Holidays Feed

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. 

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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!


Our 2016 Advent Calendar ~ Themes & Ideas

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Hello again, my friends! It's a busy posting week here as we get our Advent season underway! This Friday I will host my first Advent Tea - and I am so excited about that! - but right now I'd like to share with you what we're doing for an Advent Calendar this year. (Daily activities are listed below.) I've teased a few pictures on FB and IG but here are ALL the details ... :)

Now, first of all, I cannot take credit for this idea. I first saw it on Pinterest as I searched for "nature-oriented Advent ideas" which led me to this lovely blog post by Kelly Rowe. As soon as I saw Kelly's Advent calendar project - which brilliantly utilizes an over-the-door, 24-pocket shoe organizer - I knew immediately we must do this! I am ALL about interesting visuals and hands-on holiday projects, so needless to say ... this really got my wheels turning!

First I ordered a plain plastic shoe-organizer from Amazon and hung it up in the kitchen. I did this before Thanksgiving to give it some time to air out. (Our guests were wondering what on earth we were getting up to!) Then I got my thinking cap on and started brainstorming our Advent activities.

Just like last year (and in Waldorf tradition - though that's not why I do it) I assigned each week of Advent an aspect of nature. So the weeks unfold like this: earth and sky (11/27-12/4), plants (12/5-12/11), animals (12/12-12/18) and humankind (12/19-12/25).

*Note: if you're wondering why I connect the two concepts - Advent and Nature - my reasons are explained in this post. :)

Next I listed liturgical feast days and natural phenomena such as the full moon and winter solstice ... as well as birthdays and any family/community events. Then I started brainstorming potential activities, going from pages of scattered notes to a more organized grid of 24 post-it notes, one for each day of each week:

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As you can see in the picture above, I also added book titles to each day's note. Some of these we own, but many we request from the library. (Note to self - I've got to get on that!)

With our activities decided, it was time to get those 24 pockets filled! So after Thanksgiving I stopped by the craft store with a hefty supplies list in hand. Thankfully I had coupons, plus there were plenty of sales. It was a MADHOUSE though and about 10 minutes in ... I really just wanted to be done and go home! But I kept going and got most of the things I needed. (A few things will be ordered or picked up at a later date.) As you'll see in my activities list below, we don't really do candy or toys, but rather, simple crafts and seasonal projects. They might take a little more effort and preparation but I feel it's worth it ... :)

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Now I'll admit I'm a bit like a kid in a candy store when I'm at the craft store. Can anyone relate, lol? I try so hard to stick to my list, but then I keep seeing all these neat things and envisioning all these "potential" projects - so I can hardly resist picking up extra supplies "just in case." Sometimes that turns out to be a good thing though, because an original idea might not work out right and something I picked up randomly might work even better. In any case, I am not ashamed to say I have a pretty healthy craft stash - but it all gets used in one way or another before too long.

Ok, enough of my explaining myself ... ;)

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So now it was time to make that shoe organizer look pretty! So I tied a ribbon to each hook and wrote down the four weekly Advent candle themes (with a fabric marker) ...

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And then I decorated and filled each pocket ... 

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On the front of each pocket is a small beige doily with a woodland-themed adhesive chipboard number. (They look like a slice of log with a little holly sprig and a red number.) I found these in the final moments of my HOUR-long craft store expedition! Just as I was about to give up on finding number stickers I liked, I stumbled across (literally) this last package dangling from a hook. And they are so perfect! If they had had a second package I would have bought more ...

Each pocket was then fitted with a small brown treat bag ...

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... and then filled with a few simple items.

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Some bags just have one or two things that will suggest what it is we'll be doing (while the bulk of the supplies are set aside).

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I really, really love how this came out!

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Now admittedly, it will be a challenge to keep my younger two boys out of these pockets! Earlybird (growing like a weed) can peek into most of them and Little Bear is just the right height (and age) to be filching through the lower bags whenever he gets a chance! So far though they are taking it to heart that they MUST keep their hands off ... and wait for it. 

In the meantime, I have a "key" to all these bags and I will check in with it each night. If tomorrow's project doesn't seem "doable" (due to time, energy or weather) I will change things up before morning comes - by either switching bags around or changing a bag's contents for something simpler.

Now finally, here is the description of each pocket - organized by weekly themes and listed by ...

