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A Special Trip to Whole Foods with Earlybird!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And happily, that day went well, too!

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

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

Ok, here we go ...

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

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

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

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And crackers ...

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

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

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

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

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

I'm just so proud of this boy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy Halloween ~ from My Family to Yours!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clockwise from upper left hand corner we have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy 1st Halloween, little one! 🎃

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

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

But here's their contribution to the party:

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

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

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

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... aka my sweet niece's mom!

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

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

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

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

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

 Can you believe how big they're all getting? 😱

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

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


Seasonal Homeschooling: Pumpkin Week Recap!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Not surprisingly there were a lot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was the pumpkin big, small or medium?

Was it orange, yellow or white?

Was the outside smooth or rough?

How many lines were around it?

How many seeds did he think would be inside?

How many seeds WERE inside?

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

(Spoiler alert: It floated!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(A craft for the outdoors, for sure!)

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

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Another neat pumpkin activity this week ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

✨ ❄️ 🍂 🎃 🍃 🔥 ✨

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

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

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


Autumn Tea and Tidbits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love peppering my planners with seasonal poems and quotes!

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Next page has my October menu calendar ...

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

And next comes my monthly overview ...

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

A closer peek ...

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And here is last week's spread!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Did you happen to catch it last Thursday night?

Harvest moon rising

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

LB and the full moon

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of shoes though ...

Archie and sandals

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

In other wildlife news ...

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Howsabout this guy???

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

And this is what he saw ...

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

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

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

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

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

First came APPLES ...

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

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

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

Next came SEEDS ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

✨ 🍂 🍎 🐿 🌻 🌞 🍁 🍄 🌽 🌛 ✨

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

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

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


The Cookbooks in my Cabinet! ❤

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIRST CABINET:

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NEXT CABINET:

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

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

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


A Bunch of Autumn Bits & Bobs!

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Hello, my friends and Happy Friday! And Blessed Equinox, too! ✨ 🍂 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 🍄🌛🍂✨

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

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

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

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

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

Kitchen autumn blessing

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

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

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

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... dining room! :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and before I go!

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

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

I will see you here again very soon!

Summer sunset

The last sunset of Summer, 2017 ...

✨ 🍂 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 🍄🌛🍂✨ 


May was for milestones ... 🌞

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly note pads

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

Now, a couple of recent bird sightings ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Bill holding the newest member of the family - our sweet little niece. 💕

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Little Bear!

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

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

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

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

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

I will see you here again very soon!


Our Family Easter, 2017

Easter collage

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

Our Family Easter, 2017


St. Patrick's Day at Our House ...❤

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhoo ...

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

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

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

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

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

Reading some books ...

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Tending our "classroom" garden ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then for a final touch, whipped cream clouds!

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Cute, right? :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


A Late Winter's Tea ... (and a Winner!) ❤

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday! Goodness, is it ever a BEAUTIFUL day here in New England! The temperature, as I type up this post, has soared to a balmy 73 ° ... the sun is shining ... the birds are singing ... the snow is melting ... we even spied a chipmunk darting across the backyard! What a tease this weather is though, as I'm sure we still have plenty of winter ahead (March can be quite snowy in our parts!). Still, this is a lovely break - a fresh mental breeze to awaken one's winter-weary spirit. 

But in spite of this day's decidedly spring-like behavior, I'm here to share a cup of Late Winter's Tea with you all! And at the very end of our Tea I will tell you who won my Day Designer giveaway! You can of course, jump down to the end of the post to see who that might be ... ;)

So for today's tea I am using a very pretty cup and saucer set - a gift from my dear friend, Emma. I love the red toile pattern and shape of this set - especially the handy little nook for a snack! Today's snack is a couple of oatmeal-raisin cookies - but as you can see - and as I noticed after I took this picture! - someone had made off with one of the cookies! Ahem! ;) The tea is a new one for me - Newman's Own English Breakfast. Not my usual afternoon tea as this one is fully caffeinated and rather bold-flavored, but on this particular day I was in need of an energy boost!

