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Mitten Strings for God: Let's Take It Slow ...

MSfG and blessed mug

Hello again, my friends! I hope you're all enjoying a lovely weekend ... :)

I'm popping in quickly today with a little tweak to our Mitten Strings for God book study schedule. I am so happy to hear that many folks are excited to join in - some are dusting off their old copies, while others are awaiting a copy from the library or Amazon. So I'd like to give people a chance to catch up, plus I'm also thinking each of these chapters really needs a post all their own. The chapters are quick reads, but inspire LOTS Of thoughts. The message contained within each is deep and, I think, deserving of our full attention. 

Because my first post on Friday - though a complete joy to write - really took me some time to finish! In addition, I found myself trying to switch gears between chapter topics while still focusing on each meaningful message. I think for my benefit, and hopefully yours, we will slow things down a little ...

So, my plan is to scale back our study to ONE CHAPTER per week. The rest of the "rules" still apply (see this post for how you can participate) and as always, everyone is welcome to chime in! If you are still catching up, just leave comments as you can or send me your thoughts/photos as you have them. I will plug them in to the appropriate post(s).

Here are the upcoming Autumn/Advent Tea dates with our new chapter schedule:

October 27th: Quiet

November 3rd: Simplicity

November 10th: TV

November 17th: Play

November 24th: Secret Places

December 1st: Wants and Needs

December 8th: Stories

December 15th: One-on-One Time

December 22nd: Surrender

(And before the end of the year I will have a new Winter/Spring Tea schedule posted!)

Well my friends, that's all for now - I hope this schedule change works for you and please let me know if you need any clarification. Any thoughts/photos or post links can be messaged to me at Facebook or sent to my email address here --> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Hope to hear from you and hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Chapters 1-3

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Hello my friends and welcome back to my little home on the web! It's time for another seasonal tea series, and I hope you're as excited as I am! In the weeks ahead I'll share several "Autumn Teas" here, followed by a few "Advent Teas" ... we may even squeeze in a couple of "Christmas Teas" before all is said and done!

Each week I'll have pics of my weekly tea (cup/mug, brew, baked goods and more) but this time around, as we sip our tea, I'll be reflecting on our current book study, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. Some of you will remember we had a lively discussion of this book nine years ago - well, this is my attempt to not only revisit our previous conversation, but to continue with all those un-studied chapters! (Please see this post and this one, for more on how to participate! All are welcome and I'd love to have you join me!)

So in today's post I'll be talking about the first three chapters of MSfG: Dailiness, Morning and Peace. (For a full list of the chapters to come, please see this post.)

Before I dig in let me start by saying ...

Mitten Strings for God is one of my favorite books of all time, and definitely my favorite book about mothering ever. I'm a sucker for a pretty book cover, but the contents are some of the most beautiful thoughts I've ever read.

I've read this book countless times ... but not in nine years! I'm eager to dig back in since my mothering life is, in many ways, much different than it was in 2008.

Case in point - back then I had three boys (13, 9 and 7) and all were homeschooling. Today I have four boys (22, 18, 15 and 4) and all but one are homeschooling, because - gasp! - HE GRADUATED. 😳 

I'm combining "tea" with our book study because tea represents to me, a slowing down, and an encouragement. A state of mind that lends itself beautifully to the themes we'll be discussing as we make our way through this beloved book. (In other words, if you were coming to my home so we could sit down and chat - about MSfG or anything - the first thing I'd do would be to ask you to sit and have tea. It's my happy place.)

My tea this week is "Constant Comment, Decaf" and as you might remember, this is my very favorite tea. (Second would be Allegro Organic Black Decaf and third would be Harney & Sons Holiday Blend.) The mug is new though - and sweet, don't you think? I have way too many mugs already, but I am a weak, weak woman when it comes to new mugs. And the "goody" today is a home-baked pumpkin spice donut ... it was pumpkin week after all! (Pumpkin week recap to come soon!)

Ok, on with our book study, beginning with chapter one ... :)

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Dailiness (2008 post here)

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"My deeper hope is that each of my sons will be able to see the sacred in the ordinary; that they, too, will grow up knowing how to love the 'dailiness.'" (p. 13)

And that quote, in a nutshell, is precisely why Mitten Strings for God is my favorite mothering book of all time, because Ms. Kenison's sentiment above is exactly what I'm striving for - for myself and my family. In all we do, in every day we spend together, and in every season that passes. 

Now, because last Thursday I shared a new post about this chapter, I'll just say a few things and then move on to chapters two and three. I also want to direct you to my friend Kim's lovely post, a reflection of the book's Introduction. I am so thrilled to have Kim along with me in this read-along. We both have kids that are basically adults now (her daughter is 18), and one of the things I hope to do with this book study is talk about how these reflections can be applied to families with children of all ages ...

That said, I am looking back at the "suggestions" I made for myself and seeing how we're doing now:

Maintain balance within our family schedule. I think we've done a pretty good job of this through the years. We have always been people who refuse to over-commit. We do love our home time! That said, we have a very busy schedule this fall and I am really feeling the effects of it. It's all really good stuff - Crackerjack has several classes with other local homeschoolers - but these take place outside the home, and he doesn't have his license yet! And Earlybird's home-based ABA therapy increased by double (a Godsend) so I feel like I'm going-going-going as soon as my morning coffee time is over and rushing to get things ready, get kids where they need to go, take care of home things and MY things - did I kiss my husband before he left for work? Currently trying to find ways to make these weeks feel a little less hectic. 

Learn to appreciate the "humble household rituals." Always an ongoing challenge - I still don't love doing the dishes but I do try to appreciate how blessed I am to be able to devote much of my time to caring for my family. Always looking for ways to make chores easier and less - what's the word I want here? - mundane. It's never fun to clean a dirty sink, but if the windowsill above said sink is clean and thoughtfully arranged - perhaps with a sacred memento, something from the garden, or a lit candle - and maybe if the dishwashing soap is something fragrant and natural - it can really affect the overall sink cleaning experience. It's gotta be done, why not make it ... nicer?

Make home a nurturing place to be. Hobbies, cozy spaces, simple family activities and traditions. YES to all these ... and I think we've been pretty good about this. Like I said before, we're mostly homebodies and none of us more so than the "body" in charge of the domestic department (me). That said, as the boys get older and we get busier, it's easy to let things slide ... now that we have all our boys home under one roof again, and before a long winter hits, I'd like to take stock: hobbies that don't involve power sources ... inviting corners that encourage togetherness and those aforementioned hobbies ... reminding ourselves what we liked to do altogether when the boys were younger. Some things might still work (family game night), maybe some things can be tweaked (Daddy Saturdays) ... I love simple yet meaningful traditions, too - like Thursday nights with Father Brown on PBS ... and I still text/wake my boys with a hearty "Rabbit-rabbit" on the first of every month. :)

Take time to consider it all. With this tip I meant to be faithful in my blogging so as to capture "life" as best I can. I definitely don't blog as often as I did, but I do post on social media almost daily ... with pictures, remarks and snippets of our life ... things that mark a day in a special way (a sunset we're all marveling over, for example). I'm not sure I'm any better than I was back in 2008 at documenting and reflecting on our family's journey - but I do have a few more platforms. (My paper journaling has suffered of late, though, and that's definitely something I'd like to revive.) Of course capturing and considering are two different things ... I do need to build more "reflection time" into my schedule.

The photo above is my kitchen windowsill the day I began this post. I think a kitchen windowsill can be a real snippet of "life as it is" at that time. Wouldn't you love to see a picture of your mother's or grandmother's kitchen windowsill when you were young? I bet it would seem very dear. Mine usually has (in addition to herb crumbs and water stains) a couple of candles, a reminder of my faith, a photo of my beloved grandmother, a jar of homegrown dried lavender from a dear friend, a pumpkin (natch), a Halloween print, a small golden pot holding Earlybird's med dispensers, and my evening tea mug - all washed out and ready hours before its needed. I loved looking at that mug all day - thinking ahead to the hour after supper when I'd sip a warm, soothing cup of bedtime brew. :)

And now for chapter two ...

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Morning (2008 post here)

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"Yet we can still pause long enough to gaze at the new world before our eyes and to give thanks for the day we have been given." (p. 17)

I love this quote so much - because every single day is a gift. How wonderful then to begin each morning with a little mindfulness? A moment of recognition - I'm here, we're here, we can start again today - followed by a breath of thanks or prayer.

