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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. πŸ’›

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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!

Bee balm

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 ...

Faerie flower

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 ...

Magnetic letters

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!

β€œLive 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 piΓ±ata 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!

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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:

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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. :)

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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 ...)

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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.

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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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Mum and dad easter 2016

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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? :)

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Bill working on his Spring Blessings egg ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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

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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!

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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!

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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! β€

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.) 

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 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!

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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 ...

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:)

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.

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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 ...

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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 ... :)

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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 ...

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

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Aka, Lemonade for Sale. :)

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

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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 ... 

Shower 42

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 ...

Shower 12

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 ...

Shower 20

Shower 25

Shower 21

Shower 23

Shower 28

Shower 29

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 ...

Shower 36

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? β€

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.

Rose pie 6

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!

Rose pie 7

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. 

Rose pie 9

(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!)

Rose pie 11

And here it is all done!

Rose pie 12

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.

Menu planning 5

(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. β€

 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. πŸ˜Š} 

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 50Β° - 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. β€

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!

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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. :)

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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.

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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!

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Woohoo! Mardi Gras Masks!

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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. πŸ’œ

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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.

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(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.

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:)

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!


Winter Weekend: Warmth & Wonder

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Happy Weekend, everyone!

Now, you may have heard about the gigantic blizzard that is hitting certain parts of our country - parts that aren't used to this kind of thing! I do hope everyone who is in the storm's path is staying safe and warm. We're only getting a couple of inches overnight here in New England, though the winds will be high. Remember, stay home and "weather the weather" as best you can! It's the safest way ... and enjoy all that snow! :)

So I'm just popping in quickly this morning to share a few photos and say "hi." Above you see my cheerful mug which is holding a gallon or so of hot tea - sitting on top of two things that came in the mail yesterday which made me so very happy: my Isabella catalog and Green Parent magazine. I have a lot on my "to-do" list this weekend, but I will be making time for perusing these two publications at some point! (Over a giant cup of tea, of course.)

And how about a slice of this, too ... ?

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Dark and spicy gingerbread - a result of our Friday baking. A Trader Joes mix, easy-peasy to make with the kids, and it made the house smell amazing! (Even better with a dollop of freshly whipped cream ...)

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And this sweet little book is one of Little Bear's favorites right now. We pulled it from our Winter Book Basket and have been reading it over and over through the week ... as you can see below, we have a lot of animal tracks in our yard at the moment!

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Before the snow hits this afternoon, I plan to take the boys out so we can figure out just WHO ALL has been traipsing through our yard! I have lots of books on my nature shelf for doing just that - filled with great illustrations of the various prints. And while we're out there, we'll refill all the bird feeders so our feathered and furred friends will be well fed through the storm. If they don't have to search so hard for sustenance, they can conserve a little of their precious energy!

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Also on my weekend agenda - if I can eke out a little spare time - is to work in my big seasonal planning binder. I aim to finish up the Deep Winter section (cover page shown above), so I can turn my eager thoughts to Early Spring. Why am I doing this now? Well, it is the second to last weekend of the month and that is when I do a little forward planning: calendar updating (in this case, February) as well as seasonal planning (in this case, early spring). One of those planning "tasks" that really need a spot in the schedule to call their own ... otherwise they never "fit" in!

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And finally, another peek into a favorite vintage book of mine, Round the Year with Enid Blyton ... this one was a gift from my dear friend, Kimberly ... and I just treasure it. Especially as I plan out nature activities for the upcoming seasons. This is a page from the Winter section, all about "Foot-Writing in the Snow." How lovely!

❀

Well my friends, I will be off now, but I hope you are all doing well and that your weekend will be a good one for you - with some rest and refreshment perhaps, and a little "recharge" of the batteries. What's on your plate this weekend? Are you in the path of some "weather"? Are you hunkering down or heading out? If you have a moment, please leave me a comment and let me know how you are doing ... I would love to hear from you!

But for now, I will leave you all with my fondest farewell and a hope to see you here again sometime soon!


Tuesday Tidbits: Frost, Frosting & Wintry Fun!

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Happy (frosty) Tuesday, everyone! :)

I have just a few quick things to share today ... but first! What is the weather like where you are right now? It is SUPER cold here in my neck of the woods - in fact, I don't think we'll see 20Β°! Theres snow on the ground (a few inches) and plenty more on the way this weekend ... but such is January in New England!

