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Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 8, "Secret Places"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you all are having a nice weekend, and I hope my fellow Americans enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving! Ours was quite nice - and I do have some pictures to share - but for now, I'd like to serve one last cup of Autumn Tea and talk about our next chapter in Mitten Strings for God, chapter eight, "Secret Places." 

Now, despite the "Christmassy" look of my tea pic above, it actually is still Autumn! But I think most of us are switching gears at the moment ... tucking away Thanksgiving (and maybe Halloween) decor, and working on our December calendars and this year's holiday plans ...

But outside my window the world still looks very autumnal! There are crunchy leaves underfoot, and some still clinging to the mostly bare trees ... and oh, those late, glowing sunsets! But the chipmunks have gone underground now - we realized that the other day, shortly after we spotted our first dark-eyed junco on the front lawn. These two species disappear (the former) and reappear (the latter) around the same time each year and it's always a highlight in our household - right along with that first hard morning frost!

Who saw the first junco? Has anyone seen a chipmunk lately? Wow the grass is crunchy this morning!

Autumn's ending ... winter's nearing ... it's time to turn inward and "switch on the lights." 

Here's a peek at our Saturday afternoon, roundabouts 3:00 ... 

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See how dark it gets around here?! And though my Little Bear is wearing a winter jacket in this picture, the temperature was strangely mild today - very near 60°! And, according to our local forecast, all next week is looking unseasonably mild as well - which doesn't bode well for our pre-assigned seasonal theme of "Welcome, Jack Frost!" Lol, we may be hard pressed to celebrate "frosty weather" next week, with highs near 50° ... though the nights will dip down to the 20s, so there is hope! (I contemplated switching themes, but I think we'll stick with it ... and if it stays mild we'll talk about how elusive that ol' winter sprite can be at this time of year!❄️ )

(p.s. The wooden structure is an Advent project in the works - more to come next week on that!)

Ok, enough with the weather talk now, let's talk about tea! This week I'm drinking my favorite decaffeinated black tea in a sweet mug I bought at Home Goods a year or so ago. It's a good sturdy mug that holds a nice amount of tea - and I love the bright red letters spelling out HOME - and the four birds heading straight for it!

(Note - I find the cutest mugs at HomeGoods for very little money. Well, they're not free or anything - as Bill would remind me - but they're a nice enough price I don't mind splurging once in a while! 😉 )

So I took my tea yesterday in our sunny kitchen nook while filling out my December calendar -  because GOODNESS the new month arrives Friday! (Calendar post to come soon!) And though most Advent calendars begin on December 1st, technically, according to the liturgical calendar, Advent begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which in 2017 is December 3rd. And that's a week from today!

Either way you look at it though - whichever calendar you follow - Advent is coming - and SOON!

Before we get on with our chapter talk though, and speaking of tea and Advent, I have to share this with you all ...

Advent teas

This is MY Advent calendar this year, an extremely generous and incredibly thoughtful gift from a dear friend! It arrived in a wonderful surprise package last week, a lovely and festive box filled with special teas for each and every day of Advent ... 24 in all! I am so excited to try them all, and I love the inspiration they represent - a perfect reason to sit down and savor a few quiet moments each day throughout the season ... to soak it all in and think it all through. Advent goes so fast and we can easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle ... but as we tea lovers know, a hot cuppa something special is all the invitation we need to slow down and press pause. I am planning my teatimes already and making room for these special moments in each day. I hope to share most, if not all, of these teas with you all on social media this Advent season!

Ok, let's now move on to our next Mitten Strings chapter ... and today we are discussing the concept of "Secret Places." Here is a link to my post from 2008 and once again I had a chuckle reading back through my thoughts back then. Different house, different (aged) kids (plus one more kid now) ... unsurprisingly things were so ... different back then! Our house has more floors and our yard now has more acreage - so there are more nooks and crannies to explore - but my primary "secret place finder" is only four years old! So I'll have to adapt the concept of a "hideaway" this time around ...

"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 by virtue of his or her own quiet presence there, and deep observation." (p. 62)

Little Bear is just at the right age for seeking out such special, secret places - though again, he's too young to be left to his own devices just yet. I hope next spring to help him explore a little more around our property, to find some little nooks in which he might find "a sense of ownership and mystery," (p. 58).

Here is one such place he has taken a liking to recently ...

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As you can tell from my posts, we are surrounded by woods here - even our front yard has "a small wood" of its own! Well, Friday afternoon, as I walked down to get the mail (taking a break from Thanksgiving cleanup!), I heard Little Bear calling ...

"Mama, come see what I found! Come see, come see! Me and Daddy are here now!"

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A little nook right inside this cozy wood, just a slight dip down below our driveway ... with big, moss-covered rocks to climb and (unbeknownst to Little Bear) a vernal pond to explore come spring. (No actual peepers, though. Just lots of muck and murk.) I was so pleased he stumbled upon this spot which is clearly visible from the house but feels "secretive" to him. Four is such a great age, and LB has such an adventurous spirit ...

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This will make a fun, out-of-the-way place for him to explore ... and "claim."

"The best ones are the ones that children discover on their own, the ones that are imbued, from the very first, with a sense of ownership and mystery; places that no adult would ever think to go, that are hollowed by the shapes of small bodies and furnished by wild nature and rampant imagination." (pg. 58)

Kids are magnets for these kinds of interesting outdoor spots, especially when and if allowed to roam (and lead). Their sharp eyes see such possibilities! But winter is coming and the weather will soon be turning inhospitable; outdoor explorations will be put on the back burner for awhile ...

So as we spend more time indoors, I thought I'd take a look around the house and see where else LB might find his own special nooks ...

Here's a great place for a little "fort" ...

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In the library, where Mama reads (and drinks tea) ... in between the chair and the loveseat, just beneath the (rickety) end table. :)

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He'd be snuggled up right next to the heating register, too! And just under the tablecloth there, you see a glimpse of the cats' soft pet-bed. This is used mostly (always) by Oliver, who is our quieter of the two cats. (There's a reason you see Archie in most of my photos - he's my constant sidekick!) Oliver though, likes being out of sight and prefers being somewhere dark and warm. I'm thinking Little Bear could make good use of this space, too!

And here's another possible secret (ish) place ...

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Well, there's really nothing too secret about the loft bed in Little Bear's bedroom, but I think it has "secret place" potential ... maybe with a curtain of some kind providing some privacy ...

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He's too young to sleep up here just yet (and he has a separate single bed in this room as well) but I think this will be great fun for him as he gets a little older and more adventurous! And there's that neat little cubby just beneath the bed as well ... currently it holds out-of-season clothing but that too could make a wonderful "fort" or hidey-hole someday!

You know, "Secret Places" was another wonderful chapter, with some lovely inspiration for those of us with young children ... but I think the whole idea of a "secret place" is of value to all of us. Our imaginations might not be quite so active as we age, but the need to feel out of the limelight and "off on our own" on occasion ... really never goes away.

"Children need their privacy just as we adults do. In the secret places of childhood, the soul drinks deeply, is refreshed, and flourishes." (p. 63)

Do you have a secret place you retreat to? Do your children have such places they call all their own? I'd love to hear about them and your thoughts on this chapter, if you have time! Or how about the weather where you are, or the tea you are drinking these days? Do you, like me, feel called to pour a cup of tea and "hide away" as the days grow dark and cold?

I'd love to read your comments if you have time to leave them, or send me a link, your thoughts and/or pics if you have a moment!

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you and I thank all of you who have been reading along and sharing your thoughts as you can! Sorry I am a bit late in my replies - last week was a busy one! I will be catching up with you all again soon (and sharing some pics from our family's holiday too). Next week's Sunday post will be our first Advent Tea and very fittingly our chapter is all about "Wants and Needs." Something to ponder as we head into the busiest shopping time of the year, and choose gifts for our loved ones ...

So until then (or next time, whenever that may be) I wish you all well and a very lovely last week of November! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... 

See you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings, Ch. 7 "Play" 🌟

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Welcome to another "Autumn Tea" here at By Sun and Candlelight, and today I'm co-hosting alongside my Little Bear! Since our current MSfG chapter is "Play," I thought it made sense to share tea serving duties with my most playful companion, and serve our (child-friendly) tea, in the playroom - aka learning room, aka sunroom. :)

Now, my tea is a cup of absolutely delicious Harney & Sons English Breakfast - a gift from kind friend and longtime blog reader, Lisa S. :) I am drinking it in a sweet owl mug - a gift from my new friend, Tammy, with whom I am part of a lovely seasonal exchange. I thought this mug was rather playful and perfect for today's autumnal tea - plus it holds a generous amount of tea, which is always a good thing in my book!