My mornings have changed somewhat from the first time I read this chapter. They're perhaps a little more complicated, and they're still super-early thanks to our Earlybird! Now though I have bookends to my mornings; I start with Earlybird (who wakes anywhere from 4-6 a.m.) and then I wait for Little Bear to wake (between 8 and 9) before I head downstairs to physically get the day going. Mentally the day is already cooking away while I sip my coffee and rock in my bedroom chair ...

Earlybird is good about keeping himself busy (usually with his kindle - no tv) and he knows not to expect too much of me! He is allowed snacks and water but otherwise he must wait for breakfast when I'm downstairs for the day. I actually don't mind waking so early - I've always been a morning person! In fact, if I wake later than six I feel a bit gypped! I absolutely relish those dark, quiet hours ... my brain is still revving up and I can just sit and think and pray or meditate. And as I do, I shake off the night's dreams and restlessness and wait for Bill - God BLESS him - to bring me coffee, as he does every single morning. This is a daily kindness I cherish  - it's a bit of a ritual for us, since he's off early and doesn't return until dinnertime. He hands me my cup - waits for me to take a sip and murmur my thanks - then he's off to ready himself for his day. I carry that moment with me all day ...

While it's still dark I look at my phone and use the "alone" time to read articles and work in ways I don't usually have time or space to otherwise. I don't read my current novel at this time because I don't like to immerse myself in another world (so to speak) when I might have to jump back to reality at a moment's notice. I save that kind of reading for bedtime when the younger boys are asleep.

But once the day grows light enough, I turn to my planners and notebooks. Little Bear will be in our bed by now, because every SINGLE night he leaves his for ours. Ours is a high bed so I prop pillows all around him and then keep watch from the corner ... rocking, sipping, writing ... half wanting him to keep sleeping and half anticipating that first sleepy smile ...

As it nears eight o'clock I quietly open the blinds and the drapes so that he wakes to gentle daylight. (I used to do this through the night in my boys' rooms after they were soundly asleep, but have given that practice over to the wee hours of the morning. I think it is such a gift if a child can wake with the day's natural light.)

As for the older boys, well - as you can imagine, like most older boys, they are good sleepers! Both would sleep well past nine or ten if they were able. I know many parents with older kids who bemoan their late sleepers and/or exult in their recaptured weekend mornings. But between my little boy and my special boy, I can't imagine I'll have ever have a day when all my kids are late sleepers! But that's ok with me ...

I'm getting a little off-topic here because in this chapter Ms. Kenison touched upon the magic of starting the day off in a thoughtful way. And I guess I described how I do that for myself above. For my Earlybird it's knowing Mom and Dad are checking in on him and making sure he's a-ok as he rocks on the couch with his kindle. For Little Bear, it's the special time he gets in mama's arms, in that rocking chair, by the south-facing window. Even when we have a busy morning, we take time to sit here together. We talk about the kind of morning it is and listen for birds or chipmunks or cicadas or the gusty breeze or the ice melt - or even the silence of deep winter. Whatever the time of year, it's always "our thing" to notice what kind of day it is, and where we are in the year.

Mornings for my older boys mean tousled heads and half-shut eyes and they mostly walk right to the kitchen ... so I try to have that be a warm and cheerful place for them as they start their day. We don't converse much to begin with (after the usual, "Hey it's nearly nine and you don't want to be late!") but I do like their morning experience to include a mom who is up and attentive to their thoughts and available to their needs - within reason. I don't get them breakfast, but I make sure there is plenty available for them. I don't lay out their clothes but I do give them a weather update and make a few suggestions. ("It will be warming up later - shorts would be fine with a sweatshirt.")

Mornings for my husband - the dear man, who often has to wash, dress and leave in the dark - are benefitted by (as simplistic as it sounds), clean laundry and hot coffee. I take care of the former and he takes care of the latter. Then he can leave the house as smoothly as one hard-working husband might hope!

Ok, I feel like I have a lot more to say about "morningtime" but in the interest of time, I will move on ... to chapter three!

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Peace (2008 post here)

Pretty-pink-bloomsChapter three begins with this quote:

"Like Thoreau, I love "a broad margin to my life" - the less packed into a day the better." (p. 23)

And back in 2008 I began our chapter discussion with the same quote - because when I first read it, it just leapt off the page and grabbed me by the pen-in-hand, imploring me to see its truth. So YES to this. So very much this. I'm definitely someone who appreciates a lot of white space in their planner ... 

Further on Ms. Kenison said this:

"Knowing peace at home we bring peace into the world."

Another wonderful quote, and the picture above represents this kind of peace to me. That's Little Bear sitting in my lap yesterday afternoon, reading a little book with his mama. This is an example of sharing peace with my youngest son - in such a way that matches his needs, at his level - and it's my hope that these kinds of things help him become a more peaceful person.

I seek to understand him now, and someday he'll seek to understand others ...

For Earlybird this might be a quiet morning stroll down the driveway with Mom - the rest of the house asleep - to fetch the Sunday paper.

For Crackerjack this might be listening to the piece of music he's really fond of at the moment, or a little one-on-one conversation in the car.

For Bookworm this might be working on a crossword puzzle together, or trying a new recipe.

For all of us, it's having as much unstructured time as possible when we can all just BE, at home, together - maybe doing something or maybe just being available should the need or desire to converse/interact arise.

I remember a story told by Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits/Franklin Planner fame) in which he described his teenage son asking if he might be home that coming weekend. Mr. Covey responded yes, wondering what his son might need of him or what might be going on - but the son just shrugged. All he wanted was to know that his Dad would he home.

What peace that gives our children! Simply to be available when they need us, in both an emotional and physical sense.

As I've said before, our autumn semester is frightfully busy - I've still not adjusted - but because I place such a high priority on "downtime" I'm earnestly working on how to smooth things out as best I can. I need to recreate my margins!

On p.23, Ms. Kenison goes on to say ...

"So I try to build the margins in, to keep our days from being inscribed too densely."

It's not something you can turn your back on - these family schedules - and just hope things fall into place. We have to be proactive if we want to keep our children alongside us as we navigate this hectic modern life ...

"Other times I have to switch gears ... so that I can pull my children out of the swift current of a day and guide them into a calm pool instead." (p. 24)

So to begin with, I'm not just waiting for those moments to be available - I'm writing those moments right into my schedule! Because I can get caught up in the busy-ness with the best of them. I can let a day roll on, and forget to pause for these peaceful moments. Suddenly it's bedtime and as Little Bear asks for a story I realize - with horror - that it's the first one of the day. (Honestly, it's happened.)

If I can't manage a peaceful day, how can I expect my children to?

Being an example to our children is, I think, one of our greatest duties and privileges as parents, and I like to think that in most things I'm providing a good model for my children. As discussed above I hope that my attention to the small things will rub off. I also hope that the way I conduct myself just in general, as a human, does too. I try to be mindful of how I react to things - circumstances, stresses, aggravation, disappointment, society and current events - and I hope that I'm showing them a way to stay calm, open-hearted and considerate.

Let me say this though (without going too deeply because it's truly a topic for a whole separate post) ...

Our home is not always a haven of peace and gentle living. In fact, some days it's anything but ...

We are an autism family and that means in our house peace can be fragile. Our Earlybird is an absolute love and a wonderful child - brave and loving in so many ways - but he does have some severe challenges. Challenges that greatly affect our family as a whole. Among them, impulsivity, aggressiveness, anxiety, rigidity, a penchant for chaos and disorder. This journey has been so trying for all of us, and my mother's heart breaks for all my sons - for the one struggling and the ones having to put up with so many injustices and disappointments ...

But what I have to remember is our older boys look to their parents to see how we react to the situations that arise - daily - with their younger brother. His behavior at times can be extremely trying, frustrating ... upsetting. We love our children more than anything in this world, but we are human too. We get hurt, and angry and yes, we sometimes yell and act irrationally or even break down and cry. It's so, so hard to navigate these waters - still, and I fear always - but we are constantly aware that Earlybird's brothers are learning from our responses. They'll take those lessons with them into the world - not just in how they act with their autistic brother, but in how they respond to any challenges and frustrations they might face in life. To any person who might be different or trying in any way.

