Shining a Light Feed

This, That and A Few Million Other Things ...

Hello my friends, and Happy July! πŸŽ† I hope your new month is off to a great start!

I'm popping in today to wish you all well and share a little bit of our past few weeks. Now, here's your fair warning - this is a very BIG post with a LOT of pictures and a few (ok, a lot) of notes. I feel like too much time and too many events are passing and I hardly ever get to pop in here and say hi and share with you all what's going on with my family. And that's always been the heart of my blog, really - sharing our days and the big and little moments for which we are so grateful. πŸ’›

Back in my blogging heyday (say, mid to late 2000s) I was blogging ALL the time and pretty much "reporting in" every day! Well, time is not as flexible for me these days, though I refuse to say my energy is not what it once was - ahem! But anyhoo, enough of my babbling, here is a look at some of the things we got up to last month! It was quite a fun and busy June!

First we start with this ...

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Our Crackerjack GRADUATED!!!

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On Saturday, June 16th, our second son, Crackerjack (this boy!) officially finished his homeschooling journey. (Please excuse me while I sob for a moment.)

Now, not all homeschoolers have a graduation ceremony when they are done with their high schooling, but we were very grateful to be part of a beautiful one. For many years we've been members of a wonderful homeschooling organization, a place that offers small classes for middle and high school-age homeschoolers. Crackerjack took classes here for seven years - Art, Spanish and, just this past year, Karate. We will miss this community so much now that we no longer have kids enrolled here ... but I dearly hope that perhaps someday Little Bear will be ready to join!

Anyhoo - all to say, above is our young man walking in to the ceremony hall. There were 12 kids in all who graduated, and the event was entirely organized by the kids themselves and their parents. It was so fun to be part of the planning!

(By the way, the kids chose to walk in to this song instead of the traditional "Pomp and Circumstance.")

We were very blessed to have many family members attend Jack's graduation, including ...

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Mum and Dad, and Bill's Mom and Dad - aka, Nana & Papa, and Grandma and Grandpa!

And here's the rest of our crew, awaiting the start of the ceremony:

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Bill, his folks, my brother Matt, my folks, and my Auntie Marcia and Uncle Karl. 

(Bookworm had Little Bear outside, "keeping busy" - aka "quiet," lol.)

Here is our young man, giving a speech called, "Reflecting on the Year."

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And here we are with our graduate, presenting him with his diploma and sharing our pride and joy in a speech given through a few tears!

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Each pair of parents came up on stage to talk about, and to, their beloved child. And as you can imagine, the speeches were very personal and moving! Another nice touch, the kids all handed their mothers a flower before leaving the stage. We had discussed getting roses or daisies for this activity, but happily, our own peonies were overflowing our garden! So plush, pink peonies it was!

Here are two of my fellas ...

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One who'll be off to college in the fall, and the other who's just starting his homeschooling journey!

Family photo!

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A note about my dress - I had all of about 20 minutes one morning to pop into Macy's and find SOMETHING to wear to the graduation!! Amazingly, I found this one in about five minutes, and tried it on right away.

A. it fit, B. it was marked down, and, C. ... triple bonus! ... the colors matched not only the graduation but also Cj's college's colors as well!

(You all know I'm all about color-coordination, lol!)

After the ceremony, we returned home, and enjoyed a simple luncheon. (We plan to throw our boy an official party in August.)

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Here is our Earlybird who was kept company at home during the ceremony with his ABA therapist. (It would have been very hard for EB to sit through the graduation - too much noise and way too much emotion!) But while EB and Hannah waited for our return, they baked some lovely graduation cupcakes!
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It was such a wonderful day, a lovely way to celebrate and honor the end of our homeschooling journey with our son. It was (and still is) very hard to grasp that "new reality" - but two days later he was off to Emmanuel College for Orientation! And we now have the Summer to enjoy being "done" and prepare our son for his freshman year  ... meanwhile, I have a few scant months to prepare this mama's heart for the big changes to come this September!

Ok, are you up for more stories?? (I warned you this was a big one!)

Speaking of Earlybird, he's been doing very well with his therapy (and med) and making some nice strides with community outings! Here are some pics from a recent Stop 'N Shop trip ...

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He's even been making his own lunch!

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Now, this being (almost) Friday, I'm going to include a little "full disclosure" in my post - because I just had to walk away from this draft for over an hour. Earlybird had a very hard time today - the heat is brutal, his therapists are on holiday break, he's had way too much down time, not to mention, screen time - and it all added up to a bored, hot, restless, grumpy, tech-addicted kid, and he just now had a really ugly, 45 minute meltdown. The kind that involves shouting and crying and stomping and has us sending Little Bear downstairs with his brother because it's just way too upsetting for him to witness ...

So, you see, EB's making some awesome progress and the good times (and good moods) are stretching out longer and getting more complex - in that, he can handle more challenges now - shopping at the grocery store, getting a haircut, walking near a busy street, listening to his little brother sing "Bingo" in the car - but it's not all figured out just yet. Not even close. I'm not sure it will ever ALL be figured out - his special needs and challenges will change through the years just as they have up to this point. But I share both sides of the coin with you in this post because I want other special needs parents to take heart not just from our good times, but also from our not-so-good times. We have them, too ... and we struggle a lot. (And it's just as easy to feel disheartened by someone else's good times in light of one's own curent struggles.)

Truth be told, special needs parenting is the hardest thing I've ever had to handle in my life ... hands down. Thankfully, God blessed me with the support team I needed - a loving and understanding family, amazing therapists, and most especially a strong and nurturing marriage. I don't know how I'd ever do this alone ...

But, let me say this: I am SO encouraged by how much EB's been able to handle and the new things he can do. I KNOW we have only more progress to make in the days (and years) ahead. I try not to let the tough times (like this past hour) rattle me too much. Tomorrow is a new day and our therapists will be here and we will get back on track ... in fact, as I continue to type, EB is here with me in the family room, and all is calm. All is going to be alright ...

We're all in this together, after all! Case in point ...

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All six of us at my cousin's party on the 4th of July! What a GREAT day that was! (More pics below.)

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Ok, here I am with the older boys, my folks and my brother enjoying a birthday lunch for Bookworm last week ... and eep, can you believe he turned 23?!

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Honestly, how is it I now have a child who is a TWENTY-THREE YEAR OLD MAN? #holymoly #timeflies #toofast

At 23, I was engaged to be married and only three years away from motherhood ... and seriously, all of that doesn't seem that long ago ... sigh. But don't get me started, on the whole where-has-the-time-gone thing, lol! That's a whole n'other post.

So in this pic, we had just come from seeing Jurassic World: Fallen World - which was really good! - and tucked in to lunch at Legal Sea Foods - also really good! (And Bookworm's favorite restaurant.) Bill was working at home so he watched the younger boys ... but I plan to take him to dinner next week for HIS birthday! :)

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Ok, forward we go - on to the Fourth!! And how was your holiday, dear (American) friends? I just LOVE this holiday, and it was a really nice one this year. Of course, it was hotter than blue blazes here in New England but just lovely all the same. Sunny, breezy and everything was just so green and bright!

I love to celebrate even when it's "just us," so before the boys woke up, I arranged a festive breakfast buffet ...

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(My 4th grade music class book!)

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And flowers from the yard - picked by Little Bear (still in his pjs) and me. We searched for "red, white and blue" blossoms!

It might be all small potatoes in the scheme of things, but I just love doing this kind of stuff. (Hence, my homemade planner so I can work these kinds of things into our busy family schedule!) I think it will make for nice memories ...

But then, in the afternoon it was time to head over to my cousin's house for our family's annual 4th of July party. Mike and Krista host a fantastic party, and we always look forward to this get-together! And this year, Earlybird's therapist came with us to support him - help him socialize and handle the heat. (It was in the 90Β°s!) It was wonderful that he was able to join us!

Here are some peeks at our day:

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EB keeping his therapist, Hannah, cool. :)

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Little Bear, who decided to "sit with the girls" and come to their rescue with his battery-operated misting fan.

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My older boys! Bookworm (23) and Crackerjack (18).

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Beautiful holiday signs made by  my cousins, Emily and Elizabeth. πŸ’™

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The tree swing is always a big hit with my boys!

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Bill with my Uncle Karl. :)

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Little Bear with handsome DumDum, wearing his holiday finery ... :) 

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Lovely to see my Auntie Marcia, Cousin Sue, Auntie Pat, Mum, and my cousin (by marriage) Vicki.

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My lovely Mum with my dear cousin, Kara. This beautiful young woman was my flower girl!!

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Dad (on the left) with his brother, my Uncle Dave. πŸ’™

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And ohmygoodness, he was SO pleased to be allowed to eat cheese puffs!!

Some more yummy things from the party ...

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My mum's "triple-layer brownies." They are legendary ...

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A gorgeous and delicious strawberry trifle made by my cousin, Elizabeth. (This was the dessert I chose, and there were a LOT to choose from!)

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Cute candies!!

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Krista's beautiful dessert station. The cake in the front center was Little Bear's contribution! :)

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This here is Hannah, who is Earlybird's ABA therapist and, without a doubt, an angel sent from heaven to guide us. She has such a beautiful way of reaching our son, guiding our journey, and showing us how things can be ... she has also become dear friend. πŸ’™

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More swinging!! What a fun day this was ...

It's such a gift to be able to attend an event like this, all of us together. Usually we have to spit up and take shifts, or one of us (Bill, myself or my mum) has to just sit out an event if EB's having a particularly hard day. Thanks to Hannah, we felt confident we could bring EB and we could relax while we were there. Happily, our boy not only handled the party beautifully - he ENJOYED himself, too!

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And just look at that smile!!

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Alrighty, I think I should wrap things up now, seeing as how I've kept you here so very long! I'm so grateful you joined me, and allowed me to share a little bit of our June ... and my rambles!! I'd love to hear from you, too, if you have a moment!

A quick bit of business before I go: our next Mitten Strings book study will be delayed ONE week. (I'll bet you're not surprised, lol.) I just have not had a chance to re-read the chapter yet! ("Nature") My posting goal is a week from Sunday - July 15th. (St. Swithin's Day!)

Ok, I'm off for now, truly - but I wish you all well, and a peaceful day (or evening) ahead. Thanks so much for stopping by ...

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. BIG planner news coming next month!


Full Disclosure Friday: Autism Siblings ROCK

Two boys

Full disclosure: Life with an autistic child is challenging ...