Date: (items found in the bag), activities for the day, the book we will read. :)

Week One: Earth and Sky (Hope)

12/1: (stationary) Write a letter to Santa. What are you hoping for? The Christmas Cat

12/2: (starfish) Make a shell ornament for the tree. Song of the Stars

12/3: (pipe cleaners, colorful beads) Make a star ornament. The Christmas Star

12/4: (decorative items and paint) Decorate a small vase for our St. Barbara's Day branches. Let's hope they bloom by Christmas! The Star Child

Week Two: Plants (Peace)

12/5: (silk poinsettia bloom) Field trip to the nursery to buy poinsettia plants. (gifts) It's so peaceful in the greenhouse. The Legend of the Poinsettia

12/6: (candy canes & cocoa packs) Enjoy a special St. Nicholas Day treat! The Baker's Dozen: A Colonial American Tale

12/7: (mint sprig) Make mint-scented play-dough and small jars of mint-sugar-scrub. (gifts). Mint is a calming, peaceful herb. The Legend of the Candy Cane

12/8: (apple, small star cookie cutter) Enjoy a cup of spiced cider and grind spices for "glogg." The Tomten

12/9: (muslin spice bags, cinnamon stick, lemon) Fill spice bags (gifts) and help make a dried fruit garland. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

12/10: (evergreen sprig) Make salt dough ornaments (with evergreen impressions), make silver pinecones (gifts). Cobweb Christmas

12/11: (red candles): Walk with dad to find our yule log in the woods. Isn't it peaceful out here? Christmas Farm

Week Three: Animals (Joy)

12/12: (polar bear wooden ornament) Let's learn about the arctic! What can we do to help the polar bear? Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?

12/13: (reindeer lantern) Field trip to a local farm to see the lovely herd of reindeer. The Wild Christmas Reindeer

12/14: (new train ornament and "15" candles) Happy Birthday, EB! Here's the story of when you were born ... ❀ A Night of Great Joy

12/15: (colored Christmas light bulbs) Look outside - our solstice tree is all lit up! We hope the critters enjoy! Night Tree

12/16: (baby food jar, white glitter) Make a snowglobe. Decorate the solstice tree with edible ornaments. The Animals' Santa

12/17: (beeswax) Make candle jars and rolled candles. (gifts) An Early American Christmas

12/18: (mitten-shaped cookie cutter) Bake sugar cookies with Mom. The Mitten

Week Four: Humankind (Love)

12/19: (jingle bell ornament) Watch the Polar Express as a family. Discuss trust. The Polar Express

12/20: (clementine) Bake clementine snowball cookies and watch The Snowman. Discuss friendship. An Orange for Frankie

12/21: (snowflake cupcake liners) Bake "welcome winter" cupcakes. Discuss comfort. Sleep Tight Farm

12/22: (nativity ornament) As night falls, a surprise in the garden (new nativity figures under spotlight). Discuss family. B is for Bethlehem

12/23: (frame ornament) Make a family picture ornament for the tree. Discuss love. The Christmas Story

12/24: (felt heart shape) Make a scented heart tree ornament (stuffed with wool and herbs). Discuss giving. The Christmas Baby

*** 

Ok so that was a very long post! But I hope you enjoyed hearing about our Advent Calendar project this year and that maybe you found a few new ideas for your family. I am really looking forward to giving a little of my time and energy each day this Advent to this project. I think my children will enjoy it - I KNOW I will enjoy it. I know it probably sounds like a lot, but truly, these are all simple activities. They won't take up too much of our day. We have a few other Advent rituals planned and I will discuss them a bit more in my Tea post on Friday ...

What a wonderful season this is! So rich with potential and promise ... a wonderful time to shape how our children view the world. The one they live in at home and the one they face when they step outside their doors. My HOPE is that I bring a little peace, a little joy and a whole lot of LOVE into their Advent journey. So grateful to have these days before us!

So enjoy the rest of your evening, my friends! I will see you here again very soon ... later on Friday ... with a cup of tea and some pics to share ... and more thoughts on this most wonderful time of the year. :)

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... 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 ...

O and teal pumpkin 1

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!πŸ•· 

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!


Late Autumn Planning Sheets + Thanksgiving Printables!

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Hello my friends and Happy Thursday!

