you do! We all do. I'm so used to just go-go-going all day thinking, well, once dinner's over and the kids are in bed, then I can sit and rest. But you know what? By that time of day ... I'm just done. There is no "resting" or "recharging the batteries" ... there is just unplugging, lights out and then Zzzzzzzzz .... 

So now I ask for a bit of time like this, for me. An hour once or twice a week to sit for "tea" and quiet thoughts. Someone else is reading to the baby and someone else is answering the phone (or not). And sometimes it's just half an hour, not a whole ... but it's still a gift whatever I get. It's good for me, and it's good for my family!

Today it's a glass of wine (poured by my husband!) and Christmas cards in my lap - not the ones I still need to sign, but the ones we've received in the mail. Before I hang them, I'll sit here and think about each family with love and a prayer for their very best new year. 

But alas, I am now nearing the end of my rest time! There are now a few children present and a cat has just been startled from his nest by the heat. Plus, it's high time to start supper and meatloaf doesn't make itself! So I'm off to the kitchen but I leave you all with my thanks and my hopes that your evening is pleasant ...

See you here again very soon!


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

Advent tea magic 1

Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your week is off to a great start! It's time for another Advent Tea, but first off ...  how on earth did it get so far in the season?! Honest-to-goodness, time seems to pick up speed as we get closer to New Year's!

Well, on Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) we rejoiced to light our third (pink!) Advent candle. What a great time to stop and take joy in our life today - right this very minute! Joy is such a gift, something we give others and something we receive as a blessing from God. I love when He opens my eyes to the joy around me ... because sometimes I can get so wrapped up in the trials and tensions of everyday life, I forget to look around for the JOY.

Wouldn't this be a great prompt for a new year's journal?

>> What brought you joy today? How have you made this day joyful for others? <<

Advent candles snowmen

(Clearly, some of these snowmen get it, while others do not.)

I have such love for this week ... because for one thing, I love that pink candle! (I don't see a lot of pink in my life, lol.) But also, on this Sunday we are still very much in the heart of Advent ... I'm still able to take peace in the season that is now ... not fret over the season to come. (Ok, truth be told - I'm fretting a little. I really am a wee bit behind.)

But most of all, I love this Sunday because it almost always arrives right around my Earlybird's birthday ... and he is as joyful a boy as you will ever meet. In fact, this very DAY happens to be his actual birthday (he turns 14 on the 14th!). So it's a very special day in our household! :)

Well, this week I'd like to talk a little about sharing Christmas with children ... the magic of the season, as well as its deeper meaning. Christmas comes for all of us, but how very special it is for the children in our life. They are so ready to soak it all up and just BELIEVE ... what they see, what they hear, what they are told ... and that's sometimes a good thing, but other times not so much. How do we hone the message they receive at this time of year?

>> How do we shape their joy? <<

Speaking of joy, we have these lovely pink, sparkly letters that spell out JOY - I made them several years ago and I always bring them out on this particular Sunday. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced one of the letters ...

  Advent tea magic 15

... and the message isn't quite what I meant. At least, not on most days. But it gave us all a good chuckle!

So before I go any further, here are some Advent questions for you, in regards to our theme this week: 

What are your children's favorite aspects of Christmas?

How do you share with them the true meaning of Christmas? In what special ways do you pass on your Faith traditions?

How do you keep your family from burning out before the Christmas season has even begun?

For me, it's all about pacing and balance. Filling the weeks before Christmas with quiet delights for the senses: warm lights in the growing darkness, soft music in the background, good smells and tastes from the kitchen ... and of course, a touch of season's magic. Our Advent countdown message, a mystery unfolding in the empty manger, flickering candles, books appearing each week, packages arriving in the mail, a letter posted to Santa ...

Where is Santa right this minute? When will he come HERE? What is the angel saying? What is the candle in the manger all about? Who are the rocks and the plants and the animals all waiting to see? What do they all know that I don't ... (yet)?

Children respond so deeply to magic and mystery and anything that attracts their developing senses. They're like super-curious sponges! And boy, do they love a good story ...

But I think my children enjoy the family traditions we've created most of all - they look for them and request them every year - which makes me think that all these "little things" we've done through the years have possibly made a big impression. Living a quieter life, a bit outside of the mainstream in some ways, we are able to avoid the commercial side of Christmas that colors so much of the season these days. To a comfortable degree, anyway. We attend Mass, and soak in the atmosphere of our Parish and the words of our Pastor. I try to weave liturgical events and meaning into our days, as I do every week of the year ... 

We eat certain things and read certain words ... light special candles and believe amazing things ... and we wait, and we wonder ... because we are Catholic, and this is what Christmas means to us. It's a privilege to live this way, and though we may be entertained by the world around us, we are sustained by what we share with each other.

Christmas lights are a good example of "magic and meaning." Without a doubt, those sparkling lights are a hallmark of Christmas - shining through the darkest nights of the year. They are SUCH magic - especially for children - but why do we light them? What is their meaning? How can we make our own inner lights shine as brightly?

Here is a beautiful passage shared by my friend Michelle M., from Vermont, in which she describes an Advent walk she shared with her family and special friends. This is EXACTLY what I am talking about when I say I want my children to experience a season full of magic and meaning ... 

"I am paring down the usual Advent festivities and just trying to find quiet. With some sadness and a whole bunch of relief, I decided not to host our beautiful Advent spiral walk in the lovely round building we usually use. This has been the most lovely and spiritual part of my Advent for years and years, watching the children grow up walking in the candlelight circle. But there is just too much happening and the children are growing and transforming, so our rituals must too. I decided to invite one special family two nights ago to wander up our hill in the dark, drink hot cocoa from real mugs, light a tea light in a squat Bonne Maman jam jar, and place it somewhere in the dark while whispering a prayer or wish or hope. It was a vision now etched in my forever memories to see those sweet children's faces bent over their candle in total silence in the dark. Of course, this mood was soon changed as they came together over one jar and descended into bathroom noise humor...but that's all part of the journey, no?!"
 Thank you for sharing, Michelle! What a lovely memory for you all! :)

I'll have more thoughts on this topic in time, and I hope to post more as the week goes along, but for now - because this post is already running long! - here are my tea journal notes:

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea magic 4

This week my "tea" - in the spirit of childhood - is a cup of creamy, minty homemade cocoa! Earlybird LOVES our fire pit and so as a birthday surprise, we had one last bonfire out back yesterday afternoon. I used our old favorite snowman mugs (Crate & Barrel, from before we had kids!) and added a natural candy cane "stirrer" as an extra-special treat. 

O project 12-13 2

Just before Bill lit the fire pit, I had the boys gather 'round the Advent garden so we could light the third apple's candle, and check today's rock. Our prayer for the week: God, please help us spread joy to those who need it most!

