Holiday Tea at Dawn's: O Christmas Tree!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! Welcome to our third week of Holiday Tea - and today I'd like to talk about Christmas trees! First though, a quick word about my beverage-of-choice this week ...

As you can see, my mug is pretty big - and also, very pretty! I bought this last year at HomeGoods (for all of $5!) and loved it immediately for its generous size as well as the lovely seasonal images. It has a big sturdy handle, too!

Inside my mug today is a wonderful hot tea I "discovered" this year, made by Twinings:

 

 

Twinings tea

This delicious Christmas Tea has a smooth and lightly spiced flavor - and for me, "lightly" is a very good thing, when it comes to spices - because I get heartburn very easily! And sometimes, as much as I like the idea of a spiced tea, the flavor can be too reminiscent of cinnamon gum. Like I've steeped my tea with a stick of gum, lol! Weird, I know ... but once I had that impression from a previous tea, it just stuck with me! So clearly I'm a bit persnickety when it comes to flavored teas, but happily this one is smooth and subtle. :)

Now, I'm afraid I don't have any goodies to share today - the past few day have been busy and I just didn't have time - though honestly, if you were coming to visit, I'd be sure to have a few tempting things to offer! In case you were wondering, here's what's on my baking to-do list this week ...

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Do you have any special baking planned this week?

Well, how we talk about Christmas trees now? Here is ours ...

Our christmas tree 2018

This is the first year we've had a tree in our family room and I must say I love it here! This is an 8-foot Frasier Fir and I think it fits the room nicely. Would you care for a quick tour?

We use all white lights, two different garlands - one made of red wooden beads and another made from a golden ribbon festooned with festive red squirrels - and a red punched tin star as a topper. Many of our ornaments are "woodland inspired" and lots of them were made by my kids through the years.

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The glittery pinecone was made by one of the boys - the softly shaded maple leaf was hand-painted by my mum. She gave us a collection of them last year, and I just love them! They remind me of my favorite season (fall), my favorite state (Vermont), my favorite colors (soft orange and gold) AND of course, my love for nature.

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I'd wager many of us have popsicle stick crafts on our Christmas trees!

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Another leaf and a cute little pinecone-y hedgehog.

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The star was made for me by a sweet girl in our homeschool co-op years ago, while the moon was something I made myself. There's a little verse on the back, and a matching (or contrasting, I should say) ornament just around the corner ...

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I don't do handcrafts nearly as often as I'd like to, but I'm thinking of making that a goal for the New Year - to indulge more of my favorite hobbies.

We have LOTS Of cardinals all over our tree, one of our favorite winter songbirds.

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Birds in general enjoy a strong presence on our tree!

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This is one of the few "fragile" ornaments we have on the tree - made of porcelain, it's a bit "clinky" (as Little Bear calls it). 

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This is a very special ornament - a gift from Crackerjack's girlfriend, Jen, to our Little Bear who just this year discovered the excitement of "Minecraft."

Last year it was this guy ...

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Little Bear's never even seen Star Wars, but somehow - youngest of four boys that he is - he just "gets" it! "That's BB8 Mama! He's a good guy robot!"

We have name ornaments here and there and as uncommon as my name is, my mother-in-law found this one for me last year:

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And one last ornament which I just treasure, a gift from my boys:

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I'm sure many of you mamas can relate! (p.s. That's a hand-painted sand dollar in the back ground. Well, painted with glue and then sprinkled with glitter! I made that one several years ago when we were celebrating National Poinsettia Day.)

And here's the cozy corner where I'm enjoying my tea today ...

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We have no snow to speak of here in New England, but the skies seem to hold promise - thick gray clouds, a chill in the air. That said however, the forecast is not looking promising for a white Christmas! (It always pains me when we miss snow at Christmas ... and then spend the next three winter months absolutely inundated!) But boy do the days get so dark now, and so early!

And yet - we must take heart, my light-loving friends - the sun makes its triumphant return this Friday! In teeny-tiny increments perhaps, but each day going forward we'll have  just a little more light than dark each day. So, Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!🌞

Right now I'm all curled up on the family room couch, admiring the tree lights, enjoying a moment of quiet (while the boys are all occupied elsewhere in the house) and on my tv screen ...

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Show of hands now - who loves The Great British Baking Show??

Our local PBS station ran a marathon this weekend of TGBBS's Holiday Masterclass series. This is not the same as the ABC special airing each Thursday night this month - this is not a contest, but rather a cheerful and cozy hour's worth of holiday home baking with show hosts, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. It is so much fun to watch Mary and Paul recreate their own family favorites! If you're looking to get in the "holiday baking mood," look no further than this program ... I especially recommended it for Anglophiles like me. :)

You know what else I'm doing right now as I enjoy my tea? I am looking through old December journals, remembering past Christmases and holiday ideas I've gathered over the years. Journal-keeping is another hobby I'd like to make time for in the new year ... it's something I've done since I was a young girl, but have seemed to let drop recently. 

Here's a peek at a few page spreads ...

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As you can see, I fill my journals with clippings from magazines and random notes about our home, our family, craft ideas, recipes and just about anything that comes to mind! It's such a pleasure to look back over these journals - the plainest little spiral-bound notebooks but they serve their purpose! - and reconnect with my self and my thoughts on various things. I especially love seeing things like this ...

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This journal was from December, 2012 - the year I was pregnant with Little Bear. I remember that ultrasound on New Year's Eve, vividly. A particular blood test had come back elevated and we were having a level two ultrasound to check on our little guy's development. They were going to do it after the holidays but we insisted on being seen as early as possible. We had to drive into the city mid-afternoon on New Year's Eve ... and oh, the nerves! Thankfully, everything was just fine with our wee one and we found out that night that our fourth born would be a fourth BOY! We gave him his name that night and celebrated the new year feeling immense gratitude for our blessings, most especially the health and well-being of all our children.

(And all that came rushing back from those brief cryptic notes!)

Well, my friends - that is all I have for today but as always, I thank you for joining me and wish you all the very best! I hope this next week is one of peace and joy for you and your loved ones ... I will see you again NEXT Monday, December 24th, for a cup of Christmas Eve cheer!


Holiday Tea at Dawn's ~ Cozy Nests (Pt.2)

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! Welcome to part two of last week's Tea post! (Yes, I am a  bit "off-schedule" here - but that's the way of things lately! Please see my updated Tea schedule at the bottom of this post.)

Now, to continue with our conversation on "cozy winter nests," I thought I'd share some pictures of my own special spot as well as some thoughts on how to go about creating your own! I'll get to the nest photos in a moment, but to begin with, a quick word about the tea set shown above ...

Some of you might remember this pinecone tea set from the days when my older boys were little. I came across these darling dishes at the Christmas Tree Shoppe for a song and just knew immediately they were perfect for our nature-loving, woodland-based homeschool! My boys and I had "seasonal tea" regularly throughout their childhood and this basically involved milky tea or cocoa (or maybe hot cider) and something yummy (and hopefully homebaked) as well as read-aloud or puppet story. This sweet set began with bowls and plates, but those are long gone! I still have a small set of mugs, the charming tea pot and one little bowl which I use to hold tea bags. Happily nowadays both my younger boys love tea, too - and so the homeschooling tradition continues!

In the above photo we were enjoying a special "candy cane" cocoa for St. Nicholas's Day, our traditional treat on this feast day. I usually hook candy canes on the mugs of hot chocolate (aka bishop staffs), but had forgotten to pick up some natural ones at Whole Foods. (You may recall we have EB on a special diet free of artificial colors and flavors.) So instead, I just added some organic/natural peppermint extract to the simmering milk and mixed it with our homemade hot cocoa blend. ❤

I've been keeping this pretty tea set on a high shelf in my kitchen but have decided to bring it down and keep it handy - it won't get used otherwise! And so our pinecone set has found a home in my "cozy winter nest ... I'm keeping it on a tray so it can be moved about as needed. 

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(Notice the little Lego on the corner of that table? That would be a Minecraft pick-ax, in case you didn't know.)

Ok, now back to our NEST discussion!

I'd like to first talk about a list I made for myself when I began setting up my nest. I first asked myself some questions about the concept of "keeping cozy" and then brainstormed some general ideas. My first list just appeared rather randomly in my doodle notebook ...

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This is my brain dump, and as you can see it's a bit of a mess! I use it for writing out weekend plans and shopping lists ... and lots of odd bits and bobs, too!

I then refined my list to be clearer and more "presentable," lol ...

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I'll keep this list in my December planning pages. :)

Here's my own Cozy Winter Nest breakdown. I would encourage you to ask yourself the same questions!

Why? Because there's a long cold winter ahead and instead of dreading it, let's make the best of it. Why not feather a cozy little "nest" for ourselves - a spot exclusively for comfort and joy - where we can hunker and hibernate till spring?

Where? This will be a space where we can rest and replenish our winter "stores" - ideally out of the way of the general household hubbub.

What? What will make this spot comforting? What items will bring joy? This list will be different for everyone!

When? How often can we actually BE in our nest? Will we roost here daily or will it serve as an occasional retreat?

