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October 2010

What's Up Wednesday?

Just some random things popping around in my head today ...


This is our Happy "Family Birthday" Cake ~ a two-layer butter cake with penuche frosting. SO delicious!

Wet and windy here today - we're going to lose a lot of our pretty foliage this week.

This came out yesterday and I'm itching to own it. I'm remembering when I met Ina a few years ago at a book signing in Boston - that was such a fun day!

The dark-eyed juncos arrived last week - on October 19th to be exact. :) These little snowbirds disappear every spring (heading north for the warmer months) and then pop up again in mid-fall. This almost always corresponds with the time when the chipmunks go underground.

Do your kids read Ranger Rick? It will be a sad day in this household when my children are no longer interested in this lovely magazine. (I may have to keep subscribing just for myself, lol!) Guess who on this month's cover?


We also like Your Big Backyard. Earlybird and I get a lot of use out of these wonderful publications.

What are your Halloween plans? We have a potluck supper/costume party to attend and then of course there will be tricks-or-treats on Sunday night. In between we'll be carving pumpkins, roasting seeds, baking donuts and making up a batch of this. Costumes this year include a gladiator (Bookworm), a purple phantom (Crackerjack), and good ol' Charlie Brown (Earlybird). :)

Looking forward to the start of November, trying to decide what kind of Grateful Tree to make this year. I want to have it set up on Monday (Nov. 1st) so I'd best get my act together! I'm also preparing a remembrance shelf for All Souls Day (Nov. 2nd). Photographs of late loved ones will be set out and surrounded by tealights and little pots of marigolds.

Thinking ahead to holiday reading, I have a request in at the library for Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas. (I'm just putting off the inevitable - I'm sure I'll buy a copy for our Christmas collection.) I just love the Fletcher books ~ for the charming illustrations as well as the overall message. 

I plan to make a batch of vanilla sugar this weekend. It's always nice to have a well-steeped supply for the holiday baking days. Btw, as I googled a recipe for vanilla sugar, I came across this mouth-watering blog. Those pictures - oh my!

Well, that's "what's up" this Wednesday! As I finish this post it's raining hard and the leaves are falling fast. (Though it's rather mild, and I can hear a goldfinch singing through my cracked open window.) Still, a good day to stay in and stay dry ...

Hope your week's going well! :)

October's Fading Glory


I took this picture on our way home from the library late this afternoon. It's a landscape I drive by numerous times in any given week but something made me stop my car and really look today. Maybe it was the vibrant colors, maybe it was the low gray sky ... most likely it was the feeling that this autumn moment will be over and gone all too soon. In a week or two this pretty vista will be bare and dull, maybe wet or even frosty - as only November can be. Time flies, seasons change, life moves on ... I'm glad I spent the three minutes it took to pull over, park and snap a few pics. :)

On a completely random side note, did you know today is World Pasta Day? I happened to read that in China Bayles' Book of Days. (Fyi, I often find quirky holidays like this at this website here.) And, as it just so happened, I made baked ziti for supper tonight - a quick and easy meal before the boys headed out to soccer. It's not my favorite pasta dish, but the boys absolutely love it. Plus it's the one thing I make that all THREE of the kids agree on! (Except that Crackerjack doesn't like cheese baked on his portion of the pasta, lol.) It's also hands down the easiest meal I make. Perfect for days when we've been super busy or out and about ... or the rare evenings when one or some of us have somewhere to be.

Personally I love a good old-fashioned lasagna - meat yes, veggies no - but I haven't made one of those in a long while. I think it makes an especially nice cold weather dish. When I was younger I absolutely loved fettucini alfredo - but I find it too rich for me now. A nice angel hair spaghetti tossed with garlicky oil and sauteed shrimp and vegetables would be another preferred pasta of mine.

So now that I've given you all kinds of *ahem* food for thought - :) - I find myself wondering ~ what kind of pasta does your family enjoy? Do you make your own sauce? And have you ever made pasta from scratch?

