Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 11, "Stories"

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! I am so glad to be back here at the blog with you all! I know my posting has been quite slow these past few months, but I hope - as we move forward into this bright and beautiful new year - I will be able to pick up a little blogging steam. So to begin with ... how are things in your corner of the world? How is Old Man Winter treating you? Are you reading any wonderful stories these days? I'd love to hear how you are if you have a moment to say hi ...

I am so excited to sit down with a cup of tea and dive back into our Mitten Strings for God book study. We left off last autumn with the chapter on "Wants and Needs" and so that brings us to the eleventh chapter, "Stories" and I'm quite eager to hear what you think! (And just as eager to tell you what I think!)

(Note: for those just joining us, here is the MSfG archive. All are welcome to participate as we read (and in some cases, re-read) this lovely little gem of a book about mindful mothering, slowing down, savoring life, and nurturing our children's ever-widening world. Feel free to chime in at any time and on any chapter!)

I should warn you though, this was, perhaps, my favorite of all the chapters, so this here post is a little *ahem* wordy ... but before we get into the chapter itself, I'd like to talk a little about my tea shown above. (Longtime readers know I love to "serve tea" whenever possible alongside my post!) My tea today ("English Teatime Decaf" - one sugar, whole milk) is served in one of my BIG ol' sturdy kitchen mugs. I enjoyed it at my sunny kitchen table this morning with my Mum (her tea is the rather bracing "American Breakfast" - no sugar, low fat milk). And, as you can see, Archie was not to be left out. ;)

So here's the thing about this chapter ... when I first read it (back in the early 2000s) I had a whole different concept of "storytelling" in mind, though I do love how it re-shaped my ideas. You see, I grew up listening to family stories told by my maternal grandmother, usually around her kitchen table - or sitting in her den, or in the car, or on the screened porch. Actually, it didn't matter where we were, she was always sharing stories from her life ... and I just loved them. I loved hearing her talk about her eight brothers and sisters and her beloved parents -  one from Ireland, one from Scotland - and the way life was back in her day ...

The big old house near the train station and the cousins that lived all over town. The animals they raised and the visiting they did and the personalities of each sibling. School days, work days and even a few family tragedies which to this day still haunt me when I think on them. But I especially loved hearing about my grandmother's life as a young mother and housewife ...

I was enthralled by the simplest stories about how she managed her home back in her day: the mending and tending, the cooking and cleaning, the serving and preserving and the storing and saving, etc. My grandparents came through the depression and built their own home in the 40s - a house still owned by my family today -and I was intensely fascinated by the cost-saving methods she used and continued to use in present day. She was, without a doubt, the best home-keeper I've ever known and even when I was a young girl I savored these homey bits of wisdom. I felt privileged (and proud) that she shared them with me, her eldest granddaughter.

(To this day, I just relish books that are full of these kinds of domestic details. Admittedly, I could read a whole book about one woman's housekeeping through the year. I'd find it so soothing and fascinating! Wouldn't you?)

My Gram also introduced me to tea (along with my Grampa who was just a big a tea drinker as Gram, if not bigger!), so in my memory, all these family tales were spun at their kitchen table over cups of black tea served in Gram's best Irish china. (Grampa, of course, would take his tea in a giant porcelain mug.) I know this is where my fondness for tea drinking began - and to this day I connect my favorite beverage with comfort, love, inspiration, contentment ... and stories. ❀

But I'm getting wildly off-track and I think it's time I started in on the chapter at hand!

Stories for me as I've said were rooted in family and so that's where I began with my children. When I first read MSfG (a fortunate find through the Chinaberry catalog if I recall) I was so taken by many of Ms. Kenison's ideas. As new and fairly eclectic homeschoolers, I found Waldorf education appealed to me deeply, and much of the ideas Ms. Kenison describes in this book resonate with this methodology. (She even references Waldorf Education resources in her final notes to her readers.)

At this time my children were small - we had just a couple of boys at the time - which was kind of fun for me because the Kenisons also had two boys, though when I first read the book they were a bit older than my own small lads. But a big part of my enjoyment of this book back then was the sense of reading another "boy mom's" thoughts, and one who seemed to find the same things important that I did. A mom who was trying to gently shape her family's world in a way that made sense and felt right ... and who seemed to truly have it all - or mostly - together.

So when I first read that eleventh chapter, I immediately thought, YES - yes, of course! Stories! Our boys will grow up hearing stories. 

I already knew of course they'd be surrounded by good books and that we'd work on our observation skills and staying connected with nature ... but the concept of telling stories - not just reading them - was fascinating to me! Eager to jump in (I was already looking up local storytelling groups I might join) I instead started small with familiar tales (of the folk and fairy kind), plentiful at the library but also firmly in memory. Then as I stretched my creative muscles I found I especially enjoyed creating nature stories - little tales that brought the world around us alive. Tales that marked the changes in weather, the flora and fauna in our surroundings, the sky and the earth and the four seasons themselves. Over the years I've told stories of all kinds and from all kinds of prompts, but nature stories still remain my very favorite. :)

Storytelling was going quite well for some time, but then our third son was born with special needs and one of his challenges was an intense dislike of being read or (worse) sung to. So fingerplays were out - as were puppets and most overtly imaginative play. I scaled back on the weekly group storytime and tried to slip in tiny bits of story magic where I could ... and leaving things open-ended seemed to appease him:

"Look! That crafty spider in the stone wall is peeking out of his home today ... I wonder what he's up to?"

"Hmmm, the apples are hanging very low on this tree ... who might come along and take a nibble?"

"The air smells a bit like woodsmoke today ... I wonder who's tending a fire?"

Sometimes these tiny prompts would garner a short answer or brief look-see - but sometimes they sparked some real interest and we were able to expand a bit on the theme. I had to watch how far I took it though - often I'd get a: "MAMA! That's enough!!!" 

And then, as life happens, the older boys got older and EB got older too, and less interested in hearing anything resembling a story. So we kind of put storytelling on hold ...

But then along came Little Bear ... ❀

So storytelling, I'm very happy to report has been revived in our family once again! And not just for LB (though at 4 yo, he's clearly my biggest fan) but for Earlybird, too. He's becoming less rigid and more open to listening activites - though I still have to do sing-songy things with LB when EB is out of the room. (I won't get into this too much right now, but blessedly three years ago we began a new and daily therapy routine with amazing caregivers who are working with EB to help him relax and allow for more creative experiences. But that's a post for another time!)

Storytelling for the older boys has continued through the years but in ways that are more similar to my own childhood experience - via family tales at the kitchen table. :) To this day supper is always a family affair though Earlybird is excused to eat in the other room because the sound of chewing is too much for him. So the older boys and Little Bear and Bill and myself gather at our kitchen nook table every night (and at lunchtime often too) and naturally we often find ourselves sharing stories. Shared memories, old memories, interesting tales we heard somewhere, sometime ...

I think for many families, storytelling seems easier when the children are younger and I agree that's true ... but I don't think stories have to go away once kids are old enough to own a phone or a computer. Once upon a time families gathered around the hearth to while away the evening hours - nowadays of course people are busy with activities that more often than not take them outside the home or pull their attention away from the family circle. But if your family is used to gathering together at recurring times of the day or week, it's relatively easy to begin sharing memories or reliving fun times. I think the family table makes for a comfortable storytelling space and the enticement of good food never hurts! I love the habit of Sunday dinner with the expectation that all who can make it will ... and with the promise of a delicious meal the audience will be even more receptive! Car rides, too, are a good opportunity for story-sharing as are neighborhood walks.

If storytelling appeals to you as much as it does to me, you might find this book a worthy read, as it expands on the ideas in this chapter and is just chock-full of storytelling inspiration!

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Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon is another one of those books I've had for many years and as you can see, it's quite battered - but beloved! (I share a few pics of the insides further down in this post.)

Now, I'm pretty sure I could quote this entire chapter, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few favorites. ;-)

"Years ago, parents told stories to children both to entertain them and to teach them about the world's complexities. But we lost the art of storytelling when we lost that sort of open-ended time with our children, the reflecting, wondering, watching time that gives rise to stories." (71)

Speaking of wonder then, I had to snap a picture of Little Bear today in his rather fitting sweatshirt:

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"Never lose your sense of wonder." A cute and comfy Target find! Stories will percolate in your mind and trip off your tongue if you leave yourself open to wonder. That's the cool thing about wonder - the urge to share it is powerful! :)

(Little Bear's in mid-story himself here. Something about a Lego ship and a very stormy sea.)

As I read through this chapter, I was amazed by how easily storytelling seemed to come to Ms. Kenison - but then I realized she was intentionally opening herself up to the experience - by paying attention to the world around her, "observing the minute particulars of a season, a day, a moment ..." (p. 73)

She goes on to admit:

"... whenever I feel that my story well has run dry, it is only because I have not been paying enough attention to my life."' (p. 77)

I think this is a wonderful example of why this book has so many ideas that make sense for all of us - not just parents. Making time in our life to pay attention to the world around us - practicing mindfulness, connecting with others, reflecting - is something that tunes us all in to our inner voice. Children benefit from this certainly, but so might we all:

"And so for my own sake, as well as for my sons', I stop then, and breathe deeply and look more closely." (p. 77) 

Whether or not we go on to tell stories I think it's a worthy practice to cultivate: to slow down and be fully present with ourselves and our loved ones.

Another quote that clicked for me:

"The stories that seemed most satisfying were often the simplest ones - they made us feel alive and part of things, they fed us and made us happy." (p. 73)

I have found this to be true. Sometimes I spend a good chunk of time crafting a potential storyline to go along with a seasonal theme - for example, it's "snow" week so I'm cobbling together snowflake tales - when in truth, the quick impromptu tale I spin as we notice something in the here and now delivers the most sincere and memorable lesson. I find this kind of storytelling more honestly connects us with the world around us at that moment, and what a feeling it is to be part of the here and the now!

