Liturgical Crafts Feed

March Bits & Bobs ... ❤

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Hello and Happy Friday, my friends! I hope your week went well and that your new month is off to a great start! I thought I'd pop in quickly this afternoon to share a few pictures with you all - a few March "bits and bobs" if you will ... 

With all the lovely weather lately we've been able to spend a good bit of time outside - and we were thrilled to find some true signs of spring all around us!

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Crocus shoots ...

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Daffodils, too! This is the earliest I can remember finding bulbs breaking ground ...

These guys are out and about now as well:

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Ever since the boys were little we've taken note of when the chipmunks come out of hibernation, for this is a sure sign that spring is firmly nudging winter out of its way! Usually it's sometime in late March - or even April if it's a long snowy winter - but we spied our first chipmunks at the end of February this year!

Red-winged blackbirds passing through the yard (moving from one pond to another) are another harbinger of spring and when the goldfinches start turning a brighter shade of yellow we know warmer weather is headed our way! Even more than a calendar - and you all know I love calendars! - I love using these kinds of events to feel the change not just in months but in seasons ...

Speaking of birds ...

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Our little ladies are doing well! But they're not so little anymore! (They'll be a year at the end of May.) They're enjoying the not-so-cold temperatures lately and generally lay about 3-4 eggs a day (not per hen - per flock!). I'm eyeing some "egg-collecting" aprons for spring ... :)

More birds ...

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A female cardinal and chickadee at our front feeder. The buds on the magnolia tree look promising, don't they?

The boys are loving these milder days, too ...

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There's still a smattering of snow around the yard, but for the most part it's all gone. All the snow melt has left several vernal pools in our neighborhood however ... and I simply cannot WAIT for those first mild nights when we can hear that telltale sound ... peep peep peep!

(Working on a vernal pond walk for our Nature Club next month!)

More outdoor fun ...

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My middle boys reminding Little Bear how to pedal!

We are expecting colder weather this weekend, but the long-range forecast shows a nice rebound back into the 40s. That might not sound too "Springy" to you, but around here what that means is NO SNOW! And at this point in the year I'm ready to be done with snow. It's just too lovely to see all the bits of greenery and tiny critters bravely poking up and around the yard, happily doing their spring thing.

"Spring things" aside, I snapped this picture on Thursday when the ol' March wind was blowing like CRAZY ...

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All I could think was, "In like a lion ..."

Backing up a few days though, on (Shrove) Tuesday evening, per family pre-Lent tradition, we made masks!

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It's a very simple craft - paper plates cut in half, with eye holes and a popsicle stick for a handle. We do this just about every year. Sometimes I put out feathers and stickers and other craft materials but this year the dot-markers were the big hit with the younger boys!

Here's Little Bear modeling the mask I decorated ...

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I actually like how the dot marker masks came out best!

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That night we had pancakes for supper - complete with maple syrup, grilled apple-chicken sausages, home fries (aka Smiley fries) and paczki for dessert. That's pretty decadent, but that's the point on Shrove/Fat Tuesday!

The next morning we buried the alleluia, and I turned my attention to the March calendar. How I love these vintage papers and stickers!

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I thought these little elves (gnomes?) looked very much like leprechauns ...

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I've ordered several sets of Victorian style stickers for decorating my calendars ... it's something very small but it sure makes me smile!

Now, here I am at my kitchen counter, attempting to get a handle on the weekend plans (p.o.w. notebook on left) and an overview of next week's agenda (small orange planner on right). I'm planning to do a "where I work" post next week - because as much as I love my desks, it's here that I usually keep and manage all my planning paraphernalia!

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My pre-planning was a bit slow this week, so I'll be doing some last minute scurrying over the weekend. Office hours are a must! And I'll take pictures so I can finally get up that "planning routine, part two" post ...

I really can't complain about a crimp in my planning time, though ...

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... because we've been doing lots of this. :)

Hanging out and taking things slow ... making funny faces for Mama's cell phone. As much as I love this boy's smile, I do enjoy all his funny faces, too! We were being couch potatoes here - all curled up with blankets, books, tea, matchbox cars and molasses cookies. I can't think of a better way to spend a quiet, homey afternoon ...

And so March is off! And Lent is underway ...

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On Wednesday night, the first stone was chosen from our basket and this week our Lenten theme is "prayer." So we began our conversation over supper - about how we might work more prayer into our lives - and just what "more prayer" might look like, for each of us. It was a good talk - one we'll continue once Bookworm gets home for spring break tonight. Hooray!

Prayer can be so very different from one person to the next - and from one faith to another. It's important, I think, to be aware of that - and respectful of that. Some are steadfast prayer "warriors," others perhaps less so. Some prefer a prepared script while others rely more on private thoughts. Some need certain visuals or sacramentals, sacred spaces or even special music. For me it's usually a combination of these things - and different things on different days! As I told my boys, prayer for me is whatever opens my heart to God - His purpose for me - and cultivates a sense of serenity, acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes it's a collection of words I memorized as a child, sometimes it's a litany of petitions as I fall asleep at night ... and sometimes it's just the way I feel as I stand in my yard, turn my face to the sun and breathe in ... letting a deep appreciation for this wondrous world fill me. To me, these are all forms of prayer. I always encourage my children to pray, but I don't expect it to be just like I do. I hope that they'll find their own form of prayer ... and in this way it will be most meaningful. 

Well my friends, I will let you go as I've kept you here quite long enough! But as always I thank you for stopping by ... I hope you enjoy your weekend! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... 

I'll see you here again very soon!


Our Lenten Mantle (& Plans) ... ❤

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Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! As hard as it is to believe, Lent begins this coming Wednesday! I thought I'd share a few of the things my family will be doing this year as we journey through this beautiful season ...

I considered repeating the elaborate post-it note countdown I created last year, but in the interest of time and energy, I decided to keep things a bit simpler. I'm hoping to set a mood, offer opportunities, and then step back and let Lent happen naturally ... beginning with a few things arranged on our library mantle.

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To ready the space, I first took down all the Valentine decor and dusted the mantle itself - a little squirt of lavender spray lent a nice cleansing touch. :) Then I took down the boxwood wreath and placed in its stead our grapevine cross ...

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We've had the grapevine cross for many years - I found it at either a Michaels Crafts or A.C. Moore store. It's hard to remember now! It's seen a bit of wear and tear, but I just love it. :)

The small wooden "Hope" sign I found at Michaels several weeks ago and thought it would be a nice theme for both Lent and spring. (I love merging nature and faith!) I simply tied the word onto the cross with some plain kitchen twine. I kind of like the symbolism of Hope tied closely to the cross ...

And throughout Lent, a little "life" will spring forth here each week - tiny sprigs of greenery I'll add in secret - and come Easter morning the cross will be covered in bright flowers!

Beneath the cross I placed a single white candle ...

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I planted it in some potting soil and will leave it like this until Palm Sunday, at which point we will sprinkle the soil with grass seed - and fingers crossed it will bloom a week later! (I adapted this idea from one I found in All Year Round, one of my favorite resources for seasonal celebrations.) Finally, on Easter morning, the boys will find the candle lit and hopefully surrounded by pretty green grass.

A plain little butterfly box also sits on the mantle ...

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On Ash Wednesday we will "bury the Alleluia" (an old custom) by placing that small slip of paper inside the butterfly. On Easter morning the butterfly box will be open and empty - the slip of paper will be gone! Instead there will be a golden "Alleluia" banner hung above the mantle and perched in the middle of the cross will be a bright and beautiful (silk) butterfly.

I also placed a glass jar for collecting alms here ...

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(Monies saved by skipping certain purchases each week.)

