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December 2020

Yuletide Tea at Dawn's ❤

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Hello, my friends and welcome to another spot of Tea at Dawn's! I am so happy you are joining me today, even if it's just virtually. As crazy as it seems, virtual is more a "reality" than ever these days, isn't it?

Coronavirus and other global stresses aside, I'm greeting you on this last Sunday of Advent with a feeling of hope in my heart that better days are ahead. I hope, too, that this post finds you, and your loved ones, all well and safe. How are you faring as this year comes to a close? Are you hanging in there? Are your holiday plans (like mine) very much altered in light of the pandemic?

Well, today I have a few things to share with you, including some festive holiday tea pictures, a peek at a few of our recent Advent activities AND ... the name of the winner of my homemade planner giveaway! I will make my announcement a little further along in this post, but first, let's take a look at today's Tea ...

Now, if you were coming to my house on an afternoon such as this, I would invite you in out of the cold New England weather to take a seat at my breakfast nook table. I have set it with our favorite "homeschool tea" china - a charming little pinecone set I bought when my boys were very young ...

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(Before you ask - I found these dishes at a local "Christmas Tree Shoppe" many years ago, and it was not only *just* my style, but also, incredibly inexpensive! In hindsight I wish I had bought more than I did because it is very hard to find such woodland-themed china in a reasonable price range!)

On my table is a "colonial blue" woven tablecloth that originally belonged to my maternal grandmother, as well as a barn red braided pad, a gift from a dear friend who knows I adore braided rugs! There is also a pair of blue and cream spongeware mixing bowls holding an assortment of fruits. I just love all these soft cozy colors - the way the blues and soft reds complement the pale gray-green of my kitchen. :-)

And in our little pinecone pot I have a spicy warming brew awaiting us ...

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Trader Joe's Winter Wake Up Tea!

As yummy and seasonally on-point as this tea is, truth be told, I am sticking with a plainer tea these days. (Spice gives me heartburn, alas!) So I also have plenty of that sort available for those who would prefer it, as well as mulled cider on the stovetop - and between the beverages and the baked goodies fresh out of my oven - boy does it smell good in here!

Speaking of those goodies, the treats I baked up for today's gathering are some of my very favorite holiday pastries ...

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Mincemeat-filled, buttery, orangey tarts! Here is a peek at the preparation ...

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The pastry dough is a blend of flour, cinnamon and orange zest ...

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Using a kitchen glass I cut out 3-inch circles of dough, and set each circle inside a greased muffin tin well, gently pressing on the bottom and along the sides. I then spooned a tablespoon of prepared mincemeat filling into each well. (For those who are not familiar with "mincemeat" there is actually no meat at all in most modern blends. The brand I use (Nonesuch) has raisins, apples and spices - plus a wee bit of brandy and rum flavoring.)

Next I used a small star-shaped cookie cutter to make little pastry stars ...

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And then I topped each tart with a star!

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Last step - a light egg wash and they were ready for the oven.

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About 15 minutes later:

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All done and ready for a light coating of "winter snow" - aka powdered sugar!

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The perfect Yuletide confection, these would also be lovely at New Year's or on The Epiphany.

The full recipe can be found here. (Baker's note: this dough also makes a wonderful jam-filled turnover, wonderful for Christmas breakfast!)

Ok, now for the lovely photos sent to me by my dear readers! I was thrilled to get a peek at your favorite special drinks ...

From Jennifer:

The mug is from a homeschool field trip about six years ago to New Melleray Abbey just outside of Dubuque, Iowa. The Trappist monks were so kind and I loved the peacefulness of the Abbey. This mug reminds me of that peace : )  I had to go caffeine-free about 6 months ago and am really liking peppermint herbal tea for the winter (I like something fruity for the warmer months).

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From Shelly:

Here is a picture of my current favorite mug! In the morning it is usually filled with tea, Oolong or Eggnogg’n. Sometimes in the afternoon I squeeze in a cup of Tazo’s Glazed Lemon Loaf tea. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it! In the evening, after dinner, you’ll find it filled with warm and creamy cocoa.