So I prepared my cup and moved out to the library where I've been busy cleaning this week - haven't really done that since this was December's "Christmas room" - and I'll have a post with a tour in a bit because it's slowly becoming our Spring room. :) I just got our Lenten mantle organized and I'm now working on our homeschool shelves and my writing desk ... as well as our liturgical bookcase! Yes, this room was in dire need of a lift! (Not to mention a good dusting and sweeping!) I love the light here at this time of day though ... the sun sets just behind the woods outside the window shown above and below ... the light lingering later and later each day. I use this desk as a spot to sit and write ... rather than compute (my computer desk is out in the family room). It's a more feminine "mother's desk" and I love changing things up as the seasons turn ... :)

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Also shown in the these photos is my brand new spring purse! I had some birthday money just burning a hole in my pocket, and spotted this pretty bag at TJ Maxx. Honestly, I was just running into the CVS next door but that robin's egg blue really reached out and grabbed me, right through the store-front window! What I really love about this bag (aside from the color and the affordable price) is the softness of the bag itself. Very flexible but with a sturdy bottom. And roomy! Plenty of space inside for all the things I like take along with me when I'm out and about ...

(A more detailed Spring purse post to come!)

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It's not often I can spend a lot of time here puttering in notebooks and writing out letters, but I try to get here a few times a week. I have some things set up in this room to keep Little Bear busy (toys and puzzles, puppets and books) while I sit for a bit, and there's always the promise of "a story or two" once Mama is done. :) 

Speaking of books ...

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I have a small table at the end of the desk which holds reading materials and an in-basket. A small bin holds notecards and seasonal cards. In the foreground are two sets of our favorite seasonal picture books - one set by Gerda Muller and the other by Eva-Maria Ott-Heidmann. These are wordless picture books with the loveliest illustrations celebrating the many nuances of the year. My boys have loved these books for years - we just pore over them and talk about what we see in the pictures, what might be going on. I try to keep them together and out of the general stash of board books- not just to keep them in good shape, but also so I can look through them myself from time to time!

Also in this picture you can see we have our window open ... that made tidying this room all the more enjoyable! The little baskets were Little Bear's doing - he was collecting (wooden) eggs to set aside for Easter. :) And an open window always invites the kitties out from wherever they're slumbering ...

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Needless to say we got ourselves outside for a bit!

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Late winter is such a special time of year ... spring comes so slowly, and each little hallmark is a treasured gift. The brighter days, the softness of the air, the change in the birdsong ... the dripping and melting ... and resulting muddy puddles!

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The boys attempted to shovel away any lingering snow patches from the driveway ... while I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the freshness of the air. What a glorious day! (Note the double-trunked tree in the background - my favorite oak.)

Ok, now before I go and before I get to announcing my giveaway winner ... here's a look at a little project I'm having fun with right now:

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Some of you might remember last year I made myself a homemade weekly planner. I loved that notebook so much - though I ended up not using it as I'd hoped to. Well, I determined to try again ... so I ordered myself the very same notebook!

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These Fringe notebooks really do it for me. They're just beautiful - inside and out - and perfect for my needs. Love the binding, the paper, the covers! So I am tweaking how I organize the insides (learning from last year's mistakes!) and taking it very slowly. So far all I've done is this ...

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A dated reference calendar washi-taped into the front cover. :) I'm counting pages and sketching grids now, and will share more details very soon. (Would you all like a how-to post on diy planners?) This one, which is meant to organize our family's seasons, will run Spring through Winter, and since we are on the very doorstep of March I'd best get cracking!

More to come on this project, but for right now I'd like to finally announce just who won my extra Day Designer planner! And so after a random drawing I am happy to announce that the giveaway winner is ...

BETH!

Congratulations, Beth! I hope you enjoy the planner! I will be in touch this evening to arrange mailing details and then get this planner out to you ASAP!

And my sincere thanks to everyone for taking the time to leave me such wonderful comments. I loved reading each and every one of them and am grateful you took the time to share your thoughts with me! Your very kind words, thoughtful suggestions and interesting questions are all much appreciated. And you've all got me percolating with ideas and inspiration! So I printed out the comments thread and highlighted each topic area mentioned (color-coding them, naturally). I will keep these pages in my binder and work up a list of "posts to come." I will say you definitely like organizing and planning posts the best! There was also many mentions of homeschooling, seasonal celebrations, meal planning, homemaking and weaving our family faith into everyday living. Lots of tea and chat posts, too! 

