Magic of Nature Feed

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."

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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."

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

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"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

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

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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!


A Happy Halloween Recap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

O and teal pumpkin 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, how I love those roses ... boo!🕷 

And how about this cool bottle of wine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Flashlights inside for safety's sake.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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🎃

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

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

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

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"Where are all the kids?"

 And then time at last to head out ...

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

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

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

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

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

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


Little Bear's First Autumn Hike 💛

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Happy Tuesday, my friends - and Happy St. Luke's Day! Are you having a "little summer" where you live? Despite a damp and gray start, it's going to be unseasonably warm here today - near 80°! Like yesterday was, and tomorrow promises to be ... and I'm just loving this opportunity to get out and enjoy the amazing Autumn all around us. :)

So I'd like to share some of my photos from yesterday, when Little Bear went on his very first Homeschool Hike! It's not his first hike of course - he's enjoyed a few family hikes in the past, with a vantage point from the back-carrier, peeking over his Daddy's shoulder! - but this time it was "feet on the ground" as we joined our homeschool group's "under-eight" crowd in the woods. This was LB's first "solo" homeschool adventure - something just for him and Mama!

I hope you enjoy these pics ... more thoughts about little guys and early learning at the end. :)

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What a glorious day this was! A real "autumn adventure" in the crunchy, muddy, light-filled woods!

I had a strong sense of deja vu, watching my Little Bear - who is SUCH a doppleganger for Bookworm at this age - jump right in and explore with "his kids" (as he calls them, lol). Homeschooling is all about working with multi-ages (and kids learning to befriend other kids no matter their differences - age-level or otherwise) but I'm grateful my support group has some activities just for the young ones. Little Bear does plenty with his older siblings - tagging along when he thinks he's leading the way - but I'm looking forward to more times like this that will be just ours to experience together. Mama and her littlest bear. <3

I've been homeschooling for nearly 17 years, but this time around, "preschool" feels new again. As much as he looks like his older brothers, Little Bear's very much his own unique person - an extrovert and quite strong-willed, endlessly curious, always chatty and VERY active! With experience (if not quite wisdom) behind me, this time around I feel much more relaxed. I'm remembering things that worked with my older boys and the many lessons learned - most of all by Mama! Relax, relish and understand that there is NO RUSH. Do not forfeit the freedom of these early years for unnecessary structure and too many expectations. All the things that need to happen will happen ... when they are meant to. In the meantime, I'm going to set up a rhythm of gentle learning experiences along with daily doses of fresh air, weekly outings, quiet times at home, crafty creating, cooking together, gardening and care-taking, singing and humming along to music, opportunities to practice kindness and develop good habits. As I said in an earlier post:

"If I've established an atmosphere that promotes learning, they will learn. If I've encouraged an attitude of curiosity they'll be curious. If I've shared my own joy and wonder at the world, then the world will be a source of joy and wonder for my children. If I can check boxes off in my planner I'll be thrilled, but there is room to see where my children might lead me, too."

 💛

More on our early learning plans (themes, organization, creating a haven of love and learning) in a future post, but for now I'll let you all go. I know I promised last time that my next post would be my "desk tour" but I just had to share this day with you all. I hope you enjoyed our autumn adventure! Desk pics to come soon!

Enjoy this blessed Tuesday, my friends ... see you here again very soon!


Reds and Greens and Orange and Blue ...🍂

(And yellows and browns and black!)

Happy Friday, my friends! Here's a little bit of Autumn from my home & garden to yours ... 💛

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Autumn is truly settled in around here as you can see - inside and out! The weather has been just glorious, as it tends to be in New England at this time of year: brisk, bright and OH the colors! Although ... we are expecting a brief return of summery weather this week - 80s even! - but since St. Luke's Day is this Tuesday, I'm not one bit surprised. ;)

Why you might wonder? Well, have you ever heard of St. Luke's Little SummerAccording to The Old Farmer's Almanac ...

Lovely, summerlike days that occur around October 18 are called St. Luke’s Little Summer in honor of the saint’s feast day. In olden days, St. Luke’s Day did not receive as much attention in the secular world as St. John’s Day (June 24) and Michaelmas (September 29), so to keep from being forgotten, St. Luke presented us with some golden days to cherish before the coming of winter, or so the story goes. Some folks call this Indian Summer, but that officially occurs between November 11 and November 20.


This brief warmup may be unseasonable, but it will be nice ... because any day we can throw open our windows and spend time outside comfortably is a gift. Dark and gray days are coming, I am ever aware! I can feel my internal clock slowing down, taking its cue from the world around me. The crickets are still chirping but more slowly, and the breeze is a noisy rustle as crisp leaves shake from their branches and head for the ground. I don't mind this slowing down though - in fact, I relish it. It's all part of life's rhythm and, after all, we humans are part of that great cycle, even if we can ignore it with all our modern conveniences! I feel it's a good thing to embrace the season's changes ... I've been turning more of my attention to the inside of our home (and the inside of my head), concentrating on domestic comforts and inner lights - cooking, reading, writing, planning, nesting ... preparing my family for the long winter ahead.

Anyway, speaking of domestic appreciation, here's my dinner menu for the coming week. It's been way too long since I've shared this (and to be honest, it's been too long since I've been consistent with meal planning)!

S - (Full Hunter's Moon) Hunter's Stew (A chicken-sausage/sundried tomato dish served with rice - one of Bill's specialities!)

M - (Practice night) Baked ziti, meatballs, garlic bread, salad

T - (St. Luke's Day) - Burgers on the grill, corn-on-the-cob, farmstand salad, fries

W - (It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV tonight!) - grilled cheese with tomatoes and ham, chicken soup, apple-pumpkin dump cake & steamed almond milk w/spiced pumpkin marshmallows

T - meatloaf, roasted multi-color carrots, stir-fried broccoli & whole grain rice

F - (Practice night & Bookworm home for the weekend!) - crescent dogs, baked beans & brown bread, tater tots

S - (Family Anniversary Lunch) - leftovers since we'll be eating a big lunch!

