Family Life Feed

Full Disclosure Friday: Autism Siblings ROCK

Two boys

Full disclosure: Life with an autistic child is challenging ...

But as parents, we are blessed with a deep and unconditional love for our child as well as (not always, but often enough) the mental and physical reserves we need to weather what this life - and this child - throws our way.

As for life with an autistic sibling, however ... well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

To put it plainly ... my greatest joy in life has been being a mother to my boys, but my greatest fear is that I've somehow bungled it. That perhaps I could have expended more - energy, flexibility, confidence, whatever - to have met the needs of ALL my boys better than I have. That when Bill and I faced the challenges of autism parenting, we could have been braver or more open-minded. That we let our fear (and perhaps lack of sleep) make the decisions for us more often than not.

I struggle with guilt - not all the time, but often enough - that so much of our family life has been shaped by the pressures of Earlybird's autism. I worry that our older boys had a childhood that fell short in significant ways, or that they missed out on the life-shaping kinds of experiences their peers probably enjoyed ...

We don't travel. We don't eat out. We rarely go to the movies ... or museums ... or the town parade. They've been to see fireworks ... once.

And that's not to say that we haven't been aware of these omissions (acutely so) but I hesitate to say, "Well, we do our best." Because I'm so afraid maybe we haven't.

We are, however, getting better at this, because finally we are getting the right kind of help and figuring out ways to make things happen that we couldn't before - for Earlybird AND his brothers.

But as for our older two boys ... well, they're young men now. Their childhood is over. And though I feel it was a good one - full of love, togetherness and home-centered joy - there were times of turmoil, too. A lot of tiptoeing around their younger brother's moods. A lot of activities that had to be missed - or seriously curtailed - because Mom and Dad were simply not able to manage them. (Logistically or emotionally speaking, depending on the day.)

How often did they surpress a need - or a dream - because they could see how stretched thin their parents already were?

I've often said our older boys have gained truly great gifts as the brothers of an autistic person. Through the years they've had ample opportunities to practice such virtues as patience and tolerance, compassion and understanding ...

I'm sorry we can't go to the pool party, but Nana can't watch Earlybird for me and there's no way we can take him.

I'm sorry we can't make it to the beach today (even though we've already driven halfway there) but your brother is melting down and we need to turn around.

I'm sorry I can't come inside and mingle with your friends' mothers - EB needs to stay in the car, and therefore, so do I.

They are the least demanding young men you could know. They understand. They accept. They never-ever make us feel we are cheating them. And yet ... still, I worry.

Did we put them first, too? Did we honor their individuality? Did we meet their needs? Or did we rely on their easygoing natures a little too often?

Anther gift they've earned through the years is that they have a keen sense of acceptance - they do not judge. Because they KNOW firsthand that you must always give someone the benefit of the doubt. They know better than anyone that the full story is not always what can be observed at first glance. 

And while they may not always be compassionate towards their brother (they are human after all!) they mostly always keep their tempers in check. Because they've understood that they are the older brothers ... they are the example from which Earlybird can learn. Above all, they have been an incredible support to Bill and myself, especially perhaps since the birth of our Little Bear.

And here's the crux of my full disclosure today, the latest worry to niggle at my heart ...

How will Little Bear handle his brother's autism as he grows up? How will it shape his childhood ... his development and personality?

When we found out we were expecting a fourth child, back in October, 2012 ... we were quite surprised - make that shocked - as well as extremely happy. But yes, a little anxious, too! I had so far enjoyed three wonderful pregnancies as a mom on the young side (at 26, 30 and 32). Now as "older parents" having a "geriatric pregnancy" (their words, not mine!) we were understandably a little concerned about some of the risks that come with pregnancies over 40.

There was my health to consider, the baby's of course, and then there was our family itself. As the parents of a child with autism we couldn't help but worry about the potential risks with this next child. We knew he would be special - each and every child is - but would he have special challenges? Older parents have a higher risk of having a child with autism, as do parents who have already had a child on the spectrum ...

When we were feeling brave we'd say, well, we already know how to be autism parents and we know this child will be loved and amazing and everything will be fine no matter what. When we were not feeling brave ... well, it was harder to feel so confident. We worried about how we'd handle the needs of an infant AND those of our special needs son. We worried about practical things like the number of bedrooms in our house and the hours of sleep we wouldn't be getting ...

But I think we worried most of all about how a baby would affect Earlybird. How would he handle this? How would his autism affect his ability to accept and embrace a younger sibling?

Well, Little Bear arrived hale and hearty (after a few agonizing minutes spent blue and being assessed by a team of neonatalogists) and EB surprised us with how easily he both accepted AND embraced his little brother ... but soon enough we found ourselves wondering:

How would Little Bear fit into our special needs family, an environment that on most days could be best defined as, "loving chaos?"

How would Earlybird's autism challenge HIM?

This is a question we're still finding answers to ... especially now that Little Bear is nearly five years old, and just such ... a little person. Aware now - sometimes too aware! - and full of observations and opinions and energy and needs ...

But this post isn't about our answers ... we're still working on those. Every day I am keenly aware that EB's autism is quite apparent to Little Bear - who is also keenly aware that his brother is different. And sometimes that's a good thing ... and sometimes not. 

Already Little Bear is learning that EB can't always help his behavior, and that just because EB does (or says) something, doesn't necessarily mean it's ok for him too. Our youngest son is what you'd call - ahem - a very strong-willed child, and so I think this will be a really good thing for Earlybird. Developmentally, EB is still quite young so as LB grows, they can learn from, and with, each other. With the support of their Mom and their Dad, as well as their much older brothers, these two boys will one day be the best of friends ... of that I am sure (mostly).

Moral of the story: 

Autism siblings rock

Every child is special and every child has needs ... what a blessing it is to be given such responsibility as parents. What a gift to be so trusted with these beautiful minds and dear hearts.

I sincerely hope that as Little Bear gets older, we only get better at this. That we're able to learn from our mistakes, and remember our strengths, and see past our limitations. That we will model for our boys a level of patience and resilience and compassion that they will emulate as they get older - because one day we'll need to rely on three of our boys to take over for us and see to their special brother's needs. As hard as it is to say this - think this - Bill and I won't always be here and that I think is perhaps the greatest fear of an autism parent ...

Above all I pray we may continue to find the kind of help we need - whether it be from family, friends, therapists, medicine (or most likely a combination of all) - that supports not only Earlybird's progress, but the health and vitality of our family life, too. This is what I hope for most of all.

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Well everyone, thanks so much for letting me share this part of my life with you all. I know I rambled on rather long, and I could probably spend another few hours picking back over this post and making it read a little smoother, but alas ... I'm afraid my computer time has reached its end! So for now I'll wish you all well and a peaceful day (or evening) ahead ...

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you all here again very soon ...


Mitten Strings for God: Ch. 13 "Breathing"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you are all doing well! :)

Today I'd like to invite you to sit and have a spot of tea with me, as we chat about the next chapter in our current (albeit slow-going!) book study, Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison. Last month we talked about incorporating more "One-on-One Time," and today - skipping over chapter 12, for reasons explained in this post - we're moving on to the concept of "Breathing."

(Who thinks about breathing, anyway? Well, today, we will!)

Before we get started on our topic though, how about a quick look at my tea?

Today I am drinking a cup of Decaffeinated Irish Breakfast tea, which is kind of our house tea, so there's always an extra box or two in our cupboard! (I hardly ever drink full-caf tea since I limit my caffeine intake to the mornings - when coffee fills my mug and zaps my veins with the energy I need to jump-start my day!)

So please let me pour you a fresh cuppa, and please pardon the mess on the table - particularly, the cats! (Who let them up on the table, anyway??) Today being Sunday I am knee-deep in my "office hours" and trying to get a handle on what the new week will bring. The Vernal Equinox for one thing on Tuesday, as well as the start of my annual spring cleaning - and our seasonal homeschooling theme is "pussy willows." As you can see, Oliver and Archie are all-in ... because nothing invites the cats' keen attention like a little fresh vegetation on the kitchen table!

Allrighty, now let's get on with the chapter chat ...

And what an interesting thing to consider, breathing. It's something we do constantly and automatically ... yet rarely do we actually stop and think about it. Unless we've over-exerted ourselves, and/or are suffering from asthma or experiencing an allergic reaction (been there, done that) - if we are fortunate enough to have no physical ailments to impede it, our body just does what it must do ... our lungs expand, we take in oxygen ... we breathe.

And we live!

So as I read this chapter's opening passage - the description of the Kenison boys running loops around the house, exulting in the very state of being alive - I thought, what a fun and memorable story! But also ... what a lesson!

"We stand there together, hands to hearts, as their pulses slowly return to normal. Then they are off again, flying, exhilarated, reveling in their discoveries of air and speed and strength, the joy of physical experience." (p. 95)

Celebrating life comes so easily to children - they don't think about it so much, or plan it like their adult counterparts do (perhaps a tad obsessively, ahem!). No, they just happily move forward, absorbing and savoring the blessing that is LIFE. This awareness and appreciation comes to them as naturally as breathing, if you'll pardon the pun - but it's true! And I think most of us could benefit from the innocent lessons of an open-hearted and exuberant child.

"How readily our children embrace these humble lessons; how long it takes for many of us adults to relearn them!" (p. 99)

As for racing about the house, I think perhaps we adults might tire after the first quarter-lap, lol! That said, I can strongly identify with the parents here - sitting, and watching - in that first passage. How wonderful to watch our children marvel over the "inner workings of their own bodies." (p. 95)   

So when do we think about breathing, then? Well, for one thing, when we're exercising ...

