Holiday Food Feed

St. Patrick's Day at Our House ...❤

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhoo ...

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

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

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

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

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

Reading some books ...

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Tending our "classroom" garden ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then for a final touch, whipped cream clouds!

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Cute, right? :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


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!


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!


A Spot of Thanksgiving Tea 💛

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and there are pockets! :)

Had to share this too ...

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

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

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

One last picture ...

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

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

(And how about another cup of tea?)

ADVENT NOTES 

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

I can show you this though ...

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

ADVENT TEA


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

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

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

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

AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


A November Tea & Some Advent Thoughts!

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Hello my friends and Happy Wednesday! Can you believe that a week from tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day? And a few days after that is The First Sunday in Advent? I know it's become cliche to say, but truly - time just flies when you're having fun - or wait, scratch that - time just flies period! 

I have a few things to share on this dark, damp, Novemberish day ... first, some tea, cake and cozy goodness, as seen above. :) In our seasonal homeschooling we focused on "dens and nests" last week (it's "autumn bog" this week) and one of the activities was to decide where our own winter nests will be this year. Several spots were discussed here and there throughout the house but I'm migrating back to the library because it's a warm room in the winter and plus, this is where our Christmas tree will be. We'll amble out there in a minute, but first let me show you the breads I made with my little guy this morning - or cakes as Little Bear calls them!

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It's all about cranberries this week - which grow in the aforementioned bogs and are native to our region ... plus of course, a staple of the Thanksgiving holiday! And tomorrow being the feast of St. Elizabeth (patron of bakers) a cranberry-pumpkin bread sounded just right. Made with eggs from my hens, no less! I used my favorite mix-and-match quick bread recipe which makes two loaves - handy when you have a house full of hungry boys and young men!

In the background you see our colorful family "flock" - a paper turkey for each person joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. (I didn't cut these out, fyi - found a package of them at the art store!) These will be used for writing out a special kind of blessing come dessert time next Thursday ...

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And now into the library where I have this lovely basket stuffed full of our favorite holiday stories:

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And a few special books and pretty greeting cards on display ...

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More books on the coffee table - our latest library crop. :) Nests, bogs, beavers, dens ... these are things we've been talking about lately!

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But when I think about my own cozy nest, there is nothing I like better than a cup of tea by my side, a basket of books by my feet ...

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... and a little one in my lap! 💛

But can we talk for a minute about how cute my new autumn tea mug is?

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Found at HomeGoods for $3.99  - a generously-sized, wide-mouthed, solid mug ... perfect for a BIG cup of tea. Plus, how could I resist that face? :)

Now, some of my long-time readers might recognize this post as one of my "Teas" that I like to share every once in a while, especially at the holidays. So, yes ~ I will be returning to those Teas beginning this week! I'll sit down for another "Thanksgiving Tea" next week - in between pie-making and glass-washing - and then my Advent Teas will begin. More on all that soon, and how you can join me if you wish, but here's a link to last year's Advent Tea series if you'd like a look!

And speaking of Advent ...

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As I recently "teased" on Facebook and Instagram, I am finally getting my Advent Planning sheets assembled and ready to share! I'm just tinkering with a few final edits and then tomorrow - or Friday at the VERY latest - I will have them up here at the blog in PDF form. I really enjoyed putting these together and I look forward to sharing them with you! I will also share in that post where I'm keeping them and how I'm using them - or will be. I'm really trying to keep focused on Thanksgiving for the time being, but I do like knowing my Advent season will be ready to roll once the last bit of turkey leftovers is gone!

So please stay tuned friends - expect another post in a day or so - and as always I thank you sincerely for joining me here today. I hope you too are having a nice week ...

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


A Happy Halloween Recap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, how I love those roses ... boo!🕷 

And how about this cool bottle of wine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Flashlights inside for safety's sake.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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🎃

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

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

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

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"Where are all the kids?"

 And then time at last to head out ...

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

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

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

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

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

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


Themes & Plans for May (Updated!)

