A Mitten Strings Book Study: Why, How & When!
Mitten Strings for God: Let's Take It Slow ...

Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Chapters 1-3

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Hello my friends and welcome back to my little home on the web! It's time for another seasonal tea series, and I hope you're as excited as I am! In the weeks ahead I'll share several "Autumn Teas" here, followed by a few "Advent Teas" ... we may even squeeze in a couple of "Christmas Teas" before all is said and done!

Each week I'll have pics of my weekly tea (cup/mug, brew, baked goods and more) but this time around, as we sip our tea, I'll be reflecting on our current book study, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. Some of you will remember we had a lively discussion of this book nine years ago - well, this is my attempt to not only revisit our previous conversation, but to continue with all those un-studied chapters! (Please see this post and this one, for more on how to participate! All are welcome and I'd love to have you join me!)

So in today's post I'll be talking about the first three chapters of MSfG: Dailiness, Morning and Peace. (For a full list of the chapters to come, please see this post.)

Before I dig in let me start by saying ...

Mitten Strings for God is one of my favorite books of all time, and definitely my favorite book about mothering ever. I'm a sucker for a pretty book cover, but the contents are some of the most beautiful thoughts I've ever read.

I've read this book countless times ... but not in nine years! I'm eager to dig back in since my mothering life is, in many ways, much different than it was in 2008.

Case in point - back then I had three boys (13, 9 and 7) and all were homeschooling. Today I have four boys (22, 18, 15 and 4) and all but one are homeschooling, because - gasp! - HE GRADUATED. 😳 

I'm combining "tea" with our book study because tea represents to me, a slowing down, and an encouragement. A state of mind that lends itself beautifully to the themes we'll be discussing as we make our way through this beloved book. (In other words, if you were coming to my home so we could sit down and chat - about MSfG or anything - the first thing I'd do would be to ask you to sit and have tea. It's my happy place.)

My tea this week is "Constant Comment, Decaf" and as you might remember, this is my very favorite tea. (Second would be Allegro Organic Black Decaf and third would be Harney & Sons Holiday Blend.) The mug is new though - and sweet, don't you think? I have way too many mugs already, but I am a weak, weak woman when it comes to new mugs. And the "goody" today is a home-baked pumpkin spice donut ... it was pumpkin week after all! (Pumpkin week recap to come soon!)

Ok, on with our book study, beginning with chapter one ... :)

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Dailiness (2008 post here)

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"My deeper hope is that each of my sons will be able to see the sacred in the ordinary; that they, too, will grow up knowing how to love the 'dailiness.'" (p. 13)

And that quote, in a nutshell, is precisely why Mitten Strings for God is my favorite mothering book of all time, because Ms. Kenison's sentiment above is exactly what I'm striving for - for myself and my family. In all we do, in every day we spend together, and in every season that passes. 

Now, because last Thursday I shared a new post about this chapter, I'll just say a few things and then move on to chapters two and three. I also want to direct you to my friend Kim's lovely post, a reflection of the book's Introduction. I am so thrilled to have Kim along with me in this read-along. We both have kids that are basically adults now (her daughter is 18), and one of the things I hope to do with this book study is talk about how these reflections can be applied to families with children of all ages ...

That said, I am looking back at the "suggestions" I made for myself and seeing how we're doing now:

Maintain balance within our family schedule. I think we've done a pretty good job of this through the years. We have always been people who refuse to over-commit. We do love our home time! That said, we have a very busy schedule this fall and I am really feeling the effects of it. It's all really good stuff - Crackerjack has several classes with other local homeschoolers - but these take place outside the home, and he doesn't have his license yet! And Earlybird's home-based ABA therapy increased by double (a Godsend) so I feel like I'm going-going-going as soon as my morning coffee time is over and rushing to get things ready, get kids where they need to go, take care of home things and MY things - did I kiss my husband before he left for work? Currently trying to find ways to make these weeks feel a little less hectic. 