Well, I'm going to head out, but I'll be back again soon. I hope you're all having a good week - the very last week of October!

Cornstalks and Moonlight ~ Fun on the Farm


We had SUCH fun last night at the corn maze! The weather was perfect for this tradtional fall outing - if maybe a wee bit cold. (OK, make that freezing, lol!) But the Hunter's moon was a hair's breadth from full and it was just rising as we approached the farm ...


I know that photo is a little fuzzy, but I had to post it, if only to remember how incredible it was to drive up to the farm and see this *enormous* moon rising up out of the low purple clouds.

Here are a few scenes around the farm ...






Wasn't the sky just beautiful?

 We met several homeschooling families here, who came from all over to enjoy the corn maze together. After a short instructional video, our large group was split up into bands of 5 or so. Each band received a puzzle/clue map as well as a flag which could be waved if you happened to get lost. Then we all entered the maze ... which was HUGE! It was dark of course, so we all had flashlights ~ though really, with the bright moonlight the lights weren't all that necessary. As it so happened, after all the kids were split up and parent chaperones assigned, Bill and I were left to ourselves! Lol, we were a cozy band of two, so we joked it was like a "date night" for us. (And this being our anniversary - 17 years today! - it was an especially nice treat!)

The maze was bustling in some places, and fairly quiet in others. We encountered a few bats flitting through the stalks, which was quite a surprise!


This was the view from the top of one of the bridges somewhere deep in the maze.

Bill and I found the exit in about 30 minutes - we were the first of our group to make it out, so we got ourselves some hot cider and settled in to wait for the rest of our gang. 

It was such a great time - some wonderful memories were made - and let me tell you - after all the (frosty) fresh air and exercise, we all slept very well last night!


The Full Hunter's Moon will be rising once again tonight, so don't forget to take a peek. Try to look close to rise time (5:47 p.m.) because the moon is especially magnificent when it's low in the sky ...


Thanks for stopping by - I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! :)

Through the Woods, Down a Cave, Up a Tower ...


Our field trip on Monday was fantastic! Truly, one of the best we've been on. We followed a ranger through a local forest reserve and learned - not only about the local flora and fauna - but lots of fascinating New England history as well! (A tale that involved pirates and treasure and earthquakes and explosives - the kids were all ears!)

"Ranger Dan" led us deep into the woods, down inside a cave and then way up high in a stone tower! Here are some pictures I took on this glorious October day ... I hope you enjoy them!

Walking by the reservoir ...


A steep climb up to the cave ...


These great boulders were left behind by a glacier during the last ice age ...


And here we have the entrance to the cave itself ... the site of suspected pirate's buried treasure.


This is "Flat Stanley" ~ we are escorting him around the area this week. A schoolgirl from California sent him to me!


The ranger led us down in two groups - it was so dark and wet and slippery. To be honest, it was pretty creepy!


Needless to say I didn't go down to the very bottom of the cave. I left that to my braver (and more sure-footed) companions, lol.


After the cave, we walked a bit further uphill to this magnificent tower:


It was built in the 1930s for observation. A steep spiral staircase inside led us to the very top of the tower where we had *incredible* views of the surrounding area.


This would be Boston in the distance.


And the Atlantic ocean ...




After we left the tower, we started our descent back to the base of the park. As you can see it was an absolutely idyllic autumn day. 


Thanks for taking the time to stop by and look at my pictures today. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend ... I'll be back again just as soon as I can. :)

Fall Underfoot


"The mushroom is the elf of plants ..." ~ Emily Dickinson

I really don't know much about mushrooms, but I'm always very happy to see them. They seem to pop up so unexpectedly. :)