On our fridge there is a magnet - it has been there for YEARS. It says:

"Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart."

I'd add two more magnets about peace if I could, the first would be from Mother Teresa:

"If you want world peace, go home and love your family."

And the next from Katrina Kenison herself:

"If we have peace at home, we'll bring that peace to the world."

Words to remember and ponder ... peace is on everyone's mind but it's also within everyone's grasp. Find things that bring peace into your home and peace will find you. 

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Well my friends, I'll be off now, because this post has become longer than I intended and I know - like me - your time is not always at your leisure. So I thank you, truly, for stopping by today and sharing a cup of tea with me and hearing me air my thoughts out on these chapters. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, too - whether they are on the chapters themselves, my posts, or the concepts discussed here in general. Please feel welcome to leave me a comment below or link me to a post at your own blog ... OR email me your words (and or photos) here: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

I will update this post with links as they come in!

Here is Kimberly's beautiful post about her precious relationship with her daughter and balancing the needs of an extrovert and an introvert. :)

And next Friday I will be back with another cup of Autumn Tea in which we will be discussing chapters 4-6:

Quiet, Simplicity and TV

(Remember to check out my Mitten Strings archives, for earlier posts on these topics!)

Thanks so much everyone ... I will see you here again very soon!


A Mitten Strings Book Study: Why, How & When!

MSfG on bedding

Hello my friends, and Happy Monday!

I am so excited to renew our Mitten Strings for God book study this week! I have mentioned my idea here, there, and everywhere the past couple of days - and now that I've had a little time to think about it, I wanted to announce a few more details. :)

(First though, how cute is my new bedding? Honestly - it's a complete coincidence that it just happens to match MSfG perfectly!)

So, a little back story - and for that, I'll point you to last Thursday's post in which I announced my intention to revive our original 2008 "Mitten Strings Book Study." For those unfamiliar with this lovely little book (one of my favorite books of all time), this is a slim, pretty - absolutely wonderful - collection of one mother's thoughts on the art of mothering and slowing down. The subtitle captures it best: "Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry."

I think it's safe to that say most of us could do with a little slowing down - no matter what stage of life we're in! 

Personally, I'm in a stage of mothering right now that's somewhat unique. I'm an old mom - but also, a young mom! (Well, sort of, lol. My oldest son is a grown man, while my youngest is only 4 years old!) So yes, I've been doing "this" for a while now - 22 years and counting! - but that's not to say I've got it all figured out.

Goodness, no.

The truth is I've figured some things out, and I do have more confidence than I did years ago, but life just doesn't stay still, you know? Just when you get in a groove, life throws a curve at you. Like an autism diagnosis ... or a baby at age 44! So reflection is ALWAYS a good idea - and especially when there seems to be no time for it.

Too busy to sit? Too busy to think? Sound familiar?

People after all, particularly children, are always changing ... and in ways that go much deeper than growth spurts. 

I think what can sometimes happen is that while we're all caught up in planning and doing - the checklists are being checked and the "must-dos" are being done - our inner lights are not being kindled. We're being efficient perhaps, but are we being nourished?

As mothers and wives and as families?  

Because in the blink of an eye it seems the little boy who couldn't wait to wake up simply to tell you his dreams is suddenly the quiet young man who shrugs more often than he speaks. Enthusiasm for favorite family pastimes might wane. The outside world gets bigger as our children do, and suddenly we have fierce competition for their attention ...

Predicting our family's needs gets a little murkier once our children leave young childhood.

I think in the beginning of our mothering journeys, we're just so eager to TALK and THINK about what we're doing and the choices we're making for our family. We're reading parenting books, surfing forums, attending support groups and flipping through Parents Magazine in waiting rooms with a keen interest in all things to do with raising children ...

Is this the right choice? Is there a better choice? Why are there so many choices?!

And then time starts flying and our Parents subscription expires and suddenly we're sending our babies off to college! We spend our days keeping up - trying to field life's changes as they come at us. Sure, families get busy, kids develop different needs - some you might never see coming! - but there is always that need for their mothers.

Always, always, always - no matter their age or their protests - children need their mothers. And mothers do well, I think, to slow down and take stock - not just for our kids but ourselves.

Ok, I'm getting carried away, so back to our upcoming book study! Here's what I have in mind ... 

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Each Friday, starting THIS Friday (10/20), I will post a Tea here at my blog. This simply means that at home I'll prepare a pretty cup of tea (and share a pic), and then the rest of the post will revolve around the topics at hand. In each post I will chat about three chapters ONE chapter from Mitten Strings for God and share my thoughts now - as well as reflect back on my thoughts then. (See chapter schedule below.)

Note: I decided to combine three chapters per post because for one thing, they are fairly slim chapters - very quick reads, yet filled with deep thoughts. My hope is to work our way through the book and be done by Christmas, ready to start the new year all encouraged and refreshed. And maybe move on to another book come January!

Update! I decided to change our book study schedule to ONE chapter per week. My thinking is explained in this post. Chapters 1-3 were discussed on 10/20 and the rest of the book study will unfold every Friday according to the schedule updated below and in the post I just linked.

Everyone is welcome to join the conversation - whatever your children's ages, if you're a new reader or an old reader, whether it's your first time reading this book or your tenth!

You are welcome to send me a link to your own blog if you have a post (old or new) that fits the current topics. You are also welcome to email me with your thoughts and any pictures you'd like to share. (I'll weave them into my post.) And of course I would love for you to comment on any post you'd care to - the first one, the last one, or any of the ones in between!

Pop in when you can! I want this to be a very low-stress book study, for all of us. :)

(Note: You can email me here --> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.)

Here are two book study "buttons" for you to use at your blog if you wish - or at any social media site. Just please link back here if you do! :)

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Mitten Strings for God new button

And finally, here is the schedule for each week's chapters:

October 27th: Quiet

November 3rd: Simplicity

November 10th: TV

November 17th: Play

November 24th: Secret Places

December 1st: Wants and Needs

December 8th: Stories

December 15th: One-on-One Time

December 22nd: Surrender

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In each post I'll share a link to the 2008 discussion, and then reflect on how things have changed for us as the boys have gotten older. (And how things might be different with Little Bear!)

I will also be sharing pictures throughout the week on my social media sites (Facebook and Instagram) that will reflect the chapter themes.

Well my friends - I hope you'll consider joining my book study - perhaps tuning in and/or chiming in as you can. I am so excited to revisit this wonderful book - for its content of course, but also because it will encourage me to take a little time to sit, read and look inward as the leaves fall and the days grow dark ...

My fondest hope is that we mothers might all be inspired and rejuvenated as we read - especially as keepers of the spark that lights our family's collective journey.

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

(Or at the very least by Friday!)


Mitten Strings ~ a conversation continued!

Hello my friends, and Happy (almost) Friday! :)

On Facebook the other day I shared a beautiful post by Katrina Kenison, author of one of my favorite "mothering" reads of all time, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. Some longtime readers might remember back in 2008 when I ran a chapter-by-chapter book study of Mitten Strings here at the blog - and oh, what fun we had with that! We discussed some wonderful topics - Simplicity, Wants and Needs, Stories, and Quiet, for example - but we only made it to chapter nine before my posting ended. (I've always regretted dropping the ball on that series! My sincere apologies to those that were following along.) And we still had another 20 chapters to go - including Grace, Stretching, Sabbath, and Rhythm - so many more excellent topics to digest and discuss!

Well, as Autumn descends and my reading habits change (as in, I crave more of it!) I've been sorting through my books and organizing my baskets and trying to build more reading time into my days/nights. I've had my tattered copy of Mitten Strings sitting on my bureau all Summer, just awaiting a re-read and so I thought ... why not start there?

In addition to my own re-read, I thought it would be nice to revisit that old post series and see what I (what we) all thought and shared in response to those chapters. And then, hopefully continue on! I'll post more about my ideas on continuing our conversation - beginning with my Autumn Tea post next week - but for now I want to talk a bit about Chapter One, which I just re-read last night. If you follow me on Facebook you probably already read this, but it grew so lengthy I thought it really belonged here at the blog ... :)

Mittenstrings for god button

So, I just re-read the first post I wrote in the series (Chapter One: "Dailiness") and first of all - wow, what a snippet of life from nine years ago! I smiled as I read about the goings-on in our home that random day - the boys running about and the things they were into, what I was cooking, and hearing and thinking ...