Now, I think I've probably addressed the "Why" question pretty thoroughly by now so let's skip to the "Where." It is my firm belief that your nest can be ANYWHERE ... from a whole separate room to the end of a couch and/or bookcase ... even a dedicated window space can serve to enhance your level of winter coziness.

(I think it's helpful to start by brainstorming WHAT your ideal nest looks like and then look around your home for a fitting spot.)

Personally, my nest needs to be somewhere a little apart from family "traffic," but still close enough that I feel I'm handy to my kids if they need me. So I've claimed a portion of our living room for my nest, and here are some pictures I took the other day ...

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This is the epi-center of my nest - Mama's Reading Chair!

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It's a bit old, it's a bit squishy - but I love it! I keep a small table next to it for my tea mug (etc.) and I use an ottoman on the other side for planners. There are also plenty of baskets about for books!

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(The basket beneath the ottoman holds catalogs and coupons.)

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Cats are a nest must-have - even when they're being naughty!

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A birdfeeder outside the window is another must ...

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And plenty of natural light plus cozy lighting!

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Library loans are kept nearby - it's handy to keep them all together.

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I like to fill the coffee table with seasonal reading materials ...

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And there needs to be special spots for the cats to snuggle in, natch.

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Cats are natural-born nesters ... :-)

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And blankets are always a draw!

Nesting kitties

And they too love sunny spots ... in the winter, a south-facing window provides soul-soothing warmth and light.

Other essential nest items not shown include:

journal-keeping supplies: notebooks/binders, pens, scissors, tape, clippings to add

children's storybooks: my nest is a GREAT spot for read-alouds!

music: I like the Pandora app; currently I'm listening to old English Christmas carols.

video: I use my computer for watching DVDs - now showing, "Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas."

correspondence: notecards, stamps, address book, etc. I'm working on Christmas cards at the moment!

candles: I have scented candles here and there but I like battery-lit ones for every day use.

hand lotion: I keep Curel at my kitchen and bathroom sinks but a tube of lovely rose-scented cream in my nest!

What would you add to my list? :)

As for the "When" question ... well, for myself, I enjoy "nesting" every day. Because I'm up so early, I start my day here (I'm talking 4 a.m.), and I also sit here at least once a day to read with Little Bear and/or Earlybird. On the weekends I try to have a block of time devoted to keeping "office hours," and here is where I like to work. If you're used to being in your nesting space you will naturally gravitate there, but if it's a new idea to you, you may have to create an actual nesting schedule! At least to begin with. Begin by feathering this space as you like, and then consider how often you can indulge in a little nesting behavior. Let your loved ones know this is important to you, and if you have to write it on the family calendar then do just that!

Because a nest of our own is a help as much as it is a haven. It's a place where we might battle winter's darkness and soothe our world-weary spirits. It's a place to cultivate creativity and bask in the comforts of home. Even if all the space you have is a kitchen window-sill, arrange a few special things there (a pot of herbs, a picture frame, a nourishing lotion, a scented candle) and let that be a place you go for a moment of mindfulness each day. ❤

There's so much more to say about the benefits of "nesting" but I will wrap up for now. That said, I would love to revisit this theme after the holidays - say mid-January. The next month is busy for most of us, with Christmas coming and all, but once Epiphany's come and gone, I will take a fresh look at my nest and see how I can spruce it up for the "deep winter" months. I think for many of us there is a sense of melancholy when the festive season has passed and the pretty decor of the holidays has been packed away. But let's not let that happen! We'll come up with a wonderful winter plan and see ourselves through the long cold weeks ahead ... 

Now, about my Tea schedule going forward! I have to be honest with you all and myself - I had hoped to sneak in another Tea post mid-week, but instead I will stick to my original schedule and be back on Monday with our next Holiday Tea. Our theme will be "O Christmas Tree" and I will share pictures of our home's holiday decorations, plus we'll talk about the upcoming Winter Solstice.

For now I will say goodbye and thank you all for joining me ... I'd love to hear your thoughts on Cozy Winter Nests so please drop a comment if you have the time! I'd also love to see YOUR Christmas trees, so please consider sending me a picture if you are able: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

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


Holiday Tea at Dawn's ~ Cozy Winter Nests (Pt. 1)

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! I hope you all had a nice weekend and that your December is off to a great start! â¤ï¸

Well, I just had so much to share with you today, I decided to split this post in two! More on that in a bit, but first of all, WELCOME! Thank you so much for joining me for another weekly tea. Today we'll chat about crafting a little "cozy" for ourselves before winter sets in. We'll also talk about my favorite tea, my homemade planner and few of our Advent plans for the week!

But let's begin by talking about tea - which for me, is pretty much synonymous with "cozy" - so let me ask you this if I may:

If you could conjure up the perfect, most comforting and appealing "tea" you could imagine (with or without goodies), what would that tea look (and taste) like?

Well for me it would be a big mug of a preferred and special hot beverage, accompanied by just a little something sweet and homemade, such as a plain cookie or biscuit. I usually just drink black decaf (tea) through the day, but lately I've been indulging in an extra special evening tea that - though it requires a little more prep - is entirely worth the extra effort!

So, have you ever heard of a London Fog Latte?

< Now, here is where I would have posted a picture of this very special and preferred tea beverage of mine, only - real life got in the darn way! So today's afternoon tea became a less "special" affair, though certainly no less satisfying. Earlybird had a physical this afternoon at 1:30 and, as many of you know, our autistic son has some BIG anxiety when it comes to doctor's appointments. Happily, the appointment itself went really well ... but unfortunately, Bill got called into work, so he had to miss the doctor's visit (we usually go together to the kids checkups) AND so, he was not on hand this afternoon to make me my very special beverage!! (He's quite involved in the prep work, and it's just not the same without him!) Anyhoo, the appointment (though great) went long, we had some food shopping to do (natch), and we just got home now (at 4:13 p.m.), so I've made myself a very "regular" cup of tea - my old standby - and this is what I'm having right now as I type ...

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It's so dark at this time of day!! I know that bothers a lot of people, but I don't mind so much. The sun was going down as we finished up our errands, and it just felt SO GOOD to get home ...

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... I might have had to slow down and take a dashboard pic of this sunset! For me, whatever the season, watching the sun set is always a cozy moment - but perhaps all the more so in late autumn.>

Ok, let's get back to our tea discussion now! In my NEXT post I will show you what my favorite drink looks like, but for now you will have to just take my word for it: it's a very pretty drink!

I stumbled across a London Fog Latte - on Pinterest maybe? - but the first time I ever had one was at Starbucks. They don't list the drink on their menu, but I heard it through the grapevine you could ask for such a thing, and so that's just what I did! Admittedly, I might have felt a little silly asking for something off-menu (much as I did the time I requested a "Franken Frappuccino" or some such nonsense one Halloween) but the barista barely blinked at my request and got right to work. It was a very good and memorable drink - but I like the ones we make at home even better!

Here is how I make this comforting and delicious hot beverage:

I first prep a cup of Earl Grey tea just as I usually do. I use Bigelow's decaf version with one sugar and a good splash of milk. As my tea steeps, Bill starts steaming some whole organic milk. He uses a Breville Milk Frother to steam and froth the milk (a gadget we've had for years but I've never used myself). You could just heat some milk in a saucepan but then you wouldn't get those lofty peaks of dairy delight!

Once the tea is prepared, I add a splash of vanilla, and then I top it off with the delicious and creamy frothed milk Bill has prepared ... and it is just so, so good! It would perhaps be really nice to make some lavender sugar to dust on top sometime ... but I am a little hesitant to mess with perfection!

Now, I don't drink this every night but maybe once or twice a week. I started drinking it a few months ago, when I found myself needing more of a "ritual" for unwinding in the evening. It's soothing and just a little sweet, and it just presses a button in me somewhere that says, "slow down and settle yourself." :)

Also, fyi, I recently found a loose tea blend from Harney & Sons called "Victorian London Fog."

London fog

I have yet to try it but will let you know once I do!

Now, let's talk about the cookie portion of my "tea" and for me, I can think of no "cozier" cookie than shortbread. I made these little "bites" on Friday, in honor of  St. Andrew's Day. They are incredibly easy to make and keep really well!

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Shortbread cookies have long been my favorite - to me they are an absolutely perfect treat: small, simple and suffused with a soft buttery flavor. I use a recipe I found online and it is just so super easy! Just three ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. What's not to love??

I usually cut the baked dough into simple rectangles (with the iconic fork marks) but I decided to try star shapes in light of the first week of Advent. (As many of you know, we follow a nature-based Advent tradition, and this week our theme is "seeing the light of earth & sky." For more on our family traditions, please see my Advent Crafts and Plans archive and in particular, for this week, this post.)

Now at this time of year, it's all too easy to spend time inside, where it's warm and bright and ... yes, cozy! But there is something to be said for getting outside when we can ... and creating a little light of our own to hold fast against the gathering darkness. So the other night we took advantage of dry conditions and had ourselves a little "Welcome December" bonfire ...

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(Pop on over to this post to see a quick bonfire video!)

