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December 2011

November 2011

Our Advent Calendar is Ready to Go!


Finished just in the nick of time ... with a little a lot of help from my mum!

Remember all those months ago, when I came home from the craft store with this?

Well, I really must laugh at myself. There I was thinking I was so ahead of the game, when that tree sat on the top of my bookshelf until just after Thanksgiving! Honestly, I was thisclose to just leaving it plain! But my mother very kindly offered to take it home to paint in time for December 1st. We discussed colors and design, and off she went to the craft store ...

And just 24 hours later, she brought over the nearly finished product! (I say nearly finished only because it still needed numbers and a few embellishments which we did together while the boys ate lunch.)

And here's how it turned out!


I just love how it looks!


As you can see, we chose soft Christmas-y shades of red, gold, green and blue ... and my mum picked out lovely, silvery snowflakes and tiny bits of vintage clip art. For the countdown, we used simple black number stickers (I attached them with tweezers as they were fairly fragile).

And at the very top we placed a beautiful angel ...


Inside the drawers will be tiny treats and notes for the boys ...


And on the back of the tree is a special message:


Now, earlier today I started organizing the things for inside the drawers ...


These are strips of scrapbooking paper and some brightly wrapped chocolates. On the strips of paper I will write an activity or idea for each day (sometimes something special, often very simple) and then roll it up tightly and tuck it inside the drawer alongside a chocolate.

(Note: I write out the strips one night at a time, working off my big list of ideas. I find it hard to plan too far ahead when weather, sickness, and all kinds of other intrusions can upset our plans.)

Now, a word on the chocolates ...


I bought a couple of bags of mixed Lindt "Lindor" truffles, and they conveniently come wrapped in three different colors. So each boy gets a chocolate every third day. Bookworm's are blue (dark chocolate), Crackerjack's are red (milk chocolate) and Earlybird's are gold (white chocolate). Except that, EB can't eat these particular chocolates ...

So what we will do is this:

He will trade me his truffle for a special treat I have on hand just for him.

That's a win-win situation in my book! ;)

Now, I took the above pictures in the front room because it had such great light, but I've since moved the Advent tree to its permanent home, on top of the nature shelf:


The Tree is surrounded by favorite (nature-related) Christmas books, as well as ...

... our little Star Children ...


... and my Holiday Peace candle:


I'm just so very pleased.


So here we are on the last night of November, and our Advent Tree is ready to go! I can't wait for tomorrow ... December is such a wonderful month, because there are so many special pleasures in which to take comfort and joy. It's my hope our Tree will guide us through Advent, and help us prepare - inside and out - for the happiest day of the year.


Have a lovely night, my friends, and thank you very much for stopping by. I will see you all again here very soon ...


Off to the Tree Farm!

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in New England! It was very mild for this time of year (nearly 70 degrees) and the sky was filled with both wintry clouds and shards of weak sunlight. As Bill had the day off from work, it was a perfect time to go find our Christmas tree!

So right after lunchtime, we all hopped into the van and headed to the farm ...


There are lots of farms in our area, but this one is just so lovely ... In fact, our very first homeschooling field trip ever happened right here - an apple picking hay ride with our (then) new homeschool support group. :)


After getting the 'skinny' from the farm hands, we drove out to the field to find our tree ...




Apple trees in late autumn are so beautiful. So withered and wild looking ...


Now, here's the thing ... we just couldn't find a tree we liked! They were either too short or too spindly. And we wanted a big tree this year!

So we headed back down to the farm to take a look at the pre-cut trees.


EB can get a little funny about tree cutting - for some reason it unnerves him! So a few times he retreated to the van to watch something fun on his iPad. 


But the sights and sounds of the farm proved too much to resist ...


Cute little Santa workshop.


Cute little guinea fowl!


Cute - not so little - boys!


Feeding the beautiful fallow deer.


Aren't they gorgeous?


(They kind of remind me of Archie and Ollie in their coloring, and sweet faces.)


Though EB was certain this was one of Santa's team. ;)

Once we had a tree picked out (a 7 foot Fraser fir, just cut the day before), we headed inside the farm shop to pay ... and peruse.


At last it was time to take our tree home!


But first, Bill secured it to the van ...


... and then we were off!

Continuing our "farm field trip," we stopped at Whole Foods to pick up a few things.


I could spend gajillions of dollars at this store. It's so fun to shop here!


We were home by three, with the light fading fast and a cool wind picking up.

Bill and Bookworm brought the tree in ...


It fits great in the sitting room corner!


Needless to say, the cats were simply amazed.


"For me?"


Checking it out ...


Ollie's intrigued. Archie's sampling.


After a quick look around, Ollie - cool, calm and collected - returned to his open window, taking the high road, as usual.


Archie, meanwhile ... well, he took the low road.


He simply would not leave the tree alone! He ate some needles, climbed some branches and as you can see above, drunk some of the water. (No additives here - just plain old water.)

(We're hoping once the novelty's worn off, Archie will give it a rest. Lol.)

And now we have our tree, all set up in the sitting froom corner.


We need to let the branches drop, and then the lights can be strung and the branches can be adorned with all kinds of things.

(Mostly, unbreakable things.)


Now, I will certainly be posting more on our tree as we go through the week. Hopefully we'll have it all decorated by the weekend!

So I hope you all are having a nice week ... I can hardly believe December 1st is just two days away! Are your Advent calendars ready to go?

Our is not quite ... so I guess I'd best get to work!

Have a great Tuesday, my friends ... I'll be back here again very soon.


Happy Birthday, Dear Nana!

My mum's birthday is the 26th of November so some years it falls on Thanksgiving. This year we celebrated it on Sunday, after church, with a light and leisurely brunch. 

(Well, maybe not so light, lol.)