As for Little Bear's "tea," his brew of choice this week is good ol' organic apple juice, and it's served in his preferred sippy cup, alongside our snacks for the day: fresh Macintosh apples and some yummy cocoa cookies. I arranged all these things on another one of those cute melamine plates I picked up at Target recently, and then laid down a soft blanket so we could "picnic" on the playroom floor ... :)

What does your tea look like these days? Do you switch things up as the seasons change? Do you find yourself drinking more tea - or coffee or cocoa - as the weather cools? Do you ever share tea with your children, and if so, what do you serve them? I'm always looking for child-friendly ideas, especially those that involve hot juice and/or warm milk.

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Ok, I'm now setting down my cup and brushing crumbs off my book ... time to get on with our chapter! 

In "Play," Ms. Kenison inspires us to reminisce a little about the way we spent our free time when we were kids. First of all - there was more of it back then! Back in the days before screen time was an issue and play dates were a thing ...

She then urges us to think creatively about how we might afford our own kids a little more of such time in which they can be free just to play ...

  • Are our kids too busy and/or managed to know how to fill time with their own thoughts and imaginations?
  • Are their childhoods racing by with them yoked to a fast-track alongside us?
  • What can we do to foster the kind of slower childhood we ourselves enjoyed?

I agree with Ms. Kenison that a family schedule with a little more blank space is a good place to start, but some of us first need to develop an appreciation for this kind of free time. Blank space on our calendar may look nice ... but sometimes we stare at that space rather ... well, blankly.

"Perhaps we adults have lost the fine art of lollygagging, but at least most of us mastered it as children." (p. 56)

What a gift for our children - to provide more empty time in their days so that they may explore whatever comes to their minds. I bet most kids would master such a gift in a heartbeat.

"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." (p.53)

But won't they get bored, you might wonder? Well, maybe ... but does that have to be a bad thing?

Here is a link to the original post I wrote in response to this chapter, back in 2008. And in it, I addressed this very question, as it's been posed to me in the past in regards to our homeschooling:

"To be perfectly honest, not really ... I am a huge fan of boredom. I think in today's culture, boredom is quite underrated."

I go on to suggest some things we try to do around here to entice our kids to play, but to my original list, and in the spirit of this chapter, I would add:

  • A yard that is welcoming & inspiring (play structures, space to run, a garden to craft)
  • And/or a nearby park that can be freely explored.
  • Ample time to run about, climb trees, hop rocks, and stretch those muscles a bit.
  • Natural (safe) places where kids can roam and be wild - and loud!
  • Take neighborhood walks and scout out such interesting places.
  • Ask your kids what might they do with a day free to go anywhere, do anything. 
  • Contact your local trail association and ask for suggestions.

The kind of mother I am would always need to be nearby ... it's just how I roll. Also though, my two younger kiddoes just cannot be left unsupervised. (One is autistic and the other is only four.) I do like Ms. Kenison's suggestion, that kids should be allowed to feel unsupervised, even if a parent is nearby only appearing to be uninterested ... ;)

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It's always been important to me that my kids know how to entertain themselves - for their sakes as well as mine. My mother was a very hands-on, deeply nurturing, always-at-home mom ... but she mostly left my brother and I to our own devices. We played in our rooms, and in the backyard, and we came up with all kinds of games. But Mum definitely let us call the shots when it came to outside activities. I did Girl Scouts, dance, and later on, cheerleading, and my brother dabbled in soccer - but we were very protective of family time. Many a social opportunity would pass us by in deference to our own family needs.

I'm especially glad Little Bear seems to be quite good at keeping himself busy - not that he doesn't love to have someone play with him ("Mama, text Liam and ask if he'll build Legos with me!"), but he can usually entertain himself if nobody's available. (See below!)

As for Earlybird, we're actively working with his therapists to help him learn to play nicely with Little Bear. My two youngest have similar interests - wooden trains and dirt piles, for example - but they definitely need supervision for any play-time to be successful. EB has issues with LB's chattiness and LB has issues with EB's grabbiness, and both of them can get a bit too physical with the other. EB is a gentle giant but he's BIG compared to Little Bear - who's feisty but SMALL. They play as two little kids would, but in this particular equation one of the kids is not physically little anymore. Mentally though, they're a great match!

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(The two of them helping me find an Advent branch yesterday afternoon, a project they both took very seriously. Sometimes play is all business!)

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And not that I've not kept you here long enough, but now I'd like to show you all what play looks like in my house these days ... which, for the most part, involves my youngest. So for this post I followed our Little Bear around and snapped pictures as he went about his "business." As I said above, he really does play very well ... something that's as good for him as it is for his mother! :)

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Late day light

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Ok, now I will absolutely wrap up - but as always, I thank you, truly, for joining me today! I hope you all enjoyed this post with my thoughts on play - as Ms. Kenison described in her chapter, and as it exists in my family these days. I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well! Please feel welcome to leave me a comment below, or send me your thoughts/pics via email. (Links are welcome, too!)

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Now, I am tempted to say next week's chapter will be postponed due to the busy holiday week, but I really would like to stick to our schedule. I will plan to be here next Sunday with our next (and last) Autumn Tea (after that we begin Advent) ... and to talk about chapter eight, "Secret Places." (That sounds very much like cozy corners to me!)

In the meantime, I will wish you all well and to my fellow Americans, a very Happy Thanksgiving Week ahead! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you here again very soon!


So Who Won My Mitten Strings Giveaway ... ???

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Well, before I answer that question, I have a little surprise to tell you first! :)

Not only am I giving away one book this afternoon ... but I'm actually giving away THREE books today!! Yes! I'm very happy to say that I have three extra copies of this extraordinary book to pass along ... and so without further ado, here are the three lucky ladies who will be getting a package in the mail from me next week:

1. Helena

 

2. Emily B.

 

3. Sarah Paquette

 

Helena, Emily and Sarah ~ I am so happy for you, and I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I have! It's the kind of book you can easily devour in one sitting, but as mothers we hardly ever have that kind of time, do we? So we can pick this up and read a little ... make a couple of notes ... put it down ... digest, reflect ... and resolve. Motherhood is such a gift and we all know how quickly the years fly by. Mitten Strings for God encourages us to slow down and be mindful of this great gift. To appreciate this place right here ... and this time right now. 

Ladies, I will be in touch with each of you via email to arrange the mailing details. I will aim to have your books on their way to each of you by early next week!

My sincere thanks to ALL who took the time to comment on my giveaway - it was great to hear from you! Some of you are new readers and I'd like to say welcome! I hope you will all tune into our on-going Mitten Strings book study ... this week we are up to chapter seven, which is entitled, "Play."

Here's the page I'm looking at right now:

Preserving children

This is perhaps my fourth or fifth re-read, but I still find such wisdom in each chapter. And each time I read I come away with new impressions - and new pencil marks on the pages! Certainly this current chapter has given me much to ponder considering my extremely playful four year old! But there are things in here for all of us to consider ... things like the benefits of lollygagging and unscheduled days.

But I'll be sharing my thoughts on all of this - as well as a hot cup of Autumn Tea - on Sunday. And I hope you will join me! For now I will wish you all well and once again thank you for participating, and reading, and stopping by ... I hope you all have a nice weekend!

See you here again very soon ...


Hey, Howdey, Hey! It's a Mitten Strings Giveaway!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday! I hope you're all having a nice week. :)

So I have some bad news and good news this morning ...

First, the bad news:

I'm afraid yesterday got a little complicated, so I didn't have time to sit down and sip ... and type! So my next Autumn Tea/Mitten Strings post will be posted on SUNDAY (instead of today). Happily though (always look on the bright side, right?), this means we have two extra days to read and savor our next chapter ("TV"), before sitting down down to chat ...

Ok!

Now for the good news ...

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... which, as you've probably guessed from the title of my post is ... a giveaway! And my giveaway is a brand new paperback copy of our current book study:

Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison!

So all you have to do for a chance to win this book is to leave me a comment below. (Any kind of comment - simply your name, a suggestion, a question - whatever!) In a week's time I will gather all the names, choose one randomly, and announce a winner on Friday, November 17th. Then I will mail this book out to the winner right away! (There might even be a pretty new bookmark tucked inside those crisp, new pages as well!)

I sincerely apologize for putting off our Tea once again (I'm thinking going forward Sundays might be the better day for my posting), but this mothering gig, as you all know, does not always fit neatly into those pretty planner boxes! Some days you just have to switch to auto-pilot, push up your sleeves and hope for the best ... and such was yesterday, my friends!

Well, good luck to all who enter my giveaway! I hope to hear from you and in the meantime, I'll be back on Sunday with a spot autumn tea and some thoughts on our next chapter of Mitten Strings. (For those just joining us, here is a post with all the book study details!)