Fitness walking is an excellent habit, but one I must admit I fall in and out of according to season. In the spring, as soon as the roads and walkways are clear of snow, I begin my daily morning walks. Spring is a great time for new endeavors! The air smells great, and feels great! At this time of year I feel inspired, invigorated and resolved!

But at first it's a bit of a struggle to get back in the rhythm of walking. And not just physically - making my way up the steep hill at the end of our road - but mentally, too. Beginning with motivating myself to walk out my door - making the time to walk, arranging the child care, putting on my walking clothes and lacing up my sneakers ... letting my brain move beyond the walls of my house and the issues and tasks therein.

Allowing my mind to wander along with my feet ... I find it all gets easier as the season moves along.

My breathing during these walks comes easier too as I gain stamina and my lungs get back into the swing of things. Spring and summer walking is a breeze (green flies and heat waves, notwithstanding) but by autumn I'm afraid to say - with dark days and chilly/wet weather, I start finding excuses to stay home and skip my walks. Soon enough of course, I fall out of habit. 

But to say come spring I'm eager to revive my walking habit again is an understatement! I'm ready to exchange winter's stale indoor air for spring's fresh outdoor air and take a few deep cleansing breaths! And here we are on April's doorstep, so my instincts should be kicking in again anytime now ... once the roads are passable, of course.

*glares at the two feet of snow outside the window* 

So when else do we think about breathing? Well, how about when we're trying to find calm for ourselves, or another?

Do you ever stop when you find yourself in a bit of "a state" and just - close your eyes and count to ten? (Or five, or a hundred - depending on the circumstances!) And as you count, you might find your breathing slows and whatever is happening seems a little more manageable? Even if just in a mercurial amount. Any bit of calm is welcome when the need is great.

Speaking of ...

"When I say to my boys, 'Let's take a deep breath,' I am guiding them into a safe haven, a place where they can release their pain and anger and come back to center again." (p. 98)

Throughout the book, Ms. Kesinson is quite candid about her family's choices and challenges, and as I've said before, so much of it has inspired and supported me in my own mothering. And each time I read, I appreciate some chapters more than others - because my experiences (hopes and fears) change as my children grow. 

So during my current re-read, I found myself pausing over her description of her younger son's emotional issues:

"Jack is still prone to tantrums, outbursts that frighten him and wreak havoc on the rest of us as well." (p. 98)

I couldn't help but think about my Earlybird and his struggles. When EB was very little, before he was officially diagnosed, he would have absolutely awful meltdowns. They seemed to happen all the time, sometimes for no reason, and we just felt ... so helpless. Our older boys (four and two when EB was born) were extremely easy-going children, with nary a tantrum between them. So I'm pretty sure we thought we had the whole "peaceful parenting" thing down pat ...

*rolls eyes at my younger mothering self*

And then along came Earlybird, who, by two was wigging out at the zoo, the grocery store, the neighbor's birthday party, in the car - you name it, he couldn't handle it. And for a very long time, neither could we ...

We learned of course, that Earlybird has autism, and meltdowns out of nowhere are common. They are also, unfortunately, not something he's grown out of - and let me tell you, it's a lot easier to handle the autistic meltdown of a six year old then that of a 16 year old. (Physically AND emotionally!) Thankfully though, we have learned how to help him through these challenging times and, perhaps just as important, we've learned how to make it through these tough times ourselves. Years later we have wonderful therapists working with EB and showing us the way. One of the techniques they began with him quite early on was breathing ...

So when EB is upset - afraid, mad, frustrated, whatever emotion is just too big- they encourage him to take deep breaths, for a count of five.

"Take a deep breath, EB. And again ... one, two, three, four, five."

I remember the first time I watched them do this, I thought: Right, I don't think so. That's not gonna work ...

And yet, sure enough ... he calmed down. Maybe just a little, but usually enough to get us to the next step. His attention was diverted, he could hear us again, and he'd become more aware as he slowed down his over-taxed heart.

Over time, Earlybird has learned to employ this strategy on his own. Often we have to prompt him, but now and then I'll hear him, if he's frustrated by something, muttering to himself: "Ok. Just calm down now, and take a deep breath."

How many times have I found myself (perhaps in the very next room) taking those deep breaths along with him ... ?

If I may veer a bit off topic (kind of) for a moment ...

I've been sharing more and more about our autism journey here at the blog and how we've been able to help our son, but I just want to stress that we are nowhere near perfect, nor do we have it all figured out. We take it day by day (or as we often "joke," hour by hour) and try to handle what we can, as we can. We are blessed with tremendous support, and sometimes it feels like we're on a fairly even keel ... but then something happens and we're frantically adjusting our sails once again.

For a long time we floundered, having trouble finding the right kind of therapy for EB. (Whose issues were complicated by the onset of epilepsy at age 12.) In 2014 we finally matched up with a fabulous ABA center and began home-based therapy that has been invaluable for our son. Without question, it has changed his (and our) lives. That said, we have just recently come to the decision to start him on a behavioral med. This was not a decision we took lightly - indeed, we've put it off for as long as we could. But though so much has improved for EB - there have also been some new and significant challenges for EB in the past year. Perhaps hardest of all has been the rise of an anxiety - for lack of a better word - that prevents him from fully exploring the world around him, taking part in his community and maintaining a peace within himself that allows him to benefit from the supports available to him ...

So we talked long and hard with our neurologist (a Boston Children's Hospital Autism Specialist) about this situation and while very supportive of what we've been doing, agreed with our concern that we need to do something more. So we are starting EB out on something mild and at a very low dose ... and in a few weeks we should potentially see some changes. 

So we're nervous, but we're hopeful ... because we're finally doing something, that has helped other children and adults with autism. We can only pray it will help our boy, too. As our doctor warned us, it won't make things perfect, but it will hopefully take the edge off for him and allow him (US) to live more fully.

If we can find a little more calm in our household I think all of us will BREATHE a little easier! β€

My friends, I hope you all don't mind me sharing this news seemingly out of the blue, but I felt it was important to let people know that this is where we need to go. I know many people reading here also have children on medication, and I am certain it was a decision you also took very seriously. (If you feel called to comment or reach out, I'd love to hear from you.) Throughout our journey we've handled as much as we can and we try, constantly to devise ideas and strategies that help our son with his challenges, but  ... we've come to realize, he needs more help. We need more help.

I will keep you all posted and would be ever so grateful for your prayers!

***

Well everyone, I am going to be off now, as there are still a few hours before bedtime and I still have a few more To-Dos to take care of! I hope you are all enjoying this lovely Sunday ... blustery and bright here, but at least it's not snowing! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have a moment! Remember, all are welcome to join the MSfG discussion ... archived posts can be found here ... and we're not even halfway through the book! Our next chapter is called, "Healing" and I would love to assign it a date, but I know myself too well, and will just say, it will be soon. Ish. After Easter, for sure - but I will post a "meeting time" when we get started in the new month ... 

So please stay tuned and take care! As always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by ...

See you here again very soon!


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! I hope your week's been going well!

I thought it would be fun to share a "day in our life" with you all, so as we went through our day, one day last week, I took pictures and jotted down notes. Here then is a little recap of last Thursday, March 1st. :)

(Note: Our weekdays are currently quite similar in that, Bill goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Another constant these days is we have two ABA therapists who work here at home with our 16 yo son, for a total of four hours a day. And then some days Bill works from home, and four days a week our 18 yo son has outside-the-home classes - to (and from) which Bill or I must drive him because he does not yet have his license! But hopefully he will by the end of this month!)

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! πŸŒž

5:00 a.m.

I wake up and realize I'm the first one up, which is quite surprising because usually Earlybird is the first to rise. (He has in fact been my alarm clock for the past 16 years!) I look over to see if Bill is still sleeping, and am not all that surprised to notice that the body softly snoring next to me is not my husband's but that of our four year old son's - with his head draped across my pillows, mind you! And this would explain the crick in my neck ...

I then realize Bill has already gotten out of bed, so I grab my phone and send off a text:

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As you can see our texting skills are not at their best this early in the morning! (Per family tradition, we always say RABBIT RABBIT on the first of the month - it's supposed to bring you good luck!)

Within a few minutes I hear Earlybird get up and head downstairs, and Bill sees to EB's needs (a snack, a water cup, the family room TV clicker) while starting a fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait, in the darkness, with as much patience as I can muster (which isn't a lot), until Bill brings me that first blessed cup of coffee. sigh ... JOY!

So while I savor my first cup, curled up in the rocking chair by my bed, Little Bear sleeps on with hefty pillows piled up on either side of him. (Our bed is quite high and I don't like to leave him alone in it - yet I'm loathe to move him for fear he'd wake and be up for the day!)

It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's a purring cat in my lap ... β€ 

Soon enough, Bill starts getting ready for work - though he often takes calls at home until mid-morning - and Earlybird is happy as a clam in the family room with his Kindle Fire and breakfast snacks. 

(Note: EB usually wakes up VERY early - he always has! Sleeping past six is rare for him. He can't be left unsupervised however, so Bill and I always rise just as early as he does.)

Now some (perhaps many!) might cringe at starting one's day so very early in the morning, but honestly, I don't mind. In fact, I actually like it! As long as I have my coffee, of course, I appreciate these early hours before the day truly begins, when I can gather my thoughts and launch the day slowly ...

