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Tea & Mitten Strings: A Pause & a Plan!

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! I hope you are all doing well. β€ I'm popping in today to share a cup of Advent tea, and announce a little change to my December blogging schedule ...

Now, I know had promised to pick up where we left off in our Mitten Strings for God book study, and to continue on with our weekly tea schedule as well, but - and I know you all saw this coming - I think what I really need is to keep things simple this month. I have a lot going on at the moment - there's a season to savor, my concussion to coddle, and college applications to finish for my son!

So what I would like to do for now is to hit "pause" on my blogging for the rest of the month. In early January we'll gather here again for a cup of Winter's tea and hit "play" on our MSfG book study. I'm thinking there may even be a little giveaway involved ... 

But to touch on our current chapter, "Wants and Needs," I would like to say a few quick things before getting on with today's tea ... Here is a link to my post on this chapter from 2008 which I just re-read last week, and in doing so I thought:

You know what? I really like what I had to say back then!

So here's a little excerpt:

I think helping our children find and feel contentment, is vital to their happiness later in life. We grown-ups know, in our hearts, that contentment doesn't come from things, but rather, from having our needs met consistently. Because once those needs are met, we feel comfort, and comfort provides plenty of space for joy. (Did I just talk in a circle? Possibly, but please bear with me.)

There are so many places this post could go, but in the interest of time (mine and yours) I'll just offer up a few notes I jotted down for myself re this particular endeavor (and as always, these are just things I am trying - I don't presume to know what would work for your family):

  1. Expose the kids to less media/commercialism.
  2. Shop as infrequently as possible and be more thrifty with our spending.
  3. Make giving thanks a bigger part of our everyday life. Hone in on our non-material blessings.
  4. Volunteer more as a family.

Now, I think I had good intentions back then, but I know my family could definitely use a little refresher! So as we approach the new year I'll be brainstorming ways to work these four goals (back) into our life. In particular, I'd love to spend less time shopping - and make the shopping we do do more meaningful and focused. I'm pretty sure Bill would love the idea of less spending, too!

But for today, let's share some Advent tea and revel in this season of twinkling lights and sparkling snow ... and first, I am so pleased to share my friend Gill's lovely pics with you all. I can always count on Gill to share a cozy cup of tea and a peek into her life across the pond!

From Gill:

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"We are just beginning to put a few things out for Advent, and I was given this little tablescape decoration yesterday. It had rather a Scottish feel to it, so I have had a little St Andrew’s day tea beside it this afternoon ...

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"Whilst I was doing that, my menfolk were cutting down a Christmas tree for our front yard! They had a lot of fun and we now have a tree to rival the one in Trafalgar Square!"

Thank you, Gill, for sharing your warm and welcoming tea here with us! Your views are so pretty ... and I have to say, I was a little jealous of your snow when I first opened your message. ;) (We've since gotten some of our own.) But that tree - wow, it's a beauty! I especially love those large lights - so pretty! And who's that sweet little doggie posing in front? What a love!

Speaking of loves, here's my Oliver, whose favorite haunt is the library ... 

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Isn't he handsome? ❀ Archie finds his way into more of the pictures because he gets into more trouble he's always wherever we are ... whereas Oliver tends to snuggle up and sleep in quiet corners when he can find them. His favorite spot? Behind the loveseat, sidled up next to the heating register ... where I keep his preferred pet bed, natch. :)

But speaking of Archie?

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Yes, he's just LOVING the Advent season as you can see ... with all the little knicknacks to bat around and fresh greenery to nosh on ...

#andthisiswhywecanthavenicethings πŸ˜‚ 

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As part of our Advent storytelling, I made this peg doll St. Nick and, as an extra surprise, purchased that sweet little cat, one of a few new wooden figures from Bella Luna Toys. The story I told had to do with a lost cat finding a new home at the Farm, in thanks to a kind stranger in the woods (St. Nicholas/Father Christmas). I was inspired by the book seen below, one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time ...

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The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes (and illustrated by the beloved Tasha Tudor) is such a beautiful story - especially for those of us with a soft spot for animals. What is extra sweet about this photo is that BOTH of my younger boys were sitting at this table, listening to me read aloud. (While sipping their traditional St. Nicholas Day treat, candy cane cocoa!) Earlybird is usually very uncomfortable being read to, but he was really calm and content to hear the story! Such progress he has made ... it makes this mama so happy. :)

And here's another festive spread, one I arranged a few days later, when I expected a dear friend for morning tea ...

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This is my favorite Christmas china, a set I started collecting several years ago. "Winter Greetings Everyday" it's called, and I love it most of all for the birds! Several species are represented on these dishes ... cardinals, chickadees, titmice, goldfinches ... downy woodpeckers even!

Here's another shot of my tea table last Friday ...

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This was *before* we got our first snow of the season!

Speaking of ... here I am with Little Bear on our way home from Whole Foods Saturday morning. We made a quick run to get bread, milk and a few other sundries before the storm set in!

Shopping

This chapter sprung to mind several times as we shopped ...

"Hey, can I have that?"

"Mama, I want that!"

"Wait! Mama go back, I want to look at that again!"

And me: "Honey, we don't need to buy that today, but it IS a really neat [insert desired item here]."

The snow was light as we left the store, but within a few hours, it was falling in earnest ...

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With all of two inches on the ground, Little Bear said: "This all has to go. Let’s get to work.” 

(This boy has the strongest work ethic I've ever seen in a 4 year old!)

Next morning ...

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All was calm, all was bright ... β€

I do love a December snow. An old-fashioned Christmas just isn't complete without at least a dusting of snow! (We had about 6 inches and are expecting more in the next week or so!)

And finally, here is our Christmas tree ...

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I'm quite fond of our tree this year ... and as you can see, so is Archie. :)

Well everyone, thank you very much for stopping by and taking the time to read. I hope you are all having a nice December! And Mitten Strings friends - I hope you will excuse this little break from our study and join me back here again next month!

Now, that's not to say I might not pop in again before January ... and I'll definitely be around on Facebook and Instagram! But for now, I will say ...

Blessed Advent, my friends. I wish each of you a love-filled, perfectly peaceful and happy holiday season. God bless you all and thank you so much for your friendship, kindness and care!

See you here again very soon ...


Advent Arrives in the Learning Room! ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! And Happy first week of Advent, as well. I'm feeling a little better this week and I thank you all for your kind words and prayers. I will be slowly catching up with things around here and hope to be back on track soon. I hope you are all doing well, too!

Today I'd like to share some of the ways we're bringing Advent to our learning room this year. I am especially excited about the beautiful wooden tree Bill made for us - modeled after one I spied at HomeGoods recently. When I first saw that tree at HGs I thought two things ... ONE, that it would be perfect for the learning room, and TWO, that Bill could easily make it! (Which he did, God bless him.)

At the time I wasn't sure what exactly I'd do with it, but then things started clicking into place and I came up with a plan ...

And not surprisingly it involves nature!

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I think you all know how much we love nature in my family and that we love infusing our faith traditions with simple nature-connections. This Advent season I decided to work with a theme of "All Creation Waits" and since we have many lovely wooden animals in the learning room I thought I might start there ...

But as with any plan, I had to flesh it all out on paper - and post-its!

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I decided to tell short simple stories using these toys, reflecting the traditional weekly Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love ... with the overarching theme of seeking or waiting for something (someone). I sorted through all our wooden animals and decided how each one would fit into the story schedule, and then I made up a sort-of storyboard, shown above.

I placed little stickers on the figures and then put them all in a basket ...

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... covered them up with a pretty starry-night playsilk and set that basket aside.

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Each day Little Bear looks in his basket to find the day's creature(s) and sets them on the Advent Tree. And as he places them on that little ledge, I tell a very brief, simple story. I have these stories mostly written out, and they meander from farmyard to woodland to wider global habitats. I even splurged a little and bought a few new figures that will show up throughout the season - I think Little Bear will be very pleased!

(By the way, we bought most of our wooden toys at Nova Natural many years ago, and last week I ordered new figures from Bella Luna Toys. Both New England-based companies are wonderful.)

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I'm happy to report that four days in - it's been well received! I love how these figures look on the natural wood of the tree, with that cute colorful rug just beneath!

Now, because Earlybird cannot handle storytelling for sensory reasons, I decided to come up with a different Advent plan for him, and the family as a whole. I brainstormed 24 very simple activities (again reflecting nature and faith themes) and then set up a daily "reveal" system I thought EB would enjoy.

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I used the learning line for these small cards and some very cute snowflake clothespins I found at Target ($5 for a package of 12).

(If you are interested, here is a PDF I made up with my notes for our Advent activities: All Creation Waits❀)

Here is the results of today's Advent tag - gathered branches for St. Barbara's Day!

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(Come Christmas, these branches *should* be blooming. It's worked every year!)

Here's a better look at our Advent Tree ...

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I will rotate the Christmas books displayed here each week ...

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I have a cheery red rolling-bin for the bulk of our books!

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Here's a sweet little board book called, The Animals' Advent ...

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We're using this countdown, too! 

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My sidebars are woefully out of date, but I'll try to share our Advent & Christmas book collection with you all soon!

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I just love this tree, and can see that there would be many different ways to use it. (Bill made the ledges easily moveable.)

Here is Little Bear holding up today's Advent animal .. the goat!

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Goat and his "kid" had a nice little story to tell ... new at the farm, Kid was hoping for a special friend to play with (as was Calf in the previous story). He was also hoping for a chance to run about and jump ... and so didn't my boys find some branches and stumps set up in the backyard for doing just that? (Our neighbors have the loveliest trio of goats and we're quite fond of them. I based this story on some of their clever antics!)

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Here's how the first figures are lining up on the bottom shelf of the Advent Tree ...

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The lights are so pretty, aren't they? Another Target find - $9.99 a box for a 9-foot line of lights. I used two to outline the tree.

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December days are surely dark, but oh - those lights! They lend an air of magic and joy to each and every day of Advent. β€

More Advent lights and sights around our home to come soon. And fingers-crossed, I'll be hosting our first Advent Tea this Sunday! For now though, I wish you all well - and a very Happy Advent! - and will hope to see you all here again soon. :)


Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 8, "Secret Places"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you all are having a nice weekend, and I hope my fellow Americans enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving! Ours was quite nice - and I do have some pictures to share - but for now, I'd like to serve one last cup of Autumn Tea and talk about our next chapter in Mitten Strings for God, chapter eight, "Secret Places." 

Now, despite the "Christmassy" look of my tea pic above, it actually is still Autumn! But I think most of us are switching gears at the moment ... tucking away Thanksgiving (and maybe Halloween) decor, and working on our December calendars and this year's holiday plans ...

But outside my window the world still looks very autumnal! There are crunchy leaves underfoot, and some still clinging to the mostly bare trees ... and oh, those late, glowing sunsets! But the chipmunks have gone underground now - we realized that the other day, shortly after we spotted our first dark-eyed junco on the front lawn. These two species disappear (the former) and reappear (the latter) around the same time each year and it's always a highlight in our household - right along with that first hard morning frost!

Who saw the first junco? Has anyone seen a chipmunk lately? Wow the grass is crunchy this morning!

Autumn's ending ... winter's nearing ... it's time to turn inward and "switch on the lights." β€

Here's a peek at our Saturday afternoon, roundabouts 3:00 ... 

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See how dark it gets around here?! And though my Little Bear is wearing a winter jacket in this picture, the temperature was strangely mild today - very near 60Β°! And, according to our local forecast, all next week is looking unseasonably mild as well - which doesn't bode well for our pre-assigned seasonal theme of "Welcome, Jack Frost!" Lol, we may be hard pressed to celebrate "frosty weather" next week, with highs near 50Β° ... though the nights will dip down to the 20s, so there is hope! (I contemplated switching themes, but I think we'll stick with it ... and if it stays mild we'll talk about how elusive that ol' winter sprite can be at this time of year!❄️ )

(p.s. The wooden structure is an Advent project in the works - more to come next week on that!)

Ok, enough with the weather talk now, let's talk about tea! This week I'm drinking my favorite decaffeinated black tea in a sweet mug I bought at Home Goods a year or so ago. It's a good sturdy mug that holds a nice amount of tea - and I love the bright red letters spelling out HOME - and the four birds heading straight for it!

(Note - I find the cutest mugs at HomeGoods for very little money. Well, they're not free or anything - as Bill would remind me - but they're a nice enough price I don't mind splurging once in a while! πŸ˜‰ )

So I took my tea yesterday in our sunny kitchen nook while filling out my December calendar -  because GOODNESS the new month arrives Friday! (Calendar post to come soon!) And though most Advent calendars begin on December 1st, technically, according to the liturgical calendar, Advent begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which in 2017 is December 3rd. And that's a week from today!

Either way you look at it though - whichever calendar you follow - Advent is coming - and SOON!

Before we get on with our chapter talk though, and speaking of tea and Advent, I have to share this with you all ...

Advent teas

This is MY Advent calendar this year, an extremely generous and incredibly thoughtful gift from a dear friend! It arrived in a wonderful surprise package last week, a lovely and festive box filled with special teas for each and every day of Advent ... 24 in all! I am so excited to try them all, and I love the inspiration they represent - a perfect reason to sit down and savor a few quiet moments each day throughout the season ... to soak it all in and think it all through. Advent goes so fast and we can easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle ... but as we tea lovers know, a hot cuppa something special is all the invitation we need to slow down and press pause. I am planning my teatimes already and making room for these special moments in each day. I hope to share most, if not all, of these teas with you all on social media this Advent season!

Ok, let's now move on to our next Mitten Strings chapter ... and today we are discussing the concept of "Secret Places." Here is a link to my post from 2008 and once again I had a chuckle reading back through my thoughts back then. Different house, different (aged) kids (plus one more kid now) ... unsurprisingly things were so ... different back then! Our house has more floors and our yard now has more acreage - so there are more nooks and crannies to explore - but my primary "secret place finder" is only four years old! So I'll have to adapt the concept of a "hideaway" this time around ...

"Every child needs such a place, a place that invokes the processes of the imagination and the possibility of transformation. A place that is at once a haven from the adult world and a source of mystery and wonder, a place that a child can discover and shape and lay claim by virtue of his or her own quiet presence there, and deep observation." (p. 62)

Little Bear is just at the right age for seeking out such special, secret places - though again, he's too young to be left to his own devices just yet. I hope next spring to help him explore a little more around our property, to find some little nooks in which he might find "a sense of ownership and mystery," (p. 58).

Here is one such place he has taken a liking to recently ...

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As you can tell from my posts, we are surrounded by woods here - even our front yard has "a small wood" of its own! Well, Friday afternoon, as I walked down to get the mail (taking a break from Thanksgiving cleanup!), I heard Little Bear calling ...

"Mama, come see what I found! Come see, come see! Me and Daddy are here now!"

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A little nook right inside this cozy wood, just a slight dip down below our driveway ... with big, moss-covered rocks to climb and (unbeknownst to Little Bear) a vernal pond to explore come spring. (No actual peepers, though. Just lots of muck and murk.) I was so pleased he stumbled upon this spot which is clearly visible from the house but feels "secretive" to him. Four is such a great age, and LB has such an adventurous spirit ...

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This will make a fun, out-of-the-way place for him to explore ... and "claim."

"The best ones are the ones that children discover on their own, the ones that are imbued, from the very first, with a sense of ownership and mystery; places that no adult would ever think to go, that are hollowed by the shapes of small bodies and furnished by wild nature and rampant imagination." (pg. 58)

Kids are magnets for these kinds of interesting outdoor spots, especially when and if allowed to roam (and lead). Their sharp eyes see such possibilities! But winter is coming and the weather will soon be turning inhospitable; outdoor explorations will be put on the back burner for awhile ...

So as we spend more time indoors, I thought I'd take a look around the house and see where else LB might find his own special nooks ...

Here's a great place for a little "fort" ...

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In the library, where Mama reads (and drinks tea) ... in between the chair and the loveseat, just beneath the (rickety) end table. :)

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He'd be snuggled up right next to the heating register, too! And just under the tablecloth there, you see a glimpse of the cats' soft pet-bed. This is used mostly (always) by Oliver, who is our quieter of the two cats. (There's a reason you see Archie in most of my photos - he's my constant sidekick!) Oliver though, likes being out of sight and prefers being somewhere dark and warm. I'm thinking Little Bear could make good use of this space, too!

And here's another possible secret (ish) place ...

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Well, there's really nothing too secret about the loft bed in Little Bear's bedroom, but I think it has "secret place" potential ... maybe with a curtain of some kind providing some privacy ...

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He's too young to sleep up here just yet (and he has a separate single bed in this room as well) but I think this will be great fun for him as he gets a little older and more adventurous! And there's that neat little cubby just beneath the bed as well ... currently it holds out-of-season clothing but that too could make a wonderful "fort" or hidey-hole someday!

You know, "Secret Places" was another wonderful chapter, with some lovely inspiration for those of us with young children ... but I think the whole idea of a "secret place" is of value to all of us. Our imaginations might not be quite so active as we age, but the need to feel out of the limelight and "off on our own" on occasion ... really never goes away.

"Children need their privacy just as we adults do. In the secret places of childhood, the soul drinks deeply, is refreshed, and flourishes." (p. 63)

Do you have a secret place you retreat to? Do your children have such places they call all their own? I'd love to hear about them and your thoughts on this chapter, if you have time! Or how about the weather where you are, or the tea you are drinking these days? Do you, like me, feel called to pour a cup of tea and "hide away" as the days grow dark and cold?

I'd love to read your comments if you have time to leave them, or send me a link, your thoughts and/or pics if you have a moment!

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you and I thank all of you who have been reading along and sharing your thoughts as you can! Sorry I am a bit late in my replies - last week was a busy one! I will be catching up with you all again soon (and sharing some pics from our family's holiday too). Next week's Sunday post will be our first Advent Tea and very fittingly our chapter is all about "Wants and Needs." Something to ponder as we head into the busiest shopping time of the year, and choose gifts for our loved ones ...