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So stay tuned for all kinds of posts to come ... but for right now, before I go, I'd like to answer one question that popped up a couple of times ...

"Why do you call your mother, "Mum" which sounds so very British?" :)

Well, I have to say I think it might be a New England thing as I have other local friends who call their moms "Mum," too, but I think for us it's just a family thing. My mother called her mother "Mum," and her mother (my grandmother) did the same. My maternal great-grandmother was Scottish - as in, came here from Scotland - so I'm thinking perhaps this is where it began.

So there's that! :)

My own boys call me Mama - although as they've grown older that has pretty much morphed into, "Mom." :)

So that's all for today, my friends ... but I do hope you've enjoyed my post and as always I thank you for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


#52 Weeks: My Cookbooks & Recipes ❤

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Hello and Happy Tuesday, my friends! I hope your week is going well!

Well I've been terribly lax on the progress reports, but I am still following the "52 Weeks to an Organized Home Challenge!" We just received our decluttering calendar for March and I am sooo excited about the upcoming target areas - laundry, cleaning, household routines, and ... gulp basement! All things I need to work on for sure! But first let's catch up with February's missions ...

So at the beginning of the month we were assigned "Cookbooks and Recipes," and then came "Trash/Recycling," "Coupons" and most recently, "Meal Planning" (our current week's mission). I loved the Cookbooks and Recipes challenge especially, though it did take me some time to get all the way through it. The Trash/Recycling mission I kind of skimmed over since we're pretty good in that area - didn't actually take any photos, though I can if anyone's really interested in how we do trash and recycling! :) As for coupons - currently I'm not doing them because honestly, I just wasn't using them and it was taking up a lot of time and creating a lot of clutter! That's not to say I don't use a few store-produced coupons on occasion - most notably, the craft stores, the supermarket and Bob's clothing store (for the boys). Those I just keep clipped to my errands notebook and that's worked out well. I will say I would like to revisit the "Price Book" challenge because I think that's a good thing to have in one's meal planning/money-saving arsenal ...

But for today, let me share what I did to declutter and organize my cookbook collection and horde of amassed recipes ...

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Cookbooks were easy enough - I tackled them not too long ago, back when I ran a blog series called, "Kitchen Chat." But as you can see, I have added many more cookbooks to my shelf than I had in that earlier post! (Many were still packed in moving boxes until recently.) This might look like a lot of cookbooks to you, or maybe not that many, but all of these are valuable to me and if nothing else, I like the way they look in my kitchen. :)

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Now, my recipes on the other hand ...

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Well, they hadn't been addressed in some time ...

I had basically been setting aside recipes to try, as well as recipes tried and liked, AND recipe cards from friends and family, together in a bin. Or bins, I should say - there were more than just this one to begin with! And at one point I had some things in file folders but that system had pretty much fallen apart ...

Well, I took ALL those loose things and went through the whole big pile of them! This took several days because it was a rather time-consuming activity - though quite a pleasurable one! I found so many things I thought I'd lost or had forgotten! So for a week or so, in the late afternoons, I'd make a cup of tea, sit in the family room with the boys and just sort through all these clippings one by one. I purged a lot of things - found a lot of things I'd been missing! - and kept a pile of things to organize by type.

While I was doing this I also went through my rather large collection of "foodie" magazines, whittling it down to what I truly wanted to keep on hand. First and most importantly was my Everyday Food mags ...

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Everyday Food - published by Martha Stewart but sadly, no longer in print - is hands-down my favorite food magazine. I have every single issue! This was a small-sized monthly publication filled with wonderful, useful, and family-friendly recipes. And best of all, lots of seasonal flavor. (Eg. rhubarb in May, tomatoes in August and squash in the fall.) I store the bulk of my EF collection in the library along with my main magazine "stash" but I've brought the current and upcoming months out to the kitchen to keep in a small basket situated between my cookbooks and recipe binders (more on those down below).

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My other favorite foodie magazine (which is also, unfortunately, out of print) was King Arthur Flour's The Baking Sheet ...

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I don't have every issue, but I do have a lot! At first they were published in a rather small size (seen above on the left) but eventually they changed it to a larger format as seen in the photo below ...