Well I guess I'd best wrap up now, as this post is getting rather long ... but as always I thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend and would love to hear how your autumn is unfolding if you have a chance. In an upcoming post (hopefully sometime this week) I will give you a tour of my new desk and chat a little about how I'm keeping organized these days. I am also working every moment I get on the next set of seasonal planning sheets. I'm hoping to have Late Autumn pages available to you well before the end of the month!

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

p.s. Don't forget to watch that moon rise tonight! 🌝


A Craft to Celebrate the Summer Sun!

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Hello everyone, and Happy Wednesday! 

I wanted to share a project I worked on yesterday, in celebration of the Summer Solstice and all the plentiful sunshine we've been enjoying here in New England. But I can't take credit for this idea ... I found bits and pieces of it on Pinterest while filling up my Late Spring Planning Board. (Gosh, I love Pinterest. What did we ever do before Pinterest?!)

Now, as I've mentioned before, I like to assign seasonal themes to each week of the year. This gives me a chance to weave some seasonal awareness into our busy family life ... because otherwise time just flies by and I find myself thinking, where on earth did that season go? It's all too easy to miss out on the little joys that make each season so special! So this week we are taking note of the Summer Solstice and the brilliant Summer sun. Working off a brainstorm list and an established weekly rhythm, I have activities planned for nature, crafts, food, reading, learning and family togetherness. Some of the ideas will appeal to the younger boys and some will hopefully be enjoyed by us all ...

And some ideas are meant just for me! :)

For example, yesterday I made a decoration for our bright and shiny kitchen window where we all gather to eat and watch the wildlife in our yard. I could have involved the boys but they were busy and content to just observe and take comfort in watching mama work quietly while they went about their day. That said, it's really a very easy project and definitely doable with children of all ages. Materials include branches (one big and several smaller, similarly sized), colorful yarn and embroidery thread, a glue gun and oranges.

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(Not to say I didn't have some help ...)

On Monday (nature day), Little Bear helped me gather branches from the yard. We had some stormy weather the other night and it brought down a lot of twigs and branches. LB loves nothing better than driving that wheelbarrow around our yard, picking up leaves and sticks and rocks and whatnot. The ones we found came from our favorite oak tree that lines the drive, and some of the branches will be used in a "bonfire" (fire pit) later this week, while several were deemed perfect for my craft.

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On Tuesday morning, I sliced up an orange and placed those slices on a cookie sheet fitted with a cooling rack. The sheet went into a 200° oven for 2-3 hours. Once the orange slices (now dry) were cool, I threaded them onto golden embroidery floss and set them aside. Meanwhile, I took the largest branch we found and hung it in the window (by loops of yarn attached to the ends of the branch and small hooks hung just inside the window frame). I had the older (taller than me!) boys help me hang the orange slices from that branch ...

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I love how they catch the light and look like little suns themselves!

 Later in the afternoon, while the younger boys played nearby, I made up a few God's Eyes, a craft which has always reminded me of the sun, with its colorful center and radiating arms. From what I understand, a God's Eye (or, Ojo de Dios) is of Mexican origin and is made as a blessing, often for children. I like to make them for the Christmas tree, roundabouts the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and though I've previously made them using popsicle sticks, this time out I chose to use natural twigs. I formed the twigs into cross shapes, attaching them at the center with my glue gun and then wove my designs in sunny-colored yarn. There are many directions to be found online for making this craft - and while I'm not skilled in fiber craft, this is so simple and satisfying!

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Finally, I attached the three God's Eyes to the branch and our Summer Window was set ...

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This window faces south so it gets plenty of light ... I love how this looks here!

Today, Wednesday (modeling day), we are making a salt-dough sun plaque for the garden. Or I should say we might ... if we have time! It's also Bookworm's (21st!) birthday so there's a lot going on, including a special dinner for the birthday boy! If we don't get to making our sun shape today, we'll try to work on it tomorrow ... 

{It's always good to make plans and follow a rhythm, but as in all things, flexibility is key!}

Before I go, here are some of the books we're reading this week:

Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven

The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow

Summer by Gerda Muller

The Longest Day by Wendy Pfeffer

The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson

It's a lovely week - the Solstice, the Full Strawberry Moon, Bookworm's birthday and Midsummer Eve/Day - aka, the Nativity of St. John. So many things are blooming in our yard - I gathered a bunch of flowers to dry over my kitchen sink for future crafts ...

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🌞

Well my friends, thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you are all doing well and that your week is being kind to you. Happy Summer to all and see you here again very soon ...


Winter Weekend: Warmth & Wonder

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Happy Weekend, everyone!

Now, you may have heard about the gigantic blizzard that is hitting certain parts of our country - parts that aren't used to this kind of thing! I do hope everyone who is in the storm's path is staying safe and warm. We're only getting a couple of inches overnight here in New England, though the winds will be high. Remember, stay home and "weather the weather" as best you can! It's the safest way ... and enjoy all that snow! :)

So I'm just popping in quickly this morning to share a few photos and say "hi." Above you see my cheerful mug which is holding a gallon or so of hot tea - sitting on top of two things that came in the mail yesterday which made me so very happy: my Isabella catalog and Green Parent magazine. I have a lot on my "to-do" list this weekend, but I will be making time for perusing these two publications at some point! (Over a giant cup of tea, of course.)

And how about a slice of this, too ... ?

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Dark and spicy gingerbread - a result of our Friday baking. A Trader Joes mix, easy-peasy to make with the kids, and it made the house smell amazing! (Even better with a dollop of freshly whipped cream ...)

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And this sweet little book is one of Little Bear's favorites right now. We pulled it from our Winter Book Basket and have been reading it over and over through the week ... as you can see below, we have a lot of animal tracks in our yard at the moment!

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Before the snow hits this afternoon, I plan to take the boys out so we can figure out just WHO ALL has been traipsing through our yard! I have lots of books on my nature shelf for doing just that - filled with great illustrations of the various prints. And while we're out there, we'll refill all the bird feeders so our feathered and furred friends will be well fed through the storm. If they don't have to search so hard for sustenance, they can conserve a little of their precious energy!

