Nature play Feed

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! πŸ’›

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! 

✨ 🍁 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ 

 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." πŸ˜‰

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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! 

✨ πŸ‚ 🍎 🐿 🌻 🌞 🍁 πŸ„ 🌽 πŸŒ› ✨

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!

Autumn equinox cookies

Hello, my friends and Happy Friday! And Blessed Equinox, too! βœ¨ πŸ‚ 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 πŸ„πŸŒ›πŸ‚βœ¨

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. βœ¨πŸŒβœ¨

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 ...

✨ πŸ‚ 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 πŸ„πŸŒ›πŸ‚βœ¨ 


✨ Welcome to Our Learning Room! ✨

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Hello, everyone - and Happy Sunday! How about a tour of our "recently revamped" learning room? I have a nice cold pitcher of apple "tea" in the fridge and some cranberry-oat cookies to share, so please come on in and let me show you around a little! :)

Now, four years ago when I first saw this sunroom, as we toured our potential new home, I immediately thought "Omigosh, this would be THE perfect learning room!" But for a few different reasons (which I won't bore you with now), it's taken us a while to fully commit this space to our homeschooling needs. But here we are at last ... and I'm so happy with how it came out!

As you can see, this room gets a TON of natural light thanks to all those south-facing windows. And that's what I love best about this room - feeling like we're outside even when we're inside! :) So first let me show you some wide-angle shots and then I'll talk about just what-all is in all those baskets and shelves! True to form, I may have gotten a little carried away with the pictures, but I hope that in addition to showing you our new setup, this post will also share a little of our homeschooling style and early learning methods ... β€

*And for the record, I am homeschooling three of my children this year - my 18yo Crackerjack is a senior in high school, my 15yo Earlybird (who has autism) really doesn't have an official grade but is developmentally very young and in many ways matches well with my youngest, Little Bear, who is four and just starting preschool! This room is geared towards the younger two boys. :)

As for location, this learning room (nΓ©e sunroom) sits just off the back of the house, and you enter it from a door in our family room. The only drawback at the moment is that it is actually a three-season room - so it gets awfully cold in the dead of winter! We're working on that dilemma though, and hope to have a permanent solution figured out very soon!

Ok, here we go ...

Sunny learning room

Most of what you see in these pictures are items we own, and some for many years. Case in point the trestle "work" table - a 10 year old, unfinished furniture store purchase that Bill finally got around to finishing!

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He sanded the whole thing down (smoothing out cat scratches and stray crayon gouges), treated the top to a plain polyurethane finish and then painted the base with some pretty paint I picked up at, of all places, Target. It was just the warm, soft red I was going for! The "saddle seat stools" we've also had for many years now - these were also purchased at a local mill store.

But the real game-changing element we added to this room would be the new white cubbies we purchased from Target. They were not terribly expensive ($35 for a 6-cube set), but as you will see, we bought quite a few! So it added up a bit, but this was something I really wanted (and needed) for organizing the younger boys' toys and learning materials. And happily Bill not only agreed, but very easily put the cubbies together! (He had help, natch.) Fyi, the cubbies are available online if you can't find them in your local store.

The seagrass baskets, also from Target, were another "splurge" at $11 apiece (on sale), but they are very well made and in my honest opinion one can never have too many well-made baskets - especially a homeschooler! The rest of the baskets in the cubbies and elsewhere throughout the room are ones we had on hand.

Ok, turning to the right, looking out towards the deck and patio ...

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Those doors lead to our second classroom - aka, the great outdoors! We're in the process of making the upper deck a little more child-friendly - a "nature lab" if you will, but for now let's turn back towards the house ...

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This is the wall that faces the family room ... and that beautiful Union Jack flag was a gift from my dear (and very generous) friend, Shirley Vels. When she found out we were studying England this September she put together a wonderful package of British goodies for us, including that glorious flag!

Here's another angle ...  

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I just love this shot of Archie and the dinosaur ... :)

Now, turning towards the east-facing wall (which looks out over the driveway) ...

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I'm standing in the doorway of the family room taking this shot, to give you an idea of the size of the room. It really is a great room for entertaining in ... but even better for spreading out with your kids! :)

Now, back to that south-facing wall and the tallest windows of all! (One of my favorite things to do is watch a storm from these windows!)

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I made the alphabet banner myself, using a few supplies from the craft store and a glue stick. It wasn't hard, but it took me a bit of time and when I finally got that banner up I stood back and said, "Yep, this is now officially a learning room!"

Ok, now I'll focus in on some smaller shots ... and here's your fair warning: I might get a little wordy because I'm so excited about every corner of this room!IMG_2120

✨ Just as you step in the room we have a little "mud and mail" corner. Here we park our boots/shoes and Little Bear's jackets ... as well as the "errands" bag (for library trips and such). There's not room for all of our footwear here of course, but these are the shoes and boots we wear when we're going outside ... usually to "muck about." In this corner we also keep Little Bear's broom and on the wall hangs a sweet "forest mailbox" ...

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✨ This mailbox is a true family treasure - a gift to Earlybird on his 5th birthday from my Mum. (Here's the post from 2007 with a few more project details. I can hardly believe it's been 10 years!) It's been sitting high up on a nursery shelf, "keeping safe," but I decided it really was time to introduce it to Little Bear!

And just last week, Little Bear found a sprig of something bright gold inside his mailbox, and I had a little verse ready to go along with it ...

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"The goldenrod is yellow, the corn is turning brown ... the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down." β€

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Later that morning we looked for goldenrod growing in the yard ... and we found some! (Plenty in fact! Next week we'll use some to dye a Michaelmas cape.) βœ¨

Next, on the other side of the doorway ...

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✨  We have a seasonal calendar on the wall, with a handy-dandy caddy-cart beneath ...

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✨  This is a monthly, at-a-glance calendar purchased at Staples. It has lots of space and nicely lined boxes, but instead of writing down class times and activities, I'm just writing special, seasonal events here and shading them in with soft colored pencils. I like keeping the focus on the rhythm of the season and in truth, this is all the information my younger boys really need to know. Some days are already anticipated in September (The Full Corn Moon, for example), but as a special activity gets planned I add it to the calendar. (Case in point, an apple picking field trip got scheduled after I took this photo.)

I made the decorative monthly cards myself - and it was very easy! I found images online (I adore Edith Holden's vintage nature sketches) and printed them out in the size I wanted. I used a glue stick to adhere the images to pre-cut cardstock. Then I used plain wooden clothespins to secure the cards all around a craft wreath base (found at the craft store for a couple of dollars). I hung the whole thing from an adhesive hook on the wall - situating the current month's card at the top - and that was that!

Now, a closer look at the caddy ...

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✨  This is one of those rolling caddy carts I purchased at Michaels last spring. I placed our seasonal book basket in the top tier, and this is filled with the books that go along with our seasonal homeschooling themes and any special days/events that pop up.

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✨  Right now the basket holds both August and September books since I haven't had a chance to file last month's titles yet! This week we added apple books and next week I'll add more books about Autumn.

Next tier down ...

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✨ Another little basket with some playing cards and flash cards, special prek planning books and our current audiobook case.

And finally, on the bottom ...

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✨  Coloring books!

Ok, let's continue on around the room ... :)

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✨  The Tree Fort/Elf House comes next with a dinosaur hand puppet clearly having taken over ...

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✨ And a basket of wooden puzzles beneath a pretty red table which once belonged to me - and my mother before me! β€

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✨ Here are some old wooden cubbies (meant to be painted, but I rather like the look of natural wood!) holding more baskets of toys - cooking things, favorite vehicles and Duplo legos. (We've had Duplo Legos - and I mean A LOT of Duplo Legos - since 22 year old Bookworm was tiny. None of our boys really ever took to them - they held out for the "real" Legos! - but Little Bear plays with them every single day. He loves them!) On top of the cubbies are a wooden cooktop (it perches on the edge of any table) with pots and pans, an alphabet abacus, and our ages-old, plush, nature puppet tree.

