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December 2008

On the last day of the year ...


Best Wishes and Bright Blessings to You!

It's just about noontime here and the snow is falling fast and furious! I'd guess we have a few inches so far ... But no plows yet - things are nice and quiet on our road. I wish you could all see the birds at our feeders - they are never so active as when there is a storm blowing about! At this very moment I see juncos, sparrows, woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, finches (gold and purple), titmice, a Carolina wren and even a tiny red squirrel! 

Well, the boys are clamoring for lunch, and I'm in the mood for some tea, so I'd best be going, but I wanted to get a quick post up to wish you all a very Happy New Year. If you're going to be out and about this evening, have a blast and be safe! And if you're staying in (like me) I hope your night is comfy and cozy ... 

But whatever your plans tonight, keep warm, have fun and I'll see you all again in the New Year! :)

A Few Notes for New Year's

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
*Alfred, Lord Tennyson*


I always think of bells at New Year's, though the above poem is not so well known as it once was. I guess it might be the old adage that encourages us to "ring" in a New Year. (Which perhaps came from that poem, I don't know.) Anyhoo, it would be fun to help the children learn this timeless poem, or a portion of it (the entire length can be found here), while decorating bell-shaped gingerbread cookies. As if we haven't had enough cookies the past week, lol! Personally, I think the timing is perfect; the Christmas cookies are gone - or those that remain are inedibly stale - and I'm itching to start my winter baking. Prepare a simple icing and let the kids decorate the cooled cookies with bright, fanciful decorations.


Read a book (or two) that reminds us of the highlights of the year:


One of my favorite books to read on New Year's eve is Cider Apples ~ a sweet and beautifully illustrated story about a young girl who is determined to help her grandparents save their ailing apple orchard. According to legend, pouring the last of the year's cider around the roots of the oldest tree in the orchard will do the trick. Read the book and see if it does ...

*Fresh Air*

I think a nature walk, bright and early New Year's Day, is a perfect way to start a brand new year - not to mention wake up! Bundle up well, strap on snowshoes if you must, look and listen for birds and enjoy the fresh air. Take pictures as you go and begin a brand new Nature Journal. 


On New Year's Day, a pot of wassail brewing on the stove will fill the house with good smells. Here's a festive (and child-friendly) variation from China Bayle's Book of Days:

Ruby's Spiced Cider Wassail~
(Makes about 4 quarts)

2 quarts apple cider
1 quart orange juice
1 quart apricot nectar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 broken pieces of cinnamon
1 tablespoon whole cloves
one orange, sliced thin
one lemon, sliced thin
whole cloves

In a nonreactive pan, bring to a boil the cider, juices, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Transfer to a heat-proof punch bowl. Stud the orange and lemon slices with whole cloves and float them in the wassail. Serve in heat-proof punch cups.


Look back over pictures from the year that was. (This is easy to do if you have a blog!) Remember the year that was, and jot down things you want to to do or notice during this new year. (For instance, we remembered how much we enjoyed growing pumpkins. I made a note in my May planner to pick up seedlings at the farm.)


I wish I had started earlier, but a pompom garland or fabric banner would make a happy, homespun kind of decoration. In fact, since I am positive I won't get around to making either one of these projects in the next 48 hours, I will write down the idea in my craft binder. Depending on the colors you use, either of these decorations would be lovely at anytime of year (birthdays, Easter, Independence Day, etc.).


Of course, it's almost a human instinct to make resolutions at this time of year, but I like to suggest making goals instead. We ask each of our boys to dream up what they hope to do this year - say learn to ride a bike or dive, camp out in the back yard, fish with Daddy, etc. - and we compile a big list of these ideas from everyone. We keep it handy and keep these activities in mind as we plan our months through the year.

