Holiday Planner Feed

Tea Parties & Plans ...

Oak leaves branch

Good Thursday morning, my friends! I hope your week's going well. :)

First up - in Planner Party news, I'm eager to hear from more of you and am very happy to share more planner posts, so if you have some thoughts or pics to share, please send them to me at:

bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com

I have a bit more to share on the subject myself - in fact, I'm currently working on a post about my binder tabs ... but of course, mid-way through I decided to completely overhaul the whole thing. ;) So that post will be up soon, I hope! 

Now, about my next "party" ...

Advent tea

I was thinking it would be nice to bring back my Advent Tea Journal from last year ... and I'd love to have you all join me again! If you'd like to see how we "took tea" last year, here is a link to my Tea Journal (and here is a link to my Advent archives for good measure). This year I will follow a similar format: there will be a theme to each week, a topic to discuss. I will share my own thoughts and photos, and I invite you all to do the same, whether by e-mail or comment or by posting at your own blog and linking up ... :)

And just like last year I will begin with a Thanksgiving Tea! Join me here on Monday, November 23rd to share some afternoon refreshment and take a collective breath before the busy holiday week gets underway. Our Advent Teas will follow over the next four weeks and then there will be one final Christmas Tea before we conclude our party. :)

Here are the Tea dates and topics:

Thanksgiving Tea: Monday, November 23rd ~ "Simplifying the Season"

Advent Tea, #1: Monday, November 30th ~ "Gifts from the Heart"

Advent Tea, #2: Monday, December 7th ~ "O Christmas Tree"

Advent Tea, #3: Monday, December 14th ~ "Magic + Meaning" (Advent for children)

Advent Tea, #4: Monday, December 21st ~ "Welcoming Winter"

Christmas Tea: Monday, December 28th ~ "'Tis the Season!"


My friends, I welcome you to send me your thoughts on our weekly topics (along with photos if you care to share them) and if you blog, I hope you'll consider posting about our Teatime and sending me a link. I'll also collect comments as they post and add them into each post ... so there's a way for just about everyone to participate!

In the week leading up to each Tea I will post reminders (where, how and when to send things) and describe more fully each topic. And I'm going to try to make up a pretty Tea button of some sort ... but I haven't done that in a long time, so I hope I remember how! 

I think this will be such fun - a nice chance to pause and reflect on the season while indulging in a little teatime together. I'm hoping by organizing this all now I'm giving myself (and you!) some time to digest and think ahead ... I hope you'll join me if you can!

For now though ... well, Advent seems pretty far off ... it's a damp and dark (dare I say dreary?) day here. Very mid-November. Most of the leaves are gone (from the trees, that is ... there are plenty plastered to the wet ground). But December is just around the corner! I'm not one to rush things (and certainly not seasons) but there is prudence in getting things set, at least in your mind if not also on paper. Because as much as I don't like rushing I really don't like scrambling ... and that's what happens when I leave things to just happen without planning ahead! I want my seasons to be simple, yes - but also satisfying ... and that takes a little forethought, I think.

Well that's all for now, friends ... my little one's due to wake any moment. So I must be off ... but I thank you, as always, for stopping by and I will see you here again very soon!

Thinking out loud: Thanksgiving plans

Thanksgiving folder 6

Good Wednesday morning, my friends! It's quite early here ... as in, really, really early. Our aptly pseudonym-ed third son, Earlybird, has been rising well before 6 a.m. lately so our days have been getting a real "efficiency" boost. I know most people don't see the appeal in getting out of bed while it's still dark and cold - and, quite frankly, it really isn't all that appealing in the moment because that bed is just so darn cozy - but by mid-morning, when I've gotten a nice head start on my daily tasks and I'm on my second third cup of coffee - well by golly, I am just HUMMING right along.

So here I am at 7 a.m. and I've gone over my agenda and I've made a few checks on my task list and I've read through my daily devotions - both spiritual and practical - and I thought, you know, I should really get a start on my Thanksgiving folder. We're only 15 days away from the big day, after all!

So what does a Thanksgiving folder do, you might wonder? Well, I make one up every year, and it's really not slick or snazzy or even a particular unique idea, but it works for me.

You know, of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. For one thing, I love all it celebrates (gratitude, family, harvest, home) and for another, it often falls on my dear mother's birthday (11/26)! So it's a double celebration for our family, and some years we have close to (or more than) 20 people! Hosting a gathering of this size is a blessing and privilege, but it can be a little overwhelming - we want the day to be special and relaxing for everyone! - so my aim is always to start early and be organized! Then, come Thanksgiving, I'll be less consumed with the dinner details and more focused on the deeper meaning of the day. 

(Now, that might be the third cup of coffee talking, but I hope you know what I mean. Anyhoo, back to that folder!)

So inside this folder I place any recipes or crafts or other information I might like to use this year - these are mostly clippings from magazines or print-outs or photocopies. Sometimes there are a few paper-clipped recipe cards. Along the folder tab I place a strip of washi tape on which I have written something clever like, "Thanksgiving, 2015." I also add a pretty turkey sticker because it makes me smile. :)

To the front cover of the folder I staple a sheet (sometimes two) of loose-leaf paper. Here is where I start making my lists: guests • menu (dinner, apps/cocktails, dessert) • table arrangements • serving notes • decorating notes • cleaning • errands • grace

Thanksgiving folder 3

I even have a tiny calendar in the corner which represents the days left before the holiday and which ones are available for errands or house cleaning or cooking, etc. 

Thanksgiving folder 4

Now this folder is mainly for "hostess" notes - lists pertaining directly to the family gathering and dinner itself. But there are many other things I plan out ahead of Thanksgiving: crafts/activities with the kids (ex. a gratitude project, table decorations) • parish/community events (ex. a food or clothing drive) • weaving nature in (ex. autumn walks and material gathering) • atmosphere/decoration (ex. garlands and lights) • extras (ex. When will A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving air?) • our Thanksgiving cornucopia of books

Now, all these notes find their collective home in different places at different times. I go back and forth about where it makes the most sense to keep seasonal plans such as these. The main homekeeping binder? The Late Autumn (Nov-Dec) binder? My homemade planner, if I can find the room? In my file crate, perhaps?

Because when a holiday, feast or season is upon us, I like to have my planning pages close at hand - not in some storage spot in the next room. I need to refer to those notes to keep on top of our plans but most of all - whatever does or doesn't get done - all that seasonal inspiration is good for my soul! :)


Well, I could add more about my Thanksgiving prep and I probably will in another post, but as it is now mid-day and I still don't have this post up, I will wrap up  and press "publish." 

But before I go, here's the "help" I had while getting this post done ...

Thanksgiving folder 5

Good help really is hard to find - especially when it's this cute!


Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, my friends! I will see you here again sometime soon!

p.s. Oh, I forgot to mention! I have a new "post party" in mind ... with the days growing dark and cold, and the urge to settle in taking hold ... I'm thinking it might be a good time for tea? A weekly gathering to chat about holiday plans? Details to come!

Halloween Ideas: A Paper Chain Countdown!

A bit of a long post ahead - I really had fun with this!

Halloween paper chain 5

Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday!

Here is an overview of the Halloween Countdown Paper Chain I made for Earlybird to help him keep track of how many days he must wait for the holiday, which, in his opinion, should be here right NOW, as in today, no more waiting! I also wanted to shape his awareness of this holiday which to my mind is often overblown and over-commercialized (not to mention, downright inappropriate) when presented by the mainstream. As we happen to be studying the ancient Celts and our own Celtic ancestry this year, it is a perfect opportunity to learn where this holiday originated and how/why they celebrated it.