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The Baking Sheet is filled with baked good recipes, obviously, and the recipes range from easy to more advanced - but what I loved most was their wonderful seasonal flavor and the many traditional New England recipes they shared. I was so disappointed when KAF stopped publishing The Baking Sheet ... I haven't quite warmed up to their newer publication, Sift. Sift is quite lovely - and large - but awfully expensive.

Anyhoo ... I keep a great deal of my TBS issues in a handy binder (a gift from my folks) and the whole collection has also found a home on my cookbook shelf. I guess that tells you how important Everyday Food and The Baking Sheet are to me! :)

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But let's get back to recipes - and that overstuffed bin! I took that pile of clippings - still hefty but now, purged ...

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... and set about separating it out into recipe types ...

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Once I had them all sorted, I stacked them back in a pile (separated by sticky notes - you can see this pile in the very top photo) and dashed off to Staples for some binders ...

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I went in thinking, "plain white binders" and came out with these beauties!

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I have such a fondness for a bright, feminine floral set against a dark background - just like this one! (I'd love a Vera bag in this pattern!) I also liked how this floral picked up my soft green cabinets and black appliances. :) These binders are part of the Cynthia Rowley collection at Staples and have very smooth-working D-rings. (D-rings are so much better than regular round rings!) I also bought a few coordinating binder pockets, tabbed dividers and sheet protectors.

Now, this is where things stalled for a while as I decided how to set up the binders! But then eventually - aka this morning - I got down to organizing the three binders. I had all the clippings separated by recipe type in this way:

main dishes - beef, poultry, pork, seafood, vegetarian

side dishes - vegetable, other

vegetables, general

breakfast

baked goods

fruits/herbs

soups/stews

appetizers

beverages

ice cream/sorbet

frostings/jams/sauces/candy

pickles & preserves

food gifts

holiday spreads (entire articles focusing on a particular holiday)

non-food recipes (eg. cleaning products, natural egg dye and play dough, etc.)

sentimental (family and/or handwritten recipes)

general food information/meal planning

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I used a purple pen for the tabs - not just because it matched the floral binders, because it reminds me of my late grandmother. 💜  Purple was "her" color and my mum often uses a purple pen, especially when we're writing out holiday meal plans. It just felt special to me. :)

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I found it handy to use small sticky notes to move the categories around as I decided which binder would hold which tabs.

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Then I started filing those pages into sheet protectors and adding them to the appropriate binders!

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Naturally, I had help ... :)

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Oh, forgot to show you the binder pocket!

Cookbooks binder pocket

Each binder has one of these - to hold recipe cards and small or oddly-shaped recipes like the punch booklet shown above.

At last the binders were ready to go up on that shelf ...

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I used a beige "vintage-look" sticker to dress up the binder labels ...

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Now I have another area of recipe storage to tackle, and that I will save for a separate post because it's a rather complicated affair ...

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If you've read any of my posts on journaling then you know I have a habit of storing pretty/interesting/timely/seasonal recipes in my domestic journal. I know many journal-folk who set up an "index of information" to use when they want to find something in particular from a random journal page. My indexing has been fairly hit or miss over the years so I am currently embarking on a quest - yes it's that epic, lol! - to comb back through ALL my journals and create a master index of information and observations. Well, I'll begin with recipes anyway ... :) 

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My current journal shown above and a few older ones shown below ...

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So more recipe talk to come ... though it will be a bit before I get through all the journals. I think I'll try to comb through them a seasons' worth at a time and then do separate posts - like say, "Early Spring Journals" and then "Late Spring Journals" and so on. Otherwise that would be one monster of a post!

And speaking of monster-like posts, I'd best wrap this one up! I do hope you've enjoyed this progress report and would love to hear about how you organize your cookbooks and recipes. Also, if you have any questions, please let me know - I will try to get back to you as soon as possible. Drop me a note in the comments box below if you have time ...

For now I wish you all a nice afternoon and a pleasant night ahead ... hope to see you here again soon! :)


Cozy, Comfy, Yummy ... ❤

Just popping in quickly to wish you all a very Happy Valentine's Day! I hope your day has been just lovely.  It's bright and sunny here, there is snow EVERYWHERE and it's pretty cold, I must say! Cardigans are my constant companions these days ... :)

Sharing a few photos from the last couple of days ... as a blizzard moved in, we battened and hunkered ... lit candles just in case ... and then the sun came out. Here's a toast to February comforts and joys ... 

