Christmas Feed

Tea with Friends ... ❤

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Happy New Year, my friends, and Merry Christmas, too!

Yes, it's still Christmas! And for several more days!

Well, I hope you're all having a nice weekend ... I'm sorry I've been so slow on replies and posts, but I seem to be off my routine a bit lately. Finding it hard to get myself back online in a regular fashion. I feel like it will take some time to get back to our usual household "rhythm" ... we've been spoiled with Bill home so much and so many easygoing days. Next week - a return to "normal!" (Whatever that means, lol!)

Anyhoo, today I am very happy to share some lovely tea notes with you, from several dear readers, and these reflect not only on Christmas, but the Winter season, too. I hope you'll pour yourself a cup of tea and join us! And please see me at the end of the post for a bit of this and that ... :)

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First, from Karen T. - my Massachusetts friend :) - an invitation to Christmas Tea at her blog: A Servant's Memories. Thank you for sharing, Karen! I am honored to be linked and share tea with you! I am with you on starting earlier next year - YES! I hope 2016 is a great year for you. :)

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And now some Christmas Tea notes, from Amy P.  ...

Christmas Day was wonderful. It was just my husband, younger daughter, and myself, and we had a completely relaxing day - slept late, had a leisurely breakfast after presents, and spent the rest of the day watching a couple of movies, assembling a puzzle, and just being together. Then the next day my older daughter came with her family for the weekend and it was so good to spend time with them. As for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they were the most hectic and overwhelming that I can remember. :(

What was the best thing you ate (or drank) this Christmas?
 
There are a few things I only make at Christmas, but my absolute favorite is a gelatin-based recipe that was handed down through my Dad's family. It has pineapple and dark sweet cherries and sour cream and I know it sounds like it should be gross, but it's SO good. 
 
What are your hopes for next Christmas? What would you like to do differently?
 
My husband and I have been talking quite a bit about this, given that every year seems to be more horribly busy and overwhelming to the point that we don't enjoy the season at all. Our hopes are that we can enjoy the entire Christmas season, and that we aren't completely physically and emotionally exhausted by the time Christmas arrives. Unfortunately, the way I think we will need to accomplish this is to do more Christmas-y things before Thanksgiving, such as write cards and put the tree up. Over the past few years I've cut back on baking and purged decorations to the point that I don't want to cut any further. We also may not attend any Christmas parties at church - my husband is on the pastoral staff (his first year there - he recently retired from the Army) and we were invited to every party for every class and organization there. We only attended a few - there was no way we could have gone to all of them! - but some people were upset that we didn't attend their particular party, which added to the stress we were already under. So yeah. Next year, we'll probably attend none of them.
 
Do you celebrate Christmas beyond December 25th in any way?
 
We pretty much celebrate Christmas until the New Year - the decorations stay up, we're finishing up holiday treats, and and there are unwrapped gifts and half-stuffed stockings left under the tree until at least the 2nd. :) 
 
I'm glad I finally got to answer some of your questions! I wanted to join in the last month or so, but have had NO time. Thanks for hosting these, Dawn!
 
~ Amy
 
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Amy! I agree wholeheartedly about getting an earlier start on things next year because I found myself (my family) in a similar situation very close to Christmas. We had been so slow-paced and peaceful about things early in Advent ... and it was wonderful ... but things didn't get done! So there was a bit of a scramble there at the end and that was NOT the way I wanted to enter Christmas. Next year will be different I hope!
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From Shirley  ... :)
 
What is Winter like where you live? Is it true to form this year?

Here in England we tend to have very changeable weather. Snow is not always a given, some winters can be more volatile than others, we are an island after all. This year we (in fact most of Europe) are having a very unseasonably warm time. I have to say that I DO NOT like it! Winter should be winter in my books. I love that each season is so distinctly different and relish what each new season brings. Right now my snowdrops are blooming - in DECEMBER! Some people have daffodils blooming already. I find this all a bit sad because it means spring is not going to be as bright and colourful as it usually is.

What are your favourite things about winter?

Snow and frost hands down. I love bundling up warmly to go outside. I love how the world is transformed by a snowfall or hard frost. I love how the birds flock to my feeder. I love having the fire going, candles glowing and wholesome meals cooking in the crockpot. Honestly, there's so much to LOVE about this season :)

Hobbies?

Well I love to have something on my knitting needles all the time. I'm keen on trying to dye my own yarn but that takes a whole lot of setting up and I'm thinking that summer may be a better time for that endeavor.

What foods do you like serving over winter?

Well my crockpot works overtime during this season. You can cook just about anything you want in the crockpot. I love setting it up around lunchtime then smelling the warming, delicious aromas all throughout the afternoon. I love that the afternoon is then mine to do with as I wish - no having to stop to prep supper. I find that with the shorter days I always get restless to start supper earlier because it feels later. But with the crockpot all that restlessness disappears :)

Other than that, root veg, pies, hot chocolates, tea - lots of tea. Home-baked cookies and goodies - gosh, thank goodness winter does not last all year! We would all be HUGE! :)

~ Shirley
 
Lovely thoughts, Shirley, thank you! We have also been unseasonably mild here in New England ... it is only just getting truly wintry here, with snow that finally fell last week and stuck! I also appreciate the distinctive seasons and like things to stay true to form! And I'm with you on the crockpot - such a lifesaver and a real homey comfort on blustery afternoons. :)
 
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From Helena ...

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

Normally it’s quite a bit warmer than the rest of the country, but not *this* warm! Apparently our Christmas temperatures are supposed to be in the mid-80s, which is hot for this time of year. We had a chilly day or two over the weekend (overnight lows in the 40s), and we were hoping the chill would stick around for the holiday, but no such luck.

What are your favorite things about Winter?

Well, during a typical winter, I enjoy opening up the house to the breeze, working outside without getting all sweaty, and being able to wear jeans and a sweater.

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

I’d like to improve my embroidery skills and maybe finally learn how to use my Nonna’s sewing machine—she gave it to me about a year ago and I’m still trying to convince myself it won’t eat me. :)

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

I like to make more soups and roasts, fewer grilled things. This year marks the first winter of our low-sodium journey (for my husband’s heart) so there are several favorite dishes I have to figure out how to modify. It’s a process, but definitely worth it.

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

My sister and brother gave me a tin of Simpson and Vail Winter Wonderland Rooibos and it is amazing. I don’t usually put milk in herbal teas, but with a little milk and a smidge of sugar this tastes like a Christmas cookie in tea form. So delicious! (And no caffeine, which means I can drink it later in the day, after I’ve had my cup of Welsh Breakfast in the morning.)

