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December 2007

Crafting a Calendar, Part 3

*Now, the essential thing to know is, I don't do everything on these lists! (That's the problem, remember?) Please don't think I am some kind of superwoman who keeps up with all her housekeeping effortlessly. :) If I were such a woman, my husband would never have to dry his socks on his car heater, and I wouldn't need all these lists, lol!*

I am going to post my daily homekeeping routine in my next post, but for right now, I want to address a couple of questions that came in via the comments last night:

KC asked about dating the planner pages ...

A few years back, I tried dating each page for a planner I was printing out, but let me tell you, that was a very dicey process - confusing and time-consuming. This time, by printing 52 Monday pages all at once, (actually 13 in 4 batches so the paper doesn't jam) and then printing Tuesdays on the back in the same way, it didn't really take much time. I spent Saturday finalizing the Word documents and then Sunday morning I started printing before we left for church, continued when we got home, and by noon I was done and ready to head for the copy shop. I will add particulars (date, events of note, etc.) by hand.

Meredith asked about the cost of the project ...

I paid $5.24 for the binding at Kinkos. A pack of 500 sheets of copy paper cost me $5.29; I used 210 sheets, so that adds another $2.22 (maybe a bit more if you count the occasional page I messed up). The cover sheet I bought at a paper craft store for 75 cents, and the cardboard backing, lol, I pulled off the back of a pack of construction paper! It was just the right size. ;) As for the ink, that is the only thing I can't figure out. I have no idea how much of our color ink I used up printing these pages, only I will say I never got the message that the ink was running low. Needless to say, you could print a black and white version of the calendar for less money, but for me, the color might make all the difference. ;)

Now, a word about formulating the checklists. What I did was to spend a good deal of time thinking about all the things that should be done in a household day, week, month, year. I started with suggested lists in favorite homekeeping books and worked from there. I wrote it all down randomly (even walking room by room to jog my memory), then looked it all over and, task by task, asked myself, A. does this need to be done and, B. how often does it need to be done? Then I started organizing the tasks into routines.

I also found it helpful to visualize how I wanted each day to be. So for instance, starting with Sunday, I thought about how nice it would be to be all organized for church (in other words not running around looking for clean socks and dollar bills) and to return home to hot coffee and something nice I've baked. I wanted the week's Gospel to be familiar to the boys at Mass. I also wanted Sunday to be a quiet day with no major housekeeping to do and a hot Sunday dinner on the menu. Knowing this is how I wanted Sunday to be, I worked backwards ...


  • I need to organize church outfits on Saturday (pressing clothing if need be when there's actually time). If laundry had been done earlier in the week, then there should be plenty of clean socks and dress clothes hanging in the closet. ;)
  • I need to prepare the collections in advance too. When I am running errands Saturday morning I can be sure to get the money I need for our family envelope as well as dollar bills for the boys' allowance (from which comes their contribution).
  • I need to sit down with the boys near week's end to read the Sunday liturgy (using Magnifikid) and do any crafts or projects that wll bring the church year into focus in our home.
  • I need to tidy up the house before Saturday's bedtime, so we wake to a neat and fresh house Sunday morning. (And if all the cleaning tasks have been done throughout the week, then all that should be necessary is a quick tidy.)
  • I need to plan a nice meal for Sunday afternoon. Which means on my Saturday marketing trip, I have all the ingredients written down on my list, and I purchase all the items. Keeping Sunday a quieter day (no outside commitments) and getting the house in order beforehand, means it is more likely I will have the time and energy to pull together a nice family dinner.

And on it goes. Each day has its own rhythm and needs and those needs can be translated into simple tasks that can often be done (or at least begun) in advance. Of course, all this looks good on paper (or, computer screen as it were), but this doesn't mean it all will get done. This is the easy part, all this planning. The hard part comes next: actually working through the tasks everyday.

Please understand I am not complaining. Though I do love the planning (it comes easy to me and it's fun) I have no qualms about the housework (draining though it can be at times). Mainly it's about finding the time to get it all done. And, bottom line, all of this supports my family and our home, my life's greatest blessings. It might sound corny but this is my work, my sun up and sun down, my love put into action ...

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

OK, I'll wrap up. You all are so good to hear me out on all this! This was another very long post, so I will save my daily homekeeping routine for next time. :)

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the remaining hours of 2007 and may I wish you all a Very Happy New Year!

Crafting a Calendar, Part 2


Here we are a mere stone's throw from January 1st, and I just got my 2008 daybook put together today. This is the "daily visual reminder" I alluded to in my post on routines. To be sure, it's a humble, homemade planner - mostly just a year's worth of checklists - but I'm really excited to use it. I printed and assembled the pages at home, and then swung by Kinko's after lunch to have them all bound into a book.

As I mentioned recently, I've done this before (made a planner, that is), but with little success. But I have a good feeling about this one. First of all, I really like how it looks. :) I'm a smidgen more tech-savvy than I used to be, so this planner is more decorative than ones I've made in the past. I changed the font to a prettier style, and wonder-of-wonders I figured out how to add not just "custom" colors, but borders and tables, too! Actually, I shouldn't give myself too much credit ~ I hit the right buttons quite by accident. ;)

So, about this planner. Here it is at a glance:


In all, there are 210 pages (regular copy paper), a cardstock cover and a cardboard backing. A black plastic spiral binding holds it all together.

Inside the front cover we have:


On the left, three columns; here I'll jot down goals for the new year. On the right are 12 open boxes ~ this page will serve as a year-at-a-glance. Just general notes for each month - like, birthdays, special events and reminders.

Next we jump right into the planner itself: 52 weeks, all laid out in the same way, one day to a page:

  • Monday/Tuesday
  • Wednesday/Thursday
  • Friday/Saturday
  • Sunday/Notes

Here is a Saturday/Sunday spread:


Each page (one for each day of the year) has the basic daily checklist listed on the lefthand side, and to the right, in a higlighted box, are the homekeeping tasks meant for that particular day of the week. There is ample space for notes, too.