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


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 5 "Simplicity"

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Hello my friends, and welcome to this week's Tea and MSfG discussion! We are now on chapter five, "Simplicity," and what a wonderful chapter it is ... my favorite of all, I think! Mostly because there is one passage in this chapter that just stands out so strongly to me, I've remembered it more than any other all these years ...

Also, because I feel like simplicity is something just so powerful and alluring (there's a whole movement after all) and I feel I am always striving towards it - finding it in some areas, yet falling short in others ...

Anyways, before we get further into the chapter talk, I want to talk a little about my tea shown above. Now, I am going to be completely honest with you - this was not how I originally imagined my "simplicity" tea. You see, every week when I start thinking about a tea post, I like to envision just how it might look, according to that week's theme:

What cup might I use? What treat might I bake? Which tea will I choose and in which cozy spot will I sit?

It's really quite fun to think about these kinds of things - and sometimes, my vision does come to life! Other times ... not so much.

So this week, as I kept "simplicity" in mind, I was envisioning a teatime setting that was not quite so ... busy. Something very neat, maybe - quite tidy, and sparse. All in soft colors, with perhaps a plain stoneware mug, a simple shortbread on a small plate alongside one of our new cotton napkins ... nicely arranged in a quiet corner of our library, somewhere out of the way (clutter removed, natch), where I might sit by myself and earnestly consider how I might bring a little more simplicity to my life ...

Well, with all the energy I was spending on thinking and arranging - I was creating a rather complex situation for myself! 😜  Here I was going to great lengths to create what I thought was a "simple tea" but it just wasn't happening (not without a lot of fuss) and it was frustrating!

But that's me in a nutshell ... I slow down by doing things like taking tea at home on a quiet afternoon ... but then I complicate the whole process by involving too many time-consuming details, and working a bit outside of reality, if you will.

From the second page of this chapter:

"We set the bar too high, take on too much, turn small doings into big ones." (p. 35)

My lesson learned: simple isn't necessarily how something appears, but rather, how it fits into your life. How it makes you feel inside.

So instead of whipping up a "simple tea," I decided to keep it real, and (to quote my GPS), recalculated ...

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My reality that very day (as it is most days) was taking tea at the worktable in the sunroom. I was here trying to get a handle on the new month to come ... and I was surrounded by STUFF: my workhorse of a tea mug filled with my everyday tea, piles of books, open-faced planners and notebooks, myriad school supplies, plenty of sunshine and ... a cat.

(Always, the cat.)

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I didn't even have time to grab a cookie - let alone bake something sweet and pretty!

So is it simple? Maybe not in how it all looks, because obviously there's a LOT going on in that photo! But in spirit, yes this was keeping things simple for me. I wanted to share tea with you all, and I wanted to talk about this chapter, and here was where it was simplest for me to do that. :)

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The nice thing about tea is that it always makes me slow down a little no matter what I'm up to. Because it's often pretty hot to begin with and usually I have a really full mug. So I really can't rush it! And most days I find myself needing a cup (or sometimes two or three) in the afternoon, just about the time it makes sense to slow down a bit - maybe check in at my computer or crash on my couch with my kids.

But let's get back to our chapter now because I think I've talked about tea long enough! (Boy, can I talk about tea.)

A little "simplicity moment" from my home last week ...

O boo halloween

Here's Little Bear in his first-choice, much preferred Halloween costume this year - handmade by us both. (And the cat.) It took one piece of construction paper, a pair of scissors, a hole punch and twine, and we were done. And funnily enough it fit well and stayed put!

Meanwhile the $30 costume I bought from Amazon weeks ago still sits up in my bedroom - completely refused and rejected! (LB wanted NO part of that bright green "creature power" suit with its velcro mask and detachable tail. Oh, no ... it was simply too much.) Mama should have listened to him when he insisted last month that all he really wanted to be for Halloween was a ghost ... because for him, it was enough.

How sweet is a four-year-old, I ask you?

And this leads me to the part I referenced at the start of my post, the Mitten Strings passage that has stayed with me all these years: 

"It is not enough anymore to pull together a Halloween costume from the dress-up bin, add a few extra touches, and head out the door to go trick-or-treating. The store-bought costumes are more elaborate, more expensive and more grisly every year. There are decorations to buy, light shows to orchestrate on the front lawn, haunted houses to visit, and a week's worth of pre-Halloween activities to attend. Last fall my neighbor's six-year-old daughter had been in and out of her costume so many times that she refused to put it back on for Halloween night. She'd been a ballerina in a parade, at school, and at two parties. The novelty had worn off." (p. 36)

I've always maintained that the Halloween we celebrate in our family is one that has ancestral roots and a mostly innocent agenda - filled with festive foods, old-fashioned games, homemade decorations - nothing much to do with what society does or what's selling fast at Target this year. And yet, here I fell for the "snazzy costume trap" hook, line and sinker!

Of course, keeping in mind that lesson I learned up above - it's really all what feels simple to you. For some folks, picking up a costume at Target IS the simpler solution! Finding the time and energy to make a homemade costume is anything but. (Though I'm not sure you can beat our ghost mask for easy!) I think it all depends on what works for you.

Simple looks different to everyone ...

Simply put, I think it all boils down to how something affects your life, and beyond that your family. How will it make you all feel? What choices feel right and cause the least stress? Because then you're living authentically and I think this is what we want to share with our children ...

"Watching us manage our own lives sensibly, our children will learn to set limits, too." (p. 39)

I found this particular chapter to be very timely reading, because currently I'm fleshing out our Thanksgiving and Advent plans. And these are the weeks when it is VERY easy to get swept up in - not just what society is offering, but our own schemes and dreams, too. I may envision a homemade, homespun, home-centered holiday ... but if I wanted to - and in some ways I do - I could easily stuff every moment full of activity and awareness ...

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So I pause my pen above that page and rein in my tendency to over-plan ...

"It takes conviction to say, "This is enough." (p. 38)

So you see, simplicity lessons are not just for those who are always on the go, seeking to be where the action is ... but for we introverts, too! And I'm a perfect example of that! 

(Side note: I'll be sharing my (hopefully) rather simple holiday plans in an upcoming post!)

Now, I love this quote too, from the last section of the chapter in which the author offers some wonderful steps toward simplicity:

"Don't feel guilty about skipping events that everyone else attends." (p. 39)

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The above picture was taken while doing just that ...

Last weekend we skipped our town's annual "great pumpkin hunt" to simply stroll around our own yard and seek signs of autumn's end. This is Little Bear gathering weeds and feeling those feathery grasses ...

There was a pull to be sure - my husband is more of an extrovert than I am, and usually he's more eager to get "out there" and mix it up with ... well, whoever all shows up at an event! But my reasoning was ... just the day before we had enjoyed - really thoroughly enjoyed - a wonderful family Halloween party. We had spent hours frolicking inside and out, doing all kinds of Halloween-y things, including ... hunting for pumpkins! Was Little Bear running around with dozens of kids in a jumble, while his parents sipped cider and made small talk with strangers?

No, he was playing with his cousins and brothers while his Mom and Dad were having a grand old time with dear ones we can never seem to spend enough time with. :)

Now, had he really wanted to go to that community event (either Bill or LB) we would have gone. Because again, it's about balance and what feels right to each family. But when we really thought about it, our previous day had been so nice and we were thoroughly (and pleasantly) exhausted. Little Bear had his pumpkin (and a few to spare) and we all came away feeling just the right kind of full-up of happy and tired.

One more time though, I'll stress - this all made sense for my family. That "homey" weekend was a pure and simple joy for us. Another family would not find throwing a party for two dozen people easy or fun. For them it might be much more enjoyable to roll out of bed a little later in the morning and throw the kids in the car, off on an adventure ...

So to each his own, is my motto ... and ours is most often (nearly always) here at home. 

Well, I've gone on quite long now, so I'll wrap up - though I still have several other quotes marked in my chapter! I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this chapter - or on simplicity in general - if you have the time. You are welcome to share your thoughts here in the comments below, or if you've done a post at your own site, please feel free to link me up (and let me know) and of course, all are welcome to email with links, thoughts, pics, etc. ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I'll weave contributions into this post as I receive them and catch up with comments left below as I can. :)

For now though I'm off ... I'll be back again soon with my November planning pages and book list, plus some old journaling pages like the one I shared on IG this morning! I'm enjoying looking back over old notes and clippings, and I thought you all might like a peek too!

So enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone! Next week we'll be talking about ... gasp ...TV! And to be honest, I'm a little nervous about this chapter, lol ... I think I may have to face the harsh reality that things are not the ideal I'd envisioned back in my early mothering days! But we'll catch up on that later ... next Friday we'll strive to get back on track, but there may be some weeks (like this one) where I need to postpone things a day ... or two or three. 😉

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 4, Quiet

Halloween tea

Hello my friends and Happy Friday! And holy smokes, it's the last October Friday of 2017 - can you even believe it?! No, I can't either, but I'm not going to dwell on that just now because we all have SO much to talk about this week! And it's such a lovely October day ... we have Tea to pour, and Quiet to discuss, plus I have a really fun announcement to make at the end of this post! :)

So welcome, everyone, to another Autumn Teatime and our ongoing Mitten Strings for God book study. Today we are discussing the fourth chapter of this wonderful book, titled "Quiet." And what a nice chapter this was, full of such thoughtfulness and inspiration.

(I'm pretty sure I'll be saying this a lot throughout our study.)

Quiet is such a valuable thing to consider, on both a personal and family level ... and ... as mine is a family of FOUR BOYS ... well, you can imagine that ours is not the ... um ... quietest on the block. (Lets just say our neighbors know us well and are very kind.) I think though, the message I got from this chapter was not so much that we need more silence in our life (though that's nice too at times) but perhaps more room to hear the right kind of noise - noise that is meaningful and intimate. And maybe because of the way we all live nowadays, it's a balance we need to be mindful of - noise vs. quiet and where the outside world fits in. I think there's a real need to allow "a thoughtful quiet" to permeate our homes so we may live in such a way that allows us to absorb OUR world - not necessarily THE world - and the sweet simple details of our everyday life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, and to quote from my original post on this chapter (from the 2008 book study):

"I could do with less noise, but I savor the sounds of my life."

Now, before I go on too much further here is a link to the post I did on this chapter back in 2008 (with so many wonderful reader comments). I'll also update this post with any current links and comments from all of you as (hopefully) you jump into our ongoing discussion!

(Everyone is welcome to participate - please see this post for more details!)

But! Before we get into the meat of our book discussion, I'd like to briefly talk tea. :)  Above you see my autumn-decorated writing desk ... with its candles and twinkling lights, golden leaves and pumpkins, and, of course, my tea. I "took tea" today in a pretty china cup I inherited from my friend's grandmother ... I thought the black, white and gold scheme was rather fitting! My brew is an Irish Breakfast decaf, and my teatime treats are two Scandinavian ginger crisps - a nod to two of my main ancestral roots. (Halloween always makes me feel ancestral!) As I sipped, I surrounded myself with autumn journals and board books, and some darling holiday cards I hoped to get into the mail before day's end ...

But now, on to our Mitten Strings discussion!

Now, rather fittingly, I (re)read this chapter about "Quiet" in absolute silence. Not a normal atmosphere for me! (Unless it's 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. - more on that in a minute!) So I was sitting in an exam room at my doctor's - in that atrocious "gown," awaiting my annual physical, all alone ... and it was absolutely still. (My doctor was running late, stuck in traffic!) Anyhoo, I relished the quiet, and began reading, making mental notes as I went along, and reminded myself once again just how much sense each of these chapters make. Not just for families with young children (as the author was back then, and I was back then - though also, still now) but really, for any one of us seeking a more mindful life.

On my drive back home, I took a moment to capture the gray, autumn stillness of the morning ...

Fall road

It was so quiet in my car - because, inspired by my reading, I decided to NOT turn on newsradio, which is my habit - and honestly, found myself paying more attention. I was so moved by the whirling leaves and the drab sky and the wet roads ... I just had to stop and snap a picture.

"Before we flick on the car radio or the CD player, we stop long enough to think: Do we want to exchange this quiet for sound?" (p. 29)

Normally I automatically turn on the car radio, but lately I've been consciously keeping things quiet. When the boys are with me, we talk more. When I'm alone ... I think. Or I roll down the window and really listen to the sounds around me ...

The same holds true at home.

"In silence, I become more attentive." (p. 30)

Attentive, yes - to a developing mood, a certain "edge" to a comment, footsteps on the stairs - plodding or rushed - the sound of the door opening when it should not be opened. That's something I need to hear, because Earlybird does like to go outside - at any hour, in any weather - and despite the stop signs we have posted at each egress, he tends to just rush out the door without asking. (Because he's a smart boy, he doesn't risk the chance that the answer will be no.) So you know, at 6 a.m. on some random morning you just might find me in my yard, in my pajamas, cajoling my son to get up and out of the dirt pit and come back inside, because now is not the time to be playing outside and people are sleeping so we need to be quiet and WOULD YOU PLEASE JUST GET BACK IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW?!. (And that would be the moment caffeine deprivation takes over.) 

This chapter inspired me to take a good look at our days and where we might invite more quiet into our life ...

And to begin with, our mornings start out quiet for sure. There are, in fact, pockets of EXTREME don't-wake-the-baby quiet (though he's not a baby anymore, as he'd be swift to remind me) because LB's also a night owl so he really sleeps in. (For everyone's benefit!)

But then there's Earlybird's morning bubble in which he's got his Kindle Fire blaring and it's only 5 a.m. EB has always been an early riser, and he's awake a good hour or three before the rest of his brothers so Bill and I spend those wee, dark hours keeping him occupied, (inside) and supervised, while maintaining a level of quiet on the bedroom floor to permit Little Bear to sleep in as late as he needs. I talked about my mornings in my last post to give you a clearer idea how this time of day unfolds ...

Once Little Bear is up though, we're off! And the day itself is nearly always filled with noise of all kinds - human, electronic, feline and yes, even the squawking of our chickens reaches our ears through open windows. I crave quiet at times absolutely, but mostly I feel blessed to be surrounded by so much "joyful noise." 

So moving forward, I think looking at our family's days to discern where all the "noise" is coming from is helpful - but also asking, which noises are a valuable experience?

"Be conscious of all the different kinds of noise you allow into your life. Begin to eliminate any that don't enhance the present moment." (p. 31)

Honest to goodness as I type this now the family room tv is on. There is no one else in the room with me and I sure as heck am not interested in Bubble Guppies at the moment. But I'm so used to the background noise I didn't even think about it ...

*turns the tv off and returns to desk*

Now I hear the wind rattling the window, and the driving rain on the deck ... the dishwasher running and my 15 yo's yelling along (happily) with his train video upstairs ... the UPS truck is pulling up the road, a woodpecker is tapping on the siding, and my cat is vigorously cleaning himself under the table next to me.

I'm not immersed in Bubble Guppies anymore ... now I'm immersed in home, and open to the world - MY world - around me.

"In silence, we allow the world to enter our hearts." (p. 32)

My world is full of yelling kids and blowing wind and dishes washing and packages being delivered, etc. - simple and humble sounds that make up the "sound track in [my] life." (p. 31) How much better to be filling my ears (heart and soul) with these sounds rather than whatever might be playing on TV!

(Boy, won't the "TV" chapter be quite interesting to discuss?!)

You know, I remember when my brother and I were young, just how much my mum craved quiet. We'd be watching TV or listening to the radio - or both - and she'd be cringing and begging us to turn down the volume - or maybe to just turn that darn thing off. And when we would, she'd just visibly relax, sigh, and say ...

"Oh, that feels so good to my ears." 

I never understood what she meant by this but now that I'm a mom - of, ahem, a certain age - I GET it.

I really appreciate the suggestions Ms. Kenison gives us in this chapter. I know I want less electronic/outside noise in our life, but it can be hard to know where to start. I think though, I've found it easier to manage my children's audible input when they're at a younger age ...

"Avoid electronic games and toys that talk, beep, or make other noises. The best sound effects are those that children make themselves." (p. 31)

Admittedly, almost all of our toys are quiet toys. We do have a couple of rather "vocal" trucks, but as tends to happen ... batteries disappear or a new layer of duct tape appears on said truck, directly over the spot where the speakers are situated.

To begin with, this was for Earlybird's benefit, who, as I've mentioned (and I'm sure will mention again) has autism and has many significant sensory challenges. One of them is noise. Some kinds of noise are unbearable to him - chatty toys being one - but oddly enough, he finds the right kind of noise addictive. For example, if he's watching a train video on his DVD player or a science video on youtube, it's ALL ABOUT THE VOLUME.

So he keeps his Kindle Fire turned up high, and if he's watching TV it's also quite loud. He actually loves having both devices going at the same time if he can swing it, and he rocks and stims to the experience like nobody's business. However, if he hears Little Bear and I reading, or if - God forbid - he hears one of us singing - he absolutely loses it. These are not "noises" he can stand.

While some sounds are ok, others absolutley are not. We're still piecing together that particular puzzle, but for now we're investing in a pair of these ...