Earlybird and I have been enjoying these lovely board books. There's no text, just charming illustrations celebrating the change of seasons and the playful nature of children. We took a little stroll around the yard yesterday, finding some new treasures for our nature shelf. As EB filled his bucket with autumn leaves, pinecones, dandelion fluff and acorn caps, I spied the above little beauties tucked beneath the lilac bush. We got down on our bellies to see them up close, but I cautioned EB not to touch mushrooms because we never know if they might be the kind that would make us sick. Still we looked, and we wondered how they got here. Later that day I ordered this book so we can investigate further (unfortunately our library did not have a copy.) Since EB's not patient enough to sit and sketch, I took a picture of the mushrooms instead. Today I'll pluck the caps so we can (try to) make spore prints. When all is said and done, EB's special Nature Book will have a page or two devoted to mushrooms - remembering when we found a little bit of fall underfoot. :)

Have a good day, everyone! Don't forget to look for the little things!

Autumn Nesting


It's taking me a loong time to get all our field trip pictures uploaded, so for now, I'm just popping in quick to say "Hi!" and show you our new fall bedding. The floral pattern is part of a quilt and sham set we've had for years ... the plaid is our new flannel sheet set. I thought the colors complemented each other very well. :)

I love to do a thorough bedroom cleaning at the turn of the seasons. Especially at this time of year, as the days grow darker and the nights grow colder - it's soothing to feather our "nest" for the long winter ahead.

"Oh bed! oh bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head."

~ Thomas Hood

Happy Monday Morning


A few nice things on my mind this bright Monday morning ...

We have a field trip today to a nearby forest reservation. I plan to take LOTS of pictures! Our foliage is at its peak right now and the day is just gorgeous - sunny and crisp.


As you can see from the picture above, our front steps are overflowing with mums in all shades of the autumn rainbow. There are some kale plants and pumpkins tucked in along the steps too.


Yesterday at the nursery I picked up a whole bunch of daffodil bulbs. We have plenty of crocus and snowdrops in our yard but not even one sunny little daffodil. Hopefully next spring will be a different story (if I can get these bulbs in the ground before frost!).


Monday is bedroom day, and I have a new set of flannel sheets in the dryer at this very moment. They're the prettiest shade of soft maroon and gray-blue plaid. They match the floral quilt and shams we have on our bed perfectly, and they are so incredibly soft. I can't wait to make up our bed fresh later today.


In the refrigerator I have all the fixings for a meatloaf. It's such a fall supper I think, homemade meatloaf with potatoes and some other vegetable (tonight, probably squash). Earlybird will beg for mac and cheese on the side, because he's not all that big a fan of meatloaf lol.


And finally, I'm very excited for my new file folder bin that Bill installed for me over the weekend. For some time now I've been wanting a better place to display my current week's folder rather than just tucked into the back of my planner. I needed to have the materials inside more accessible and I wanted to see the post-it notes I have stuck all over the front cover. This new bin seems to be the perfect solution! (A post on all this to come one day later this week.)


Hope your week is off to a good start ~ I'll check back in again soon! :)

Batten down the hatches ...

... because we're in for an October nor'easter starting sometime tonight! We had a field trip planned for tomorrow (a ranger-led tour of a local state park) but that has been postponed till next week. Truth be told, this actually works out better for us, as most of my family members are fighting a nasty head cold at the moment. In my book, a cold rainy day is best spent at home - reading, resting and maybe making soup. :)

I hope your week has been a good one so far ... not much new here (hence the slow posting) but I hope to blog a bit over the weekend ...

Before I go, look what my brother brought me back from Mexico:


Isn't it lovely? I have just the chain for it too. :)

Happy-Almost-Weekend, my friends ~ see you all again soon ...

September's Nature Notes

9/3/10 Hurricane season is here - and the Atlantic seems to be quite the breeding ground for tropical storms at the moment. "Earl" is heading our way tonight, but we are expecting mostly heavy rain and high winds ... by tomorrow it will be gusty and sunny and dry. :)


9/4/10 Well, Earl was kind of a bust lol. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - but I do love a big storm now and again (as long as it's not dangerous). I'm sure we'll get our chance again before hurricane season is over ... Today is sunny and bright and crisp and SO windy! It's absolutely beautiful - what a blessed day!