In truth, this kind of storytelling takes very little time - I think sometimes we make things out to be a bigger production than they are - but time is such a hot commodity these days!

"Real stories take time. They require, first, that we lay our own concerns aside for a while and open ourselves to the present moment." (p. 71)

Another lovely lesson to take from this chapter - perhaps the best of all - is that in storytelling we are first and foremost, making time to be with our children. We are doing something specifically FOR them with nothing more than the efforts of our hearts and minds. (Finger puppets and story props notwithstanding.) I think most parents are well aware of the need to make time to be present with our children, but let's be honest. Even when we're not doing anything else but sitting alongside our children, our minds aren't totally turned off. Maybe they're just set on pause, perhaps unconsciously listening for that ping or that ring ... for any reason that we might be recalled to the "adult" world where serious things need to be done. These days we are all so mentally busy, concerning ourselves (sometimes overly so) with what we need to do, where we need to go, what to read, watch, and yes - even post on social media. Even when we're not doing any of those things, they're percolating there in the back of our minds. It can be a real challenge to just turn all that off and give our kids the kind of time we know would deeply benefit them.

 That's getting a little heavy though, so here's a lighter thought:  

"A candle helps create that ritual space; somehow, a flame invites inspiration while also reminding teller and listener alike of the sacred nature of this work." (p. 71)

This was the storytelling candle I bought EONS ago when my older boys were quite young ...

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I'm pretty sure I bought it at a local Waldorf School Holiday Faire. It's a heavy thing, made of solid beeswax and so very sweet-smelling! Just the whiff of it brings me right back to those early years with my older boys. I had always meant to decorate this with symbols of the four seasons, but never mustered up the courage to do it! (Modeling wax and me have never been the best of friends. It requires warm hands and a very patient nature!) Well, I brought this candle out of retirement recently after re-reading this chapter and then lit it late this afternoon just ... well, because. I was alone in the room as I cleaned up the worktable ... but as you can see, the sky was growing dark outside. The wind was picking up and tree limbs were shaking ... the hen light was on in the coop ...

Not surprisingly, I felt a story forming!

The use of a candle in storytelling is touched upon in the aforementioned Mellon book as well:

Candle for storytelling

I can't help but share a couple more pictures from her wonderfully illustrated book, this first was the page I was reading today, soaking up some wintertime inspiration ...

Winter stories

And this one shows how lovely the illustrations are in this book!

Aprons

This chapter was where years ago I got the inspiration to make this ...

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My storytelling apron. :)

I started with a plain (inexpensive) crafter's apron, and I thought to add some pretty iron on patches (representing nature) but I have yet to get around to that part! I use the pockets for the elements of my story - often finger puppets, but also, wooden toys, natural items such as acorns or feathers, or perhaps a painted story stone. I use cute wooden clips to attach extra things like the wooden snowflake and felt leaf shown here. Tucked inside the large pocket is some white woolen felt ... all these items were part of a story I formulated for this week's seasonal theme, "under the ice." I imagined a wintry pond and the creatures that live in, and around, it having to handle a particular harsh winter. (Of course, had we encountered mild temps this week I would have tweaked the plot to include a January thaw!) 

I love to come up with my own stories because I like to tap into our own home habitat, but I do find inspiration in lots of places! These books are longtime favorites:

Kindergarten books brighter

I bought these through a Waldorf education website, but you can easily find them at Amazon. They are filled with poems, verses, songs and stories for young children (kindergarten I believe is the target audience, but I think they work well with all ages). As you can see, they're organized by season and I find them invaluable when writing up lesson plans for our seasonal homeschooling.

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter

Here are some of my favorite storytelling prompts:

Story stones

Story stones - sometimes painted with words, or simply with pictures.

Wooden toys

Wooden toys - lots of animals, from all different kinds of habitats!

Fairy tales

Fairy tale books such as these beautifully illustrated examples are wonderful storytelling resources! (Waldorf education has a whole schedule for which stories match up with which grade levels.) I also have many hardcover collections of traditional fairy tales: English, Russian, German, Scandinavian, etc. I just picked up a wonderful retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at the library today, because we are studying Norway this month and this is a great example of that country's rich folktale tradition.

Speaking of this old tale, look who popped up in our learning room mailbox this week!

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This mailbox has been a fantastic tool for storytelling in our homeschool! I enjoy coming up with different prompts to match our weekly seasonal theme, but these goats went along with our library book this week. Often I tell stories while the boys are working on a craft of some kind ...

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:)

Other prompts I use: our nature shelf treasures, our backyard - bird feeders and gardens, the scribblings in my own nature journal, a large collection of finger- and hand- puppets (as I've shown you all many times before!). If you'd rather not paint stones as I do, you could write words on cards and use them to inspire your children's creativity. Or how about starting story ... and then asking your children to work on the next part? A fun activity with a collection of picture stones - sit around the fire on a soft summer's night and pass around a bag of story stones. Each storyteller takes a turn creating a new page in the tale! 

Well, as you can see, I have a real soft spot for this chapter, and if I could, I'd go on ... but I am going to stop now because I've kept you all here so very long! I hope you enjoyed my post and I hope you are enjoying this book if you are reading along! I'd LOVE to hear from you if you have a moment. Please share your thoughts on this chapter (or topic) or just pop into the comments to say - hey! It's always lovely to hear from you. :)

Before I go a final word about storytelling. I have found it to be one of the most rewarding activities I've done with my children. It has created for us so many tender moments, and for me, so many treasured memories. These are dear times when we are quiet together, the boys listening only to their mama's voice and their mama pushing herself outside her comfort zone ...

It's humbling to ask my young fellas to stop, listen and appreciate the words I'm offering ... the story I'm crafting. It's an honor to have such a rapt and sincere audience. Most of all, what I love about telling my children stories is that I'm sharing a glimpse into my own imagination and the great love I hold for this world. For in every story told the teller reveals a little (or perhaps a lot) of themselves. When my children remember our storytelling days, that's what I hope they best remember.

"Telling a story is really a way of  breathing deeply with our children. Taking that deep breath, exhaling, and putting ourselves at the mercy of something universal, we allow our own voices to become instruments of our souls." (p. 72)

I wish you all a lovely weekend! I'll be back again soon with a long-promised planner post and details on our next MSfG discussion!


Mitten Strings for God: Let's Get Back to It! ❀

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Hello, my friends and Happy Monday!

Well, the holidays are behind us and a long winter looms ahead ... so I'm here today to announce a return to our Mitten Strings book study! I hope you're all ready to get back into it! (Please see my MSfG archive for more information and all previous posts.)

I'm so looking forward to digging back in, but to give us all plenty of time to catch up, I'm scheduling our first chapter discussion for a week from this coming Friday:

FRIDAY, JANUARY 26th

* roundabouts teatime *

(aka 4 p.m. EST)

Now, to refresh our collective memory, we hit pause at chapter 10, "Stories" ... so that's where we shall begin! And what a perfect chapter for this time of year when telling stories around the hearth are, for many families, a cherished tradition. In our family we weave storytelling into our weekly homeschooling rhythm, and all our boys have enjoyed their Dad's funny bedtime stories for years. (Sea Monster and BooBoo were two favorite recurring characters.) Personally, I love making little crafts to go along with my stories - short tales usually connected with nature or the nuances of the seasons - but I'll get into more of that in my post on the 26th!

Before I go though, here is a chapter quote I found especially inspiring:

Stories quote

This is a picture I snapped one frosty morning, looking through Little Bear's bedroom window which faces east. I was marveling over the scrolls and feathers and "frost flowers," (not to mention the fiery glow of the rising sun behind them) and you can just imagine the storylines that popped into my head as I savored those quiet moments before the household got busy ... β€

But again, I'm getting ahead of myself! As you can tell, I'll have much to say when we gather for our chapter discussion. :)

Going forward, I am thinking of continuing with a Friday teatime schedule. (Fridays are my "hearth and home" days, and a little tea break is most welcome come late afternoon!) I thought we might try a weekly post schedule, but if folks would like a little more time between chats, we could easily do an every-other-week format. Let me know in the comments below what you prefer ... I am completely flexible!

Well my friends, I'm off for now, but I hope this post finds everyone well. I hope to be back again later this week with a planner post, but in the meantime, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


My Homekeeping Planner Pagefinder

Hello again, my friends! I'm back today with another quick planning post - just a few things I've been sharing on Instagram as part of the #planneraddictpotd challenge. Yesterday's prompt was to show your planner "dashboard," and so, here is mine!

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Now, I really don't have a true planner dashboard as I think it was meant for this challenge, but I figured my homekeeping binder page-finder kind of fit the bill! In this binder I keep information related to our household and my "job" as a homekeeper. So I guess one might call this my homekeeping planner.

What do I keep in this binder/planner then? Well I have three main sections:

1. My DOMESTIC JOURNAL, which is simply a place for jotting down any ideas re ~ our home, garden, the kids, weather, etc. Pretty much any random thoughts that pop into my head. (You could call it a brain dump I guess, but I'm not too fond of that term!) Anyhoo, I've blogged about this journal many times before so I won't go into great detail right now, but in addition to my handwritten notes, I also tape clippings here from various sources - mostly magazines and newspapers, but sometimes I print things out I find on Pinterest to add to my journal. (Which kind of defeats the purpose of "pinning" I guess, lol - but I am such a paper gal I find I prefer this kind of visual instead of just looking at something on my computer.) I keep the current month's papers in here and then archive them before a new month begins. As you can see on the left, my journal cover page is a piece of scrapbooking paper. This is the backside of the January design from Graphic 45, "Time to Flourish." I switch these up at the beginning of a new month as well.