Once the words were said and the fire was lit, I took Little Bear for an amble around the yard. We had some nature walking to make up for after a rainy, head-cold kind of week!

What are you reading this week?

Advent tea magic 9 (1)

It's all about the children's books these days, and on our coffee table I have an array of books featuring "Animals in Advent" (our "Advent in Nature" theme this week). Many of these we own, but I request several books each week from our inter-library loan. (I often joke/worry that our librarians either love us or hate us ... but we sure do love them!)

I also parked a couple of our rather LARGE seasonal book baskets in my library nest ...

Advent tea magic 10

One basket for Winter books ...

Advent tea magic 11

And another for the bulk of our Christmas books proper. These get divided and dispersed to certain corners and baskets around the room as themes pop up through the season.

What are you listening to this week?

"Christmas Piano Music" on Pandora. I had a facial this week (finally using a gift certificate my boys gave me LAST Christmas!) and this was the music my esthetician was playing. So beautiful and calming!

What are you working on this week?

Planner in car

 Getting my 2016 planner in order! I just had it spiral-bound at Staples today. (Needless to say, there will be a great big post all about it in the very near future!)

There is also, of course, much Christmas to-doing this week, as we get down to the wire. Making teacher gifts is the top of the list this week.

What's happening in nature this week? 

Well, as I've mentioned, we've all been sick, and the weather has been a bit miserable, so outdoor time has been limited. It's been very mild for November, though, and the plentiful winter moths are ... shall we say, a bit disconcerting.

Advent tea magic 16

Meanwhile, we are happy to see so many acorn caps!

Advent tea magic 13

Advent tea magic 7

This means we should have well fed squirrels this winter! (I brought in a whole bunch of caps to set on our nature shelf to remind us our critter friends will be eating well! I'm also googling lots of "acorn cap craft ideas" ... and if you follow me on Pinterest, you know what I mean!) 

Any projects with the children this week?

We have some more handmade gifts to be finishing, and this week we'll be working with the theme, "Animals in Advent." We will be taking special care of our cats and assembling a donation to a local animal shelter ... as well as migrating our barn animals to the manger ...

Advent tea magic 2

Advent tea magic 8

Advent tea magic 17

Also, we'll be organizing our Solstice Tree for next week ... but that will be a topic for another post!

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

In addition to all those children's stories, I am (re)reading a lovely little book called Festivals with Children. It is a small book written in the Waldorf tradition with a focus on the Christian festivals (or feasts) of the year. Needless to say - right up my alley!

I love, in particular, how the author describes the season of Advent:

"The calm and quiet which is prerequisite for every "inner becoming" is under attack everywhere today but especially during Advent. Today it can only be achieved by conscious effort ... There are so many customs and suggestions for the celebration of Advent that we must choose consciously to meet our particular situation. This period of time is in danger of losing its own characteristic mood. The atmosphere of preparation is often overwhelmed by the Christmas mood of fulfillment itself. Children have often already had enough by Christmas. Too often Christmas Eve is experienced as a hard-to-achieve climax followed by exhaustion, making the celebration of the twelve days of Christmas very difficult."

***

I've found that constant activity really takes its toll - not just on me, but my children. And boy do I hate feeling tired of Christmas before it's even arrived. Community is important, absolutely, and it's hard to pick and choose among so many wonderful opportunities: a tree-lighting here, a card-making there, a cookie-baking marathon somewhere else. But as with anything (and especially with children) less often means more. The one great thing you do with your family this Advent will make an equally great memory ... eighteen great things will just make a blur. These days I try to choose carefully where we spend our energy and leave ample space in our December for rest ... so we might learn to appreciate the mood of the season as well as the magic.

As always, I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on this week's topic and of course, get a peek into your Tea Journal, too. Please leave a comment below or - even better! - send me an email with your thoughts and/or pics and I'll share them here at the blog. You can reach me here:

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

And I'm still hoping to do a little video tour of our Christmas library (tree and all) but that didn't get accomplished in time for this post. Hopefully I will have it for you later this week, but for now here are a few "quick pics" ...

Advent tea magic 9

Advent tea magic 12

Advent tea magic 12 (1)

:)

Now, before I go I have one more thing - no, make that TWO more things to tell you!

The first is to announce the winner of my Christmas Books Giveaway! I so enjoyed reading all the "hellos" and "heys" and "howabouts" from you all! I wish I could send everyone a package, but for today, I must choose one ...
 
So the randomly picked winner of the giveaway is:
 
CAROLYN!

Here's Carolyn's question which I LOVE and will definitely address soon ...
 
Hi Dawn!
Happy Advent! I've really been enjoying your blog these last 2 months! What homeschooling resource books would you recommend for a young mom looking at starting homeschooling kindergarten next fall?

Thanks,
Carolyn
 
Oh, such a fun time in a homeschooling family's life - kindergarten! I've been there three times so far, and am thrilled to revisit it with Little Bear in a few years. I have some definite favorites when it comes to resources and will get a post up as soon as I can, Carolyn. :)
 
And I'll be in touch soon to arrange mailing details ... hope you enjoy these books with your family!
 
Now, before I go, I also wanted to remind you all that TOMORROW I am participating in a live planning workshop with Mystie Winckler of Simplified Organization and Jen Mackintosh of Wildflowers & Marbles! We've got an hour to talk about all kinds of planning topics - and answer questions as we go along! You can watch our chat and submit questions by signing up HERE. There will also be a chat replay and you will receive a link for that as well.
 
Ok, well, as usual I have just gone on and ON and I thank you very much for your time and kind attention. I will be off now because as I mentioned, it is our Earlybird's birthday and before the littlest wakes up I have a few presents to wrap and a chocolate cake to frost ... :)
 
But I'll see you here again very soon!

Tea with Friends ... ❤

Advent Tea with Friends button

Happy Weekend, my friends! I am so glad you've joined me today, as we share another pot of Advent Tea. Today I have some lovely posts from Leah, Kimberly, Lisa, Tammie, Denise and Helene ...

Kind ladies, thank you so much for your participation ... and friends, I hope you enjoy! :)

First up, here are a couple of links to my blogging friends ... a post from Kimberly at A Gathering of Days, where she welcomes us into her Cozy, Christmas Home ... and another from Lisa at Its Own Sweet Will who shares her family's Christmas Tree Trimmings. Both of these posts are brimming with light, warmth and good cheer ... and oh, how I wish we could really house-hop and visit for real. What fun we would have!

Now, here is a charming tree tradition, as told by Leah:

We go up into the "tree mountains" as my 7 yo son calls them. There are "rock mountains" and "tree mountains" out here ;-) The National Park Service (I think) sells a certain number of permits to cut down trees because it reduces the risk of forest fires (I had to ask ... it just felt strange to cut down the trees in the National Forest, but it is actually helping to protect the woods.) 