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Noise-cancelling headphones. We're currently working with EB's therapists on this, and hopefully they'll allow him to control what he allows in his ears and when. The challenge will be discerning when they're providing comfort ... and when they become a crutch EB might use to ignore things he'd rather not face. His brother's sing-songy voice might bug him but it's not going anywhere. It's something he needs to learn how to handle. I'm sure we all like to escape aggravation when we can but life isn't about escaping (at least not all the time) it's about learning to handle what we must. All my boys must learn to handle life, but Earlybird has so much to handle it's overwhelming sometimes - for him and his parents. We're always learning from (and with) our EB though, and his extreme sensory issues often shed light on how we manage our own ...

Autism is such a puzzle, as I know many of you know. Sure, I love quiet conversation, and loud noises might startle or bother me, but they don't actually emotionally disturb me. For my son the opposite is true. Finding his balance is an ongoing project, one that keeps me ever mindful of the vivid effects noise has on anyone's quality of life ...

So I guess we're working on a new normal here - between EB and all of us! Being a little more "aware" of what noise is actually improving our existence ... but not impairing it. Wielding a little discretion, while creating a simpler, softer sound track to our life.

***

But now I'm going to be even more honest. I'm nearly done with this post, and supper is ALMOST ready. I have Bill finishing the asparagus and I jumped back on here to finish my post. Crackerjack is working on his college applications and Bookworm is off somewhere else. Four year old Little Bear - antsy and in need of a diversion - asks (quite politely) to watch a preferred tv program and - as I sit here and write about a book that embraces a quiet and unplugged life - I acquiesce.

Then EB comes into the room, Kindle Fire in hand, blaring Peep and the Big Wide World ... and chaos ensues.

LB: "EB! Turn that down! You're annoying me and I can't hear Blaze!"

EB: *casts a glare at LB but turns down his Kindle*

LB: "Mama, he's not making it quiet enough!"

Mama: "EB, please turn that down."

EB: "No."

Mama: *sighs and walks over to tv* *turns up the volume*

(Because truly, we need just five more minutes!)

So there you go ... I am trying, I am. I understand there were better ways to handle that challenge just then. (Keeping LB better occupied while his parents got stuff done, mediating volume level arguments between my younger children.)

But you know, baby steps ...

What I am LOVING about this book is that it's giving me a chance to take a good long look at our family life and see where we might improve things a bit. I'm not going to let it make me feel guilty or inadequate - I've been a special needs mom long enough to know there's not room for that - but I will see what kind of light it shines on our various situations. This book fills me with hope and challenges me to do better! All while wrapping me up in a very warm and understanding hug. ❤

Now, before I go, I have some super fun news to share! Next Thursday, 11/2, at 3:30 p.m. (EST) I will be a guest of Pam Barnhill's on her Facebook Live chat at Homeschool Solutions! Pam is running a series of interviews about books that shape our homeschooling and I will be talking about Mitten Strings for God! I've never done Facebook Live before, so I'm not exactly sure how it works (wish me luck!), but please check in with Pam's page - because first of all, it's awesome - and also to find out more! (Here's today's post in which she mentions our upcoming chat!) I am SO honored Pam asked me to talk with her about MSfG - this re-read is reminding me just how influential this book has been in my life as a mom as well as a homeschooler. The heart of these lessons have truly shaped what I try to do here with my boys ... and I look forward to talking more with Pam - and you all - about that! :)

For now though, I wish you all a happy weekend, and I thank you, as always for stopping by. Please share your thoughts if you'd care to - leave a comment here or link us up or feel free to email me if you wish (thoughts and/or photos) ---> drhanigan AT comcast DOT net.

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


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! :)

Mittenstrings for god button

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 ... :)

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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!


Celebrating Advent with Older Kids ... ❤

Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

I'm back to talk a little more about Advent, and what I'd like to discuss today is the topic of celebrating the season with older kids ...

I was inspired by a recent comment from Michelle P., whose three boys are almost exactly the same ages as my older three boys:

I am determined this year to try to do more with my older boys to celebrate Advent. I have a huge binder of ideas (crafts, foods, and activities) that we did when they were younger. I have pulled the binder out and I am pouring over the ideas. It brings such fond memories of when they were young, however I am at a loss for ideas now that they are older. Do you have any suggestions? My boys are 21, 17, and 15.

So Michelle's question got me thinking ... 

I happen to be in a fortunate place right now, with my kids spread out in all age brackets - we have a little guy (3), a middle guy (our 14 yo with autism is still very young developmentally), a high schooler (17) and gulp an adult son (21). When I'm planning out Advent activities I do try to think of the whole family, but so many of my projects are geared towards the younger two. They're the ones who have all kinds of energy to spare and are really looking for something to do every day ... that's not to say however that my older boys don't take pleasure in the Advent atmosphere and partake in the fun now and then!

When thinking about how I hope my older boys view Advent ...

I want them to experience the season with a lightness of spirit and a subtle thrill of anticipation. I want them to be open to letting go of the outside world a little and spending more time with their family, at home. I want them to understand the deep satisfaction of gift-giving and the true beauty of giving non-material things ... and/or items that have been made by hand and with love. I'd like for them to make room in their hearts for faith and trust ... and wonder. And I want their memories to be filled with good smells and yummy flavors, comfort and quiet joy ... and lots of love around them.

(There I go again with those lofty goals, lol!)

Since most older kids spend the bulk of their day busy with educational and/or work things -  whether they be in traditional school or homeschooled - then you'll probably want to plan your activity time for evenings and weekends. My Crackerjack, a high school junior, has a pretty decent-sized work load and is in outside classes several days each week. I try to plan projects he can be part of for the days when I know he (and we) will have more time at home. Also, Bookworm will be returning home after he finishes exams, so needless to say that will be an extra special time for all of us. I try to take these things into consideration when planning out our Advent activity calendar.

So below are some ideas for involving the older kids in our Advent journey - I've been jotting them down for the past couple of days and I fear I've gotten a bit carried away. Yet I'm sure there are many things I haven't thought of! Dear readers, if you have some ideas for older kids participating in and celebrating Advent, I would love to hear them! Please leave a comment and I will add your thoughts to my post. This would be a great resource to grow over the years ... :)

  • How about choosing a multi-chapter book to read over Advent? Something the whole family will enjoy? It could be read aloud by one or more family members or perhaps you all might listen to an audiobook. (Add extra pillows and throw blankets to the family room - create a cozy, relaxing atmosphere!)
  • Perhaps each family member could take a turn finding a quote, verse, song lyrics or a bit of Scripture to share each day? This would be fun to do with a chalkboard placed in a central location, spruced up with some holiday flair.
  • A nice family table tradition is to read aloud any holiday cards that arrived in the day's mail. Together say a prayer for the sender's health and happiness.
  • How about encouraging the kids to send Season's Greetings of their own? They could pick out a package of cards (available any and everywhere these days) and mail them off to surprise friends! Elderly relatives, especially, would delight in receiving messages of good cheer.
  • Maybe older kids would enjoy actually making the family Christmas cards this year? Leave it all up to them - organizing photos, choosing a design, creating artwork. Encourage them to begin early, though!
  • Surprise community workers and volunteers (think post office, school offices, library, fire station, etc.) with home baked goodies one day.
  • Revisit favorite tv shows as a family - for us it might be Northern Exposure, Downton Abbey, Sherlock or Fawlty Towers (an old British comedy). I find my older boys more willingly join us for evening television if there are some yummy refreshments involved!
  • How about surprising them with a dinner out one night at a new restaurant you've all wanted to try?
  • Ask one or more of your kids to join you on a neighborhood walk after supper - admire the lights and decorations around the neighborhood.
  • For active families, a day of skiing, skating, snowboarding or sledding would be great fun.
  • What about taking a family hike at a local nature spot? Find out if there are workshops, programs or guided walks available. Here in Massachusetts, the Audubon sanctuaries are a perfect place for this kind of experience.
  • Plan a shopping excursion as a family - how about splitting up (or pairing up) to buy secret gifts for each other?
  • There are plenty of parish and community events to check out at the holidays (tree lightings, Christmas pageants and concerts, outdoor nativities, etc.). Look in your local papers and church bulletins. Or call town hall!
  • How about taking a train ride somewhere? This could be a transit ride into the nearest city to soak in a little of that holiday "hustle and bustle?" Pick up some goodies and a hot beverage for the ride back ...
  • Help your kids use their Advent season for giving of themselves. They can offer their time and talents where there is need - how about reading aloud to nursing home residents or spending an hour playing with shelter animals? Encourage teens to call around (nursing homes, children's hospitals, homeless shelters and animal shelters) to see what is needed. Then brainstorm and organize as a family!
  • Can the kids offer to help an older relative or neighbor around the house? Does Grandma do Christmas dinner every year? Could she use a hand with vacuuming and hauling out dishes? Could the kids offer to help with yard work or putting up a tree ... could young drivers run holiday errands for those who are more housebound these days?
  • Babysitting services! How about offering a few hours of child care to help out busy parents? 
  • What about organizing a holiday play? The kids can write up a story and assign lines to each family member. The play to be performed at the extended family Christmas gathering ...
  • And what about organizing a holiday party for their friends? Something festive but informal - good food and movies or music. A community service project to work on together? How about creating cards and/or packages for soldiers?
  • What about investigating holiday handcrafts? So many older kids (mine included!) are all about the audio/video at this age but what about getting them to slow down a little and try something new? Or revisit something they might have enjoyed when younger? Perhaps try their hand at hobbies that were too challenging when they were little - candlemaking, soap making, wood-whittling? Bookworm used to love origami ... I bet I could get him to try his hand at it again, if only for one night.
  • Why not bring out the Legos? Hold a contest - who can build the most holiday-related Lego creation? Or everyone builds "something" and then the rest of the family must guess what it is ...
  • Start a family puzzle - set up a table where it can be worked on little by little throughout Advent.
  • Board games are always a great source of family fun. Maybe surprise the kids with a new game to try this year ...
  • What is each older child interested in? Is there something they absolutely love to explore? Rent a documentary about a favorite subject and watch it together.
  • How about a museum visit? Or play tourist and investigate a local attraction.
  • Attend a matinee movie on the first day of Christmas vacation ... or perhaps a Christmas concert or holiday play?
  • Have the kids offer piano lessons (or something else they can teach) to someone (young or old) who would love the time and attention.
  • Why not go caroling through the neighborhood one night? Surprise local friends and family? At a nursing home or hospital ward? (Obviously call ahead to ask about this idea!)
  • Call your parish center and ask what your kids could be doing to help out. Where is help needed? Could they perhaps organize a teen night with cookies and a movie?
  • Movie nights - each of you shares a movie you love and want the others to appreciate. These could be action, suspense, comedies, classics, etc. 
  • Visit a local historic site - these places often run special holiday-themed programs. For example, if you live in Massachusetts, there is "An Alcott Christmas Stocking" at the Louisa May Alcott House in Concord.
  • Have the kids help make something for the yard - a creche? A birch-log reindeer or family yule log?
  • Entice them with food! Trader Joes, for example, has all kinds of delicious-sounding, limited-time, holiday goodies. Pick up a few things to try one weekend. Let the kids plan out (and maybe help prepare?) their own family supper one night. Sit down and list out favorite holiday foods - plan to make one of those things together one weekend or evening.
  • Work on a family scrapbook together. Plan a page for each month of the past year ... organize photos, mementos, ticket stubs ... jot down notes and memories! Reveal the final product on New Year's Eve ...
  • If it seems like a lot to fit in during this busy season, work on a list of Christmas vacation ideas ... brainstorm fun family ideas for 12/26-1/6 (or until whenever your kids return to lessons). Fill a jar with ideas, and then read them aloud Christmas eve ...