Violet in grass

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

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

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

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

~ Themes & Plans for May ~ 

Nature

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

Folklore

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

Food

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

Faith

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

Household (& Garden)

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

Life

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

Book Basket

Field Trips & Outings

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

Crafts & Activities

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

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

See you all again very soon ... :)

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


Our Happy Easter Sunday!

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

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

Now, onto the celebration pictures!

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

Alleluia! He is Risen!

Easter flower shopping

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

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

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

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

Easter baskets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mum and dad easter 2016

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Little Bear needed a few breaks, too ...

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Trains inside ...

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Trucks outside!

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Thumbs up for a good dinner, Mom!

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

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

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

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

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Bill working on his Spring Blessings egg ...

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

And here's the desserts table ...

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

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

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

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A sugar cookie Peep bunny!

Radishes in teapot

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

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

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


Seasonal Food: Special for Rose Sunday!

Rose pie 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And here it is all done!

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

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

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

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

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


Our Shrove Tuesday Fun!

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

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

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

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Woohoo! Mardi Gras Masks!

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

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

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

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

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

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:)

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

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

See you here again very soon!


Our Family Christmas, 2015

Hello and good evening, friends! :)

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

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

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


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So how early did your Christmas start? ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love how the cards look on our library door!

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

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

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

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Our signature cocktail this Christmas: Jingle Juice Punch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharing laughs and swapping stories!

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

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 * Family Christmas, 2015! *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A little chaos at Christmas is natural!

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And here we have Family Christmas 2015, part two!

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

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

I will see you here again very soon! 


My Christmas Tea Journal, 2015

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

Firstly, how was your Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:) 

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

My Christmas Tea Journal

Vintage christmas bells and birds

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

What are you reading this week?

In my stocking I also found: 

Illuminations

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen

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

And with the younger boys:

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

Christmas tea 2

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

What's happening in nature this week?

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Winter has finally arrived ...

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

Vintage holly sprig

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

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

I will see you here again very soon ...


Our Thanksgiving Day!

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Hello and Happy Friday, my friends! I hope you all had a nice week and for those who celebrate, a wonderful Thanksgiving, too. We had a really nice time with our family yesterday, and as usual, I took a whole lot of pictures that I'd like to share here at the blog!

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We worked on a thankful garland all month, Earlybird and I (and the rest of the family at times, too), but we carried this neat tradition with us into our family celebration. Every place setting had a leaf and a crayon. I was very happy to have the boys' help with cutting out all those leaves!

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And early Thanksgiving morning, EB assisted me in preparing an apple crisp ...

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Had to get it in the oven ahead of the turkey!

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My mother's birthday fell on Thanksgiving this year, so I made up some spice cupcakes too!

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Each year we have a "signature cocktail" at the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter). This year it was an Apple Cider Margarita - with cinnamon-sugar rims and a tweak of orange inside ... absolutely delicious!

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Here's the table we set up in the living room, to seat six. I went with blue, gold and red to complement the colors of the room.

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A pretty turkey platter that's been in the family for generations ...

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As I arranged the flowers, I kept a few itty bitties in cordial glasses - something nice for my kitchen windowsill!

Turkey tea lights

I found these tiny turkey tealights in a bag of silk leaves - completely forgot we had them!

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A coffee station was set up in the living room ... my folks brought up their Keurig for the day. :)

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You all know how I feel about punch! There must be punch at all parties. This one was a simple mix of cranberry juice concentrate, Sprite and sparkling apple-cranberry cider. Apple slices floating on top made a nice touch!

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The bar was set up on the kitchen jetty, on the kitchen nook side so as to keep traffic out of the kitchen proper (where my Mum and I were busy getting stuff done!) ...

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But not so busy we couldn't pause for a picture - and a cocktail!

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Speaking of cocktails - aren't these the prettiest cocktail napkins you ever did see?

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Dinner was served!

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The dining table, in browns, golds and magenta ...

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I LOVE November mums! Especially mine ... :)

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Desserts were served in the living room as window candles came on all over the house ... we had an assortment of pies, the aforementioned cupcakes and apple crisp, sticky toffee pudding and even pumpkin ice cream!