Here's a close-up so you can see the colors and font. ;)


These pages present a checklist to consult and work off of everyday - daily reminders of what needs to be done. (Granted, the list doesn't change much day-to-day, but we covered the whole mommy brain issue in my previous post. Every little bit helps - or I hope it will.) The bonus is, I also have a spot where I can jot down notes for upcoming days. Let's say I need to bring something for someone I'm seeing on Wednesday the 9th of January. I can flip open to that day and write the reminder down there. My file crate system, as much as I love it, doesn't really address this kind of daily planning.

These pictures don't show the cover all that well, but it is a very pretty brown floral. It matches my backpack, actually.


I might use those little stick-on tab things to divide the book into months, but I'm not sure I like how they look. I should also mention, I did not print out the pages pre-dated. That would have taken waaaay too much time. Instead, I will jot down the date on the top of each page by hand. I will also add any significance to the day such as a holiday, feast day or birthday etc.

The daybook is a good size (8.5x11) but it fits neatly in my bag. I envision myself using it mostly at home, though - keeping it open on my counter where I can refer to it, or quickly jot down something as it comes up. Of course only time will tell how useful this planner will be, so I'll let you all know in a few weeks how it's going.

Well, that's all for now ... thanks to everyone who's been sharing their thoughts on calendars and planning throughout my previous posts. It's great to hear about what has worked for other folks! And as always, thanks to everyone who stops by just to visit ... I hope you all have a great night. :)

My Weekly Homekeeping Routine

"Keeping a house in order means having everything in its place in every room. It means sweet, fresh air in every room; it means removal of dust and litter. A good housekeeper tidies her rooms as she goes along, always picking up anything that is out of place and putting it where it belongs. But she also has an order for doing things. Perhaps she sweeps the entire house every day or every other day, or perhaps she puts one room in order on one day and another on another and so on. The important thing is to have a regular plan."

(From Scouting for Girls: The Original 1920 Handbook)

I've been working on my homekeeping routines for a while now, so you would think, given how much time I've spent on them, they would be firmly committed to memory. And quite possibly, they are. But remembering what needs to be done is just half the battle - we all know a list only gets you so far. A busy mum needs a strategy for actually making it happen.

Do I have a list? Yes. I have lists in spades.

Do I have a strategy in place? Well, almost ... but not quite.

First off, all the tasks in my routine really are necessary. As I tell Bill when I show him the rather lengthy list, I'm not making any of this stuff up, lol. Each task plays its part in keeping our home (and family and homeschool) humming along nicely. But why is it so hard to stick with a routine? Do you find that to be so? Or am I just woefully lacking in domestic discipline? ;)

I'm pretty sure the issue lies within the parameters of delegation and time. For one thing, I need to ask for more help (it simply can't all be done by one person). And for two, I need to remind myself - at least a few times a day - of what needs to be done. I need some kind of daily visual reminder, because goodness knows, my brain can't keep track of it all on its own.

We all know that when you're a parent (and particularly if you're a homeschooling parent) your day begins at the get-go. And it's a full one. Your mommy brain is filled to the brim within minutes of waking (mainly because it never cleared space from the day before) and you just set yourself on auto-pilot, putting out fires as they come at you. Sometimes it's easy to lose track of what day it is even! (I don't mean to speak for you, but it's happened to me on occasion.) ;)

So about that daily visual reminder - well that's in the works. (In fact, my printer is chugging away as I type up this post.) But for now, and without further ado (I'm always long on ado), here is my weekly homekeeping routine:


  • clean the bedrooms:
    • strip beds (launder bedding)
    • open windows
    • neaten, dust/wipe surfaces
    • vacuum
    • remake beds with fresh linens
  • do laundry (bedding first, then clothing)


  • clean the upstairs bath:
    • empty trash bin
    • launder towels and mats
    • wash counters, walls and other surfaces
    • clean the toilet (in and around)
    • wash out sink (including drain)
    • rinse out toothbrush and soap holders
    • rinse out tub/wipe edges and around drain
    • wipe down shower doors
    • sweep and mop floor (before bed)
    • wash medicine chest front
    • check linen closet for supplies (add to marketing list)
    • hang fresh towels; lay out fresh mats
  • continue laundry (towels first, then clothing)
  • wash cat dishes thoroughly
  • groom cats


  • clean the kitchen:
    • neaten and wash down countertops
    • wipe up windowsill
    • wash out sink (flush drains with boiling water)
    • wipe stovetop and vent hood
    • wipe up appliances
    • sweep and mop floor (before bed)
    • clean out cabinets, refrigerator and freezer of any old food
    • wipe down refrigerator shelves; neaten refrig. front
  • finish up any remaining laundry (soak and wash dishcloths)
  • start marketing list (note things needed)
  • organize trash and recycling


  • put out trash and recycling
  • wash out trash bin
  • clean the living room and family room:
    • neaten (de-clutter)
    • straighten bookcases
    • wipe surfaces
    • wash front door glass
    • wipe phones, computers, clickers
    • straighten couch cushions (vacuum if needed)
    • wash entryway floor
    • vacuum carpets
  • sale flyers arrive: look over specials
  • work on marketing list
  • work on menu plan for next week
  • go through in-box
  • look at next week's file folder and calendar
  • begin a weekend errand list


  • clean the learning (dining) room:
    • neaten/de-clutter
    • straighten bookcase and learning display
    • wash tabletop and wipe chairs
    • wash window panes
    • vacuum
  • finalize errands list, marketing list
  • organize coupon packet
  • go through school bags
  • round up library returns
  • prepare newspaper payment
  • general tidy-up for weekend


  • put out newspaper payment
  • run errands (library, post office, etc.) and do grocery shopping
  • miscellaneous home, garden & auto maintenance
  • neaten/restock birdfeeders
  • neaten downstairs playroom
  • catch up on correspondence
  • organize receipts; update budget
  • make library requests
  • print library sheet
  • file away last week's papers, etc.
  • update clipboard for next week
  • work on next week's lesson plan
  • bake for Sunday breakfast
  • lay out church clothes; prepare collection envelope


  • Mass
  • Breakfast with Mum and Dad
  • clip coupons
  • read papers and newsmagazines
  • finalize lesson plan
  • prepare learning display, worktable and school bags
  • work in journal
  • Sunday Dinner
  • bring laundry downstairs for Monday morning

Now, the tricky part will be fitting these weekly tasks in and around the already fairly full daily routine. But the real challenge will be finding the extra "oomph" in my day to get all these things done. (And still have time to blog about it all, lol.)

