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Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of stories ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends Tea 1

 

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

Friends Tea 2

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

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

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

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

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

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And from Gill:

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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


Our 2016 Advent Calendar ~ Themes & Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then I decorated and filled each pocket ... 

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

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

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

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

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I really, really love how this came out!

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

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

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

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

Week One: Earth and Sky (Hope)

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

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

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

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

Week Two: Plants (Peace)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week Three: Animals (Joy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week Four: Humankind (Love)

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** 

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

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

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

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


Some Thoughts on My Advent Planning Sheets ❤

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But practically speaking ...

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Countdown:

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

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

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

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

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

Gatherings:

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

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Savoring the Season:

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

Creating cozy corners, finding moments of peace ...

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

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

Special time with the children ...

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

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

 Enjoying Advent in nature ...

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

Baking-making days ...

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

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

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

Outside Decorations (Shining our light ...): 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Errands & To-Dos:

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

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

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

Advent Week-by-Week:

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

Gift-Giving:

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

Our Season's Greetings:

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

Advent Calendar:

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

And finally ...

Notes:

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope you'll join me for Tea!

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

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

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

BLESSED ADVENT!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Martinmas Day with My Boys 💛

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Happy Weekend, my friends ... I hope you all had a good week. Or at least, I hope your week was not so bad. Or maybe things got better as the week went on? I know this is a tough time for a lot of us - and I am not going to talk politics here (never have, never will) - but I just want to say, I'm wishing all of my friends peace and hope. I myself am focusing on all the good things in my life that, God willing, will always be here for me and my loved ones no matter what's going on in the world ...

*deep breath*

Ok, on with my post! :)

So today I'd like to share some more November projects - a few of those craft supplies getting used up as we near the middle of the month. This week we had the feast of St. Martin of Tours (aka Martinmas) and if you have read my blog for any length of time you know this is one of our favorite feasts to celebrate with the boys. (You can read more about our traditions, here.) In the past we have baked horseshoe cookies and read stories and made glass lanterns to display in dark windows, but this year ... I baked a cake instead of cookies, we told stories instead of read them AND ... we crafted our lanterns - not out of glass but - balloons!

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(And didn't I buy the stubbornest worst tasting/smelling balloons ever made? Ugh. Oh well!)

I've seen lanterns done this way over the years and have always wanted to try my hand at it. Well, this was finally the year and as you can see I had a very eager little helper!

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Goodness, but does this boy love himself some GLUE!

This craft is a bit messy but very easy to do ... and best to start a day or two ahead of your celebration since the lantern will need time to dry. You simply brush an inflated balloon with layers of glue (thinned with water, about a 50-50 ratio) and overlapping pieces of colorful tissue paper. You might also slip autumn leaves in between layers ...

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... and you might cut some of the tissue into shapes like pretty stars.

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While Little Bear worked diligently on gluing his balloon, I did about five or six layers of tissue paper on mine.

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Once finished, we left them to dry in the dining room. Here's mine hanging over the table.

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Meanwhile, the boys played outside, enjoying the misty autumn weather ...

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(That's a meteor shower suncatcher in Little Bear's hand.)

Next morning ...

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There were some packages on the kitchen table for the boys ... 

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Recalling the story of Martin's kindness, each of my boys received a gift of warmth and comfort - pajamas (Earlybird) and slippers (Crackerjack) - while Little Bear also received a new prayer book in addition to some superhero slipper-socks. :)

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(Bookworm will get his new flannel PJs when he's home for Thanksgiving break.)

Then it was time to check on the lanterns!

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Mine is on the left and Little Bear's is on the right. We kept his balloon intact since it was pretty much all that was holding it together! (For all the glue he used, lol ...)

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The glue seemed to be dry so I popped the balloon and was left with (more or less) a colorful lantern! Really neat to watch that balloon pull away from the lantern interior!

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I trimmed the top and punched holes along the edge for twine.

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Love all the autumn colors and shapes!

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I've read instructions which describe using a real candle inside this lantern but for what I think are obvious reasons we went with something more child-safe.

Side note: Below is a lovely passage from a book I've had for years called, Lifeways. This quote is from a chapter called "A Walk through the Year with the Festivals," something I re-read quite often for seasonal inspiration ...

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How lovely is that?

Now, there are usually special foods tied to feast days and Martinmas is no exception. In the past we've made horseshoe-shaped oat cookies on this day, but this year I decided to try a recipe my grandmother made for years, something called "Poor Man's Cake." Rather fitting for the day, as St. Martin is the patron of the poor ... plus, this cake is full of autumnal flavor.

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My grandmother made this cake quite often - it was a favorite of my grandfather's - and I believe she found the recipe during the Depression. You can read more about the cake (including its recipe) in this post of mine from 2007.

It's quite dense and moist - "a good bake" if I may say so myself! But you know who loved the cake best? Bill - it really is right up his alley. (He hardly cares for chocolate, he's more a ginger-and-spice kind of guy.) The boys however were all ... hmmm. I dunno, Mom ... raisins?

Outside we go boys!

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Another Martinmas tradition (especially in Waldorf schools) is to have the children participate in a lantern walk. In the gathering darkness of a late autumn afternoon, the children set out with their shining lanterns all together, singing special lantern songs. The symbolism here is that we all must tend our own little light, so that we might carry it forth into a world that can often be quite dark and cold ...

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(Page from Festivals, Family and Food, by Diana Carey and Judy Large)

We were a very small band and there was only one working lantern - and we didn't sing of course, because Earlybird has sensory issues - but I did recite the above verse to my sweet little lantern-carrier as we walked through our woods!

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It was SO windy and chilly yesterday and since some of us are fighting a cold, some of us headed in for another piece of that cake and a hot cup of tea. A bit later on, as the darkness surrounded us, Bill and Little Bear came inside at last, all pink-cheeked and bright-eyed. Then I hung the lantern in the dark dining room for the rest of the night ...

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Down with darkness, up with light;

Up with sunshine, down with night.

Each of us is one small light,

But together we shine bright ...

 

(E. Amarin)

Before I go, here's today's page from Little Bear's new daily prayer book ...

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I can't tell you how much I love this book ... we are weaving it into our weekly rhythm. Short and sweet, with a special daily prayer to share, reflecting each day's rhythm and grace. 💛

Well my friends, time to wrap up now, but as always I thank you for reading. Or maybe you just looked at the pictures? Well, that's nice too. I always appreciate your visit! :)

Please enjoy the rest of your weekend and take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I will see you here again very soon!


Gratitude & Remembrance (November Crafts)

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Hello and Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope your November is off to a great start!

