Advent Plans Feed

Advent Countdown: Stories & Simple Activities

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Hello my friends and Happy Thursday! I know we're but a few days away from the 1st of December, so you probably have your Advent plans already in place, but here I am anyways, to share what my Advent project looks like this year ... :)

In addition to a few treasured traditions, I really enjoy coming up with something new for my boys every year! (Check out my Advent Plans & Crafts archives if you'd like to see past projects.)

So this year I decided to revolve our Advent countdown around picture books - meaningful and beautiful stories we've enjoyed as a family for years. As I've blogged about before, we have an awful lot of books - longtime homeschooling family that we are! - and though they are indeed spread out all over the house, I do like to organize them by subject and season.

Case in point - here's our Christmas book bin:

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True confession: there are more books now than can fit in this pretty rolling bin ... and yes, those are my slippered feet in the bottom of the pic!

So, as you can see, we have many, many Christmas books  ... so what I did first was to go through the WHOLE stash and pull out the ones we (ahem, I) love best. Then I looked over our December calendar, considered our weekly seasonal themes and then organized the books into separate piles ...

1st pile: WEEK ONE "cozy nests, stars/sticks/stones" (St. Barbara, St. Nicholas)

2nd pile: WEEK TWO "seasonal spices and Christmas trees" (OL Guadalupe, St. Lucia, EB & Papa's B.day)

3rd pile: WEEK THREE "welcome winter & advent animals" (Winter Solstice, Full Yule Moon)

4th pile - WEEK FOUR (which is just 12/24) "O Holy Night" (Christmas Eve)

I realize this all sounds rather complicated, but there is a method to my madness, I promise! Here is the low-tech spreadsheet I made up for myself as I worked it all out ...

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And here's a corner of my December month-at-a-glance calendar, showing how I note our weekly themes ...

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Next, once I had my 24 books all assigned to their dates, I placed them in a basket so I could get down to work ...

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Naturally, Archibald offered to help ...

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I went through each book and chose an illustration to photocopy, something that would hopefully be rather easy to identify ...

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Then I gathered the rest of my materials: poster board, washi tape, stickers, post-it notes, glue stick, pen. All items I already had on hand!

I figured a post-it was a good size for a small illustration, so I first made sure I could fit 24 on the board and then I started cutting out my illustrations! 

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(Remember - these are photocopies!)

Once I had all my picture squares, I placed them in order and then decorated the edges of the poster board.

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I used an Elmer's glue stick for this and it worked just fine adhering the copy paper to the poster board ...

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I used Christmas-y washi tape to jazz up the poster board a bit. I also used up some old stickers I had on hand as you can see below ..

Next I placed a plain white post-it note over each illustration ...

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And then ... I placed a log slice sticker on the bottom edge of each post-it. The post-it notes hide the illustration and the stickers keep that post-it note from flipping up and revealing any hints!

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Close ups of the poster/post-it/sticker situation ...

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Festive, yes? :)

Lastly, I used a red pen to number each sticker ...

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And secured Archie's approval, natch ...

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And that's it!

Well, actually ... there is much more to it and I will now get to all that. :)

Honestly though, this was a super easy project to pull together this morning. The photocopying took the longest time I think.

Here's how (I hope) my plan will unfold ...

Each day the boys will pull the day's post-it off and, using the revealed illustration, will head to the Christmas Library to try to find the book of the day. (I may also stick a number on the day's book to make it easier for my boys who are pretty young and might need help with this. Little Bear is not yet so familiar with the Christmas book collection and Earlybird may not recognize the illustrations.)

We will then all read the book together! (Please see my book list below.)

I am taking it a little further by planning a simple activity to go along with our Advent reading each day. I am not sharing this "Advent Agenda" with the boys beforehand however, because, as I've learned in the past, it's best to determine first if an activity will work - given the time/energy/weather/mood of the boys - and their mama! I have included my ideas below, next to the book titles.

I hope you enjoy the list and maybe can use an idea or two!

The PDF: Advent Countdown: Stories & Simple Activities

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December 1st

Celebrate Christmas: With Carols, Presents and Peace by Deborah Heiligman

*Set up our Advent Garden.*

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December 2nd

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

*Watch The Polar Express and drink hot chocolate!*

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December 3rd

The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans

*Make beeswax candles for Advent Garden.*

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December 4th

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola

*Nature walk: gather twigs and other natural craft materials.*

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December 5th

Angelina’s Christmas  by Katharine Holabird

*Take an evening stroll around neighborhood  - deliver holiday cards.”

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December 6th

Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki

*Saint Nicholas Teatime: mulled cider and speculaas cookies.*

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December 7th

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones

*Make twig stars and other natural-material ornaments.*

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December 8th

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

*Go to The Farm and get our Christmas Tree!*

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December 9th

Country Angel Christmas by Tomie dePaola

*Cookie Baking Day with Nana!*

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December 10th

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett

*Decorate a Solstice Tree for the backyard Animals.*

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December 11th

The Golden Christmas Tree by Jan Wahl

*Make golden glitter tree ornaments.*

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December 12th

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

*Visit the Nursery to see poinsettias. Make cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars with fresh pineapple-mint salsa. Tacos for supper!*

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December 13th

Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett

*Bake and decorate gingerbread folk.*

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December 14th

My Wonderful Christmas Tree by Dahlov Ipcar

*Write and perform  a Woodland Christmas puppet show.”

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December 15th

Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray

*Take a nighttime Christmas lights drive.*

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December 16th

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe

*Watch the bird garden at sunrise while sipping hot cocoa.*

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December 17th

The Christmas Bird by  Bernadette Watts

*Set up our children’s creche.”

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December 18th

The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes

*Make moon ornaments for Solstice Tree; watch moonrise tonight.”