Ok ... here's how I put it together!

Halloween paper chain

I used regular construction paper, in Halloween shades, and cut out as many strips as there were days left till Halloween. (Ideally I would have started on October 1st, but this idea just came to me the other day as EB got itchy about the holiday's arrival.) Using coordinating Sharpies, I wrote the number of days left on the outside of the strip and on the inside (hidden from view) I wrote a simple activity or an interesting fact about the holiday ...

Halloween paper chain 2

It only took a few hours to pull together, and I think the daily "Halloween moment" will temper EB's impatience a bit. To keep it as easy as possible (because we all know fitting "extra" stuff into an already busy day is a challenge), I tried to consult my calendar as I worked out the ideas. For example, some things would work better on weekends (when Dad could come-with or help out), and some things could be woven smoothly into our weekly rhythm (e.g. nature walk on Monday, painting on Thursday, baking on Friday, etc.). It was fun coming up with these ideas! 

Halloween paper chain 3

(I think I said that already, but honestly, this stuff gets me so excited!)

So here is what each slip says - I hope you find some nuggets of fun for your family!

26 ... "Halloween began a long time ago in the country of Ireland. Find it on our map!"

25 ... "What sound does a ghost make? Write out your answer for me!"

24 ... "Halloween is sometimes called All Hallow's Eve. What is it the eve of?" (Check calendar if he can't recall what happens on November 1st - All Saint's Day.)

23 ... "Spiders are a symbol of Halloween. Let's do a fun worksheet about spiders for our science notebook!" (I've prepared a simple worksheet with labels, facts and shapes.)

22 ... "What do you think Halloween smells like?" (We'll make a collage of Halloween smells using pictures from old magazines of things like ... candy corn, pumpkins, apple cider, woodsmoke, autumn leaves, tree bark, mushrooms, chocolates, etc. I'm not sure how he'll answer so I'll try to have a wide array of foods and nature smells.)

21 ... "Did you know that a long time ago, the first Jack o'Lanterns were not made from pumpkins but turnips?!" (We'll find a turnip at the farmstand and try to carve it at home - and/or cook it for supper!)

20 ... "Today we will bake some special Halloween cupcakes for Bookworm to take back to college." (Earlybird LOVES to bake with me, and with Bookworm home for the weekend, this will be a good opportunity to use all the colorful sprinkles and gels we have collected.)

19 ... "Today we will listen to some fun Halloween music while driving around town." (Wee Sing for Halloween - a longtime favorite with my kids!)

18 ...  "What are the important rules for trick or treating safety?" (We'll talk about expectations for the night and write down important rules for having fun and staying safe.)

17 ... "Today we will read a special book about Halloween." (I have a very old book from when I was a little girl, Let's Find Out about Halloween. It even has my "notes" for a Halloween party I was hosting, roundabouts 3rd grade!)

16 ... "Today we will listen to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." (I have requested the unabridged book on audio CD from the library but this might prove too intense for EB - in which case, I have the old Disney movie, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad ready to play instead.)

15 ... "Let's make a Halloween pizza for supper tonight!" (Following this recipe from Taste of Home ... and as a special treat, I'll have picked this up at the library: Martha's Halloween Ideas - EB's a HUGE Martha fan, as his is mum!)

14 ... "Today we will design and make costumes for you and Little Bear!" (As of now, EB wants to be a ghost, and he has declared LB should be a dragon ... I figure starting two weeks ahead gives us time to get them ready ...)

13 ... "Today we will go on a family "Halloween Woods Walk!" (Our homeschool habitat for the month of October is "deciduous woods," so we'll use this activity as a means of observing this particular environment. Why do the woods seem spooky sometimes? What do we hear? Scuttling leaves, animal noises, the wind in the trees ... We will also notice signs of death and decay in nature ... fallen leaves or a rotting log, for example.)

12 ... "Let's write a Halloween poem!" (I will have holiday-related words cut out for him to put together as a "poem" and glue on a sheet he can decorate.)

11 ... "Today we will do some fun Halloween word puzzles!" (I've ordered Halloween Mad Libs Junior from Amazon - it will be a good way to reinforce parts of speech!)

10 ... "Let's make Halloween Ornaments!" (We'll use Halloween cookie cutters to cut out holiday shapes from a salt-dough, bake and decorate - perhaps with melted crayons, details here. I will bring a branch inside so we can hang the ornaments as a fun foyer decoration.)

9 ... "Today we'll paint a Halloween sky picture!" (We'll set up on the patio, late in the afternoon ... using natural plant-based watercolor paints. We'll hang them to dry in a tree.)

8 ... "Let's have a special Halloween tea with Nana!" (We'll serve autumnal goodies like apples and cheese, iced squash muffins, pear cider and orange-spice tea. I'll have EB help me prepare the goodies and serve to his Nana.)

7 ... "Today we'll mail Halloween cards to our friends!" (I have a pack of sweet, vintage Halloween postcards - we'll work together to sign and address them, add stamps, stickers, and bring them to the post office.)

6 ... "How about a visit to a pumpkin patch today?" (After church we'll head to a local farm to sit in a "real sincere" pumpkin patch ... back at home we'll watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!")

5 ... "Today we'll rake leaves and make a crow craft!" (Halloween, in its roots, is an agricultural festival, important to people who lived by the land. We'll read a book called Scarecrow and make a cute crow craft using Little Bear's hands and feet!)

4 ... "Tonight's the Full Hunter's Moon! Let's take a walk after dark, observe the night sky and listen to the night sounds." (Back inside we'll read Whoo's There? A Bedtime Shadow Book ... and make "spooky" shadows on the wall!)

3 ... "This morning we'll search for spiderwebs on the lawn and make a spiderweb craft!" (We'll make these cute Paper Plate Spider Webs - I have black plates and sparkly yarn on hand - and maybe some spiderweb cookies, too!)

2 ... "Today we'll make some Halloween lanterns!" (We're going to use this simple craft idea, with jars I've saved and tissue paper I have on hand. The jars will be placed on our front steps to light the way for trick-or-treaters.)

1 ... "Today we'll put our garden to bed and there will be a bonfire at sunset!" (I love the idea of raking, composting, and tidying up the yard before winter ... Samhain (as it was called by the Celts) in fact means, "Summer's End." Crops were brought in for the winter and livestock driven between fires to ensure their protection. Our Halloween bonfire will take place on our patio, around our fire pit as the sun sets. We will add some of the herbs from our patch to the flames and enjoy that last smell of summer! A hearty supper will follow ...)

~* Happy Halloween! *~

Halloween is on a Saturday which is really convenient - Daddy is home with us all day. :) We will start our day with a walk through a local graveyard ... to pay our respects, and observe the quiet beauty of the place, how the earth is settling in for its own rest. We may make a headstone rubbing before we go - there are some beautiful, Revolution-era graves in this particular cemetery. Our day will also include carving pumpkins, roasting seeds, baking our Halloween cake, having a special supper with friends, dressing up, trick-or-treating/passing out candy, and watching some Halloween specials on tv ...

All good fun!

We hung the paper chain in the family room, out of Little Bear's reach - unless he climbs the hearth which, while unlikely, is not out of the realm of possibility! And each morning Earlybird will take a link off the chain and read what is up for the day ... :)

Halloween paper chain 4

 Note: I kept a list of my "paper chain agenda" in my planner so I can refresh my memory - don't want to be caught unawares! - and prep for any activities that day. (I can also change things up if I really need to.) I plan to look ahead before each weekend so I can pick up any materials we might need.