So until then (or next time, whenever that may be) I wish you all well and a very lovely last week of November! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... 

See you here again very soon!


A Special Trip to Whole Foods with Earlybird!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! Tonight I thought I'd share a quick EB report with you all, to follow up on my post from last week and let you all know how his much-anticipated shopping trip went!

Well, I'm very glad to tell you - it went very, very well. :) EB had worked on a list of things to buy, and he had the $25 gift card he earned by doing all those extra chores ... and Thanksgiving was (is) upon us! So, with his ABA therapist along for support, my mum and I took EB to Whole Foods today!

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And this was a kind of milestone event for us. It was EB's first time back to this "supersize" Whole Foods in three years, since an epic meltdown that lasted almost half an hour, and took place just inside the doors of this beautiful (crowded, colorful, noisy) grocery store. Our then 12 year-old-son had had public meltdowns before, but it was this particular experience that made us realize EB needed serious help - something way beyond what we were able to give him ourselves, or even knew how to find for him at that point ...

It was around this time we'd just started working with a neurologist (EB had recently developed a seizure disorder) and this man was (and is) just an incredible doctor. He's the kind of professional who's comfortable getting personal, if you are fortunate enough to know what I mean. At our first meeting at Children's Hospital (after EB's first grand mal seizure) and in subsequent office visits, Dr. Peter quickly became one of EB's "best friends." He always took his time with us, allowing EB his quirks (for example, doing vitals in the waiting room when the hallway was just too much to face), and really seeking to understand our child - and our family. To use a phrase I use often in reference to my children's developmental and educational needs, Dr. Peter "met us where we were at" and determined it was time to get EB some home therapy. (EB's anxiety was growing after several poor experiences with ill-matched doctors and therapists. He was steadily developing a fear of any kind of medical appointment, but visiting Dr. Peter in Boston really turned things around for our son.)

Anyhoo, six months later we were hooked up with a kind of therapy (and therapists) that just worked for EB ... and finally it seemed progress was possible. And in fact progress was being made every day - albeit in the tiniest of steps. We first worked on simple compliance and basic self-care ... and then a whole big list of hopes and dreams started to form ... things we wished for our son one day. We've done some of those things (bike riding, haircuts, a full physical at his pediatrician), but it's a long list, and we still look forward to doing things like: going to a movie, visiting a museum, riding a train ... learning to swim!!

Well, after that Whole Foods fiasco in early 2014, it was six long months before EB was able to handle being out in public again. It's a very big part of his therapy - helping EB become a confident and productive member of society, but we started very small ...

For example, we visited a local (tiny, quiet) mom-and-pop grocery to buy ... one pear. And that's all we did - walking in (with his therapist), going right to the produce department (knowing it was just inside the door), choosing one pear, bagging it, buying it ... and then heading right back to the car. And that was SUCH a success. (As in, it went smoothly AND we were so proud!) The next week we tried again and this time EB had a list of three (preferred) items ...

And happily, that day went well, too!

It has not always gone smoothly, however - we've hit snags and plateaus and Earlybird has struggled at times with ongoing sensory challenges and new irrational fears - but things have gotten steadily better these past three years. So much better that today - just two days before a major holiday, I felt (relatively) confident that Earlybird would be able to handle a short trip to this superstore in order to do his part for our family's Thanksgiving meal. He was motivated, we were prepared, and - most importantly - we had support. And it was a wonderful time!

So if I may, here are some pictures of our morning. Yes, I'm the crazy mama who takes pictures of her kids doing the silliest of things - like pushing a grocery cart - but you and I both know that even the most seemingly mundane things can be incredibly meaningful. β€

Ok, here we go ...

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First of all, it was a beautiful day! Sunny and oddly warm for November in New England. And as you can see, EB was all (tentative) smiles heading inside.

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And yup - it was just as busy as we expected! We had to pass through a waft of holiday music being piped in near the entrance - I cringed because music is a tough thing for Earlybird - but he didn't even blink.

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Safely inside the store, here's EB choosing pears ... 

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And crackers ...

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And mac and cheese! (Of course we serve mac and cheese with our holiday dinners!)

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Cart full of his goodies, EB was ready to head to the registers!

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On his list EB had: pear juice, lemonade, mac and cheese, corn muffins, ice cream, crackers, pears and flowers. Impulse items included turkey legs (for Nana to make gravy), a science magazine, and a turkey cookie for Little Bear. :)

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EB with his beloved Nana, my Mum - how much she means to us all. <3

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And here's Mama with her Earlybird. (If you knew me well you'd know that's my ... "we're almost done, he's done so well, let's not push it" smile.)

I'm just so proud of this boy!

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And a hug for his therapist, Michael - an extremely kind and patient man. He has a wonderful way with our son!

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Getting ready to pay with his Whole Foods "credit card" ... (The bill came to be more than $25, so I gladly "spotted" him the extra cash!)

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The only thing on his list that we didn't get was flowers ... and only because it was WAY over on the other side of the store and we were right there at the registers and I decided it was best to leave on a high note. I assured EB I'd pick up flowers while out shopping tomorrow morning ... because yes, I'm heading out tomorrow to get the final items we need for our dinner! 

In addition to shopping (super early, coffee-in-hand shopping) there will be much to do here tomorrow - and I'm counting on lots of help from my boys! (And Bill, who's working from home.) Things like: cleaning of bathrooms, setting of tables, cooking of cranberries, and bathing of children ... oh, how I love getting ready for a holiday!

Well my friends, thank you very much for joining me here tonight and sharing in our joy for Earlybird. He's been on a long and slow road, but we are seeing such progress and have so much hope for our boy! I'll keep you all updated on his "adventures" as I can ...

But for now I will wish you all a pleasant evening and a very happy Thanksgiving Day - if you celebrate - but a day full of blessings, regardless ...

Here's to counting all of our blessings, the big and the small! β€


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings, Ch. 7 "Play" 🌟

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Welcome to another "Autumn Tea" here at By Sun and Candlelight, and today I'm co-hosting alongside my Little Bear! Since our current MSfG chapter is "Play," I thought it made sense to share tea serving duties with my most playful companion, and serve our (child-friendly) tea, in the playroom - aka learning room, aka sunroom. :)

Now, my tea is a cup of absolutely delicious Harney & Sons English Breakfast - a gift from kind friend and longtime blog reader, Lisa S. :) I am drinking it in a sweet owl mug - a gift from my new friend, Tammy, with whom I am part of a lovely seasonal exchange. I thought this mug was rather playful and perfect for today's autumnal tea - plus it holds a generous amount of tea, which is always a good thing in my book!

As for Little Bear's "tea," his brew of choice this week is good ol' organic apple juice, and it's served in his preferred sippy cup, alongside our snacks for the day: fresh Macintosh apples and some yummy cocoa cookies. I arranged all these things on another one of those cute melamine plates I picked up at Target recently, and then laid down a soft blanket so we could "picnic" on the playroom floor ... :)

What does your tea look like these days? Do you switch things up as the seasons change? Do you find yourself drinking more tea - or coffee or cocoa - as the weather cools? Do you ever share tea with your children, and if so, what do you serve them? I'm always looking for child-friendly ideas, especially those that involve hot juice and/or warm milk.

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Ok, I'm now setting down my cup and brushing crumbs off my book ... time to get on with our chapter! 

In "Play," Ms. Kenison inspires us to reminisce a little about the way we spent our free time when we were kids. First of all - there was more of it back then! Back in the days before screen time was an issue and play dates were a thing ...

She then urges us to think creatively about how we might afford our own kids a little more of such time in which they can be free just to play ...

  • Are our kids too busy and/or managed to know how to fill time with their own thoughts and imaginations?
  • Are their childhoods racing by with them yoked to a fast-track alongside us?
  • What can we do to foster the kind of slower childhood we ourselves enjoyed?

I agree with Ms. Kenison that a family schedule with a little more blank space is a good place to start, but some of us first need to develop an appreciation for this kind of free time. Blank space on our calendar may look nice ... but sometimes we stare at that space rather ... well, blankly.

"Perhaps we adults have lost the fine art of lollygagging, but at least most of us mastered it as children." (p. 56)

What a gift for our children - to provide more empty time in their days so that they may explore whatever comes to their minds. I bet most kids would master such a gift in a heartbeat.

"But children need time that is utterly their own - time to take up residence in their own lives, time to dream through an afternoon, time to play with the kids next door, time to wake up to their own pleasures. Above all, they need some time when we adults aren't calling the shots." (p.53)

But won't they get bored, you might wonder? Well, maybe ... but does that have to be a bad thing?

Here is a link to the original post I wrote in response to this chapter, back in 2008. And in it, I addressed this very question, as it's been posed to me in the past in regards to our homeschooling:

"To be perfectly honest, not really ... I am a huge fan of boredom. I think in today's culture, boredom is quite underrated."

I go on to suggest some things we try to do around here to entice our kids to play, but to my original list, and in the spirit of this chapter, I would add:

  • A yard that is welcoming & inspiring (play structures, space to run, a garden to craft)
  • And/or a nearby park that can be freely explored.
  • Ample time to run about, climb trees, hop rocks, and stretch those muscles a bit.
  • Natural (safe) places where kids can roam and be wild - and loud!
  • Take neighborhood walks and scout out such interesting places.
  • Ask your kids what might they do with a day free to go anywhere, do anything. 
  • Contact your local trail association and ask for suggestions.

The kind of mother I am would always need to be nearby ... it's just how I roll. Also though, my two younger kiddoes just cannot be left unsupervised. (One is autistic and the other is only four.) I do like Ms. Kenison's suggestion, that kids should be allowed to feel unsupervised, even if a parent is nearby only appearing to be uninterested ... ;)

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It's always been important to me that my kids know how to entertain themselves - for their sakes as well as mine. My mother was a very hands-on, deeply nurturing, always-at-home mom ... but she mostly left my brother and I to our own devices. We played in our rooms, and in the backyard, and we came up with all kinds of games. But Mum definitely let us call the shots when it came to outside activities. I did Girl Scouts, dance, and later on, cheerleading, and my brother dabbled in soccer - but we were very protective of family time. Many a social opportunity would pass us by in deference to our own family needs.

I'm especially glad Little Bear seems to be quite good at keeping himself busy - not that he doesn't love to have someone play with him ("Mama, text Liam and ask if he'll build Legos with me!"), but he can usually entertain himself if nobody's available. (See below!)

As for Earlybird, we're actively working with his therapists to help him learn to play nicely with Little Bear. My two youngest have similar interests - wooden trains and dirt piles, for example - but they definitely need supervision for any play-time to be successful. EB has issues with LB's chattiness and LB has issues with EB's grabbiness, and both of them can get a bit too physical with the other. EB is a gentle giant but he's BIG compared to Little Bear - who's feisty but SMALL. They play as two little kids would, but in this particular equation one of the kids is not physically little anymore. Mentally though, they're a great match!

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(The two of them helping me find an Advent branch yesterday afternoon, a project they both took very seriously. Sometimes play is all business!)

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And not that I've not kept you here long enough, but now I'd like to show you all what play looks like in my house these days ... which, for the most part, involves my youngest. So for this post I followed our Little Bear around and snapped pictures as he went about his "business." As I said above, he really does play very well ... something that's as good for him as it is for his mother! :)

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Late day light

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Ok, now I will absolutely wrap up - but as always, I thank you, truly, for joining me today! I hope you all enjoyed this post with my thoughts on play - as Ms. Kenison described in her chapter, and as it exists in my family these days. I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well! Please feel welcome to leave me a comment below, or send me your thoughts/pics via email. (Links are welcome, too!)

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Now, I am tempted to say next week's chapter will be postponed due to the busy holiday week, but I really would like to stick to our schedule. I will plan to be here next Sunday with our next (and last) Autumn Tea (after that we begin Advent) ... and to talk about chapter eight, "Secret Places." (That sounds very much like cozy corners to me!)

In the meantime, I will wish you all well and to my fellow Americans, a very Happy Thanksgiving Week ahead! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you here again very soon!


Earlybird's Chores for Thanksgiving ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday!

A few folks have mentioned that they'd like to hear more about our autism journey and how we manage as a special needs family - and I would be very happy to share more of that! Earlybird is moderately autistic with significant developmental delays ... and he's just such a joy, an absolute blessing to our family. He is homeschooled along with his brothers, something we are always tweaking to meet his (ever changing) needs.

To be sure, as a family we have faced many challenges on our autism journey thus far, but each one we've faced (and handled with varying degrees of success) has made us a little surer, a little stronger. With time and experience, a new challenge might seem a little less daunting, and we might feel a little more confident in our choices. As time passes and all of these experiences become part of our family fabric, I grow more comfortable in my role (and ability) as a special needs mom ...

At the end of the day I can say each of my boys have shaped me as a mother in their own unique way - though perhaps none quite as dramatically as Earlybird. :)

But those are stories for a later day. :) Right now is just for sharing a nice idea that's worked well with EB this month!

As I've blogged about before, EB gets VERY excited about holidays and parties. We usually have a countdown of some sort that helps him channel this energy and pace his enthusiasm a bit. Well, no sooner had Halloween passed when we were on to Thanksgiving! Our blessings tree was up and our blessed basket was full ... but EB needed something a little more hands-on to help him prepare for the holiday in a way that was meaningful for him.

So I came up with the idea to organize a super simple chart for the days of the month, and each day EB earns a check from me, if he's done an extra chore around the house. These checks each represent a dollar and next week, EB will get to visit Whole Foods (his absolute FAVORITE store on the planet) and spend his hard-earned cash on food that will be HIS contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner ...

It has been such a hit and a great way for him to really SEE how many days we have until the big Turkey Day - and how he can be part of this annual tradition! This was done with a lot of support and encouragement from EB's daily ABA therapists, who make sure he's given ample opportunity to earn that check on that countdown! (Today's extra chore: picking up and vacuuming the learning room.)

Here are some photos from today when my mother stopped by to visit and talk about the Thanksgiving menu with me. EB joined us at the table to talk about the food list and add his own ideas. (Mac and cheese was mentioned right off the bat.)

He also showed his Nana how he was doing on his chart and she gave him quite the proud-nana pep talk as you can imagine!

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This may seem like a really simplistic idea and, well ... it is very simple. But very often it's the simplest things that work really well for Earlybird. We try to meet him where he is and where he needs us. He needs to feel included and needed. This project does that very nicely. And he needs to be given very do-able tasks with an appropriate reward. (Perhaps with a little assistance.) All these things were figured into my plan.

I thought about having him earn money to buy food we could donate - and that would be a wonderful thing to be sure - but that's just not where he is, at least not yet. Loving and aware as he is, this year he's learning that Thanksgiving is about being part of a family and contributing in whatever way that he can. And let me tell you, this boy is proud ...

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As he should be. β€

Thank you so much for joining me here tonight, my friends, and letting me share a little of our special needs homeschooling this month. I'll be happy to share more of our Earlybird tales when I'm able ... and I LOVE hearing from others with special needs kiddos. What a support we can be for each other! I'm far from an expert in all of this ... I'm still figuring things out for my own child and trying to determine what's needed next ... but I think sharing stories and successes - and not-quite-successes - is very helpful. Let me know how things are going for you and if there's anything in particular you'd like to talk about.

Blessings to all on this dark and cold November night ... I will see you here again tomorrow!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Chapter 6, "TV"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Welcome to another Autumn Tea, and the next installment in our Mitten Strings for God book study! This week we are discussing chapter six, "TV" - a challenging topic for some of us, I think! 

First though, let's talk about my tea (seen above), which reflects last week's seasonal theme, "Our Own Cozy Dens." I'm taking tea in the library this time where, I should note, there is no TV! ;)

This is the quiet room or "gathering room," where we serve cocktails and desserts/coffee when celebrating holidays with family. It's also the room in which our Christmas tree abides throughout the darkest month of the year, filling it with the softest and coziest light ...

So at Summer's end I tend to migrate back in here, to set things up as I'd like for the months to come. This room also sits on the west side of our house, and the sun sets just behind the woods seen through the windows. I LOVE being in here as the days grow short and dark, catching the very last bit of that golden autumn light. β€

Now, to continue with the cozy for a moment - with each seasonal homeschooling theme, I like to give myself a little "assignment," something I can do to experience the theme on a personal level, and/or something that will allow my family to observe it as well. This week the boys and I chose a few spots around the house to make up "our own cozy dens" for the winter ...

And here's where I am making (one of) mine!

Cozy corner in library

(It's a work in progress, so I'll post more on my nest later. I'll also be arranging play areas for LB here, too - and that will fit in with next week's chapter!)

It occurred to me though, as we "feathered," that if a family was trying to cut down on TV time, then perhaps intentionally setting up a few "comfort zones" would be helpful! To start with, choose a place where screens are not present (or readily available) - but other kinds of diversions are. And if the kids are involved in this endeavor from the get-go, then these spots will truly reflect and support their own passions and pursuits. Help them think about what kinds of things they might like to work on/play with this winter - puzzles, board games, Legos, reading, imaginative toys, crafting, etc. Organize the materials they'd need, add an extra blanket or two, and designate a space just for them. If we're looking to pry kids away from their screens we're going to need some enticing alternatives at the ready!

Anyway back to the tea for a moment - my brew this time is a lovely Earl Grey and I'm drinking it in a mug that is just perfect for the week, a gift from my dear friend, Kim. The cookies are gingerbread - of the store-bought, break-apart variety I'm afraid, but very good! (Honestly, is there anything cozier than gingerbread?) That cute platter is made of melamine (so in theory, unbreakable) and I picked that up at Target last week. I'm working on surrounding this spot with nice things to read, my journal supplies, simple playthings and good books for Little Bear ... all kinds of things that will entice us to sit down and settle in for a spell. 

Ok, now let's get on with the TV portion of my post! (And for the record, when I say "TV" here, I'm really talking about any kind of screen-time viewing since the options for such have widened greatly since 2008!)