What are you reading this week?

I was flipping through some old holiday issues of Tea Time magazine, but not much else as far as personal reading. Lots of Christmas stories with the kids though.

What are you listening to this week?

Heather Dale’s holiday album, This Endris Night. (She has the most amazing voice. She has become a favorite with the kids too.)

What are you working on this week?

Cleaning, baking, cooking, trying to slow down and stay sane.

What's happening in nature this week?

As I mentioned, it’s been quite warm. We’ve seen some of our usual migratory birds at the feeder, but not in their usual numbers—not sure if this is due to the weather or something else. We’ve had a ton of bees visiting our heather plants lately—so many that when I sit on the porch I can sometimes hear them all buzzing over there. In the garden, our beans are done and the lettuce actually bolted because of the heat, so I’ll be planting more of that. The romanesco, carrots, and sweet potato continue to thrive so far.

Any projects with the children this week?

Not really. They’ve been baking cookies with my husband’s aunt, but at home I just haven’t had energy for much in the way of projects. Last week we made pomanders with our homeschool co-op though, and both kids loved that. Even my little guy was completely absorbed in poking holes and inserting the cloves for a lot longer than I would have expected him to be.

~ Helena

Thank you for sharing a bit of your "southern" winter with us, Helena! I love hearing about your weather and how things are so different from here where I live. What you describe sounds familiar to me - only at the other side of the year! And I love the sound of that tea ... sugar cookie in a cup? Oh, I'm going to have to try that! I have a tough time liking herbal teas, but with a little milk and sugar I could give anything a try! :)

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Well, my friends, I'l be off for now, but thank you so much for joining our happy friends' tea. You might have noticed a new Tea button up at the top of the post - some pretty vintage clipart I found on Pinterest, doctored up with a bit of text. :) I am going to use that throughout the new year to host seasonal teas from time to time. I must refrain from naming a set day or schedule because I will likely only set myself up to fail! But I will hope to host Tea here a few times a season, anyway, usually around a holiday or feast of some sort ...

And in fact, I will host my next Tea with Friends on Tuesday, January 12th - it will be a Birthday Tea for me! :) My theme will be "favorite things" and I will of course, have some pretty CAKE to serve alongside our tea ... stay tuned for more information, and watch for that button to pop up now and again ... :)

Now, I would also like to mention that on Monday I will have a Masterpiece Monday post up - just as soon as I'm able! Things like late bedtimes and sleepy mamas sometime take precedence but my aim is to watch the premier of Downton Abbey's sixth and FINAL season (sob!) in live time AND write up notes to post the next day.  I know there are plenty of places around the web to chat about Downton, but I do enjoy sharing my thoughts here and would love to hear from you, if you have the time. :)

Hmmm ... I'm pretty sure there was more I was going to tell you, but I will keep it there for now ...

Thanks so much for stopping by and I will see you here again very soon!

(p.s. Sorry for the odd formatting - I think Typepad is on the fritz!)


Our Family Christmas, 2015

Hello and good evening, friends! :)

Well, I have a whole BUNCH of photos from Christmas to share with you but first ... !

I'd like to wish you all a Very Happy New Year! I hope and pray 2016 will bless you in so many ways - with fond memories, and family happiness, good health and peace in your heart - the kind of peace you can pass on to those you love and the world around you. I thank everyone, sincerely, for being such gracious and kind readers ... I so love my little blog and hope to continue it for as many more years as I can! What fun I have here with you all!

Now, here are some shots from the past couple of days - or I guess, that was last week! How time flies when you're having FUN ... :)


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So how early did your Christmas start? ;)

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Our tree in the wee hours of Christmas morning ... I was up with Earlybird (who, as usual, lived up to his pseudonym), sipping coffee and absorbing the peace of these dark early hours. (While, admittedly, also, consulting my to-do list in my head!)

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The rest of the clan was up by 7 a.m. and it was go-time! How special is a 2 year-old's Christmas ...

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EB with a new train book, one of his favorite gifts. 

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Our 16 year old Crackerjack, who FINALLY got a phone! He's been very patient!

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Our older boys, opening stocking stuff ... the tabletop soccer game was from Santa.

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And here's Archie, who simply MUST be in the middle of everything.

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A bit later in the morning, my folks and brother came over to open presents and enjoy a hearty breakfast.

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Archie, again, in on the action. (Ollie was nowhere to be found).

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I love how the cards look on our library door!

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My mum's penuche fudge, my favorite Christmas treat! It is FABULOUS with coffee, fyi.

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Speaking of coffee ... here are my pretty Christmas mugs. They hold a lot!

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A felt banner stretching across the kitchen nook window ... one of my last-minute, 50% off, Michaels Store finds! And as you can see, it was such a bright and sunny day ... and startlingly warm - near 60°! Today, about a week later, we are in the 30s and there is snow on the ground ...

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Our signature cocktail this Christmas: Jingle Juice Punch!

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On Christmas afternoon we host a family gathering and here we have the appetizer spread  ... and my dear cousin Kara sampling the punch!

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Speaking of Kara, here are her absolutely delicious Swedish spice cookies ...

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The desserts table in the family room ... to my mind, you can never have too many desserts at Christmas!

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My beloved Mum and me. She does most of the work at the holidays - I mostly just pick up and set tables!

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More family arriving ... our home filled up with our dear ones!

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So good to gather together and spend time catching up ...

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Sharing laughs and swapping stories!

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Little Bear loved being (mostly) in the center of attention. :)

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 * Family Christmas, 2015! *

And then it was time for round two ... Bill's side of the family came up to visit on Boxing Day!

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And Chinese cuisine is traditional on this holiday ... in our house, anyway!

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Bill's Mom and Dad, merry-merry! :)

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Little Bear and Bill with Aunt Ami and Uncle Greg (Bill's siblings!) ...

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A new centerpiece: a gift from my brother - a little something for my garden. ;)

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With some of my favorite ladies in the word ... my mum, Bill's mom, and my sister-in-law, Ami.

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 Crackerjack, Bill and Little Bear ... digging in!

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 Earlybird with his new planet shirt, showing Grandpa Bill a new present. :)

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A little chaos at Christmas is natural!

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And here we have Family Christmas 2015, part two!

I feel incredibly blessed to have such a wonderful family, and that we live close enough to gather together so often throughout the year. What a joyous Christmas this has been ... and here we are on the 7th day of Christmas, ready to welcome a brand new year. How are you spending your evening? We are here with the boys, enjoying our family's favorite dinner (meatloaf!) and a movie or two. We may or may not make it to midnight!