You all know I love to talk weather, so I must ask: how's the weather where you are? Is it chilly and gray, inspiring you to seek your comforts indoors? Or is it mild and bright, luring you outside? It's been up and down here in New England. As I began the draft of this post, it was a very dark and rainy Sunday ... but as I finish up at Monday teatime suppertime, the day has been sunny and unseasonably mild!

Speaking of weather, one thing that can be tricky when planning out an Advent Countdown is, in fact, the weather. Sometimes I have a particular activity in mind, but if the weather turns foul a change in plans becomes necessary. So one of the things I like to do when I sit down to plan out our week - any week of the year - is to consult the Weather Channel app on my phone. 

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Not that the weather can't change, but usually the weekly forecast gives me a pretty good idea how easy it will be to get the kids outside! (Happily the week looks great for finding nests, gathering branches, and taking an evening "lights" walk!)

On that note, since we're now talking about plans, here is a better look at this week's spread in my homemade seasonal planner ...

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This week's seasonal theme: "Cozy Nests." Our first week of Advent theme: "sticks, stones, stars."

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The left-hand page is an overview of the week ...

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While the right-hand side is set up for the week's agenda (schedule) and homeschooling notes ...

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It was important to me to include a section in my planner for seasonal crafts & comforts ... 

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(We don't do it all, but I do keep the plans from year to year!)

This corner shows where I write out all the "events of note" for the week, as well as our dinner menus plans.

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And finally, here is where I write in my little weather notes!

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All these pages shown here are in my spiral-bound planner, but I have been experimenting with keeping these pages in a three-ring binder instead. Each planning platform has its merits - I just need to figure out which works better for me!

Now before I go (for now) ... I feel I need to tell you about some really wonderful holiday programming on this Thursday night!

First, at 8 p.m. ...

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A Charlie Brown Christmas ... :)

It's family tradition to all sit together and watch this show WHEN it is airing on national TV. Sure we could watch it anytime on DVD, but that's just not the same.

Amiright?

And then, immediately following ...

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The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition!

I'm very much looking forward to watching both of these shows. The Baking Show is on after my bedtime, so thank goodness for that DVR!

Well my friends, I'll be off for now since I've kept you here for so long. We have more "cozy" concepts to discuss, so I hope you'll join me later this week in a follow up post. I will share thoughts on enhancing the comforts of home, as well as some pictures of my own "winter nesting spot." And if anyone would like to share their own nest, please feel free to email me your pics (with a brief description) and I will include them in my post!

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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


Advent Countdown: Stories & Simple Activities

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Hello my friends and Happy Thursday! I know we're but a few days away from the 1st of December, so you probably have your Advent plans already in place, but here I am anyways, to share what my Advent project looks like this year ... :)

In addition to a few treasured traditions, I really enjoy coming up with something new for my boys every year! (Check out my Advent Plans & Crafts archives if you'd like to see past projects.)

So this year I decided to revolve our Advent countdown around picture books - meaningful and beautiful stories we've enjoyed as a family for years. As I've blogged about before, we have an awful lot of books - longtime homeschooling family that we are! - and though they are indeed spread out all over the house, I do like to organize them by subject and season.

Case in point - here's our Christmas book bin:

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True confession: there are more books now than can fit in this pretty rolling bin ... and yes, those are my slippered feet in the bottom of the pic!

So, as you can see, we have many, many Christmas books  ... so what I did first was to go through the WHOLE stash and pull out the ones we (ahem, I) love best. Then I looked over our December calendar, considered our weekly seasonal themes and then organized the books into separate piles ...

1st pile: WEEK ONE "cozy nests, stars/sticks/stones" (St. Barbara, St. Nicholas)

2nd pile: WEEK TWO "seasonal spices and Christmas trees" (OL Guadalupe, St. Lucia, EB & Papa's B.day)

3rd pile: WEEK THREE "welcome winter & advent animals" (Winter Solstice, Full Yule Moon)

4th pile - WEEK FOUR (which is just 12/24) "O Holy Night" (Christmas Eve)

I realize this all sounds rather complicated, but there is a method to my madness, I promise! Here is the low-tech spreadsheet I made up for myself as I worked it all out ...

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And here's a corner of my December month-at-a-glance calendar, showing how I note our weekly themes ...

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Next, once I had my 24 books all assigned to their dates, I placed them in a basket so I could get down to work ...

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Naturally, Archibald offered to help ...

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I went through each book and chose an illustration to photocopy, something that would hopefully be rather easy to identify ...

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Then I gathered the rest of my materials: poster board, washi tape, stickers, post-it notes, glue stick, pen. All items I already had on hand!

I figured a post-it was a good size for a small illustration, so I first made sure I could fit 24 on the board and then I started cutting out my illustrations! 

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(Remember - these are photocopies!)

Once I had all my picture squares, I placed them in order and then decorated the edges of the poster board.

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I used an Elmer's glue stick for this and it worked just fine adhering the copy paper to the poster board ...

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I used Christmas-y washi tape to jazz up the poster board a bit. I also used up some old stickers I had on hand as you can see below ..

Next I placed a plain white post-it note over each illustration ...

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And then ... I placed a log slice sticker on the bottom edge of each post-it. The post-it notes hide the illustration and the stickers keep that post-it note from flipping up and revealing any hints!

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Close ups of the poster/post-it/sticker situation ...

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Festive, yes? :)

Lastly, I used a red pen to number each sticker ...

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And secured Archie's approval, natch ...

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And that's it!

Well, actually ... there is much more to it and I will now get to all that. :)

Honestly though, this was a super easy project to pull together this morning. The photocopying took the longest time I think.

Here's how (I hope) my plan will unfold ...

Each day the boys will pull the day's post-it off and, using the revealed illustration, will head to the Christmas Library to try to find the book of the day. (I may also stick a number on the day's book to make it easier for my boys who are pretty young and might need help with this. Little Bear is not yet so familiar with the Christmas book collection and Earlybird may not recognize the illustrations.)

We will then all read the book together! (Please see my book list below.)

I am taking it a little further by planning a simple activity to go along with our Advent reading each day. I am not sharing this "Advent Agenda" with the boys beforehand however, because, as I've learned in the past, it's best to determine first if an activity will work - given the time/energy/weather/mood of the boys - and their mama! I have included my ideas below, next to the book titles.

I hope you enjoy the list and maybe can use an idea or two!

The PDF: Advent Countdown: Stories & Simple Activities

❤️

December 1st

Celebrate Christmas: With Carols, Presents and Peace by Deborah Heiligman

*Set up our Advent Garden.*

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December 2nd

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

*Watch The Polar Express and drink hot chocolate!*

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December 3rd

The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans

*Make beeswax candles for Advent Garden.*

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December 4th

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola

*Nature walk: gather twigs and other natural craft materials.*

❤️

December 5th

Angelina’s Christmas  by Katharine Holabird

*Take an evening stroll around neighborhood  - deliver holiday cards.”

❤️

December 6th

Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki

*Saint Nicholas Teatime: mulled cider and speculaas cookies.*

❤️

December 7th

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones

*Make twig stars and other natural-material ornaments.*

❤️

December 8th

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

*Go to The Farm and get our Christmas Tree!*

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December 9th

Country Angel Christmas by Tomie dePaola

*Cookie Baking Day with Nana!*

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December 10th

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett

*Decorate a Solstice Tree for the backyard Animals.*

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December 11th

The Golden Christmas Tree by Jan Wahl

*Make golden glitter tree ornaments.*

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December 12th

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

*Visit the Nursery to see poinsettias. Make cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars with fresh pineapple-mint salsa. Tacos for supper!*

❤️

December 13th

Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett

*Bake and decorate gingerbread folk.*

❤️

December 14th

My Wonderful Christmas Tree by Dahlov Ipcar

*Write and perform  a Woodland Christmas puppet show.”

❤️

December 15th

Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray

*Take a nighttime Christmas lights drive.*

❤️

December 16th

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe

*Watch the bird garden at sunrise while sipping hot cocoa.*

❤️

December 17th

The Christmas Bird by  Bernadette Watts

*Set up our children’s creche.”

❤️

December 18th

The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes

*Make moon ornaments for Solstice Tree; watch moonrise tonight.”

❤️

December 19th

Corgiville Christmas by Tasha Tudor

*Bonfire night! Make magic pinecones to burn in fire.*

❤️

December 20th

Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown

*Make homemade gift wrap.*

❤️

December 21st

Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea

*Family Solstice Supper with hot wassail, cottage pie and sun cake.”

❤️

December 22nd

The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola

*Go caroling!*

❤️

December 23rd

Christmas in the Stable by Astrid Lindgren

*Visit an outdoor nativity scene at night.”

❤️

December 24th

The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Douglas Gorsline

There will be new pajamas and slippers and steamed almond milk before bed!

*

I hope you enjoyed my Advent ideas! Please remember - my goal is not to do every single thing on my list, but rather, to use the "plan" to create an atmosphere ... a slower, peaceful and happy time of anticipation. The 24 days of Advent pass very quickly and I sincerely hope every one of them brings you much comfort and joy!

Well my friends, as always, I thank you for stopping by and wish you all a pleasant day ... see you here again very soon!


Holiday Tea at Dawn's ~ Thanksgiving Memories

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Hello my friends and Happy Monday! Can you believe in a week's time we will be starting the very last month of the year??