On the left side of the mantle I placed the brass crucifix made by my maternal great-grandfather, along with a small crystal votive candle holder (a gift from my parents - straight from Ireland!) This candle will be lit on Fridays as we contemplate the Stations (described below). I added the simple wooden rabbit because I plan to explore with the boys the many aspects of Easter that are tied in with both nature and faith ...

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On the far right side is our Marian statue (which belonged to my paternal grandparents) as well as a prayer card for the March devotion (St. Joseph) ...

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The purple jar will be used as a vase in which we can display any little bits of blooming nature we find through the season - forsythia most likely or pussy willows, perhaps. I may also add small vases for tiny things that pop up like crocus, snowdrops, and dandelions, etc. (I like to use small cordial glasses for this.) These will be flowers for the Blessed Mother but also a growing sign of returning life.

(As part of our seasonal homeschooling I have a few nature-based activities planned for each week, and these too will be woven into our Lenten path.)

Also seen in these pictures are the read-alouds we'll be using throughout Lent: The Parables of Jesus and The Miracles of Jesus, both by beloved author, Tomie dePaola. My hope is to read a passage aloud to the boys in the library each afternoon. I'll have a coloring page for Little Bear to work on (and ask Crackerjack to help keep him busy/interested) and see if Earlybird might want to participate, too. Listening to read-alouds can be difficult for EB (due to sensory issues) so this might be quite a sacrifice for him! I might even schedule this activity for earlier in the day when EB's therapist is here for support.

Finally, I strung a wide length of burlap ribbon along the front of the mantle to which I attached the Stations of the Cross, using small wooden clothespins. (The ribbon and the clothespins can be found at Michaels, or any craft store most likely. The lovely Stations cards were purchased through Catholic Heritage Curricula.)

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Once again, I had a lot of help as I set up this special space ...

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(He asked me to take his picture in front of the mantle. He was very proud!)

I have one other activity planned for Lent - and that involves working Lenten themes into our journey. Each Wednesday at dinner I'll present this small basket of rocks ...

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... and one of us will choose a rock for the coming week. As you can see above, each rock has a word written on it in purple: prayer, silence, gratitude, forgiveness, service, spiritWhichever word is chosen from the basket will be a theme we can all work into our week - privately and as a family. (I have some activities planned to help the younger boys with this project.) At the end of each week the rock will be placed upon our Lenten mantle.

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Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed hearing about our plans for Lent this year! Are there any Lenten traditions you follow with your family each year? Are you trying something new this year? Do you have a special book (or books) you are reading this season? Drop me a note if you have a moment - I'd love to hear from you!

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful weekend and as always, I thank you for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again sometime soon!


Welcome, February! ❤

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

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

Speaking of groundhogs ...

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

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

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Yes, our very own homemade butter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another quick craft for February ...

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

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

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

Oh, and finally!

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

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

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


Advent Tea, Week 4: Happy Hearts at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more nativity scenes around the house ...

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

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

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

And how about this one? :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❤

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

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

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

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:)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good morning, pretty girls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of stories ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends Tea 1

 

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

Friends Tea 2

 ❤

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

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

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

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

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

 ❤

And from Gill:

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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


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!


Martinmas Day with My Boys 💛

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Happy Weekend, my friends ... I hope you all had a good week. Or at least, I hope your week was not so bad. Or maybe things got better as the week went on? I know this is a tough time for a lot of us - and I am not going to talk politics here (never have, never will) - but I just want to say, I'm wishing all of my friends peace and hope. I myself am focusing on all the good things in my life that, God willing, will always be here for me and my loved ones no matter what's going on in the world ...

*deep breath*

Ok, on with my post! :)

So today I'd like to share some more November projects - a few of those craft supplies getting used up as we near the middle of the month. This week we had the feast of St. Martin of Tours (aka Martinmas) and if you have read my blog for any length of time you know this is one of our favorite feasts to celebrate with the boys. (You can read more about our traditions, here.) In the past we have baked horseshoe cookies and read stories and made glass lanterns to display in dark windows, but this year ... I baked a cake instead of cookies, we told stories instead of read them AND ... we crafted our lanterns - not out of glass but - balloons!

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(And didn't I buy the stubbornest worst tasting/smelling balloons ever made? Ugh. Oh well!)

I've seen lanterns done this way over the years and have always wanted to try my hand at it. Well, this was finally the year and as you can see I had a very eager little helper!

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Goodness, but does this boy love himself some GLUE!

This craft is a bit messy but very easy to do ... and best to start a day or two ahead of your celebration since the lantern will need time to dry. You simply brush an inflated balloon with layers of glue (thinned with water, about a 50-50 ratio) and overlapping pieces of colorful tissue paper. You might also slip autumn leaves in between layers ...

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... and you might cut some of the tissue into shapes like pretty stars.

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While Little Bear worked diligently on gluing his balloon, I did about five or six layers of tissue paper on mine.

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Once finished, we left them to dry in the dining room. Here's mine hanging over the table.

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Meanwhile, the boys played outside, enjoying the misty autumn weather ...

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(That's a meteor shower suncatcher in Little Bear's hand.)

Next morning ...

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There were some packages on the kitchen table for the boys ... 

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Recalling the story of Martin's kindness, each of my boys received a gift of warmth and comfort - pajamas (Earlybird) and slippers (Crackerjack) - while Little Bear also received a new prayer book in addition to some superhero slipper-socks. :)

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(Bookworm will get his new flannel PJs when he's home for Thanksgiving break.)

Then it was time to check on the lanterns!

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Mine is on the left and Little Bear's is on the right. We kept his balloon intact since it was pretty much all that was holding it together! (For all the glue he used, lol ...)

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The glue seemed to be dry so I popped the balloon and was left with (more or less) a colorful lantern! Really neat to watch that balloon pull away from the lantern interior!

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I trimmed the top and punched holes along the edge for twine.

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Love all the autumn colors and shapes!

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I've read instructions which describe using a real candle inside this lantern but for what I think are obvious reasons we went with something more child-safe.

Side note: Below is a lovely passage from a book I've had for years called, Lifeways. This quote is from a chapter called "A Walk through the Year with the Festivals," something I re-read quite often for seasonal inspiration ...

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How lovely is that?

Now, there are usually special foods tied to feast days and Martinmas is no exception. In the past we've made horseshoe-shaped oat cookies on this day, but this year I decided to try a recipe my grandmother made for years, something called "Poor Man's Cake." Rather fitting for the day, as St. Martin is the patron of the poor ... plus, this cake is full of autumnal flavor.

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My grandmother made this cake quite often - it was a favorite of my grandfather's - and I believe she found the recipe during the Depression. You can read more about the cake (including its recipe) in this post of mine from 2007.

It's quite dense and moist - "a good bake" if I may say so myself! But you know who loved the cake best? Bill - it really is right up his alley. (He hardly cares for chocolate, he's more a ginger-and-spice kind of guy.) The boys however were all ... hmmm. I dunno, Mom ... raisins?

Outside we go boys!

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Another Martinmas tradition (especially in Waldorf schools) is to have the children participate in a lantern walk. In the gathering darkness of a late autumn afternoon, the children set out with their shining lanterns all together, singing special lantern songs. The symbolism here is that we all must tend our own little light, so that we might carry it forth into a world that can often be quite dark and cold ...

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(Page from Festivals, Family and Food, by Diana Carey and Judy Large)

We were a very small band and there was only one working lantern - and we didn't sing of course, because Earlybird has sensory issues - but I did recite the above verse to my sweet little lantern-carrier as we walked through our woods!

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It was SO windy and chilly yesterday and since some of us are fighting a cold, some of us headed in for another piece of that cake and a hot cup of tea. A bit later on, as the darkness surrounded us, Bill and Little Bear came inside at last, all pink-cheeked and bright-eyed. Then I hung the lantern in the dark dining room for the rest of the night ...