But I hope you all have a fantastic New Year's and I thank you, as always, for stopping by ...

I will see you here again very soon! 


My Christmas Tea Journal, 2015

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Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that your week is off to a great start! Our Christmas was very nice and I have lots of pictures to share, but in the interest of time and keeping our tea hot and fresh ... I will share them in a separate post. For today I'd like to invite you to sit and share a bit of your Christmas with me ... how your holiday went, is going still, and how you'd like to see it go next year. So grab a favorite mug and let me pour you a hearty cup of "brew" - I need something bracing today - and let's chat!

Firstly, how was your Christmas?

Ours was lovely! Spread out over a couple of days, we celebrated with family and friends and had a really nice time. As usual it seemed to fly by and I can hardly believe we are but a few days from New Year's ... 

What was the best thing you ate (or drank) this Christmas?

My mother's homemade penuche fudge is my FAVORITE Christmas treat - she makes it every year and I remember bringing pretty little packages to my teachers when I was a child. As for drinks, our signature Christmas cocktail this year was a really yummy punch called, "Jingle Juice." It made quite a large batch and while potent, was quite refreshing - nice for the mild day we had! Lots of citrus zest and juices plus frozen cranberries and ... spiced rum, Amaretto and Grand Marnier! Recipe found here ... though I will tell you, we used bottled juice instead of fresh. There just wasn't time for anything else!

What are your hopes for next Christmas? What would you like to do differently?

This was something Bill and the boys and I talked about at our family meeting last Sunday. I wrote down what each of us said so we can remember our thoughts next year. I myself wished for more time to just be home and bake and less last-minute running around. We all wished we had made more gifts. We also had to skip our town's tree lighting and caroling on the common. We talked about why these things happened (or didn't) and, moral of the story: we need to start earlier and give ourselves more time. Too many to-do's were left till late in December.

Do you celebrate Christmas beyond December 25th in any way?

Yes! There's so much fun to be had throughout the Christmas season! We keep most of our decorations up till Epiphany, and I try to leave a bit of greenery tucked somewhere till Candlemas (Feb. 2nd). On New Year's Eve we have a quiet celebration at home - a good movie or two (this for me, this for the fellas), cheers at midnight (or as close as we can get) and before bed we'll "wassail" our little apple orchard with a blessing of warm cider (an old English tradition). We'll honor Mary, Mother of God, on January 1st by attending Mass, enjoying a special breakfast after, and refreshing our peace corner ... and we'll bring blessed chalk home from Epiphany Mass with which we'll mark our front door for the New Year (20 + C + M + B + 16). Speaking of C, M and B - every day we're moving our Wise Men closer to the nativity set, and reading stories about their journey. They'll arrive at the manger on Twelfth Night (January 5th), and our dinner that night will feature a spiced beef (slow cooker) stew, hot wassail and gingerbread.

On Little Christmas (January 6th), in Irish tradition, the menfolk will be in charge of packing up decorations, picking up dinner, and doing up dishes! Yours truly will work on organizing Christmas bins and making notes for next year.

:) 

Now, I'd love to hear your answers to my questions above - either here, in the comments below, a post at your blog, or in an email sent to bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com. I hope to hear from you! For now, though, here is ...

My Christmas Tea Journal

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What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

In my Christmas stocking I found a box of my FAVORITE tea - Allegro Black Decaf. It's organic, and rather expensive, so I only buy it once in a while, but I just love the flavor. I'm enjoying it in my special snow angel mug along with a couple of festive yogurt-covered pretzels ... sitting at my writing desk which looks out at the side yard, which, as you can see, is (finally) covered in snow!

What are you reading this week?

In my stocking I also found: 

Illuminations

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen

I discovered Mary Sharratt's books this past year and I'm so eager to read this one next! I have just started digging in ... but it's so hard to find reading time in a busy mama's days!

And with the younger boys:

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The Twelve Days of Christmas, a beautifully illustrated favorite, and so nice for this week "after" Christmas. I have also requested The Chronicles of Narnia (audiobook) from the library - this will be our Winter read-aloud. For New Year's Eve there will be Cider Apples and I've moved the Epiphany books up to the front of the Christmas book basket. I have listed some titles over on the sidebar under, "Epiphany Basket."

What are you listening to this week?

How about some seasonal songs? We Three Kings, Here We Come A-Wassailing, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Do You Hear What I Hear?, Joy to the World, Auld Lang Syne ... and one of my favorites, What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? by Ella Fitzgerald. I heard this standing in line at the bookstore last week and thought, what an oldie but goodie! Next year I think a little unit study on Christmas carols and what their lyrics mean - where they fall in the Nativity story - would be fun.

What are you working on this week?

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Oh, I am so in love with this "planner" ... still very much a work in progress! I bought the notebook last week at Paper Source and it's just gorgeous. Smooth, lined paper and NON-perforated, silk-trimmed pages ... sturdy, copper-coil binding ... and a stunning front cover with a powerful reminder (All We Have Is Now). I am transforming this notebook into a very personalized weekly/seasonal planner and am having SUCH fun in doing so! I am trying to replicate the weekly planner I made last year but in a more manageable size. With better checklists and more planning space. I will post all about it VERY soon. :)

What's happening in nature this week?

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Winter has finally arrived ...

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Christmas was incredibly mild this year - we hit 70 on the 24th! And then today, at last, we had our first snow ... mixed with ice and sleet, however, so it's kind of gunky and wet. Still, it's nice to see white on the ground again!

Any projects with the children this week?

Not really - it's kind of a breather week here!

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

 "Write it on your heart, that every day is the best day in the year." Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Well, my friends, do we have time time for one more cup of tea? Ah well, perhaps not today ... here in my corner of the world it is dark and suppertime is upon us ... so it's time to clean up my crumbs and get back to business. But I hope you enjoyed this Christmas Tea post! I can hardly believe how quickly these weeks have passed ... and now here we have our last Tea together. It's been such a fun journey and I thank everyone for reading and commenting and especially those lovely ladies who sent me their own Tea posts to share here at the blog. What a gift this sharing has been! I would love to host more Seasonal Teas through the Winter ... I'm sure we can all do with a weekly sit down during this long, cold season. Spending time in our nests - WHICH will need some attention now that the festive holidays are winding down. I could use some revitalization next month, how about you?

So please stay tuned! And as always, thanks so much for stopping by ...

I will see you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Welcome Winter!

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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:

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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 ...