I posted the above picture on Facebook and Instagram, because I find it so inspiring when craft supplies are organized for a particular season or month. I don't always have them so well-ordered but I do like to keep items stored in seasonal groupings when possible. This is my "stash" for November and I thought I'd share what we got up to these past couple of days ... :)

November is the month for remembering our blessings and expressing our thanks, and like many families we enjoy keeping a "gratitude project" of some sort in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. There are all kinds of variations on this annual activity, but I kept things super-simple this year ...

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A grapevine heart ($8 at Michaels Arts & Crafts), hung up with some twine, and autumn leaves cut from colorful cardstock ...

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I hung the wreath on our kitchen/dining room door and each day we'll write down our blessings and add a leaf (or leaves) to the wreath. We're only two leaves in now, but I added extras as seen above to show you the overall affect. I think our "Thankful Heart" is rather pretty!

I placed the extra paper leaves in a small box along with a pen and left it on our kitchen table. Hopefully this will remind us to record our blessings around the supper table each night.

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And yesterday (Nov. 2nd) was the feast of All Souls (also known as the Day of the Dead). One of these years we will make the traditional sugar skulls symbolic of this Mexican feast day, but this was not that year. Instead, I used some cupcake liners decorated with colorful skulls (found at Target) ...

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... and made up some "harvest" muffins with that applesauce I told you about in my Halloween post, as well as some mashed squash ...

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... and four beautiful eggs laid by my chickens!

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I try to keep muffins low in sugar but for today's feast I added some simple icing and a pretty chrysanthemum from the garden:

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(Marigolds are actually the traditional Day of the Dead flowers, but my little calendula plant - aka pot marigold - stopped blooming some time ago. I will try to keep next year's plant alive in a sunny window just for this feast day!)

But the muffins were quite a hit with the boys who enjoyed theirs with apple cider, while I had mine with a hot cup of orange spiced tea. All the flavors and smells seemed so autumnal and it was a gorgeous morning, too - so warm and breezy. I had my kitchen window open as I worked and just savored such a blessed day. And baking those muffins really made me think of my grandmother, who was well known for her delicious pink applesauce. In particular, as I milled the apples, my mind was on Gram ... I was using kitchen tools that once belonged to her!

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All I could think was Grama, I hope you can see me and how much you have inspired me. I hope you know just how much I admired you and how your love and vision lives on in my heart and my home even now. Goodness I miss her ...

Anyhoo ... here's another Day of the Dead decoration, a little planter my brother gave me last month:

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So fun! I keep it on my kitchen windowsill. That's an aloe plant growing there ... hopefully I'll keep it alive!

Now, in Catholic tradition, November is dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls. So on the first of this month I set up a small remembrance altar so that we may honor our loved ones who have passed away. I've done this in a windowsill in recent years but this year I decided to devote our living room mantle to the project.

I started with some particle board letters ...

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I bought these at Michaels for $1.49 each and painted them in a soft bronze shade. While they dried (where Little Bear couldn't reach) I got to work on the rest of the altar items - photos, candles and flowers. I have several vases in my collection but I wanted something small, so I made up some simple vases from things I had on hand ...

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These are glass votive candleholders (about $1 at craft stores), along with a bit of sheer ribbon, some rustic twine and small beige doilies.

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I wrapped the green ribbon around each glass twice (securing the ends with a hot glue gun), then wrapped and tied the twine around the middle. The doilies are just lightly glued to the bottom of the glass. (And as you can see I had my usual assistant close at paw hand ... keeping his eye on that twine, sneaky thing that it is ... with all that twisting and twirling.)

Then added more of those orange mums ...

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These fit in nicely with the other remembrance items, but I think they would also be lovely on a Thanksgiving table. Or possibly even a Christmas gift - a paperwhite bulb stuck in some pebbles? I don't know if the glass would be too small, but I think it would be very pretty.

For this annual project I have some small photos of our late loved ones which I display in tiny metal holders (prayer card holders actually - purchased a long time ago at a local Catholic gift shop). But I found I was one short, so I made up a makeshift photo stand with a small binder clip!

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And lastly the candles, which we light as we pray for our dear ones ...

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I have plenty of real candles on hand - some of them blessed at church on Candlemas - but because I have curious cats and young kids about, I decided to stick with battery-lit tea lights this year. 

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I really love how the altar came out. I laid down a wide "ribbon" of burlap before setting it up and hung a garland of autumn leaves just under the mantle edge. I placed our Halloween roses on either end along with some white miniature pumpkins and our beeswax candlesticks ... plus a few Thanksgiving decorations. :)

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I am always fond of projects that involve candlelight, but especially so at this time of year. The days are short and dark and we can all use a little brightening as winter nears. As the year ends we watch nature dwindle and fade - reminding us that our own lives will end just as surely someday. But in the midst of that sadness comes human love and our memories and God's love and our prayers ...

I found this quote the other day and felt so moved by it:

"How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"

(From The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a book I never read but I sure love that sentiment.)

Traditional prayers are deeply meaningful, of course - but I like to think our every loving thought and memory is a prayer in its own right. Feeling my Grama as I cooked those Macintosh apples and lifted my face to that warm window breeze - is something that is not only good for her soul, but mine. I pray for my loved ones all the time, but I hope I do them as great an honor by living my life by their example, with their unconditional love in my heart. 💛

 ***

Now, it was supposed to be Mexican for supper last night, but I didn't have all the appropriate ingredients on hand ... so American Chop Suey it was ... and with garlic bread, no less! Tonight is a catch-up night with assorted leftovers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe some soup, too ... it's quite rainy and dark out there! Leaves are blowing about and the hens have tucked themselves away for the night. But our lights are lit and our den is warm, so it's all good here ... 

November really is a lovely month. :)

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


Michaelmas Merrymaking

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Hello, my friends and Happy Thursday! I hope you're all having a nice day, and if you are celebrating Michaelmas, Happy Feast! Here's a little glimpse of our Michaelmas celebrations ... actually, 20+ photos are a bit more than "a glimpse," but I just couldn't hold back. It was a very nice day. :)

First I must show you my pretty bouquet ...

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One of the things Earlybird did with his therapist today was to check the yard for "Michaelmas Daisies" - a variety of aster that springs up all over New England right around this feast day (hence the name). He found them, identifying them with a field guide, and tomorrow he will compare them with a potted (nursery) aster and color a page for his nature journal. The few little daisy blooms he brought me went directly to my sunny kitchen windowsill, set in a cordial glass filled with water. :)

When therapy was done and lunch was over, I broke out the supplies to make this cute dragon craft ...