We like to drive up to the mountains with a giant thermos of homemade hot cocoa and perhaps some cookies. We live out on treeless plains so just being in the woods is magical. The way the sun doesn't really beat down on anything, it flitters in like little fairies through the leaves and pine needles (it is mostly evergreen in the area we harvest the tree from,) and a completely different bunch of animals make for a very - well - magical day. We play around for awhile, look for squirrels (who knew there were squirrels in trees, not just on the ground!) and then we get down to business looking for a tree.

I will admit, they are not as full-bodied as the tree farm trees. They are typically the younger trees because we have a height limit and even the taller trees are not evenly full all around because the sun only reaches one side of them before the sunlight finds its way to the west side of the mountains. BUT, even if they are sparse little things, we have such an adventure in finding a tree, that it is how we like to do things now.

As for decorating the tree, we like to make a few things and put on some purchased ornaments. One year we strung cranberries (messy!) and popcorn (I don't know how much ended up on the string with the kids helping). This year, my husband suggested that we just do natural ornaments so we can toss the tree out in the back of the property (we live on some acreage and no one can see parts of our property so only the pronghorn and cottontails and jackrabbits will be the wiser). Then, the tree can provide something for them in the cold of the year, even if it is just shelter.

Leah, what a wonderful experience this must be for your whole family, but especially your children! "Magic" is the perfect word for it  ... and boy does this whole tale fit perfectly in with my NEXT Advent post, too! (Magic + Meaning) Thank you for sharing your famlily's tree tradition with us ... you have me itching to get out into my own woods (we're surrounded here!) and take note of the dappled sunlight and frisky squirrels!

:)

And now we pop over to Tammie's!

Thank you, Dawn, for inviting us to take tea with you! This afternoon I am sitting in a sun-filled nook at my desk in our bedroom with a mug of Numi Orange Spice Tea. My husband and I tried it last year in tea-bag form and enjoyed it so much that we ordered it in a 1 lb bag of loose tea for this winter.
 
Advent Tea Tree Tammie 1
 
I am glad you asked us to share our trees here! We have a large tree in our living room, but I put up a special little tree here on my desk . . . a tiny silver tinsel tree reminiscent of the tinsel tree that my family had as I was growing up. Just looking at the sparkle and glimmer takes me right back to the excitement and anticipation that I always felt each Christmas . . . forty-something years ago!
 
Advent Tea Tree Tammie 2
 
     Last night when my husband came home from work, he suggested that we read something "Christmas-y." I knew right away what we should read ... a few selections from an Ideals Christmas issue:
 
Advent Tea Tree Tammie 3
 
We both remember this publication in our homes as we were growing up and a couple of years ago he bought me the 70th Anniversary edition. This magazine first came out in 1944, right during the dark days of World War II. In the first issue, the founder set forth his vision for the magazine with these words: "Ideals is a book of old-fashioned ideals, homey philosophy, poetry, music, inspiration, and art - things that some of us may have overlooked during these busy days." It continues to carry out those same qualities today and we find the illustrations, photographs, & stories to be charming and uplifting to us in our own busy days. I think that tonight we'll be reading some more selections from this book.
 
As far as projects I'm working on ... I'm cross-stitching ornaments for each of our five grandkids. Also, I'm putting the finishing touches on my Christmas cards ... I create our cards each year with rubber stamps. I hope to get these finished and sent out by the end of the week.
 
Thanks again, Dawn, for your sweet hospitality!  
 Blessings to you and your family,
Tammie B.
 
 
Thank you for sharing your Tea and Christmas traditions, Tammie! I have to tell you, I feel the same way about tinsel. I wouldn't use it nowadays (though my cats would love it!), but it holds nothing but fond memories for me when I remember trees dripping with all that sparkly stuff! (And those giant colored bulbs!) And thank you for recommending that Ideals book - I'd never heard of it before, but it looks lovely!
 
***

And now, let's hear about Denise's Christmas tree traditions!

Advent Tea Tree Denise 1

O Christmas Tree!

Our preference is live! However, the frugalilty of my self hasn't let us indulge in quite some time. :-) So, we get the next best thing: artificial. We normally put them up as soon after Thanksgiving as we can (depending on travel, time, etc) and leave them up until Epiphany! I don't have a favorite ornament.

We have four trees we normally put up. We are only putting up three this year; I'm not putting the one up in the Grands' play room, as we won't be in there much this season.

One is a wooden tree, made by my sister- and father-in-love. They worked together on it! (He has since passed on.) It is adorable! I put this one in our over-sized hallway.

Another tree is my snow-themed tree. White lights, white snowballs, white crocheted (purchased) snowflakes, and gold (they didn't have silver) jingle bells with red ribbon. I *reeeeeally like this one!* I learned several years ago that I don't like "hodge-podge." Now no offense intended to anyone who does, and I, in fact, do put one up, it is just not my preference! I discovered that while shopping during the Christmas season one year with Mom & baby sister (who had a baby of her own we were babysitting while she served our country in the Air Force).  I saw different styles of trees, all together. The one I gravitated to most was the one that only had a few different things, but several of those. I liked it! I discovered I liked things that looked *similar,* had some semblance of order, so I purchased what I liked & put up the tree! You know what? I actually enjoyed putting up that tree! I think it was a first. Ok, well that's not quite right, I always like putting up our live trees!!

Now, under this tree, we have our selections of Jesus Gifts. This is usually all that is under this tree. These are just things that represent some options. Our grands work throughout the year to earn money towards the gifts. We then match what they earn. Then at some point through the holiday, we select how they want to spend the money. Oh my goodness! What JOY this brings!! It is something they look forward to throughout the year. The money is spent locally and overseas through different organizations. Some of the gifts have been: money for the food bank, shopping for the food bank, sports equipment to a family, gift certificates to a shopping center, "Christmas meal baskets," clothing for homeless shelters (all local), Bibles, money to help fund translators, wells, providing animals, sewing machines, bicycles for missionaries, oh my goodness, the list goes on. It is always interesting to hear what our grands have picked & why they have chosen it!

The last is the Family Tree that goes in the family room. THIS is the hodge-podge tree. Ornaments handmade by little beloved hands, or handed down, or that have a special meaning. The Grands always decorate this one with us. It is not decorated yet; we just didn't have time last week! It is all set up, lit & just waiting! We *will* get to it next time they are here! Afternoon tea, carols on Pandora (thanks to granddaughter/13), decorating the tree! Yes!