Today I'd like to share another set of my seasonal planning sheets with you - and this time we're heading into Late Autumn, as hard as that is to believe! The end of the year already? How the weeks have flown ...

So this is my last set of seasonal sheets since I began this series back in January, but this time around I'm very happy to share an extra set of sheets for Thanksgiving planning! My family hosts this annual holiday, and there's a lot that goes into planning such an event. Every year I make up a planner of some sort for myself but this year I decided to go beyond loose-leaf and make something more streamlined and printable. I had such fun putting this planner together, so naturally I wanted to share it with you all! (There are just four weeks till Thanksgiving, fyi!)

I am also working on a set of planning sheets for Advent and Christmas, and was really hoping to have them ready to share today, too - but alas - time got away from me! I will aim to post that set sometime next week ... :)

And not to get ahead of myself but, I will be tweaking ALL the seasonal sets from the past year to coordinate with next year's dates. (You can find them all in my Printables archive.) But more on all that in a moment! Here now are my Late Autumn planning sheets - eight weeks in all, running from Monday, November 7th through Sunday, January 1st (2017!).

Late Autumn Overview (Clean)

Late Autumn Overview (Dawn's)

Late Autumn Planning Sheets

Home Learning this Week (Late Autumn)

Thanksgiving Planner

Please let me know if you have any trouble opening these PDF files or if you notice any errors. (I looked them over and over but inevitably something escapes me!) Also, I'd love to hear if you're using these sheets and how you like them! :) As I mentioned above, I'm going to update all of last year's sheets so they can be used in 2017 and I'm changing things a bit to make them (hopefully) more efficient and easier to use. One thing you'll notice straight away (starting with this last seasonal set) is I'm using photos instead of clipart. I really loved the vintage clipart but going forward it will be easier to use my own "artwork," if you will - especially when it comes to copyright issues and such. Also, as you'll see in the Thanksgiving planning sheets, I've finally learned how to add lines to my boxes! Hooray for Bill who figured this out! I really love planners with lined spaces (I'm a stickler for neat handwriting - it just works better with my brain!) and so next year's set of planning sheets will also feature more soft lines for guiding lists and notes. 

Before I go, here is a picture of this week's sheet "in action."

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As I grow more and more fond of my printable planning sheets, I've been thinking about how to use them along with my current systems. I would like to discuss this further in a future post but for now, briefly ...

I keep the current week's sheet in my homekeeping binder - opposite the current month-at-a-glance (a neat printable found here). I have this binder open like this all day so I can refer to it as needed. To the right (not seen in this picture) is my Day Designer which organizes all the hourly nitty-gritty details of my day! 

So, there you have it - and I hope you enjoyed it! As I said, I really had a lot of fun creating these pages and I'm eager to get the Advent-Christmas planner pulled together as well. I will share that with you just as soon as I can, but for now, I wish you all well and thank you, sincerely, for stopping by ...

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


My Early Autumn Planning Sheets (Printables!)

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Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you are all enjoying your weekend! :)

Here in America we are celebrating Labor Day weekend, which means tomorrow is a holiday for most of us. It is also considered the unofficial "end of summer" since most children have returned to school by now. (We return to lessons Tuesday!) We're still summery though, weather-wise - after some rain and wind from Hurricane Hermine tomorrow, we are expecting a return to the 90s for the balance of the week! But this is how it goes at this time of year ...

The mornings and evenings ARE cooler and the light is different now, too. The signs of seasonal change are subtle, but -  if you pay attention - then over time instinctually you can tell when these little shifts are taking place. It feels good to be connected with the rhythm of the year. Like being privy to some vital (though often overlooked) information ...

But anyhoo - I am very happy to FINALLY present my next set of seasonal planning sheets to you ... once again with my sincere apologies to be so VERY last minute. sigh My computer crash definitely slowed me down this summer, but honestly, it just took me a while to get around to ironing out all the details! (Not just the plans themselves, but the colors and the clipart!) I have such fun, thinking about these kinds of things, though ... I have always maintained that if we don't plan for joy as carefully as we plan for work, then we might just miss out on a lot. Too much. There are way too many things I LOVE about autumn that I want to share with my children. And I now have a good idea just how fast the years fly ... my oldest "baby" is 21, while my newest is a very busy and delightful THREE. How did that happen?