2. My MONTHLY HOMEKEEPING CALENDARS, which sit behind the journal. Remember the master cleaning calendar I created a few years ago? I am in the process of transferring all those tasks to these handy monthly calendars. Yes, it's a bit of a chore (no pun intended!) but I like to see my tasks listed out in this way. Makes it easier for delegating, too!

3. My HOMEKEEPING TABS for storing information relating to what I like to call the domestic arts: routines, natural cleaners, home remedies, garden crafts, etc. I love these pretty pastel tabs made by Martha Stewart and found at Staples. (Amazon has them too but at a much higher price!) I haven't labeled my tabs yet because I want them to be super-neat and haven't decided if I should write directly on them, or perhaps use printable labels of some sort.

Ok, here's a closer look at my dashboard/page-finder:

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To make this I used some pretty scrapbooking paper with colorful pineapples (the Colonial American symbol of hospitality) and trimmed/punched it to fit my binder. I added an adhesive tab at the top ...

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To make the dash more useful, I added a printout of our weekly routine: homeschooling & housekeeping rhythms listed by day of the week. I then add little sticky notes to remind myself of current tasks to add to my housekeeping agenda.

Now, does all of this mean that I get ALL of it done and keep up with all those tasks every week?

 

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Well, no. But I do think this helps! I keep this binder open on my kitchen counter all day so I can easily jot/tape down a thought/clipping as I think/find them. So in that way this "dashboard" is very much a launchpad for my planning!

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Do you use a dashboard and/or page-finder in your planner (or binder as the case may be)? I'd love to hear about it - let me know below if you have a moment! :)

I'm still working on that "planners-in-action" post for - hopefully - later this week. I wasn't up to my usual planning the past week as we all succumbed to the stomach flu! Things seem to be getting back on track now though so I should have some fully utilized planner pages to share soon!

Hope all is well with you all! Enjoy your Tuesday, my friends ...

See you here again very soon!


My Planner Giveaway: We Have a Winner!

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Hello and Happy Monday, my friends! I hope you are all doing well ... :)

I am very sorry that I had to delay this announcement an extra day ... things have slowed down here a bit lately because we here are in the midst of ... stomach flu!

ARGH, yes. Ugh. Not fun. AT ALL. sigh ...

>> insert exhausted face here <<

Thankfully, though * knocks on wood * we seem to be pulling through the worst of it and a return to normalcy is on the horizon ... but boy, lemme tell you. New Year's really started out with a bang around here - what with the BLIZZARD and the Arctic weather that followed and then this wretched virus that settled in first with Earlybird early on New Year's morn ...

(We're pretty much hibernating for the rest of the winter, just FYI.)

ANYHOO!

We're all getting better, the temperatures are finally rising and now I have a winner to name! (Please remember this current giveaway is sponsored by dear reader - and previous planner winner - Lisa E. ❀ I am very grateful to Lisa for assisting me in another chance to share my planner!)

So without further ado ... the person who won my seasonal planner this time around is ...

BARBARA H.!

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Congratulations, Barbara!! I'm very happy for you and I hope you will be happy with the planner! I will be in touch soon to arrange mailing details. We can also talk about planner preferences like start dates and such ... :)

Now, before I go, I'd love to share a few more pics if I could ...

And to start with, here is my afternoon tea the other day, a delicious cup of white hot cocoa complete with a marshmallow snowflake!

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(Note: That snowflake was a fun treat in my Christmas stocking, but I have it on good authority Santa found it at Barnes & Noble.)

And here is the January divider page, one of my favorites ...

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These vintage papers really make the planner for me, and that is one of the big sticking points in my quest to make this a product I might sell. I am trying to determine if I can sell a planner I've made using papers such as these. I think it's ok, but obviously I want to be absolutely sure it's legal before I move forward ...

You know, I've been using my planner for six months now and I am really enjoying it very much. In fact, after I make up Barbara's planner (and finish another for my friend who also has been patiently waiting) I am going to start right in on making my next planner which will begin with August 2018. Bill has been working on making the printing and assembling process more efficient so hopefully that will allow me to churn out planners in a more timely fashion. And since several of you have asked if I might sell this planner at some point - the answer is still yes, I hope so! We'll be looking into that possibility much more earnestly over the next few months. I'll share news on that front as I have it to share! 

(In the meantime, I've shared all of the planner pages in PDF form for free and you can find them in my Printables archive.)

Here are a few closer peeks ...

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Love using paper clips to keep the monthly spreads quickly accessible!

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These monthly tabs are no longer made by Avery which is a real bummer because I LOVE them and hoarded them for as long as I could. I'm looking for another style now, and did come across some made by Erin Condren last time I was at Staples that might work. I may even try my hand at crafting my own ...

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Last weekend I got my February calendar set up and as you can see (and as I have shared before), I treat this planner as a seasonal journal as much as I do a planning tool. As the months go along though, I've seen some things I'd like to improve - and I'm taking notes! - but for the most part I'm pretty happy with how this planner works for me!

Now, it clearly isn't for everyone - humble and all as it is - but I'm thrilled to hear that it appeals to others as well. So let me know if you have any suggestions ... I'd love to hear what YOU'd want to see in a seasonal planner! Drop me a comment below or send me an email at ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Next post will have a closer look at those primary planners I posted about last week and I will also be announcing our book study schedule SOON. I hope to be back here again before the end of the week!

For now though I'll wrap things up and let you go. But first I'd like to thank Lisa one more time and congratulate Barbara one more time - AND thank all of you for taking part in my "happy" planner giveaway. I loved reading all your thoughts and I thank you for those kind birthday wishes for my son! 

And now I'm going to head over to the couch where Little Bear is hoping for a little Wild Kratts and snuggling on the couch with his Mama ... but first I'll start the kettle for tea!

Wishing you all the best my friends, stay well and be at peace ...

I will see you here again very soon!


My Primary Planners for 2018

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Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday! It is in fact a very happy day here because we have FINISHED with Crackerjack's college applications! Well - I'm done with my part, anyway. He still has one essay to finish, but other than that we're good! And so now, we wait ... :)

Well today I thought I'd share a little about the planners I'm using for 2018 - and as the picture above would suggest, there are quite a few! But really, there are three primary planners I use each week to keep on top of "what's what" in my life. And here they are here!

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My homemade seasonal planner is in the middle, and it is flanked by my two Day Designer planners. The one on the left is my original Day Designer, and on the right is a NEW planner I bought last month (also made by Day Designer). I hemmed and hawed over this one for quite a while because I really didn't want to add one more tool to my planning repertoire - but, I decided to give it a try because I think it will fulfill the one area of planning I was missing!

Ok, here are the three planners set up at my kitchen counter - aka command central:

Three planners

Now how about a closer look at each one?

First, my daily planner ...

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This is the 2017-2018 (mid-year) flagship Day Designer. It's my third DD in three years and I can honestly say it is my most valuable planner. I use it EVERY day without fail, and if you've seen my Instagram then you know I work the heck out of that spread!! This planner is filled with planning pages for every day of the year as well as monthly calendars. (Weekends are combined into one page, and while I wish they weren't, I understand this keeps the size of the planner manageable.)

I use my DD for keeping track of the nitty gritty of my daily life: Where am I going? What am I doing? What had I better not forget? I list the night's supper, the day's spending and our current seasonal homeschooling theme. I use my DD for managing those everyday household tasks I need to see to remember even though I could probably do them in my sleep (and wouldn't that be something?). I write these chores in the time slots where they're best to be done. Also in the time-slotted column, I list appointments, classes, therapy sessions, etc. and in this way I "see" my day in chunks of time when I look at that agenda all filled in. I wrote a very detailed post about using this page in this post here if you'd like to know more about how I've made the DD work best for me.

Next we have my newest planner, one that shows one week at-a-glance:

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This is a 2018 Day Designer for Blue Sky Weekly/Monthly Hardcover Planner (Black Stripe), and I found mine at Staples. But first, a quick word a about Staples ...

Staples is one of those places I find reasons to visit more often than is truly necessary, but such is my addiction to office supplies. Oh sure, we might only need more copy paper ... buuuuut ... I'll just see if they have any new post-it designs or maybe my favorite Frixion pens are on sale while I'm here.

Ahem.

To be honest though, I'd been wanting a weekly planner like this for a while. Though I've used other week-at-a-glance planners before (and my homemade seasonal planner does in fact have a day seven-day agenda as part of its weekly spread) none were in a vertical format like this. I like seeing the days lined up side by side with all the commitments laid out in a row. This view gives me a good feel for just how busy our week will be.

So long story short, I splurged and grabbed one of these nifty planners on one of my Staples runs ... and told Bill to knock one of my Christmas gifts off his list. πŸ˜‰

I plan to use this one as seen above in a standing fashion, so that the whole family can see what's what for the week. I am tweaking how I use the boxes outside of the agenda columns because it would be very easy to repeat a LOT of the information I'm writing elsewhere in my other planners. So stay tuned on how I'm working all that out!

Ok, now for the last of my three top planners for 2018 ...

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My homemade seasonal planner! :)

This planner is divided by months and each month has its own planning calendar, menu calendar, overview and then four or five weekly spreads followed by a few event planning pages. At the beginning of the planner itself I have pages for mapping out annual homeschooling goals, housekeeping routines and seasonal brainstorming. This is the planner I grab when I'm jotting down a date to remember. I like a big monthly spread so I made mine span two pages! And I lined those large boxes so I'd be able to fit in a lot of writing and still keep my handwriting neat.