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✨  Across the large picture window (that peers into the family room) I had Bill string some twine so I could hang some lovely vintage-look zoology cards. I have a whole bunch of them so I'll swap them out every so often. I used wooden clothespins purchased at Target last month to hold the cards here and if you look closely you can see each pin has a number corresponding to the number of creatures on each card. :)

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✨ Here's another small table meant to be re-painted (butter yellow if I have my way) with our wooden barn situated on top and a basket of wooden figures underneath. Little Bear uses this "starry night" playsilk to put his animals to bed each night. :)

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✨  Goodnight, everyone!πŸŒ›

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✨  More cute wooden clothespins, another Target dollar bin find! (Those bins have since changed over to Halloween theme, but keep an sharp eye out next back-to-school time! I will too, and post when I spy those great deals!)

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✨ This easel was such a find last year! A neighbor had it out for - gasp! - trash pickup one day ... and we nabbed it! On one side there is a chalkboard which of course can be used for all kinds of things, but Earlybird uses it with his therapist every day for counting down to upcoming events. (EB is especially motivated by holidays!) On either side of the chalkboard we have baskets of miscellaneous stuffed animals and puppets. Directly below the chalkboard is a basket of various picture books, not related to any season or holiday - just really good reads. :)

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✨  Now the other side of the chalkboard was a dry-erase board but since dry-erase markers and EB don't mix well, I had Bill cover it with some felt I picked up at the fabric store. This is still a work in progress, but it will eventually be a felt story board!

True story: the lady at the fabric store tried to shame me for picking brown, lol:

"Why not blue or red for goodness sakes - why brown??"

So I told her that most of our story-boarding will revolve around nature ... πŸŒ›πŸ‚πŸŒ²πŸΏπŸ„πŸπŸŒž

"Aha, I see now ... good pick!"

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✨  This is my storytelling apron hung from a hook ... and it's basically a plain canvas artist's apron, but I'm using the pockets for finger puppets!

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✨  We've been collecting finger puppets (as well as hand puppets) for so many years, I've lost count! All my boys have enjoyed them on some level (though Earlybird not as much, having a strong aversion to finger plays and too much conversation) but I'm happy to say Little Bear just ADORES puppetry! I have little nature stories outlined to go along with each of our weekly seasonal themes and these are part of our Wednesday homeschool rhythm. I'm tying them in with our forest mailbox and so far it's a HIT! (Of course, we're only beginning week three, but I have a pretty good feeling about this!)

(The pretty clothespins? Yep, Target again! They'll hold little notecards for story prompts - simple sketches or sight words for the most part.)

Ok, rounding the bend! 

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✨ Here are the first two sets of cubbies (they can be connected, as they are here). Some have baskets and some have little "play arrangements."

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✨ Little Bear so enjoys the book, Hug (as well as Tall), and his two monkey puppets allow him to act out the parts of Bobo and Mama. β€

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✨  I filled this basket with Water Wow booklets - one of Little Bear's favorite activities! I'll often take one or two with us if we're going somewhere he might need a quiet diversion. 

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✨  And here we have some favorite counting and number recognition board books as well as a basket of wooden hand-size numbers. Now, I know you don't want to hear this again - but they are from Target, too! I scooped them up last month! They are stackable and the perfect size for little hands. :)

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✨  I think I love this set of nesting wooden elements - more than any of my kids! They have so many uses, and yes, they are pricey, to be sure - but Santa brought them one Christmas years ago. I feel incredibly blessed to have another chance to enjoy them with one more of our children! β€

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✨  Here is the finger puppets basket - I always perch a couple on the edge peeking out! Beneath that sit wooden fractions cups, and a favorite watering can.

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✨ Another learning line, strung across windows that look down over our driveway. Here's where I hang worksheets, paintings and other kinds of work to be displayed.

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✨ Right in front of these cubbies we have a wonderful little "Discover America" rug. I bought it at Babies R Us a few years ago and it has held up really well! In this photo, Little Bear is sporting a new pair of slippers for the new homeschool year! β€ (Yes, things like "slippers" go on my back-to-homeschool shopping list!)

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✨  At the end of these cubbies is a comfy bean bag chair, just the right size for Little Bear. This was a new purchase last month and I'm quite pleased with it - it's comfortable (or so I'm told) and seems to be holding up well. (We have not always had great luck with bean bags, but this just seemed to fit the room!) Also, I hung some little wooden stars along the side of the bookcase just because they looked kind of magical. :)

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✨ Turning another corner we have a very tall bookcase (some might remember it from our old house and long-ago posts!) which holds a real hodgepodge of items! Bottom shelf holds nature study supplies - a flower press, display cases and stands, cloches, etc. - as well as a wooden house shape I'm crafting into an outdoor shrine. (A project in progress!) Upper shelves hold some of my beloved mothering and seasonal idea books, and not seen on the top shelf are my favorite liturgical resources, as well as a statue of the Blessed Mother which once belonged to my paternal grandparents. ❀

And at the very top of this bookcase ... 

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✨ On the very tippy-top of this super tall bookcase is a large basket filled with crafting materials of all kinds. I'll have to do a separate post on what I keep in that basket because I didn't get a picture of the contents. (Let's just say it was precarious enough me getting this shot, lol!) Now, it might seem awfully inconvenient to keep oft-used craft supplies up here way out of reach, but it's the only safe place to keep them! Earlybird would only get into (and has done) all those craft things when I'm not looking and make an unholy mess (of himself and the supplies) and so it's easier just to keep things up and out of sight. The trick of course is remembering to check the basket before making a craft store run!

✨ The timer is also up here for similar reasons - EB is just way too fascinated with this cool gadget to leave it alone! I had been looking for a visual timer for EB to use (with me and his therapists) but was hesitant because of the typical "tick-tick" sound which really grates on his nerves. Thanks to a recommendation from Jennifer Mackintosh, I purchased this pretty little gem of a timer which makes NO NOISE AT ALL. (Thanks again, Jen!!) Using a visual timer is very helpful for EB when he needs to be patient for something ... because patience is not really his strong suit and numbers don't mean as much as does that vivid red wedge!

Turning the corner again ...

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✨ The next set of cubbies holds reading materials and more play arrangement! And goodness, do I love the light coming in at this time of day! :) Shown on display in the picture above is a favorite source of nature study inspiration, open to a September page. On the windowsill are a couple of poetry books for young children as well as a heart-shaped wooden caddy holding foldable, laminated field guides. (I painted that for my grandmother back in the 80s!)

Also shown here ...

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✨  Favorite children's periodicals on display - and these appeal to Earlybird so much! Thomas, Peppa and Nick Jr. Friends, especially, but he had made off with the Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. issues when I took this picture! I have collected Babybug for years (off an on) and I still read them with Little Bear ... because they are so sweet and they are such a nice size. Perfect for little hands and for popping in Mama's bag when going out and about! β€

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✨  Here's a handy basket of early readers, another favorite resource for Earlybird ... :)

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✨  And here we have one of Little Bear's FAVORITE board books, beside the little stuffed beluga whale he adores. We've long since lost the Raffi audiocassette we listened to in the car with Bookworm back in the day, but we do sing that song nearly everyday - out of earshot of Earlybird, of course! 

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✨  And there are plenty of crayons here ... and I've never found a better storage space for crayons than a wide, shallow basket. :)

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✨ Here's another favorite board book of Little Bear's ... and that beanie baby chameleon belonged to Bookworm back in the day! His name is "Rainbow" for obvious reasons, and he's been well loved over the years. (He's as soft as buttah!)

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✨  Stacked neatly in this cubby is a collection of favorite books celebrating morning and the new day ... πŸŒž

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✨ And nestled just beside is a soft and lovely baby doll - crafted in the Waldorf tradition. "Baby Jack" was a gift to our now 18 yo Crackerjack when I was pregnant with Earlybird. My mum crocheted the hat and scarf (as well as booties that have long since gone missing). The cradle basket was part of a gift basket we received from Bill's co-workers after we had EB. It makes a perfect crib for this little laddie!

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✨ Propped up here is an older picture book, all about community helpers. I added some corresponding vehicles to this cubby to keep things lively!

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✨ Another set of cubbies - the basket on top holds playsilks (for capes, etc.) and a royal fabric crown. (There is also a wooden camera that sits in here but it was MIA when I took the picture!) The bottom cubby has a sweet book of nursery school lessons and two plushie favorites - Peter and Benjamin Rabbit!