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Also on my weekend agenda - if I can eke out a little spare time - is to work in my big seasonal planning binder. I aim to finish up the Deep Winter section (cover page shown above), so I can turn my eager thoughts to Early Spring. Why am I doing this now? Well, it is the second to last weekend of the month and that is when I do a little forward planning: calendar updating (in this case, February) as well as seasonal planning (in this case, early spring). One of those planning "tasks" that really need a spot in the schedule to call their own ... otherwise they never "fit" in!

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And finally, another peek into a favorite vintage book of mine, Round the Year with Enid Blyton ... this one was a gift from my dear friend, Kimberly ... and I just treasure it. Especially as I plan out nature activities for the upcoming seasons. This is a page from the Winter section, all about "Foot-Writing in the Snow." How lovely!

Well my friends, I will be off now, but I hope you are all doing well and that your weekend will be a good one for you - with some rest and refreshment perhaps, and a little "recharge" of the batteries. What's on your plate this weekend? Are you in the path of some "weather"? Are you hunkering down or heading out? If you have a moment, please leave me a comment and let me know how you are doing ... I would love to hear from you!

But for now, I will leave you all with my fondest farewell and a hope to see you here again sometime soon!


Tuesday Tidbits: Frost, Frosting & Wintry Fun!

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Happy (frosty) Tuesday, everyone! :)

I have just a few quick things to share today ... but first! What is the weather like where you are right now? It is SUPER cold here in my neck of the woods - in fact, I don't think we'll see 20°! Theres snow on the ground (a few inches) and plenty more on the way this weekend ... but such is January in New England!

Now, a few of you asked about my birthday cake frosting - it is a favorite in my family and one my mum is expert at making! It's called "penuche frosting" and it is buttery and sweet and fudgey in texture ... here it is if you'd like to try it sometime:

Penuche Frosting

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
hot water

Melt butter - add brown sugar. Bring to boil. Lower heat and boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add milk and bring to boil. Cool to lukewarm.

Gradually add confectioner's sugar and beat.

Add hot water if too thick.

Also, while I'm here I wanted to mention - for those of you on Pinterest - that I have a few new boards set up. These are each specific to my seasonal planning and I'm using them for links to go along with ideas, activities and special days coming up. So here is the January-February board if you'd like to take a peek. :)

2016 Planner: January & February Links

If you are not on Pinterest, I can do a post with links sometime if that would be helpful. I just added some wolf coloring pages this morning in light of the Full Wolf Moon coming up this weekend! :)

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This week our seasonal theme is "snowflakes," and I have some fun things planned for the boys - the bigs and the littles! Something I'm working on this week, too - and I meant to mention this during the planning chat last weekend - is the concept of craft bins for seasonal planning and organization. Someone asked me not too long ago (and forgive me for not remembering who) how I keep the craft materials and other resources for the week organized ... and believe me, it's a challenge! I haven't really tackled the craft bins we moved from the old house - nor the craft storage here in the new house! My thought is to have bins for the seasons though - and as I plan and prepare for certain projects I will add those items we'll need to those bins. There should be six bins in all once I'm organized, and you can be sure I will post about them once they're established!

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And finally, I had to share this pretty page from a book I have displayed at my writing desk right now. I think I've shared it before, but it's worth another look. It's such a lovely sketch - a mother having her tea and gazing out her kitchen window ... taking such joy in her "lot" in life, days spent at home with the children. The stanza below resonates with me so much ...

***

She has a kinship with the earth
Though busy in her own domain,
And comprehends its noble plan
From just a kitchen window pane.”
(Milly Walton)

Well my friends, I will be off now, but as always, I thank you for stopping by! It's a busy week of lessons, therapy and activity here ...  Bookworm's back to campus and our relaxing holiday routine is well and truly over. I'll be posting as I can, though - and there are lots of planning posts coming up! In my next post, I will show you my planning sheet "in action" so you can see how I'm using it for seasonal planning. And I am currently working on the next set of printables (Early Spring) as well as a big post about making time in your schedule to DO the planning! Giving all the WHAT a WHEN! I also have a couple of "cozy nests" posts in the works ... 

So I hope you'll stay tuned! Enjoy the rest of your day and I will see here again very soon ... :)


Seasonal Planning: Why the Moon?

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During the Planning Chat Workshop this morning, someone asked why I write the moon phases in my planner ... and it's a very good question! Because it got me thinking about why I enjoy seasonal planning so much ... and in the case of the moon's phases, while we may not be amateur astronomers or anything, I still find it useful information to have on hand ... and here's why. :)
 
For one thing, the full moons, as named by the Native Americans, are tied in with the season in which they fall (Sap Moon, Pink Moon, Flower Moon, Thunder Moon, etc.) and sometimes I include them in our nature study plans. So for example, we might schedule a maple sugaring field trip (a popular local tradition), during the week of the Full Sap Moon ... and that week might be assigned the theme, "melting/sap/thaw." Actually, there's a lot of science and history to be tied in with this topic! We could investigate what conditions are needed for the sap to start running (freezing nights, but day temps above 50) and what it signals to the trees (and the rest of us): Spring is truly on its way! Or maybe we'd learn how the early colonists "discovered" maple syrup (thanks to the Native Americans) and I might even plan a maple-based dinner one night. The younger boys have such fun with all of this, but I think the older boys enjoy these family activities as well.
 
It's also helpful to know when a new moon will occur (which means, no moonshine) because it's easier to see the stars on a "moonless" night. And perhaps that's something I would like to do with the boys as part of our home learning that week or as one of our family "adventures." There are also several meteor showers that occur throughout the year and some are easier to view than others - especially when they take place during the darker sky of a new moon! So it's handy to know whether the moon is waxing or waning when scheduling these kinds of seasonal activities in my planner.
 
Beyond all that though, I like the idea of my planner serving as an old-fashioned "almanac" of sorts, so I include weather notes and simple observations of the nature around us. (Two deer in the yard just now ... heard a raven in the woods ... spotted a fisher cat on Main Street this morning!) I even check the Weather Channel app on my iPhone when doing my weekly "look ahead" planning!
 