This is the planner I use over the weekend to get a grip on the week that's on its way. I like to get a feel for the week - not just how busy it will be, but where we are in the year, and how we're observing the season at that time. For example, this week's seasonal theme is "winter stars" and that is a nod to Epiphany as well as the clear bright skies at this time of year. I like to look at the feast days and choose favorite books to read and plan special meals to savor ... and of course, I love making plans for crafts and comforts that connect my family with the season in a meaningful way.

Now ...

Any one of these three planners could be used on their own, of course - and I've definitely given serious thought to doing just that. Despite all appearances, I really don't like to have too many tools in my planning mix! But for me this all seems to work. I don't mind juggling the planners, because for one thing, they're fun - but more importantly, each one is used in its own way and allows me to assess unique areas of my/our life. By keeping all these planners near one another I can easily switch planning modes - seasonal/monthly, weekly, daily - depending on what kind of information I'm seeking or recording.

I will say this ... I have been known to give up on planners when they stop working as well as I'd hoped. All you have to do is comb through my calendar/planner archive to revisit many planners and systems that have since fizzled! But my flagship Day Designer has truly proven its value over the past three years and I am as eager as ever to order my new planner during the March launch.

Psst ... the new covers will be revealed next month!

The DD weekly planner is new and a novelty right now but will it prove to be too repetitive? Will it serve my family well, keeping everyone in the loop? Will I come to rely on this planner as much as I do my flagship? Only time will tell ...

And as for my homemade planner, well ... that is a labor of love and something I just feel compelled to create. It gives me a platform for planning the kinds of thing one might not find the room for in a traditional planner. Much of this was done in a binder before I made up this planner but I really love having it all in a convenient spiral-bound book. And I keep just tweaking that planner! One day I'd love to get it to a point where I'd be confident in offering it for sale ... and I am getting closer to that. (I think!) Bill has been exploring options at Etsy and Amazon Handmade for me. I'm going to give it all some earnest thought this winter and see if I can't get something pulled together for a late spring/summertime offering. So here once again I find myself saying ... stay tuned! And look for a mailing list to go up sometime soon(ish) for those folks who might be interested in purchasing a seasonal planner such as this. :)

Ok, now let me wrap up ...

(Don't laugh but I had meant this to be a "quick" post - though I'm not sure there is such a thing here at my blog!) 

In my next post I'll share a spread from each of these planners all filled out. I would like to show you how I use each one in different ways and where I do find some overlap. And in other blog news, don't forget this Sunday I'll be brewing up a pot of midwinter's tea and announcing the winner of my Homemade Planner giveaway! (All the details on that can be found here.) And I haven't forgotten we have a book study to get back to! Our discussion of Mitten Strings for God will get back on track this month - I'll have some dates to share very soon. :)

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

p.s. In case you're wondering what all the other planners are in that first picture - on the bottom is my gardening binder, resting on that is my home management binder and at the very top of the stack is a lovely notebook I'm trying out as a bullet journal. :)


Happy New Year! Now, Howsabout a Giveaway?!

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Hello my friends, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I'm popping in quickly to share a few fun things that I've been busting to tell you about. :)

First of all - I hope you all had a wonderful Advent and Christmas! I can hardly believe (as is true most years) that it's come and gone so fast. Well, we're still in the season of Christmas for another week or two, depending on which calendar you follow! But I'm sure you know what I mean ... it seems like it flies by more quickly every year!

Anyhoo, let's talk about planners for a moment because I have some very exciting news to share!

So, you all might remember last Fall I held a giveaway with the winner receiving one of my homemade seasonal planners? Well, that winner was Lisa E. who kindly waited ever-so-long for me to get the planner printed and assembled and bound, and off in the mail to her before the New Year began! And she's allowed me to share a few pictures of her planner once it arrived ... (see top photo as well)!

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Gosh, do I love those vintage papers!! And Lisa, I really LOVE those color-coordinated paper clips! :)

Now, here's the really swell thing ... oh, I'm so happy to say this ... Lisa has very generously offered to sponsor another PLANNER GIVEAWAY! And what that means is, I'll be making up another one - just like mine and Lisa's - and sending it to someone else who might be blessed by such a planner!!

How incredibly generous of Lisa! How fun to create another "BS&C" planner and send it off to another mom to enjoy! I am dipping my toe ever-so deeper into the planner-making waters and hope to have more news to share on that front very soon ... :)

But for now, here's what we'll do, thanks to Lisa's kind offer. If you're interested in winning my homemade planner, please leave me a comment below, telling me something that makes you happy. It can be anything at all - a pack of gum you like or a person you love. Whatever you feel on your heart to share, please do. I'm all for filling up our new year with all kinds of HAPPY!

I'll announce a winner this Sunday, January 7th! That's in a little less than a week!

(And since the planner will probably go out near the end of the month - it takes me a bit of time to pull together - I can have the planner begin with January or February, or really, any month you'd like. Just let me know.)

Hope to hear from you, and thank you again, Lisa, for such a generous offer! I am so glad you are enjoying your planner so far - I truly love mine and find myself using it every day in partnership with the other planning tools I use. (Post to come soon on all that! Plus ... how about another Planner Party? Remember how much fun we had with that?!)

Now, before I let you go, here's my own HAPPY for today ... 

I wanted to share some pictures with you of something AMAZING that happened to us at the end of this year. Our Earlybird, who, as most of you know is autistic, celebrated his 16th birthday on December 14th. (Longtime readers might be wondering, like me, how on EARTH can this boy be SIXTEEN?) Well, as you can imagine he was pretty darn excited about, and anxious for, his birthday ... so we had a countdown going, and party lists of what to make, who might come, etc. Well, a dear friend of mine (someone I've known since my days at 4Real Forums and online ever since) decided to make EB's birthday even happier! After I mentioned that EB doesn't get much mail and that he doesn't really have many friends of his own, Maria asked me if she might send him a birthday card and perhaps a few from her kids. Of course I said, Yes! I knew it would make EB so happy. Then Maria turned to her homeschooling friends (and beyond) and mentioned EB's story ... and what started as a few cards coming his way ... turned into something truly amazing!

EB received over 200 cards!! β€

So here's a little tour of the card project, starting with our boy at the table surrounded by a batch of cards that arrived on his actual birthday. (The cards came in every day for over a week!) I hung them all over the house!!

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EB 6

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Well, I could show you a few more corners of cards, but I think you probably get the gist! Isn't this just awesome?? :)

Not only did this project make our special boy's birthday even more special, but it reminded us - in the midst of a rather hectic and draining month - that there is SO MUCH good in the world. And that really, people are so happy to be given the chance to show kindness to someone else. So many of these cards have wonderful drawings (reflecting his love for trains and planets) and beautiful messages of friendship and encouragement ... a few kids even offered to be pen pals! These cards came from homeschooling families, and CCD classes and a men's choir and even an ENTIRE high school in New York. Oh my goodness, I wish I could hug each and every person who did this for EB! 

Well ... we'll never-ever forget this ... it filled us with so much support and encouragement. Every time I walk through my house and see all these cards I remember how many folks thought of our son and wished him well, perhaps said a prayer in his name. And going forward we'll make sure Earlybird (aka Riley as you can probably see from the cards) never EVER forgets how much he means to those who know him. He's a special boy and his beautiful light is meant to shine just as brightly as anyone else's. I'm so glad others can see that just as his own family can!

We may never be able to thank the folks who participated in this project enough ... but I hope that their participation blessed them as much as it did us. I certainly have asked God to bless these folks for their kindness!

Thanks for letting me share all of that, friends ... may I ask you to say a prayer for these dear folks who worked so hard to make our son feel so wonderful? What a beautiful world we live in ... and what a happy feeling to begin a brand new year feeling this way!

Wishing ALL of you the happiest and healthiest of New Years! Hope to hear from you - if you're interested in the planner or otherwise!

I will see you here again very soon ...


Tea & Mitten Strings: A Pause & a Plan!

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! I hope you are all doing well. β€ I'm popping in today to share a cup of Advent tea, and announce a little change to my December blogging schedule ...

Now, I know had promised to pick up where we left off in our Mitten Strings for God book study, and to continue on with our weekly tea schedule as well, but - and I know you all saw this coming - I think what I really need is to keep things simple this month. I have a lot going on at the moment - there's a season to savor, my concussion to coddle, and college applications to finish for my son!

So what I would like to do for now is to hit "pause" on my blogging for the rest of the month. In early January we'll gather here again for a cup of Winter's tea and hit "play" on our MSfG book study. I'm thinking there may even be a little giveaway involved ... 

But to touch on our current chapter, "Wants and Needs," I would like to say a few quick things before getting on with today's tea ... Here is a link to my post on this chapter from 2008 which I just re-read last week, and in doing so I thought:

You know what? I really like what I had to say back then!

So here's a little excerpt:

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

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

  1. Expose the kids to less media/commercialism.
  2. Shop as infrequently as possible and be more thrifty with our spending.
  3. Make giving thanks a bigger part of our everyday life. Hone in on our non-material blessings.
  4. Volunteer more as a family.

Now, I think I had good intentions back then, but I know my family could definitely use a little refresher! So as we approach the new year I'll be brainstorming ways to work these four goals (back) into our life. In particular, I'd love to spend less time shopping - and make the shopping we do do more meaningful and focused. I'm pretty sure Bill would love the idea of less spending, too!

But for today, let's share some Advent tea and revel in this season of twinkling lights and sparkling snow ... and first, I am so pleased to share my friend Gill's lovely pics with you all. I can always count on Gill to share a cozy cup of tea and a peek into her life across the pond!