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✨  This set of cubbies holds favorite field guides and a pair of binoculars (top) ... as well as some favorite floor puzzles and games (bottom). Missing is the dinosaur floor puzzle which was being put to good use in the family room. ;)

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✨  Tucked behind the table are a few tote bags - one big one for Mama and two for Earlybird's primary homeschooling and ABA therapy resources.

Paper chain learning room

✨  A paper chain is a simple, pretty (and cheap!) learning room decoration! Earlybird LOVES paper chains, and counting down to special days. I used green and orange cardstock as well as some printed vintage print paper to make a paper chain with links for each day in September and October. We move a wooden clothespin along the links each day so EB has a visual reminder of how time is moving forward. (I'll make a new chain for the next season - Late Autumn, aka November & December.)

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✨  A garland of family photos strung above the worktable ... because, that's what it's all about! β€

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✨  I found this pine slice lazy susan at HomeGoods this summer and immediately thought it would be great for our homeschooling work table! And I love using mason jars for holding things like colored pencils, rulers, glue sticks, etc. The windowsill just behind the table holds our cute little prek mascot (a small fox Little Bear picked out at the craft store), a couple of new books for the season and a sweet log lantern, as well as our classroom cross ...

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✨ We've had this grapevine cross for a long time now, something bought at the craft store. (We use it at Easter as a living cross.) I haven't looked in a while but a few years back I checked Michael's and they had them. I added the wooden phrase, "Be Still" just recently (using a hot glue gun) because ... well, it's just a nice reminder to myself, and hopefully my children, to take time to breathe, listen, love - be loved - and feel blessed. ❀

Ok, we're nearly done now!

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✨  The final set of cubbies hold even more baskets and books and toys ... but on top we have our science/nature station, currently holding an assortment of late summer weeds, herbs and flowers. (What's still growing in our yard this month?) Science focus books up above ... What is a scientist? Nature focus books below ... In the Forest.🌲🌲🌲🌲

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✨  And here's my Little Bear enjoying his cubbies!

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✨ A stack of favorite car/truck/boat/plane/train books ... kept in place by a truck!

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✨ And this is Little Bear's snacktime basket, filled with a beloved Elsa Beskow set of dishes, a gift from my dear friend, Emma from Norway! Beneath the dishes are placemats and cloth napkins. Earlybird also has a cup and plate to use when we do snack together. (This is a weekly activity, a special snack that ties in with our seasonal theme.) 

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✨  A fantastically looong dragon lives in this basket! He originally belonged to Bookworm and has survived many years of "knights and dragon" play with my boys! He looks a little tired, doesn't he? But don't let him fool you! πŸ‰

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✨  And there are still more hand puppets! These are all of a certain size and style so I kept them together.

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✨ Here's the last end of the cubbies - with its atlases and social studies books as well as a wonderful wooden US puzzle, all leading to our "global awareness" corner ... 

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✨ Those cute magnets are gifts from Shirley, as well as the lovely post cards and some of the photos tacked to our boards. I had Bill hang two corkboards here and I placed our globe on top of the small fridge. A gift from my folks last Christmas, we use this fridge for parties and of course holding extra food! I bought a pretty white "farmhouse" pitcher in which I have that aforementioned apple "tea" - which is just organic apple juice and a fruity herb tea mixed together, sometimes with apple slices floating in it. And because it makes it feel a little different and special, we've been having "homeschool snack" at our worktable, while watching the wildlife outside our windows. :)

And speaking of wildlife ...

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✨  Here is the first stage of our outdoor "nature lab," which is just a regular old evergreen stump from our yard, pulled up onto the deck, in view of the sliders, where we can watch birds and chipmunks and squirrels up close!

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✨  And here's my Little Bear adding seed to the stump ... as you can see, he takes his job very seriously! (Even when wearing socks!😜 )

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✨  Oh, I forgot to show you these little chalkboards! They are hung above the coat pegs and I bought them at the craft store for a couple of dollars - including the wooden initials (one for each of my younger boys). I debated how to use these boards ... for assignments? Reminders? Vocabulary words? Poems? 

I finally decided to use these as "blessings boards" and each week the boys will read a new message about how they BLESS us with their very special selves. Something that is unique and treasured about each of them, perhaps something they've done recently that deserves notice and gratitude ... just a mention that I hope makes them feel appreciated and loved for exactly who they are! β€

(I already have Monday's ready in my head: O will read: "You ask such great questions!" and R will read: "You've shown great patience lately!")

Ok, I think I'd better wrap up at this point or else I might just go on and on ... and I've definitely kept you all here long enough! I hope you enjoyed this tour of our learning room and I thank you for stopping by! I will be devoting tomorrow to ironing out lesson plans for the week ahead because, while a pleasant atmosphere is certainly a good start, many ideas and activities need to be planned out and set up ahead of time. I'd love to do another post about that side of the equation - WHAT we do in addition to WHERE we do it! But I hope I at least gave you a little peek at how we spend our days. Little Bear is out here constantly, enjoying all those toys throughout the day and evening ... but we're still working on the concept of putting things back in place! And Earlybird comes out here often, too. Sometimes just to chill but also he does table work with his therapists here everyday. And I find myself out here lesson planning quite often ...

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It's been such fun coming up with ideas for making this a room that works in a lot of different ways!

Well my friends, I hope you all have a great rest of the weekend and once again, thanks so much for reading and let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up in any way. I hope to be back again soon with a post about those September event pages - Autumn Equinox and Michaelmas Day. Can you even believe we're already more than halfway through September???

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


A Peek into Our Sunny Schoolroom ... ❀

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Hello and Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your new (and Holy!) week is off to a great start. :)

So last August I mentioned that we were finally ready to turn our sunroom into a formal learning room. But I guess "finally ready" wasn't quite accurate ... more like, "we're nearly ready" or "it's time to make a list" or perhaps, "when we can find some spare time let's get a few things set up!" Meanwhile life carried on, learning and play happened, while the room slowly came together - taking time out to host Thanksgiving for 20 and a Christmas Day Open House - then shutting down completely throughout the coldest weeks of the winter, because, as a three-season room, it doesn't have its own heat!

Well, warm and sunny days are here at last and the room has come together rather nicely! So how about a tour? :)

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This is looking in from the family room ... through what used to be the back door of the house before the previous owners built this south-facing sunroom. Archie is relishing the fresh breezes and constant critter activity!

And as you can see, there are patio doors leading out to the ... well, patio. And just beyond that are the birdfeeders and herb garden - both important parts of our homeschool! Inside we have a portable greenhouse (aka "classroom garden") and a small fridge. The fridge was a Christmas gift to Bill for his "man cave" downstairs but this is as far as it got! It's actually pretty handy having it on the main floor, especially when entertaining.

On top of the fridge I have one of our favorite seasonal books open to the April spread, along with some spring flowering branches ...

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And a lovely sign I got at Home Goods a couple of years ago. :)

I decided this would be a monthly verse corner ... not really a nature corner because that would mean tiny treasures and hands-on, investigative projects. This is more of a seasonal (top of fridge) shelf with an illustrated poem on display which I'll change up each month. The water-filled vases are set just up and back enough to be out of the way of little hands and paws - so far, anyway. Knock on wood! I'll change this corner up for May with the first dandelions and violets, flowering crab or apple branches and one or two other seasonal flourishes. Later on there will be driftwood, beach roses and a jar of seashells maybe ... then in the fall a small harvest sampling - apples and pumpkins and branches of burnished leaves. ETC. :)

(Clearly this corner is meant more for ME than the boys, but hey - even teachers need their visual inspiration, right?)

Right now the classroom garden has plenty of sprouting seeds!

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(Catnip for our kitties ...)

Just inside the doorway is a spot for Little Bear's jackets, backpack and shoes ...

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(Plus Mom's boots!)

On the floor we have a few different area rugs. Some are for comfort and some are for scraping shoes! And some are for learning and play ...

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The US map rug gets a lot of use since this year we're studying American history! (Crackerjack takes a local homeschool class but Earlybird and I are studying US geography - with a focus on state birds and flowers - at home. In fact, this coloring book and this picture book - along with a favorite geography book as well as several kinds of maps - have really kept EB curious and on track! (I can go into further detail sometime if anyone would like. This has been a really fun study.)

