Nature Feed

Mitten Strings for God, ch. 15: "Listening"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! I hope this week is going well for you so far!

Now, before digging into our book study, I must first apologize that this post has arrived much later than promised ... and that my posting in general has slowed down so much lately. I feel like a broken record, but it's been such a busy season for us and I really haven't had a lot of time to spend on my favorite "mama" things (blogging, journaling, reading, making planners). You know, all the fun things that get highlighted in pink in said planners!

Anyhoo, we've finally made it through all that busy-ness! Because just this past week we not only wrapped up our school year, but we also celebrated Crackerjack's graduation AND attended Orientation at Emmanuel College! And these are all good and happy things ... leading up to what I hope will be a fairly quiet and restful summer. Because I'm not one for busy-ness to be perfectly honest ... needing to "hustle" does not make me happy, lol!

But let's get on with our Mitten Strings for God chapter discussion, shall we? This week we are talking about the concept of "Listening," and what a wonderful thing for a parent to consider ...

How often do I make time to stop and listen - not just to my children, but with them?

When I (re)read this chapter I immediately thought of a particular homeschool memory - an activity I blogged about 10 years ago that illustrated the value in slowing down and opening our ears (and hearts) to the natural world around us.

Longtime readers might remember this picture ... ?

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"In order to listen, we must be quiet." (MSfG, p. 104)

This picture was taken during one of my favorite homeschooling adventures, a Nature Club meeting back in April 2008. These are my older two boys, "on the trail," and the theme of this excursion, organized by two fellow homeschooling moms, was "Silent Spring." The purpose of the outing was to encourage our large and boisterous group to enter the woods in total and complete silence, so that we might:

"... amplify our other senses, and catch things we might otherwise miss. We could sketch, draw, take pictures, write notes or even poetry ... but not a word was to be passed - until we met back up again an hour later to compare findings." (A quote from my original post.)

It was such an amazing walk! Our kids who loved running about and climbing and shouting and chasing and pretty much doing absolutely nothing to entice wildlife out of hiding - took right away to the idea of silence, and enjoyed figuring out how to share their thoughts without words. They developed signals and used sketchbooks to communicate their questions about - and impressions of - the nature they encountered.

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We moms could have told the kids all about the things they'd see, but instead we left it to them to make their own observations and form their own opinions. Many times our wide eyes would meet across the trail as a sudden sound caught our attention - but we expressed our wonder and awe in ways that required careful attention. I think it was a richer experience for us all, immersing our silent selves in that not-so-silent woodland on that beautiful, unforgettable, spring day ...

Rereading this chapter (and reminiscing over that nature walk) reminded me of a vow I once held dear in my heart - to raise my children to be aware of the more subtle (yet plentiful) joys of our world. Day in or day out. Rain or shine. Whatever the season might be. Such an awareness doesn't just happen - it needs to be cultivated and maintained. I realized then (if I've sometimes forgotten it now) that it's up to we parents to show them the way through the years ...

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There is so much joy to be found in the activity of listening itself! We all know how wonderful it is to share a special moment with a child, to listen together for either a specific sound or perhaps await a surprise. The giggles, the hushing, the eyes that widen when at last a sound reaches our eager ears ...

How wonderful to encourage this type of quiet activity - and to engage in it ourselves! Children may be noisy creatures, but they also love to conspire. :)

"... within each child there is also an innate talent for listening that deserves to be honored and encouraged." (p. 105)

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(Now, this might look like an action shot, but actually, Little Bear and I were staying as quiet and still as possible here, perched on our herb garden, "communing with" the chipmunks all around us. I also have a neat little video you can watch (and listen to!) here ...)

For certain our world is a noisy one, and kids are, by and large, just that. Noisy. My house, for example (and as you might imagine), is not always (or often) quiet. (Reminder: We have four boys - 22, 18, 16 and 5 - and all of them (happily) live at home.)

The laughter and chatter of my children, the sounds of our home doing its thing - feet on the stairs, a coffeepot perking, the hens squawking, the birds singing, a toilet flushing, a door closing (perhaps slamming) ... these are loud sounds sometimes, yes, but life is just FULL of such happy, life-living sounds. (Well the door slamming isn't really happy and believe you me, some sounds are not as cheerful as others, but all in all, I am grateful for all these noises that represent a full and family-oriented life!

Our house, like many others I would guess, can also be full of just plain old noise, because there are audio/video devices everywhere - on our walls, in our cars, in our hands. Text alerts, tv shows, radio news, video games ... part of life, yes, but not necessarily the sounds I'd like to surround myself with frequently.

Too much artificial noise not only drowns out the "muted sounds of earth and sky, soul and spirit," but it can alter our listening "palate." Softer sounds like the wind in the trees, a distant bird call, the soft drip of rain off a roof - these might not hold much appeal if a child is not first shown how to appreciate them.

But oh, how they respond when they're let in on nature's secrets ... :)

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Quiet times spent together are such a gift - for both parent and child. We slow down, they absorb - we all enjoy each other. What a life-long gift to not only teach our children how to enjoy such times, but how to find a little quiet where they can. 

"We can all find a moment in every day for listening, a moment in which we gather our children close, open our ears, and luxuriate in the sounds of our world, wherever we may be." (p. 107)

I so enjoyed this chapter - as I do every chapter - and I deeply appreciate the lessons it reminds me of, veteran mom that I am now. ;-) I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, too! Please drop a note if you have time ... but as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading. 

I had all intention of setting a Mitten Strings for God book study schedule with this post, but alas - I'm cautious to do so. I do anticipate a quiet and laid back summer and in theory I should have more time for blogging, but I'm hesitant to set myself up for failure!

That said, the next chapter is a topic near and dear to my heart - Nature - and I am really excited to delve into it. I am going to propose Sunday, July 8th for our next Mitten Strings Tea ... but if I need to tweak the timing a bit I will let you know as soon as I'm able. (I generally announce things like that on Facebook and Instagram.)

For now though, I will be off ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

I will see you here again very soon!


A Few April Bits & Bobs ❤

Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday! I'm popping in quickly today to share a few things ... 

First, I wanted to let you all know that our next Mitten Strings for God book study "tea" will take place this coming Sunday, April 22nd. The chapter we'll be discussing next is called "Healing," and it's a rather short, but very sweet chapter. Here's a passage to consider ...

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Full (Wednesday) Disclosure - it was this chapter that inspired me to share last Friday's post, admitting to certain anxieties I have as a special needs parent. Because there's nothing quite like times of stress to inspire more frequent (and imagined) "boo-boo moments." Most of the time it's more about the need for comfort than it is a cute bandaid ... but more on all that in my Sunday post. Later this week (most likely on Instagram) I will share a picture of our own boo-boo basket, which I recently pulled together with my littlest fella in mind.

For now I would like to invite all to join me in this re-read, savoring each chapter as we (slowly) go along. Future chapter topics include: listening, nature, enchantment and grace. :)

On a brighter note though, here are some spring birds from my backyard ...

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How I love watching the goldfinches turn a brighter shade of yellow once the winter has passed. In this collage I have "captured" two males at the top and then a third male in between two females on the bottom. Their vibrant feathers are such a happy sight in the spring!

And here are a few more ...

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On the left is the dark-eyed junco - a lovely "snowbird" who leaves for the north in mid-April. Every year we keep a keen eye out for their departure - often a flock of them will be ground-feeding vigorously one day and then be gone the very next. Come October, juncos will return for the winter (just about the time the chipmunks go underground). They are such seasonal harbingers and the dearest little birds - I just love them! 

The birds on the right are a white-throated sparrow (top) and a house finch (bottom). The sparrow's song in particular is a welcome and familiar sound around here in the spring!

But speaking of spring ...

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This picture popped up in my "Facebook Memories" feed this morning. It was taken on this day last year and OH MY what a difference a year makes! These azalea bushes, shown here in near-bloom, have barely even formed buds yet this season! What a long, loooong winter it's been ...

But now ... I have some BIG news to share ... because Crackerjack has made his college decision!

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(Soon to be seen on my van's bumper!)

As of Sunday night CJ is officially enrolled at Emmanuel College in Boston, as a member of the class of 2022! His plan is to major in Political Science and minor in Spanish. We are very proud of our young man and extremely pleased he decided on Emmanuel. I think it will be an excellent fit! 

Woohoo, Go Saints!

Well my friends, thanks so much for stopping by and I hope your week is going well. How is spring treating you where you live? Drop me a note if you have a moment, but for now I will wish you well and a pleasant day (or evening) ahead ...

Meet you here on Sunday for Mitten Strings!


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! I hope your week's been going well!

I thought it would be fun to share a "day in our life" with you all, so as we went through our day, one day last week, I took pictures and jotted down notes. Here then is a little recap of last Thursday, March 1st. :)

(Note: Our weekdays are currently quite similar in that, Bill goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Another constant these days is we have two ABA therapists who work here at home with our 16 yo son, for a total of four hours a day. And then some days Bill works from home, and four days a week our 18 yo son has outside-the-home classes - to (and from) which Bill or I must drive him because he does not yet have his license! But hopefully he will by the end of this month!)

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! 🌞

5:00 a.m.

I wake up and realize I'm the first one up, which is quite surprising because usually Earlybird is the first to rise. (He has in fact been my alarm clock for the past 16 years!) I look over to see if Bill is still sleeping, and am not all that surprised to notice that the body softly snoring next to me is not my husband's but that of our four year old son's - with his head draped across my pillows, mind you! And this would explain the crick in my neck ...

I then realize Bill has already gotten out of bed, so I grab my phone and send off a text:

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As you can see our texting skills are not at their best this early in the morning! (Per family tradition, we always say RABBIT RABBIT on the first of the month - it's supposed to bring you good luck!)

Within a few minutes I hear Earlybird get up and head downstairs, and Bill sees to EB's needs (a snack, a water cup, the family room TV clicker) while starting a fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait, in the darkness, with as much patience as I can muster (which isn't a lot), until Bill brings me that first blessed cup of coffee. sigh ... JOY!

So while I savor my first cup, curled up in the rocking chair by my bed, Little Bear sleeps on with hefty pillows piled up on either side of him. (Our bed is quite high and I don't like to leave him alone in it - yet I'm loathe to move him for fear he'd wake and be up for the day!)

It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's a purring cat in my lap ...  

Soon enough, Bill starts getting ready for work - though he often takes calls at home until mid-morning - and Earlybird is happy as a clam in the family room with his Kindle Fire and breakfast snacks. 

(Note: EB usually wakes up VERY early - he always has! Sleeping past six is rare for him. He can't be left unsupervised however, so Bill and I always rise just as early as he does.)

Now some (perhaps many!) might cringe at starting one's day so very early in the morning, but honestly, I don't mind. In fact, I actually like it! As long as I have my coffee, of course, I appreciate these early hours before the day truly begins, when I can gather my thoughts and launch the day slowly ...

So the next few hours are spent in this way - I'm upstairs watching the room go from pitch dark to soft light, savoring cup (after cup) of freshly brewed coffee, working on my phone until it's light enough to see and then I start working in my planners. (Checking email, social media, news, etc.) I also use this time to think quietly and say my morning prayers. I love catching the sunrise when I'm able ... 🌅

* Morning planning: I start with my little Katie Daisy planner, at the monthly spread, crossing off yesterday's block (February 28th). Since it's the first of the month, I readjust my binder clip to the March page. Isn't it fun when you get to start a new monthly spread? I then open my seasonal planner and consult the weekly spread - where are we at, what's what for today? Thursdays are "nature walk" days, per our weekly homeschooling rhythm - and as this is "thaw/sap" week we'll be looking for signs of winter-melt and possibly, any maple trees in our neighborhood. It's supposed to be a clear and very mild day so this is perfect! Finally I move on to my Day Designer and set up my daily page. If time permits I use a highlighter to visually target drive-times and outings.