To begin with, here is the original post I wrote on this chapter back in 2008, and since it still represents my feelings on the topic rather well, I won't try to reinvent the wheel today and say all of the same things differently. In a nutshell, I'm still in agreement with Ms. Kenison's stance that:

"When it comes to TV, less really is more." (p. 51)

Instead, I'll address how our family viewing habits have changed since the days when all my kids (the three I had at the time) were little ...

So first of all, the older boys are now 18 and 22 - so I don't really control their TV habits anymore! I asked them though, at dinner last night, how much tv they thought they watched and they both said, very little. (They do play video games and do other online things.) And when they do watch tv, it's usually something they view on their computers, as opposed to a program they watch on commercial tv at a set time of week.

Side note:

Isn't it crazy how pervasive screen time is these day? Computers, phones, tablets, TVs ... WATCHES! It seems there's a way to be connected - or disconnected depending on how you look at it - and watching something, almost anytime, anywhere. It's a wonder network tv is still in existence!

From p. 45:

".. how easily we have come to accept the pervasiveness of the media in our lives."

You know, I'm pretty sure Ms. Kenison would have to rewrite this chapter entirely if she were to tackle the topic of TV nearly 10 years later! Because the media has so many more faces these days! There are devices and distractions available for kids of all ages - and we're not even talking about social media here. She'd need a whole separate chapter for that!

Now, as for the younger boys ...

Little Bear is just four years old and truth be told, he does watch more tv than we'd like. This is mostly because of his older brother's viewing habits, and that's something we're working on (more on that in a minute). I think like most kids, if it's on and he's idle, he'll get sucked right in. Happily he's not usually idle - he has a rich imagination and gets completely absorbed in his play. But he does ask for tv on occasion - usually in the late afternoons if he's tired and wants to crash on the couch. I allow it sometimes ... but other times I redirect him. I'm not too concerned about any interest in TV as I am by his ongoing spectator status. Because Earlybird, our 15 year old son who has autism ... is, well ... addicted.

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(Can you guess what they're doing in this photo? Watching something on EB's Kindle Fire, that's what. But just look at those smiles!)

Our EB, (16 next month), watches a lot of video content in various forms. Many kids (people) on the autistic spectrum have a strong affinity for video-viewing, whatever the platform. For EB it's partly a feeding of sensory needs and also, frankly, he doesn't have many other hobbies. Video gives him something to do, a way to entertain himself in a way he's not able to do on his own, while allowing him to connect with the world at a safe distance. (He can change the channel at a whim, he's in control.)

On the up side, he's learned a LOT of interesting information through video. He absorbs things so deeply - which as you can guess is not always a good thing - but he loves science shows, railroad history, nature documentaries ... and he loves playing movies of all kinds. We have to monitor his viewing habits closely though, because sometimes he gets over-stimulated - by the content he's chosen, or just the amount of time spent absorbing video input. Even the over-abundance of options can fry his nerves (not to mention his mother's) at times. Too many choices is not always a good thing, for anyone - but especially not for our autistic son.

I can't predict if this craving for video will always be a part of EB's life, but currently we are working with EB's therapists to teach him to enjoy other kinds of leisure activities. For years now we've just allowed this addiction to build because honestly, there were other battles to face, and this one seemed fairly benign. But over the past several months we've started making some changes. We'd been seeing a connection between EB's neurological tics and his screen-time exposure. The more he watched, the more agitated he'd get and the more likely he'd be to experience such tics as blinking, clicking, grunting and stuttering. So a couple of months ago we turned off the family room tv. Just plain old turned it off, telling him (fingers crossed) that the clicker had gone missing ... and that was that. He still uses his Kindle, and he does have a dvd player in his bedroom, but the family TV is no longer part of his screen-time repertoire.

He's adapted fairly well to the change, which was a blessing. (Also a blessing, Little Bear has no background TV through the day!) Our next step is to start working some time limits into his Kindle viewing, while encouraging other pursuits. He's resistant to the limits for sure, but as with every challenge we've faced ... we take it in tiny steps, and we only ever ask for progress, not perfection. He'll get there, to healthier video habits, in his own due time. What he needs to get there he is getting - help from patient therapists, and understanding from a family who loves him. β€

To sum up - because as usual I've gone on quite long! - I think TV doesn't have to be a bad thing if it's a proportionate and thoughtful part of a well-rounded home life. Balance in all things, right? Time to sit and enjoy a special program, and then time spent doing other things - enjoying the outdoors, friends and family, honest work, and simple activities that don't flash at our retinas.

I found this comic online the other day: 

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(Earlybird, seeing this over my shoulder just now, exclaimed, "Hey, that's a perfect day!")

For most of us, I think, TV is a comforting habit, feeding a need within us ... but as with any habit, it get can get out of control. And some of us are more vulnerable than others. So it needs to be monitored and even reevaluated at times. To reference myself in my original post:

"I don't think we would ever go NO TV, but I do think we can stand to survey our viewing habits now and again. I have always said to the boys re their video game playing and television viewing that as long as we detect no difference in the amount of time they read or in the way they play and imagine, they may continue to watch and play (in the electronic sense) as they do. To this I've also added, as long as they can still "be" (happily), outside - as long as they can connect easily with nature - then I'll know our viewing habits are still under control."

In the end I'd say that I agree with much of what Ms. Kenison has to say in this chapter, but perhaps not all of it is applicable in my life, at this time. That said, going forward I would like to see ...

    Little Bear have AS LITTLE screen time exposure as possible, because it really does nothing for him at this tender age.

    Earlybird have LESS screen-time exposure, as discussed above.

    Bill and I to be aware of HOW OFTEN we turn on the TV ourselves.

And as for my older two, well ... it's up to them now, isn't it? :)

Well, my friends, I'll be on my way now, since I think I've said all I can think of to say on this chapter ... for now! But I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have time - feel free to comment below or send me an email with your thoughts/photos (or a link to your site) ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Or maybe you don't have any thoughts on TV at all, but a pretty tea setting to share with us ... that would be lovely, as well!

Oh, and don't forget my Mitten Strings giveaway! Pop on over to this post for more details - you have until Friday to enter! :)

Now, at next week's Autumn Tea - and I'll aim for Friday but Sunday will be more likely - we'll be discussing Mitten Strings for God, chapter seven, "Play." What a fun topic that will be! But for now, I will wish you all well - enjoy the rest of your weekend! - and hope to see you here again very soon! β€


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 5 "Simplicity"

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Hello my friends, and welcome to this week's Tea and MSfG discussion! We are now on chapter five, "Simplicity," and what a wonderful chapter it is ... my favorite of all, I think! Mostly because there is one passage in this chapter that just stands out so strongly to me, I've remembered it more than any other all these years ...

Also, because I feel like simplicity is something just so powerful and alluring (there's a whole movement after all) and I feel I am always striving towards it - finding it in some areas, yet falling short in others ...

Anyways, before we get further into the chapter talk, I want to talk a little about my tea shown above. Now, I am going to be completely honest with you - this was not how I originally imagined my "simplicity" tea. You see, every week when I start thinking about a tea post, I like to envision just how it might look, according to that week's theme:

What cup might I use? What treat might I bake? Which tea will I choose and in which cozy spot will I sit?

It's really quite fun to think about these kinds of things - and sometimes, my vision does come to life! Other times ... not so much.

So this week, as I kept "simplicity" in mind, I was envisioning a teatime setting that was not quite so ... busy. Something very neat, maybe - quite tidy, and sparse. All in soft colors, with perhaps a plain stoneware mug, a simple shortbread on a small plate alongside one of our new cotton napkins ... nicely arranged in a quiet corner of our library, somewhere out of the way (clutter removed, natch), where I might sit by myself and earnestly consider how I might bring a little more simplicity to my life ...

Well, with all the energy I was spending on thinking and arranging - I was creating a rather complex situation for myself! πŸ˜œ  Here I was going to great lengths to create what I thought was a "simple tea" but it just wasn't happening (not without a lot of fuss) and it was frustrating!

But that's me in a nutshell ... I slow down by doing things like taking tea at home on a quiet afternoon ... but then I complicate the whole process by involving too many time-consuming details, and working a bit outside of reality, if you will.

From the second page of this chapter:

"We set the bar too high, take on too much, turn small doings into big ones." (p. 35)

My lesson learned: simple isn't necessarily how something appears, but rather, how it fits into your life. How it makes you feel inside.

So instead of whipping up a "simple tea," I decided to keep it real, and (to quote my GPS), recalculated ...

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My reality that very day (as it is most days) was taking tea at the worktable in the sunroom. I was here trying to get a handle on the new month to come ... and I was surrounded by STUFF: my workhorse of a tea mug filled with my everyday tea, piles of books, open-faced planners and notebooks, myriad school supplies, plenty of sunshine and ... a cat.

(Always, the cat.)

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I didn't even have time to grab a cookie - let alone bake something sweet and pretty!

So is it simple? Maybe not in how it all looks, because obviously there's a LOT going on in that photo! But in spirit, yes this was keeping things simple for me. I wanted to share tea with you all, and I wanted to talk about this chapter, and here was where it was simplest for me to do that. :)

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The nice thing about tea is that it always makes me slow down a little no matter what I'm up to. Because it's often pretty hot to begin with and usually I have a really full mug. So I really can't rush it! And most days I find myself needing a cup (or sometimes two or three) in the afternoon, just about the time it makes sense to slow down a bit - maybe check in at my computer or crash on my couch with my kids.

But let's get back to our chapter now because I think I've talked about tea long enough! (Boy, can I talk about tea.)

A little "simplicity moment" from my home last week ...

O boo halloween

Here's Little Bear in his first-choice, much preferred Halloween costume this year - handmade by us both. (And the cat.) It took one piece of construction paper, a pair of scissors, a hole punch and twine, and we were done. And funnily enough it fit well and stayed put!

Meanwhile the $30 costume I bought from Amazon weeks ago still sits up in my bedroom - completely refused and rejected! (LB wanted NO part of that bright green "creature power" suit with its velcro mask and detachable tail. Oh, no ... it was simply too much.) Mama should have listened to him when he insisted last month that all he really wanted to be for Halloween was a ghost ... because for him, it was enough.

How sweet is a four-year-old, I ask you?

And this leads me to the part I referenced at the start of my post, the Mitten Strings passage that has stayed with me all these years: 

"It is not enough anymore to pull together a Halloween costume from the dress-up bin, add a few extra touches, and head out the door to go trick-or-treating. The store-bought costumes are more elaborate, more expensive and more grisly every year. There are decorations to buy, light shows to orchestrate on the front lawn, haunted houses to visit, and a week's worth of pre-Halloween activities to attend. Last fall my neighbor's six-year-old daughter had been in and out of her costume so many times that she refused to put it back on for Halloween night. She'd been a ballerina in a parade, at school, and at two parties. The novelty had worn off." (p. 36)

I've always maintained that the Halloween we celebrate in our family is one that has ancestral roots and a mostly innocent agenda - filled with festive foods, old-fashioned games, homemade decorations - nothing much to do with what society does or what's selling fast at Target this year. And yet, here I fell for the "snazzy costume trap" hook, line and sinker!

Of course, keeping in mind that lesson I learned up above - it's really all what feels simple to you. For some folks, picking up a costume at Target IS the simpler solution! Finding the time and energy to make a homemade costume is anything but. (Though I'm not sure you can beat our ghost mask for easy!) I think it all depends on what works for you.

Simple looks different to everyone ...

Simply put, I think it all boils down to how something affects your life, and beyond that your family. How will it make you all feel? What choices feel right and cause the least stress? Because then you're living authentically and I think this is what we want to share with our children ...

"Watching us manage our own lives sensibly, our children will learn to set limits, too." (p. 39)

I found this particular chapter to be very timely reading, because currently I'm fleshing out our Thanksgiving and Advent plans. And these are the weeks when it is VERY easy to get swept up in - not just what society is offering, but our own schemes and dreams, too. I may envision a homemade, homespun, home-centered holiday ... but if I wanted to - and in some ways I do - I could easily stuff every moment full of activity and awareness ...

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So I pause my pen above that page and rein in my tendency to over-plan ...

"It takes conviction to say, "This is enough." (p. 38)

So you see, simplicity lessons are not just for those who are always on the go, seeking to be where the action is ... but for we introverts, too! And I'm a perfect example of that! 

(Side note: I'll be sharing my (hopefully) rather simple holiday plans in an upcoming post!)

Now, I love this quote too, from the last section of the chapter in which the author offers some wonderful steps toward simplicity:

"Don't feel guilty about skipping events that everyone else attends." (p. 39)

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The above picture was taken while doing just that ...

Last weekend we skipped our town's annual "great pumpkin hunt" to simply stroll around our own yard and seek signs of autumn's end. This is Little Bear gathering weeds and feeling those feathery grasses ...

There was a pull to be sure - my husband is more of an extrovert than I am, and usually he's more eager to get "out there" and mix it up with ... well, whoever all shows up at an event! But my reasoning was ... just the day before we had enjoyed - really thoroughly enjoyed - a wonderful family Halloween party. We had spent hours frolicking inside and out, doing all kinds of Halloween-y things, including ... hunting for pumpkins! Was Little Bear running around with dozens of kids in a jumble, while his parents sipped cider and made small talk with strangers?

No, he was playing with his cousins and brothers while his Mom and Dad were having a grand old time with dear ones we can never seem to spend enough time with. :)

Now, had he really wanted to go to that community event (either Bill or LB) we would have gone. Because again, it's about balance and what feels right to each family. But when we really thought about it, our previous day had been so nice and we were thoroughly (and pleasantly) exhausted. Little Bear had his pumpkin (and a few to spare) and we all came away feeling just the right kind of full-up of happy and tired.

One more time though, I'll stress - this all made sense for my family. That "homey" weekend was a pure and simple joy for us. Another family would not find throwing a party for two dozen people easy or fun. For them it might be much more enjoyable to roll out of bed a little later in the morning and throw the kids in the car, off on an adventure ...

So to each his own, is my motto ... and ours is most often (nearly always) here at home. β€

Well, I've gone on quite long now, so I'll wrap up - though I still have several other quotes marked in my chapter! I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this chapter - or on simplicity in general - if you have the time. You are welcome to share your thoughts here in the comments below, or if you've done a post at your own site, please feel free to link me up (and let me know) and of course, all are welcome to email with links, thoughts, pics, etc. ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I'll weave contributions into this post as I receive them and catch up with comments left below as I can. :)

For now though I'm off ... I'll be back again soon with my November planning pages and book list, plus some old journaling pages like the one I shared on IG this morning! I'm enjoying looking back over old notes and clippings, and I thought you all might like a peek too!

So enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone! Next week we'll be talking about ... gasp ...TV! And to be honest, I'm a little nervous about this chapter, lol ... I think I may have to face the harsh reality that things are not the ideal I'd envisioned back in my early mothering days! But we'll catch up on that later ... next Friday we'll strive to get back on track, but there may be some weeks (like this one) where I need to postpone things a day ... or two or three. πŸ˜‰

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Happy Halloween ~ from My Family to Yours!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Halloween! I'm popping in today to wish you all a nice (fun & safe!) holiday and to share a few pictures from our Halloween party last weekend. What a fun time we had with our family!

Now, you all know we love entertaining, and we host several gatherings throughout the year, but this was our first big Halloween party in some time! And it was mostly our Earlybird's idea. :) He got it in his head last month that we needed to throw a Halloween party and so, together we worked out what that party would look like and how to go about making it happen!

So over the next few weeks we made up a guest list, filled out invitations - mailed those invitations with help from a kind postal worker who found THE perfect jack-o-lantern stamps for us to use! - and then set about planning out food and decorations. This project took up our whole October and boy, was it fun! 

Anyhoo ... below I have some pictures from our day, but first I'd like to share a couple more pictures of my autumn-inspired writing desk from last week's tea ... it really captures the Halloween spirit for me!

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I don't use this desk as often as I do the one in the family room - for one thing, it's a little more removed from the general household, nestled as it is along the far western wall in the library ... and though that can be a good thing sometimes, I usually can't remove myself for very long from said household! Also, I don't have a computer here and normally I need that handy when doing "work" or whatever else I might get up to. But I love having this desk all the same, and I relish it especially in the autumn time. Because the sun sets just beyond those woods, so the afternoon light is beautiful here ... which seems all the more important as we head into the dark time of year ...

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And as the days grow cold and dark, I think it's very important to create some nice, cozy spots for ourselves where we can. So I have some tea lights and "fairy" lights here in the window, along with some silk leaves and mini pumpkins. My cup of tea as described in this post is surrounded by lots of fun things: a few special books (both Mama's and Little Bear's), a pretty notebook and some Halloween cards, and right there in the middle is one of my old journals, from October, 2009. I was looking through it for ideas and getting caught up in old autumn memories!

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I have always loved Halloween and have so many fond memories from my childhood. I especially liked learning about the ancient agricultural roots of this Celtic celebration. In recent years though, I feel society's version of Halloween has become very commercialized (not to mention creepy!) so we tend to avoid outside activities. I prefer a quiet Halloween for my kids, with time spent in nature and a few special family traditions ... some festive food, grinning pumpkins, cozy lights and a little frolicking 'round the neighborhood. It's all in good fun, nothing too scary or severe. In our town tonight we are dealing with the aftermath of a crazy windstorm and so trick-or-treating has been cancelled! So instead we'll be having a "Halloween Supper" and then making some s'mores at the fire pit before wrapping things up with a few holiday specials on tv. :)

Ok, now for the party pics! First is a collage of the "Halloween" menu ...

Halloween collage

Clockwise from upper left hand corner we have:

  • witch's potion punch
  • mummy dogs
  • haunted pumpkin patch cake
  • autumn apple-pear salad
  • deli wraps in Halloween colors
  • vomiting pumpkin dip (yep, I went there)
  • Frank-en-Guac
  • bread dough bones and "dipping" sauce
  • poisoned apple cider cocktails

It was SUCH fun researching recipes! (A few of the above ideas can be found at my Halloween Pinterest board.) My mother was a big help in putting this all together, though I admit she was a bit shocked by that vomiting pumpkin! (Also, I should note - Bookworm made the bread bones and frankenstein dip!)