But as parents, we are blessed with a deep and unconditional love for our child as well as (not always, but often enough) the mental and physical reserves we need to weather what this life - and this child - throws our way.

As for life with an autistic sibling, however ... well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

To put it plainly ... my greatest joy in life has been being a mother to my boys, but my greatest fear is that I've somehow bungled it. That perhaps I could have expended more - energy, flexibility, confidence, whatever - to have met the needs of ALL my boys better than I have. That when Bill and I faced the challenges of autism parenting, we could have been braver or more open-minded. That we let our fear (and perhaps lack of sleep) make the decisions for us more often than not.

I struggle with guilt - not all the time, but often enough - that so much of our family life has been shaped by the pressures of Earlybird's autism. I worry that our older boys had a childhood that fell short in significant ways, or that they missed out on the life-shaping kinds of experiences their peers probably enjoyed ...

We don't travel. We don't eat out. We rarely go to the movies ... or museums ... or the town parade. They've been to see fireworks ... once.

And that's not to say that we haven't been aware of these omissions (acutely so) but I hesitate to say, "Well, we do our best." Because I'm so afraid maybe we haven't.

We are, however, getting better at this, because finally we are getting the right kind of help and figuring out ways to make things happen that we couldn't before - for Earlybird AND his brothers.

But as for our older two boys ... well, they're young men now. Their childhood is over. And though I feel it was a good one - full of love, togetherness and home-centered joy - there were times of turmoil, too. A lot of tiptoeing around their younger brother's moods. A lot of activities that had to be missed - or seriously curtailed - because Mom and Dad were simply not able to manage them. (Logistically or emotionally speaking, depending on the day.)

How often did they surpress a need - or a dream - because they could see how stretched thin their parents already were?

I've often said our older boys have gained truly great gifts as the brothers of an autistic person. Through the years they've had ample opportunities to practice such virtues as patience and tolerance, compassion and understanding ...

I'm sorry we can't go to the pool party, but Nana can't watch Earlybird for me and there's no way we can take him.

I'm sorry we can't make it to the beach today (even though we've already driven halfway there) but your brother is melting down and we need to turn around.

I'm sorry I can't come inside and mingle with your friends' mothers - EB needs to stay in the car, and therefore, so do I.

They are the least demanding young men you could know. They understand. They accept. They never-ever make us feel we are cheating them. And yet ... still, I worry.

Did we put them first, too? Did we honor their individuality? Did we meet their needs? Or did we rely on their easygoing natures a little too often?

Anther gift they've earned through the years is that they have a keen sense of acceptance - they do not judge. Because they KNOW firsthand that you must always give someone the benefit of the doubt. They know better than anyone that the full story is not always what can be observed at first glance. 

And while they may not always be compassionate towards their brother (they are human after all!) they mostly always keep their tempers in check. Because they've understood that they are the older brothers ... they are the example from which Earlybird can learn. Above all, they have been an incredible support to Bill and myself, especially perhaps since the birth of our Little Bear.

And here's the crux of my full disclosure today, the latest worry to niggle at my heart ...

How will Little Bear handle his brother's autism as he grows up? How will it shape his childhood ... his development and personality?

When we found out we were expecting a fourth child, back in October, 2012 ... we were quite surprised - make that shocked - as well as extremely happy. But yes, a little anxious, too! I had so far enjoyed three wonderful pregnancies as a mom on the young side (at 26, 30 and 32). Now as "older parents" having a "geriatric pregnancy" (their words, not mine!) we were understandably a little concerned about some of the risks that come with pregnancies over 40.

There was my health to consider, the baby's of course, and then there was our family itself. As the parents of a child with autism we couldn't help but worry about the potential risks with this next child. We knew he would be special - each and every child is - but would he have special challenges? Older parents have a higher risk of having a child with autism, as do parents who have already had a child on the spectrum ...

When we were feeling brave we'd say, well, we already know how to be autism parents and we know this child will be loved and amazing and everything will be fine no matter what. When we were not feeling brave ... well, it was harder to feel so confident. We worried about how we'd handle the needs of an infant AND those of our special needs son. We worried about practical things like the number of bedrooms in our house and the hours of sleep we wouldn't be getting ...

But I think we worried most of all about how a baby would affect Earlybird. How would he handle this? How would his autism affect his ability to accept and embrace a younger sibling?

Well, Little Bear arrived hale and hearty (after a few agonizing minutes spent blue and being assessed by a team of neonatalogists) and EB surprised us with how easily he both accepted AND embraced his little brother ... but soon enough we found ourselves wondering:

How would Little Bear fit into our special needs family, an environment that on most days could be best defined as, "loving chaos?"

How would Earlybird's autism challenge HIM?

This is a question we're still finding answers to ... especially now that Little Bear is nearly five years old, and just such ... a little person. Aware now - sometimes too aware! - and full of observations and opinions and energy and needs ...

But this post isn't about our answers ... we're still working on those. Every day I am keenly aware that EB's autism is quite apparent to Little Bear - who is also keenly aware that his brother is different. And sometimes that's a good thing ... and sometimes not. 

Already Little Bear is learning that EB can't always help his behavior, and that just because EB does (or says) something, doesn't necessarily mean it's ok for him too. Our youngest son is what you'd call - ahem - a very strong-willed child, and so I think this will be a really good thing for Earlybird. Developmentally, EB is still quite young so as LB grows, they can learn from, and with, each other. With the support of their Mom and their Dad, as well as their much older brothers, these two boys will one day be the best of friends ... of that I am sure (mostly).

Moral of the story: 

Autism siblings rock

Every child is special and every child has needs ... what a blessing it is to be given such responsibility as parents. What a gift to be so trusted with these beautiful minds and dear hearts.

I sincerely hope that as Little Bear gets older, we only get better at this. That we're able to learn from our mistakes, and remember our strengths, and see past our limitations. That we will model for our boys a level of patience and resilience and compassion that they will emulate as they get older - because one day we'll need to rely on three of our boys to take over for us and see to their special brother's needs. As hard as it is to say this - think this - Bill and I won't always be here and that I think is perhaps the greatest fear of an autism parent ...

Above all I pray we may continue to find the kind of help we need - whether it be from family, friends, therapists, medicine (or most likely a combination of all) - that supports not only Earlybird's progress, but the health and vitality of our family life, too. This is what I hope for most of all.

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Well everyone, thanks so much for letting me share this part of my life with you all. I know I rambled on rather long, and I could probably spend another few hours picking back over this post and making it read a little smoother, but alas ... I'm afraid my computer time has reached its end! So for now I'll wish you all well and a peaceful day (or evening) ahead ...

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you all here again very soon ...


Mitten Strings for God: Ch. 13 "Breathing"

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

Today I'd like to invite you to sit and have a spot of tea with me, as we chat about the next chapter in our current (albeit slow-going!) book study, Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison. Last month we talked about incorporating more "One-on-One Time," and today - skipping over chapter 12, for reasons explained in this post - we're moving on to the concept of "Breathing."

(Who thinks about breathing, anyway? Well, today, we will!)

Before we get started on our topic though, how about a quick look at my tea?

Today I am drinking a cup of Decaffeinated Irish Breakfast tea, which is kind of our house tea, so there's always an extra box or two in our cupboard! (I hardly ever drink full-caf tea since I limit my caffeine intake to the mornings - when coffee fills my mug and zaps my veins with the energy I need to jump-start my day!)

So please let me pour you a fresh cuppa, and please pardon the mess on the table - particularly, the cats! (Who let them up on the table, anyway??) Today being Sunday I am knee-deep in my "office hours" and trying to get a handle on what the new week will bring. The Vernal Equinox for one thing on Tuesday, as well as the start of my annual spring cleaning - and our seasonal homeschooling theme is "pussy willows." As you can see, Oliver and Archie are all-in ... because nothing invites the cats' keen attention like a little fresh vegetation on the kitchen table!

Allrighty, now let's get on with the chapter chat ...

And what an interesting thing to consider, breathing. It's something we do constantly and automatically ... yet rarely do we actually stop and think about it. Unless we've over-exerted ourselves, and/or are suffering from asthma or experiencing an allergic reaction (been there, done that) - if we are fortunate enough to have no physical ailments to impede it, our body just does what it must do ... our lungs expand, we take in oxygen ... we breathe.

And we live!

So as I read this chapter's opening passage - the description of the Kenison boys running loops around the house, exulting in the very state of being alive - I thought, what a fun and memorable story! But also ... what a lesson!

"We stand there together, hands to hearts, as their pulses slowly return to normal. Then they are off again, flying, exhilarated, reveling in their discoveries of air and speed and strength, the joy of physical experience." (p. 95)

Celebrating life comes so easily to children - they don't think about it so much, or plan it like their adult counterparts do (perhaps a tad obsessively, ahem!). No, they just happily move forward, absorbing and savoring the blessing that is LIFE. This awareness and appreciation comes to them as naturally as breathing, if you'll pardon the pun - but it's true! And I think most of us could benefit from the innocent lessons of an open-hearted and exuberant child.

"How readily our children embrace these humble lessons; how long it takes for many of us adults to relearn them!" (p. 99)

As for racing about the house, I think perhaps we adults might tire after the first quarter-lap, lol! That said, I can strongly identify with the parents here - sitting, and watching - in that first passage. How wonderful to watch our children marvel over the "inner workings of their own bodies." (p. 95)   

So when do we think about breathing, then? Well, for one thing, when we're exercising ...

Fitness walking is an excellent habit, but one I must admit I fall in and out of according to season. In the spring, as soon as the roads and walkways are clear of snow, I begin my daily morning walks. Spring is a great time for new endeavors! The air smells great, and feels great! At this time of year I feel inspired, invigorated and resolved!

But at first it's a bit of a struggle to get back in the rhythm of walking. And not just physically - making my way up the steep hill at the end of our road - but mentally, too. Beginning with motivating myself to walk out my door - making the time to walk, arranging the child care, putting on my walking clothes and lacing up my sneakers ... letting my brain move beyond the walls of my house and the issues and tasks therein.

Allowing my mind to wander along with my feet ... I find it all gets easier as the season moves along.

My breathing during these walks comes easier too as I gain stamina and my lungs get back into the swing of things. Spring and summer walking is a breeze (green flies and heat waves, notwithstanding) but by autumn I'm afraid to say - with dark days and chilly/wet weather, I start finding excuses to stay home and skip my walks. Soon enough of course, I fall out of habit. 