(Note: During these early hours, spring through fall, I try to grab a quick 30 minute walk before Little Bear wakes. These days however, winter weather (and dark mornings) keep me inside. I do have a treadmill in our bedroom but I don't use it regularly ever.)

8:45 a.m.

Little Bear seems to be sleeping in, so I wake Crackerjack (first reminding him to say RABBIT RABBIT) so he can keep an eye on LB and an ear out for EB while I grab a quick shower and get dressed. 

(Note: I think it would be fun to do a post on our grooming/health/beauty routines, don't you?)

Once I'm done with my "primp and prep" (such as it is) Crackerjack goes off to get himself ready for class, and Little Bear wakes up soon thereafter.

9:00 a.m.

We head downstairs to officially begin our day! This is about an hour later than usual for us, so I'm running a little behind. Earlybird heads upstairs to his bedroom since he no longer has to be quiet, but first I give him his (anti-seizure) meds. Little Bear and I feed the cats and start making breakfast ... I always tune into the TODAY show throughout the morning. I can't sit and really digest it, but I like to catch a few segments here and there. :)

BREAKFAST: whole wheat waffles, apple cider, cheese and vitamins.

I now switch to decaffeinated tea. I try not to drink caffeine after 10 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

I drive Crackerjack to Spanish class, leaving the rest of the boys at home with Bill. Just before leaving I receive an email from a good friend of mine who is organizing our March Nature Club activity (maple sugaring!). She needs me to get back to her ASAP on a few dates/times so that gets me thinking and strategizing on the drive.

I drop CJ at his class, and head back home (a five-minute drive). Kiss Bill on my way in (and his way out) and then scramble to get things ready for Earlybird's first therapist who arrives at 10 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

Earlybird is working on his daily routine with his ABA therapist, Michael. First he showers, shaves and dresses - then he works on chores like cleaning his room, changing his bedding, doing his laundry, taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, etc. All these tasks build good skills but are also important for working on the concept of compliance. (Doing activities that are not preferred.)

Meanwhile, I return my friend's email, letting her know the dates that work for us, give my Mum a call, and then do some preschool activities with Little Bear ... and this is where I first start taking pictures!

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Here's Little Bear coloring a Welsh dragon for St. David's Day! We also read a book, and make a paper plate cloud - in honor of March coming in like a lamb. Little Bear says he's "still hungry" and wants toast, so we pop some bread in the toaster and start working on a Peppa Pig puzzle. 

Suddenly, a telltale rumble on the road tells us mail has arrived! So we decide to head outside for a bit to retrieve said mail, check on the hens and have ourselves a little nature walk.

But first we pop downstairs to change up the laundry and see if Bookworm is busy. (He's not working full-time at the moment, but doing computer design/site building at home currently, while studying for java certification.) We find him on his computer, but he tells us he'll join us outside for a bit. (While Bookworm looks for full-time employment he has been a HUGE help to us with childcare. I feel so blessed to have this time with ALL my boys at home!)

11:00 a.m. 

Outside now, and what a beautiful day! Bright and warm, nearly 60°! Not at all usual for New England at this time of year. (But we'll take it!)

After checking on the hens' needs, we walk around a bit. I love our yard because it's a good size and there are always interesting and new things to "discover!" Some things are new but familiar ...

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Such as the first daffodil shoots of the year! We found these growing by the front walk, beneath the dog rose bush.

Other things are not new, but perhaps unnoticed, and definitely not familiar!

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Such as this orange and green "fur" growing between the cracks in the stairwell. (It's actually moss - aka Hairy Moss!) Little Bear, as you can see here, made sure he grabbed his shovel, because ... you never know when you might need to dig.

I leave LB with BW and head inside to place a call and check on EB and Michael ...

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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How I love a good mail day! New books, catalogs and magazines and ok, yes, bills. But still - I love when our mailbox is full!

Back inside I find Earlybird and his therapist taking a break in the family room. (EB gets five minute breaks between tasks and usually he likes to watch a little TV during this time.) I decide to place a call I need to make ... rescheduling a long overdue eye exam!

After earning that check, I decide to work on some chores, since Little Bear and Bookworm are still outside and Earlybird and Michael have left on a bike ride. It seems VERY quiet in the house, lol! Just me and the cats ...

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... who are intently observing a chipmunk perched just outside the patio doors!

According to my weekly housekeeping schedule, on Thursdays I clean the "back rooms" - meaning, the sunroom (aka the learning room) and family room. I decide to start in the sunroom since it's just SO lovely out I can have the windows open while I work ...

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My cleaning routine goes something like this: de-clutter/tidy, sweep, vacuum, dust/wipe.

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If I'm able to have windows open all the better for airing out the room, too!

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I leave the table set with things for Earlybird to see and work on today ...

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Just as I finish tidying this room, I am hailed by Bookworm and Little Bear to "Come see what they found!" I will spare you this picture though, since what they found was most surely a rather disgusting owl pellet! Fascinating, for sure ... but also, quite gross. 

NOONTIME

Michael is off and it's time for lunch! Bookworm brings Little Bear inside and sees to his washing up, while I set about making lunch for the younger boys.

LUNCH: popcorn, lemonade, cheese quesadillas, apple slices and fig cookies.

I also keep an eye on the noontime news - it seems we have quite a storm heading our way!

Earlybird's second therapy session begins once Gideon arrives. They head out to the sunroom to start in on his homeschool assignments and various other life skills activities. I clean up after lunch - with Little Bear's help, natch - and then LB and I settle in for a bit of reading time in the living room. He's really into "The Magic School Bus" right now and as you can imagine we have quite a few of those in our collection!

(Note: I need to read with Little Bear where Earlybird can't hear us since he has a strong aversion to people reading aloud, singing, talking too much. We're actually working on desensitizing him of this sensory challenge and some days one of his therapy activities is simply to listen to me read aloud (with or without LB present, depending on EB's current mood). We do this for a few minutes or pages at a time. Otherwise, LB and I read aloud when EB is elsewhere in the house or otherwise engaged with his therapists.) 

1:00 p.m.

I leave Bookworm home with EB and Gideon while Little Bear and I head out to pick up Crackerjack from class and run to the library. But first, I pour my fresh cup of tea into a travel mug! Here is my bag sitting on the seat next to me:

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It's not the most interesting picture, I just really love that bag! We have a few books and videos to return and I have a couple of holds waiting for me.

We pick up CJ - who as you can probably tell from this picture, had a karate lesson after Spanish!

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(We're very fortunate to have an active homeschooling community where we live. CJ, like Bookworm before him, has been able to take classes with other homeschoolers at a couple of different locations. This has made a huge impact on our high school homeschooling. I plan to do a separate post about our homeschool approach in the high school years ... now that Bookworm is actually OUT of college and Crackerjack is making plans to attend in the fall.)

Ok, we're now off to the library! We are here at least once a week - to make returns, pick up holds and sometimes just to browse. Today I allow Little Bear to pick out a video or two. He has a hard time choosing and finally decides on Reading Rainbow and The Adventures of Clutch Powers. (He is SO into Legos right now!)

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Before we leave, Crackerjack points out a book he thinks looks nice for Little Bear, Shelter. It is indeed absolutely lovely, and I make a note to add it to my November planner for "hibernation" week. (I scribble myself a note on the index card attached to my little planner and then transfer that note to my seasonal planner back home.)

A few minutes later we are back home, and heading inside, but Little Bear wants to feel the soft buds of the magnolia tree ...

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He is enchanted by the texture - though somewhat dismayed when he plucks the bud off the tree without meaning to! I reassure him the tree is fine and suggest he place the bud on our nature table. 

First though, LB takes a closer look under his "microscope!"

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He places the bud on top of his bowl of moss-dirt.

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"Doing science." 😉 This little magnifyer was a wonderful purchase! It has served us very well for several years.

Btw, here are the books I had on the hold shelf:

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The Dance of Time is right up my alley - I LOVE learning about the calendar! I forget where I heard about it, but I decided it would be an interesting book to check out! The Vanity Fair Diaries is not something I'd normally read, but I saw its author, VF editor-in-chief Tina Brown interviewed on Greater Boston one evening last month and thought it all sounded quite intriguing! (We don't watch a lot of TV, but Bill and try to catch GB every weeknight - plus Beat the Press on Fridays as well as the wonderful Rick Steves' Europe also on PBS!)

3:00 p.m.

Now, time for a break! We sit in the family room for a bit - and yes, the TV goes on! Nature Cat and Wild Kratts are favorites and while Little Bear watches, I work on my plans for next week (and the weekend) and enjoy a rather large cup of tea!

Here's where we crash for a bit ...

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I just love this east-facing window - it gets wonderful morning light, and the cardinals just love those spruce trees! The couch is a bit beaten up (though only a few years old) but it's quite comfy. :)

Just as I decide to put off the rest of my "Thursday chores" I hear a car pull up the drive ... and we are all thrilled to see it's my brother - aka Uncle Matt!

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We have SUCH a nice visit with my brother ... as usual, he spoils us with a bunch of Trader Joes treats (he's a TJ's manager) and a new game for family game night! He doesn't need to bring a thing of course, it's just great to spend time with him. :)

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And this right here is why I'm so grateful to be at home, and that I live close to my family. My life is a simple one, but it brings me tremendous joy! 

❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤ 

Now I will confess, I got off track a little at this point - I stopped taking pictures and jotting down notes! But here's my recollection of the rest of our Thursday, March 1st ... :)

4:00 p.m.

After Matt left, I started in on my usual afternoon tidy. And by started in on, I mean, I didn't get through it all. (I almost never do!) "Afternoon tidying" includes sweeping the kitchen, prepping supper, neatening the kitchen sink and counters and wiping up the half-bath in the foyer. It's really great when I do make time for these simple tasks because they greatly impact not only the way I feel in the evening but especially how my next morning goes. 

Meanwhile, the boys were all over the house doing their usual things. I can (and do) often ask the older boys to keep an eye on Little Bear if I need to take a shower or work on a project of one kind or another.

I neatened up the learning room a little, by organizing the materials used and lessons completed. Then I turned off the space heater and lights and locked the door for the night.

6:00 p.m.

Bill got home around 6 p.m. and as usual, we sat down to supper right away. This is one of my favorite moments of the day - when we can all catch up and chat.

SUPPER: potato-leek soup (not homemade), grilled ham and cheese panini, steak fries, salad.

Once supper was eaten and dishes cleared, we all retreated to our comfort zones - the boys to their devices and Bill, Little Bear and I to the family room. Generally Bill and I like to watch a little TV at this time of night (as described above) before I head upstairs (planner bag in hand!) to tuck Earlybird in bed. (Because unsurprisingly, Earlybird loves an early bedtime!)

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My planner bag with all the things I'll need in the morning!

8:00 p.m.

Tucking EB can be a process - some nights he needs "two more minutes" multiple times! - but usually it doesn't take too long, since he's such an early riser. After washing up and getting my own "PJs" on, I readied all the beds for sleep and then let Bill know it was time to bring Little Bear upstairs. After washing up and donning "footie" pajamas, he snuggled into Mama and Daddy's bed to hear his special bed stories. Currently he loves hearing these three books before bed. :)

While Bill and Little Bear read, I read my own book until my lids grow heavy ... and next thing I know, everyone's asleep, save for the older two boys who are in charge of their own bedtimes these days! 

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this peek into our day! It was a very long post to be sure, but then - our days tend to be pretty long! (And of course, I tend to be wordy!) But as always, I thank you very much for joining me here today, and I wish you all a pleasant week's end ...

See you here again very soon!