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This was very simple to put together - though I will admit I did most of it myself. I used a hot glue gun for the pom-poms and googley eyes and masking tape/washi tape to cover the dragon heads (rather than construction paper).

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They came out pretty well! They were a very big hit with my littlest knight, especially ...

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This was when I asked him to make a dragon face:

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Next I told him he had to share one of the dragons with his brother ...

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That went about as well as expected ...

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Lol, actually they had a blast with the dragon puppets!

Meanwhile, I started the Michaelmas cupcakes in the kitchen ... Earlybird LOVES to watch me/help me bake.

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My original plan was to make an apple-blackberry crisp (like the one shown in this post), but I discovered I had far fewer apples than I thought. So instead, I made "devil's food" cupcakes and frosted them, topped them with autumn sprinkles and a single berry. Then we pierced them with colorful cocktail swords ...

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These were an even bigger hit than the dragon puppets!

A bit later on, thanks to a post on Facebook by my friend Joanna, I followed a neat link with some printables for today's feast ... thank you, Catholic Sistas! I set Little Bear to work with some assistance from Crackerjack ...

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I love the look of concentration on his face! 

Since Earlybird had zero interest in coloring, I came up with another colorful, glue-y kind of craft ... a meteor ball!

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Some of you might be wondering what on earth a meteor (or shooting star, comet) might have to do with Michaelmas, but in the Waldorf festival tradition, this feast is connected with the late summer/early autumn meteor showers that light up the night sky. In this way they are seen as the flashing of Michael's brave sword with which he battles the dragon ...

And since Earlybird loves all things outer space (not to mention, copious amounts of glue), I thought this might pique his interest!

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As we worked, Little Bear came in to show us his project. This was actually his second print out - he didn't want to be finished so I made him another one. :)

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I hung the angel medallions in our kitchen window ... pretty how they caught the setting sun.

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Now, at this point Little Bear got a touch disturbed that I was hanging his artwork out of reach (have I mentioned he's recently given up naps?) and so had to be distracted with a little romp outside. So outside we went!

After checking our chickens (and feeding them some leftover spinach - and the last of the blackberries!) we combed the yard for neat things like mushrooms and acorns and mole holes and a few different kinds of Michaelmas daisies ...

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Above are the ones EB brought me this morning ...

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Whereas this next patch appears a little more "weedy" ...

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And these two blooms were actually much larger than the ones pictured above them ... I am eager to differentiate between all these varieties of aster!

Mostly though, the boys just ran around, testing out their streaming dragon fire ...

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And oh, yes! That meteor, too (covered with glittering star stickers and trailed by a tail-full of colorful streamers).

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Some kind of game formed with CJ holding the comet aloft and running it around the yard for the younger boys to chase ...

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Days like this ... they are so good. 💛

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Once back inside, I pulled out one of our old Catholic Treasure Box issues. This one had a story about the Archangels with some pretty cool illustrations ...

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... as well as a nice story for the weekend, when we celebrate the Feast of the Holy (Guardian) Angels. :)

And now here I am ...

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 I brought a cup of tea and my Michaelmas daisies to my desk and finally noticed today's page-a-day calendar ...

"For the mother is and must be, whether she knows of it or not, the greatest, strongest, and most lasting teacher her children have." (Hanna W. Smith)

Well that's a wonderful thought, isn't it?

I so enjoy spending my days with my children, and even after 21 years, it just never gets old. Every year I look forward to things like special feast days and interesting full moons and back-to-school time and apple picking and Thanksgiving Day and winter snow and spring's return and ... well, you get the idea. My dearest hope is I'm passing some of this joy in the little things along to my children! I can't know if they'll comb their yards for Michaelmas daisies when they're grown men (and somehow I doubt they will), but I do hope they remember the gentle pace of their childhood, the wonder we held for the world around us, and the comforting rhythm their family embraced through the years ... :)

Well my friends, I'm going to wrap up now, but I am so glad to have been able to pop in to chat, and share a bit of our day. I hope you all have a good night's rest and that tomorrow brings a day of inspiration and refreshment. How will you spend the last day of September? What plans will you make on October's eve? What memories will you carry forward to next year ... what impressions will you leave on your family's collective heart?

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


When Plans are Not Perfect (The Last Days of Lent ...)

Lenten cross project near done

I happened to notice our Lenten cross this morning and - not that I haven't been looking at it every day for over a month, but - today it caught me by surprise. Because, oh my - we're nearly there! There are only a few (nine in fact) purple post-its left to pull off! Easter Sunday is truly, right around the corner ...

And doesn't the cross look pretty, with its flowers, butterflies and golden letters slowly being revealed? I'm leaving the very center post-it for last as that will uncover the letter "E" and on Holy Saturday the whole happy message will be announced ... :)

Lenten cross nearly done 2

Now friends, I'd like to confess that the plans I made up to go along with each post-it were at times a bit ... erm ... ambitious. Some days were just more hectic than I anticipated, and not everything came to pass as I'd envisioned. But such is life, right? Plans can be great (awesome, in fact), but LIFE happens and we must remember that, ultimately, we're not in charge. And flexibilty is a virtue, I believe ... or if it isn't, it should be! ;)

All kidding aside, I do think it's vital to stay flexible and try not to get frustrated, when planning any and all areas of life. This is something I have to work at, constantly. I'm a planner, as you know. I make a lot of plans - I LOVE them - but I love my family even more. When things get off-track, it's important that I check my disappointment - to remember my intentions were good, to remember the end goal - and to adjust my thoughts (plans!) accordingly.

Lenten cross project nearly done

For example, I had something a bit more "hands on" sketched out for today but - with a very sick Little Bear who was up half the night - I knew my plan would have to be changed up a bit. A quiet read-aloud and a coloring page quickly printed off the internet would have to suffice. And tomorrow's "Irish Tea" may not happen as I originally thought either (my mum is also sick), so I'll simplify that day's plan, still keeping in mind the Feast and our family's intentions. Oh and Monday's sunrise prayer? The day after we hosted a large party AND lost an hour of sleep? Well, an early rising was simply NOT in the cards. (As you might imagine!) Instead, I thanked my loved ones for all their help and hard work and encouraged the children to do the same. (Who can you thank today for their help?) So the sunrise activity will be rescheduled on another day in the near future ... maybe even Easter Monday?

One good thing is I've kept that master outline to myself (tucked away on my clipboard) and I write each post-it out before bed ... so I've been able to tweak our plans daily. And if a day's proposed plan looks to be an ill-fit, I can simplify on the spot: Read a book from our liturgical bookshelf. Do something nice for somone else. Sit quietly for five minutes and think of what makes you grateful.