Here's the birthday cake, in all its autumn glory. :)

Since the dining room is still being worked on (Bill painted this weekend), I decided we'd eat in the family room. So before we left for church, I laid the table with a pretty, deep burgundy tablecloth - but fortunately I waited on anything breakable, because while no one was looking, Archie came along ...


And made himself quite comfortable.


I'm too cute to get in trouble ... right?

The brunch buffet included my mum's special scrambled eggs, a roasted potato & vegetable "hash," bacon and apple sausages, bagels and cream cheese, leftover cranberry relish, ETC.


My dad and the boys wasted no time tucking in. :)


Speaking of my boys, Nana's three grandsons ...


Crackerjack (12)


Earlybird (10 in two weeks)


Bookworm (16 1/2)

(Just when did my boys get so big?)

EB scooted out of the picture just as it snapped, but here we are presenting Nana with her present ...


Can you guess where we're taking her?

(I can't wait!)

At last, it was time for cake ...


This was just a boxed spice cake mix, baked in a bundt pan, and frosted a with homemade maple-brown sugar glaze. Perfect for a November birthday! I sprinkled some "autumn leaves" sprinkles over the top, and then set a tiny glass vase (actually a votive candleholder) in the center hole. It fit perfectly - and it held just a few mini carnations (leftover from Thanksgiving day).

A slice of cake with a scoop of maple-walnut ice cream (Nana's favorite).


So it was a very nice Sunday ~ a quiet day spent at home with my family, celebrating a special birthday and the start of a new season. 

And so we say, Happy Birthday to Nana!

And Happy Advent to everyone!

What a wonderful time of year ...


Thanks so much for stopping by today ... I hope your week's off to a good start! 

See you all again sometime soon ...

Turkey Day Recap

Here's a little peek at our Thanksgiving Day ... 


With 17 coming for dinner, you have to get a little creative with the table arrangements, so we set up two tables for four in the family room ...


(That's EB and his Papa in the background - each with his own internet device, lol.)

In this room I used russet and olive tableclothes and two different sets of blue and white dishes ...

I made up little bouquets of orange, yellow and red mini carnations and set them in crystal vases filled with cranberries (and water).

Very simple, (inexpensive), and sweet.


In the dining room (which thanks to the flu last week is still under construction!) we set up our large dining table with seating for nine. 


I used a sage green tablecloth with a soft orange runner. Added some candles (ivory tapers and amber votives) and a cornucopia filled with vegetables, fruit and silk leaves. 


I couldn't be without my life-saving lists!


They're now crumpled and worn, but they really kept me in line!

Our pretty kitty ...


Some pretty candy ...


And lots of sunlight - it was such a nice day! 


Hors d'oeuvres were served in the sitting room, and that's the dessert "holding zone" in the right-hand corner:


Not much here yet - just a pie, a cake, various candies, and a spicy pudding in the crockpot. (And on the lower shelf hidden behind the table linen, we had more storage - as pies and things came in, they were placed here till after dinner.) 


And here we have peach salsa and chips, apples and brie, hot pepper jelly and cream cheese, assorted crackers and cheese straws.

More appetizers were served in the family room ...


Most notably, my cousin's fabulous shrimp dip!

The china cupboard was set up as a bar ...


The star of the "preshow" was our Thanksgiving cocktail!


 The Cranberry Daiquiri.

They were very refreshing and delicious - but rather potent! (I had about 3 sips, lol.)

Crackerjack enjoying his own "kid-friendly" cocktail: sparkling cider, Sprite and a little twist of lime.


Dinnertime arrived around 2:30 ...

The 25 lb. turkey took six hours too cook!


Alongside the turkey we had ...

two kinds of stuffing

(plain and cranberry/apple/sausage)

two kinds of potatoes

(traditional and cream cheese)

two kinds of cranberry sauce

(canned and homemade)

broccoli-cheese casserole

sweet potatoes with carmelized onions

butternut squash





(snowflake and herbed)

After a pause to digest (and clean up), desserts were set out ...


And "plenty" being the word of the day, we had:

pumpkin pie

pecan pie

apple pieS

cherry jubilee pie

maple walnut cake

Indian pudding

honey-yogurt loaf

mini cheesecakes

and ice cream!

Naturally, freshly brewed coffee was served also ...


I have such fun with paper goods. :)



It was a wonderful day ... filled with friends, food and family. I love hosting this holiday - it's my favorite day of the year!

But as much as I love all the planning and prep - not to mention the party itself - there's that final moment of the day, when the house is quiet, the fridge is full, and the memories are safely tucked away ...

It's such a lovely moment of ...


Well my friends, I hope you all had a lovely day too, and a happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate. Thanks so much for stopping by today ... I'm taking a little break for the weekend, but I'll be back here again very soon!


 Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. ~ Native American Saying

We have a winner!

... and it's Valerie!

Congratulations, Valerie! You've won my extra copy of Jan Brett's Home for Christmas! I've sent you an email so we can arrange our mailing details. I do hope you enjoy the book - it's a lovely little tale.

And WOW, there were 104 names to draw from! Thank you all, SO much, for taking the time to answer Earlybird's cranberry question. Because of you all, we have lots of raw data with which to formulate our graph. :)

I was reading the responses as they came in, but honestly, with all the pre-holiday chaos preparations, I didn't keep track of which choice was winning out - canned or homemade. It seemed pretty even, I think! (And there were a startling number of readers who simply don't care for cranberry sauce to begin with, lol!)

Well, at our Thanksgiving table we will offer both canned and homemade today. My dad and my brother prefer good ol' canned Ocean Spray, but I really love to make my own - if for nothing else than for how amazing it smells as it cooks! So I whipped up some relish last night, a very easy recipe that called for fresh cranberries, plain sugar and orange juice ... only I snuck in a dash of ground cloves, too. ;)

(And if there's any leftover relish I plan to make this on Sunday - perfect for the first day of Advent, don't you think? Or maybe these - lovely for after-church brunch!)