I may not ever do everything in my plans but I am grateful for what we can do and glad I have made myself (and my family) aware of these kinds of things. These are the things that enrich the ordinary ... make the everyday special ... set one day apart from the next ... and remind us just how BLESSED we are to get to do it again, year after year ... as long as God allows.

Well, ok - time to get down to the nitty gritty! Here are the planning sheets for the next season ahead, which I call "Early Autumn" (September and October). I have my "themes and plans" overview first - one with my notes and one that is blank for you to fill up with your own ideas (though you're welcome to try mine!). Then there are the multi-week planning sheets - an overview that allows for space for you to plan a weekly theme, days of note, home & garden tasks, comforts & joys, meal plans and to-do's ... along with a little vintage clipart and a snippet of an idea from me. :) These go from this coming week (9/5-9/11) through the last week of Early Autumn (10/31-11/6).

And finally, there is a home learning planning sheet in complementary colors. You might use this differently if you don't homeschool - maybe just notes for each of your kids. Goodness knows our kids always have a lot going on! I myself have three boys I'm currently homeschooling so there is room for their lesson notes as well as a day-by-day overview. And if you need a different number of boxes, let me know - I can tweak my original and email you a new copy. :)

Early Autumn Overview (Dawn's)

Early Autumn Overview (clean)

Early Autumn Planning Sheets

Home Learning this Week (Early Autumn) 

I do hope these are of some use to you - I'd love to hear feedback if you have a minute! And please let me know if the links are wonky - I check on my end, but who knows what glitches might come to pass in cyberspace!

I will be back next - PROMISE - with the 52 seasonal themes. (I think that's the third time I've promised them!) And in another month or so - hopefully sooner than later! - I will be back with my last set of seasonal sheets, Late Autumn (November and December). It is my fond hope to publish these on the early side and include some holidays sheets in there too. But we shall see. So please stay tuned,  and thanks so much for stopping by! 

I will see you here again very soon ...


A Seasonal Paper Chain for Earlybird!

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Hello and Happy September, my friends!

Now, before I get into the meat of my post - did you all remember to say Rabbit Rabbit this morning? :)

I'm happy to say I did! Well, sort of. Since Little Bear had us up at 2 a.m. (wanting out of his bed and into ours), I may have muttered a little incoherently before I remembered to say the magic words ... ;)

So today I'd like to share a bit about the project I put together yesterday. I'm a little embarrassed to share it actually, since it's really a rather basic craft - one I'm sure many of you have seen and/or done yourself - one I've shared here myself a time or two! - but it just looks so pretty and I know a lot of you love paper as I do, and I think it's sort of a new twist on an old favorite ... so here goes!

A bit of backstory ... Earlybird, as most of you know, is autistic, and one of his challenges is a real preoccupation with "things happening now and/or next." Like, holidays and special events and things he really looks forward to. He will ask to talk all about say, Easter, in the middle of July and act like the Big Bunny himself might be appearing any minute now. Then, on a whim, he'll forget all about Easter and suddenly we're hashing out the Thanksgiving menu or he's wondering why we aren't getting our Christmas tree this weekend ...

Yes, he is his mother's son - a lover of seasons and special days! And his capacity for joy is so wonderful! But I'm always looking for ways to help him get a bit of a handle on his passion - and understand the passage of time and order of yearly events and all that. I have a few things going on this year that I hope will help him, but here's the first thing:

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A paper chain for counting down the days of fall and winter!

For this project, the first thing I did was buy paper for a chain lasting from September 1st  through January 1st. I chose "appropriate" paper for each month - an alphabet design in September (because, back-to-school), an orange print for October (because, pumpkins and Halloween), a beige wood-look for November (because, bare trees), red and white for December (because, Christmas!) and festive stars for the days leading up to New Year's. I also purchased a pack of pretty heart-shaped tags. (You'll see why in a minute.) 

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I cut the paper into strips for each day of each month (this was 12x12 scrapbooking paper so I got 10 strips per sheet) and set aside a number of hearts.

Next I worked late into the night to assemble the chain ...

Paper chain 1

No, just kidding. The lighting is just dark here - it didn't really take all that long. :)

Once it was all linked up, I hung it up in the sunroom-soon-to-be-schoolroom ... 