Another example of seasonal planning, and this one applies to both nature's seasons as well as those of the Church ... this week we'll be celebrating the Feast of St. Agnes, and our weekly theme is "snowflakes." For years now I've tied snowflakes with this saint's day (because of the tradition of St. Agnes's "flowers") and there are certain crafts and comforts I like to weave into our week. Snowflake science, baking and stories, so many options! Not must-dos, but may-dos. And as it appears we may be in for some snow here late next week, I'll make a point to get the boys outside to really experience the season, this depth of winter ... does it smell like snow? Feel like snow? Look like snow? What signs are telling us snow is on the way?
 
(Now, I was just writing these very notes in my planner for next week and that reminded me I have a half-written post in which I show you how I'm using my printable planning sheets. (In other words, with the spaces filled in!) I am also going to make the monthly calendars I showed you in my planner tour available as PDFs this week in case you'd like to use those as well ... so stay tuned!)
 
So anyhow, this question really made me smile and think for a bit about why I spend so much time finding out about nature and then working it into our family plans. It's something that brings me a lot of personal joy - tying my energy and inspiration to the season - but it's created a lot of fun traditions with my children as well! :)
 
So if your family, like mine, enjoys checking out the night sky from time to time, here's a great calendar for 2016 astronomical events, including full moons and shooting stars, etc. And as of today (or tonight) we are on the way towards the January full moon WHICH -  according to my planner - takes place next Saturday. It's the Full "Wolf" Moon this month and there is some very interesting history tied into that ... but I'll stop there because as usual, I'm getting carried away!
 
But speaking of the Planning Chat Workshop this morning - it was such fun! I hope you could join us, but there is still a way you can listen in - click HERE to sign up for the replay as well as the links Mystie, Jen and I shared from our blogs. I would love to follow up on some of the points and questions that came up during the talk, so please leave me a note or zip me an email (bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT come) if there's something you'd like to see in a future post!
 
For now though, I am going to sign off and enjoy the rest of this slow, snowy Saturday ... I hope you do the same! But thanks so much for stopping by! I will see you all here again very soon ...
 
🌛 🌝 🌜🌚

My Advent Tea Journal ~ Welcome Winter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favorite things about Winter?

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

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

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

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

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

*☀️*

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

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

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

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

 What are you reading this week?

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

Winter is Coming

The Shortest Day

Wintertime

Grandmother Winter

Winter Waits

Winter Lullaby

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here

Waiting for Winter

Winter

When Winter Comes

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

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

What are you working on this week?

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

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

A couple of projects:

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

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

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(The eggs are painted whole nutmeg!) 

What's happening in nature this week?

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

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Any projects with the children this week?

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

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

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

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

(and finally)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

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**

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

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

(Pics are always welcome!)

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

See you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

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

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

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

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

Advent candles snowmen

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

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

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

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

>> How do we shape their joy? <<

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

  Advent tea magic 15

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

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

What are your children's favorite aspects of Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea magic 4

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

O project 12-13 2

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

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

What are you reading this week?

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

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

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One basket for Winter books ...

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

What are you listening to this week?

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

What are you working on this week?

Planner in car

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

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

What's happening in nature this week? 

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

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

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

Any projects with the children this week?

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

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

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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

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

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

***

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

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

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

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

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:)

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

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

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

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

My Advent Tea Journal ~ O Christmas Tree!

Advent tea tree 7

Good afternoon, my friends! I hope this post finds you well ...

We're all on the mend here, slowly but surely. It's a tough time of year to get sick - it really puts a crimp in your plans! But in a way, it's a good reminder ... Advent is all about mood and mindset, not as much about where we go or what we get done. We had planned to take the boys to a tree farm over the weekend, and I had hoped to get to the library and the craft store for some supplies. (This week's activities - and my tea post itself - all hinged on doing these things!) But alas, nobody felt up to doing any of that, so "plans and hopes" were readjusted and we just stayed home (except for an emergency run to Stop N Shop for tissues and cat food, etc.) ...

So the "forest nature walk" didn't happen, the "cut-our-own-tree experience" didn't happen, and we didn't return home from the farm with rosy cheeks and happy hearts to a pot of simmering wassail. The tree was not up and decorated in time for this post, and we missed out on parish pancake breakfast entirely ...

But you know what? Getting sick really simplifies things. I found myself re-evaluating my list and editing our schedule by asking: "What is it we actually need? What can be set aside? What is most important for the people I love?"

Here's what we need: safety, warmth, nourishment, attention ... a feeling of being cared for, and time spent together. Well, we had all that, and then some ... so it was all good. :)

(Except for the sore throats and fevers.)

At one point on Sunday, we sent the two healthiest among us to the closest tree-lot and they came home lickedy-split with a really magnificent tree. We gathered the bits of greenery that were trimmed off and set them on our nature shelf. I still made up that pot of hot wassail since I had the ingredients on hand and they were so very good for a late autumn cold ...

We played music on Dad's phone, and I lit a few candles placed high out of reach, including this pretty one, a lovely gift from my dear aunt ...

Advent tea tree 9

And I reminded myself to just try to relax, reboot and follow where this Advent Sunday was taking us ...

I love seasonal homeschooling as you all know, and "evergreens" are this week's theme ... which also ties in nicely with our Advent-in-Nature plans for week two: exploring the beauty of Christmas greenery. So this was a great start - bringing a big, beautiful tree into our home!

Advent tea tree 10 (1)

My tree is nowhere near ready to show you, so I will do a follow-up post with a look around our Christmas room, including the tree. (Perhaps even a short video?) But for now, I have some questions for YOU, and if you'd be so kind - please leave me a comment below answering them or send me an email (with tree pics perhaps?) ... OR, link me up at your own blog! I bet you have a photo or two of your Christmas tree there ... ;)

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

***

Do you prefer live or artificial trees? Cut-your-own or pre-cut?

I prefer live trees, harvested from a local sustainable tree farm if possible.

Are there any special tree-trimming traditions your family follows each year?

Not particularly - we tend to just layer on lights, garland and then ornaments. And lately - between cats and kids - the ornaments have been all soft and non-breakable. Bill is in charge of getting the tree up, stable and lit ... the boys and I handle the decorations.

What is your favorite ornament?

