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#52Weeks: My Kitchen Cabinets & Drawers ...

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I'm here with a report on my "Organized Home Challenge" progress! And I'm happy to say it's still going well ... :)

As I mentioned in last week's post, I am following a challenge called, "52 Weeks to an Organized Home" this year. It's run by Taylor Flanery of Household Storage Solutions 101 and each week we tackle a different section of the home, working our way through daily "decluttering missions." Along the way there are all kinds of supportive posts to encourage us (on Facebook and Instagram) and daily email reminders to keep us on track ...

Happily, I'm finding it easy to keep up and honestly, I'm having fun too!

You can find out more about the program through links provided in my earlier post, but here is a peek at the Challenge printables I have stashed in my planning binder for easy reference ...

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On the left is a breakdown of all 52 challenges - one for each week of the year - and on the right is January's daily decluttering missions calendar. I have been using a blank cleaning schedule I found online to keep track of my weekly tasks as seen here ...

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I just copy the daily missions into each daily block and use a red pen to mark off each completed task. This sheet shows tasks for the next two weeks - 1/16-1/22 "Pantry/Food Storage" and 1/23-1/29 "Refrigerator/Freezer." The underside of this sheet shows the last two weeks' tasks which I'm pleased to say is filled with red checks! :)

Anyhoo - today I am here to catch up and show you how last week went. I really hope to do this each week as a means of keeping myself motivated and dedicated! (And don't hesitate to nudge me or ask about my progress if I've gone quiet on the topic, lol!)

Well, our first week of the year focused on The Kitchen Sink, Table & Countertops, while this past week's challenge targeted "Kitchen Cabinets & Drawers." And I think I'll probably say this each week but, BOY did my cabinets and drawers need a lot of work! But by taking just one small challenge each day I found it to be definitely do-able. I even finished a day early - doubling up yesterday by tackling food storage containers AND pots and pans. :)

Ok ... here we go!

Here is my utensils container on the kitchen counter, parked next to the microwave ...

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I could probably fill three of these stands, but instead, I pared things down, including only the tools we use most often. The rest of our utensils were placed in a small pile tucked rather tidily in this bottom drawer filled with random things ...

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Which also now holds paper bags, wax paper sandwich bags, paper plates and a small amount of paper napkins. (We try to avoid using disposables, but sometimes they're handy to have on hand!)

I did remember to take before pictures of that above "junk" drawer ... hang on:

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Above as it first appeared, and then below, after removing a layer of debris ...

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(Is it just my kids or do yours also come out of the woodwork whenever you start "weeding out" some kind of stuff and so suddenly they MUST be involved in order to see whatall is going down and whatall might be of use to them. Heaven forbid you get rid of anything as essential as an oversized warped wire whisk!)

So yes, this was very much a JUNK drawer and had not been cleaned out ... well, ever. Things just got stashed here when we moved in (3 1/2 years ago!) and stuff kept getting thown in here. Extra utensils, party goods, plastic utensils, egg cartons ...

Once I removed EVERYTHING from this drawer and the one above it  ...

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... I got down to business. In each case I cleaned the space first (vacuuming and/or wiping out with a damp cloth) and then went through all the items, whittling down what was essential and what was not. Once I had those essential items in neat piles, I returned them to the clean spaces.

Here is the potholder/kitchen cloths drawer now:

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It might not look like a lot of towels, but these are very deep drawers. Under that basket (which holds smaller-sized dish rags and microfiber cloths) are more folded towels. And under the oven mitts (which are scorched and well used!) are even more pot holders. Under the scented bluebird mug mats are a few trivets.

I can't tell you how good it felt to get these drawers - long neglected and forever overcrowded - all tidy!

Ok, moving on ... here is my silverware drawer:

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This didn't need too much decluttering, but I did lift out the divider and vacuum all the crumbs! (Cute story about the dual sets of stainless steel measuring cups and spoons ... many moons ago, Bill and I each bought the other a set of these for our first Christmas as husband and wife. It's actually convenient to have two sets since we do cook and bake quite a bit.)

One of the more time-consuming challenges for me was this absolute mess ...

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So yeah, that happened. Lol, I can't believe I'm showing you this! As you can see from the scribbles somebody once made use of the Sharpies hidden in this drawer ... only he didn't bother to find paper. sigh Eventually we will paint the drawer to cover up all the scribbles ... but today was not that day!

So what's in this drawer? Well, what isn't, lol? Clearly a real hodgepodge of things - kitchen twine, garden twine, writing utensils, take out menus, notepads, batteries ... and um, a Christmas ornament???

Anyway, here's the after ...

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:)

Small glass jam jars for glue sticks, rubber bands, erasers, paper clips and thumb tacks (in the covered jar). Local menus, notepads, an assortment of pencils and pens, stapler, scissors, tape, rulers and a bin of index cards which I use for Earlybird's daily therapist. I'm also considering using the alphabetical tabs for a simple and easily accessible family address/phone book.

Next up I tackled foils, plastic wraps and plastic bags ...

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It's a bit of a tight fit but it's everything I need. Actually, I really don't need that second box of Press n' Seal. That could be kept in the pantry ...

And here is last Friday's challenge: Food Storage Containers.

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We use all glass containers made by Pyrex. It took a while to phase out the Tupperware but it was worth it! These take up one end of the cabinets where we keep our dishes.

And here we have our pots and pans ...

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This is a rather dark photo (this cabinet is under our island, facing the sink) but what we have here is a large wok on the top shelf, sitting on top of an oversized cookie sheet. The orange thing is a flexible cutting mat. (Or I'm pretty sure it is, anyway. It could be a silicone baking mat, but I've yet to test that theory.) The lower level has a pull-out rack with (not seen, tucked in back) a few fry pans, including our cast iron pans and our two main pots. (Above the fridge I have our oversized dutch oven and stockpot.) Stacked on the right hand side are cookie sheets, cookie racks, cutting boards and our pizza stone.

Last but not least, it was time to address the cabinet under the kitchen sink! A rather gloomy and cluttered cabinet if ever there was one! I had hoped to paint the inside of this dark cabinet as part of the challenge, but ... not enough time! (Added to our master household task list!)DSC00313

I basically cleaned everything out - tossed or recycled old stuff - and then set up some nice storage containers.

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The blue plastic bins I found at Target and the aqua wire bin I picked up at Michaels. I pared down the cleaning supplies to sponges, cleaning sprays, sink powder, dishwashing liquid, dishwasher tabs, hand soap and an all-purpose cleaner.

(Note: We have a child-proof lock on the outside of this cabinet!)

And now a sneak peek at next week's challenge ... the pantry!

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As you can see, I will DEFINITELY have my work cut out for me here!

Taylor has a great suggestion to go along with the challenges for the next couple of weeks. We're going to - as much as possible anyway - eat from the pantry, fridge and freezer in order to use up what we have on hand and make space where we can. I will have to tweak my menu plan a little but I think this makes sense and clearly, we have plenty of foodstuffs to choose from ...

I tend to over-buy food, but hey - we are a family of six including four growing boys - and because we homeschool we eat at home quite a bit. Plus, we hardly ever eat out and only order take out once or twice a month (if that). So it's good to have plenty of food on hand! Non-perishables are fine in that scenario, but I have a hard time keeping the fresh foods in balance. How many times do I buy produce only to have it spoil before it's been utilized? And UGH do I hate wasting food. It's a waste of money, yes, but it just makes me feel awful. Too many people go hungry and I honestly feel shameful when we let food go bad. A goal this year is to be less wasteful - all around.

So clearly my pantry shelves are not as organized as they once were and honestly, I've lost track of what we have here. Plus there are likely some things in here that are out of date and/or need replacing. (Especially baking supplies and such.) Another family goal for the year is to eat less prepared and processed foods so keeping basic ingredients on hand is important. If we're going to make our own pizza dough we need our yeast to be fresh!

But all this is something to tackle next week ... I am looking forward to it, though! :)

One more thing before I go and I know I've kept you here quite long!

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I have had this book on my shelf for a few years now, but have yet to really dig in. (I tend to over-buy when it comes to books, too!) Well, I found it the other day on my library floor - yes, just sitting right there on the floor as if it leapt off the shelf and then waited there for me to stumble over it! (Which I did, because I'm graceful like that.) So I perused the contents for a moment - and found my interest piqued because the program is divided by weeks AND they are starting in the kitchen. Which is of course right where I'm at! I am going to try reading along as I work on the #52Weeks Challenge and see what kind of extra tidbits of encouragement and information this book brings me! More on this later though ... I've only just begun reading! :)

Well my friends, I thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed my weekly "progress report!" I'll return next weekend with another check-in ... but this week I will also be sharing pictures from my "Birthday Tea" and I hope, a close-up look at my Day Designer daily page. But for now I leave you with my gratitude and my wish that your evening is pleasant and peaceful. 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. 

(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!


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❤

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Hello and happy weekend, my friends! Welcome to another Advent Tea ... may I pour you a cup of something tasty and warm? :)

Well, our third week of Advent has arrived and the pink candle has been lit ... Oh Joy! And you know how they say "all good things come to those who wait?" Well, that old adage is perhaps never more true than during the season of Advent, because in these special weeks we are a people who wait and wonder ... enjoying the here and now, yet knowing there is a greater joy that lies ahead ... 

Which is why this mug seemed perfect for today's Tea ...

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:)

Now, I am not a patient person by nature, but like most moms I've had plenty of opportunities to work on developing this particular habit. I've learned that life is easier when patience is a daily practice, not just an admirable (if abstract) idea or something left to people with loftier ambitions and/or holier lives than mine. Patience is perhaps the greatest of all virtues when one is a parent ... and if I may so, especially when one is a special needs parent. (Progress can be slow ... perfection is overrated ... patience is essential.)