As for party activities, on the patio we had set up the pumpkin tic-tac-toe I showed you in this post, as well as a tabletop Jenga game Bill and Bookworm made. And then, in the way back yard (next to the old barn - my future "she shed") we set up a little "pumpkin patch" for the little kids to visit!

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(Next year we're determined to grow pumpkins for real!)

Naturally, Little Bear made sure he found his pumpkin before his cousins did ...

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Here he is with my cousin Kate's daughter, dressed up as an adorable owl ...

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They really had fun running all over the place ...

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And what a beautiful day it was ... plenty of golden sun and almost 70 degrees!

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I love it when we're able to bring a party outside ... it provides a nice change of scenery and a little breath of fresh air!

Here are my older boys with a couple of their friends ...

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They spent most of the party watching "scary movies" down in the man cave ... ;)

And here's another pumpkin patch cutie, my sweet niece, with her parents ... 

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Happy 1st Halloween, little one! πŸŽƒ

Meanwhile our girls were wondering just what the heck was going on!

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(Do you know they don't care at all for pumpkin? I thought for sure they'd love it but nope - they were completely uninterested!)

But here's their contribution to the party:

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πŸ’›

Ok, back inside now, here I am with my beloved mum ...

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Just two (good) kitchen witches brewing up a little culinary magic!

And next we have Aunt Anne (Bill's godmother) and Ami, my dear sister-in-law ...

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... aka my sweet niece's mom!

And now for a few hectic, slightly blurry foyer shots as everyone arrived ...

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And as usual there were plenty of choices at the desserts table ...

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My mum's beautiful cake (spice cake with penuche frosting) was the biggest hit, I'd wager!

And lastly, happily - and shockingly! - we were able to wrangle our four boys into a family picture! 

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Wishing all my friends here a very Happy Halloween ~ I hope your October is ending on a good note!

 Can you believe how big they're all getting? πŸ˜±

We'll have lots to talk about later this week ... November plans, another Autumn Tea and Mitten Strings, of course. (This week we're discussing chapter 5, "Simplicity.") And don't forget I will be joining Pam Barnhill at Homeschool Solutions Thursday afternoon on Facebook Live! We'll be talking about MSfG and how it's shaped my homeschooling through the years ... please wish me luck! I'm not the most tech-savvy person, as you well know, so I hope I do the interview justice!

Thanks so much for stopping by everyone ... see you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 4, Quiet

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! And holy smokes, it's the last October Friday of 2017 - can you even believe it?! No, I can't either, but I'm not going to dwell on that just now because we all have SO much to talk about this week! And it's such a lovely October day ... we have Tea to pour, and Quiet to discuss, plus I have a really fun announcement to make at the end of this post! :)

So welcome, everyone, to another Autumn Teatime and our ongoing Mitten Strings for God book study. Today we are discussing the fourth chapter of this wonderful book, titled "Quiet." And what a nice chapter this was, full of such thoughtfulness and inspiration.

(I'm pretty sure I'll be saying this a lot throughout our study.)

Quiet is such a valuable thing to consider, on both a personal and family level ... and ... as mine is a family of FOUR BOYS ... well, you can imagine that ours is not the ... um ... quietest on the block. (Lets just say our neighbors know us well and are very kind.) I think though, the message I got from this chapter was not so much that we need more silence in our life (though that's nice too at times) but perhaps more room to hear the right kind of noise - noise that is meaningful and intimate. And maybe because of the way we all live nowadays, it's a balance we need to be mindful of - noise vs. quiet and where the outside world fits in. I think there's a real need to allow "a thoughtful quiet" to permeate our homes so we may live in such a way that allows us to absorb OUR world - not necessarily THE world - and the sweet simple details of our everyday life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, and to quote from my original post on this chapter (from the 2008 book study):

"I could do with less noise, but I savor the sounds of my life."

Now, before I go on too much further here is a link to the post I did on this chapter back in 2008 (with so many wonderful reader comments). I'll also update this post with any current links and comments from all of you as (hopefully) you jump into our ongoing discussion!

(Everyone is welcome to participate - please see this post for more details!)

But! Before we get into the meat of our book discussion, I'd like to briefly talk tea. :)  Above you see my autumn-decorated writing desk ... with its candles and twinkling lights, golden leaves and pumpkins, and, of course, my tea. I "took tea" today in a pretty china cup I inherited from my friend's grandmother ... I thought the black, white and gold scheme was rather fitting! My brew is an Irish Breakfast decaf, and my teatime treats are two Scandinavian ginger crisps - a nod to two of my main ancestral roots. (Halloween always makes me feel ancestral!) As I sipped, I surrounded myself with autumn journals and board books, and some darling holiday cards I hoped to get into the mail before day's end ...

But now, on to our Mitten Strings discussion!

Now, rather fittingly, I (re)read this chapter about "Quiet" in absolute silence. Not a normal atmosphere for me! (Unless it's 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. - more on that in a minute!) So I was sitting in an exam room at my doctor's - in that atrocious "gown," awaiting my annual physical, all alone ... and it was absolutely still. (My doctor was running late, stuck in traffic!) Anyhoo, I relished the quiet, and began reading, making mental notes as I went along, and reminded myself once again just how much sense each of these chapters make. Not just for families with young children (as the author was back then, and I was back then - though also, still now) but really, for any one of us seeking a more mindful life.

On my drive back home, I took a moment to capture the gray, autumn stillness of the morning ...

Fall road

It was so quiet in my car - because, inspired by my reading, I decided to NOT turn on newsradio, which is my habit - and honestly, found myself paying more attention. I was so moved by the whirling leaves and the drab sky and the wet roads ... I just had to stop and snap a picture.

"Before we flick on the car radio or the CD player, we stop long enough to think: Do we want to exchange this quiet for sound?" (p. 29)

Normally I automatically turn on the car radio, but lately I've been consciously keeping things quiet. When the boys are with me, we talk more. When I'm alone ... I think. Or I roll down the window and really listen to the sounds around me ...

The same holds true at home.

"In silence, I become more attentive." (p. 30)

Attentive, yes - to a developing mood, a certain "edge" to a comment, footsteps on the stairs - plodding or rushed - the sound of the door opening when it should not be opened. That's something I need to hear, because Earlybird does like to go outside - at any hour, in any weather - and despite the stop signs we have posted at each egress, he tends to just rush out the door without asking. (Because he's a smart boy, he doesn't risk the chance that the answer will be no.) So you know, at 6 a.m. on some random morning you just might find me in my yard, in my pajamas, cajoling my son to get up and out of the dirt pit and come back inside, because now is not the time to be playing outside and people are sleeping so we need to be quiet and WOULD YOU PLEASE JUST GET BACK IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW?!. (And that would be the moment caffeine deprivation takes over.) 

This chapter inspired me to take a good look at our days and where we might invite more quiet into our life ...

And to begin with, our mornings start out quiet for sure. There are, in fact, pockets of EXTREME don't-wake-the-baby quiet (though he's not a baby anymore, as he'd be swift to remind me) because LB's also a night owl so he really sleeps in. (For everyone's benefit!)

But then there's Earlybird's morning bubble in which he's got his Kindle Fire blaring and it's only 5 a.m. EB has always been an early riser, and he's awake a good hour or three before the rest of his brothers so Bill and I spend those wee, dark hours keeping him occupied, (inside) and supervised, while maintaining a level of quiet on the bedroom floor to permit Little Bear to sleep in as late as he needs. I talked about my mornings in my last post to give you a clearer idea how this time of day unfolds ...

Once Little Bear is up though, we're off! And the day itself is nearly always filled with noise of all kinds - human, electronic, feline and yes, even the squawking of our chickens reaches our ears through open windows. I crave quiet at times absolutely, but mostly I feel blessed to be surrounded by so much "joyful noise." 

So moving forward, I think looking at our family's days to discern where all the "noise" is coming from is helpful - but also asking, which noises are a valuable experience?

"Be conscious of all the different kinds of noise you allow into your life. Begin to eliminate any that don't enhance the present moment." (p. 31)

Honest to goodness as I type this now the family room tv is on. There is no one else in the room with me and I sure as heck am not interested in Bubble Guppies at the moment. But I'm so used to the background noise I didn't even think about it ...

*turns the tv off and returns to desk*

Now I hear the wind rattling the window, and the driving rain on the deck ... the dishwasher running and my 15 yo's yelling along (happily) with his train video upstairs ... the UPS truck is pulling up the road, a woodpecker is tapping on the siding, and my cat is vigorously cleaning himself under the table next to me.

I'm not immersed in Bubble Guppies anymore ... now I'm immersed in home, and open to the world - MY world - around me.

"In silence, we allow the world to enter our hearts." (p. 32)

My world is full of yelling kids and blowing wind and dishes washing and packages being delivered, etc. - simple and humble sounds that make up the "sound track in [my] life." (p. 31) How much better to be filling my ears (heart and soul) with these sounds rather than whatever might be playing on TV!

(Boy, won't the "TV" chapter be quite interesting to discuss?!)

You know, I remember when my brother and I were young, just how much my mum craved quiet. We'd be watching TV or listening to the radio - or both - and she'd be cringing and begging us to turn down the volume - or maybe to just turn that darn thing off. And when we would, she'd just visibly relax, sigh, and say ...

"Oh, that feels so good to my ears." 

I never understood what she meant by this but now that I'm a mom - of, ahem, a certain age - I GET it.

I really appreciate the suggestions Ms. Kenison gives us in this chapter. I know I want less electronic/outside noise in our life, but it can be hard to know where to start. I think though, I've found it easier to manage my children's audible input when they're at a younger age ...

"Avoid electronic games and toys that talk, beep, or make other noises. The best sound effects are those that children make themselves." (p. 31)

Admittedly, almost all of our toys are quiet toys. We do have a couple of rather "vocal" trucks, but as tends to happen ... batteries disappear or a new layer of duct tape appears on said truck, directly over the spot where the speakers are situated.

To begin with, this was for Earlybird's benefit, who, as I've mentioned (and I'm sure will mention again) has autism and has many significant sensory challenges. One of them is noise. Some kinds of noise are unbearable to him - chatty toys being one - but oddly enough, he finds the right kind of noise addictive. For example, if he's watching a train video on his DVD player or a science video on youtube, it's ALL ABOUT THE VOLUME.

So he keeps his Kindle Fire turned up high, and if he's watching TV it's also quite loud. He actually loves having both devices going at the same time if he can swing it, and he rocks and stims to the experience like nobody's business. However, if he hears Little Bear and I reading, or if - God forbid - he hears one of us singing - he absolutely loses it. These are not "noises" he can stand.

While some sounds are ok, others absolutley are not. We're still piecing together that particular puzzle, but for now we're investing in a pair of these ...

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Noise-cancelling headphones. We're currently working with EB's therapists on this, and hopefully they'll allow him to control what he allows in his ears and when. The challenge will be discerning when they're providing comfort ... and when they become a crutch EB might use to ignore things he'd rather not face. His brother's sing-songy voice might bug him but it's not going anywhere. It's something he needs to learn how to handle. I'm sure we all like to escape aggravation when we can but life isn't about escaping (at least not all the time) it's about learning to handle what we must. All my boys must learn to handle life, but Earlybird has so much to handle it's overwhelming sometimes - for him and his parents. We're always learning from (and with) our EB though, and his extreme sensory issues often shed light on how we manage our own ...

Autism is such a puzzle, as I know many of you know. Sure, I love quiet conversation, and loud noises might startle or bother me, but they don't actually emotionally disturb me. For my son the opposite is true. Finding his balance is an ongoing project, one that keeps me ever mindful of the vivid effects noise has on anyone's quality of life ...

So I guess we're working on a new normal here - between EB and all of us! Being a little more "aware" of what noise is actually improving our existence ... but not impairing it. Wielding a little discretion, while creating a simpler, softer sound track to our life.

***

But now I'm going to be even more honest. I'm nearly done with this post, and supper is ALMOST ready. I have Bill finishing the asparagus and I jumped back on here to finish my post. Crackerjack is working on his college applications and Bookworm is off somewhere else. Four year old Little Bear - antsy and in need of a diversion - asks (quite politely) to watch a preferred tv program and - as I sit here and write about a book that embraces a quiet and unplugged life - I acquiesce.

Then EB comes into the room, Kindle Fire in hand, blaring Peep and the Big Wide World ... and chaos ensues.

LB: "EB! Turn that down! You're annoying me and I can't hear Blaze!"

EB: *casts a glare at LB but turns down his Kindle*

LB: "Mama, he's not making it quiet enough!"

Mama: "EB, please turn that down."

EB: "No."

Mama: *sighs and walks over to tv* *turns up the volume*

(Because truly, we need just five more minutes!)

So there you go ... I am trying, I am. I understand there were better ways to handle that challenge just then. (Keeping LB better occupied while his parents got stuff done, mediating volume level arguments between my younger children.)

But you know, baby steps ...

What I am LOVING about this book is that it's giving me a chance to take a good long look at our family life and see where we might improve things a bit. I'm not going to let it make me feel guilty or inadequate - I've been a special needs mom long enough to know there's not room for that - but I will see what kind of light it shines on our various situations. This book fills me with hope and challenges me to do better! All while wrapping me up in a very warm and understanding hug. β€

Now, before I go, I have some super fun news to share! Next Thursday, 11/2, at 3:30 p.m. (EST) I will be a guest of Pam Barnhill's on her Facebook Live chat at Homeschool Solutions! Pam is running a series of interviews about books that shape our homeschooling and I will be talking about Mitten Strings for God! I've never done Facebook Live before, so I'm not exactly sure how it works (wish me luck!), but please check in with Pam's page - because first of all, it's awesome - and also to find out more! (Here's today's post in which she mentions our upcoming chat!) I am SO honored Pam asked me to talk with her about MSfG - this re-read is reminding me just how influential this book has been in my life as a mom as well as a homeschooler. The heart of these lessons have truly shaped what I try to do here with my boys ... and I look forward to talking more with Pam - and you all - about that! :)

For now though, I wish you all a happy weekend, and I thank you, as always for stopping by. Please share your thoughts if you'd care to - leave a comment here or link us up or feel free to email me if you wish (thoughts and/or photos) ---> drhanigan AT comcast DOT net.

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


Seasonal Homeschooling: Pumpkin Week Recap!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! 

I'm back again because I have SO many pictures of our pumpkin week, and I just have to share! If you're new to my blog you might be wondering what in the heck a "pumpkin week" is, so - just to explain briefly - every week of the year we explore an assigned seasonal theme as part of our homeschooling. These themes are a big influence on our younger boys' learning experience, but they also infuse our family's home life as well.

I won't go into the whole "why and how" of our seasonal homeschooling, but the important thing to remember about it is - it's more a guideline than a rule! :)

Sure, some weeks we do it up big (case in point, pumpkins!), but other weeks just fly by and we only casually observe our theme. We may be very busy that week, or it might be the theme is not quite as appealing as another might be. Well, pumpkins in October (as you can imagine) are a big hit with most children! And pumpkins lend themselves to all kinds of great learning experiences - whether they be in the disciplines of science, social studies, language arts, cooking, storytelling, etc.! It's very easy to plan for pumpkins - just type "pumpkin activities" into the Pinterest search bar and you'll hardly know where to start!

Well, personally, I start with our own book baskets and family calendar - then start plugging things into our weekly rhythm! Here's a glimpse at last week's planner page as I was just getting started ...

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It's important to my planning "psyche" that I incorporate seasonal awareness wherever I can! So divider pages are vintage reflections of seasons and holidays past, ribbons and washi (when I use them) are also seasonally inspired ... as are the font colors I use in each monthly section. I just loved how the light hit this bit of planning paraphernalia on my kitchen table ... :)

Books are pretty much the backbone of our homeschool, so one of the first things I did, as I planned out our week, was to comb through our autumn book bins and pull out any that had to do with pumpkins ...

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Not surprisingly there were a lot!

Then I got busy planning out activities that would potentially A. appeal to my kids and, B. fit well into our week. Post-it notes are helpful for me here - because due to the special nature of our very hands-on homeschooling (one preschooler and a special needs teen) - I need things to be, above all, flexible. It's impractical for me to plan out each day's to-dos a week in advance, though I do set a rhythm to our week. (Mondays are nature days, Tuesdays are crafting, Wednesdays are for storytelling ... etc.)

So on a drizzly Monday we kicked things off with a little pumpkin investigation!

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I had a sugar pumpkin "specimen" all ready and I found a neat worksheet for them to use (on Pinterest). I don't use worksheets with my preschooler very often but Little Bear does get a kick out of them! First thing he said when he saw this one was, "Mama, I need TWO crayons! Orange and green, please!" Then he got right down to coloring those pumpkins!

Once the REAL pumpkin was open though, he was all about the seed scooping ...

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My mum had come over that morning and with her help, and Earlybird's therapist's support, this science activity was a real hit with both my younger boys!

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Soon the sugar pumpkin was all scooped out and carved to the boys' specifications!

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While Little Bear scooped and colored, Earlybird answered the worksheet's questions:

Was the pumpkin big, small or medium?

Was it orange, yellow or white?

Was the outside smooth or rough?

How many lines were around it?

How many seeds did he think would be inside?

How many seeds WERE inside?

Did he think the pumpkin would sink of float in water?

(Spoiler alert: It floated!)

The next day was better for outside investigating so we headed into the backyard with magnifying glasses in hand. Recently - and curiously - we have one tiny pumpkin plant growing alongside the back of the house - and we didn't put it there! So I wanted the boys to look it all over and think a little - theorize - about how it might have sprouted up here if we didn't actually plant it.