Bits, Bobs & Mitten Strings ... ❤

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday Tuesday! I'm popping in today to share some Mitten Strings for God book study scheduling news, as well as a few other bits and bobs. :) I had meant to do this over the weekend, but alas ... life! And in particular, special needs parenting life. I won't get into the details of all that right now, but if I may ask for your prayers/good thoughts for Earlybird, who's having a rough time at the moment, I'd be sincerely grateful. 

But on with the good stuff! First I'd like to share this quote from our next chapter in MSfG, "One-on-One Time" ...

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That is Little Bear of course, but the picture's a couple of years old. (It's weird that I can say that about his pictures now. Wasn't he JUST a couple of years old himself?!) It was taken during a woodsy winter solstice walk, and technically, it wasn't a "one-on-one" outing - because Bill was there, too! But I feel like this kind of picture represents the quiet times I spend connecting with LB apart from the bustle of everyday life. For this outing, we had left the noise and demands of the household behind us for a bit and it was a wonderful thing - to just focus on LB and his dear developing personality, to watch his funny expressions and listen to his very interesting thoughts. Young children have such a wonderful perspective on life, don't you think? And that's not to say I don't enjoy time spent with each of my boys, but I find myself alone with Little Bear most often these days. Spending one-on-one time definitely comes with more conscious effort as the kids grow older ... they get busy, and seem less enthralled with what their parents might have to say ... but more thoughts on all this at our next MSfG Tea!

And speaking of! Our next Mitten Strings for God study/tea will take place on Friday, February 16th. It's a bit later than I originally proposed, but I am trying to be very honest with myself about my free time - eg. how much I do and don't have! (Not nearly as much as I'd like but that's just the season of life that I'm in!) So please join me a week from this Friday for a wee chat and a winter's tea here at the blog. Let's talk about chapter 12, and the importance of making time for each of our children - while appreciating each of them for who they are. (As the mother of four sons I can honestly say that children are all just SO different, even same gender siblings raised in the very same way!)

Now, this might be a tricky chapter for me, because I don't think we (as in, Bill and I) do exceptionally well with this concept. As homeschoolers I think there's a bit of the feeling that "well, we spend tons of time together, anyway!" And special needs parenting comes into this, too - the demands it places on family life and the effects it has on maintaining balance - not to mention, sibling relationships. So I have some deep reading and thinking to do ...

As always, I'll be very eager to hear all of your thoughts on this, too! I invite you to send me those thoughts (with or without photo) or just chime in at the post itself. All are welcome to join this ongoing book study! (And at this rate we'll be talking about Mitten Strings all year!)

Now, while I'm here, I thought I'd share some photos from the past couple of weeks, beginning with Little Bear's first visit to the Lego Store ...

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Can you even believe how big he's getting? Granted, we're all crouched down around him, but he's truly getting quite tall. And the way he's talking has changed, you know? Even the way he walks is different now. It's a little heartbreaking how quickly time flies when our children are small ...

Well, about those Legos ...

Last fall, Little Bear - already a huge Duplo fan - discovered the extra-special magic of building with REAL Legos. Like the ones that BIG boys (and girls) build with. He's just four, so he's a bit young for such Lego building - they can be frustrating for little hands - but he's handling it pretty well and just loving all the creating and getting his biggest brothers (longtime Lego fans themselves) to help him out. I love this picture above because it's me with my Lego kids, big and small. And not to keep harping on the "time-flying" thing, but I swear those older boys were just the "little" Lego kids in my house. I certainly have the zillions of Legos to prove it - stashed in the attic AND the basement - not to mention the scars on my feet!

So since I'm now a bonafide 18 years + Lego Mom, I bought myself a minifig for my key ring ...

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That's "Rey" from Star Wars, in case you were wondering! :)

Now, here are some books from my "Deep Winter" basket ...

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Books that had gone MISSING because  - well, I'm not sure why they went missing. It's a bit of a mystery! Usually I'm very careful about our seasonal book collections, but somehow last year our Deep Winter and Early Spring bin got divvied up and the books ended up here and there in our basement. *GASP* Thankfully though, I found them all on Candlemas morning (Feb. 2nd) just in the nick of time to celebrate Groundhog Day!

But to back up a day, here are some pics from our February 1st, also known as "St. Brigid's Day," a lovely feast we enjoy celebrating each year ...

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Firstly, by making our own butter! (St. Brigid, is patroness of Ireland and dairymaids.) This is that ol' marble-and-cream-in-a-ball-jar trick - the one the children think is SO cool until they realize just how hard and how long they have to shake that dang jar! (Mama gets quite an arm-workout on Brigid's Day, let me tell you!) We like to serve the smidgen of butter we end up making with our bread rolls at supper. Daddy always makes sure to be suitably impressed!

We also like to make a Brigid's Cross for this feast, a craft I've only in recent years gotten the hang of ...

Soaking rushes

We started with "rushes" from our yard. (Actually, dried ornamental grass, but they work!) Because the material was rather stiff though, we soaked them in snowmelt for about an hour before attempting to weave our cross.

(And note I said, "cross," not "crosses." Clearly we gathered enough grass to make several crosses, but in truth I overestimated the interest and energy levels of my children and their mama!)

Here's the end result:

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Now this was Brigid's Day morning ...

Muddy melty

Muddy, melty and the ground still smattered with snow ...

Ice

Not to mention ice once the temperature dropped! February can be a fickle month in New England, but mostly it's just cold and snowy ... and cold.

And YET ...

Eggs

Our hens have started laying again!! To me that's a sure sign spring is in the air ... or at least, in the amount of light we are getting every day. (Which has been increasing every day since the winter solstice.) I try to keep my senses very keen to the nuances of each season and I can tell you - the light is changing, and the bird song is different ... and yes, the air smells a little different on those drippy days. I feel certain that spring is stirring in the woods, underneath the half-frozen ground, deep inside those tough yet tender branches ...

Meanwhile, back inside ...

Archie in basket

Archie is purrfectly content (sorry, had to) soaking up the afternoon sun, spending his winter days in a cozy basket. Even when said basket is not meant for him (but rather, my books) Archie considers it fair game.

But really, how could I move him?

So instead I set up at the kitchen table a little to the left ... 

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And worked in my homemade planner to iron out some lesson plans for the week ahead. The current week's seasonal theme? Winter citrus ... :)

Last shot:

Daffs

My kitchen window yesterday morning. It was so bright and beautiful and the air was a balmy 40° ... I allowed myself to focus on these delightful daffs and those fresh eggs from my hens. It made washing dishes a little less of a chore and a bit more of a blessing ... I was home, I had my family to care for, and that sunshine was so good for my soul ...

Oh, and by the way - the first picture in this post is a shot of my writing desk, with a teacup candle I made for Candlemas. Very easy to do with a bit of beeswax and a simple wick ... I think I have a post that explains how this works somewhere here, hang on ...

Yup! Here it is. Same method, just a different vessel this year! :)

Well, my friends, I'd best be off now ... but I wish you all well and thank you, as always, for joining me! I hope you enjoyed these rambling thoughts and photos and I look forward to chatting once again in the not so distant future! For now though, enjoy these lingering winter days, and please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


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!


Seasonal Homeschooling: Pumpkin Week Recap!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! 

I'm back again because I have SO many pictures of our pumpkin week, and I just have to share! If you're new to my blog you might be wondering what in the heck a "pumpkin week" is, so - just to explain briefly - every week of the year we explore an assigned seasonal theme as part of our homeschooling. These themes are a big influence on our younger boys' learning experience, but they also infuse our family's home life as well.

I won't go into the whole "why and how" of our seasonal homeschooling, but the important thing to remember about it is - it's more a guideline than a rule! :)

Sure, some weeks we do it up big (case in point, pumpkins!), but other weeks just fly by and we only casually observe our theme. We may be very busy that week, or it might be the theme is not quite as appealing as another might be. Well, pumpkins in October (as you can imagine) are a big hit with most children! And pumpkins lend themselves to all kinds of great learning experiences - whether they be in the disciplines of science, social studies, language arts, cooking, storytelling, etc.! It's very easy to plan for pumpkins - just type "pumpkin activities" into the Pinterest search bar and you'll hardly know where to start!

Well, personally, I start with our own book baskets and family calendar - then start plugging things into our weekly rhythm! Here's a glimpse at last week's planner page as I was just getting started ...

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It's important to my planning "psyche" that I incorporate seasonal awareness wherever I can! So divider pages are vintage reflections of seasons and holidays past, ribbons and washi (when I use them) are also seasonally inspired ... as are the font colors I use in each monthly section. I just loved how the light hit this bit of planning paraphernalia on my kitchen table ... :)

Books are pretty much the backbone of our homeschool, so one of the first things I did, as I planned out our week, was to comb through our autumn book bins and pull out any that had to do with pumpkins ...

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Not surprisingly there were a lot!

Then I got busy planning out activities that would potentially A. appeal to my kids and, B. fit well into our week. Post-it notes are helpful for me here - because due to the special nature of our very hands-on homeschooling (one preschooler and a special needs teen) - I need things to be, above all, flexible. It's impractical for me to plan out each day's to-dos a week in advance, though I do set a rhythm to our week. (Mondays are nature days, Tuesdays are crafting, Wednesdays are for storytelling ... etc.)

So on a drizzly Monday we kicked things off with a little pumpkin investigation!

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I had a sugar pumpkin "specimen" all ready and I found a neat worksheet for them to use (on Pinterest). I don't use worksheets with my preschooler very often but Little Bear does get a kick out of them! First thing he said when he saw this one was, "Mama, I need TWO crayons! Orange and green, please!" Then he got right down to coloring those pumpkins!

Once the REAL pumpkin was open though, he was all about the seed scooping ...

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My mum had come over that morning and with her help, and Earlybird's therapist's support, this science activity was a real hit with both my younger boys!

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Soon the sugar pumpkin was all scooped out and carved to the boys' specifications!

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While Little Bear scooped and colored, Earlybird answered the worksheet's questions:

Was the pumpkin big, small or medium?

Was it orange, yellow or white?

Was the outside smooth or rough?

How many lines were around it?

How many seeds did he think would be inside?

How many seeds WERE inside?

Did he think the pumpkin would sink of float in water?

(Spoiler alert: It floated!)

The next day was better for outside investigating so we headed into the backyard with magnifying glasses in hand. Recently - and curiously - we have one tiny pumpkin plant growing alongside the back of the house - and we didn't put it there! So I wanted the boys to look it all over and think a little - theorize - about how it might have sprouted up here if we didn't actually plant it.

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What was SUPER cool about this observation though, was nestled in the center of the plant itself, alongside the one tiny yellow pumpkin bump we found forming, was a milkweed seed! Just one fluffy little seed, and there it was all snuggled up next that budding pumpkin! We do have milkweed growing across the street, but we mused it would take quite an adventure for a seed so small and delicate to find its way all the way here to our tiny plant. (And we were just discovering milkweed last week!)

This "mystery" seemed to me the beginnings of a really neat nature story ... the tale of two wayward seeds. (More on that in a moment.)

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For a craft I had in mind for later, I set the boys to gathering the driest, crispiest, most colorful leaves they could find ...

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Well, you can imagine how Little Bear took this assignment to heart!

The next day we were back on the deck with a little "leaf glitter" craft in the works ...

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Here's Earlybird with his therapist, working on those fine motor skills ... and sensory issues ... and patience!

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I just drew simple pumpkin outlines on orange paper and then the boys traced those lines with glue. Final step - crumbling all those dried leaves to make "glitter" and sprinkling it all over their gluey pumpkins!

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(A craft for the outdoors, for sure!)

Back inside the learning room, here are the boys' pumpkins on display! :)

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Another neat pumpkin activity this week ...

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Pumpkin tic-tac-toe! I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew it would be a lot of fun - especially for our Halloween party coming up this weekend. Fingers crossed the day will be a nice one and I think folks will have fun trying their hand at this tabletop game! 