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From my family to yours ... Happy Thanksgiving! Looking forward to celebrating Advent with you all starting next week!

Thanks so much for joining me here today and letting me share our holiday with you. I hope you all had a nice day, too, and that your weekend ahead will bring some peace and refreshment. I will have a follow-up "simplicity tea" post to share tomorrow and then on Monday ... our first Advent Tea! We'll be talking about "gifts from the heart" and I would love to hear from you on that subject ... and any other tea notes you'd like to share. 

See you all here again very soon ...


My Thanksgiving Tea Journal, 2015

Thanks tea button

Happy Monday, my friends! It's Thanksgiving week here in America, quite possibly my favorite week all year! All over the country, folks are traveling home to their families, looking forward to a day of togetherness, thankfulness ... and feasting! I love spending this week spiffing up my home and setting tables and baking stuff and listening to music ... but most of all, I love that deep sense of just HOW blessed we are to be doing all of this in the first place. To have loved ones to gather with, and a warm, safe home to gather in ... food to put on the table, with some extra to share.

So today I am kicking off my Advent Tea Journal, with a post that is - ok, yes - several days ahead of Advent. But I wanted to start our journey before we get swept up in the season! Does a weekly teatime sound good to you? A brief time each week to sit down (in our cozy nests) and share how we're living the season? 

Well here's what I'm dong on my end! On this Monday and those to come in December, I will share my tea journal notes along with some photos of my home and holiday preparations ... and then I will touch upon our weekly discussion theme. (This week: Simplifying the Season.) And I would LOVE to have you join me! You can leave me a comment here, or send me an email with your own notes and pics, or perhaps link me up with a post at your own blog! (Feel free to grab the tea button here or in this post.) We'll continue our conversation throughout the week, and I'll add you in as the days go by - no rush to get me something by Monday!

> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <

Now onward with our Thanksgiving Tea ... are you settled in and ready to chat? :)

What refreshments am I enjoying this week?

Thanks tea 5

My Thanksgiving Tea shown above is a bit "rustic and random" - not quite the "Victoria" moment I had originally envisioned, lol - but all that color and clutter is who I am these days! A sturdy (inexpensive) acorn mug and some ginger cookies to share with my little guy ...

And here's my cute little tea box, a gift from my sister-in-law:

Thanksgiving tea 3

I keep a LOT of tea on hand - some of you might remember my tea drawer from years back? Well nowadays my main tea stash is kept in my pantry, but I like to use this nifty box for holding the teas I'm drinking currently. It holds plenty of packets and fits nicely in a kitchen cabinet. (You could do something similar with a basket or divided tin.)

As for the cookies, well, you all know I love to bake ... but sometimes baking a batch of scratch cookies just doesn't mesh with the overall busy-ness of the household. (And this would be one of those weeks!) But these break-apart cookies are made from natural ingredients so Earlybird can enjoy them along with the rest of us. They could be frosted but honestly, they're even better on their own - they're quite yummy and the seasonal spices really come through!

What am I reading this week?

Thanks tea 4

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

I've had this book on my shelf for a while now - almost two years! - and I've read bits and pieces, but I'd like to go through it chapter by chapter, slowly but surely. This premise resonates with me, yet I'm a great one for making things more complicated than they need to be. With an eye toward the New Year (as I think about general goals and plans for the months to come as well as our home environment) I'm trying to create a slower world for myself and my kids. More on that as we move forward through the season!

What am I listening to this week?

Do you enjoy listening to music in your nest? I find my normal "household soundtrack" provides plenty of erm, stimulation so to say, so any added sound can be a bit much ... but I do love some music at the holidays!

Thanksgiving tea 3 (1)

This traditional song is pretty much is all I need, and belted out with gusto by small voices is best. This is a page from a beautiful little book of poems, a thoughtful and generous gift from a reader last year. But I also love listening to music from A Charlie Brown Thankgiving and George Winston's Autumn as well as this gorgeous song. Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving music?

What am I working on this week?