Learn to appreciate the "humble household rituals." Always an ongoing challenge - I still don't love doing the dishes but I do try to appreciate how blessed I am to be able to devote much of my time to caring for my family. Always looking for ways to make chores easier and less - what's the word I want here? - mundane. It's never fun to clean a dirty sink, but if the windowsill above said sink is clean and thoughtfully arranged - perhaps with a sacred memento, something from the garden, or a lit candle - and maybe if the dishwashing soap is something fragrant and natural - it can really affect the overall sink cleaning experience. It's gotta be done, why not make it ... nicer?

Make home a nurturing place to be. Hobbies, cozy spaces, simple family activities and traditions. YES to all these ... and I think we've been pretty good about this. Like I said before, we're mostly homebodies and none of us more so than the "body" in charge of the domestic department (me). That said, as the boys get older and we get busier, it's easy to let things slide ... now that we have all our boys home under one roof again, and before a long winter hits, I'd like to take stock: hobbies that don't involve power sources ... inviting corners that encourage togetherness and those aforementioned hobbies ... reminding ourselves what we liked to do altogether when the boys were younger. Some things might still work (family game night), maybe some things can be tweaked (Daddy Saturdays) ... I love simple yet meaningful traditions, too - like Thursday nights with Father Brown on PBS ... and I still text/wake my boys with a hearty "Rabbit-rabbit" on the first of every month. :)

Take time to consider it all. With this tip I meant to be faithful in my blogging so as to capture "life" as best I can. I definitely don't blog as often as I did, but I do post on social media almost daily ... with pictures, remarks and snippets of our life ... things that mark a day in a special way (a sunset we're all marveling over, for example). I'm not sure I'm any better than I was back in 2008 at documenting and reflecting on our family's journey - but I do have a few more platforms. (My paper journaling has suffered of late, though, and that's definitely something I'd like to revive.) Of course capturing and considering are two different things ... I do need to build more "reflection time" into my schedule.

The photo above is my kitchen windowsill the day I began this post. I think a kitchen windowsill can be a real snippet of "life as it is" at that time. Wouldn't you love to see a picture of your mother's or grandmother's kitchen windowsill when you were young? I bet it would seem very dear. Mine usually has (in addition to herb crumbs and water stains) a couple of candles, a reminder of my faith, a photo of my beloved grandmother, a jar of homegrown dried lavender from a dear friend, a pumpkin (natch), a Halloween print, a small golden pot holding Earlybird's med dispensers, and my evening tea mug - all washed out and ready hours before its needed. I loved looking at that mug all day - thinking ahead to the hour after supper when I'd sip a warm, soothing cup of bedtime brew. :)

And now for chapter two ...

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Morning (2008 post here)

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"Yet we can still pause long enough to gaze at the new world before our eyes and to give thanks for the day we have been given." (p. 17)

I love this quote so much - because every single day is a gift. How wonderful then to begin each morning with a little mindfulness? A moment of recognition - I'm here, we're here, we can start again today - followed by a breath of thanks or prayer.

My mornings have changed somewhat from the first time I read this chapter. They're perhaps a little more complicated, and they're still super-early thanks to our Earlybird! Now though I have bookends to my mornings; I start with Earlybird (who wakes anywhere from 4-6 a.m.) and then I wait for Little Bear to wake (between 8 and 9) before I head downstairs to physically get the day going. Mentally the day is already cooking away while I sip my coffee and rock in my bedroom chair ...

Earlybird is good about keeping himself busy (usually with his kindle - no tv) and he knows not to expect too much of me! He is allowed snacks and water but otherwise he must wait for breakfast when I'm downstairs for the day. I actually don't mind waking so early - I've always been a morning person! In fact, if I wake later than six I feel a bit gypped! I absolutely relish those dark, quiet hours ... my brain is still revving up and I can just sit and think and pray or meditate. And as I do, I shake off the night's dreams and restlessness and wait for Bill - God BLESS him - to bring me coffee, as he does every single morning. This is a daily kindness I cherish  - it's a bit of a ritual for us, since he's off early and doesn't return until dinnertime. He hands me my cup - waits for me to take a sip and murmur my thanks - then he's off to ready himself for his day. I carry that moment with me all day ...