Well, I hope you all had a nice weekend, and if you celebrate, a Happy Thanksgiving, too! Ours was lovely, but before I launch into holiday memories, I want to say I am so excited to return to my weekly tea series! My goal is to host afternoon tea here at my blog every Monday, beginning today and continuing throughout the holiday season ... I will include the usual disclaimer of course, that as life often gets busy around here, there may be a week or two when tea is a bit late!

Now, as before, each week's Tea will have a theme, corresponding (more or less) to my family's seasonal homeschooling themes. This week, for instance, our theme is "hibernation" and so for the next several days we will be immersing ourselves in Earth's natural rhythm. We'll spend time outside (weather permitting) and inside (through windows) observing changes in our local habitat, the decreasing light and increasing dark, as well as the local fauna preparing for the cold weather to come. We'll take notes in our nature journals and read books about how different species adapt to the change in seasons - humans included! Some of us hibernate and some don't ... but why?

As we head into next week, the theme will morph into "our own cozy nests," and we will undertake our own family hibernation - turning inwards as we prepare our home and hearts for the dark and dreary (but beautiful) days ahead. The weeks leading up to Christmas are well known for their "hustle and bustle," but in our family we try to keep a quieter and more peaceful Advent. Preparing for such a "hibernation" from the holiday "madness" takes a little forethought and some days, even fortitude!

Which brings us to this week, the last in November, which I feel is a kind of "break" between one holiday and the next. After a super busy November, I am currently catching my breath and preparing to take stock of what lies ahead. These are the days to create a plan that will allow us to feel cozy, comfortable, well prepared and ready to sink into the cold days ahead ...

When hibernating, I think it's as important to fill our emotional larders as well as the practical ones. The year's golden memories bring us such warmth and light no matter how dark the coming days may be. Such is the lesson in a lovely little picture book called, Three Pebbles and a Song. A mouse family bustles about gathering what they need for the winter - nourishment and nesting materials, for example - but little Moses brings something special to their family's hibernation. Memories and laughter are just as necessary for comfort and joy!

So in that spirit, what memories will you carry into the winter with you this year? How do you keep preserve those bright happy times for yourself and your family?

I'd love to hear about your Thanksgiving ...

What was your favorite part of the holiday this year?

What do you remember most fondly from your childhood holidays?

The best part of my own holiday was having so many dear ones here with us - many for the first time in years, and a few for the very first time! I also loved the feeling of having all four of my boys home together ... there's nothing like a "full nest" to ensure a mama bird's good night's sleep!

From my own childhood I would say I remember most fondly my grandparents' home - filled up with loved ones and such wonderful smells. I always loved watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as well ... 

But one memory sticks out above all, when I was probably seven or eight years old ...

After dinner my dad and my uncle took a bunch of the kids on a walk, just a little ways down an old railroad bed. I am the older of two children in my immediate family (big sister to my little brother, Matt) so I was always thrilled when we were surrounded by cousins - some of them older than me! But what was particularly thrilling about this late afternoon "adventure" was when it started to SNOW. Just lightly, but still - it was like magic! (To this day, I always hope for a Thanksgiving snow!) We all headed back to the house which was all aglow and the desserts were set out and everything was just so wonderful and warm. The grownups might not have been too happy to see it, but we kids were CERTAIN the day's flurries meant we'd have a white Christmas for sure!

Fast forward 40 some-odd years and we had another lovely Thanksgiving Day, with many, many cousins catching up with each other. Here are a WHOLE bunch of photos from our day ...

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As you can see it was a bright and sunny day ... but so very cold. The coldest Thanksgiving on record, I believe! (22° was the day's high.)

Another record of sorts - we were a party of 25! Hosting a dinner for that many people can be tricky - mostly because you need to find places for people to sit! Also, timing a large number of dishes to complete cooking at the same time ... well, that's another real challenge! I am grateful for my family, especially my dear mum, who help me pull it all together ...

And speaking of my dear mum - today is her 75th birthday! Here's a photo of the two of us from earlier this month ... 

Mum and me

As I said on IG this morning, this beautiful lady is my best friend, my guiding light and I am so blessed to say, my own dear mother. We have such fun together and I look forward to planning many more parties in our future!

So that's a look back at our Thanksgiving, but here are a few more photos from the past few weeks ... 

Tom turkey in snow

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Tea with a warm slice of gingerbread, baked in celebration of the season's first snow!

Oh my goodness, and speaking of tea!! My top photo shows you how I'm taking my tea at this very moment ... it's English Teatime (black decaf), served in a big sturdy mug. I was tempted to drink full-test, because we had a bit of a rocky weekend - Little Bear has a rotten cold and has gotten very little sleep - but I kept it simple (and non-stimulating). As I type up this post, I'm sitting at my desk, the day is dark and wet, but my home office is bright and warm. Currently I'm gathering up all my holiday resources - books, magazines, cocoa, candles, planner - but we'll chat about all that next week!

And so, tea will be served here again on Monday, December 3rd, roundabouts 4 p.m. You are welcome to pop by - sip, read, comment if you wish, and/or send me your own pics for inclusion in my post! Just send me an email at drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Next week's theme is creating "Our Own Cozy Nests." We will also talk about managing our hopes for the holidays❤

Feel free to grab this button if you'd like to post about the Teas at your own site:

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For now though, thanks so much for stopping by ... I will see you here again very soon!


❤️Looking Ahead: Tea & Christmas Planning!

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Hello again, my friends!

Well, it's a rather dreary November afternoon here - sleety, cold, and DARK - so I'm taking a break from our Thanksgiving prep to sit down for a cup of tea and to share a couple of quick things with you all. The first thing is what you see above ... this year's Christmas Planner is ready to go!

🎄 Dawn's Christmas Planner for 2018 ðŸŽ„

Now, I'm really excited to dive into holiday planning - but I do like to live in season, and be mindful of our present blessings - so this week is all about thankfulness - and preparing turkey for 25! I also, however, like to get my ducks in a row asap, so I printed out a fresh copy - updated for the new year with a new, pretty cover (and back) page - and added it to my planning binder. There it will wait for me until Friday morning when I'll be raring to go! (Over a cup of mulled cider and leftovers!)

Okhere is a little sneak peek at the inside pages ...

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I hope this 16-page booklet will be helpful to you as you plan out your holiday season, but more than that - I hope it helps you think about HOW you want the season to feel. Christmas is about so much more than just the nitty gritty details - not that there's not a lot of things to do and keep on top of in order to make everyone's holiday  happy - but it's really about creating an atmosphere, crafting a vision, cultivating and carrying on with traditions that make the season so special for everyone. It is also, if I may be so bold as to suggest, a time for making time for ourselves. A time to connect with the true spirit of the season - whatever that may mean for YOU - touching base with the memories and values you hold dear. These weeks go by so fast, let's give this special time some real forethought and plan a Christmastide that will bring not only happiness, but harmony - inside and out.

Well ... more on all that in posts to come, but on that note ... the other thing I wanted to tell you all today is that I've decided to bring back my WEEKLY WINTER TEAS!

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And so ...

Tea at Dawn's will commence next Monday, November 26th and continue (fingers crossed) every week throughout what I like to call, "nesting" season.

I am still hammering out my thoughts on this special project, as well as my weekly Tea themes, but come next Monday we can start by sharing a little of our Thanksgivings as well as our hopes for the season ahead - not to mention, of course, a lovely cup of late autumn tea!

Guests are always welcome at Teatime - to simply read, or share thoughts, or to participate with pictures - so I hope you'll consider joining me! Grab that Teacup image above if you'd care to spread the word, and if you'd like to send me a picture, please email me:

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Our 1st post:

November 26th: "Thanksgiving Memories and Holiday Hopes."

Well friends, I will be off now as dinnertime has approached and I am actually now typing these last words with a five year old in my arms who is complaining of a bellyache! So for now ...

Thanks so much for stopping by, have a nice evening, and I'll hope to see you here again very soon!


My 2019 Planning Sheets: Printable & Free!

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! With just a little over a month left to the year, I would like to share my 2019 planning sheets with you all!

Please find all the PDF links below and read on for more information on how to print and assemble your own planner. (With more posts to come on planner "maintenance" as well!)

I believe this is my third (or fourth?) year sharing these planning sheets here at the blog and though I am getting a little more comfortable with the tech side of things, I always seem to scramble to make the sheets "post-able" just before year's end!

This year I'm happy to say I am able to share them in a much more streamlined way - and I hope this makes them easier to use!

Please let me know if you have any trouble printing the sheets or if you come across any typos or incorrect dates. As always, these sheets are very much a homemade affair - a rather personal project I create for myself first, and then make public in hopes others might find them useful. I'm a self-confessed planner addict for sure, but I really enjoy making my own planner because it allows me to create something with my own "mother and homemaker" needs in mind. There are so many gorgeous, wonderful planners out there - and yet I have not been able to find one that not only meets my specific needs but also suits my taste for a planner that's a little old-fashioned, specifically home-centered and has true seasonal "flair."

(To that end, in addition to seasonal quotes on each weekly page, you will notice that font colors change monthly to reflect the time of the year.)