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So I hope this list might have sparked a few ideas but dear readers, please jump in and add to my list if you have a moment! How do you involve your older kids in this beautiful season of Advent? I think being together is what's key here so even if an activity doesn't seem very "Christmassy" to you, if it's appealing to the kids, and brings you all together, then I say just roll with it! Inevitably there will be holiday atmosphere all around you - at home or out and about - whatever you decide to do!

Thank you, Michelle, for asking this important question ... it was good for me to step back and remember that my young men are still my boys and they still look to me for guidance in many ways. As mothers, the holidays very often start with us ... what we do at home becomes memories these kids carry with them throughout life. They might have gotten taller, more informed and aware of the outside world, but that doesn't mean they don't still want to be kids again at Christmas - because don't we all?

Well, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend, and thanks so much for stopping by! I will see you here again very soon ...


A Tour of My New(ish) Desk!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday! Today I'd like to give you all a little tour of my new desk. :)

Well, I call it "new" because I've only been using it for a couple of months, but the desk itself is not new. Actually, it's been here since the house was built back in 1985! (We've been here since 2013.) It's a great spot for sure, but I resisted situating myself here because, A. up until recently I had a (portable) laptop computer and, B. "sitting down time" was pretty scarce. (If I found myself sitting down there was usually a Little Bear in my lap!)

Also, I really didn't want to clutter up this corner of our family room ... it's the main gathering room in the house and it's hard enough to keep it neat without adding my own parpahernalia to it. And if you know me, you know I am someone who has a tendency to amass a bit of clutter - nice-looking clutter if I may say so, but still, clutter indeed. Ahem.

Anyhoo, when my beloved Macbook died in August (thankfully leaving behind its hard drive), circumstances lined up in such a way that I "inherited" my 17yo son's computer. (He was building himself a new PC per his dearest birthday wish.) So now I really did need a desk for my desktop computer (as opposed to a kitchen counter where I usually parked my laptop) and I suddenly saw this built-in desk in a whole new light. Sure it's smack dab in the family room where all the FAMILY usually is - but it turns out that's OK. It's hard to sneak away and get stuff done for any length of time on my own, though I had a good run there for a while when Little Bear was napping regularly (I'd work on my laptop in a chair parked next to his crib). But these days if I'm going to sit down and spend some time working (or let's be real, surfing) on my computer, it's going to be accomplished with my kids all around me. So these days - case in point, this day - I'm sitting here at this desk while Little Bear and Earlybird play with trains and Matchbox cars and there may be an episode of Peppa playing in the background ...

(Side note - there is a matching desk on the other side of that window seen in the above photo. This desk is used by Earlybird and that too is getting spruced up for his computer time and homeschooling! More details in a future post.)

Now, before I get on with the tour, I want to note that I am still getting settled in, so things may get moved around a bit. I like how things are working so far though ... and I do find myself sitting here quite comfortably when the opportunity arises!

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So the monitor is parked in the middle, natch. Along the wall I have a month-at-a-glance calendar on the left - and to be completely honest I don't really need a wall calendar but I loved the look of this one - crisp white with LINED boxes and soft gold dots. (Plus, you know me and calendars.) I got it at Staples. On the right side of the monitor is a bulletin board which I will discuss in more depth in a moment. (Martha Stewart brand, also found at Staples.)

I bought the decorative boxes recently at Joann Fabrics where they were on sale and I could hardly resist. The artwork is so pretty and the shades complement the desk nicely. (Speaking of color, another side note - I do love the painted woodwork here. All through the house actually. The former homeowners did a bang-up job choosing paint colors and this green, as well as the green in my kitchen, is probably my favorite - mostly because I know I wouldn't have thought of it myself!)

Inside those boxes I have extra office supplies like pencils, pens, hi-lighters, post-it notes and washi tape. These are the ones I use the most ... my main stash is just beneath in a cabinet - along with stickers, binder clips, glue sticks and clothespins. (See below.)

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(You might recognize that yellow ball as our Michaelmas meteor ... yes, that had to go into immediate hiding once the younger boys wouldn't stop fighting over it. I had forgotten I stashed it in there when I went to take this picture, lol!)

Back to that corner for a moment, though! 

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I also have a small index card bin here (with monthly dividers and a card for each day colored according to the liturgical season) ... favorite mini binder clips are perched on the edge of the bin and my new daily prayer book sits just behind. :)

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If I'm going to be working at my computer for any length of time, I take my Day Designer (my daily planner) with me. I park it in the space to the left of my keyboard. (I usually keep my DD at the kitchen counter so I can check in with it frequently throughout the day.)

Above the monitor is a banner I made recently - an important reminder! - and an overhead light that doesn't work presently. (We're working on getting the right bulb for that fixture and then this whole work area will be much brighter!)

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So a bit about the screenshot, lol, because I know you're probably wondering! That is a very pretty planner I puttered around with on the Blue Sky website. A spiral-bound, monthly-weekly affair one can personalize and then order online. I REALLY don't need another planner, but oh ... isn't this pretty? :)

Ok, to the right of the monitor is my bulletin board and more storage ...

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Fyi that bulletin board is very easy to put up with adhesive tabs on the back. I found some shimmery copper push-pins to use here - to hold some visual inspiration (I tend to hoard lovely greeting cards and so display them with the seasons) as well as a few notes re ~ library password and Bookworm's class schedule, etc. Also here (beneath the owl card) is Little Bear's most recent pediatrician's report which gives his vitals, doctor contact info. and dosage information.

Beneath the board is another pretty storage box (I'm a sucker for these can't you tell?) and in this one I have craft materials for current or upcoming projects. Right now there are vintage Halloween cards to send with Earlybird, a set of paper turkeys for a Thanksgiving project and materials for our Advent countdown. The trick is to remember I put these things here, lol - but it's vital to keep these things out of the line of my younger boys' vision. ;)

In the rectangular basket I keep bills to pay, statements to review, correspondence to answer, a plastic pouch for monthly receipts and my little shopping notebook. Also tucked in here is Mama's Pink Stapler, and all my business/appointment cards held together with a binder clip ...