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

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(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 ...

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Any projects with the children this week?

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

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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 ...

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

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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:

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**

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! 

**

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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:

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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:

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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 ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

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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 ...

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... 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?

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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?

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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 ...

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One basket for Winter books ...

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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.

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

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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 ...

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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" ...

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:)

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.
 
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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!
 
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     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:
 
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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!

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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 ...

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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!

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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?

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

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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 ...

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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! :) 

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Refreshing the file crate ...

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... 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?

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Early sunsets ... surprisingly mild afternoons.

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Though the mornings are quite frosty!

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

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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 ...

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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.

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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
 
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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!


Regarding Trees and Tea Notes ... ❤

O christmas tree farme

Good Friday morning, my friends! Here we are in our first week of December! :)

On this coming Monday I will have another Tea Journal post ready to go, late in the afternoon just as the sun sets ... Our next theme will be: O Christmas Tree! And what I'd like to talk about is tree traditions and preferences, and perhaps we can share pictures of our own trees all decorated for the holidays? It could be this year's tree or last year's tree ... or any year's tree, really!

Questions I'll be posing:

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

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

What is your favorite ornament?

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

Colored lights or white lights?

:)

Remember I'd love to see a picture as well, if you're able! You can email me here:

bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com

My family will be heading to the tree farm this weekend to cut down our own tree - can't wait to see Little Bear's face! And I hope to make another short nature video to share in my journal as well. Next week our homeschooling seasonal theme is "evergreens" and that ties in nicely with our Advent plans, too.

Also, I will have a little "Nest" assignment for you (and myself!) next week. I was hoping to get to that this week, but my days have been busy and I've had to remind myself to slow down and keep things manageable. Too much mental clutter distracts me from the season's deepest meaning ...

***

Well, I will wrap up for now because we're heading outside to cut our St. Barbara's Day branches! But I will see you here soon - I have some "Tea with Friends" to share with you this weekend! :)

(Oh, and p.s.! I also have some exciting news about an upcoming planning talk I'll be attending! Stay tuned!)

Happy Weekend, everyone! 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 ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Gifts from the Heart

Advent One 8

Happy Monday, my friends! Blessings to all in this brand new season!

And oh, do I LOVE Advent. It's such a lovely time of anticipation and preparation, a stilling of the world in some ways (yet a rushing in others), as we journey towards the most beautiful night of the year. Today I am sitting down to tea, catching my breath (it is Monday after all!) and taking a little time to think about the Season ahead ...

(How I'd like it to be - and not be.)

Well, there is much involved in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and that includes gift-giving. And every year I hope to make as many gifts as possible (in the physical or spiritual sense), but as time and energy dwindles, I find myself ordering things from Amazon at the last minute, and feeling immensely grateful for my Prime membership's two-day free shipping! I yearn for a non-commercial holiday, yet it's such a challenge every year! The material world (and my own busy-ness) work together and conspire against me! Even so, ever the eternal optimist am I, and this year I aim to make as many gifts as possible with my boys' help, and to come up with offerings that would be much appreciated by those that we love. In short, gifts from the heart (and hands).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

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

* 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?

* 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.

 More on how you can share your thoughts on this theme at the end of this post, but for now, let me open my Tea Journal and share my notes with you ...

What refreshments am I enjoying this week?

This week it's Taylor's Scottish Breakfast Tea and a freshly baked star cookie. Not quite the "Swedish" spice cookie I was aiming for, but close enough! I usually like to bake shortbread on this particular feast day (St. Andrew of Scotland) because for one thing, I'm Scottish! And for another, I love shortbread! But today I was hoping to make some Swedish star cookies because I recently learned (through Ancestry DOT com) that I am in fact, 4% Scandinavian!

So since we're all about "stars" here this week, I decided to make some gingerbread star cookies. They're not technically Scandinavian, but I'm going to pretend they are ... ;)

Advent One 23

And I will confess to you, dear readers: this is not a homemade recipe, but some commercial, roll-out dough purchased at the store. It was just that kind of day - if we were going to have cookies, they were going to happen this way or no way! Also, as you can see, my stars are pretty wonky. The dough just would not cooperate!

(They still tasted great, though ...)

And how about this new mug? Isn't is sweet?

Advent One 27

I found it at HomeGoods recently for all of $5. (How could I resist?) I love the tiny stars and the four birds returning "HOME" (to the nest) ... :) 

Now, you may notice my nest chair is not where it's been in past posts ... well, I've been "remodeling" (re-feathering?) my nest a bit this week with an eye toward Christmas decorations. The tree will be going up in this room, so that changes things a little. I'll have a tour up sometime soon ...

What am I reading this week?

Advent One 22

Advent One 1

Advent One 6

Advent One 17

In addition to a few children's books that work well with our nature theme this week, I am also reading Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi. This is my daily devotional (along with this and this) and I have a pretty little notepad to use along with it - an informal Advent "journal" where I can jot notes as I read. :)

 

(Note: In a separate post I'm going to outline our nature-inspired Advent plans for this year - which I keep hinting at, but not really explaining, lol! I don't mean to be secretive (as if!) but I don't want to bog down my Tea post with too much about all of that.)

What am I listening to this week?

A lovely CD I purchased years ago, recorded by a homeschooling family, Eventide Lullaby, as well as my own humming as Little Bear settles to sleep - tuneless, but still soothing, thankfully. Today, it was one of my favorite carols. :)

 What am I working on this week?

Advent One 2 (1)

Crafts for the first week of Advent - using as many natural materials as possible (some found and some purchased), and making handmade gifts with the boys. I'm also arranging a quiet manger corner in the living room. This will slowly be built up over the next four weeks, according to our nature themes. As you can see, we have a few donations already ... :)

Advent One 14

Advent One 5

They don't tend to stand still, though. :)

Oh! And I made up a little frame for myself ... seen here at the far right of the sill:

Advent One 25

This is a $1 acrylic frame found at the craft store. I printed out the Christmas Novena as well as a pretty nativity picture and cut them to fit the frame sleeves. A perfect reminder for the season!

What's happening in nature?

Ok, here's a new idea ... I am going to record a short nature video each week to share with you. A little commentary on our weather and how the season is unfolding and what we're up to in nature each week. I could not - for the life of me! - figure out how to share a video directly in this post, but I was able to get one up at my Facebook page. I believe anyone can access it whether they are FB users or not ... I hope you enjoy!

November Woods

 

A project with the children this week:

Well, most importantly - and with but moments to spare - we began our Advent calendar, with an apple candle on Sunday ...