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December 19th

Corgiville Christmas by Tasha Tudor

*Bonfire night! Make magic pinecones to burn in fire.*

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December 20th

Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown

*Make homemade gift wrap.*

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December 21st

Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea

*Family Solstice Supper with hot wassail, cottage pie and sun cake.”

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December 22nd

The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola

*Go caroling!*

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December 23rd

Christmas in the Stable by Astrid Lindgren

*Visit an outdoor nativity scene at night.”

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December 24th

The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Douglas Gorsline

There will be new pajamas and slippers and steamed almond milk before bed!

*

I hope you enjoyed my Advent ideas! Please remember - my goal is not to do every single thing on my list, but rather, to use the "plan" to create an atmosphere ... a slower, peaceful and happy time of anticipation. The 24 days of Advent pass very quickly and I sincerely hope every one of them brings you much comfort and joy!

Well my friends, as always, I thank you for stopping by and wish you all a pleasant day ... see you here again very soon!


❤️Looking Ahead: Tea & Christmas Planning!

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Hello again, my friends!

Well, it's a rather dreary November afternoon here - sleety, cold, and DARK - so I'm taking a break from our Thanksgiving prep to sit down for a cup of tea and to share a couple of quick things with you all. The first thing is what you see above ... this year's Christmas Planner is ready to go!

🎄 Dawn's Christmas Planner for 2018 🎄

Now, I'm really excited to dive into holiday planning - but I do like to live in season, and be mindful of our present blessings - so this week is all about thankfulness - and preparing turkey for 25! I also, however, like to get my ducks in a row asap, so I printed out a fresh copy - updated for the new year with a new, pretty cover (and back) page - and added it to my planning binder. There it will wait for me until Friday morning when I'll be raring to go! (Over a cup of mulled cider and leftovers!)

Okhere is a little sneak peek at the inside pages ...

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I hope this 16-page booklet will be helpful to you as you plan out your holiday season, but more than that - I hope it helps you think about HOW you want the season to feel. Christmas is about so much more than just the nitty gritty details - not that there's not a lot of things to do and keep on top of in order to make everyone's holiday  happy - but it's really about creating an atmosphere, crafting a vision, cultivating and carrying on with traditions that make the season so special for everyone. It is also, if I may be so bold as to suggest, a time for making time for ourselves. A time to connect with the true spirit of the season - whatever that may mean for YOU - touching base with the memories and values you hold dear. These weeks go by so fast, let's give this special time some real forethought and plan a Christmastide that will bring not only happiness, but harmony - inside and out.

Well ... more on all that in posts to come, but on that note ... the other thing I wanted to tell you all today is that I've decided to bring back my WEEKLY WINTER TEAS!

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And so ...

Tea at Dawn's will commence next Monday, November 26th and continue (fingers crossed) every week throughout what I like to call, "nesting" season.

I am still hammering out my thoughts on this special project, as well as my weekly Tea themes, but come next Monday we can start by sharing a little of our Thanksgivings as well as our hopes for the season ahead - not to mention, of course, a lovely cup of late autumn tea!

Guests are always welcome at Teatime - to simply read, or share thoughts, or to participate with pictures - so I hope you'll consider joining me! Grab that Teacup image above if you'd care to spread the word, and if you'd like to send me a picture, please email me:

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Our 1st post:

November 26th: "Thanksgiving Memories and Holiday Hopes."

Well friends, I will be off now as dinnertime has approached and I am actually now typing these last words with a five year old in my arms who is complaining of a bellyache! So for now ...

Thanks so much for stopping by, have a nice evening, and I'll hope to see you here again very soon!


Advent Arrives in the Learning Room! ❤

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! And Happy first week of Advent, as well. I'm feeling a little better this week and I thank you all for your kind words and prayers. I will be slowly catching up with things around here and hope to be back on track soon. I hope you are all doing well, too!

Today I'd like to share some of the ways we're bringing Advent to our learning room this year. I am especially excited about the beautiful wooden tree Bill made for us - modeled after one I spied at HomeGoods recently. When I first saw that tree at HGs I thought two things ... ONE, that it would be perfect for the learning room, and TWO, that Bill could easily make it! (Which he did, God bless him.)

At the time I wasn't sure what exactly I'd do with it, but then things started clicking into place and I came up with a plan ...

And not surprisingly it involves nature!

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I think you all know how much we love nature in my family and that we love infusing our faith traditions with simple nature-connections. This Advent season I decided to work with a theme of "All Creation Waits" and since we have many lovely wooden animals in the learning room I thought I might start there ...

But as with any plan, I had to flesh it all out on paper - and post-its!

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I decided to tell short simple stories using these toys, reflecting the traditional weekly Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love ... with the overarching theme of seeking or waiting for something (someone). I sorted through all our wooden animals and decided how each one would fit into the story schedule, and then I made up a sort-of storyboard, shown above.

I placed little stickers on the figures and then put them all in a basket ...

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... covered them up with a pretty starry-night playsilk and set that basket aside.

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Each day Little Bear looks in his basket to find the day's creature(s) and sets them on the Advent Tree. And as he places them on that little ledge, I tell a very brief, simple story. I have these stories mostly written out, and they meander from farmyard to woodland to wider global habitats. I even splurged a little and bought a few new figures that will show up throughout the season - I think Little Bear will be very pleased!

(By the way, we bought most of our wooden toys at Nova Natural many years ago, and last week I ordered new figures from Bella Luna Toys. Both New England-based companies are wonderful.)

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I'm happy to report that four days in - it's been well received! I love how these figures look on the natural wood of the tree, with that cute colorful rug just beneath!

Now, because Earlybird cannot handle storytelling for sensory reasons, I decided to come up with a different Advent plan for him, and the family as a whole. I brainstormed 24 very simple activities (again reflecting nature and faith themes) and then set up a daily "reveal" system I thought EB would enjoy.

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I used the learning line for these small cards and some very cute snowflake clothespins I found at Target ($5 for a package of 12).