Now, I already have a "blessings" project in mind for November - a new twist on a beloved tradition - and I will post about that soon! In the meantime, I am almost ready to get my Masterpiece Monday up (really have to change up that name), as we watched Home Fires last night (LOVED it) and tonight we will watch Indian Summers ... so tomorrow I should be able to get that reaction post up. I am very curious to know what you all think!

Good night for now, my friends - what a sunset outside my windows! I love how the light is so low and golden at this time of year, setting the foliage ablaze ... chilly now, though it was a mild day ... and tomorrow looks to be a bit warmer!

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

Advent Activities: Think, Do, Read

Advent calendar 23

Well my friends ... here, at last, is my Advent activity outline! Below I have listed each date in Advent, the sticker (vocab word) I've chosen for that day, and the activity ideas I have noted in my plans.

As we are a Catholic family, many activities tie into our liturgical calendar and family faith traditions. There's also a good bit of baking and nature study, some simple conversation as well as several crafts. There are not too many outings, as we tend to stick close to home at this time of year. And it goes without saying there will be days when only a fraction of my "plans" are put into action. I try to respect energy, interest levels and moods (theirs and mine) as much as possible.

(Note: The books listed are ones we own as well as some I have on request from our local library. With the exception of the book for 12/23, which I purchased new for our collection ... because I couldn't resist!)

November 30th: evergreens

Today is the 1st day of Advent and a new Church year begins! We'll gather evergreens in the afternoon to place next to our Advent candles. Why are they called evergreens? (everlasting life) Light the first purple candle tonight.

Read: The Littlest Evergreen

December 1st: cookies

Happy December! "Rabbit, Rabbit!" Today we'll bake some cookies and talk about our favorite kinds at Christmas. (Who could we surprise with cookies who might not expect it? Let's make a plan.)

Read: The Gift of the Christmas Cookie

December 2nd: nuts and spices

Today we'll check our stock of baking supplies, especially spices. How do they smell? What makes spices so special? Why did the Magi bring spices as gifts for the Baby Jesus? We'll place our wise men dolls at the start of their journey (in a far corner of the house).

Read: We Three Kings

December 3rd: presents

Today we'll write (and decorate) a letter to Santa and then compose a list of gifts to give to our loved ones this year. What would make people happy and feel loved? (Stress actions and gestures over material gifts.) Also, we'll watch the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree on tv tonight!

Read: The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree

December 4th: winter birds

Today is the Feast of St. Barbara! We'll say a special prayer for Grandma Barbara and later on we'll snip a forsythia branch to place in water. (Might it bloom by Christmas eve?) While we're outside, we'll check the state of our birdfeeders and feed our hungry bird friends. 

Read: Merry Christmas, Merry Crow 

December 5th: ornament

Today we'll bring our Christmas ornaments down from the attic and take a look through the boxes. We'll talk about family favorites and the stories behind special ornaments. We'll make some homemade ornaments together in the afternoon.

Read: The Spider's Gift: A Ukranian Christmas Story

December 6th: St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, EB's patron saint! We'll watch St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (Veggie Tales) with a snack of popcorn and hot cocoa (there might be a bishop's staff/candy cane stirrer in our mugs!). We'll clean the corner for the Christmas tree and at nightfall look for the Full Cold Moon in the dark, cold sky ...

Read: The Baker's Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale

December 7th: Christmas tree 

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent and tonight we light our second purple candle. Where did the custom of Christmas trees come from? We'll read "The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy," by Cicely Mary Barker. After Mass we'll head to the woods and cut down our Christmas tree! (Can we identify what kind of evergreen it is? Bring a field guide to the farm ...)

Read: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

December 8th: dove 

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception! We'll set up our children's nativity and arrange star candles and flowers around our Mary statue. How can we be more peaceful - at home and in the world? Let's brainstorm some ideas and write them in a peace & prayer journal. 

Read: Can You Say Peace?

December 9th: bell

Today we will listen for the afternoon bells at church, and make some bells of our own at home! We'll listen to Mama's favorite carol, "The Carol of the Bells," which is based on a Ukranian folk chant. We will also read: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Read: Jingle Bells

December 10th: snowman

Today we'll make thumbprint snowglobes and once we're done, we'll watch The Snowman on dvd. After Little Bear's nap, we'll have some warm milk with honey and almond and Mama's tangerine snowball cookies. We'll also read The Snowman aloud to LB. (And naturally, if we have snow, we'll build our own snowman!)

Read: The Snowman

December 11th: pinecone

Today we'll make pinecone seed ornaments for our bird tree, as well as some silver (glitter) pinecones to give as gifts. We'll attach tags that describe "The Legend of the Silver Pinecone." After dark we'll walk out to the bird tree and there will be a surprise ... colorful lights!

Read: Night Tree

December 12th: poinsettia

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! We'll visit a local nursery to see all the poinsettias - the greenhouse, with its steamy warmth, will be a nice break from the chill December air. While we're there, we'll buy some amaryllis/paperwhite bulbs to prepare as gifts. At home, while Mama works on a poinsettia ornament, we'll watch Frosty the Snowman (note the scene when he gets stuck in the greenhouse!). For snack, we'll have cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars and "sangria" (fruit punch with chunky winter fruits).

Read: The Legend of the Poinsettia

December 13th: orange 

Today is the Feast of St. Lucia! For breakfast we'll have orange-cranberry muffins (lit by beeswax candles!) and spicy Swedish "glogg" (non-alcoholic version). Later on we'll slice oranges and hang them to dry in the kitchen window - they'll smell so good! We'll also say a prayer for big brother Bookworm who starts his final exams today!

An Orange for Frankie

December 14th: gingerbread

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, and today we celebrate one of our greatest joys - our Earlybird himself! It's his 13th birthday!!! Earlybird (and his Papa, with whom he shares his birthday) will be honored at a special lunch with all his favorite foods and a delicious gingerbread cake! Tonight we light the pink candle.

Read: The Gingerbread Pirates

December 15th: fruitcake

Today we'll bake mini "fruitcake" breads for our neighbors. We'll be using the delicious fruits and nuts we ordered from King Arthur Flour. Once the breads are cool we'll wrap them well and store them somewhere cold. Then we'll make tags for the breads (which will be delivered on Christmas eve).

Read: The Polar Express

December 16th: reindeer

Today we'll watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and talk about what made him special and how it's ok to be different! How that which makes us different can also make us shine! We'll do a little research: Where do reindeer live? How do they live? Let's add some reindeer stickers to our map. Weather permitting, we'll visit our local farm to feed their beautiful reindeer.

Read: The Wild Christmas Reindeer

December 17th: stockings

Today we'll hang our Christmas stockings along the mantel and make a donation to a local toy drive. These will be items we've been adding to a bag all month. We'll talk about why it's important to help those who have less than we do, and sometimes that is in material form and sometimes it's through our time and actions. Let's brainstorm ways we as a family can help others in the new year.

Read: The Legend of the Christmas Stocking

December 18th: mint

Today we are going to bake all-natural candy-cane cookies and enjoy them with homemade hot peppermint cocoa. We will also have some homemade play-dough to shape and bake into letters. (upside down candy cane = j for Jesus) Before bed we will enjoy a minty herbal foot bath.