And since oomph is best achieved by getting a good night's sleep, I'm off now to do just that. :)

Good night, everyone! (And Go Pats!)

Crafting a Calendar


If there's such a thing as National Calendar Week, surely this must be it - lately, it's all anyone's talking about, shopping for and possibly constructing. I myself nabbed my favorite page-a-day calendar just today - on post-holiday sale, of course. ;)

Now admittedly, I don't really need the page-a-day - it's not like it's convenient for writing down appointments and things, and it's not very portable. But it's not meant to be. The page-a-day is all about the cheerful images and the uplifting quotes. Simply put, it makes me smile, it looks cute on my desk, and the torn-off pages are perfect for my daily to-do lists.

And then there's the liturgical calendar my pastor passes out every year. This one I hang above the kitchen island where I park my laptop everyday. It's not convenient to write on (the squares are small and my pen always runs out when I try to write vertically). But it's a handy at-a-glance reference for checking dates quickly and looking up information re the church year - feast days, liturgical seasons and such.

So the aforementioned calendars are good for inspiration and information, but then there's the calendar that's meant to be a workhorse. The one that can take a lot of handling - a lot of writing, erasing, scratching out and re-scheduling. We mothers have a whole lot of things to plan on our family's collective behalf ~ field trips, classes, club meetings, practices, appointments, home care, bill paying, holiday fun, hot suppers, ETC.

It might be the cardinal rule in planners and planning to use just one calendar, but how can one calendar handle all that (plus all the things I didn't mention)?

I'm still struggling with this question, even as I pore my energy into the one this post will (eventually) be about. :) I've made calendars before - but I always end up chucking them and using the store bought ones that may be no fun, but do their job without fuss. Do you, too, find it hard to settle on just one calendar? Have you found one (or made one) that works well year after year?

For a homemade calendar (which I'm attempting again this year, in case I didn't make myself clear), there must first be materials, and for materials, you must go to the craft store. (You simply must.) Or you could be really decadent and go to the asbolutely fabulous paper craft store two towns over, way out of your way and not on your list of things to do, but highly recommended by a friend (and fellow calendar enthusiast) and ultimately so worth the trip ...

Two and a half hours later (there was a grocery store stop in there too), this is what I came home with:


Stiff cardboard pieces, 12x12 cardstock in pretty blue florals (for the covers), and ivory lined and graph designs (for the planning pages) and adhesive memorabilia pockets (tba).

But here's the thing about this proposed calendar: it's going to be big (12x12). It's not going to come along with me to the therapy appointments or to the dentist or the hairdresser's (the boring store-bought one will do that). This calendar will be kept parked on my desk - the spot where I plan and organize, where I look through books, file folders and store flyers. And at the end of the year it will serve as a scrapbook of sorts - a year of tending hearth and home in a book.

Possibly I could make the calendar smaller (8.5x11, say) and then it would be much more portable. But I like the idea of a homemaking diary kept at my desk, where most if not all my planning takes place anyway. Plus, I think this calendar will make a nice companion to my file crate system, which is also a homebound operation. :)

I have only just begun to assemble it, but I'll show you what I've got so far ...


I used glue dots for attaching the printed cardstock to the cardboard (the cardboard will give the diary some weight and a firm backing for writing). Then I placed the pages in order, and after a bit more tweaking over the next day or so, I'll bring it to the copy shop and have it spiral-bound.

Here's the cover:


And just inside the first page, a lined sheet ...


A word on the paper. It has the loveliest vintage hue to it - it looks like paper that you might have found in an attic, paper that came from school days long ago. It has an excellent feel to it and has a light worn ivory base with soft blue and red markings. It reminds me of paper I'd find at my grandparents' sometimes - extra paper saved from my mum's school days. How I loved to write on that!

So, I'll have the pages laid out in this way: a lined page for notes on the season, followed by a two page graph paper spread for the two months of said season:


As these pages are completely blank, I'll have my work cut out for me. But the graph pages, so neatly lined, will be a snap to whip into calendar shape.

The planning sections inside will be ordered in this way:

  • Winter: January-February
  • Early Spring: March-April
  • Late Spring: May-June
  • Summer: July-August
  • Autumn: September-October
  • Holiday: November-December

I am tempted to add other things in here, like project pages, budget pages, meal planning pages and whatnot. But we'll see ... for now, I'm keeping it simple.

Well, that's the calendar update for now. Even as I type up this post, I'm not entirely sure it will work out. But, you know, it wouldn't be the new year without me spending a ridiculous amount of time planning and assembling a "new and improved" calendar that may or may not actually end up getting used ... ;)

So, tell me ~ what are you doing about a calendar this year? Are you trying something new, or returning to an old favorite? Does any of this ring a bell with you, or are you shaking your head in disbelief, thankful you're not nearly so obsessive picky about planning, lol?

Well, I hope you all have a good night. The weekend's here at last, and my guys are all on the mend. Save for the Pats game (and all the calendar-making of course) it should be a quiet uneventful weekend ...

Which is just what we need. :)

Poetry Friday: Letter to a Friend


I salute you!

I am your friend and my love for you goes deep.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today ...

Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant ...

Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow, behind it, yet within our reach, is joy ...

Take joy!

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty … that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven ...

And so at this Christmas time, I greet you, with profound esteem and with prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

~ Fra Giovanni, 1513

Not technically a poem, but a quotation ~ a beautiful and heartfelt message with which to ring in the New Year. And so today I'm wishing you all these things ... as well as a Happy Friday. :)

New Year's Notes ...

Very much a work in progress ...


I have almost no time to post this afternoon, but I'm throwing a couple of pictures up anyway ... I'll elaborate tomorrow. ;) Suffice it to say I'm in a new year state of mind ... Favorite idea books have been pulled out, calendars have been consulted, and countless cups of cocoa have been consumed ...


It's just what I instinctively do at this time of year. (I bet you do the same, only probably with less cocoa.) I find it's a great antidote to the inevitable post-holiday blues, to brainstorm all the wonderful things the new year holds in store ...