My blog at that time was just two years old, and it was quite a hodgepodge of "everyday" things. Not that it's not still rather *ahem* eclectic in style - but back then I posted quite frequently (daily, even) as I tried to capture all those little things that made up the fabric of my life at home with a husband and three young boys. I wrote as much to preserve family memories, as I did to shine a light on the happiness I found in being at home ...

But then, as I read on, the post absolutely stopped me in my tracks - because it referenced a death we'd just had in our family. I hadn't thought of this person in so long and it was quite a shock to remember that tragic event. It also brought back the feelings of disbelief and despair which at that time were quite fresh. Amy's death was so sudden and it just seemed so unreal - and unfair - that someone so young and vibrant, leading a life so much like mine, could possibly be gone forever ... 

The message of Ms. Kenison's first chapter - appreciating the very DAILINESS of life while we can - really hit home for me nine years ago, and it still does today. I vowed, as I wrote that post, to always be aware of the blessing of those simple, everyday moments ... the sweet AND the mundane. I even wrote out a few suggestions for doing that very thing, and then invited readers to join me and add their own thoughts. (And what a wonderful conversation we had!)

Maintain balance within our family schedule. I say maintain, because I think we do a pretty good job with our schedule now, but it's always a balancing act. I'm a true homebody at heart, so I make sure we have plenty of quiet days (or at least hours) in a week. I want to set an example for my children, to show them a way to live that is not frantic or pressured. I hope they learn to set their own pace in the world, without tethering themselves to its demands.

Learn to appreciate the "humble household rituals." Remember that it's only for a while that I'll have little boys underfoot and five sets of socks to sort. Focus on the fact that the things I do for my family - even the smallest offerings - are all gifts. From me to them and back again. Even the meatballs. ;)

Make home a nurturing place to be - physically, emotionally and mentally. Help the kids cultivate hobbies. Create space that is cozy and fun to be in. Brainstorm family activities that don't require money or even a lot of fuss - things like lighting candles at dinner every night. (Thank you Mary for the idea!)

Take time to consider it all. Keep up my blog, because it is here that I am preserving my family's memories - our family's dailiness, if you will. When I read through my archives, I remember how "big" all the little things really were. Hopefully my boys will do the same someday. As they grow, I want them "to be able to see the sacred in the ordinary ... to know how to "love the dailiness." And I want them to want that for their own families.

I'd like to think I've been keeping up that kind of awareness, and that I've been as mindful as I could possibly be of the blessing that is LIFE every day, here and now. But a reminder like this is necessary sometimes, mixing the sweet with the sad ...

Ironically enough, I'll have my hands dug deep into cold ground beef tonight again (you'd have to read my post to understand!), but you can just bet I'll be thinking about this book and that chapter ... and especially about my cousin's wife who lost her life so many years ago.

So in my kitchen this evening - a different space, a different soundtrack, one more little guy underfoot - I'll light a candle in remembrance and gratitude. Another day, another chance to be with my loved ones - who could ask for more than that?

I hope you might like to join me as I revisit each of the nine chapters we covered - and continue on with the remainder of this beloved book. We'll talk more at Tea next week!

In the meantime - thanks as always for stopping by! I will see you here again very soon!


Themes, Thoughts and Apologies~

This morning, Colin asked about my July Themes & Plans, and I thought it a good time to publicly apologize for the extreme tardiness of that particular post! I was so busy with so many things at the end of June I just never had the time to pull it together. I am going to carve out some time this week to get that post up - and before the end of July, I promise! It will be the last installment in my Themes and Plans series; you can access the rest of the monthly posts here.

Now, about those long ago Mittenstrings posts ... ahem. ;) That series, too, had to be moved to the back-burner for a while. Sometimes I am too ambitious for my own good, and I probably should have noticed how full my plate was becoming last spring, before embarking on so many "projects." I do fully intend to return to the book study - the chapter, "Stories" will be next. When, I can't say for sure - but soon. :)

And while we're talking blog thoughts and apologies I'd like to just say that - to be perfectly honest - this spring was a bit trying for me and for a while I considered not blogging anymore. But I realized I would miss it too much, and even if I can't post as zealously as I once did (old-time readers might remember when I posted at least once a day!) I would still like to come here and chat with you all when I can. It's not as often as I used to, I know, and those meaty posts are slower in coming and I feel badly that I can't always address every question or fulfill every request. I do appreciate your visits - and all your comments - so very much, but I'm just a mom like everyone else, and my time is hardly my own. If you've asked a question in the past and I never answered it, please feel free to leave a comment beneath this post. I will do my best to address any queries just as soon as I can.

Well, that's all for now; I'd best be off and turn my attention back to my family. :) Thanks, everyone ~ thanks for being such a lovely and encouraging audience. You make it a very happy place to be here in my little corner of the web, and I am grateful for your patience and support. Have a great day, and I will see you all again sometime soon!


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Nine

Wants and Needs

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"The fact is that try as I might to stay centered and focused on what's really important, the world sometimes does win. At times I feel on the losing end of a tug-of-war: one one side, a desire to live simply, without fuss; on the other, the lure of social events, beautiful things to buy, new places to go."

This chapter is so meaningful - I have so much of it underlined! - and yet, I found it challenging to get this post done. (Obviously - I'm several days late!) I'm not sure why that is - other than the usual lack of time issue - but I think, I must admit, that even as a grown-up I find it hard sometimes to distinguish between wants and needs. It's an important concept to teach our children - and learn ourselves.

I think helping our children find - and really feel - contentment now, is vital to their happiness later in life. We grown-ups know, in our hearts, that contentment doesn't come from things, but rather, from having our needs met consistently. Because once those needs are met, we feel comfort, and comfort provides plenty of space for joy. (Did I just talk in a circle? Possibly, but please bear with me.)

There are so many places this post could go, but in the interest of time (mine and yours) I'll just offer up a few notes I jotted down for myself re this particular endeavor (and as always, these are just things I am trying - I don't presume to know what would work for your family):

1. Expose children to less media. It's only human nature - we know ourselves how easy it is to be manipulated by the media. It can be tough to explain why it is the media does what it does, and how it's not really presenting a realistic view - but even if we could get that message across, it doesn't necessarily lesson the temptation. The best approach - less exposure.

2. Shop as little as possible. The less time spent "shopping" the better. I try to contain my errands to one morning a week, and by necessity, for me that needs to be Saturday mornings. And since there are all kinds of better things to be doing on Saturdays than shopping - we keep it brief. I want the boys to get the impression this is not recreational but rather, a necessary task.

3. Make giving thanks a bigger part of our life. Brainstorm different ways to consider the ways we are blessed (there are so many), and then stick with what feels right. A friend of mine asks her boys to name what the best part of the day was was for them. I bet over time, it will be clear that rarely is it a material thing - but more likely a person or experience.

4. Donate and volunteer as a family. Help the boys understand not everyone is as fortunate as we are. Work to see that other's needs are met. Learn to appreciate how good it feels to give of ourselves.

I have a few other ideas, but if I want to get this post up, I'd better stop here. :) I'd love to hear your thought on this chapter. How do you help your children tell the difference between wants and needs? How do you keep your own focus?

Thanks for stopping by today, and I hope you all have a pleasant evening. (And for those awaiting my Cranford post - it will come sometime tomorrow. I fell asleep last night only 10 minutes in!)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Eight

~Secret Places~

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"Every child needs such a place, a place that invokes the processes of the imagination and the possibility of transformation. A place that is at once a haven from the adult world and a source of mystery and wonder, a place that a child can discover and shape and lay claim to, simply by virtue of his or her own presence there, and deep observation."

I love this short and sweet chapter; it makes me want a quiet little spot all of my own! But it also makes me think about how much my boys would love such a place. And like each of the chapters before it, it really gets my maternal wheels turning ...

Children thrive on imaginative play, and a secret place would welcome them right into that world. Because whether they are imagining themselves to be pirates or just curled up reading a book, there's an element of pretend to it all. Here, they are on their own, and they are in charge (more or less). In these little places they can dream up all kinds of things to do, or to be - or they can just think about what's going on in their life. We grown-ups know the need for "alone time" all too well; I know I do my best thinking - and imagining - when I have a quiet little space for myself. Our children may not ask for it themselves, but that need is still there. The trick is figuring out how to provide it for them.