But whether we're born with a patient nature or not, the world-at-large rushes us all right along, urging us onward with its message of now-now-nowInstant, immediate, super fast results ... no waiting necessary!

If we're aware of this influence we can recognize when it is affecting us falsely or adversely. It's good to pause and ask, whose time clock are we following anyway? Sometimes time is of the essence, but it's important, I think, to remind ourselves to appreciate the here and now ... to savor the wait if you will. Learning to be patient is an excellent exercise in humanity - and humility - and I think one of the greatest teachers of patience (aside from our children!) is nature. As you all know I love nature! I respect its cleverness and consistency. It doesn't rush ... it always has a plan. A plan that has worked for ... well, eons. It glories in every turn of every season, knowing everything happens in its own time ...

"Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Case in point - yesterday was brutally cold with temps barely in the teens, and this morning it's snowing! It's the Saturday before Christmas ... and the weather is just not getting on board with my to-do list! But admittedly, it is doing my spirit a world of good. Because it's been a long - and, frankly tiring - week. We've all been running here, there and everywhere, getting our busy-ness accomplished. But now nature is advising me to sit back and take it slow. Leave the errands for later. Breathe in, breathe out ... maybe let Amazon Prime do the leg work today.

Even my page-a-day calendar is sending me a message ...

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So, ok. Balance is necessary. We can't always rush and we can't always lag ... managing my time and energy accounts is an-going #lifegoal for me! 

But ... that's a topic to explore further, in the new year perhaps. For now, let's get back to the here and now. We're deep in Advent, halfway through December, and it's snowing ... I'm happy in a well-insulated snow globe today. :)

Here's a look outside my window this morning ...

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

As I've been describing, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation ... because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us. So in our first week of Advent we explored the wonder of earth and sky, and in the second week it was the serenity of plants and trees ... and this week we are finding joy in the beautiful wildlife with which God has graced our earth ...

And as we've ambled along our journey, our Advent Garden has slowly been coming to life ...

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Stones and soil were topped with moss and trees ... and now we spy a pretty deer in this tiny forest. Meanwhile, outside there is much evidence of creation all around!

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We've been enjoying a snowy December here in New England and the boys have fun checking for tracks left behind by the creatures who call our habitat home. Mostly it's the usual suspects, but you never know ... sometimes there's something new to investigate!

Now from my pictures you can probably guess we live in a woodsy area, and that's true. We live next to a state forest and our town, while suburban, has old agricultural roots. Our own property is not quite a farm per se - though we are sort of heading that way! This past spring we began keeping hens and I must tell you - they just bring us such joy! The fresh eggs are wonderful, but our girls are such dears ...

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I do relish my "farm chores" such as they area ... walking out to the hen pen to bring them food and checking their water. 

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Good morning, pretty girls!

And how fun to gather eggs with my fellas ... we're still getting several eggs a day even though we were warned they would stop for the winter. Not sure what our girls' game plan is but we're thrilled with our daily harvest!

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I love to tour the corners of our yard and I especially love the mornings when the sun is just rising in the east ...

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Those are my neighbor's horses - aren't they lovely? They also own three goats, six dogs, a flock of ducks and lots of chickens! They are the very nicest people, too. I took this picture yesterday morning as I was visiting the hens. I was channeling a little bit of Tasha Tudor here, walking about my own homestead and tending to my critters, the domestic and the wild. (Only I was in a parka and pajama pants ... not quite Tasha's pretty red cloak!)

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We regularly set out several types of food - black oil seed, suet cakes and nyjer seed for the finches. We use a variety of feeder designs - both tubes and trays - and I throw out seed on the deck every day ...

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Yes, my beloved squirrels get fed right alongside their feathered friends - I don't play favorites! (Well, except when it comes to predators like hawks, owls and foxes. Those creatures I shoo off as best I can.)

But speaking of Tasha Tudor, this is a page from the beautiful book, Forever Christmas, the chapter called, "The Animals' Christmas" ...

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This is a wonderful book, full of old-fashioned goodness and gentle reminders to slow down and let nature be our guide. Tonight we're watching the video Take Peace, which is a tour of Tasha's Corgi Cottage at Christmas. And then perhaps we'll catch the latest episode of "The Great American Baking Show." (Anyone else watching that?) 
 
So yes, there is much joy in creation to be found, all around us and even right in our own backyards - but it's awfully bitter today so let's head back inside! I'm greeting you in the kitchen, wearing my favorite winter apron, a gift from my parents ...

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I find such joy in cooking for my family, especially in preparing seasonal foods! And though I love baking from scratch, sometimes you just have to cut a few corners, right? For example ...

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Last Tuesday was the feast of St. Lucia and once again I did not make the traditional saffron buns as I'd hoped to - BUT! I did throw some cinnamon rolls into a tube pan, baked them, glazed them, decorated them, and then set them aflame. Voila - feast day morning joy!

More joy in our week ... Earlybird celebrated his 15th birthday on Wednesday! Yes, this little boy is now FIFTEEN years old ...

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(That was a book about trains, his FAVORITE subject. He was very happy to receive a couple of books about the planets as well.) And I thought this birthday card was rather fitting - true in every word but also, such a lovely woodland design!

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Ok, since I'm keeping you so long, how about another cup of something hot?

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Snow days call for cocoa, don't you think? Tea soothes me, coffee revives me ... and cocoa brings me joy! And ding-ding-ding ... this is another one of those giveaway gifts! Yes, there will be a tin of this "Warm Me Up Chocolate & Cream Cocoa" in my Winter Comforts Basket! (More giveaway details at the bottom of this post.)

Oh, and that pretty blue notebook sitting beneath the tin?

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There will also be one of these in that giveaway basket! I have strong opinions on notebooks, and this is a notebook I just love! It's so nice to write in - smooth paper, soft lines - with a solid spiral-binding. I also have a pink one (that says, "Create a little magic everyday") that I'll use for a new diary project, but I use this particular blue notebook for my "to-dos, weekend plans and projects." I know I've been asked to post a little more about how I use this notebook and I will ... soon. :)

But since we're talking about notebooks and planners for a moment, let me give you a quick glimpse at a new planner I picked up recently ...

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(If you're thinking I might have a bit of a planner problem ... well, you might be right.)

I found this Woodland Tales planner at Barnes & Noble - it was the last one on the shelf, but I've also seen it online. I liked the layout and just could not resist the charming design! It's a smaller size - nice for the pocketbook - and it's specifically for week-at-a-glance planning. This will be used in addition to my Day Designer and my master planning binder ... and all that too, will be blogged about after the holidays!

Now, getting back to Advent, how about a look around our Christmas room (aka the library) where a woodland theme reigns ...

Starting with the children's nativity set where "all creation waits ... "

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You can just imagine the kinds of stories that get played out in this corner!

This display is set up on a table behind our loveseat and stretched out along the wall behind that is one of my favorite Christmas books, Woodland Christmas ...

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A lovely (and long) fold-out book that tells the tale of the animals preparing for Christmas. It is an Advent countdown too - with flaps on one side and labels for all the creatures on the other. I highly recommend this book if your children love animals! The drawings are soft and pretty but quite realistic.

Now our Christmas tree has a woodland theme going as well ...

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A ribbon of gold encircles the whole tree - featuring a holly-bedecked red squirrel! - as well as several strands of wooden cranberries. We've collected woodland ornaments since we were first married and some of these ornaments we've had for many years. (The birds above are from when I was little!) The reindeer lantern was new this year, though - the boys found it in one of their Advent pockets last week. :)

Even my daily Advent reading has a nature theme this year ...

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All Creation Waits - the very theme of our Advent! - has been a wonderful read so far. Every chapter (25 in all) presents a short meditation on one of God's creatures as it adapts for the long cold winter ahead - never fearing the darkness, knowing there is a new beginning ahead. Accompanied by gorgeous woodcut illustrations ... these reflections are certainly a new take on Advent, but they resonate deeply with me. 

And while we're speaking of books - I am so thrilled for this one! I stumbled across it at B&N yesterday ...

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Yes, a little early Christmas present to myself! Earth Psalms is a weekly devotional reflecting on how God speaks to us through nature. I am beyond excited to read it this year and I don't even feel badly I splurged on myself! (It was 50% off!) Now, I did offer to wrap it up and place it under the tree, but Bill let it slide ... ;)

Another early gift, this one from my husband who knows how much St. Francis means to me ... 

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Such a lovely wooden rosary bracelet. Something comfortable - and comforting - to wear every day. :)

Now, before I go (and yes I am planning to wrap this huge post up!) I'd like to share pictures of my very favorite animals of all - our cats, Archie and Oliver. It gives me such satisfaction and true joy to care for these two sweet boys ...

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Oliver by the heating element, tucked behind the loveseat in the library ...

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And Archie, snuggled up next to the chimney in the dining room. :)

**

Well my friends, as always I thank you for stopping by and I leave you with my wish that each of you are filled with joy, wherever you might find it. I hope your weekend brings you the rest and relaxation you need ... snow or shine, whatever challenges you might face, whatever comforts you crave ... may your time be full of the things that mean most. :)

I'll be back again on Monday - we've a week more of Advent Teatimes to go! I may even double up some of our friends as more readers share their cups with me ...

But oh, yes! So about that giveaway ...

At the start of the year I will be sending out a "Winter Comforts Basket" to one lucky reader. This basket will be filled with little random seasonal comforts and joys. I've been giving you "sneak peeks" each week during my Friday tea posts, and there will be one or two other surprises, as well. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite cup or mug - whatever you use to drink your beverage of choice in the cold winter months. Please email me your picture(s) with description here ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I will share your submission in one of my daily teatime posts and then on New Year's Eve I will announce a winner!

I hope to hear from you! In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 2: Plants & Peace

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday!