January brings hot stews, snow days and birds at the feeders ...

February brings Candlemas, the Superbowl, and the beginning of Lent ...

March brings the first crocus, Easter Sunday and maple sugaring ...

April brings gentle rains, Opening Day and forsythia bloom ...

May brings Mary's month, summer movies, the first barbecue of the year ...

and so on ...

I only got so far though: a partially filled in year-at-a-glance, and a homemade calendar half assembled ... I was busy with other things, you see. For one, I'm still cleaning from Christmas, and for two ~ Earlybird seems to have come down with what Crackerjack had the other day. He's sleeping now, though, and hopefully his nap will do him good (it did me, lol).

I'm off for now ~ Bill just got in, and Bookworm and I are off to meet friends at the movies. I'll check back in sometime tomorrow ...

Good night!

The Morning after The Big Day


This was meant to be a morning post (hence the title) but it has taken me all day just to finish it up! And now I'm too tired to think up a new title, lol. ;) It's been a fairly quiet day for us - we visited my grandmother mid-morning, and spent the balance of the day cleaning up, moving tables, eating leftovers, etc. But since our day did start very early I was able to catch the waning full moon as it sank in the western sky ... 

I'm never happy when the holiday is over and yet, there is something so lovely and restful about December 26th. It's a good day to catch my breath - to reflect on the Christmas that was, and to jot down ideas for next year. If I may, please let me share a few pictures from our Day yesterday ...a long day, but so much fun.

Here are the boys just moments after the big wake up. Dare I ask what time your children wake you on Christmas morn? Is it still dark when you rise, lol? ;)


We were very grateful that Crackerjack, who had been sick, woke up feeling A-Ok. No fever, tummy quiet - we breathed a collective sigh of relief: Christmas could proceed as originally planned. :)

After all the unwrapping, the boys dove into their gifts (and Bill began some assembly required) and I took a few moments to finish up the aunt-and-uncle gifts:


I really had fun with this packaging. The taller bags in back (just plain paper lunch bags tied up with burgundy raffia and a homeade tag) contained Christmas coffees. The smaller red bags contained holiday teas and the mini pumpkin breads (baked by Bill, btw!) were tied up with a cloth ribbon.

We began our Christmas breakfast with my folks and my brother Matt, and my brother-in-law, Greg.


I took this picture before the table was fully set, and I'm glad I did. I had a feeling once I got busy with the cooking and visting, I'd forget all about taking pictures. In this picture you see the coffee corner, the Christmas plates and mugs, the pitchers of Christmas punch and eggnog, the breads and, in the distance, the fruit salad. Still to come: crumb cake, bread pudding, egg and sausage casserole and slow-cooked kielbasa. Those beautiful flowers in the middle (wish I got a better shot) were sent to us by my Aunt Pat and Uncle Dave. They were filled with candy canes, carnations and all kinds of lovely holiday blooms.

After breakfast, came brunch with Bill's folks, and then there was a brief lull before the afternoon Christmas party! Pictured below are the appetizers (which captured the attention of Bookworm, and my cousins Kate and Kara) ...


The appetizers were all familiar favorites: hot artichoke dip with French bread, a broccoli and cherry tomato wreath served with hummus, a cheese ball with crackers, Bookworm's favorite crabbies and cream cheese with hot pepper jelly.

I also have to show you this picture of my cousin's girls. Aren't they sweet? Their Christmas dresses were just precious.


No pictures of dinner or dessert, I'm afraid, but I can tell you what we had: a ham, maple baked beans, macaroni-and-cheese, baked ziti, meatballs and sauce and rolls ... then, sugar cookies, anise drops, chocolate cake, biscotti, cherry-nut loaf and assorted cookies and candies. Mulled cider and coffee, of course, too!

Before I go, I must show you my favorite of all the gifts I received - these gorgeous candles the boys made for me, all glittery and soft. They made these with my mum one day and it was all very hush-hush. I love them!


Well, I'd best be going. Still more to do to get the house back to normal. We leave up our decorations till Little Christmas (though we do often take down our tree on New Year' Day). I think I'll forgo that nap I was considering ~ I've got a fresh cup of tea and a crisp new calendar in my lap ... maybe I'll work on some plans for 2008. :)

I do hope your Christmas was merry and bright, and I hope your day after is quiet and calm. See you all again sometime soon!

For the Little Birds ...


Some treats to make their Christmas merry ...


Just a few wholesome ingredients ...


Hung in our favorite spruce tree ...


Light fading fast ...



Enjoy, little friend!


*~*Feeding the Birds, by Rumer Godden*~*

Charity starts in the nest,

The human breast;

Like birds

It needs no words

But sings

When it is given;

Has wings

To lift

The spirit up,

By gift

Of this small water cup,

To heaven;

And warm and light as feathers the bread

Spared to see creation fed.

Love in a crumb is a mystery;

Bread is the Body of charity;

Little nerves of finch or tit

Fly down to feast and quicken it;

Robin, blackbird, sparrow, wren,

Feasted, quicken it in men.”

Winter Blessings to you all! May your night be warm and bright!

Afternoon Check-in :)


Oh my goodness, this cup of cocoa tastes soooo good right now. Yes, cocoa! Not coffee and not tea, but good old-fashioned cocoa. Well, old-fashioned in the Swiss-Miss-of-my-childhood sense of the word. ;) Just got in a bit ago after a very long day out there in all the bustle. Finishing up the Christmas shopping, mailing the cards, picking up the birdseed (in bulk) ...

Boy, after a morning out there, I'm all the happier to be back in here. In here where it's warm and soft and quiet. Out there it's all cold and crunchy and crazy. But you know, I only do this once (the mall thing, that is), and I do it with my mum. So it's fun. (And lunch at The Cheesecake Factory helped immensely.)

The boys and Bill stayed at home, and while I was out, Bill worked his own brand of Christmas magic, too ~ there are now cranberry lights on the railing, a tiny sparkly tree in the playroom and at long last we have candles in the windows! All this soft lovely light, just in time for the longest night of the year!

Oh, it's so good to be home. So good to be thisclose to Christmas ...