Back inside, at my kitchen table later in the day: a fortifying cup of tea and a little read-aloud ...

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How I love Tasha Tudor books, and this one especially. I decided to "splurge" and buy a new board book version for Little Bear. He 

And speaking of my LB, I just had to include this pic of him hugging our giant blow up jack-o-lanterns on the front lawn. Pretty much every day this fall, on our way in or out of the house, he just needs to hug his pumpkin friends!

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Now, as I've mentioned before, our weekly rhythm includes a day for storytelling. These little stories are usually simple tales I make up myself, using our own yard, critters, weather, the season itself, etc. as a prompt. I like to place items in the learning room mailbox that will introduce the story theme and offer a few items Little Bear can use to play with as I narrate the plot. Well, here's what he found in the mailbox last week!

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This is a soft pumpkin doll rattle - something we've had for nearly 20 years! It's kind of amazing it's stayed in relatively good condition. The boys used this when they were babies and then it joined our finger puppet stash. (We also have a carrot!) So today this sweet little fella was an adventurous pumpkin seed fairy and as you can see he was surrounded by airborne milkweed seeds! (Remember, my story was reflecting our recent backyard garden adventures!)

I also created a watercolor verse card for us to read aloud. I used a pretty poem I found online ...

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I'm creating a collection of these seasonal cards for our homeschool!

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Now, when I plan out our seasonal themes, I'm mostly following the natural cycle of the year, though I often tap into the liturgical or secular calendar as well. I assigned this week in mid-October as "pumpkin week" for obvious reasons - they're everywhere and on everyone's minds right now! - but it also tied in nicely with the annual showing of this family favorite ...

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Last Thursday night all my boys, save Earlybird who does not like Charlie Brown specials, gathered on our couch to watch that timeless classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Yes, we could watch it on DVD (or streaming?) anytime we'd like, but there's something really fun and special about watching "specials" when they're actually being shown!

(The boys were kind of blown away by the fact that *ahem* ... back in our day ... if you missed a special on the night it was shown, well you were just plum out of luck until next year! And there was no pausing or rewinding, either!)

Friday morning - quite serendipitously and generously - my brother stopped by the house with a WHOLE BUNCH of pumpkin goodness for the boys!

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My favorite item so far? The Apple Cider Jam! It's like Thanksgiving in a jar ... 

Now, we didn't get to all the activities I'd planned for the week, but that's perfectly ok. We did what worked and clicked this year - there's always next year for other experiences! On our "marketing" day we tried to find as many pumpkin products as possible at the grocer's and on "hearth and home" day we baked pumpkin donuts for tea. Over the weekend we were going to visit a local pumpkin patch - but unfortunately it was just WAY too busy for my younger guys. (Like, crawling with customers crazy!) I had in mind a far calmer, less commercial experience - so I'm hoping to arrange a quieter visit for my fellas sometime next week. Next year we hope to have a little patch of our own so this past weekend we decided where we'd like to plant it and got the soil prepared. There was also pumpkin French toast for breakfast Sunday morning!

So there's a little glimpse of our pumpkin week and all we got up to! Here's a peek at our learning line and seasonal bookshelves as I tidied them Sunday afternoon ...

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And here's a peek at THIS week's seasonal planner spread ...

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One thing I like to do - because it is of course what happens in nature - is have certain themes trickle into other weeks. So for instance, we did "autumn seeds" weeks ago, but as the fall unfolds there are plenty of opportunities to learn about and live out this theme more. Case in point - those milkweed (and pumpkin) seeds last week! 

This current week's theme is "goodnight, garden" and I like to tie that in with Halloween. To our ancestors, Halloween literally meant the very end of summer - the time to secure the harvest final crops and prepare the land for the cold, hard winter ahead. We clearly don't live quite that close to the land anymore, but I think activities that echo those ancient seasonal traditions often resonate with us instinctually. So this week we are (as you can see from my planner above!) walking the bounds of our property, harvesting the last of our herbs, clearing our garden beds, raking up leaves, tucking spring bulbs in the ground, gathering natural materials for a bonfire, and seeking God's blessings for our "little farm" as winter approaches ...

Come All Hallow's Eve next week we'll be a little more prepared for a season of deep cold and darkness - both practically and spiritually speaking!

✨ ❄️ 🍂 🎃 🍃 🔥 ✨

Well my friends, I guess I'd better wrap up now because once again I fear I've kept you here too long! But I hope you enjoyed this little peek at our pumpkin week. Remember this was an exceptional week - I had lots of plans, and happily the weather, our time, my energy and their interest levels all cooperated! Not every week is quite so "seasonal" but pumpkins were especially motivating - for my homeschooling kids AND their mama!

I will be back later this week with my weekly Autumn Tea - and as I announced here and on social media, we will be continuing on with our Mitten Strings for God book study at a slower pace than originally announced. This Friday we will be talking about chapter four, "Quiet," and I'll be serving up a spot of Halloween Tea ... AND I have a fun little announcement to make in regards to our MSfG re-read, so stay tuned - and please take care!

I'll see you here again very soon ...


Woodland Wonders & a Peek at our Week!

Hello my friends and Happy Weekend! In my last post I promised a closer peek at my weekly planner spread so I'm here to share just that! I'm also going to share some pics and collages from "the week that was" in our homeschool ... :)

This weeks spread woodland

First, as I think some or perhaps most of you know, this is a weekly spread in my homemade seasonal planner (the one I talk about A LOT). And as with the rest of this planner I created these pages in what I feel are this month's colors: orange, purple, brown and green. :)

I like a two-page weekly spread so I can really spread out all my writing ... so I placed a general overview on the left, and an agenda with notespace on the right. On the left page I have at the very top the dates of the week: October 9th through October 15th, 2017. I like to begin my weeks with Monday - it's just the way I "see" the week! Beneath that I have two boxes - one for listing the days and events Of Note this week, and one for noting the week's seasonal Theme (woodland).

Moving down the page we have Meal Planning (which I just lifted from October's menu calendar), and beside that are my House & Garden notes for the week. In this box I write any current tasks we're tackling as well as any seasonal chores. Next I have a To-Do This Week box which is obviously pretty self explanatory! I start this list by using last week's list then add to it through the week as things come up ...

On the bottom left hand corner of the page I have a box called, Crafts & Comforts and this is where I plan out my seasonal "living and learning" ideas. Some of these pertain to our homeschooling, some of them are "personal nourishment" activities, and some are home-centered. It was my desire for this kind of planning space - specifically devoted to seasonal activities - that prompted me to make my own planner! I kept looking for a planner design that included such things in its layout and/or had space I could easily convert for this purpose, but I could never find a planner to satisfy me! So ... I just up and designed something for myself! It's certainly not perfect but it works - and it makes me happy. :)

Anyhoo ... this week's "craft and comfort" ideas are "woodland" related and as you can see I check things off as we do them. It is a rare week we do ALL the things - I'm not sure we ever have, lol! - but I love to brainstorm these kinds of activities! (See pictures below for more info on that!)

Moving over to the next page of the spread now ... and here I'm planning out our Weekly Rhythm and Student Goals. I basically use the left-hand column for listing out the agenda, or schedule, for the week - where we are going, what's going on - and the right-hand column for notes re ~ homeschooling my younger boys. (Actually mostly the preschooler because - as I think I've blogged about before, I'll have to check - I have a whole different system for planning out Earlybird's special needs homeschooling and daily therapies. You know, I think I am due for another "special needs homeschooling" post ... it's been a while!)

And as you can perhaps see, I had a little water spill this past week on this planner page - ACK! - and the remaining October sheets got wet ... and wrinkled ... and well, all ugly, lol. You all know how much I love a smooth planner page! In light of all the troubles in the world right now this is very much small potatoes but it does bug me when my planner (any of my planners) gets wrecked in any way. So I added a little woodland washi tape to cover up some of the damage and resisted the rather STRONG urge to make the whole planner over again!

Now you might notice I like to use post-its for my pre-k planning and I really don't have a sufficient explanation for why - I just do. They help me think and move information around and maybe just relieve me from writing something down next to a day permanently that might not fit well. Plus, I just love post-its. I use them ALL the time, all over the place ... really, my post-it note obesssion might warrant its own post!

Ok, getting back to my planner spread - between today and tomorrow I will review these pages to see what can be moved forward and then work on next week's spread (seasonal theme: pumpkins!). I actually gave a little sneak peek of that spread at FB and IG today!

So that's a rather thorough overview of last week's planner spread! Now, how about some pictures of the week itself? :)

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As longtime readers probably know, our seasonal homeschooling in the younger years involves storytelling in a very big way. We mostly make things up, taking our cues from our own seasonal changes and weather events (an owl visit, a hurricane, a snowstorm or a meteor shower, for example), but sometimes favorite storybooks inspire tales and adventures amongst our rather large collection of wooden figures and finger puppets!

So here we have last week's "storytelling" day, when Little Bear found a cast of woodland characters and some leaf-print fabric in his learning room mailbox. I'd been telling LB an evolving story about a silly old bear who - confused by recent summer-like weather - started emptying his cave of all its warm, snuggly leaves, all while his woodland friends tried to persuade him to stop! "Silly old bear, Winter is coming! You'll need all those leaves to stay warm in the months ahead!" Finally, as night (and the temperature) fell, Bear realized his mistake, and sat down to cry beneath the bright crescent moon. But not to worry (and believe me, my Little Bear was worried!), the bear's friends all pitched in to help and filled his cave with plenty of leaves until his den was perfectly cozy once again. :)

(Next week's story takes place in a pumpkin patch, natch!)

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And here we have a little bit of what I like to call, "parkinglotschooling!" Lol, you've heard of carschooling, right? Well, while we were waiting to pick Crackerjack up from class one day last week, we decided to explore the woodsy lot around us. Little Bear found an old rotting stump and we watched all kinds of bugs crawl over and through it (ants, beetle, earwig) ... and investigated a rather yucky looking fungus that seemed to be spilling out of it. (Ew.) Little Bear enjoyed all of this very much - as did I  - and note the Lego contraption clutched firmly in his hand all the while!

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At home later in the week we spent a bit of our morning watching a grasshopper close-up. We have lots of these insects around here - from the teeny tiny springing juveniles of spring to the quick-jumping, wing-whirring adults of summer. But in autumn grasshoppers begin to slow down, especially as the days cool. This fella was on our patio doors, and the sun had not warmed him up yet much ... so we took advantage of the situation and spent a little time observing. One point up for debate - was it a grasshopper or a cricket? We had our suspicions, but needed to do a little research to be sure!

(I wish I had recorded Little Bear and Earlybird having this very debate - it got quite heated!)

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More "woodland" exploring ... our yard is full of trees of course, but the log pile is especially interesting! (Earlybird was doing this with us but wasn't captured in any photos. He actually got a little freaked out by a spiderweb and quickly moved on!)

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And one day we made nature windchimes - a fairly easy and quick craft made with mason jar lid rings, contact paper, twine and things we found around our yard. Truth be told I did most of it myself - the boys liked sticking things on the contact paper and carrying the branch around, but that was about it. (Branches are always a hit.) I found this idea on Pinterest, and this post has great instructions!

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Here's a quick peek in the learning room where our woodland books are assembled along the windowsills, beneath the weekly learning line ...

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And here we have Archie exploring the "bear cave" (an Amazon box turned on its side and draped with soft blankets). And that's Archie for you - never one to pass up a new nook or cranny to explore!

(And to answer a question that might have popped into your mind - no, our learning room is not always this neat! I find though, that having lots of designated storage space, has really allowed for relatively quick cleanups! Each basket seen in these pictures has a particular type of toy assigned to it - and you can read more about that in this post!)