We have the honor of hosting our family's Thanksgiving so that's my focus this week! There's a lot that goes into planning a season or holiday, and trying to keep things simple is a challenge! But I have found by starting early, I have a much better chance of maintaining a less frenetic atmosphere - for myself and those around me! And this "peace" contributes greatly to a simplified season. So here are some of the things I've been working on ahead of Thanksgiving ...

Thanksgiving tea 4

Once we know how many guests to expect, we can decide which tables to use and where to arrange them as well as what tablecloths and napkins to prepare. About a week ahead of the holiday I find a day when I will be home for several hours - then I can wash and dry and fold the linens without any lag time in-between. We all know what happens when we only finish part of the laundering cycle - smelly, wrinkled linens! Then out comes the iron or we have to start all over again ...

The other thing is, if I leave this task too close to Thanksgiving, it feels like a chore ... I feel rushed and even (in my less generous moments) a bit put-upon. By doing things like this well ahead of time, at a time of my choosing, I focus instead on the beauty of it. I think about the people coming to dine with us, at our table, and how nice the setting will look for them. In this way, I focus on the pleasure of the chore, not the pressure of it.

How about tablescapes then? This is another thing I like to think about early, so I can be a little thoughtful and creative with it ... as well as economical!

Thanksgiving tea 1

There will be flowers for sure - I can never resist fresh blooms at the holidays - but I also like to tap into the treasures to be found in our very own yard. Acorns, pinecones, dried flowers and weeds, interesting rocks, colorful leaves - the possibilities are endless! A lovely activity would be to take the children on a "gathering walk" early in the month of November. (Earlier the better if you want a small share of the acorn crop!) Here we have some glass bowls filled with our acorn stash and a small beeswax tea light candle. I may even tuck some autumn leaves under the globes. Now, you could use any bowls you have on hand ... and if you can't find acorns, cranberries from the market would also be beautiful! Once Thanksgiving is over, we will scatter these seeds on the deck ... and watch them disappear!

Here are some of my pretty baking pans - easy to collect, hard to give away!

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 But when we're blessed, we want to bless others back. It's a great theme to work on at this time of year, especially with children! Because the simplest way to celebrate this season (and the next) is to just give. Give to others, give of ourselves ... it's a sure path to joy! That's a message I want my children to learn and practice in their own life as they grow. There will be more on this particular theme next week, but for now, how about setting aside time to bake together and make some extra for those people who have helped us or befriended us in some way?

Here's a little bit of a story, but I hope you'll indulge me. So this is a big deal for my 13-year-old Earlybird: making friends and learning to be a friend. He's autistic and we're working with a wonderful therapist on getting him out in the community, learning how to conduct his affairs in a polite and practical manner. Well, those folks who take the time to help him - even just a friendly greeting each time we see them - are blessing our son in ways they don't even realize. So this year we're baking breads (something EB loves to do) and bringing them to those special people in our life ...

Like the librarian who patiently helps him check out his planet books and train DVDs, the pizza place owner who greets him heartily and lets him visit the kitchen (and asks after EB when he's not with us), the grocery store clerk who gives him a high-five and tells him he's doing a great job (and then quietly tells me the same), the neighbor who lets him visit her henhouse and take home an egg, the therapist who works with him every single day and tells him over and over how awesome he is ...

These people can't know just how deeply they are blessing us, and a bread is a pretty small gesture, but one I hope will bless them back, even a little. No, it won't make my week simpler to bake with my son and deliver breads around town, but it will make us feel good ... and maybe a few others, too. :)

What's happening in nature?

Now this was the part where I was going to attempt sharing a short video ... but alas, I did not get very far! (In other words, Bill left for work before I got his help with it!) I would very much like to try this sometime soon, and as it happens Bill is home all week after today ... so we shall see! I can tell you it is bright and brisk here today, very "Thanksgiving in New England." :) A beautiful buck crossed our road on the way to Mass early yesterday morning ... he stopped and looked back at us from a frosty field. Gorgeous. And birds are furiously flocking to the feeders (squirrels, too) but no wild turkeys to report ...

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Well, except for these guys who I found at CVS for $2 each. I buy these foil-wrapped candies every year "for the kids" but they lend a little color and whimsy to our buffet. :)

A project with the children this week ...