Cranberries will also star in our our signature holiday cocktail ~ today we are serving up "Cranberry Daiquiris!" They will look so pretty in our cosmo glasses, and with berries, orange, lemon, cinnamon and rum, I think they'll taste pretty nice, too. I'll be sure to take pictures to show you. :)

Dear readers, this was so much fun! We'll be formulating our "cranberry" graph next week, and will share it as soon as it's ready. And please look for another poll/giveaway in a couple of weeks. We'll have some "early winter" questions for you ... ;)


Well, allrighty ~ I'm going to finish this coffee and get myself moving! The big day is here at last, and my mum should be here very soon to help me put the (25 pound!) turkey in the oven. And there's still lots to do before our guests arrive in six or so hours ... 

So have a wonderful day ... and to my fellow Americans:

A Very Happy Thanksgiving to you!

To all my readers, thank you for taking the time to stop by and read. I am grateful for your visits ... for your kind words and all your wonderful support! Blogging has been such a blessing to me, and I'm thankful I'm able to do it!

See you all again very soon ...


As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy


Loaves of Thanksgiving

A few freshly baked breads for our friends around town!


 A small token of gratitude for all they do for our community - and us. :)

Learning about, and experiencing, our community is a big part of Earlybird's home education. And his favorite part of the week are the excursions we make here and there, meeting all kinds of folks on the way. Despite the fact he is autistic, he is an extraordinarily social child! (Autism affects each child so differently, and things like awareness and affection have never been an issue for EB. His challenges run more along sensitivity issues, impulsivity and developmental delays.)

What EB needs is guidance on how to conduct himself in public, and practice in speaking with those he meets. Consequently we spend a lot of time visiting the library, the grocery store, the post office, etc. EB is always full of questions and comments and has made some really nice connections with many of the people we see on a weekly basis. 

Happily, it's been our experience that people are generally very kind and encouraging when it's clear our EB is a special needs child. They respond to his outgoing nature, and are patient with him as he asks questions or makes comments. His speech delay can make him difficult to understand, and it touches my heart when I observe someone giving him the time he needs to finish his thought. And it thrills us to watch him grow in confidence and skill as he learns to socialize with people outside his own circle.

So at Thanksgiving we wanted to take a moment to think about the people we see regularly through the year and say thanks for being so friendly and helpful. To that end, I baked some quick breads this morning and we delivered them this afternoon when we ran out to do a few errands. 

I used the "mix-and-match quick bread" recipe in Frozen Assets (my good old standby) but I tinkered with the recipe a bit. I used less sugar, and added some white-wheat flour. I also used nutmeg and ginger as well as cinnamon. I used sweet potato and pumpkin puree for a nice autumn blend - so we call these "Thanksgiving Breads!"

(What I really love about this recipe is how flexible it is and that it makes two loaves in one try. Very convenient when you're baking with the seasons and making food gifts!)

When the breads were cool I wrapped them in parchment paper, and lengths of green-and-white baker's twine. I gave EB manilla leaf tags to color ... but truth be told, Crackerjack pitched in because EB told me he'd "done enough coloring this morning," lol. Good ole CJ, he may be a tween now, but he still loves to do crafts when I've got them set out. Of course, it may have something to do with the fact he can step away from his math for a while. ;)

So, on the tags we wrote why were thankful ...

For the farmstand because they grow good things for us to eat.

For the library because we LOVE to read!

For the post office because mail is such a fun part of our day!

I tucked the tags beneath the twine, and our "loaves of Thanksgiving" were ready to go! It was a quick and fun morning activity - plus, it felt really nice to make people smile. :)

And if I could, I'd bake a loaf for all my readers and the tag would say:

For the kind people who visit my blog and make me smile every day!


Now, here we are ONE day before the BIG day, and there's so much to do on my list I can hardly think! Lol. It will all get done though - it always does! Unfortunately it is raining HARD here this morning, so that won't make food shopping so fun. (At least the forecast for tomorrow is bright sun so I really can't complain.)

Before I sign off, I'd like to thank you all for the wonderful response to our cranberry poll! I love reading your votes and particularly the reasons behind them. Please keep them coming - we'll be working on our chart later this week. And the poll will be open until I go to bed tonight - I will draw a winner in the morning!

Have a wonderful Wednesday, my friends ... I will see you all again very soon!


A Cranberry Poll & a Christmas Giveaway!

This week, Earlybird and I continue to work on our "autumn graphs and charts," so we'd like to ask my readers another quick question:

Which do you prefer, canned or homemade cranberry sauce? (And if you have an extra moment, please tell us why! My 'vote' is in the comments below.)

And here's something fun I haven't done in a while ... how about a book giveaway? :) After the poll closes, we will randomly choose a reader to send my extra copy of Jan Brett's newest book: Home for Christmas!


~ I'll announce the winner Thanksgiving morning! ~

Have a great Tuesday, my friends!


• Cranberries Week •

Good Monday afternoon, my friends! I hope your week's off to a good start. :)

So, according to my "seasonal themes" outline, this is cranberry week! And "cranberries" tie in nicely with the holiday - they were, after all, served at the very first Thanksgiving! But it will also be a very busy week, as we prepare for dinner on Thursday, so I'm not expecting we'll do all of these things. Hopefully, though, we'll fit in a few of them (#s 1, 2 and 10 seem quite likely).

Here are a few ways to include cranberries in this week's learning and living ...