*Next Year*

On New Year's Day we take down the tree, and pack up most of our Christmas decorations. As I do this, I take pictures of how things looked, and make note of things we'll need for next year. These notes and photos will begin a new Holiday Planner for next year. At the same time, I try to determine what could have been done better, what things we missed out on - and this becomes a list of my own Holiday Resolutions. For example, at the top of my list - as it is every year - is the wish to make it a more handmade Christmas. 


Well, I hope this second-to-last day of the year has you all healthy and happy! My guys and I are hunkering in - snow is coming tomorrow! - and looking forward to a few quiet days at home. Have a good Tuesday, my friends ~ I will see you all again sometime soon. :)

The Year that Was ...

There are as many reasons to blog, as there are blogs in the blogosphere, but for me it's all about family. As much as I love sharing my photos, projects and ideas with you all, my biggest reason for blogging is to preserve our family's memories. I just spent a few hours sitting by a sunny window, sipping tea, (shooing away boys), and looking back over the year that was. Would you care to join me for a little waltz down memory lane, à la By Sun and Candle? Now be warned ... this is a mighty long post!


Frosty January brought us ...

New goals, the winter woods, Greek mythology, lovely doves, homekeeping routines, shared birthdays, big snows, birds at the feeder, a friendly wager and a miraculous find.


Frozen February brought us ...

Flu season, Lost Talk, the agony of defeat, Lenten plans, Chinese crafts, homemade donuts, cherry cobbler, cardinals at dusk and spring planning.


Muddy March brought us ...

Lenten Roses, Shamrock Shakes, Mittenstrings, visiting blackbirds, maple sugaring, a Passion Play, brown bread, baby lambs and Easter Sunday!


Pretty April brought us ...

New shoots, noisy peepers, signs of life, ladybug friends, the Science Museum, a new nature corner, bubbles in the backyard, the 1st bike ride of the year.


Flowery May brought us ...

Beautiful blossoms, more Mittenstrings, a new Daybook, morels, pansies, fairy clocks, nature journals, lilacs, pond exploring, Mother's Day, rainbows and rude birds.


Showery June brought us ...

Tidepool treasures, soccer games, a walk on the Battle Trail Road, trips to the farm, morning glories, bug hunts, Daddy's Day, rainy nights, mushrooms, and mermaid stories.


Hot July brought us ...

Lesson planning, thunderheads, a day at the beach, fireworks, dragonflies, scorching heat, kite-flying, raspberries on the vine, VBS and broken hearts.


Lazy August brought us ...

Pumpkins getting ready, strange bugs in the garden, glorious flowers all around, hazy humid days, a new plan for a new year and afternoon movies with friends.


Fresh September brought us ...

Labor Day, Kinder-themes, a feathered nest, raccoons in the night, leaves in the windows, a wayside walk, camping out, Autumn feelings and housekeeping notes.


Crisp October brought us ...

Wondrous webs, apple crisp, purple hydrangeas, an abundance of pumpkins, autumn ambles, applesauce, football mums, first frost, Happy 15 and All Hallow's Eve.


Dark November brought us ...

All Souls, lanterns for St. Martin, shadows and light, a book display, a gratitude tree, a walk in the salt marsh, Turkey day, busy times, computer woes and a looong blogging break.


 Merry December brought us ...

A happy return, science lab, first storm, a round of robins, a winter walk, bagels for the birds, cozy corners, a snowy solstice and a new computer - at last! 


Phew, what a year! I am glad to have had this chance to look back, before I turn my thoughts to 2009. Thanks for joining me as I rambled and reminisced ... and I hope you'll stay tuned for our further adventures in the New Year!

Another Christmas Come and (Almost) Gone ...


This morning I stood in Earlybird's bedroom, marveling at the sunrise unfolding. It was just the younger two boys who were up and about so very early, and they joined me at the window as I snapped away. 

Crackerjack peeked over my shoulder and said, "Uh-oh, Mama: Red in the morning, sailor's warning ..."