So the next few hours are spent in this way - I'm upstairs watching the room go from pitch dark to soft light, savoring cup (after cup) of freshly brewed coffee, working on my phone until it's light enough to see and then I start working in my planners. (Checking email, social media, news, etc.) I also use this time to think quietly and say my morning prayers. I love catching the sunrise when I'm able ... πŸŒ…

* Morning planning: I start with my little Katie Daisy planner, at the monthly spread, crossing off yesterday's block (February 28th). Since it's the first of the month, I readjust my binder clip to the March page. Isn't it fun when you get to start a new monthly spread? I then open my seasonal planner and consult the weekly spread - where are we at, what's what for today? Thursdays are "nature walk" days, per our weekly homeschooling rhythm - and as this is "thaw/sap" week we'll be looking for signs of winter-melt and possibly, any maple trees in our neighborhood. It's supposed to be a clear and very mild day so this is perfect! Finally I move on to my Day Designer and set up my daily page. If time permits I use a highlighter to visually target drive-times and outings.

(Note: During these early hours, spring through fall, I try to grab a quick 30 minute walk before Little Bear wakes. These days however, winter weather (and dark mornings) keep me inside. I do have a treadmill in our bedroom but I don't use it regularly ever.)

8:45 a.m.

Little Bear seems to be sleeping in, so I wake Crackerjack (first reminding him to say RABBIT RABBIT) so he can keep an eye on LB and an ear out for EB while I grab a quick shower and get dressed. 

(Note: I think it would be fun to do a post on our grooming/health/beauty routines, don't you?)

Once I'm done with my "primp and prep" (such as it is) Crackerjack goes off to get himself ready for class, and Little Bear wakes up soon thereafter.

9:00 a.m.

We head downstairs to officially begin our day! This is about an hour later than usual for us, so I'm running a little behind. Earlybird heads upstairs to his bedroom since he no longer has to be quiet, but first I give him his (anti-seizure) meds. Little Bear and I feed the cats and start making breakfast ... I always tune into the TODAY show throughout the morning. I can't sit and really digest it, but I like to catch a few segments here and there. :)

BREAKFAST: whole wheat waffles, apple cider, cheese and vitamins.

I now switch to decaffeinated tea. I try not to drink caffeine after 10 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

I drive Crackerjack to Spanish class, leaving the rest of the boys at home with Bill. Just before leaving I receive an email from a good friend of mine who is organizing our March Nature Club activity (maple sugaring!). She needs me to get back to her ASAP on a few dates/times so that gets me thinking and strategizing on the drive.

I drop CJ at his class, and head back home (a five-minute drive). Kiss Bill on my way in (and his way out) and then scramble to get things ready for Earlybird's first therapist who arrives at 10 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

Earlybird is working on his daily routine with his ABA therapist, Michael. First he showers, shaves and dresses - then he works on chores like cleaning his room, changing his bedding, doing his laundry, taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, etc. All these tasks build good skills but are also important for working on the concept of compliance. (Doing activities that are not preferred.)

Meanwhile, I return my friend's email, letting her know the dates that work for us, give my Mum a call, and then do some preschool activities with Little Bear ... and this is where I first start taking pictures!

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Here's Little Bear coloring a Welsh dragon for St. David's Day! We also read a book, and make a paper plate cloud - in honor of March coming in like a lamb. Little Bear says he's "still hungry" and wants toast, so we pop some bread in the toaster and start working on a Peppa Pig puzzle. 

Suddenly, a telltale rumble on the road tells us mail has arrived! So we decide to head outside for a bit to retrieve said mail, check on the hens and have ourselves a little nature walk.

But first we pop downstairs to change up the laundry and see if Bookworm is busy. (He's not working full-time at the moment, but doing computer design/site building at home currently, while studying for java certification.) We find him on his computer, but he tells us he'll join us outside for a bit. (While Bookworm looks for full-time employment he has been a HUGE help to us with childcare. I feel so blessed to have this time with ALL my boys at home!)

11:00 a.m. 

Outside now, and what a beautiful day! Bright and warm, nearly 60Β°! Not at all usual for New England at this time of year. (But we'll take it!)

After checking on the hens' needs, we walk around a bit. I love our yard because it's a good size and there are always interesting and new things to "discover!" Some things are new but familiar ...

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Such as the first daffodil shoots of the year! We found these growing by the front walk, beneath the dog rose bush.

Other things are not new, but perhaps unnoticed, and definitely not familiar!

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Such as this orange and green "fur" growing between the cracks in the stairwell. (It's actually moss - aka Hairy Moss!) Little Bear, as you can see here, made sure he grabbed his shovel, because ... you never know when you might need to dig.

I leave LB with BW and head inside to place a call and check on EB and Michael ...

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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How I love a good mail day! New books, catalogs and magazines and ok, yes, bills. But still - I love when our mailbox is full!

Back inside I find Earlybird and his therapist taking a break in the family room. (EB gets five minute breaks between tasks and usually he likes to watch a little TV during this time.) I decide to place a call I need to make ... rescheduling a long overdue eye exam!

After earning that check, I decide to work on some chores, since Little Bear and Bookworm are still outside and Earlybird and Michael have left on a bike ride. It seems VERY quiet in the house, lol! Just me and the cats ...

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... who are intently observing a chipmunk perched just outside the patio doors!

According to my weekly housekeeping schedule, on Thursdays I clean the "back rooms" - meaning, the sunroom (aka the learning room) and family room. I decide to start in the sunroom since it's just SO lovely out I can have the windows open while I work ...

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My cleaning routine goes something like this: de-clutter/tidy, sweep, vacuum, dust/wipe.

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If I'm able to have windows open all the better for airing out the room, too!

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I leave the table set with things for Earlybird to see and work on today ...

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Just as I finish tidying this room, I am hailed by Bookworm and Little Bear to "Come see what they found!" I will spare you this picture though, since what they found was most surely a rather disgusting owl pellet! Fascinating, for sure ... but also, quite gross. 

NOONTIME

Michael is off and it's time for lunch! Bookworm brings Little Bear inside and sees to his washing up, while I set about making lunch for the younger boys.

LUNCH: popcorn, lemonade, cheese quesadillas, apple slices and fig cookies.

I also keep an eye on the noontime news - it seems we have quite a storm heading our way!

Earlybird's second therapy session begins once Gideon arrives. They head out to the sunroom to start in on his homeschool assignments and various other life skills activities. I clean up after lunch - with Little Bear's help, natch - and then LB and I settle in for a bit of reading time in the living room. He's really into "The Magic School Bus" right now and as you can imagine we have quite a few of those in our collection!

(Note: I need to read with Little Bear where Earlybird can't hear us since he has a strong aversion to people reading aloud, singing, talking too much. We're actually working on desensitizing him of this sensory challenge and some days one of his therapy activities is simply to listen to me read aloud (with or without LB present, depending on EB's current mood). We do this for a few minutes or pages at a time. Otherwise, LB and I read aloud when EB is elsewhere in the house or otherwise engaged with his therapists.) 

1:00 p.m.

I leave Bookworm home with EB and Gideon while Little Bear and I head out to pick up Crackerjack from class and run to the library. But first, I pour my fresh cup of tea into a travel mug! Here is my bag sitting on the seat next to me:

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It's not the most interesting picture, I just really love that bag! We have a few books and videos to return and I have a couple of holds waiting for me.

We pick up CJ - who as you can probably tell from this picture, had a karate lesson after Spanish!

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(We're very fortunate to have an active homeschooling community where we live. CJ, like Bookworm before him, has been able to take classes with other homeschoolers at a couple of different locations. This has made a huge impact on our high school homeschooling. I plan to do a separate post about our homeschool approach in the high school years ... now that Bookworm is actually OUT of college and Crackerjack is making plans to attend in the fall.)

Ok, we're now off to the library! We are here at least once a week - to make returns, pick up holds and sometimes just to browse. Today I allow Little Bear to pick out a video or two. He has a hard time choosing and finally decides on Reading Rainbow and The Adventures of Clutch Powers. (He is SO into Legos right now!)

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Before we leave, Crackerjack points out a book he thinks looks nice for Little Bear, Shelter. It is indeed absolutely lovely, and I make a note to add it to my November planner for "hibernation" week. (I scribble myself a note on the index card attached to my little planner and then transfer that note to my seasonal planner back home.)

A few minutes later we are back home, and heading inside, but Little Bear wants to feel the soft buds of the magnolia tree ...

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He is enchanted by the texture - though somewhat dismayed when he plucks the bud off the tree without meaning to! I reassure him the tree is fine and suggest he place the bud on our nature table. 

First though, LB takes a closer look under his "microscope!"

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He places the bud on top of his bowl of moss-dirt.

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"Doing science." πŸ˜‰ This little magnifyer was a wonderful purchase! It has served us very well for several years.

Btw, here are the books I had on the hold shelf:

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The Dance of Time is right up my alley - I LOVE learning about the calendar! I forget where I heard about it, but I decided it would be an interesting book to check out! The Vanity Fair Diaries is not something I'd normally read, but I saw its author, VF editor-in-chief Tina Brown interviewed on Greater Boston one evening last month and thought it all sounded quite intriguing! (We don't watch a lot of TV, but Bill and try to catch GB every weeknight - plus Beat the Press on Fridays as well as the wonderful Rick Steves' Europe also on PBS!)

3:00 p.m.

Now, time for a break! We sit in the family room for a bit - and yes, the TV goes on! Nature Cat and Wild Kratts are favorites and while Little Bear watches, I work on my plans for next week (and the weekend) and enjoy a rather large cup of tea!

Here's where we crash for a bit ...