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Down with darkness, up with light;

Up with sunshine, down with night.

Each of us is one small light,

But together we shine bright ...

 

(E. Amarin)

Before I go, here's today's page from Little Bear's new daily prayer book ...

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I can't tell you how much I love this book ... we are weaving it into our weekly rhythm. Short and sweet, with a special daily prayer to share, reflecting each day's rhythm and grace. 💛

Well my friends, time to wrap up now, but as always I thank you for reading. Or maybe you just looked at the pictures? Well, that's nice too. I always appreciate your visit! :)

Please enjoy the rest of your weekend and take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I will see you here again very soon!


Gratitude & Remembrance (November Crafts)

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Hello and Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope your November is off to a great start!

I posted the above picture on Facebook and Instagram, because I find it so inspiring when craft supplies are organized for a particular season or month. I don't always have them so well-ordered but I do like to keep items stored in seasonal groupings when possible. This is my "stash" for November and I thought I'd share what we got up to these past couple of days ... :)

November is the month for remembering our blessings and expressing our thanks, and like many families we enjoy keeping a "gratitude project" of some sort in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. There are all kinds of variations on this annual activity, but I kept things super-simple this year ...

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A grapevine heart ($8 at Michaels Arts & Crafts), hung up with some twine, and autumn leaves cut from colorful cardstock ...

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I hung the wreath on our kitchen/dining room door and each day we'll write down our blessings and add a leaf (or leaves) to the wreath. We're only two leaves in now, but I added extras as seen above to show you the overall affect. I think our "Thankful Heart" is rather pretty!

I placed the extra paper leaves in a small box along with a pen and left it on our kitchen table. Hopefully this will remind us to record our blessings around the supper table each night.

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And yesterday (Nov. 2nd) was the feast of All Souls (also known as the Day of the Dead). One of these years we will make the traditional sugar skulls symbolic of this Mexican feast day, but this was not that year. Instead, I used some cupcake liners decorated with colorful skulls (found at Target) ...

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... and made up some "harvest" muffins with that applesauce I told you about in my Halloween post, as well as some mashed squash ...

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... and four beautiful eggs laid by my chickens!

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I try to keep muffins low in sugar but for today's feast I added some simple icing and a pretty chrysanthemum from the garden:

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(Marigolds are actually the traditional Day of the Dead flowers, but my little calendula plant - aka pot marigold - stopped blooming some time ago. I will try to keep next year's plant alive in a sunny window just for this feast day!)

But the muffins were quite a hit with the boys who enjoyed theirs with apple cider, while I had mine with a hot cup of orange spiced tea. All the flavors and smells seemed so autumnal and it was a gorgeous morning, too - so warm and breezy. I had my kitchen window open as I worked and just savored such a blessed day. And baking those muffins really made me think of my grandmother, who was well known for her delicious pink applesauce. In particular, as I milled the apples, my mind was on Gram ... I was using kitchen tools that once belonged to her!

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All I could think was Grama, I hope you can see me and how much you have inspired me. I hope you know just how much I admired you and how your love and vision lives on in my heart and my home even now. Goodness I miss her ...

Anyhoo ... here's another Day of the Dead decoration, a little planter my brother gave me last month:

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So fun! I keep it on my kitchen windowsill. That's an aloe plant growing there ... hopefully I'll keep it alive!

Now, in Catholic tradition, November is dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls. So on the first of this month I set up a small remembrance altar so that we may honor our loved ones who have passed away. I've done this in a windowsill in recent years but this year I decided to devote our living room mantle to the project.

I started with some particle board letters ...

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I bought these at Michaels for $1.49 each and painted them in a soft bronze shade. While they dried (where Little Bear couldn't reach) I got to work on the rest of the altar items - photos, candles and flowers. I have several vases in my collection but I wanted something small, so I made up some simple vases from things I had on hand ...

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These are glass votive candleholders (about $1 at craft stores), along with a bit of sheer ribbon, some rustic twine and small beige doilies.

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I wrapped the green ribbon around each glass twice (securing the ends with a hot glue gun), then wrapped and tied the twine around the middle. The doilies are just lightly glued to the bottom of the glass. (And as you can see I had my usual assistant close at paw hand ... keeping his eye on that twine, sneaky thing that it is ... with all that twisting and twirling.)

Then added more of those orange mums ...

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These fit in nicely with the other remembrance items, but I think they would also be lovely on a Thanksgiving table. Or possibly even a Christmas gift - a paperwhite bulb stuck in some pebbles? I don't know if the glass would be too small, but I think it would be very pretty.

For this annual project I have some small photos of our late loved ones which I display in tiny metal holders (prayer card holders actually - purchased a long time ago at a local Catholic gift shop). But I found I was one short, so I made up a makeshift photo stand with a small binder clip!

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And lastly the candles, which we light as we pray for our dear ones ...

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I have plenty of real candles on hand - some of them blessed at church on Candlemas - but because I have curious cats and young kids about, I decided to stick with battery-lit tea lights this year. 

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I really love how the altar came out. I laid down a wide "ribbon" of burlap before setting it up and hung a garland of autumn leaves just under the mantle edge. I placed our Halloween roses on either end along with some white miniature pumpkins and our beeswax candlesticks ... plus a few Thanksgiving decorations. :)

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I am always fond of projects that involve candlelight, but especially so at this time of year. The days are short and dark and we can all use a little brightening as winter nears. As the year ends we watch nature dwindle and fade - reminding us that our own lives will end just as surely someday. But in the midst of that sadness comes human love and our memories and God's love and our prayers ...

I found this quote the other day and felt so moved by it:

"How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"

(From The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a book I never read but I sure love that sentiment.)

Traditional prayers are deeply meaningful, of course - but I like to think our every loving thought and memory is a prayer in its own right. Feeling my Grama as I cooked those Macintosh apples and lifted my face to that warm window breeze - is something that is not only good for her soul, but mine. I pray for my loved ones all the time, but I hope I do them as great an honor by living my life by their example, with their unconditional love in my heart. 💛

 ***

Now, it was supposed to be Mexican for supper last night, but I didn't have all the appropriate ingredients on hand ... so American Chop Suey it was ... and with garlic bread, no less! Tonight is a catch-up night with assorted leftovers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe some soup, too ... it's quite rainy and dark out there! Leaves are blowing about and the hens have tucked themselves away for the night. But our lights are lit and our den is warm, so it's all good here ... 

November really is a lovely month. :)

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


Michaelmas Merrymaking

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Hello, my friends and Happy Thursday! I hope you're all having a nice day, and if you are celebrating Michaelmas, Happy Feast! Here's a little glimpse of our Michaelmas celebrations ... actually, 20+ photos are a bit more than "a glimpse," but I just couldn't hold back. It was a very nice day. :)

First I must show you my pretty bouquet ...

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One of the things Earlybird did with his therapist today was to check the yard for "Michaelmas Daisies" - a variety of aster that springs up all over New England right around this feast day (hence the name). He found them, identifying them with a field guide, and tomorrow he will compare them with a potted (nursery) aster and color a page for his nature journal. The few little daisy blooms he brought me went directly to my sunny kitchen windowsill, set in a cordial glass filled with water. :)

When therapy was done and lunch was over, I broke out the supplies to make this cute dragon craft ...

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This was very simple to put together - though I will admit I did most of it myself. I used a hot glue gun for the pom-poms and googley eyes and masking tape/washi tape to cover the dragon heads (rather than construction paper).

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They came out pretty well! They were a very big hit with my littlest knight, especially ...

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This was when I asked him to make a dragon face:

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Next I told him he had to share one of the dragons with his brother ...

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That went about as well as expected ...