These sheets are certainly not perfect but they do come straight from my heart and it is my dearest hope that they are fun for you to use and maybe inspire you to find a little more "comfort and joy" in the year ahead. ðŸ’›

Now as I mentioned last week, as much as I'd truly love to, at this time I'm not able to offer prepared planners for sale. I'm afraid I just don't have the kind of time I'd need to take on such a project. (Folks who have "won" a giveaway copy before can attest to how long it takes me to make it for them!) I'm definitely not saying never - just not this time around!

What I can do though, is share my planning sheets in PDF form, and make them available to readers for free! I can also give you an idea how to go about printing and assembling these pages into your own personal planner, in a form that makes sense. I myself have gone back and forth between using these sheets in a three-ring binder and having them spiral-bound at the copy shop ... but I'll talk more about that in a bit!. :)

Ok, without further ado, here we go! Each link is a printable PDF file and is free for your personal use.

💛 The By Sun and Candlelight Seasonal Planner for 2019

Front Section

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

Extra Blank Pages

 (Please note the November and December files are larger due to holiday planning and might take a little longer to load.)

And now for more details ...

I use HP ink and Staples brand "Premium Bright White" paper:

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The paper is smooth and has a nice weight to it. :)

Other materials I use when making up a planner:

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The planner includes title pages for each month of the year, but I find it handy to insert a thicker piece of paper to set apart the monthly sections. I like to use pretty patterned paper that has the thickness of card stock for this purpose. These papers tend to come in a larger "12x12" inch sheet so I just cut them down to size. I buy mine through Amazon or at the craft store.

As you can see, I really like "vintage" images ...

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(Note - if you have trouble finding paper you like, you could also use card-stock for your monthly dividers. I made up a separate PDF of my 12 monthly title pages in case you'd like to use those title pages as dividers. Just print the PDF file on white card stock so the pages have a thicker weight.)

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I also like to choose an especially pretty piece of paper to serve as my planner cover page:

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I sometimes use alphabet stickers for "monogramming" the cover. I'm not a big sticker gal really, but they can be fun and add just the right touch of whimsy.

Now for a very important piece of the planner assembly, especially if you are binding your sheets at the copy shop ...

Chipboard

This is sturdy 50-point chipboard which will give your planner a very firm back cover. I got a package of 20 for $17 at Amazon. (In case you are wondering, a three hole punch does go through this material!)

Speaking of which ...

Three hole punch

If I'm going to keep my planning sheets in a binder, then I use a three-hole punch! The one I have is quite old, but I'm linking one that seems similar: Swingline Three-Hole Punch.

And as for a binder ...

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My favorite binder is a Martha Stewart 1-inch, 3-ring binder. It holds 275 sheets and is wonderfully sturdy and the rings work so smoothly. I honestly have not found another binder that works as well! They are all too stiff and the rings can be lethal! You can find this binder at Amazon but I buy mine at Staples for a much better price!

Last but certainly not least (because they give me such joy!) ...

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I use adhesive tabs for the monthly divider pages. I love these pretty pastel tabs made by Erin Condren. I buy them at Staples but they are also available Amazon and through www.erincondren.com.

Basically I just print out all the sheets and paper clip each section to keep all those pages in order. 

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I add the cover, monthly dividers (with tabs attached) and chipboard backing ... then I either bring the whole thing to the copy shop and ask for it to be "spiral bound" or I hole punch the sheets and file them into a binder. 

A note on spiral binding ... I take my planners to Staples for binding. They offer this service for about $5.00 and depending on how busy the store is, it's a pretty quick job! The spiral binding is made from plastic but recently I was told that they can send out the planners to be bound with a metal coil instead. I have yet to try that but I think metal coils would add a nice sturdiness and a touch of "elegance" to the planner!

Here are a few glimpses of planner construction, but as I mentioned at the start of this post, I will be back with a follow up post to talk more about using the planner once it's all put together!

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planner assembly ...

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ready for the copy shop ...

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the first month of the new year ...

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menu planning and overview ...

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extra planning pages ...

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monthly review and holiday planning ...

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the weekly spread ...

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January shades of brown, blue and rose ...

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the month-at-a-glance ...

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color-coded events ...

Well my friends, that is all I have for today! I would love to hear your thoughts and any questions about my planner and/or planner-making process. As I said, I will be back with a follow-up post to talk more about how I use this planner - my "system" if you will - and I will be happy to address any questions in that next post.

In the meantime, thanks so much, as always, for stopping by - I wish you all well and will hope to see you here again very soon!


🍂My Thanksgiving Planner: A Free Printable!🍂

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! I meant to post this last week (or really, earlier this month!) but here I am today, with just a little more than a week to go, sharing my Thanksgiving Planner with you all ...

I hope you enjoy it!

🍂 Dawn's Thanksgiving Planner ðŸ‚

It's eight pages long and has space for ...

  • planning the meal
  • organizing a gratitude project
  • making time for holiday baking
  • incorporating family traditions
  • noticing November nature
  • managing hostess duties
  • cleaning ahead of the gathering
  • setting up a holiday timetable

Even if you're not hosting Thanksgiving at your house, there are plenty of ideas and activities to consider as we celebrate this beautiful time of year.

If you are interested in my planner, you are free to print it for your personal use!

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Note: It might take a bit to load the PDF, so if you have any trouble please let me know. You could keep these pages in a binder, on a clipboard or even inside a holiday folder.

Let me know what you think if you have a moment - about this planner and/or your own Thanksgiving plans! I will also be sharing an updated Advent/Christmas planner with you all just as soon as I can - but certainly before the first Sunday of Advent. :)

Ok, that's all for today, my friends ... hope to see you here again very soon!

p.s. My 2019 planning sheets will be ready to print by the end of the week!


One-Pan Harvest Chicken: Recipe Share!

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Last night Bookworm made us an absolutely delicious (and wonderfully seasonal) supper and I thought I'd share a link to the recipe here!

One Pan Harvest Chicken - a bit of prep work, but quick to cook. Chock full of tasty, late autumn vegetables (plus apples!), smokey bacon and economical chicken thighs ...

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Everybody loved it! Next time we might try using boneless/skinless chicken, because for one thing, they're just easier to eat and for another, they may cook more evenly matched with the veggies. (We ended up taking the vegetables out and broiling the chicken to finish up.)

On tonight's menu ... Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore! It simmered in the crockpot all day yesterday and tonight we'll serve it over linguine. (Along with salad and crusty bread.)

What dishes have you been making this autumn? Any new recipes to share?

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


It's a Working Weekend!

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Hello my friends, and Happy November! 

I just wanted to pop in to say I have carved out this whole weekend to work on my homemade planner! So that means I will be sharing updated planning sheets for 2019 with you all very soon!

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Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their weekend, wherever they are ... it's blustery and bright here in New England!

Blessings to all,

~ Dawn


Hello, my friends, hello ...

... and long time no see! :)

I can hardly believe it's been TWO MONTHS since I last posted here. I'm very sorry I've been away so long, but I do hope you are all happy and well and that your autumn has been going along nicely so far. We have been busy here (as I'm sure you have, too!), and I have a few different posts percolating, but for today I'll just share a few quick things with you all.

First off, in case you missed it last week, It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is on again tonight!

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8:00 p.m. on ABC. And sure, you can easily watch this beloved show any old time you wish nowadays, but there's just something special about watching a special the night it is aired nationwide. Don't you agree? 

You might be wondering what we've been up to the past two months ... and well, we've been busy with all the usual things ... except Crackerjack is now off to college! We began our homeschooling year right after Labor Day and that is going well with both Earlybird and Little Bear. EB's daily home therapy hours have increased greatly which is wonderful (for him AND us) but it does mean less "down time" for me. And by down time I mean reading-writing-computer-slash-blogging time! Still trying to find my groove re ~ that part of my life, but if you are on Instagram I do post to my account there just about every day. (I also have a Facebook page for the blog and though I post there a little less frequently, it's usually at least once a week.)

How is Autumn unfolding where you live? Have you had any neat nature adventures recently? Today I took pictures of the pretty foliage around our yard since we are expecting a big Nor-easter here tomorrow so my guess is most of our foliage will be "gone with the wind," so to say!

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I am also working on a post about my current planning system ...

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But it's been slow-going for the usual reasons - ahem!

Which leads me to the topic of my planner and planning sheets. At the end of the summer I mentioned that sometime this fall I would have my 2019 planning sheets ready to share as well as possibly some news about making my planner available for sale. Well, the good news is - I will absolutely have those sheets ready for you all soon! Definitely this fall, and hopefully sometime within the next month! (Planning sheets through the end of 2018 are available in monthly PDFs found in this post.)

The bad news I'm afraid is - as much as I would love to say I will be selling my planners in some manner, I've decided that's just not possible right now. Because right now I just don't have the time it would take to devote to such a project, though I do think it would be fun and I'm thrilled some of you have expressed interest in buying a ready-made, spiral-bound planner from me. I'm not saying I won't ever open the planner shop I've envisioned, but for now I'll have to "keep things simple" and devote myself to our boys, our home and our homeschooling. 