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What was SUPER cool about this observation though, was nestled in the center of the plant itself, alongside the one tiny yellow pumpkin bump we found forming, was a milkweed seed! Just one fluffy little seed, and there it was all snuggled up next that budding pumpkin! We do have milkweed growing across the street, but we mused it would take quite an adventure for a seed so small and delicate to find its way all the way here to our tiny plant. (And we were just discovering milkweed last week!)

This "mystery" seemed to me the beginnings of a really neat nature story ... the tale of two wayward seeds. (More on that in a moment.)

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For a craft I had in mind for later, I set the boys to gathering the driest, crispiest, most colorful leaves they could find ...

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Well, you can imagine how Little Bear took this assignment to heart!

The next day we were back on the deck with a little "leaf glitter" craft in the works ...

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Here's Earlybird with his therapist, working on those fine motor skills ... and sensory issues ... and patience!

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I just drew simple pumpkin outlines on orange paper and then the boys traced those lines with glue. Final step - crumbling all those dried leaves to make "glitter" and sprinkling it all over their gluey pumpkins!

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(A craft for the outdoors, for sure!)

Back inside the learning room, here are the boys' pumpkins on display! :)

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Another neat pumpkin activity this week ...

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Pumpkin tic-tac-toe! I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew it would be a lot of fun - especially for our Halloween party coming up this weekend. Fingers crossed the day will be a nice one and I think folks will have fun trying their hand at this tabletop game! 

Back inside, at my kitchen table later in the day: a fortifying cup of tea and a little read-aloud ...

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How I love Tasha Tudor books, and this one especially. I decided to "splurge" and buy a new board book version for Little Bear. He 

And speaking of my LB, I just had to include this pic of him hugging our giant blow up jack-o-lanterns on the front lawn. Pretty much every day this fall, on our way in or out of the house, he just needs to hug his pumpkin friends!

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Now, as I've mentioned before, our weekly rhythm includes a day for storytelling. These little stories are usually simple tales I make up myself, using our own yard, critters, weather, the season itself, etc. as a prompt. I like to place items in the learning room mailbox that will introduce the story theme and offer a few items Little Bear can use to play with as I narrate the plot. Well, here's what he found in the mailbox last week!

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This is a soft pumpkin doll rattle - something we've had for nearly 20 years! It's kind of amazing it's stayed in relatively good condition. The boys used this when they were babies and then it joined our finger puppet stash. (We also have a carrot!) So today this sweet little fella was an adventurous pumpkin seed fairy and as you can see he was surrounded by airborne milkweed seeds! (Remember, my story was reflecting our recent backyard garden adventures!)

I also created a watercolor verse card for us to read aloud. I used a pretty poem I found online ...

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I'm creating a collection of these seasonal cards for our homeschool!

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Now, when I plan out our seasonal themes, I'm mostly following the natural cycle of the year, though I often tap into the liturgical or secular calendar as well. I assigned this week in mid-October as "pumpkin week" for obvious reasons - they're everywhere and on everyone's minds right now! - but it also tied in nicely with the annual showing of this family favorite ...

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Last Thursday night all my boys, save Earlybird who does not like Charlie Brown specials, gathered on our couch to watch that timeless classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Yes, we could watch it on DVD (or streaming?) anytime we'd like, but there's something really fun and special about watching "specials" when they're actually being shown!

(The boys were kind of blown away by the fact that *ahem* ... back in our day ... if you missed a special on the night it was shown, well you were just plum out of luck until next year! And there was no pausing or rewinding, either!)

Friday morning - quite serendipitously and generously - my brother stopped by the house with a WHOLE BUNCH of pumpkin goodness for the boys!

Pumpkin goodies

My favorite item so far? The Apple Cider Jam! It's like Thanksgiving in a jar ... 

Now, we didn't get to all the activities I'd planned for the week, but that's perfectly ok. We did what worked and clicked this year - there's always next year for other experiences! On our "marketing" day we tried to find as many pumpkin products as possible at the grocer's and on "hearth and home" day we baked pumpkin donuts for tea. Over the weekend we were going to visit a local pumpkin patch - but unfortunately it was just WAY too busy for my younger guys. (Like, crawling with customers crazy!) I had in mind a far calmer, less commercial experience - so I'm hoping to arrange a quieter visit for my fellas sometime next week. Next year we hope to have a little patch of our own so this past weekend we decided where we'd like to plant it and got the soil prepared. There was also pumpkin French toast for breakfast Sunday morning!

So there's a little glimpse of our pumpkin week and all we got up to! Here's a peek at our learning line and seasonal bookshelves as I tidied them Sunday afternoon ...

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And here's a peek at THIS week's seasonal planner spread ...

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One thing I like to do - because it is of course what happens in nature - is have certain themes trickle into other weeks. So for instance, we did "autumn seeds" weeks ago, but as the fall unfolds there are plenty of opportunities to learn about and live out this theme more. Case in point - those milkweed (and pumpkin) seeds last week! 

This current week's theme is "goodnight, garden" and I like to tie that in with Halloween. To our ancestors, Halloween literally meant the very end of summer - the time to secure the harvest final crops and prepare the land for the cold, hard winter ahead. We clearly don't live quite that close to the land anymore, but I think activities that echo those ancient seasonal traditions often resonate with us instinctually. So this week we are (as you can see from my planner above!) walking the bounds of our property, harvesting the last of our herbs, clearing our garden beds, raking up leaves, tucking spring bulbs in the ground, gathering natural materials for a bonfire, and seeking God's blessings for our "little farm" as winter approaches ...

Come All Hallow's Eve next week we'll be a little more prepared for a season of deep cold and darkness - both practically and spiritually speaking!

✨ ❄️ πŸ‚ πŸŽƒ πŸƒ πŸ”₯ ✨

Well my friends, I guess I'd better wrap up now because once again I fear I've kept you here too long! But I hope you enjoyed this little peek at our pumpkin week. Remember this was an exceptional week - I had lots of plans, and happily the weather, our time, my energy and their interest levels all cooperated! Not every week is quite so "seasonal" but pumpkins were especially motivating - for my homeschooling kids AND their mama!

I will be back later this week with my weekly Autumn Tea - and as I announced here and on social media, we will be continuing on with our Mitten Strings for God book study at a slower pace than originally announced. This Friday we will be talking about chapter four, "Quiet," and I'll be serving up a spot of Halloween Tea ... AND I have a fun little announcement to make in regards to our MSfG re-read, so stay tuned - and please take care!

I'll see you here again very soon ...


Woodland Wonders & a Peek at our Week!

Hello my friends and Happy Weekend! In my last post I promised a closer peek at my weekly planner spread so I'm here to share just that! I'm also going to share some pics and collages from "the week that was" in our homeschool ... :)

This weeks spread woodland

First, as I think some or perhaps most of you know, this is a weekly spread in my homemade seasonal planner (the one I talk about A LOT). And as with the rest of this planner I created these pages in what I feel are this month's colors: orange, purple, brown and green. :)

I like a two-page weekly spread so I can really spread out all my writing ... so I placed a general overview on the left, and an agenda with notespace on the right. On the left page I have at the very top the dates of the week: October 9th through October 15th, 2017. I like to begin my weeks with Monday - it's just the way I "see" the week! Beneath that I have two boxes - one for listing the days and events Of Note this week, and one for noting the week's seasonal Theme (woodland).

Moving down the page we have Meal Planning (which I just lifted from October's menu calendar), and beside that are my House & Garden notes for the week. In this box I write any current tasks we're tackling as well as any seasonal chores. Next I have a To-Do This Week box which is obviously pretty self explanatory! I start this list by using last week's list then add to it through the week as things come up ...

On the bottom left hand corner of the page I have a box called, Crafts & Comforts and this is where I plan out my seasonal "living and learning" ideas. Some of these pertain to our homeschooling, some of them are "personal nourishment" activities, and some are home-centered. It was my desire for this kind of planning space - specifically devoted to seasonal activities - that prompted me to make my own planner! I kept looking for a planner design that included such things in its layout and/or had space I could easily convert for this purpose, but I could never find a planner to satisfy me! So ... I just up and designed something for myself! It's certainly not perfect but it works - and it makes me happy. :)

Anyhoo ... this week's "craft and comfort" ideas are "woodland" related and as you can see I check things off as we do them. It is a rare week we do ALL the things - I'm not sure we ever have, lol! - but I love to brainstorm these kinds of activities! (See pictures below for more info on that!)

Moving over to the next page of the spread now ... and here I'm planning out our Weekly Rhythm and Student Goals. I basically use the left-hand column for listing out the agenda, or schedule, for the week - where we are going, what's going on - and the right-hand column for notes re ~ homeschooling my younger boys. (Actually mostly the preschooler because - as I think I've blogged about before, I'll have to check - I have a whole different system for planning out Earlybird's special needs homeschooling and daily therapies. You know, I think I am due for another "special needs homeschooling" post ... it's been a while!)

And as you can perhaps see, I had a little water spill this past week on this planner page - ACK! - and the remaining October sheets got wet ... and wrinkled ... and well, all ugly, lol. You all know how much I love a smooth planner page! In light of all the troubles in the world right now this is very much small potatoes but it does bug me when my planner (any of my planners) gets wrecked in any way. So I added a little woodland washi tape to cover up some of the damage and resisted the rather STRONG urge to make the whole planner over again!

Now you might notice I like to use post-its for my pre-k planning and I really don't have a sufficient explanation for why - I just do. They help me think and move information around and maybe just relieve me from writing something down next to a day permanently that might not fit well. Plus, I just love post-its. I use them ALL the time, all over the place ... really, my post-it note obesssion might warrant its own post!

Ok, getting back to my planner spread - between today and tomorrow I will review these pages to see what can be moved forward and then work on next week's spread (seasonal theme: pumpkins!). I actually gave a little sneak peek of that spread at FB and IG today!

So that's a rather thorough overview of last week's planner spread! Now, how about some pictures of the week itself? :)

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As longtime readers probably know, our seasonal homeschooling in the younger years involves storytelling in a very big way. We mostly make things up, taking our cues from our own seasonal changes and weather events (an owl visit, a hurricane, a snowstorm or a meteor shower, for example), but sometimes favorite storybooks inspire tales and adventures amongst our rather large collection of wooden figures and finger puppets!

So here we have last week's "storytelling" day, when Little Bear found a cast of woodland characters and some leaf-print fabric in his learning room mailbox. I'd been telling LB an evolving story about a silly old bear who - confused by recent summer-like weather - started emptying his cave of all its warm, snuggly leaves, all while his woodland friends tried to persuade him to stop! "Silly old bear, Winter is coming! You'll need all those leaves to stay warm in the months ahead!" Finally, as night (and the temperature) fell, Bear realized his mistake, and sat down to cry beneath the bright crescent moon. But not to worry (and believe me, my Little Bear was worried!), the bear's friends all pitched in to help and filled his cave with plenty of leaves until his den was perfectly cozy once again. :)

(Next week's story takes place in a pumpkin patch, natch!)

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And here we have a little bit of what I like to call, "parkinglotschooling!" Lol, you've heard of carschooling, right? Well, while we were waiting to pick Crackerjack up from class one day last week, we decided to explore the woodsy lot around us. Little Bear found an old rotting stump and we watched all kinds of bugs crawl over and through it (ants, beetle, earwig) ... and investigated a rather yucky looking fungus that seemed to be spilling out of it. (Ew.) Little Bear enjoyed all of this very much - as did I  - and note the Lego contraption clutched firmly in his hand all the while!

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At home later in the week we spent a bit of our morning watching a grasshopper close-up. We have lots of these insects around here - from the teeny tiny springing juveniles of spring to the quick-jumping, wing-whirring adults of summer. But in autumn grasshoppers begin to slow down, especially as the days cool. This fella was on our patio doors, and the sun had not warmed him up yet much ... so we took advantage of the situation and spent a little time observing. One point up for debate - was it a grasshopper or a cricket? We had our suspicions, but needed to do a little research to be sure!

(I wish I had recorded Little Bear and Earlybird having this very debate - it got quite heated!)

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More "woodland" exploring ... our yard is full of trees of course, but the log pile is especially interesting! (Earlybird was doing this with us but wasn't captured in any photos. He actually got a little freaked out by a spiderweb and quickly moved on!)

Wind chimes

And one day we made nature windchimes - a fairly easy and quick craft made with mason jar lid rings, contact paper, twine and things we found around our yard. Truth be told I did most of it myself - the boys liked sticking things on the contact paper and carrying the branch around, but that was about it. (Branches are always a hit.) I found this idea on Pinterest, and this post has great instructions!

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Here's a quick peek in the learning room where our woodland books are assembled along the windowsills, beneath the weekly learning line ...

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And here we have Archie exploring the "bear cave" (an Amazon box turned on its side and draped with soft blankets). And that's Archie for you - never one to pass up a new nook or cranny to explore!

(And to answer a question that might have popped into your mind - no, our learning room is not always this neat! I find though, that having lots of designated storage space, has really allowed for relatively quick cleanups! Each basket seen in these pictures has a particular type of toy assigned to it - and you can read more about that in this post!)

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A closer look at the "woodland" books for last week ... tomorrow I will be re-organizing this display with our books about pumpkins! (More pumpkin week details at my Autumn Tea next week!)

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More woodland fun - including a few things for Mama. ;-) Pretty journals and a calendar booklet as well as the sweetest woodland washi tape I ever did see! (I bought the journals at Paper Source but I haven't decided yet how to use them. The cute little "Woodland Tales" planner I bought at Whole Foods - it's a 17-month calendar, a perfect size to tuck in my purse/tote when I don't want to lug around my heavier (more precious) planners. The washi tape was found at Joann Fabrics but unfortunately I can't seem to find it on their website. And finally, the felt animal masks were SUCH a hit with my Little Bear! He has been having so much fun wearing the masks around the house and pretending to be each of these woodland creatures ... he's especially fond of the beaver mask. :)

(The photo of the scenic view was taken down the street. There is something so lovely about stone walls in autumn ...)

O with milkweed

And finally ... this collage was from last night, and you might have seen it if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I titled this: "Milkweed Magic on a Cool Autumn Evening." My apologies if you've already read this - it's a bit wordy, but it really captures how I felt last evening and I want to remember it! :)

We just had another one of those "daily" moments that really felt special - so special in fact, I took pics and made a collage to remember it by! πŸ’›

We've had a milkweed pod sitting on our nature table since early last month, and today - it burst! Much to Little Bear's delight we had little white seed fairies flying all over the learning room!

So LB (and his Daddy and I) scooped up that pod - and as many of the seeds we could round up - and walked the whole kit and kaboodle across the street where the milkweed patch grows ...

Well, I wish I could tell you how positively gleeful Little Bear was during this whole adventure (though maybe you can tell from the photos!) ... you would have thought we were going to Disneyland! LB cradled that little seedpod so carefully - HE had to carry it! - and then heartily blew its fluffy innards all over the roadside ...

And it was such a beautiful evening, too - that autumn light is so lovely, and the leaves are all changing and the air is still just warm enough to walk outside without jackets ...

Inside we went again - time to make supper - the house all warm and lit and full of big brothers' sounds ...

Feeling grateful tonight for this little afternoon adventure ... and for a child who has such a soft heart for nature's wonders! 

✨ 🍁 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ 

 My friends, I have kept you here so very long, and if you are still here, I thank you! (And if you bailed earlier, I still thank you!) I do hope you enjoyed a peek into our week and hearing about my planning process. Please let me know if you have any questions! I will be back again late next week with an Autumn Tea to share with you all ... and our first official Mitten Strings Book Study discussion!

(And of course, lots of pictures. When you come to my blog you KNOW there will be pictures ... and I'll have a lot to say about them!)

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend ... see you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea and Tidbits!

Tea with lesson planning 2

Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! Welcome to my first Autumn Tea  - of 2017! Something I hope to make a semi-regular recurrence at my blog going forward. Every so often I'll pop in with a cup of tea and a few bits and bobs from our homeschool ... a way to catch up and celebrate the season at hand. :) I'm hesitant to set a schedule however, as tempting as it is because you know I LOVE schedules - but it's been a little bit hectic so far this school year. Time at the computer (nevermind time for tea itself!) has been a little on the low side. But two things that make my heart so very happy are blogging and savoring tea, so I'm determined to make more time for both in my life!

So since it's been a while since we talked tea ... what are you drinking these days? I myself am enjoying Allegro Black Decaf during the afternoon (sweetened with raw sugar and a splash of whole milk) but after supper, now that the nights are cooler and darker, I am turning to a cup of decaf Constant Comment. There's something about that orange-spice flavor just makes me think AUTUMN! I still savor a cup or two of coffee in the mornings but after that I limit my caffeine intake as best I can ...

Well, I started in on my tea-taking early today as the above photo was taken just now (Saturday around 11 a.m.) because I was ready to get down to the lesson planning and for that, I absolutely MUST have tea! But before we talk about autumn homeschooling ...

Grab yourself a cup of your favorite brew and make yourself comfortable, please ... I have lots to share! :)

Let's begin with a peek into my October planning. Below you see the cover page for this month's section in my homemade planner (also seen in the top photo) ...

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And here is my planner stack on my kitchen counter - aka "mama's command center!"

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Sitting below my homemade planner is my Day Designer, and below that is a project clipboard. (I always put something underneath my planners in case there are spills or marks on the counter.)

So after the cover page (which is made from that cute vintage paper I love!) I have the two-page monthly calendar spread ...

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I added the stickers and a few quotations written with black ink and soft colored pencils ...

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I love peppering my planners with seasonal poems and quotes!

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Next page has my October menu calendar ...

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I described how I fill out these menu calendars in this post, but I want to stress that this is an ideal - we don't always keep up with the "new" and "varied" meals I've envisioned. Often - especially when we're busy or I'm tired (the state of affairs more often than not around here!) - I fall back on tried and true, easy meals. (Homemade pizzas, baked pasta, grilled cheese and soup, burgers, meatloaf and roasted veg, etc.) 

And next comes my monthly overview ...