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Lol, actually they had a blast with the dragon puppets!

Meanwhile, I started the Michaelmas cupcakes in the kitchen ... Earlybird LOVES to watch me/help me bake.

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My original plan was to make an apple-blackberry crisp (like the one shown in this post), but I discovered I had far fewer apples than I thought. So instead, I made "devil's food" cupcakes and frosted them, topped them with autumn sprinkles and a single berry. Then we pierced them with colorful cocktail swords ...

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These were an even bigger hit than the dragon puppets!

A bit later on, thanks to a post on Facebook by my friend Joanna, I followed a neat link with some printables for today's feast ... thank you, Catholic Sistas! I set Little Bear to work with some assistance from Crackerjack ...

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I love the look of concentration on his face! 

Since Earlybird had zero interest in coloring, I came up with another colorful, glue-y kind of craft ... a meteor ball!

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Some of you might be wondering what on earth a meteor (or shooting star, comet) might have to do with Michaelmas, but in the Waldorf festival tradition, this feast is connected with the late summer/early autumn meteor showers that light up the night sky. In this way they are seen as the flashing of Michael's brave sword with which he battles the dragon ...

And since Earlybird loves all things outer space (not to mention, copious amounts of glue), I thought this might pique his interest!

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As we worked, Little Bear came in to show us his project. This was actually his second print out - he didn't want to be finished so I made him another one. :)

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I hung the angel medallions in our kitchen window ... pretty how they caught the setting sun.

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Now, at this point Little Bear got a touch disturbed that I was hanging his artwork out of reach (have I mentioned he's recently given up naps?) and so had to be distracted with a little romp outside. So outside we went!

After checking our chickens (and feeding them some leftover spinach - and the last of the blackberries!) we combed the yard for neat things like mushrooms and acorns and mole holes and a few different kinds of Michaelmas daisies ...

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Above are the ones EB brought me this morning ...

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Whereas this next patch appears a little more "weedy" ...

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And these two blooms were actually much larger than the ones pictured above them ... I am eager to differentiate between all these varieties of aster!

Mostly though, the boys just ran around, testing out their streaming dragon fire ...

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And oh, yes! That meteor, too (covered with glittering star stickers and trailed by a tail-full of colorful streamers).

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Some kind of game formed with CJ holding the comet aloft and running it around the yard for the younger boys to chase ...

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Days like this ... they are so good. 💛

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Once back inside, I pulled out one of our old Catholic Treasure Box issues. This one had a story about the Archangels with some pretty cool illustrations ...

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... as well as a nice story for the weekend, when we celebrate the Feast of the Holy (Guardian) Angels. :)

And now here I am ...

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 I brought a cup of tea and my Michaelmas daisies to my desk and finally noticed today's page-a-day calendar ...

"For the mother is and must be, whether she knows of it or not, the greatest, strongest, and most lasting teacher her children have." (Hanna W. Smith)

Well that's a wonderful thought, isn't it?

I so enjoy spending my days with my children, and even after 21 years, it just never gets old. Every year I look forward to things like special feast days and interesting full moons and back-to-school time and apple picking and Thanksgiving Day and winter snow and spring's return and ... well, you get the idea. My dearest hope is I'm passing some of this joy in the little things along to my children! I can't know if they'll comb their yards for Michaelmas daisies when they're grown men (and somehow I doubt they will), but I do hope they remember the gentle pace of their childhood, the wonder we held for the world around us, and the comforting rhythm their family embraced through the years ... :)

Well my friends, I'm going to wrap up now, but I am so glad to have been able to pop in to chat, and share a bit of our day. I hope you all have a good night's rest and that tomorrow brings a day of inspiration and refreshment. How will you spend the last day of September? What plans will you make on October's eve? What memories will you carry forward to next year ... what impressions will you leave on your family's collective heart?

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


When Plans are Not Perfect (The Last Days of Lent ...)

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I happened to notice our Lenten cross this morning and - not that I haven't been looking at it every day for over a month, but - today it caught me by surprise. Because, oh my - we're nearly there! There are only a few (nine in fact) purple post-its left to pull off! Easter Sunday is truly, right around the corner ...

And doesn't the cross look pretty, with its flowers, butterflies and golden letters slowly being revealed? I'm leaving the very center post-it for last as that will uncover the letter "E" and on Holy Saturday the whole happy message will be announced ... :)

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Now friends, I'd like to confess that the plans I made up to go along with each post-it were at times a bit ... erm ... ambitious. Some days were just more hectic than I anticipated, and not everything came to pass as I'd envisioned. But such is life, right? Plans can be great (awesome, in fact), but LIFE happens and we must remember that, ultimately, we're not in charge. And flexibilty is a virtue, I believe ... or if it isn't, it should be! ;)

All kidding aside, I do think it's vital to stay flexible and try not to get frustrated, when planning any and all areas of life. This is something I have to work at, constantly. I'm a planner, as you know. I make a lot of plans - I LOVE them - but I love my family even more. When things get off-track, it's important that I check my disappointment - to remember my intentions were good, to remember the end goal - and to adjust my thoughts (plans!) accordingly.

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For example, I had something a bit more "hands on" sketched out for today but - with a very sick Little Bear who was up half the night - I knew my plan would have to be changed up a bit. A quiet read-aloud and a coloring page quickly printed off the internet would have to suffice. And tomorrow's "Irish Tea" may not happen as I originally thought either (my mum is also sick), so I'll simplify that day's plan, still keeping in mind the Feast and our family's intentions. Oh and Monday's sunrise prayer? The day after we hosted a large party AND lost an hour of sleep? Well, an early rising was simply NOT in the cards. (As you might imagine!) Instead, I thanked my loved ones for all their help and hard work and encouraged the children to do the same. (Who can you thank today for their help?) So the sunrise activity will be rescheduled on another day in the near future ... maybe even Easter Monday?

One good thing is I've kept that master outline to myself (tucked away on my clipboard) and I write each post-it out before bed ... so I've been able to tweak our plans daily. And if a day's proposed plan looks to be an ill-fit, I can simplify on the spot: Read a book from our liturgical bookshelf. Do something nice for somone else. Sit quietly for five minutes and think of what makes you grateful.

Admittedly, I put a lot of time and thought into those plans, and I tried to keep the activities simple and meaningful. But the point of our Lenten journey (and all of my "plans") was not to keep busy and pull off 40+ crafts and activities, but instead, to slow down and focus our energy on a purposeful Lent ... sharing mercy, developing generosity, accepting responsibility and increasing tolerance. Being mindful of how others live, recognizing their needs, and respecting our place in the world around us.

My hope - or end-goal, if you will - is that by lighting a spark of compassion, we're tending the fire of Christ in our hearts. And come Easter Sunday, we may shine all the brighter! Plan or no plan, that's what we're all aiming for, I believe.

Well, my friends, this post went on a bit longer than I planned, but I thank you, as always for reading. I'm grateful you spent a little of your day here at "my place!"

Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, and I will see you here again very soon!


HomeCrafts: Candles for Candlemas!

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Earlier this month, over at my Facebook page, I shared a picture of the candles we made for Candlemas, along with a promise to do a follow-up post at the blog with all the project information ... but it just occurred to me this morning, I never actually did that! Well, here I am now to share all the details - because I think many of you would enjoy this craft and also, I'd like to do it again myself. :)

Ok, here we go!

So ... I knew I wanted to make candles in early February (with the hope of having them blessed at Candlemas) and I knew I wanted to use natural beeswax, so I googled a little and found this post, written by Jill Winger at The Prairie Homestead. I added it to my Deep Winter Pinterest board and started gathering materials ...