9/9/10 The weather has cooled considerably over the past few days - highs in the lower 70s during the daytime. I like it! We could do with a bit more rain, actually ... it has been a very dry Summer.


9/16/10 Heard a flock of geese pass over the house early this morning. A familiar harbinger of fall, the sound of honking overhead. :) 


9/23/10 Look for the Full Harvest Moon tonight! It's now officially Fall ~ but ironically our weather is going to feel quite summery the next few days.

Happy Columbus Day!

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue ...

Are you enjoying a long weekend? Bill doesn't get this holiday off from work, so it's a regular ole workday for us here. Had a lovely weekend though ... the weather was spectacular! 

A little later today I will post a set of nature notes from September ... I used to keep a separate blog for storing my "retired" nature notes (a seasonal almanac of sorts) but then it became a challenge to keep up with one blog, let alone two, lol! Anyhoo, every so often I will round up the old notes, tag them, and post them here. If you follow my nature notes sidebar, the post will be redundant, but I would like to keep the notes organized and accessible. It's nice to remember, say, when a certain flower bloomed, when a first snow fell, or when a migrant bird passed through.

And speaking of nature ...

Have you planted your spring bulbs yet? 

Has old Jack Frost paid a visit?

Fall foliage nearing its peak?

Hope your week's off to a great start! :)

Mad Men Yourself!

Well, this is just all kinds of fun!

Do any of my readers watch the show, Mad Men? I must admit, I do not, but I've heard it's wonderful from friends, family, and critics alike. And from the bits I've seen in commercials and magazines, the "look" of the show (which is set in the 1960s) is just so cool, the women's costumes especially.

Anyhoo, my friend Kim is a big fan of the show and recently she sent me this neat website that lets you actually "Mad Men" yourself! Basically, you select your model image (everything from skin tone to nose shape) and then you adorn yourself with the "look" of the time.

Here's how my alter ego came out ...


... and here's the link in case you want to MadMen Yourself!

Please let me know if you do ... :)

And Happy Weekend, everyone!

Domestic Bliss ~ Morning at the Door


Looking out my front door, very early in the morning ...

It may seem old-fashioned to some, but I do this every weekday morning ~ I stand at the front door, and wave to Bill as he goes off to work. In my slippers, clutching my coffee and the Globe (which Bill has just thrown up from the driveway). Often there are smaller bodies beside me, waving as well. Earlybird just poked his head outside - it's chilly and crisp - took a big sniff and declared, "It smells like Halloween!" Lol. I know what he means. Autumn air smells so distinctive. A spring, summer or winter morning would smell nothing like this.

The door stays open throughout the early morning hours - it's comforting to see dog walkers go by, neighbors leave for work, a school bus trundle down the street. It's a small way to feel connected to the world as the new day unfolds. I also walk through the house and open window blinds, filling the house with soft light. Bedsheets are straightened, pajamas put away, the bathroom's wiped up ...

A second cup of coffee's is poured, and the day really begins. :)

I hope you all have a fantastic Friday! Any plans for the holiday weekend?

Happy Trails ...


After years of indecision (and much research and debate), we finally took the plunge and bought an RV!

Our main motivation was finding a way to travel comfortably with Earlybird - his special needs make family travel a real challenge. Flying would not be an option, and road trips are difficult in the tight confines of our minivan. Hopefully, this roomy, fun mode of transportation will fit the bill!

So, we're not sure where we're going first - but we'll probably start with some easy day trips, just to get our bearings. I myself am in the mood to see some fall foliage ... :)

Stay tuned for future "tales from the trails!"

Random Wednesday

Dear Readers ~ 

As I write, it's very early in the morning ~ dark as night, rainy and cold. According to the forecast, this will be our last soggy day and then a stretch of nippy dry weather has been promised for the weekend and beyond. The heat is rumbling through the house and I turned the family room fireplace on a few minutes ago. Suddenly my children are waking and slowly the coffee's kicking in ...