Ok, here's the back wall of the schoolroom - it faces south and lets in a good deal of light!

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I use the window ledges to display the books we are using that week (tying into seasonal themes and study topics). So this week we have ...

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Eggs!

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Easter, rabbits and (from last week) rain ...

The rooster postcard I've had for years - it's part of a lovely set purchased through Nova Natural. And speaking of roosters, next week Petook will take its place on this shelf. How I love that Easter story! And the bunny is a finger puppet - he appeared in one of the boys' Easter baskets last year. I tie storytelling and puppetry into our homeschooling whenever I can. ❀ Fyi, our educational approach has always been a mix of Charlotte Mason and Waldorf philosophies, primarily. As you probably know, if you've read my blog for any length of time! :)

And here are books about our current read-aloud:

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The Spiderwick Chronicles were beloved by my older boys (and me!) back in the day - and since Earlybird really enjoyed Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone last fall, I thought I'd try this series. We listen to audiobooks in the car - a great way for EB to experience all kinds of literature! - and I'm happy to say he's really absorbed by the Spiderwick series as well. We are on book four right now, The Ironwood Tree.

And beneath these windows stands the train table ...

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We've had this train table forevah and it has really held up quite well! I think we got it for Crackerjack when he was ... um, two? So that's about 15 years! Both Little Bear AND Earlybird play here every single day. EB (15) is developmentally delayed so he still plays with a lot of what one might consider "young" toys. Plus he has loved trains since he was tiny. It's nice (most of the time) that both our younger boys enjoy playing trains because often (though not always) they play with them well together. (Though we do go through phases where the standing rule is one kid at a time. Complete with timers.)

I use baskets to contain the tracks and trains beneath the table. Much like the cars and trucks collection described in my "Tale of Four Carts" post, these are only a fraction of the tracks and trains we own. The bulk is downstairs and we switch things up from time to time. (Legos are handled similarly - or were since nobody plays with Legos at the moment.)

Next comes this great easel ...

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This was a roadside find last fall! It's beautifully made - the other side has a dry erase white board, but we pretty much just use the chalkboard right now. I use it to write questions for EB to figure out (usually during his therapy hours). Beneath the chalkboard is a crate full of "extraneous" books ... not currently connected to any topic or theme, but reserved for the future or books we like to return to on a regular basis. (The bulk of our books are stored ... wait for it! ... in the basement.)

Never one to let good storage space go to waste ...

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I have the On-the-Go Water Wow activity booklets tucked in a little basket here ... and oh my GOODNESS does Little Bear just love these things! They keep him busy for hours ... or you know, at least 10 minutes. We have a whole bunch of them and they are well-used and still work great!

Now, just behind the chalkboard you can see our faith and nature shelves ...

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Top to bottom:

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Liturgical resources - these are the ones I like to have close by - many beloved storybooks organized by feast day (more or less) and my most-used Catholic idea books.

Next shelf:

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My favorite seasonal resources - including ones I've had for years and re-read often even though I pretty much know them by heart! These are quite crafty and "Waldorf" in flavor. :)

Bottom shelf:

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Here is the location of our new nature shelf!

It's just the right height for Little Bear to observe and manage. Admittedly, it's pretty sparse at the moment - we're just coming out of winter so we don't have many "fresh" treasures to display! But I do have some preserved items here as well as a flower press, binoculars, and two of my favorite children's nature guides: Round the Year by Enid Blyton (a gorgeous and generous gift from my dear friend, Kimberly) and Nature Hikes - an OLD but priceless nature walk resource.

In the cabinet at the bottom of this bookcase I keep most of my nature study resources ...

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And in a small basket perched on a small table I have all our field guides ...

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Now, tucked in on the other side of the bookcase is our homeschooling cart:

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This cart holds ...

Top bin: Earlybird's go-to educational resources, as well as my homemade lesson planning notebook

Middle bin: my favorite early learning teacher guides, and a fun little "basics" book for Little Bear

Bottom bin: favorite flash cards, educational games and a toddler workbook for when LB wants to "do school" like his brothers :)

I love how this cart looks out here - but what I really love though is how easy it is to move around! I can wheel this cart out to my "teacher desk" in the next room when I'm lesson planning!

Next comes the learning line and more books on display ...

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The clothespins hold pages EB has used for his studies during the week. Some are photocopies of books we're using and some are coloring pages he's worked on. He is a very visual learner  - doesn't really care to talk too much about things but likes to look back at stuff we've done. I sometimes use post-it notes on these pages to prompt further connections. For example, on a state bird & flower coloring page I might ask EB to look up that particular bird in our field guide, or find the flower in our yard. On a human body coloring page about breathing, I might ask EB to do a simple science experiment involving his own breathing. And so forth ...

The books displayed here, from right to left, celebrate the themes of ...

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Spring!

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Colors!

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The World around Us!

I do have a lot of wooden toys and educational items out here - these are treasured items that we've been collecting for many years! And can I just say how much I LOVE Toot & Puddle? Thankfully, so do the boys. :)

In the next corner of the room I'm in the midst of organizing a geography corner ...

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It's still in need of a little work - for one thing, that pretty table (a yard sale find!) needs a new coat of paint (something more boyish) and for another, Little Bear's chair is a bit cramped here! But the heating element is on the wall just to the left and I really don't want him sitting here until it's turned off for the spring-summer-fall. (Which should be any day now - thank goodness!)

The other items here are a globe (which is a bit wobbly), a wooden US puzzle (which is missing Missouri), a small planets board book EB and I made for LB last year, and tucked in the far corner against the wall are several large, child-friendly atlases. These are GREAT for spreading out on the floor!

I would very much like to add some book ledges on this wall so I can display picture books about the current state or country we're studying. We've been using the Discover America State by State book series as we move from region to region and they have been a HUGE hit with Earlybird! I might also like to add a small bulletin board here so we can tack up articles about, and prayer needs for, the people and cultures of this great wide world.

Ok, turning the corner now ...

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This wall is mostly all Little Bear's toys ... and mostly hand-me-downs from his older brothers!

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Our collection of nature puppets - oh, how they have been loved through the years! (And please note the bandaids on several of them. This was Little Bear's doing some time ago when just about everyone had a "boo-boo" of one kind or another.)

More stuffed animals here ...

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And here ...

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And the wooden barn that I'm pretty sure I love more than anyone ...

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The barn sits on a sweet red children's table that belonged to me when I was little - and my mum before me, and my great aunt before that! It was soft yellow when I had it, but my mother painted it this cheerful red after Little Bear was born. The basket beneath the table holds our wooden figures collection. I am so pleased Little Bear has taken a real interest in these. I bought most of these when Earlybird was young (and I was just getting into all things Waldorf-inspired) but EB didn't really take to them. (Imaginative play was and still is a challenge for him.) 

Then we have a couple of wooden stools and an unfinished cubby holding an assortment of toys ...

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Favorite wooden puzzles, an alphabet abacus and a farm-themed tin filled with a bunch of favorite board books. All years-old and well-used! (Are you sensing a theme here, lol?) Little Bear got the tool set for Christmas (does this boy ever love to "help" Daddy with his work!) and the red basket underneath holds play-doh stuff. The lower cubbies hold (l-r) Duplos, a wooden tea set (in the woodland box) and story stones (sea animals and wooden puzzles are stacked in bins just behind). The wooden bin on the right holds yet more wooden puzzles!

(We have always been big on puzzles around here! Bookworm used to like doing them upside down. I kid you not.)

And then we have the treehouses ...

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Also several years old but Little Bear enjoys both of these toys - hooray! Mostly it's the dinosaurs that live in the wooden tree fort (they were off somewhere else when the picture was taken) and the soft tree stump is usually stuffed full of wooden alphabet blocks. Go figure.

Finally, our work table ...

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And it is truly a worktable as you can see from the picture above! A bit of a mess, yes - but beloved, as it once sat in my grandparents' kitchen. It's hardly in the pristine shape in which they kept it, but I like to think they'd be pleased their great-grandsons have all spent a whole lot of time around it ... learning, crafting, playing, snacking. In the middle of the table I have a tray holding a basket of crayons and the day's paperwork.

And now for my favorite part of the whole room ...