And what a fine Friday this is - beautifully bright if perhaps a little colder than is seasonably acceptable in these parts. ***brrrrr*** Still, it's one of those days that make being cozy at home seem all the more wonderful. Well, whatever the weather, I'm so glad to be here and share a cup of something hot and happy with you all ... to slow down for just a moment and catch up. It's hard to believe, but we're making our way through our second week of Advent now, and I hope the season is unfolding in a way that feels right and good for you and your family. I also hope you've all been enjoying our daily "tea with friends" posts! I am very grateful to all who have shared their cups (and thoughts) with us so far this month ... and so pleased there are many more to come!

So this week in my own family's Advent journey we are finding peace in the natural world around us - in trees, plants, and the spices and herbs that are special to this sacred season. We began on Sunday, St. Barbara's Day, with an easy little craft, preparing a small vase to hold our feast day branches. (Legend says that branches snipped on December 4th will bloom come Christmas morning ... this has never failed us before!)

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The vase is an inexpensive terra cotta pot I purchased at the craft store. I spread glue on the sides and wrapped the bottom section with twine and then, using a hot glue gun, covered the upper rim with cloth floral stickers. (Bill sealed the little hole in the bottom of the pot with hot glue so it would hold water.) Next we added forsythia branches from the yard and a few pretty (craft) pine cones just to anchor those branches (and add visual interest). I think it came out very pretty! We'll be making a few more of these for teacher gifts this year ...

But now, about today's Tea ... :)

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Actually, today we're enjoying a hot winter wassail instead of my usual tea. It's easy enough to make your own, but this bottled blend from Trader Joe's is very yummy and quick to prepare. Just heat it up and - voila! - a hot cup of Christmas cheer at the ready! I floated an apple slice on top for an extra bit of fun ...

Would you care to join me in a cup? A little something sweet and spicy to warm us as we walk through my frosty gardens?

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The above photos were taken after an overnight snow, when everything was crunchy icy. Yes, I think we might be in for a white Christmas if this cold and active weather pattern holds over the next couple of weeks! We still have our "mild" days though, and so after yesterday's thaw, we harvested some moss from the stone wall ...

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

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As I described in this post, we are rejoicing in God's glorious earth throughout Advent. One of our rituals is the tending of an indoor Advent Garden and we're reveling in the anticipation, slowly building up our tabletop terrarium with a new layer of life each week. Last week we added stones and soil, while this week we added some plants (the aforementioned moss) ...

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Oliver thought this was a GREAT idea.

And the boys found things in their Advent pockets this week that also reflected our theme ... a poinsettia, peppermint candy, fresh mint and evergreen sprigs. Each item symbolized a simple activity or treat or outing ... something to channel some of that wonderful Advent energy!

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Oh, also here in the kitchen - a new bottle of hand soap on the counter. This is such a little thing but I just love changing up the sink soap with the season. :)

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In New England, a touch of frost, a sprinkling of snow and the hint of spices in the air ... these are all hallmarks of the Advent season! Clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, citrus, apple and cranberry ... these are the "inside plants" we're exploring this week. As you see below, I brought out the mortar and pestle so the kids could try grinding some whole spices ...

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I'll be perfectly honest, this activity lasted all of two minutes. Not that it didn't appeal wildly to the younger boys, but the whole "hitting things with a marble wand" was getting a little out of hand. (Straying from the bowl to the table, fingers, etc.) Still, it was a fun activity and the kitchen smelled really good. :)

Soon I'll be starting fruitcakes ...

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... and we'll be filling small muslin bags with a mulling spice blend I purchased. These will be given as gifts along with fresh apples and pretty mugs. And speaking of pretty mugs ...

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Isn't this cup lovely? It is a very generous size and the golden letters spell out PEACE ... with snowdrops and winter greenery all around. I can see myself using this all season ...

AND .... if you enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway ... you might be enjoying it too! This mug will be one of the goodies tucked inside that basket. :)

Before we go, let's talk books and planners for a moment ... two favorite subjects of mine! Here are some of the reads we're enjoying this week ... 

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The bottom two are for the boys (still waiting on a few library requests to come in) and the rest are for me! :)

I'm taking some time this week to revisit one of my favorite author/illustrators, Tasha Tudor. I find such comfort and inspiration in her work - her children's books are family favorites - but I especially admire the way she lived her life. Not that we could all live quite as "off grid" as she did, but there is a lot to be said for "unplugging and slowing down" ... not just at Advent, but in any season. Forever Christmas was a gift from my dad many years ago, who bought this book in Tasha's home state of Vermont. I also absolutely love losing myself in the video, Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas. In this pile there is also a book of Christmas poems (a wonderful rec from my friend, Gill), my daily Advent read, and a fascinating little book about the folklore and tradition of Christmas plants.

I keep this pile of books stacked in a hopeful fashion beside my favorite reading chair ... I've been determined to find a little reading (and resting) time every day. :)

Late in the afternoon, with the sun heading for bed quite early, I took my cup of wassail to the library, so I might sit at my writing desk and get to work on our Christmas cards ...

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Yes, I am just that selfish enough that I need not one, but two desks, lol! The one in the family room (where I am sitting at this very moment) is for my computer and file crate and bill basket, etc. The white window writing desk you see above I keep for ... well, writing! It feels just a little bit "Jane Austen" to sit down at this desk and pen a chatty bit of correspondence to a friend. In January I will share a more thorough post on this happy writing corner ... as I get my holiday thank-you notes in order!

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Now in this "aerial" photo I spy two more small items that will pop up in that Winter Comforts Basket! A small tin of Trader Joe's body butter - just lovely for dry winter skin - and a small monthly purse planner (though in a different print than the one shown here). Fun little things to bring a smile to your winter days ...

Speaking of planners - parked here is my Day Designer and as I mentioned on Instagram last night, I don't usually do much with stickers and whatnot, but I found some very pretty ones at Paper Source this past week and I had to indulge. That washi tape especially is just SO so pretty. 

**

Well my friends, I will wrap up for now, but I hope you enjoyed our time together, sharing another cup of Advent Tea! I have several friends lined up to share tea with you all again next week (every day at 4:00!) and then I will return again on Friday with another longer post. Next week our family's Advent theme is "Joy in the Woodland."

Remember, if you'd like to join us for Advent Tea please send me a picture (or pictures) of your favorite cup by email: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com. I'd love to hear about your cup and any other Advent thoughts you'd like to share! Your pictures will be featured in a daily teatime post and you will be entered in my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway. I'll announce a winner on New Year's Eve and send the basket out shortly after the new year begins. :)

For now though, I will wish you all a wonderful weekend and as always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

See you here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of stories ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends Tea 1

 

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

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 ❤

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

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

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

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

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

 ❤

And from Gill:

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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


Martinmas Day with My Boys 💛

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

*deep breath*

Ok, on with my post! :)

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

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

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

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Goodness, but does this boy love himself some GLUE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next morning ...

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

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

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

Then it was time to check on the lanterns!

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

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

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

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Love all the autumn colors and shapes!

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

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

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How lovely is that?

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

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

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

Outside we go boys!

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

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

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

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

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Down with darkness, up with light;

Up with sunshine, down with night.

Each of us is one small light,

But together we shine bright ...

 

(E. Amarin)

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

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

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

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


Gratitude & Remembrance (November Crafts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I started with some particle board letters ...

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

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

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

Then added more of those orange mums ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

November really is a lovely month. :)

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


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!🕷 

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!


Reds and Greens and Orange and Blue ...🍂

(And yellows and browns and black!)

Happy Friday, my friends! Here's a little bit of Autumn from my home & garden to yours ... 💛

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Autumn is truly settled in around here as you can see - inside and out! The weather has been just glorious, as it tends to be in New England at this time of year: brisk, bright and OH the colors! Although ... we are expecting a brief return of summery weather this week - 80s even! - but since St. Luke's Day is this Tuesday, I'm not one bit surprised. ;)

Why you might wonder? Well, have you ever heard of St. Luke's Little SummerAccording to The Old Farmer's Almanac ...

Lovely, summerlike days that occur around October 18 are called St. Luke’s Little Summer in honor of the saint’s feast day. In olden days, St. Luke’s Day did not receive as much attention in the secular world as St. John’s Day (June 24) and Michaelmas (September 29), so to keep from being forgotten, St. Luke presented us with some golden days to cherish before the coming of winter, or so the story goes. Some folks call this Indian Summer, but that officially occurs between November 11 and November 20.


This brief warmup may be unseasonable, but it will be nice ... because any day we can throw open our windows and spend time outside comfortably is a gift. Dark and gray days are coming, I am ever aware! I can feel my internal clock slowing down, taking its cue from the world around me. The crickets are still chirping but more slowly, and the breeze is a noisy rustle as crisp leaves shake from their branches and head for the ground. I don't mind this slowing down though - in fact, I relish it. It's all part of life's rhythm and, after all, we humans are part of that great cycle, even if we can ignore it with all our modern conveniences! I feel it's a good thing to embrace the season's changes ... I've been turning more of my attention to the inside of our home (and the inside of my head), concentrating on domestic comforts and inner lights - cooking, reading, writing, planning, nesting ... preparing my family for the long winter ahead.

Anyway, speaking of domestic appreciation, here's my dinner menu for the coming week. It's been way too long since I've shared this (and to be honest, it's been too long since I've been consistent with meal planning)!

S - (Full Hunter's Moon) Hunter's Stew (A chicken-sausage/sundried tomato dish served with rice - one of Bill's specialities!)

M - (Practice night) Baked ziti, meatballs, garlic bread, salad

T - (St. Luke's Day) - Burgers on the grill, corn-on-the-cob, farmstand salad, fries

W - (It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV tonight!) - grilled cheese with tomatoes and ham, chicken soup, apple-pumpkin dump cake & steamed almond milk w/spiced pumpkin marshmallows

T - meatloaf, roasted multi-color carrots, stir-fried broccoli & whole grain rice

F - (Practice night & Bookworm home for the weekend!) - crescent dogs, baked beans & brown bread, tater tots

S - (Family Anniversary Lunch) - leftovers since we'll be eating a big lunch!