Read: The Legend of the Candy Cane

December 19th: candle

Today we'll roll beeswax candles to give as gifts and enjoy our supper by candlelight. We'll discuss light - the type and amount of light at this time of year (natural world) and also, why do we call Jesus the Light of the world? And tonight, a special dinner to welcome Bookworm home for Christmas break!

Read: An Early American Christmas

December 20th: snowflake

Today is the last day of Autumn! Let's talk about how seasons change, and how the Winter season is different from the Christmas season (natural/liturgical). We'll make snowflakes to celebrate the new season (either paper ones or these depending on energy and time) and brainstorm ways to get ready for winter storms!

Read: Snowflakes Fall

December 21st: yule log

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent! It is also the Winter Solstice (6:03 p.m.), the shortest day of the year! After Mass we'll go for a walk (weather permitting) and listen to the silence of the woods. We'll bring home a fallen branch to make a 12 Days of Christmas Log. We'll talk about why we love our cats and how we can show them our love (care, kind words, special attention). As a special treat there will be a yule log for dessert at Sunday dinner!

Read: The Christmas Cat

December 22nd: holly

Today we'll walk around our property and look for what's still green. Are there any holly and ivy plants? As we walk, we'll listen to the old English carol, "The Holly and Ivy" (on Pandora). Back inside we'll have a coloring picture to do (this will be the first entry in our new nature logs) and we'll copy "The Song of the Holly Fairy" to accompany the picture. Why is the holly plant like a crown? (pointy edges) Who is the newborn king - why/how/when does he wear a crown?

Read: The Story of Holly & Ivy

December 23rd: star

Today we'll put the star on top of the Christmas tree and make some simple star ornaments using cardboard and yarn. We'll find Bethlehem on the world map (approximately) and place a glittery star sticker above it. Let's look at the night sky and see what stars we can pick out. And before bed, a special surprise! A new Christmas book for our collection ...

Read: Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story

December 24th: heart

Very simply: What (Who) is the heart of Christmas? Let's talk about the love Jesus has for us ... the love His parents had for Him ... and how we can we show Jesus we love Him this year? (stress the idea that Jesus is in everyone we meet) As the sun goes down we will pay a visit to the outdoor creche, and inside we'll light all our Advent candles and say a special prayer (one we've composed) together. Before bed, EB will have an herbal "Christmas" bath - soothing and softly scented.

Read: Manger

25 - Holy Family

Merry Christmas! Let's have a wonderful day!


Now, this calendar is primarily organized with Earlybird in mind (my 12 year old autistic son who is, developmentally, much younger than his calendar age) but as you can see, many activities involve the whole family and can be adapted for children of all ages. And as I said before, this will not all flow as smoothly as described - some days will just not go as planned. And that's ok, I've come to accept this aspect of special needs parenting! Each weekend I'll prepare in advance in hopes that things will work out, and then we'll take it day by day. I'm looking to establish a hopeful mood and make warm memories - not wear anyone out (most of all me!)

I hope, overall, that my children will remember the days of Advent as time well spent together - in a peaceful spirit, with present minds - as we prepared our hearts for the coming of Christ.

Blessings to all on this late Thursday eve ... see you here again very soon!

My Thanksgiving Day Planner

Thanksgiving folder 1

Hello and Happy Wednesday, my friends!

I'm coming to you from Crackerjack's computer once again - good old CJ, he's very patient with his mom - but there's a light at the end of the indisposed-laptop tunnel. I.e. I might have it back soon!

What had happened you see - which I could barely stand to mention I was so distraught - was that when Bill did the backup, and then went to restore my saved "old stuff" (for lack of a more technological term) onto my brand spankin' new hard drive - only a few things actually transferred. Some documents, a few folders ... and that was it. NONE of our precious photo library seemed to have been saved ...

So as you can imagine, we were quite upset. Incredulous, frustrated  ... but mostly, just so very upset. Well, fast-forward several ideas, suggestions and keystrokes later, and - *knock on wood* *fingers crossed* - it seems we've recovered the photos and they are slowly being restored. 


So, anyhoo - on to today's subject. I thought I'd write up a quick little post about my Thanksgiving Day Planner. I've talked about it here before - I use the same format every year - but I thought for new readers (or those readers who, like me, can talk planners incessantly, lol) I'd revisit the topic.

Now, I suppose it's mostly folks who host the actual dinner who would be in need of a Thanksgiving Day "planner." But whether you're hosting or not - and especially if you have children - there can be a lot to work into the celebration of this beloved American holiday ...

Books to read, songs to sing, foods to enjoy, crafts to make, tv shows to watch - and traditions to uphold and begin!

Bill and I are blessed with a large family as well as the honor of serving dinner each year at our home. And we always have such fun with the endeavor - but admittedly, it's a lot of work! So a planner of some sort is a must if we're going to get it all done. There are lists to make and recipes to clip and craft ideas to consider ... and time is already a-tickin! So I set up my T-Day planner just before the first of the month.

I find a file-folder format most useful for entertaining events (holidays and parties, etc.). I can staple a master time-frame/brainstorm page on the front cover and inside keep all the loose items like lists and magazine clippings ...

It's as basic as that, but it works!

On the calendar I write in when we'll do what (shop, farm pickup, bake pies, set tables, polish silver, wash wineglasses, iron linens ...). I look at my master monthly calendar first (the one in my planning binder) and see where there is time to get things done - what days we'll be home and what days I can run errands. I also jot down random "Thanksgiving" joys that come to me.

And finally, of course, I add stickers and washi tape. Just to make it all pretty.


My planning lists include (in case you're interested):



Cleaning/To-Do List

Baking/Cooking Timetable

Crafts/Activities with Kids

Decorating/Table Settings




I'm keeping the folder front and center at my planning station so I can add to it/consult it each day.

Folder 4

So there you have it - a quick (ish) look at my Thanksgiving Day Planner!

Please let me know if you have any questions and as always, I'd love to hear about your Thanksgiving plans! 

In the meantime, thanks so much for stopping by, and take care ...

I'll see you here again very soon!

Kitchen Chat, Week Seven: Easter!

Bs&c graphic 2

Good Monday morning, my friends!

Now, with this being Holy Week, I would love to talk about Easter this week ... so my questions today will center on this simple question: How do you celebrate Easter in your home?

I'm a bit under the weather this morning, so let me get right to those questions!


Where do you celebrate the holiday? Do you host a dinner (or brunch)?

What special activities do you look forward to most?

What foods mean Easter to you? Are they connected with fond memories from childhood?

And how about we wander into the next room for a moment, what is your Easter table like? Are there any special dishes or linens you like to use? 


I could say a LOT about Easter entertaining but if I may, could I direct you to my Easter archive for a rather thorough look at my family's Easter celebrations. (Party recap posts are scattered throughout the archive.) We host the holiday dinner here at our house every year ... and this will be our first Easter in our new home! I am very excited about this! And this year we are expecting 20 guests for dinner, so we will be spread out, with tables set in the dining room (10) and the sunroom (6, 4 and 4).

(That will seat 24 in all + a high chair!)

At Eastertime, I always look forward to ...

The sleepy smiles on my boys' faces as they find their goody baskets.

A chilly morning egg hunt. Colorful orbs nestled in dull grass.

Our church overflowing with fragrant lillies.

Bright light streaming through stained glass.

White chocolate. :)

Wine glasses sparkling in the sunlight.

Our Lenten cross suddenly filled with fresh flowers on Easter morning.

A long, leisurely day with my family.