Because for one thing, we can't really let our kids just meander off into the woods on their own, as our parents and grandparents once allowed. Years ago most kids, like Ms. Kenison, just found these places on their own. I have a hunch most kids today would need a little direction.

And for another thing, most modern homes lack the kind of nook-and-crannies that older homes had in spades - every square inch, it seems, is accounted for. But inside or out (or both) this is a good time to think about how we might provide such a spot - a little haven of peace and mystery - for our children. Now that spring is here, look at your yard with fresh eyes, and see what you might come up with ...

I remember my own secret places quite well. There were a few cozy spots inside our house, but it was outside where I found most of my alone time. When I was little, we had a brook that ran through the backyard. Beside its north bank there stood a large boulder. I would climb that boulder (quite a brave feat in my mind at the time!) and just, well, sit. I think I remember "fishing" with long twigs and watching for rabbits to come out of the woods. Everything was quite overgrown and you could hardly see our house from the spot. My spot. Looking back on it, I recall feeling like I really was off in the wild somewhere. :)

The other outside secret place was at my grandparents' house. To the left of their house, just beside their small side yard, rose a hill. Near the bottom of this hill was (and still is) a small brushy wood. And at the top of this hill was a wild patch of tiny blueberries. Here I would climb, dixie cup in hand, and sit and pick and imagine. Some of the neighbor kids would join me here, too. There were trees for climbing and when you got near the top - you could see the whole neighborhood! Oh my, that feeling!

As much as my boys are outside - and they're outside a lot - I really can't let them off by themselves. We have wonderful woods behind our house, thick with fields and trees and a meandering river; an adventureland to be sure. But you know, we can explore it together all we want - we're just not comfortable letting them out there all on their own ...

So, I'm working on a few ideas. :)

~ For one thing, a tree fort. Every child (especially, I think, a boy) should have a tree fort at some time in his life, don't you think? Our neighbors - whose children are all grown - have a cool tree fort in their backyard. It's dilapidated now, unfortunately.

~ But a tree house is a big project, and we're knee deep in projects around here, so ... my next idea is a stick house. I saw this project in Earthways. (A book about which I cannot say enough!) Basically, you set up several long poles or branches as a base, securing them against a fence or a tree. Secure them together twine and then let the kids start weaving branches, twigs, grasses, vines and leaves all around until its filled in. (Leave a space for an entrance.) I have just the corner in mind for this, too - far from the house, but still within its boundaries. :)

~ Next on the list of possibilities would be a sunflower house or pole bean tepee. This would be a fun gardening project for the summer.

~ Finally, another idea which we've done in the past, is to set up a tent in the backyard for the summer. The kids can use it as a "clubhouse" of sorts and even sleep out in it at night (dad sleeping alongside of course).

And with an eye toward the fall, we're finishing off a portion of our basement as a playroom, a space that will be devoted to the boys. Not that it will be all that secret, but it will have a cozy den-like feeling to it, I hope. :)

So, there you have my thoughts after chapter eight ~ and now I'd love to hear yours! Please leave a comment if you have time, or a link to a post at your blog. Do your children have a quiet spot to call their own? Are you, like me, brainstorming ways to provide them with such a place?

"In choosing these places, and the things that go into them, we learn about who we are and what we love. We learn about the power of place, how to partake of the world's subtleties and secrets, of the human need for sanctuary."

Thanks for stopping by, my friends. Enjoy your weekend, and I'll see you all again sometime soon. :)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Seven

Play

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"So much of the structure that we impose on our children's lives is really intended to make our own lives easier. We don't want to give up our freedom, and so we fail to grant our children theirs. As every mother knows, it's easier to sign up for sports camp than to carve out a week to allow your children to follow their own inclinations at home. But children need time that is utterly their own - time to take up residence in their own lives, time to dream through an afternoon, time to play with the kids next door, time to wake up to their own pleasures. Above all, they need some time when we adults aren't calling the shots."

When I'm asked why we homeschool, I usually respond that there are too many reasons to list. But more often than not, (depending on the nature of the conversation, and the person asking the question), I usually then go on to list out those reasons. :)

One of the reasons at the top of that list is that homeschooling gives my children so much TIME. Time to be children, time to figure out who they are, time to get to know their brothers and the rest of their family. As a family, homeschooling allows us to draw up our own schedule, fillling it in as we see fit - making sure there's lots of blank space on that chart.

Play needs to be part of that blank space. Children can discover so much - about the world, about themselves - through their play. Some discoveries just cannot be taught or arranged by the adults - they must be stumbled upon by the children themselves.

For example, last week we had our Nature Club's April Meeting. We had a lovely time, searching for signs of spring in the woods. The initial plans were drawn up by parents, and the walk itself was led, more or less, by the parents. At the end of our walk, we gathered together to share our findings - drawings, poems, etc. The children had a great time - you could read the excitement in their faces, pink from the fresh air and exercise.

But the moment we were "done," the kids were off - off to the rocks. And before long we had a group of - oh, easily 30 children, of all ages and sizes - climbing the rocks, taking part in some kind of game. Completely child-driven, child-led and child-imagined. It was like they were speaking their own language - I'd hear snippets as they'd run by in packs - something about tribes and some kind of mission. We parents just stood back and let them do what they had to do. They let us have our time - now this was theirs.

My heart soared on this gorgeous spring day, that my children - all these children - all had so much time to PLAY. To just be children. Given a half hour of freedom, they knew just what to do with it.

Of course, this example shows what children can do with all that time, when they are all together. But what about when they are on their own?

"Perhaps we adults have lost the fine art of lollygagging, but at least most of us mastered it as children. We knew what it was to bored and to find something on our own to do; we knew what loneliness felt like; and we discovered the value in being alone sometimes. Left to our own amusements, we found resources we didn't know we had. We learned, as Worsworth wrote, to see through "that inward eye that is the bliss of solitude." These were valuable lessons - and I fear that our own busy, well-entertained children may not ever have the chance to learn them. Inventiveness and self reliance are being scheduled right out of them."

And of course the other question I often get asked re homeschooling is: "Don't your kids get bored?"

And to be perfectly honest, not really. Or if they do get itchy, it's usually not long before they find something to start up (or, ahem, something is suggested for them). I am a huge fan of boredom. I think in today's culture, boredom is quite underrated.

And to be further honest, though we're as busy as the next homeschooler (classes, clubs, field trips, etc.) the reality is we are home a lot. And no matter how much you are home - whether you homeschool or not - you do need to plan ahead for these times.

I'm still working on this myself - I don't mean to sound like I have it all figured out! But here are a few ideas I've been knocking around regarding making home time fulfilling for everyone ~

Explore and cultivate hobbies, give them room to grow. Involve the kids in the everyday running of the household - washing the car, walking the dog, etc. Set up comfortable places to read, convenient spaces to play. Rotate the books on display week by week. Make art supplies accessible, and keep a workspace available nearby. Keep music on inthe background, something different or something familiar - whatever you think will strike the right mood that day. A basket of CD's on a shelf, next to the player invites children to consider the music themselves. Make your child's bedroom a sanctuary - a place to dream, and relax. Set up shelves for things like aquariums, terrariums, rock collections or lego creations.

Well, I've run out of time for today, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter! How do you encourage your children to entertain themselves? What kinds of space (both physical and emotional) do you provide for them?

And ~ I hope you are all enjoying your weekend! See you all again sometime soon. :)

(Next week's chapter: Secret Places)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Six (TV)

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"In our house, eliminating television cleared a space for the things we really care about. In fact, I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that turning off the TV was the greatest single thing my husband and I have done to foster creativity, imaginative play and independent thinking in our children."

I must say, this chapter lined up rather neatly, because as it turns out, next week is National Turn off Your TV Week. Susan has a great post about it here, and she links to an interesting blog here.

This No-TV Week thing always gives me pause to consider ~ Could we live without TV? Would we want to? (It first came to my attention, ironically enough, on Arthur years ago.) We've never actually done it, though - turned the TV off entirely, as Ms. Kenison's family has done. I love that quote at the top of my post because I can only imagine how rich and lively their home life must be without the interference of the Tube. And that's how I kind of see TV in our life at this point. Mostly benign, mostly in the background. We are very selective/protective about what we turn on (for ourselves and or kids), and in the scope of family life, as long as TV remains a condiment and not the main meal, we'll be OK.