That said ... I DO plan to share (as usual!) my free printable planning sheets here - and for the foreseeable future! Because I love using them and so I'm always creating more and tweaking them to work a little better. (Plus, to reflect the new year's dates.)

I am also planning to to share more detailed information on how to go about printing and assembling my planner, and how I use the planning sheets myself, particularly as they pertain to our seasonal homeschooling. I know I keep promising to do this in a video format and that is still my plan ... but again, that will come in a bit, but hopefully well before the end of the year.

What's that you say? We ARE near the end of the year already?? 

Goodness time flies much too quickly these days! As does my time for sitting down and computing!

So my friends, that is all I have for today, but I will be back here again just as soon as I can with those 2019 planning sheets, some pics from our fall and a few thoughts and plans for the upcoming holiday season! I am also in the midst of revamping my "themes and plans" series and hope to have those ready for the start of the new year.

Thanks again for your patience, everyone, and as always, for reading ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


My Seasonal Planner Giveaway: The Winner!

Hello everyone, and Happy Friday!

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I am very happy to announce that ...

JENN LEWIS

... has won a copy of my homemade seasonal planner!

Congratulations, Jenn! You will be hearing from me very soon so we can sort out the mailing details! I am so excited to share my seasonal planner with you!! I hope it will be helpful to you and your family. :)

Thank you to ALL who entered my giveaway, and for your very kind thoughts and questions. Many of you have inquired about whether or not I plan to sell this planner and my answer is still ... yes, I hope so! I am doing my best to work out the kinks and "set up shop," if you will. I am aiming to have 2019 planners available to you all whether they are being offered for sale or available to print here at the blog. I will have news on that front sometime early this fall, and I hope you will all stay tuned. I will definitely keep you all posted!

(Please don't hesitate to let me know if you'd be interested - the more I sense interest, the more sure I am of publishing!)

Now one of those aforementioned "kinks" is a dilemma concerning my monthly divider pages. As I've shown you all before, I like to use a very charming set of "vintage" look scrapbooking paper for my planner ... it's honestly been one of my very favorite things about this planner! But, here's the thing ...

If I am selling my planner,then I run into copyright issues when using someone else's work! (Also, that particular paper has recently gone out of print!) So, I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with something else that would be fun and pretty and charming in its own right - plus, seasonal of course!

So here's my idea ...

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This is a "mock up" of a potential monthly divider page. I'm taking photos I've posted at my blog through the years, and using them to create colorful "seasonal" collages. Printed on sturdy ivory cardstock, I think these could work as handy dividers - setting apart each monthly section! (Though I sure will miss those vintage papers - they were unique and delightful, and I know many of you loved them too.)

More to come on my seasonal planner - including lots of "How-To" posts here at the blog. Please bear with me for a couple of weeks while life gets quite busy here - we're enjoying the last couple of weeks of summer, seeing Crackerjack off to his freshman year of college, and getting started on a new year of homeschooling (our 19th!) with Little Bear and Earlybird. I feel like I need to hit the "pause" button right now, but goodness knows life keeps on moving!

So I'll be back again just as soon as I can, but you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook! Also, feel free to email me if you'd like, though I will confess, I'm slow as molasses when it comes to e-correspondence, lol!

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Have a wonderful weekend my friends, and congratulations again, Jenn! Wishing you all peace and contentment ...

See you here again very soon!


Seasonal Homeschooling: Using a Lesson Planner

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Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday! 

Today I'd like to talk a little more about my seasonal homeschooling routine, specifically - how I plan out an individual week. addressed this issue to a degree during last Friday's Inspire webinar (the replay of which you can watch here), and the short answer is: there are lots of layers to seasonal planning! But since I'm not known for my short answers, here is the long answer ... :)

I start with the big picture, dividing a year into thoughtful segments. And by thoughtful I mean ... well, they make sense to me! So for this New England girl there are not four, but six seasons in a year, and two months per season. (September and October are "early autumn," for example.)

Next I brainstorm ideas to capture all the nuances and blessings that return to us again and again. This takes some thinking and imagining and reviewing of nature notes, retired calendars and favorite seasonal resources. (I made up printables for doing this, and they can be found here.)

Finally, I assign the most interesting ideas, or themes, to the weeks themselves and then I work said themes into the individual days of the week! All according to our weekly homeschooling rhythm ...

Phew, right? Lol. Well, it sounds more complicated than it really is and I will talk more about it in future posts, but for today I'm showing you how today I planned ONE week of seasonal activities, revolving around an assigned theme, and using a (really cool) lesson planner to do it!

Best of all - and the point of this post! - I found this particular planner spread allowed me to easily merge our Oak Meadow Kindergarten curriculum with my own seasonal homeschooling plans! So without further ado, here's a look at week one:

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This was the first time I put paper to pen! It's such a big lovely planner, I was a little intimidated to start writing in it to be perfectly honest. I am using my preferred Frixion Erasable Pen here in bright blue ink. Plus some Frixion pastel highlighters (also erasable!).

I sat down with my OM Kindergarten syllabus, open to Lesson One, and my seasonal planner (the one I'm GIVING AWAY tomorrow, as you might remember!) open to my "corn and crows" notes.

Then I set about filling this baby in!

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True confession: I wrote all of this information out on sticky notes first - moved those around where they belonged - and then wrote on the paper itself. I don't think I'll do that each week - ðŸ˜œ - but it gave me a little flexibility while I figured out where I wanted certain information to "live."

First thing I did was write our weekly homeschooling rhythm along the left hand side of the planner:

  • Monday: Nature Walk
  • Tuesday: Crafting
  • Wednesday: Storytelling
  • Thursday: Out & About
  • Friday: Home & Garden

Then I wrote in our activities for each day in the first column:
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I used a highlighter to designate the type of activity, something I do in all my planners. So here, yellow means a special activity at home, blue is for EB's therapy, and green means we are going somewhere. 

The planner spread features six columns for planning subjects. Our homeschool subjects this year are as follows:

  • Language Arts
  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Nature/Science
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Other

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These pertain to our OM curriculum as well as our seasonal living/learning, and I utilized the far right column for specifically seasonal notes!

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I listed notes here for ...

  • Circle Time
  • Book Basket
  • Home & Family

Circle Time will be done each morning and this is influenced by our Oak Meadow curriculum, with a little music and movement, a fingerplay to learn and some calendar and weather discussion. We will also begin our day with a short blessing, not listed here.

Reading from our seasonal Book Basket can happen anytime, but I like to have a designated reading time in the afternoon, after lunch. It tends to happen when Mama gets her first cup of tea made! The titles listed here are ones we own (√), ones we can get at the library (L) and ones I plan to purchase (+).

A lot of people ask me how to involve older students in seasonal learning/living and one way to do this is to plan activities that the whole family can do together. (That's not to say seasonally-inspired academics can't be done at a higher level, but obviously there is just so much more that can be done with younger children in the family!) Celebrating the seasons as a family can be such a meaningful and rewarding lifestyle - making memories and encouraging our kids to slow down and savor the simple things in life. To look for the little gifts that return to us every year, while keeping our eyes open for new discoveries! These kinds of activities bring a family together, and fill a home with a touch of comfort and joy ...

So under Home & Family I included things like - foods we can enjoy, places we can go, seasonal decorations to put up, fun activities we can all do together:

fresh corn from the farm stand • popcorn balls  • corn muffins at Sunday breakfast • the cornfield or corn maze • tying up cornstalks at the front door • how about a taste test! which tastes better: boiled or grilled? • watching a favorite movie with a batch of freshly popped popcorn

Honestly, I think too many families stop doing things together as the kids get older and busy with their friends. But to my mind, our older kids should always feel welcome to join in - but not pressured. It might not be easy to get an older kid to come along on an outing, but they will probably enjoy sharing a special meal or snack, or seeing favorite decorations go up around the house. It's important to keep these kids in the loop in even the smallest ways. 
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Shown beneath the planner here is a folder for my weekly seasonal materials, mostly things I've printed out: directions for making a corn husk doll, a corn maze printable, library request sheets, etc.
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Here's a close up of one square (Language arts on Wednesday, our storytelling day):
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Our morning circle time will include oral exercises and a little nature writing (on the chalkboard). I then chose one suggested OM language arts activity as well as a seasonal/rhythm activity of my own.

OM offers several language-related activities to spread throughout the week and many are wonderful examples of creative, active, outdoor learning. I figure the boys can work on their stick/yarn letter As while a crow finger puppet shares some news from our woods. This story will be part of an ongoing nature tale, taking cues from our backyard critters and the current weather. I enjoy using my storytelling apron for this activity as well as the lovely nature mailbox my mother painted for our learning room.

I added afternoon and bedtime reading selections to my language box - some are filled in, for example, we'll be reading The Popcorn Book on this particular afternoon because on this day we are also doing "popcorn math" and making popcorn balls for a family snack. :)

By the way, if you are not familiar with the Oak Meadow School (located in Vermont), it is a wonderful, Waldorf-inspired curriculum - one we've used for many years, at all grade levels, and this is my fourth time cracking open this Kindergarten syllabus! OM really works well with the addition of my seasonal homeschooling plans - the trick will be trying to have realistic expectations!