We almost always have a baked ham on Easter but I remember my grandmother serving lamb on some years ... with mint jelly ... not my favorite, lol, but a holiday tradition. She also made lots of desserts, but I fondly remember homemade tapioca pudding with freshly whipped cream. She always made this at my "humble" request. :) 

Our tables are always set with pretty pastel linens and my cream-colored china, as well as quite often, my mother's blue-and-white china, too. Flowers include lots of sunny daffodils and bright tulips and there are small tealights scattered about. I will have pictures of this year's tables next week I'm sure!


Well my friends, I can't wait to hear about your own Easter highlights and memories! And please know, if you don't celebrate Easter, I'd be thrilled to hear about any other Spring celebrations you enjoy with your family. This is a wonderful season for bringing light and life into our homes ... pussy willows on the windowsill, pebbles and twigs set upon the nature shelf, spring sounds and smells are so lovely at this time of year.

I particularly enjoy my open kitchen window, looking out over my sink as I work on the evening dishes ... listening to the peepers in the woods, seeing all the daffodils popping up through the yard, smelling that fresh air with perhaps a hint of dirt and woodsmoke. After a winter of closed windows and doors, it feels so good to open our homes up again!

So I look forward to hearing from you! But for now I'll say goodbye, and wish you all a bright and blessed day!

See you here again very soon ...

HomeKeeping: 3 Weeks till Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving clipart 1

Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope you are all well.

On my mind today? Organizing (naturally) and the upcoming holidays. Now, we've been hosting our family's Thanksgiving dinner for many years now - it's the holiday I look forward to most! - and yet somehow it always sneaks up on me. For instance, I woke up this morning and thought, Oh my GOODNESS there are just three weeks till Thanksgiving! Only three Thursdays left!

So I sat down and wrote out a list of things that need to be done and what can be done in the next week, specifically. I always feel so much better after making lists, don't you?


(Some of these things might not seem all that "essential" to getting dinner on the table come November 28th, but I'm looking at the big picture. The holiday's about more than just that one day.)

* If I haven't already (and I haven't) organize a folder in which to store holiday planning materials. A place for lists, recipes (like this) and project ideas (like this).

* E-mail our family & friends to formally invite them all up here for Thanksgiving. Make sure everyone has our new address.

* Take walks with the boys to "absorb the season" and gather natural materials for decorating and crafts. (Pinecones, leaves, acorns and the like.)

* Begin a tentative menu - consult with Mum!

* Read through November magazines and clip any new recipes to try.

* Look through pantry and figure out what needs re-stocking.

* Choose seasonal books to read over the next three weeks with Earlybird and Little Bear. Arrange them on display and set aside an afternoon hour for "tea" and stories.

* Revisit the story of the Pilgrims and chart a Mayflower course on our world map.

* Check family clothing - who will wear what? What needs mending/ironing, replacing?

* Once guest list is finalized, decide on tables/seating arrangements.

* Write out a master "chores" list to be accomplished over the next three weeks.

* Pull out (find) A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to watch with the boys on a dark, gray afternoon.

* Order turkey (once party size is determined).

* Look at calendar and decide which days are open for cleaning and shopping/errands.

* Continue with daily gratitude garland.


How are your holiday plans shaping up so far? Are you hosting any gatherings this year? 

Well, thanks so much for stopping by, everyone ... see you here again sometime soon!

Happy Friday, My Friends!

Here's the view outside my window right now, as I savor my second cup of coffee and the silence of sleeping children ...

Deer out front 3


A few Several things on my mind as we head into another autumn weekend ...

* Here in New England we are indeed enjoying a St. Luke's Little Summer ... it will be sunny and 70 degrees today! This calls for a cookout, I think. I was able to find Earlybird's special hot dogs at Whole Foods yesterday, so that works out nicely.

 * Thinking about this year's Gratitude Tree, an annual project which almost always catches me unawares! I get distracted by all the Halloween hoopla and then suddenly it's the first of November, and time to focus on a new season of grace and gratitude. I'm not sure how we'll do it this year, but I've got plenty of past projects to consider as inspiration: a heart-shaped wreathdangling oak leavesgrateful acorns, happy handprints or perhaps a glowing banner.

* Also thinking about our Thanksgiving Day game plan. Every year we host the family dinner and we usually get quite a big crowd. This will be our first holiday in our new home, and we have more room(s) to play with so I'm very excited to plan out our day. Recently I found a few recipes I want to try this year and that means it's time to start my Turkey Day folder/planner ... I'll pull that together this weekend.

* We have our Christmas picture all set which is a huge relief! Now I'm tinkering with card designs online. I also stopped at the post office last weekend to pick up some holidays stamps which are now available. (Some designs, not all. I bought some "Virgin and Child" stamps, but I am also quite fond of not-yet-released the circular evergreen stamp!)

*  Tracy asked about "Stir Up Sunday" which I mentioned in my Seasonal Rhythm post. This is an old British holiday, traditionally celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent, during which the Christmas pudding is started. I love the idea, but like to follow it a bit differently - on the Sunday after Thanksgiving I like to devote time to homemade gifts and goodies, like perhaps a Christmas fruitcake a la Martha Stewart. (Full disclosure: I've never made said fruitcake, but I still like to "bake and make" on this particular Sunday.)


* And finally ...

Owen in bib 3

My aunt and uncle sent Little Bear an adorable set of Halloween bibs. Had to share this picture of my nearly five month old cub!


Well my friends, I must be off, but once again I'd like to wish you a Happy Friday and a Wonderful Weekend as well. How are things in your neck of the woods? How is your Autumn going? Have you started thinking about the holiday season at all? Or do you put that off until later in the season? I always find myself torn - I certainly don't want to rush things, but I also need to get myself organized as early as possible!

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

'Tis the Season for Pumpkins!

Pumpkins on log 4

Where do you put your pumpkins? And do you carve or no?


(Many thanks to my brother for the 3 giant jacks and to my Mum for the littl'un.)

Pumpkins on log 3

This log bench is on our property, built by the previous owners. It's a great spot for pumpkins ... and a picture! We took plenty of the boys today sitting here, with the autumn colors swirling all around them and I think we actually got the Christmas card picture! Hooray!

Hope you all have a good night ... I'll see you again very soon!


Our Easter Menu this Year

Good (Holy) Thursday, my friends!

Easter lily

Well, we're getting ready for the big day here - just a few days to go! And I'm trying to balance all the "outer bustle and busy-ness" with an "inner awareness and peace." Balance is always a tricky thing, but never more so at the holidays.

All this "bustle" of course is in preparation for our big family dinner ~ we're hosting it here at our house and expecting 20 people this year! I'm very much looking forward to seeing everyone and enjoying the holiday together. :)

Here is the menu I've organized with my mum:

Appetizers & Cocktails

sparkling peach sippers


a simple punch for the kids

hot artichoke dip

shrimp dip

salsa & tortilla chips

fresh veggies & spinach dip



baked ham and smoked turkey

hot fruit compote

roasted potatoes with onions



roasted asparagus

Annie's mac and cheese (per Earlybird's request)

assorted condiments

soft rolls and biscuits



pineapple upside down cake

lemon cake


chocolate coconut "nest" cupcakes

salted caramel Easter popcorn

assorted candies



Weather permitting, there'll be an egg hunt for the kids, and maybe a little walk down the bike trail. The weather for Sunday is still looking good: highs around 50, sun giving way to clouds with perhaps a late day shower. I can live with that, especially now that he snow has all melted!