1. As we make up our weekly marketing list we'll be sure to list cranberries. Now, this list is different from the one I write in my shopping notebook. This list is just for EB and me. When Earlybird and I have our marketing days, we work on a grocery list together. And as we do, we focus on spelling, printing, reading and pronunciation. We'll go to the market and look for cranberries ... we might even practice asking the produce manager for assistance. (A great way for EB to practice social skills.)

2. We'll buy extra bags to freeze because cranberries are only available at this time of year. (Great discussion prompts: What are seasonal foods? What are local foods?)

3. (And with some of those frozen cranberries, we'll make cranberry soap later this winter!)

4. At home, we'll wash our berries and set a few aside to observe. We'll sketch a cranberry for our nature journal - one whole, and one cut in half so we can see the very interesting insides. (Another discussion prompt: How does a cranberry grow? Here's a nice resource.)

5. We'll freeze a tray full of ice cubes with cranberries inside - they'll look lovely in our Thanksiving beverages, including ... A "Pilgrim Punch" just for the kids! We'll mix cranberry juice with ginger ale, scoops of lime sherbet and "berried" ice cubes. (I'll add a splash of apple juice if it's too tart.) It will look lovely in my grandmother's cranberry glass punch bowl.

6. We'll read some good books - like Cranberries: Fruit of the Bogs and Clarence the Cranberry Who Couldn't Bounce. We'll also watch a wonderful episode of Reading Rainbow called "Giving Thanks" in which Lavar visits a Massachusetts cranberry farm.

(Note: That vimeo site is wonderful for watching all those old Reading Rainbow episodes, which sadly are no longer shown. They're like virtual field trips ...)

7. And speaking of field trips, next year I'll plan one to a local bog. The last time we visited one - a gorgeous organic bog on Cape Cod - I was pregnant with Earlybird!

8. We'll make a string of cranberries and popcorn - and put them out on the big spruce tree outside the learning room windows. A small way to say thanks to the animals that visit our yard. They bring us so much entertainment and education! (The stringing is also excellent fine motor practice!)

9. We'll bake wonderful cranberry breads to pass out to community friends on Wednesday. (Our children's librarian, the post office ladies, the farmstand family, and the supermarket-bank ladies who are always so nice to EB when I'm checking out.)

10. On Wednesday afternoon, I'll make my special homemade cranberry relish for Thanksgiving dinner. It's made with berries, orange and spices and the kitchen will smell so good! And while it cooks, we'll try a cranberry fresh, and a cranberry dried - it's National Eat a Cranberry Day, after all. :)

 11. We'll make another graph chart by taking a "cranberry sauce" poll. (The poll will go up tomorrow morning - and we'd love to hear your response!)


So there are some of my cranberry ideas ... I'd love to hear yours if you have some to share! And please check in later for my "cranberry poll." I bet you can guess what we're asking!

Have a wonderful day, everyone ... blessings to you and your loved ones!


Crowned Cupcakes for Today's Feast

This feast day snuck up on me! Autumn has flown by and suddenly it's the last Sunday on the Catholic calendar! (Next week we begin Advent, and with it, a new liturgical year.) It was during the homily today at Mass that I found myself envisioning a quick but easy treat in honor of Christ the King (today's feast). (Not to suggest Father's homily wasn't interesting, but sometimes I find myself getting little ideas as I listen and it's all I can do not to whip out the post-it note pad, lol.) So I mentally surveyed my craft supplies and thought of golden doilies which would make nice little crowns. It being Sunday - a day for family dinners and special desserts - I thought I would make some delicious cupcakes, and "crown" them with a little help from the kids.

Now, Bookworm and Bill were off very early to Cambridge today, where BW is participating in a neat program at MIT. They'll be there all day, so the younger boys and I ran a few errands and while we were out I picked up some gold cupcake liners and edible glitter.


At home I dug out those aforementioned doilies and some colorful sequins (for "crown jewels"). Then I set in on making the cake ...

Now for spontaneous baking like this, I usually rely on a chocolate package mix that's EB-friendly, but I really wanted to make white cupcakes. (The liturgical color for today's feast.) So I used the "tender white cake" recipe off the back of the King Arthur Cake Flour box and though it's a little more work, it makes such a wonderful cake! It uses both vanilla and almond flavoring and the texture is so light and tender ... and the cakes bake up nice and golden:


So while the cupcakes cooled, I set the boys to work on the crowns. I gave them each some doilies, scissors, glue sticks and sequins and let them have at it.


(Note Crackerjack's divided attention - he's watching Scooby Doo in the background, lol.)

So the boys cut the doilies in half and then swiped the smooth front with a glue stick. Then they pressed on the colorful sequins.


Then we let them dry, and I headed back to the kitchen to whip up some buttercream frosting.

To decorate and assemble the cupcakes, I first spread some of the edible gold glitter (simple decorating sugar) on a plate:


CJ dipped the frosted cupcake into the glitter:



Then he placed a crown on top, bending it to shape, and gently nestling the edge of the crown into the frosting. (It held easily - no need for toothpicks.)




Happy Feast Day!

I think these would be fun for any party that had to do with royalty - whether it be knights and castles or princesses (fairy or otherwise). They were so easy to make and I think the final result is pretty festive!


Well, my friends, I hope you all had a nice weekend. Now, as for my next post, it will be "cranberries" for certain! I know I keep promising that post - and truly, I have it all written - but I was so pleased with today's last minute project I just had to share it!

So I hope you all have a nice night ... Bill and Bookworm just got home, so I'm off to hear all about their adventures. (And start supper!)

Take care, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by ... I'll be back here again very soon!


Planning Ahead vs Real Life

Before I jump into my "cranberry week" post (that will come next for sure), I wanted to address something that Kristie mentioned in a comment she left yesterday ...