Hard to say! I love all the antique glass bulbs that belonged to my grandparents and a few of the boys' handmade treasures. When I do my Christmas room tour I will zoom in on my favorites. :)

When do you put it up and when do you take it down?

We typically get our tree the second weekend of Advent and leave it up till New Year's Day ... though I love the tradition of waiting till Epiphany, I'm usually itchy to get it out. By January the cats have thrown up dry needles one too many times ...

Colored lights or white lights?

White for the house tree ... but I love having one outdoor tree trimmed in big colorful bulbs.

And now, here are notes from my Advent Tea Journal ...

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea tree 8

This week my "tea" is actually a yummy wassail ...  which, I just learned, means "to be in health." Something we can really use around here! It was a new recipe, prepared in the crockpot and full of good-for-you things ...

Wassail 1

Orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice ... plus sliced lemons and oranges and fresh ginger root ... honey, cloves and cinnamon sticks, too ... The house smelled amazing, so being "trapped inside" was not such a bad thing, really! Also, the recipe makes A LOT and it can be reheated as leftovers.

I also had planned to make a special cake for the day, and I ended up doing that, too ...

Advent tea tree 3

Another new recipe, this is a Spelt Orange Bundt Cake from Mother Earth Living, and ... Oh MY. So delicious and moist, bursting with spice and citrus flavor. I think it would be a great cake for the Winter Solstice or Christmas Day. Fyi, I used whole wheat flour instead of spelt ... and left the butter sauce on the side for those in my family who can't do dairy. (I myself slathered it on.)

What are you reading this week?

Advent tea tree 15

Working through my basket of magazines (holiday issues are the BEST) plus a lovely old book about living a quieter, country Christmas ...

Advent tea tree 2

Tasha Tudor's Forever Christmas ... my folks gave this to me back in 2001. I love re-reading this (and watching her video, Take Peace) at this time of year and refreshing my Advent attitude a bit. I've never visited her house in Vermont but it's on my "someday" list! :)

Then we have the basket of "this week" books for the younger boys ...

Advent tea tree 4

Filled with lovely stories (and a field guide!) to go along with our nature theme (evergreens, Christmas greenery):

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree

Night Tree

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Family Christmas Tree Book

The Story of Holly & Ivy

(and not shown, on request at library):

 Christmas Farm

The Littlest Evergreen

***

What are you listening to this week?

Ancient noels

Ancient Noels is on request from my library, and we'll mostly be listening to it in the van as we drive around town. We're studying the Middle Ages this year and this month it's all about how Christmas was celebrated in medieval times - food, music, decorations, and festivities! With a soundtrack that features hammered dulcimer, recorder, pennywhistle, Celtic harp, cittern, guitar and tambourine ... this music takes you right there ... or so I'd like to imagine. ;)

(At home we're also enjoying holiday selections from Pandora Radio on our phones. I particularly like Charlie Brown music, classical Christmas and old vintage tunes.)

What are you working on this week?

Well, it's mostly all about Christmas preparations, but I'm also organizing my materials for that Planning Workshop I'm attending next Tuesday! :) 

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Refreshing the file crate ...

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... and assembling another homemade planner for 2016!

Then, as soon as they arrive, I'll be devoted to assembling Christmas cards ... :)

What's happening in nature this week?

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Early sunsets ... surprisingly mild afternoons.

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Though the mornings are quite frosty!

Some of you have asked if our Advent apple candles are still intact. Well ...

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As you can see, I threw the critters off by offering a tasty pumpkin instead ... it's been fun to watch their antics. A couple of squirrels have been up on the table, sniffing at the apples and knocking over the center candle. They didn't cause too much harm though ...

Also this week we are searching our yard for any Christmas greenery we can find ... so far, plenty of evergreens, pinecones, English ivy and a few withering herbs ...

Advent tea tree 18 (1)

This photo will feature in my "nest assignment" next week. It's a bit bleak looking isn't it? Well, I have some thoughts on that ...

Any projects with the children this week?

Of course there will be tree decorating! And we'll spread it out over the week. Meanwhile, we've added some greenery to our manger table: a few evergreen sprigs, a pinecone and a (silk) poinsettia blossom, too.

Advent tea tree 23

That candle burns steadily all day and night.

Watching, waiting ...

Also, per my (admittedly, adventurous) Advent plans, we'll choose from the following craft ideas as time, (health) and supplies allow:

terrarium bulbs * nature ice molds * late autumn suncatchers * paperwhite bulb gifts * dried orange slice garlands * grinding whole spices with mortar and pestle * pine branch slice candleholders with Daddy * cinnamon stick-lined candles * gift jars of mulling spices * a local holiday greenhouse visit * water forest snow globes * twig ornaments * orange clove pomanders

(Now, in no way do I expect to do most of these crafts. Certainly not when we're all under the weather! And as I mentioned, I didn't get to the craft store as planned, so I'm short a few key supplies. But when I brainstorm a theme, I really go all out! I've pinned most of these ideas so we'll always have them if we need them. I'm hoping to get a few gifts made if nothing else, and I think the boys will really enjoy grinding spices. I have some oranges on hand to slice and dry and Bill is pretty eager to make some candleholders from our log pile.)

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

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"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of your children, they are all 30 feet tall."

~ Larry Wilde 

***

Well my friends, it's time to wrap up our Tea! I hope you enjoyed hearing about our "doings" and a preliminary peek at our tree! I will share how it turns out once we get it all done up ... and as I mentioned, I would LOVE to hear about your tree and tea! Please share with me here in the comments or send me your thoughts at ...

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wishing you all a lovely Tuesday, with my thanks as always for reading! 


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 ...

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

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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!

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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 ...

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

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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 ...

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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.

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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.

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Clean and dry rocks, frame and glue gun.

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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:

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

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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!

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"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 ...

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(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 ...

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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.

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:)

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.

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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?

*

*

*

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 ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Gifts from the Heart

Advent One 8

Happy Monday, my friends! Blessings to all in this brand new season!

And oh, do I LOVE Advent. It's such a lovely time of anticipation and preparation, a stilling of the world in some ways (yet a rushing in others), as we journey towards the most beautiful night of the year. Today I am sitting down to tea, catching my breath (it is Monday after all!) and taking a little time to think about the Season ahead ...