But to say come spring I'm eager to revive my walking habit again is an understatement! I'm ready to exchange winter's stale indoor air for spring's fresh outdoor air and take a few deep cleansing breaths! And here we are on April's doorstep, so my instincts should be kicking in again anytime now ... once the roads are passable, of course.

*glares at the two feet of snow outside the window* 

So when else do we think about breathing? Well, how about when we're trying to find calm for ourselves, or another?

Do you ever stop when you find yourself in a bit of "a state" and just - close your eyes and count to ten? (Or five, or a hundred - depending on the circumstances!) And as you count, you might find your breathing slows and whatever is happening seems a little more manageable? Even if just in a mercurial amount. Any bit of calm is welcome when the need is great.

Speaking of ...

"When I say to my boys, 'Let's take a deep breath,' I am guiding them into a safe haven, a place where they can release their pain and anger and come back to center again." (p. 98)

Throughout the book, Ms. Kesinson is quite candid about her family's choices and challenges, and as I've said before, so much of it has inspired and supported me in my own mothering. And each time I read, I appreciate some chapters more than others - because my experiences (hopes and fears) change as my children grow. 

So during my current re-read, I found myself pausing over her description of her younger son's emotional issues:

"Jack is still prone to tantrums, outbursts that frighten him and wreak havoc on the rest of us as well." (p. 98)

I couldn't help but think about my Earlybird and his struggles. When EB was very little, before he was officially diagnosed, he would have absolutely awful meltdowns. They seemed to happen all the time, sometimes for no reason, and we just felt ... so helpless. Our older boys (four and two when EB was born) were extremely easy-going children, with nary a tantrum between them. So I'm pretty sure we thought we had the whole "peaceful parenting" thing down pat ...

*rolls eyes at my younger mothering self*

And then along came Earlybird, who, by two was wigging out at the zoo, the grocery store, the neighbor's birthday party, in the car - you name it, he couldn't handle it. And for a very long time, neither could we ...

We learned of course, that Earlybird has autism, and meltdowns out of nowhere are common. They are also, unfortunately, not something he's grown out of - and let me tell you, it's a lot easier to handle the autistic meltdown of a six year old then that of a 16 year old. (Physically AND emotionally!) Thankfully though, we have learned how to help him through these challenging times and, perhaps just as important, we've learned how to make it through these tough times ourselves. Years later we have wonderful therapists working with EB and showing us the way. One of the techniques they began with him quite early on was breathing ...

So when EB is upset - afraid, mad, frustrated, whatever emotion is just too big- they encourage him to take deep breaths, for a count of five.

"Take a deep breath, EB. And again ... one, two, three, four, five."

I remember the first time I watched them do this, I thought: Right, I don't think so. That's not gonna work ...

And yet, sure enough ... he calmed down. Maybe just a little, but usually enough to get us to the next step. His attention was diverted, he could hear us again, and he'd become more aware as he slowed down his over-taxed heart.

Over time, Earlybird has learned to employ this strategy on his own. Often we have to prompt him, but now and then I'll hear him, if he's frustrated by something, muttering to himself: "Ok. Just calm down now, and take a deep breath."

How many times have I found myself (perhaps in the very next room) taking those deep breaths along with him ... ?

If I may veer a bit off topic (kind of) for a moment ...

I've been sharing more and more about our autism journey here at the blog and how we've been able to help our son, but I just want to stress that we are nowhere near perfect, nor do we have it all figured out. We take it day by day (or as we often "joke," hour by hour) and try to handle what we can, as we can. We are blessed with tremendous support, and sometimes it feels like we're on a fairly even keel ... but then something happens and we're frantically adjusting our sails once again.

For a long time we floundered, having trouble finding the right kind of therapy for EB. (Whose issues were complicated by the onset of epilepsy at age 12.) In 2014 we finally matched up with a fabulous ABA center and began home-based therapy that has been invaluable for our son. Without question, it has changed his (and our) lives. That said, we have just recently come to the decision to start him on a behavioral med. This was not a decision we took lightly - indeed, we've put it off for as long as we could. But though so much has improved for EB - there have also been some new and significant challenges for EB in the past year. Perhaps hardest of all has been the rise of an anxiety - for lack of a better word - that prevents him from fully exploring the world around him, taking part in his community and maintaining a peace within himself that allows him to benefit from the supports available to him ...

So we talked long and hard with our neurologist (a Boston Children's Hospital Autism Specialist) about this situation and while very supportive of what we've been doing, agreed with our concern that we need to do something more. So we are starting EB out on something mild and at a very low dose ... and in a few weeks we should potentially see some changes. 

So we're nervous, but we're hopeful ... because we're finally doing something, that has helped other children and adults with autism. We can only pray it will help our boy, too. As our doctor warned us, it won't make things perfect, but it will hopefully take the edge off for him and allow him (US) to live more fully.

If we can find a little more calm in our household I think all of us will BREATHE a little easier! β€

My friends, I hope you all don't mind me sharing this news seemingly out of the blue, but I felt it was important to let people know that this is where we need to go. I know many people reading here also have children on medication, and I am certain it was a decision you also took very seriously. (If you feel called to comment or reach out, I'd love to hear from you.) Throughout our journey we've handled as much as we can and we try, constantly to devise ideas and strategies that help our son with his challenges, but  ... we've come to realize, he needs more help. We need more help.

I will keep you all posted and would be ever so grateful for your prayers!

***

Well everyone, I am going to be off now, as there are still a few hours before bedtime and I still have a few more To-Dos to take care of! I hope you are all enjoying this lovely Sunday ... blustery and bright here, but at least it's not snowing! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have a moment! Remember, all are welcome to join the MSfG discussion ... archived posts can be found here ... and we're not even halfway through the book! Our next chapter is called, "Healing" and I would love to assign it a date, but I know myself too well, and will just say, it will be soon. Ish. After Easter, for sure - but I will post a "meeting time" when we get started in the new month ... 

So please stay tuned and take care! As always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by ...

See you here again very soon!


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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

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

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

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! πŸŒž

5:00 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:45 a.m.

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

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

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

9:00 a.m.

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

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

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

9:30 a.m.

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

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

10:00 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

11:00 a.m. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOONTIME

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

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

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

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

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

1:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀ 

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

4:00 p.m.

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

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

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

6:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

8:00 p.m.

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

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

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

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

See you here again very soon!


Full Disclosure Friday ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday. I hope your week's been a good one!

So I've decided to start a new blogging tradition here (or maybe it already exists and I'm just late to the party) called "Full Disclosure Friday." My idea is this - every once in a while, on the occasional Friday, I will share an "inconvenient truth" of some kind, in order to shed a little light on how things sometimes go around here. Because I may be a great one for sharing plans, but I think it may be just as important (if not more so) to share the times when my plans don't quite come to fruition.

Case in point ...

I shared the above picture on Instagram today. This is me (and my polka dot slippers) in the living room very early the other morning, staring down at the usual assortment of things one might find on our rug: Legos, books, pine needles leftover from Christmas ... plus, a paper chain project gone horribly awry.

Yes, this is what has come of our Lenten paper chain, the one I so thoroughly described last month.

Now, I have a post in me somewhere (and I'll do my best to find it) about what happens when your thoughtfully arranged plans go awry - and a project you lovingly assembled for your children is met with disinterest at best ... and defiance at worst. πŸ˜‘

Because, this pretty paper chain? Well, safe to say it wasn't quite the hit I hoped for with our special needs son. As you see here, it's no longer hanging on the kitchen door as a meaningful visual, secured to the bottom of a plain paper cross - but instead laying here scattered and squashed on the living room floor.

And there I was thinking it was JUST the thing for Earlybird this year. πŸ™„

(#everydayisautismawarenessinourhouse)

Plans are fun and easy to make, it's keeping them that can be tricky. Especially when you're working with children ... and most especially when one of your children has special needs. (At least, in my experience.)

Back when I made my initial Lenten plan, what I didn't anticipate was that the paper chain project would really and truly BUG my 16 year old, autistic son - to the point where it was getting plucked at and pushed around so much it was more of a pain than anything. Getting caught in the door, the links all dusty and disorganized ...

Here I was I trying to create an atmosphere of peaceful preparation - but instead I made my son feel anxious and stressed. And let's not even begin to discuss the reaction he had to dipping his fingers into the ink pad for the cross -  THAT was a disaster from the get-go. 

So why did this happen? What about this project distressed him?

Well, as with so many things with Earlybird ... we just don't know, because he's not always a predictable kid. What works with EB once (and paper chains have been a real hit in the past) doesn't necessarily work for him again.

And just like that, when I think I'm really rocking the whole special needs parenting thing, I get a swift reminder not to take things for granted ... and to always keep our plans fluid!

So for now we're just keeping things calm around here, and focusing on the concepts of patience and observation. (And best behavior.) Filling low-key days with low-pressure activities that appeal to our son - but don't agitate. As we like to say in our family, some weeks are for pushing a little, and others are for just keeping afloat ...

Our Lent is looking like the latter to me.

Now, I know I'm not alone in this. I am sure many of you have had things like this happen that prove just how tricky it can be to read our kids (whatever their needs) and meet them where they are (not where we envision them to be).

So what do we do when those carefully crafted plans don't click as well as we'd hoped? How do we handle the disappointment and even perhaps, the dismay?

Well, first we gracefully admit defeat (on social media, natch), and shelve those β€œperfect” plans for another day. Then, we pour ourselves a big cup of coffee (or glass of wine as the case may be), tune into our inner GPS and do our best to "recalculate" ... πŸ€”

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Because if the season of Lent teaches us anything, it's that we must always hold onto Hope.

❀

Thank you, my friends, for listening. I know this wasn't my "usual" post, but it felt like something I needed to share. As always, I thank you for joining me here and if you too are parenting a challenging child, I'd love to hear from you - please know I am with you! And if it helps, we could talk more about it. :)

Keep on shining, Mamas! And don't forget: we light the way for our families, but we must kindle our own little flames first!

Take care, everyone ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Mitten Strings for God, Ch. 12: One-on-One Time

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! Thank you for joining me as we continue to (slowly) work our way through the wonderful Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison - my favorite parenting book of all time! Presently we are on chapter 12, the focus of which is providing our children with "one-on-one time." I am quite eager to hear your thoughts on this particular parenting concept - because maybe you, like me, struggle with this, just a bit?