Admittedly, I put a lot of time and thought into those plans, and I tried to keep the activities simple and meaningful. But the point of our Lenten journey (and all of my "plans") was not to keep busy and pull off 40+ crafts and activities, but instead, to slow down and focus our energy on a purposeful Lent ... sharing mercy, developing generosity, accepting responsibility and increasing tolerance. Being mindful of how others live, recognizing their needs, and respecting our place in the world around us.

My hope - or end-goal, if you will - is that by lighting a spark of compassion, we're tending the fire of Christ in our hearts. And come Easter Sunday, we may shine all the brighter! Plan or no plan, that's what we're all aiming for, I believe.

Well, my friends, this post went on a bit longer than I planned, but I thank you, as always for reading. I'm grateful you spent a little of your day here at "my place!"

Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, and I will see you here again very soon!


A Few Crafts for the Cross ...

But first, Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Happy Sunday, too! I hope your weekend's going well ... :)

Today I'd like to share some of the pictures I have piling up on my phone, and the crafts we worked on last week. Each one was a suggestion from our purple cross countdown, a chance to spend some time each day doing a little something nice for someone else ...

On Thursday, I began the day with a quick, last-minute craft for Our Lady of Lourdes ...

OL Lourdes 1

A tiny paper baking pan + printed image + craft moss + a few rocks + a paper river + a candle = a little grotto of sorts! I kept it lit on the Lenten altar throughout the day.

(Note: Before lighting, I swapped the beeswax tealight for an LED candle since this whole situation was quite flammable!)

Later in the day we followed the suggestion of our daily post-it to create a donation box for the foyer. Here's how that went:

Donations box 1

I covered an old moving carton with plain white wrapping paper and added some sticker sentiments around the outside of the box (give, help, lift, love). Then I asked the boys to help me draw happy things ...

O project 2016 2-11 1

Since Little Bear's favorite things right now are volcanoes (complete with hot "la-blah") he requested I add a couple of those ...

O project 2016 2-11 2

It's certainly a colorful box!

Donations box 2

It now resides in our foyer where each week we'll add items for various collections in which we're participating.

 

On Friday, we continued our commitment to care for creation, by making some edible valentines for the birds ...

Valentine birds 4

After lunch I asked all the boys to pitch in with this very simple craft. We threaded cheerios onto pipe cleaners, bent them into heart shapes ...

Valentine birds 2

And then looped them all together ...

Valentine birds 5

Even the youngest could do it!

Valentine birds 3

(Well, the cheerios kept him busy anyway ...)

Finally, we hung our valentines outside for the hungry birds ...

Valentine birds 6

(Translated: Mama threw on her boots and her parka and braved the arctic wind to hang the valentines where we could see them from the windows. It really is SUPER cold these days in these parts!)

And finally, yesterday we worked on sharing our love, by making small hearts written out with the reasons why we love each other. I kind of did this secretly - making up the small red paper hearts early in the day and then passing a batch of five to each family member. (Well, except for the 2 yo and the 20 yo off at college.) As the hearts were completed and "turned in" I glued them onto pretty doilies and then - trucking outside in those boots once again - I snipped some magnolia branches for a vase.

Valentine branch 2 edited

And this was our Sunday breakfast centerpiece! I loved watching the boys faces as I read aloud the hearts. :)

Well my friends, I hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday! We're quite hunkered in because it's all of 8 degrees at the moment (and only because the wind isn't blowing) ... but the sun is shining and the snow is sparkling and our home is warm and full of people I love ... so you'll hear no complaints from me! 

But as always, I thank you all for stopping by and taking the time to read ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll be back here again very soon!


And so Lent begins ...

Lenten altar 7

Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope this post finds you well. :) I'd like to share some more pictures with you today, if I may ...

Pictured here is the fireplace mantel in our living room, and yesterday I cleared it off completely, dusted it a bit (ok, a lot), and took down the print hanging on the wall above. Here is where we'd set up our Lenten altar ...

Lenten altar 4

First, per Ash Wednesday tradition, we "buried" the Alleluia ... a word that disappears from all worship until Easter. This is something we've done in different ways through the years, but this year I just simply wrote the word on a strip of paper (using a gold Sharpie) and we placed it in a plain butterfly-shaped box. (Easter morning the box will be transformed - with gold paint and bright stickers! - and a beautiful banner will be found inside.)

Now, I wanted to keep this altar pretty sparse, but there are a few special objects here: the butterfly box mentioned above, a brass crucifix that was made by my great-grandfather, and two glass jars - one for collecting alms and one to hold our purple post-its as they are pulled off the cross. Hanging above the mantle is our grapevine cross ... 

Lenten altar 10

And just below is a plain white pillar candle standing in a bowl filled with soil and blessed palm ash. To be honest, we were out of potting soil so that last bit has to wait for a weekend trip to the nursery. The candle will be left unlit and plain until Easter, and the cross will slowly come to life through the coming weeks. (I will secretly add smalls sprigs of greenery as we walk our journey through Lent. On Easter it will be blooming with fresh flowers and the "Alleluia" will be hung here as well.)

Just below the mantel I hung our Stations of the Cross collection.

Lenten altar 1

I used to keep these 4x6 cards in a small purple binder, but I wanted to have the images more visible this year. I decided to hang them along the mantel, secured with clothespins to a length of twine. (I'm hoping to make some simple wooden shrines so they can be used for an outdoor "Way of the Cross" on Good Friday.) 

Lenten altar 5

Lenten altar 2

My friends, as always I thank you so much for stopping by and if you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. How is your Lent going so far? (All of two days in!) How about your February? Are you trying something new this year? Reading something new? Is this a season you embrace or endure? I think some years it's one or the other - or perhaps a little of both. I'd love to pray for your intentions ...

I will be back again before long - because I always have things to talk about! And more pictures to share, too. But for now, I wish you all a pleasant evening and hope to see you here again very soon!


Our Shrove Tuesday Fun!

 O project 2016 2-9 1

Lent has begun, my friends! And our countdown is underway, but I first wanted to share "the feast that came before the fast" ... so here are a few pictures from our Shrove Tuesday at home. :)

Mardi gras 3

Our afternoon activity: Mardi Gras mask-making! This is a long-standing Shrove Tuesday tradition in our home, and I always rope as many of my boys into it as I can. ;) This year, the older boys were elsewhere (one at college and one at a homeschool class), so it was just the younger two and myself ... well, and the cat, as you can see above. You know, the cat who is NEVER allowed on the kitchen table ... ahem.