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"Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour." ~ John Boswell

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Keep warm, my friends - inside and out! I'll see you here again very soon ...


Welcome, February! ❤

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

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

Speaking of groundhogs ...

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

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

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Yes, our very own homemade butter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another quick craft for February ...

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

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

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

Oh, and finally!

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

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

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


#52 Weeks: My Fridge & Freezer!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! I hope you all had a nice weekend. :)

Well it's time for another "52 Weeks to an Organized Home" progress report! And this past week we focused our decluttering muscles on the refrigerator and freezer, two spots in my kitchen that are almost never as clean and well managed as they should be. I can't fault the refrigerator anymore ... our appliance is relatively new, since the old one went kaput last October. The shelves and compartments are supposed to make sense and lead one into an easy and efficient (not to mention edible) state of organization. Even so, I still manage to have overcrowded, sticky shelves and somehow food still gets overlooked (and goes bad). Not all of it of course, but enough of it that I cringe when a visitor takes a peek in our fridge or if someone brings something to a party that - heaven forbid - needs refrigerating!

But no more! I spent a few mornings this week working on this very area and all its - er, my - faults. With my trusty helper by my side, natch!

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Well, in this picture he's just moved on to the ovens but honestly, do you see the sheen on that refrigerator? Little Bear's been such a wonderful cleaning assistant - just as he loves working outside with Daddy (gathering branches is a favorite task), he also enjoys "working" inside with Mama. As soon as he sees cleaning spray in my hand or a chair pushed up next to the cabinets, he's all: "I help, Mama?" So I give him a damp dishrag and set him to work! :)

Ok, so here's the before picture of my fridge/freezer ...

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So maybe it doesn't look too bad, but clearly it was pretty crowded ... and that's because there was a lot of old food that needed clearing out. Salad dressings for example. (For people who don't eat nearly enough salad we certainly have more than enough dressing on hand!)

Oh, and note the dead/dying flowers on top of the fridge. These were a lovely birthday gift from my husband ... but because we have naughty cats who like to eat plants - poisonous or otherwise - any type of floral arrangement must be kept well out of reach. Where it's usually forgotten and left to die.

Anyway, I cleared EVERYTHING out - the fridge kept beeping at me because the door was open too long! - and got rid of food that had spoiled. (For the record, we did clean out and recycle the containers.) Then I gave some thought to how I had items organized, tweaked the plan a bit, and then put it all back.

Oh yes - we wiped each shelf and drawer as we went!

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The after ...

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I don't think you need to hear about all the food, but there is a rhyme and reason to it. And look! SPACE! There's a whole shelf there that has next to nothing on it. (Save some lettuce put aside for "the girls.")

Interesting fact: This particular fridge came with an easy-access door which I almost never use but does seem terribly smart. It's hard to explain, but there is a latch on the fridge handle that allows you to open an outer door that reveals the things you see on the shelves inside the door itself. The milk and whatnot ... the things you'd need to grab most often. This is supposed to conserve energy since you don't need to open the fridge wide every time the kids want a glass of juice or a cheese stick. I didn't take a picture of that but if I think to do so I'll grab one tomorrow and plug it into this post. 

(Note: I don't usually have so much pudding on hand, lol - but I'm currently nursing a "dry socket," which - if you're not familiar with this affliction - is when a wisdom tooth extraction goes awry. Very painful! Soft foods have been the norm for me for the past 10 days. God bless my mum, she brought me all kinds of yogurt and pudding and protein drinks and applesauce AND made me egg salad to have on hand. I'm healing slowly but surely - but boy, am I getting tired of pudding!)

And here's the freezer ...

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... which we did a few days later. :)

The freezer was in better shape than the fridge, but there wasn't really a good system in place. After removing it all and weeding out old items, it's a little better now ... And yes, we have a lot of ice cream on those shelves, but no they don't have anything to do with my tooth! We host a lot of parties as you know, particularly birthday parties, so ice cream gets bought - half eaten - and then returned to the freezer. Bill can't eat ice cream (he's lactose-intolerant) and I try not to, if you know what I mean. ;) And the boys are allowed ice cream only on occasion ... so it really piles up!