This spread here is for one week - and as most of us know, five days fly by very quickly! During this first week of September, if all (or most) goes to plan, we will be reading the Tale of Peter Rabbit and learning to recognize and write the letter A. We'll be remembering Summer and setting up a Nature Corner with which we can welcome upcoming seasons. We'll learn a body-parts song and a sweet finger play and set up a Science Scrapbook. As a family we'll discuss chore division and allowance, an annual Labor Day tradition! We'll learn the difference between crows and ravens, and listen to Native American lullabies. We'll brave a corn maze and soak in the particular allure of a whispering cornfield in late summer. There will be reading and playing and baking and plenty of time spent in nature ... 

All in all, a great start to a brand new homeschooling year!

(And it might sound/look like a lot, but when you view my lesson planner spread, you can see that most days have a pretty good balance of activities. This is not to say that each and every day will go smoothly or to plan! But this is what I have prepared, and will have ready for my Earlybird and Little Bear, and hopefully we will not only learn a lot of interesting things together - but also have LOTS of fun!)

Now, don't forget! This Friday I'll be announcing the winner of my Seasonal Planner! I will be posting sometime later in the day - roundabouts teatime - so there's still plenty of time to leave me a comment and throw your hat in the ring. (Please see this post for all the details!)

Enjoy the rest of your evening, my friends - and as always, thanks so much for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


My Homemade Seasonal Planner: Time for another GIVEAWAY!

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Hello once again my friends, and Happy Thursday! ðŸ˜Š

As you might guess from my post title, I have some exciting news to share today! In celebration of the new school year upon us, and in honor of my "INSPIRE" talk tomorrow with Mary Ellen Barrett and Homeschool Connections (@ 2:45 p.m. EST - sign up here!), I am ... drumroll please ... ðŸ˜‰

GIVING AWAY ANOTHER HOMEMADE SEASONAL PLANNER!

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Now, I've done this before so many of you already know the drill ...

Please leave your name and a comment below if you are interested in winning a copy of my (homemade) 2018-2019 academic "seasonal planner." (And to learn more about the planner interior, please check out "My Homemade Planner" archive.)

On FRIDAY, AUGUST 24th I will randomly choose a name and announce a winner!

While I have you though, here's a peek at a weekly spread in my planner. (The weekly spreads are really the heart of this planner!) I'd like to give you all a better idea how I use these pages to plan out our seasonal homeschooling ...

Planner spread

⭐️ 1.  OF NOTE: Here is where I list any events or activities "of note" for the week. For example, this might include birthdays, holidays, feast days, important appointments and social obligations.

⭐️ 2. THEME: I list our "seasonal homeschooling theme" in this space. (A list of all 52 can be found here.) This particular week shown here will be, "crows and corn."

⭐️ 3. MEAL PLANNING: That's pretty self-explanatory, I think! I use the bottom "notes" section for foods that tie in with the theme and season. (Example, fresh corn on the cob, corn bread, etc.)

⭐️ 4. HOME & GARDEN: Here is where I write down any extra housekeeping tasks and/or any home/garden projects we have going on. (Not our normal weekly housekeeping routine, but other things I'm/we're working on.) Currently we are tending and preserving our garden, organizing our son's supplies for college and cleaning the learning room, top to bottom!

⭐️ 5. QUOTE: Each weekly spread features a poem or quote that connects us with the season and in some cases, our weekly theme.

⭐️ 6. CRAFTS & COMFORTS: Here is where I list the ideas that support our weekly seasonal theme. For this particular week (September 3rd-9th) our theme will be "crows and corn." I will be listing things like "visit a cornfield," "corn from the farm stand," "listen for and observe local crows," "read "Raccoons and Ripe Corn." As it is also Labor Day on the 3rd, as well as our back-to-school week, I will list other "niceties" here like "make picalilli with Mum," "serve alphabet soup and gingerbread letter cookies," "make back to school gifts for the boys." (Important note: I do not ever fit all these things into one week! It's just fun to brainstorm possibilities, include what we can and save some things for next year!)

⭐️ 7. TO DO THIS WEEK: It is what it says it is! A place to list things I need to get done that are timely to this particular week.

⭐️ 8. WEEKLY RHYTHM: I use this space as an agenda - a place to write down our schedule (activities, appointments, etc.) - as well as for writing out "rhythm" activities. (For example, Monday is nature study day, Tuesday is for crafting, Wednesday for storytelling, etc.)

⭐️ 9. NOTES: I've been using this space for "free-form" lesson planning and record keeping - BUT - I just purchased an Erin Condren Teacher's Planner (!!!) because I think I might need something a little more detail-oriented for this coming year. I am not entirely sure yet how I will revamp this part of my planning page - I might use it for journaling and memory-keeping - but more to come on all of that!

Also, if you also notice, the colors I chose for the design of this spread are unique to September. Each month in my planner has its own color scheme and to my best ability is done with shades that reflect that particular time of the natural year. September's color scheme seen here, to my mind, evokes the changing landscape of late summer: the golden fields, the ripening rose hips and apples, the crisp blue skies and fading green leaves. â¤

(Now see, this is why I was so compelled to make my own planner! I have very specific needs when it comes to "seasonal planning!")

So there's a fairly thorough tour of a weekly spread in my homemade seasonal planner. I will be sharing more posts about my planner - the set up, the system, and how I will be sharing my 2019 planning pages with you all sometime later this fall. 

Next month (after we've settled into the new school year) I will also share a "how to" video, walking you all through the steps for assembling your own planner (it's honestly not as hard as it looks!), should you want to make one for yourself.

(All my planner pages are available in my "Printables" archive. Dividers, covers, backing and binding is done separately and I will talk about all of that, too!)

Well my friends, I thank you for stopping by and I hope to hear from you if you have an interest in my homemade planner! I wish you luck if you enter the contest and I hope to hear from some of you tomorrow at the INSPIRE webinar! Mary Ellen will be taking questions as we chat so let me know what's on your mind!

Have a wonderful evening and see you here again very soon ... â¤


Seasonal Homeschooling: Favorite Resources

Hello again my friends! Why yes ... this would indeed be the 2nd post from me to you in one day! Crazy, I know - but I have lots of things I want to share in regards to my talk for the Inspire Virtual Conference this Friday - sign up is FREE and open to all! So I'm trying to get as many posts up before my afternoon chat, "Seasonal Homeschooling: Cultivating a Gentle, Grateful Year." :)

(Oh, and for those who asked, I will be able to share a link post-webinar for those who can't join us on Friday ... so, yay!)

For this evening's post though, I'd like to share some of my favorite "go-to" resources when it comes to our seasonal homeschooling. I've had most of these books for many years - many are nature-based, some are Waldorf-inspired and several are geared toward Catholic tradition. ALL have been wonderful as I brainstorm ideas for exploring our themes for the year!

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All Year Round • Festivals, Family and Food • Making the Children's Year • Naturally Fun Parties for Kids • Findus, Food & Fun: Seasonal Crafts and Nature Activities • A Child's Seasonal Treasury • Usborne Book of the Seasons • Mrs. Sharp's Traditions • When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year • Be Blest • Festivals with Children • Storytelling with Children 
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The Butt'ry Shelf Almanac • China Bayle's Book of Days • Mary's Flowers: Gardens, Legends & Meditations • Catholic Traditions in the Garden • Holidays & Holy Nights • A Book of Feasts and Seasons • A Continual Feast • Catholic Traditions in the Home and Classroom • Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks through Nature • All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings • Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children • The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts • The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions

I have lots of other resources for seasonal planning, but these are the ones I tend to reach for most often. I'd love to hear about yours, too!

(Note - in full disclosure, as explained on my right-hand sidebar - I am a member of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you click though to Amazon from a link on this blog and make a purchase, I will receive a commission from Amazon. Thanks in advance if you click through my links!)
 
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Have a wonderful Thursday, my friends! More "seasonal planning" posts to come in the next day or so! And please let me know if you have any specific questions you'd like me to address in my talk!

Seasonal Homeschooling: A Few Printable PDFs!

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Hello my friends and Happy Wednesday!

I'm popping in again, just two days before the FREE "Inspire" Virtual Homeschooling Conference (mentioned in Monday's post), to share a few PDF's with you all that will assist with my talk on Seasonal Homeschooling: Cultivating a Gentle, Grateful Year. :)

First, here is a simple SEASONSKEEPING WORKBOOK (click on the link - it's a printable PDF!). In this packet you could brainstorm ideas for embracing the seasons of the year:

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There are two pages devoted to each season - one for listing monthly events and one for brainstorming ideas. (In my view, every two months make up a season - so I see the year as divided into six seasons rather than four.)

On the Events page you could list holidays, feast days, full moons, birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events (like the Superbowl or World Series), natural phenomena (such as meteor showers or lunar eclipses) ... really, anything goes! As for the Brainstorming page - well, it could look like a narrative ("Dear Deep Winter, here is what I love about you ...") or it could be filled with words that pop into your mind when you imagine that time of year. For example in the case of Deep Winter, those might be:

snow days • warm mittens • hot cocoa • handmade valentines • birds at the feeders • ETC.