From Gill:

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"We are just beginning to put a few things out for Advent, and I was given this little tablescape decoration yesterday. It had rather a Scottish feel to it, so I have had a little St Andrew’s day tea beside it this afternoon ...

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"Whilst I was doing that, my menfolk were cutting down a Christmas tree for our front yard! They had a lot of fun and we now have a tree to rival the one in Trafalgar Square!"

Thank you, Gill, for sharing your warm and welcoming tea here with us! Your views are so pretty ... and I have to say, I was a little jealous of your snow when I first opened your message. ;) (We've since gotten some of our own.) But that tree - wow, it's a beauty! I especially love those large lights - so pretty! And who's that sweet little doggie posing in front? What a love!

Speaking of loves, here's my Oliver, whose favorite haunt is the library ... 

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Isn't he handsome? ❀ Archie finds his way into more of the pictures because he gets into more trouble he's always wherever we are ... whereas Oliver tends to snuggle up and sleep in quiet corners when he can find them. His favorite spot? Behind the loveseat, sidled up next to the heating register ... where I keep his preferred pet bed, natch. :)

But speaking of Archie?

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Yes, he's just LOVING the Advent season as you can see ... with all the little knicknacks to bat around and fresh greenery to nosh on ...

#andthisiswhywecanthavenicethings πŸ˜‚ 

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As part of our Advent storytelling, I made this peg doll St. Nick and, as an extra surprise, purchased that sweet little cat, one of a few new wooden figures from Bella Luna Toys. The story I told had to do with a lost cat finding a new home at the Farm, in thanks to a kind stranger in the woods (St. Nicholas/Father Christmas). I was inspired by the book seen below, one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time ...

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The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes (and illustrated by the beloved Tasha Tudor) is such a beautiful story - especially for those of us with a soft spot for animals. What is extra sweet about this photo is that BOTH of my younger boys were sitting at this table, listening to me read aloud. (While sipping their traditional St. Nicholas Day treat, candy cane cocoa!) Earlybird is usually very uncomfortable being read to, but he was really calm and content to hear the story! Such progress he has made ... it makes this mama so happy. :)

And here's another festive spread, one I arranged a few days later, when I expected a dear friend for morning tea ...

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This is my favorite Christmas china, a set I started collecting several years ago. "Winter Greetings Everyday" it's called, and I love it most of all for the birds! Several species are represented on these dishes ... cardinals, chickadees, titmice, goldfinches ... downy woodpeckers even!

Here's another shot of my tea table last Friday ...

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This was *before* we got our first snow of the season!

Speaking of ... here I am with Little Bear on our way home from Whole Foods Saturday morning. We made a quick run to get bread, milk and a few other sundries before the storm set in!

Shopping

This chapter sprung to mind several times as we shopped ...

"Hey, can I have that?"

"Mama, I want that!"

"Wait! Mama go back, I want to look at that again!"

And me: "Honey, we don't need to buy that today, but it IS a really neat [insert desired item here]."

The snow was light as we left the store, but within a few hours, it was falling in earnest ...

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With all of two inches on the ground, Little Bear said: "This all has to go. Let’s get to work.” 

(This boy has the strongest work ethic I've ever seen in a 4 year old!)

Next morning ...

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All was calm, all was bright ... β€

I do love a December snow. An old-fashioned Christmas just isn't complete without at least a dusting of snow! (We had about 6 inches and are expecting more in the next week or so!)

And finally, here is our Christmas tree ...

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I'm quite fond of our tree this year ... and as you can see, so is Archie. :)

Well everyone, thank you very much for stopping by and taking the time to read. I hope you are all having a nice December! And Mitten Strings friends - I hope you will excuse this little break from our study and join me back here again next month!

Now, that's not to say I might not pop in again before January ... and I'll definitely be around on Facebook and Instagram! But for now, I will say ...

Blessed Advent, my friends. I wish each of you a love-filled, perfectly peaceful and happy holiday season. God bless you all and thank you so much for your friendship, kindness and care!

See you here again very soon ...


Advent Arrives in the Learning Room! ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! And Happy first week of Advent, as well. I'm feeling a little better this week and I thank you all for your kind words and prayers. I will be slowly catching up with things around here and hope to be back on track soon. I hope you are all doing well, too!

Today I'd like to share some of the ways we're bringing Advent to our learning room this year. I am especially excited about the beautiful wooden tree Bill made for us - modeled after one I spied at HomeGoods recently. When I first saw that tree at HGs I thought two things ... ONE, that it would be perfect for the learning room, and TWO, that Bill could easily make it! (Which he did, God bless him.)

At the time I wasn't sure what exactly I'd do with it, but then things started clicking into place and I came up with a plan ...

And not surprisingly it involves nature!

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I think you all know how much we love nature in my family and that we love infusing our faith traditions with simple nature-connections. This Advent season I decided to work with a theme of "All Creation Waits" and since we have many lovely wooden animals in the learning room I thought I might start there ...

But as with any plan, I had to flesh it all out on paper - and post-its!

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I decided to tell short simple stories using these toys, reflecting the traditional weekly Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love ... with the overarching theme of seeking or waiting for something (someone). I sorted through all our wooden animals and decided how each one would fit into the story schedule, and then I made up a sort-of storyboard, shown above.

I placed little stickers on the figures and then put them all in a basket ...

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... covered them up with a pretty starry-night playsilk and set that basket aside.

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Each day Little Bear looks in his basket to find the day's creature(s) and sets them on the Advent Tree. And as he places them on that little ledge, I tell a very brief, simple story. I have these stories mostly written out, and they meander from farmyard to woodland to wider global habitats. I even splurged a little and bought a few new figures that will show up throughout the season - I think Little Bear will be very pleased!

(By the way, we bought most of our wooden toys at Nova Natural many years ago, and last week I ordered new figures from Bella Luna Toys. Both New England-based companies are wonderful.)

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I'm happy to report that four days in - it's been well received! I love how these figures look on the natural wood of the tree, with that cute colorful rug just beneath!

Now, because Earlybird cannot handle storytelling for sensory reasons, I decided to come up with a different Advent plan for him, and the family as a whole. I brainstormed 24 very simple activities (again reflecting nature and faith themes) and then set up a daily "reveal" system I thought EB would enjoy.

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I used the learning line for these small cards and some very cute snowflake clothespins I found at Target ($5 for a package of 12).

(If you are interested, here is a PDF I made up with my notes for our Advent activities: All Creation Waits❀)

Here is the results of today's Advent tag - gathered branches for St. Barbara's Day!

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(Come Christmas, these branches *should* be blooming. It's worked every year!)

Here's a better look at our Advent Tree ...

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I will rotate the Christmas books displayed here each week ...

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I have a cheery red rolling-bin for the bulk of our books!

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Here's a sweet little board book called, The Animals' Advent ...

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We're using this countdown, too! 

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My sidebars are woefully out of date, but I'll try to share our Advent & Christmas book collection with you all soon!

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I just love this tree, and can see that there would be many different ways to use it. (Bill made the ledges easily moveable.)

Here is Little Bear holding up today's Advent animal .. the goat!

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Goat and his "kid" had a nice little story to tell ... new at the farm, Kid was hoping for a special friend to play with (as was Calf in the previous story). He was also hoping for a chance to run about and jump ... and so didn't my boys find some branches and stumps set up in the backyard for doing just that? (Our neighbors have the loveliest trio of goats and we're quite fond of them. I based this story on some of their clever antics!)

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Here's how the first figures are lining up on the bottom shelf of the Advent Tree ...

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The lights are so pretty, aren't they? Another Target find - $9.99 a box for a 9-foot line of lights. I used two to outline the tree.

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December days are surely dark, but oh - those lights! They lend an air of magic and joy to each and every day of Advent. β€

More Advent lights and sights around our home to come soon. And fingers-crossed, I'll be hosting our first Advent Tea this Sunday! For now though, I wish you all well - and a very Happy Advent! - and will hope to see you all here again soon. :)


A quick note re Mitten Strings ~ and balance ❀

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Happy Wednesday, my friends! I'd like to share a quick note about our Mitten Strings for God book study ...

Our next chapter, "Wants and Needs" is perfectly timed as we begin Advent, because I think many of us find ourselves trying to balance many "wants and needs" throughout the season - those of our loved ones and our own! And it's in that spirit of "balance" that I must confess ... as much as I *want* to read that chapter and write my response this week, I *need* to push it out another week ... 

Because, A. this gives us all a bit more time to gather our thoughts and adjust to a new season, but also, B. I'm taking a bit of a "brain break" after a nasty head bump last weekend. Some of you might have read about it on Facebook - it was just a few stitches and a mild concussion after an early morning collision with a pantry cabinet! 😝 I am doing absolutely fine, but trying to rest my brain - as hard as I'm finding that to do! - for the rest of the week. Thanks again for all the well wishes and prayers! Stitches come out Friday!

So please excuse the delay, but I hope you'll join me *Sunday, December 10th* for a cup of "Advent Tea" and some more Mitten Strings discussion. As always you are more than welcome to join me by sharing your own thoughts and pictures! (How I'd love to see your tea!) Feel free to email me (drhanigan AT gmail DOT com) or leave me a comment below (or on any MSfG post). I'd love to hear from you! ❀

In the meantime, I'll be "here and there" on social media sharing snippets ... but for now, I hope you all have a nice week ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent teas

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

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

"Every child needs such a place, a place that invokes the processes of the imagination and the possibility of transformation. A place that is at once a haven from the adult world and a source of mystery and wonder, a place that a child can discover and shape and lay claim by virtue of his or her own quiet presence there, and deep observation." (p. 62)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

See you here again very soon!