The first thing I did after I hauled in all the packages (or, um, directed Bill as he hauled in all the packages, lol), was to light the kettle and sit for a spell by my bird windows. I highly recommend bird windows if you're in need to unwind. All God's creatures are lovely, but oh, the tiny feathered ones sure are fun to watch.

I took the junco picture above just before it got dark, and as you can see he minded not a whit that I was so close to the window. (I'm not sure why this is. Most likely because we've been feeding and watching them so long they've gotten comfortable with us. Many birds are still very shy, but some, like the chickadees, are right little hams.) To answer Rose's question, my camera is a Sony Cyber-shot and no, I don't use any special lenses or anything. Regular setting, never a flash. Sometimes I use the little flower button (I'm so tech-savvy, I know) for close-ups. Say, for bugs or frost particles or tiny dew drops. I mostly take bird pictures through windows, so all in all I'm happy with it.

(By the way speaking of bird pictures, do check out the beautiful ones at Nori's!)

All right, by now you're wondering about the point of my post. (Is there one? Where is she going with all this?) Nowhere special, really. I just love sitting down in the afternoon with a hot cuppa something and checking in with you all. :)

Today, my mind is on lists. The ones spread all over my lap, the ones that need to be revisited after today's shopping sojourn. Over at 4Real, Ruth asked the question: How long is your to-do list? So, like Cay, I'm listing them all out. Right here.

Ready? :)

  • go over lists!
  • finish rest of cards tonight
    • while watching a movie with Bill
  • unpack packages and sort through gifts
  • wrap gifts
  • one more stop at the bookstore!
  • plan Christmas menus:
    • early breakfast
    • brunch
    • afternoon buffet
  • shop for Christmas menus
  • cook for Christmas menus
  • bake gift breads
  • clean for company
  • salt walkways
  • boys' baths and haircuts
  • Midnight Mass

OK, now I'm off to start revamping those lists! And signing those cards! And planning those menus! And watching that movie! And then getting a good night's sleep ...

See you all sometime tomorrow! :)

More Snow Pics!

Well, it just snowed and snowed and snowed yesterday! Another four inches on top of all the snow we had already (which was about a foot and a half, I think). And since we were able to just stay in, it made for a very cozy, snowbound kind of day. :) It was hard to tear ourselves away from the windows for very long. We had so many visitors coming and going (of the feathered and furred variety, that is). I took lots of pictures throughout the day, and share some below ...

Now, today should be cloudy and cold, and I've got to leave this cozy nest of mine for a while. Bill is home and has begun his holiday vacation (yay!) so I'll leave the boys in his able hands and venture forth into the bustle to finish some last minute errands. First stop: the post office! Yes, I did get *some* of the cards done last night, but I'm waiting for Bill to finish printing the rest of the boys' pictures before I can do more. 

So here's how the backyard looked last yesterday afternoon (I took it through glass, so those are the family room lights shining through):


Oh, this was funny. One squirrel was trying his darndest to climb up the "squirrel proof" feeder that hangs just outside this window. He kept ending up falling down onto on the narrow sill (sometimes successfully, sometimes not - and then we'd look for the "body" down below). Then he'd sit there and peer in at us (and our cat) as if to say, "A little help here?"


Below is a picture of the Carolina wren (top) and downy woodpecker "sharing" the suet. Lol, these birds never like to share, but I guess stormy weather changes the rules . Or it could be the Christmas spirit. ;)


The holes you see below are burrows made by the clever squirrels. They find the stash that's been snowed under and then create these little caves where they can eat in peace.


This picture was taken face to face. That is, not through a window and not zoomed in. I was filling the feeders, and looked up to spy this fellow comfortably munching away, not concerned in the least that I was right there.


Any snow pictures must include a cardinal ... and here he is (the red fellow at top) joined by another favorite snowbird, the junco.


And another cardinal shot ... do you see his mate waiting patiently for her turn?


These were some tracks I spied in the snow as I filled the feeders. We have yet to look them up in our field guide. I think maybe they're just squirrel tracks but it would be very exciting if they were rabbit tracks as Bookworm suggested.


OK, one more sip of coffee and I'm off. I hope you have a good day, wherever it takes you! 

A Christmas Tree Tour


My posting might be light over the next several days as we head into the holiday week ~ so much to do, not much time left to do it ...

... The cards WILL be going out in tomorrow's mail, so if you've been wondering where ours is, it's on the way! :) The next few days we'll be baking, making a few last minute gifts, tidying for Tuesday and I have one day planned to brave all the craziness out there and finalize a few "brick-and-mortar" purchases. (I will probably need to post after that, lol.) ...

So for today, I wanted to put up some pictures of our Chistmas tree - my boys worked so hard on it! Since it looks so pretty at night, I took the pictures after dark. Which makes the pictures kind of dark too, but also kind of cozy.

I also want to take a moment to say thanks to the kind folks who voted for me in the Homeschool Blog Awards ~ as it turns out, my blog won the Best Crafts, Plans and Projects category! I am honored by your support and I am truly grateful if something I share here helps you in any small way. :)

Now, about that tree ...


This little patchwork mouse is my favorite of all - and has been since I was a little girl.


There are lots of birds all throughout our woodland themed tree, including this pheasant. I LOVE pheasants, and long to see one again ... our first home was somewhat "up country" and we had the sweetest pheasant family living in the field below our home. They would commute up our hill almost daily, and their call is so unmistakable, we almost never missed them.


A lovely church ornament - a gift from Crackerjack's CCD teacher last year. (It looks just like our church!)


Bookworm's CCD teacher's gift: a lovely Mother and Child in porcelain ...


Oh, yes, this  a house of boys, so you will find the stray pirate or Darth Vader in our tree as well. ;)


A colorful jack-in-the-box ...


Another bird, this one quite old (the old ones are the best) ...


A tiny wooden Christmas train ...


Our one-legged nutcracker ...


A pair of lovebirds on a piney perch ...


And the tree in one glance: kind of cluttered, kind of tilted, but very much loved! :)

Well, thanks for stopping by and checking in! I'm off now to start the day (which is snowy and cold here in my corner of New England). I hope you all have a good day ... and wherever you are, keep warm and be well! 