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A closer look at the "woodland" books for last week ... tomorrow I will be re-organizing this display with our books about pumpkins! (More pumpkin week details at my Autumn Tea next week!)

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More woodland fun - including a few things for Mama. ;-) Pretty journals and a calendar booklet as well as the sweetest woodland washi tape I ever did see! (I bought the journals at Paper Source but I haven't decided yet how to use them. The cute little "Woodland Tales" planner I bought at Whole Foods - it's a 17-month calendar, a perfect size to tuck in my purse/tote when I don't want to lug around my heavier (more precious) planners. The washi tape was found at Joann Fabrics but unfortunately I can't seem to find it on their website. And finally, the felt animal masks were SUCH a hit with my Little Bear! He has been having so much fun wearing the masks around the house and pretending to be each of these woodland creatures ... he's especially fond of the beaver mask. :)

(The photo of the scenic view was taken down the street. There is something so lovely about stone walls in autumn ...)

O with milkweed

And finally ... this collage was from last night, and you might have seen it if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I titled this: "Milkweed Magic on a Cool Autumn Evening." My apologies if you've already read this - it's a bit wordy, but it really captures how I felt last evening and I want to remember it! :)

We just had another one of those "daily" moments that really felt special - so special in fact, I took pics and made a collage to remember it by! 💛

We've had a milkweed pod sitting on our nature table since early last month, and today - it burst! Much to Little Bear's delight we had little white seed fairies flying all over the learning room!

So LB (and his Daddy and I) scooped up that pod - and as many of the seeds we could round up - and walked the whole kit and kaboodle across the street where the milkweed patch grows ...

Well, I wish I could tell you how positively gleeful Little Bear was during this whole adventure (though maybe you can tell from the photos!) ... you would have thought we were going to Disneyland! LB cradled that little seedpod so carefully - HE had to carry it! - and then heartily blew its fluffy innards all over the roadside ...

And it was such a beautiful evening, too - that autumn light is so lovely, and the leaves are all changing and the air is still just warm enough to walk outside without jackets ...

Inside we went again - time to make supper - the house all warm and lit and full of big brothers' sounds ...

Feeling grateful tonight for this little afternoon adventure ... and for a child who has such a soft heart for nature's wonders! 

✨ 🍁 🌞 🌲🌛 🍁 ✨ 🍁 🌞 🌲🌛 🍁 ✨ 🍁 🌞 🌲🌛 🍁 ✨ 🍁 🌞 🌲🌛 🍁 ✨ 

 My friends, I have kept you here so very long, and if you are still here, I thank you! (And if you bailed earlier, I still thank you!) I do hope you enjoyed a peek into our week and hearing about my planning process. Please let me know if you have any questions! I will be back again late next week with an Autumn Tea to share with you all ... and our first official Mitten Strings Book Study discussion!

(And of course, lots of pictures. When you come to my blog you KNOW there will be pictures ... and I'll have a lot to say about them!)

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend ... see you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea and Tidbits!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! Welcome to my first Autumn Tea  - of 2017! Something I hope to make a semi-regular recurrence at my blog going forward. Every so often I'll pop in with a cup of tea and a few bits and bobs from our homeschool ... a way to catch up and celebrate the season at hand. :) I'm hesitant to set a schedule however, as tempting as it is because you know I LOVE schedules - but it's been a little bit hectic so far this school year. Time at the computer (nevermind time for tea itself!) has been a little on the low side. But two things that make my heart so very happy are blogging and savoring tea, so I'm determined to make more time for both in my life!

So since it's been a while since we talked tea ... what are you drinking these days? I myself am enjoying Allegro Black Decaf during the afternoon (sweetened with raw sugar and a splash of whole milk) but after supper, now that the nights are cooler and darker, I am turning to a cup of decaf Constant Comment. There's something about that orange-spice flavor just makes me think AUTUMN! I still savor a cup or two of coffee in the mornings but after that I limit my caffeine intake as best I can ...

Well, I started in on my tea-taking early today as the above photo was taken just now (Saturday around 11 a.m.) because I was ready to get down to the lesson planning and for that, I absolutely MUST have tea! But before we talk about autumn homeschooling ...

Grab yourself a cup of your favorite brew and make yourself comfortable, please ... I have lots to share! :)

Let's begin with a peek into my October planning. Below you see the cover page for this month's section in my homemade planner (also seen in the top photo) ...

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And here is my planner stack on my kitchen counter - aka "mama's command center!"

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Sitting below my homemade planner is my Day Designer, and below that is a project clipboard. (I always put something underneath my planners in case there are spills or marks on the counter.)

So after the cover page (which is made from that cute vintage paper I love!) I have the two-page monthly calendar spread ...

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I added the stickers and a few quotations written with black ink and soft colored pencils ...

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I love peppering my planners with seasonal poems and quotes!

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Next page has my October menu calendar ...

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I described how I fill out these menu calendars in this post, but I want to stress that this is an ideal - we don't always keep up with the "new" and "varied" meals I've envisioned. Often - especially when we're busy or I'm tired (the state of affairs more often than not around here!) - I fall back on tried and true, easy meals. (Homemade pizzas, baked pasta, grilled cheese and soup, burgers, meatloaf and roasted veg, etc.) 

And next comes my monthly overview ...

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I added the highlighted notes at the top of the page this month, and of course there are post-its! The green apples reflect our October homeschooling themes and topics. I try to review this page every weekend to see where we're at and what tasks and activities can be scheduled in the week ahead. Note: "October Goals" became a place to write down upcoming movies, tv shows and books.

A closer peek ...

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And here is last week's spread!

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Next week I will do a WHOLE post on how I'm using this weekly spread, but in the interest of time and word count, let me move on and show you  ...

... next week's spread that I'm filling in now!

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You might wonder how long it takes me to fill in all those spaces, but honestly, it's not very long. A lot of the information is already available (Days of Note, Seasonal Theme, Dinners, Weekly Rhythm) so I just write those things in first. The to-do list is also pretty quick to fill in - I look at last week's list as well as our weekend planner to see what tasks still need doing. I take another look at the monthly calendar to see what new things have been written in for the week (a new event to prepare for, for example) and I also look back at that monthly overview to see what To-Dos can be fit into this coming week.

Beside my homemade planner I have parked my Day Designer ...

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Here's how it looked one day last week (when I first started working on this post!) ...

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Ok, moving on from planning (let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up on anything!) ... I thought I'd share some random photos from the past week or so ...

First, because it was the week of the Full Harvest Moon, I had planned to make "Harvest Moon Muffins," (a quick bread recipe baked in muffin tins) but due to the aforementioned busy schedule/tired mama syndrome, I stopped short at "Harvest Moon Applesauce." 😉

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I love using my grandmother's food press when making applesauce! 

This was actually part of a little "science" experiment this week, making applesauce together! The boys helped me with counting and measuring before I loaded the apples, sugar and spice into the crockpot, and good GOLLY did it smell wonderful in our house all day! The apples were done cooking just before bedtime so I placed them in the fridge for the next day. After milling the apples into sauce we set up a little taste-test - our homemade applesauce vs. Stop 'N Shop brand! Could people tell which was which? (The answer, happily, was yes!)

Then last weekend I combed through the autumn book basket and pulled out titles that matched October's weekly themes ...

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  • Changing Leaves (10/2-10/8)
  • Woodland Flora & Fauna (10/9-10/15)
  • Pumpkins (10/16-10/22)
  • Goodnight Garden/Halloween (10/23-10/29)

I also have two sweet board books for my younger boys for learning the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers, as part of Holy Rosary month. :)

Speaking of books though, look at these lovely new titles that arrived in my mail last week!

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A couple of picture books we usually get out of the library to celebrate the Full Harvest Moon, a new (and adorable) autumn board book for Little Bear (which might be my new favorite autumn book of all time!), a CD of scientific storytelling for Earlybird (which we once owned but now can't find!) and a new Waldorf-inspired crafting book for Mama. I'm positively swooning over that last one in particular - a bit of a splurge, but worth it!

Here's a gorgeous page from Hello, Harvest Moon ... 

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Did you happen to catch it last Thursday night?

Harvest moon rising

We are surrounded by trees here so we have to wait a while before the full moon is visible ... but honestly, I think the way it peeks through the branches and illuminates the tree-line is quite magical! We let Little Bear stay up a bit late so he could watch the full moon rising ...

LB and the full moon

Now, back to books for a moment ... just look and see what arrived in my mailbox early last week!

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A very thoughtful gift from my friend (and longtime reader), Penny! When Penny read that I was positively pining for this particular PW book, she offered me her own copy. (How nice is that?!) Naturally I said I would just LOVE to have it, so she popped in the mail and I received it a day later! Hooray for packages in the mail and hooray for the ever-speedy USPS ... but most of all, HOORAY for kind-hearted and generous friends!

Ok, now we all know the Pioneer Woman loves boots ... well, I'm no cowgirl, and I haven't been on a horse since I was 12, but how do you like my new "riding" boots?

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I have lusted after these "Westport," Maine-made boots for years ... and finally (with Bill's blessing of course), I made the splurge! I ordered them online because I don't get over to LL Bean's that often, but was very happy that not only do they FIT just as well as I'd hoped, they are truly quite comfortable. I thought they paired rather nicely with a knee-length denim skirt. :)

(This was me on my way to Sunday brunch with my college girlfriends!)

Speaking of shoes though ...

Archie and sandals

That's my Archie, flopped all over my favorite pair of summer sandals ... the ones I can't bear to put away for the season just yet. (Though truly, we've had plenty of summer-like days recently.) But as you can see, Archie's looking rather relaxed here, smug you might even say ... because while Oliver had to be at the vet's annual exam last week, Archie got to skip it completely. And all because he's just SO naughty when we bring him! Nothing like the sweetie-pie he is at home - at the vet he's all hissing, spitting and growing ... frankly, it's a bit of a horror show. The next attempt was going to include some serious sedation ... which makes me very nervous ... but fortunately our vet is wonderful and fully understood our apprehension. We decided he can wait till next year when he is due for his rabies shot. (My cats are indoor cats, but are still kept up on all their vaccinations.)

In other wildlife news ...

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Howsabout this guy???

Isn't he magnificent? This is a Barred Owl, and we hear him (her?) very often in the woods behind our house - usually around dusk, but my older boys (night owls themselves) say they hear hooting late at night as well. Well, there I was at the sink starting supper last Friday night when Little Bear, looking out the kitchen nook window, exclaimed: "Mama, look! It's a snowy owl!!"

And this is what he saw ...

Barred owl on feeders

Isn't he GINORMOUS?? And clearly looking for his supper! I took this picture above with my cell phone, then went outside with my big camera to try for a better shot. The first owl picture was taken from beneath the tree just to the right of the feeders. The owl was staring at me - really peering at me with those gorgeous black eyes! - then his attention would be caught by something moving in the underbrush and he'd turn his head downward ...

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Finally he'd had enough of me, my snapping camera and restless Little Bear and took off ...

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He landed in the front yard where LB and I were joined by Bill and Earlybird and we watched the owl fly across the road and into the woods to the north. Absolutely amazing ...

(Crackerjack and Bookworm were out on a driving lesson and missed the whole thing!)

Ok, and now for some autumn homeschooling ... these pics are all from the past couple of weeks!

First came APPLES ...

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Apple Week included apple snacks, an apple star surprise, drying apples, applesauce and an apple-y harvest wreath on the front door. :)

Also, I finally made use of that peg dolls book I showed you a couple of posts back, and look who Little Bear found in his learning room mailbox one morning!

Autumn star fairy

I made this "autumn star fairy" from a wooden peg base, with a little sheep's wool for hair, an acorn cap for a hat and a silk leaf (plucked from a garland) as wings! I made the verse card with a blank postcard and watercolor paints. I just wrote the verse on the card once the paint had dried. I've been using these cards for little poems, prayers and verses this year and I love the effect of those pretty paints!