Advent Tea Journal

Refreshments I am enjoying this week:

Apple-cinnamon has been my tea of choice for a bit. I seem to go in 'spurts' on what I crave. :-) Grands and I baked Peanut Butter Blossom cookies. So yummy!! Grands have been drinking their favorite, peppermint. They don't branch out too much. :-) If they do, it is for hot cocoa or vanilla milk (one can't have chocolate).

What am I reading & listening to?

Christmas readings and music, of course!! "Hope is Alive" by Ellie Holcomb is a favorite right now!

"So sing with the angels they fill up the sky! Heaven broke through & now HOPE is alive! He is right here among us, our God is with us tonight!  
Into our aching, into our breaking, into our longing to be made whole! Your arms are reaching, your love's holding us close! And into our suffering, into our weeping, Into this need we have to be known. Your arms are reaching, your love is holding us close."


What am I working on?


Enjoying the Advent season. I have a Christmas funny I'm working on for my dear, sweet grands, who like to tease me, so I am going to *tease* them back! I hope I don't regret it.

What is happening in nature?


 Still hunting the elusive goose! Grandson/15 just can't get out here at the right time. They always come land on the pond at some point.  However, they must be wily creatures, as they know you can't hunt 30
mins before dawn/dusk. Guess when they come in to land?? The times he CAN hunt & is here, it seems they are too high.


Thoughts I am pondering:


 My thought this week in Advent, continuing my *Faith* theme has been: 

If I have the *faith* to believe, to take God at His Word, that Christ was born of a virgin, (Bible Scripture:  Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:27) (and I DO!) then I need to apply that same *faith* to the impossible situations in my life today! I need to have that faith that HE is faithful to His Word and IS IMMANUEL, God with us!!

*** 

Beautiful as always, Denise! Thank you for sharing your Tea and Trees with us! How I love to hear about your Grands and the love you all share ... all your trees sound lovely, but that Jesus Tree is extra-special! (Not just in looks, but in purpose!) I love what you had to say about Faith, too ... it's such a GIFT, this ability to have Faith in that which seems impossible. God is so good to give us this gift because it is so very necessary throughout life!

***

And finally, here are some Tree thoughts from Helene:

Do you prefer live or artificial trees? Cut-your-own or pre-cut?

We love live trees! I’d love to cut our own but that’s not an option down here, at least not in my area.

Are there any special tree-trimming traditions your family follows each year?

Not really - my husband trims the bottom and gets it into the stand, then he and I put on the lights. After that we all start hanging ornaments. This year my little guy was really into hanging ornaments for the first time, so I spent my time digging out non-breakable ones and handing them to him to hang. We never hang all the ornaments we have, but it’s fun to go through them all and choose which ones to hang from year to year.

What is your favorite ornament?

I love old-fashioned looking glass ornaments in various motifs. I have a “bride’s set” from my husband’s grandmother (years ago, not long after we were married) that I adore but that does not get hung up right now, because if little hands broke those I’d be pretty sad, as Grandmama has since passed away and I like having those as a remembrance of her - we were kindred spirits, despite the fact that I didn't get to know her for very long.

When do you put it up and when do you take it down?

We usually get it early-mid December, but got it earlier this year because my husband was going out of town for a week and we wanted to get the tree up and decorated before he left. I love it, actually, because we get to enjoy it longer. I usually try to wait until Epiphany to take it down, but the last few years I’ve caved and done it early. By that time everyone seems to be a little over it, and we often travel for New Year, and it’s a bit sad coming back to a drying, drooping tree.

Colored lights or white lights?

White on the tree, but the lights on the house are colored.

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

My morning cuppa, and I’ve been downing Emergen-C trying to avoid the colds and other bugs that seem to be going around lately. As you said, illness can really put a damper on plans. My daughter seems to have a cold coming on, and I really hope she’s able to kick it as my sister and I are planning to take her to her first Nutcracker performance this Saturday.

What are you reading this week?

I pulled out my copy of "Forever Christmas" as well, actually. And I just picked up the latest in a cozy mystery series I read (Library Lovers mysteries) from my library, so I’ve got that to look forward to. Also a book called "Labor Day" that’s a collection of birth stories by women writers.

What are you listening to this week?

Handel’s Messiah has made a few appearances. I just found the "Ancient Noels" album you mentioned on Spotify, and I’m listening to that as I type. It really is lovely music, thanks for sharing your discovery!

What are you working on this week?

Trying to finish up a knitted baby hat and booties for a friend’s daughter’s baby. And also I did a huge deep clean of the apartment on our property - it needed a lot of attention, so now every surface has been cleaned, all soft things laundered, and am finishing up the washing of literally every dish and utensil out there (and we don’t have a dishwasher!). But now it’s all sparkly and ready for holiday guests to come and stay. Now just need to give our house a good scrub too, when I recover my motivation! :)

What's happening in nature this week?

Our neighbor let us pick a ton of bush beans from his garden this week. Our beans are finishing up, our collards are going crazy, and the carrots and broccoli romanesco still look good—at this point I’m still hopeful of a harvest! Plus the strawberry season is kicking into high gear, and they’re probably shipping some up north by now—if you see berries in your grocery store from Plant City, FL, they were grown right near me. :)

Any projects with the children this week?

Not really, my husband has been gone for work all week, so we had a scaled-back week that may have involved a few Christmas movies in the evenings and also some playdates with friends, all of which helped mama stay sane.

Thank you Helene, for sharing your Advent Tea Journal! I loved hearing about your Advent doings - so glad you found Ancient Noels good listening! And I had to smile at your mention of The Nutcracker - another magical moment I can remember from my own childhood. My grandmother and great-aunt would take my cousin and myself in (by train!) to see The Nutcracker in Boston and it was SUCH an experience. Full of mystery and wonder and magic. I cherish those memories!

Also I must tell you - I will be keeping my eyes peeled for those strawberries! I tend to stick to produce "in season" as much as possible, but I will not be able to resist enjoying berries raised near where you live! :)

***

Dear Friends, I hope you have enjoyed all these Advent thoughts, shared by my kind friends. Leah, Kimberly, Lisa, Denise, Tammie and Helene ... thank you all SO much for the time, energy and love you put into your posts. I appreciate your participation so much! I look forward to hearing more from you (ALL of you, dear readers!) as we continue along in our Advent journey. On Monday we have a new theme to chat about and I can't wait to dig in ...

"Magic and Meaning": Making Advent Memories Our Children Will Cherish.

(And don't forget, I'll be announcing the Book Giveaway winner, too!)

See you here on Monday afternoon, everyone ... thanks so much for stopping by and I wish you all a peaceful evening!


A Christmas Books Giveaway!

Happy Wednesday, my friends! It's a good day for a giveaway!

Christmas books giveaway

As I was going through our Christmas book collection I set aside some duplicates to pass on to someone else:

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona!

Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here ...

Christmas in Noisy Village

And I'd like to offer them to one of my readers! So someone will win a pretty little package from me, filled with these books and perhaps a few other seasonal delights, too ... :)

If you would like to enter your name in my Christmas Books Giveaway, please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear a suggestion for the blog - a post topic or question you might like me to answer - but you can just say, Hey, Happy Advent, too! ;)

I will announce the giveaway winner in Monday's Advent Tea post!

(And speaking of ... folks who send (or have sent) me Advent Tea comments/pics/links get entered in the giveaway twice!)

You can leave a note for me here or send me mail at:

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, my friends ... hope to hear from you soon!


My Advent Tea Journal ~ O Christmas Tree!

Advent tea tree 7

Good afternoon, my friends! I hope this post finds you well ...

We're all on the mend here, slowly but surely. It's a tough time of year to get sick - it really puts a crimp in your plans! But in a way, it's a good reminder ... Advent is all about mood and mindset, not as much about where we go or what we get done. We had planned to take the boys to a tree farm over the weekend, and I had hoped to get to the library and the craft store for some supplies. (This week's activities - and my tea post itself - all hinged on doing these things!) But alas, nobody felt up to doing any of that, so "plans and hopes" were readjusted and we just stayed home (except for an emergency run to Stop N Shop for tissues and cat food, etc.) ...

So the "forest nature walk" didn't happen, the "cut-our-own-tree experience" didn't happen, and we didn't return home from the farm with rosy cheeks and happy hearts to a pot of simmering wassail. The tree was not up and decorated in time for this post, and we missed out on parish pancake breakfast entirely ...

But you know what? Getting sick really simplifies things. I found myself re-evaluating my list and editing our schedule by asking: "What is it we actually need? What can be set aside? What is most important for the people I love?"

Here's what we need: safety, warmth, nourishment, attention ... a feeling of being cared for, and time spent together. Well, we had all that, and then some ... so it was all good. :)

(Except for the sore throats and fevers.)

At one point on Sunday, we sent the two healthiest among us to the closest tree-lot and they came home lickedy-split with a really magnificent tree. We gathered the bits of greenery that were trimmed off and set them on our nature shelf. I still made up that pot of hot wassail since I had the ingredients on hand and they were so very good for a late autumn cold ...

We played music on Dad's phone, and I lit a few candles placed high out of reach, including this pretty one, a lovely gift from my dear aunt ...

Advent tea tree 9

And I reminded myself to just try to relax, reboot and follow where this Advent Sunday was taking us ...

I love seasonal homeschooling as you all know, and "evergreens" are this week's theme ... which also ties in nicely with our Advent-in-Nature plans for week two: exploring the beauty of Christmas greenery. So this was a great start - bringing a big, beautiful tree into our home!

Advent tea tree 10 (1)

My tree is nowhere near ready to show you, so I will do a follow-up post with a look around our Christmas room, including the tree. (Perhaps even a short video?) But for now, I have some questions for YOU, and if you'd be so kind - please leave me a comment below answering them or send me an email (with tree pics perhaps?) ... OR, link me up at your own blog! I bet you have a photo or two of your Christmas tree there ... ;)

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

***

Do you prefer live or artificial trees? Cut-your-own or pre-cut?

I prefer live trees, harvested from a local sustainable tree farm if possible.

Are there any special tree-trimming traditions your family follows each year?

Not particularly - we tend to just layer on lights, garland and then ornaments. And lately - between cats and kids - the ornaments have been all soft and non-breakable. Bill is in charge of getting the tree up, stable and lit ... the boys and I handle the decorations.

What is your favorite ornament?

Hard to say! I love all the antique glass bulbs that belonged to my grandparents and a few of the boys' handmade treasures. When I do my Christmas room tour I will zoom in on my favorites. :)

When do you put it up and when do you take it down?

We typically get our tree the second weekend of Advent and leave it up till New Year's Day ... though I love the tradition of waiting till Epiphany, I'm usually itchy to get it out. By January the cats have thrown up dry needles one too many times ...

Colored lights or white lights?

White for the house tree ... but I love having one outdoor tree trimmed in big colorful bulbs.

And now, here are notes from my Advent Tea Journal ...

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea tree 8

This week my "tea" is actually a yummy wassail ...  which, I just learned, means "to be in health." Something we can really use around here! It was a new recipe, prepared in the crockpot and full of good-for-you things ...

Wassail 1

Orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice ... plus sliced lemons and oranges and fresh ginger root ... honey, cloves and cinnamon sticks, too ... The house smelled amazing, so being "trapped inside" was not such a bad thing, really! Also, the recipe makes A LOT and it can be reheated as leftovers.

I also had planned to make a special cake for the day, and I ended up doing that, too ...

Advent tea tree 3

Another new recipe, this is a Spelt Orange Bundt Cake from Mother Earth Living, and ... Oh MY. So delicious and moist, bursting with spice and citrus flavor. I think it would be a great cake for the Winter Solstice or Christmas Day. Fyi, I used whole wheat flour instead of spelt ... and left the butter sauce on the side for those in my family who can't do dairy. (I myself slathered it on.)

What are you reading this week?

Advent tea tree 15

Working through my basket of magazines (holiday issues are the BEST) plus a lovely old book about living a quieter, country Christmas ...

Advent tea tree 2

Tasha Tudor's Forever Christmas ... my folks gave this to me back in 2001. I love re-reading this (and watching her video, Take Peace) at this time of year and refreshing my Advent attitude a bit. I've never visited her house in Vermont but it's on my "someday" list! :)

Then we have the basket of "this week" books for the younger boys ...

Advent tea tree 4

Filled with lovely stories (and a field guide!) to go along with our nature theme (evergreens, Christmas greenery):

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree

Night Tree

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Family Christmas Tree Book

The Story of Holly & Ivy

(and not shown, on request at library):

 Christmas Farm

The Littlest Evergreen

***

What are you listening to this week?

Ancient noels

Ancient Noels is on request from my library, and we'll mostly be listening to it in the van as we drive around town. We're studying the Middle Ages this year and this month it's all about how Christmas was celebrated in medieval times - food, music, decorations, and festivities! With a soundtrack that features hammered dulcimer, recorder, pennywhistle, Celtic harp, cittern, guitar and tambourine ... this music takes you right there ... or so I'd like to imagine. ;)

(At home we're also enjoying holiday selections from Pandora Radio on our phones. I particularly like Charlie Brown music, classical Christmas and old vintage tunes.)

What are you working on this week?

Well, it's mostly all about Christmas preparations, but I'm also organizing my materials for that Planning Workshop I'm attending next Tuesday! :) 

Advent tea tree 1 (1)

Refreshing the file crate ...