The Chickadee Post, Mid-December


Dear Earlybird,

Today is a very cold day in the woodland. Most of our food sources are snowed under, so we really appreciate the food your family puts out for us! Many of my feathered friends like the black oil seed the best, but I also like your spruce tree cones! I've sent you one as a small gift ~ I'm not sure if you like to eat spruce cones (I'm guessing probably not since there's always plenty on your tree!), but maybe you could put it on your nature shelf? (Or you could hang it on your Christmas tree. I've seen it through the windows. The lights are very pretty!)

In other woodland news, a Cooper's hawk has made himself quite a nuisance at the feeders. Perhaps you heard about poor Red Belly's close call yesterday? She's one lucky woodpecker, I tell you! Lately I've been keeping to the deeper areas of the woodland, so I've been safe. I'll come visit later in the winter when my food stores run low!

Well, Earlybird, I'd best get this note off to you as I'm expecting my cousin Gray Tail for tea at any moment. (I bet you'd like to know what I'm serving: fresh juniper juice and thistle seed cake!)

And here's Little Chickadee now, ready to deliver my note to you today! I'm so glad your Nana made you that special mailbox ~ now we can share all kinds of news with each other!

Keep warm and be well, my dear little boy ...

Your Friend,

Red Tail the Squirrel

There was some excitement here yesterday afternoon ~ Earlybird received his very first piece of Chickadee Post! How did he know? Well, for starters, the flag was up on his special nature mailbox!

Inside the box, EB found (top photo) a small note card and a real spruce cone ...


Now, the note card is just a piece of oatmeal-hued cardstock, folded over and adhered with a sticker. I used a rubber stamp for the chickadee image (and thankfully, my mum happened to be here, so she drew the little branch he's sitting on) ...


EB opened it up as fast as fingers would fly, and inside he found a special note ...


He was a bit over-excited to sit and listen at first, so I had him go and get his little red squirrel puppet and I read the note to him through the puppet's "voice." :) He enjoyed the story very much, and asked for it to be read again a few times over! Right after we finished reading, we set about decorating the spruce cone for our tree.

Of course, we began with a good spackling of glue ...


... followed by a liberal sprinkling of glitter, and then a jingle bell tied on with a bit of twine. Once dry, it was ready to hang:


Stay tuned for more tales from the woodland ~ brought to you (and EB!) by Chickadee Post! :)

A Christmas Corner Tour

Here's a little tour of a spot in our home that makes our afternoons and evenings (even our dark mornings) quite cozy: a Christmas corner in our family room. The boys love to curl up next to the fire, so I planned around it ~ bringing in cushions and baskets of books. I also made our mantel a centerpiece of decoration ...


First, tucked down in the far right, is the basket of winter-themed books (please see my leftand sidebar for a description of its contents). This bed-rest in Christmasy red has been borrowed from Crackerjack's room for the month of December. :)


A close up of the winter books ... these will stay out well after Christmas. Winter often overstays its welcome here in New England, but roundabouts February a few early spring titles will appear here.


And now for a quick tour of the mantel. Our theme this year is a woodland Christmas, a "Heaven and Nature Sing" kind of thing. Front and center we have a prayer card of The Holy Family, glowing in the light of a starry votive candle. Also we find a wooden lion and lamb, together, a universal symbol of peace.


At the far left and right, are holiday prints that I collected years ago and recently framed. If you are familiar with the Chinaberry catalog, you might remember the lovely covers that used to grace every issue ~ whimsical and sweet with tiny fairies and ladybugs, etc. They were hand-drawn by artist Louise Popoff, and I was quite disappointed when they stopped using her work. (They now use book illustrations which, of course, are lovely too. But I still miss that artwork.) Anyway, this year I finally worked these enchanting prints into the decor ...



You might notice in a few of these shots, the huge pine cones (there are two, one at each end). I found them at Whole Foods for $1.99. Normally, I wouldn't buy pinecones as they fall rather reliably from our own spruce and pine trees, but I couldn't get over the size of these! The funny thing was, the other day the boys and I read about "Digger Pines" which have cones "as big as softballs" and we think that's what these might be! We've never found any so big around here (in the wild, not the market, that is).

We also have a few little toys nestled in here and there, and that's a holly garland behind it all. I'd love real greenery, but so would my cats (and even at 16, they'd find a way up there), so plastic it had to be ...


The bears and the apine village ...


The wise old owl, the fawn and the squirrel ...


More village buildings, the rabbit and hedgehog ... I also nestled our Advent candles into the scene: plain glass votives with sheer ribbon wrapped around each (three in purple, one in pink).


The two main Christmas baskets (the one on the left holds our favorites).


The windowsill holds still more books (I change them up each week), and the rectangular basket holds our magazines (mostly mine, but a few of the boys' too).


We also have our current nature story basket. I pick puppets from our main stash that correspond with the birds and animals we've been observing. Just now there is a cardinal pair, a crow, a hawk and a black squirrel. (Yesterday we added a woodpecker.)


And, the Christmas tree is done at last! (I finally just let the boys have at it, lol.) I will take pictures today, but here is a glimpse of some ribbon I found this year - isn't it perfect for our woodland-themed tree?

I'll be back later today* with tree pictures and a bit of news from The Chickadee Post ... :)

*Make that first thing tomorrow ~ the day got away from me! See you bright and early, then ...

Down the December Trail ...


Last week, our Homeschool Nature Club met for a winter solstice program, and once again we had a great turnout! In past posts I've described the how's and why's of our group, so for today, I'm just going to plow on (a rather timely pun as you'll see) with the tale of our day. :) But I must mention that each month is organized by one mum (we are, roughly, a group of 15 families), and  December's meeting was led by my friend, Laura. She did a fabulous job, as you'll see! I hope you take away some ideas, or perhaps just some winter inspiration!

Since the forecast called for heavy snow, we bumped our meeting time up, and just after noontime our group had gathered at a local wildlife reservation, ready to observe some winter nature together.

It was an *extrememly* cold day, so I bundled up my boys (EB was home with Nana) ... and here they are, perched on their favorite rock and clutching their thermal cups of glogg. (Remember this was St. Lucia's Day, so we were already in a rather northerly mood):


Our meeting began inside this roomy pavilion. We listened to a charming Danish folktale, The Evergreens, as read by Odds Bodkins on his Gentle Tales of Nature CD.