So I have to admit, I was a little nervous approaching this topic. Well, perhaps "nervous" isn't quite the right word for it - more like, reluctant? Because this is one of those family values that I know in my heart is important, but is not currently a priority in our family. (Not that it shouldn't be a priority, it just isn't right now.) Spending alone time with each of our kids is one of those rather hopeful ideas that (unfortunately) often gets left off the to-do list ... along with "buy local," "exercise more," and "plan more date nights with Bill."

There are valid reasons why we can't seem to manage this kind of activity on any regular basis - we are busy, we are tired, we are stretched thin, our third son's special needs make it challenging to leave him home with others - but I know in my heart we could do this if we tried, and we should do this. Because time is a wonderful gift for a child, especially when we make it all about him. β€

Now, don't get me wrong - we are with our kids a great deal (we do homeschool after all!), but we're hardly ever alone with any one of them, individually. At least not in the way described in this chapter, or the way I envision other, more active families do ... going on random outings and taking fun, spontaneous adventures.

So you can see why I wasn't all that eager to dig into this chapter since I knew it would pinch a little - highlighting, as it would, the kinds of meaningful things we're not doing for our children - and, honestly, who relishes the thought of adding another heap of parenting guilt to their plate?

And yet, I dug in anyway! And of course, I found the chapter ... wonderful. (As all the chapters are!) Because even when the truth is uncomfortable, it's good to just face it so we can start figuring things out ...

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*<

I think it was easier to do "one-on-one time" when all my children were small, back when life seemed to move at a slower pace and we all followed the same schedule. Time is more structured these days, and we're all going in different directions, but that doesn't mean we can't work with what we've got, right?

This quote was an a-ha moment for me:

"Now, some years later, one-on-one time takes different forms." (p. 80)

I love to remember all the sweet things we did with our boys when they were little (though not necessarily one-on-one) but sometimes I think it's too easy to slip into nostalgia and dwell on the fact that those times are over. Aw, remember when we used to sit on that stone wall and just watch the ants? Well, these are new days, and things are different now, but why can't "new and different" make memories that are just as meaningful? We're the same family, and these are the same (albeit taller and busier) kids.

"Given our other obligations and the length of our to-do lists, it is all too easy to forget the good stuff - namely, how much we like our own kids as people." (p. 81)

Bottom line, spending time together one-on-one can be tremendously fun and rewarding. And it's important too, if we want to connect with our kids outside the role we play in our families - not just as "Mom and Son" (or Daughter, as the case may be), but as complex, creative and curious human beings. Sure, to my boys I am - and will always be - "Mom," first and foremost, but that doesn't mean that's all I am in my life.

"When we do recognize our children in this way we also invite them to see us more fully, not just as a parent but as another human being." (p. 82)

(Of course Little Bear just went through that phase when NOBODY was allowed to call me Dawn. I was Mama ... end of discussion.)

So as I read this chapter I tried to resist the urge to revisit all those old memories - lovely as they are - and instead thought, what about now? What's keeping us from doing this for our kids, and is it really all about time? Or is it perhaps a matter of perspective?

Because it may be clichΓ©, but it's true - so much of parenting is just being here now. Not trying to be where we were three years ago, and not hyper-focusing on where we might be three years from now, but embracing the season we're living at this moment ...

So maybe instead of working against the grain and letting our limits define us, why not find what COULD work for our family? Maybe change our way of thinking a little and think outside the box?

And as I started to brainstorm, I realized - hey, maybe we're not doing as badly as I thought! We may not be getting out for cafe dates and museum excursions, but we are spending some one-on-one time when and where we can, in our own humble-bumble way ...

Here are a few examples ...

As I began this post yesterday, Bill and Little Bear were outside, just the two of them, "cleaning out the hen pen." (Don't laugh! I'm going somewhere with this.) Now, in truth, LB was driving his trucks through the mud outside the pen, while Daddy was doing the actual shoveling out of the you-know-what, but LB chatted away about this and that and was just generally as pleased as all get-out. He and Daddy were doing their work ...

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... and there's nothing LB loves better than working with Dad!

So I started thinking back on a few other "one-on-one" times this week ...

I folded laundry while Earlybird tidied his bedroom across the hall and we brainstormed our Easter Dinner menu. (His idea, not mine, honest! The boy loves his holidays.) And when it's just the two of us up very early in the morning - while Bill's getting ready for work, and the rest of the boys are still asleep - we often end up watching the sunrise together. It's a very special thing, really - and it makes me so happy that EB loves things like sunrises and full moons and the smell of the air when the seasons are changing ...

Wood

(This is us visiting EB's neurologist at Boston Children's Hospital one day. Bill was with us too, but it was special for EB to have Mom and Dad all to himself. And any drive into the big city is "an adventure" according to my kids - especially if we pick up take-out on the ride home!)

Last week I picked up Crackerjack from a class, and I had my van all to myself - and on that 20 minute ride home we talked about something that was bothering him. CJ's a great one for "car talks" ... and I was so glad we found a quiet moment to have that discussion.

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(CJ and I attending Mass alone together, one wintry morning.)

One day last week, Bookworm joined me in the family room where I was having my late afternoon tea and, while Little Bear played with Legos on the floor, we talked about recipes he'd found that he wanted to try. He's developed a real passion for cooking over the past couple of years, and we talk about recipes all the time!

Apartment

(Moving him into his college apartment, junior year. Not a one-on-one moment, but the only recent pic of the two of us together I could find!)

Now, spending time alone with Little Bear is very easy to do - because he's my baby and he's with his Mama 24-7! But it's good to remember to slow down and share a little joy - by singing together, playing together, building Legos, reading together (natch), or best of all, spending time in nature ...

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(This is a very old photo - he's about 16 months old here, and we were waiting for his brother to come out of class. A perfect opportunity to "connect!")

Now, not one of these moments described above were very flashy or outrageously fun, but in each there was a true sense of "togetherness" just the same.

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*<

Moving on, I think just making the space in our calendar would be a good first step towards more conscious connecting - and so this is what a I did:

I simply took out my calendar for next week and penciled in the boys' initials!

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(I actually used pen - but it's erasable!) 

I just tried to see where it would be easy enough to spend a little alone time with each of my boys, and here's what I came up with:

R (Earlybird) - Drive over to drop CJ at class, and on the ride back, we can listen to his audiobook or maybe chat about whatever topic he's keen on at the moment. Stop in to mail something at the post office, another favorite activity of his.

O (Little Bear) - Bring him to the library while EB is working with his therapist. Just a quick trip to pick out some fun books to read together this week. So often we pull up to the library and one of the older boys runs in to drop a return or pick up a hold, and then we're on our way again - always on a tight schedule it seems.

L & J (Bookworm and Crackerjack) - Two birds, one stone! We'll leave the "youngers" with Dad, and swing over to the B&N cafe for a cuppa and maybe a new book splurge. (Driving practice there and back! I may make them listen to Mom's disco Pandora station!)

Another thing I'm going to do as I go forward is to not get hung up on ONE on ONE. Sometimes I'll just have to combine two kids at a time - this is just the way it has to be sometimes, especially in families with multiple kids. Sure they have to share me, but they don't usually mind that when we're doing something fun, like here in this memory from years ago ...

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(A ferry ride across Boston Harbor to meet Daddy for lunch! Goodness, just look at those babies!)

And not to turn my back on the advice I gave myself earlier in this post - to avoid mourning days gone by - but I do feel badly sometimes that I'm not as free as I was then to do these kinds of things with my younger two boys. No, it's a different kind of fun we're going for these days ...

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(And some days that's just making ourselves laugh silly over selfies!)

Because the thing is, due to EB's special needs and numerous therapy appointments, we usually have to stick close to home. But in this season, right now, that's where we're at. We're embracing slower days and simpler pastimes, like making crafts and baking goodies - as well as taking nature walks through the yard, feeding the birds or even just getting the mail! (It's a long driveway and there's lots to look at on the way!)

So yeah - mother guilt is always there for the taking, but I'm going to do my best to give it a pass and look for what works and make the best of things as they are. After all, isn't that a lesson I want my boys to take into their adulthood?

Don't let your limits define you!

Now, this post is getting very long, but I'd like to mention one more quote because it makes such a wonderful point: 

 "Mothers can get so caught up in the caretaking that we may overlook each child's need to be seen as an individual, with unique tastes and temperment and gifts." (p. 81)

I fully admit I can be guilty of this. Caring for my family is my full time job - and I'm devoted to it - but we all know there's more to "taking care" than just providing three squares and clean laundry. But the days are often filled with so many tasks and to-dos, it can be hard to make time for less immediate, physical needs. And sure, some kids just naturally (and necessarily) demand more of their parents than others - but I know each of my boys need me (and not just my housekeeping skills), in their own way. 

"Yet when we do that bit of extra juggling required to make a special, separate place for each child, the rewards are well worth the effort."

And what a sweet reward it is to connect with, and truly enjoy, our children. Practically speaking, it's such a smart investment of time that pays handsomely not just in the here and now, but in the future as well. Emotionally speaking, it's a gift - to them and me, both. This kind of time spent is never a waste, and I find when I do have a personal moment with one of my sons we both come away feeling deeply content. I can see it in their behavior and I feel it in my heart. If ever there was something essential to plan, this is it ...

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< 

Well my friends, I'm going to let you go now, before I make a very long post even longer, but I thank you for reading and would love to hear from you too if you have time. All are welcome to join in on these MSfG conversations ... by leaving a comment here, or linking me up to something posted somewhere else, or sending me a blurb or a photo by email ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

We have many more Mitten Strings chapters to cover (18 in fact!) and at the rate we're going it will take us many months to finish! But of course finishing isn't the point ... savoring is! Although I'm sure you're all thinking: Why can't she just finish this post, lol?! 

So! Leave a note if you can, but as always, I wish you well and hope that we'll connect here agin another time. For now, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. If you're wondering what on earth that top photo has to do with this post - ha ha! -well, it is a picture of my tea spot as I started this post. I guess I forgot all about it! I'll have to do another post just about tea, another time. :)


Bits, Bobs & Mitten Strings ... ❀

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, about those Legos ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butter

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

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

Soaking rushes

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

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

Here's the end result:

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Now this was Brigid's Day morning ...

Muddy melty

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

Ice

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

And YET ...