A Special Trip to Whole Foods with Earlybird!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! Tonight I thought I'd share a quick EB report with you all, to follow up on my post from last week and let you all know how his much-anticipated shopping trip went!

Well, I'm very glad to tell you - it went very, very well. :) EB had worked on a list of things to buy, and he had the $25 gift card he earned by doing all those extra chores ... and Thanksgiving was (is) upon us! So, with his ABA therapist along for support, my mum and I took EB to Whole Foods today!

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And this was a kind of milestone event for us. It was EB's first time back to this "supersize" Whole Foods in three years, since an epic meltdown that lasted almost half an hour, and took place just inside the doors of this beautiful (crowded, colorful, noisy) grocery store. Our then 12 year-old-son had had public meltdowns before, but it was this particular experience that made us realize EB needed serious help - something way beyond what we were able to give him ourselves, or even knew how to find for him at that point ...

It was around this time we'd just started working with a neurologist (EB had recently developed a seizure disorder) and this man was (and is) just an incredible doctor. He's the kind of professional who's comfortable getting personal, if you are fortunate enough to know what I mean. At our first meeting at Children's Hospital (after EB's first grand mal seizure) and in subsequent office visits, Dr. Peter quickly became one of EB's "best friends." He always took his time with us, allowing EB his quirks (for example, doing vitals in the waiting room when the hallway was just too much to face), and really seeking to understand our child - and our family. To use a phrase I use often in reference to my children's developmental and educational needs, Dr. Peter "met us where we were at" and determined it was time to get EB some home therapy. (EB's anxiety was growing after several poor experiences with ill-matched doctors and therapists. He was steadily developing a fear of any kind of medical appointment, but visiting Dr. Peter in Boston really turned things around for our son.)

Anyhoo, six months later we were hooked up with a kind of therapy (and therapists) that just worked for EB ... and finally it seemed progress was possible. And in fact progress was being made every day - albeit in the tiniest of steps. We first worked on simple compliance and basic self-care ... and then a whole big list of hopes and dreams started to form ... things we wished for our son one day. We've done some of those things (bike riding, haircuts, a full physical at his pediatrician), but it's a long list, and we still look forward to doing things like: going to a movie, visiting a museum, riding a train ... learning to swim!!

Well, after that Whole Foods fiasco in early 2014, it was six long months before EB was able to handle being out in public again. It's a very big part of his therapy - helping EB become a confident and productive member of society, but we started very small ...

For example, we visited a local (tiny, quiet) mom-and-pop grocery to buy ... one pear. And that's all we did - walking in (with his therapist), going right to the produce department (knowing it was just inside the door), choosing one pear, bagging it, buying it ... and then heading right back to the car. And that was SUCH a success. (As in, it went smoothly AND we were so proud!) The next week we tried again and this time EB had a list of three (preferred) items ...

And happily, that day went well, too!

It has not always gone smoothly, however - we've hit snags and plateaus and Earlybird has struggled at times with ongoing sensory challenges and new irrational fears - but things have gotten steadily better these past three years. So much better that today - just two days before a major holiday, I felt (relatively) confident that Earlybird would be able to handle a short trip to this superstore in order to do his part for our family's Thanksgiving meal. He was motivated, we were prepared, and - most importantly - we had support. And it was a wonderful time!

So if I may, here are some pictures of our morning. Yes, I'm the crazy mama who takes pictures of her kids doing the silliest of things - like pushing a grocery cart - but you and I both know that even the most seemingly mundane things can be incredibly meaningful. β€

Ok, here we go ...

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First of all, it was a beautiful day! Sunny and oddly warm for November in New England. And as you can see, EB was all (tentative) smiles heading inside.

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And yup - it was just as busy as we expected! We had to pass through a waft of holiday music being piped in near the entrance - I cringed because music is a tough thing for Earlybird - but he didn't even blink.

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Safely inside the store, here's EB choosing pears ... 

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And crackers ...

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And mac and cheese! (Of course we serve mac and cheese with our holiday dinners!)

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Cart full of his goodies, EB was ready to head to the registers!

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On his list EB had: pear juice, lemonade, mac and cheese, corn muffins, ice cream, crackers, pears and flowers. Impulse items included turkey legs (for Nana to make gravy), a science magazine, and a turkey cookie for Little Bear. :)

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EB with his beloved Nana, my Mum - how much she means to us all. <3

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And here's Mama with her Earlybird. (If you knew me well you'd know that's my ... "we're almost done, he's done so well, let's not push it" smile.)

I'm just so proud of this boy!

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And a hug for his therapist, Michael - an extremely kind and patient man. He has a wonderful way with our son!

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Getting ready to pay with his Whole Foods "credit card" ... (The bill came to be more than $25, so I gladly "spotted" him the extra cash!)

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The only thing on his list that we didn't get was flowers ... and only because it was WAY over on the other side of the store and we were right there at the registers and I decided it was best to leave on a high note. I assured EB I'd pick up flowers while out shopping tomorrow morning ... because yes, I'm heading out tomorrow to get the final items we need for our dinner! 

In addition to shopping (super early, coffee-in-hand shopping) there will be much to do here tomorrow - and I'm counting on lots of help from my boys! (And Bill, who's working from home.) Things like: cleaning of bathrooms, setting of tables, cooking of cranberries, and bathing of children ... oh, how I love getting ready for a holiday!

Well my friends, thank you very much for joining me here tonight and sharing in our joy for Earlybird. He's been on a long and slow road, but we are seeing such progress and have so much hope for our boy! I'll keep you all updated on his "adventures" as I can ...

But for now I will wish you all a pleasant evening and a very happy Thanksgiving Day - if you celebrate - but a day full of blessings, regardless ...

Here's to counting all of our blessings, the big and the small! β€


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But children need time that is utterly their own - time to take up residence in their own lives, time to dream through an afternoon, time to play with the kids next door, time to wake up to their own pleasures. Above all, they need some time when we adults aren't calling the shots." (p.53)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Late day light

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

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

See you here again very soon!


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

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

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

1. Helena

 

2. Emily B.

 

3. Sarah Paquette

 

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

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

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

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

Preserving children

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

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

See you here again very soon ...


The Winner of My Picture Books Giveaway!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! I'm here today to announce the winner of my Thanksgiving picture books giveaway!

So without further ado, I'm happy to inform ...

MICHELLE S.

... that she is the winner! β€

"Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays. Mostly because I enjoy good food, family, and friends."

I have to agree with you there, Michelle! Food, family and friends - three things I just love about Thanksgiving!
 
(Speaking of Thanksgiving ... it's just a week from today! Are you planning a meal this year? Will you be making any pies? I'd love to hear about your plans if you have time. You know I'll be sharing mine before long!)
 
Well Michelle, I will be sending you an email shortly so we can sort out our mailing details and then I will pop these books right in tomorrow's mail ... I hope you will enjoy them!
 
And my sincere thanks to all who left a comment ... I loved reading all your thoughts on this wonderful holiday! Please stay tuned for my next giveaway announcement - coming up tomorrow I'll be drawing the winner of my extra copy of Mitten Strings for God. There's still time to enter if  you're interested ... please see this post for more details. :)
 
And speaking of MSfG, our next Autumn Tea/book study post will take place this Sunday ... we'll be talking about chapter seven, "Play" and I've been having fun gathering my thoughts - and photos - for that. I'm enjoying reading all of your thoughts, too!
 
Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... see you here again very soon!

Earlybird's Chores for Thanksgiving ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday!

A few folks have mentioned that they'd like to hear more about our autism journey and how we manage as a special needs family - and I would be very happy to share more of that! Earlybird is moderately autistic with significant developmental delays ... and he's just such a joy, an absolute blessing to our family. He is homeschooled along with his brothers, something we are always tweaking to meet his (ever changing) needs.

To be sure, as a family we have faced many challenges on our autism journey thus far, but each one we've faced (and handled with varying degrees of success) has made us a little surer, a little stronger. With time and experience, a new challenge might seem a little less daunting, and we might feel a little more confident in our choices. As time passes and all of these experiences become part of our family fabric, I grow more comfortable in my role (and ability) as a special needs mom ...

At the end of the day I can say each of my boys have shaped me as a mother in their own unique way - though perhaps none quite as dramatically as Earlybird. :)

But those are stories for a later day. :) Right now is just for sharing a nice idea that's worked well with EB this month!

As I've blogged about before, EB gets VERY excited about holidays and parties. We usually have a countdown of some sort that helps him channel this energy and pace his enthusiasm a bit. Well, no sooner had Halloween passed when we were on to Thanksgiving! Our blessings tree was up and our blessed basket was full ... but EB needed something a little more hands-on to help him prepare for the holiday in a way that was meaningful for him.

So I came up with the idea to organize a super simple chart for the days of the month, and each day EB earns a check from me, if he's done an extra chore around the house. These checks each represent a dollar and next week, EB will get to visit Whole Foods (his absolute FAVORITE store on the planet) and spend his hard-earned cash on food that will be HIS contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner ...

It has been such a hit and a great way for him to really SEE how many days we have until the big Turkey Day - and how he can be part of this annual tradition! This was done with a lot of support and encouragement from EB's daily ABA therapists, who make sure he's given ample opportunity to earn that check on that countdown! (Today's extra chore: picking up and vacuuming the learning room.)

Here are some photos from today when my mother stopped by to visit and talk about the Thanksgiving menu with me. EB joined us at the table to talk about the food list and add his own ideas. (Mac and cheese was mentioned right off the bat.)

He also showed his Nana how he was doing on his chart and she gave him quite the proud-nana pep talk as you can imagine!