Well I guess I'd best wrap up now, as this post is getting rather long ... but as always I thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend and would love to hear how your autumn is unfolding if you have a chance. In an upcoming post (hopefully sometime this week) I will give you a tour of my new desk and chat a little about how I'm keeping organized these days. I am also working every moment I get on the next set of seasonal planning sheets. I'm hoping to have Late Autumn pages available to you well before the end of the month!

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

p.s. Don't forget to watch that moon rise tonight! 🌝


Michaelmas Merrymaking

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

First I must show you my pretty bouquet ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That went about as well as expected ...

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

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

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

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These were an even bigger hit than the dragon puppets!

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

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I love the look of concentration on his face! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here I am ...

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summery Thoughts & Pics ... 🌞

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Happy mid-July, my friends! I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their Summer so far ...

I know my posting has been very slow lately, but all is well here - it's just a very busy, hands-on season in my life! Days begin early - end later than I'd like - and I'm afraid naps are just not a regular thing anymore, lol. I'm finding it a challenge to carve out blogging time these days ... but I am still here! And I appreciate all your thoughts and queries, both here and at my Facebook page. I do not have my blog email working yet, so if you need me, please contact me by leaving a comment here or at FB for the time being. :)

Well, I'm popping in today to say hi and share a few photos if I may. I'm working at the kitchen table right now, sipping some cold coffee and listening to my boys all around me. Little Bear is singing a Spiderman song with Crackerjack while they work on a puzzle on the family room floor ... Earlybird is working hard on math skills with his therapist in the sunroom ... and Bookworm is weaving in and out of the kitchen, getting his own day going ...

Free time might be hard to come by these days, but I'm awfully grateful to be here in this season of life. These full and blessed days go by all too fast ...

Ok. First up - here's a sun craft I made for the Summer Solstice:

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I have always loved those colorful sun and moon plaques you see hanging on the sides of sheds or garden gates ... but goodness, they are expensive! This one is handmade (and rather humbly so) with salt dough. We left it to finish drying outside under its namesake. I haven't had the courage to paint it yet, but once I do and it is sealed against the weather, I will hang it somewhere in our garden ...

Speaking of my garden, it's doing very well, too!

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Above is the Bee Balm which started blooming just before Independence Day. I think it looks like little firework explosions! And boy, do the hummingbirds enjoy them ...

The herbs we planted last year are quite plentiful - I've been gathering them on dry days to hang over my kitchen window.

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In my basket above is St. John's Wort (seen in top picture, too), Thyme, Lavender and Rose petals. The rose bushes out front really did well this season - in fact they are now mostly covered in hips!

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I'll be researching what to do with rose hips, but in the meantime, I used the petals I collected to make some rosewater:

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Doesn't that look pretty? 

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Very easy to do - I placed a cup of rose petals in a glass bowl, covered them with 2 cups boiling water and then allowed them to steep (with a dinner plate resting on top) until cool. Then I strained the water into a jar as seen above. I purchased some amber glass spray bottles which I plan to fill with a couple of different herbal concoctions, one of them being a "rosewater refresher" for hot summer days. :)

And here is the "pretty pink forest" growing in my front yard ...

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These lovely blooms are Astilbe, and there is tons of it growing beneath the family room windows. And out back the Spirea is a veritable pink explosion:

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This whole area (which stands right beside the chicken coop) is a bumblebee haven!

A little more pink to be found along the front walkway ...

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These are Cottage Pinks! I love their clove-like scent - and that they remind me of my grandparents' garden AND that they were a favorite of Tasha Tudor's. So much of gardening is creating and recreating fond memories, isn't it?

 Now, here's a very "interesting" visitor we had in our yard recently ...

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Yes, that is indeed a red fox - and we've never seen one before (even at our old house) but wouldn't you know, the year we finally get chickens ... this fella shows up?

One more garden pic ...

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This tiny plant popped up all on its own beside my herb patch, and I wasn't sure what it was, but after consulting google - and helpful friends on Facebook - we've identified it as "Straw Foxglove!" A tiny cousin to these beauties out front ...

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I love that it's a mystery how it got there ... :)

And here's a pretty picture from my living room, taken on Independence Day morning ...

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The summer weather has been wonderful here in New England - bright and hot for the most part. Maybe a bit too hot this week (mid 90s by Friday) ... so as much as I love open windows, I'm very grateful for air conditioning!

Speaking of gratitude ...

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It's been many years since we've had magnetic letters on our fridge! I LOVE this age, don't you?

And how about a family pic? 

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We celebrated Bill's birthday last weekend, and I just love this shot of him surrounded by all his boys (and me)! In case you can't tell, he's lighting the candles on his cake - we couldn't fit all FIFTY on there! ;)

(Any longtime readers here astounded (as I am) at how big my boys are all getting? They were tiny when I started this blog!)

Parting shot, taken at my local Michaels craft store recently ...

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Mind you, this was taken BEFORE the 4th of July! I am all for planning ahead - and you all know how much I love autumn - but even for me this is just a wee bit too early!

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

(His birthday was yesterday - aka National Simplicity Day - and this is a topic for a whole 'nother post!)

Well my friends, I am going to wrap up now, because if I don't push "publish" soon there's a chance it will be another day or more before I get this post up! (Remember how I was sipping cold coffee back in that third paragraph? Yeah, it's taking me a while to get this post done!)

Plus, I have supper to make, and tonight it's sloppy-joe biscuits, corn on the cob and waffle fries - a real "boys' favorite." I've been a little lax in the meal planning department and really need to get back on track. I'm at the food store more than I'd like these days! 

(Another topic for another day!)

But as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading, and I hope this post finds you well ...

See you here again very soon!


Themes & Plans for May (Updated!)

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(Note: This is a post originally composed in 2008. I have fixed any broken links and updated the content to correspond with the current year, 2016. Hope you enjoy!)

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, skipping by their fleecy dams ... 

It's no wonder it's called the merriest month of the year - there is just so much to love about May! And it's no surprise this post is a day or two late - the call of "the wild" gets stronger every day. :) I hardly ever find myself at my desk anymore - and boy, does my inbox show it!

So, what follows is just a sampling - of things to do, things to notice, and things to remember this month. I hope you might find something useful in my ...

~ Themes & Plans for May ~ 

Nature

  • Flowering trees at their peak.
  • Lilacs bloom around Mother's Day.
  • Tulips are up now.
  • Violets and wild pansies in the grass.
  • Warblers in the tops of the trees.
  • Orioles passing through.
  • Goldfinches are brilliant yellow.
  • Cool rainy days are possible ...
  • ... but so are 80 degree days!
  • The lawn might need mowing ...
  • ... but watch for toads in the yard!
  • The orchard is frothy and white.
  • Wood ducks are returning.
  • Nests spotted at the pond.
  • Tent caterpillars in the trees.
  • Morel mushrooms sprouting.
  • Spring butterflies are here.
  • Watch for hummingbirds.
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit in the woods.
  • Last frost occurs this month.
  • The Full Flower Moon rises on the 21st.

Folklore

  • Birthstone: emerald
  • Flower: lily-of-the-valley
  • "A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay ..."

Food

  • sweet onions
  • rhubarb
  • early strawberries
  • new potatoes
  • radishes
  • artichokes
  • asparagus
  • baby lettuces
  • morels
  • peas
  • spinach
  • mint juleps
  • pecan pies
  • edible flowers
  • spring herb soup
  • first barbecue of the year

Faith

  • May Devotion ~ The Blessed Mother
  • Season: Easter; Ordinary Time (Summer) begins
  • St. Joseph the Worker (1)
  • Minor Rogation Days (2-4)
  • Ascension Thursday (5)
  • Our Lady of Fatima (13)
  • Pentecost Sunday (15)
  • St. Isidore the Farmer (15)
  • Trinity Sunday (22)
  • Corpus Christi (29)
  • The Visitation (31)

Household (& Garden)

  • Mow lawn; leave grass clippings down as mulch.
  • Clean and arrange deck/porch furniture.
  • Clean the grill; fill the propane tank.
  • Inventory/organize the kids' backyard toys.
  • Hang hummingbird window feeder.
  • Visit the family graves on Memorial Day ~
    • Tidy and add new flowers.
  • Purchase citronella candles or torches.
  • Famly physicals this month.
  • Launder spring linens and hang in the sun to dry.
  • Make travel plans for summer.
  • Clean car and organize for summer activities:
    • Beach
    • Picnic
    • Road trips
  • Plant garden on Memorial Day weekend.
  • Hang the American flag.

Life

  • American Bike Month
  • National Duckling Month
  • National Salsa Month
  • National Strawberry Month
  • National Egg Month
  • Be Kind to Animals Week (1-7)
  • National Postcard Week (1-7)
  • National Wildflower Week (2-8)
  • National Nurses Week (6-12)
  • National Herb Week (1-7)
  • National Police Week (8-15)
  • May Day (1)
  • Mother Goose Day (1)
  • Star Wars Day (4)
  • Cinco de Mayo (5)
  • Midwives Day (5)
  • The Kentucky Derby (7)
  • Mother Ocean Day (7)
  • Village Plant Sale (7)
  • Mother's Day (8)
  • National Apron Day (12)
  • Leprechaun Day (13)
  • Tulip Day (13)
  • Letter Carrier Food Drive (14)
  • National Train Day (14)
  • World Fair Trade Day (14)
  • Chocolate Chip Day (15)
  • Hug Your Cat Day (27)
  • Indianapolis 500 (29)
  • Memorial Day (30)

Book Basket

Field Trips & Outings

  • Visit the apple orchard to sketch trees in bloom.
  • Nature walk to the pond.
  • Visit the cows at a nearby dairy farm.
  • Purchase herbs at the garden store.
  • Lilacs walk at the arboretum.