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A view of the rest of our "schoolroom" ... which lies just outside these big windows! β€

Well I guess I'd best wrap up now ... but I hope you enjoyed this not-very-brief tour of our schoolroom! I took all these pictures over the past week or so - waiting for sunny days so the light was good! - but tomorrow I am dismantling a few areas to make room for Easter dinner tables. Thankfully this room is still versatile enough that we can use it for entertaining when needed. :)

So thanks as always for stopping by ... and my best wishes to you and yours as the Easter holiday approaches ... and to those who celebrate, Happy Passover!

And of course, a Joyous Springtide to all! β€

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... I'll 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 ... β€

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. β€

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 Β° ... 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. β€

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:

Homemade planner 1

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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!


#52 Weeks: My Cookbooks & Recipes ❀

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Hello and Happy Tuesday, my friends! I hope your week is going well!

Well I've been terribly lax on the progress reports, but I am still following the "52 Weeks to an Organized Home Challenge!" We just received our decluttering calendar for March and I am sooo excited about the upcoming target areas - laundry, cleaning, household routines, and ... gulp basement! All things I need to work on for sure! But first let's catch up with February's missions ...

So at the beginning of the month we were assigned "Cookbooks and Recipes," and then came "Trash/Recycling," "Coupons" and most recently, "Meal Planning" (our current week's mission). I loved the Cookbooks and Recipes challenge especially, though it did take me some time to get all the way through it. The Trash/Recycling mission I kind of skimmed over since we're pretty good in that area - didn't actually take any photos, though I can if anyone's really interested in how we do trash and recycling! :) As for coupons - currently I'm not doing them because honestly, I just wasn't using them and it was taking up a lot of time and creating a lot of clutter! That's not to say I don't use a few store-produced coupons on occasion - most notably, the craft stores, the supermarket and Bob's clothing store (for the boys). Those I just keep clipped to my errands notebook and that's worked out well. I will say I would like to revisit the "Price Book" challenge because I think that's a good thing to have in one's meal planning/money-saving arsenal ...

But for today, let me share what I did to declutter and organize my cookbook collection and horde of amassed recipes ...

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Cookbooks were easy enough - I tackled them not too long ago, back when I ran a blog series called, "Kitchen Chat." But as you can see, I have added many more cookbooks to my shelf than I had in that earlier post! (Many were still packed in moving boxes until recently.) This might look like a lot of cookbooks to you, or maybe not that many, but all of these are valuable to me and if nothing else, I like the way they look in my kitchen. :)

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Now, my recipes on the other hand ...

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Well, they hadn't been addressed in some time ...

I had basically been setting aside recipes to try, as well as recipes tried and liked, AND recipe cards from friends and family, together in a bin. Or bins, I should say - there were more than just this one to begin with! And at one point I had some things in file folders but that system had pretty much fallen apart ...

Well, I took ALL those loose things and went through the whole big pile of them! This took several days because it was a rather time-consuming activity - though quite a pleasurable one! I found so many things I thought I'd lost or had forgotten! So for a week or so, in the late afternoons, I'd make a cup of tea, sit in the family room with the boys and just sort through all these clippings one by one. I purged a lot of things - found a lot of things I'd been missing! - and kept a pile of things to organize by type.

While I was doing this I also went through my rather large collection of "foodie" magazines, whittling it down to what I truly wanted to keep on hand. First and most importantly was my Everyday Food mags ...

Everyday food mags

Everyday Food - published by Martha Stewart but sadly, no longer in print - is hands-down my favorite food magazine. I have every single issue! This was a small-sized monthly publication filled with wonderful, useful, and family-friendly recipes. And best of all, lots of seasonal flavor. (Eg. rhubarb in May, tomatoes in August and squash in the fall.) I store the bulk of my EF collection in the library along with my main magazine "stash" but I've brought the current and upcoming months out to the kitchen to keep in a small basket situated between my cookbooks and recipe binders (more on those down below).

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My other favorite foodie magazine (which is also, unfortunately, out of print) was King Arthur Flour's The Baking Sheet ...

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I don't have every issue, but I do have a lot! At first they were published in a rather small size (seen above on the left) but eventually they changed it to a larger format as seen in the photo below ...

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The Baking Sheet is filled with baked good recipes, obviously, and the recipes range from easy to more advanced - but what I loved most was their wonderful seasonal flavor and the many traditional New England recipes they shared. I was so disappointed when KAF stopped publishing The Baking Sheet ... I haven't quite warmed up to their newer publication, Sift. Sift is quite lovely - and large - but awfully expensive.

Anyhoo ... I keep a great deal of my TBS issues in a handy binder (a gift from my folks) and the whole collection has also found a home on my cookbook shelf. I guess that tells you how important Everyday Food and The Baking Sheet are to me! :)

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But let's get back to recipes - and that overstuffed bin! I took that pile of clippings - still hefty but now, purged ...

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... and set about separating it out into recipe types ...

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Once I had them all sorted, I stacked them back in a pile (separated by sticky notes - you can see this pile in the very top photo) and dashed off to Staples for some binders ...

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I went in thinking, "plain white binders" and came out with these beauties!

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I have such a fondness for a bright, feminine floral set against a dark background - just like this one! (I'd love a Vera bag in this pattern!) I also liked how this floral picked up my soft green cabinets and black appliances. :) These binders are part of the Cynthia Rowley collection at Staples and have very smooth-working D-rings. (D-rings are so much better than regular round rings!) I also bought a few coordinating binder pockets, tabbed dividers and sheet protectors.

Now, this is where things stalled for a while as I decided how to set up the binders! But then eventually - aka this morning - I got down to organizing the three binders. I had all the clippings separated by recipe type in this way:

main dishes - beef, poultry, pork, seafood, vegetarian

side dishes - vegetable, other

vegetables, general

breakfast

baked goods

fruits/herbs

soups/stews

appetizers

beverages

ice cream/sorbet

frostings/jams/sauces/candy

pickles & preserves

food gifts

holiday spreads (entire articles focusing on a particular holiday)

non-food recipes (eg. cleaning products, natural egg dye and play dough, etc.)

sentimental (family and/or handwritten recipes)

general food information/meal planning

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I used a purple pen for the tabs - not just because it matched the floral binders, because it reminds me of my late grandmother. πŸ’œ  Purple was "her" color and my mum often uses a purple pen, especially when we're writing out holiday meal plans. It just felt special to me. :)

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I found it handy to use small sticky notes to move the categories around as I decided which binder would hold which tabs.

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Then I started filing those pages into sheet protectors and adding them to the appropriate binders!

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Naturally, I had help ... :)

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Oh, forgot to show you the binder pocket!

Cookbooks binder pocket

Each binder has one of these - to hold recipe cards and small or oddly-shaped recipes like the punch booklet shown above.

At last the binders were ready to go up on that shelf ...

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I used a beige "vintage-look" sticker to dress up the binder labels ...

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Now I have another area of recipe storage to tackle, and that I will save for a separate post because it's a rather complicated affair ...

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If you've read any of my posts on journaling then you know I have a habit of storing pretty/interesting/timely/seasonal recipes in my domestic journal. I know many journal-folk who set up an "index of information" to use when they want to find something in particular from a random journal page. My indexing has been fairly hit or miss over the years so I am currently embarking on a quest - yes it's that epic, lol! - to comb back through ALL my journals and create a master index of information and observations. Well, I'll begin with recipes anyway ... :) 

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My current journal shown above and a few older ones shown below ...

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So more recipe talk to come ... though it will be a bit before I get through all the journals. I think I'll try to comb through them a seasons' worth at a time and then do separate posts - like say, "Early Spring Journals" and then "Late Spring Journals" and so on. Otherwise that would be one monster of a post!

And speaking of monster-like posts, I'd best wrap this one up! I do hope you've enjoyed this progress report and would love to hear about how you organize your cookbooks and recipes. Also, if you have any questions, please let me know - I will try to get back to you as soon as possible. Drop me a note in the comments box below if you have time ...

For now I wish you all a nice afternoon and a pleasant night ahead ... hope to see you here again 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. β€

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." β€ 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 ... β€

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. β€ 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

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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!"