Mardi gras 2

After lunch I set the boys up at the table and they were eager to pitch in! (They do love crafts, these two.) So after I cut the eyeholes, they set right to work on their masks ... and, as you can see from his expression, Little Bear was quite excited to be allowed the use of markers, a rare treat in our house!

Mardi gras 4

Woohoo! Mardi Gras Masks!

Mardi gras 6

With a little planning and prep, this is a simple, 20 minute craft. Materials include paper plates, scissors, popsicle sticks, markers, stickers, (you could provide glitter if you are brave), tape ... and that's it! Actually, I stapled silk flowers to mine and boy did the boys get a kick out of Mama in her mask, all incognito. Pity, we didn't get a picture of that ...

We were going to make crowns too, but interest and energy waned (theirs and mine, respectively) so I didn't push it. I did however find these old frames in my stash, made several years ago and painted in Mardi Gras colors. I had to squish two of the boys into one frame since our brood has grown by one Little Bear since 2007. 💜

 Mardi gras 1

For supper, we had pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup AND colored sprinkles. There was bacon, too ... and there was meant to be homemade hash-browned potatoes but I completely forgot.

Mardi gras 5

(None of the boys complained about the missing vegetable component.)

Last touch - a Mardi Gras "lantern" I made with a green Ball jar and a colorful star garland I had in the cupboard.

Mardi gras 9

:)

Now, this morning it was a different story around here ... I swept the table of sprinkles and fallen stars, and we pulled our first post-it from the kitchen cross. We found it instructed us to "abstain from meat and set up our Lenten altar." So that is just what we did ... and I have some more pictures to share but as I've already kept you quite long here, I will save all of that for tomorrow. :)

But as always, I thank you very much for stopping by and I wish you all a very pleasant evening.

See you here again very soon!


Our Lenten Countdown: The (Printable) Daily Activities

Purple post its

Happy Monday, my friends! We have another snowstorm here - near blizzard conditions, I hear - but we're hunkering down and hoping the power holds! Wherever you are I hope you are keeping well - and warm. :)

So here at last is a follow-up to Friday's post, a closer look at the purple post-its themselves. As I described here, each note will offer a simple suggestion - a way of living Lent together as a family. I tried to come up with ideas that would be meaningful but still manageable - things that would resonate with my children but not overwhelm them. (Or me!)

The focus of Lent is threefold - to fast, to give alms and to pray - so I included opportunities for these actions throughout the season. Inspired by the words and actions of Pope Francis, I also tried to weave in ways for for us to work together on the concepts of forgiveness, awareness, (less) consumerism and waste, and care for creation.

Now, as I mentioned before, the activities are quite particular to my own family, so they may or may not be something that would appeal to you and yours … but in the spirit of sharing, here they are:

Post-Its with Purpose: Our Lenten Countdown

(Since it appears the links don't show up in the PDF, I am adding the countdown text at the bottom of this post. Sorry for any confusion!)

I am happy if something here is helpful to you, and you are welcome to print my notes out if you wish. It may look like "a lot" when you open it up, but remember - the italicized dark purple text is what I’m writing on the actual post-it for the children to read. It's just a brief sentence or two. The text in violet is for me ~ my own notes and reminders for that day. You know me - when I'm planning something, I get wordy. :)

Well, Ash Wednesday arrives in two days, and I'm glad to feel a little more prepared for Lent, knowing I have this plan to follow with the children. I aim to review my notes each Thursday and see what will be happening in the week ahead. If need be, I can even tweak the post-its as we go along. Some of the activities will be pushing things a bit with our special needs son - he's not a fan of giving things up or doing extra chores! - but it's important to me that he live Lent along with us, in his own way. I tried to come up with activities that would work around (or perhaps with) his challenges and inspire him to do his best ... for those he loves, for God and for himself!

Ok, that is all for now, my friends! I missed Downton last night because my husband was watching the Superbowl, and I decided to watch (listen) along with him. Lol. I do plan to catch up tonight and post a recap tomorrow ... provided our power holds! I also have a lovely Book Party post in queue and hope to have that up mid-week.

So for now, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by! I wish you all a pleasant Monday and will see you here again very soon ...

❤ Post-Its with Purpose: Our Lenten Countdown ❤

 

Throughout each week there will be opportunities to:

 

PRAY ~ for someone, about something, or perhaps learn a new prayer

GIVE ~ monies (by reducing our wastefulness/consumerism), extra help and attention for those who need it

FAST ~ from meat/certain foods, from negative behaviors

OBSERVE ~ Faith traditions at home

 

Below is my outline for the 40 days of Lent, and as I mentioned before, the activities are quite particular to my own family, so they may or may not be something that would appeal to you and your children … but in the spirit of sharing, here they are! I am happy if something here is helpful to you, and you are welcome to print this out if you wish. The italicized dark purple text is what I’m actually writing on the post-it for the children to read - just a sentence or two. The text in violet is for me ~ my own notes and reminders for that day.

 2/10 “No meat today! Let’s set up our Lenten altar.” On Ash Wednesday we’ll bury the “Alleluia” (golden letters) in a butterfly-shaped box. This will rest on our mantel throughout Lent. We’ll also burn last year’s palms (as we've done before) and sprinkle ashes over a pot of soil in which stands a plain white candle. Set pot on Lenten altar (library mantel).

2/11 “Today we’ll set up a donation box in the foyer.” Our Lady of Lourdes. All help set up our family donation box to be kept in the foyer throughout Lent. Decorate with words and symbols of love.

2/12 “No meat or dessert today! Let’s make treats for the hungry birds, and watch a family movie together.” As “Friends of Francis,” our mission is to care for creation. We’ll make suet treats - a valentine for the birds! Tonight is family movie night: The Song of Bernadette.

2/13 “Gather donations for parish pet drive. Make hearts for St. Valentine’s Branch.”  On heart shaped doilies, we’ll each write things we love about one another. No peeking! Mom will gather the hearts and tomorrow morning they’ll be hanging from a pretty branch on the breakfast table.

 

Sunday, 2/14: At our family meeting, we’ll talk about awareness and consumerism. Instead of just giving money to charity, what if we also worked on buying less and wasting less? How can we respect our resources? Let’s learn about how children live all over the world. Some have much less than we do! Measure this week’s grocery bill against the average - any saved money goes in the alms jar. 

 2/15 “Help Mom clean out refrigerator. How much food waste did we find?” Create a pile of food that has gone by and tally the waste dollars. Later in the day I’ll introduce the idea of a “peace corner” where we’ll spend time learning how children live all over the world. Read Let There Be Llamas!