Eggs

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

Meanwhile, back inside ...

Archie in basket

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

But really, how could I move him?

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

Cirtus week

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

Last shot:

Daffs

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!


Earlybird's Chores for Thanksgiving ❀

EB 1

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!


Seasonal Homeschooling: June's Weekly Themes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/29-6/4 "home garden"

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

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

6/5-6/11 "strawberries"

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

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

6/12-6/18 "butterflies"

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

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

6/19-6/25 "sunshine"

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Quick Craft to Welcome Spring ... ❀

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❀

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

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


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of stories ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

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

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"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

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

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And from Gill:

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

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

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

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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


Martinmas Day with My Boys πŸ’›

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

*deep breath*

Ok, on with my post! :)

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

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

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

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Goodness, but does this boy love himself some GLUE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next morning ...

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

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

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

Then it was time to check on the lanterns!

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

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

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

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Love all the autumn colors and shapes!

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

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

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How lovely is that?

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

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

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

Outside we go boys!

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

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

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

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

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Down with darkness, up with light;

Up with sunshine, down with night.

Each of us is one small light,

But together we shine bright ...

 

(E. Amarin)

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

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

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

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


Gratitude & Remembrance (November Crafts)

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Hello and Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope your November is off to a great start!

I posted the above picture on Facebook and Instagram, because I find it so inspiring when craft supplies are organized for a particular season or month. I don't always have them so well-ordered but I do like to keep items stored in seasonal groupings when possible. This is my "stash" for November and I thought I'd share what we got up to these past couple of days ... :)

November is the month for remembering our blessings and expressing our thanks, and like many families we enjoy keeping a "gratitude project" of some sort in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. There are all kinds of variations on this annual activity, but I kept things super-simple this year ...

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A grapevine heart ($8 at Michaels Arts & Crafts), hung up with some twine, and autumn leaves cut from colorful cardstock ...

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I hung the wreath on our kitchen/dining room door and each day we'll write down our blessings and add a leaf (or leaves) to the wreath. We're only two leaves in now, but I added extras as seen above to show you the overall affect. I think our "Thankful Heart" is rather pretty!

I placed the extra paper leaves in a small box along with a pen and left it on our kitchen table. Hopefully this will remind us to record our blessings around the supper table each night.

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And yesterday (Nov. 2nd) was the feast of All Souls (also known as the Day of the Dead). One of these years we will make the traditional sugar skulls symbolic of this Mexican feast day, but this was not that year. Instead, I used some cupcake liners decorated with colorful skulls (found at Target) ...

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... and made up some "harvest" muffins with that applesauce I told you about in my Halloween post, as well as some mashed squash ...

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... and four beautiful eggs laid by my chickens!

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I try to keep muffins low in sugar but for today's feast I added some simple icing and a pretty chrysanthemum from the garden:

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(Marigolds are actually the traditional Day of the Dead flowers, but my little calendula plant - aka pot marigold - stopped blooming some time ago. I will try to keep next year's plant alive in a sunny window just for this feast day!)

But the muffins were quite a hit with the boys who enjoyed theirs with apple cider, while I had mine with a hot cup of orange spiced tea. All the flavors and smells seemed so autumnal and it was a gorgeous morning, too - so warm and breezy. I had my kitchen window open as I worked and just savored such a blessed day. And baking those muffins really made me think of my grandmother, who was well known for her delicious pink applesauce. In particular, as I milled the apples, my mind was on Gram ... I was using kitchen tools that once belonged to her!

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All I could think was Grama, I hope you can see me and how much you have inspired me. I hope you know just how much I admired you and how your love and vision lives on in my heart and my home even now. Goodness I miss her ...

Anyhoo ... here's another Day of the Dead decoration, a little planter my brother gave me last month:

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So fun! I keep it on my kitchen windowsill. That's an aloe plant growing there ... hopefully I'll keep it alive!

Now, in Catholic tradition, November is dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls. So on the first of this month I set up a small remembrance altar so that we may honor our loved ones who have passed away. I've done this in a windowsill in recent years but this year I decided to devote our living room mantle to the project.

I started with some particle board letters ...

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I bought these at Michaels for $1.49 each and painted them in a soft bronze shade. While they dried (where Little Bear couldn't reach) I got to work on the rest of the altar items - photos, candles and flowers. I have several vases in my collection but I wanted something small, so I made up some simple vases from things I had on hand ...

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These are glass votive candleholders (about $1 at craft stores), along with a bit of sheer ribbon, some rustic twine and small beige doilies.

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I wrapped the green ribbon around each glass twice (securing the ends with a hot glue gun), then wrapped and tied the twine around the middle. The doilies are just lightly glued to the bottom of the glass. (And as you can see I had my usual assistant close at paw hand ... keeping his eye on that twine, sneaky thing that it is ... with all that twisting and twirling.)

Then added more of those orange mums ...

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These fit in nicely with the other remembrance items, but I think they would also be lovely on a Thanksgiving table. Or possibly even a Christmas gift - a paperwhite bulb stuck in some pebbles? I don't know if the glass would be too small, but I think it would be very pretty.

For this annual project I have some small photos of our late loved ones which I display in tiny metal holders (prayer card holders actually - purchased a long time ago at a local Catholic gift shop). But I found I was one short, so I made up a makeshift photo stand with a small binder clip!

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And lastly the candles, which we light as we pray for our dear ones ...

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I have plenty of real candles on hand - some of them blessed at church on Candlemas - but because I have curious cats and young kids about, I decided to stick with battery-lit tea lights this year. 

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I really love how the altar came out. I laid down a wide "ribbon" of burlap before setting it up and hung a garland of autumn leaves just under the mantle edge. I placed our Halloween roses on either end along with some white miniature pumpkins and our beeswax candlesticks ... plus a few Thanksgiving decorations. :)

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I am always fond of projects that involve candlelight, but especially so at this time of year. The days are short and dark and we can all use a little brightening as winter nears. As the year ends we watch nature dwindle and fade - reminding us that our own lives will end just as surely someday. But in the midst of that sadness comes human love and our memories and God's love and our prayers ...

I found this quote the other day and felt so moved by it:

"How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"

(From The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a book I never read but I sure love that sentiment.)

Traditional prayers are deeply meaningful, of course - but I like to think our every loving thought and memory is a prayer in its own right. Feeling my Grama as I cooked those Macintosh apples and lifted my face to that warm window breeze - is something that is not only good for her soul, but mine. I pray for my loved ones all the time, but I hope I do them as great an honor by living my life by their example, with their unconditional love in my heart. πŸ’›

 ***

Now, it was supposed to be Mexican for supper last night, but I didn't have all the appropriate ingredients on hand ... so American Chop Suey it was ... and with garlic bread, no less! Tonight is a catch-up night with assorted leftovers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe some soup, too ... it's quite rainy and dark out there! Leaves are blowing about and the hens have tucked themselves away for the night. But our lights are lit and our den is warm, so it's all good here ... 

November really is a lovely month. :)

Thanks so much for stopping by my friends ... see you here again very soon!


A Craft to Celebrate the Summer Sun!

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Hello everyone, and Happy Wednesday! 

I wanted to share a project I worked on yesterday, in celebration of the Summer Solstice and all the plentiful sunshine we've been enjoying here in New England. But I can't take credit for this idea ... I found bits and pieces of it on Pinterest while filling up my Late Spring Planning Board. (Gosh, I love Pinterest. What did we ever do before Pinterest?!)

Now, as I've mentioned before, I like to assign seasonal themes to each week of the year. This gives me a chance to weave some seasonal awareness into our busy family life ... because otherwise time just flies by and I find myself thinking, where on earth did that season go? It's all too easy to miss out on the little joys that make each season so special! So this week we are taking note of the Summer Solstice and the brilliant Summer sun. Working off a brainstorm list and an established weekly rhythm, I have activities planned for nature, crafts, food, reading, learning and family togetherness. Some of the ideas will appeal to the younger boys and some will hopefully be enjoyed by us all ...

And some ideas are meant just for me! :)

For example, yesterday I made a decoration for our bright and shiny kitchen window where we all gather to eat and watch the wildlife in our yard. I could have involved the boys but they were busy and content to just observe and take comfort in watching mama work quietly while they went about their day. That said, it's really a very easy project and definitely doable with children of all ages. Materials include branches (one big and several smaller, similarly sized), colorful yarn and embroidery thread, a glue gun and oranges.

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(Not to say I didn't have some help ...)

On Monday (nature day), Little Bear helped me gather branches from the yard. We had some stormy weather the other night and it brought down a lot of twigs and branches. LB loves nothing better than driving that wheelbarrow around our yard, picking up leaves and sticks and rocks and whatnot. The ones we found came from our favorite oak tree that lines the drive, and some of the branches will be used in a "bonfire" (fire pit) later this week, while several were deemed perfect for my craft.

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On Tuesday morning, I sliced up an orange and placed those slices on a cookie sheet fitted with a cooling rack. The sheet went into a 200Β° oven for 2-3 hours. Once the orange slices (now dry) were cool, I threaded them onto golden embroidery floss and set them aside. Meanwhile, I took the largest branch we found and hung it in the window (by loops of yarn attached to the ends of the branch and small hooks hung just inside the window frame). I had the older (taller than me!) boys help me hang the orange slices from that branch ...

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I love how they catch the light and look like little suns themselves!

 Later in the afternoon, while the younger boys played nearby, I made up a few God's Eyes, a craft which has always reminded me of the sun, with its colorful center and radiating arms. From what I understand, a God's Eye (or, Ojo de Dios) is of Mexican origin and is made as a blessing, often for children. I like to make them for the Christmas tree, roundabouts the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and though I've previously made them using popsicle sticks, this time out I chose to use natural twigs. I formed the twigs into cross shapes, attaching them at the center with my glue gun and then wove my designs in sunny-colored yarn. There are many directions to be found online for making this craft - and while I'm not skilled in fiber craft, this is so simple and satisfying!

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Finally, I attached the three God's Eyes to the branch and our Summer Window was set ...

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This window faces south so it gets plenty of light ... I love how this looks here!

Today, Wednesday (modeling day), we are making a salt-dough sun plaque for the garden. Or I should say we might ... if we have time! It's also Bookworm's (21st!) birthday so there's a lot going on, including a special dinner for the birthday boy! If we don't get to making our sun shape today, we'll try to work on it tomorrow ... 