But, let me be frank. I LOVE the idea of no TV. Or I should say, I LOVE the idea of less TV. I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who have no interaction with media at all. But, call me a child of the 70s ~ I simply can't imagine having no access to TV at all. How would we watch our Patriots games in the fall? How would we watch the presidential debates? How would I watch Jane Austen on Masterpiece or John Adams on HBO?

And more to the point ~

How would I get supper on the table at night?

Here are my general feelings on this topic: I think we (meaning, my family) watch a fair amount of tv, but not too much. Bill and I watch one primetime series, Lost, and an occasional miniseries such as the aforementioned John Adams. We also watch a local newsmagazine, Chronicle, and the Martha show when we find time. (Yes, you read that right ladies, he watches Martha with me.) And then of course there are those Sox games and Pats games. :) At night, after the boys have gone to bed, mostly I like to read (and now knit), and ahem, blog. Bill likes to relax on the couch next to me, and he is in charge of the clicker ~ he pauses very kindly when I find I have something to say. ;)

The boys watch PBS shows (Fetch is a favorite) and a select few other kid shows like VeggieTales and Pokemon. Earlybird loves videos, especially the There Goes a ... series and he also enjoys How it's Made. Oh, yes, and Tiger Woods. He loves Tiger Woods. :)

(And while we're talking kids's shows, I must mention my personal favorite, which I would watch on my own if necessary ~ Little Bear. Is there a sweeter show? I think not.)

With the PBS shows an exception, we watch things we've Tivo'd so there is very little commercial viewing (if any).

I don't think we would ever go NO TV, but I do think we can stand to survey our viewing habits now and again. I have always said to the boys re their video game playing and television viewing that as long as we detect no difference in the amount of time they read or in the way they play and imagine, they may continue to watch and play (in the electronic sense) as they do. (To this I've also added, as long as they can still "be" (happily), outside - as long as they can connect easily with nature - then I'll know our viewing habits are still under control.)

So, right this very minute (5:52 p.m.) supper is underway, and where are my boys? Well, Bookworm is swinging, Earlybird is playing in the dirt and Crackerjack has strapped on a swashbuckling sword and announced fair warning to all ~ "I'm a pirate," says he.

So we're good. :)

Now, let me open the floor. I welcome any and all thoughts on this chapter, but I'd also like to to know if you plan to participate in the Turnoff next week. (And why or why not?)

And, just for fun, please tell me what SHOW you could not live without? :)

Thanks for joining me here. I hope you all have a good weekend!

"When it comes to TV, less is more."


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Five

~ Simplicity ~

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"When I find myself worrying, Can I pull this whole thing off? instead of looking forward to a special day, I know it's because I have allowed an event to become more extravagant and ambitious than it needs to be. There is another way. We don't have to make everything into such a big deal. We can choose simplicity over complication. And what a relief there is in simplicity."

Agreed! And yet ...

It's so hard to keep things simple when there are simply so many great ideas out there! As you all know, I love to read magazines, books, blogs etc. and I come away with folders and notebooks filled with ideas for every single holiday on the calendar (and then some). I just love ideas! And I love celebrating the year with my children. But I have to remind myself to be choosey when filling out our family "dance card." What activities warrant our time spent out and about? What projects warrant our energies at home?

Every holiday has potential to be a wonderful experience for our children, and our children are only young for a short time. We mothers are always aware of that ticking clock ~ there are only so many years to go caroling or egg-rolling or trick-or-treating. And yet, I don't want their holidays to be stretched thin with frantic energy and meaningess activity. I want those memories to be rich and sweet, and I want the meanings of the day(s) to be clear.

So in comes "discretion," and like Ms. Kenison, "I am learning." Each year I think we pare down our busy-ness a little. Sometimes something like the flu does the trick. Our Easter this year had to be simple because we were too ill to do much of anything else. Our decorations were pared down, our meals too. And still, we had a lovely holiday together at home.

Creating happy memories for our children is my end goal, as well as strengthening our family bond. It is those memories and that bond that we take into the future together; they form the family glue, if you will.

The following paragraph is is my favorite piece of advice from the chapter, one that I try to do with my boys anyway, but it is good to know I'm on the same page as Ms. Kenison ... :)

"Celebrate the small blessings and offbeat occasions. Once we take the pressure off ourselves to do things in a big way, we find more reasons to celebrate life's little moments. Jack and I once made a birthday cake for Curious George. Half birthdays are reason enough to enjoy a special meal. Hot summer days suggest impromptu lemonade parties. For children, every day holds potential for celebration and ceremony - the first day of spring, the first snowfall, the harvest moon. A song, a poem read aloud, a ritual, or a special snack - it doesn't take much to create a celebration that affirms life and connects us to the natural order of things: animals, wind, sky and earth."

Some "small blessings" to celebrate at this time of year ~

  • New lambs at the farm
  • The first butterfly spotted
  • A new flower found in the yard
  • The first grill of the year
  • A thunderstorm rolling in
  • The Full Pink Moon
  • Strawberries!

Well, I'm going to wrap it up here, because as you all know I can go on and on, and the whole point of this post is simplification! I do love to collect ideas, though - my themes and plans archive is full of them - but the trick is keeping them in some kind of order. If I feel an idea is well stored, I won't mind putting it aside for a while. And eventually, its time will come. :)

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter! If you have a moment, please leave a comment below with your thoughts or a link to your blog ...

And have a great weekend, my friends. Keep it simple, and have fun!


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Four

Quiet

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"I am convinced that the simplest, most effective way to enrich family life is to return quiet to our homes."

Ahhh, quiet. The perfect chapter to follow peace. Because aren't we mothers always looking for a little of both? ;)

And by quiet I think we - as mothers of full, bustling households - must strive for a particular kind of quiet. Not aways the silent kind of quiet, though that's nice too (as I recall) - but the kind of natural quiet that allows us to hear life. Life as in, our world as it is - the people, the nature, and the hum of the household around us. I could do with less noise, but I savor the sounds of my life. Does this make sense?

Noise = video games, tv, radio, electronics, etc.

Sounds = laughter, singing, birdsong, the wind, etc.

What does life sound like in your home right this very minute? Is the noise drowning out the sounds?

Here I have ...

  • rain dripping on the deck
  • an oven preheating (creak, creak)
  • boys chatting down the hall
  • papers being shuffled, a pencil tin being rattled
  • the tapping of my keyboard
  • a car splashing through a puddle
  • the bathtub emptying down the hall
  • "Between the Lions" in the next room (peppered with EB's laughter)

I do like the idea of attempting some total silence now and then; silence is a good thing to learn to appreciate. Because it is in silence that we may hear (see, feel, think) more clearly.

Case in point, later this month our Nature Club is going on an outing called "Silent Spring." We'll be taking a walk through the woods to seek out spring in silence. (As silent as 15 families can be, lol.) We're going to quiet ourselves so that we may hear what is really going on. Those sounds will be LIFE happening all around us. Spring in the woods is so profoundly beautiful, but if we're noisy we could trip right over it and never give it a second thought. We must find it in the quiet we create.

"In silence we allow the world to enter our hearts."

Well, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, so if you find a quiet moment today, please join me in the comments box below. :)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Three

Peace

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"Like Thoreau, I love a wide margin to my life" - the less packed into a day, the better." (p. 23)

The first time I read Mittenstrings, the above sentence resonated so deeply with me, I copied it out and taped it above my kitchen counter, the spot where I keep all my calendar paraphernalia. Since I'm a homebody at heart, I tend to err on the side of quiet anyway, and yet, with three growing children - all with varying interests and needs - as easily as anyone else, I too can be swept along the racetrack of life.

Peace at home: what does it mean for your family? Do your days allow for sufficient time spent at home together? Not just time spent getting meals on the table, and clothes in the washer, but time to just "be" with your loved ones? How often do you find yourselves sitting quietly together after supper? Are you ever just still, or always, seemingly, "on task" or on the move?