Oh, and did I mention Bill's new hobby is making ice cream?

Ha-ha, go figure! Seriously though, his lemon sorbet and vanilla custard ice cream is to die for! (Especially since the latter is made with our hen's fresh eggs!) Those white containers are holding his recent concoctions and the white object in the bottom drawer is the ice cream maker bowl. (Kept frozen and ready to go!)

Now one of the things I just LOVE about this program is how Taylor assigns a challenge (or zone) for each week - case in point, "fridge/freezer" last week and "recipes" next week - but then instead of just sending you off on your own, she ALSO gives you daily missions that will help you on the way to conquering that challenge! So this past week, on one day we decluttered the fridge, and on another we cleaned the fridge thoroughly. Then we tackled the freezer another day, and the front and top of the fridge another day entirely. This challenge is so VERY doable!

Speaking of the front of the fridge, here is mine ...

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Love this sweet teapot wallie!

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On the left is a board for Earlybird's ABA weekend homework, and on the right is a pen cup, the teapot wallie (which is like chalkboard) and our week-at-a-glance. I love how they look against the black fridge! I am using the teapot to list a seasonal verse or idea each week - something that ties into our home/learning theme (which next week is "candles"). The calendar is pretty self-explanatory ... I have this here so the rest of the family can see what's going each day of the week. :)

(I bought the homework board at Staples (Martha Stewart Office) and the items on the right were found on Amazon.)

So there we have it! Another week behind us and several spots in my kitchen are much cleaner than they were on January 1st! This coming week we are targeting "recipes and cookbooks" and I am SO looking forward to digging into those things. I will be back with a report on how that challenge went and I hope to also return in a few days with a peek at my binder's February section ... how those planning sheets are working for me and some thoughts on the month ahead!

For now though I will leave you, but as always, it's with my thanks for your time and attention. I hope you all have a nice week ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


#52 Weeks: My Pantry & Bakeware ...

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Hello, my friends and Happy Tuesday! I hope your week is off to a great start! I have just finished up week three of the 52 Week Organized Home Challenge and I'm here to report in! (Please see my previous progress reports here and here.)

Above you see my kitchen pantry and if I may say so, I just adore my pantry. It's located in the kitchen proper, on the wall across from the kitchen "nook" and just before the passageway into the family room. When we were first shown this house (almost four years ago now) there were several things that really stood out to me as a prospective buyer (already half in love with the house from the first foot out of the car!) and one of them was this pantry. It was built by a local craftsman and apparently several homes in our town have the same feature. Short of a separate room with a utility sink and work table - and maybe rafters for drying herbs - I thought this was pretty perfect as pantries go! Certainly a "luxury" we had never enjoyed before in our previous homes. Food storage was always tricky especially as our family grew and I yearned to cook more at home.

Now, I grew up with a back hall pantry (the stairwell down to the back door) and my grandparents had a wonderful pantry in their basement (also in a back stairwell). My grandparents went through the Great Depression and lived by the old adage "use it up, wear it out, make do or do without" ... AND, always be prepared. I remember having such a feeling of comfort and security just knowing those shelves existed. Grama would often send me down to fetch a can of this or that ... but sometimes I looked it over all on my own ... just because. Full of jars and bottles and cans of all kinds, I found them fascinating and maybe even a little mysterious. :) Both my mother and grandmother were fabulous home cooks (my mum still is!) who loved caring for their families and so by extension, their pantries provided more than just physical nourishment. Nowadays of course we can just run to the grocery store and get what we need - almost at any time of day - but still, my Yankee roots urge me to secure for the future, stock up on goods, fill the larder, and never take any of it for granted. How blessed we are to know we can feed those we love when they are hungry ...

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Art by Tasha Tudor

Well, anyway ... back to the pantry in question! And if you can't tell, the photo at the top is the "before" shot. ;) I was told by a few folks that this looked pretty good as is (was), but honestly, things were really quite messy. There was so much out-of-date food (that moved with us from the old house!) and crumbs and stickiness of all kinds. And I really didn't have a good idea of just what all was in here. It's hard to "work" a pantry with which you're not completely familiar! And as I've mentioned before, one of my 2017 goals is to cook more at home - to make more of the food we eat rather than rely on packaged/prepared/processed kinds of foods. Better for us and our budget!