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{Beeswax is so lovely, isn't it? We are so blessed by those industrious little bees!}

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I already had the wicks and beeswax on hand, having planned this as an Advent craft (that never came to be). I also bought a few tiny glass jars at the craft store ($1 each) and found an old coffee tin in the pantry (previously used for steaming brown bread).

First step:

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Add beeswax to the tin and set the tin in a simmering stockpot of water. The water should come about halfway up the can. (Too much water will tip the can.)

Slowly melt the wax ...

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{Keep an eye on it, but it didn't take more than 20 minutes or so.}

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Now, while the wax was melting, I hot glued the wicks to the bottom of the jars. Then, once the the wax was completely melted, I carefully poured it into the four ready jars ...

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(Using a kitchen mitt of course!)

I was pleased the wax filled all four jars! 

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I placed dowels on either side of the wicks to keep them straight as the wax cooled.

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Love how the wax went pale as it solidified!

I placed the candles up in the window and once the wax had fully cooled I trimmed the wicks.

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And that was that!

I must say, we were quite glad of these little candles when a few days later a storm knocked our power out!

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Now, I did add a bit of essential oil to the jar as the wax was added, but I don't think it added much scent. As I understand it, essential oils don't do well with high temps. I might fiddle with that a bit because I'd love to make some more of these candles with seasonal scents ... 

Also, (and I don't have a picture of this but wanted to mention) you can easily screw the lids on the candles and give them as gifts. Add some ribbon or twine around the jar and a pretty label on the top of the lid with your wish for a Merry Christmas, Happy Mother's Day, or Blessed Birthday! Etc.

I love it when a craft you're very keen to make works out just as you'd hoped ... and, even better, when the end result is something quite useful and meaningful. I will definitely be making these again (for myself and as gifts) and would love to experiment with adding herbs from my garden. My friends, have you made candles before at home? I'd love to hear about it if you have! Please leave me a note in the comment box below. :)

In the meanwhile, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by today! I hope your Monday is a good one, and I will 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 ...

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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:

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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 ...

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

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It's certainly a colorful box!

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

 

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

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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 ...

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And then looped them all together ...

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Even the youngest could do it!

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

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

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(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!


And so Lent begins ...

Lenten altar 7

Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope this post finds you well. :) I'd like to share some more pictures with you today, if I may ...

Pictured here is the fireplace mantel in our living room, and yesterday I cleared it off completely, dusted it a bit (ok, a lot), and took down the print hanging on the wall above. Here is where we'd set up our Lenten altar ...

Lenten altar 4

First, per Ash Wednesday tradition, we "buried" the Alleluia ... a word that disappears from all worship until Easter. This is something we've done in different ways through the years, but this year I just simply wrote the word on a strip of paper (using a gold Sharpie) and we placed it in a plain butterfly-shaped box. (Easter morning the box will be transformed - with gold paint and bright stickers! - and a beautiful banner will be found inside.)

Now, I wanted to keep this altar pretty sparse, but there are a few special objects here: the butterfly box mentioned above, a brass crucifix that was made by my great-grandfather, and two glass jars - one for collecting alms and one to hold our purple post-its as they are pulled off the cross. Hanging above the mantle is our grapevine cross ... 

Lenten altar 10

And just below is a plain white pillar candle standing in a bowl filled with soil and blessed palm ash. To be honest, we were out of potting soil so that last bit has to wait for a weekend trip to the nursery. The candle will be left unlit and plain until Easter, and the cross will slowly come to life through the coming weeks. (I will secretly add smalls sprigs of greenery as we walk our journey through Lent. On Easter it will be blooming with fresh flowers and the "Alleluia" will be hung here as well.)

Just below the mantel I hung our Stations of the Cross collection.

Lenten altar 1

I used to keep these 4x6 cards in a small purple binder, but I wanted to have the images more visible this year. I decided to hang them along the mantel, secured with clothespins to a length of twine. (I'm hoping to make some simple wooden shrines so they can be used for an outdoor "Way of the Cross" on Good Friday.) 

Lenten altar 5

Lenten altar 2

My friends, as always I thank you so much for stopping by and if you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. How is your Lent going so far? (All of two days in!) How about your February? Are you trying something new this year? Reading something new? Is this a season you embrace or endure? I think some years it's one or the other - or perhaps a little of both. I'd love to pray for your intentions ...

I will be back again before long - because I always have things to talk about! And more pictures to share, too. But for now, I wish you all a pleasant evening and hope to see you 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. 💜

 Mardi gras 1

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.

Mardi gras 5

(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.

Mardi gras 9

:)

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 Lenten Countdown: The (Printable) Daily Activities

Purple post its

Happy Monday, my friends! We have another snowstorm here - near blizzard conditions, I hear - but we're hunkering down and hoping the power holds! Wherever you are I hope you are keeping well - and warm. :)

So here at last is a follow-up to Friday's post, a closer look at the purple post-its themselves. As I described here, each note will offer a simple suggestion - a way of living Lent together as a family. I tried to come up with ideas that would be meaningful but still manageable - things that would resonate with my children but not overwhelm them. (Or me!)

The focus of Lent is threefold - to fast, to give alms and to pray - so I included opportunities for these actions throughout the season. Inspired by the words and actions of Pope Francis, I also tried to weave in ways for for us to work together on the concepts of forgiveness, awareness, (less) consumerism and waste, and care for creation.

Now, as I mentioned before, the activities are quite particular to my own family, so they may or may not be something that would appeal to you and yours … but in the spirit of sharing, here they are:

Post-Its with Purpose: Our Lenten Countdown

(Since it appears the links don't show up in the PDF, I am adding the countdown text at the bottom of this post. Sorry for any confusion!)

I am happy if something here is helpful to you, and you are welcome to print my notes out if you wish. It may look like "a lot" when you open it up, but remember - the italicized dark purple text is what I’m writing on the actual post-it for the children to read. It's just a brief sentence or two. The text in violet is for me ~ my own notes and reminders for that day. You know me - when I'm planning something, I get wordy. :)

Well, Ash Wednesday arrives in two days, and I'm glad to feel a little more prepared for Lent, knowing I have this plan to follow with the children. I aim to review my notes each Thursday and see what will be happening in the week ahead. If need be, I can even tweak the post-its as we go along. Some of the activities will be pushing things a bit with our special needs son - he's not a fan of giving things up or doing extra chores! - but it's important to me that he live Lent along with us, in his own way. I tried to come up with activities that would work around (or perhaps with) his challenges and inspire him to do his best ... for those he loves, for God and for himself!

Ok, that is all for now, my friends! I missed Downton last night because my husband was watching the Superbowl, and I decided to watch (listen) along with him. Lol. I do plan to catch up tonight and post a recap tomorrow ... provided our power holds! I also have a lovely Book Party post in queue and hope to have that up mid-week.

So for now, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by! I wish you all a pleasant Monday and will see you here again very soon ...

❤ Post-Its with Purpose: Our Lenten Countdown ❤

 

Throughout each week there will be opportunities to:

 

PRAY ~ for someone, about something, or perhaps learn a new prayer

GIVE ~ monies (by reducing our wastefulness/consumerism), extra help and attention for those who need it

FAST ~ from meat/certain foods, from negative behaviors

OBSERVE ~ Faith traditions at home

 

Below is my outline for the 40 days of Lent, and as I mentioned before, the activities are quite particular to my own family, so they may or may not be something that would appeal to you and your children … but in the spirit of sharing, here they are! I am happy if something here is helpful to you, and you are welcome to print this out if you wish. The italicized dark purple text is what I’m actually writing on the post-it for the children to read - just a sentence or two. The text in violet is for me ~ my own notes and reminders for that day.