2/16 “Help Dad set up a compost pail for the kitchen.” Brainstorm ways to waste less food. Set up our peace board in library corner - let the boys decorate with flag stickers and add first prayer cards (made from plain index cards). As we find people and situations to pray for, we’ll decorate a card to post on our board.

2/17 “Use Amazon gift cards to buy toys to donate.” Go online and buy items for the community toy drive at the first of the month. (Use some of their Amazon Christmas gift money to do this.) While online, we’ll watch the Pope’s video, Care for Creation. Look through Children Just Like Me. Ask: Where would you live if  you could live anywhere in the world? Why?

2/18 “Choose a toy or book to add to the donation box today.” Encourage the children to choose at least one item each. Look through A Life Like Mine. What do we need to live safely and happily everyday? Make a list for our peace corner. Pray that all children, everywhere, have those things.

2/19 “No meat today! Help Mom launder clothing to donate.” Work together to clean the clothes we’re donating - fold them and place in donation box. Read What We Wear: Dressing Up around the World.

2/20 “Help Mom food shop today.” Encourage the boys to skip the snacks and processed foods. Compare food costs. How do we save when we’re careful to buy only what we need? (Money, excess trash, extra sugars and fats we don’t need.) Read What the World Eats.

 

Sunday, February 21st: At our family meeting, we’ll talk about forgiveness and examining our conscience. What might you have done that you are sorry for? (Inner thoughts.) Give this some thought this week. Can you ask for forgiveness - from the person you sinned against, from God, from yourself? Can you forgive someone who has wronged you? What does that do for your heart to let go of that hurt? Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

2/22 “No complaining today!” Chair of St. Peter. Stop yourself before complaining - if the urge arises, stop and write one thing you are grateful for on the white board. How many blessings came up today? (If time and interest, make a holy-spirit stained glass and/or learn about St. Peter's Basilica.)

2/23 “Forgive someone today.” This could be something that happens today or something that’s happened in the past -  tell them it’s ok and that you forgive them - and then let it go. Also, go to store with Mom to purchase diapers for community drive. Add to donations box.

2/24 “Ask for forgiveness today.” Think of something you wish you’d done better, or something you wish you hadn’t done. Apologize - to the person you wronged and/or to God and know you will do better. Forgive yourself for things you wish you could change. Promise to work on these things and feel good inside that you’re doing something positive!

2/25 “Do something for your brothers today.” Offer suggestions: neaten desks, make beds, fold laundry, clear dishes, clean lunch bag, play with the little one, let someone use your computer, make a welcome home sign for L. Read Brothers and offer thanks to God for each other.

15. 2/26 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” We’ll gather in the library to look at the stations I’ve set up along the Lenten mantel. (Pinned to burlap garland.) First we’ll talk about what these pictures portray … ask how Jesus may have felt and what he might have needed? How would we have helped him if we could? What about now?

2/27 “Make pretzels with Mom. Family movie night!” Talk about why pretzels are a Lenten tradition as well as a wholesome, homemade snack. What other healthy snacks can we make instead of buy? Read Brother Giovanni's Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born. Watch The Bells of St. Mary's tonight.

 

Sunday, February 28th: At our family meeting we’ll talk about our local community (neighborhood, parish, family). How can we help those that live around us? How can we contribute to our community? Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

2/29 “Bring cookies to our elderly neighbors.” Include a note with our phone numbers in case they ever need us. Offer to help with spring yard work. At home, start our "pink roses" for Sunday.

3/1 “Take a clean up-walk through the neighborhood.” Walk the neighborhood and clean up trash that might have blown about. Bring trash bins back up driveways for neighbors. (Help mom make daffodil pins for St. David’s Day - or perhaps sit and color with Mom while she works.)

3/2 “Make a card for someone who needs cheering up.” Talk about who we know that might miss us or feel lonely sometimes. Make cards at home (say a prayer over each), then help Mom mail them. Be polite and cheerful with the folks at the village post office. How many smiles can we offer?

3/3 “Buy pajamas for library drive.” Go to store and buy pajamas for children whose families  can’t afford new clothing. What does homeless mean? Let’s add to our peace board today and give thanks for the comforts we enjoy in our own home.

3/4 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” After praying the stations, read aloud from our parish bulletin and talk about the groups that need assistance. Where can we offer out time/talent/treasure? Tonight at supper read aloud from our local paper and do the same. Where is help needed? How can we pitch in?

3/5 “Think about this person and what they need.” Each person receives a name and is encouraged to think about what that person might need (physically, spiritually), then choose a way to help. Keep it to yourself, but do what you can as you can. Read One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference.

 

Sunday, March 6th: Today is Rose Sunday! We will have a special family brunch after Mass. Nana's delicious egg custard will be served. Today let’s talk about our prayer habits and how we can make room for prayer in our life. Ask the grandparents about their favorite prayers. Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

3/7 “Learn a new prayer this week.” Each of us chooses a new prayer (have suggestions ready) to learn by heart this week, with the goal of sharing at next Sunday’s family dinner. Write them out on index cards.

3/8 “Pray for people who are sick and their caregivers.” St. John of God, patron of hospitals, nurses and the sick. Do we know anyone who is sick or recovering in some way? Do we know people who care for someone in need? These folks need special prayers!

3/9 “Write a letter to Jesus.” Set the table with paper, colored pens and stickers, and let’s write a letter to Jesus together. This can be about anything - giving thanks, saying hi, telling him a bit about ourselves. Attend Adoration in the evening (older boys and Mom).

3/10 “Fast from electronics tonight.” After supper, turn off all tech devices - and read, talk, sing - or just visit with each other. How are the prayers coming along?

3/11 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” Look in our donations box - what can we add? Look at our local food pantry’s list online and add items to our Saturday shopping list.

3/12 “Do something nice for someone today in secret.” Shhhh! Encourage the children to engage in a conspiracy of kindness today. Offer quiet suggestions.

 

Sunday, March 13th: Daylight Savings Begins! Isn’t light wonderful? How is Christ a Light in our lives? Let’s talk about Easter Sunday - how can each of us pitch in and prepare? (If possible, have children present their memorized prayers.) Mention early rising time tomorrow - 6:30 a.m. Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

3/14 “Let’s have a sunrise prayer this morning.” Sun rises at 6:56 a.m. so we’ll gather shortly before in the family room - which will be fairly dark. As sunrise approaches, I’ll open a window so we can listen. We’ll watch the sun rise behind the trees and the light grow … I’ll read a little prayer thanking God for our new day. (If it’s mild enough, we may even walk outside.)

3/15 “Today we’ll drink only water.” I’ll keep a pitcher in the fridge and we’ll focus on the blessing of fresh, clean water at our disposal Read One Well: The Story of Water on Earth.