Advent tea tree 11

... and assembling another homemade planner for 2016!

Then, as soon as they arrive, I'll be devoted to assembling Christmas cards ... :)

What's happening in nature this week?

Advent tea tree 16

Early sunsets ... surprisingly mild afternoons.

Advent tea tree 17

Though the mornings are quite frosty!

Some of you have asked if our Advent apple candles are still intact. Well ...

Advent tea tree 22

As you can see, I threw the critters off by offering a tasty pumpkin instead ... it's been fun to watch their antics. A couple of squirrels have been up on the table, sniffing at the apples and knocking over the center candle. They didn't cause too much harm though ...

Also this week we are searching our yard for any Christmas greenery we can find ... so far, plenty of evergreens, pinecones, English ivy and a few withering herbs ...

Advent tea tree 18 (1)

This photo will feature in my "nest assignment" next week. It's a bit bleak looking isn't it? Well, I have some thoughts on that ...

Any projects with the children this week?

Of course there will be tree decorating! And we'll spread it out over the week. Meanwhile, we've added some greenery to our manger table: a few evergreen sprigs, a pinecone and a (silk) poinsettia blossom, too.

Advent tea tree 23

That candle burns steadily all day and night.

Watching, waiting ...

Also, per my (admittedly, adventurous) Advent plans, we'll choose from the following craft ideas as time, (health) and supplies allow:

terrarium bulbs * nature ice molds * late autumn suncatchers * paperwhite bulb gifts * dried orange slice garlands * grinding whole spices with mortar and pestle * pine branch slice candleholders with Daddy * cinnamon stick-lined candles * gift jars of mulling spices * a local holiday greenhouse visit * water forest snow globes * twig ornaments * orange clove pomanders

(Now, in no way do I expect to do most of these crafts. Certainly not when we're all under the weather! And as I mentioned, I didn't get to the craft store as planned, so I'm short a few key supplies. But when I brainstorm a theme, I really go all out! I've pinned most of these ideas so we'll always have them if we need them. I'm hoping to get a few gifts made if nothing else, and I think the boys will really enjoy grinding spices. I have some oranges on hand to slice and dry and Bill is pretty eager to make some candleholders from our log pile.)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

Advent tea tree 20

"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of your children, they are all 30 feet tall."

~ Larry Wilde 

***

Well my friends, it's time to wrap up our Tea! I hope you enjoyed hearing about our "doings" and a preliminary peek at our tree! I will share how it turns out once we get it all done up ... and as I mentioned, I would LOVE to hear about your tree and tea! Please share with me here in the comments or send me your thoughts at ...

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wishing you all a lovely Tuesday, with my thanks as always for reading! 


Tea with Friends ... ❤

Advent Tea with Friends button

Good morning, my friends! And blessings to all on this 2nd Sunday of Advent. 

I am so happy to share with you all some lovely Advent Tea notes and pictures from some of my very dear readers (and friends!). I am just so enjoying this season so far! It's unraveling slowly and simply ... and it's such fun to share. :)

Well, today we are taking the boys (the ones who DON'T have a cold) to a local tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree ... I'm hoping to have it (mostly) decorated by the time I sit down to share my next Tea Journal late tomorrow. But we shall see what the rest of the day brings ...

For now, I hope you enjoy hearing from Michelle, Denise and Helene, and I send these kind ladies my sincere thanks for taking the time to share their thoughts and pics here at the blog. I am so happy to be spending our Advent together!

***

Advent Tea with Michelle P. ...

Hi Dawn,

 
I hope your Christmas season is off to a blessed start. From the looks of your pictures I would say it is. I love the way you are incorporating nature crafts into your Christmas decor. I love the look of a country Christmas theme. I have tried for that look this year. I hope you will be able to see that from the photos. Other years I have gone with a silver theme, but my family all seems to like the country theme the best. I think it fits with the style of our home. We always have artificial trees, but I adore the smell of pine so my middle son and I hang the ornaments that have a pine smell. They usually sell them at crafts stores. The decorating begins right after Thanksgiving.
 
The day depends on my husband's work schedule. The whole family decorates the tree and my husband always plays Christmas music to get us in the mood. We have quite a few trees. The tree that has Santa in the picture holds all the family ornaments ...
 
Advent tea gifts michelle 1
 
The tree that has an angel on top is more of my country themed tree ...
 
Advent tea gifts michelle 2
 
The two trees by the fireplace hold all of our Jesse tree ornaments.
 
Advent tea gifts michelle 3
 
Now that my oldest boy is in college it is harder to find the time for the whole family to participate. But I have sent him photos and he will be home soon enough. I can’t wait until all my birdies are back in the nest again! We always have white lights on our trees. Somehow it seems so calming and it reminds us of the stars in the skies.
 
My favorite ornaments have to be the Jesse Tree ornaments that my son hand sculpted a few years ago. He was only 13 and I am so proud of how they turned out. We use them along with Ann Vaskamp’s book.
 
Advent tea gifts michelle 4
 
Advent tea gifts michelle 5
 
I love the cozy warm feeling of our home at night when all the lights are on and the candles are burning with the scents of the season ...
 
Advent tea gifts michelle 6
 
Thank you for letting me share my home with you!   
 
Blessings,
Michelle P.
 
***
 
You home is lovely, Michelle, and thank YOU for sharing your family Tree traditions with us! Your trees and decorations are just beautiful ... and the way that tree looks in front of the big window! Gorgeous!
 
I am in complete agreement on the white lights! I adore white lights and the peaceful feeling they give me, especially as you say, late in the day. What comfort they bring on those dark afternoons! Though I will admit I like seeing one tree - perhaps outside in the snow - full of cheerful colored lights. That always makes me smile. And yes, it's hard to get completely in the spirit without ALL our birds in the nest! Bookworm will be home just before Christmas and I will have to send some pics along to him, as you mentioned. That's a wonderful idea! As I understand it, he and his roommate have a small tinsel tree in the apartment, but I have yet to see picture-proof! ;)
 
***

Now, let's hear from Denise's Advent Tea Journal this week ...


Gifts. Such a focal point of the holy-day season, appropriate since Christ gave Himself! This year my husband & I are *only* giving gifts from the heart, to each other. Gifts of Love Service to each other, for each other, with each other for others! It is a work in progress, for me as, no I am not as organized as I should have been! I think, however, it will be a gift from the heart, simply spending the time coming up with ideas! Something I will enjoy over the next couple of weeks! Now, for our kids & grands, we have, of recent years, been giving gifts of *time with each other.*  Different gift certificates for activities the whole family can enjoy. Sometimes we join them for the activity, sometimes it is just their immediate family. Gift of time always comes from the heart, I believe!