 2/10 “No meat today! Let’s set up our Lenten altar.” On Ash Wednesday we’ll bury the “Alleluia” (golden letters) in a butterfly-shaped box. This will rest on our mantel throughout Lent. We’ll also burn last year’s palms (as we've done before) and sprinkle ashes over a pot of soil in which stands a plain white candle. Set pot on Lenten altar (library mantel).

2/11 “Today we’ll set up a donation box in the foyer.” Our Lady of Lourdes. All help set up our family donation box to be kept in the foyer throughout Lent. Decorate with words and symbols of love.

2/12 “No meat or dessert today! Let’s make treats for the hungry birds, and watch a family movie together.” As “Friends of Francis,” our mission is to care for creation. We’ll make suet treats - a valentine for the birds! Tonight is family movie night: The Song of Bernadette.

2/13 “Gather donations for parish pet drive. Make hearts for St. Valentine’s Branch.”  On heart shaped doilies, we’ll each write things we love about one another. No peeking! Mom will gather the hearts and tomorrow morning they’ll be hanging from a pretty branch on the breakfast table.

 

Sunday, 2/14: At our family meeting, we’ll talk about awareness and consumerism. Instead of just giving money to charity, what if we also worked on buying less and wasting less? How can we respect our resources? Let’s learn about how children live all over the world. Some have much less than we do! Measure this week’s grocery bill against the average - any saved money goes in the alms jar. 

 2/15 “Help Mom clean out refrigerator. How much food waste did we find?” Create a pile of food that has gone by and tally the waste dollars. Later in the day I’ll introduce the idea of a “peace corner” where we’ll spend time learning how children live all over the world. Read Let There Be Llamas!

2/16 “Help Dad set up a compost pail for the kitchen.” Brainstorm ways to waste less food. Set up our peace board in library corner - let the boys decorate with flag stickers and add first prayer cards (made from plain index cards). As we find people and situations to pray for, we’ll decorate a card to post on our board.

2/17 “Use Amazon gift cards to buy toys to donate.” Go online and buy items for the community toy drive at the first of the month. (Use some of their Amazon Christmas gift money to do this.) While online, we’ll watch the Pope’s video, Care for Creation. Look through Children Just Like Me. Ask: Where would you live if  you could live anywhere in the world? Why?

2/18 “Choose a toy or book to add to the donation box today.” Encourage the children to choose at least one item each. Look through A Life Like Mine. What do we need to live safely and happily everyday? Make a list for our peace corner. Pray that all children, everywhere, have those things.

2/19 “No meat today! Help Mom launder clothing to donate.” Work together to clean the clothes we’re donating - fold them and place in donation box. Read What We Wear: Dressing Up around the World.

2/20 “Help Mom food shop today.” Encourage the boys to skip the snacks and processed foods. Compare food costs. How do we save when we’re careful to buy only what we need? (Money, excess trash, extra sugars and fats we don’t need.) Read What the World Eats.

 

Sunday, February 21st: At our family meeting, we’ll talk about forgiveness and examining our conscience. What might you have done that you are sorry for? (Inner thoughts.) Give this some thought this week. Can you ask for forgiveness - from the person you sinned against, from God, from yourself? Can you forgive someone who has wronged you? What does that do for your heart to let go of that hurt? Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

2/22 “No complaining today!” Chair of St. Peter. Stop yourself before complaining - if the urge arises, stop and write one thing you are grateful for on the white board. How many blessings came up today? (If time and interest, make a holy-spirit stained glass and/or learn about St. Peter's Basilica.)

2/23 “Forgive someone today.” This could be something that happens today or something that’s happened in the past -  tell them it’s ok and that you forgive them - and then let it go. Also, go to store with Mom to purchase diapers for community drive. Add to donations box.

2/24 “Ask for forgiveness today.” Think of something you wish you’d done better, or something you wish you hadn’t done. Apologize - to the person you wronged and/or to God and know you will do better. Forgive yourself for things you wish you could change. Promise to work on these things and feel good inside that you’re doing something positive!

2/25 “Do something for your brothers today.” Offer suggestions: neaten desks, make beds, fold laundry, clear dishes, clean lunch bag, play with the little one, let someone use your computer, make a welcome home sign for L. Read Brothers and offer thanks to God for each other.

15. 2/26 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” We’ll gather in the library to look at the stations I’ve set up along the Lenten mantel. (Pinned to burlap garland.) First we’ll talk about what these pictures portray … ask how Jesus may have felt and what he might have needed? How would we have helped him if we could? What about now?

2/27 “Make pretzels with Mom. Family movie night!” Talk about why pretzels are a Lenten tradition as well as a wholesome, homemade snack. What other healthy snacks can we make instead of buy? Read Brother Giovanni's Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born. Watch The Bells of St. Mary's tonight.

 

Sunday, February 28th: At our family meeting we’ll talk about our local community (neighborhood, parish, family). How can we help those that live around us? How can we contribute to our community? Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

2/29 “Bring cookies to our elderly neighbors.” Include a note with our phone numbers in case they ever need us. Offer to help with spring yard work. At home, start our "pink roses" for Sunday.

3/1 “Take a clean up-walk through the neighborhood.” Walk the neighborhood and clean up trash that might have blown about. Bring trash bins back up driveways for neighbors. (Help mom make daffodil pins for St. David’s Day - or perhaps sit and color with Mom while she works.)

3/2 “Make a card for someone who needs cheering up.” Talk about who we know that might miss us or feel lonely sometimes. Make cards at home (say a prayer over each), then help Mom mail them. Be polite and cheerful with the folks at the village post office. How many smiles can we offer?

3/3 “Buy pajamas for library drive.” Go to store and buy pajamas for children whose families  can’t afford new clothing. What does homeless mean? Let’s add to our peace board today and give thanks for the comforts we enjoy in our own home.

3/4 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” After praying the stations, read aloud from our parish bulletin and talk about the groups that need assistance. Where can we offer out time/talent/treasure? Tonight at supper read aloud from our local paper and do the same. Where is help needed? How can we pitch in?

3/5 “Think about this person and what they need.” Each person receives a name and is encouraged to think about what that person might need (physically, spiritually), then choose a way to help. Keep it to yourself, but do what you can as you can. Read One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference.

 

Sunday, March 6th: Today is Rose Sunday! We will have a special family brunch after Mass. Nana's delicious egg custard will be served. Today let’s talk about our prayer habits and how we can make room for prayer in our life. Ask the grandparents about their favorite prayers. Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

3/7 “Learn a new prayer this week.” Each of us chooses a new prayer (have suggestions ready) to learn by heart this week, with the goal of sharing at next Sunday’s family dinner. Write them out on index cards.

3/8 “Pray for people who are sick and their caregivers.” St. John of God, patron of hospitals, nurses and the sick. Do we know anyone who is sick or recovering in some way? Do we know people who care for someone in need? These folks need special prayers!

3/9 “Write a letter to Jesus.” Set the table with paper, colored pens and stickers, and let’s write a letter to Jesus together. This can be about anything - giving thanks, saying hi, telling him a bit about ourselves. Attend Adoration in the evening (older boys and Mom).

3/10 “Fast from electronics tonight.” After supper, turn off all tech devices - and read, talk, sing - or just visit with each other. How are the prayers coming along?

3/11 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” Look in our donations box - what can we add? Look at our local food pantry’s list online and add items to our Saturday shopping list.

3/12 “Do something nice for someone today in secret.” Shhhh! Encourage the children to engage in a conspiracy of kindness today. Offer quiet suggestions.