(If you are interested, here is a PDF I made up with my notes for our Advent activities: All Creation Waits)

Here is the results of today's Advent tag - gathered branches for St. Barbara's Day!

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(Come Christmas, these branches *should* be blooming. It's worked every year!)

Here's a better look at our Advent Tree ...

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I will rotate the Christmas books displayed here each week ...

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I have a cheery red rolling-bin for the bulk of our books!

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Here's a sweet little board book called, The Animals' Advent ...

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We're using this countdown, too! 

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My sidebars are woefully out of date, but I'll try to share our Advent & Christmas book collection with you all soon!

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I just love this tree, and can see that there would be many different ways to use it. (Bill made the ledges easily moveable.)

Here is Little Bear holding up today's Advent animal .. the goat!

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Goat and his "kid" had a nice little story to tell ... new at the farm, Kid was hoping for a special friend to play with (as was Calf in the previous story). He was also hoping for a chance to run about and jump ... and so didn't my boys find some branches and stumps set up in the backyard for doing just that? (Our neighbors have the loveliest trio of goats and we're quite fond of them. I based this story on some of their clever antics!)

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Here's how the first figures are lining up on the bottom shelf of the Advent Tree ...

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The lights are so pretty, aren't they? Another Target find - $9.99 a box for a 9-foot line of lights. I used two to outline the tree.

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December days are surely dark, but oh - those lights! They lend an air of magic and joy to each and every day of Advent. 

More Advent lights and sights around our home to come soon. And fingers-crossed, I'll be hosting our first Advent Tea this Sunday! For now though, I wish you all well - and a very Happy Advent! - and will hope to see you all here again soon. :)


Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 8, "Secret Places"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you all are having a nice weekend, and I hope my fellow Americans enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving! Ours was quite nice - and I do have some pictures to share - but for now, I'd like to serve one last cup of Autumn Tea and talk about our next chapter in Mitten Strings for God, chapter eight, "Secret Places." 

Now, despite the "Christmassy" look of my tea pic above, it actually is still Autumn! But I think most of us are switching gears at the moment ... tucking away Thanksgiving (and maybe Halloween) decor, and working on our December calendars and this year's holiday plans ...

But outside my window the world still looks very autumnal! There are crunchy leaves underfoot, and some still clinging to the mostly bare trees ... and oh, those late, glowing sunsets! But the chipmunks have gone underground now - we realized that the other day, shortly after we spotted our first dark-eyed junco on the front lawn. These two species disappear (the former) and reappear (the latter) around the same time each year and it's always a highlight in our household - right along with that first hard morning frost!

Who saw the first junco? Has anyone seen a chipmunk lately? Wow the grass is crunchy this morning!

Autumn's ending ... winter's nearing ... it's time to turn inward and "switch on the lights." 

Here's a peek at our Saturday afternoon, roundabouts 3:00 ... 

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See how dark it gets around here?! And though my Little Bear is wearing a winter jacket in this picture, the temperature was strangely mild today - very near 60°! And, according to our local forecast, all next week is looking unseasonably mild as well - which doesn't bode well for our pre-assigned seasonal theme of "Welcome, Jack Frost!" Lol, we may be hard pressed to celebrate "frosty weather" next week, with highs near 50° ... though the nights will dip down to the 20s, so there is hope! (I contemplated switching themes, but I think we'll stick with it ... and if it stays mild we'll talk about how elusive that ol' winter sprite can be at this time of year!❄️ )

(p.s. The wooden structure is an Advent project in the works - more to come next week on that!)

Ok, enough with the weather talk now, let's talk about tea! This week I'm drinking my favorite decaffeinated black tea in a sweet mug I bought at Home Goods a year or so ago. It's a good sturdy mug that holds a nice amount of tea - and I love the bright red letters spelling out HOME - and the four birds heading straight for it!

(Note - I find the cutest mugs at HomeGoods for very little money. Well, they're not free or anything - as Bill would remind me - but they're a nice enough price I don't mind splurging once in a while! 😉 )

So I took my tea yesterday in our sunny kitchen nook while filling out my December calendar -  because GOODNESS the new month arrives Friday! (Calendar post to come soon!) And though most Advent calendars begin on December 1st, technically, according to the liturgical calendar, Advent begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which in 2017 is December 3rd. And that's a week from today!

Either way you look at it though - whichever calendar you follow - Advent is coming - and SOON!

Before we get on with our chapter talk though, and speaking of tea and Advent, I have to share this with you all ...

Advent teas

This is MY Advent calendar this year, an extremely generous and incredibly thoughtful gift from a dear friend! It arrived in a wonderful surprise package last week, a lovely and festive box filled with special teas for each and every day of Advent ... 24 in all! I am so excited to try them all, and I love the inspiration they represent - a perfect reason to sit down and savor a few quiet moments each day throughout the season ... to soak it all in and think it all through. Advent goes so fast and we can easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle ... but as we tea lovers know, a hot cuppa something special is all the invitation we need to slow down and press pause. I am planning my teatimes already and making room for these special moments in each day. I hope to share most, if not all, of these teas with you all on social media this Advent season!

Ok, let's now move on to our next Mitten Strings chapter ... and today we are discussing the concept of "Secret Places." Here is a link to my post from 2008 and once again I had a chuckle reading back through my thoughts back then. Different house, different (aged) kids (plus one more kid now) ... unsurprisingly things were so ... different back then! Our house has more floors and our yard now has more acreage - so there are more nooks and crannies to explore - but my primary "secret place finder" is only four years old! So I'll have to adapt the concept of a "hideaway" this time around ...

"Every child needs such a place, a place that invokes the processes of the imagination and the possibility of transformation. A place that is at once a haven from the adult world and a source of mystery and wonder, a place that a child can discover and shape and lay claim by virtue of his or her own quiet presence there, and deep observation." (p. 62)

Little Bear is just at the right age for seeking out such special, secret places - though again, he's too young to be left to his own devices just yet. I hope next spring to help him explore a little more around our property, to find some little nooks in which he might find "a sense of ownership and mystery," (p. 58).