So early this Holy Thursday we're washing china and wine glasses, cleaning out the fridge, organizing table linens and neatening the boys' rooms. Meanwhile, Crackerjack is fighting a virus and Bookworm has a couple of classes to get to ... and this evening I have my echocardiogram. I'll keep you all posted on how that goes.

So, there's lots going on ... but I do have my quiet moments planned.


Have a great Thursday, my friends ... see you here again sometime soon!


Holiday Greetings!

Of all kinds, shapes and sizes ...

Christmas card wall 3

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is receiving all those wonderful holiday cards. Hearing from family and friends - and seeing how the kids are all growing! - is such a joy. I try to find a fun way to display the cards every year, so that we can keep these beautiful greetings in "heart & mind" every day. This year I just used Earlybird's cork board wall and clear pushpins, and when I ran out of cork I just used bits of tape to hold up the "overflow" (but don't tell Bill, lol).

What do you do with your Christmas cards? Do you display them in some way? How do you store them when the holidays are over? I have a big tin in which I keep our Christmas greetings from year to year, but I was thinking it might be nice to make up little albums for each year's cards, photos and notes ...

A nice winter project, perhaps?


Enjoy the rest of your weekend, my friends ... I will try to stop in one more time before Christmas!

Holiday Blessings to you and yours ...


Weekly Bits of Domestic Bliss

VH nest 1
Of Note

Winter Solstice (21st), Fourth Sunday in Advent (23rd)


Alas, it's looking more and more like a green Christmas. After a chilly, rainy start the week, we may see some flurries over week's end.

The Solstice brings the shortest day of the year. We'll make time to watch (and record) the sunrise and sunset. We'll also make some homemade nutty-fruity treats for the birds & squirrels.


Finalize Christmas Eve/Day menus.

Order ham.

Major fridge clean-out.

Party food/libations shopping over weekend. 

Last batch of Christmas cards mailed out.

Write out checklist for pre-Christmas cleaning.

Organize Christmas outfits.

Christmas Baking later this week!

Last minute online orders.

Dinner Menus:

M - baked ziti, leftover meatballs (from EB's party), salad, toasted rolls

T - squash soup & grilled cheese/turkey panini (leftover deli from EB's party)

W - grilled chicken tenders, rice, roasted vegetables (leftovers make great wraps for lunch the next day)

T - homemade pizzas, tossed salads

F - Solstice Supper: beef cottage pie, solstice bread, spiced cider, lemon "sun" cake

S - *leftovers a la Daddy*

S - turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn muffins, cranberry sauce

Dear Baby ...

(17 Weeks)

You are a very active baby, my little one! I'm feeling lots of movement every day - little pops and twirls. Daddy and I were watching a documentary on The Beatles and you seemed particularly rambunctious! So much so that Daddy could feel you from the outside!

Mama has some labwork this week and we're praying everything is OK.

Learning Themes:

The Winter Solstice

"Animals of Christmas" continued - donkeys!

Excited About ~ Working On:

Watching Christmas specials with the kids, when it gets dark in the mid-afternoons. I love it when the house is lit only by Christmas lights.

Beginning my Winter Journal ... brainstorming homey, cozy thoughts for January and February. :)

Choosing/organizing a new 2013 calendar.

Making time for a Christmas "Tuesday Tea" this week, whether it's Tuesday or not.


My heart is so heavy this morning, so full of sorrow over the tragedy in Sandy Hook. Praying for those dear little souls, such beautiful children ... I can think no further on it, nothing makes sense and it's all too terrible to process. Just feeling very protective of my own children and praying for all those involved, especially the families of those lost.

Angel ornament

Well my friends, I hope your week's going well ... thanks so much for stopping by today. I know we're all busy, especially as we enter this last week before Christmas, so posting will be slow for me ... but please know I am always thinking of you all and keeping you in my prayers.

And have yourselves a merry little Monday ...


From My Advent Notebook (Week 2)

Vh advent angel{Notes for December 10th ~ the 16th}

        * At CCD and at home, read The Lady of Guadalupe in honor of Saint Juan Diego (feast day 12/9), and light our lovely OLoG candle.

* Wish our neighbors a Happy Hanukkah this week. :)

* Attend a homeschool field trip to see A Christmas Carol, a wonderful local musical. Enjoy a little "Dickens feast" for supper that night (roast beef, potatoes & roots, Yorkshire puddings, and mini mince pies). Listen to Inside Fezziwig's, a wonderful collection of merry olde Christmas music.

* Celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (12/12) with a poinsettia ornament project, cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars served with fresh pineapple salsa, and soft chicken tacos for supper. This is also National Poinsettia Day so we'll read The Legend of the Poinsettia today.

* The lovely feast of light, St. Lucia Day (12/13) is a favorite in our home. We always have a scented (and candle-lit) breakfast bread on this morning - something homemade with citrus and cranberries or simply some refrigerated orange-cinnamon rolls if the day is busy. A few special books are placed about (Lucia and the Light, Christmas in Noisy Village, The Tomten) while our wee star boys will be on display ... and for supper there will be Swedish meatballs over noodles and hot (child-friendly) glogg!

* Earlybird's 11th birthday arrives! How can this little boy be 11 already? We'll have Daddy's "flying flapjacks" for breakfast, and he'll get to choose supper (most likely, Dominos pizza, lol). There will be cupcakes with friends mid-week and a family party over the weekend. His birthday theme this year is "The Winter Woods" :)

* If we can swing it, schedule-wise, we'll be seeing The Hobbit at our earliest convenience. The boys (and I) are ridiculously excited to see one of our favorite novels brought to life!

* And there's Gaudete Sunday to close out the week ~ which means we light the pink candle! A little party for my CCD class. Las Posadas begin on this night ... another favorite book to read aloud!


Our Tree, stage one (lights only so far) ... :)

Tree lights 1

Looking forward to a quiet, mostly-homey week ... Are we halfway to Christmas already?

Have a lovely Sunday, my friends!


From My Advent Notebook ...

Vh advent angel 

{Notes for December 2nd ~ the 8th}

        * Set up the children's creche in the learning room.

    * Fill Advent calendar boxes with little messages or treats.

    * Decorate Christmas tree ~ I love natural decorations, and these would be lovely!    

    * Light our first Advent candle ~ Add sprigs of (kitty-safe) greenery gathered on this week's nature walk.

* On St. Barbara's Day (Dec. 4th) ~ Gather bare branches to force in a bucket of water, in hopes they'll bloom by Christmas Day.

    * On St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) ~ Hang candy canes in the tree - one for each boy - with a little note describing something he has done this year of which he should be proud. Also, place a new Christmas book for our collection under the tree.

        * Mail Christmas cards ~ Prepare a plate of cookies for the lovely ladies at the post office. :)

     * Begin "Animals of Christmas" with Earlybird ~ Organize notebook, visit "our" farm, add wooden animals to creche, and read books centering on animals of the manger.

    * Honor the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) ~ Make some pure vanilla cookies (I get these aptly named treats at Whole Foods), hang our symbolic ornament on the tree and listen to this song which never fails to move me to tears.

* Set up our Christmas card display ~ Hang felt ribbons along the windowpanes with tiny clothespins attached.


As the first Sunday of Advent approaches, I'm reminding myself that this can be a time of quiet and peace, despite the "hustle and bustle" of the cultural norm. I'm trying to focus on family- and home-centered activities ... less "out and about," more "in and within." I'm also considering our Advent home atmosphere ... the sights, sounds and stimuli that surround us. Being pregnant has added a whole new dimension to the season for me - in the practical and personal sense. I am truly relishing this time of year ... waiting, watching, wondering ... there are some very special weeks just ahead.