As the kids listened, we passed around solstice cupcakes - golden representing the (returning) light and chocolate symbolizing the (retreating) dark:


Laura spent time explaining the science of the winter solstice to our group. Here she has two helpers, one holding a globe, and the other a flashlight (aka the sun). This was an excellent demonstration of the way the seasons change! 


Next we had a simple candle-lighting activity, and just as we gathered out in the open, the snow began to fall ...


Each of us got our own little votive to light at home on the first day of winter (which is this coming Saturday). The precise moment the solstice will occur is 1:08 a.m. EST, so I'm thinking we'll light our candles when we wake up Saturday morning. ;)

Next, most of us headed out for our nature walk, while some folks headed home to get ahead of the storm. All along the path Laura had "planted" stations of information where the the children could stop and learn more about the winter season. We began our walk rather leisurely, but soon we were moving along at a good clip - the snow was falling fast and furious!

Along the way we found:


Information about evergreens ...


A lovely Nativity, speckled with snow ...


Maps and excellent information ...


Questions for the children to ponder ...


A quick solstice experiment ...


Winter spices, such as this wonderful frankincense ...


A mistletoe pop quiz ...


Information on America's Stonehenge (I had no idea!)


And at the very end of the walk, Laura had sprigs of mistletoe for everyone to take home! She made sure to have the children wipe their hands after handling it due to its toxicity.

Because it was snowing hard, I hardly took any landscape pictures at all. Despite the weather, though, the day was informative and fun, a true winter welcome in every sense of the word!

And here's the last picture I took, just as we headed out of the park ...


Technically, winter may not be due for another five days, but it has made itself right at home here in New England! The storm that set in this day landed us with nine inches by morning! (See my Snow Days photo album at left for more details.) We had another storm yesterday - a Nor'easter - which is infamous in these parts for snow/sleet/rain and driving winds. And I hear tell there's more snow on the way for later this week!

All this snow can only mean good news for our January Nature Club meeting, however ... next month we'll be observing Animal Tracks in the Snow! Speaking of which, the boys and I are eager to see what animal signs we can find in our own snowy backyard ... once it warms up just a tad, that is!

Have a happy week!

A Special Gift for Earlybird*

*From the heart and hands of his Nana ...


I have been dying to tell you all about this project, a birthday gift for Earlybird from my mum (and to a much smaller degree me)! This is a mailbox, as you can see, but a very special mailbox ~ one that will bring Earlybird tiny notes and treasures from the woods ...

Let me back up a bit. A few months ago I came across an unfinished mailbox at AC Moore. Though it was quite inexpensive ($5), it was well made and sturdy. The door worked with a magnetic catch, the flag moved up and down smoothly. I immediately thought this could make a nice toy for Earlybird, so I purchased it on the spot.

Back at home, I started imagining how we could use it, and of course my mind wandered to nature study. You all know how much we love nature, well, what else could this mailbox bring but news from our woods?

So the next thing I did was to ask my mum (who paints beautifully) to help me with this project, and we hoped to have it done in time for EB's birthday. About a week ago, I gave her the mailbox and some vague indications of what I envisioned ("red squirrels, acorns, pine boughs and birds"), and from these sketchy ideas, she made this ...


I am just overwhelmed. It's too lovely for words!

Bill is going to build a special corner shelf in the learning room for our mailbox. And every few days, EB will see that little flag sticking up and that will mean ... MAIL!

And that's where I come in! I bought some rubber stamps, ink pads and some natural colored paper and tiny envelopes. Using these supplies I will pen little notes "from the woods." They will be delivered to EB's mailbox, naturally, by Chickadee Post. :)

And some days EB might find a tiny treat or treasure inside too! A spruce cone, a leaf, a feather, a ripe berry, a rock ... those simple, yet magical, kinds of things. Everything will have a story to it, of course. :)

My mum gave Earlybird (and me!) this lovely gift today, at EB's birthday party. Before I go, I'd like to share just a few pictures from our day ~ and you can be sure you'll be hearing more about (and from) the Chickadee Post before long!


EB helped me set the table. Everyone got at least one fork, and, possibly, a spoon. ;) Our theme was snowflakes, so Bookworm made lots for the windows, and I made a batch of snowy cupcakes for dessert ...



EB and his family!

Well, thanks for stopping by this evening and letting me gush share! It's now getting late, and we're hunkering in, waiting for that Nor'easter to hit sometime before dawn ~ now wouldn't that make a good story? :)

Have a good night!

~ Bits and Bobs ~

Christmaslilyofvalley_3*We have family coming today for Earlybird's birthday party. I don't think I need to say it but, he is sooo excited! :) With all this snowy weather, we're going to do a little snow theme - paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and a snowflake cake, too. I cannot wait to show you the little mailbox my mum has painted for EB! This is a project we are working on together, and I say working because my part is still not quite done! It's hard to describe, but I can say it will be a charming little vehicle for nature stories and surprises ... I'll post all about it later today!

*We have finally nailed down three good pictures of the boys, so the Christmas cards can be - will be! - finished this weekend. (We gave up trying to do a group photo a long time ago, lol.)

*This coming Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, the third week of Advent. I'll have to dig up our sparkly pink JOY letters and display them on the mantel. (And those are just about the only pink sparkly things to be found in my house, lol.) I'm a bit concerned about the caroling party scheduled for later on Sunday, because it involves a hayride and, in case you haven't heard ...

*We're in for a Nor'easter tonight! Yikes! It's not even officially winter yet, and it's already feeling more like January than December ... but I'll take it if it means a white Christmas. We haven't had one in years! (And thank goodness for UPS and the internet! Otherwise I'd be getting nothing done!)

*Then of course we have the much-anticipated Pats v. Jets game on Sunday. They're saying the stormy weather might keep the score down - but as long as they win, I don't care how many TD's Tom Brady throws! ;)

Well, that's all I can think of right now, and I'd best be getting that cake in the oven ... oh, one more thing! I have the post about our December Nature Club meeting just about ready to go ... I'll get that up tomorrow - of course, not until after the cards are finished! ;)

Have a GREAT weekend, everyone! Keep warm and well!