So now for a few random thoughts:

Educator Weeks Ahead!

Barnes & Noble has an Educator Appreciation Week coming up! Beginning this Saturday and running through Sunday, the 17th. I plan to stop by and pick up a few things (hopefully some Christmas gifts!) as well as a frothy steamed milk flavored with pumpkin spice (thanks to Sarah for the suggestion!). I believe Border's is also running their Educator Appreciation Week, today through Sunday. So get those teacher cards ready!


My Current Holiday Planner Tasks:

Work on Thanksgiving menu. (Our goal is to serve a mostly local feast!)

Order a free-range farm turkey - done!

Brainstorm this year's Advent Calendar project. (Wreath? Tags? Bulletin board?)

Ask boys about Halloween costumes.


For Dinner Tonight:

Smoked chicken sausage and roasted vegetables, served over rice. Oatmeal-raisin cookies for dessert.


Reading Notes

I finally finished Mockingjay last night (the third and final book in the Hunger Games series). It was very good ~ a shocking, but satisfying, end to an absolutely enthralling story. No idea what I'll read next ... maybe I'll do a little browsing at B&N on Saturday? (What are you reading right now?)


Well, I guess that's all for now ... time to get things rolling here, now that the darkness has lifted, and breakfast is being requested. ;)

Have a great day, everyone ~ see you all again sometime soon. :)

A Peek at My Holiday Planner(s)

"It's that time of year ..."


(Well, almost.)

Actually, there are 12 whole weeks until Christmas - but we all know that sounds like more time than it really is. Honestly, doesn't it seem like it was just Labor Day? And yet here we are in the midst of the first week of October!

Now, I don't like to rush any season - as the poem goes, something bright in all! - but I so dislike a rushed, frantic Christmas. I don't like buying last-minute, meaningless presents because I didn't have the time (or the materials) to help my children make homemade gifts. I don't like missing special events - a tree lighting or a choir concert for example  - because we didn't make the time to go, or we simply forgot. I don't like buying too many presents for my kids because I was rushed and disorganized as I shopped. I don't like paying big $$$ for express shipping because I didn't get my orders in on time. And I really don't like looking back on the "Christmas That Was" and realizing we missed a bunch of small, but essential things ... like making Grammie's gingerbread, or visiting a creche, or watching a favorite movie together.

Not that we can - or should - try to do everything, every year. But with a little forethought and preparation we can be sure to cover the important to-dos while including the more meaningful traditions.

And so here I find myself in need of a game plan - and therefore, in need of a planner. Here's what I made up over the weekend  ...

I started with a small red binder, which I purchased at Staples. (It's a smaller version of the standard 3-ring binder - 8 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches.) I made up a pretty collage for the front cover ... 


... and added stickers to the spine:


Inside the binder, I filed loose-leaf paper and five tabbed dividers:


The sections include:

Countdown: a note page for each week leading up to New Year's (things to do, themes/things to celebrate, etc.)

Thanksgiving: all my lists for Turkey Day (cleaning, decorating, ordering, menu, etc.)

Greetings: the Christmas card list

Giving: gifts to buy, to order, to ship, to make ...

Activities, etc.: craft ideas, family fun, faith-related activities, events to attend, decorating notes, etc.

The nice thing about a planner of this size, is it will easily fit in my purse or backpack, making it convenient to take with me when running holiday-related errands.

But ... I still need a place to keep loose bits of information like magazine clippings, event flyers, and things I've printed out from the internet. So I also made a holiday file folder for just this purpose.

On the cover, using a ruler and pencil, I made a calendar which covers the weeks from Halloween through New Year's. I've only just started filling it in ... it's really more of a fun visual than a true working calendar. (Kind of like the Martha Stewart reminder calendar.)


Inside, I made a pocket from pretty scrapbook paper:


And on the left inside cover, I stapled paper for random notes.

(I toyed with making this folder my only holiday planner - using the stapled note page for plans and lists - but I really need more writing space than this would allow.)