Next came SEEDS ...

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Seeds week included seed gathering, sorting and observation, seed crafts, seed treats, seed experiments ... and very happy chipmunks!

And then on Michaelmas Day we had our first Nature Club meeting of the year ...

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My younger boys all came along and we met with other homeschooling families to take a walk along a local trail. We found everything on our Nature Scavenger hunt checklist as well as garter snakes, spiderwebs, several types of leaves and some very cool fungus. Best of all, there were Michaelmas daisies growing all over the woods! :)

The next Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels ...

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I made another watercolor card for the Guardian Angel prayer and set up this small scene on our learning room table. I lit the beeswax tealight and read the prayer aloud to Little Bear ... who took great joy in blowing out that candle! :)

We also found time to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, our family patron saint ...

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Little Bear especially enjoyed assembling "all of creation" as I crafted a simple grotto and read aloud our favorite child-friendly version of Francis's "Canticle of the Sun." I made a verse card for the first stanza and plan to make cards for the rest of this beautiful prayer. :)

Last week we also visited a local agricultural fair - along with Earlybird's therapist and Bill who took the day off so he could join us. :)

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And the day after that we joined our homeschool group on a field trip to a local corn maze!

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It was a beautiful day - as you can see, warm enough for short sleeves! - and what fun we had navigating our way through the rows of corn and listening to the raspy dry ears in the breeze and hearing great vees of geese honking overhead! 

✨ 🍂 🍎 🐿 🌻 🌞 🍁 🍄 🌽 🌛 ✨

Well this was quite a long post I'm afraid, but I hope you enjoyed it! I had meant to create posts around each of these collages - with more details - but time kept slipping by and then we'd be onto the next thing! I can certainly expand on any of these themes and projects (as well as my planners) in a future post and happily, though last week was particularly busy with two field trips, a fair trip, a vet appointment AND the SAT ... the coming week will be much quieter! Knock on wood!

So I will leave you now my friends, with my thanks for your visit and my wish that you all enjoy a lovely autumn weekend. I will be back again here just as soon as I can but in the meantime you can always find me on Facebook or Instagram. :)

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


A Bunch of Autumn Bits & Bobs!

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Hello, my friends and Happy Friday! And Blessed Equinox, too! ✨ 🍂 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 🍄🌛🍂✨

I'm popping in today to share some autumnal thoughts and photos with you all ... but first, thank you so much for all the incredibly kind comments left at my learning room post. I had such fun putting that post together and I'm so glad you all enjoyed it! There will, of course, be plenty more pics and posts to come as we wind our way through the new year ... but for today, let's talk a bit about AUTUMN, which just began here about 20 minutes ago! To celebrate I made up the plate of "equinox cookies" seen above ...

Now, this was not my idea mind you - I saw a few variations of these cookies on Pinterest. I just took some vanilla cookies we had in the pantry and dipped them in some melted chocolate chips (also from the pantry) and gave them a good sprinkling of autumnal jimmies. (A mom can never have too many jars of colored sprinkles on hand!) One pretty china plate and a bunch of silk leaves later and I had a festive treat for our Friday teatime! :)

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Oh, children's books ... how I love organizing children's books! Last weekend I had Bill bring up the Autumn book basket (actually, a rather heavy wooden crate!) and I spent some time reacquainting myself with old favorites. I have a post to come (hopefully this weekend) with a look at our September book lists and plans ... I've had some requests since I've been sharing lots of book shots here and on social media lately! 

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I ask you - what is sweeter than chubby toddler hands?? Especially when they're trying to grab more than they can hold? This is actually an older photo but it popped up in my Facebook "memories" today and I had to include it ... it's always been a favorite of mine. :) 

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And look how those little hands have grown! Here we are on the couch the other day enjoying one of Little Bear's new board books. The sweetest little forest-themed board book I ever did see!

Kitchen autumn blessing

Now, if you follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram you've probably seen some of the photos in this post, and you might have heard me talk about my "Autumn Blessing" week. Well, I decided since the first day of Fall fell on a Friday, I would use the week leading up to that special day to prepare my home with a little cleaning and "cozifying." Basically, I just cleared each room of any extraneous stuff (aka clutter) and then swept corners and wiped surfaces as best I could. (It wasn't a super deep cleaning, more of a freshening up.) Finally, I added some warm autumn touches here and there ... :)

Above you see the kitchen on Monday evening ... and let me tell you ... it took me ALL day to get it that neat! (Because no, my house is not normally super tidy ... we really LIVE here ALL WEEK, if you know what I mean!)

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On Tuesday I worked on the front rooms: foyer, library and ...

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... dining room! :)

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On Wednesday and Thursday, I worked in the family room ... and as you can see, Archie approves of the "autumnal" changes!

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Heading back outside, here's a shot of Little Bear at a local farm we visited recently ... it was a beautiful crisp day here in New England!

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We also swung by a gorgeous sunflower field ... aren't they breathtaking? And can the sky really possibly be that blue? Nothing like an Autumn blue sky ... though this technically was taken in Summer. ;-)

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Here's a picture collage from our first day of home learning this year ... and that's alphabet pasta up top in case you're wondering, lol! I made Crockpot Alphabet Soup for supper that night. :)

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And here are some pics from Little Bear's first "official" nature walk of the new year. Honestly, I can't think of anything I like better than spending a "school day" roaming our yard looking for curiosities and wonders!

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And finally, here's a book I borrowed from the library recently. Making Peg Dolls is a craft I've wanted to try for a long time now and as you can see, I've got the supplies well in hand! At least the wooden peg part ... I need to see about getting some more felt and thread - perhaps a few more bottles of paint - and then I'll be good to go.

Something else I like to do in early Autumn is to come up with a few hobbies to carry me through the winter ... and brainstorm homemade Christmas gift ideas ... because as we all know, the Autumn will absolutely FLY by and suddenly we'll find ourselves knee-deep in Advent. Plus, it will get dark and cold fast (at least here in New England it will) and it's nice to have some cozy handcrafts to work on during those short afternoons in between busy and bed. ✨🌝✨

Oh, and before I go!

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This is my lovely new Autumn "go-bag!" I bought this - a bit of splurge - at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago. I just fell in love with the look and size of this tote! (And if you read my #fridayintroductions post at Instagram this morning, you know how I feel about tote bags!) It fits my handbag and a few notebooks and planners and I just find that sharp navy blue paired with the "Autumn Rose" print so striking. When I considered the price (not too bad as large bags go) and the fact that it not only fit all my stuff but it also matched my minivan ... AND my kitchen ... well, there was just no way I could pass it up! :)

Ok, I will be off now my friends as I've kept you here long enough! As always though, I thank you for stopping by and I wish you all a good evening (or day as the case may be). Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

Summer sunset

The last sunset of Summer, 2017 ...

✨ 🍂 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 🍄🌛🍂✨ 


Seasonal Homeschooling: June's Weekly Themes!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday Saturday Sunday Monday! 🌞

(Whew, it's taken me a while to get this post done!)

Lots going on at the moment - homeschool dances, a year-end party, an ice cream social, the SAT, the last week of classes, doctors appointments, job changes ... phew! We're not usually this busy and I must admit, I'm looking forward to life slowing down again, but before that happens, we have a graduation party coming up this weekend! So the weekend was spent picking up party goods and getting the yard in order, and this week I'm cleaning the house room-by-room - but right now I'm indulging in some computer time. For one thing I really want to put up this post - and for another, it feels good to sit in the air conditioned room! (We're in the midst of a heatwave this week!)

Anyhoo, today I'd like to share some of my seasonal planning with you all. :) As I've blogged about before, I have a year's worth of weekly themes planned out, mostly based on the seasons and natural events. I use these themes as a springboard for weaving simple seasonal joys and awareness into our family life - via our home, food, education, activities, etc. Some weeks we do a lot with the theme and others not as much - it really depends on available time/energy/interest/mood/ and the weather, etc. I try to be very flexible and keep my expectations realistic.

For example, this week's seasonal theme is "butterflies," but with the big shindig planned for this weekend, any extra time and energy is focused on party prep these days ... so I know we won't delve into the theme as deeply as we might another year. And that's OK. I'm still sneaking in some butterfly goodness where I can. :)

So below I've written about my current themes for the month of June and why I chose them - as well as a few ideas for each week. I always have a LOT of ideas but that's not to say we do all those things! Some ideas work well while others might get left for next year. (Because I do recycle the themes, generally speaking ... part of the joy of the seasons for me is in the way they return to us every year, always seeming new and fresh but comfortingly familiar.)

You can read more about this idea and see my list of 52 themes here in this post but here's what I've planned for this month ...

5/29-6/4 "home garden"

    * Memorial Day is the traditional planting time in New England! We'll work together to plan and prepare our garden bed, concentrating on a sunny spot behind the sunroom. Keeping it very simple - something the boys can tend and enjoy. I have some books set aside for the younger two: This Year's Garden, Let's Grow a Garden, A Year in Our New Garden - and these will be woven into our home lessons this week. I also ordered two new books I think Little Bear, in particular, will love: The Vegetables We Eat and The Fruits We Eat. We just love those Gail Gibbons books! We'll also take a trip to the local farm to buy the plants we've noted on our list, and plant the seedlings at home. We'll take stock of our gardening tools and come up with a routine (chart?) for taking care of our garden. (Who will be responsible for which tasks and when?)

*True confession - we didn't get our plants planted that week! We talked about the gardens we already have (home orchard, herb patch) and the one we'd like to create (kitchen garden), and we readied a new garden bed ... but have yet to purchase seedlings! That's something I hope to do next week when we're all on a quiet, "home" vacation. :)

6/5-6/11 "strawberries"

    * The time is "ripe" to think about and enjoy strawberries - and for several reasons! This is the week of the Full Strawberry Moon as well as a local strawberry festival AND the berries themselves are just coming into their season. As you can see in the picture at the top of my post, our wild strawberries are blooming well - and all over the yard! Our local farms are advertising that their berries will be in the stands and ready for picking this coming weekend. We'll be reading The First Strawberries, and we'll spend time observing the wild strawberries growing in our yard. We'll take photos and/or make sketches for the nature journals. When they turn red, we'll try some in our morning cereal. We'll moon gaze, of course, and we'll head to our local farm to purchase strawberries in bulk. Back home we'll try making some strawberry-rhubarb jam (using our own homegrown rhubarb!). After we've hulled our berries we'll bring the tops out to our hens - they'll love them! I have a terry-cloth tablecloth with a strawberry print that belonged to my grandmother - that will grace our kitchen table this week. :)

* True confession - We didn't make it to the farm, and we didn't make jam, but I did bring home a big package of organic berries that the boys snacked on all week. I am hoping to make jam next week, once things have quieted down. We do have PLENTY of rhubarb stalks in the fridge, awaiting their sweeter counterpart!

6/12-6/18 "butterflies"

     * Now that warmer weather is here and flowers are blooming brightly, it's a perfect time for watching butterflies! We see them for sure, but don't get a whole lot in our yard, so I'm trying to remedy that with more butterfly-friendly plantings. One thing we'll do in our homeschooling this week is to research what plants attract butterflies. (I have lots of resources in our nature cabinet, and have already flagged the pages that refer to this topic.) I'd like to do a page in our nature journal for listing these plants and keeping notes on butterfly sightings this summer. (Bookworm already caught a lovely winged friend on his phone camera last week - a blue and black beauty that didn't linger long before heading to the skies.) There are all kinds of butterfly crafts we could do (a quick Pinterest search confirms that!) but I'll keep things very simple this year. I would love however, to make a butterfly bath and plan to pick up the materials at the craft store and set them aside for a slow summer's day project. The younger boys will read A Butterfly is Patient, and we'll use photocopies of this butterfly coloring book as we learn about different species. (Fyi, I absolutely LOVE using Dover coloring books with our homeschooling!)