Refreshments I am enjoying this week ...


Today I will have *hot cocoa* time with the Grands. We will be baking simple cookies - sugar cookies with sprinkles to
decorate! We will not roll them & cut them. We will drop them & then they will press with glass covered in red or green sprinkles! (Our time is very limited today.) The cookies will look festive, we will make enough to send some home with them, & put some in the freezer to bake another day to deliver to others. It is also their great-grandma's recipe, so we will call her & talk with her, asking her to share a Christmas memory. I am looking forward to *hot cocoa* time this afternoon, after school!! After 45 mins in the kitchen, the fixings for chicken & dumplings are simmering in the crockpot (family dinner tonight), the cookie dough is ready for hands to roll, smash, glitter, bake & eat!! Hot cocoa mix is ready.

What am I reading?


I've begun Advent reading. I have a couple devotionals by Ann Voskamp. My focus for Advent this year seems to be FAITH. Faith - that is a lasting gift, a gift that can increase!! Faith - to believe in what really can not humanly be explained! Faith - that precious gift from God Almighty - to little ol' me! WOW! I have attached a staged picture, so
you can see the Advents books we are using. One to go through with the grands, and one for myself! The teacup is actually my grandson's (15). He didn't want it today, as he wanted milk with his cookies and the teacup just doesn't match up to his milk consumption! :)

Advent tea gifts denise 1

What am I listening to?

I asked granddaughter (13) to load Pandora on my cell. Yes! Fun! Currently I am listening to John Tesh, a Christmas instrumental. Lovely. Peaceful.

What am I working on?


Of course, fine-tuning our Advent/Christ-mass celebrating!! The Grands like to help decorate, so I only put out one nativity. I've attached a picture ...

Advent tea gifts denise 2

The mantle isn't finished, but I needed to get a picture sent to my sister as my niece wants to make these this year. This is an old salt-dough nativity I made with my mom, sister and a very young daughter! It has held up very well through the years! It has to be about 30 years old now! The month of December (November too, actually) is pretty low-key on most fronts. Of course, I must keep up with our clients ... you know business related things. However on the home-front, I pretty much only do what must be done. Just keep things in maintenance mode, no deep cleaning of any kind. However, I did notice that somehow (shock) my closet shelves got all messed up. I think it is because I have had two seasons on the main shelves, and so I will get those switched out & the shelves all neatened up!

December is a month to enjoy family, friends, peace, quiet, Christ-centered activities!

What's happening in nature?


It is hunting season. Grandson (15) got his first pheasant of the season. He wanted to have it tonight, but we were just too rushed! (From after school to theater practice is just too short a time! Throw in cookie-baking, tea-time, catching up on the day, hunting & then cleaning the bird, family supper & time just flies! So they will have it tomorrow.) The ice is all melted & we are living with muddy roads! Thankfully ours is pretty sandy, so I don't generally have to worry about getting stuck! It actually warmed up nicely today & we were able to be outside early evening! Grandson tried for a goose, but didn't get one tonight.

Words to inspire.


"Christmas is about the greatest of miracles - the LORD coming to earth as a human being - and it offers to the world the greatest of gifts - eternal life."

C is for Christmas, Warren Wiersbe. Such a thought!

~ Denise

***

Oh my goodness, Denise, I just love all the details you share! We are cut from the same cloth, you and I! Thank you so much, for all the time, thought and LOVE you put into this post. I truly appreciate that you are joining me on my Tea Journal journey this year. <3 That salt dough nativity is just beautiful - what a family treasure! And if you don't mind, I'd love to borrow your idea to exchange gifts of the heart only with my husband. That's a wonderful tradition, and as you said, the brainstorming ahead is a gift in itself!

***

And now for some Advent Tea thoughts from Helene ...

Do you try to create gifts at this time of year? 

We’re doing a few. My daughter, who is 7, has been making various ornaments - Perler beads are a favorite. She also made one at her Girl Scout camp that she wants to give to her little brother - so sweet. Mostly if a gift isn’t already made by now, though, it probably isn’t going to happen.

Are you super-organized (as I always wish I'd be) and start your gift-giving early each year, by starting projects, growing things, gathering materials, and just generally planning ahead?

I’m pretty good about making small items (like knitted washcloths) throughout the year, just because if I tried to do it all now it wouldn’t happen, and besides, it gives me something to do on long car rides. :) I’m currently planning to cross-stitch some bookmarks for my family, which should be quick, but we’ll see how it goes.

How do you encourage your children to give in a thoughtful manner? Even if their gift is something they've bought, they can put their hearts (not just their monies) into the selection.

We are working on this! We’ve talked about how we don’t buy something just for the sake of it, but we really give some thought to our loved ones and what they need or enjoy.

What refreshments am I enjoying this week?

Sticking with my morning cup of Tasha Tudor’s Welsh Breakfast Tea (ever since I gave up on coffee this spring, this tea has been a mainstay of my morning). That Scottish tea you mentioned sounds tasty though, may have to add some to my tea stash to enjoy!

What am I reading this week?

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. I also just started A Christmas Carol this evening, and I’m working my way through the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories (I *love* the BBC’s show Sherlock, but somehow had never read any of Doyle’s works, so I’m fixing that now).

What am I listening to this week? 

My holiday music playlist on Spotify. I still love Josh Groban’s Noel, but right now I’m also really enjoying the Three Irish Tenors and Placido Domingo. (I seem to be on a tenor kick right now—just noticed that while typing!)

What am I working on this week?

Trying to finish up gift shopping, as I find it really stressful to be doing that at the last minute, wondering if things will be delivered in time - and of course, then pushing the wrapping to the last minute as well. I really want to be able to relax and not rush through this season, so I’m trying to get time-sensitive things done.

What's happening in nature?

Cool breezes, blue skies, local strawberries turning up in the produce stands. Soon we’ll have local citrus as well. Our fig tree’s last fig just came ripe (we got about five this year—it’s only the tree’s second year, so that’s pretty okay, I think). Our garden is producing beans, and I’m holding out hope for the broccoli romanesco—the plants look healthy, at any rate!

A project with the children this week:

The kids and I are slowly putting up Christmas decorations - I’m finding that promising to dig in the tote and find something fun during a school break makes a good incentive for finishing math lessons!

***

Such lovely journal entries, Helene! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on gift-giving and I agree it's so much better to start handmade things earlier in the year. I will be working that idea into my New Year's goals. That said, we've been churning our homemade gifts the past couple of weeks, lol! Sometimes you have to strike when the iron is hot ... ;)

I had to smile when I read about your love for the BBC's Sherlock - oh I am SUCH a fan and we are waiting on tenterhooks for January when I believe it is set to return. I myself have never read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but my Bookworm went through a kick in high school and he absolutely LOVED them. :)

Also, I love hearing about your southern weather and how different it is from ours up here in the northeast. I'm a little envious of all that fresh produce - especially those strawberries! We'll be waiting for June for our own local berries.