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This may seem like a really simplistic idea and, well ... it is very simple. But very often it's the simplest things that work really well for Earlybird. We try to meet him where he is and where he needs us. He needs to feel included and needed. This project does that very nicely. And he needs to be given very do-able tasks with an appropriate reward. (Perhaps with a little assistance.) All these things were figured into my plan.

I thought about having him earn money to buy food we could donate - and that would be a wonderful thing to be sure - but that's just not where he is, at least not yet. Loving and aware as he is, this year he's learning that Thanksgiving is about being part of a family and contributing in whatever way that he can. And let me tell you, this boy is proud ...

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As he should be. β€

Thank you so much for joining me here tonight, my friends, and letting me share a little of our special needs homeschooling this month. I'll be happy to share more of our Earlybird tales when I'm able ... and I LOVE hearing from others with special needs kiddos. What a support we can be for each other! I'm far from an expert in all of this ... I'm still figuring things out for my own child and trying to determine what's needed next ... but I think sharing stories and successes - and not-quite-successes - is very helpful. Let me know how things are going for you and if there's anything in particular you'd like to talk about.

Blessings to all on this dark and cold November night ... I will see you here again tomorrow!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Chapter 6, "TV"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Welcome to another Autumn Tea, and the next installment in our Mitten Strings for God book study! This week we are discussing chapter six, "TV" - a challenging topic for some of us, I think! 

First though, let's talk about my tea (seen above), which reflects last week's seasonal theme, "Our Own Cozy Dens." I'm taking tea in the library this time where, I should note, there is no TV! ;)

This is the quiet room or "gathering room," where we serve cocktails and desserts/coffee when celebrating holidays with family. It's also the room in which our Christmas tree abides throughout the darkest month of the year, filling it with the softest and coziest light ...

So at Summer's end I tend to migrate back in here, to set things up as I'd like for the months to come. This room also sits on the west side of our house, and the sun sets just behind the woods seen through the windows. I LOVE being in here as the days grow short and dark, catching the very last bit of that golden autumn light. β€

Now, to continue with the cozy for a moment - with each seasonal homeschooling theme, I like to give myself a little "assignment," something I can do to experience the theme on a personal level, and/or something that will allow my family to observe it as well. This week the boys and I chose a few spots around the house to make up "our own cozy dens" for the winter ...

And here's where I am making (one of) mine!

Cozy corner in library

(It's a work in progress, so I'll post more on my nest later. I'll also be arranging play areas for LB here, too - and that will fit in with next week's chapter!)

It occurred to me though, as we "feathered," that if a family was trying to cut down on TV time, then perhaps intentionally setting up a few "comfort zones" would be helpful! To start with, choose a place where screens are not present (or readily available) - but other kinds of diversions are. And if the kids are involved in this endeavor from the get-go, then these spots will truly reflect and support their own passions and pursuits. Help them think about what kinds of things they might like to work on/play with this winter - puzzles, board games, Legos, reading, imaginative toys, crafting, etc. Organize the materials they'd need, add an extra blanket or two, and designate a space just for them. If we're looking to pry kids away from their screens we're going to need some enticing alternatives at the ready!

Anyway back to the tea for a moment - my brew this time is a lovely Earl Grey and I'm drinking it in a mug that is just perfect for the week, a gift from my dear friend, Kim. The cookies are gingerbread - of the store-bought, break-apart variety I'm afraid, but very good! (Honestly, is there anything cozier than gingerbread?) That cute platter is made of melamine (so in theory, unbreakable) and I picked that up at Target last week. I'm working on surrounding this spot with nice things to read, my journal supplies, simple playthings and good books for Little Bear ... all kinds of things that will entice us to sit down and settle in for a spell. 

Ok, now let's get on with the TV portion of my post! (And for the record, when I say "TV" here, I'm really talking about any kind of screen-time viewing since the options for such have widened greatly since 2008!)

To begin with, here is the original post I wrote on this chapter back in 2008, and since it still represents my feelings on the topic rather well, I won't try to reinvent the wheel today and say all of the same things differently. In a nutshell, I'm still in agreement with Ms. Kenison's stance that:

"When it comes to TV, less really is more." (p. 51)

Instead, I'll address how our family viewing habits have changed since the days when all my kids (the three I had at the time) were little ...

So first of all, the older boys are now 18 and 22 - so I don't really control their TV habits anymore! I asked them though, at dinner last night, how much tv they thought they watched and they both said, very little. (They do play video games and do other online things.) And when they do watch tv, it's usually something they view on their computers, as opposed to a program they watch on commercial tv at a set time of week.

Side note:

Isn't it crazy how pervasive screen time is these day? Computers, phones, tablets, TVs ... WATCHES! It seems there's a way to be connected - or disconnected depending on how you look at it - and watching something, almost anytime, anywhere. It's a wonder network tv is still in existence!

From p. 45:

".. how easily we have come to accept the pervasiveness of the media in our lives."

You know, I'm pretty sure Ms. Kenison would have to rewrite this chapter entirely if she were to tackle the topic of TV nearly 10 years later! Because the media has so many more faces these days! There are devices and distractions available for kids of all ages - and we're not even talking about social media here. She'd need a whole separate chapter for that!

Now, as for the younger boys ...

Little Bear is just four years old and truth be told, he does watch more tv than we'd like. This is mostly because of his older brother's viewing habits, and that's something we're working on (more on that in a minute). I think like most kids, if it's on and he's idle, he'll get sucked right in. Happily he's not usually idle - he has a rich imagination and gets completely absorbed in his play. But he does ask for tv on occasion - usually in the late afternoons if he's tired and wants to crash on the couch. I allow it sometimes ... but other times I redirect him. I'm not too concerned about any interest in TV as I am by his ongoing spectator status. Because Earlybird, our 15 year old son who has autism ... is, well ... addicted.

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(Can you guess what they're doing in this photo? Watching something on EB's Kindle Fire, that's what. But just look at those smiles!)

Our EB, (16 next month), watches a lot of video content in various forms. Many kids (people) on the autistic spectrum have a strong affinity for video-viewing, whatever the platform. For EB it's partly a feeding of sensory needs and also, frankly, he doesn't have many other hobbies. Video gives him something to do, a way to entertain himself in a way he's not able to do on his own, while allowing him to connect with the world at a safe distance. (He can change the channel at a whim, he's in control.)

On the up side, he's learned a LOT of interesting information through video. He absorbs things so deeply - which as you can guess is not always a good thing - but he loves science shows, railroad history, nature documentaries ... and he loves playing movies of all kinds. We have to monitor his viewing habits closely though, because sometimes he gets over-stimulated - by the content he's chosen, or just the amount of time spent absorbing video input. Even the over-abundance of options can fry his nerves (not to mention his mother's) at times. Too many choices is not always a good thing, for anyone - but especially not for our autistic son.

I can't predict if this craving for video will always be a part of EB's life, but currently we are working with EB's therapists to teach him to enjoy other kinds of leisure activities. For years now we've just allowed this addiction to build because honestly, there were other battles to face, and this one seemed fairly benign. But over the past several months we've started making some changes. We'd been seeing a connection between EB's neurological tics and his screen-time exposure. The more he watched, the more agitated he'd get and the more likely he'd be to experience such tics as blinking, clicking, grunting and stuttering. So a couple of months ago we turned off the family room tv. Just plain old turned it off, telling him (fingers crossed) that the clicker had gone missing ... and that was that. He still uses his Kindle, and he does have a dvd player in his bedroom, but the family TV is no longer part of his screen-time repertoire.

He's adapted fairly well to the change, which was a blessing. (Also a blessing, Little Bear has no background TV through the day!) Our next step is to start working some time limits into his Kindle viewing, while encouraging other pursuits. He's resistant to the limits for sure, but as with every challenge we've faced ... we take it in tiny steps, and we only ever ask for progress, not perfection. He'll get there, to healthier video habits, in his own due time. What he needs to get there he is getting - help from patient therapists, and understanding from a family who loves him. β€

To sum up - because as usual I've gone on quite long! - I think TV doesn't have to be a bad thing if it's a proportionate and thoughtful part of a well-rounded home life. Balance in all things, right? Time to sit and enjoy a special program, and then time spent doing other things - enjoying the outdoors, friends and family, honest work, and simple activities that don't flash at our retinas.

I found this comic online the other day: 

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(Earlybird, seeing this over my shoulder just now, exclaimed, "Hey, that's a perfect day!")

For most of us, I think, TV is a comforting habit, feeding a need within us ... but as with any habit, it get can get out of control. And some of us are more vulnerable than others. So it needs to be monitored and even reevaluated at times. To reference myself in my original post:

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

In the end I'd say that I agree with much of what Ms. Kenison has to say in this chapter, but perhaps not all of it is applicable in my life, at this time. That said, going forward I would like to see ...

    Little Bear have AS LITTLE screen time exposure as possible, because it really does nothing for him at this tender age.

    Earlybird have LESS screen-time exposure, as discussed above.

    Bill and I to be aware of HOW OFTEN we turn on the TV ourselves.

And as for my older two, well ... it's up to them now, isn't it? :)

Well, my friends, I'll be on my way now, since I think I've said all I can think of to say on this chapter ... for now! But I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have time - feel free to comment below or send me an email with your thoughts/photos (or a link to your site) ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Or maybe you don't have any thoughts on TV at all, but a pretty tea setting to share with us ... that would be lovely, as well!