So we shall see what the weather brings today. The forecast calls for near record temperatures (60 degrees) and showers later on. We have a quiet day ahead of us ~  a visit with cousins over at my mum and dad's house, a few last gifts to exchange. Back home, I have a house to start putting back together. As much as I love turning the house upside down with Christmas decorations, I am glad to pack them away once it's all said and over. Technically, Christmas will last another week, until Epiphany, but when New Year's Day dawns, I like to have things back in order. Or as close to order as we ever get around here. ;)

I thought today I'd share a few pictures from Christmas. Unfortunately, since I got all wrapped up in my hosting duties, I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I would otherwise. 

Our Christmas Tree

We move the tree around each year, and this year it stood in front of our living room window. I think I'd rather have it out in the family room next year, in front of the sliding glass doors.

A gingerbread tree made by my boys with their Nana.

This picture was taken at my folks' house during Christmas breakfast. For the past few years, my mum has spent one day during the season making a gingerbread construction with the boys. This has become quite a special tradition. In fact, this year for my mum's birthday in November, the boys gave her a gingerbread house music box.

Nana and Papa's Christmas Tree.

I love the old-fashioned glass ornaments.

With young boys and multiple cats, I don't dare hang any fragile bulbs on our tree. It's nice that my mum and dad still have them all from when I was little (and some from when my mum was little!). We do have a whole mess of these tiny glass acorns on our tree, though ...


I found them at a store down the street, just days before Christmas - a box of 25 for only $4! They added the perfect touch to our "woodland" tree. Happily, no little fingers bothered these delicate bulbs, nor any curious paws.

Speaking of paws ...

A little Christmas afternoon siesta was very tempting.

As we were rushing about preparing for the afternoon party I couldn't help but take a quick picture of our cat Penny, snoozing on Earlybird's bed. How I longed to join her! 

Our Christmas card display, filled right to the top.

I showed this to you once before, but now it looks even better, complete with so many happy little faces. :)

Our Christmas Buffet.

On the menu this year: baked ham, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, stewed tomato casserole, rolls and sandwich bread, assorted mustards, cranberry and date-nut quick breads.  

And then came the desserts ...

Let's see, where do I start? There were gingerbread men, chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookies, brownies, eclairs and pastries, butter-and-whiskey cake, anise drops, petit fours, iced butter cookies, frosted sugar cookies and a strawberry cheesecake!

Needless to say, even though we sent goodies home with our guests, we still have PLENTY leftover! Nothing beats a cookie (or five) with your morning cup of coffee!

And speaking of coffee ...

The Christmas Coffee Bar ...

And so another Christmas has come and (almost) gone ... I hope your holidays have been wonderful too. But golly, how fast it all goes! It seems one minute we're carving pumpkins and kicking around in the leaves and then before we know it we're ringing in the New Year ... 

By the way, the Macbook is GREAT! I am still figuring things out, but so far it is working just fine. Posting took me half the time it used to! Who knows - with all this extra computing time, I might just get around to finally changing my template! (My banner has been the same for almost 2 years!)

Well, I hope your weekend is wrapping up nicely. I'll see you all again sometime soon!


After my recent bout of technological troubles (and subsequent blogging hiatus), a few readers suggested that perhaps Santa might be kind enough to leave a new computer under my tree this year. Well, Santa may not have been paying attention, but my sweet husband surely was ... 

So dark and early Christmas morning - roundabouts 5 a.m. - this is what I found awaiting me at my corner of the worktable:


(Click open to read Bill's message.)
And what hid beneath that gaily-wrapped box?


My brand new MacBook!
(Yep, we're officially Mac people now - we can't believe it!) 

So let's take one last look at my old PC shall we?


See that piece of wood clamped onto the monitor? That has been there for months -keeping the glare, fuzzies and strange red lights to a minimum - but only if the pressure was kept just so. And let's see, there was also the issue with the battery charger (it wouldn't hold a charge for more than 7 minutes), or the fact that I couldn't upload photos (never mind Photoshop them) and then there was the intermittently frozen internet connection ...

But no more of that for me! It should be smooth sailing from now on!