Advent One 11 (1)

A tiny beeswax tea light is stuffed just inside ... and one apple is placed at each one of the table's four corners. 

(They may or may not be eaten by squirrels ... but that's just part of the fun.)


Advent One 20

A rock a day ... 24 in all. And beneath each one is a word, leading up to a verse. A little mystery to solve ...

And in the center of the table, a plain white, battery-lit candle. I set the candle to turn on each day as the sun lowers and to turn off around eight. We can see this table from the kitchen nook window, and it has been quite the focus of attention already ...

Waiting, wondering ...

We are also spending our outdoor time gathering twigs (as mentioned in the video) and little stones for crafts. And of course, getting busy with some of those crafts:

seashell ornaments * a pebble-filled grotto * yarn stars * twig stars * shell candles * grinding spices with a mortal and pestle * filling hand-sewn felt sachets with said spices ...

Will all of it get done? Not very likely ... but we'll do our best and pace ourselves, and hopefully make some nice handcrafts for our tree and our family and friends.

Now, I was thinking about the older boys, and how to involve them in our family Advent plans. It gets harder as kids get older to "reach" them and secure a little of their time! They will certainly be taking part in some of the activities, and helping with the youngers as they can, but I'd like to make this season a meaningful time for them as well. My plan is this:

  Each evening, they will think about the next day and decide on a small gift to give of themselves: to a friend, a family member, a teacher, etc. It might be hard to think of actions at first, but depending on their schedule, and who they'll be seeing, it should be easy enough to come up with some small token of affection or charity. It might just be a kind word or gesture of some sort, or even just an extra prayer. After all, the best gift we can prepare for the Baby Jesus each year is simply to treat others as we would treat Him.

"What can we give him? We can give him our heart ..."

I'm not asking them to keep track of this or even share what they've done if they'd rather not. But I think we can discuss this over supper each night and help call their attention to potential situations where they might give a small gift of their heart ... if they think and plan ahead it should be easier to pass out those "gifts!"

Words to inspire:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery." ~ Albert Einstein

I don't even have a whole lot to say about that quote - I only just heard it today! - but it seems to go well with this season. A time of waiting and wondering ... and yes, mystery, too.

How was it possible? How can it be true? How did they manage? It's just such a miracle!

How beautiful would it be it to fully immerse ourselves in this special time? To experience the true spirit of the season - tuning out what the world is shouting at us through our TVs and laptops - and instead find the quiet where we can and just listen? I myself listen best in nature ...

Advent One 13

Peace

Well, my friends, as usual I've rambled on quite a bit, but goodness, do I love this topic and of course, sharing my photos! I hope you will continue the conversation with me - by leaving a comment below, or emailing me your thoughts (with pictures if you'd like!) or perhaps linking me up at your blog? You can reach me at:

> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <

I would love to hear about (see!) your tea and talk more about how we can give from our hearts this year. For those we love and those in need ... it's a wonderful time of year for giving, in every sense of the word.

And thanks so much for joining me! I will be back again soon - I have a little nest "assignment" to share this week, as well as some more reader nest posts, too! I will also be back with more details on our Advent with Nature plans ... I'm still figuring them all out because - oddly enough - I kind of let things wait till the last minute this year!

Enjoy the rest of your evening, everyone ... see you here again very soon!

p.s. Here's a link to my Homemade Gifts archive - there are several kid-friendly craft posts there, as well as a blog fair I hosted many years ago, The Loveliness of Handmade Gifts. There are lots of ideas and links in that one! :)


Tea Parties & Plans ...

Oak leaves branch

Good Thursday morning, my friends! I hope your week's going well. :)

First up - in Planner Party news, I'm eager to hear from more of you and am very happy to share more planner posts, so if you have some thoughts or pics to share, please send them to me at:

bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com

I have a bit more to share on the subject myself - in fact, I'm currently working on a post about my binder tabs ... but of course, mid-way through I decided to completely overhaul the whole thing. ;) So that post will be up soon, I hope! 

Now, about my next "party" ...

Advent tea

I was thinking it would be nice to bring back my Advent Tea Journal from last year ... and I'd love to have you all join me again! If you'd like to see how we "took tea" last year, here is a link to my Tea Journal (and here is a link to my Advent archives for good measure). This year I will follow a similar format: there will be a theme to each week, a topic to discuss. I will share my own thoughts and photos, and I invite you all to do the same, whether by e-mail or comment or by posting at your own blog and linking up ... :)

And just like last year I will begin with a Thanksgiving Tea! Join me here on Monday, November 23rd to share some afternoon refreshment and take a collective breath before the busy holiday week gets underway. Our Advent Teas will follow over the next four weeks and then there will be one final Christmas Tea before we conclude our party. :)

Here are the Tea dates and topics:

Thanksgiving Tea: Monday, November 23rd ~ "Simplifying the Season"

Advent Tea, #1: Monday, November 30th ~ "Gifts from the Heart"

Advent Tea, #2: Monday, December 7th ~ "O Christmas Tree"

Advent Tea, #3: Monday, December 14th ~ "Magic + Meaning" (Advent for children)

Advent Tea, #4: Monday, December 21st ~ "Welcoming Winter"

Christmas Tea: Monday, December 28th ~ "'Tis the Season!"

******

My friends, I welcome you to send me your thoughts on our weekly topics (along with photos if you care to share them) and if you blog, I hope you'll consider posting about our Teatime and sending me a link. I'll also collect comments as they post and add them into each post ... so there's a way for just about everyone to participate!

In the week leading up to each Tea I will post reminders (where, how and when to send things) and describe more fully each topic. And I'm going to try to make up a pretty Tea button of some sort ... but I haven't done that in a long time, so I hope I remember how! 

I think this will be such fun - a nice chance to pause and reflect on the season while indulging in a little teatime together. I'm hoping by organizing this all now I'm giving myself (and you!) some time to digest and think ahead ... I hope you'll join me if you can!

For now though ... well, Advent seems pretty far off ... it's a damp and dark (dare I say dreary?) day here. Very mid-November. Most of the leaves are gone (from the trees, that is ... there are plenty plastered to the wet ground). But December is just around the corner! I'm not one to rush things (and certainly not seasons) but there is prudence in getting things set, at least in your mind if not also on paper. Because as much as I don't like rushing I really don't like scrambling ... and that's what happens when I leave things to just happen without planning ahead! I want my seasons to be simple, yes - but also satisfying ... and that takes a little forethought, I think.

Well that's all for now, friends ... my little one's due to wake any moment. So I must be off ... but I thank you, as always, for stopping by and I will see you here again very soon!