Oh, and don't forget my Mitten Strings giveaway! Pop on over to this post for more details - you have until Friday to enter! :)

Now, at next week's Autumn Tea - and I'll aim for Friday but Sunday will be more likely - we'll be discussing Mitten Strings for God, chapter seven, "Play." What a fun topic that will be! But for now, I will wish you all well - enjoy the rest of your weekend! - and hope to see you here again very soon! β€


My Thanksgiving Planner + a Giveaway!

Thanksgiving planner

Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! I am still wrapping up this week's Mitten Strings post (hope to have it up sometime tomorrow) but in the meantime, I have two quick things to tell you about! I was going to post this next week but then figured since the holiday is coming so quickly I'd rather get this to you sooner than later!

First, I wanted to share an updated version of my printable Thanksgiving Planner. The dates were off so I tweaked those, and then, because the original PDF took so long to load, I broke the planner down into individual pages. So here are the links for each page of the planner and hopefully these will be easier for you to view and print!

page 1: Thanksgiving Blessings

page 2: RSVPs & Menu Planning

page 3: Savoring the Season

page 4: Holiday Bits & Bobs

page 5: Cleaning & Considerations

page 6: Week-by-Week Planning

page 7: Holiday Errands

page 8: Turkey Day Timetable

(Let me know if you have trouble with the links!)

Now, about that GIVEAWAY!

Thanksgiving books

Since I have extra copies of the three Thanksgiving books pictured above (all favorites of ours), I'd love for another family to enjoy them! And since the holiday is just around the corner, this will be a quick contest - I'll take comments through this Thursday (11/16) and then announce a winner of the three books that afternoon. Then I will pop the books in the mail Friday morning so they will get to their new owners before the holiday!

To enter this picture book giveaway, just leave me a comment below telling me your favorite part of Thanksgiving. That's all you need do! If your name is chosen, I'll be in touch to arrange mailing details. :)

Ok, my friends, I'm off now! The sun is dipping low in the sky, and it's nearly time for our lantern walk ...

Happy Martinmas, everyone!


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

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

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

First, the bad news:

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

Ok!

Now for the good news ...

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

Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison!

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

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

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

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


November: A Month in My Homemade Planner!

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Hello, my friends and Happy Wednesday! It seems I'm on a bit of a blogging roll lately ... thanks for joining me here again today!

In this post I'd like to show you the November section of my homemade planner. I feel I'm really hitting my groove now with this planner and using the pages a bit more thoroughly than before. Plus, November is one of my favorite months for seasonal planning - because not only does it feature my favorite holiday, but one of my favorite feast days as well ... AND my dear mother's birthday to boot! Also, while there is an air of Advent anticipation building, we still have some time to think, plot and plan. November is a quiet pause in the year when we can just take a breath and be thankful ... there's no need to panic just yet!

The other reason I'm so happy to turn to the November section of my planner is because finally I'm past all those darn water-damaged pages! YES! I made it through to the other side! :)

Ok, so here we go ...

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We begin with November's divider page, made from that pretty vintage paper I love so much. I have a monthly tab on this thicker page and I use a small paper clip to attach this page to the monthly calendar (bypassing the title page seen below). This just makes it easier for me to quickly get to the current month's calendar - so if an event or appointment comes up, I reach for this planner first.

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And here's November's title page, made with some vintage clipart found on Pinterest. (In case you can't tell, I love a "vintage" look!) And isn't the back of the divider page pretty? Love that soft brown floral ...

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Next comes my two-page monthly spread (left, right) ... and yes, that's a whole lot of stickers! Which is not really the norm for me, but I found a very old pack of Hallmark Thanksgiving stickers (seriously, I may have had these as a teen) and knew I just had to use them here. They were so old the adhesive had mostly worn off, so I used a little glue stick to help keep them in place.

I also added some floral washi to the left edge and alphabet stickers spelling out "November" on the right edge. Finally, I filled in any open spaces with handwritten quotes, and a little soft shading with seasonal colors.

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Aren't those stickers the cutest? β€

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After the monthly spread I have, on the left side, a page for menu planning - and as you can see, I have not yet filled out all of November's dinner plans! (Working on it!) I use the sticky notes to brainstorm seasonal foods and side dish possibilities. On the right side I have a general monthly overview: this includes to-dos, house & garden notes, seasonal activity ideas, and a place for noting upcoming books/movies as well as our monthly home schooling goals (on yellow post-it note).

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Now come the weekly spreads, and here is the first for November (overview, agenda). This is the section I keep open on my command center throughout the day. Our theme this week is "our own cozy dens - aka hibernation." The small yellow sticky notes are for planning each day's "rhythm" activities. (For example, since Monday is our "Nature" day, we took a walk looking for nests, drays and dens. We also explored an oak tree that came down in last week's storm.) I find having a weekly rhythm really helps me smoothly fit seasonal ideas into our week. I use that vertical sticky note on the far right for explaining the week's theme - why I picked it and what it means to me/us. I can't find a link but that is an Erin Condren product I picked up at Staples. :)

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After the November weekly spreads, I have a monthly review page, (hidden beneath the book list), and then come the special event planning pages. For November this includes a page for planning out "Our Gratitude Project" (explained in more detail in my last post.) ...

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... and a notepage for "Martinmas Day" ... which I filled with plans AND memories, plus a passage on Martinmas from a favorite parenting book. And then on the right side of this spread you see the first page of my Thanksgiving planner ... and clearly I'm still in the early stages of holiday planning!

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And finally we arrive at the December divider page!

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So there you have it, my friends! A page-by-page tour of my November planning pages ... I hope you enjoyed it! I tried to link the PDFs for each page as we went along - but please tell me if I missed something or if you have any questions. I am really enjoying this planner, I must say ... now that I'm in my fourth month it's filling out nicely (with memories as well as plans) and it seems to be fitting my planning needs really well. It's FAR from perfect, to be sure, but I'm finding it quite useful!

(Remember: My planning pages are currently available FREE for your personal use - please check out my Printables archive for these pages and more!)

Well, thanks again for stopping by, everyone! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


In November: To Read & To Do!

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Hi, everyone! As I mentioned in this post, we are keeping our Thanksgiving countdown pretty simple this year. I love setting a mood of gratitude and purpose in our home throughout the month of November ... but the reality is, we're just as busy as ever, plus, we'll be hosting the holiday dinner at our house again this year! And I LOVE getting ready for that, but all the prep (which begins early in the month) does kind of elbow out any "extras" in the weeks leading up to the big day. Nevertheless, I am always determined to celebrate this special time of year in a meaningful - and manageable - way!

So here's what I decided to do: I chose one book for each day leading up to Thanksgiving and assigned a simple activity to that day as well. Most of these activities, and some of the books, tie in with our seasonal homeschooling - which is quite handy! Two birds, one stone! So I looked at my seasonal themes for November and then made note of any special days on the calendar - starting with these two guideposts, I was able to organize the books and activities in an order that made sense for us - and for the season itself!

I did most of this planning by scribbling in a spare notebook, but then I decided to keep these plans neatly filed in my spiral-bound, homemade planner, and make them into a PDF so I could share them here at my blog. And so, here it is!  

November: To Read & To Do (PDF)

(A quick reminder: I'm part of the Amazon Associates Program so anytime you use one of my links to visit (and then shop at) Amazon, I get a little commission! Thank you in advance if you do follow-->shop-->buy!)

As you can see in my top photo I taped my printable plan in my spiral-bound planner for easy access. I only taped the right-hand side of the sheet, along the inner edge, so the page beneath would be accessible.

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(True fact: the "Happy Thanksgiving" sticker, a recent purchase and part of a calendar pack, was meant for another project, but I found it - and a few others from the pack - torn out by somebody this morning. Ahem! So I decided to use it here to hold down that PDF!)

My book/activity list page is sandwiched between the "November Review" and a page titled, "Our Gratitude Project."

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Did you catch my typo? πŸ˜‰

I created this page for my planner so I'd have a place to brainstorm this year's gratitude project. (One of the big reasons I decided to make my own planner, was so it might contain pages for this kind of personalized planning! Have I mentioned how much I love my homemade planner?) I also decided to add some pictures of our project, along with a fitting page from my ME Page-a-Day Calendar. Finally, I wrote out my thinking behind this year's "Tree of Blessings."

This page is one of the extra planning pages in the back of my November section. Each month's planning section ends with a "review" page and then come the extras - like in November it's "Gratitude Project" (seen above) and then next is a "Martinmas Day" planning page. And finally, my "Thanksgiving Planner" finishes off the monthly section.

Speaking of which ...

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Here is a link to my Thanksgiving Planner (PDF) if you're interested! It can take a while to download because it's several pages long and there are some pictures peppered throughout. (It takes about 10 seconds on my desktop computer.) I'd like to make this easier to access, so I'm going to try to break down the initial set of pages into a few PDFs instead of just this giant one. So please stay tuned and if you just can't get it to load at all, please let me know! We'll figure something out ... :)

As for the Books & Activities list, I'm trying to read each book at the start of the day - over breakfast or as lesson time begins. The corresponding activities occur at different times each day depending on our schedule and if the activity is meant for a specific time of day (for example, a lantern walk at dusk). Each morning, as I work in my Day Designer, I decide where the daily activity will work best ... then I do my best to make it happen!

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Well, my friends, I hope you've enjoyed this peek into our gratitude month plans! Please feel free to print the PDFs for your own personal use if you'd like, and please let me know if there are any wonky links. I'd love to hear about your own gratitude project and/or your Thanksgiving plans - drop me a note below if you have time! :)

In a day or two I'll have a post up with a look at all my November planning pages and then at the end of the week we'll have our next Autumn Tea (discussing Mitten Strings for God, chapter six,"TV") ...

I might even have a little giveaway to offer in that "TV" post! :)

So please stay tuned, and please take care ... I'll see you here again very soon!