 

Sunday, March 13th: Daylight Savings Begins! Isn’t light wonderful? How is Christ a Light in our lives? Let’s talk about Easter Sunday - how can each of us pitch in and prepare? (If possible, have children present their memorized prayers.) Mention early rising time tomorrow - 6:30 a.m. Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

3/14 “Let’s have a sunrise prayer this morning.” Sun rises at 6:56 a.m. so we’ll gather shortly before in the family room - which will be fairly dark. As sunrise approaches, I’ll open a window so we can listen. We’ll watch the sun rise behind the trees and the light grow … I’ll read a little prayer thanking God for our new day. (If it’s mild enough, we may even walk outside.)

3/15 “Today we’ll drink only water.” I’ll keep a pitcher in the fridge and we’ll focus on the blessing of fresh, clean water at our disposal Read One Well: The Story of Water on Earth.

3/16 “Today we’ll prepare for St. Patrick’s Day.” The boys will work on a shamrock craft (how does it represent the Holy trinity?) and help Mom make scones for tomorrow.

3/17 “Let’s learn about our family today.” St. Patrick, patron of Ireland. Today we’ll have an Irish tea for Nana (scones, tea) and talk about our family history. Where in Ireland did our ancestors live? (Have a map ready.) Read Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland. Irish supper tonight!

3/18 “Let’s surprise Dad with a big thank-you!” Fathers work so hard for their families! Make a big sign thanking Dad for working so hard for us. Surprise him with a text picture of the boys holding up the sign. (Also no meat, stations in the afternoon.)

3/19 “Help Dad with tasks around the yard today.” St. Joseph, patron of workers and fathers. We’ll have a simple St. Joseph’s supper tonight. Read Song of the Swallows.

 

Sunday, March 20th: It’s Palm Sunday ~ Holy Week begins! Also, it is the first day of Spring! Today we’ll bless our garden patch with a little of our Lenten soil (prepared on Ash Wednesday). The rest of the soil will be planted with grass seed. If the day is nice we’ll have a little procession around the property. Look for pussy willows by the creek. (English “palms.”) Read The Colt and the King. Also, look at grocery bill for savings to be deposited in alms jar.

 

3/21 “Today we spring clean: tables and chairs!” The first three days of Holy Week are spent preparing the house for Easter. We will use a natural cleaner to wash the dining and kitchen tables as well as all the chairs. If it’s a nice day, the windows will be open to allow in fresh air. Mama will launder the linens for Easter dinner. Read The Donkey's Easter Tale.

3/22 “Today we spring clean: windows and doorways!” Spring cleaning continues … note how brightly the sun shines through the clean windows. How much easier it is to let in that light when our windows are clean! (symbolism) Decorate doorways for spring. Read Petook: An Easter Story.

3/23 “Today we spring clean: floors and rugs!” Help mop and vacuum. It is also Spy Wednesday so we will have “silver dollar” pancakes for dinner. Read The Tale of the Three Trees.

3/24 “Create paschal candle today.” Decorate the plain pillar standing in soil pot on mantel. Eat dinner by candlelight tonight, using our baptismal candles. At the end of the meal, say a prayer together, and blow out candles. Sit in darkness for a few moments.

3/25 “No meat today! Pray the stations together.” It’s Good Friday, so this will be a quiet day, close to home. Hot cross buns for breakfast, and let’s walk the stations outdoors. (I will have this set up beforehand.) Read The Jesus Garden: An Easter Legend.

3/26 “Today we’ll take a Praise Walk.” It’s Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent! Today we’ll color eggs and bake for tomorrow’s feast! But we’ll take time to walk through the spring woods and look for signs of life, marveling at the wold God has made for us. Tonight we’ll light our Paschal candle from the Easter Vigil fire.

 

ALLELUIA! HE IS RISEN!


Happy St. Brigid's Day!

Brigid 6

Now, I've been Catholic my whole life and blogging about liturgical crafts for nearly 10 years ... but this was my first attempt ever at making a Brigid's cross! Mine's a humble creation for sure, but I'm quite glad I made it! I had help, of course ... and I'll explain more below. :)

But first ~ blessings to all on this lovely first day of February! I don't know about you, but today was very un-February here in New England: the sun was bright and the temperature soared to 60°! Mid-morning, as we scuffled around outside (because who can stay inside on a morning like this?), I asked the boys to help me find something that was somewhat like "straw" on our property ...

Brigid 2

So we came across this ornamental grass which I thought might work ... and as I cut several stalks, the boys ran off to do other things. Like swing and throw rocks in the puddles and run down the driveway and be neighborly to the horses next door. It was SO nice to get out in the yard!

Brigid 3

A while back I googled the directions for making a Brigid's cross, and though they looked a bit like Greek to me, I thought I might try anyway. So I started by clipping the leaves and trimming the stalks to a similar length (roundabouts 10-12 inches) and then soaked them in a shallow tub of water for about 30 minutes. (I used the lid of a storage bin for this because bending the stalks would break them.)

Brigid 4

Next, I let the stalks dry for a bit on some paper towels. Meanwhile, the boys were digging into lunch ...

Brigid 5

... while I worked at the counter. Archie was NOT letting me (and that grass) out of his sight!

I started weaving the stalks as shown in the graphic and oh my gosh, it actually worked! Well, kind of. It was a bit messy and I used binder clamps and paper clips as extra "hands," but at the end it did look like the picture! Or, close enough. Most of all, I really liked that we used "greenery" from our own backyard and that boys running outside and mum working on a craft became part of the fabric of our day. :)

Brigid 7

I tied the cross into our grapevine, heart-shaped wreath which is hanging on our front door - and I think it looks nice here! Originally I was going to use a blue ribbon to write out Brigid's blessing (embellished with stars, a la Brigid's Cloak) but I had no blue ribbon on hand, so instead, I used some vibrant star garland to add some color - it kind of makes me think of Mardi Gras. :)

Tonight we're having deconstructed shepherd(ess) pies - which his to say, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas. Oatcakes may happen if I get my act together but there WILL be Irish apple cake made on Friday's baking day!

Here are some supplies for tomorrow's project ...

Brigid 1

We'll be making candles for Candlemas. :)

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


Preparing for Lent ...

It's on my agenda this weekend to finalize my thoughts, and our plans, for the upcoming season of Lent ... and as I worked out some initial ideas last night, I tried out a potential countdown ...

Would 40 purple post-its fit on the kitchen door?

Purple lenten cross

Well, yes they would - with a little shuffling. And this project, as you can imagine, attracted a fair bit of attention from the family ... raised eyebrows from Bill and the older boys, a good deal of excitement from the younger two ...

Purple lenten cross 2

Well, excitement turned into curiosity for Earlybird (How many post-its tall am I?) and pouting for Little Bear (What do you mean I can't tear all these papers off the door?). ;) So I'm still working out all the details, but I think this will work nicely ... if I can keep the 2 year old's fingers busy elsewhere!

Enjoy your weekend, my friends! Thank you so much for all the lovely book thoughts and pics - Our Book Party will kick off very soon!


Advent Crafts: Pretty Pebbles, Sparkly Stars ...

Happy Weekend, my friends! I have two quick crafts to share today!

Throughout Advent we are reveling in the beauty of creation, and how the whole wondrous world awaits the birth of its King. This week our focus was "earth and sky." We have been reading books and working on crafts with a focus on stars, shells, rocks and the returning sun. Today's activities included taking the boys outside after lunch to gather branches for St. Barbara's Day (an old fashioned, annual tradition) and gathering "rocks" for an afternoon craft ...

Advent grotto 2

"Daddy said it was ok to harvest pebbles from the driveway ... "

Advent grotto 3

Little Bear's favorite toy of the moment - this crazy little grabber thing. No idea where it came from but he loves to use it to pick things up and move them around. It came in very handy for all that gravel!

Advent grotto 19

So many colors and sizes and shapes! Cool to the touch and such gritty, crunchy sounds!

While Bill assisted Little Bear in rock retrieval, Earlybird and I snipped some forsythia branches ...