Now, a few of you asked about my birthday cake frosting - it is a favorite in my family and one my mum is expert at making! It's called "penuche frosting" and it is buttery and sweet and fudgey in texture ... here it is if you'd like to try it sometime:

Penuche Frosting

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
hot water

Melt butter - add brown sugar. Bring to boil. Lower heat and boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add milk and bring to boil. Cool to lukewarm.

Gradually add confectioner's sugar and beat.

Add hot water if too thick.

❀

Also, while I'm here I wanted to mention - for those of you on Pinterest - that I have a few new boards set up. These are each specific to my seasonal planning and I'm using them for links to go along with ideas, activities and special days coming up. So here is the January-February board if you'd like to take a peek. :)

2016 Planner: January & February Links

If you are not on Pinterest, I can do a post with links sometime if that would be helpful. I just added some wolf coloring pages this morning in light of the Full Wolf Moon coming up this weekend! :)

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This week our seasonal theme is "snowflakes," and I have some fun things planned for the boys - the bigs and the littles! Something I'm working on this week, too - and I meant to mention this during the planning chat last weekend - is the concept of craft bins for seasonal planning and organization. Someone asked me not too long ago (and forgive me for not remembering who) how I keep the craft materials and other resources for the week organized ... and believe me, it's a challenge! I haven't really tackled the craft bins we moved from the old house - nor the craft storage here in the new house! My thought is to have bins for the seasons though - and as I plan and prepare for certain projects I will add those items we'll need to those bins. There should be six bins in all once I'm organized, and you can be sure I will post about them once they're established!

❀

Kitchen window poem

And finally, I had to share this pretty page from a book I have displayed at my writing desk right now. I think I've shared it before, but it's worth another look. It's such a lovely sketch - a mother having her tea and gazing out her kitchen window ... taking such joy in her "lot" in life, days spent at home with the children. The stanza below resonates with me so much ...

***

She has a kinship with the earth
Though busy in her own domain,
And comprehends its noble plan
From just a kitchen window pane.”
(Milly Walton)

❀

Well my friends, I will be off now, but as always, I thank you for stopping by! It's a busy week of lessons, therapy and activity here ...  Bookworm's back to campus and our relaxing holiday routine is well and truly over. I'll be posting as I can, though - and there are lots of planning posts coming up! In my next post, I will show you my planning sheet "in action" so you can see how I'm using it for seasonal planning. And I am currently working on the next set of printables (Early Spring) as well as a big post about making time in your schedule to DO the planning! Giving all the WHAT a WHEN! I also have a couple of "cozy nests" posts in the works ... 

So I hope you'll stay tuned! Enjoy the rest of your day and I will see here again very soon ... :)


Our Family Christmas, 2015

Hello and good evening, friends! :)

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

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

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


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So how early did your Christmas start? ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love how the cards look on our library door!

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

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

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

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Our signature cocktail this Christmas: Jingle Juice Punch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharing laughs and swapping stories!

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

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 * Family Christmas, 2015! *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A little chaos at Christmas is natural!

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And here we have Family Christmas 2015, part two!

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

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

I will see you here again very soon! 


My Christmas Tea Journal, 2015

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

Firstly, how was your Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:) 

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

My Christmas Tea Journal

Vintage christmas bells and birds

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

What are you reading this week?

In my stocking I also found: 

Illuminations

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen

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

And with the younger boys:

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

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

What's happening in nature this week?

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Winter has finally arrived ...

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

Vintage holly sprig

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

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

I will see you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Welcome Winter!

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Happy Monday, my friends ~ and Happy Winter Solstice, too!

I'm getting a late start on Tea, because it's been a busy one today! And mostly it's been a "working tea," so if you've just stepped into the kitchen to join me, please excuse the mess! There are, however, some good smells in the air and soft music in the background ... the kids are all occupied (bigs watching littles), so I'm ready to sit ...

Please grab yourself a cup (there are plenty in the cupboard) and let's chat! :)

Now as you're probably aware, today we begin a new season: around midnight tonight the seasons will change guard, as Autumn retires and Winter makes its triumphant return. Though to be honest, I don't know how triumphant Old Man Winter is in these parts - we hit 50Β° earlier today! And not a speck of snow to be seen, which is quite late in the game for New England ...