Here is one such place he has taken a liking to recently ...

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As you can tell from my posts, we are surrounded by woods here - even our front yard has "a small wood" of its own! Well, Friday afternoon, as I walked down to get the mail (taking a break from Thanksgiving cleanup!), I heard Little Bear calling ...

"Mama, come see what I found! Come see, come see! Me and Daddy are here now!"

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A little nook right inside this cozy wood, just a slight dip down below our driveway ... with big, moss-covered rocks to climb and (unbeknownst to Little Bear) a vernal pond to explore come spring. (No actual peepers, though. Just lots of muck and murk.) I was so pleased he stumbled upon this spot which is clearly visible from the house but feels "secretive" to him. Four is such a great age, and LB has such an adventurous spirit ...

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This will make a fun, out-of-the-way place for him to explore ... and "claim."

"The best ones are the ones that children discover on their own, the ones that are imbued, from the very first, with a sense of ownership and mystery; places that no adult would ever think to go, that are hollowed by the shapes of small bodies and furnished by wild nature and rampant imagination." (pg. 58)

Kids are magnets for these kinds of interesting outdoor spots, especially when and if allowed to roam (and lead). Their sharp eyes see such possibilities! But winter is coming and the weather will soon be turning inhospitable; outdoor explorations will be put on the back burner for awhile ...

So as we spend more time indoors, I thought I'd take a look around the house and see where else LB might find his own special nooks ...

Here's a great place for a little "fort" ...

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In the library, where Mama reads (and drinks tea) ... in between the chair and the loveseat, just beneath the (rickety) end table. :)

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He'd be snuggled up right next to the heating register, too! And just under the tablecloth there, you see a glimpse of the cats' soft pet-bed. This is used mostly (always) by Oliver, who is our quieter of the two cats. (There's a reason you see Archie in most of my photos - he's my constant sidekick!) Oliver though, likes being out of sight and prefers being somewhere dark and warm. I'm thinking Little Bear could make good use of this space, too!

And here's another possible secret (ish) place ...

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Well, there's really nothing too secret about the loft bed in Little Bear's bedroom, but I think it has "secret place" potential ... maybe with a curtain of some kind providing some privacy ...

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He's too young to sleep up here just yet (and he has a separate single bed in this room as well) but I think this will be great fun for him as he gets a little older and more adventurous! And there's that neat little cubby just beneath the bed as well ... currently it holds out-of-season clothing but that too could make a wonderful "fort" or hidey-hole someday!

You know, "Secret Places" was another wonderful chapter, with some lovely inspiration for those of us with young children ... but I think the whole idea of a "secret place" is of value to all of us. Our imaginations might not be quite so active as we age, but the need to feel out of the limelight and "off on our own" on occasion ... really never goes away.

"Children need their privacy just as we adults do. In the secret places of childhood, the soul drinks deeply, is refreshed, and flourishes." (p. 63)

Do you have a secret place you retreat to? Do your children have such places they call all their own? I'd love to hear about them and your thoughts on this chapter, if you have time! Or how about the weather where you are, or the tea you are drinking these days? Do you, like me, feel called to pour a cup of tea and "hide away" as the days grow dark and cold?

I'd love to read your comments if you have time to leave them, or send me a link, your thoughts and/or pics if you have a moment!

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you and I thank all of you who have been reading along and sharing your thoughts as you can! Sorry I am a bit late in my replies - last week was a busy one! I will be catching up with you all again soon (and sharing some pics from our family's holiday too). Next week's Sunday post will be our first Advent Tea and very fittingly our chapter is all about "Wants and Needs." Something to ponder as we head into the busiest shopping time of the year, and choose gifts for our loved ones ...

So until then (or next time, whenever that may be) I wish you all well and a very lovely last week of November! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... 

See you here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❤

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Hello and happy weekend, my friends! Welcome to another Advent Tea ... may I pour you a cup of something tasty and warm? :)

Well, our third week of Advent has arrived and the pink candle has been lit ... Oh Joy! And you know how they say "all good things come to those who wait?" Well, that old adage is perhaps never more true than during the season of Advent, because in these special weeks we are a people who wait and wonder ... enjoying the here and now, yet knowing there is a greater joy that lies ahead ... 

Which is why this mug seemed perfect for today's Tea ...

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:)

Now, I am not a patient person by nature, but like most moms I've had plenty of opportunities to work on developing this particular habit. I've learned that life is easier when patience is a daily practice, not just an admirable (if abstract) idea or something left to people with loftier ambitions and/or holier lives than mine. Patience is perhaps the greatest of all virtues when one is a parent ... and if I may so, especially when one is a special needs parent. (Progress can be slow ... perfection is overrated ... patience is essential.)

But whether we're born with a patient nature or not, the world-at-large rushes us all right along, urging us onward with its message of now-now-nowInstant, immediate, super fast results ... no waiting necessary!

If we're aware of this influence we can recognize when it is affecting us falsely or adversely. It's good to pause and ask, whose time clock are we following anyway? Sometimes time is of the essence, but it's important, I think, to remind ourselves to appreciate the here and now ... to savor the wait if you will. Learning to be patient is an excellent exercise in humanity - and humility - and I think one of the greatest teachers of patience (aside from our children!) is nature. As you all know I love nature! I respect its cleverness and consistency. It doesn't rush ... it always has a plan. A plan that has worked for ... well, eons. It glories in every turn of every season, knowing everything happens in its own time ...

"Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Case in point - yesterday was brutally cold with temps barely in the teens, and this morning it's snowing! It's the Saturday before Christmas ... and the weather is just not getting on board with my to-do list! But admittedly, it is doing my spirit a world of good. Because it's been a long - and, frankly tiring - week. We've all been running here, there and everywhere, getting our busy-ness accomplished. But now nature is advising me to sit back and take it slow. Leave the errands for later. Breathe in, breathe out ... maybe let Amazon Prime do the leg work today.