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From Mary:

My favorite Christmas beverage is - Bonfire Mulled Honey Wine! I tried it for the for the first time last year.  Produced and bottled by Spirit Hills Ltd, in Millarville, Alberta, Canada this wine is delicious! This is what the the blurb says:
"Christmas in your mouth! A warm blanket around your heart!"
I have never like mulled anything before, but this is really, really good!! And it sure makes it easy to support local, when their product is absolutely delicious! And even though I am gushing about this product, really, the only time I drink wine, is when someone brings us wine for a dinner party gift!
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From Penelope:

Black coffee in my lovely mug made by Annie Quigley (you can find her easily on IG), sitting on my desk with books reflected ... The text reads, “Trust in God & do the next thing.” 


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From Stacey:

I am attaching a photo of one of my favorite mugs for this season. When I am sitting down with a book, reflecting or planning, I often have coffee. This time of year, I love to have a peppermint coffee with a dash of cocoa. Our oldest, age 11, is on the spectrum and he loves penguins. I have learned so much from him when he shares his knowledge about his interests. Seeing this little penguin brings me joy each time I use it. 
 
I often find seasonal mugs or fancy teacups & saucers secondhand and switch them out, which all of my kids enjoy. We homeschool and often have poetry teatime, so using "fancy" cups make it extra special for them. Our older daughter, age 8, is my crafty one & loves to set a pretty table! In the last year, our little lady (2.5 years) doesn't want to miss out, so we even have a little teacup set for her to use. She's mostly there for the treats and sugar cubes in her tea!
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From @makefeast on Instagram:
 
"A warm cuppa hot cinnamon sunset (from Harney & Sons Tea) and some festive, inspirational fare to browse by the twinkle lights . . ."

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And this cozy scene comes from @blessedandbusy also on Instagram!

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And last but certainly not least, from Holly:

Now my favorite tea ... It is hands down without a doubt Russian tea. When I was little we lived in Houston and all of our grandparents were in Alabama. During Christmas we would drive to Alabama to spend the holidays. Often times my sister and I would have a night with my Mamacite (grand mom) and our Aunt Susan. Mamacite would always make us Russian tea. Now when I make a cup and get that first smell of it, oh the memories flood back. It immediately takes me to those nights drinking Russian tea and listening to Jingle Bell Rock by Brenda Lee on my Mamacite’s record player, tree lights sparkling and my sister and I feeling oh so mature to have a girls night without mom and dad there! I've since introduced it to my two little ones and they love it just as much. I am now making sweet memories having tea with them and reading a good book or some poems.

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There were also several thoughtful comments shared in my most recent blog post - pop on over to read them there! :-)

But now, without further ado, here is the randomly selected winner of my homemade planner giveaway ...

MARY MASON LESKOWITZ!!! 

Congratulations Mary! I am very happy for you and will be in touch soon to arrange mailing details. Thank you to everyone who participated in my giveaway - it was so lovely to "have tea" with you all in this virtual way. To all my friends who are interested in my homemade planner, I will be posting the edited 2021 sheets here for everyone to print just as soon as I have them all finished! (Hoping, fingers crossed, that will be next Sunday!) I will also have a post coming next month about further plans for my planner - but we'll leave all of that for 2021. ;-)

For now, let's get back to Advent and a peek at some of our recent activities!

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Today we added the last bit of creation to our Advent Garden - a tiny tin cabin. Just to recap, the first week of Advent we added the first layer which was stones and shells placed on the bottom of the bowl. The following week we covered those stones and shells with some soft moss from our backyard, as well as planted a couple of pinecone "trees," also from the backyard. Last week, an assortment of wooden animals gathered along the outside of the bowl to wait along with us ... and now finally as we head into this last week of Advent, we focus on the highest of all the natural kingdoms, that of humankind. (I have the candle turned on for the picture, but it won't be lit in reality until Christmas Eve.)

In the meantime, our windowsill Advent journey is progressing along nicely ...

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Every day of Advent, our figures move forward (towards the creche in the far right corner) and a stone is replaced with a star!

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We had some lovely nature experiences these past couple of weeks - including a beautiful blizzard!

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I love watching the birds in the snow, but the absolute highlight for me was getting to feed our own backyard chickadees by hand!