Merry Christmas, One and All!

Our xmas card display

Wishing everyone "here," a most joyous Christmas season! I hope you all had a lovely week ... it all went by so fast I can hardly believe it! (And I say that every year, lol.) I have some pictures to share from our family's celebrations, and I will hopefully get a post up soon ... but I had to pop in quickly this morning to say:

Hello, and Happy Christmas! 

Wishing you all Peace & Joy in the New Year!

(See you here again very soon.)

**


Advent Tea Journal ~ Lighting Our Candle

Advent tea light 1

Good Tuesday evening, my friends ... I hope your week's going well! Thank you for joining me for another (our last!) Advent Tea. Today's topic is "light."

For at this time of year the nights are long and dark ... and the days are short and gray. By 4 p.m. the sun has set, and our homes are engulfed in the dim aura of a winter's evening. Weeks pass and it seems we hardly see the sun ...

Many people dislike the darkness of the season, and I can understand that - I think as humans we are "wired" to desire the sun - but I myself really enjoy the contrast of dark and light. Maybe it's because I'm usually at home (where it's warm and relatively calm) and I can relish the soft lamplight, the candles in the window, and our lovely Christmas tree. Or the post down by the driveway, wrapped in a string of lights ... the copper snowflakes lining the kitchen shelves, small votives tucked inside cabinets ... a reminder that when we find ourselves in darkness we can always make our own light. And with just a little effort we can spread it to those who need it as much as, if not more than, we do.

But then, I also love sunlight. In fact, I adore it. If you look back over my blog you'll see many if not most of my photos are taken in natural light and often my subjects (the living and non) are basking in the rays of the sun. I love light, in both forms - "real" and "manmade" - and this is perhaps why my blog is named as it is. That line from Browning's poem has always resonated with me ...

"I love thee to the level of everyday's most quiet need, by sun and candlelight."

My love for my family knows no set time or date. It is for always and ever ... for big and for little ... in darkness and day. I strive to be a light for my loved ones and serve them as God compells me to do.

What is it that lights up your life? What stirs a fire inside you? And (or) ... how do we bring light into our life at this dark time of year?

☀️

These are the things I am mulling over as the New Year draws near.

It's no secret my life revolves around my family. My faith is deeply important to me, as is my love of nature and home. I have been working on a personal weekly guidebook entitled, Living the Seasons ~ at Home, in Nature, with Faith. A kind of planner/journal. This a huge undertaking for me, one that I hope leads to that book I've always longed to write. (One that I will ultimately share with all of you.) I have always had a fire inside me to write ... since childhood it has been my fondest hobby.

I feel I am finally at a place where I'm able to write this much-imagined book. Even if my time is not always my own, I have become creative about carving it out where I can. My family is so good about helping me out in that way. And these days I am deeply immersed in motherhood - I have children ranging in age from 19 years to 19 months! On top of that, I am a special needs parent, and I know what it means to be grateful for the small things. I thank God for those small things because they sustain me when I grapple with the Big Things. And I do - grapple - just like anyone else. And I am growing in my faith everyday ... opening myself up to God and where He is bringing me. What He is asking of me.

I am also taking the time to think about myself ... what do I need in order to maintain balance? I give all I can to my family, but I must remember to take some time for myself. What do I need to be at the top of my game? Good health, surely, in order to be there - here - for my loved ones as long as they need me. Energy and strength ... and bright spirits. :)

As for physical light - as I described above, I like to set up lights through the house during the late autumn and winter. Soft and warm, cheerful, welcoming light ... while we wait for the return of the sun. And last Sunday evening, as Winter arrived, the sun began to grow in strength once again. I love how this ties into our sacred time of year ... with the birth of Christ,  our world grows bright once again.

Here is the Solstice cake I made ...

Solstice 3

And our traditional Solstice supper, a rustic cottage pie, topped with butter and thyme ...

Solstice 6

As well as some wassail to toast the new season!

Solstice 4

(Simply organic apple juice with floating apple slices!)

Solstice 5

Welcome back, oh wonderful warm sun!

~ My Tea Journal ~

In the natural world ...

Rainy and cool, but not cold. It will be a green Christmas here, and unseasonably mild (like, over 60 degrees mild). Oh well, there's always next year! And I'm sure snow will be coming our way before long.

What I'm drinking/eating ...

Today I'm taking tea in my favorite mug - I've shown you it before, I'm sure. I love it's shape and feel, the soft green and the festive stars. It holds coffee and tea equally well. This week I'm enjoying some "Holiday Tea" (Harney & Son's) and a delicious molasses-clove cookie - which I may or may not have snuck out of a holiday package that arrived today ... ;)

I took my tea out in the sunroom today because it was where I could grab a quiet moment. I watched the birds flocking to the feeders (they know a storm's coming!) and admired the soft lights all around me. :)

What I'm reading ...

No time to read this week, other than Christmas cards of course! I'm listening to carols on the radio, though, and tonight I'll be watching this as I wrap. One of my all-time favorite movies (with a wonderful Christmas scene).

What I'm working on ...

Well, it's all about last minute preparations of course! Baking mince tarts and readying the house for our family gatherings. Wrapping, wrapping, wrapping ... and once we're on the other side, I'll return my attention to the aforementioned planner. I hope to have it ready to bind next week. (Certainly by Thursday!)

Words to inspire ...

"There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

~ Edith Wharton 

**

And now to hear about light in the lives of two lovely friends ... Mary and Tammie. These are wonderful reflections, so please read on and enjoy. :)

From Mary ...

"This past weekend we were in Dallas to see the ice show at the Gaylord Hotel. One of the pictures below is Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus all carved in ice. It is huge! Just magnificent and all lit up … It definitely brings light into my life in more ways than one. Also, it is my Husband and my Son who bring light into my life every day. They both really light up my life … Always smiling, always there to support me and help me during the ups and downs of daily life. But through it all, they are my constant, my light … My light along the way.

While we were in Dallas, we ate at the Corner Bakery Café. It was so cute with great food. Plus I enjoyed a fancy chamomile citrus tea. The teabag was made of some type of cloth. I was so impressed! And the tea was delicious. Perfect for the cold, drizzly Dallas day. It certainly lit up my day. :-)"

Mary tea light 1

Mary tea light 2

Mary tea light 3

(Oh that tea sounds - and looks - wonderful, Mary!)

And from Tammie ...