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I just love this east-facing window - it gets wonderful morning light, and the cardinals just love those spruce trees! The couch is a bit beaten up (though only a few years old) but it's quite comfy. :)

Just as I decide to put off the rest of my "Thursday chores" I hear a car pull up the drive ... and we are all thrilled to see it's my brother - aka Uncle Matt!

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We have SUCH a nice visit with my brother ... as usual, he spoils us with a bunch of Trader Joes treats (he's a TJ's manager) and a new game for family game night! He doesn't need to bring a thing of course, it's just great to spend time with him. :)

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And this right here is why I'm so grateful to be at home, and that I live close to my family. My life is a simple one, but it brings me tremendous joy! 

❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀ 

Now I will confess, I got off track a little at this point - I stopped taking pictures and jotting down notes! But here's my recollection of the rest of our Thursday, March 1st ... :)

4:00 p.m.

After Matt left, I started in on my usual afternoon tidy. And by started in on, I mean, I didn't get through it all. (I almost never do!) "Afternoon tidying" includes sweeping the kitchen, prepping supper, neatening the kitchen sink and counters and wiping up the half-bath in the foyer. It's really great when I do make time for these simple tasks because they greatly impact not only the way I feel in the evening but especially how my next morning goes. 

Meanwhile, the boys were all over the house doing their usual things. I can (and do) often ask the older boys to keep an eye on Little Bear if I need to take a shower or work on a project of one kind or another.

I neatened up the learning room a little, by organizing the materials used and lessons completed. Then I turned off the space heater and lights and locked the door for the night.

6:00 p.m.

Bill got home around 6 p.m. and as usual, we sat down to supper right away. This is one of my favorite moments of the day - when we can all catch up and chat.

SUPPER: potato-leek soup (not homemade), grilled ham and cheese panini, steak fries, salad.

Once supper was eaten and dishes cleared, we all retreated to our comfort zones - the boys to their devices and Bill, Little Bear and I to the family room. Generally Bill and I like to watch a little TV at this time of night (as described above) before I head upstairs (planner bag in hand!) to tuck Earlybird in bed. (Because unsurprisingly, Earlybird loves an early bedtime!)

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My planner bag with all the things I'll need in the morning!

8:00 p.m.

Tucking EB can be a process - some nights he needs "two more minutes" multiple times! - but usually it doesn't take too long, since he's such an early riser. After washing up and getting my own "PJs" on, I readied all the beds for sleep and then let Bill know it was time to bring Little Bear upstairs. After washing up and donning "footie" pajamas, he snuggled into Mama and Daddy's bed to hear his special bed stories. Currently he loves hearing these three books before bed. :)

While Bill and Little Bear read, I read my own book until my lids grow heavy ... and next thing I know, everyone's asleep, save for the older two boys who are in charge of their own bedtimes these days! 

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this peek into our day! It was a very long post to be sure, but then - our days tend to be pretty long! (And of course, I tend to be wordy!) But as always, I thank you very much for joining me here today, and I wish you all a pleasant week's end ...

See you here again very soon!


Mitten Strings for God, Ch. 12: One-on-One Time

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! Thank you for joining me as we continue to (slowly) work our way through the wonderful Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison - my favorite parenting book of all time! Presently we are on chapter 12, the focus of which is providing our children with "one-on-one time." I am quite eager to hear your thoughts on this particular parenting concept - because maybe you, like me, struggle with this, just a bit?

So I have to admit, I was a little nervous approaching this topic. Well, perhaps "nervous" isn't quite the right word for it - more like, reluctant? Because this is one of those family values that I know in my heart is important, but is not currently a priority in our family. (Not that it shouldn't be a priority, it just isn't right now.) Spending alone time with each of our kids is one of those rather hopeful ideas that (unfortunately) often gets left off the to-do list ... along with "buy local," "exercise more," and "plan more date nights with Bill."

There are valid reasons why we can't seem to manage this kind of activity on any regular basis - we are busy, we are tired, we are stretched thin, our third son's special needs make it challenging to leave him home with others - but I know in my heart we could do this if we tried, and we should do this. Because time is a wonderful gift for a child, especially when we make it all about him. β€

Now, don't get me wrong - we are with our kids a great deal (we do homeschool after all!), but we're hardly ever alone with any one of them, individually. At least not in the way described in this chapter, or the way I envision other, more active families do ... going on random outings and taking fun, spontaneous adventures.

So you can see why I wasn't all that eager to dig into this chapter since I knew it would pinch a little - highlighting, as it would, the kinds of meaningful things we're not doing for our children - and, honestly, who relishes the thought of adding another heap of parenting guilt to their plate?

And yet, I dug in anyway! And of course, I found the chapter ... wonderful. (As all the chapters are!) Because even when the truth is uncomfortable, it's good to just face it so we can start figuring things out ...

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I think it was easier to do "one-on-one time" when all my children were small, back when life seemed to move at a slower pace and we all followed the same schedule. Time is more structured these days, and we're all going in different directions, but that doesn't mean we can't work with what we've got, right?

This quote was an a-ha moment for me:

"Now, some years later, one-on-one time takes different forms." (p. 80)

I love to remember all the sweet things we did with our boys when they were little (though not necessarily one-on-one) but sometimes I think it's too easy to slip into nostalgia and dwell on the fact that those times are over. Aw, remember when we used to sit on that stone wall and just watch the ants? Well, these are new days, and things are different now, but why can't "new and different" make memories that are just as meaningful? We're the same family, and these are the same (albeit taller and busier) kids.

"Given our other obligations and the length of our to-do lists, it is all too easy to forget the good stuff - namely, how much we like our own kids as people." (p. 81)

Bottom line, spending time together one-on-one can be tremendously fun and rewarding. And it's important too, if we want to connect with our kids outside the role we play in our families - not just as "Mom and Son" (or Daughter, as the case may be), but as complex, creative and curious human beings. Sure, to my boys I am - and will always be - "Mom," first and foremost, but that doesn't mean that's all I am in my life.

"When we do recognize our children in this way we also invite them to see us more fully, not just as a parent but as another human being." (p. 82)

(Of course Little Bear just went through that phase when NOBODY was allowed to call me Dawn. I was Mama ... end of discussion.)

So as I read this chapter I tried to resist the urge to revisit all those old memories - lovely as they are - and instead thought, what about now? What's keeping us from doing this for our kids, and is it really all about time? Or is it perhaps a matter of perspective?

Because it may be clichΓ©, but it's true - so much of parenting is just being here now. Not trying to be where we were three years ago, and not hyper-focusing on where we might be three years from now, but embracing the season we're living at this moment ...

So maybe instead of working against the grain and letting our limits define us, why not find what COULD work for our family? Maybe change our way of thinking a little and think outside the box?

And as I started to brainstorm, I realized - hey, maybe we're not doing as badly as I thought! We may not be getting out for cafe dates and museum excursions, but we are spending some one-on-one time when and where we can, in our own humble-bumble way ...

Here are a few examples ...

As I began this post yesterday, Bill and Little Bear were outside, just the two of them, "cleaning out the hen pen." (Don't laugh! I'm going somewhere with this.) Now, in truth, LB was driving his trucks through the mud outside the pen, while Daddy was doing the actual shoveling out of the you-know-what, but LB chatted away about this and that and was just generally as pleased as all get-out. He and Daddy were doing their work ...

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... and there's nothing LB loves better than working with Dad!

So I started thinking back on a few other "one-on-one" times this week ...

I folded laundry while Earlybird tidied his bedroom across the hall and we brainstormed our Easter Dinner menu. (His idea, not mine, honest! The boy loves his holidays.) And when it's just the two of us up very early in the morning - while Bill's getting ready for work, and the rest of the boys are still asleep - we often end up watching the sunrise together. It's a very special thing, really - and it makes me so happy that EB loves things like sunrises and full moons and the smell of the air when the seasons are changing ...

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(This is us visiting EB's neurologist at Boston Children's Hospital one day. Bill was with us too, but it was special for EB to have Mom and Dad all to himself. And any drive into the big city is "an adventure" according to my kids - especially if we pick up take-out on the ride home!)

Last week I picked up Crackerjack from a class, and I had my van all to myself - and on that 20 minute ride home we talked about something that was bothering him. CJ's a great one for "car talks" ... and I was so glad we found a quiet moment to have that discussion.

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(CJ and I attending Mass alone together, one wintry morning.)

One day last week, Bookworm joined me in the family room where I was having my late afternoon tea and, while Little Bear played with Legos on the floor, we talked about recipes he'd found that he wanted to try. He's developed a real passion for cooking over the past couple of years, and we talk about recipes all the time!

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(Moving him into his college apartment, junior year. Not a one-on-one moment, but the only recent pic of the two of us together I could find!)

Now, spending time alone with Little Bear is very easy to do - because he's my baby and he's with his Mama 24-7! But it's good to remember to slow down and share a little joy - by singing together, playing together, building Legos, reading together (natch), or best of all, spending time in nature ...

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(This is a very old photo - he's about 16 months old here, and we were waiting for his brother to come out of class. A perfect opportunity to "connect!")

Now, not one of these moments described above were very flashy or outrageously fun, but in each there was a true sense of "togetherness" just the same.

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Moving on, I think just making the space in our calendar would be a good first step towards more conscious connecting - and so this is what a I did:

I simply took out my calendar for next week and penciled in the boys' initials!

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(I actually used pen - but it's erasable!) 

I just tried to see where it would be easy enough to spend a little alone time with each of my boys, and here's what I came up with:

R (Earlybird) - Drive over to drop CJ at class, and on the ride back, we can listen to his audiobook or maybe chat about whatever topic he's keen on at the moment. Stop in to mail something at the post office, another favorite activity of his.