Even my page-a-day calendar is sending me a message ...

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So, ok. Balance is necessary. We can't always rush and we can't always lag ... managing my time and energy accounts is an-going #lifegoal for me! 

But ... that's a topic to explore further, in the new year perhaps. For now, let's get back to the here and now. We're deep in Advent, halfway through December, and it's snowing ... I'm happy in a well-insulated snow globe today. :)

Here's a look outside my window this morning ...

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

As I've been describing, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation ... because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us. So in our first week of Advent we explored the wonder of earth and sky, and in the second week it was the serenity of plants and trees ... and this week we are finding joy in the beautiful wildlife with which God has graced our earth ...

And as we've ambled along our journey, our Advent Garden has slowly been coming to life ...

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Stones and soil were topped with moss and trees ... and now we spy a pretty deer in this tiny forest. Meanwhile, outside there is much evidence of creation all around!

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We've been enjoying a snowy December here in New England and the boys have fun checking for tracks left behind by the creatures who call our habitat home. Mostly it's the usual suspects, but you never know ... sometimes there's something new to investigate!

Now from my pictures you can probably guess we live in a woodsy area, and that's true. We live next to a state forest and our town, while suburban, has old agricultural roots. Our own property is not quite a farm per se - though we are sort of heading that way! This past spring we began keeping hens and I must tell you - they just bring us such joy! The fresh eggs are wonderful, but our girls are such dears ...

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I do relish my "farm chores" such as they area ... walking out to the hen pen to bring them food and checking their water. 

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Good morning, pretty girls!

And how fun to gather eggs with my fellas ... we're still getting several eggs a day even though we were warned they would stop for the winter. Not sure what our girls' game plan is but we're thrilled with our daily harvest!

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I love to tour the corners of our yard and I especially love the mornings when the sun is just rising in the east ...

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Those are my neighbor's horses - aren't they lovely? They also own three goats, six dogs, a flock of ducks and lots of chickens! They are the very nicest people, too. I took this picture yesterday morning as I was visiting the hens. I was channeling a little bit of Tasha Tudor here, walking about my own homestead and tending to my critters, the domestic and the wild. (Only I was in a parka and pajama pants ... not quite Tasha's pretty red cloak!)

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We regularly set out several types of food - black oil seed, suet cakes and nyjer seed for the finches. We use a variety of feeder designs - both tubes and trays - and I throw out seed on the deck every day ...

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Yes, my beloved squirrels get fed right alongside their feathered friends - I don't play favorites! (Well, except when it comes to predators like hawks, owls and foxes. Those creatures I shoo off as best I can.)

But speaking of Tasha Tudor, this is a page from the beautiful book, Forever Christmas, the chapter called, "The Animals' Christmas" ...

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This is a wonderful book, full of old-fashioned goodness and gentle reminders to slow down and let nature be our guide. Tonight we're watching the video Take Peace, which is a tour of Tasha's Corgi Cottage at Christmas. And then perhaps we'll catch the latest episode of "The Great American Baking Show." (Anyone else watching that?) 
 
So yes, there is much joy in creation to be found, all around us and even right in our own backyards - but it's awfully bitter today so let's head back inside! I'm greeting you in the kitchen, wearing my favorite winter apron, a gift from my parents ...

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I find such joy in cooking for my family, especially in preparing seasonal foods! And though I love baking from scratch, sometimes you just have to cut a few corners, right? For example ...

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Last Tuesday was the feast of St. Lucia and once again I did not make the traditional saffron buns as I'd hoped to - BUT! I did throw some cinnamon rolls into a tube pan, baked them, glazed them, decorated them, and then set them aflame. Voila - feast day morning joy!

More joy in our week ... Earlybird celebrated his 15th birthday on Wednesday! Yes, this little boy is now FIFTEEN years old ...

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(That was a book about trains, his FAVORITE subject. He was very happy to receive a couple of books about the planets as well.) And I thought this birthday card was rather fitting - true in every word but also, such a lovely woodland design!

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Ok, since I'm keeping you so long, how about another cup of something hot?

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Snow days call for cocoa, don't you think? Tea soothes me, coffee revives me ... and cocoa brings me joy! And ding-ding-ding ... this is another one of those giveaway gifts! Yes, there will be a tin of this "Warm Me Up Chocolate & Cream Cocoa" in my Winter Comforts Basket! (More giveaway details at the bottom of this post.)

Oh, and that pretty blue notebook sitting beneath the tin?

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There will also be one of these in that giveaway basket! I have strong opinions on notebooks, and this is a notebook I just love! It's so nice to write in - smooth paper, soft lines - with a solid spiral-binding. I also have a pink one (that says, "Create a little magic everyday") that I'll use for a new diary project, but I use this particular blue notebook for my "to-dos, weekend plans and projects." I know I've been asked to post a little more about how I use this notebook and I will ... soon. :)

But since we're talking about notebooks and planners for a moment, let me give you a quick glimpse at a new planner I picked up recently ...

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(If you're thinking I might have a bit of a planner problem ... well, you might be right.)

I found this Woodland Tales planner at Barnes & Noble - it was the last one on the shelf, but I've also seen it online. I liked the layout and just could not resist the charming design! It's a smaller size - nice for the pocketbook - and it's specifically for week-at-a-glance planning. This will be used in addition to my Day Designer and my master planning binder ... and all that too, will be blogged about after the holidays!

Now, getting back to Advent, how about a look around our Christmas room (aka the library) where a woodland theme reigns ...

Starting with the children's nativity set where "all creation waits ... "

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You can just imagine the kinds of stories that get played out in this corner!

This display is set up on a table behind our loveseat and stretched out along the wall behind that is one of my favorite Christmas books, Woodland Christmas ...