I love the weekly themes, but I can't see that working for me. My weekly themes would go like this: this week is flower week, but the flowers I wanted to observe have not bloomed the beginning of evergreen week, I would find that trees were going to be half off the week after...during our state week, we would end up out of state on a trip. =) (Just examples, I never thought of theme weeks, but the above would drive me crazy!)

Does that ever happen to you? How do you deal with it if it does and if not, then how do you get that not to happen?!?

Lol, yes Kristie, these things happen to me all the time! And this is a really good point and I actually should have addressed it in my original post ...

The thing is, these seasonal themes are very flexible! Not only do I often shuffle them around, but some weeks nothing - absolutely nothing - gets done according to theme

And that might be disappointing, but well - that's life. I don't mean to sound glib, and sure I get frustrated when things don't fit in like I planned, but I try to remember that keeping things real is my ultimate goal.

"Real" meaning, whatever our family life was that week - the highs and the lows. So maybe other things captured our attention and took over our time (and my energy). Maybe our week was too busy to fit in any "extras" at all. Or maybe we got sick and it all "flu" out the window!

Case in point, this week - which I dubbed "nest and hibernation" week. I had all these ideas - so many great ideas! And then Monday afternoon I got hit hard with the flu. At first I thought I could still pull some things off since we could "nest" on the couch as I recovered. But what actually happened? I slept all day! I just could not stay upright, lol. And I wasn't particularly pleasant to be around. So I didn't have the energy to make up our "winter nests" as I planned (flannel sheets, comfy quilts) and nobody felt like taking a "nest walk" while mom was sick at home ... so what happens to "nest" week? Well, it could just be dismissed, to be revisted next year ... or I could take those ideas and fit them in some other time. "Nesting and hibernation" works as well in December as it does mid-November.

Remember those "gratitude leaves" I didn't start on time? Well, I caught up and we kept going with it ... but I can tell you, we fell way behind on leaves this week! I do plan to catch up as best we can - but if we don't have 24 leaves hanging from the window on Thankgiving Day (as originally planned) that's OK. Because it will be US. And remember, I'm going for real. :)

As I've said, this is all very casual ... because these activities are supposed to be subtle. They're supposed to fit into our life, quite naturally. I don't want them to feel forced. (This is so key!) I want them to resonate with the seasons but also with our reality. I don't want to manipulate our family experience - I want to enhance it.

So to address your potential scenarios, Kristie (which made me giggle!) ... I'd suggest you might move things around a little! Wait a week on your flowers, or perhaps make "waiting and watching" part of your week. Visit the yard daily and keep track of any new growth ... look up the language of the flowers you've chosen ... visit a nursery to look at flowers already in bloom. And as for the evergreens - why not get a head start? Learn about them, identify evergreens in your own environment, collect cones and make crafts. Do all this before you head to the farm ... you'll be all the more "geared up" when you get there!

Keep your themes in mind - plan for them, certainly! - but try to remain flexible and work things in around where life takes you.

(Now, I try to take my own advice as best I can - but I well understand the need to keep things neat and tidy - you know how much I love schedules and plans! Themes look so nice all written down in order, especially when matched up with specific events - say, a field trip or feast day. But I try to work with what life hands us because goodness knows - I'm not the one really in charge!)

So I guess, Kristie, my advice would be to do what feels natural and try not to worry if things don't go as you hoped. In my experience things almost never do! I'd also say, if you know you'll go crazy when things don't match up - don't overplan! Just pick a couple of things for a week, or just brainstorm a list of activities to pick from through the month. Then if you don't get to them you won't feel like you put all this energy into planning things that never panned out. 

And if you only fit in only a fraction of all you had "planned" - well, you still did some really nice things for your family. I doubt very much they'll miss what you didn't do ... but I bet they'll appreciate and remember what you did. 

So I hope this post helps a little, Kristie - if only to share with you my own take on "fitting it all in." It's something I work on too, adjusting my own expectations. (Life with a special needs child has taught me that well!) And I don't mean to make it sound like I'm completely laid back on all this - I tend to be too "Type A" for that! But as I say, I do try to go with the flow as best I can - working with the seasons as well as my family.

Sorry to ramble on so long but your comment really got me thinking! And by the way Kristie, please don't stop asking your questions - I love them! They get me thinking and let me know when I'm unclear or missing something or need to address something further. I appreciate that you take the time to read and "review!" :)

To all my readers ~ I hope you have a lovely weekend. I'm feeling so much better and ready to catch up with all my pre-Thanksgiving preparations. Needless to say that farm visit didn't happen last week, but we'll fit a Whole Foods trip in this weekend. And there's lots to do around here before Turkey Day ... my list has lots of little boxes to check off!

So I'll be off for now ... but I'll be back again soon. Have a good one, my friends!


Assigning Weekly "Seasonal" Themes

Dear readers, this quiet Friday morning I'm working on our "plan" for next week and, as I check our calendar and jot down ideas, it got me to formulating this post ...Chrysanthemum-basket

Now, as you know, I just love to compile big lists of ideas for the seasons (both natural and liturgical), and I gather ideas from various resources (books and magazines, etc.), but mostly from my own deep appreciation of the seasons themselves. I've been keeping these lists, and nurturing this passion, since I was a young girl, so I guess you could say seasonskeeping is a longtime hobby of mine! :)

And lists are always wonderful things, but taking all those general ideas and turning them into specific actions (moving them from the list to our life) takes a little extra thought and planning. In other words, looking over my "late autumn" list and seeing inspirational thoughts like "cranberries," "nests" and "evergreens" is one thing - but scheduling activities like "sketch cranberries for nature log," "go on a nest walk," and "visit a tree farm" is the essential next step. 

(Actually, taking those broad themes and brainstorming possible activities based on those themes comes next - then we can pick and choose and fit those ideas into our week.)

But of course, our weeks are already so busy! So how do we fit in all (or just some of) these "extras?"