(How I'd like it to be - and not be.)

Well, there is much involved in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and that includes gift-giving. And every year I hope to make as many gifts as possible (in the physical or spiritual sense), but as time and energy dwindles, I find myself ordering things from Amazon at the last minute, and feeling immensely grateful for my Prime membership's two-day free shipping! I yearn for a non-commercial holiday, yet it's such a challenge every year! The material world (and my own busy-ness) work together and conspire against me! Even so, ever the eternal optimist am I, and this year I aim to make as many gifts as possible with my boys' help, and to come up with offerings that would be much appreciated by those that we love. In short, gifts from the heart (and hands).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

* Do you try to create gifts at this time of year?

* Are you super-organized (as I always wish I'd be) and start your gift-giving early each year, by starting projects, growing things, gathering materials, and just generally planning ahead?

* How do you encourage your children to give in a thoughtful manner? Even if their gift is something they've bought, they can put their hearts (not just their monies) into the selection.

 More on how you can share your thoughts on this theme at the end of this post, but for now, let me open my Tea Journal and share my notes with you ...

What refreshments am I enjoying this week?

This week it's Taylor's Scottish Breakfast Tea and a freshly baked star cookie. Not quite the "Swedish" spice cookie I was aiming for, but close enough! I usually like to bake shortbread on this particular feast day (St. Andrew of Scotland) because for one thing, I'm Scottish! And for another, I love shortbread! But today I was hoping to make some Swedish star cookies because I recently learned (through Ancestry DOT com) that I am in fact, 4% Scandinavian!

So since we're all about "stars" here this week, I decided to make some gingerbread star cookies. They're not technically Scandinavian, but I'm going to pretend they are ... ;)

Advent One 23

And I will confess to you, dear readers: this is not a homemade recipe, but some commercial, roll-out dough purchased at the store. It was just that kind of day - if we were going to have cookies, they were going to happen this way or no way! Also, as you can see, my stars are pretty wonky. The dough just would not cooperate!

(They still tasted great, though ...)

And how about this new mug? Isn't is sweet?

Advent One 27

I found it at HomeGoods recently for all of $5. (How could I resist?) I love the tiny stars and the four birds returning "HOME" (to the nest) ... :) 

Now, you may notice my nest chair is not where it's been in past posts ... well, I've been "remodeling" (re-feathering?) my nest a bit this week with an eye toward Christmas decorations. The tree will be going up in this room, so that changes things a little. I'll have a tour up sometime soon ...

What am I reading this week?

Advent One 22

Advent One 1

Advent One 6

Advent One 17

In addition to a few children's books that work well with our nature theme this week, I am also reading Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi. This is my daily devotional (along with this and this) and I have a pretty little notepad to use along with it - an informal Advent "journal" where I can jot notes as I read. :)

 

(Note: In a separate post I'm going to outline our nature-inspired Advent plans for this year - which I keep hinting at, but not really explaining, lol! I don't mean to be secretive (as if!) but I don't want to bog down my Tea post with too much about all of that.)

What am I listening to this week?

A lovely CD I purchased years ago, recorded by a homeschooling family, Eventide Lullaby, as well as my own humming as Little Bear settles to sleep - tuneless, but still soothing, thankfully. Today, it was one of my favorite carols. :)

 What am I working on this week?

Advent One 2 (1)

Crafts for the first week of Advent - using as many natural materials as possible (some found and some purchased), and making handmade gifts with the boys. I'm also arranging a quiet manger corner in the living room. This will slowly be built up over the next four weeks, according to our nature themes. As you can see, we have a few donations already ... :)

Advent One 14

Advent One 5

They don't tend to stand still, though. :)

Oh! And I made up a little frame for myself ... seen here at the far right of the sill:

Advent One 25

This is a $1 acrylic frame found at the craft store. I printed out the Christmas Novena as well as a pretty nativity picture and cut them to fit the frame sleeves. A perfect reminder for the season!

What's happening in nature?

Ok, here's a new idea ... I am going to record a short nature video each week to share with you. A little commentary on our weather and how the season is unfolding and what we're up to in nature each week. I could not - for the life of me! - figure out how to share a video directly in this post, but I was able to get one up at my Facebook page. I believe anyone can access it whether they are FB users or not ... I hope you enjoy!

November Woods

 

A project with the children this week:

Well, most importantly - and with but moments to spare - we began our Advent calendar, with an apple candle on Sunday ...

Advent One 11 (1)

A tiny beeswax tea light is stuffed just inside ... and one apple is placed at each one of the table's four corners. 

(They may or may not be eaten by squirrels ... but that's just part of the fun.)


Advent One 20

A rock a day ... 24 in all. And beneath each one is a word, leading up to a verse. A little mystery to solve ...

And in the center of the table, a plain white, battery-lit candle. I set the candle to turn on each day as the sun lowers and to turn off around eight. We can see this table from the kitchen nook window, and it has been quite the focus of attention already ...

Waiting, wondering ...

We are also spending our outdoor time gathering twigs (as mentioned in the video) and little stones for crafts. And of course, getting busy with some of those crafts:

seashell ornaments * a pebble-filled grotto * yarn stars * twig stars * shell candles * grinding spices with a mortal and pestle * filling hand-sewn felt sachets with said spices ...

Will all of it get done? Not very likely ... but we'll do our best and pace ourselves, and hopefully make some nice handcrafts for our tree and our family and friends.

Now, I was thinking about the older boys, and how to involve them in our family Advent plans. It gets harder as kids get older to "reach" them and secure a little of their time! They will certainly be taking part in some of the activities, and helping with the youngers as they can, but I'd like to make this season a meaningful time for them as well. My plan is this:

  Each evening, they will think about the next day and decide on a small gift to give of themselves: to a friend, a family member, a teacher, etc. It might be hard to think of actions at first, but depending on their schedule, and who they'll be seeing, it should be easy enough to come up with some small token of affection or charity. It might just be a kind word or gesture of some sort, or even just an extra prayer. After all, the best gift we can prepare for the Baby Jesus each year is simply to treat others as we would treat Him.