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A lovely (and long) fold-out book that tells the tale of the animals preparing for Christmas. It is an Advent countdown too - with flaps on one side and labels for all the creatures on the other. I highly recommend this book if your children love animals! The drawings are soft and pretty but quite realistic.

Now our Christmas tree has a woodland theme going as well ...

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A ribbon of gold encircles the whole tree - featuring a holly-bedecked red squirrel! - as well as several strands of wooden cranberries. We've collected woodland ornaments since we were first married and some of these ornaments we've had for many years. (The birds above are from when I was little!) The reindeer lantern was new this year, though - the boys found it in one of their Advent pockets last week. :)

Even my daily Advent reading has a nature theme this year ...

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All Creation Waits - the very theme of our Advent! - has been a wonderful read so far. Every chapter (25 in all) presents a short meditation on one of God's creatures as it adapts for the long cold winter ahead - never fearing the darkness, knowing there is a new beginning ahead. Accompanied by gorgeous woodcut illustrations ... these reflections are certainly a new take on Advent, but they resonate deeply with me. 

And while we're speaking of books - I am so thrilled for this one! I stumbled across it at B&N yesterday ...

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Yes, a little early Christmas present to myself! Earth Psalms is a weekly devotional reflecting on how God speaks to us through nature. I am beyond excited to read it this year and I don't even feel badly I splurged on myself! (It was 50% off!) Now, I did offer to wrap it up and place it under the tree, but Bill let it slide ... ;)

Another early gift, this one from my husband who knows how much St. Francis means to me ... 

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Such a lovely wooden rosary bracelet. Something comfortable - and comforting - to wear every day. :)

Now, before I go (and yes I am planning to wrap this huge post up!) I'd like to share pictures of my very favorite animals of all - our cats, Archie and Oliver. It gives me such satisfaction and true joy to care for these two sweet boys ...

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Oliver by the heating element, tucked behind the loveseat in the library ...

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And Archie, snuggled up next to the chimney in the dining room. :)

**

Well my friends, as always I thank you for stopping by and I leave you with my wish that each of you are filled with joy, wherever you might find it. I hope your weekend brings you the rest and relaxation you need ... snow or shine, whatever challenges you might face, whatever comforts you crave ... may your time be full of the things that mean most. :)

I'll be back again on Monday - we've a week more of Advent Teatimes to go! I may even double up some of our friends as more readers share their cups with me ...

But oh, yes! So about that giveaway ...

At the start of the year I will be sending out a "Winter Comforts Basket" to one lucky reader. This basket will be filled with little random seasonal comforts and joys. I've been giving you "sneak peeks" each week during my Friday tea posts, and there will be one or two other surprises, as well. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite cup or mug - whatever you use to drink your beverage of choice in the cold winter months. Please email me your picture(s) with description here ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I will share your submission in one of my daily teatime posts and then on New Year's Eve I will announce a winner!

I hope to hear from you! In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea, Week 2: Plants & Peace

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday!

And what a fine Friday this is - beautifully bright if perhaps a little colder than is seasonably acceptable in these parts. ***brrrrr*** Still, it's one of those days that make being cozy at home seem all the more wonderful. Well, whatever the weather, I'm so glad to be here and share a cup of something hot and happy with you all ... to slow down for just a moment and catch up. It's hard to believe, but we're making our way through our second week of Advent now, and I hope the season is unfolding in a way that feels right and good for you and your family. I also hope you've all been enjoying our daily "tea with friends" posts! I am very grateful to all who have shared their cups (and thoughts) with us so far this month ... and so pleased there are many more to come!

So this week in my own family's Advent journey we are finding peace in the natural world around us - in trees, plants, and the spices and herbs that are special to this sacred season. We began on Sunday, St. Barbara's Day, with an easy little craft, preparing a small vase to hold our feast day branches. (Legend says that branches snipped on December 4th will bloom come Christmas morning ... this has never failed us before!)

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The vase is an inexpensive terra cotta pot I purchased at the craft store. I spread glue on the sides and wrapped the bottom section with twine and then, using a hot glue gun, covered the upper rim with cloth floral stickers. (Bill sealed the little hole in the bottom of the pot with hot glue so it would hold water.) Next we added forsythia branches from the yard and a few pretty (craft) pine cones just to anchor those branches (and add visual interest). I think it came out very pretty! We'll be making a few more of these for teacher gifts this year ...

But now, about today's Tea ... :)

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Actually, today we're enjoying a hot winter wassail instead of my usual tea. It's easy enough to make your own, but this bottled blend from Trader Joe's is very yummy and quick to prepare. Just heat it up and - voila! - a hot cup of Christmas cheer at the ready! I floated an apple slice on top for an extra bit of fun ...

Would you care to join me in a cup? A little something sweet and spicy to warm us as we walk through my frosty gardens?

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The above photos were taken after an overnight snow, when everything was crunchy icy. Yes, I think we might be in for a white Christmas if this cold and active weather pattern holds over the next couple of weeks! We still have our "mild" days though, and so after yesterday's thaw, we harvested some moss from the stone wall ...

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... to add to our indoor Advent Garden. :)

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As I described in this post, we are rejoicing in God's glorious earth throughout Advent. One of our rituals is the tending of an indoor Advent Garden and we're reveling in the anticipation, slowly building up our tabletop terrarium with a new layer of life each week. Last week we added stones and soil, while this week we added some plants (the aforementioned moss) ...

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Oliver thought this was a GREAT idea.

And the boys found things in their Advent pockets this week that also reflected our theme ... a poinsettia, peppermint candy, fresh mint and evergreen sprigs. Each item symbolized a simple activity or treat or outing ... something to channel some of that wonderful Advent energy!