Paper chain 4

Paper chain 5

And I added a heart tag wherever a special day would be coming up on the calendar ...

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Paper chain 3

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So here's the paper-chain plan:

Every morning we'll take down the next link in the chain and then, on the back, we'll write something we remember about yesterday. (Preferably something positive!) Then I'll roll the strip up tight, tape it closed and pop it in a large container. On New Year's Day we'll go back and read through our memories. :)

(So today we remembered that yesterday we took time to check our our neighborhood creek and found it quite empty and dry. Not necessarily positive, lol - but we've determined to begin a little science project by observing the creek weekly for changes. EB has a special fondness for this creek.)

For Earlybird, I'm hoping the paper chain will give him a fun and visual way to increase his awareness of where we are in the year. So when he wants to keep watch for trick-or-treaters I'll point out that we're not even in the orange links yet, and the tag for Halloween is still many links away! And so forth ...

(I have tags for the first day of autumn, Halloween, Thanksgiving, EB's birthday, the winter solstice, Christmas, and New Year's Day.)

If this is successful, I will do the same thing for January through April, but that's getting ahead of myself! :)

The other things I'm doing with EB this year is ...

One - He will have his own month-at-a-glance calendar to manage (I love this style for its large, lined template). Every morning, when he sits down with his therapist at their work table, he will open his calendar, cross of the day before and see what today's date is and what is on the "agenda." I'm also adding notes and stickers to make it even more fun for him!

And, Two - I am making up a three-ring binder with tabs for all the holidays and events he likes to talk about and make lists for ... aside from the ones mentioned above, he also loves to plan out shopping days (to Whole Foods, usually), vacations (Disney, for example), family parties and playdates at my folks' house. We often use these lists for language work and he holds onto them and packs them up and takes them with him until they're practically falling apart. I thought I would have sheet-protectors in this binder where we can file all these things and when EB wants to talk about something we can use the binder for reference. Halloween candy we'll buy ... pages from a catalog with costumes ... recipes we cut out from magazines ... Thanksgiving menu and guest list ... a birthday wish list ... a letter to Santa ... etc. Honestly, he really does LOVE to think about and talk about these topics! I hope these activities nurture his interests, channel his energy and help him learn a little more about how the year turns ...

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Well my friends, I hope your September started out on a good note! Thanks so much for stopping by and next time, I will have my yearly seasonal themes to share. 

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... see you here again sometime soon!


Happy National Notebook Day!

A word of warning: you may only find this post interesting if you, like me, are passionate about paper! But feel free to read on wherever you stand on the topic ... :)

Notebook day 6

So I only heard of this holiday the other day on Instagram - apparently it's new this year! But of course, notebook-nut that I am, I could not let it pass without a little peek at my favorite notebook these days! The photo above shows my journal from last year, with all my pages organized and tabbed by month, neatly stored in a large binder. I get so much joy looking back over past journals!

Now, notebooks can be used for all kinds of things - journals, planners, academic notes, shopping lists - there's so much  you can do with a notebook. Notebooks can be easily found (or made) but some of us paper enthusiasts have rather strong opinions about what makes a notebook work and what doesn't. I am a collector of notebooks, that's for sure. I almost never pass up a chance to browse a stationary aisle, whether I'm in a large store like Staples or Target or a smaller specialty store like PaperSource. I'm always looking for smooth paper and good coil binding, a sturdy back and a neat cover. I despise perforated pages ... reinforced pages ... dark ink ... scratchy paper ... and ACK, heaven forbid, a wide rule! ;)

Ok, enough with my rambling ... here is where I'm notebooking these days:

Notebookday 5 

So no, this is not a typical notebook - it is a section in a 3-ring binder (my home keeping binder in fact) filled with my favorite paper EVER. (Years ago, during the back-to-school sales, I found a batch of loose-leaf paper that looked and felt so amazing - I snatched up as many packs as I could! I have never again found its like.)

I call this my domestic journal, and it's a real hodge-podge of things ... notes, ideas, observations, reminders, clippings, post-it notes, the occasional sticker or swatch of washi tape. I write for a month, then review and index the pages before lifting them out and placing them in a large storage binder (such as the one shown above). Then I add more paper to my home keeping binder for the new month!