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Tucked in the very corner of this desk is my Catholic reference book-of-the-moment and two lovely notebooks I bought at the Paper Source recently. Let me show them to you a little closer up ...

New notebooks

You know how sometimes you find - and I'm talking to my fellow paper-nuts here - a notebook that just works really well for you? The size, shape and feel of it is perfect and you just want to find all kinds of uses for it? Well, this is what happened to me with these little beauties. I bought the blue one a few weeks ago and have turned it into a "to-do" kind of journal. I then ordered the pink one online (did not dare visit that store again in person - too tempting!) and am turning it into a daily joy journal of sorts.

Ok, back to the desk ...

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When I established myself at this desk I realized I needed a writing/work space as well as a computer area. I had Bill move an old table of ours (originally my grandparents') to the right of my desk chair. I like to turn to my planner/binder as I work and this is a fairly efficient set-up for me.

So on that table ...

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A lamp, which casts a very cozy if not very bright light on the area! My favorite page-a-day calendar, my stack of current magazines (piled in order of read first to last, favorites on bottom!), my homekeeping binder, file crate and an in-basket.

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I will have to do a separate post about how I'm using my binder as part of my overall planning system. I think I've finally found a daily-weekly combination that works for me! (Monthly-weekly-seasonal planning in the binder ... as well as my daily journaling ... but the daily nitty gritty planning takes place in my Day Designer.) 

My file crate sits nicely here on the table ...

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Weekly file folders, seasonal file folders, teacher's planbook standing up in front along with printable nature-study calendars and in the way back of my crate I have a folder for all our homeschooling particulars - any correspondence, HSLDA paperwork, town/school paperwork, etc. The in-basket holds things - any old things - I come across through the week that I want to look at during my weekend "office hours." In there right now is last month's journaling pages for review, a couple of pieces of mail to look at, a storytime craft made by Little Bear (not sure how that ended up in there, lol!), my Advent book for perusal and planning, and a "just moved" announcement from a friend.

Above this work table is a framed Tasha Tudor print ...

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My grandparents had this framed for me as a high school graduation gift back in 1987. It brings me such pleasure for so many reasons!

Oh, and while I'm here, let me show you yet another storage box I bought just yesterday and slipped under my work table ...

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This one will be for Christmas planning and prep ... I've already stashed a couple of catalogs in there!

I keep my "briefcase" on the floor ...

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(In here are this month's home learning books ... I try to find all the books we'll be using ahead of time and pull them out as we need them.)

Now, looking around my "corner office" I have a nice view out the window to my left ...

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... although that couch is very tempting!

And there's a small seating area behind me for "client meetings" ... ;)

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The table and chairs were originally my parents' and they are actually patio furniture but I love how they look here and the wicker is surprisingly comfortable. I envision having the boys sit with me here individually to review homework and perhaps talk about the week ahead, expectations etc. For Little Bear it's mostly about sharing Mama's tea and playing with puppets. :)

Above my desk are bookshelves full of the older boys' books and a few special nicknacks ... some of that aforementioned "clutter!"

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I added those pretty wooden leaf lights just the other day - they add a nice touch on gray days and dark autumn evenings!

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And if you're thinking that's a glass of wine right there in that last picture, well ... you'd be guessing right. :)

Last shot ... office motto:

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💙

Well my friends, this was a rather long post and I thank you for stopping by to read and share in my "desk joy!" Aside from needing a little more light, it's working out very well for me. I've been here at the desk all morning (well, since 6 a.m. till now which about two hours later) since Earlybird and I are the only ones up and he's out here in the family room using his iPad and watching PBSKids. I'm on my second - make that third - cup of coffee but it's now time to rally the troops and get our Saturday started! Soccer game and family lunch ... applesauce in the pot and meatloaf in the oven ... much to do and many memories to make!

Hope you all have a great weekend ... 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!


Michaelmas Merrymaking

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

First I must show you my pretty bouquet ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That went about as well as expected ...

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

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

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

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These were an even bigger hit than the dragon puppets!

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

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I love the look of concentration on his face! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here I am ...

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summery Thoughts & Pics ... 🌞

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Happy mid-July, my friends! I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their Summer so far ...

I know my posting has been very slow lately, but all is well here - it's just a very busy, hands-on season in my life! Days begin early - end later than I'd like - and I'm afraid naps are just not a regular thing anymore, lol. I'm finding it a challenge to carve out blogging time these days ... but I am still here! And I appreciate all your thoughts and queries, both here and at my Facebook page. I do not have my blog email working yet, so if you need me, please contact me by leaving a comment here or at FB for the time being. :)

Well, I'm popping in today to say hi and share a few photos if I may. I'm working at the kitchen table right now, sipping some cold coffee and listening to my boys all around me. Little Bear is singing a Spiderman song with Crackerjack while they work on a puzzle on the family room floor ... Earlybird is working hard on math skills with his therapist in the sunroom ... and Bookworm is weaving in and out of the kitchen, getting his own day going ...

Free time might be hard to come by these days, but I'm awfully grateful to be here in this season of life. These full and blessed days go by all too fast ...

Ok. First up - here's a sun craft I made for the Summer Solstice:

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I have always loved those colorful sun and moon plaques you see hanging on the sides of sheds or garden gates ... but goodness, they are expensive! This one is handmade (and rather humbly so) with salt dough. We left it to finish drying outside under its namesake. I haven't had the courage to paint it yet, but once I do and it is sealed against the weather, I will hang it somewhere in our garden ...

Speaking of my garden, it's doing very well, too!

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Above is the Bee Balm which started blooming just before Independence Day. I think it looks like little firework explosions! And boy, do the hummingbirds enjoy them ...

The herbs we planted last year are quite plentiful - I've been gathering them on dry days to hang over my kitchen window.

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In my basket above is St. John's Wort (seen in top picture, too), Thyme, Lavender and Rose petals. The rose bushes out front really did well this season - in fact they are now mostly covered in hips!

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I'll be researching what to do with rose hips, but in the meantime, I used the petals I collected to make some rosewater:

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Doesn't that look pretty? 

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Very easy to do - I placed a cup of rose petals in a glass bowl, covered them with 2 cups boiling water and then allowed them to steep (with a dinner plate resting on top) until cool. Then I strained the water into a jar as seen above. I purchased some amber glass spray bottles which I plan to fill with a couple of different herbal concoctions, one of them being a "rosewater refresher" for hot summer days. :)

And here is the "pretty pink forest" growing in my front yard ...

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These lovely blooms are Astilbe, and there is tons of it growing beneath the family room windows. And out back the Spirea is a veritable pink explosion:

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This whole area (which stands right beside the chicken coop) is a bumblebee haven!

A little more pink to be found along the front walkway ...

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These are Cottage Pinks! I love their clove-like scent - and that they remind me of my grandparents' garden AND that they were a favorite of Tasha Tudor's. So much of gardening is creating and recreating fond memories, isn't it?

 Now, here's a very "interesting" visitor we had in our yard recently ...

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Yes, that is indeed a red fox - and we've never seen one before (even at our old house) but wouldn't you know, the year we finally get chickens ... this fella shows up?

One more garden pic ...

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This tiny plant popped up all on its own beside my herb patch, and I wasn't sure what it was, but after consulting google - and helpful friends on Facebook - we've identified it as "Straw Foxglove!" A tiny cousin to these beauties out front ...

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I love that it's a mystery how it got there ... :)

And here's a pretty picture from my living room, taken on Independence Day morning ...

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The summer weather has been wonderful here in New England - bright and hot for the most part. Maybe a bit too hot this week (mid 90s by Friday) ... so as much as I love open windows, I'm very grateful for air conditioning!

Speaking of gratitude ...

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It's been many years since we've had magnetic letters on our fridge! I LOVE this age, don't you?

And how about a family pic? 

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We celebrated Bill's birthday last weekend, and I just love this shot of him surrounded by all his boys (and me)! In case you can't tell, he's lighting the candles on his cake - we couldn't fit all FIFTY on there! ;)

(Any longtime readers here astounded (as I am) at how big my boys are all getting? They were tiny when I started this blog!)

Parting shot, taken at my local Michaels craft store recently ...

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Mind you, this was taken BEFORE the 4th of July! I am all for planning ahead - and you all know how much I love autumn - but even for me this is just a wee bit too early!

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

(His birthday was yesterday - aka National Simplicity Day - and this is a topic for a whole 'nother post!)

Well my friends, I am going to wrap up now, because if I don't push "publish" soon there's a chance it will be another day or more before I get this post up! (Remember how I was sipping cold coffee back in that third paragraph? Yeah, it's taking me a while to get this post done!)