"What can we give him? We can give him our heart ..."

I'm not asking them to keep track of this or even share what they've done if they'd rather not. But I think we can discuss this over supper each night and help call their attention to potential situations where they might give a small gift of their heart ... if they think and plan ahead it should be easier to pass out those "gifts!"

Words to inspire:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery." ~ Albert Einstein

I don't even have a whole lot to say about that quote - I only just heard it today! - but it seems to go well with this season. A time of waiting and wondering ... and yes, mystery, too.

How was it possible? How can it be true? How did they manage? It's just such a miracle!

How beautiful would it be it to fully immerse ourselves in this special time? To experience the true spirit of the season - tuning out what the world is shouting at us through our TVs and laptops - and instead find the quiet where we can and just listen? I myself listen best in nature ...

Advent One 13

Peace

Well, my friends, as usual I've rambled on quite a bit, but goodness, do I love this topic and of course, sharing my photos! I hope you will continue the conversation with me - by leaving a comment below, or emailing me your thoughts (with pictures if you'd like!) or perhaps linking me up at your blog? You can reach me at:

> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <

I would love to hear about (see!) your tea and talk more about how we can give from our hearts this year. For those we love and those in need ... it's a wonderful time of year for giving, in every sense of the word.

And thanks so much for joining me! I will be back again soon - I have a little nest "assignment" to share this week, as well as some more reader nest posts, too! I will also be back with more details on our Advent with Nature plans ... I'm still figuring them all out because - oddly enough - I kind of let things wait till the last minute this year!

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

p.s. Here's a link to my Homemade Gifts archive - there are several kid-friendly craft posts there, as well as a blog fair I hosted many years ago, The Loveliness of Handmade Gifts. There are lots of ideas and links in that one! :)


November Nightfall

It comes so early now ... the night. And some might say too early, but it's all just part of that rhythm. Outside there's a fading of color and a sharpness to the air ... while inside we have our lights burning and there are extra blankets on the beds. At this time of year the comforts of home seem all the more comforting, but the outside is still welcoming too, especially on evenings like these ...

November sunset 1

November sunset 2

November sunset 7

November sunset

November sunset 3

November sunset 4

Sunset, 4:20 p.m. Sunday. Just before the Patriots Game.

:)

How wonderful for a little one to get all rosy-cheeked and leaf-littered on a cool autumn evening ... then to come inside for a warm bath and a good supper before bed. I love teaching my children to appreciate our days in ALL seasons and by "teaching" I mean, sharing my own joy right alongside them. That's the best lesson, I think - what we show them. Because those little eyes watch us so closely! Little Bear might not read his mama's blog yet, but I know he can read my moods ...

You know, I've been working on that book of mine, and trying to figure out just where I'm going with it ... getting distracted sometimes, or maybe even a little defeated ... but when I look back at this post, I can see it. This is what makes me tick, and this is where I zoom in: on the simple, little joys ... the easy, homey comforts. Every week brings something new to learn and share ...

As organic as it seems it should be to just follow the seasons and accept nature's rhythm, I find that Life As We Know It often gets in the way. So I create a little structure - weekly themes and file folders - and hope that by planning ahead we'll make more of the moment. The seasons pass so quickly - not to mention the years! So this week we're watching our world get sleepy and dark and we're feeling grateful for things like light and warmth (and peace) ... in nature we're observing a fallen log and exploring the tart curiosity of cranberries, while baking breads to bring to neighbors across town ... 

November days - are they dark? Yes, they can be. But dull? No, they don't have to be. There's much to be thankful for and so many ways to explore this big, blessed world. It is my hope to highlight these joys in each week of the year ... to work them into my "plans" so they become more than just ideas, but actions ... and then to share them all with my family, and you!

So anyhow ... that's where I'm at right now. I mostly just wanted to share all these happy photos and then I got carried away. (You all know how I get.) And now I'm watching another (early) sunset, lighting a candle on our seasons shelf, and conjuring some good smells in the kitchen ...

And putting the laptop down, for now. But I'll be back here again sometime soon ...

(Good Night!)


Halloween Ideas: A Paper Chain Countdown!

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

Halloween paper chain 5

Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday!

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

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

Halloween paper chain

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

Halloween paper chain 2

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

Halloween paper chain 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~* Happy Halloween! *~

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

All good fun!

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

Halloween paper chain 4

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

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

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

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


Thoughtful Thursday ~ Wonder

O and butterfly 1

"If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."

(Rachel Carson)

We released our last Monarch butterfly the other day, and this one, unlike the others, did not shoot off straight into the sky ... but rather lingered for a bit in our yard! Delighting us all - Little Bear most of all - as it flitted around us, stopping at this flower and that. 

O and butterfly 6

He seemed to enjoy the goldenrod very much!

Good Thursday morning, my friends! I was so excited to share that top photo with you all - isn't it sweet? I think it might be one of my all-time favorite pictures of Little Bear ... he really was quite enthralled with the whole butterfly business. He loves nature and is never happier than when he is trucking around the yard - usually with his little red wheelbarrow, and his yellow bucket hat on his head - and just stopping to look at stuff or add things to his 'barrow. We are so fortunate to live in a world filled with so many wonders ... and blessed are we who can share it with children. They remind us to stop, look ... and wonder. :)

Well, while we are on the subject of butterflies, I wanted to mention something important about Monarchs - brought to my attention recently by Michelle M. As many of you I'm sure realize, Monarchs are a threatened species; their numbers are rapidly dwindling. Climate change, pollution, loss of habitat and rampant (irresponsible) pesticide use all contribute to this calamity, but as Michelle has informed me, using butterfly "kits" to raise Monarchs might also be adding to the issue ...

If I may quote her here, as she stated this so well:

"But the problem is these kit butterflies don't have the genetic diversity that wild populations have and some scientists are very fearful that this may weaken the general population as more and more of these kit-raised monarchs are released. They may be less resistant to disease. Plus it takes many generations to complete the journey from Mexico to New England...who knows where these Monarchs' great grandchildren will think they are really from.