What gets in the way of this kind of peace? I would agree with Ms. Kenison that it is, indeed, too much activity. Too much time spent outside the home going, going, going. I think finding peace means maintaining a balance - a satisfying combination of outside activities and time spent at home. And for each family the equation will be different. I personally require a good deal of time at home to feel peace, and I think my children do, too. The weeks when most of the calendar blocks are filled in are the ones which end with me feeling frazzled and disconnected. (And, as the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy ...)

Of course this doesn't mean to say that just by being at home we are creating the kind of peace and calm that is described in this chapter - the quiet attention paid, the simple connections made. This is a challenge as well - to learn how to slow down and enjoy stillness. Maybe you, like me, find yourself with a quiet "at-home" day and think, "Oh good! I can get this done, and this, and this ..." While there is certainly much to be said for honest work done together in support of our home - this cannot take the place of just "hanging out." Think of how we enjoy spending time with our closest (grown up) friends - wouldn't the best way to re-connect be to just sit and catch up?

So then, what kinds of activities (for lack of a better word) promote such a peaceful place, an environment to foster connection? Handcrafts, read-alouds, puzzles and games, audiobooks, perhaps? This is all good fodder for a future post: How do we create the peace once we make time for it?

It is up to us - as mothers and wives - to keep a close eye on our family's schedule. And the only way to do that is to make time to do so. I would propose scheduling (again, for lack of a better word!) routine times when we can sit down and do just that ...

(And this is just a rough idea, nothing set in stone yet.)

Yearly or seasonally: Take stock and call a family meeting.

  • Who wants to do what this year?
    • hobbies
    • activities
    • sports
  • Discuss vacations, birthday parties, and holiday goals.
  • Decide upon volunteer and charity work.

Monthly: Sit down with month-at-a-glance calendar

  • Look at an overview of the month ahead.
  • Consider themes and goals.
  • Jot down steps to take regarding:
    • current projects (i.e. basement re-organization, vegetable garden)
    • seasonal aspirations (i.e. catch tadpoles in April, beach days in August).

Weekly: Make a plan and discuss it with family.

  • Lessons
  • Appointments
  • Activities
  • To -do's
  • Family fun

Daily: Assess the day's schedule.

  • List must-do's.
  • Where can peace be found/created today?

I am eager to hear your thoughts on this chapter (or if you haven't read the book, this area of family life), so please leave a comment below if you have the time. I'll leave you with my second favorite quote from this chapter, which really gets at the heart of the matter:

"Knowing peace at home, we bring peace into the world."

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. :)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter Two

***Morning***

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"Some days we all leap from the bed, already late, our thoughts rushing ahead to the world beyond our front door ...Yet we can still pause long enough to gaze at the new world before our eyes and to give thanks for the day we have been given ...

"Then, in a blink, we are scattered - by a fit of giggles or the day's first sibling battle; by the clatter of breakfast dishes and the general commotion that ensues as everyone gets up and out the door. But at least, as we set forth, we each carry within us the day's first gift, a quiet holy moment born of love." (Mittenstrings, pp. 16-17)

A short and simple chapter, "Morning" asks us to take a look at this brief time of day. How can we make it special - or at the very least more mindful - for ourselves and our families?

Mornings do set the tone for the day, don't you think? Whatever the day might bring our way, we take those first moments along with us - our husbands bring them to work, and our children tuck them inside their little hearts, too. And just like a good breakfast, a good morning provides the nourishment we all need to make it through the day.

So what's on the menu today? Whole grains and fruit or a pop-tart to-go? ;)

In another post I'd like to address how I might find make time for myself in the morning, and what kinds of things I might do with that time. Because I do think it's important for a mother to nourish herself first so that she may better handle her family's needs. But since these days my Earlybird is beating us all to the punch consistently (4:30 EVERY day) I have little hope of following such sage advice as this:

"Let us begin each common day, dear Reader, with a ceremonial all your own: Carve out private time for yourself, at least half an hour in the early morning to collect your thoughts over a cup of tea or coffee, to pray or meditate, to read a page from an inspirational book, and to plan your day. Of course this necessitates you rising earlier than the rest of your family." (Mrs. Sharp's Traditions, p. 36)

As for my family, well, here are a few thoughts on making mornings feel a bit more like a warm hug and less like a cold shoulder. (And please remember these are just my ideas for my family, I don't mean to sound like I'm telling you all what you should do!)

~ It begins with the bed, I believe; sleeping well leads to waking well. Keep the beds freshly made with cool cotton in the summer and warm flannel in the winter. Spend a few minutes neatening the bedrooms before retiring at night. Waking to a messy room is no fun.

~ Keep bedtimes regular and on the early side (you know that old saying: Early to bed and early to rise ...). There will be more time and energy for the mornings, if sufficient sleep has been had.

~ Before my boys wake, I like to slip into their room and open the blinds and turn off the nightlight. There's nothing quite so lovely as waking to natural light - unless it's also waking to fresh air. So if it's warm enough out, I also open the windows.

~ I always say the same thing to each boy when he wakes: "Good morning, __! Do you feel refreshed? Did you have good sleep?" I have said this to my children every morning since Bookworm was a toddler. It is said in kind of a sing-songy way, but the boys have come to expect it, I think. :)

~ Right now, breakfast is kind of catch-as-catch can, but since we homeschool, I really wish to take advantage of our mornings at home and plan a sit down breakfast-time. This shouldn't be too hard, with a little preparation - if I set the table the night before and ready the breakfast fixings in the kitchen. Then, when everyone is up, and had a bit of wake-up time, we light a candle and begin ... with grace and thanks for the day and then dig in!

~ In the winter, dark mornings could be made more welcoming with candlelight and cocoa. Start a pot of warm milk before the children rise and set out mugs of cocoa. Light candles on the kitchen windowsill. Have plenty of throw blankets ready, kindle the fire, and sit together to watch for the sun.

~ And speaking of the sun, observing the morning unfold, naturally, has always been important to me. Maybe this is because I rarely miss a sunrise, lol! But I really feel this is a great way to greet the day - to pay attention to what kind of day it is. And if throughout the house, the shades are up, and the windows are cracked we can do this more easily. We might notice the sun as its rays hit the treetops, or the clouds rolling in from the west. We will hear the sounds of the morning, maybe some lovely birdsong ...

~ And this wonderful idea comes from my friend (and Mittenstrings buddy!), Laura. :) Every once in a while she surprises her sleeping children with a breakfast tray filled with fresh fruit and bagels. And as the children eat, she opens the book they'd been reading the night before ands picks up where they left off. Isn't that the sweetest way to begin the day?

Well, these are some initial ideas, but I'll be thinking more about this ~ AND I am eager to hear your thoughts on Morning! Do you have an efficient routine or any special rituals to share? Do you find mornings a comfort or a challenge? How do you make this time special for yourself and your family? Please leave a comment or a link to your blog, and let's share some ideas!

But now that this morning is well underway, I'm off. I hope you all have a happy day. :)


Mitten Strings for God: Chapter One

~ Dailiness ~

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"Now I love the dailiness. I enjoy washing dishes. I enjoy cooking, I see my father's roses out the kitchen window, I like picking beans. I notice everything ~ birdsongs, the clouds, the sound of wind, the glory of sunshine after two weeks of rain. These things I took for granted before." (Olive Ann Burns)

Late yesterday afternoon, I was working in the kitchen, preparing supper. I was eager to get to this post; sentences were already forming in my mind. But it was time to make supper - the sun was setting, the kids were getting hungry, and Bill was on his way home from work. So here I was making meatballs - which my family loves, but which I really do not enjoy making. Digging my hands through a pound of cold ground beef is not exactly pleasant to me. But I tried to focus on the fact that this was good beef - all natural, fresh and full of protein. These meatballs would make a nutritious and delicious supper for my family. The boys were running all around me - one was (loudly) telling me all about a new pirates game, one was watching a (loud) train video in the family room, and the other was playing Star Wars (loudly) with a friend.

I must admit, I was craving a little peace and quiet, a little time for myself.

But I couldn't help thinking, as I have done so often lately - especially when I'm doing some mundane, homey little thing - about my cousin's wife who passed away just a few weeks ago. Amy and I were the same age, both mothers of young children. Her life was cut short, and here I stood with - God willing - many years ahead of me. Many more years to savor life's simple little joys. Like making meatballs for my family.