Crafts & Activities

  • Make homemade bread and butter
  • Decorate fresh butter with clover.
  • Look for 4-leaf clovers in the yard.
  • Find a special spot in your yard for a Mary Garden.
  • Celebrate Derby Day:
    • Read the papers and choose a horse to cheer for.
    • Make "Juleps" for Derby Day (herbal iced tea)
    • Wear big fancy hats while watching the race.
  • Make a paper bag piñata on Cinco de Mayo.
  • Decorate a canvas (field) bag with leaf prints.
  • Decorate a plain canvas apron (smock) on Apron Day.
  • Make nature playdough.
  • Collect and press wildflowers; begin a herbarium.
  • Plant a sunflower house.
  • Make a toad home.
  • Attract orioles passing through.
  • Spend an afternoon coudwatching.
  • Learn about waterfowl: ducks, geese, gulls.
  • Visit a duck pond and observe nesting behavior.
  • Play Duck, Duck, Goose!
  • Make a feather collage.
  • Make wind chimes with flower pots.
  • Go on a mushroom walk after a few damp days.
  • Make a catnip toy (with real catnip!) for the cats.
  • Eat rhubarb stalks with dixie cups of sugar for dipping.
  • Paint and fill herb pots for Mother's Day gifts.
  • Mix up some herbal mosquito repellant.
  • Make a handloom; weave it with rainbow yarn.
  • Fill a box with food for the letter carrier on the 10th.
  • Work ahead on handcrafted Father's day gifts.

Whew! As posts go (and mine can go long) that was a big one! ;) Thanks for reading through, and thanks, as always, for stopping by. I hope you'll enjoy the lovely new month which begins in but a few days ... and I hope you'll let me know what you love the most about May!

See you all again very soon ... :)

"What is so sweet and dear
As a prosperous morn in May,
The confident prime of the day,
And the dauntless youth of the year,
When nothing that asks for bliss,
Asking aright, is denied,
And half of the world a bridegroom is,
And half of the world a bride?"
~ William Watson, "Ode in May," 1880


Our Happy Easter Sunday!

Sunny easter flowers

Alleluia, my friends! Happy Easter! I hope you've all had a lovely start to this beautiful new season. :)

Today I'd like to share some of the pictures from our Easter weekend ... but first, I'd like to remind you all that today's the last day to enter my "Happy 10 Year Blogging" giveaway! I'll be drawing the winning names tomorrow morning! Here is the post with all the details ... :)

Now, onto the celebration pictures!

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The Alleluia has returned! This little plaque (which we made several years ago), gets hidden away on Ash Wednesday - just as the word disappears from our Lenten liturgy - and then makes its triumphant reappearance on Easter Sunday, announcing to us all:

Alleluia! He is Risen!

Easter flower shopping

This was a last minute run for Easter flowers from, where else but Trader Joe's - which has the best cut-flower prices! We entertain often and I always make a note to stop by TJ's for flowers. Today's "haul" included flowering branches, roses, tulips, carnations, and Gerbera daisies. (I also made a note in my gardening planner to grow more cutting flowers this year!)

(Another note: my friend (and longtime reader) Tanya had a great suggestion - that I do a post on family gatherings and entertaining! And I would LOVE to do that! It is certainly something we do often (host family gatherings and fairly large parties) and I really enjoy the whole process. So a post on that subject will be forthcoming!)

Back to this post, though ... a little Good Friday morning activity:

Egg hunt 3

Keeping the younger boys busy with a word puzzle egg hunt. It was meant to be an outdoor event, but since the day was quite rainy we hid the eggs all over the first floor of the house. This was an activity I set up for Earlybird to do with his therapist but Little Bear, naturally, insisted on taking part!

Easter baskets

On Easter eve, the boys' baskets were ready for the eggs ... no natural dyes this year, as much as I'd hoped to try them! Next year for sure ...

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And here we have dining tables set up in the sunroom - we welcomed 20 for dinner!

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A fun veggie basket I made up - Bill helped me with the cabbage dip dish!

Easter mantle

We stashed desserts in the living room before it was time to serve. I love how our grapevine cross blooms with life once Easter Sunday has dawned. :)

Easter 2016 4

Ok, funny story. So ... I made a lemon cake for my Bookworm (home from BC on Easter break) because he LOVES lemon cake. Only, I was running out of time ... so homemade became "Duncan Hines." And then, the frosting wouldn't cover the whole cake! So I decided to use Peeps ("borrowed" from the boys' baskets) to hide the skimpy frosting job!

And voila, c'est la Peep Cake! ;)

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Tulips - not my favorite flowers, but boy do they "shine" at Easter!

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A favorite Easter decoration, hung between the kitchen and dining room.

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And here we have some (lots of) family photos, starting with Little Bear who, as you can probably tell, was a little shy at first, as his home filled up with people much larger than him! (Note how he's clutching the hem of his shirt ...)

Easter 2016 2

He needed to spend a little time up on his mama before he was ready to mingle!

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And here we have most of my family, in my kitchen, on Easter Sunday. I can't get much happier than this. :)

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Earlybird did really well, even though large gatherings can be a challenge for his sensitivities. He was really looking forward to Easter Sunday! We allowed him to use the TV in our bedroom throughout the day so when he got a little overwhelmed (by noise, smells, expectations, whatever) he could retreat upstairs for a bit.

Easter 2016 21]

The spiced orange rum punch, served in my grandmother's punch bowl, was a hit - though our initial plan was to serve a really neat rhubarb cocktail. Rhubarb is so seasonal for early spring! Unfortunately our frozen (garden-grown) rhubarb defrosted in a rather sludgey way PLUS I realized I was out of sugar late on Holy Saturday. Eep! So this became our "signature cocktail" for the day. Thank goodness for Pinterest! It was pretty yummy I must say. :)

And now for some family photos ... how I love these people!

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Easter 2016 46

Mum and dad easter 2016

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Easter 2016 1

Little Bear needed a few breaks, too ...

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Trains inside ...

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Trucks outside!

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Thumbs up for a good dinner, Mom!

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Enjoying Easter dinner with three of my four boys. <3

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Through the family room window ... I love how bright the day was, the sunroom is such a joy on days like this!

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Mum and Matt catching up ... my brother had to work on Easter but was able to join us for dinner!

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Little Bear, avidly watching the "volcano" egg my brother gave him for Easter. Have I mentioned how much LB loves volcanos? :)

Easter 2016 32

Bill working on his Spring Blessings egg ...

Easter 2016 43

In the tradition of sharing our thankfulness at Thanksgiving (on autumn leaf shapes) I made up manila paper eggs for a similar activity. After dinner we all wrote out what we love best about Spring and then I read them aloud as we savored coffee and dessert. My family is very kind about my crazy little ideas!

And here's the desserts table ...

Easter 2016 33

That pineapple-upside down cake in the foreground was baked by my Uncle Karl and it was SO delicious. And I can tell you it was equally delicious the next morning with a cup of coffee ...

Easter 2016 60

Coffee was served in my grandmother's Irish tea cups ...

Easter 2016 34

A close-up of the pretty paper plates I picked up at Home Goods ... a little bigger than a cocktail size plate so it can hold more than just one dessert!

Easter 2016 38

A sugar cookie Peep bunny!

Radishes in teapot

I couldn't decide how to use the beautiful radishes I picked up at Whole Foods so I plopped them in a teapot - and I think they looked pretty cute! (They were placed back in the fridge at the end of the day.)

Well my friends, I think that's all I have to share today ... I hope you enjoyed this peek into our Easter and I thank you for taking the time to read through this rather long post! How was your Easter? And how is your March leaving you today ... like a lion or a lamb? Very mild here today (near 70) but then cold weather swoops in - perhaps flurries, I hear? - for the start of what T.S. Eliot called, "the cruelest month." The weather has been quite crazy lately so I guess we'll have to wait and see ...

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


Happy Hosting: A Book-Themed Baby Shower!

Shower 38

Hello my friends and Happy Monday! :)

So you know how I've been a bit MIA lately? And my posting has been a bit slow? Well, we've been very (happily) busy here over the past couple of weeks, working towards a special family project! There has been LOTS of spring cleaning - as in, my house has never been cleaner! - and crafting and preparing for a very special baby shower - my cousin Kate is due with her first baby in May! 

I had such fun helping my aunt and cousin and mum get everything ready - and yesterday was THE day! And oh, what a beautiful day it was! Bright and mild, with that hint of spring around the corner ... I would love to share some TONS of pictures with you if I may. This is a very long post (even by my standards) but I get a little carried away when it comes to entertaining ... and babies ... and books!

So the menu was all tied into children's books, as were the decorations and even the invitations and favors (library cards!), and I had such fun setting up little book corners around the house. This was a great shower theme, but would also make a nice birthday party for a child who loves reading and/or trips to the library! (And honestly, I could see this done on an adult level as well ... so many books feature food in some way.) 

Shower (kara's) 2

 Here is the foyer table, set up with springy things and a basket of favors. I had fun arranging this little tableau! In addition to books "reading rubber duckies" figured into the decor ...

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(My cousin and her husband are both librarians!)

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And here are the lovely ladies of the day: hostesses Kara and Auntie Marcia, flanking mama-to-be, Kate!

Shower (Kara's) 3

The living room mantel featured a farm theme. My aunt and mum made the garland - pages from an old children's book about farm animals pinned to a twine "clothesline." I arranged our wooden farm animals and several board books on the mantelpiece above.

Here's a closer look ...