O (Little Bear) - Bring him to the library while EB is working with his therapist. Just a quick trip to pick out some fun books to read together this week. So often we pull up to the library and one of the older boys runs in to drop a return or pick up a hold, and then we're on our way again - always on a tight schedule it seems.

L & J (Bookworm and Crackerjack) - Two birds, one stone! We'll leave the "youngers" with Dad, and swing over to the B&N cafe for a cuppa and maybe a new book splurge. (Driving practice there and back! I may make them listen to Mom's disco Pandora station!)

Another thing I'm going to do as I go forward is to not get hung up on ONE on ONE. Sometimes I'll just have to combine two kids at a time - this is just the way it has to be sometimes, especially in families with multiple kids. Sure they have to share me, but they don't usually mind that when we're doing something fun, like here in this memory from years ago ...

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(A ferry ride across Boston Harbor to meet Daddy for lunch! Goodness, just look at those babies!)

And not to turn my back on the advice I gave myself earlier in this post - to avoid mourning days gone by - but I do feel badly sometimes that I'm not as free as I was then to do these kinds of things with my younger two boys. No, it's a different kind of fun we're going for these days ...

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(And some days that's just making ourselves laugh silly over selfies!)

Because the thing is, due to EB's special needs and numerous therapy appointments, we usually have to stick close to home. But in this season, right now, that's where we're at. We're embracing slower days and simpler pastimes, like making crafts and baking goodies - as well as taking nature walks through the yard, feeding the birds or even just getting the mail! (It's a long driveway and there's lots to look at on the way!)

So yeah - mother guilt is always there for the taking, but I'm going to do my best to give it a pass and look for what works and make the best of things as they are. After all, isn't that a lesson I want my boys to take into their adulthood?

Don't let your limits define you!

Now, this post is getting very long, but I'd like to mention one more quote because it makes such a wonderful point: 

 "Mothers can get so caught up in the caretaking that we may overlook each child's need to be seen as an individual, with unique tastes and temperment and gifts." (p. 81)

I fully admit I can be guilty of this. Caring for my family is my full time job - and I'm devoted to it - but we all know there's more to "taking care" than just providing three squares and clean laundry. But the days are often filled with so many tasks and to-dos, it can be hard to make time for less immediate, physical needs. And sure, some kids just naturally (and necessarily) demand more of their parents than others - but I know each of my boys need me (and not just my housekeeping skills), in their own way. 

"Yet when we do that bit of extra juggling required to make a special, separate place for each child, the rewards are well worth the effort."

And what a sweet reward it is to connect with, and truly enjoy, our children. Practically speaking, it's such a smart investment of time that pays handsomely not just in the here and now, but in the future as well. Emotionally speaking, it's a gift - to them and me, both. This kind of time spent is never a waste, and I find when I do have a personal moment with one of my sons we both come away feeling deeply content. I can see it in their behavior and I feel it in my heart. If ever there was something essential to plan, this is it ...

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Well my friends, I'm going to let you go now, before I make a very long post even longer, but I thank you for reading and would love to hear from you too if you have time. All are welcome to join in on these MSfG conversations ... by leaving a comment here, or linking me up to something posted somewhere else, or sending me a blurb or a photo by email ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

We have many more Mitten Strings chapters to cover (18 in fact!) and at the rate we're going it will take us many months to finish! But of course finishing isn't the point ... savoring is! Although I'm sure you're all thinking: Why can't she just finish this post, lol?! 

So! Leave a note if you can, but as always, I wish you well and hope that we'll connect here agin another time. For now, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. If you're wondering what on earth that top photo has to do with this post - ha ha! -well, it is a picture of my tea spot as I started this post. I guess I forgot all about it! I'll have to do another post just about tea, another time. :)


A Special Trip to Whole Foods with Earlybird!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And happily, that day went well, too!

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

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

Ok, here we go ...

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

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

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

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And crackers ...

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

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

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

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

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

I'm just so proud of this boy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cozy corner in library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side note:

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

From p. 45:

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

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

Now, as for the younger boys ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found this comic online the other day: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the second page of this chapter:

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

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

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

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

(Always, the cat.)

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

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

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

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

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

O boo halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple looks different to everyone ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 4, Quiet

Halloween tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now, on to our Mitten Strings discussion!

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

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

Fall road

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

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

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

The same holds true at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*turns the tv off and returns to desk*

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, that feels so good to my ears." 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Mama: "EB, please turn that down."

EB: "No."

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

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

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

But you know, baby steps ...

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

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

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

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


Seasonal Homeschooling: June's Weekly Themes!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday Saturday Sunday Monday! πŸŒž

(Whew, it's taken me a while to get this post done!)

Lots going on at the moment - homeschool dances, a year-end party, an ice cream social, the SAT, the last week of classes, doctors appointments, job changes ... phew! We're not usually this busy and I must admit, I'm looking forward to life slowing down again, but before that happens, we have a graduation party coming up this weekend! So the weekend was spent picking up party goods and getting the yard in order, and this week I'm cleaning the house room-by-room - but right now I'm indulging in some computer time. For one thing I really want to put up this post - and for another, it feels good to sit in the air conditioned room! (We're in the midst of a heatwave this week!)

Anyhoo, today I'd like to share some of my seasonal planning with you all. :) As I've blogged about before, I have a year's worth of weekly themes planned out, mostly based on the seasons and natural events. I use these themes as a springboard for weaving simple seasonal joys and awareness into our family life - via our home, food, education, activities, etc. Some weeks we do a lot with the theme and others not as much - it really depends on available time/energy/interest/mood/ and the weather, etc. I try to be very flexible and keep my expectations realistic.

For example, this week's seasonal theme is "butterflies," but with the big shindig planned for this weekend, any extra time and energy is focused on party prep these days ... so I know we won't delve into the theme as deeply as we might another year. And that's OK. I'm still sneaking in some butterfly goodness where I can. :)

So below I've written about my current themes for the month of June and why I chose them - as well as a few ideas for each week. I always have a LOT of ideas but that's not to say we do all those things! Some ideas work well while others might get left for next year. (Because I do recycle the themes, generally speaking ... part of the joy of the seasons for me is in the way they return to us every year, always seeming new and fresh but comfortingly familiar.)

You can read more about this idea and see my list of 52 themes here in this post but here's what I've planned for this month ...

5/29-6/4 "home garden"

    * Memorial Day is the traditional planting time in New England! We'll work together to plan and prepare our garden bed, concentrating on a sunny spot behind the sunroom. Keeping it very simple - something the boys can tend and enjoy. I have some books set aside for the younger two: This Year's Garden, Let's Grow a Garden, A Year in Our New Garden - and these will be woven into our home lessons this week. I also ordered two new books I think Little Bear, in particular, will love: The Vegetables We Eat and The Fruits We Eat. We just love those Gail Gibbons books! We'll also take a trip to the local farm to buy the plants we've noted on our list, and plant the seedlings at home. We'll take stock of our gardening tools and come up with a routine (chart?) for taking care of our garden. (Who will be responsible for which tasks and when?)

*True confession - we didn't get our plants planted that week! We talked about the gardens we already have (home orchard, herb patch) and the one we'd like to create (kitchen garden), and we readied a new garden bed ... but have yet to purchase seedlings! That's something I hope to do next week when we're all on a quiet, "home" vacation. :)

6/5-6/11 "strawberries"

    * The time is "ripe" to think about and enjoy strawberries - and for several reasons! This is the week of the Full Strawberry Moon as well as a local strawberry festival AND the berries themselves are just coming into their season. As you can see in the picture at the top of my post, our wild strawberries are blooming well - and all over the yard! Our local farms are advertising that their berries will be in the stands and ready for picking this coming weekend. We'll be reading The First Strawberries, and we'll spend time observing the wild strawberries growing in our yard. We'll take photos and/or make sketches for the nature journals. When they turn red, we'll try some in our morning cereal. We'll moon gaze, of course, and we'll head to our local farm to purchase strawberries in bulk. Back home we'll try making some strawberry-rhubarb jam (using our own homegrown rhubarb!). After we've hulled our berries we'll bring the tops out to our hens - they'll love them! I have a terry-cloth tablecloth with a strawberry print that belonged to my grandmother - that will grace our kitchen table this week. :)

* True confession - We didn't make it to the farm, and we didn't make jam, but I did bring home a big package of organic berries that the boys snacked on all week. I am hoping to make jam next week, once things have quieted down. We do have PLENTY of rhubarb stalks in the fridge, awaiting their sweeter counterpart!

6/12-6/18 "butterflies"

     * Now that warmer weather is here and flowers are blooming brightly, it's a perfect time for watching butterflies! We see them for sure, but don't get a whole lot in our yard, so I'm trying to remedy that with more butterfly-friendly plantings. One thing we'll do in our homeschooling this week is to research what plants attract butterflies. (I have lots of resources in our nature cabinet, and have already flagged the pages that refer to this topic.) I'd like to do a page in our nature journal for listing these plants and keeping notes on butterfly sightings this summer. (Bookworm already caught a lovely winged friend on his phone camera last week - a blue and black beauty that didn't linger long before heading to the skies.) There are all kinds of butterfly crafts we could do (a quick Pinterest search confirms that!) but I'll keep things very simple this year. I would love however, to make a butterfly bath and plan to pick up the materials at the craft store and set them aside for a slow summer's day project. The younger boys will read A Butterfly is Patient, and we'll use photocopies of this butterfly coloring book as we learn about different species. (Fyi, I absolutely LOVE using Dover coloring books with our homeschooling!)