Notebook day 1 

I keep this binder open on my workspace ("command central," if you will) in the kitchen. It's the first section of this binder and I add to it every day. I use a page finder to mark my place and a binder clip to connect the daily journal with my weekly planning section ...

Notebook day 3

Notebook day 4

I've grappled with needing to see my week AND my day at the same time, and I find this arrangement works rather well. I can't see both sections at the same time of course, but I can go back and forth between my daily notes and my weekly planning pretty quickly. I use a pagemaker here too, and it's a perfect spot for post-it-note "task" checklists.

Notebook day 2

To the far right of my binder sits my clipboard with my Day Designer on top. The DD allows me to see exactly what I'm doing that day. (I don't write notes so much here as to-do's and time-sensitive information.) 

So there you have it - the notebook "system" I am using right now! It's not perfect, but it works well for me and I really enjoy attending to it throughout the day. I do hope you enjoyed this post and I'd love to hear about your note booking habits if you have a minute! In the meantime, I wish you all a pleasant evening and will hope to 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 piΓ±ata on Cinco de Mayo.
  • Decorate a canvas (field) bag with leaf prints.
  • Decorate a plain canvas apron (smock) on Apron Day.
  • Make nature playdough.
  • Collect and press wildflowers; begin a herbarium.
  • Plant a sunflower house.
  • Make a toad home.
  • Attract orioles passing through.
  • Spend an afternoon coudwatching.
  • Learn about waterfowl: ducks, geese, gulls.
  • Visit a duck pond and observe nesting behavior.
  • Play Duck, Duck, Goose!
  • Make a feather collage.
  • Make wind chimes with flower pots.
  • Go on a mushroom walk after a few damp days.
  • Make a catnip toy (with real catnip!) for the cats.
  • Eat rhubarb stalks with dixie cups of sugar for dipping.
  • Paint and fill herb pots for Mother's Day gifts.
  • Mix up some herbal mosquito repellant.
  • Make a handloom; weave it with rainbow yarn.
  • Fill a box with food for the letter carrier on the 10th.
  • Work ahead on handcrafted Father's day gifts.

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

See you all again very soon ... :)

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


Our Happy Easter Sunday!

Sunny easter flowers

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

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

Now, onto the celebration pictures!

Easter 2016 41

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

Alleluia! He is Risen!

Easter flower shopping

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

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

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

Egg hunt 3

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

Easter baskets

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

Easter 2016 8

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

Easter 2016 10

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

Easter mantle

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

Easter 2016 4

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

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

Easter 2016 30

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

Easter 2016 39

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

Easter 2016 9

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

Easter 2016 2

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

Easter 2016 55

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

Easter 2016 56

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

Easter 2016 21]

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

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

Easter 2016 18

Easter 2016 46

Mum and dad easter 2016

Easter 2016 20

Easter 2016 24

Easter 2016 16

Easter 2016 1

Little Bear needed a few breaks, too ...

Easter 2016 59

Trains inside ...

Easter 2016 50

Trucks outside!

Easter 2016 25

Thumbs up for a good dinner, Mom!

Easter 2016 57

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

Easter 2016 51

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

Easter 2016 31

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

Easter 2016 27

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

Easter 2016 32

Bill working on his Spring Blessings egg ...

Easter 2016 43

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

And here's the desserts table ...

Easter 2016 33

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

Easter 2016 60

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

Easter 2016 34

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

Easter 2016 38

A sugar cookie Peep bunny!

Radishes in teapot

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

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

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


A Few Crafts for the Cross ...

But first, Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Happy Sunday, too! I hope your weekend's going well ... :)

Today I'd like to share some of the pictures I have piling up on my phone, and the crafts we worked on last week. Each one was a suggestion from our purple cross countdown, a chance to spend some time each day doing a little something nice for someone else ...

On Thursday, I began the day with a quick, last-minute craft for Our Lady of Lourdes ...

OL Lourdes 1

A tiny paper baking pan + printed image + craft moss + a few rocks + a paper river + a candle = a little grotto of sorts! I kept it lit on the Lenten altar throughout the day.

(Note: Before lighting, I swapped the beeswax tealight for an LED candle since this whole situation was quite flammable!)

Later in the day we followed the suggestion of our daily post-it to create a donation box for the foyer. Here's how that went:

Donations box 1

I covered an old moving carton with plain white wrapping paper and added some sticker sentiments around the outside of the box (give, help, lift, love). Then I asked the boys to help me draw happy things ...