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I added the highlighted notes at the top of the page this month, and of course there are post-its! The green apples reflect our October homeschooling themes and topics. I try to review this page every weekend to see where we're at and what tasks and activities can be scheduled in the week ahead. Note: "October Goals" became a place to write down upcoming movies, tv shows and books.

A closer peek ...

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And here is last week's spread!

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Next week I will do a WHOLE post on how I'm using this weekly spread, but in the interest of time and word count, let me move on and show you  ...

... next week's spread that I'm filling in now!

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You might wonder how long it takes me to fill in all those spaces, but honestly, it's not very long. A lot of the information is already available (Days of Note, Seasonal Theme, Dinners, Weekly Rhythm) so I just write those things in first. The to-do list is also pretty quick to fill in - I look at last week's list as well as our weekend planner to see what tasks still need doing. I take another look at the monthly calendar to see what new things have been written in for the week (a new event to prepare for, for example) and I also look back at that monthly overview to see what To-Dos can be fit into this coming week.

Beside my homemade planner I have parked my Day Designer ...

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Here's how it looked one day last week (when I first started working on this post!) ...

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Ok, moving on from planning (let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up on anything!) ... I thought I'd share some random photos from the past week or so ...

First, because it was the week of the Full Harvest Moon, I had planned to make "Harvest Moon Muffins," (a quick bread recipe baked in muffin tins) but due to the aforementioned busy schedule/tired mama syndrome, I stopped short at "Harvest Moon Applesauce." πŸ˜‰

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I love using my grandmother's food press when making applesauce! 

This was actually part of a little "science" experiment this week, making applesauce together! The boys helped me with counting and measuring before I loaded the apples, sugar and spice into the crockpot, and good GOLLY did it smell wonderful in our house all day! The apples were done cooking just before bedtime so I placed them in the fridge for the next day. After milling the apples into sauce we set up a little taste-test - our homemade applesauce vs. Stop 'N Shop brand! Could people tell which was which? (The answer, happily, was yes!)

Then last weekend I combed through the autumn book basket and pulled out titles that matched October's weekly themes ...

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  • Changing Leaves (10/2-10/8)
  • Woodland Flora & Fauna (10/9-10/15)
  • Pumpkins (10/16-10/22)
  • Goodnight Garden/Halloween (10/23-10/29)

I also have two sweet board books for my younger boys for learning the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers, as part of Holy Rosary month. :)

Speaking of books though, look at these lovely new titles that arrived in my mail last week!

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A couple of picture books we usually get out of the library to celebrate the Full Harvest Moon, a new (and adorable) autumn board book for Little Bear (which might be my new favorite autumn book of all time!), a CD of scientific storytelling for Earlybird (which we once owned but now can't find!) and a new Waldorf-inspired crafting book for Mama. I'm positively swooning over that last one in particular - a bit of a splurge, but worth it!

Here's a gorgeous page from Hello, Harvest Moon ... 

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Did you happen to catch it last Thursday night?

Harvest moon rising

We are surrounded by trees here so we have to wait a while before the full moon is visible ... but honestly, I think the way it peeks through the branches and illuminates the tree-line is quite magical! We let Little Bear stay up a bit late so he could watch the full moon rising ...

LB and the full moon

Now, back to books for a moment ... just look and see what arrived in my mailbox early last week!

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A very thoughtful gift from my friend (and longtime reader), Penny! When Penny read that I was positively pining for this particular PW book, she offered me her own copy. (How nice is that?!) Naturally I said I would just LOVE to have it, so she popped in the mail and I received it a day later! Hooray for packages in the mail and hooray for the ever-speedy USPS ... but most of all, HOORAY for kind-hearted and generous friends! ❀

Ok, now we all know the Pioneer Woman loves boots ... well, I'm no cowgirl, and I haven't been on a horse since I was 12, but how do you like my new "riding" boots?

Boots

I have lusted after these "Westport," Maine-made boots for years ... and finally (with Bill's blessing of course), I made the splurge! I ordered them online because I don't get over to LL Bean's that often, but was very happy that not only do they FIT just as well as I'd hoped, they are truly quite comfortable. I thought they paired rather nicely with a knee-length denim skirt. :)

(This was me on my way to Sunday brunch with my college girlfriends!)

Speaking of shoes though ...

Archie and sandals

That's my Archie, flopped all over my favorite pair of summer sandals ... the ones I can't bear to put away for the season just yet. (Though truly, we've had plenty of summer-like days recently.) But as you can see, Archie's looking rather relaxed here, smug you might even say ... because while Oliver had to be at the vet's annual exam last week, Archie got to skip it completely. And all because he's just SO naughty when we bring him! Nothing like the sweetie-pie he is at home - at the vet he's all hissing, spitting and growing ... frankly, it's a bit of a horror show. The next attempt was going to include some serious sedation ... which makes me very nervous ... but fortunately our vet is wonderful and fully understood our apprehension. We decided he can wait till next year when he is due for his rabies shot. (My cats are indoor cats, but are still kept up on all their vaccinations.)

In other wildlife news ...

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Howsabout this guy???

Isn't he magnificent? This is a Barred Owl, and we hear him (her?) very often in the woods behind our house - usually around dusk, but my older boys (night owls themselves) say they hear hooting late at night as well. Well, there I was at the sink starting supper last Friday night when Little Bear, looking out the kitchen nook window, exclaimed: "Mama, look! It's a snowy owl!!"

And this is what he saw ...

Barred owl on feeders

Isn't he GINORMOUS?? And clearly looking for his supper! I took this picture above with my cell phone, then went outside with my big camera to try for a better shot. The first owl picture was taken from beneath the tree just to the right of the feeders. The owl was staring at me - really peering at me with those gorgeous black eyes! - then his attention would be caught by something moving in the underbrush and he'd turn his head downward ...

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Finally he'd had enough of me, my snapping camera and restless Little Bear and took off ...

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He landed in the front yard where LB and I were joined by Bill and Earlybird and we watched the owl fly across the road and into the woods to the north. Absolutely amazing ...

(Crackerjack and Bookworm were out on a driving lesson and missed the whole thing!)

Ok, and now for some autumn homeschooling ... these pics are all from the past couple of weeks!

First came APPLES ...

Apple collage

Apple Week included apple snacks, an apple star surprise, drying apples, applesauce and an apple-y harvest wreath on the front door. :)

Also, I finally made use of that peg dolls book I showed you a couple of posts back, and look who Little Bear found in his learning room mailbox one morning!

Autumn star fairy

I made this "autumn star fairy" from a wooden peg base, with a little sheep's wool for hair, an acorn cap for a hat and a silk leaf (plucked from a garland) as wings! I made the verse card with a blank postcard and watercolor paints. I just wrote the verse on the card once the paint had dried. I've been using these cards for little poems, prayers and verses this year and I love the effect of those pretty paints!

Next came SEEDS ...

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Seeds week included seed gathering, sorting and observation, seed crafts, seed treats, seed experiments ... and very happy chipmunks!

And then on Michaelmas Day we had our first Nature Club meeting of the year ...

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My younger boys all came along and we met with other homeschooling families to take a walk along a local trail. We found everything on our Nature Scavenger hunt checklist as well as garter snakes, spiderwebs, several types of leaves and some very cool fungus. Best of all, there were Michaelmas daisies growing all over the woods! :)

The next Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels ...

Angel collage

I made another watercolor card for the Guardian Angel prayer and set up this small scene on our learning room table. I lit the beeswax tealight and read the prayer aloud to Little Bear ... who took great joy in blowing out that candle! :)

We also found time to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, our family patron saint ...

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Little Bear especially enjoyed assembling "all of creation" as I crafted a simple grotto and read aloud our favorite child-friendly version of Francis's "Canticle of the Sun." I made a verse card for the first stanza and plan to make cards for the rest of this beautiful prayer. :)

Last week we also visited a local agricultural fair - along with Earlybird's therapist and Bill who took the day off so he could join us. :)

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And the day after that we joined our homeschool group on a field trip to a local corn maze!

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It was a beautiful day - as you can see, warm enough for short sleeves! - and what fun we had navigating our way through the rows of corn and listening to the raspy dry ears in the breeze and hearing great vees of geese honking overhead! 

✨ πŸ‚ 🍎 🐿 🌻 🌞 🍁 πŸ„ 🌽 πŸŒ› ✨

Well this was quite a long post I'm afraid, but I hope you enjoyed it! I had meant to create posts around each of these collages - with more details - but time kept slipping by and then we'd be onto the next thing! I can certainly expand on any of these themes and projects (as well as my planners) in a future post and happily, though last week was particularly busy with two field trips, a fair trip, a vet appointment AND the SAT ... the coming week will be much quieter! Knock on wood!

So I will leave you now my friends, with my thanks for your visit and my wish that you all enjoy a lovely autumn weekend. I will be back again here just as soon as I can but in the meantime you can always find me on Facebook or Instagram. :)

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


The Cookbooks in my Cabinet! ❀

Hello, my friends ... and Happy Tuesday! I posted this picture last night on Instagram ...

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My Little Bear helping his Daddy with the asparagus for supper. :)

There's nothing LB likes better than helping us around the house - especially when he gets to "cut" fruits and vegetables (using a butter spreader and working with small soft bits). I just had to snap this picture because it was such a simple, sweet, everyday moment ...

Anyhoo! Over on IG, Cindy asked if I could share the titles of my cookbooks seen in the cabinets in the above photo, and I'm very happy to do just that! For the record these are not ALL of my cookbooks, but the ones I like to keep handy. Also, I've had most of these books for years ... I actually haven't purchased a cookbook in a long time, instead turning to Pinterest and food magazines more often nowadays. Especially my treasured Everyday Food collection which is stored just to the left of those cookbooks (current season's issues only.) I also check with the library if I see or hear about a new and interesting title I want to check out! But all that said, I absolutely LOVE cookbooks and can read them just for reading's sake! (If I ever had time to read anymore, lol!)

(Also for the record, as I've mentioned in previous posts - and over there on my sidebar - I am part of the Amazon Affiliates Program which means if you click through one of my links and end up making a puchase, I get a small commission. So thanks in advance if you do use my links for your shopping!)

Now, without further ado ... here's a list of those books and a few of my thoughts on each one!

FIRST CABINET:

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NEXT CABINET:

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Well, my friends ... I hope you enjoyed this peek into my cookbook cabinet! I had fun reminiscing as I linked up these old favorites! And as I get ready to write out my October menu calendar, I'm feeling inspired to dive back in and take a look around ... :)

What are your favorite cookbooks? Do we have any in common? When did you start collecting cookbooks? Drop me a note if you have a minute ... clearly I love to talk cookbooks!

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


A Bunch of Autumn Bits & Bobs!

Autumn equinox cookies

Hello, my friends and Happy Friday! And Blessed Equinox, too! βœ¨ πŸ‚ 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 πŸ„πŸŒ›πŸ‚βœ¨

I'm popping in today to share some autumnal thoughts and photos with you all ... but first, thank you so much for all the incredibly kind comments left at my learning room post. I had such fun putting that post together and I'm so glad you all enjoyed it! There will, of course, be plenty more pics and posts to come as we wind our way through the new year ... but for today, let's talk a bit about AUTUMN, which just began here about 20 minutes ago! To celebrate I made up the plate of "equinox cookies" seen above ...

Now, this was not my idea mind you - I saw a few variations of these cookies on Pinterest. I just took some vanilla cookies we had in the pantry and dipped them in some melted chocolate chips (also from the pantry) and gave them a good sprinkling of autumnal jimmies. (A mom can never have too many jars of colored sprinkles on hand!) One pretty china plate and a bunch of silk leaves later and I had a festive treat for our Friday teatime! :)

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Oh, children's books ... how I love organizing children's books! Last weekend I had Bill bring up the Autumn book basket (actually, a rather heavy wooden crate!) and I spent some time reacquainting myself with old favorites. I have a post to come (hopefully this weekend) with a look at our September book lists and plans ... I've had some requests since I've been sharing lots of book shots here and on social media lately! 

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I ask you - what is sweeter than chubby toddler hands?? Especially when they're trying to grab more than they can hold? This is actually an older photo but it popped up in my Facebook "memories" today and I had to include it ... it's always been a favorite of mine. :) 

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And look how those little hands have grown! Here we are on the couch the other day enjoying one of Little Bear's new board books. The sweetest little forest-themed board book I ever did see!

Kitchen autumn blessing

Now, if you follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram you've probably seen some of the photos in this post, and you might have heard me talk about my "Autumn Blessing" week. Well, I decided since the first day of Fall fell on a Friday, I would use the week leading up to that special day to prepare my home with a little cleaning and "cozifying." Basically, I just cleared each room of any extraneous stuff (aka clutter) and then swept corners and wiped surfaces as best I could. (It wasn't a super deep cleaning, more of a freshening up.) Finally, I added some warm autumn touches here and there ... :)

Above you see the kitchen on Monday evening ... and let me tell you ... it took me ALL day to get it that neat! (Because no, my house is not normally super tidy ... we really LIVE here ALL WEEK, if you know what I mean!)

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On Tuesday I worked on the front rooms: foyer, library and ...

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... dining room! :)

Autumn blessing family room

On Wednesday and Thursday, I worked in the family room ... and as you can see, Archie approves of the "autumnal" changes!

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Heading back outside, here's a shot of Little Bear at a local farm we visited recently ... it was a beautiful crisp day here in New England!

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We also swung by a gorgeous sunflower field ... aren't they breathtaking? And can the sky really possibly be that blue? Nothing like an Autumn blue sky ... though this technically was taken in Summer. ;-)

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Here's a picture collage from our first day of home learning this year ... and that's alphabet pasta up top in case you're wondering, lol! I made Crockpot Alphabet Soup for supper that night. :)

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And here are some pics from Little Bear's first "official" nature walk of the new year. Honestly, I can't think of anything I like better than spending a "school day" roaming our yard looking for curiosities and wonders!

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And finally, here's a book I borrowed from the library recently. Making Peg Dolls is a craft I've wanted to try for a long time now and as you can see, I've got the supplies well in hand! At least the wooden peg part ... I need to see about getting some more felt and thread - perhaps a few more bottles of paint - and then I'll be good to go.

Something else I like to do in early Autumn is to come up with a few hobbies to carry me through the winter ... and brainstorm homemade Christmas gift ideas ... because as we all know, the Autumn will absolutely FLY by and suddenly we'll find ourselves knee-deep in Advent. Plus, it will get dark and cold fast (at least here in New England it will) and it's nice to have some cozy handcrafts to work on during those short afternoons in between busy and bed. βœ¨πŸŒβœ¨

Oh, and before I go!

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This is my lovely new Autumn "go-bag!" I bought this - a bit of splurge - at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago. I just fell in love with the look and size of this tote! (And if you read my #fridayintroductions post at Instagram this morning, you know how I feel about tote bags!) It fits my handbag and a few notebooks and planners and I just find that sharp navy blue paired with the "Autumn Rose" print so striking. When I considered the price (not too bad as large bags go) and the fact that it not only fit all my stuff but it also matched my minivan ... AND my kitchen ... well, there was just no way I could pass it up! :)

Ok, I will be off now my friends as I've kept you here long enough! As always though, I thank you for stopping by and I wish you all a good evening (or day as the case may be). Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

Summer sunset

The last sunset of Summer, 2017 ...

✨ πŸ‚ 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 πŸ„πŸŒ›πŸ‚βœ¨ 


✨ Welcome to Our Learning Room! ✨

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Hello, everyone - and Happy Sunday! How about a tour of our "recently revamped" learning room? I have a nice cold pitcher of apple "tea" in the fridge and some cranberry-oat cookies to share, so please come on in and let me show you around a little! :)

Now, four years ago when I first saw this sunroom, as we toured our potential new home, I immediately thought "Omigosh, this would be THE perfect learning room!" But for a few different reasons (which I won't bore you with now), it's taken us a while to fully commit this space to our homeschooling needs. But here we are at last ... and I'm so happy with how it came out!

As you can see, this room gets a TON of natural light thanks to all those south-facing windows. And that's what I love best about this room - feeling like we're outside even when we're inside! :) So first let me show you some wide-angle shots and then I'll talk about just what-all is in all those baskets and shelves! True to form, I may have gotten a little carried away with the pictures, but I hope that in addition to showing you our new setup, this post will also share a little of our homeschooling style and early learning methods ... β€

*And for the record, I am homeschooling three of my children this year - my 18yo Crackerjack is a senior in high school, my 15yo Earlybird (who has autism) really doesn't have an official grade but is developmentally very young and in many ways matches well with my youngest, Little Bear, who is four and just starting preschool! This room is geared towards the younger two boys. :)

As for location, this learning room (nΓ©e sunroom) sits just off the back of the house, and you enter it from a door in our family room. The only drawback at the moment is that it is actually a three-season room - so it gets awfully cold in the dead of winter! We're working on that dilemma though, and hope to have a permanent solution figured out very soon!

Ok, here we go ...

Sunny learning room

Most of what you see in these pictures are items we own, and some for many years. Case in point the trestle "work" table - a 10 year old, unfinished furniture store purchase that Bill finally got around to finishing!

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He sanded the whole thing down (smoothing out cat scratches and stray crayon gouges), treated the top to a plain polyurethane finish and then painted the base with some pretty paint I picked up at, of all places, Target. It was just the warm, soft red I was going for! The "saddle seat stools" we've also had for many years now - these were also purchased at a local mill store.

But the real game-changing element we added to this room would be the new white cubbies we purchased from Target. They were not terribly expensive ($35 for a 6-cube set), but as you will see, we bought quite a few! So it added up a bit, but this was something I really wanted (and needed) for organizing the younger boys' toys and learning materials. And happily Bill not only agreed, but very easily put the cubbies together! (He had help, natch.) Fyi, the cubbies are available online if you can't find them in your local store.

The seagrass baskets, also from Target, were another "splurge" at $11 apiece (on sale), but they are very well made and in my honest opinion one can never have too many well-made baskets - especially a homeschooler! The rest of the baskets in the cubbies and elsewhere throughout the room are ones we had on hand.