*True confession - as noted above - it's a busy week here, there's not a lot of time for butterflies! Happily, butterflies will be around all summer - and hopefully we'll remember to keep our eyes open for them!

6/19-6/25 "sunshine"

    * The Summer Solstice arrives this week (Wednesday at 12:24 a.m., to be exact!) and so begins the season of SUN! Indeed, the longest day of the year is the Solstice itself so what better week to celebrate the glory of sunshine? We'll learn about the science and folklore of the Solstice, using several books. (Two of our favorites: The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice and The Summer Solstice.) Like last year, we will choose a solstice branch from the yard (and/or the wood pile) and hang it in our south-facing, sunny kitchen nook window. How we'll decorate it this year I'm not entirely sure - I'm hoping a trip to the craft store will spark an idea! We will also have a bonfire next week, depending on weather ... and naturally we'll be singing "You are My Sunshine" and "Sunshine on My Shoulder." Or, I should say, Little Bear and I will be singing sunny songs during our morning music time. (EB has sensory issues about singing singing and yet LB absolutely loves it! So in the very early mornings, LB and I sit by the open bedroom window, and sing in our rocking chair. We also sing while potty training - but that's a whole different story!) As a family we'll enjoy some barbecue and sun tea; we'll also make fresh lemonade and homemade Sun bread this week. :)

6/26-7/2 "herbs at home"

    * My hope is during the week previous to this one (our quiet, home-vacation week) we will have a chance to visit my favorite herb farm and come home with some new plants for my herb garden. I LOVE herbs and though my herb garden (or patch, really) is on the small side, I try to expand it a little each year. This week I'd like to use herbs as much as possible at home - in our cooking and cleaning, and maybe even in our health and hygiene. (I have lots of recipes and resources, and am combing through them now to pick out some ideas.) In our home learning we'll be investigating the history of herbalism and I have a couple of great coloring books for the boys to use (Medicinal Plants and Herbs, both by Dover). As we learn about common herbs, we'll make species pages, and note how they were used in the past - by native Americans, early settlers, colonial cooks and physicans. I also have my eye on a game called Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure - the price is a bit steep so I'll see just how interested my kids seem in the concept of herbal knowledge before I splurge!

Ok, so that's a look at the seasonal themes we'll be exploring this month, and some thoughts on how we might do this - given the time and inclination! I always follow my kids' leads - setting things up for them, inviting them to join me - but it they're not so interested, that's all right, too. Obviously I try to include lots of child-friendly activities, and over the years I think they absorb a sense of the seasons, and the rhythm of the year. I just try to model a constant awareness of and enthusiasm for a season and expose my kids to ideas and interesting activities. I think just being aware of such simple but meaningful concepts - gardening, strawberries, butterflies, sunshine and herbs - can be a little blessing for my family. Kind of a soft balm against a hard world that prefers fast and frenzied over slow and simple. The seasons take their time, and despite what the stores say, they always arrive when they're good and ready. 

Well my friends, I'm going to wrap up now because as usual, this post went on longer than I intended! But I hope this was fun for you to read or maybe there was an idea or two here that sounded interesting to you. I will be back as soon as I can with a new post - a party recap perhaps, or a review of my new Day Designer (12 days in and still loving it!) as well as some thoughts on revamping my household routines ...

But for now I will say goodbye and wish you well ... hope to see you here again very soon! 


Our Family Easter, 2017

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Hello and Happy Wednesday, my friends! I hope you all had a nice weekend, and a lovely Easter too, if you celebrate! I am currently writing up a post about the file crate, but for today I thought I'd pop in quickly to let you know I just added a photo album to my sideboard (right side of the blog and linked below) with many pictures from our Easter. Most of them are from Holy Week but there are several from our Sunday celebration as well. I hope you enjoy, and I will see you here again soon!

Our Family Easter, 2017


A Quick Craft to Welcome Spring ... ❤

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... because spring IS coming, without a doubt - nevermind the historic BLIZZARD bearing down on New England as I type up this post! Yes, we are in for a lot of snow tomorrow - over a foot, maybe a foot and a half - plus high winds and all the usual hazards that arrive along with a Nor'easter ...

However! I'm keeping a steady weather eye on next Monday, which is in fact the first day of Spring - with the vernal equinox arriving at 6:29 a.m.! Early spring can indeed be snowy in our region so it just is what it is - cold and blustery perhaps - but the birds are still singing a different song, and the bulb shoots are still breaking ground, and the days are growing longer and lighter ...

Well, big snow or no, I decided on this bright and sunny (albeit cold) morning to make up a wreath in order to welcome the new season, once it arrives and whatever the weather it brings with it. It was so super easy to do, and turned out so well, I just had to share!

I began with a grapevine wreath. I like to have these on hand as they make nice seasonal wreaths or centerpieces, and can be changed up quickly with ribbons, silk flowers and little holiday do-dads. Many families use a wreath like this for a Lenten crown of thorns project at this time of year - a tradition I love, but opted not to include since I have a curious little fellow at home who would make short - and undoubtedly dangerous - work of all those toothpicks. But maybe next year ...

So to this plain wreath I added a couple of simple embellishments ...

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My materials: a spool of ecru lace ribbon (sturdy, not sheer), a bag of speckled plastic eggs in soft shades of green and white, and a sweet "moss" covered rabbit.

I found all these items at Michaels Arts & Crafts yesterday where they were having a fantastic 40% sale on Easter decor. (I also bought a really cool metal utility cart which I will tell you all about in a post later this week!)

The first thing I did was to wrap the ribbon around the wreath ...

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... using a hot-glue gun to secure the two ends. Then I used the hot-glue gun to attach the eggs and bunny to the wreath ...

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And that was it! I won't hang this until Monday morning, but here's a sneak preview ...

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(Note: I had to reattach a couple of the eggs which did not have enough glue on them. I think it helps to press them into the grapevine for a minute or so to allow the glue to take hold.)

I have always wanted an "egg wreath" for the front door but the ones I've seen at the stores have either been quite expensive - or reasonable, but a tad garish. I really like the soft greens and beiges here because to me, these are the shades of earliest spring ... just before the world explodes in a riot of Easter pastels!

(I also have a forsythia wreath which we'll hang closer to Easter, probably on Palm Sunday.)

And I love featuring two special Easter symbols in my springtime wreath - because both rabbits and eggs represent new life and have ancient roots in their holiday connection! This is something the boys and I are investigating this year: how so many aspects of nature - including the four elements and various flora and fauna - are tied in with our faith traditions. And not just ours but other faith traditions as well!

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(A page from one of my favorite holiday books - Lilies, Rabbits and Painted Eggs: The Story of Easter Symbols by Edna Barth. She has a whole series of books about holiday symbols and they are all wonderful!)

Nature has always played an important role in the shaping of humanity and its interpretation of the world around it. We obviously don't need to rely on nature as much as our ancestors once did (for example, if a crop fails, I just pay a bit more at the market - my family doesn't starve), but I think a healthy amount of knowledge and respect (along with a good dose of awe) should be part of every child's upbringing. :)

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So come on, Spring - we're ready for you! Don't be shy ... let's send Winter packing and get on with the business of new life!


Well my friends, I thank you all for stopping by! I'll be back again soon with a new post - I have so many drafts percolating, I hardly know where to begin! - but for now I'll leave you with my wish that you all have a good week ... and my hope that wherever you are, your winter ends peacefully and promptly!

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


March Bits & Bobs ... ❤

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

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

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Crocus shoots ...

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

These guys are out and about now as well:

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

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

Speaking of birds ...

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

More birds ...

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

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

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

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

More outdoor fun ...

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My middle boys reminding Little Bear how to pedal!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


A Late Winter's Tea ... (and a Winner!) ❤

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday! Goodness, is it ever a BEAUTIFUL day here in New England! The temperature, as I type up this post, has soared to a balmy 73 ° ... the sun is shining ... the birds are singing ... the snow is melting ... we even spied a chipmunk darting across the backyard! What a tease this weather is though, as I'm sure we still have plenty of winter ahead (March can be quite snowy in our parts!). Still, this is a lovely break - a fresh mental breeze to awaken one's winter-weary spirit. 

But in spite of this day's decidedly spring-like behavior, I'm here to share a cup of Late Winter's Tea with you all! And at the very end of our Tea I will tell you who won my Day Designer giveaway! You can of course, jump down to the end of the post to see who that might be ... ;)

So for today's tea I am using a very pretty cup and saucer set - a gift from my dear friend, Emma. I love the red toile pattern and shape of this set - especially the handy little nook for a snack! Today's snack is a couple of oatmeal-raisin cookies - but as you can see - and as I noticed after I took this picture! - someone had made off with one of the cookies! Ahem! ;) The tea is a new one for me - Newman's Own English Breakfast. Not my usual afternoon tea as this one is fully caffeinated and rather bold-flavored, but on this particular day I was in need of an energy boost!

So I prepared my cup and moved out to the library where I've been busy cleaning this week - haven't really done that since this was December's "Christmas room" - and I'll have a post with a tour in a bit because it's slowly becoming our Spring room. :) I just got our Lenten mantle organized and I'm now working on our homeschool shelves and my writing desk ... as well as our liturgical bookcase! Yes, this room was in dire need of a lift! (Not to mention a good dusting and sweeping!) I love the light here at this time of day though ... the sun sets just behind the woods outside the window shown above and below ... the light lingering later and later each day. I use this desk as a spot to sit and write ... rather than compute (my computer desk is out in the family room). It's a more feminine "mother's desk" and I love changing things up as the seasons turn ... :)

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Also shown in the these photos is my brand new spring purse! I had some birthday money just burning a hole in my pocket, and spotted this pretty bag at TJ Maxx. Honestly, I was just running into the CVS next door but that robin's egg blue really reached out and grabbed me, right through the store-front window! What I really love about this bag (aside from the color and the affordable price) is the softness of the bag itself. Very flexible but with a sturdy bottom. And roomy! Plenty of space inside for all the things I like take along with me when I'm out and about ...

(A more detailed Spring purse post to come!)

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It's not often I can spend a lot of time here puttering in notebooks and writing out letters, but I try to get here a few times a week. I have some things set up in this room to keep Little Bear busy (toys and puzzles, puppets and books) while I sit for a bit, and there's always the promise of "a story or two" once Mama is done. :) 

Speaking of books ...

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I have a small table at the end of the desk which holds reading materials and an in-basket. A small bin holds notecards and seasonal cards. In the foreground are two sets of our favorite seasonal picture books - one set by Gerda Muller and the other by Eva-Maria Ott-Heidmann. These are wordless picture books with the loveliest illustrations celebrating the many nuances of the year. My boys have loved these books for years - we just pore over them and talk about what we see in the pictures, what might be going on. I try to keep them together and out of the general stash of board books- not just to keep them in good shape, but also so I can look through them myself from time to time!

Also in this picture you can see we have our window open ... that made tidying this room all the more enjoyable! The little baskets were Little Bear's doing - he was collecting (wooden) eggs to set aside for Easter. :) And an open window always invites the kitties out from wherever they're slumbering ...

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Needless to say we got ourselves outside for a bit!

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Late winter is such a special time of year ... spring comes so slowly, and each little hallmark is a treasured gift. The brighter days, the softness of the air, the change in the birdsong ... the dripping and melting ... and resulting muddy puddles!

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The boys attempted to shovel away any lingering snow patches from the driveway ... while I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the freshness of the air. What a glorious day! (Note the double-trunked tree in the background - my favorite oak.)