O project 2016 2-11 1

Since Little Bear's favorite things right now are volcanoes (complete with hot "la-blah") he requested I add a couple of those ...

O project 2016 2-11 2

It's certainly a colorful box!

Donations box 2

It now resides in our foyer where each week we'll add items for various collections in which we're participating.

 β€

On Friday, we continued our commitment to care for creation, by making some edible valentines for the birds ...

Valentine birds 4

After lunch I asked all the boys to pitch in with this very simple craft. We threaded cheerios onto pipe cleaners, bent them into heart shapes ...

Valentine birds 2

And then looped them all together ...

Valentine birds 5

Even the youngest could do it!

Valentine birds 3

(Well, the cheerios kept him busy anyway ...)

Finally, we hung our valentines outside for the hungry birds ...

Valentine birds 6

(Translated: Mama threw on her boots and her parka and braved the arctic wind to hang the valentines where we could see them from the windows. It really is SUPER cold these days in these parts!)

And finally, yesterday we worked on sharing our love, by making small hearts written out with the reasons why we love each other. I kind of did this secretly - making up the small red paper hearts early in the day and then passing a batch of five to each family member. (Well, except for the 2 yo and the 20 yo off at college.) As the hearts were completed and "turned in" I glued them onto pretty doilies and then - trucking outside in those boots once again - I snipped some magnolia branches for a vase.

Valentine branch 2 edited

And this was our Sunday breakfast centerpiece! I loved watching the boys faces as I read aloud the hearts. :)

❀

Well my friends, I hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday! We're quite hunkered in because it's all of 8 degrees at the moment (and only because the wind isn't blowing) ... but the sun is shining and the snow is sparkling and our home is warm and full of people I love ... so you'll hear no complaints from me! 

But as always, I thank you all for stopping by and taking the time to read ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll be back here again very soon!


Our Shrove Tuesday Fun!

 O project 2016 2-9 1

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

Mardi gras 3

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

Mardi gras 2

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

Mardi gras 4

Woohoo! Mardi Gras Masks!

Mardi gras 6

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

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

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

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

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

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:)

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

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

See you here again very soon!


Our Family Christmas, 2015

Hello and good evening, friends! :)

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

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

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


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So how early did your Christmas start? ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love how the cards look on our library door!

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

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

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

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Our signature cocktail this Christmas: Jingle Juice Punch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharing laughs and swapping stories!

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

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 * Family Christmas, 2015! *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A little chaos at Christmas is natural!

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And here we have Family Christmas 2015, part two!

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

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

I will see you here again very soon! 


My Christmas Tea Journal, 2015

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

Firstly, how was your Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:) 

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

My Christmas Tea Journal

Vintage christmas bells and birds

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

What are you reading this week?

In my stocking I also found: 

Illuminations

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen

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

And with the younger boys:

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

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

What's happening in nature this week?

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Winter has finally arrived ...

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

Vintage holly sprig

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

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

I will see you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Welcome Winter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favorite things about Winter?

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

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

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

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

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

*β˜€οΈ*

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

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

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

 What are you reading this week?

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

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

Wintertime

Grandmother Winter

Winter Waits

Winter Lullaby

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here

Waiting for Winter

Winter

When Winter Comes

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

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

What are you working on this week?

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

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

A couple of projects:

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

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

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(The eggs are painted whole nutmeg!) 

What's happening in nature this week?

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

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Any projects with the children this week?

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

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

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

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

(and finally)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

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*❀*

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

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

(Pics are always welcome!)

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

See you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> How do we shape their joy? <<

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

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

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

What are your children's favorite aspects of Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

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

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

What are you reading this week?

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

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

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One basket for Winter books ...

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

Planner in car

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

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

What's happening in nature this week? 

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

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

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

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

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

***

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

❀

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

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

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Advent tea magic 12 (1)

:)

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

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

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

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

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?

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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:

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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!

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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 ...

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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!

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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. ;)

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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!


Tea Parties & Plans ...

Oak leaves branch

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

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

bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com

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

Now, about my next "party" ...

Advent tea

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

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

Here are the Tea dates and topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

❀


Thinking out loud: Thanksgiving plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

:)

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

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