Ok, turning to the right, looking out towards the deck and patio ...

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Those doors lead to our second classroom - aka, the great outdoors! We're in the process of making the upper deck a little more child-friendly - a "nature lab" if you will, but for now let's turn back towards the house ...

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This is the wall that faces the family room ... and that beautiful Union Jack flag was a gift from my dear (and very generous) friend, Shirley Vels. When she found out we were studying England this September she put together a wonderful package of British goodies for us, including that glorious flag!

Here's another angle ...  

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I just love this shot of Archie and the dinosaur ... :)

Now, turning towards the east-facing wall (which looks out over the driveway) ...

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I'm standing in the doorway of the family room taking this shot, to give you an idea of the size of the room. It really is a great room for entertaining in ... but even better for spreading out with your kids! :)

Now, back to that south-facing wall and the tallest windows of all! (One of my favorite things to do is watch a storm from these windows!)

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I made the alphabet banner myself, using a few supplies from the craft store and a glue stick. It wasn't hard, but it took me a bit of time and when I finally got that banner up I stood back and said, "Yep, this is now officially a learning room!"

Ok, now I'll focus in on some smaller shots ... and here's your fair warning: I might get a little wordy because I'm so excited about every corner of this room!IMG_2120

✨ Just as you step in the room we have a little "mud and mail" corner. Here we park our boots/shoes and Little Bear's jackets ... as well as the "errands" bag (for library trips and such). There's not room for all of our footwear here of course, but these are the shoes and boots we wear when we're going outside ... usually to "muck about." In this corner we also keep Little Bear's broom and on the wall hangs a sweet "forest mailbox" ...

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✨ This mailbox is a true family treasure - a gift to Earlybird on his 5th birthday from my Mum. (Here's the post from 2007 with a few more project details. I can hardly believe it's been 10 years!) It's been sitting high up on a nursery shelf, "keeping safe," but I decided it really was time to introduce it to Little Bear!

And just last week, Little Bear found a sprig of something bright gold inside his mailbox, and I had a little verse ready to go along with it ...

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"The goldenrod is yellow, the corn is turning brown ... the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down." β€

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Later that morning we looked for goldenrod growing in the yard ... and we found some! (Plenty in fact! Next week we'll use some to dye a Michaelmas cape.) βœ¨

Next, on the other side of the doorway ...

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✨  We have a seasonal calendar on the wall, with a handy-dandy caddy-cart beneath ...

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✨  This is a monthly, at-a-glance calendar purchased at Staples. It has lots of space and nicely lined boxes, but instead of writing down class times and activities, I'm just writing special, seasonal events here and shading them in with soft colored pencils. I like keeping the focus on the rhythm of the season and in truth, this is all the information my younger boys really need to know. Some days are already anticipated in September (The Full Corn Moon, for example), but as a special activity gets planned I add it to the calendar. (Case in point, an apple picking field trip got scheduled after I took this photo.)

I made the decorative monthly cards myself - and it was very easy! I found images online (I adore Edith Holden's vintage nature sketches) and printed them out in the size I wanted. I used a glue stick to adhere the images to pre-cut cardstock. Then I used plain wooden clothespins to secure the cards all around a craft wreath base (found at the craft store for a couple of dollars). I hung the whole thing from an adhesive hook on the wall - situating the current month's card at the top - and that was that!

Now, a closer look at the caddy ...

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✨  This is one of those rolling caddy carts I purchased at Michaels last spring. I placed our seasonal book basket in the top tier, and this is filled with the books that go along with our seasonal homeschooling themes and any special days/events that pop up.

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✨  Right now the basket holds both August and September books since I haven't had a chance to file last month's titles yet! This week we added apple books and next week I'll add more books about Autumn.

Next tier down ...

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✨ Another little basket with some playing cards and flash cards, special prek planning books and our current audiobook case.

And finally, on the bottom ...

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✨  Coloring books!

Ok, let's continue on around the room ... :)

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✨  The Tree Fort/Elf House comes next with a dinosaur hand puppet clearly having taken over ...

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✨ And a basket of wooden puzzles beneath a pretty red table which once belonged to me - and my mother before me! β€

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✨ Here are some old wooden cubbies (meant to be painted, but I rather like the look of natural wood!) holding more baskets of toys - cooking things, favorite vehicles and Duplo legos. (We've had Duplo Legos - and I mean A LOT of Duplo Legos - since 22 year old Bookworm was tiny. None of our boys really ever took to them - they held out for the "real" Legos! - but Little Bear plays with them every single day. He loves them!) On top of the cubbies are a wooden cooktop (it perches on the edge of any table) with pots and pans, an alphabet abacus, and our ages-old, plush, nature puppet tree.

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✨  Across the large picture window (that peers into the family room) I had Bill string some twine so I could hang some lovely vintage-look zoology cards. I have a whole bunch of them so I'll swap them out every so often. I used wooden clothespins purchased at Target last month to hold the cards here and if you look closely you can see each pin has a number corresponding to the number of creatures on each card. :)

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✨ Here's another small table meant to be re-painted (butter yellow if I have my way) with our wooden barn situated on top and a basket of wooden figures underneath. Little Bear uses this "starry night" playsilk to put his animals to bed each night. :)

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✨  Goodnight, everyone!πŸŒ›

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✨  More cute wooden clothespins, another Target dollar bin find! (Those bins have since changed over to Halloween theme, but keep an sharp eye out next back-to-school time! I will too, and post when I spy those great deals!)

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✨ This easel was such a find last year! A neighbor had it out for - gasp! - trash pickup one day ... and we nabbed it! On one side there is a chalkboard which of course can be used for all kinds of things, but Earlybird uses it with his therapist every day for counting down to upcoming events. (EB is especially motivated by holidays!) On either side of the chalkboard we have baskets of miscellaneous stuffed animals and puppets. Directly below the chalkboard is a basket of various picture books, not related to any season or holiday - just really good reads. :)

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✨  Now the other side of the chalkboard was a dry-erase board but since dry-erase markers and EB don't mix well, I had Bill cover it with some felt I picked up at the fabric store. This is still a work in progress, but it will eventually be a felt story board!

True story: the lady at the fabric store tried to shame me for picking brown, lol:

"Why not blue or red for goodness sakes - why brown??"

So I told her that most of our story-boarding will revolve around nature ... πŸŒ›πŸ‚πŸŒ²πŸΏπŸ„πŸπŸŒž

"Aha, I see now ... good pick!"

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✨  This is my storytelling apron hung from a hook ... and it's basically a plain canvas artist's apron, but I'm using the pockets for finger puppets!

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✨  We've been collecting finger puppets (as well as hand puppets) for so many years, I've lost count! All my boys have enjoyed them on some level (though Earlybird not as much, having a strong aversion to finger plays and too much conversation) but I'm happy to say Little Bear just ADORES puppetry! I have little nature stories outlined to go along with each of our weekly seasonal themes and these are part of our Wednesday homeschool rhythm. I'm tying them in with our forest mailbox and so far it's a HIT! (Of course, we're only beginning week three, but I have a pretty good feeling about this!)

(The pretty clothespins? Yep, Target again! They'll hold little notecards for story prompts - simple sketches or sight words for the most part.)

Ok, rounding the bend! 

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✨ Here are the first two sets of cubbies (they can be connected, as they are here). Some have baskets and some have little "play arrangements."

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✨ Little Bear so enjoys the book, Hug (as well as Tall), and his two monkey puppets allow him to act out the parts of Bobo and Mama. β€

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✨  I filled this basket with Water Wow booklets - one of Little Bear's favorite activities! I'll often take one or two with us if we're going somewhere he might need a quiet diversion. 

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✨  And here we have some favorite counting and number recognition board books as well as a basket of wooden hand-size numbers. Now, I know you don't want to hear this again - but they are from Target, too! I scooped them up last month! They are stackable and the perfect size for little hands. :)

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✨  I think I love this set of nesting wooden elements - more than any of my kids! They have so many uses, and yes, they are pricey, to be sure - but Santa brought them one Christmas years ago. I feel incredibly blessed to have another chance to enjoy them with one more of our children! β€

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✨  Here is the finger puppets basket - I always perch a couple on the edge peeking out! Beneath that sit wooden fractions cups, and a favorite watering can.

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✨ Another learning line, strung across windows that look down over our driveway. Here's where I hang worksheets, paintings and other kinds of work to be displayed.

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✨ Right in front of these cubbies we have a wonderful little "Discover America" rug. I bought it at Babies R Us a few years ago and it has held up really well! In this photo, Little Bear is sporting a new pair of slippers for the new homeschool year! β€ (Yes, things like "slippers" go on my back-to-homeschool shopping list!)

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✨  At the end of these cubbies is a comfy bean bag chair, just the right size for Little Bear. This was a new purchase last month and I'm quite pleased with it - it's comfortable (or so I'm told) and seems to be holding up well. (We have not always had great luck with bean bags, but this just seemed to fit the room!) Also, I hung some little wooden stars along the side of the bookcase just because they looked kind of magical. :)

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✨ Turning another corner we have a very tall bookcase (some might remember it from our old house and long-ago posts!) which holds a real hodgepodge of items! Bottom shelf holds nature study supplies - a flower press, display cases and stands, cloches, etc. - as well as a wooden house shape I'm crafting into an outdoor shrine. (A project in progress!) Upper shelves hold some of my beloved mothering and seasonal idea books, and not seen on the top shelf are my favorite liturgical resources, as well as a statue of the Blessed Mother which once belonged to my paternal grandparents. ❀

And at the very top of this bookcase ... 

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✨ On the very tippy-top of this super tall bookcase is a large basket filled with crafting materials of all kinds. I'll have to do a separate post on what I keep in that basket because I didn't get a picture of the contents. (Let's just say it was precarious enough me getting this shot, lol!) Now, it might seem awfully inconvenient to keep oft-used craft supplies up here way out of reach, but it's the only safe place to keep them! Earlybird would only get into (and has done) all those craft things when I'm not looking and make an unholy mess (of himself and the supplies) and so it's easier just to keep things up and out of sight. The trick of course is remembering to check the basket before making a craft store run!

✨ The timer is also up here for similar reasons - EB is just way too fascinated with this cool gadget to leave it alone! I had been looking for a visual timer for EB to use (with me and his therapists) but was hesitant because of the typical "tick-tick" sound which really grates on his nerves. Thanks to a recommendation from Jennifer Mackintosh, I purchased this pretty little gem of a timer which makes NO NOISE AT ALL. (Thanks again, Jen!!) Using a visual timer is very helpful for EB when he needs to be patient for something ... because patience is not really his strong suit and numbers don't mean as much as does that vivid red wedge!

Turning the corner again ...

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✨ The next set of cubbies holds reading materials and more play arrangement! And goodness, do I love the light coming in at this time of day! :) Shown on display in the picture above is a favorite source of nature study inspiration, open to a September page. On the windowsill are a couple of poetry books for young children as well as a heart-shaped wooden caddy holding foldable, laminated field guides. (I painted that for my grandmother back in the 80s!)

Also shown here ...

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✨  Favorite children's periodicals on display - and these appeal to Earlybird so much! Thomas, Peppa and Nick Jr. Friends, especially, but he had made off with the Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. issues when I took this picture! I have collected Babybug for years (off an on) and I still read them with Little Bear ... because they are so sweet and they are such a nice size. Perfect for little hands and for popping in Mama's bag when going out and about! β€

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✨  Here's a handy basket of early readers, another favorite resource for Earlybird ... :)

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✨  And here we have one of Little Bear's FAVORITE board books, beside the little stuffed beluga whale he adores. We've long since lost the Raffi audiocassette we listened to in the car with Bookworm back in the day, but we do sing that song nearly everyday - out of earshot of Earlybird, of course! 

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✨  And there are plenty of crayons here ... and I've never found a better storage space for crayons than a wide, shallow basket. :)

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✨ Here's another favorite board book of Little Bear's ... and that beanie baby chameleon belonged to Bookworm back in the day! His name is "Rainbow" for obvious reasons, and he's been well loved over the years. (He's as soft as buttah!)

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✨  Stacked neatly in this cubby is a collection of favorite books celebrating morning and the new day ... πŸŒž

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✨ And nestled just beside is a soft and lovely baby doll - crafted in the Waldorf tradition. "Baby Jack" was a gift to our now 18 yo Crackerjack when I was pregnant with Earlybird. My mum crocheted the hat and scarf (as well as booties that have long since gone missing). The cradle basket was part of a gift basket we received from Bill's co-workers after we had EB. It makes a perfect crib for this little laddie!

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✨ Propped up here is an older picture book, all about community helpers. I added some corresponding vehicles to this cubby to keep things lively!

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✨ Another set of cubbies - the basket on top holds playsilks (for capes, etc.) and a royal fabric crown. (There is also a wooden camera that sits in here but it was MIA when I took the picture!) The bottom cubby has a sweet book of nursery school lessons and two plushie favorites - Peter and Benjamin Rabbit!

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✨  This set of cubbies holds favorite field guides and a pair of binoculars (top) ... as well as some favorite floor puzzles and games (bottom). Missing is the dinosaur floor puzzle which was being put to good use in the family room. ;)

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✨  Tucked behind the table are a few tote bags - one big one for Mama and two for Earlybird's primary homeschooling and ABA therapy resources.

Paper chain learning room

✨  A paper chain is a simple, pretty (and cheap!) learning room decoration! Earlybird LOVES paper chains, and counting down to special days. I used green and orange cardstock as well as some printed vintage print paper to make a paper chain with links for each day in September and October. We move a wooden clothespin along the links each day so EB has a visual reminder of how time is moving forward. (I'll make a new chain for the next season - Late Autumn, aka November & December.)

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✨  A garland of family photos strung above the worktable ... because, that's what it's all about! β€

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✨  I found this pine slice lazy susan at HomeGoods this summer and immediately thought it would be great for our homeschooling work table! And I love using mason jars for holding things like colored pencils, rulers, glue sticks, etc. The windowsill just behind the table holds our cute little prek mascot (a small fox Little Bear picked out at the craft store), a couple of new books for the season and a sweet log lantern, as well as our classroom cross ...

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✨ We've had this grapevine cross for a long time now, something bought at the craft store. (We use it at Easter as a living cross.) I haven't looked in a while but a few years back I checked Michael's and they had them. I added the wooden phrase, "Be Still" just recently (using a hot glue gun) because ... well, it's just a nice reminder to myself, and hopefully my children, to take time to breathe, listen, love - be loved - and feel blessed. ❀

Ok, we're nearly done now!

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✨  The final set of cubbies hold even more baskets and books and toys ... but on top we have our science/nature station, currently holding an assortment of late summer weeds, herbs and flowers. (What's still growing in our yard this month?) Science focus books up above ... What is a scientist? Nature focus books below ... In the Forest.🌲🌲🌲🌲

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✨  And here's my Little Bear enjoying his cubbies!

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✨ A stack of favorite car/truck/boat/plane/train books ... kept in place by a truck!

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✨ And this is Little Bear's snacktime basket, filled with a beloved Elsa Beskow set of dishes, a gift from my dear friend, Emma from Norway! Beneath the dishes are placemats and cloth napkins. Earlybird also has a cup and plate to use when we do snack together. (This is a weekly activity, a special snack that ties in with our seasonal theme.) 

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✨  A fantastically looong dragon lives in this basket! He originally belonged to Bookworm and has survived many years of "knights and dragon" play with my boys! He looks a little tired, doesn't he? But don't let him fool you! πŸ‰

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✨  And there are still more hand puppets! These are all of a certain size and style so I kept them together.

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✨ Here's the last end of the cubbies - with its atlases and social studies books as well as a wonderful wooden US puzzle, all leading to our "global awareness" corner ... 

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✨ Those cute magnets are gifts from Shirley, as well as the lovely post cards and some of the photos tacked to our boards. I had Bill hang two corkboards here and I placed our globe on top of the small fridge. A gift from my folks last Christmas, we use this fridge for parties and of course holding extra food! I bought a pretty white "farmhouse" pitcher in which I have that aforementioned apple "tea" - which is just organic apple juice and a fruity herb tea mixed together, sometimes with apple slices floating in it. And because it makes it feel a little different and special, we've been having "homeschool snack" at our worktable, while watching the wildlife outside our windows. :)

And speaking of wildlife ...

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✨  Here is the first stage of our outdoor "nature lab," which is just a regular old evergreen stump from our yard, pulled up onto the deck, in view of the sliders, where we can watch birds and chipmunks and squirrels up close!

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✨  And here's my Little Bear adding seed to the stump ... as you can see, he takes his job very seriously! (Even when wearing socks!😜 )

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✨  Oh, I forgot to show you these little chalkboards! They are hung above the coat pegs and I bought them at the craft store for a couple of dollars - including the wooden initials (one for each of my younger boys). I debated how to use these boards ... for assignments? Reminders? Vocabulary words? Poems? 

I finally decided to use these as "blessings boards" and each week the boys will read a new message about how they BLESS us with their very special selves. Something that is unique and treasured about each of them, perhaps something they've done recently that deserves notice and gratitude ... just a mention that I hope makes them feel appreciated and loved for exactly who they are! β€

(I already have Monday's ready in my head: O will read: "You ask such great questions!" and R will read: "You've shown great patience lately!")

Ok, I think I'd better wrap up at this point or else I might just go on and on ... and I've definitely kept you all here long enough! I hope you enjoyed this tour of our learning room and I thank you for stopping by! I will be devoting tomorrow to ironing out lesson plans for the week ahead because, while a pleasant atmosphere is certainly a good start, many ideas and activities need to be planned out and set up ahead of time. I'd love to do another post about that side of the equation - WHAT we do in addition to WHERE we do it! But I hope I at least gave you a little peek at how we spend our days. Little Bear is out here constantly, enjoying all those toys throughout the day and evening ... but we're still working on the concept of putting things back in place! And Earlybird comes out here often, too. Sometimes just to chill but also he does table work with his therapists here everyday. And I find myself out here lesson planning quite often ...