3/16 “Today we’ll prepare for St. Patrick’s Day.” The boys will work on a shamrock craft (how does it represent the Holy trinity?) and help Mom make scones for tomorrow.

3/17 “Let’s learn about our family today.” St. Patrick, patron of Ireland. Today we’ll have an Irish tea for Nana (scones, tea) and talk about our family history. Where in Ireland did our ancestors live? (Have a map ready.) Read Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland. Irish supper tonight!

3/18 “Let’s surprise Dad with a big thank-you!” Fathers work so hard for their families! Make a big sign thanking Dad for working so hard for us. Surprise him with a text picture of the boys holding up the sign. (Also no meat, stations in the afternoon.)

3/19 “Help Dad with tasks around the yard today.” St. Joseph, patron of workers and fathers. We’ll have a simple St. Joseph’s supper tonight. Read Song of the Swallows.

 

Sunday, March 20th: It’s Palm Sunday ~ Holy Week begins! Also, it is the first day of Spring! Today we’ll bless our garden patch with a little of our Lenten soil (prepared on Ash Wednesday). The rest of the soil will be planted with grass seed. If the day is nice we’ll have a little procession around the property. Look for pussy willows by the creek. (English “palms.”) Read The Colt and the King. Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

3/21 “Today we spring clean: tables and chairs!” The first three days of Holy Week are spent preparing the house for Easter. We will use a natural cleaner to wash the dining and kitchen tables as well as all the chairs. If it’s a nice day, the windows will be open to allow in fresh air. Mama will launder the linens for Easter dinner. Read The Donkey's Easter Tale.

3/22 “Today we spring clean: windows and doorways!” Spring cleaning continues … note how brightly the sun shines through the clean windows. How much easier it is to let in that light when our windows are clean! (symbolism) Decorate doorways for spring. Read Petook: An Easter Story.

3/23 “Today we spring clean: floors and rugs!” Help mop and vacuum. It is also Spy Wednesday so we will have “silver dollar” pancakes for dinner. Read The Tale of the Three Trees.

3/24 “Create paschal candle today.” Decorate the plain pillar standing in soil pot on mantel. Eat dinner by candlelight tonight, using our baptismal candles. At the end of the meal, say a prayer together, and blow out candles. Sit in darkness for a few moments.

3/25 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” It’s Good Friday, so this will be a quiet day, close to home. Hot cross buns for breakfast, and let’s walk the stations outdoors. (I will have this set up beforehand.) Read The Jesus Garden: An Easter Legend.

3/26 “Today we’ll take a Praise Walk.” It’s Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent! Today we’ll color eggs and bake for tomorrow’s feast! But we’ll take time to walk through the spring woods and look for signs of life, marveling at the wold God has made for us. Tonight we’ll light our Paschal candle from the Easter Vigil fire.

 

ALLELUIA! HE IS RISEN!


Our Lenten Countdown: Post-its with Purpose!

Purple post-its 6 (1)

With Ash Wednesday less than a week away, I've been trying to come up with a project that will help my family live the Lenten season in a meaningful (yet manageable) way. Something that will remind us each day what this season is about, and help us grow closer to Christ ...

Now, I know there are a lot of great plans out there for families to follow - in books and online - and many are truly wonderful resources. I love all the sharing that happens when special seasons and events arrive in our liturgical life! But usually I find it most beneficial to work around my own family's particular needs - to create a plan that takes into consideration our autistic son, our wonky schedule, (our struggles), and what lessons will be most relevant to us. In addition, it's very helpful for my younger boys to have a visual reference for how close we are to any holiday. Six weeks to Easter is a long time when you're young ... meanwhile it flies by for mum and dad!

All this to say - after a little pondering and poking through my craft bins I came up with an idea that really "clicked." I decided it would be nice to make use of the purple post-it notes I've been hoarding for a year or more now - and since I have PLENTY of them (no really, anyone need a spare pack?) it just seemed to make sense that I could use 40 notes for the 40 days of Lent. That would be perfect!

But where could I set up such a sizable project? Forty small post-its take up a surprisingly good deal of space ...

Well the answer - as I sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by the usual mayhem, with notes spread all around me - was staring me in the face. Right here where we are ALL the time - this is where our Lenten project should be! And just look at the lovely shape of our kitchen door ... those six panels forming a cross. Why, this would be perfect!

:)

So here's the nitty gritty:

Purple post-its 3

Materials I used: the aforementioned purple post-it notes, white craft roll paper, spring-y stickers, and sparkly golden adhesive letters. Also ... tape, a ruler, a pencil and scissors ... as well as a teenage son to keep the younger boys busy while I worked. I found that last item absolutely essential. ;)

Purple post-its 5 (1)

First I made sure the 40 notes would fit where I was wanted them, and then I measured the cross shape on our kitchen door (77" long, 29" wide). Next I cut long strips of white paper to fit the space and taped them to the door. (You might also use white sentence strips here. Less measuring and cutting!)

So here was my base for all those pretty stickers!

Purple post-its 5

With the boys occupied elsewhere, I quickly covered the white cross with flowers, butterflies, and golden letters ...

Purple post-its 7

... then covered it all up with 40 purple post-its!

Purple post its 1

Starting at the bottom of the cross (the sooner we get beyond the toddler's reach the better) we'll pull a post-it each day and underneath the note will be written a simple Lenten suggestion for the children: something to give up, an extra task, a kind gesture or a special prayer to say. Perhaps a family activity that celebrates a liturgical event or faith tradition.

Purple post-its 2

Purple post-its 11

As the days go by and the post-its are removed the white cross will be revealed underneath ...  and it will be coming to life!

Purple post its 10

The last notes to go will be the ones at the very top and along the arms of the cross ... these will also reveal golden letters:

Purple post its 9

The lesson I hope my boys take from this project - aside from boy, does mom go crazy with the crafts at certain times of the year - is this: When we give a little something to Jesus each day - we're lifting that cross alongside Him. And as we lift - purple-note-by-purple-note - we will see that we're building a beautiful thing!   

(P.S. I have a list of the children's suggestions for each day - a work in progress, kept on my clipboard - and if anyone is interested, I'd be happy to share. Some ideas might be useful to you, while others may be too particular to my family's own situation, but I will work on setting up a page to share here just as soon as I can.)

So now when Earlybird asks for the umpteenth time of the day hour, "How many days are there until Easter, Mama?" I will point to the cross in the kitchen and say, "Well, how many post-its are left? That's how many days."

Purple post-its 15

And there it will be - there HE will be - right in the middle of it all. All the clutter and craziness of our everyday life. I'm so looking forward to living Lent as a family this year - with post-its and purpose!