{It's always good to make plans and follow a rhythm, but as in all things, flexibility is key!}

Before I go, here are some of the books we're reading this week:

Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven

The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow

Summer by Gerda Muller

The Longest Day by Wendy Pfeffer

The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson

It's a lovely week - the Solstice, the Full Strawberry Moon, Bookworm's birthday and Midsummer Eve/Day - aka, the Nativity of St. John. So many things are blooming in our yard - I gathered a bunch of flowers to dry over my kitchen sink for future crafts ...

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🌞

Well my friends, thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you are all doing well and that your week is being kind to you. Happy Summer to all and see you here again very soon ...


My Advent Tea Journal ~ Magic & Meaning

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Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your week is off to a great start! It's time for another Advent Tea, but first off ...  how on earth did it get so far in the season?! Honest-to-goodness, time seems to pick up speed as we get closer to New Year's!

Well, on Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) we rejoiced to light our third (pink!) Advent candle. What a great time to stop and take joy in our life today - right this very minute! Joy is such a gift, something we give others and something we receive as a blessing from God. I love when He opens my eyes to the joy around me ... because sometimes I can get so wrapped up in the trials and tensions of everyday life, I forget to look around for the JOY.

Wouldn't this be a great prompt for a new year's journal?

>> What brought you joy today? How have you made this day joyful for others? <<

Advent candles snowmen

(Clearly, some of these snowmen get it, while others do not.)

I have such love for this week ... because for one thing, I love that pink candle! (I don't see a lot of pink in my life, lol.) But also, on this Sunday we are still very much in the heart of Advent ... I'm still able to take peace in the season that is now ... not fret over the season to come. (Ok, truth be told - I'm fretting a little. I really am a wee bit behind.)

But most of all, I love this Sunday because it almost always arrives right around my Earlybird's birthday ... and he is as joyful a boy as you will ever meet. In fact, this very DAY happens to be his actual birthday (he turns 14 on the 14th!). So it's a very special day in our household! :)

Well, this week I'd like to talk a little about sharing Christmas with children ... the magic of the season, as well as its deeper meaning. Christmas comes for all of us, but how very special it is for the children in our life. They are so ready to soak it all up and just BELIEVE ... what they see, what they hear, what they are told ... and that's sometimes a good thing, but other times not so much. How do we hone the message they receive at this time of year?

>> How do we shape their joy? <<

Speaking of joy, we have these lovely pink, sparkly letters that spell out JOY - I made them several years ago and I always bring them out on this particular Sunday. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced one of the letters ...

  Advent tea magic 15

... and the message isn't quite what I meant. At least, not on most days. But it gave us all a good chuckle!

So before I go any further, here are some Advent questions for you, in regards to our theme this week: 

What are your children's favorite aspects of Christmas?

How do you share with them the true meaning of Christmas? In what special ways do you pass on your Faith traditions?

How do you keep your family from burning out before the Christmas season has even begun?

For me, it's all about pacing and balance. Filling the weeks before Christmas with quiet delights for the senses: warm lights in the growing darkness, soft music in the background, good smells and tastes from the kitchen ... and of course, a touch of season's magic. Our Advent countdown message, a mystery unfolding in the empty manger, flickering candles, books appearing each week, packages arriving in the mail, a letter posted to Santa ...

Where is Santa right this minute? When will he come HERE? What is the angel saying? What is the candle in the manger all about? Who are the rocks and the plants and the animals all waiting to see? What do they all know that I don't ... (yet)?

Children respond so deeply to magic and mystery and anything that attracts their developing senses. They're like super-curious sponges! And boy, do they love a good story ...

But I think my children enjoy the family traditions we've created most of all - they look for them and request them every year - which makes me think that all these "little things" we've done through the years have possibly made a big impression. Living a quieter life, a bit outside of the mainstream in some ways, we are able to avoid the commercial side of Christmas that colors so much of the season these days. To a comfortable degree, anyway. We attend Mass, and soak in the atmosphere of our Parish and the words of our Pastor. I try to weave liturgical events and meaning into our days, as I do every week of the year ... 

We eat certain things and read certain words ... light special candles and believe amazing things ... and we wait, and we wonder ... because we are Catholic, and this is what Christmas means to us. It's a privilege to live this way, and though we may be entertained by the world around us, we are sustained by what we share with each other.

Christmas lights are a good example of "magic and meaning." Without a doubt, those sparkling lights are a hallmark of Christmas - shining through the darkest nights of the year. They are SUCH magic - especially for children - but why do we light them? What is their meaning? How can we make our own inner lights shine as brightly?

Here is a beautiful passage shared by my friend Michelle M., from Vermont, in which she describes an Advent walk she shared with her family and special friends. This is EXACTLY what I am talking about when I say I want my children to experience a season full of magic and meaning ... 

"I am paring down the usual Advent festivities and just trying to find quiet. With some sadness and a whole bunch of relief, I decided not to host our beautiful Advent spiral walk in the lovely round building we usually use. This has been the most lovely and spiritual part of my Advent for years and years, watching the children grow up walking in the candlelight circle. But there is just too much happening and the children are growing and transforming, so our rituals must too. I decided to invite one special family two nights ago to wander up our hill in the dark, drink hot cocoa from real mugs, light a tea light in a squat Bonne Maman jam jar, and place it somewhere in the dark while whispering a prayer or wish or hope. It was a vision now etched in my forever memories to see those sweet children's faces bent over their candle in total silence in the dark. Of course, this mood was soon changed as they came together over one jar and descended into bathroom noise humor...but that's all part of the journey, no?!"
 Thank you for sharing, Michelle! What a lovely memory for you all! :)

I'll have more thoughts on this topic in time, and I hope to post more as the week goes along, but for now - because this post is already running long! - here are my tea journal notes:

What refreshments are you enjoying this week?

Advent tea magic 4

This week my "tea" - in the spirit of childhood - is a cup of creamy, minty homemade cocoa! Earlybird LOVES our fire pit and so as a birthday surprise, we had one last bonfire out back yesterday afternoon. I used our old favorite snowman mugs (Crate & Barrel, from before we had kids!) and added a natural candy cane "stirrer" as an extra-special treat. 

O project 12-13 2

Just before Bill lit the fire pit, I had the boys gather 'round the Advent garden so we could light the third apple's candle, and check today's rock. Our prayer for the week: God, please help us spread joy to those who need it most!

Once the words were said and the fire was lit, I took Little Bear for an amble around the yard. We had some nature walking to make up for after a rainy, head-cold kind of week!

What are you reading this week?

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It's all about the children's books these days, and on our coffee table I have an array of books featuring "Animals in Advent" (our "Advent in Nature" theme this week). Many of these we own, but I request several books each week from our inter-library loan. (I often joke/worry that our librarians either love us or hate us ... but we sure do love them!)

I also parked a couple of our rather LARGE seasonal book baskets in my library nest ...

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One basket for Winter books ...

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And another for the bulk of our Christmas books proper. These get divided and dispersed to certain corners and baskets around the room as themes pop up through the season.

What are you listening to this week?

"Christmas Piano Music" on Pandora. I had a facial this week (finally using a gift certificate my boys gave me LAST Christmas!) and this was the music my esthetician was playing. So beautiful and calming!

What are you working on this week?

Planner in car

 Getting my 2016 planner in order! I just had it spiral-bound at Staples today. (Needless to say, there will be a great big post all about it in the very near future!)

There is also, of course, much Christmas to-doing this week, as we get down to the wire. Making teacher gifts is the top of the list this week.

What's happening in nature this week? 

Well, as I've mentioned, we've all been sick, and the weather has been a bit miserable, so outdoor time has been limited. It's been very mild for November, though, and the plentiful winter moths are ... shall we say, a bit disconcerting.

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

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This means we should have well fed squirrels this winter! (I brought in a whole bunch of caps to set on our nature shelf to remind us our critter friends will be eating well! I'm also googling lots of "acorn cap craft ideas" ... and if you follow me on Pinterest, you know what I mean!) 

Any projects with the children this week?

We have some more handmade gifts to be finishing, and this week we'll be working with the theme, "Animals in Advent." We will be taking special care of our cats and assembling a donation to a local animal shelter ... as well as migrating our barn animals to the manger ...

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Also, we'll be organizing our Solstice Tree for next week ... but that will be a topic for another post!

Any quotations to share, some words to inspire?

In addition to all those children's stories, I am (re)reading a lovely little book called Festivals with Children. It is a small book written in the Waldorf tradition with a focus on the Christian festivals (or feasts) of the year. Needless to say - right up my alley!

I love, in particular, how the author describes the season of Advent:

"The calm and quiet which is prerequisite for every "inner becoming" is under attack everywhere today but especially during Advent. Today it can only be achieved by conscious effort ... There are so many customs and suggestions for the celebration of Advent that we must choose consciously to meet our particular situation. This period of time is in danger of losing its own characteristic mood. The atmosphere of preparation is often overwhelmed by the Christmas mood of fulfillment itself. Children have often already had enough by Christmas. Too often Christmas Eve is experienced as a hard-to-achieve climax followed by exhaustion, making the celebration of the twelve days of Christmas very difficult."

***

I've found that constant activity really takes its toll - not just on me, but my children. And boy do I hate feeling tired of Christmas before it's even arrived. Community is important, absolutely, and it's hard to pick and choose among so many wonderful opportunities: a tree-lighting here, a card-making there, a cookie-baking marathon somewhere else. But as with anything (and especially with children) less often means more. The one great thing you do with your family this Advent will make an equally great memory ... eighteen great things will just make a blur. These days I try to choose carefully where we spend our energy and leave ample space in our December for rest ... so we might learn to appreciate the mood of the season as well as the magic.

❀

As always, I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on this week's topic and of course, get a peek into your Tea Journal, too. Please leave a comment below or - even better! - send me an email with your thoughts and/or pics and I'll share them here at the blog. You can reach me here:

>> bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com <<

And I'm still hoping to do a little video tour of our Christmas library (tree and all) but that didn't get accomplished in time for this post. Hopefully I will have it for you later this week, but for now here are a few "quick pics" ...

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Advent tea magic 12 (1)

:)

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

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

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

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

Our Advent Garden: A Christmas Countdown!

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"Winter is dark, yet each tiny spark, brightens the way, to Christmas Day ... " ~ H. St. John

Two of my goals for Advent this year: keep things simple (yet meaningful), and weave nature into our days where we can. Happily, our 2015 Advent "calendar" meets both of these goals!