Shower 2

:)

The front windowsill featured another fun book banner made by Mum and Marcia, as well as lots of favorite hardcovers ... beloved titles by Gyo Fujikawa, Elsa Beskow, Tasha Tudor, Will Moses, etc. 

Shower windowsill

I also nestled our wooden elements in amongst the books to lend a pop of color.

A side window held more wooden animals (barely seen in this picture, tucked behind the forsythia) as well as favorite books about owls and foxes.

Shower 3

You can just see the corner of the notebook I used to write down Kate's gifts!

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Yet another window, filled with more favorite books! (Can you imagine how excited I was when Marcia and Kara told me the theme of the shower?!)

I'm jumping ahead a bit, but desserts and coffee were set out in the dining room ...

Shower (kara's) 1

Here are some of the goodies matched with their books ...

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Sweet (delicious) cupcakes = If You Give a Cat a Cupcake.

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Fresh, fruity salad = Each Peach, Pear, Plum (a book I read to Kate and Kara when they were little!).

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Madeleines for Madeline ... 

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Coffee and tea on the sideboard in the background ...

Now, out to the sunroom ... :)

Shower (kara's) 7

A table spread with delicious appetizers (my cousin, who works in catering is a fabulous cook!) and more books - a corn dip (Raccoons and Ripe Corn),  tea sandwiches - cucumber-lemon and chicken salad (Miss Spider's Tea Party), a crudite platter (The Carrot Seed, The Secret Garden, Eating the Alphabet) and a cheese board (The Stinky Cheese Man).

And here's the bar ...

Shower 17

Plenty of wine, water, soda and a tasty punch ....

Shower 40

Aka, Lemonade for Sale. :)

Shower 4

It was such a bright day, I loved how everything sparkled in the sunlight!

Shower 18

Rubber duckies in a bowl full of marbles and water ... cute!

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The rooms filled out nicely as guests arrived ...

Shower 35

My mum (Aunt Mo to Kate and Kara) and my Aunt Pat, catching up ... 

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The adjoining family room was a great place for cocktails and conversation (and cartoons, if you were so inclined).

Shower 5

Books here, too - more favorite hardcovers, standing up on desks and on the windowsill.

And what did Little Bear think about all this?

Shower 8

Well, his house was filled with women who were not Mama and there were a lot of things he couldn't touch ... but luckily his big brother Crackerjack had him playing outside for most of the day!

Now into the kitchen ...

Shower (kara's) 5

Another buffet here ...

Shower 16

Mini quiches for Green Eggs and Ham ...

Shower 15

(Three Little) Pigs in Blankets ...

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Sweet Chili Meatballs (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and a pretty bowl of mixed nuts (Woody, Hazel and Little Pip).

(Also not shown - Honey Almond Baked Brie for Winnie the Pooh. Soooo yummy!)

And then it was time for presents! We all gathered in the living room to watch Kate open her gifts ...

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A sweet stuffed elephant from the daddy-to-be's mom, with a photo of said daddy holding his own elephant many years ago! 

Speaking of ...

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The parents-to-be, Kate and Paul!

This was SUCH a fun day, and I was so thrilled to be part of it! And I thank you all for taking the time to read and let me share my pictures. I would love it if all of you would keep Kate and Paul and their little one in your prayers? 

And you know what? We got our house super clean and now it all feels so nice. I have resolved to keep things as close to this level as possible ... at least through Easter, lol! Another curious thing - a couple of days before the shower, I packed up all my planning materials and placed them in a closet. All I kept out was a clipboard with the to-do list. I needed to be laser-focused on shower prep! So now I'm eager to get my things back to the command center - though I'm loathe to add clutter to these nice clear surfaces. I do need my stuff ... only ... I'm really wondering exactly WHAT needs to come back out. What did I miss? What planning tools are essential and which are extraneous? How can I organize things as I bring them out of "hiding?" Clearly, this all bears some thought!

So stay tuned, and as always, I thank you so much for stopping by. I will see here again very soon!


Seasonal Food: Special for Rose Sunday!

Rose pie 1

Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your week is off to a great start!

As some of you saw me "tease" on Facebook, I made a special dessert for Laetare (or Rose) Sunday yesterday ... and I'd like to tell you all about it! Because not only was it yummy, but it was also fairly easy to make and came out rather pretty. :)

Now, I've made custards before on Rose Sunday (the fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Mothering Sunday in Europe) but this is the first time I've made a custard "tart." I first saw the clever apple "roses" on Pinterest a while back and thought - how pretty - but when I came across the recipe for an Apple Custard Tart of Roses I knew it would be perfect for this particular Sunday!

The crust was made from a blend of almond meal and AP flour, as well as confectioner's sugar, vanilla, orange peel, an egg and unsalted butter. I pressed it into a deep dish pie plate, but I think I'd use a shallower pan next time. )The custard didn't fill this pan to the top.)

Rose pie 3

I placed it in the fridge while I set about making the custard ...

Rose pie 2

More goodness in here - egg yolks (I use organic ingredients whenever possible), vanilla, sugar, orange peel, whole milk, cornstarch and Moscato wine. I find custard can be tricky but this cooked up very quickly - once it was thickened a bit I set it aside to cool and turned my attention to the apples.

Rose pie 5

This seemed like it was going to be so much harder than it actually was! Basically, you use apple peels to form rosebuds. The recipe called for Pink Lady apples which I was able to find at my market and they were very pretty indeed.

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I had to have Bill help me though, as I had trouble wielding our peeler. He was a great sport and added all these roses to the custard tart for me!

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Rose pie 8

Once the pie was full of "roses" (note the two that came from McIntosh apples, lol - we ran out of Pink Ladies!), we brushed them with warm apricot jam. 

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(If you're thinking that's a kiddie paint brush, you'd be right. It was new, I promise! I am in dire need of a few kitchen tools, one being a pastry brush!)

The tart was popped into the oven to bake for 40 minutes ... and BOY did the house smell amazing! I had boys coming out of the woodwork to wonder what on earth was in the oven. (It even got the college boy home on break out of bed!)

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And here it is all done!

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I think they look like antique roses ... a very pretty effect!

The best part of course was its taste - which was wonderful! The custard was sweet and creamy, with the tang of the wine and freshness of the orange. And the crust was thick and tender, really lovely. As for the apple roses, I think next time I will use strips with more flesh than peel - they'll be easier to shape and softer looking like those in the original recipe. All in all though, this is a keeper - a really nice recipe to add to our seasonal menus! I love this for Rose Sunday for its symbolism, but as I mentioned above, it would also be nice for Easter or Mother's Day, or even a summer garden party.

This recipe is a great example of seasonal eating - not necessarily in its ingredients (though apples can be stored year 'round), but in the real spirit of the meal. I am so pleased to add this to our Early Spring repertoire. Another favorite alongside Good Friday's hot cross buns and St. Patrick's brown bread and St. Joseph's homemade donuts and the Vernal Equinox's pasta primavera ... etc.!

Well my friends, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your day ... I am mostly staying off social media until I see last night's episode of Downton Abbey - hopefully I'll catch up tonight, though I must admit there's a big part of me that DOESN'T want to watch ... because if I don't watch, then it can never be over ... right? ;)

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


On Meal Plans & Seasonal Eating

Menu planning 1

Hello my friends and Happy Friday! I hope this post finds you well ...

Today I'd like to talk a little about menu planning. I'm wondering when you all do it ... once a month? Once a week? On the fly? And where do you make note of your meal plans ... in a planner? On a white board? On your phone?

I've been posting our dinner menus on my sidebar for a couple of months now, but you may have noticed I fell behind recently. For one thing - well, I got lazy, lol - but also, I'm trying to keep our meals rather simple throughout Lent, so it's kind of the same menus over and over again. That said, tonight our Bookworm comes home for his spring break! #happymotherdance! So I'm putting aside "simple" for savory and satisfying over the next week. I have planned a few of his favorite meals as well as a couple of new recipes I've been waiting to try when he's home.

Friday: spinach-cheese ravioli, tossed salad, artichoke bruschetta

Saturday: takeout from our local pizza place

Sunday: beef & ale stew with cheddar-mustard dumplings, rose-vanilla custard

Monday: American Chop Suey, roasted winter veg, garlic bread

Tuesday: cookout (cheeseburgers), pasta salad, green salad, rhubarb grunt

Wednesday: homemade calzones & pizzas, zucchini tots

Thursday: slow cooker cashew chicken over rice

Friday: lemon-roasted shrimp with asparagus and linguine 

Saturday: beef pot pie from local farm, roasted potatoes & carrots, biscuits, lemon cake

Sunday: leftovers!

**

Now, while we're talking about menus .. a few people have asked me to write about seasonal meal planning and I would love to investigate this further in a future post. (Three of my favorite things - food, seasons and planning!) But since Little Bear's nap is stretching on, I'll share a few thoughts on the topic today ... :)

Eating with the seasons - that is to say, using produce that is at its peak and available locally - is always a goal of ours, because it makes solid economic and environmental sense. But to my mind, it's also the kind of food that truly nourishes both body and soul. And this goes beyond fruits and vegetables - special seasonal meals figure into this, too! But we'll get into that in bit ...

Obviously it's much easier to eat seasonally at certain times of the year than others, especially if you live in colder climates. There are strategies one can employ, of course; with careful planning and preserving and such, there are ways to stick to a seasonal schedule. I'm certainly no expert in this area, but I'm always eager to learn and do better!

First up would be understanding what fruits and vegetables are available in your area and when ... and where you can get them! Visiting local farms with year-round markets is a great place to start. You can keep tabs on what's available and strike up conversations with the folks who run the market. They may have a schedule they can share with you so you'll have a rough idea of availability and can make notes on your home calendar. (Even if the farm is closed, check their website - many post seasonal calendars online.) Lots of farms these days also offer shares for the growing season - you pay a subscription for a preferred portion (family, single, etc.) and each week you take home your "share" of the farm's bounty. We've done this several times and it is SUCH a fun experience plus it's great to support local farmers.