Well, this could (and probably will) spark a whole post on managing our household in such a way that we make time for the extras, but for today I'll just focus on this one thing ...

I find it very helpful to assign seasonal "themes" to our weeks.

It's often (though not always!) as simple as that.

By doing this, I find it a little easier to fit fun seasonal activities into what is, assuredly, an already jam-packed week. These activities are usually simple things that connect us in some way with the season at hand. And here's another key - they involve all different aspects of our everyday life. An activity might fit into our home learning, or it might become a fun family outing, while many ideas are simply worked into my weekly homekeeping (baking, cleaning and such).

The end result (hopefully) is in keeping our children aware of the natural world and in tune with the rhythm of the seasons - in a casual, yet memorable way.

So this week - when the leaves are tumbling down and the trees are just about bare - our theme is "nests and hibernation."

Next week (Thanksgiving week), we'll work in a "cranberries" theme.

And the week after that, we'll visit the Christmas tree farm, so our assigned seasonal theme will be "evergreens."

These are all easy but meaningful connections ~ and simple, good fun!

Now, I have an outline of themes that mostly get repeated year to year, (seasons may change, but they're comforting in their familiarity and renewal), but as the children mature I change up our activities and focus. I'm currently outlining next year's weekly themes, and I will share them here just as soon as I can.

Also, later today (or possibly tomorrow) I'll post my cranberry week ideas here ... right now I'm just finishing up my weekly planning as I sit here by the fire, sipping coffee and admiring the rising sun with my Earlybird. We're both feeling so much better and this day feels so full of promise!

(From EB himself, as he peers out a cracked-open familiy room window: "Mama! Come here and smell this wonderful morning air!" How that warms my heart! For the verbal skill as well as the heartfelt expression! That's seasonskeeping at work right there, my friends!)

So I hope you all have a nice Friday ... I'll be back here again in a bit.


Our Homeschooling Year


First of all, I want to apologize that it's taken me so long to get this particular post up. I've been asked several times to share what we're doing/using for home education this year, and though it's been all set since August (when I ordered our curriculum and sent in our ed. plans) it's just taken me this long to put it all down on paper - or should I say, post!

Dear readers, it astounds me to say this is our 12th year of homeschooling! We started back when Bookworm was just five, just after one year of preschool at a nearby church. Our town was going "full day K" - something Bill and I were definitely not "for" - so we made a sharp turn from traditional education and tossed our hats into the homeschooling ring. Fortunately, we found it much to our liking (and we also found wonderful local support) and have never looked back ... and now our Bookworm is in 11th grade!

This year I also have a 7th grader (Crackerjack) as well as a special needs 3rd grader (Earlybird). I'm happy to report, we're enjoying it all very much, but as we've added more outside classes* this year, it's been a bit of a juggle getting used to all the "comings and goings." (And for me personally, it's been a challenge to keep up with my household routines!) I think though, now that we're several weeks into our new year, we're starting to balance things out a little ...

*A bit on the outside classes - this fall we enrolled the boys in some electives at a local homeschool "tutorial" center. Many of our friends have been part of this organization for years ... and we've finally found the time to be part of this wonderful community. It's something like a co-op, but instead of parents doing the teaching, teachers - or tutors, as we call them - are hired to teach our students - or scholars, as we say. Classes range from academic to electives and the children can take one class or many. It's a terrific experience so far. :)

Ok, before I go on any further, here's the curriculum breakdown this year:


~ Home Lessons ~

General: Oak Meadow 11th grade

American Literature

US History

Saxon Math


Rosetta Stone French

~ Outside Classes ~ 

High School Art

SAT Prep Workshop


Monthly "Brit Lit" Discussion Group

"Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Program *

(*currently under investigation)

Confirmation classes


Driver's Ed. (Eek! Lol.)

~ Miscellaneous Activities ~ 

Weekly volunteering at our local branch library

Team Manager/U12 Soccer (CJ's team)

Neighborhood yard work and pet care 



~ Home Lessons ~

Oak Meadow 7th grade


World History

Earth Science

Saxon Math

Rosetta Stone French

Our Faith @ Home (activities/lessons)

~ Outside classes ~

Middle School Art


7th grade Religious Ed.

Monthly "Newbury Awards" Book Group

~ Outside activities ~

Fall and Spring Soccer

Altar Server ("under consideration," lol)


Now, as Earlybird does not follow one specific curriculum (though I do draw a lot from Oak Meadow) I will write about his outlined "living and learning" year in a separate post. He is registered as 3rd grade, but we work on a K-3 level. His special needs are best met by a carefully arranged approach to academics, life skills, and creative pursuits.


So that's about all I have time for this morning, but before I go, a bit on my bout with the flu this week ... 

The good news: I seem to be through the worst of it! And it was classic stomach flu - not the cough and cold variety. Also, EB and I seem to be the only ones to have gotten it. 


The not-so-good-news: I'm completely wiped out! Oh my goodness, I can't get over how wiped out I am!

(And I have such appreciation now for just how badly my EB felt last week - no wonder he was so out of sorts!)

But I really can't complain. Bill was (IS) so awesome, and took the last two days off work to help me here at home. He took over the house and running around with the kids. So thankfully, they didn't miss a thing (save for some home lessons) thanks to Dad stepping in. Also, my mum has been helping out as she can - and she herself is getting over a wicked cold. I realize I'm very lucky (blessed!) to have such support, and I'm sure I'll be 100% again soon. 

So my friends, I hope you have a great day ... thanks for all the "feel better" wishes! And thank you, as always, for stopping by.

I'll be back here again just as soon as I can!


This is me ...


Well, obviously this is Archie, but this is how I feel. This is how you'd find me if you went looking for me this morning ...