Every December I make a Christmas countdown of some sort for the boys. Usually there is a lot of busy-ness involved and the calendar itself is made of paper, involving pockets or post-its or tags of one kind or another. I love coming up with the daily activities but this year I'm scaling back on "scheduled" ideas and letting things just happen as time, energy and inspiration allows. A countdown, however, is always a must! It helps my special needs son practice patience and it adds to the overall atmosphere of anticipation in our Advent home.

So, as I jotted down nature notes for the coming weeks, inspiration struck! I love the Waldorf tradition of an Advent "spiral garden," and I kept returning to the idea of a hidden creche in the woods ...

Creche in the woods 1

(Remember this scene in Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep? This has been on my to-do list for years!)

So I decided to combine these two ideas, and this is what I came up with ...

Advent One 9

I had Bill move an old round patio table in front of the bird feeders, in plain view of the kitchen nook window. (I could have placed this project far out in our woods, but practically speaking, it will be easier to get the kids about as far as the patio on a cold, wet or snowy afternoon.)

He also gathered some cedar branches which I laid out in a circle along the edge of the table. 

Advent calendar underway

(We have all kinds of evergreens in our yard, but the cedars have soft, feathery branches - a little easier to shape and softer on little hands.)

Next I gathered 24 rocks ... and my original idea was to have the boys find suitable rocks through the month of November (similar size, flattish shape) but since we didn't have much success in that endeavor, I bought two bags of river rocks at the craft store. I think they were about $4 a bag. I spaced them out on the table, nestling them into the cedar boughs ...

Advent calendar 1

I also purchased an outdoor (led), white pillar candle for the center of the table. I stood it on a red wooden heart in the very center of the table. This candle automatically turns on each day around 3 p.m. (just as it's getting dark) and shuts off around 8 p.m. (about the time the younger boys go to bed). It "burns" for 500 hours total, so that's plenty of light to get us through Advent!

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We can see the candle from the house and it's just magical! That one lonely light shining brightly through the darkness is powerful. I haven't said much about it so far ... I'm just letting the boys absorb the image ... and wonder.

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:)

At the four "corners" of the table, I placed a bright red apple (more on those in a minute) ...

Advent calendar 6

... and on each rock there is a gold star and a number.

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Underneath each rock is a word, written in black Sharpie.

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So each day through Advent, the boys will turn over one rock and find a word. I've set that daily activity for when the candle comes on. This gives us a rhythm to follow, and it's such a nice time of day when the sunlight dims and the world settles down. There's that air of transition and expectancy ...

Oh, look! It's getting dark and the candle is lit! Let's go check today's rock!

(Or at least this is how I imagine it happening.)

By the time we get to the last rock on December 24th, a special message will be revealed:

"And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.'" (Luke 2:10)

Now back to those apples! On each Sunday, I will prepare an apple to hold a beeswax tea light candle, and it will be lit, while we gather 'round ...

Advent One 11 (1)

... and say a simple prayer for the week ahead, focusing on hope (11/30), peace (12/6), joy (12/13), and love (12/20).

(Keeping the apples intact until their particular Sunday should, hopefully, keep them fresh longer - and make them less enticing to the birds and critters who visit our patio throughout the day.)

 β€

On Christmas eve, hovering over the white candle, a shining star will have appeared ...

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See the shepherd's hook above the candle? We'll hang a star we've made and painted with glow-in-the-dark paint/glitter. A homemade Star of Bethlehem!

Come Christmas morning, in place of the candle, there will be a lovely surprise ..

Can you guess?

*

*

*

Yes, there will be a small homemade creche in the center of the table! And if it's not quite "in the woods," it will be very close! Now, I'm sure we'll be up VERY early Christmas morning, so it will still be somewhat dark outside. We'll lead the boys out with candles (LED, natch) to discover the first and best gift of the year!

❀

Of course, there will still be some hands-on activities throughout the month of December. I have assigned a theme to each week and I have some books, a little music and a few craft ideas in mind - and most of what we make will be a gift to give or a decoration for our tree. But I will have an outline of these themes and resources in a following post ... I have kept you here long enough for today!

I hope you enjoyed seeing how we put together our Advent Garden/Wreath/Calendar this year! It's something new and fun for my family and I love how it brings us outside each day ... even when the weather is so very December. It reminds us, in a very visual way, that ... though our days may be dark, the Light IS coming ... He gets a little closer every day.

:)

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


From one nest to another ... ❀

Nest dawn 2 (1)

Good Thursday evening, my friends! I hope your day's been a good one. :)

Yesterday I showed you all where (and how) I'm feathering my winter nest, and today Dawn V. has invited us to peek into her own lovely spot!

A note from Dawn:

My little corner that allows me to relax, unwind and reflect ... I have found these wonderful candles at Yankee Candle Shop called "Radiance." As they burn, you hear a faint noise of crackling. I sit here in my little nest enjoying the candle's scent, glow and gentle crackling sound. Through the window I see my backyard (forest) and deck. I feed many forms of wildlife from the deck and ground. I never-ever sit in my nest without a cup of coffee ...

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 ***

How absolutely beautiful, Dawn! Your corner is beautiful and so inviting! I can just imagine how nice it must be to sit here and relax, watch your birds and relish your surroundings. I, too, live next to a forest and what a blessing it is! I love all your seasonal touches, and the lighting is so soft and warm. I wish you many happy hours in your cozy nest, Dawn!

My friends, how nice is this, to share our nests with each other? I hope you will consider sending me a photo of yours, too ... (bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com) ... in the meantime, I love all your comments as well! Thanks to you all for your encouragement and support!

At this very moment I'm writing to you from my own nest ... it's almost 4 p.m. and there's a big mug of "American Breakfast" tea by my side. (I don't usually do caffeine this late in the day but I'm kind of dragging today! Plus I'm out of my favorite decaf blend.) Bill and I just got back from getting my van at the shop (ack, it's on it's last legs!), and now he has the younger boys outside doing leaves. And by doing leaves I mean, he's raking and they're jumping in piles! I can hear them just outside my window ... a bit of high-spirited chaos.

And it's quite a dark day here - we're expecting rain any moment. I'm wearing my favorite gray cardigan, there's a cat by my feet, (another behind my head), and I can hear the heat clicking on in the registers ... as well as the clicking of a mouse as Crackerjack plays on his computer. So it's not exactly quiet here, but it's warm and bright and alive ...

It's home.

❀

 Well, tomorrow I'll have a post up with more information about my Advent Tea Journal - which kicks off this coming Monday! (Yes, it is still a week or more until Advent, but I want to "talk tea" ahead of time!) So I'll have a few more details on the schedule (questions to consider, themes to ponder) and just how you all can join me in what I hope will be a wonderful, weekly gathering of tea cups and conversation. Let's press the "pause button" now and again as the busy weeks ahead unfold ... :) 

Oh, whoops - and there's the door now:

"Wow, it's so warm in here! Coats and boots off first, boys! Little Bear, you have to put down the truck before we can get off your coat ... Where's Mama??"

And so life resumes ... I'm off to the kitchen! See you here again tomorrow, my friends!


Living in Season: Creating A Cozy Corner

Cozy corner 1

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

So I talk a lot here about embracing the seasons and the changes they bring to our lives - the way we dress, eat, feel, pray, etc. I love how with each passing season there is a feeling of something new and yet a comforting familiarity as well. There's a first snowfall every year ... but somehow it's always full of magic. The daffodils return every spring ... but they're always such a miracle. ❀

But I think it's fair to say that some seasons are easier to embrace than others ... and this time of year is a challenge for some folks as the light fades and the days grow short and the weather is often unfriendly. So I thought I might start posting about the things we can do to create a more enjoyable season - for ourselves and our families. Simple, little things that might brighten our days ... if only figuratively. :)

My friends, will you join me? Shall we learn to live "in season" by accepting the changes and adjusting our mindset a bit? What if we saw every change - the long nights, the soggy days, the frequent storms and the early sunsets - as a reminder we're here to see another season? That we've been blessed with another year on this earth and all that comes with it - the light and the dark?

(Ok I'm getting a bit deeper than I meant to, so let me step back for a moment!)

Why don't we start very simply this week by creating a cold season cozy corner ... this will be our first "assignment."

How about over the next few days we find a nice spot in our homes where we will build a little nest. This will be a spot where we can sit down, think a bit, read a while, or just take a breather. A spot where, on these dark afternoons, we can get off our feet and surround ourselves with a humble helping of comfort and joy.

Where would this be in your house? Do you have a spot like this already?

It would be wonderful to make "nesting" a daily ritual - late afternoon, just before supper? - but if daily is inconvenient, or too much to attempt, what about once a week? On which day of the week can you carve out an hour to spend in your nest?

Here in this nest you will have added some wonderful feathers: throw blankets - slippers, perhaps? - good things to read, a notepad and pen, perhaps some hand lotion rich with the scents of the season? Lights are important here - a good one for reading - but I also like to have candles around, too (LED for me, since I have a toddler in the house). I like the ones that turn on as the sun dips low in the sky - a glowing reminder to slow down and rest, just as nature is doing.

More to consider:

There should be a good spot where you can safely put down your chosen refreshment. Since I'll be taking tea in my nest, and there is the aforementioned toddler afoot, I will need to place my tea well past the edge of the table.

Sitting by a window is ideal, I think, if you can manage it. A seasonal view and a good dose of natural light is good for the soul! Hanging a bird feeder here would also be lovely!

A basket with notecards and stationary would be handy - this could be a time to pen a note to a friend or relative. Maybe get a head start on those Season's Greetings? :)

 And finally, how about some artwork? A picture or sculpture upon which you can reflect? This might be something representing your faith or the season at hand ... a quote for the month, or simply a photo of your loved ones.

***

However your nest is feathered, it will be different in style and content for different people. Some like things streamlined while others prefer a bit of clutter. Some want things formal and some not. Some of us will be wedged in a corner of a room filled with other people ... while others might secure a spot of privacy somewhere in the house. And some of us have little ones we can't escape all around us and that needs to be taken into consideration, too. 

Well, lets take a look at what I've set up for myself today ..