Also easy - especially if you're on Pinterest - is to just type in the search term, "seasonal eating" and up will pop many charts and references for you to work with when making your plans. Speaking of, here's a neat graphic I found in one of my old journals - aka old-school "pinning." ;) It's a handy kind of list to keep in the meal planning section of my home keeping binder.

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(Of course it goes without saying - home gardening is a fantastic way to eat seasonally! Eating something you've grown, picked fresh from the garden is perhaps the best form of seasonal eating - in every sense! Not everyone has the space or desire to do so, but I think growing your own food is a wonderful learning experience for old and young alike.)

 In addition to using peak produce, I like to plan meals that are in keeping with the "spirit" of the season. This is easy enough for anyone to do really - just start by asking yourself (and your family): what are meals that appeal to you in each season? Jot things down as they come to you - in a loose seasonal outline. Maybe "applesauce" in autumn, "clambakes" in summer, "strawberry-rhubarb pie" in spring and "pot roast" for a cold winter's day. That kind of thing.

Now, your food lists might not resemble mine at all, because A. we may live in different parts of the world, so our growing seasons are slightly (or perhaps vastly) different, and B. seasonal eating is often tied to memory, preference and emotions, which makes it all quite personal! So there are certain foods and meals that really MAKE a season for me and my family - but they may not appeal as much - or at all - to you and yours.

After you exhaust your memories, take a look around for more inspiration. There's the internet of course, but how about good old-fashioned cookbooks? And I mean that quite literally - I find older books tend to focus more on seasonal foods (fresh and preserved) because they were cheaper and plentiful and people were making things on their own more back then. (Ketchup and jam and bread and the like.) Not to mention grocers of long ago were not as diverse as ours are today. Not to say our food system is better today - it's probably not - but it is more convenient.

So unsurprisingly, I tend to collect cookbooks - old and new - that organize their contents in a seasonal way and/or highlight natural foods at their peak. Here are a few ...

Menu planning 2

For fun seasonal menus, my favorite of all time is The Silver Palate Cookbook. There's a bit of nostalgia tied to this particular book - I received it before I was even married, from my high school best friend who knew I was enamored of homekeeping and home cooking. I have read it many times over  - before I had my own kitchen! - simply for the seasonal inspiration. Also, a little story - before I was married I worked as a journalist for a Boston-area newspaper and my kind editors let me try my hand at food writing. Oh, the fun I had with those assignments! Well, I once got to meet the Silver Palate authors, Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso! And they were really fun and lovely ... though I only stood nearby and smiled when they looked my way, lol. Still, that's a fun memory for me. :)

Anyhoo - here's a look at the book's contents to give you an idea:

Menu planning 3

And I know I don't have to tell you that the library is THE place to turn for cookbooks of all kinds. I do love the books I own but of course, they can be expensive! And they take up precious shelf space. I love to search my library system for cookbooks I've made note of at Barnes & Noble or books that are no longer in print ... then I can photocopy recipes I'd like to try someday.

Magazines, too, are a great place to find seasonal recipes - by their very nature they are seasonal, usually on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. And don't forget your local paper's food pages! We no longer get the daily Boston Globe but when we did I was always finding wonderful regional and seasonal recipes in the Wednesday food pages! (The Sunday Globe has a lovely magazine though, with a regular food column.)

Now, I don't want you to think that every meal I prepare is completely in sync with the season! Hardly, lol. What works for us - not that it's perfect but it gets us by - is a repertoire of our usual meals (things we all like that fit our budget) and then I work in seasonal items as I can. Usually as side dishes or baked goods - banana bread in January, strawberry bread in June ... acorn squash in November, asparagus in May. And there is always an occasional "seasonal" meal, and Sunday dinners are a wonderful time to do this. Holidays and liturgical feast days are also perfect opportunities to embrace seasonal foods! 

I store my recipes mostly on Pinterest these days, but the ones I've clipped from a magazine or newspaper I file in seasonal folders, while precious recipe cards written by my mother or grandmother are kept in a very special box. (I'd like to do a separate post about recipe organization in the future.) When I do my weekly menu plan, I like to look at the calendar as well as my Pinterest boards. I have a board called Feeding the Family, as well as one for Seasonal Fruits & Veggies and yet another for Baking. Recently I started boards for each season and I store links for things particular to those two months. So for example, in my March & April board I have seasonal recipes for St. Patrick's Day and Lent.

 (Another time I'd love to address the topic of preserving foods in season to enjoy later. I'd like to do more of it myself and would love to hear about other folks' experiences.)

What I love about seasonal eating is how it reinforces that connection to the natural rhythm of the year: to everything a season ... and all that. :) Fresh peaches don't taste, smell or feel right in January ... but in July? Oh, what heaven! A beef stew on a blustery Sunday makes me so happy it's winter ... and the same thing goes for a tomato sandwich in summer. It's all about nurturing that awareness of where we are in the year. Such a simple way to increase our family's overall comfort and joy! (All while respecting the earth ... and our household budgets!)

There's so much more to say on this subject, but for right now, here is a lovely passage from a book I'm reading this week. It's called A Sense of Seasons, and it was written in 1964 by Jean Hersey of Connecticut.

Menu planning 4

"Every month has its satisfactions." YES! And on the previous page not shown, "Each month has its passions and plans, its idle dreams and ruminations, even its colors." 

There are so many blessings in every year - and they are all the more beautiful when savored in season. :)

I'm grateful to my friend Kimberly for recommending these books to me - I am just loving them! (They are much like One Woman's Year which I raved about recently.) Mrs. Hersey writes just as I'd like to someday ... narrating her joy in the seasons and sharing her observations of the world around her. 

 Ok, I will wrap up now, I promise ... I've kept you here so very long today. Clearly this is a fun topic for me to discuss! If you have any questions or something I said needs clarification please let me know. I tend to go on (and on) and then run out of time to tighten things up! And of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts on meal planning - seasonal and otherwise!

Enjoy your weekend, my friends and I will see you here again very soon ...


Themes & Plans for April (Updated!)

Daffodil 1

(Note: This is an updated version of a post I wrote back in 2008 - I added a bit of content, fixed broken links and revised event dates for the current year, 2016. I hope you enjoy - I've had such fun with this series!)

April brings the primrose sweet, scatters daisies at our feet ...

April also brings us (at long, long last), the first true Spring days: mild, soft, fresh and alive with sound and color. Nature is finally shrugging off its Winter shawl, and showering us with a warm and friendly welcome.

It feels so good to open the windows again, and to leave the house with just a sweater - or none at all! There are so many joys to expore with our children this month, and what follows is but a sampling, just my own thoughts for the season. As always, I'd love to hear yours! But for now, please join me as I consider ...

~ Themes and Plans for April (PDF) ~

Nature

  • Crocus are now in full bloom.
  • Skunk cabbage grows in marshy areas.
  • Bears are waking in the (deep) woods.
  • Daffodils are in their full glory.
  • The skies are gray one minute, blue the next ...
  • ... and so rainbows are quite possible.
  • Forsythia is bursting all over.
  • At night we hear the spring peepers.
  • Mourning cloaks are the first butterflies we'll see.
  • Returning ~ thrush, phoebe, mockingbird and catbird.
  • The smell of wild onions is in the air.
  • There could be a light flurry or two.
  • We'll have rainy days; the rivers will swell.
  • Warm days are more frequent now.
  • Juncos leave; chipmunks re-appear.
  • Humpbacks are migrating back north.
  • Time to check for ticks again.
  • Dandelions are plentiful underfoot.
  • The Full Pink Moon rises on April 22nd.
  • There are buds on the cherry tree ...
  • ... which the sparrows love to nibble.
  • Bluebells appear along the wood's edge.
  • The grass is greening.
  • The goldfinches are brightening.

Folklore

  • Gem: diamond
  • Flower: sweet pea
  • Saying: April showers bring May flowers.

Food

  • chives
  • new potatoes
  • asparagus
  • fiddlehead ferns
  • dandelions
  • radishes
  • spring lamb
  • pasta primavera
  • snap peas
  • artichokes
  • spinach
  • sorrel
  • goat cheese tart
  • rhubarb grunt

Faith

  • April Devotion ~ The Blessed Sacrament
  • Liturgical Season: Easter (Paschaltide)
  • Divine Mercy Sunday (3)
  • The Annunciation (4)
  • St. George, Patron of England (23)
  • St. Mark (25)
  • St. Catherine of Siena (29)
  • Walpurgisnacht (30)

Household (& Garden)

  • Take outdoor furniture out of storage.
  • Rent de-thatcher; aerate lawn.
  • Harden tender seedlings.
  • Plant trees and/or shrubs.
  • Clean out potting shed.
  • Establish new garden beds.
  • Prepare containers; purchase new ones.
  • Purchase summer blooming bulbs.
  • Organize garden tools.
  • Prune flowering bushes after blooming.
  • Visit the nursery for spring plants, garden structures.
  • Rake and compost leaf litter/debris.
  • Spread fresh mulch.
  • Spring cleaning (if not done before Easter).
  • Have lawnmower serviced if necessary.
  • Family meeting re ~ summer plans.
  • Turn off fireplace.
  • Turn on outside faucet.
  • File taxes by 4/15.
  • Organize financial files.
  • Clean dryer vents and hoses.
  • Spiff up the bikes.