*True confession - as noted above - it's a busy week here, there's not a lot of time for butterflies! Happily, butterflies will be around all summer - and hopefully we'll remember to keep our eyes open for them!

6/19-6/25 "sunshine"

    * The Summer Solstice arrives this week (Wednesday at 12:24 a.m., to be exact!) and so begins the season of SUN! Indeed, the longest day of the year is the Solstice itself so what better week to celebrate the glory of sunshine? We'll learn about the science and folklore of the Solstice, using several books. (Two of our favorites: The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice and The Summer Solstice.) Like last year, we will choose a solstice branch from the yard (and/or the wood pile) and hang it in our south-facing, sunny kitchen nook window. How we'll decorate it this year I'm not entirely sure - I'm hoping a trip to the craft store will spark an idea! We will also have a bonfire next week, depending on weather ... and naturally we'll be singing "You are My Sunshine" and "Sunshine on My Shoulder." Or, I should say, Little Bear and I will be singing sunny songs during our morning music time. (EB has sensory issues about singing singing and yet LB absolutely loves it! So in the very early mornings, LB and I sit by the open bedroom window, and sing in our rocking chair. We also sing while potty training - but that's a whole different story!) As a family we'll enjoy some barbecue and sun tea; we'll also make fresh lemonade and homemade Sun bread this week. :)

6/26-7/2 "herbs at home"

    * My hope is during the week previous to this one (our quiet, home-vacation week) we will have a chance to visit my favorite herb farm and come home with some new plants for my herb garden. I LOVE herbs and though my herb garden (or patch, really) is on the small side, I try to expand it a little each year. This week I'd like to use herbs as much as possible at home - in our cooking and cleaning, and maybe even in our health and hygiene. (I have lots of recipes and resources, and am combing through them now to pick out some ideas.) In our home learning we'll be investigating the history of herbalism and I have a couple of great coloring books for the boys to use (Medicinal Plants and Herbs, both by Dover). As we learn about common herbs, we'll make species pages, and note how they were used in the past - by native Americans, early settlers, colonial cooks and physicans. I also have my eye on a game called Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure - the price is a bit steep so I'll see just how interested my kids seem in the concept of herbal knowledge before I splurge!

Ok, so that's a look at the seasonal themes we'll be exploring this month, and some thoughts on how we might do this - given the time and inclination! I always follow my kids' leads - setting things up for them, inviting them to join me - but it they're not so interested, that's all right, too. Obviously I try to include lots of child-friendly activities, and over the years I think they absorb a sense of the seasons, and the rhythm of the year. I just try to model a constant awareness of and enthusiasm for a season and expose my kids to ideas and interesting activities. I think just being aware of such simple but meaningful concepts - gardening, strawberries, butterflies, sunshine and herbs - can be a little blessing for my family. Kind of a soft balm against a hard world that prefers fast and frenzied over slow and simple. The seasons take their time, and despite what the stores say, they always arrive when they're good and ready. β€

Well my friends, I'm going to wrap up now because as usual, this post went on longer than I intended! But I hope this was fun for you to read or maybe there was an idea or two here that sounded interesting to you. I will be back as soon as I can with a new post - a party recap perhaps, or a review of my new Day Designer (12 days in and still loving it!) as well as some thoughts on revamping my household routines ...

But for now I will say goodbye and wish you well ... hope to see you here again very soon! 


May was for milestones ... 🌞

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, a couple of recent bird sightings ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Little Bear!

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

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

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

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

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

I will see you here again very soon!


St. Patrick's Day at Our House ...❀

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhoo ...

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

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

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

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

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

Reading some books ...

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Tending our "classroom" garden ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then for a final touch, whipped cream clouds!

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Cute, right? :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


March Bits & Bobs ... ❀

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Hello and Happy Friday, my friends! I hope your week went well and that your new month is off to a great start! I thought I'd pop in quickly this afternoon to share a few pictures with you all - a few March "bits and bobs" if you will ... β€

With all the lovely weather lately we've been able to spend a good bit of time outside - and we were thrilled to find some true signs of spring all around us!

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Crocus shoots ...

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Daffodils, too! This is the earliest I can remember finding bulbs breaking ground ...

These guys are out and about now as well:

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Ever since the boys were little we've taken note of when the chipmunks come out of hibernation, for this is a sure sign that spring is firmly nudging winter out of its way! Usually it's sometime in late March - or even April if it's a long snowy winter - but we spied our first chipmunks at the end of February this year!

Red-winged blackbirds passing through the yard (moving from one pond to another) are another harbinger of spring and when the goldfinches start turning a brighter shade of yellow we know warmer weather is headed our way! Even more than a calendar - and you all know I love calendars! - I love using these kinds of events to feel the change not just in months but in seasons ...

Speaking of birds ...

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Our little ladies are doing well! But they're not so little anymore! (They'll be a year at the end of May.) They're enjoying the not-so-cold temperatures lately and generally lay about 3-4 eggs a day (not per hen - per flock!). I'm eyeing some "egg-collecting" aprons for spring ... :)

More birds ...

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A female cardinal and chickadee at our front feeder. The buds on the magnolia tree look promising, don't they?

The boys are loving these milder days, too ...

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There's still a smattering of snow around the yard, but for the most part it's all gone. All the snow melt has left several vernal pools in our neighborhood however ... and I simply cannot WAIT for those first mild nights when we can hear that telltale sound ... peep peep peep!

(Working on a vernal pond walk for our Nature Club next month!)

More outdoor fun ...

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My middle boys reminding Little Bear how to pedal!

We are expecting colder weather this weekend, but the long-range forecast shows a nice rebound back into the 40s. That might not sound too "Springy" to you, but around here what that means is NO SNOW! And at this point in the year I'm ready to be done with snow. It's just too lovely to see all the bits of greenery and tiny critters bravely poking up and around the yard, happily doing their spring thing.

"Spring things" aside, I snapped this picture on Thursday when the ol' March wind was blowing like CRAZY ...

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All I could think was, "In like a lion ..."

Backing up a few days though, on (Shrove) Tuesday evening, per family pre-Lent tradition, we made masks!

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It's a very simple craft - paper plates cut in half, with eye holes and a popsicle stick for a handle. We do this just about every year. Sometimes I put out feathers and stickers and other craft materials but this year the dot-markers were the big hit with the younger boys!

Here's Little Bear modeling the mask I decorated ...

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I actually like how the dot marker masks came out best!

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That night we had pancakes for supper - complete with maple syrup, grilled apple-chicken sausages, home fries (aka Smiley fries) and paczki for dessert. That's pretty decadent, but that's the point on Shrove/Fat Tuesday!

The next morning we buried the alleluia, and I turned my attention to the March calendar. How I love these vintage papers and stickers!

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I thought these little elves (gnomes?) looked very much like leprechauns ...

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I've ordered several sets of Victorian style stickers for decorating my calendars ... it's something very small but it sure makes me smile!

Now, here I am at my kitchen counter, attempting to get a handle on the weekend plans (p.o.w. notebook on left) and an overview of next week's agenda (small orange planner on right). I'm planning to do a "where I work" post next week - because as much as I love my desks, it's here that I usually keep and manage all my planning paraphernalia!

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My pre-planning was a bit slow this week, so I'll be doing some last minute scurrying over the weekend. Office hours are a must! And I'll take pictures so I can finally get up that "planning routine, part two" post ...

I really can't complain about a crimp in my planning time, though ...

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... because we've been doing lots of this. :)

Hanging out and taking things slow ... making funny faces for Mama's cell phone. As much as I love this boy's smile, I do enjoy all his funny faces, too! We were being couch potatoes here - all curled up with blankets, books, tea, matchbox cars and molasses cookies. I can't think of a better way to spend a quiet, homey afternoon ...

And so March is off! And Lent is underway ...

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On Wednesday night, the first stone was chosen from our basket and this week our Lenten theme is "prayer." So we began our conversation over supper - about how we might work more prayer into our lives - and just what "more prayer" might look like, for each of us. It was a good talk - one we'll continue once Bookworm gets home for spring break tonight. Hooray!

Prayer can be so very different from one person to the next - and from one faith to another. It's important, I think, to be aware of that - and respectful of that. Some are steadfast prayer "warriors," others perhaps less so. Some prefer a prepared script while others rely more on private thoughts. Some need certain visuals or sacramentals, sacred spaces or even special music. For me it's usually a combination of these things - and different things on different days! As I told my boys, prayer for me is whatever opens my heart to God - His purpose for me - and cultivates a sense of serenity, acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes it's a collection of words I memorized as a child, sometimes it's a litany of petitions as I fall asleep at night ... and sometimes it's just the way I feel as I stand in my yard, turn my face to the sun and breathe in ... letting a deep appreciation for this wondrous world fill me. To me, these are all forms of prayer. I always encourage my children to pray, but I don't expect it to be just like I do. I hope that they'll find their own form of prayer ... and in this way it will be most meaningful. β€

Well my friends, I will let you go as I've kept you here quite long enough! But as always I thank you for stopping by ... I hope you enjoy your weekend! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... 

I'll see you here again very soon!


Welcome, February! ❀

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Good Thursday morning, my friends! I hope your February is off to a great start! We've been busy here with homeschooling and home projects and some of us are nursing a head cold, while a couple of others are just getting over feeling unwell. (I'm happy to say, I'm in the latter group!) Currently I am working on a post about the February section of my planning binder but computer time is a wee bit scarce right now ... so it might be another day or two. Still, I thought I'd pop in and share a few photos from our week so far. This is one of my favorite weeks in the year because it's just rich with "deep winter" goodness - St. Brigid's Day, Candlemas, Groundhog's Day ... not to mention, the Superbowl! (Go Pats!)