Cozy corner 3

My nest is set up in the living room (aka library ... aka playroom), and my chair is old and squishy, but comfy as all get out. For as much as I'd like to make my cozy corner a somewhat private affair, it's silly for me to think it always (or even often) will be. But that's ok. This is the season I'm in! I am the mother of a little one and he's growing so fast ... some days I will get some time to myself (if LB's napping or busy with Bill or the brothers) and that will be enough. To sit here and relax will be nice, and because there are plenty of toys about, I can sit, and Little Bear can play in the room or perch on my lap and "read" his own books ...

I also have a basket of magazines here ... and BOY do I love those fall-holiday magazines!

Cosy corner 2

As well as the Thanksgiving basket, filled with our books for the holiday at hand.

(Truth be told, I love reading through them even by myself!)

Cozy corner 4

And right behind my chair is yet another basket full of books. These are Little Bear's favorite board books - he likes to stand on my lap and pick through his collection ...

On the windowsill I have displayed favorite Thanksgiving cards (never sent or received, just part of my collection), and under the lamp I have my page-a-day calendar as well as a stack of favorite reads.

Cozy corner 7

At day's end ... living by the light!

 ***

My friends, I'd love to hear about (or see!) your cozy nests - please leave me a comment below or consider sending me a picture (email: bysunandcandle AT gmail DOT com). I would love to share this endeavor with others and carry on throughout the fall and winter, visiting each other's nests from time to time and chatting about seasonal ideas. I will continue to post little "assignments" now and again - and of course you'll be seeing more of my nest as we being our Advent Teas very soon!

Speaking of tea ... tomorrow - or Friday at the latest - I will have a post up with more information on my upcoming Advent Tea Journal. Monday's tea will be ahead of Advent, with a focus on Thanksgiving, and our theme for discussion will be "simplifying the season." I plan to have my post up on Monday afternoon and would LOVE to have you all join me!

Ok, I think I've kept you all here long enough! Thanks so much for joining me and also, thanks for the kind words about my podcast with Pam! I am so glad I did it ... I'm pleased I was able to step outside my "comfort zone" and join in the fun. And those podcasts are SUCH fun. What a service Pam is doing for the homeschooling mama community - and I am honored to have taken a small part!

Enjoy your evening, my friends ... see you here again very soon!


Advent Tea Journal ~ Lighting Our Candle

Advent tea light 1

Good Tuesday evening, my friends ... I hope your week's going well! Thank you for joining me for another (our last!) Advent Tea. Today's topic is "light."

For at this time of year the nights are long and dark ... and the days are short and gray. By 4 p.m. the sun has set, and our homes are engulfed in the dim aura of a winter's evening. Weeks pass and it seems we hardly see the sun ...

Many people dislike the darkness of the season, and I can understand that - I think as humans we are "wired" to desire the sun - but I myself really enjoy the contrast of dark and light. Maybe it's because I'm usually at home (where it's warm and relatively calm) and I can relish the soft lamplight, the candles in the window, and our lovely Christmas tree. Or the post down by the driveway, wrapped in a string of lights ... the copper snowflakes lining the kitchen shelves, small votives tucked inside cabinets ... a reminder that when we find ourselves in darkness we can always make our own light. And with just a little effort we can spread it to those who need it as much as, if not more than, we do.

But then, I also love sunlight. In fact, I adore it. If you look back over my blog you'll see many if not most of my photos are taken in natural light and often my subjects (the living and non) are basking in the rays of the sun. I love light, in both forms - "real" and "manmade" - and this is perhaps why my blog is named as it is. That line from Browning's poem has always resonated with me ...

"I love thee to the level of everyday's most quiet need, by sun and candlelight."

My love for my family knows no set time or date. It is for always and ever ... for big and for little ... in darkness and day. I strive to be a light for my loved ones and serve them as God compells me to do.

What is it that lights up your life? What stirs a fire inside you? And (or) ... how do we bring light into our life at this dark time of year?

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These are the things I am mulling over as the New Year draws near.

It's no secret my life revolves around my family. My faith is deeply important to me, as is my love of nature and home. I have been working on a personal weekly guidebook entitled, Living the Seasons ~ at Home, in Nature, with Faith. A kind of planner/journal. This a huge undertaking for me, one that I hope leads to that book I've always longed to write. (One that I will ultimately share with all of you.) I have always had a fire inside me to write ... since childhood it has been my fondest hobby.

I feel I am finally at a place where I'm able to write this much-imagined book. Even if my time is not always my own, I have become creative about carving it out where I can. My family is so good about helping me out in that way. And these days I am deeply immersed in motherhood - I have children ranging in age from 19 years to 19 months! On top of that, I am a special needs parent, and I know what it means to be grateful for the small things. I thank God for those small things because they sustain me when I grapple with the Big Things. And I do - grapple - just like anyone else. And I am growing in my faith everyday ... opening myself up to God and where He is bringing me. What He is asking of me.

I am also taking the time to think about myself ... what do I need in order to maintain balance? I give all I can to my family, but I must remember to take some time for myself. What do I need to be at the top of my game? Good health, surely, in order to be there - here - for my loved ones as long as they need me. Energy and strength ... and bright spirits. :)

As for physical light - as I described above, I like to set up lights through the house during the late autumn and winter. Soft and warm, cheerful, welcoming light ... while we wait for the return of the sun. And last Sunday evening, as Winter arrived, the sun began to grow in strength once again. I love how this ties into our sacred time of year ... with the birth of Christ,  our world grows bright once again.

Here is the Solstice cake I made ...

Solstice 3

And our traditional Solstice supper, a rustic cottage pie, topped with butter and thyme ...

Solstice 6

As well as some wassail to toast the new season!

Solstice 4

(Simply organic apple juice with floating apple slices!)

Solstice 5

Welcome back, oh wonderful warm sun!

~ My Tea Journal ~

In the natural world ...

Rainy and cool, but not cold. It will be a green Christmas here, and unseasonably mild (like, over 60 degrees mild). Oh well, there's always next year! And I'm sure snow will be coming our way before long.

What I'm drinking/eating ...

Today I'm taking tea in my favorite mug - I've shown you it before, I'm sure. I love it's shape and feel, the soft green and the festive stars. It holds coffee and tea equally well. This week I'm enjoying some "Holiday Tea" (Harney & Son's) and a delicious molasses-clove cookie - which I may or may not have snuck out of a holiday package that arrived today ... ;)

I took my tea out in the sunroom today because it was where I could grab a quiet moment. I watched the birds flocking to the feeders (they know a storm's coming!) and admired the soft lights all around me. :)

What I'm reading ...

No time to read this week, other than Christmas cards of course! I'm listening to carols on the radio, though, and tonight I'll be watching this as I wrap. One of my all-time favorite movies (with a wonderful Christmas scene).

What I'm working on ...

Well, it's all about last minute preparations of course! Baking mince tarts and readying the house for our family gatherings. Wrapping, wrapping, wrapping ... and once we're on the other side, I'll return my attention to the aforementioned planner. I hope to have it ready to bind next week. (Certainly by Thursday!)

Words to inspire ...

"There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

~ Edith Wharton 

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And now to hear about light in the lives of two lovely friends ... Mary and Tammie. These are wonderful reflections, so please read on and enjoy. :)

From Mary ...

"This past weekend we were in Dallas to see the ice show at the Gaylord Hotel. One of the pictures below is Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus all carved in ice. It is huge! Just magnificent and all lit up … It definitely brings light into my life in more ways than one. Also, it is my Husband and my Son who bring light into my life every day. They both really light up my life … Always smiling, always there to support me and help me during the ups and downs of daily life. But through it all, they are my constant, my light … My light along the way.

While we were in Dallas, we ate at the Corner Bakery CafΓ©. It was so cute with great food. Plus I enjoyed a fancy chamomile citrus tea. The teabag was made of some type of cloth. I was so impressed! And the tea was delicious. Perfect for the cold, drizzly Dallas day. It certainly lit up my day. :-)"

Mary tea light 1

Mary tea light 2

Mary tea light 3

(Oh that tea sounds - and looks - wonderful, Mary!)

And from Tammie ...

"Light has long been one of my favorite themes to ponder. It is such a vital part of our daily lives, yet we so often take it for granted. But if we stop to think about it, light is absolutely fascinating! It provides so many interesting analogies. To me, light represents everything that is true and authentic. Think about it - if you want to get a true picture of what something is really like, you hold it up to light. And it is just our natural human tendency to be drawn to light. Deep down, I think we all desire what is true & authentic. Lights also serve to guide, comfort, welcome, and cheer anyone who is in the vicinity.
 
Above all, God is the greatest source of light in my life. My personal belief is that all truth is found in him. Through his scriptures, he gives us the light we need for each day. Psalm 119:106 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
 
And then God sent his son, Jesus, into the world as a light. John 1:9 says, "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." How appropriate it is that we celebrate the coming of Christ during the darkest days of our year! And it just seems fitting to celebrate the season with all kinds of lights. Who doesn't thrill at seeing bright colorful lights nearly everywhere we look at Christmas-time?
 
The lights of our Christmas tree shine through one of our front windows and I've placed LED candlesticks in the other windows, to give a friendly, cheery glow to our neighbors and anyone passing by. And throughout the house, I've placed LED votives in various candleholders. (I've replaced all of my wax-burning candles with flickering LED candles.)
 
I'm sharing some photos of a couple of my favorite spots of light in our home. The Welsh dresser in our dining room is holding our winter dishes, which consists of the colorful Polish pottery and my blue snowflake dishes. The yellow in the Polish pottery reminds me of warmth & light. And there is a photo of the windowsill over my kitchen sink. My daughter Caitlin (who is now 26) made the colorful Christmas tree when she was in elementary school. I love how it reflects the glow of the votives and gives me a warm, nostalgic feeling as I'm working in the kitchen!
 
 God's blessings to everyone as we get ready to celebrate this glorious time of year!"
 
Tammie tea light 1
  
Tammie tea light 2
 
Tammie tea light 3
 
(That pottery is gorgeous, Tammie!)
 
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Thank you, dear Mary and Tammie, for sharing your thoughts on light at this time of year. It seems we share similar "lights" in our life, and an appreciation for shining light in the face of the darkness! And I love how you each found light's beauty both at home and "out in the world!"
 
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My friends, I am so thankful for your visit, and I hope as you notice the lights around you tonight, or perhaps as you sit down for tea, you will know that I am thinking of you, and praying that the greatest of blessings will be yours in this most holy season.
 
And a very Merry Christmas, to all ... I will see you here again very soon!