But snow or no, Winter is arriving at our doortsteps and I think it's a wonderful thing to prepare our hearts and home for all it has to offer. I take joy in all the seasons as they turn (and return) - and I love all of them equally. Each one has its unique pleasures and promises to offer, and I've been taking notes for years on how to make the best of each season of the year. It's such a passion of mine! I will spend more time discussing the new season in upcoming posts, but here are a few questions for us to ponder as we Welcome Winter on this dark, chilly night. I've added my own answers, but I'd love to hear yours, too!

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

Here in New England it's unseasonably mild, and has been for some time. They're predicting near 70Β° on Christmas Eve! This is just unheard of ... although, after last year's epic snowfall, I should probably be counting our blessings! Things will turn around before long, I am sure ...

What are your favorite things about Winter?

I love SNOW! From gentle flurries to snowstorms - big old Nor'easters thrill me! I just love it. And nothing beats a Winter sunset stretching across a clear, frosty sky. Vivid and breathtaking - God's perfect artistry! I also love watching birds at the feeders at this time of year, and savoring the warmth of home on cold days and nights ... with extra blankets, cozy slippers, and nourishing foods like hot cocoa, baked apples and hearty beef stew.

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

I'm going to recommit to my journal-keeping this Winter, and get more organized about seasonal crafts.

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

I love seasonal meals ... so in Winter, that means potatoes and root vegetables, pot pies, stews and soups, oatmeal, citrus fruits, molasses cookies and hot beverages of all kinds.

*β˜€οΈ*

And now, for my Tea Journal Notes this week, our fourth week of Advent, just a handful of days from that holiest of nights ...

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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We are so grateful to have received a wonderful selection of citrus fruits from Bill's aunt who now lives in Florida. Because I know I'll be "indulging" quite a bit later this week I'm trying to eat as healthy as possible these days, so my "snack" today is hot tea and a very simple (but sweet) clementine. I find oranges and clementines very Christmasy, don't you?

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Now, if you're "game," maybe you'd care to join me in some last-minute Christmas crafting? :)

As I work, the cider is simmering on the stove and the boys are all busy with their own affairs - Earlybird is working with his therapist and my older boys are taking turns playing with Little Bear. I don't always have my kids at the craft table with me, but I like that they see me here ... being calm and thoughtful and taking joy in the season with my hands and my heart. It's one of those pre-Christmas days when the home atmosphere is so important ... one of quiet anticipation and joyful preparation. I try to model this mindset for my children, and hope that their memories of these days will be dear ones.

 What are you reading this week?

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I'm not doing much "personal reading" this week, but that's to be expected. I do love all those holiday picture books, though! Our book basket is full of "Winter Welcome" this week, and here is a list of some of our favorites:

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

Wintertime

Grandmother Winter

Winter Waits

Winter Lullaby

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here

Waiting for Winter

Winter

When Winter Comes

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits

 Also by my side is Winter: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for Young Children, as I look for little verses to journal or share or write into curriculum plans.

What are you listening to this week?

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And Winter Came ... by Enya. It is just so lovely, and an early Christmas present for me! :)

When Bill and I were first dating (in the late 80s/early 90s) then engaged ('91) and then married ('93), Northern Exposure was our favorite tv show ... for its quirky plotlines and lovable characters as well as the very cool soundtrack. Several Enya songs were used throughout the series and we just fell in love with her music. To listen to this or this just takes me right back to those sweet, early days! We're actually re-watching this series with the boys over vacation, and loving it all over again. :)

What are you working on this week?

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Setting up a Blessings Jar for the New Year, organizing a family meeting, and finishing my monthly calendar for the file crate ... as well as my 2016 planner. The notebook above is - potentially - my new daybook for 2016. I found it at Paper Source (while Christmas shopping with Bill!) and not only did I love the cover, but the pages are gorgeous. It's a nice size, too. I have to play around with it a bit - but of course, I will let you all know how it turns out!

 In addition, this week is all about readying ourselves for Christmas ... a bit more in the practical sense than the pensive, but I'm trying desperately to keep things in perspective. To keep the peace we've cultivated ... in me and around me. 