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"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

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

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"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

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

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And from Gill:

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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


Martinmas Day with My Boys πŸ’›

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

*deep breath*

Ok, on with my post! :)

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

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

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

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Goodness, but does this boy love himself some GLUE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next morning ...

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

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

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

Then it was time to check on the lanterns!

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

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

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

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Love all the autumn colors and shapes!

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

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

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How lovely is that?

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

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

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

Outside we go boys!

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

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

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

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

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Down with darkness, up with light;

Up with sunshine, down with night.

Each of us is one small light,

But together we shine bright ...

 

(E. Amarin)

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

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

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

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


November Nightfall

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

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

:)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Good Night!)


Seeds, Snowflakes and a Cake for St. Agnes

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Well, in the midst of all this journal talk, life at home is marching on to a familiar and happy beat. Yesterday was the Feast of St. Agnes as well as National Squirrel Appreciation Day ... representing two sides of our family's seasonal life - liturgical and natural. For the squirrels we made a seed craft, and for St. Agnes, we contemplated the prayer card handed out at last Sunday's Mass and made a snowflake cake in her honor ...

Naturally, I have pictures to share!

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I had some wooden snowflakes leftover from Advent so, when I was thinking about making  "critter treats" with the kids for Squirrel Appreciation Day, I remembered those snowflakes ... and I thought, hmmm. That could work. And, as it happens (according to one legend anyway), snowflakes are known as "St. Agnes Flowers" ...

So, there you go!

To keep the craft kid- and critter-friendly, I made up some homemade paste. Then we smeared those snowflakes with the paste ...

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And stuck those sticky snowflakes in a mix of seeds and dried fruits ...

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 (Messy crafts are always a hit with the boys!) 

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A short while later we had a tray full of rather seedy looking snowflakes ...

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Bundled up, we headed outside with the treats and leftover seed mix.

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Little Bear immediately found a leaf to hold onto - lol, he's done this since he was tiny. If we're outside he's got either a leaf or a stick in his hand!

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Marching over to hang his snowflake in the bush ...

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They kind of blend in, don't they? I suppose we could have tinted the paste with some natural food dye and that would have been pretty. Maybe next time!

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 The birds loved the snowflakes, but the squirrels (including my dear little red shown above) liked the scattered seeds and fruit best!

Back inside it was time to start our Feast Day cake ... my best helper is Earlybird who just LOVES to bake. Someday this boy and I will run a little baking business together!

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I followed a simple online scratch yellow cake mix recipe. We took our time measuring out the ingredients ...

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While my littlest fella clung to my legs, lol. He wanted "Pup!" which is how he asks to be picked up. He wanted to be a baker, too!

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At last we had cakes cooling on the counter ... and just before supper I assembled our cake:

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A glossy layer of apricot jam in the middle, some buttercream on top ...

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And the final touch: a sprinkling of snowflakes - aka St. Agnes's flowers!

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Our dinner was yummy and simple - baked ziti ("cheesey-pasta," my boys call it), steamed broccoli with lemon, crescent rolls and then of course, cake. Bill got home a bit late because he was working out of state, but we saved him a plate. :)

These are the quiet, homey days I love best. Not too much "out and about," the bulk of our day spent at home. We got some fresh air, made things, read books, baked stuff, and celebrated our faith ...

And we enjoyed our home, truly. I count that all joy!

Well my friends, I'm off for now, but I will give you an idea of the drafts I have in queue at the moment. Posts I'm working on ...

* binder breakdown

* lesson planning/assignments

* new household chore routine

* magazine love :)

* winter meals

* henkeeping advice

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Let me know if there's any topics you'd like to chat about or if you have any more planner/journal issues to discuss. I'm always open to ideas!

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


Leafy Days

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me ... πŸ‚ ... Fluttering from the autumn tree."

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 * Lines above from "Fall, leaves, fall" by Emily Bronte 

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It's a mild and blustery day here, beautiful weather for this time of year! We spent some time in our yard this morning, enjoying the leaves flying above us, and laying in colorful piles at our feet. We gathered some to bring inside to begin an autumn leaf study ...

A little rain shower just passed through - we watched it from our windows as we ate our lunch - and now the sun is back out. Making everything shiny and fresh.

:)

 Well, my friends - I hope your Tuesday's going well ... and thank you for all your apple thoughts yesterday. We sure do love our apples! Today however, Mum and I are making up a small batch of picallili ... green tomatoes are hard to find this year!

Thanks as always for stopping by ... see you here again very soon!


Little Bear Meets the Birds

Longtime readers might remember all the nature toys and bird puppets I used with my boys when they were younger. Well, they've long outgrown those sweet puppets and stories, but of course we kept them all in storage ... and I'm so glad we did, because we now have our Little Bear with whom to enjoy all that imaginative play once again!

And yesterday, as we were working on his nursery, I handed him a few puppets, giving them a little squeeze so he could hear their sounds ...

This was his reaction:

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 O bird puppets 1

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Lol, he first looked out the (open) windows as if looking for the "real" birdies making those sounds! And then he just looked puzzled ... yet intrigued ...

And - if I may so - pretty darn cute, too!

:)

Well my friends, I hope you're enjoying your week so far ... this morning I'd like to remind you that soon I'll be starting up my "Garden Gab" series and asking you about what's growing in your yard right now. If you'd like to send me a picture of your yard (or a plant or tree you are fond of) please email it to me at ...

>> bysunandcandlelight AT comcast DOT net <<

I'd be honored to include it in my post!

(And thank you to the ladies who have already sent me their pictures, I am behind on my emails - and everything else it seems - but extremely grateful for your participation!)

Note: I originally said 'Wednesday' for Garden Gab posting, but it might be a bit later in the week ... I'll of course keep you all "posted." ;)

And I'll see you here again very soon!


Baby's Early Spring Wonders

Spring morning

Happy 1st Day of Spring, everyone!

 Well, it will be Spring in just a few hours ... 12:57 p.m. to be exact! The Vernal Equinox is upon us, and despite the chilly temperatures and the patches of snow on the ground, we are at very last, done with Spring proper. Of course, when has Spring every acted properly?

Anyhoo ... I've been writing out some notes about nature "moments" to enjoy through the years with my Little Bear (who'll be 10 months next week!) and I thought you might like to see them. Just some brainstorming here ... nothing too formal yet ... things will take shape as we move along through the seasons. :)

(Note: These ideas are for March and April - aka, Early Spring.)

**

* On the 1st day of March ... lions roar! have fun with roaring sounds, lion pictures/stuffed animals. Read How Loud is a Lion? together.

* Maple sugaring - visit the woods in all their late winter glory - patches of snow, bare branches, old leaves - and befriend a sugar maple, feel that rough bark!

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* Melting - slushy spots along the driveway, puddles where ice had been, drip-drip-drip sounds

* Mud - push bits of things (twigs, pebbles, leaves) into the newly formed mud out front ... ooh, it's squishy! Squelchy sounds! Read Mud! 

* Make (paper plate) masks for Mardi Gras - play peekaboo!

* Go for a wind walk on a blustery day. Read When the Wind Blows

* Go for a rain walk on a showery day (brief, just to feel it)

* Look for puddles, throw things in to *splash* (might be too cold yet for piggy dips)

* Watch the forsythia bushes for buds and blossoms ... snip some branches to force indoors

* When the nights get milder, open the window and listen for peepers in the vernal pool out front

* Watch the night sky for the full sap (March) and pink (April) moons.

* Make a pinwheel and/or a kite for windy spring days

 * Visit new lambs at our local farm, and back at home, look for soft things like fleece, yarn, cotton balls. Read Mary Had a Little Lamb.

* Find pussy willows to feel and admire - so silky soft! Like kitty cat paws. :) Might find some near the marsh growing wild ...  if not, bring some home from the market. Cut branches to place in a vase at home. Read Pussy Willow.

* Explore sweet, earthy carrots - steamed and mashed/chunked, baked into mini pancakes or muffins, start seeds for the garden, read The Carrot Seed.

* Look at smooth eggs - so many sizes and colors! - and try some homemade egg custard (Nana's recipe). Visit neighbor's chickens and see eggs in the nest.

* Listen to Celtic music while driving in the car, or dancing at home - Celtic Dreamland

* Sweep, sweep, sweep! This is the way we sweep our house (steps/walk) clean, wonderful activity on bright dry days.