The quote at the start of this post was from a note written by a friend of Katrina Kenison's, a woman who was dying of cancer. Because she knew her time was short, she wanted to enjoy all the little things in life - things that can bring us deep joy if we let them. Those daily joys would be over for her before too long, and she was determined not to overlook a single one.

How do we make the most of the time we have? (And nobody ever knows how much that will be.) How do we learn to love the dailiness?

***

From this chapter I came away with an idea of two kinds of dailiness. There's the kind that's very easy to love - the birdsong, the roses, the sunshine. Easy to love, but easy to miss.

And then there's the kind that's not so easy to love - the dirty dishes, the unfolded laundry and the pounds of cold ground beef. Hard to love, and hard to miss.

***

I've mentioned before that I've read this book a good many times. This time around I'm making a few goals for myself regarding each chapter. So before I turn this post over to my dear readers, (in comments and links posted below), here are some of my notes on dailiness:

1. Maintain balance within our family schedule. I say maintain, because I think we do a pretty good job with our schedule now, but it's always a balancing act. I'm a true homebody at heart, so I make sure we have plenty of quiet days (or at least hours) in a week. I want to set an example for my children, to show them a way to live that is not frantic or pressured. I hope they learn to set their own pace in the world, without tethering themselves to its demands.

2. Learn to appreciate the "humble household rituals." Remember that it's only for a while that I'll have little boys underfoot and five sets of socks to sort. Focus on the fact that the things I do for my family - even the smallest offerings - are all gifts. From me to them and back again. Even the meatballs. ;)

3. Make home a nurturing place to be - physically, emotionally and mentally. Help the kids cultivate hobbies. Create space that is cozy and fun to be in. Brainstorm family activities that don't require money or even a lot of fuss - things like lighting candles at dinner every night. (Thank you Mary for the idea!)

4. Take time to consider it all. Keep up my blog, because it is here that I am preserving my family's memories - our family's dailiness, if you will. When I read through my archives, I remember how "big" all the little things really were. Hopefully my boys will do the same someday. As they grow, I want them "to be able to see the sacred in the ordinary ... to know how to "love the dailiness." And I want them to want that for their own families.

Now, before I go, I would like to invite all of my readers to share their thoughts on this first chapter of Mittenstrings for God. Even if you haven't read the book, but still have thoughts on the subject, you are welcome to join us. Please leave a comment (or comments!) below and/or a link to a post you've done at your blog, and thank you for joining me! I'm home all day, and will be checking in frequently to hear what you all have to say. :)

"If my experience as a mother has taught me anything, it is to be awake for such moments, to keep life simple enough to allow them to occur, and to appreciate their fleeting beauty ... these are the moments that, woven together, constitute the unique fabric of our family life. Herein lies the deep color, the lights and shadows, of our days together." (Katrina Kenison)

*Next month's chapter (Morning) will be discussed on Friday, 3/14. :)


Button Business

Good Tuesday morning, everyone!

Just a quick note to tell you all that I have made an official link-button for the MFG book study. (See righthand sidebar.) After much configuring - and not just a little bit of muttering, lol - I finally figured out how to turn the image into a link for my sidebar. (It's not like I haven't done this before; I used to make these for my Field Days. And speaking of Field Days, I am not planning another one at this time because come to find out, there is already a wonderful environmental education carnival ongoing, and the organizers have been very kind to include me - check out the March edition here!)

Now, back to the button. When you click on the image, it should open up to my post explaining the book study idea. (Should being the operative word.)

Here is the html code if you are interested in posting it at your blog:

<a href="http://dawnathome.typepad.com/by_sun_and_candlelight/2008/03/book-study-mitt.html"><img src="http://dawnathome.typepad.com/mittenbutton1.jpg"/></a>

I hope that works for you. I placed it in a notes-type of Typelist for my sidebar. (That is Typepad-speak ~ I'm sure it's different for Blogspotters, and others.)

So that's all for now. I'm off to get our day rolling, it being 8 a.m. and all, and here we all stand still in pajamas. I'll check back in again later today! :)


Book Study ~ Mittenstrings for God

As I mentioned a while back (gosh, was it weeks ago?) I would love to host an online Mfg2_2book study, focusing on my favorite parenting book of all time, Mittenstrings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. When I first mentioned this idea, I had several people express interest in joining me; I hope I've given everyone time enough to track down a copy and to read into it a bit. On my end, I've started my "real life" book study group (our first meeting was wonderful) and I finally got around to working up a little blog button, as you can see there above. Actually I finally had to admit technological defeat and ask Bill to make it for me. It came out rather nice, don't you think? :)

Anyway, about the book study ~ I'd like to look at one chapter a week, for as long as folks are interested in the topics. (Here's my original post in which I outline the chapter topics.) And really, even if you don't have the book, the issues are all familiar to anyone who is mothering her children in today's hectic world. I hope the study is helpful to everyone who reads here.

So, I will start with the first chapter, this Friday, March 7th (topic: Dailiness). I will probably post a brief quote and then make a few remarks. I will then invite readers to leave their own thoughts in the comments box ~ or to leave a link to a post at their blog. You are all more than welcome to use my button at your site.

You know, I've read this book many times, but each time I come away refreshed and reminded of how I wish things to be for my family. I do hope you'll consider joining me this Friday, but for now, I'll leave you with this quote from the introduction:

"No doubt some of the notions in these pages will seem simple. But I find it is most often the simple gesture or the small goal well met that reaps the greatest reward. And, in our busy lives, it is often the simple gesture that is overlooked, the simple need that is never satisfied ...

We all know this to be true. But sometimes we forget."

Have a great night, everyone. Keep warm and be well!


Comfort Food for the Mother's Heart

Mfg1

I've started re-reading Mittenstrings for God for a mothers' book study which will commence one evening next week. I can hardly wait for it to start! I have loved this book for years and years and have longed to explore its beautiful message with friends. It's just sooo good; all I could think as I turned page after page is how it is very much like comfort food for a mother's heart. :) I am so looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the book's many topics with my friends - and then here with you, too!

I decided to make up a little notebook for myself in which I can jot down thoughts as I read, and then notes as we discuss. It's just another one of those plain composition books I like to dress up with pretty scrapbook paper. I am particularly fond of the quilt pattern shown above. As a final touch, I'll add a ribbon pagemarker - once I find just the right shade of ribbon. :)

If you're not familiar with MFG (as I'll call it, not meaning to sound flip, it's just easier this way), here's a snippet from the introduction:

"This book, then, is not about changing your life. It is about paying more attention to the life you already have, about taking your own life back as you protect your children from the pull of a world that is spinning too fast.

Ultimately, of course, we must each find our own way to be in the world. There are as many ways to live as there are ways to love, and each family has its particular rhythm, its own way of doing and of being. Yet I do believe that, as mothers, we all walk a common path, through a rugged and ineffable territory of love and fury, exhilaration and exhaustion, self-doubt and self-discovery. Every mother I know wishes for close, meaningful relationships with her children, yet none of us is immune to the daily press of obligations and events. We fall captive to the demands of our jobs and families, and to the insistent tug of our fast-paced culture. And most of us find it increasingly difficult, in the face of all this external pressure, to remember what we already know: True happiness is found within ourselves and in quiet harmony with others. Yet if we let this inner knowledge slip away, our children may never learn it themselves, for we are their first teachers. It is up to each of us to set the example, to show by our own actions our respect for intimacy, contemplation, and wonder. This is perhaps the greatest legacy we can bestow on our children: the capacity to be enchanted by the quiet gifts of everyday life.

Over the years I have been grateful to all the women who have gone this way before me and have been willing to shine a light upon the trail, that I might find my own way with a bit more confidence. I hope these pages will do the same for other mothers and their children."

Contents ~ 1. Dailiness 2. Morning 3. Peace 4. Quiet 5. Simplicity 6. TV 7. Play 8. Secret Paces 9. Wants and Needs 10. Stories 11. One-on-One Time 12. Surrender 13. Breathing 14. Healing 15. Listening 16. Nature 17. Enchantment 18. Grace 19. Rhythm 20. Truth 21. Helping 22. Discipline 23. Stretching 24. Nurturing 25. Sabbath 26. Spirit 27. Balance 28. Choices 29. Wingbeats

Stay tuned for my MFG Notes beginning later next week, and let me know if you'd be interested in joining us (virtually, of course). If there's enough interest, I can work up a schedule, and maybe a button too. :)