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It's been such fun coming up with ideas for making this a room that works in a lot of different ways!

Well my friends, I hope you all have a great rest of the weekend and once again, thanks so much for reading and let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up in any way. I hope to be back again soon with a post about those September event pages - Autumn Equinox and Michaelmas Day. Can you even believe we're already more than halfway through September???

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


May was for milestones ... 🌞

Happy Tuesday, my friends - and long time no post! I feel like it's been sooo long since we last talked! I'm sorry I've not been able to post much lately. It's certainly not for lack of interest! I have so many things I want to discuss and share with you, but it's been an incredibly busy month for us - time at my computer has been scarce! But things are starting to get back to normal and I'm popping in to share some photos with you all and catch up ...

Ok, going back a bit ... here is some lovely china we inherited from Bill's godmother. This set belonged to her mother and was in need of a good home, and Aunt Anne very kindly gifted us with it ALL!

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It matches our kitchen nicely but will be used primarily in the dining room. I asked Bill if we could display some of the plates on the wall. I've always wanted to do that! One thing I love about green china is that it can work so nicely with multiple holidays - Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. :)

Ok, next - check out this super cute scrapbook paper I purchased recently!

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"The Children's Hour" is made by the same company that publishes the vintage papers I like to use when making my weekly planners. I just LOVE how seasonal these designs are and of course, the vintage look and all those cozy images of childhood. More on what I'll do with all those papers soon! :)

Next we have these lovely monthly notepads, a gift from my thoughtful cousin, Kara ...

Monthly note pads

You might recognize the illustrations? These pads are made by one of my favorite author-artists, Susan Branch! The whole set came with post-its notes and page markers ... I will find SO many uses for these papers!

Now, a couple of recent bird sightings ...

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This is a Pine Warbler I believe - a new sighting for us! And below, spotted on the very same day, is another new species (for us) ...

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A Pileated Woodpecker! She is absolutely huge! We had heard her tap-tap-tapping early in the morning (not knowing it was this kind of woodpecker) and then when a very large black bird flapping through our yard caught my eye, I grabbed my camera and starting snapping pictures. As you can imagine we were all pretty excited to add a couple of new birds to our life list...

And before I move on to recent (and exciting) events, here's a peek at a lovely new teacher's plan book I purchased recently ...

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I will do a full tour soon here at the blog - it's really well-designed and (subtly) colorful inside! And I'm quite eager to dig in and get next year organized for a new year of home education! (Our 18th!)

Speaking of (home) education ... my oldest son and (former) student, graduated from college last week! Yes!! Can you believe it? Personally I'm having some trouble coming to terms with this development! Not that I'm not ridiculously proud and happy - but GOSH did those four years go by fast! Bookworm now has his Bachelor of Science (in Computer Science) from Boston College ... here are some pictures from the Baccalaureate Mass on Sunday and Commencement on Monday!

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I will forever remember this moment ... as a mom and a homeschool mom, especially. I'm just so pleased for our young man and proud of how hard he has worked. Let me tell you - this boy took his education very seriously and really applied himself to his studies. BC is a pretty big school but Bookworm found his niche - finding good friends and a lovely girlfriend who also graduated this year ...

And now, he's home and will start looking for a job. (Won't lie and say I'm not thrilled to have him home!) Can't wait to watch his journey continue ... :)

Now, the next in line is our Crackerjack ... who will be a senior in high school next fall. But this past Saturday night, CJ enjoyed a rite of his own - attending the Homeschool Prom!

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Crackerjack attended Prom with a large group of friends, but I didn't want to include any of those kids in my post for privacy reasons. So here he is with his mom and dad!

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Ok! So we've covered Graduation and Prom ... and now for Little Bear's 4th Birthday! (Told you it's been a busy month!) We had our family over yesterday for a lunch celebrating not just LB but my brother, Matt, whose birthday is next weekend and my cousin's daughter who just turned one last week! 

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I'm sure some of you are familiar with the Nick Jr. show, "Blaze and the Monster Machines" ... a cute little cartoon featuring monster trucks (and subtle science lessons to boot!). I had the bakery do a "Blaze" cake since Little Bear just loves it. :)

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But goodness - how did he get to be four so fast? Honest to Pete, I googled "how to make life slow down" this morning because I just can't stand it ...

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Here's Little Bear greeting his youngest cousin, just three months old! He's quite enamored of babies ... πŸ’•

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And here he is with his Uncle Matt who had just informed Little Bear that some of these presents were for him. Lol, LB was not too happy to hear that! (And of course, my brother was kidding!)

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And here he is with his biggest brothers ... :)

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Earlybird  - who sometimes has trouble with parties - did really well yesterday. He joined in with the festivities (retreating to his room when he needed a break) and very nicely - one might say, eagerly - helped his little brother open presents. :)

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You are probably wondering why EB's wearing mittens. Well, it's a very long story, but very quickly - about two weeks ago the boys were coming down with a cold and Earlybird started getting nosebleeds. All of my kids, EB included, have gotten them before, but with EB it's really quite difficult to handle. As most of you know, EB has autism and with that comes extreme anxiety and sensory issues. He just panics when we try to help him and that makes the flow just awful. To make it worse, even though we were able to stop them each time they happened (every day for almost a week) he went through a compulsive issue where he would just jam his fingers up his nose to make it start. Some days I had to just sit with him for hours and hold his hands to keep him still. I had my mum and Crackerjack helping me (and of course, Bill when he was home from work) keep up with the house and Little Bear and driving CJ to class. I finally gave EB mittens to wear to keep his fingers out of his nose and he has come to really rely on them. He hasn't actually had a nosebleed in over a week knock on wood but he just relishes the comfort (emotional and physical) of those mittens. (Prayers for his complete healing would be so appreciated ... I feel we're on the right track but it's still all been a little nerve-wracking!)

Ok, back to the party! Time to open all those presents!

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Little Bear received a car carrier truck from Earlybird ...

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.. and a gorgeous, ginormous dinosaur puppet from his oldest two brothers! Little Bear is just getting "into" dinosaurs and he also just loves puppets.

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High fives for Aunt Anne, Cousin Kara, Grandma Barbara and Uncle Karl ... !

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Bill's folks with Crackerjack ... aka Grandma and Grandpa!

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My dad (aka Papa) and (great!) Auntie Marcia ... :)

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Me with my beautiful mum - better known these days as Nana!

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And here's my cousin Kate's husband Paul with their beautiful little girl, just turned one year old! πŸ’•

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Little Bear sharing his toys with his cousin ... :)

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My Bill holding the newest member of the family - our sweet little niece. πŸ’•

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Aunt Ami and Uncle Eric - the new mom and dad! - with their precious girl. Such a lovely, happy family! 

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Cake time at last! Getting help from his brothers blowing out the candle ...

BUT ... there was a bit of a snafu, lol. Please click the link below to watch a brief video I posted on my Facebook page to see what I mean!

Happy Birthday, Little Bear!

And here's a picture I'd been hoping to get - of Little Bear and his dear baby cousins. :)

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It's such a happy time when the family starts filing up with little ones again!

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Last shot ... this lucky boy had a wonderful party! And he's been playing non-stop today with all his new toys - Legos, cars, trucks, etc.! He also got several wonderful new books - a couple which we read in the rocking chair when he first woke. And plenty of art supplies that we'll dive into later this week ... as well as some fun nature exploring tools! I love this age - when they're so full of energy and imagination, wonder and joy. I am ever so grateful God blessed us with this boy ... and I pray for the ability to slow down and savor this sweet time, so that the years ahead may pass with less swiftness than they have so far ... because these are such precious days and because this was JUST Bookworm playing with toys on the floor, I could swear it. And look where he is now! πŸ’›

Well my friends ... thank you so much for stopping by, and for your patience in my slow posting - not to mention my long, rambling posts! I am stunned to think that in two days we will be in the new month of June! (Seriously, Life - remember we talked? About slowing your roll just a bit?) I will do my very best to get my June planner post up ASAP - with extra planning sheets and thoughts on the new month ahead. I want to promise a post by Thursday the 1st but realistically I will temper myself and say by the end of the week ... fingers crossed!

Hope all is well with all of you, my friends! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


Our Family Easter, 2017

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Hello and Happy Wednesday, my friends! I hope you all had a nice weekend, and a lovely Easter too, if you celebrate! I am currently writing up a post about the file crate, but for today I thought I'd pop in quickly to let you know I just added a photo album to my sideboard (right side of the blog and linked below) with many pictures from our Easter. Most of them are from Holy Week but there are several from our Sunday celebration as well. I hope you enjoy, and I will see you here again soon!

Our Family Easter, 2017


A Tale of Four Carts ... ❀

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Hello everyone, and Happy Hump Day! If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen one or more of my recent posts in which I gush over my brand new rolling "caddy" carts. Well, I'd like to share them here too, because I'm having such fun setting them up!

But a bit of backstory first ...

I have admired these rolling carts for years now, ever since longtime reader, and Moscow-friend, Mic shared hers for my "Autumn Cozy Nest" series. Mic's pretty cart, in that iconic robin's egg blue, lives in her family's study room and holds all kinds of happy desk and craft supplies. When I saw Mic's picture - with her neatly stored pens, notebooks and purse, plus a couple of my favorite books tucked in there too - well, my heart just went all a-flutter! And then later on my friend Jen shared how she was using her own lovely cart on Instagram - and once again I found myself coveting another's cart just a little! Well, since these pretty carts were made by IKEA, I made a mental note to get myself right over to our local IKEA, only ... I never seem to get over to IKEA! (It's actually not quite local, but a bit of a drive from here.) But those carts have never gone off my radar ...

So then recently I was shopping at Michaels Arts & Crafts for Easter stuff when I found these remarkably similar carts made by a company called Recollections and they not only looked well-made but came in a wide-range of soft colors - PLUS they were ON a really good SALE! So honestly, what could I do but buy one? Or ... um, four?

Well, I did start with just one ... I hemmed and hawed a bit over the color, finally deciding on the charcoal grey because I planned to park it in my family room and we have a lot of gray in that room. Back home I set Bill (and his helper) to work putting the cart together ...

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Bill said it was a cinch to assemble (how could it not be with that kind of help, right?) and seemed quite solidly made. In fact, he was so impressed with the cart - and my plans for it - he hardly twitched an eyelid when I returned to Michaels the very next weekend (before that sale ran out!) and came home with a few more!

(Ok, each cart was on sale for $23 and change so, not exactly a cheap investment, but I made sure I had specific intentions for each cart before I splurged. I don't mean to make it sound like it was nothing to drop $100 on home storage!)

Anyhoo, here's a little tour of our carts and their new homes ...

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In the family room: The GRAY cart quickly became Little Bear's because he just loved it so. It's already logged many miles! This cart holds (a portion of) our vast cars and trucks collection as well as LB's favorite vehicle-themed books. I used a few bins I already had here too, so LB can lift out a bin at a time (in theory) and keep things a little tidier than they might otherwise end up. He can also wheel his car collection to other rooms if he wishes.

The bottom bin holds "monster trucks" and the middle bin holds the interchangeable parts of a set of wooden, buildable trucks while the bin at the very top holds assorted matchbox-sized cars (and planes). We actually own far more than the vehicles seen here (we've been raising boys for the past 22 years so this should not come as a surprise!) but I whittled down the family room assortment to these few bins. We can switch trucks out every so often to keep things fresh!

And next ...

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In the learning room: The AQUAMARINE cart holds the younger boys' curricula and various educational resources including my lesson planning notebook, teacher guides, Earlybird's clipboard (which holds his daily seatwork), a current board game and a few favorite flash card sets. I've parked this cart near the worktable where EB works with his therapist every day. (You'll hear more about this cart in my "Learning Room Tour" post coming up soon!)

Now the white cart ...

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Ended up in the library! And it holds my 17 yo Crackerjack's academic materials - binders, textbooks, reading assignments, etc. - so they don't clutter up his (already cluttered) desktop. CJ was a little skeptical about his need for this cart (he keeps most of this in his backpack) so I may end up finding a different use for it ...

And finally ...

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In the kitchen nook: The ROSE-GOLD cart sits by my command central and holds various notebooks, post-its and notecards. I also parked my week-at-a-glance calendar here but have since moved it back to the countertop. I roll this cart out of the kitchen to my computer desk in the family room from time-to-time - if company's coming or on weekends when command central closes up shop. Of course I can't help but notice this cart's shade matches the coil-binding in all of my favorite notebooks! :)

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Ok my friends, I guess that's a wrap! I hope you enjoyed seeing how I'm using my new rolling carts - as I mentioned above, I'm really quite happy with the way they are made and the way they look and the way they are organizing several areas of our family home! Toys, books, notebooks, and more books! I can always use help in corralling these types of things. Little Bear's play is more creative (and the mess is easier to manage), our lesson-times (and my lesson planning) are smoother and I'm able to quickly pick up my planning paraphernalia when needs be.

And four carts are a lot, I know - but I AM thinking of getting yet one more cart (should they go on sale again) in our kitchen proper ... we're getting rid of an old trash compactor and one of these carts would fit perfectly in it's place. I think it might be a good spot for storing produce that usually ends up (all over) our counter - apples, onions, potatoes, garlic, etc. But we shall see!

Well always, thanks so much for stopping by, everyone ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!


St. Patrick's Day at Our House ...❀

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Happy Friday, my friends! And blessings on this bright and bonny St. Patrick's Day! I have some pictures to share today - I've been busy with my boys and baking and books and blizzards and ... well, the usual. :) I know I've promised lots of planning-type posts and I do have some coming up - but how about a look at our past couple of days? This is one of our favorite feasts and it's always such fun to celebrate with the kids, especially when they're little. :)

First though, here's what my backyard looks like today - just three days shy of the Vernal Equinox! 

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Yep, lots of snow out there! But if you look closely you can see the branches are filled with buds. I think last month's unseasonably warm weather pushed things a bit ahead of schedule ... before Winter stepped in and said: "Not so fast!"

I passed this sad little sight on my way in from getting the mail today ...

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Pretty much sums up the weather right now - a fit-to-bursting bud, thrown to the ground (by those gale force winds we had no doubt) and now encased in a patch of driveway ice. sigh

Anyhoo ...

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The sun has been out and that has been glorious ... I love working in sunny windows when we can! Our seasonal homeschooling theme this week was "returning light" and "rainbows." (Tying in with Daylight Savings Time and St. Patty's Day.) We explored colors and light and the return of the sun. Here is Little Bear working on a simple rainbow craft yesterday ...

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His cotton balls, my rainbow strips which had to be taped - he has no patience for tape. For Little Bear crafting is pretty much all about the glue. He could spend all day (and all bottle) gluing whatever he can get his hands on. Sometimes I just let him "paint" with a little thinned out glue!

And happily, as we worked, Earlybird joined us ... another glue fan. :)

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This is how projects usually go around here. I come up with an idea (or ideas) and gather materials. I set things up and stand back - or maybe I get things going. And then curious kids start to ask questions, poke around and maybe pitch in. If I really want them to participate I make sure some part of the project has something to do with glue.

We'd been rather sluggish this week so we were all ready for something hands-on. The boys have had a wicked cold this week - me too - and we're still not 100% better. It was one of those weeks where plans kept getting cancelled and we spent a LOT of time together, at home, watching too much tv and not feeling our best. We're on the mend now though and it feels good to get back to some semblance of normal!

Reading some books ...

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Tending our "classroom" garden ...

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Do you see the teeny bit of green there in the front? :)

I've been doing a lot of organizing in the learning room ...

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... and I'll have a "tour" post coming up soon!

Now this morning I started up the crockpot, eager to try out a new recipe ...

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This is the beginning of corned beef and cabbage ... before the beef - and before I took the cabbage out realizing that cooks near the end! But oh boy, is it smelling good in here!

Roundabouts mid-morning, while Earlybird worked with his therapist and Crackerjack banged out his math in the library, Little Bear and I set in on a really fun project involving all kinds of fruit!

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I had Bill (who is still healthy, knock-on-wood) stop by the grocery store on his way home from work last night and buy gobs and gobs of fresh fruit. For one thing, we can all use the vitamin C, but for another, I thought it would be fun to try making a fruit rainbow for the feast day - something I saw on Pinterest, of course.

So while LB chopped up bits of fruit with his dip spreader (another favorite activity) I started assembling the rainbow ...

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When the fruit was all arranged, I added a small "pot of gold" (foil-wrapped chocolate coins in a glass bowl) ...

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And then for a final touch, whipped cream clouds!

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Cute, right? :)

There was a lot of leftover fruit so I let Little Bear have at it ...

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We decided to make "leprechaun water" which is basically a lot rainbow-colored fruit steeping in a pitcher of water ...

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True confession - I realized as LB filled the pitcher (so industriously) that he was including the melon rinds which is a no-no. I had to fish them back out, then drain the water and try again! Lol.

Here's a little bit of St. Patty's decor on our kitchen door ...

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And here is a festive tableau I set up just after lunchtime - showcasing my Gram's Irish china and a poem I wanted to read aloud to the boys.

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Do they use the china? No. But I do and I always make a point to talk about why this china is so special - to whom it belonged and how I grew up enjoying tea. I did however use some of this china to serve some freshly baked cookies!

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These are called "Irish Lace Oatmeal Cookies" and oh my gosh, are they good! They're very easy to make and if you overcook them, you can just crumble them and serve them over ice cream. 

Now, lest you think we had a nice, quiet read-aloud with the above book and tea goodies ...

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Well, THIS is how we read that book of fun faerie poems!

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With the book perched in my lap and Little Bear hanging on my back! Which is about par for the course around here!

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Well my friends, I hope you all had a nice week and that the weekend ahead is a restful one for you. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking a moment to read. I'd love to hear about your St. Patrick's Day traditions if you have the time to share! But for now I will say goodbye and ask that you take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!