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Here's our living room mantle, adorned with a garland of family blessings. We're in the home stretch now - there are only a few blank leaves left in the basket! This was a very simple project, but the message I'm hoping it imparts to my children is that we are grateful for all of God's blessings, and that every good thing comes from Him. Some blessings are BIG, but lots of them are little. In fact, if you were to read through our leaves they would not impress you with meaningful remarks on the Big, Important Things ... but they might make you smile with their simple, sweet, smallness:

"the cats "

"pears and hot dogs"

"packages in the mail"

"dirty boots"

"rain"

Sometimes I think by focusing on the simple joys in life, we train ourselves in a kind of habit - a mindfulness that prepares us to see the big things for how great they really are. I think this is something really important to share with our children, but equally important to remember ourselves.

Words to inspire:

 "Life holds so many simple blessings, each day bringing its own individual wonder."

~ John McLeod

What a lovely quote for my season's journal ... it says perfectly what I'm always rambling on about in a very roundabout way. ;)

Oak leaves branch
Well, my friends, I'd best let you go ... I've kept you here long enough! But 
I hope you enjoyed my Thanksgiving tea Journal ... and I would love to hear from you, too!

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

What are you reading this week?

What are you listening to this week?

What are you working on this week?

What's happening in nature this week?

Any projects with the children this week?

(and finally)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

I'd love to see your tea, hear about your tea, your week and/or your thoughts on keeping it simple. This will be a good topic to discuss as we head into the "most wonderful time of the year." Is there ever a time when "keeping things simple" is harder to manage than in the weeks leading up to Christmas?

Comments, email, links - ooh, and nest pics! - all are welcome! More on Advent and simplifying our seasons in my following posts. We have many weeks of tea to come and lots of areas to discuss! I am hoping to use this weekly "refreshment" as a chance to sit back and take stock. Am I keeping it real? Am I staying true to the season?

For a look ahead, please click over to this post for my full tea schedule. And remember, all are welcome - brief comments or lengthy posts. I appreciate each and every contribution.

Thanks so much for stopping by, my friends! Enjoy your tea, and the evening to follow, and I will see you here again very soon!


Our Family's Halloween

Happy All Saints Day, my friends! I'm just popping in quickly to share some pictures from my family's "doings" yesterday. What a lovely day it was - perfect Halloween weather: clear and crisp, but not too cold for trick or treaters. Because it was a Saturday we were able to spread the fun throughout the day and then host a family supper before heading out with the younger boys to trick-or-treat ...

Here's a little peek at our day:

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 My mother painted this beautiful sign years ago for us - it's our favorite holiday decoration!

Halloween 3

Here we have pumpkins all drawn up for carving ...

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Bill was pressed into carving duty, a good job to do outside!

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All I could think of when I saw this pic was that line in the Charlie Brown special ...

"Aw, you didn't tell me you were gonna kill it!"

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Our jacks, all ready for All Hallow's Eve!

(The blue pumpkin - which was supposed to be more teal blue than sky blue, lol - is to show we also offer non-food treats for kids who have food allergies. You can read more about the teal pumpkin project here.)

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Beautiful Halloween daisies in the setting sun ...

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And here's our Halloween supper table!

As I prepared our table, I was thinking of that charming scene in Meet Me in St. Louis when the family gathers in the dining room on Halloween night (discussing Tootie's mishap and big family news) ... and everything looks so pretty and festive and there's this big, beautiful Halloween cake ...

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No, I didn't make it - but I wish I could bake like this! I spied it at my local grocery store and just thought it was PERFECT for the night's festivities. We were having my folks and my brother over, and Crackerjack had his good friend come for a sleepover.

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All kinds of goodies - apples and donuts are traditional Halloween fare, as is, of course, candy corn and pumpkin peeps!

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I was going to make some kind of crazy, colorful punch - but decided to keep it simple and traditional and just stick with fresh, local cider. There's nothing better in the Fall!

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Little Bear was enthralled with it all ... he pretty much just wanted ALL THE THINGS.

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Finally, the sun had set, the lights began to glow, and it was time for costumes!