I've only had it a day but so far I am blown away by how fast and easy it is to use. Bill is going to walk me through it all this weekend, but as you can see I am already up and blogging away!

So thanks to all my readers who kept their fingers crossed that my computer troubles would soon be remedied, but especially thanks to my Bill - my Best Guy Ever. :)

We're on Vacation!

No, not from blogging. No. I won't be doing that again for a while.

What I mean is, we - the boys and I - are taking our big homeschool holiday starting -yesterday! So pass the cookies, and pour the cocoa - we're on vacation!! :)

Of course, as the saying goes, I like to think we are "learning all the time," but for the most part, we follow a fairly traditional "school" schedule. We start formal lessons right after Labor Day and then take a significant break for the summer. (I always aim to finish things up by Memorial Day, but that just never works out.) Mostly this hinges on the fact that I use several programs that contain roundabouts 36 lessons each, which happen to spread out perfectly over a typical academic year.

The only "official" breaks we take are at Summer, Christmas and Holy Week. Certainly, there are sick days and play days and other things that come up and nudge our weekly routine now and again, but for the most part, because we have to agree to a certain number of hours of instruction each year - and because I want an old-fashioned summer, a carefree Christmas and a reflective Easter - I write up an academic schedule that provides will allow for these things.

All that said, it's a rare year that we followed this system to a T. (Confession - we've never followed this system to a T - but still, we try.)

So what I plan to do next week, while the boys are reveling in their Christmas haul - is to go over everything and see what needs to be tweaked. (I can tell you right now we are way off-track with history.) I'll cast a glance over the ed. plans we filed with the school last summer and see where we're at. Then I'll draft a Winter-Spring semester that will hopefully keep us - perhaps get us - on track. I call this my mid-year review.

And it goes without saying, I'll share it with you all once it's done, but for now, I hope you all have a great Tuesday ... Happy-Almost-Christmas, everyone!

The Simple Woman's Daybook ~ December 22nd


~ Do stop by Peggy's for all the Daybook links this week. ~
Outside My Window ... it is, quite literally, a winter wonderland. A pale crescent moon hangs in the southern sky, while the sun rises gently in the east. At the feeders just now we have many little snowbirds - slate-colored juncos, chickadees, titmice, sparrows, cardinals, a mourning dove or two.
I am thinking ... about a wonderful show we watched on PBS last night: Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas with Tasha Tudor. It was a memorable, mesmerizing program about my favorite artist's life in Vermont, focusing on her lifestyle, her artwork, and the way she spends Christmas every year. If only we could all live so simply and beautifully!
I am thankful ... we haven't lost power after all this stormy weather! The trees and power lines are heavy with snow now, so we'll keep our fingers crossed.
From the Christmas kitchen ... The boys and I will make gingerbread cut-outs today, and I will make a batch of lemon snowballs to bring to Earlybird's therapists tomorrow. If I have the time, I will start baking the Spiced Pumpkin breads we make for our neighbors. For supper, our usual Monday night fare ~ roasted kielbasa with peppers, potatoes, carrots and squash. A side of garlic bread and Christmas cookies for dessert.
I am wearing ... a cranberry cardigan, black pants, red slippers.
I am creating ... Well, I'm setting up our Winter Nature Corner and puttering over a BIG 2009 planner. :)
I am reading ... Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, our pick for the January Book Group meeting. It's my turn to lead the older kids, so I asked Bookworm to help me choose a book. Inkheart is the first title in his favorite trilogy, followed by Inkspell and Inkdeath. The movie version is coming out later in January and I am planning to organize a Book Group field trip to see it. 
I am hoping ... for a white Christmas - no scratch that, that's a done-deal! How about, I am hoping for Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men? :)
I am hearing ... the heat humming, a plow going down the road, birds chirping, ice crackling in the wind.
Around the house ... My Monday housekeeping entails running laundries and cleaning the bedrooms. I plan to put freshly laundered Christmas sheets on all the beds today.
One of my favorite things ... A brand new calendar for a brand new year. So much promise and so many plans!
A few plans for this week ... Homey, cozy, Christmas-y days - wrapping, baking, listening to carols, etc. NO MORE SHOPPING, lol! Christmas eve with Bill's family (Chinese food) and Christmas afternoon with mine, here at our house (baked ham dinner and lots of desserts).
Here is a picture thought I am sharing ...
The view from our deck ~ our Winter Wonderland.
I hope you all have a beautiful, blessed Christmas week!