A couple of projects:

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Sun and moon ornaments I made for the tree ... :) I have a plan to make "nature" ornaments throughout next year - a couple each month to reflect the changing seasons and natural phenomena. I found some plain, kraft-brown, round ornaments at AC Moore that are very easy to paint up and decorate. On the back of each ornament will be a quote or sentiment I wish to pass on to my children ...

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

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(The eggs are painted whole nutmeg!) 

What's happening in nature this week?

 Mostly, we've been taking advantage of dry, mild weather and enjoying the last sunsets of Autumn ...

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Any projects with the children this week?

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

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And this week in our Advent plans we're focusing on "Friends, Family and Fellow Man," so it was time to move our Holy Family into the manger where the rocks, plants and animals have gathered to welcome them ...

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

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While the wise men began their journey in the bookcase across the room. :)

(and finally)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

For my friends who are not quite as pleased to see Winter makes its appearance:

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*❀*

Now, speaking of Winter, I am so pleased to tell you all that there will be ANOTHER Live Planing Chat between Jen, Mystie and myself sometime next month! Details to come, (and of course I'll share them as soon as I can) but I do know we'll talk further about planning strategies (nitty-gritty stuff!) and brainstorm ideas for the first couple of months of the year. If you have any suggestions please drop me a note! I will be picking up speed with my Fresh Start series starting next week, and I will address the "mind map" I mentioned in the talk last week as a couple of you have asked about it. I think it's a great tool for anyone thinking about their responsibilities and routines or perhaps beginning a new planner. A timely topic for sure!

As always, I would LOVE to hear from you, my friends, about your own Tea this week and/or your thoughts on welcoming Winter. If you have a moment, please drop me a note below or send me an email here:

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

(Pics are always welcome!)

I look forward to hearing from you and chatting more about all these fun topics! Thank you so much for joining me today and letting me prattle on about this and that ... I appreciate your time and kind attention! :)

See you here again very soon ...


Tea with Friends ... ❀

Advent Tea with Friends button

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

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

*❀*

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

~~ Advent Tea Journal ~~

Refreshments:

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

Reading:

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

Listening: 

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

Working On:

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

Nature Notes:

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

Projects with children:

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

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

~~Denise

*❀*

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

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

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

See you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

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

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

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

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

Advent candles snowmen

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

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

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

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

>> How do we shape their joy? <<

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

  Advent tea magic 15

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

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

What are your children's favorite aspects of Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

O project 12-13 2

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

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

What are you reading this week?

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

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

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One basket for Winter books ...

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

Planner in car

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

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

What's happening in nature this week? 

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

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

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

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

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

***

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

❀

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

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

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:)

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

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

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

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

My Advent Tea Journal ~ O Christmas Tree!

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

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

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

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

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

(Except for the sore throats and fevers.)

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

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

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

❀

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

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

***

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite ornament?

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

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

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

Colored lights or white lights?

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

❀

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea tree 8

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

Wassail 1

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

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

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

What are you reading this week?

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

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

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

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

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree

Night Tree

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Family Christmas Tree Book

The Story of Holly & Ivy

(and not shown, on request at library):

 Christmas Farm

The Littlest Evergreen

***

What are you listening to this week?

Ancient noels

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

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

What are you working on this week?

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

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Refreshing the file crate ...

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... and assembling another homemade planner for 2016!

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

What's happening in nature this week?

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Early sunsets ... surprisingly mild afternoons.

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Though the mornings are quite frosty!

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

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

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

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

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That candle burns steadily all day and night.

Watching, waiting ...

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

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

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

~ Larry Wilde 

***

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

I look forward to hearing from you!

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


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Gifts from the Heart

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

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

(How I'd like it to be - and not be.)

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

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

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

* Are you super-organized (as I always wish I'd be) and start your gift-giving early each year, by starting projects, growing things, gathering materials, and just generally planning ahead?

* How do you encourage your children to give in a thoughtful manner? Even if their gift is something they've bought, they can put their hearts (not just their monies) into the selection.

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

What refreshments am I enjoying this week?

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

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

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

(They still tasted great, though ...)

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

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

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

What am I reading this week?

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

 

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

What am I listening to this week?

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

 What am I working on this week?

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

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

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

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

What's happening in nature?

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

November Woods

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A project with the children this week:

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

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

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


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

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

Waiting, wondering ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words to inspire:

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

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

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

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

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Peace

❀

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

> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <

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

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

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

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