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The kids and I have done this at our local Audubon sanctuary, but the birds there are practically tame. They need no coaxing to hand-feed! Here at home however, our chickadees are much more cautious, but on this snowy afternoon, they decided to trust me ... what a gift!

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How I love this quiet, cold and candle-lit late autumn season. With the Winter Solstice (aka Yule) arriving tomorrow, we are seeing the shortest and darkest of days ...

I just feel this is such a special time of year ... a time to really hunker down and turn homeward ... to respect our natural human instinct to rest and hibernate. To reflect on the rituals of our ancestors as one season blended into the next.

But as the sun finally "returns" tomorrow - growing stronger every day until June - we are reminded to wait patiently for brighter days. To fire up our own inner lights by caring for ourselves and each other ... and of course, as well, the magnificent creation we are surrounded and inspired by every day!

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Ahhh ... this is my little Narnia spot. :-)

And now here a few pictures from our Audubon homeschool nature program this past Friday. We took a wintry seaside trek on a blustery dark day!

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Little Bear and I just love our Audubon adventures ... the one "outside the home" activity we participate in, we look forward to it each week!

Now of course we got up to some nature crafting which is absolutely my favorite Advent activity! 

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These are ornaments we made using natural materials we found in our backyard (and in our spice cabinet). It was fun to turn personal treasures into meaningful mementos!

I started with tiny grapevine craft wreaths as a base, and found some plain twine for hanging, then sorted through the materials for inspiration ...

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Treasures from nature included: acorn caps of various sizes, hemlock cones (which look just like roses when open), dried lavender buds from the garden, anise stars, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves from the pantry, bumblebees (expired but intact, found on cold early autumn mornings), feathers found beneath the feeders, rose hips, pine branches, and a few wooden snowflakes I had in my craft stash!

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The first ornament is made with an assortment of feathers we've found this year (Oriole, Cardinal, Hawk, Mourning Dove, Owl). I glued an anise star at the bottom and then added Little Bear's picture ...

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For the reindeer ...

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... I just used cinnamon sticks for the face shape, and hemlock cones for the eyes ... a rosehip for the nose (must be Rudolph!) and added evergreen branches for the antlers!

Next I created a "summer memories" ornament ...

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I spread glue on the wreath first and then shook dried lavender buds all over ...

(I used the hot glue gun for all of these crafts, by the way!)

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I added two of our preserved bumblebees to the sides ...

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And finally, a picture of the monarch butterfly who "hung out" with us one lovely August afternoon. :-)

This next ornament was made up very simply with bunches of clove buds ...

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... plus an anise star and a tiny sprig of evergreen topped with a "rosebud" hemlock cone.

To the back of this ornaments we added a picture of the beautiful barred owl who calls our woods home!

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Now this next ornament was actually the one I made first - so inspired was I by the hemlock cones natural rose shape!

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And to this lovely "frame" I added an old photo of my maternal grandparents when they were first married:

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And the next ornament was almost an afterthought - I just had one more wreath to use!

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And lastly, this wreath was adorned with two acorn "bells" made with a double cap, rose hips and evergreen sprigs.

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And this could only be fitted with a precious photo of Little Bear and his cousin strolling along our road hand-in-hand. This photo was taken one day this past summer - the last time we visited as it happens. Boy do I miss seeing our loved ones!

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Here's a glimpse of a craft I'm working on this weekend, little gifts for a couple of special little girls in my life:

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During our second week of Advent, the younger boys listened to a story about an evergreen farm and then painted pinecones for the tree ...

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There was a little bit of glitter involved, too!

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Another day we made woodland candleholders with materials we harvested ourselves and slices of a birch log we had on hand (felled in a storm a few years ago). And while the boys worked on this craft I read aloud another favorite Yuletide story ...

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There was cookie-making one chilly morning ...

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... and on a sunny Sunday afternoon we made a yummy cake for a couple of special fellas' special day!

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Finally, before I go, I would like to share the images from our family's 2020 Christmas card:

Here you see our tree:

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(Plus my goofy husband, lol.)

And here's the picture on the front of our Christmas card ...

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Can you believe how big these kids are getting?!

(Bookworm (25), Crackerjack (21), Earlybird (19) and Little Bear (7))

And not to be forgotten - our cats, Archie and Ollie (9) are on the back of the card!