So the first thing I did was to empty the WHOLE thing out, shelf by shelf, and place things on the kitchen table.

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(I mean, how many bags of flour does one family really need?)

See, here's an example of one of my problems. I don't cook with flour as often as I should (or would if I had my A-game going) so I had no idea how many bags of flour we actually had. I'd buy flour if I saw it on sale, or if I was at the store thinking how I'd like to make pizza dough from scratch, then I'd buy flour just in case I didn't have the right kind on hand at home. Several of these bags were past their expiration date and honestly, that is just shameful.

(I'm baring my soul here friends ... just in case you thought I was some kind of super-organized, homemaking maven! Lol.)

I also had SO many supplies for cupcake baking ...

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But that makes sense because we do make cupcakes quite often (apparently not from scratch though) and sprinkles don't ever really go bad. (Do they?)

Ok, so once I had ALL the foodstuffs out (I worked cabinet by cabinet - my kitchen table's not that big) I stood on a chair and vacuumed and wiped all the shelves. (The boys were beside themselves ... Mama, come down from there! That's not safe! We'll tell Dad!) Next I combed through it all and got rid of expired items. (This was better done when my husband was at work ... he would have fainted to see me toss so much food!) Finally, I set things back in place, again going shelf by shelf - trying to come up with some efficient storage solutions as I went along.

And voila!

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A trimmed down, clean and organized pantry. With plenty of room for adding more! Generally speaking, the left cabinet holds savory things, the middle cabinet is for baking, fruits and sweet mixes and the last cabinet is for health, pets, baby and breakfast items.

How about a tour? :)

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Top shelf has beverages. We don't drink soda often, but keep it on hand for company and large-scale entertaining. The shelf just below that has snack-type foods - chips, taco shells, crackers and salad croutons.

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Next shelf down is for rice and soups ...

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There are two handy pull-out metal drawers for seasoning packets/sauce mixes, soup bouillon, and seafood cans/pouches.

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Ok, on to the middle cabinet ...

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Top shelf has flours, oats, cornmeal and pancake mix. (p.s. As I went along I worked on a pantry inventory - using handy printables from Taylor at Home Storage Solutions 101, noting any pre-made packaged foods I'd like to make from scratch - such as pancake mix.) The next shelf down has sugars (confectioner's sugar, brown sugar (hidden in an air-tight container just behind the Domino boxes), stevia, organic raw sugar and plain old granulated sugar. Also, a bin full of decorative sugars, colored sprinkles, icing gel, cupcake liners and toppers, etc.

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Moving down ... we have the spice shelf! The rack on the far left has pull out shelves and the two bins hold spices for cooking (left) and baking (right). (Generally speaking of course. Just how it made sense in my own head.) Then there is a mortar-pestle for grinding whole spices, an air-tight jar with cinnamon sticks, a pretty crock of Herbs de Provence (a gift from a friend), and a few other assorted spices ... vanilla beans, dry mustard, Bell's seasoning, cream of tartar, chili powder and seasoned salt.

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More pull-out drawers below  ... these hold gelatin, yeast, pudding mixes, and chocolate chips/baking chocolate of all kinds. Just below that are assorted baking ingredients: cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, coconut oil, corn syrup, molasses, honey, shortening, and cocoa.

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(Notice I'm spending more time on these shelves ... I'm much more a baker than a cook. Flour issues notwithstanding.)

Ok, next we have flavorings and seasonings ... salt, No-Salt (for my dad), assorted seasoning rubs and blends, cinnamon sugar and vanilla sugar (in the latched jar), packets of raw sugar, vanilla and assorted flavorings (peppermint, almond, lemon, orange, hazelnut, etc.), a large bag of mulling spices, a small bag of dried flower petals, cloth spice bags, and rosewater and orange blossom water. And a pack of flavored Italian honey. This is a fun shelf - it might be my favorite! :) Madagascar vanilla is my favorite thing in my kitchen. Well, after coffee ... and maybe tea.  

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Ok, on to the next shelf! Here we have dried fruits (dates, raisins, cherries and cranberries), a good ol' jar of Marshmallow Fluff (a New England staple), a jar of mincemeat (which actually contains no meat whatsoever) and many, many cans of squash and pumpkin. (One can never have too many cans of pumpkin, imho.)