Advent grotto 4

Advent grotto 7

 Per St. Barbara's Day tradition, these should be blooming by Christmas ... :)

Advent grotto 6

Meanwhile, Little Bear explored a very large rock in our yard - his favorite digging spot - and the soft, pretty moss growing along our stone walls. We have lots of rocks in our yard - New England soil is very rocky!

Back inside, while the gravel was soaking (removing dirt and debris), the boys decorated some popsicle stick stars I had made up the day before ...

Advent grotto 8

Advent grotto 14

Advent grotto 9

I used a hot glue gun to form the star shapes and attached colorful yarn loops to the top. I think the shiny rainbow-colored stickers will look very pretty against the lights on the tree!

Now, here's the base for the grotto: a $1 frame I bought at the craft store.

Advent grotto 10

The little wooden stand I had on hand, but I also got that at the craft store some time ago, for just a few dollars.

Advent grotto rocks

Pretty pebbles drying on a dishcloth ... such an array!

As the rocks were drying and the kids were busy with stickers, I did a quick internet search for an image of the Holy Family ...

  Advent grotto 12

I loved the colors and style of this one. I printed it out on paper and then used a simple tacky glue to adhere it to the center of the frame.

Here's my work station on the kitchen island ...

Advent grotto 13 (1)

Clean and dry rocks, frame and glue gun.

Advent grotto 15

Now, I won't lie ... this did take some time and patience. But I found it very satisfying ... I kind of felt like a stone mason! Children who are old enough to handle a low-temp glue gun could do this craft on their own (what a nice activity for a dark afternoon), but neither of my younger boys fits that bill. And my 16yo was sick with a cold, so he was out of the loop ... and of course the 20 yo is off at college, preparing for exams! He'll be pressed into craft service once he's home later this month. ;)

Here is the grotto, finished at last:

Advent grotto 16

I LOVE how the candlelight reflects on the stones. :)

Advent grotto 1

I think this would make a nice gift, but I'm loving it on my desk windowsill!

There is also a rope attached to the back of the frame and it does seem strong enough for hanging. (The rocks weigh down the wooden frame a good deal.) But I like this arrangement and I could see making this with all kinds of images. I'm already thinking of one with St. Francis for our nature shelf ...

So over the weekend we have a pretty seashell ornament to make and a couple more star ornaments if time allows. Next week we'll be admiring the plants and trees of creation and gathering "Christmas greenery" which will add to our craft stash considerably! (Dried fruit, spices, evergreens, holiday flowers and berries, etc.)

Before I go, here are the books in our Advent basket this week. Some we owned and several I requested ahead from the library ...

The Star Child

Three Pebbles and a Song

The Christmas Star

Star Mother's Youngest Child

Only a Star

The Tiny Star

This is the Star

Lucia and the Light

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

**

 Well my friends, I'll be off for now. It's Saturday morning here and all my troops are up and about. Time to get the day rolling! But as always, thanks so much for stopping by ...

I will see you here again very soon!


Our Advent Garden: A Christmas Countdown!

Advent calendar 19

"Winter is dark, yet each tiny spark, brightens the way, to Christmas Day ... " ~ H. St. John

Two of my goals for Advent this year: keep things simple (yet meaningful), and weave nature into our days where we can. Happily, our 2015 Advent "calendar" meets both of these goals!

Every December I make a Christmas countdown of some sort for the boys. Usually there is a lot of busy-ness involved and the calendar itself is made of paper, involving pockets or post-its or tags of one kind or another. I love coming up with the daily activities but this year I'm scaling back on "scheduled" ideas and letting things just happen as time, energy and inspiration allows. A countdown, however, is always a must! It helps my special needs son practice patience and it adds to the overall atmosphere of anticipation in our Advent home.

So, as I jotted down nature notes for the coming weeks, inspiration struck! I love the Waldorf tradition of an Advent "spiral garden," and I kept returning to the idea of a hidden creche in the woods ...

Creche in the woods 1

(Remember this scene in Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep? This has been on my to-do list for years!)

So I decided to combine these two ideas, and this is what I came up with ...

Advent One 9

I had Bill move an old round patio table in front of the bird feeders, in plain view of the kitchen nook window. (I could have placed this project far out in our woods, but practically speaking, it will be easier to get the kids about as far as the patio on a cold, wet or snowy afternoon.)

He also gathered some cedar branches which I laid out in a circle along the edge of the table. 

Advent calendar underway

(We have all kinds of evergreens in our yard, but the cedars have soft, feathery branches - a little easier to shape and softer on little hands.)

Next I gathered 24 rocks ... and my original idea was to have the boys find suitable rocks through the month of November (similar size, flattish shape) but since we didn't have much success in that endeavor, I bought two bags of river rocks at the craft store. I think they were about $4 a bag. I spaced them out on the table, nestling them into the cedar boughs ...

Advent calendar 1

I also purchased an outdoor (led), white pillar candle for the center of the table. I stood it on a red wooden heart in the very center of the table. This candle automatically turns on each day around 3 p.m. (just as it's getting dark) and shuts off around 8 p.m. (about the time the younger boys go to bed). It "burns" for 500 hours total, so that's plenty of light to get us through Advent!

Advent calendar 5

We can see the candle from the house and it's just magical! That one lonely light shining brightly through the darkness is powerful. I haven't said much about it so far ... I'm just letting the boys absorb the image ... and wonder.

Advent calendar 21

:)

At the four "corners" of the table, I placed a bright red apple (more on those in a minute) ...

Advent calendar 6

... and on each rock there is a gold star and a number.

Advent calendar 11

Underneath each rock is a word, written in black Sharpie.

Advent One 19

So each day through Advent, the boys will turn over one rock and find a word. I've set that daily activity for when the candle comes on. This gives us a rhythm to follow, and it's such a nice time of day when the sunlight dims and the world settles down. There's that air of transition and expectancy ...

Oh, look! It's getting dark and the candle is lit! Let's go check today's rock!

(Or at least this is how I imagine it happening.)

By the time we get to the last rock on December 24th, a special message will be revealed:

"And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.'" (Luke 2:10)

Now back to those apples! On each Sunday, I will prepare an apple to hold a beeswax tea light candle, and it will be lit, while we gather 'round ...

Advent One 11 (1)

... and say a simple prayer for the week ahead, focusing on hope (11/30), peace (12/6), joy (12/13), and love (12/20).

(Keeping the apples intact until their particular Sunday should, hopefully, keep them fresh longer - and make them less enticing to the birds and critters who visit our patio throughout the day.)

 

On Christmas eve, hovering over the white candle, a shining star will have appeared ...

Advent calendar 10 (1)

See the shepherd's hook above the candle? We'll hang a star we've made and painted with glow-in-the-dark paint/glitter. A homemade Star of Bethlehem!

Come Christmas morning, in place of the candle, there will be a lovely surprise ..

Can you guess?

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Yes, there will be a small homemade creche in the center of the table! And if it's not quite "in the woods," it will be very close! Now, I'm sure we'll be up VERY early Christmas morning, so it will still be somewhat dark outside. We'll lead the boys out with candles (LED, natch) to discover the first and best gift of the year!

Of course, there will still be some hands-on activities throughout the month of December. I have assigned a theme to each week and I have some books, a little music and a few craft ideas in mind - and most of what we make will be a gift to give or a decoration for our tree. But I will have an outline of these themes and resources in a following post ... I have kept you here long enough for today!

I hope you enjoyed seeing how we put together our Advent Garden/Wreath/Calendar this year! It's something new and fun for my family and I love how it brings us outside each day ... even when the weather is so very December. It reminds us, in a very visual way, that ... though our days may be dark, the Light IS coming ... He gets a little closer every day.

:)

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