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Well my friends, at long last I will finally wrap up this rather long post ... but before I go I would like to wish you all a wonder-full winter, the merriest of holidays, and a peaceful and joyous new year ...

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and I will see you here again very soon!


Advent Week 1 ~ Stars, Sticks & Stones (+ A Giveaway!)

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Hello, my friends and Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent! I hope this post finds you all safe and well.

As I sit down to begin my draft, it is a very dark and rainy afternoon here - but there's a nor'easter blowing into town today and we're expecting perhaps 10 inches of snow by morning. So maybe a white Christmas will be in the cards this year?

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Now, as I described in my last post, our family's Advent traditions are strongly rooted in nature. Each week we explore a variation on the theme, "All Creation Waits," and we begin with a focus on "Heaven and Earth" - i.e. stars, stones, sticks, shells and snow! Throughout the week we spend time in nature, we make ornaments and gifts, and we enjoy simple activities that immerse us in one of the four natural realms. And at week's end, I plan a little sit-down, seasonal story-and-tea. :-)

I thought you'd like to see some pictures from our week - but first here is our home-spun Advent Journey, set up in our front window.

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I used wooden peg dolls to represent Joseph and Mary, the Wise Men and the shepherds. (At first I thought I might paint them but ultimately decided to leave them unadorned.) There is also a wooden angel ornament which will appear on Christmas eve, as well as a tiny wooden peg doll to represent the Christ Child. He will appear (in his walnut shell crib) on Christmas morning!

In this large front window (newly dusted and wiped out) I laid down a wide strip of burlap "ribbon" and then placed 24 stones along its length. In the far right corner of the window is a wooden creche. You might remember this was a craft we worked on last year, adding bits of "creation" as we journied through the weeks of Advent.

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And below we have Joseph and Mary, traveling on our sweet wooden donkey. As each day passes, we pick up a stone, leave a star in its place, and move our couple closer to the creche.

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This picture below shows the wooden angel who will appear on Christmas ... notice, the wooden stars get bigger as we get closer to the creche! 

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(Oliver was intent on supervising. This is his birdwatching window, after all!)

To complete the window I added some simple, natural decor - pinecones, apples, a ceramic woodland Santa and a rustic wooden angel decoration. (Next week we'll add evergreens we've gathered.) I also wove a string of tiny wooden stars, pinecones and lights in the background, and set out four small tea-light lanterns to light each Sunday of Advent.

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Now, here are some things I did with the boys, last week! Last Sunday, we set up our traditional Advent Garden ...

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I use a glass terrarium bowl for this lovely activity - an idea I first came upon when we started investigating Waldorf education, way back when Bookworm was 4 and we were deciding between Waldorf education and homeschooling. We ended up choosing to homeschool our children but our lessons are strongly inspired by this gentle, imaginative and nature-focused educational philosophy. But that's a topic for a whole 'nother post!

Anyhoo - so each week we add something new to our Garden, and this first week it was pretty stones and shells. Next week it will be fragrant  soil and greenery - some moss from the yard and/or, perhaps, some paperwhite bulbs. The week after that the wooden animals will start showing up and then in the last week of Advent, there will be tiny homes nestled in amongst the earthly layers.

Next we arranged a little Advent corner for Little Bear to manage ...

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Little Bear (with help) made those rolled beeswax candles on Candlemas, and he was pretty excited to actually *use* his own candles for something!

I also printed out a pretty graphic with the verse for the first week of Advent, and placed it in the middle of the candle corner.

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Another day this week, Little Bear and Earlybird made ornaments for the tree using shells and stones ...

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I love making crafts that bring natural materials together!

And then one misty morning, after a windstorm brought lots of branches down in the yard ...

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... we gathered sticks and twigs and set them to dry on a stone wall.

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The next day they were ready to be made into ...

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... twig star ornaments!

Some other branches (trimmed from the forsythia bush) were set in a jar of water, in HOPEs of Christmas bloom ...

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(We do this every year on December 4th, per St. Barbara's Day tradition. And every year ... we have flowers on Christmas!)