Well, thanks so much for stopping by today, everyone! I hope you enjoyed this post and that you too are looking forward to Lent. I'm in the midst of organizing my reading basket - as well as our bookshelves - so I hope to do a Book Party/Nest post very soon ... I'd love to talk Lenten reading ... and I have not forgotten those planning sheets! Those are coming along, too. Very soon! :)

My friends, enjoy your Thursday evening, and I will see you here again sometime soon!


Happy St. Brigid's Day!

Brigid 6

Now, I've been Catholic my whole life and blogging about liturgical crafts for nearly 10 years ... but this was my first attempt ever at making a Brigid's cross! Mine's a humble creation for sure, but I'm quite glad I made it! I had help, of course ... and I'll explain more below. :)

But first ~ blessings to all on this lovely first day of February! I don't know about you, but today was very un-February here in New England: the sun was bright and the temperature soared to 60°! Mid-morning, as we scuffled around outside (because who can stay inside on a morning like this?), I asked the boys to help me find something that was somewhat like "straw" on our property ...

Brigid 2

So we came across this ornamental grass which I thought might work ... and as I cut several stalks, the boys ran off to do other things. Like swing and throw rocks in the puddles and run down the driveway and be neighborly to the horses next door. It was SO nice to get out in the yard!

Brigid 3

A while back I googled the directions for making a Brigid's cross, and though they looked a bit like Greek to me, I thought I might try anyway. So I started by clipping the leaves and trimming the stalks to a similar length (roundabouts 10-12 inches) and then soaked them in a shallow tub of water for about 30 minutes. (I used the lid of a storage bin for this because bending the stalks would break them.)

Brigid 4

Next, I let the stalks dry for a bit on some paper towels. Meanwhile, the boys were digging into lunch ...

Brigid 5

... while I worked at the counter. Archie was NOT letting me (and that grass) out of his sight!

I started weaving the stalks as shown in the graphic and oh my gosh, it actually worked! Well, kind of. It was a bit messy and I used binder clamps and paper clips as extra "hands," but at the end it did look like the picture! Or, close enough. Most of all, I really liked that we used "greenery" from our own backyard and that boys running outside and mum working on a craft became part of the fabric of our day. :)

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I tied the cross into our grapevine, heart-shaped wreath which is hanging on our front door - and I think it looks nice here! Originally I was going to use a blue ribbon to write out Brigid's blessing (embellished with stars, a la Brigid's Cloak) but I had no blue ribbon on hand, so instead, I used some vibrant star garland to add some color - it kind of makes me think of Mardi Gras. :)

Tonight we're having deconstructed shepherd(ess) pies - which his to say, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas. Oatcakes may happen if I get my act together but there WILL be Irish apple cake made on Friday's baking day!

Here are some supplies for tomorrow's project ...

Brigid 1

We'll be making candles for Candlemas. :)

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


My Christmas Tea Journal, 2015

Christmas tea 4

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

Firstly, how was your Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:) 

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

My Christmas Tea Journal

Vintage christmas bells and birds

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

What are you reading this week?

In my stocking I also found: 

Illuminations

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen

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

And with the younger boys:

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

Christmas tea 2

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

What's happening in nature this week?

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Winter has finally arrived ...

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

Vintage holly sprig

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

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

I will see you here again very soon ...


Tea with Friends ... ❤

Advent Tea with Friends button

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

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

**

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

~~ Advent Tea Journal ~~

Refreshments:

Advent tea magic denise 2

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

Reading:

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

Listening: 

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

Working On:

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

Nature Notes:

Advent tea magic denise 1

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

Projects with children:

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

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

~~Denise

**

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

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

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

See you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

Advent tea magic 1

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

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

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

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

Advent candles snowmen

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

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

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

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

>> How do we shape their joy? <<

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

  Advent tea magic 15

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

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

What are your children's favorite aspects of Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea magic 4

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

O project 12-13 2

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

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

What are you reading this week?

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

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

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One basket for Winter books ...

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

Planner in car

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

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

What's happening in nature this week? 

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

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

Advent tea magic 13

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

Advent tea magic 2

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

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

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

***

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

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

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

Advent tea magic 9

Advent tea magic 12

Advent tea magic 12 (1)

:)

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

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

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

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

My Advent Tea Journal ~ O Christmas Tree!

Advent tea tree 7

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

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

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

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

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

(Except for the sore throats and fevers.)

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

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

Advent tea tree 9

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

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

Advent tea tree 10 (1)

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

***

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite ornament?

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

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

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

Colored lights or white lights?

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

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea tree 8

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

Wassail 1

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

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

Advent tea tree 3

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

What are you reading this week?

Advent tea tree 15

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

Advent tea tree 2

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

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

Advent tea tree 4

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

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree

Night Tree

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Family Christmas Tree Book

The Story of Holly & Ivy

(and not shown, on request at library):

 Christmas Farm

The Littlest Evergreen

***

What are you listening to this week?

Ancient noels

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

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

What are you working on this week?

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

Advent tea tree 1 (1)

Refreshing the file crate ...

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... and assembling another homemade planner for 2016!

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

What's happening in nature this week?

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Early sunsets ... surprisingly mild afternoons.

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Though the mornings are quite frosty!

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

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

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

Advent tea tree 18 (1)

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

Advent tea tree 23

That candle burns steadily all day and night.

Watching, waiting ...

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

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

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

Advent tea tree 20

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

~ Larry Wilde 

***

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

I look forward to hearing from you!

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


Advent Crafts: Pretty Pebbles, Sparkly Stars ...

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

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

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

Advent grotto 3

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

Advent grotto 19

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

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

Advent grotto 4

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

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

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

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Advent grotto 14

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

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

Advent grotto 10

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

Advent grotto rocks

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

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

  Advent grotto 12

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

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

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Clean and dry rocks, frame and glue gun.

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

Here is the grotto, finished at last:

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

Advent grotto 1

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

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

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

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

The Star Child

Three Pebbles and a Song

The Christmas Star

Star Mother's Youngest Child

Only a Star

The Tiny Star

This is the Star

Lucia and the Light

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

**

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

I will see you here again very soon!


Our Advent Garden: A Christmas Countdown!

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

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

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

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

Creche in the woods 1

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

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

Advent One 9

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

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

Advent calendar underway

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

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

Advent calendar 1

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

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

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:)

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

Advent calendar 6

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

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

Advent One 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent One 11 (1)

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

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

 

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

Advent calendar 10 (1)

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

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

Can you guess?

*

*

*

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

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

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

:)

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