Ok, now before I go and before I get to announcing my giveaway winner ... here's a look at a little project I'm having fun with right now:

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Some of you might remember last year I made myself a homemade weekly planner. I loved that notebook so much - though I ended up not using it as I'd hoped to. Well, I determined to try again ... so I ordered myself the very same notebook!

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These Fringe notebooks really do it for me. They're just beautiful - inside and out - and perfect for my needs. Love the binding, the paper, the covers! So I am tweaking how I organize the insides (learning from last year's mistakes!) and taking it very slowly. So far all I've done is this ...

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A dated reference calendar washi-taped into the front cover. :) I'm counting pages and sketching grids now, and will share more details very soon. (Would you all like a how-to post on diy planners?) This one, which is meant to organize our family's seasons, will run Spring through Winter, and since we are on the very doorstep of March I'd best get cracking!

More to come on this project, but for right now I'd like to finally announce just who won my extra Day Designer planner! And so after a random drawing I am happy to announce that the giveaway winner is ...

BETH!

Congratulations, Beth! I hope you enjoy the planner! I will be in touch this evening to arrange mailing details and then get this planner out to you ASAP!

And my sincere thanks to everyone for taking the time to leave me such wonderful comments. I loved reading each and every one of them and am grateful you took the time to share your thoughts with me! Your very kind words, thoughtful suggestions and interesting questions are all much appreciated. And you've all got me percolating with ideas and inspiration! So I printed out the comments thread and highlighted each topic area mentioned (color-coding them, naturally). I will keep these pages in my binder and work up a list of "posts to come." I will say you definitely like organizing and planning posts the best! There was also many mentions of homeschooling, seasonal celebrations, meal planning, homemaking and weaving our family faith into everyday living. Lots of tea and chat posts, too! 

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So stay tuned for all kinds of posts to come ... but for right now, before I go, I'd like to answer one question that popped up a couple of times ...

"Why do you call your mother, "Mum" which sounds so very British?" :)

Well, I have to say I think it might be a New England thing as I have other local friends who call their moms "Mum," too, but I think for us it's just a family thing. My mother called her mother "Mum," and her mother (my grandmother) did the same. My maternal great-grandmother was Scottish - as in, came here from Scotland - so I'm thinking perhaps this is where it began.

So there's that! :)

My own boys call me Mama - although as they've grown older that has pretty much morphed into, "Mom." :)

So that's all for today, my friends ... but I do hope you've enjoyed my post and as always I thank you for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


A Sunny, Snowy Nature Club ... ❤

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Hello and Happy Friday, friends! I have a quick post to share today, because oh my gosh, was it ever a beautiful day! Just perfect for our February Nature Club meeting. This month we met at a local farm to walk some wintry trails ... and were pleasantly surprised to find it was also the first day of their maple season! So before setting out on our walk, the kids got to visit the sugar shack and hear about how maple syrup is made ...

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Now, if you're from New England you are probably familiar with the tale of how sap is turned into syrup, but honestly, it just never gets old! Earlybird especially was absolutely fascinated by the steam and the smell and the miracle that is maple sugaring. (Meanwhile I was furiously composing a maple syrup unit study in my head! Though come to think of it, I have plenty of prior experience with this topic ... I'll have to see which former lesson plan I can "tap" into!)

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Maple sugaring is, for me, one of those happy, hopeful, early spring harbingers ... because the sap runs once daytime temps reach the 50s while the nights stay below freezing. We're just getting there as we round the month's bend - hitting 50 on Sunday! - and hopefully that will turn the tide a bit. Not that I'm complaining too much about our very "February" weather, mind you. The snow is awfully pretty (says she who doesn't have to shovel, ahem) but we have had A LOT of it lately. I mean, I'm romancing the heck out of Winter over here, but I'll admit, Spring will be a sight for sore eyes!

But back to Winter for a bit! I hope you enjoy a little glimpse of our day spent in the New England countryside ... :)

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There is quite possibly nothing cuter than a little one with cheeks all rosy from time spent outside!

So, lessons to learn in February (aside from the history and science of maple sugaring!): learning patience, optimism and trust. Waiting for that which comes next, appreciating the good in the now ... all while knowing our faith will absolutely be rewarded. That's pretty much a New England winter in a nutshell!

(Fyi, Spring is precisely 31 days away!)

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Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of our day! As much as I love being home, it was so good to get out today, mingle with friends and soak up some of that glorious sunshine! I will be back soon with the second part of my planning routine post as well as a progress report for the "52 Weeks Organized Home Challenge"... but ... FIRST!

This weekend I will be posting a little giveaway ... I teased it over on my Facebook page earlier today if you want a sneak peek! I will wait to tell you more but will get that post up as soon as I can - hopefully tomorrow but possibly Sunday. I think you will be really excited about this giveaway - I know I am! 

So take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... I will see you here again very soon!


Welcome, February! ❤

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

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

Speaking of groundhogs ...

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

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

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Yes, our very own homemade butter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another quick craft for February ...

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

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

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

Oh, and finally!

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

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

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


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❤

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

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

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

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:)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good morning, pretty girls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 2: Plants & Peace

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday!

And what a fine Friday this is - beautifully bright if perhaps a little colder than is seasonably acceptable in these parts. ***brrrrr*** Still, it's one of those days that make being cozy at home seem all the more wonderful. Well, whatever the weather, I'm so glad to be here and share a cup of something hot and happy with you all ... to slow down for just a moment and catch up. It's hard to believe, but we're making our way through our second week of Advent now, and I hope the season is unfolding in a way that feels right and good for you and your family. I also hope you've all been enjoying our daily "tea with friends" posts! I am very grateful to all who have shared their cups (and thoughts) with us so far this month ... and so pleased there are many more to come!

So this week in my own family's Advent journey we are finding peace in the natural world around us - in trees, plants, and the spices and herbs that are special to this sacred season. We began on Sunday, St. Barbara's Day, with an easy little craft, preparing a small vase to hold our feast day branches. (Legend says that branches snipped on December 4th will bloom come Christmas morning ... this has never failed us before!)

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The vase is an inexpensive terra cotta pot I purchased at the craft store. I spread glue on the sides and wrapped the bottom section with twine and then, using a hot glue gun, covered the upper rim with cloth floral stickers. (Bill sealed the little hole in the bottom of the pot with hot glue so it would hold water.) Next we added forsythia branches from the yard and a few pretty (craft) pine cones just to anchor those branches (and add visual interest). I think it came out very pretty! We'll be making a few more of these for teacher gifts this year ...

But now, about today's Tea ... :)

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Actually, today we're enjoying a hot winter wassail instead of my usual tea. It's easy enough to make your own, but this bottled blend from Trader Joe's is very yummy and quick to prepare. Just heat it up and - voila! - a hot cup of Christmas cheer at the ready! I floated an apple slice on top for an extra bit of fun ...

Would you care to join me in a cup? A little something sweet and spicy to warm us as we walk through my frosty gardens?

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The above photos were taken after an overnight snow, when everything was crunchy icy. Yes, I think we might be in for a white Christmas if this cold and active weather pattern holds over the next couple of weeks! We still have our "mild" days though, and so after yesterday's thaw, we harvested some moss from the stone wall ...

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... to add to our indoor Advent Garden. :)

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As I described in this post, we are rejoicing in God's glorious earth throughout Advent. One of our rituals is the tending of an indoor Advent Garden and we're reveling in the anticipation, slowly building up our tabletop terrarium with a new layer of life each week. Last week we added stones and soil, while this week we added some plants (the aforementioned moss) ...

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Oliver thought this was a GREAT idea.

And the boys found things in their Advent pockets this week that also reflected our theme ... a poinsettia, peppermint candy, fresh mint and evergreen sprigs. Each item symbolized a simple activity or treat or outing ... something to channel some of that wonderful Advent energy!

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Oh, also here in the kitchen - a new bottle of hand soap on the counter. This is such a little thing but I just love changing up the sink soap with the season. :)

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In New England, a touch of frost, a sprinkling of snow and the hint of spices in the air ... these are all hallmarks of the Advent season! Clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, citrus, apple and cranberry ... these are the "inside plants" we're exploring this week. As you see below, I brought out the mortar and pestle so the kids could try grinding some whole spices ...

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I'll be perfectly honest, this activity lasted all of two minutes. Not that it didn't appeal wildly to the younger boys, but the whole "hitting things with a marble wand" was getting a little out of hand. (Straying from the bowl to the table, fingers, etc.) Still, it was a fun activity and the kitchen smelled really good. :)

Soon I'll be starting fruitcakes ...

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... and we'll be filling small muslin bags with a mulling spice blend I purchased. These will be given as gifts along with fresh apples and pretty mugs. And speaking of pretty mugs ...

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Isn't this cup lovely? It is a very generous size and the golden letters spell out PEACE ... with snowdrops and winter greenery all around. I can see myself using this all season ...

AND .... if you enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway ... you might be enjoying it too! This mug will be one of the goodies tucked inside that basket. :)

Before we go, let's talk books and planners for a moment ... two favorite subjects of mine! Here are some of the reads we're enjoying this week ... 

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The bottom two are for the boys (still waiting on a few library requests to come in) and the rest are for me! :)

I'm taking some time this week to revisit one of my favorite author/illustrators, Tasha Tudor. I find such comfort and inspiration in her work - her children's books are family favorites - but I especially admire the way she lived her life. Not that we could all live quite as "off grid" as she did, but there is a lot to be said for "unplugging and slowing down" ... not just at Advent, but in any season. Forever Christmas was a gift from my dad many years ago, who bought this book in Tasha's home state of Vermont. I also absolutely love losing myself in the video, Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas. In this pile there is also a book of Christmas poems (a wonderful rec from my friend, Gill), my daily Advent read, and a fascinating little book about the folklore and tradition of Christmas plants.

I keep this pile of books stacked in a hopeful fashion beside my favorite reading chair ... I've been determined to find a little reading (and resting) time every day. :)

Late in the afternoon, with the sun heading for bed quite early, I took my cup of wassail to the library, so I might sit at my writing desk and get to work on our Christmas cards ...

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Yes, I am just that selfish enough that I need not one, but two desks, lol! The one in the family room (where I am sitting at this very moment) is for my computer and file crate and bill basket, etc. The white window writing desk you see above I keep for ... well, writing! It feels just a little bit "Jane Austen" to sit down at this desk and pen a chatty bit of correspondence to a friend. In January I will share a more thorough post on this happy writing corner ... as I get my holiday thank-you notes in order!

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Now in this "aerial" photo I spy two more small items that will pop up in that Winter Comforts Basket! A small tin of Trader Joe's body butter - just lovely for dry winter skin - and a small monthly purse planner (though in a different print than the one shown here). Fun little things to bring a smile to your winter days ...

Speaking of planners - parked here is my Day Designer and as I mentioned on Instagram last night, I don't usually do much with stickers and whatnot, but I found some very pretty ones at Paper Source this past week and I had to indulge. That washi tape especially is just SO so pretty. 

**

Well my friends, I will wrap up for now, but I hope you enjoyed our time together, sharing another cup of Advent Tea! I have several friends lined up to share tea with you all again next week (every day at 4:00!) and then I will return again on Friday with another longer post. Next week our family's Advent theme is "Joy in the Woodland."

Remember, if you'd like to join us for Advent Tea please send me a picture (or pictures) of your favorite cup by email: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com. I'd love to hear about your cup and any other Advent thoughts you'd like to share! Your pictures will be featured in a daily teatime post and you will be entered in my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway. I'll announce a winner on New Year's Eve and send the basket out shortly after the new year begins. :)

For now though, I will wish you all a wonderful weekend and as always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

See you here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of stories ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends Tea 1

 

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

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 ❤

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

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

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

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

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

 ❤

And from Gill:

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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