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Earlybird (shown here between my brother Matt - aka Grumpy Cat - and myself) asked to be a "ghost" but he can be funny about costumes. Nothing uncomfortable or too elaborate. I ordered a "boo" face t-shirt on Amazon and it was just the ticket!

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 Meanwhile, our Little Bear was a Little Dragon! He looks concerned here, but that's only because he had spied the Halloween hay wagon was going down our street and he wanted out!

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 Love this picture of my dad walking with Little Bear. There's just something so enchanting about a nighttime walk, under the moon and stars, stopping at neighbors' homes and begging for treats ... ;)

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Earlybird, looking for any last trick-or-treaters ...

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Happy Halloween!

And as for this morning ... well, I spent the wee hours (before most of the household was up) cleaning up Halloween debris, setting up our blessings branch and our November books display and the remembrance altar and this lovely table ...

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 After Mass, we had a lovely pancake brunch!

And that's that for the Halloween recap! I hope you enjoyed ... and I hope you also had a wonderful weekend! I will be posting about my planner tomorrow and then I will also post about our gratitude project just as soon as I can. I can hardly believe it's November first already!

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


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 ... :)

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 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!


Easter Weekend Photos ...

Happy Monday, my friends! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! And to my friends who celebrate - Alleluia! Wishing you all of Easter's bright blessings! I am so happy this new season is here ...

We had a very nice Sunday, starting with - well, baskets, natch - then, early Mass (oh, that light coming in through the stained glass windows ...), followed by an afternoon gathering of family here at our house. We usually have quite a crowd, but for various reasons, our group was a bit smaller this year. We missed those who couldn't be with us, while relishing the time spent with those who could. It was such a lovely day and I have some photos I'd like to share with you all ... :)

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The boys' baskets all ready for the Bunny, as light waned on Easter eve ...

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My pretty birthday cloche filled with Easter grass and chocolates ...

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Festive flora! I always light this garland on Easter eve as the boys head off to bed ...

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Pretty flowers awaiting vases ...

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Eggs awaiting color!

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 I had truly meant to try natural egg dyes this year - bought the cabbage, beets, and onion skins and all - but time got pressing and thankfully, I had a PAAS package on hand!

Good ole PAAS, lol.

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My Earlybird (13) was a big help with the centerpieces (I cut, he "arranged") ...

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And the baking, of course! This was the beginnings of an orange pound cake made with fresh orange zest!

Here are the tables set up for eleven ...

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And a close up of the main table centerpiece ... I mixed blue and white dishes, old family favorites. :)

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This brass crucifix was made by my great-great grandfather. I typically have it in a place of honor, but I've never thought to use it on my Easter table!

These jellybean-filled glass globes were also part of the table setting ...

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(Tiny tealights blessed at Candlemas!)

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I love this cross-section of basket goodies - very telling of my boys' ages .. from candy and Tolkien to finger puppets and Scarry!

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Little Bear had an early nap so was a bit disgruntled to wake to a house full of people.

(That is my new Easter blouse - funny how it is when you order something online and it is NOTHING like it looked in the catalog, lol ... but still. I loved the colors and it was quite comfortable.)

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Here's my veggie basket - a la Pioneer Woman - basket on loan from Mum. :) The dip was meant to be served in a hollowed-out red cabbage but alas, my "fiddling" time ran out.

And here's the dessert & punch table ... I love to serve desserts in our living room.

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Non-alcoholic strawberry-lemonade punch, rhubarb pie, orange pound cake (served with whipped cream, not shown), chocolate cupcakes and fresh fruit salad. Plenty of assorted candies, too!

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I simply cannot have a party without punch!

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I used Gram's Irish china for coffee ... and placed some jaunty daffodils in a pretty white pitcher. My paternal grandmother made the white cabbage vase in a ceramics class. :)

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I love these sweet little cupcakes made by my mother ... EB can have them (he pulls the carrot candy off first) and they are SO delicious!

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Every holiday has its signature cocktail, of course! This year I wanted to use our pretty cosmo glasses and I loved the "spring-sky" shade of these "Tiffany Blue Cosmopolitans."