Welcome, Winter!


Remember all those birdhouse pictures I posted through the summer and fall, when the roses, morning glories and nasturtiums clambered all over this post? Well, what a difference a season or two makes!

Goodness. I just got in an hour ago from some last minute Christmas shopping - next year I WILL start early! - barely escaping the clutches of this raging blizzard. Well, it's not technically a blizzard, but a good old-fashioned snowstorm to be sure.

Welcome Winter, indeed!

And now it feels good to be home. I normally don't like to drive in the snow, but it just had to be today. As I navigated the increasingly treacherous roads from out there to back here - feeling cold, wet and spent - my mind was filled with the lines from a poem I wrote years ago...

Ceaseless swirls of December snow,

Like the rushing of angels, dancing to and fro …

The wind with its wicked and frightening cry,

Suddenly cowers to a soft-spoken sigh.

This night is so cruel, so dark and so deep;

Our bodies are weary, our eyes beg for sleep.

We know we’ll be home soon and safe once again,

But the blinding storm prompts a desperate thought –


And still the storm rages on. It looks like there will be almost TWO FEET of snow when all is said and done! I really should be wrapping presents right now, but I can't seem to budge from my couch where I've been sipping tea and watching the birds ... Would you like to see the pictures I've been taking from my cozy corner?


A White-breasted nuthatch. 


An American goldfinch.   


Black-capped chickadee.


A red-bellied woodpecker - I think.


A female cardinal, possibly the prettiest bird in the snow, next to her mate.


Another goldfinch - just because. :)

One more shot: my little star candle, lit in honor of the passing of seasons. Winter is here and the darkest night is over. Though we can hardly tell from the sky today, the Sun has returned and will gain strength every day ... 


Because, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Such a timeless lesson for this time of year.

Truly though, Spring is very far away, so to my mind, it's better to seek pleasure in the present. Let's, for now, find our joy in simple winter blessings like hot tea and baked bread, flickering candles and flocking birds, blue skies and icy windowpanes, and a good long book by the fire ...

Happy Winter, my friends! 

Christmas Corners in our Home ...


If ever a day was made for hot cocoa, this has to be it. As I type, the daylight is fading and the snow is falling fast. There are cookies baking in the oven, it's Friday afternoon and Bill just got in the door nice and early. Sigh. The last weekend before Christmas is here. Much to do, much to do ...

As I walked around the house today, doing my usual pre-weekend tidy, I took pictures of the Christmas-y corners of our home ... and I thought you might like to see them?

At the top of this post is my china cupboard and first off, you should know that it is never ever this clean. ;) This year I am making sure to actually use our Christmas dishes all season long - not just at Christmas morning brunch. Also, I'd like to point out the lovely red pitcher on the top shelf - my grandmother gave me this recently. It was a wedding present to her and my grandpa, sent all the way from Scotland. (I'm Scotch-Irish on my grandmother's side.) It will hold a spicy, sparkly punch on Christmas day.

Now, in the kitchen we have our Winter Angel (bad lighting, I know):


And how about a look at our tree? It's pretty much the same as last year's - a Woodland theme prevails. But we've added a few new furry faces ... 


A husky little hedgehog ... 


A charming chipmunk (a gift from my friend Beth and her boys) ... 


A fluffy squirrel ...


A masked bandit ...


And a carved wooden goldfinch ...   


I am really in love with those rusty brown bells you see at the stores now. This snowflake caught my eye - they kind of look like acorns, don't you think?