Anyhoo ... as I type up this post (late on Thursday, nearing teatime) the snow is flying! It's been sunny all morning (though chilly), but just now the skies got very dark and then suddenly the flakes were falling fast! We're all home now - including Bill (the one with the head cold) - so I don't mind one bit. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow ... seems the groundhog was right after all!

Speaking of groundhogs ...

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I made this for the boys today and they got such a kick out of it! (Not to mention they were thrilled for a cake out of the blue!) I saw a variation of this idea on Pinterest and had to add it to the week's "crafts and comforts." It's just an 8x8 vanilla snack cake (Trader Joe's) topped with homemade cocoa frosting - mounded in the middle to resemble a groundhog's den. Then I stuck a Teddy Graham in the middle (taking on the role of the groundhog here, popping up to look for his shadow) and sprinkled the "ground" with crushed chocolate cookies (dirt), green sugar (grass) and tiny white candies (snow). Cute to behold, but even more importantly ... really delicious with a cup of milk after lunch!

Also in the kitchen today ... I have several potatoes baking for tonight's shepherd(ess) pie. Don't potatoes in the oven just smell amazing? In a bit (meaning, once I finish this post) I will put the kettle on and get the younger boys to help me make a loaf of Irish soda bread to go with tonight's dinner. And do you know what we will have on that bread ... ?

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Yes, our very own homemade butter! ❀

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We've been making butter on the feast of St. Brigid (patroness of Ireland, dairymaids, cattle and midwives) for many years, but this was Little Bear's first time with the project! And he was pretty impressed - if not much help with the actual shaking. He's only three, so I cut him some slack!

Also for St. Brigid's Day and Candlemas (yesterday and today, respectively) ... winter citrus candles!

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I like to melt beeswax and make candles on Candlemas, but this year I kept it a bit simpler. As crafts go, this was pretty quick and easy! The trickiest bit is getting the orange flesh away from the orange shell neatly. So I just hollowed out an orange and split it in half ... pressed a small star-shaped cookie cutter in one end and stuck whole cloves all around the opening. Then I placed a beeswax tealight inside ... smelled SO amazing. Even after the orange peel started smoking. Oops!

(Of course, it goes without saying, I keep burning candles well out of reach of the children and I never leave them unattended. It's nice to light them while you say a verse or prayer - then quickly snuff them out.)

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I thought the star shape was reminiscent of Brigid's cloak as described in this story - one of our favorite February books! There are so many wonderful picture books to enjoy all through the year ...

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I try to organize mine by seasonal flavor. I have huge baskets in our basement with books filed by season. Right now we have our "deep winter" books up in the schoolroom ... and I must admit - as much as I enjoy them, I'm itching to get to those "early spring" titles!

But there is joy and value in every season, and winter certainly has us in its grip ...

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Now that I have a "real" camera again (a birthday present from Bill and the boys) I am always hoping to get outside and snap photos. I particularly love the early morning ... although this (pre-sunrise) picture is dark, I like how it represents the harsh beauty of winter. I also just love rosehips, period. :)

Back out in the learning room (aka the sunroom), I have a nature corner set up and this is our verse for the month ...

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Lovely words from Be Blest: A Celebration of Seasons, one of my favorite poetry books. β€

Another family tradition at Brigid's Day/Candlemas (nevermind what the groundhog says!) is to organize and bless our spring seeds ...

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I have all kinds of grand plans for the gardens this year! Last year it was all about building the coop and settling our hens, but this year I hope to expand our gardens - flowers, herbs and veggies. Maybe some fruit bushes. Clearly, there will be plenty of morning glories ... ;)

Another quick craft for February ...

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I cut out hearts from pretty scrapbooking paper and made up a garland for the library mantle ...

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I had the grapevine balls on hand (they came off a string of lights) and threaded them with the paper hearts on a length of twine, then hung the garland just beneath the lip of the mantle. Meanwhile, up above ...

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A boxwood wreath - the last of our "Christmas greenery," which was supposed to come down today  - is sporting several Victorian valentines. (Barnes & Noble has the loveliest, old-fashioned notecards for each holiday ... reasonably priced, too!) And just below the wreath is a message for the month (craft store letters painted robin's egg blue ... need a second coat!) and some red beeswax tea lights. I'll be making salt-dough candleholders with the boys for these tealights later this month. The jar candles on either end were made last Candlemas.

Oh, and finally!

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I saw an idea on Facebook - and I cannot remember its origin now! - but it was to use post-its as little love notes for your child(ren) ... one a day leading up to February 14th. I found these cute heart-shaped post-it notes on Amazon (actually, with Lent in mind but they work well here) and embellished a plain craft board wreath with a "Love" banner. (Glittery adhesive stickers against scrapbook paper cut into a banner shape.) Each day I will add a note, filling the whole wreath, with all the different ways we love. Maybe something to love about life, about the world around us ... or maybe something we love about each other. They're not personalized but something I hope each family member enjoys reading each day. Thinking about all the ways we are blessed by love in our life!

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Well my friends, I'd best wrap up now ... this post has gone on MUCH longer than I intended ... teatime has arrived and the sun is shining once again! So as always, I thank you for your time and attention and I wish you a pleasant evening (or day as the case may be). I hope all is well with you where you are ... and I hope to be back again in just a few days to talk more about my February planner ... and plans! :)

In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 4: Happy Hearts at Home

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

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

❀

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more nativity scenes around the house ...

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

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

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

And how about this one? :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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❀ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

❀

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

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

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

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

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Celebrating Advent with Older Kids ... ❀

Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

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

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

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

So Michelle's question got me thinking ... 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*❀*

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

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

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


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! β€οΈ

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!


A Spot of Thanksgiving Tea πŸ’›

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Hello, my friends ~ and Happy Thanksgiving Eve! :) Things here are all a-bustle as we prepare for tomorrow's big family gathering. My happiest news is that our oldest son came home last night from college! It is so good to see our Bookworm! Despite all the cleaning and decorating I've been doing this week, our Thanksgiving holiday officially began once this boy stepped in our front door ...

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(I never sleep so well as when ALL my boys are at home.)

So today I'd like to pour you all a cup of tea, offer you a cookie or two - pre-made I'm afraid, but quite tasty! - and catch up over a little Turkey Day chat:

If you're American, how are you celebrating this wonderful holiday? What's your favorite tradition? What does your menu look like this year? For my friends living outside America, how does your weekend look? Are you enjoying these last days of late autumn?

And how about your weather? It's VERY cold and windy in these parts ...

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We even had our first snow the other night! Just a coating, but it was quite pretty. A gentle reminder that more white stuff is coming ...

So if you had a peek at my Thanksgiving planner then you know I have lots of things to do this week! I absolutely relish this week though, because Thanksgiving is all about family, home, food and GRATITUDE. A time that highlights all the dearest pleasures of home, and the kinds of things I love doing best ... baking, decorating, welcoming, remembering. And with all my boys home and the house shining and smelling of baking - well, I'm a very happy mama today!

So here is where I was yesterday - out in the sunroom, working on table linens, flowers, place cards ...

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... and lists, of course! Always the lists. :)

Now, I usually drink my tea out of a very large mug but it's nice sometimes to sit down with a fine china teacup don't you think? And as you see in my top photo, I enjoyed yesterday's tea in a beautiful cup that once belonged to a dear friend's grandmother. When Shoshana stayed with us last month she was in the midst of cleaning out her ailing mother's home, preparing to sell it this fall. A difficult task (both physically and emotionally) and I was glad we were able to find some time to sit down and really talk. As she cleaned, Shoshana found many family treasures, including unpacked boxes of teacups that once belonged to her maternal grandmother. Knowing how I love teacups, she offered them to me!

So as I sipped my from that cup yesterday, I thought fondly of Shoshana and our friendship that dates back to kindergarten. Shosh (or Susie as I called her growing up) has lived in California for many years, so we don't get to see each other very often but I am so grateful for her friendship. There were lots of cups to choose from but I picked the black and white print yesterday because it reminded me of a pilgrim. :)

(And by the way, I was drinking "American Breakfast" tea - a caffeinated blend because I needed a little shot in the arm yesterday!)

But now here's today's tea ...

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Back to my favorite decaf - with a spoonful of raw sugar and LOTS of organic whole milk - served in one of my gigantic tea mugs. Oh, and those cookies ...

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These are just Pilsbury holiday sugar cookies - because yes, I'm a sucker for holiday marketing! Just pop them in the oven and 10 minutes later, freshly baked cookies! I made them for the boys this week but honestly, I'm pretty sure I've eaten the most of anyone so far.

And here again is my helper, assisting in the placement of china and napkins and turkeys. :)

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About those paper turkeys ... remember I showed them to you in a previous post? Well, as you can see they are serving as place cards and on the back of each turkey we glued a printout of our grace ...

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He was SUCH a big help with those glue sticks ... ;)

And now each guest can follow along with the grace as it is said ...

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After grace, each guest can use the crayon by their plate to write down what they're thankful for then hang their turkey blessings on the learning line. It will be fun to see what everyone says!

Now before I go, a few random things ...

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This is my favorite Thanksgiving decoration - a pretty little pilgrim-turkey-angel jingle bell ornament I've had for years. I have it hanging in my kitchen window. :)

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Our favorite holiday special ... we watch it every year WHEN it is on. (I mean, we could watch it any time obviously - between YouTube and DVDs - but there's something really neat about participating in the annual airing!) Which is tonight, by the way - at 8 p.m. on ABC. :)

And here's me, having tea in the sunroom (aka learning room), wearing a new sweater I bought myself this morning!