While it's still dark I look at my phone and use the "alone" time to read articles and work in ways I don't usually have time or space to otherwise. I don't read my current novel at this time because I don't like to immerse myself in another world (so to speak) when I might have to jump back to reality at a moment's notice. I save that kind of reading for bedtime when the younger boys are asleep.

But once the day grows light enough, I turn to my planners and notebooks. Little Bear will be in our bed by now, because every SINGLE night he leaves his for ours. Ours is a high bed so I prop pillows all around him and then keep watch from the corner ... rocking, sipping, writing ... half wanting him to keep sleeping and half anticipating that first sleepy smile ...

As it nears eight o'clock I quietly open the blinds and the drapes so that he wakes to gentle daylight. (I used to do this through the night in my boys' rooms after they were soundly asleep, but have given that practice over to the wee hours of the morning. I think it is such a gift if a child can wake with the day's natural light.)

As for the older boys, well - as you can imagine, like most older boys, they are good sleepers! Both would sleep well past nine or ten if they were able. I know many parents with older kids who bemoan their late sleepers and/or exult in their recaptured weekend mornings. But between my little boy and my special boy, I can't imagine I'll have ever have a day when all my kids are late sleepers! But that's ok with me ...

I'm getting a little off-topic here because in this chapter Ms. Kenison touched upon the magic of starting the day off in a thoughtful way. And I guess I described how I do that for myself above. For my Earlybird it's knowing Mom and Dad are checking in on him and making sure he's a-ok as he rocks on the couch with his kindle. For Little Bear, it's the special time he gets in mama's arms, in that rocking chair, by the south-facing window. Even when we have a busy morning, we take time to sit here together. We talk about the kind of morning it is and listen for birds or chipmunks or cicadas or the gusty breeze or the ice melt - or even the silence of deep winter. Whatever the time of year, it's always "our thing" to notice what kind of day it is, and where we are in the year.

Mornings for my older boys mean tousled heads and half-shut eyes and they mostly walk right to the kitchen ... so I try to have that be a warm and cheerful place for them as they start their day. We don't converse much to begin with (after the usual, "Hey it's nearly nine and you don't want to be late!") but I do like their morning experience to include a mom who is up and attentive to their thoughts and available to their needs - within reason. I don't get them breakfast, but I make sure there is plenty available for them. I don't lay out their clothes but I do give them a weather update and make a few suggestions. ("It will be warming up later - shorts would be fine with a sweatshirt.")

Mornings for my husband - the dear man, who often has to wash, dress and leave in the dark - are benefitted by (as simplistic as it sounds), clean laundry and hot coffee. I take care of the former and he takes care of the latter. Then he can leave the house as smoothly as one hard-working husband might hope!

Ok, I feel like I have a lot more to say about "morningtime" but in the interest of time, I will move on ... to chapter three!

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Peace (2008 post here)

Pretty-pink-bloomsChapter three begins with this quote:

"Like Thoreau, I love "a broad margin to my life" - the less packed into a day the better." (p. 23)

And back in 2008 I began our chapter discussion with the same quote - because when I first read it, it just leapt off the page and grabbed me by the pen-in-hand, imploring me to see its truth. So YES to this. So very much this. I'm definitely someone who appreciates a lot of white space in their planner ... 

Further on Ms. Kenison said this:

"Knowing peace at home we bring peace into the world."

Another wonderful quote, and the picture above represents this kind of peace to me. That's Little Bear sitting in my lap yesterday afternoon, reading a little book with his mama. This is an example of sharing peace with my youngest son - in such a way that matches his needs, at his level - and it's my hope that these kinds of things help him become a more peaceful person.

I seek to understand him now, and someday he'll seek to understand others ...

For Earlybird this might be a quiet morning stroll down the driveway with Mom - the rest of the house asleep - to fetch the Sunday paper.

For Crackerjack this might be listening to the piece of music he's really fond of at the moment, or a little one-on-one conversation in the car.

For Bookworm this might be working on a crossword puzzle together, or trying a new recipe.

For all of us, it's having as much unstructured time as possible when we can all just BE, at home, together - maybe doing something or maybe just being available should the need or desire to converse/interact arise.