Because it seems whatever bug Earlybird had this past week has found its new home in yours truly. It came on quite suddenly while I was out shopping with the boys yesterday - crazy body aches, fever and chills. So Bill came home from work early and I went to bed ... 

(And in bed I remain!)

Just wanted to pop in quickly to check in, though. I hope your Tuesday's looking better than mine! I also wanted to tell you that today is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. (Perfect pre-holiday timing.) It seems pretty self-explanatory, but here's a nice cleaning checklist from Something to print out and file in my homekeeping binder - because goodness knows I won't actually be cleaning today!

Also, this Thursday is National Homemade Bread Day. Might be a great day to practice making Thanksgiving rolls or perhaps a loaf of butternut squash bread. :)

In our household, this will be a pretty quiet day. Bill's working from home so he can help with the kids - he'll oversee the routines and lesson plans. I plan to rest as much as possible, but EB and I will do a little "couch-schooling" today. And since this is our "nest and hibernation" week this actually works out well ...

I think we'll build "nests" on the family room sectional and do whatever work we can accomplish from there. (Probably mostly reading and watching TV, lol.) We'll make a list of things we'd want on hand for the winter - if we had to truly hibernate all season. I'll ask: "What would our winter den look like?" There's a drawing project right there! And I'll ask Bill and the older boys to take EB out on "a nest walk" before the rain moves in this afternoon ...

By the way, my next "normal" post was (and, hopefully, is) going to be about how these assigned "weekly themes" help with my seasonal planning. It's a way of funneling all those big "seasonal ideas" into do-able projects each week. I'll talk more about that idea just as soon as I can ...

In the meantime, however, I hope you all have a nice day ... stay safe and be well ... see you all again very soon!


The Indian Pudding Recipe

Good morning, my friends ~ I hope your week is off to a nice start!

Monday holds so much promise, doesn't it? We're feeling refreshed after the weekend ... or hopefully, so! (Some weekends are more restful than others, aren't they?) Our weekly routines are kicking in, the calendar is all neatly filled out, and the to-do list seems so very ... do-able. :)

Well, first order of the day, (after my coffee, of course) is to thank you for all the responses so far to my previous post: "What is your favorite autumn dessert?" Earlybird and I are still "collecting data," so please keep the answers coming! I may have some recipe requests at some point because many things mentioned sound so very good!

Also, several of you mentioned you'd like to try the Indian Pudding I wrote about yesterday, and I realized I didn't share the actual recipe itself in my post! So without further ado, here it is:

Indian Pudding

(Source: Autumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch)

5 1/2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup molasses

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

 1 cup raisins (I left these out.)

vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8x8 inch baking dish. Over medium heat, in a large saucepan, heat the milk, but don't boil it. Slowly whisk in cornmeal and continue to stire until mixture begins to thicken ~ about 10 minutes. Add next 7 ingredients and keep stirring 'til heated through. Pour into baking dish and bake 3 hours.

Serve warm with ice cream.


If you try this, please let me know how you like it! For the record, I left out the raisins and served it with whipped cream (not freshly whipped, lol) instead of ice cream. It was still very delicious!

So, I hope you all have a nice day ... take care, and be well ... I'll be back here again very soon!


What's your favorite autumn dessert?

Earlybird and I are working on "charts and graphs" this week, and I thought it would be fun to do a little poll on such a timely, tasty subject. If you have a moment, would you consider leaving your answer below? :)

And speaking of autumn desserts - today happens to be National Indian Pudding Day - and Indian pudding happens to be one of my favorite autumn desserts! In fact, I made some today, using the recipe found in Autumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch ...


 It's really a perfect dish for this time of year! So autumnal, spicy and sweet ...

It's an easy recipe and not all that time-consuming. (It bakes for three hours, but the prep is pretty quick.) And it calls for things you most likely already have in your pantry (cornmeal, molasses, maple syrup, ginger and cinnamon). The only thing I had to buy was whole milk since we usually only have lowfat on hand.


This is how it looked just before I put it in the oven. It may not be the prettiest of desserts, but it sure does taste good ... and MY does the house smell heavenly as it bakes!

Here's how it looked coming out:


Personally, I think it's best served with vanilla ice cream or maybe a dollop of freshly whipped cream. :)

As a native New Englander, I kind of grew up on Indian pudding - not that we had it all the time, but I remember it on many a family occasion. Here's a little more about the dish from

"Celebrate National Indian Pudding Day! Indian pudding is a delicious custard made with molasses, cornmeal, milk, butter, spices, eggs, and sometimes apples. Once baked, Indian pudding looks like an inedible mush, but after one bite you'll be hooked!

This scrumptious recipe has been around for centuries. Early American colonists did not have the necessary ingredients to make plum pudding, so they created an alternative using cornmeal. Indian pudding is still a popular dessert around New England and other parts of the country. Celebrate your American heritage today and enjoy some Indian pudding on National Indian Pudding Day!"

I also found a recipe online for making Indian Pudding in the crockpot, and I think I'll make that version on Thanksgiving Day. For one thing, it won't take up oven space - on a day when oven space is at a premium! - and for another, the house will smell fantastic as our dinner guests arrive!

And continuing with the "autumn foods" theme, for tonight's Sunday supper, I'm serving "Cranberry Chicken" with salad and long grain/wild rice. I've never tried this dish before and though the ingredients seem kind of ... well, strange ... it got such rave online reviews, I figured I'd give it a go. It makes a whole lot, so I hope it's a hit! 

Well my friends, dinnertime is fast approaching, so I'd best get myself back in the kitchen. I hope you all had a lovely weekend, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by ... I'll see you all again very soon!


Homeschooling: It's only Natural!