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I have a longtime love for cardigans, and my favorite is one I've had for years - a long soft gray sweater that I wear ALL the time in cool/cold weather. Well, it was time to have a second sweater for changing things up! I saw this navy blue cardigan at Target and couldn't resist. And then I had to show you all, because if you're looking for a soft and WARM, kick-around, but nice-enough-to-wear-out kind of sweater, this is it. $30 is not bad in my opinion for a well-crafted sweater. There were other colors to choose from but I just honed right in on this deep blue. It's one of my favorite colors to wear.

Oh, and there are pockets! :)

Had to share this too ...

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A fresh binder and pad of vintage-style cardstock! Revamping my homekeeping binder with fresh supplies makes me very happy! I'm working on tweaking last year's seasonal planning sheets so that they're current for 2017. Adding a few new page designs, too. Hope to have a post on all that sometime in early December!

Here's a peek at the November-themed page ...

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(P.s. Remember a while back on Facebook I mentioned I was hosting a homeschool moms meeting with the discussion topic, "time management tools?" Well I have not forgotten I promised to share notes from that meeting! But we had so much to discuss, we're actually having a follow-up meeting next month! In a future post I'll tell you all about the meetings and all the different planning styles we discussed.)

One last picture ...

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Basking in the sun, taking all the holiday prep in stride (while Oliver hides) is my Archie. :)

Now I have a couple of pies to make and some cranberries to brandy, but first a bit of housekeeping ...

(And how about another cup of tea?)

ADVENT NOTES 

I will post the follow up to my Advent planning sheets after the holiday (but hopefully over the weekend, or at the very latest early next week). I have notes on each of the planning sections to share, but I'm still in the midst of organizing this year's plans! (Hitting the craft store on Friday!)

I can show you this though ...

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So this is something we'll be doing for Advent! I saw an idea on Pinterest (originating at this blog here) and I just thought - how very clever! I'm still mulling this over, but I will fill you all in once I get all those pockets filled in!

ADVENT TEA


I will also be hosting a weekly tea here all throughout Advent ... up till New Year's actually! Stay tuned for more details but I would love to have you join me. This year I am eager to see YOUR favorite tea cup. What do you like to drink your tea/coffee/cocoa/mulled cider in best? Every one that sends me a picture of their favorite cup (or mug) will be entered in my Winter Comforts Giveaway. This package will be mailed out after the new year. :)

Note: I still don't have my blog email up and running so for now, if you'd like to send me a picture (or just a hello!) you can send it to drhanigan AT gmail DOT com. :)

Ok, I think that's all I have for now. I do hope you enjoyed our tea, and I would love to hear from you if you have a moment. I know many of us are busy scrambling about getting ready for tomorrow's big feast, so maybe we'll catch up in a few days. But as always, I thank you for joining me here and I look forward to visiting again! 

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I will see you here soon!

AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


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 πŸ’›

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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 ...

Lantern song

(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. πŸ’›

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!


A Happy Halloween Recap!

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Hallowmas Greetings, my friends! I hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween night. Yesterday was quite fun, and naturally I took a whole lot of pictures, so today I'm here to share! :)

As per family tradition, Bill took the day off from work so we could spread out our celebrating and spend the day together, doing simple but meaningful things. To begin with, Earlybird's therapist arrived dressed as ... Spiderman! Oh, did that give EB quite the chuckle! EB himself dressed in a bright orange t-shirt (his "pumpkin shirt") and black pants, and together we drove over to a favorite farm where we picked out our jack o'lantern and a pie for supper. We took our time riding home over back roads, enjoying everyone's festive decorations. (Some people really go all out!)

Back home, around lunchtime, I started in washing up the last of the farm apples ...

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I love making applesauce on Halloween. Something about the agricultural roots of this holiday appeals to me, which was "summer's end" to our ancestors. Those folks, in order to survive, had to carefully store crops and put their livestock away for the winter - complete with a blessing of some sort. We're quite fortunate nowadays to live much more freely, but I can still appreciate that deep respect for the earth's natural rhythm.

(Of course I can still buy - and store - all kinds of produce, but these apples were purchased in bulk from a farm visit last month and were definitely getting a bit mushy. Perfect for sauce! And as for our livestock, we put our hens to bed a little on the early side last night. The nights are very cold now so we've set up a heater in the coop ... and the dear girls have JUST started laying eggs. Or one of them has anyway ... we are getting 1-2 eggs a day! Not a one of them in their nesting boxes though, lol! We find those eggs in the oddest spots ...)

Ok, back to the Halloween doings! After lunch, Little Bear and I set about painting our teal pumpkin ...

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Have you heard of this wonderful project? You can read more about the Teal Pumpkin Project here, but briefly, a teal-colored pumpkin on your doorstep signifies you offer non-food treats at your house (in place of, or in addition to, the usual candies). We take part in this because A. it's a nice thing to do, but also, B. our own Earlybird has food sensitivities that keep him from savoring the spoils of his Halloween endeavors. And we're always on board for raising awareness and respecting differences. It's everyone's Halloween, after all! :)

Next came the "haunted cookie house," a gift from my brother who works for Trader Joe's ...

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You can probably imagine how my inner Martha cringed a little as she allowed the boys to do ALL the decorating here, lol. (With Mom's hand steadying the icing tube.) Honestly though, it came out pretty well - ooey-gooey, spooky-ookie as EB called it!

And since I had a lot I wanted to accomplish before dark fell, I wrote up a quick Halloween honey-do list ...

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Only two checks so far at this point - we had a bit of work ahead of us! (And for the record, we didn't make the popcorn balls nor did we roast the seeds. The popcorn balls will happen later this week - and the chickens got the seeds!)

As the day waned I headed outside to catch a sunset shot ...

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I try to get this shot every year ... again, I love the symbolism here with the sun setting on the growing season. During this week of "fading light" we pull up all our garden debris and have a bonfire to mark the end of our harvest. (Such as it is - just some herbs, tomatoes and peppers.) Last night we could truly feel winter's approach ... a very chilly evening to be sure!

Inside again ... how I love to set a party table!

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Orange and black is traditional of course, but I tried to pull off a bit of an elegant touch. Nothing too gothic, but I did have some silky crows and feathers about, black lace and crystal candy bowls, glowing lanterns and gorgeous orange roses ...

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Oh, how I love those roses ... boo!πŸ•· 

And how about this cool bottle of wine?

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I thought the colors and label looked very atmospheric, but didn't realize the word Bogle was a Scottish term for ghost or boggart! Thanks go to my friend Tanya for the heads up!

p.s. It was very good wine. :)

As I puttered about decorating, Bill and the boys got down to the serious business of pumpkin gutting and carving ...

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This is NOT EVER a Mama job ... (ew).

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Instead, Mama was organizing a basket of "safe" goodies for my boys!

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The foyer table though ... now that was the place to find all the usual Halloween goodies!

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The middle cloth bag held spider rings, plastic rats and lizards, crazy eyeballs, and glowsticks. The cauldron on the far left held organic (EB-friendly) candies. I kept those as back up in case we emptied the first bowl!

Had to catch this shot ... our little "real" pumpkins looking out the window at the giant inflatables!

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And here's our front steps with all the pumpkins lined up, ready for their big night!

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(Flashlights inside for safety's sake.)

Back inside, we remembered to take a few people pictures ...

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Here I am with three of my four boys - our little homeschool Halloween! Really missed my Bookworm last night ... 

And here are a couple of my best fellas, all decked out in their orange (they are so good to humor me, lol) ...

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(Three of the four boys are now taller than Bill!)

And my folks came over for Halloween Supper, another family tradition ...

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Unfortunately my brother was sick and couldn't join us. I know how much he loves taking his nephews trick-or-treating and we all really missed his presence! Feel better soon, Uncle Matt!

Now, supper - as you saw above in the "honey-do" shot - was a hearty and autumnal Halloween meal. Hot dogs and mac and cheese, chicken pie ... beans and biscuits (which should have been brown bread) and squash pie for dessert. I had plain donuts too, but saved them for this morning. :)

Oh, and in case you were wondering about that hat - the "good witch" hat I've had for years - I do complete the outfit with a black ensemble and stripey- socks!

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Finally it was time for the younger boys to get into their costumes!

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(As most parents understand, we wait until the very last minute for the costumes.)

So we had a dragon on the left (his second year in this costume) and a straight-up ghost on the right. (God bless EB - he can't really handle costumes but he's ok with this t-shirt. I'll have to find a bigger size for next year!) As you can see they were getting a bit antsy for tricks-or-treats ...

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"Where are all the kids?"

 And then time at last to head out ...

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One thing I love about Halloween - and have since I was a kid - is how everything looks so different on this night, while we're walking about the neighborhood. The sky, the houses, the people, the sounds ... it really does feel spooky in a way, but it's an innocent kind of spooky. Knowing we're close to home and family and warmth and safety, makes heading out into that darkness just a little bit thrilling and a little unreal ... but wonderfully fun. :)

Of course, at the end of the night ...

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Archie just wanted to know if it was safe to come out! 

Well my friends, I know this went on very long, so I thank you sincerely for taking the time to read and share in our fun! I hope you enjoyed this peek into our Halloween celebration ... and I'd love to hear about your traditions if you have a moment. :)

For now though I wish you all well and will hope to see you here again very soon ... I've got some November crafting to talk about this week and those Advent planning sheets should be ready soon! (Not "this week soon" as I'd hoped but maybe "early next week soon.")

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