"Light has long been one of my favorite themes to ponder. It is such a vital part of our daily lives, yet we so often take it for granted. But if we stop to think about it, light is absolutely fascinating! It provides so many interesting analogies. To me, light represents everything that is true and authentic. Think about it - if you want to get a true picture of what something is really like, you hold it up to light. And it is just our natural human tendency to be drawn to light. Deep down, I think we all desire what is true & authentic. Lights also serve to guide, comfort, welcome, and cheer anyone who is in the vicinity.
 
Above all, God is the greatest source of light in my life. My personal belief is that all truth is found in him. Through his scriptures, he gives us the light we need for each day. Psalm 119:106 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
 
And then God sent his son, Jesus, into the world as a light. John 1:9 says, "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." How appropriate it is that we celebrate the coming of Christ during the darkest days of our year! And it just seems fitting to celebrate the season with all kinds of lights. Who doesn't thrill at seeing bright colorful lights nearly everywhere we look at Christmas-time?
 
The lights of our Christmas tree shine through one of our front windows and I've placed LED candlesticks in the other windows, to give a friendly, cheery glow to our neighbors and anyone passing by. And throughout the house, I've placed LED votives in various candleholders. (I've replaced all of my wax-burning candles with flickering LED candles.)
 
I'm sharing some photos of a couple of my favorite spots of light in our home. The Welsh dresser in our dining room is holding our winter dishes, which consists of the colorful Polish pottery and my blue snowflake dishes. The yellow in the Polish pottery reminds me of warmth & light. And there is a photo of the windowsill over my kitchen sink. My daughter Caitlin (who is now 26) made the colorful Christmas tree when she was in elementary school. I love how it reflects the glow of the votives and gives me a warm, nostalgic feeling as I'm working in the kitchen!
 
 God's blessings to everyone as we get ready to celebrate this glorious time of year!"
 
Tammie tea light 1
  
Tammie tea light 2
 
Tammie tea light 3
 
(That pottery is gorgeous, Tammie!)
 
***
Thank you, dear Mary and Tammie, for sharing your thoughts on light at this time of year. It seems we share similar "lights" in our life, and an appreciation for shining light in the face of the darkness! And I love how you each found light's beauty both at home and "out in the world!"
 
 
My friends, I am so thankful for your visit, and I hope as you notice the lights around you tonight, or perhaps as you sit down for tea, you will know that I am thinking of you, and praying that the greatest of blessings will be yours in this most holy season.
 
And a very Merry Christmas, to all ... I will see you here again very soon!

Advent Tea Journal ~ Finding Joy in our Midst

(Or mess, as the case may be.)

Advent tea joy 20

"Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are."

~ Marianne Williamson

My friends, this day did not go as planned, and the "vision" I had for this post went seriously awry ... but what I ended up with was not only very real, but as I look back at my day, truly filled with joy. The kind of joy I am talking about here ... as is Ms. Williamson above ... is when things are really good. They are not always pretty or neat or well-rested - but they are always good. And there is always joy.

So today, as we take tea together - however we manage it, if we manage it - we are talking about Christmas joy. This is, without a doubt, the most joyous time of the year and there are as many reasons why, as there are people on the planet, but here are a few photos of my holiday joy, and my tea journal below, with some lovely input from a few readers and then ... drumroll please ... the winners of my book giveaways!

Where do I find joy in the holiday season?

Advent tea joy 18

They say scent is the strongest sense when it comes to remembering. Well, I love both peppermint and vanilla, and to me, that is the smell of Christmas joy. Goodness knows I'm here at this sink a lot during the holidays (all the days!) so I take particular joy in the scent of these suds. (I also love the scents of clove, orange and evergreen. Those are also distinctly "Christmas" to me.)

*

When baking with my kids - even when it's chaotic and there's perhaps some yelling - there is such joy in creating for those we love ... with those we love.

Advent tea joy 6

Please excuse the mess - the one behind me and the one on my head, lol. Earlybird and I are working on fruitcakes here ...

Advent tea joy 7

And then there was supposed to be tea, after the baking, before the crafting, and during the baby's nap, but ...

Advent tea joy 11

Well, a clean kitchen was not to be part of today's joy. (And I do take great joy in a clean kitchen!) But to be perfectly honest, my kitchen still looks like this as I type up this post (without the running water, of course) and once again the baby didn't nap.

So ... THIS had to wait:

Advent tea joy 4

;)

Another year-long joy that seems especially rewarding at Christmas is crafting with my boys ...

Advent tea joy 2

Advent tea joy 10

No crafting happened today, though. These are the star-boys I began on St. Lucy's Day - very much a work in progress.

And there's much joy in receiving and sending Christmas cards each year ...

Advent tea joy 12

I love to post those wonderful faces where we can see them all season long. I love to talk about each family as we open and read each card. I love to pray for family and friends as I write out our own cards to them ...

There is SUCH joy in those connections.

And with the fruitcake finally in the oven, and the warm milk spiced with eggnog, I was ready to sit down and relax, and begin my post ...

But see, there was this little guy, and tea was not on his agenda.

Advent tea joy 13

A bottle of milk in his mama's arms was, though.

Advent tea joy 21

 And a good book or two ... and some toys ...

Advent tea joy 22

But then, hey ...

Advent tea joy 16

 Hmmm.

Advent tea joy 23

Slurp.

:)

So you know, if you had come to my house for tea today ... it would have been cold (because the heat's not working), and there would have been messes all over ... as well as one sick kid and one kid who wouldn't turn down the tv ... and a baby running a bit wild ... but.

There would have been joy. I guarantee it. 

:)

My Advent Tea Journal

In the natural world ...

It's a mild (40s) and mostly dry week for us here in New England. Which is fine by me. For now. I'd love to see some snow next week!

What I'm drinking ...

I saw this spiced eggnog mix in the Williams-Sonoma catalog a few weeks back and it intrigued me. I'm a big warm-milky-drinks fan, so I decided to give it a try and oh, I'm so glad I did! It is delicious ... comforting and custard-y tasting. You can have it cold or warm as I did (with whole milk) or you could add a spoonful to your coffee. My pretty mug is one of a set of six, a gift from my parents a few years ago. Also, coincidentally, from Williams-Sonoma.

What I'm reading ...

Lots and lots of children's Christmas books and lovely December issues of my favorite magazines.

What I'm working on ...

I can't wait to show you all this ... I am putting together a hand-drawn weekly home + seasons planner for myself for 2015! It is definitely a labor of love, but I'm enjoying all the line-drawing and calendar-checking. It's all quite involved, so I will have to do a separate post about it soon. Here are some of the materials so far:

Advent tea joy 19

Words to inspire joy ...