And this trio of bells hang from our learning room windows.


Also in the learning room, tucked in the corner, is this ceramic North Pole. My late grandfather bought this for Bookworm when he was only 2 years old. It's been a treasure ever since. 


This is how we are displaying our picture-cards this year. I had planned to hang them on lengths of twine across the windows but I got the idea to use ribbons from my friend Kim. I roped Bill into setting this up for me as he is infinitely more patient for projects like this - we thought the tree shape made it interesting.


And we even have a bit of cheer in the bathroom! This is a snowman bubbly nightlight. He'll definitely be with us all winter.

Before I go, I want to say *THANK YOU* for all your comments after my last two posts. You are all so sweet and I am touched by your concern and encouragement. I am truly very sorry I had to be away for so long. I think, though, that it was meant to be. I had a lot on my plate this past month and not having the tug of the computer was actually a good thing for me.

All that said, I'm very glad to be back. :)

So, after all that time away, I leave you with not just one, but two posts in a day. Lol. It's sure to be a busy weekend though, (once we shovel out!) so I probably won't be back till next week.

I do hope you all enjoy this last weekend of Advent. I wish you all warmth, peace and good times with your kin ~ and Happy Winter come Sunday!

I'm Baaaaack!

Did you miss me? :)

I missed you all. I missed blogging regularly and hopping online so easily to check in with my online community. Lol, I feel quite rusty right now! It's been ages since I last wrote anything other than a to-do list and I think my poor camera is suffering from neglect.

Well, the problem is, my computer is still achingly slow and prone to crashing at random inopportune moments. Couple that with an ever-tightening schedule (holidays, homeschoolng, home projects, etc.) and it seems I just have no extra time to be on the computer - let alone fight with the computer - but I am going to persevere! I  am going to attempt a post - my first post in *gasp* weeks! - this evening! While I can't promise a daily post right now - at least not until after the holidays - I am going to make a concerted effort to blog as often as I reasonably can.

Because I miss this place. :)

Things have been busy and bustling as usual around here - it seems nothing (except my computer, lol) has slowed down since Thanksgiving. Today we hosted the December meeting of our Nature Club (theme: Winter Birds) and I took lots of pictures. I just got them uploaded and thought I would share.


We had our first real snow of the season yesterday, and a large flock of red-breasted robins visited the yard. They were particularly interested in our holly bushes. 


Ten families visited today - I set up a birdfeeder craft to start. Each child got a wheat bagel half onto which some twine had been tied.  


They smeared the bagels with shortening or lard ... 


And then "decorated" the ornaments with goodies like dried fruits, cracked corn and seeds.


We left the bagels to head out on a walk along the Bike Path out back. We looked for signs of Winter. (OK, truth be told the kids mostly threw snowballs at each other, but it was still a gorgeous day, and the scenery, set off by a dusting of snow was lovely.



At the end of the day I hung the leftover bagels in our tree: 


Happy Winter Solstice, little birdies!

Next month our Nature Club will head north to a Wolf Sanctuary - just in time for January's Full Wolf Moon. :)

OK, I'd best be off now. My computer has not crashed yet but I fear I might be pushing my luck! By the way, I haven't read the comments from the last post yet because I really haven't been online at all during my absence, but I will plan to do so tomorrow; thanks for keeping in touch. Speaking of tomorrow we are in for a humdinger of a snowstorm up here in New England! I'll be taking even more photos and with a little luck I'll be back to blog along with you all again soon.

Thanks for sticking by me, and I hope you are all enjoying these lingering late days of Advent.

Good Night!

Thinking of You ...

I really haven't meant to be away so long, but I am currently experiencing an unfortunateHolly-blooms and unintentional computer break! (Lots of irksome issues, not enough time to unravel them all ...)

While I work out it all out, please know I am thinking of you all and hoping your December is off to a very merry start!

I'l be back just as soon as I can ... :)