And so there I have it - my two holiday planners for 2010.


I also have a holiday tote bag for storing my planners as well as any holiday magazines, catalogs and library books. I'll keep it parked by my workspace from now through New Year's.

Well, that's all for now ~ but thanks, as always, for stopping by! It's a dark dreary morning here - so chilly we turned the fireplace on! - and I find myself strangely in the mood for a cup of hot cocoa ... maybe with a dash of peppermint. ;)

I'll keep you all posted on my planning progress ~ I hope to do lots of "holiday planner" posts over the next several weeks! :)

A Corner of the (Deep Red) Learning Room


This is Earlybird's side of the learning room ~ lots of books, flash cards, learning games, nature puppets, etc. It does not usually look this neat, lol! I had just finished straightening up and felt like taking a picture. :)

Here are the older boys' books piled on the dining room table - too many and too big now for those cubby baskets! 


Also, while I'm here, I'd like to answer a question from Lisa, who asked (as many have before her!) about the color of our dining/learning room walls. The paint is made by Benjamin Moore and is called "Wine Tasting" 319-4B. (There are more letters and numbers after that but they're partially hidden by paint splotches.) We painted this room six or seven years ago so it's been a while, but hopefully with this information you will be able to find a close match! :)

Happy Monday, everyone, and to those celebrating, Happy Feast of Saint Francis!

Saint Francis, patron of nature, is our family's patron saint. This lovely, hand-embroidered card belonged to my grandmother; I keep it on our nature shelf. This week we'll clean and fill our birdfeeders and spend some special time with our cat. (EB and I will spend our whole week learning about domestic animals, in fact - part of our overall animal study.) 

We will also enjoy a delicious Italian dinner tonight. :)

Have a good one, my friends!

An Ode to October ...

Dear October, how I love you ...

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne


Brilliant leaves in the trees, on the ground, whirling in the air ...

At the orchard we pick the last of autumn's apples ~ for sauce, for pie, for just plain good eating.

Squirrels scamper and chipmunks scurry - preparing for hard times ahead. We watch and an ancient instinct kicks in ...


There's a distinctive crunch underfoot; weekends are spent raking (and jumping in) the leaves. Tiny bulbs are planted in fertile hope of a distant spring.


Lazy days are over - it's all bustle and busy-ness now. Our thoughts turn from sandcastles to schedules.

The mornings are much colder ~ a sweater is a must before the sun rises and warms the air.

And sometime overnight, Old Frost left his kiss on the last blooms of fall ...


We return from a walk in the earthy damp woods, our pockets full of acorns and other fall treasures. We relish time spent outside before winter shuts us in.

But more often, the kitchen is the place to be these days ~ warm, bright and smelling so good. A hearty supper lures us inside before dark ...

Pumpkins are plentiful in the field and at the farmstand ~ which one should we pick? 


"October is nature's funeral month. Nature glories in death more than in life. The month of departure is more beautiful than the month of coming - October than May. Every green thing loves to die in bright colors." ~ Henry Ward Beecher  


Standing in the bleachers, watching the big game, clutching a cup of hot cider to warm us inside and out.

Distant honking draws our eyes to the skies ... a familiar V passes overhead and pulls at our heartstrings.

The landscape is ablaze with color - from orange to yellow to red. 


We make journeys big and small ~ a leaf peeping tour through the country, a canoe trip down a quiet river, a hay ride through the farm.

We visit the Country Fair and come home sticky and tired and grinning ear to ear - remembering giant pumpkins, ferris wheel rides and prize-winning hens. 


At home we dig out candles, and craft baskets and change cotton for wool.

Our thoughts turn to the holidays ... and making plans for guests, goodies, and gifts.

We create cozy corners to invite readers and nappers alike. Our need to nest these days is strong ... 


October's blessings are many ... as rich and varied as the palette itself.


How lucky we are it returns every year. 

Happy Autumn to all of my readers ... I hope your October is off to a great start!