I'd like to just take a moment to say thank you to the very kind reader(s) who nominated me for a couple of Homeschool Blog Awards! It was brought to my attention that By Sun and Candlelight has been nominated in two categories: "Homeschooling Nature/Field Trip Blog" and "Special Needs Homeschooling Blog."

I was completely surprised and so very honored to be nominated ~ especially in these two categories. They are both near and dear to my heart!

Because firstly, nature study plays a HUGE part in our homeschooling adventure! I have always been quite passionate about nature, and Bill and I are trying to raise our children with an awareness of - and an appreciation for - the natural world. In an ever-advancing "techno-savvy" civilization, it's just so important that we instill in our children a healthy respect for the earth and all of creation. That we teach them how to know and observe what might otherwise, and too easily, be ignored. And most of all that we foster in these young hearts a friendly familiarity with their most intimate surroundings: to begin with, their very own backyards!

Now, what's also been fantastic about "homeschooling nature" as we do, is that it provides a framework for education that all children can benefit from - but especially so a special needs child.

Dear readers, as most of you know, our nine year old Earlybird is autistic, and if you've been reading my blog for some time, then you know how much he loves to learn and play and LIVE right alongside his big brothers! And if you are blessed to know special needs children yourself, then you know that despite the many challenges they may face, they are absolutely amazing children - filled with love and trust and faith and a true eagerness to know the big wide world around them ...

In other words, they're just like any other child.


Sure, they may have a harder time with some things, but they have needs that can be met beautifully with homeschooling: 

With patience,

 and persistence.

With encouragement.

and companionship.

With challenging conservation,

and easy peace and quiet.

 With rest when they need it,

and activity when they're up for it.

With fresh air and exercise,

and materials just right for them.

With all kinds of new experiences,

and all the comforts of home. 

With respect and reverence, 

And lots and lots of love.

I thank God every day I was blessed with three healthy children, and I love each one of them so much. I love that they are all so different and that they each challenge me in different ways. I love that they have taught me things I never knew about - or expected of - myself.

And most of all, I LOVE that they are growing up together - as brothers big and small, and happily, as friends.


Ok, well, this post got SO much bigger than I thought it would, lol! But you know how I ramble, and once I got going I just had to roll with it.

I thank you all for stopping by and I thank, too, whoever it was that so kindly nominated for those awards. You've given me something to smile about tonight ... and a little bit to think on, as well. 

Have a great night my friends ... I will see you all here again soon.


Our Martinmas Day


And what a wonderful day this was, my friends! A "finally" Friday, a national holiday, as well as a special day on the Catholic calendar ... and the weather was absolutely glorious! Bright sunlight slipped in and out between billowing gray clouds ... the sky was vivid blue ...  and the air was nippy and brisk. A perfect day to enjoy the late autumn landscape, as well as the comforts of home. :)

And speaking of home ... I was all the more glad I had taken those little "do-ahead" steps yesterday - because bright and early Bill started tearing up the dining room floor! 


My goodness, the house was chaos for most of the day! So needless to say we went even further off-track today ... but did I still get those cookies baked? Check. And did we still get that little lantern in our window (and for a time, in our tree?)? Double check!

So first let me tell you about our little lantern, because it was so last-minute, and so super-easy, and lanterns are fun for all kinds of special days through the year!


(Archie, always eager to help ...)

Now, originally I planned to make watercolor paintings this week with Earlybird and those paintings were going to be the base for not only our Martinmas lanterns but for some Thanksgiving post cards as well. Alas, illness hit the household and original plans went awry.

So here's what I came up with instead:


I was poking around downstairs and found an old jam jar that already had colorful star stickers all over it (I think this was from Epiphany last year).

We wrapped it with a bit of tissue paper ...


... taped it securely at the seam and on the bottom ...


... and then tied some twine around the top to serve as a handle.


And we were done!


While Bill kept working, we whipped up some Martinmas "horseshoe" cookies in the kitchen. (Remember I had all the fixings set out on the counter?) Here's my Crackerjack rolling out the dough (with a rolling pin that obviously had not been floured, lol). Bookworm is in the background reading his latest English assignment.


The cookies went into the oven ...


... and while they baked, I took a little stroll around the yard with my camera. Things are fading fast, but there is still much autumn "punch" in the garden ...





And 20 minutes later the cookies were done!


These are very simple cookies - a buttery, oat shortbread that tastes wonderful with a cup of tea or a tall glass of milk. And the horseshoe shape is a symbol St. Martin. As the legend is told, one night Martin, riding upon his white horse, came across a beggar on the side of the road. A young man of the military, he used his sword to split his warm cloak in two and gave half to the beggar ... later that night he dreamed of Jesus, and he was wearing that very same mantle. 

A lovely tale of generosity and kindness ... perfect for this time of year. :)

Now, nothing aids cookie digestion better than a dose of fresh air! So the boys and I headed outside. Earlybird carried the lantern out with us, intent on hanging it in a tree.


Then the boys all took their swords to recently felled branches.


I don't know what the premise of this was - perhaps there was no premise, lol. Just boys being boys!


So while they did their boy stuff, I went over to the feeders and was met with a pleasant surprise:


The little red squirrel, munching away in the tray feeder. :)

(Back inside, the cats were taking violent offense to the squirrels.)


Speaking of the cats (and random wild animals), they had to get their rabies shots this afternoon. They were both very well behaved, I'm happy to report. But between all the noisy floor work and the trip to the vets, they're a little jumpy this evening!

But it's such a beautiful evening ...


And our humble little lantern sure looks pretty shining beside the dark window!


"There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle." ~ Robert Alden

Well, my friends, I am now going to wrap up, since I've kept you so long and I'm sure you all have things to do. ;) I hope you all had a nice day, and I wish you all a happy and safe weekend ...

Thanks so much for stopping by ~ I'll see you all again very soon!