Plus, I have supper to make, and tonight it's sloppy-joe biscuits, corn on the cob and waffle fries - a real "boys' favorite." I've been a little lax in the meal planning department and really need to get back on track. I'm at the food store more than I'd like these days! 

(Another topic for another day!)

But as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading, and I hope this post finds you well ...

See you here again very 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 ... :)


Tea with Friends ... ❤

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Happy Wednesday, my friends ... I hope your week's going well!

I am so pleased to share some Advent Tea with you today ... these lovely thoughts and images come from Cath, and I know you will enjoy them. :)

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The tree:

This year my tree is white and has all the counted cross-stitch ornaments I have made (except for one I received as a gift I'll always treasure!). The shading of white and dark ... so peaceful as the tree turns round and round in a revolving stand. It's as if I'm driving on a back county road at night in a snow storm. I do miss the real tree I have gone and cut the last few years ... We started a tradition of naming our trees. I can't seem to name the fake tree this year. It's fake! No life ... no name?  
  

Past trees have been named Twinkle, Noel, Wenceslas, Genevieve, Stanislaus, and last years name being Shalom ... They started taking on Saintly names and meanings. Last year was special hosting the family for Christmas Eve and Shalom was my prayer for all entering my home. So yes, needless to say I am missing the personality in my home but thrilled to know the tradition has carried on in my baby girl's home and this year they have welcomed Alfred into their home and even bought him a red tree skirt to keep his toes warm. He is simply decorated, not overloaded with lights or ornaments, and elegantly beautiful in his simplicity!

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Reading:

I am sticking with Ann Voskamp's Book for Advent and enjoying it very much. Pretty good for someone who forgets to keep up with her nine-day novenas!

Drinking:

I am out for lunch having pizza and not drinking this ...

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I don't like it ... clove and spearmint are not for me. I must have grabbed the wrong box after reading the ingredients ... I hope the other box isn't this same stuff! 😕 Looks like there will be some gifts in a few Christmas cards ... Mom, do you like cloves?

I am just returning from a weekend retreat about the direction of the four gospels with a twist on Therese. Leaving, I looked down and found a fresh red rose petal on the side walk. Fresh, like it just fell off, was pulled off? Wish I would have taken a picture before giving it to the priest who walked right past it ... I went back inside to ask the sister if she brought in roses ... Nope? Therese said she will let flowers fall from heaven ... Seems we may have just received one? What a blessing ...

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My word for Advent has been PEACE... 

Quote:   

“To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world. 
Presidential message, December 25, 1927” ~ Calvin Coolidge

Thoughts:

Advent is moving along too quickly. Let's take it back to 6 weeks. I need more work on me!

Looking forward to: 

Being back home, getting things in order and crafting - that hasn't happened yet! And I guess it may not if I don't get started ... or should I say ... settled!

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Pink Sunday....  the "Shepherds Candle"  to represent joy.

And today my cup holds ...

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Good old fashioned Campbell's vegetable soup ...

(The kind grandma served for lunch with sandwiches before Marketing created 3 or 4 different types!)

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My favorite ornament made by someone else...

I don't usually watch much TV ... But today I did eat breakfast (something I don't usually do), I did turn on the TV and enjoyed some of the morning shows like Rachel Ray, and The View... Trying to create some kind of routine. Trying to place some everyday joy into my life ... Trying to create chunks of time for different things that bring joy and bring something to show for my time?

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Needless to say ... Baby girl will be 25, and her stocking was done for her 1st Christmas ... The man's a few years later ... And mine? Still a work in progress? Some of that used-to-have TV time kept me sitting in my chair and I have treasures to show for that time ...  Internet time? Not a lot around here to show for it? Need a plan.

And waiting.....

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Until next time ... 🎄
   Cath++

***

This was just so lovely, Cath - thank you so much for sharing a little of your Advent here with me (us). It is such a privilege to share my readers' tea notes and pictures at my blog. I am so honored each time someone - YOU - share your time, your thoughts and your wide open heart. It's such a generous thing, to share in this way ... and my blog shines a little brighter each time I post "Tea with Friends."

:)

Well my friends, I hope you are able to find some time for Tea this week, a quiet hour to just sit and do something for YOU - read a little, pray a little, plan a little ... snooze a little! Recharge your batteries in some way ... and don't think for a second you don't need it ... you do! We all do. I'm so used to just go-go-going all day thinking, well, once dinner's over and the kids are in bed, then I can sit and rest. But you know what? By that time of day ... I'm just done. There is no "resting" or "recharging the batteries" ... there is just unplugging, lights out and then Zzzzzzzzz .... 

So now I ask for a bit of time like this, for me. An hour once or twice a week to sit for "tea" and quiet thoughts. Someone else is reading to the baby and someone else is answering the phone (or not). And sometimes it's just half an hour, not a whole ... but it's still a gift whatever I get. It's good for me, and it's good for my family!

Today it's a glass of wine (poured by my husband!) and Christmas cards in my lap - not the ones I still need to sign, but the ones we've received in the mail. Before I hang them, I'll sit here and think about each family with love and a prayer for their very best new year. 

But alas, I am now nearing the end of my rest time! There are now a few children present and a cat has just been startled from his nest by the heat. Plus, it's high time to start supper and meatloaf doesn't make itself! So I'm off to the kitchen but I leave you all with my thanks and my hopes that your evening is pleasant ...

See you here again very soon!


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

Advent tea magic 1

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.

Advent tea magic 16

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

Advent tea magic 13

Advent tea magic 7

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 ...

Advent tea magic 2

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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" ...

Advent tea magic 9

Advent tea magic 12

Advent tea magic 12 (1)

:)

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

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

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

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

Friday Bits & Bobs ~ Summer Days

Happy-almost-Weekend, my friends!

I just have a few things to share with you today ... some pretty late summer images I thought you'd like to see. (Ack, did I say, "late" summer? Where has the time gone?)

Tickseed 1

This is tickseed (Coreopsis) that is growing abundantly in our front yard. I adore all that yellow, and boy, the bees love it too!

August paper 1

 More yellow - this is the August scrapbook page in my homemade weekly planner. Isn't it pretty? I think sunflowers are a perfect symbol of August ...

(And by the way, Tanya asked me recently how I am using/liking that planner and the honest answer is - to be expanded upon in a future post - I do love it, but I don't use it consistently. And that's partly my fault - and partly the fault of the planner's layout. Luckily I never filled all the pages out so I can re-work them from August forward. So I have been re-tooling the design because I need it to act more as a theme book and less of an agenda ... a place for sketching out ideas and activities (live-love-learn) but not necessarily appointments and household events. But more on all that soon!)

Archie and book 1

What could be cozier than a cat curled up in your lap as you read a good book while a storm rages outside? Archie times his visits well - when the toddler is sound asleep for a good hour or more!

Morning glory blossom

The first morning glory blossom on our lamppost vine ... pretty in purple. Not sure what's going on with the leaves there, but something is finding them very tasty!

Grasshopper in grass 1

One of those gorgeous grasshoppers I mentioned in an earlier post. Thy are such interesting creatures ... you'd never guess what they look like sitting still after you've seen them in flight.

Riley takes pics 4

And finally, this is a "selfie" from the other day - my younger boys and I, sitting in the sunroom, watching as storms pass over. Earlybird, who as many of you know, is autistic, used to have a strong aversion to picture-taking ... but lately he's not only been open to it, he's even requested it!

Well, my friends, I hope you all have a great weekend ... I will be hammering out those ed. reports with intention to finish and mail them bright and early Monday morning. (Taking a brief break for a haircut! Boy-oh-boy do I need one ...) And once I have the reports out of the way I will focus on my new day-book and sharing with you all how I'm using it ... and big-picture, school year planning ... as well as my binders! Must talk about binders ...

I get so geared up to get organized at this time of year, don't you?

:)

See you here again very soon ...

p.s. Don't forget to look for the Full Blue Moon tonight!


My boys and me ... ❤

Well, it's been a while since I've shared a picture of all my boys ...

Mama and boys 5

Can you believe how BIG they are getting? No, I can't either. From left to right ... Crackerjack (15), Earlybird (13) and Bookworm (19-going-to-be-20-next-month!) and then of course, our Little Bear who will be TWO in two weeks and then there's me ... but we don't have to discuss my age. Lol.

Anyhoo - as I mentioned in my morning post, Bookworm is freshly home for the summer (a whole four months!) and I just couldn't be more pleased. It's a very Happy Mother's Day, indeed, when all my "baby" chicks are back in the nest!

My friends, I hope you've all had a nice weekend and if you're a mum - or a mom or a ma or a mother or gram, nan, mimi, et al! - I hope you had a nice day with your loved ones, taking joy in this most precious blessing of ours: MOTHERING the very best people on earth!

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