Have a lovely weekend, my friends!

Baking again ... :)

Election cake

I believe by historic tradition, an Election Cake is made with yeast and nuts and raisins ... and something like, 10 pounds of butter, lol ... but we just went with chocolate. I figured the flags lent the right patriotic touch. :)

I'm thrilled to be baking again, but "cooking's" still out ... if there is food in the oven - especially things like fish, chicken nuggets, french fries and the like - I am outta there. Windows must be opened, ceiling fans turned on, and I must wait for things to air out before I can re-emerge from my "safe zone." Still, I think things might be getting a little better overall. I still grapple with everday nausea and odd cravings/aversions but I seem to be getting hungry again and I read that's a sign your morning sickness might be easing. I like the sound of that. :)

And by the way, I'm 11 weeks and 2 days, today.

So today being Wednesday ("kitchen day" per my weekly routine), I will be working on a shopping list for my holiday pantry. About this time of year I like to take stock of my baking supplies and replenish what I need well before the holiday season begins. And since Thanksgiving is just two weeks from tomorrow, I'd best get my act together!

I will post more on my "holiday planning" very soon! I'm just getting things pulled together right now - checklists, brainstorming, catalogs, inspiration, etc. - but there's a brand new holiday basket now nestled at the foot of my reading chair. :)

It always feels rather sudden does it not - that day in the fall when the holidays are suddenly "just around the corner?" Time flies so quickly ... and I don't want to rush ... but I do find myself eager to start feathering our "holiday nest!"

VH nest 1

Have a good Wednesday, my friends ... I will see you here again very soon!

Money $ Monday: Handling the Holidays

In the midst of much busy-ness here, but I wanted to get this week's M$M post up before the day got away from me! 

So here we are nearing mid-September, and though it seems far away, the holiday season will be here in the blink of an eye. This is a busy time of year for most of us, so it's easy to get distracted and then head into the holidays unprepared - meaning, without a plan. And I know when I don't have a plan, I always end up spending more money!

Of course, the holidays - Chistmas, Hannukah, Solstice, etc. - by their very nature, have nothing to do with money. But as we decorate and celebrate and cook and clean and give and get, of course money comes into play. It's up to us to make choices that work for our families, both financially and spiritually ...

Keeping our holidays simple benefits not only our hearts but our budgets!

So my question for you all today is this: 

How do you plan for holiday spending? And how do you keep your holiday budget in line?


If you have a moment or two, I'd love to hear your thougts on this subject. I'm planning several posts on holiday planning for later this month, so I hope you'll check in when you can.

Have a great day, my friends!

Ham ... or Not Ham?

 (Planning Easter Dinner)

Easter menu 2

This is the question my mum and I first ask ourselves as we sit down to plan Easter Dinner each year. Bill and I co-host the holiday with my folks, in that, we always hold it at my house, but my mum does most of the cooking. We plan, shop and prep together ...

... it's always so much fun. :)

And we always have a large crowd (18 this year!), which is lovely, but it all takes a good bit of planning and "do-ahead." So with Easter Sunday fast approaching, we started the conversation last week ... and we're honing the finer details just now ... but the answer to the above query was ...


 (But there might be turkey, too.)

So on paper, our Easter Menu looks like this at the moment:

* Cocktails and Appetizers *

a big fruity Easter punch - something pink and refreshing - that can be made a bit more "lively" with a splash of light rum or sparkling wine

assorted soda//beer/wine

artichoke dip with French bread

assorted cheeses served with fruit and fig butter

fresh cut vegetables and herb dip

parmesan cheese straws with pesto

* Dinner *

ham (and possibly turkey)

roasted spring vegetables

mashed potatoes


devilled eggs

baked beans

Irish soda bread

toasted dinner rolls

assorted condiments

* Desserts *

freshly brewed coffee

rhubarb grunt

Guinness cake

bird nest cupcakes


assorted Easter candies


So, as you can see above, I have my Easter Planning folder all ready to go. I used spring colors because they make me happy - yellow folder, ivory and aqua paper, vintage sticker. :) And on that paper I wrote out our menu, things to do, errands to run, etc. Inside the folder I have last year's checklists (for reference) and magazine clippings and printouts with recipes and ideas I'd like to use. I also have a list of Holy Week plans and activities stapled on the inside cover.

So it all looks very organized, which is a good first step! The trick now is scheduling those to-do's over the next two weeks so it all actually gets done. I want Easter to be a glorious day of celebrating with good food and family, but I also want to keep myself grounded, relaxed and with a very open heart. I don't want to lose sight of the true beauty of Easter because I'm trying to frost those darn cupcakes, lol! This is why I find a detailed "do ahead" plan so helpful - for any day, really, - but especially at the holidays.

And when it all comes together with energy and good cheer ... then we can all relax and rejoice ... Alleleuia!


Well, I hope you're all having a nice Tuesday ... it's bright and brisk here again (only in the 40s!) so it feels more like March. I don't think I'll get my Teatime post up today, but I will definitely do so tomorrow ... I hope you'll join me if you can!

Take care, my friends! 

Turkey Day Shopping


This past weekend I worked on our Thanksgiving Day "game plan" so I thought I'd write about that topic a little ...

(Or maybe a lot if I get carried away, as you all know I'm apt to do.)

But first, a word about food shopping in general ...

Because Earlybird doesn't do that well with multiple-stop shopping (though he's gotten SO much better with shopping overall), I usually run my weekly errands when Bill's home from work. Typically, this would be Saturday and/or Sunday. (I really prefer not to shop on Sundays, but sometimes it can't be helped.) To make the best use of my time (and our money) I try to have a menu plan in place for the coming week, my coupons all sorted, and a detailed shopping list broken down into an itinerary.**

So I set out Saturday morning to shop - list in hand, gas in tank, coffee in cup holder. It takes up a good chunk of my day, but I like getting most of it done in one fell swoop, and, to be honest, I kind of think of it as "me time," lol. (There are still a couple of quick marketing trips with EB through the week.)

In the case of Thanksgiving, however, I'm going to have to split things up a bit!

Thanksgiving, after all, is the biggest "family dinner" of the year. There's just so much to plan and prepare! We need to order a turkey! Do we want a farm-raised turkey? We'd better check the pantry! Do we have the spices that make the cranberry relish so good? Are we trying some new side dishes this year? And how about pies - what do we need for the pies? Are we making pies? Buying pies? Assigning pies? :)

These are all good things to think about this month - and for obvious reasons, it's preferable to think about them earlier in the month rather than later. Today is November 8th - I'd say it's time to think about them!

So, while I am still working on my menu (we're expecting 18 this year!), I have planned out my "Turkey Day" shopping itinerary. I have done this carefully, because for one thing, I am limited on time, and for another, I don't want to be out there when everyone else is out there, fighting for cranberries and yams. So after considering my rather lengthy list - and consulting with my mum - I determined I need to do a combination shop - stopping at the local farm, a Whole Foods market, as well as my regular supermarket.


~ The boys and Mum and I will drive out to the farm one weekday morning next week (aka field trip!). Here we'll get keepers like local cranberries, apples, pears, squash and the like. We'll most likely pick up a few random "gourmet" items that catch our eye.