I set this table up in the sunroom as a place for drinks and appetizers. This was early on before it filled up ... there was artichoke dip and the aforementioned veggie basket, as well as hummus and pita, sweet grapes and goat cheese and assorted crispy, crunchy things.

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(Yes, we still have snow ... but it was a nice day, all in all. No rain (or snow!) to speak of and mostly sunny skies. Almost, but not quite, 50 degrees.)

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Main dishes were served from the kitchen ... we had baked ham and beef pie, mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus, baked beans, parmesan peas, soft rolls and deviled eggs. Homey fare, typical of New England holidays. :)

And here is (some of) my dear family, gathered 'round in our dining room. (Earlybird was camera shy!)

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 My cousin Kate (LB's godmother), Auntie Marcia, Dad and Mum ...

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Bookworm (19) and Crackerjack (15) ...

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 Little Bear on my lap (22 mos.) with Manuel and Kara (my cousin and EB's godmother) ...

And finally, the man behind the camera for most of the day - finally getting to sit down and have his cupcake! 

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What a blessing it is to spend a day like this with those we love ...

My friends, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing in our joy! I hope you all had wonderful Easter ... and I'd love to hear about your day if you'd care to leave a comment! I love hearing how families across the country (and world!) celebrate treasured days like this. For now though, I wish you all a very pleasant evening and a happy day tomorrow, too ...

I will see you here again very soon!


A Bright & Blessed St. Patrick's Day!

(A feast day recap. 🍀)

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The Feast of St. Patrick is a very special day in my calendar, because I am both Irish and Catholic! In the past we have done all kinds of things to celebrate this holiday, but we're still getting back in the groove slowly around here, so I kept things pretty quiet. But I thought you might like to see some of the refreshments and enjoyments that filled our day. :)

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My Gram's Irish china was a must, even if I was the only one partaking (read - handling the china). (Next year make note - invite friends to tea on St. Patty's Day!) In the morning there were some Lucky Charms for the older boys as a once-a-year treat ... :) In the afternoon I made some Irish brown bread (recipe described here) which was plenty brown, lol - rather rustic, but nice with some sweet butter and lots of that tea.

There were books about the life of Saint Patrick and some filled with Irish blessings and Celtic prayers. And there was plenty of Irish music pouring from my iPhone, thanks to Pandora. :)

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(The china teacups are lovely when I can sit down - but most of the time, I just need a big sturdy mug to carry around with me.)

Some pretty cards for the day ...

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Both by Marjolein Bastin, that wonderful nature artist and creator of cards.

Some pics of my wee (and not so wee anymore) Irish laddies ...

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 Little Bear and Earlybird ... a St. Patrick's Day "selfie."

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Me with my handsome Earlybird - a rare smile for the camera!

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Crackerjack and Little Bear goofing around ... these two are like peas in a pod ...

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And the boy with the map of Ireland on his face - doesn't he look like a little leprechaun here?

Speaking of, we did some "research" this morning ...

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(From The Arthur Spiderwick Field Guide - a fascinating and fantastically illustrated book of faeries, trolls, sprites and the like.)

And there might have been a pretty butterfly left out for Little Bear, a gift from our own local leprechaun, perhaps ...

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 Little Bear adores butterflies, or "La's" as he calls them. I'm not sure why, but he's always called them that.

In the spirit of the day, I dug up some favorite Irish movies and music ...

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 And we were finally able to put up a little garden flag - the snow has melted enough!

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And a page from A Child's Book Celtic Prayers - would make wonderful copywork - wise words, from the man of the day.

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And from another favorite, A Child's Book of Blessings ...

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And so there we have it ... our St. Patrick's Day in a nutshell. Humble, homey, but just right for us. I was going to do a big Irish dinner, but I think I will wait until I have Bookworm home with us, too. He'll appreciate the corned beef and cabbage more than anyone!

(Though he tells me BC served that very meal in the caf tonight!)

I hope you all enjoyed your Tuesday, my friends  - and thanks so much for stopping by! I will see you here again very soon ...

🍀