Please see the very top of my post. :)

*

And now to hear from Denise and Mary, two dear readers and friends, about their tea and seasonal joy this week. I love to hear from you all, honestly. I feel like I yabber on so much here and tell you all - well, probably more than you want to know, lol - so when I read about your thoughts and families and teatimes and faith ... I am so humbled and grateful.

Please read on ...

From Denise ...

Dawn, thank you for hosting this lovely tea theme! I enjoy reading
all the entries, and virtually visiting others' homes! This morning I am having tea by the Christmas tree. (This is my snow tree. The only tree I put up this year, due to not being home enough!) Such a lovely sight with all the lights, which seems to be my Advent theme.

 I normally have early morning tea, by myself, in communion with my Heavenly Father. Such a peaceful, restoring time, to sit, have something hot to sip, and to open His Word. Tea time with the Grands, well, now, that is a whole other story! I don't have a steady place to enjoy a cuppa & communion. It varies with the season and my mood. The actual cup is one my Mom & I found at a flea market. That's where all my tea cup and saucers have been purchased from. Over the years, having tea with my grands, some have been broken, so I have to replace them. ~smile~

This morning I am having Constant Comment, decaf. However, it has a taste of coffee (which I do not drink) in it, because I forgot to run a cup out of the Keurig (which was a Christmas gift to my dear husband). I have to admit, the last year or so has been hard. We have been dealing with a lot of family issues. So, I find myself this year, in the same place I was last year: Intentionally looking for JOY in this Holy Day Season.

As I discovered last year, even when our world is not right, we can STILL find JOY.  (Joy ¡V a passion for expectation of good!) This year I am finding JOY in the re-telling of the Christ story of old with my grandchildren (whom I help homeschool.) I am finding JOY in spending time homeschooling! I am finding JOY in spending time with family members. I am finding JOY in ministering to my mother. I am finding JOY in ministering to those I meet on the street, yes, even just with a smile. I am finding JOY in calling the young mom who needs encouragement to share a Scripture and a prayer with her. I am finding JOY in spending time with a youth group who are on a quest to find the LORD. I am finding JOY in spending time with dear friends whose wife half of the couple has dementia. I am finding JOY in coming home, just to be with my husband. I am finding much JOY in my early morning time with the LORD!

 The key for me has been to be intentional in finding, looking for,
seeking JOY, that passion that leads to expecting good to come!!! I
have found much JOY in the following Scripture:

JOY in that HE is our salvation! (Is. 61:10, Ps. 35:9, Ps. 21:1)
JOY in that regardless of what is happening in my life today, in
HIS presence, there is fullness of JOY!  (Ps. 16:11)
JOY in that one day there will be everlasting JOY, and sorrow &
mourning will flee away! (Is. 51:10)
JOY in that He is my strength!  (Neh. 8:10)
JOY in that HE defends me!  (Ps. 5:11)
    Let all those that put their trust in You rejoice, let them ever
shout for JOY, because You defend them, let them also that love Your name be joyful in You.
JOY in that HE promises JOY in the morning 
For His anger endures but a moment, in His favor is life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Ps. 30:5)

 JOY in that HE restores JOY! Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation. (Ps. 51:12)

JOY for me, can be summed up in the following Scripture:  

Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. (Luke 2:10)

God had good tidings of GREAT JOY to deliver to ALL people!  His name is
JESUS!!

Denise's joy tea

*

From Mary ...

What we are drinking...

We've expanded our repertoire to included some teas by Twinnings. I am usually not a huge fan of Earl Grey but I absolutely love this one. The Lady Grey (Love the name!) is also delicious...sort of a milder version of the Earl Grey.

And also ... I found some organic green tea on sale at Whole Foods and decided to give it a try. I was very pleased. It's quite smooth and mild. Very nice.

And finally, we are still enjoying our Celestial Seasonings Peppermint Tea ... it's a winner! Also, we're branching out and trying a Celestial Seasonings variety pack. The Sleepy Time is lovely and perfect for right before bed! ;-)

Have a lovely evening ...

Mary's joy tea 1

I am so grateful to both Denise and Mary for sharing their thoughts and photos this week ... and a bit of themselves, as well. I am so glad to know you both and look forward to more weeks of tea together!

And my goodness, I've made you all wait to the very end of my (typically) long post, but I am happy to announce the winners of my book giveaways!

So without further ado ...

Nori Coleman has won A Miracle for St. Cecilia's,

and ...

JeNae has won The Christmas Shoes/Christmas Blessing duo!

Nori and JeNae - congratulations! I will be in touch soon to arrange mailing details. I hope you both enjoy these books (I know you will!).

And now I will wrap up at long last and thank you all for reading today. I hope your week is off to a good start, and that your evening is restful for you. Until we "speak" again ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... see you here again very soon!


Some Fun Friday Giveaways!

Giveaway books 1

Happy Friday, my friends!

I'm so excited to share a couple of book giveaways today! All the details are below, but before I get to that, I also want to mention that Monday's Advent Tea Journal topic will be: JOY. How do we infuse our family's holiday season with a simple, sustainable joy?

(I bet you saw that coming, didn't you?)

;)

Now, about those books!

They are pictured above, and I'm offering them as two separate giveaways - A Miracle for St. Cecilia's is one, and The Christmas Shoes/The Christmas Blessing is another.

I enjoyed these books very much  - especially, A Miracle for St. Cecilia's, which is the first in a wonderful series of books about a small Catholic parish in Vermont - but since I find myself with extra copies, I'd like to pass them along for someone else to enjoy. If you would like to enter the giveaway contest for these books, please answer this question in the comments box below:

What holiday joy do you look forward to most?

 Baking cookies or cutting down the tree or lighting candles or visiting the creche? I'd love to hear your thoughts, and will include them in Monday's Joy Tea post. Feel free to leave me an answer of any length - a few words or a few paragraphs, either is fine! I will choose the two winners randomly on Monday afternoon.

And I will announce the winners in my Tea post Monday evening!

(Please feel free to comment even if you're not interested in the books, and also, if you have a preference of one book (or books) over the other, please specify which option.)

Also, for my tea-drinking friends, if you would like to send me pictures for my post, I would love it! I'd love to see what your tea looks like, and hear about what you're drinking (or eating) these days! Please send those pics and/or comments to me at ...

bysunandcandlelight@comcast.net

Thanks so much, everyone ... and have a good weekend! I'll be busy with family things - especially Earlybird's birthday! - but I will see you back here on Monday for sure!