* Wipe and polish, do our part! For family spring cleaning leading up to Easter, little cloth rags and natural beeswax polish, This is the way we clean our house ...

* Make fingerpaint rainbows with natural dyes/watercolors ...

* Look for rainbows on showery/sunny days

* Enjoy clay play - homemade play dough, natural dyes (rainbow shades)  

* What do frogs say? Peep, croak! Where can we find frogs? Read The Tale of Jeremy Fisher.

* Notice where robins appear - and how they hop! Can we hop like a robin? Can we make a tidy warm nest like a robin?

* Check branches for new buds and shoots - where is life resurrecting itself?

* Visit the pond to see ducks! Quack, quack, quack! Read Make Way for Ducklings. Perhaps ... visit the ducklings statues in Boston's Public Garden.

***

There's so much to explore in early spring! What "comforts and joys" do you look for at this time of year? If you have any ideas to add to my list, please leave me a note below. I'm currently working on a list for late spring (May and June) and I'll share that in a future post, too.

Well my friends, I hope you enjoy this first - much-longed-for - day of spring. What's it like where you live? Is it springy? It's a bit showery and gray here this morning, but NOT cold and that's nice for a change! Skies are supposed to clear later and I bet there will be lots of melting. Can't wait to see all this white gone for good! (At least until December ...)

See you all here again very soon ...


Weekend Journal ~ November Joys

Good Monday Morning, my friends! I hope you all had a nice weekend ~ here are a few snapshots from ours!

Little Bear and his Daddy enjoying the crisp autumn air ...

Owen november day 

We're outside as much as possible these days, while the weather is still agreeable!

And speaking of getting outside, I love this interesting "poster" shared by Oak Meadow recently on Facebook:

Playing Outside

Wonderful food for thought ~ a nature-based curriculum right there in the making!

Back inside, here's a cozy autumn table ...

November lunch

On Sunday I hosted a luncheon for several dear college girlfriends - it was wonderful to see everyone and catch up! The "girls" got to meet Little Bear (who was such a little flirt) and see our new home. I served squash soup, calzones and salad, and we enjoyed several delicious desserts brought by my friends: butter-and-whiskey cake, brownies, cookies, and an assortment of Italian pastries. There was spiced cider, wine and lots of tea of course, too! It was such a delightful day ...

And look at these precious little gems! The tiniest little cones from a bank of evergreen trees along our drive way ...

Tiny cones

They look like little brown roses! Such nice crafts I could make with these!

*wheels turning*

:)

Well my friends, I'm off to get my week going ... a mild, windy and wet morning here in New England, the remnants of a savage storm that blew across the midwest this weekend. Thoughts and prayers for the communities and families suffering in its wake.

*❀*

See you all again sometime soon ...


Squirrel Nutkin ~ A Wintertime Nature Study

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But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He bobbed up and down like a little red cherry, singing ~ "Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!"

It was an exciting day in the Riverwood yesterday ~ we were visited by not one, not two - but THREE little red squirrels! I took lots of pictures of the cute and crazy little things -though I couldn't get them all in one shot. While one was eating happily at the top of the cage-feeder, the other two were fighting like crazy, chasing each other all around the rhododendron bushes, lol!

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Grasping a seed in his tiny paws.

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Diving back down for more ...

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The perfect perch for a squirrel of this size.

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And the tray feeder fits even better!

The red squirrels now visit our feeders at least twice a day (not always three at one time, but often, two) and they are such a delight to observe! They are fast and furious little creatures! The boys and I keep our eyes on the windows as we work through the day and if one of us spies a "Red Tail" (as we've named them) we sound the "alarm." Pencils are put down and books are dropped - we dash to the windows to observe. 

Squirrels, red or gray, are a perfect winter-nature study subject; they're active and highly visible at this time of year. Red squirrels are not as common in America as they are in England, but if you are at all familiar with the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, then you know a little about them. They are much smaller than a gray squirrel, with coppery-brown fur and a fiery personality. They move fast and make a lot of noise when agitated (chuck-chuck-chuck-chuuuuck!). Really, they're a riot to watch. If you live near a conifer woodland you most likely have red squirrels living nearby; they are just harder to spot than the plentiful grays.

The following suggestions are geared towards younger children, but more advanced activities could be added for including older kids in the study. Most homeschoolers I know are teaching multi-ages at once - for me, I am tailoring this study to my kindergartener (Earlybird) and 4th grader (Crackerjack). My 8th grader (Bookworm) will tag along just for fun. :)

~Notes for a Squirrel Nutkin Nature Study~

 Read The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, first and foremost.

Look for squirrel tracks in the snow. This book shows the difference between a gray squirrel's tracks and a red's. (It's mostly the size.)

Learn about red squirrels online.
Find lots of information at Wikipedia.
Here's a neat kids' page by the Kluane Red Squirrel Project.

Make up an observation chart to keep track of squirrel visits and behaviors. (If I can figure out how to do it, I will link you the chart I made up for the boys - tracking red or gray, time of day, and behavior.)

On a blank map of the world, color in the areas that are inhabited by red squirrels. If you are reading The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, locate The Lake District in England.

Older children could research the plight of the red squirrel in the UK.

Read about how Squirrel Nutkin came to be in the pages of The Ultimate Peter Rabbit: A Visual Guide to the World of Beatrix Potter.

Write a little nature story in a letter to a friend. (You could have the children draw pictures and then write in the storylines they dictate.)

See how many squirrel names (like Nutkin, Twinkleberry, etc.) you can come up with.

Make little twig or bark boats to sail across a lake. (Or pond, stream or a good size puddle, even.)

It would be fun to make little sacks with which the children could go "gathering nuts." (These could be simple drawstring bags made of cotton or felt.) Use acorns (real or wooden) to count and sort. Hide them around the house and have the children go on a nut hunt.

Red Squirrels are very fond of spruce cones. See if you can identify - and differentiate - pine trees from spruce trees in your yard, neighborhood or nearby park. Use a good tree field guide to do this, or ask a ranger to help you.

Host a "Squirrel Nutkin" tea for your friends (or family members). Serve treats reminiscent of those mentioned throughout the Potter stories. Ask each guest to name which Potter story is their favorite, and why.

A few great books featuring red squirrels:

(This is a chapter book, a great family read-aloud. I did a Book Group lesson on this last year.)

Read the wonderful tale of "Furry," Anna Comstock's pet red squirrel. You can find it, along with a very informative chapter on red squirrels, in her Handbook of Nature.

If your children are into puppet play, Audubon makes wonderful nature puppets including a red squirrel and owl. They're not technically puppets, but can be used in dramatic play or storytelling. When you squeeze their bellies they "chuck" and "screech" accordingly.

We happen to have the tip of of red squirrel tail on our nature table! (It's not as gruesome as it sounds - read the full story here.)

Nutkin antagonized Old Brown owl with riddles. Check books of riddles out of the library to enjoy together.

The current issue of National Geographic Kids (February) has a wonderful article about Heinz, a baby red squirrel who was rescued after a storm.

I happen to love this dear little poem by Marchette Chute called "Politeness." It would be easy for a young child to memorize.

I met a squirrel the other day
And spoke to him in a friendly way.
I couldn't pat him on the head
But I gave him several nuts instead.
He took them from me one by one
And waved his tail when he was done.
And he was happy, I could tell.
We both behaved extremely well.

***

If you have a neat squirrel story, picture or activity to share, please let me know. I'd love to compile them and share them here at my blog! And of course, I'll be sharing our own Nutkin adventures as this little study unfolds. :)

In the meantime, have a wonderful day. It's just starting to snow here - we're in for several inches by day's end.
A good day to keep our eyes on the feeders!
See you all again soon!

Heralding the Snow

Well, we're in for another big snow here tomorrow! Lol, I should have known - we've only just begun to see our driveway again! But you all know I don't mean to complain. Winter in New England means snow, and some years that means more snow than others. I think it's safe to say, this has been a very snowy winter so far ...

Well, a few days ago I was poking through my craft bins downstairs and I came across some unfinished wooden snowflakes. I decided that the next time we had an impending snowstorm, I would have the boys paint them up and then we'd hang them in the learning room windows - to welcome the snow in our own special way. 