"Hope" is a big part of our first week in Advent. We talk about our hopes for the season, our hopes for the world (currently in quite a state of distress), and we sometimes we gaze at the clear night sky to look for a star to wish upon. This year, Little Bear has been quite taken with the moon, which rises behind the woods just outside his bedroom window. He insists on leaving the shade up in the window over his bed, so that he may sleep in the moonlight. :-) 

And then on Friday, our baking-taking-tea day, we made up some buttery shortbread star (and moon!) cookies. 🌟🌜

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Earlybird preferred to dust his with cinnamon-sugar, while Little Bear chose to sprinkle his cookies with colorful sugar "sparkles."

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And this was my tray ...

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I couldn't help but think how nicely the sugar colors matched the cover of our teatime storybook!

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The Man Made of Stars by M.H. Clark is a new book for us this year ... and it is simply exquisite. Absolutely a new favorite! We have collected sooo many wonderful books over the years, but every year I splurge and purchase a few new ones that I know we will return to again and again. And this will be one of those select few!

From the inside flap:

"The man made of stars is hard at work every night, bringing more and more light to the world, bit by bit. But what is his secret, and where does he go every evening when he walks out past town with his lantern twinkling? This is the story of one curious child who, determined to come up with an answer to this mystery, discovers something incredible about himself. It is a reminder that small acts have great consequences, and that there is always room for more light in the world."

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Now, beginning today, we move into another aspect of nature, and that would be the next level up from stones and shells, etc. - the plants! And so this week we will be exploring "winter greenery and Christmassy fruits and spices." Time then to begin a new spread in my bullet journal!

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(Watch Instagram this week for a peek at my spread!)

Peace is the theme for the second week of Advent, and the one that resonates most deeply with me. Every year I to balance the busy-ness of the season with a more mindful approach, and create an atmosphere of peace and joyful contemplation for my family. Advent, after all, is the time of waiting, of anticipation ... we are instilling in our children a feeling that something BIG is coming our way - but we have to be patient and pay attention!

Peace is found in so many ways - and in different ways for different people - but I think it can be most easily savored in those quiet, restful moments ... the ones that call our attention to the beauty of nature and the contentment of home. Such as when a soft snowfall begins, or we all find ourselves together at the dinner table, or when the afternoon sky lights up with "advent" color:

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When we spy a view like this through our windows, well we can hardly remain inside! So outside we go, breathing in the cold air and watching the birds make their last visits to the feeders, hearing the horses and goats next door being put in for the night, noticing how quickly the vivid sky grows dull and dark ...

And then inside we go to our bright and warm home, to sit by the lights of our tree ...

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"Winter is dark,

Yet each little spark

Brightens the way

To Christmas Day.

Shine little light

And show us the way

To the bright light

Of Christmas Day"

~ H. St. John

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Ok, NOW - about that GIVEAWAY!

As I mentioned in my last post, later this month I will be sharing my homemade seasonal planning sheets with you all. I will show you how I use the sheets to make my own planner (in a couple of ways) and you are free to use them for your own personal use. That said, I would also very much like to make up an EXTRA PLANNER to give away to a reader!

But I'm making it a little more challenging this year - to enter my giveaway I'd like for you to tell me about your favorite mug/cup/glass - of tea/coffee/cocoa or wine! Or whatever is your preferred libation! Simply tell what you like to have by your side when you sit down to relax and reflect.

(And if you send me a PICTURE - or post a pic on Instagram and tag me - you will be entered in the giveaway TWICE!)

Then, in two weeks' time, on December 20th, I will post a special YULETIDE TEA here at the blog and I will share your pictures (with permission, of course - please make note in your email if you'd rather I not share you photo) AND announce the winner of my homemade planner!

If you are interested in winning my homemade planner, please send me an email (drhanigan AT gmail DOT com) with "giveaway" in the subject line. (And again, be sure to tell me if you'd rather I not share your photo in my next Tea post.) If you are on Instagram and would like to share your photo on that platform, just let me know by tagging me in your post. :-)

I have such fun creating these planning sheets and I LOVE to share them and hear how you use them! 

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And with that, my friends, I will at long last wrap up ... but I do hope to hear from you! And I wish you all a wonderful week ahead - peaceful and happy - and above all, healthy and safe.

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, everyone ... see you here again very soon!