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Oh, also here in the kitchen - a new bottle of hand soap on the counter. This is such a little thing but I just love changing up the sink soap with the season. :)

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In New England, a touch of frost, a sprinkling of snow and the hint of spices in the air ... these are all hallmarks of the Advent season! Clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, citrus, apple and cranberry ... these are the "inside plants" we're exploring this week. As you see below, I brought out the mortar and pestle so the kids could try grinding some whole spices ...

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I'll be perfectly honest, this activity lasted all of two minutes. Not that it didn't appeal wildly to the younger boys, but the whole "hitting things with a marble wand" was getting a little out of hand. (Straying from the bowl to the table, fingers, etc.) Still, it was a fun activity and the kitchen smelled really good. :)

Soon I'll be starting fruitcakes ...

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... and we'll be filling small muslin bags with a mulling spice blend I purchased. These will be given as gifts along with fresh apples and pretty mugs. And speaking of pretty mugs ...

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Isn't this cup lovely? It is a very generous size and the golden letters spell out PEACE ... with snowdrops and winter greenery all around. I can see myself using this all season ...

AND .... if you enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway ... you might be enjoying it too! This mug will be one of the goodies tucked inside that basket. :)

Before we go, let's talk books and planners for a moment ... two favorite subjects of mine! Here are some of the reads we're enjoying this week ... 

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The bottom two are for the boys (still waiting on a few library requests to come in) and the rest are for me! :)

I'm taking some time this week to revisit one of my favorite author/illustrators, Tasha Tudor. I find such comfort and inspiration in her work - her children's books are family favorites - but I especially admire the way she lived her life. Not that we could all live quite as "off grid" as she did, but there is a lot to be said for "unplugging and slowing down" ... not just at Advent, but in any season. Forever Christmas was a gift from my dad many years ago, who bought this book in Tasha's home state of Vermont. I also absolutely love losing myself in the video, Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas. In this pile there is also a book of Christmas poems (a wonderful rec from my friend, Gill), my daily Advent read, and a fascinating little book about the folklore and tradition of Christmas plants.

I keep this pile of books stacked in a hopeful fashion beside my favorite reading chair ... I've been determined to find a little reading (and resting) time every day. :)

Late in the afternoon, with the sun heading for bed quite early, I took my cup of wassail to the library, so I might sit at my writing desk and get to work on our Christmas cards ...

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Yes, I am just that selfish enough that I need not one, but two desks, lol! The one in the family room (where I am sitting at this very moment) is for my computer and file crate and bill basket, etc. The white window writing desk you see above I keep for ... well, writing! It feels just a little bit "Jane Austen" to sit down at this desk and pen a chatty bit of correspondence to a friend. In January I will share a more thorough post on this happy writing corner ... as I get my holiday thank-you notes in order!

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Now in this "aerial" photo I spy two more small items that will pop up in that Winter Comforts Basket! A small tin of Trader Joe's body butter - just lovely for dry winter skin - and a small monthly purse planner (though in a different print than the one shown here). Fun little things to bring a smile to your winter days ...

Speaking of planners - parked here is my Day Designer and as I mentioned on Instagram last night, I don't usually do much with stickers and whatnot, but I found some very pretty ones at Paper Source this past week and I had to indulge. That washi tape especially is just SO so pretty. 

**

Well my friends, I will wrap up for now, but I hope you enjoyed our time together, sharing another cup of Advent Tea! I have several friends lined up to share tea with you all again next week (every day at 4:00!) and then I will return again on Friday with another longer post. Next week our family's Advent theme is "Joy in the Woodland."

Remember, if you'd like to join us for Advent Tea please send me a picture (or pictures) of your favorite cup by email: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com. I'd love to hear about your cup and any other Advent thoughts you'd like to share! Your pictures will be featured in a daily teatime post and you will be entered in my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway. I'll announce a winner on New Year's Eve and send the basket out shortly after the new year begins. :)

For now though, I will wish you all a wonderful weekend and as always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

See you here again very soon!


Celebrating Advent with Older Kids ... ❤

Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

I'm back to talk a little more about Advent, and what I'd like to discuss today is the topic of celebrating the season with older kids ...

I was inspired by a recent comment from Michelle P., whose three boys are almost exactly the same ages as my older three boys:

I am determined this year to try to do more with my older boys to celebrate Advent. I have a huge binder of ideas (crafts, foods, and activities) that we did when they were younger. I have pulled the binder out and I am pouring over the ideas. It brings such fond memories of when they were young, however I am at a loss for ideas now that they are older. Do you have any suggestions? My boys are 21, 17, and 15.

So Michelle's question got me thinking ... 

I happen to be in a fortunate place right now, with my kids spread out in all age brackets - we have a little guy (3), a middle guy (our 14 yo with autism is still very young developmentally), a high schooler (17) and gulp an adult son (21). When I'm planning out Advent activities I do try to think of the whole family, but so many of my projects are geared towards the younger two. They're the ones who have all kinds of energy to spare and are really looking for something to do every day ... that's not to say however that my older boys don't take pleasure in the Advent atmosphere and partake in the fun now and then!

When thinking about how I hope my older boys view Advent ...

I want them to experience the season with a lightness of spirit and a subtle thrill of anticipation. I want them to be open to letting go of the outside world a little and spending more time with their family, at home. I want them to understand the deep satisfaction of gift-giving and the true beauty of giving non-material things ... and/or items that have been made by hand and with love. I'd like for them to make room in their hearts for faith and trust ... and wonder. And I want their memories to be filled with good smells and yummy flavors, comfort and quiet joy ... and lots of love around them.

(There I go again with those lofty goals, lol!)

Since most older kids spend the bulk of their day busy with educational and/or work things -  whether they be in traditional school or homeschooled - then you'll probably want to plan your activity time for evenings and weekends. My Crackerjack, a high school junior, has a pretty decent-sized work load and is in outside classes several days each week. I try to plan projects he can be part of for the days when I know he (and we) will have more time at home. Also, Bookworm will be returning home after he finishes exams, so needless to say that will be an extra special time for all of us. I try to take these things into consideration when planning out our Advent activity calendar.