So with the storm on the way for tomorrow, we got started on this craft just after we got home from EB's therapy today. Truth be told, this was all for Earlybird, who loves to paint in any capacity. Nature-related crafts are a big part of his kinder "curriculum." The older boys, good sports that they are, joined him at the table this morning.

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There was a snowflake, a paintbrush and a cup of color for each one.

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Here's our Earlybird, concentrating hard. (I feel compelled to mention, that's not peanut butter smeared around his mouth or anything. He has a terrible winter rash around his lips right now. It's actually much better than it was last week.)

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Here's Crackerjack, also working carefully.

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And our Bookworm, too.

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The snowflakes drying in the sun ...

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... and now hanging in our windows. 
Welcome Snow!

So tomorrow we'll be staying in, watching the snow fly and keeping warm at home. I plan to read a special book with Earlybird in the morning - The Big Snow - a longtime winter favorite. It's the story of Winter on its way (and a "big snow" along with it) and how all the woodland creatures prepare. It's a wonderful story and there's great scientific information to be learned, too. The last part is the best, I think - when a thoughtful family puts out food for the hungry animals. (I plan to have EB toss cracked corn and toast crusts outside our birdfeeder windows.) And the very last page is quite timely - the groundhog wakes up on the 2nd of February (which is next Monday, my friends!), sees his shadow and burrows back into his den for the rest of his winter's nap.

It's not a very long book, but just enough pages that I could see Earlybird getting impatient if he's not really into the story. EB has a hard time sitting still for books, so to make it more interesting for him, I pulled together an assortment of nature puppets to use as we read. As luck would have it, I had a puppet for each on the creatures mentioned in the story! (This is thanks to years and years of collecting.) 

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As I read the book, and mention an animal, I will have Earlybird look for and pull out that particular puppet. When we are done, he can play with all the puppets and make up his own story if he wishes. 
If you don't have nature puppets, you could always use photos or pictures for a similar activity. (Just google each animal online.) I've found enjoying books with EB in this way helps my squirmy listener stay put - and pay closer attention. 

OK, then ...
Birdfeeders filled? Check.
Hot Cocoa on hand? Check.
Cream to whip? Check.
Cookies to bake? Check.

I think we're ready for that snow now.
:)

Our Summer Nature Shelf

I've finally gotten around to spiffing up the nature shelf - sweeping away bits of dirt and crumbled dried petals and grass - and changing it up to reflect the new season ahead. Here's how it looked in the Spring, and below you can see how it's changed for the Summer, which, according to my handy-dandy countdown widget over there on the left is just TWO days away!

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In New England, the summer season is closely tied with the ocean, so I went with a blue and green sea-theme - scattering about shells and starfish along with the rose petals of June.

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Also present is my nature angel, our wooden water element as well as the boys' tiny aquatic figurines (some mythical, others not). As the boys find real bits of nature to add to the shelf this summer, I'll clear away some of these props.

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In the lefthand corner is our book of nature poems, open to June's blessings. Behind the Flower Fairies of the Summer is our storm candle, ready to be lit at the first peal of thunder, a common summer sound in these parts.

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Our nature shelf is always rounded out with lots of books.

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Not shown above the shelf is a grapevine swag; I thought it would look pretty adorned with dried flowers and maybe little seashells, too. Right now I have lavender buds stuck here and there - they don't show up much, but they smell lovely.

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I do have fun setting our nature corner up, but I hardly expect it to stay so tidy and "staged" for long. ;) For instance, today we are headed out on a nature hike with friends. I'm sure the boys will return with a new treasure or two, and I will come home with lots of pictures to share!

Well, I hope you all have a great Thursday ~ see you again sometime soon. :)


~A Raccoon, a Cricket and a Few Book Reviews~

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Look who paid a visit to the feeders early this morning!

Bill first spotted the raccoon on our roof, as it was closely inspecting the chimney. (Hmmm.) Next thing we knew it was in the seedtray, feasting away. It was not at all concerned with us, even after I opened the window and clicked and beeped away with my camera. I find it surprising (unsettling maybe) that a raccoon was out and about in the daylight hours. Aren't they supposed to be nocturnal? The other odd thing was that it was alone - when we've spotted racoons before there has always been a small gang of them.

It was damp overnight, and it's quite drizzly still - I think we might head outside in a bit to scout around for tracks in the muddy areas. I love this passage about raccoon prints from the Handbook of Nature Study:

"What country child, wandering by the brook and watching its turbulence in early spring, has not viewed with awe a footprint on the muddy banks looking as if it were made by a very little baby? The first one I saw I promptly concluded was made by the foot of a brook fairy. However the coon is no fairy ..."

(A brook fairy? How sweet!)

So now the small raccoon puppet has taken its place on the nature shelf. Later today, Earlybird and I will make up a small story about our encounter, including the blue jay and the red squirrel puppets as well - the two creatures who were brave enough to challenge the coon for the seedtray this morning.

I have also dug out Raccoons and Ripe Corn by Jim Arnosky, which is such a nice book, and the focus of a wonderful Reading Rainbow episode in which Lavar does some nature study with Mr. Arnosky himself! Don't you just love Reading Rainbow? :)

And, hey! Just as I was about to go to press, so to speak, look what I found in, of all places, the laundry pile!

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A quick internet search has me wondering if this might be a cave cricket. We've found one or two before, only those were dead. Now that we have a live one in our possession, we have made a temporary home for it on our nature shelf (a tall glass jar with a pierced paper towel for a lid). We placed two bottle caps inside - one with a bit of water and the other with a bit of crushed pineapple. We're not sure if this is at all appropriate - or even appetizing - so we'll watch the cricket throughout the day and see what transpires. If he looks at all distressed, we will release him - only not back into my laundry pile, lol!

So where do I go when we have a new nature study subject to consider? Why to Amazon of course! And consequently, I now have Chirping Crickets and Quick as a Cricket in my cart. ;) I usually cross-check titles with my library, but I happen to have a gift certificate to use up, so I think we'll splurge a little. :) 

Good picture books are such a fabulous investment, anyway. I can think of no better way to expand upon nature studies than to follow up with a few (or many!) good books. So while I'm here, I'd like to mention a few other nature-themed picture books we have on display this week:

The Salamander Room ~ This was recommended by a friend after I described our recent woodland surprise. It's the dreamy story of a little boy who finds a salamander and imagines a scheme for keeping him happy and safe in his room. (Or at least we assume he is imagining it - that might be up for debate!) His mother questions him repeatedly (in a kind, not reproachful way), but the boy seemingly has an answer for everything, and a plan to meet his new pet's every need. A sweet and cheerful tale, it invites conversation about what living things need to live well.

The Tree in the Ancient Forest ~ A beautiful story told in the tradition of the Mother Goose verse, "This is the house that Jack built ..." It begins and ends with "This is the three-hundred-year-old tree that grows in the ancient forest ...," and in between it explores the life that thrives beneath, inside and all around this majestic force of nature. It is very much a circle of life story (the owl follows the vole, the marten follows the squirrel), but in a gentle and lyrical way. It's from Dawn Publications which publishes fabulous nature books, both fiction and non (including the well-known Sharing Nature with Children series by Joseph Cornell).

Our Apple Tree ~ I bought this book without even opening the cover - theOurappletree cover itself appealed to me so! (See picture below.) The story, and the illustrations inside, did not disappoint. A pair of tiny apple tree elves describe the seasons of their tree to the reader - beginning with winter's rest, and the various wildlife that frequent it (nuthatches, pheasants and honeybees). By the end of the story, the elves and their tree are quietly sleeping again, and we are left with a happy sense of completion - and a recipe for apple crisp. Apple tree books are generally thought of as autumn stories, but I think May is a perfect time to start talking about apple trees ~ when the branches are laden with their magnificent blooms, and the whole cycle of life has begun. This little book would be perfect to bring along on a picnic at the orchard - and don't forget the sketch pads!

Well, this post has meandered all over the place - from the birdfeeders, to the laundry pile to the bookshelf! And now I must be off to get this day started. Looks to be a rainy one, which is okay ~ we have much to do (and apparently to see!) within the four walls of our home.

Have a good one, my friends!