I truly truly don't want to rain on your parade, since raising Monarchs has been one of the top joys of my life. But if at all possible, I urge you to look for caterpillars in your own back yard or close by area and raise those on NATIVE milkweed local to your area, again, not just any milkweed from a nursery or seed packet. Perhaps you would consider amending your blog to not recommend kits?"

Michelle, I thank you, honestly, for bringing up this important information - you are certainly not raining on my parade, but only adding important depth and discernment! Learning about nature is vital as is increasing our respect for it. Admiring nature is a great first step ... but we also must seek to understand it, and foster it as best we can ... goodness knows it can use all the help it can get!

I will now be sure to look for caterpillars locally, hopefully in our own yard. (Our friend who supplied us with these beautiful butterflies lives in the next town over and she has plenty of native milkweed in her yard.) We do have milkweed growing naturally on our road, and I hope to help it spread its seed this fall. (This will work nicely with our "autumn seeds" theme this week!) And next year we will keep our eyes peeled for more milkweed, as well as eggs and caterpillars!

Here is a link to learn more: Rearing Monarchs Responsibly

 My friends, I must wrap up now but I hope you all are enjoying your week! Another quick note before I go - this one about email. I'm still having issues with "freeing space" on my laptop, so I'm "doing email" from my phone for the time being - which is nearly impossible, lol! (I hate typing on that tiny keyboard!) That said, I am also changing my email very soon ... from now on, please send any blog-related email to this address:

bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com

(Friends and family, my personal email will stay the same - just substitute "gmail" for "comcast.")

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


Monarchs on the Move!

Buterfly hatching 2

Well, we had quite a weekend here at our house! I hope yours was nice, too. :)

On Friday morning we discovered that two of our butterflies had hatched! And a third would follow a few hours later ... 

Butterfly hatching 1

... leaving us with two last chrysalises still green. As it was a cloudy, wet day, we decided to wait for the following day to release them ...

After some googling, and a Facebook query or two, we learned we could "feed" the newly born butterflies by placing some sugar-water-soaked cotton pads in the bottom of their container. I also placed a small bit of watermelon in there. I couldn't really tell if they imbibed or not - one of them did stand on the watermelon wedge for a time, lol.

Happily, Saturday was bright and warm so we brought our four fluttering friends outside and sent them on their merry way ...

Butterfly 3

Butterfly 6

Three of the four flew directly off into the wide blue yonder ... but one lingered for a few moments on my hand. It was amazing ...

Butterfly 2

Butterfly 4

And then he was off, too!

Our last chryalis hatched Saturday night, but as Sunday was another cool, damp day - and today (Monday) is cool and windy - we're fostering our butterfly a bit longer. We're hoping to release him tomorrow morning when it promises to be sunny and warm again. I just placed a fresh orange slice in the bottom of the container ... which, by the way, now resides on the top of our fridge. All that fluttering in the learning room bookcase eventually caught the attention of one of my rather curious cats ... I bet you can all guess who!

If you have not tried raising butterflies before, I highly recommend it! The kids were enthralled - as were Bill and I! We were set up rather nicely by a friend with years of experience (and a monarch-friendly backyard) and though there are kits available online, for the sake of the Monarch's survival it is best to keep the local gene pool ... well, local. Introducing kit butterflies to your local habitat could mess up genetic diversity and weaken the Monarch's resistance to disease. And they already have enough to contend with - what with climate change and pesticide poisoning, loss of habitat, etc. So keep an eye out for caterpillars next spring and summer! Fall is approaching quickly ... check your local nursery for native (locally raised) milkweed. Learn about Monarchs and what they need ... Nature depends on us to be informed and respectful! :)

Now, something I'd like to note ... remember that seasonal theme schedule I set up for my family? Well last week was to be "apple" week but understandably, it made more sense to learn about butterflies! So we focused our homeschooling attention on "monarchs and migration" instead of apples ... so there's an example of a theme that will go a bit under-noticed this year. That's not to say we won't still explore apples this fall in one or more ways ... there will be an orchard visit and apple picking, apple baking and lots of nice apple books in the seasons basket. I don't sweat it when themes don't happen as planned ... life has its own rhythm and that's the most meaningful schedule of all! :)

Well, I'd best be off for now ... but I thank you for stopping by and wish you all good week. I will be back again soon with a nice long post about my homeschooling planner. I'm plugging along on that project as time (and family) allows!

See you all here again soon ...


Our First Science Project of the New Year!

Happy Tuesday, my friends!

Popping in to say Good Morning, and let you know I am having some difficulty with my laptop at the moment ... the startup disk is "full," so for the time being I can't upload anything new - most importantly all those photos I took of my homemade lesson planner! So that particular (long-promised) post is still "in progress" ... though I think I may have found a way around the situation. So while I'm slogging through and deleting extraneous files from my laptop's photo storage (for example, the half dozen blurry pics of the woodchuck eating my hollyhocks), I'm also taking pics with my phone and saving them to my FB page ... where I can then grab them (theoretically) for posting! Lol, does any of that make sense?

Tech-savvy, I am not ... we'll see how this turns out!

For today though, I thought I'd show you this lovely surprise science project, a gift to us from my dear friend, Lisa ...

Chrysallis 1

Chrysallis 2

Chrysalis 3

If you're thinking these little jalapeño-pepper-looking-things are actually beautiful butterfly chrysalises ... well, you'd be right! 

Lisa has been raising Monarch butterflies for many years now, and this year she shared some with us! (The caterpillars had just made their cocoons the day before she brought them.) So we have five chrysalises in this container, and I am just marveling over how amazing they are! All vibrant and shiny and smooth with little glistening gold dots and seams ... tiny miracles, absolutely!

Now, do you know, in our 15 years of homeschooling, we've never once raised butterflies?! We've studied them, read about them, visited butterfly sanctuaries and watched butterflies (and caterpillars) in our yard but never have we actually observed their metamorphosis so intimately! Needless to say we're all excited - me, most especially! - and I will of course, keep you all posted ... they're about a week or so away from "hatching."

:)

Well my friends, I must be off - I have files to delete! - but I hope you all are enjoying your day and that your week is off to a nice start. See you here again very soon!