~ Our Whole Foods visit will take place the weekend before Thanksgiving. Very early that Saturday morning - I'm talking 7 a.m. - we'll head over to WF's and here we'll buy our natural food stuffs. A lot of what Earlybird can have I'll buy here - as well as special treats for the kids after-dinner. (Hammonds natural candy canes have become a post-turkey-dinner tradition. We might try pumpkin spice this year!)

~ The Tuesday before the big day, I'll pick up our free-range turkey from the farmstand down the street. They officially closed for the season on Halloween, but they open back up on this day to pass out the turkey orders. It feels good to support a local farmer and it's nice to know our turkey will have led a (relatively) long, happy life. :)

~ My regular market shopping (for basic dinner staples) will happen very early in the morning the day before Turkey Day (again, we're talking 7 a.m.!). Bill has that day off from work, so I'll run out bright and early to get the remaining things we need for our dinner. Then I'll head back home to bake ... and clean and cook and iron, etc.!

~ Also, I will send Bill out to the liquor store on this day to buy any spirits we'll need. We generally offer beer and wine at Thanksgiving dinner, but we also like to serve one "signature" cocktail for each holiday we host. Last Easter it was an "Easter Bunny Cocktail" and last Christmas we served "Candy Cane Cosmos." We haven't decided on this year's special drink yet ... but I'll be sure to let you all know!

Ok, so there are my notes and thoughts on holiday dinner shopping. This framework holds true for Easter and to a certain extent, Christmas, too. It might seem like a lot, but by thinking ahead and carefully planning out those lists, the shopping should be relatively quick and enjoyable. (Plus I'm keeping better track of my spending.) Generally speaking, if I'm not rushing about or fighting the crowds, I actually enjoy my marketing days!

(Oh, and the "**" above was to say, I have a follow-up post in the works about my overall menu planning and marketing routine. I hope to get that up sometime later this week.)

In the meantime, I hope you all have a nice Tuesday. The weather is going to be beautiful here in New England today - warm and sunny! - but we'll be taking things slow. I have a couple of kids fighting head colds, and one of them (my poor EB) was actually sick to his stomach this morning. So needless to say, I have a little extra laundry to do ...

I'll see you again soon, my friends ... stay well and be safe!


This Year's Holiday Planner


It's hard to believe how fast Fall has flown by - Halloween is just six days away! Have you squared away your costumes? Laid in your candy stores? Picked out your pumpkins?

Now according to the local mall, I'm waaaay behind schedule, but now that October is coming to a close, I'm ready to set my sights on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the busy, bright and beautiful holiday season ...

To that end, I recently assembled my holiday planner, and placed it in the front section of my homekeeping binder. I keep it here, in this "place of honor," since I'll be concentrating on holiday plans now through the end of the year.

In our home, we host Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas afternoon gathering. These are the two "big" entertaining events for us. At this time of year I'm also planning for a few feast days, a meaningful/magical Advent, and a homey/happy New Year's celebration.

Lots of fun to be had! Lots of plans to be made!

And so, as family "cruise director," I really depend on my holiday planner ...


Behind the cover page, are all my planning pages. I used my greenroom legal pads (with soft green and blue accents) for these pages.

(A list of those planning pages is included below.)


I also added in a print-out of Martha Stewart's Thanksgiving and Christmas checklists.


And I used some pretty scrapbooking paper to make a November and December calendar.



(I doodle a lot - I'm silly like that.)

Next, I set up an open folder for the various holiday "clippings" I collect - recipes, catalog pages, craft ideas and the like. I just used a leftover bit of scrapbook paper and folded it in half, like a bill-fold.

A small metal clip holds it all together.


In this way, it's easy to flip through the assorted pages and see what's what.

I stuck the clippings in my counter basket, where it's right in-view and in-reach. I've been adding things regularly - in fact, just this morning I added a recipe for mini mince pies. :)


The planner itself rests on the countertop - alongside my weekly file folder and calendar. Behind the holiday planner is the rest of my homekeeping binder. After New Year's I'll retire the whole planner to the back of the binder. (And next year I'll review and start afresh.)


Here's a list of the planning pages, in order:

(Green = Thanksgiving ~ Blue = Christmas ~ Red = New Year's)

This year's Grateful Tree project

Notes for November feast days & birthdays

Thanksgiving Dinner: guests, menu, make-ahead and cooking times

Shopping list (items/itinerary)

Table notes - seating/decor

House cleaning & prep list

Random to-do's

Activities & family traditions

Special words

This year's Advent Calendar project

Advent Sundays

Notes for December feast days & birthdays

Christmas to-do's: general, weekly

Christmas Cards 2011

Holiday newsletter-blog notes

Christmas Gifts 2011

Shopping list (items/itinerary)

Decorating: inside, outside

Gifts to make and bake

* Cheerful Hearts *

Activities & family traditions

Christmas Eve/Day timetable

Christmas Buffet: guests, menu, make-ahead, cooking times


Welcoming 2012

New Year Family Goals

* Charitable Hearts *


It seems like a lot, doesn't it? Well, the holidays do take some work, after all ...

Of course it's easy to go overboard, but hopefully with a cushion of time and perspective, we're able to keep things in balance. Because it's such a special time of year, and I don't like to spend it rushing around, stressing out or feeling low. If starting this far ahead and making all these lists brings us a little more peace and contentment this Christmas, then I'm all for it!

Well, I hope this post posed some ideas that might be useful for you. I'm sure we all have different lists - not to mention expectations - for the holidays, but I hope you enjoyed this all the same. :)

I also hope you all have a great week, and that you enjoy these last days of October. Our foliage here is just past peak, but with a rainstorm in the forecast for Thursday (not to mention a bit of snow!) I'm sure the trees will be bare before week's end. Such is the passing of seasons ~ and Autumn certainly goes out in a fiery hurrah!

As always, thanks so much for stopping by today. I wish you all well, and I look forward to being here again with you soon ...


Random Wednesday

Dear Readers ~ 

As I write, it's very early in the morning ~ dark as night, rainy and cold. According to the forecast, this will be our last soggy day and then a stretch of nippy dry weather has been promised for the weekend and beyond. The heat is rumbling through the house and I turned the family room fireplace on a few minutes ago. Suddenly my children are waking and slowly the coffee's kicking in ...

So now for a few random thoughts:

Educator Weeks Ahead!

Barnes & Noble has an Educator Appreciation Week coming up! Beginning this Saturday and running through Sunday, the 17th. I plan to stop by and pick up a few things (hopefully some Christmas gifts!) as well as a frothy steamed milk flavored with pumpkin spice (thanks to Sarah for the suggestion!). I believe Border's is also running their Educator Appreciation Week, today through Sunday. So get those teacher cards ready!


My Current Holiday Planner Tasks:

Work on Thanksgiving menu. (Our goal is to serve a mostly local feast!)

Order a free-range farm turkey - done!

Brainstorm this year's Advent Calendar project. (Wreath? Tags? Bulletin board?)

Ask boys about Halloween costumes.


For Dinner Tonight:

Smoked chicken sausage and roasted vegetables, served over rice. Oatmeal-raisin cookies for dessert.


Reading Notes

I finally finished Mockingjay last night (the third and final book in the Hunger Games series). It was very good ~ a shocking, but satisfying, end to an absolutely enthralling story. No idea what I'll read next ... maybe I'll do a little browsing at B&N on Saturday? (What are you reading right now?)


Well, I guess that's all for now ... time to get things rolling here, now that the darkness has lifted, and breakfast is being requested. ;)

Have a great day, everyone ~ see you all again sometime soon. :)