You could ask your family to participate in this activity! The seasons are meaningful to each of us in individual ways. If you're stumped for ideas and looking for inspiration, you might consult your own nature journal or personal diary if you have a habit of jotting down lots of seasonal details (as I do!) or you could thumb through favorite resources or you could even google it! (Pinterest is full of inspiration for the seasons of the year!)

Next, here is the SEASONAL THEMES planning outline I use in my homemade planner:

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You're welcome to use my outline for guidance, but I also have a BLANK version for you to use since you'll probably want to come up with your own themes and ideas. Seasonal themes really resonate when inspired by one's local habitat as well as fond family traditions.example, in a deep and snowy New England winter, exploring themes like "hearthside delights," "glass gardens" and stormy weather all make sense and bring joy - but February might look and feel very different where you live! And of course, each family enjoys its own seasonal pastimes. Maybe you all like to ski in the winter? Well, "hearthside delights" would work great! But what if you'd prefer to escape to the tropics? Well, how about a week devoted to exploring "winter citrus?"

Now, I personally like to break down the year into 52 weekly themes because this just works well with my kids and our homeschooling style. But that might seem like a bit much for some folks, so instead you could simplify things and choose 12 monthly themes for the year. Say, "the autumn orchard" in September," "planting time" in May, or "hibernation" in November.

Also on my outline you can see that I list pertinent monthly events below the themes (in green text) and I use little keys to signify in which week the full moon falls as well as when liturgical events tie into our seasonal theme. For example -

✝️ I connect St. Martin's Day (aka Martinmas) with the darkening days of late fall, and the need to light our own inner lights. (This also ties in with Daylight Savings Time ending on 11/4.)

✝️ I tie in the "sticks and stones" of the early December garden with St. Barbara's Day (and the traditional gathering of branches for Christmas bloom).

✝️ The week of the Annunciation is devoted to "sleepy seeds," and we not only plant our own spring hopes in a potting tray, but we make a sweet seed cake to serve on that feast day.

✝️ For St. George's Day we learn about "dragons of the wood" - aka spring salamanders! (Which were once thought to actually BE tiny dragons!)

The liturgical year has such a beautiful rhythm - a time for all things and a reassuring repetition - and I am often overjoyed to find how neatly it dovetails with the familiar framework of the natural year! Both calendars bring me much peace and by following them with my family, we are continually reminding ourselves of the many blessings to behold in any given year. The very gift of another 365 days on this earth is perhaps the best blessing of all - something to remember as the year turns and we take delight in another first snowfall, first crocus, first branch of fiery foliage, or first bat fluttering across a summer night sky ... :)

Ok, moving on now - here is a SEASONAL PLANNING SPREADSHEET, a new form I made up for myself this year:

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I'm sharing this two-page planning spread even though I realize it's quite personalized, re homeschooling subjects and all. For each theme I have a box in which to plan:

  • Events of Note
  • Nature Study
  • Outings/Field Trips
  • Creative Play
  • Reading ...
  • Verse to learn
  • Language Arts
  • Science/Math
  • Social Studies
  • Crafting
  • Home/Family (bringing everyone into it!)
  • Art/Music
  • Notes

This list represents the elements of our weekly rhythm - one day is for nature study, one day is for crafting, etc. This is the framework of our kindergarten at home - but at present we are still working out a few scheduling details for our new homeschooling year. I may be adjusting our weekly rhythm as September rolls around ...

Well my friends, I am running out of time, so in tomorrow's post I will share a few more things in preparation for Friday's talk. Please let me know if there are any points you'd like me to clarify or expand upon! I'm off for now, but as always, I thank you for joining me and will look forward to seeing you here again very soon ...

Blessings


Printable Planning Sheets! Plus, WEBINAR news!

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Hello my friends and Happy Monday! I am so excited to share a couple of super fun things with you all today!

First of all, I have some more seasonal planning sheets for you! These are for the remaining months of 2018, and I do hope you enjoy them! (Please let me know if you have any problems opening these PDFs, or if - heaven forbid - there are mistakes!)

September 2018 Planning Sheets

October 2018 Planning Sheets

November 2018 Planning Sheets

December 2018 Planning Sheets

(Please stay tuned for info on 2019 Planners this fall.)

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And now for more details on the webinar I mentioned earlier this month, and that exciting event is coming up THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 17th!

Here's a link with all the info and a sign-up form:

Homeschool Connections: Inspire Virtual Conference 

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"This FREE online conference will provide you focus to ramp up your planning efforts while invigorating your outlook for the upcoming school year."

(Did I mention this webinar is FREE?!?)

My dear friend Mary Ellen Barrett will be interviewing five different folks on various homeschooling topics, and honestly I am more than a little overwhelmed by the amazing company I am in: Jennifer Mackintosh, Dave Palmer, Tony Agnesi, and Bonnie Landry! I feel truly honored and humbled to have been asked to join this panel of gifted and accomplished speakers!

Now, when you sign up for INSPIRE, you can choose which talks you wish to "attend" - they begin with Jennifer's at 10 a.m. and end with mine at 2:45 p.m. (eastern time). My talk is titled, "Seasonal Homeschooling: Cultivating a Gentle, Grateful Year," and not surprisingly, I'm still working out my notes! I do hope to have some helpful thoughts to share, a few favorite resources to show you ... and well, you just KNOW I will have a big cup of tea in my hand! :-)

Ok, so that's all for today, but I will have another post (maybe two!) to share this week as we get closer to Friday. I have some PDFs in mind to create and there MAY be a GIVEAWAY in the works!! So please stay tuned, and I will see you here again very soon!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

p.s. Top photo: Sunday office hours - it was a "big mug" kind of day!


August Plans & News!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! I hope all is well with you all!:)

I'm popping in today to share my August 2018 planning sheets ... and to say I'm very sorry it's taken me so long to post them! The good news is - it's not QUITE August yet, lol! The better news is - I'll have September through December sheets to share with you within a week or so. :)

But more on my planner situation a little further below, first I thought I'd share a little about our seasonal themes for next month ...

Our August Seasonal Themes

7/30-8/5: bats at dusk

8/6-8/12: shooting stars

8/13-8/19: blueberries

8/20-8/26: seashells by the seashore

8/27-9/2: sunflowers

Here is a look at the "spreadsheet" I designed for planning out our weeks:

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It probably seems like a lot of information overload, but I find it very helpful to see all these variables in one place - though I feel compelled to add, we won't get ALL these ideas done! These are all possibilities ... :)

I get asked about my seasonal homeschooling quite often, and so here's a peek at my list of weekly themes:

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I'm also frequently asked about the themes themselves - do I repeat them from year to year?

Well the answer to that question is yes - mostly. Because for one thing, we almost never explore a theme to the depth it might be explored (and some particularly busy weeks we miss out entirely) but also, the point of this rhythm is to nurture a fond familiarity with the nuances of each season, as well as a sense of happy anticipation throughout the year.

I do change things up sometimes though - for instance, this week we are doing "bats at dusk" but it could have been "first grains" to go along with Lammas Day. Though they won't be our focus, we will be exploring grains a bit - reading The Little Red Hen, baking corn muffins and observing this lovely poster, a gift from a friend:

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Meanwhile, just across the learning room, on display are the books we're using this week:

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Now, why bats you might ask? Well, at this time of year we spend most evenings watching tiny bats swoop over our yard! (And I know that because of the nature notes I keep from year to year, reminding me what to look for when.) Bat-watching has become something of a sweet, simple ritual - sitting on the front steps after supper, watching those tiny dark forms flit about the lavender sky, noticing the warm air and the lingering light ...

It's a fun and interesting activity to be certain, but more than that, this happy pastime reminds the whole family to slow down, pay attention, share in the blessings of each season, and TAKE JOY in the time we've been granted!

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OK, at long last, here in the nick of time are my:

August 2018 Planner Pages !!!

Yep, that's just ONE PDF for the whole month! I finally figured out how to create multi-page PDFs and that makes it so much easier to print out the planning sheets! Please let me know if you have any trouble opening this file - and I hope you enjoy! (I've changed this just a bit ...)

As I said above, I will have the rest of my 2018 planning sheets available to print with the next week. As for my 2019 planner ...

Well, I am trying my best to get that organized, too - and to figure out if this is something I might sell (!) or continue to share here as I've done the past couple of years. The good news is, I have about half the year done already ... so it shouldn't be too long before I have something to share with you.

Ok, and finally - here's some really fun news! On August 17th I will be taking part in a "Homeschool Connections" webinar hosted by Mary Ellen Barrett! I'll share more details in the next couple of weeks, but wanted to let you all know that I'll be talking about my homemade planner, my seasonal themes and kindergarten plans for the year ahead ... plus a few other things, depending upon what questions are asked!

So please stay tuned and thanks so much for your patience ... and as always, for stopping by! I hope you all enjoy these last few days of July ... :)

I will see you here again very soon!


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

Hello my friends, and Happy July! ðŸŽ† 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. ðŸ’›

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 90°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. ðŸ’™

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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. ðŸ’™

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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. ðŸ’™

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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!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longtime readers might remember this picture ... ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will see you here again very soon!