Life

Book Basket 

Field Trips & Outings

Crafts & Activities

  • Make wilding sticks and nature bracelets.
  • Clean up litter in a local park.
  • Prepare field bags for spring.
  • Begin new nature journals.
  • Hang a hummingbird feeder.
  • Paint a butterfly house.
  • Catch tadpoles at the pond.
  • Conduct a rainbow experiment.
  • Paint rocks for garden markers.
  • Dig in the dirt.
  • Set up a nature table at home.
  • Make tissue paper butterflies.
  • Color a butterfly guide.
  • Befriend a tree; start a notebook.
  • Re-enact St. George & The Dragon.
  • Build a bluebird house.
  • Look for nests before leaves come in.
  • Update our Bird List.
  • Prepare May baskets.

Well, I think I'd better stop there, as my lists are getting rather lengthy! I do hope this post gives you some ideas for the month of April, though. I keep this outline in my home keeping binder, (alongside the other months) and hope that I remember to notice, savor or do some of these things - but I never expect to get to them all!

April is fleeting - so let's make the most of it, my friends! Happy Spring!

"The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March."
-  Robert Frost


Themes & Plans for March (updated!)

Crocus

{Happy Monday, my friends - and Happy Leap Year, too! I have started the process of updating my old Themes & Plans series (eight years old and in need of some pruning!) and I thought I would start with March since that month begins TOMORROW! So I'm fixing broken links, adding new ones, and correcting dates to correspond to 2016 ... I hope you find these posts useful or at the very least provide something happy to read. 😊} 

March brings breezes loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil ...

So tell me friends, how will March greet you this year? As a LION or a LAMB? Or perhaps somewhere in between? Pansyegg_2

Here in New England we've enjoyed a relatively mild Winter and this week looks to follow a similar pattern. Tomorrow (March 1st) is forecast to be sunny and 50° - not too lion-ish I'd say!

Though Old March can be fickle - chilly and gray one day, mild and bright the next - he brings with him Spring's first tender tidings - a soft breeze, a few bits of green, and the stirring of hope in our hearts. And so, with faith in Spring's return, I offer you some ...

~ Themes and Plans for March (PDF) ~ 

Nature

  • a quiet gray landscape, awaiting its green garb
  • the old March wind arrives to blow winter away
  • blackbirds returning (that squeaky gate sound)
  • drip, drip, drip - melting underway
  • pussywillows along the riverbank
  • mud, mud and more mud!
  • potholes that will eat your car in one gulp
  • forsythia blushing yellow
  • little pots of shamrocks at the grocer's
  • The Full Sap (or Worm) Moon (23)
  • migrating salamanders on mild, wet nights
  • robins hopping in the yard
  • maple sugaring in the woods
  • the first colorful crocus, tiny jonquils, too ...
  • the sun gains warmth; the days lengthen
  • skunk cabbage in wetland areas
  • fox sparrows passing through
  • lambing time at the farm
  • a surprise snowstorm is not out of the question ... ?

Folklore

  • March gem: aquamarine
  • March flower: jonquil
  • March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.

Food

  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • turnip
  • radishes
  • spring onions
  • early rhubarb
  • leeks
  • meatless Lenten Fridays
  • egg custards
  • maple syrup
  • shamrock shakes
  • Girl Scout cookies
  • corned beef and cabbage
  • Irish soda bread
  • Irish coffee
  • oatmeal scones
  • sloppy joes
  • donuts for St. Joseph
  • fig tarts on Palm Sunday
  • Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday
  • cheesecake
  • ricotta pie
  • lamb cake
  • baked ham

Faith

  • Month of St. Joseph
  • Liturgical seasons:
    • Lent
    • Eastertide
  • St. David (1)
  • Laetare Sunday (6)
  • St. Patrick (17)
  • St. Joseph (19) 
  • Holy Week:
    • Palm Sunday (20)
    • Holy Monday (21)
    • Holy Tuesday (22)
    • Spy Wednesday (23)
    • Holy Thursday (24)
    • Good Friday (25)
    • Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil (26)
    • Easter Sunday (27)

Household

  • Rake winter debris from yard.
  • Sweep porches, doorsteps, decks and driveways.
  • Inspect yard and home exterior for winter damage.
  • Clean birdfeeders thoroughly.
  • Plan garden plots.
  • Start seeds indoors.
  • Arrange for mulch delivery.
  • Purchase fresh sandbox sand.
  • Put windowboxes up; fill with hardy pansies!
  • Launder spring bedding.
  • Plan Easter dinner.
  • Order ham.
  • Order basket goodies.
  • Buy Easter lilies at the nursery.
  • Organize Easter clothes.
  • Shampoo rugs.
  • Take down storms; hang screens.
  • Wash windows
  • Polish woodwork with beeswax.
  • Re-stock craft supplies for the spring.
  • Organize rainy day play gear.
  • Start planning summer vacation time.

Life

  • National Craft Month
  • National Hobby Month
  • American Red Cross Month
  • National Nutrition Month
  • Irish-American Heritage Month
  • National Umbrella Month
  • March Madness
  • Peanut Butter Lovers Day (1)
  • Dr. Seuss's birthday (2)
  • Alexander Graham Bell's birthday (3)
  • Antonio Vivaldi's birthday (4)
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning's birthday (6)
  • National Mario Day (10)
  • Daylight Savings Time begins (13)
  • Uranus discovered (13)
  • National Pi Day (14)
  • Albert Einstein's birthday (14)
  • The Ides of March (15)
  • Return of the Swallows to San Juan Capistrano (19)
  • National Agriculture Day (20)
  • First Day of Spring (20)
  • National Waffle Day (25)
  • Make up Your Own Holiday Day (26)

Book Basket

Field Trips & Outings

  • Maple sugaring demonstration
  • Visit new lambs & fresh eggs at farm
  • Children's Passion Play at church
  • Museum of Science: Planetarium

Crafts & Activities

Crocus clipart

Now, I'd like to clarify that my family will not be observing each and every one of these March ideas! (Who ever could?!) But having them in mind - and even better, on paper - is a big help when I'm trying to weave a little seasonal awareness, organization and fun into our family life! I like to sit down once a month (usually the second to last weekend) to do a little planning ahead on the seasonal front. I make it part of my weekend "office hours." :) It might seem silly to work "seasonal planning" into an already busy family schedule, but honestly - if I didn't, it's unlikely I'd remember or even try to fit it in!

Well my friends, I've rambled long enough ... thanks so much for stopping by and I hope your March is just lovely, whether wild or mild!

P.S. I wasn't on Pinterest back when I first wrote this post in 2008 - maybe it didn't even exist yet? - but I now have boards for "storing" seasonal ideas such as the ones linked above. I will go through these links to be sure the are still valid and then add them to my March & April board.)


Friday Bits and Bobs

Flowers in vases

Happy Friday, my friends! Popping in early to share a few links with you all ... :)

Now, are you looking for some meatless menu planning inspiration today? Here are a couple of older posts of mine with lots of great reader suggestions in the comments:

Meatless Menus? (2011)

Lenten Meal Planning (2015)

And here is a wonderful post from my friend Meredith, "Meatless Meals for Lent." Lots of links and ideas there! And also not to be missed is this post - "Five Meatless Dinners" from my friend, Chris! There's a Lenten link-up at the end of that post with even more meatless ideas!

Here's another spot for Lenten meal inspiration, Leaflet Missal's post, "8 Delicious Lenten Recipes for Meatless Fridays." I can't wait to try the hot cross buns on Good Friday, and the Passion Fruit Cheesecake on Passion Sunday!

Speaking of Leaflet Missal, here are "7 Ideas for Celebrating Lent Your Way" - filled with simple Lenten suggestions - and one of them was mine! I was so honored to be asked to participate in that article. :)

And here's a wonderful, witty and thoughtful post from my friend Karen called, "Five Reasons Lent is Hard on INFJs"- I read this with much interest, as I happen to be an INFJ too! (What is an INFJ you might wonder? Click over to Karen's and find out!) So much of her post had me chuckling and nodding my head ... 

And leaping away from Lent for a minute, there's another post I've been meaning to share with you all for some time, especially because recently someone asked me about my "mid-year review" and how I go about it. And to be perfectly honest, I am quite behind this year! I am hoping to work on this important project this weekend - a wee bit past the mid-year mark, ahem - but here's an old post of mine describing my process ... BUT! Even better, here's a fantastic post from my friend Mary Ellen about her mid-year review AND there are printables!

Ok, final link! (I think!) My friend Shirley Ann has updated her blog, Under an English Sky, and you must pop over and take a look. It is just lovely and always filled with great ideas, pretty crafts and lovely tours of England. She has a new series called "The Crockpot Chronicles" and her first recipe is perfect for Lent! I will be avidly following this series as I LOVE using my crockpot at this time of year.

(Speaking of crockpots ... I made this yesterday and it was so delicious. Next time we'll have some some crusty bread to sop up the soupiness, but it paired very nicely with rice pilaf. I just adore artichokes!)

Well I lied, lol - this will be my final link! Have you noticed my new nest button over on the lefthand sidebar? I have started a separate blog called Our Family Field Guide where I am storing nature notes and pictures. I won't be posting quite every day, but hopefully often enough to capture that "rhythm of the year" I find so fascinating and nurturing. I recently found this quote and it struck such a chord with me ...

"There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature." ~ Rachel Carson

Yes. :)

So I hope you'll stop by once in a while and see what we're up to, what we're discovering in this beautiful world all around us. 

Well my friends I will let you go at last - but I hope you all enjoy this day and I thank you for spending a bit of it here. This weekend I have a couple of Book Party posts in queue - and I can't wait to share them! (Would love to hear from you, too!)

See you here again very soon ...


Our Shrove Tuesday Fun!

 O project 2016 2-9 1

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

Mardi gras 3

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

Mardi gras 2

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

Mardi gras 4

Woohoo! Mardi Gras Masks!

Mardi gras 6

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

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

 Mardi gras 1

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

Mardi gras 5

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

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

Mardi gras 9

:)

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

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

See you here again very soon!