Papa, Don't Peek!

*Because what's to follow is a surprise!*

For his birthday (which, as I mentioned earlier, is shared with his Papa), Earlybird received a set of watercolor paints. I wish I could have captured his glee (there's no other word for it) on camera; painting is his most favorite thing to do. Ever. So it goes without saying, he was quite happy with his present and that watercolor painting became the morning's occupation.

We had just rolled up our sleeves when I reminded the older boys (who were researching sea creatures beside us) that we needed to make Papa his birthday card. They asked what his favorite color was and I replied that there were actually two colors: green and blue. Since EB had started in with those two very colors, we decided to use his work as a base for the card!


I shared with the boys how it is I can always remember Papa's favorite colors; it is because when I was little, on the years that we had outdoor lights, they were always blue and green. Now, truth be told, I would have liked multicolor or maybe pink or even white, but blue and green it was (and mostly blue). They were my dad's favorite (and what he grew up with) so those colors always stayed vivid in my mind. We decided to work this bit of information into our card:


Here is Earlybird's watercolored paper, dried and folded in half. It is set upon a stash of tissue paper in cool blues and greens.


I drew (with a plain old pen) a strand of old fashioned lights. Using a pair of manicure scissors, I cut out the bulb shapes, and then we tucked small squares of tissue paper behind each opening ...


Just a few stickers later and we had a card for Papa! (The paper clips are holding the card closed; the paper was warping a bit from being damp.) Final step - a piece of light blue cardstock attached inside upon which the boys can write their message. (That part of the project is still pending due to a much needed lunch break!)

This was a fun and easy craft to do with the boys, one I'll have to remember ~ I can visualize other themes down the road (birthday balloons, Easter eggs, pumpkins, etc.). At the rate EB cranks out those watercolors, I should have cards enough for the whole year before long! :)

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Earlybird!


Oh, if you're a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you're a bird, be an early early bird-
But if you're a worm, sleep late.

(Shel Silverstein)

Oh, Earlybird, you are my littlest man, but SIX is so big!

Six years ago today, you woke me - as has become your steadfast routine - just around 4 a.m. ... and those familiar pangs told me that TODAY was THE day! And though you were not due for another week, your Papa was right all along - you were indeed born on his birthday and now you get to share your special day with your Papa! So today we wish both you AND Papa a Happy, Happy Day!

We love you SO very much!!

9 a.m. update: Pictures from our Frosty Birthday Breakfast!





What a fun way to start a Snowday-Birthday!

It was going to be a Maple Snow Candy Breakfast, but when I realized I didn't have quite enough maple syrup on hand, I switched gears (and googled) and found this yummy and super-easy confection. So when I went out to fill the feeders this morning I walked way out back to where the snow was absolutely pristine, and filled my biggest stockpot to the brim! Back inside, I called the troops to the table and we set about concocting our "snow cream." It was fun and scrumptious!

So what came next for Earlybird? Well, a morning bath enhanced by bowls and bowls full of snow with which to play - and experiment! How quickly the water turned from warm to cool!

Today, then, we're at home, keeping warm - baking and tidying the house for EB's party tomorrow. How timely that we planned a "snow" themed lunch. :)

Happy Friday, everyone! 

Lovely Light on St. Lucia's Day


And just guess who these three little star boys might be?

If you read my blog last Advent, then you may recall that on the Feast of St. Lucia, we celebrated with orange buns and cone hats for the boys. This is a beautiful Swedish holiday ~ a lovely celebration of light at the darkest time of year. (You can learn more at this charming site here.)

Well, this morning a trio of starry-capped fellows appeared unexpectedly on our Christmas mantel. They were a surprise for the boys, and of course the candles glowing on the mantel at 6 a.m. drew their attention immediately!

I had made the star boys (or stjarngossar) late yesterday afternoon, and they were lickety-split quick to fix up. Just tiny wooden peg doll figures, painted pure white for the base and flesh-pink for the top. A bit of black pen added angelic faces and mere scraps of construction paper were curled into cone shapes to fit each little head. At the very tip of each hat, I placed a glittering star sticker. (Quick craft alert: These could be made into angels or carolers or even fairies just as easily!)

The next thing that caught their attention was the sweet fragrance of orange and cranberry in the air. Sure enough, I had a loaf bread in the oven ...


The recipe came from here, and it's a good one - but even better with a light dusting of powdered sugar and just a dab of butter. ;)

I also made up a pot of Glogg to take with us to Nature Club today. Glogg is a Swedish drink for the coldest nights of the year ... a hot mulled wine by tradition, but obviously I didn't use wine. (Though that would be nice some night for just Bill and me!) Instead I steeped cranberry juice in mulling spices all morning and by the time we were leaving, it was ready to go - and the house smelled like a country store at Christmas. (Do you know what I mean? That welcoming, spicy warm smell? Mmm, just like Vermont.)

So we did get off to Nature Club at last, and while there, I took lots of pictures. I'll post those tomorrow, but let me just say that though our meeting was brief (the storm hit!), it was wonderful. We learned about the winter solstice, we listened to an Odds Bodkins story, we ate solstice cupcakes and we took a nature walk together through the snowy woods ...

Best of all perhaps, was the candle-lighting ceremony. As we passed around a candle with which to light our own little votives - our lights began to glow and the snow began to fall as if on cue. It surely felt as if Winter had begun ...


I have to tell you though, it was a bit of a challenge to keep the "calm in my heart" on that drive home from Nature Club today! Goodness, the roads were terrible and the snow was coming down like crazy. But I just popped in a quiet tape of carols, sipped my glogg and whispered a prayer for our safe return home. :)

Now it's late afternoon and our home is surrounded by that lovely winter light that only a snowstorm affords. We have a Swedish book to read this evening - The Tomten and the Fox (if ever there was a quiet book, this is it) or perhaps an Elsa Beskow book or two. I love all her books, but I think Ollie's Ski Trip will do nicely for today. (Fyi, Earlybird is receiving The Sun Egg tomorrow for his birthday! I can't wait to read it, lol!)


A snowy, candle-lit afternoon; here's that quiet at last ...