***

Thanks again to Michelle, Denise and Helene for sharing their Advent Tea notes with us! I hope today you are able to sit and enjoy the blessing that is a Sunday in December ... perhaps it's in spending time with family, or at church, or puttering in your kitchen, or walking in nature. Whatever recharges your batteries, I hope you are able to do that today!

And as always, thank you so much for stopping by and I hope to see you here again tomorrow! I'll have Tea ready to serve just as the sun goes down and the tree lights come on ... :)


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 ...

Advent grotto 2

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

Advent grotto 3

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!

Advent grotto 19

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 ...

Advent grotto 4

Advent grotto 7

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

Advent grotto 6

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 ...

Advent grotto 8

Advent grotto 14

Advent grotto 9

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.

Advent grotto 10

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.

Advent grotto rocks

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 ...

  Advent grotto 12

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 ...

Advent grotto 13 (1)

Clean and dry rocks, frame and glue gun.

Advent grotto 15

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:

Advent grotto 16

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

Advent grotto 1

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

**

 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!

Advent calendar 19

"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 ...

Creche in the woods 1

(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 ...

Advent One 9

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. 

Advent calendar underway

(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 ...

Advent calendar 1

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!

Advent calendar 5

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.

Advent calendar 21

:)

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

Advent calendar 6

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

Advent calendar 11

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

Advent One 19

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 ...

Advent One 11 (1)

... 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 ...

Advent calendar 10 (1)

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?

*

*

*

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 ...


From Nest to Nest ... ❤

Cozy nest button

Good Wednesday morning, my friends! I'm up super early here (thanks to my Earlybird) which means a little writing time before sunrise. :) I would love to share a couple of cozy corners from my readers today ... it's going to be a wet, foggy and cold day here in New England - perfect nest weather! What's it like where you live today?

***

First from, Lisa ~ a link to her lovely website where she is talking about the Danish concept of "hygge" and how she and her family are living Advent in their home, aka "Wit's End." I'm honored to share a little of her post here, but invite you to click over and read the rest of her wonderfully cozy details ... :)

"I'm planning to devote some time during the lovely upcoming winter months to delving deeper in hygge, learning more about its origins while celebrating all those hygge things I already embrace: candlelight, comfortable chairs, pools of warm lamplight (as opposed to that horrid, harsh overhead lighting), teatime, books, leisurely dinners with friends and family, warm blankets, the fire crackling in the stove."

Cozy corner lisa 1

"This is where I read - on my own and to my kids (I was reading this book to my older sons when my water broke with my youngest twelve years ago). Watch tv, write occasionally, sip tea, watch the fire, stare out the window. I've even been known to fall asleep here on occasion (especially on late Christmas mornings, following the early rush)."

Cozy corner lisa 2

"This is where I do nearly all my writing - a fan for noise control year round, a small space heater by my feet during the winter months."

 
Oh my gosh, Lisa - the lighting, the colors, the softness of the whole room! This is just so lovely. Your chair looks so comfy, and I love the fabric! And I also love how you have your desk placed at a kitty-corner facing the room ... that gives me a little idea for my own writing desk which I was rearranging yesterday. This is such an inspiring post, and I thank you for joining our happy Nest party!
 
Friends, to read more of Lisa's thoughts (and see more of her gorgeous photos), please pop on over to Wit's End and have a look around. I'm sure you'll want to settle right in for a spell! :)
 
***
 
And now, let's hear from cath ...
 
Cozy corner cath 1
 
"My nest is empty, so making a nest and filling it with feathers was a comforting idea for me!  

I am watching the day go by as the sun starts to lower in the western sky. First day of buck season, man and the boy in and out ... Wondering when he's going to ask for baby girls hand? (It is coming... This trip?)

Baby girl and the boy are home for the Thanksgiving week, thank you God for safe travel in over a 10 hour drive! Thank you God for warmer than usual weather as they soon will travel north back to their nest.... Thank you God for this wonderful visit! 

Today I enjoyed watching baby girl while she watched one of the Star Trek movies and wrapped Christmas gifts ... (I hear we are a minority, never having watched them). I piddled around at the kitchen table with her in view and was in charge of the yarn ribbons when the time came. 

Outside my kitchen window, the chickadees have found the newly filled bird feeders.... Sunflower seeds. Waiting to see who else shows up in the next few days.

We kicked off Advent with Ann Voskamp's "the night before Advent" hot cocoa party and soft jammie bottoms for baby girl and the boy... Fluffy socks and a candle for my nest. I'm excited to begin the journey this Advent with Ann as the story of Christmas will unfold. Also slowly reading The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs... And filling my journal with prayers and thoughts.  

The house is all decorated which frees me for lots of craft time from that empty nest ... I have it lined with lots of feathers to keep my hands busy while I promise myself to enjoy as many Christmas Hallmark movies as I can! Counted cross-stitch ornaments, white lights on white, warm candles aglow ...  

Filling my head with plans for tomorrow as as a car travels north .... Time to share her with the boy's family ... Lots of feathers to fluff, lots of things to focus on until the January wind blows and we celebrate a late Christmas Eve ... 

On the bright side of the empty nest....
  More time to cross-stitch....
  More time to enjoy the tree....
  More time to watch movies and attend all the Christmas rush of things so that once again we can be with just her :)
 
 

***

Oh, cath - such a beautiful post! Your love for your family shines through and your Christmas preparations sound so soothing and satisfying ... unfolding at a steady pace. I love the way you described "piddling" in the kitchen while your baby girl wrapped gifts. There is such love in working alongside each other, immersed in our own things, but keeping company just the same. I'd love to hear back sometime if you have a chance on who else shows up at your birdfeeders! This is the season to watch for those new feathered friends! 

Enjoy this special time, cath, and thank you again for inviting us into your nest ... :)

Dear friends,

I have so enjoyed seeing and hearing about your cozy nests ... I'm so glad it's something we can all work on together and share how we're preparing for the long winter ahead. Today I will be puttering around in my own nest (with a toddler underfoot!) as I clean the corners and dust the drapes and tidy the shelves as best I can. In another week my nest room will become The Christmas Room, and I want to make room for all the decorations (most notably the TREE!) and ALL those book baskets! :)

I would love to see your cozy corner, too, if you have a moment sometime! Or perhaps hear about your Advent Tea? Please send me your thoughts at:

bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com

I look forward to hearing from you, and wish you all a good day! Tomorrow I will tell you all about our outdoor Advent calendar ... the boys are enjoying it very much so far! :)