I remember a story told by Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits/Franklin Planner fame) in which he described his teenage son asking if he might be home that coming weekend. Mr. Covey responded yes, wondering what his son might need of him or what might be going on - but the son just shrugged. All he wanted was to know that his Dad would he home.

What peace that gives our children! Simply to be available when they need us, in both an emotional and physical sense.

As I've said before, our autumn semester is frightfully busy - I've still not adjusted - but because I place such a high priority on "downtime" I'm earnestly working on how to smooth things out as best I can. I need to recreate my margins!

On p.23, Ms. Kenison goes on to say ...

"So I try to build the margins in, to keep our days from being inscribed too densely."

It's not something you can turn your back on - these family schedules - and just hope things fall into place. We have to be proactive if we want to keep our children alongside us as we navigate this hectic modern life ...

"Other times I have to switch gears ... so that I can pull my children out of the swift current of a day and guide them into a calm pool instead." (p. 24)

So to begin with, I'm not just waiting for those moments to be available - I'm writing those moments right into my schedule! Because I can get caught up in the busy-ness with the best of them. I can let a day roll on, and forget to pause for these peaceful moments. Suddenly it's bedtime and as Little Bear asks for a story I realize - with horror - that it's the first one of the day. (Honestly, it's happened.)

If I can't manage a peaceful day, how can I expect my children to?

Being an example to our children is, I think, one of our greatest duties and privileges as parents, and I like to think that in most things I'm providing a good model for my children. As discussed above I hope that my attention to the small things will rub off. I also hope that the way I conduct myself just in general, as a human, does too. I try to be mindful of how I react to things - circumstances, stresses, aggravation, disappointment, society and current events - and I hope that I'm showing them a way to stay calm, open-hearted and considerate.

Let me say this though (without going too deeply because it's truly a topic for a whole separate post) ...

Our home is not always a haven of peace and gentle living. In fact, some days it's anything but ...

We are an autism family and that means in our house peace can be fragile. Our Earlybird is an absolute love and a wonderful child - brave and loving in so many ways - but he does have some severe challenges. Challenges that greatly affect our family as a whole. Among them, impulsivity, aggressiveness, anxiety, rigidity, a penchant for chaos and disorder. This journey has been so trying for all of us, and my mother's heart breaks for all my sons - for the one struggling and the ones having to put up with so many injustices and disappointments ...

But what I have to remember is our older boys look to their parents to see how we react to the situations that arise - daily - with their younger brother. His behavior at times can be extremely trying, frustrating ... upsetting. We love our children more than anything in this world, but we are human too. We get hurt, and angry and yes, we sometimes yell and act irrationally or even break down and cry. It's so, so hard to navigate these waters - still, and I fear always - but we are constantly aware that Earlybird's brothers are learning from our responses. They'll take those lessons with them into the world - not just in how they act with their autistic brother, but in how they respond to any challenges and frustrations they might face in life. To any person who might be different or trying in any way.

On our fridge there is a magnet - it has been there for YEARS. It says:

"Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart."

I'd add two more magnets about peace if I could, the first would be from Mother Teresa:

"If you want world peace, go home and love your family."

And the next from Katrina Kenison herself:

"If we have peace at home, we'll bring that peace to the world."

Words to remember and ponder ... peace is on everyone's mind but it's also within everyone's grasp. Find things that bring peace into your home and peace will find you. 

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Well my friends, I'll be off now, because this post has become longer than I intended and I know - like me - your time is not always at your leisure. So I thank you, truly, for stopping by today and sharing a cup of tea with me and hearing me air my thoughts out on these chapters. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, too - whether they are on the chapters themselves, my posts, or the concepts discussed here in general. Please feel welcome to leave me a comment below or link me to a post at your own blog ... OR email me your words (and or photos) here: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

I will update this post with links as they come in!

Here is Kimberly's beautiful post about her precious relationship with her daughter and balancing the needs of an extrovert and an introvert. :)

And next Friday I will be back with another cup of Autumn Tea in which we will be discussing chapters 4-6:

Quiet, Simplicity and TV

(Remember to check out my Mitten Strings archives, for earlier posts on these topics!)

Thanks so much everyone ... I will see you here again very soon!

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