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Allrighty, last cabinet!

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At the very top is a cabinet with medicinal things, matches, bandaids, sunscreen and, oddly enough, bubble solution. Bubbles bring high emotions in this household, so it's best to keep them somewhere out of sight when not in use.

The next shelf down holds my "master stash" of tea and a basket of assorted cocoa packets ...

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Then we have a shelf for larger containers of cocoa, marshmallows and leftover Halloween (and um, Thanksgiving and Christmas) candies. Nobody eats these really, but I can't bear to throw them out! (Actually, that's not entirely true - the Annie's Halloween bunny grahams are gone now.) And behind the tea tins on the left is a large container of protein powder we never remember to use. I love reusing those pretty Harney & Sons tea tins for storage!

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And here we have the pets and baby shelf, holding a basket of canned food, pouches of treats (one for cats, one for hens), a tupperware container of homegrown catnip, Little Bear's toddler snacks and bottle liners. (He's actually off bottles now - he really held onto that bedtime bubba! - but we're saving those liners in case my sister-in-law - who is due soon with her first baby - might need them.)

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Next shelf down holds cold cereal boxes - they don't fit standing up and we have yet to find another storage spot - and a bin of oatmeal packets, plus a jug of spring water.

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And then we have ... hey, wait a minute!

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Oh, do cats love it when you clean. :) But this is actually an empty shelf! (Which is fine ... sometimes, especially when Bookworm is home, we have lots of cold cereal boxes on hand.) And below that is a bottom shelf holding extra boxes of food wraps.

Ok, a couple more photos showing you how I tackled the "organize bakeware" mission ...

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Same procedure as the pantry, more or less - took everything out of these cabinets and weeded through it all. What do we need up here in the kitchen? What can go down to storage in the basement? Then cleaned out the cabinets themselves and finally, placed all of my bakeware back inside.

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Far left holds baking molds and and muffin pans, plus a large half-sheet cake pan. The middle cabinet holds bundt pans, springform pans, quiche/tart pans, and regular 9" round pans. Also, a couple of waffle makers. And the third cabinet holds a bin of random baking supplies - cookie cutters, candy molds and popsicle molds - as well as our Griddler and deep fryer.

You can probably see that these under-counter cabinets have a neat feature - a surprise cabinet on the backside of the jetty! (Do you see Little Bear's tiny face peeking in through the light in the back? :)

In this cabinet, which opens on the kitchen nook side, we store our crockpots, pressure cooker, juicer and salad spinner just behind.

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(The crockpot on the let was missing its inner pot - it was in the dishwasher!)

So that was last week's challenge in a nutshell. Pretty big nut there, Dawn - I bet you're thinking! Well, you know how I can talk. But thanks so much for sharing in my pantry joy - I hope you enjoyed hearing about the process! This week we're assigned missions that target the refrigerator and freezer and as you can see below ...

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I'm getting a lot of help from my little guy! :)

Well my friends, thanks again for stopping by and I'd love to hear about your pantry if you have the time to leave a comment. Or pantry memories? I'm very fond of those. :) I'll be back next weekend (or so) with another progress report ...

As I've said before, I am really enjoying this challenge! It feels so good to devote my time and attention on my home and really get things back in order. This is my workspace after all! I'm here all day (for the most part) really using these spaces with my family and it's my hope to become even more comfortable in the kitchen, cooking more often and with more purpose than I usually do. I think a tidy pantry is a good step in that direction, as will be a clean fridge and freezer!

So see you next time ... I hope to be back again this week, perhaps with a "home office" kind of post, but we shall see what the week brings!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok ... here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the potholder/kitchen cloths drawer now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, here's the after ...

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:)

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

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

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

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

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

And here we have our pots and pans ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 4: Happy Hearts at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more nativity scenes around the house ...

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

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

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

And how about this one? :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❤

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

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

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

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:)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good morning, pretty girls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 2: Plants & Peace

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oliver thought this was a GREAT idea.

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

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

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

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

Soon I'll be starting fruitcakes ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

See you here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of stories ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends Tea 1

 

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

Friends Tea 2

 ❤

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

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

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

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

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

 ❤

And from Gill:

Friends Tea 7

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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