So below are some ideas for involving the older kids in our Advent journey - I've been jotting them down for the past couple of days and I fear I've gotten a bit carried away. Yet I'm sure there are many things I haven't thought of! Dear readers, if you have some ideas for older kids participating in and celebrating Advent, I would love to hear them! Please leave a comment and I will add your thoughts to my post. This would be a great resource to grow over the years ... :)

  • How about choosing a multi-chapter book to read over Advent? Something the whole family will enjoy? It could be read aloud by one or more family members or perhaps you all might listen to an audiobook. (Add extra pillows and throw blankets to the family room - create a cozy, relaxing atmosphere!)
  • Perhaps each family member could take a turn finding a quote, verse, song lyrics or a bit of Scripture to share each day? This would be fun to do with a chalkboard placed in a central location, spruced up with some holiday flair.
  • A nice family table tradition is to read aloud any holiday cards that arrived in the day's mail. Together say a prayer for the sender's health and happiness.
  • How about encouraging the kids to send Season's Greetings of their own? They could pick out a package of cards (available any and everywhere these days) and mail them off to surprise friends! Elderly relatives, especially, would delight in receiving messages of good cheer.
  • Maybe older kids would enjoy actually making the family Christmas cards this year? Leave it all up to them - organizing photos, choosing a design, creating artwork. Encourage them to begin early, though!
  • Surprise community workers and volunteers (think post office, school offices, library, fire station, etc.) with home baked goodies one day.
  • Revisit favorite tv shows as a family - for us it might be Northern Exposure, Downton Abbey, Sherlock or Fawlty Towers (an old British comedy). I find my older boys more willingly join us for evening television if there are some yummy refreshments involved!
  • How about surprising them with a dinner out one night at a new restaurant you've all wanted to try?
  • Ask one or more of your kids to join you on a neighborhood walk after supper - admire the lights and decorations around the neighborhood.
  • For active families, a day of skiing, skating, snowboarding or sledding would be great fun.
  • What about taking a family hike at a local nature spot? Find out if there are workshops, programs or guided walks available. Here in Massachusetts, the Audubon sanctuaries are a perfect place for this kind of experience.
  • Plan a shopping excursion as a family - how about splitting up (or pairing up) to buy secret gifts for each other?
  • There are plenty of parish and community events to check out at the holidays (tree lightings, Christmas pageants and concerts, outdoor nativities, etc.). Look in your local papers and church bulletins. Or call town hall!
  • How about taking a train ride somewhere? This could be a transit ride into the nearest city to soak in a little of that holiday "hustle and bustle?" Pick up some goodies and a hot beverage for the ride back ...
  • Help your kids use their Advent season for giving of themselves. They can offer their time and talents where there is need - how about reading aloud to nursing home residents or spending an hour playing with shelter animals? Encourage teens to call around (nursing homes, children's hospitals, homeless shelters and animal shelters) to see what is needed. Then brainstorm and organize as a family!
  • Can the kids offer to help an older relative or neighbor around the house? Does Grandma do Christmas dinner every year? Could she use a hand with vacuuming and hauling out dishes? Could the kids offer to help with yard work or putting up a tree ... could young drivers run holiday errands for those who are more housebound these days?
  • Babysitting services! How about offering a few hours of child care to help out busy parents? 
  • What about organizing a holiday play? The kids can write up a story and assign lines to each family member. The play to be performed at the extended family Christmas gathering ...
  • And what about organizing a holiday party for their friends? Something festive but informal - good food and movies or music. A community service project to work on together? How about creating cards and/or packages for soldiers?
  • What about investigating holiday handcrafts? So many older kids (mine included!) are all about the audio/video at this age but what about getting them to slow down a little and try something new? Or revisit something they might have enjoyed when younger? Perhaps try their hand at hobbies that were too challenging when they were little - candlemaking, soap making, wood-whittling? Bookworm used to love origami ... I bet I could get him to try his hand at it again, if only for one night.
  • Why not bring out the Legos? Hold a contest - who can build the most holiday-related Lego creation? Or everyone builds "something" and then the rest of the family must guess what it is ...
  • Start a family puzzle - set up a table where it can be worked on little by little throughout Advent.
  • Board games are always a great source of family fun. Maybe surprise the kids with a new game to try this year ...
  • What is each older child interested in? Is there something they absolutely love to explore? Rent a documentary about a favorite subject and watch it together.
  • How about a museum visit? Or play tourist and investigate a local attraction.
  • Attend a matinee movie on the first day of Christmas vacation ... or perhaps a Christmas concert or holiday play?
  • Have the kids offer piano lessons (or something else they can teach) to someone (young or old) who would love the time and attention.
  • Why not go caroling through the neighborhood one night? Surprise local friends and family? At a nursing home or hospital ward? (Obviously call ahead to ask about this idea!)
  • Call your parish center and ask what your kids could be doing to help out. Where is help needed? Could they perhaps organize a teen night with cookies and a movie?
  • Movie nights - each of you shares a movie you love and want the others to appreciate. These could be action, suspense, comedies, classics, etc. 
  • Visit a local historic site - these places often run special holiday-themed programs. For example, if you live in Massachusetts, there is "An Alcott Christmas Stocking" at the Louisa May Alcott House in Concord.
  • Have the kids help make something for the yard - a creche? A birch-log reindeer or family yule log?
  • Entice them with food! Trader Joes, for example, has all kinds of delicious-sounding, limited-time, holiday goodies. Pick up a few things to try one weekend. Let the kids plan out (and maybe help prepare?) their own family supper one night. Sit down and list out favorite holiday foods - plan to make one of those things together one weekend or evening.
  • Work on a family scrapbook together. Plan a page for each month of the past year ... organize photos, mementos, ticket stubs ... jot down notes and memories! Reveal the final product on New Year's Eve ...
  • If it seems like a lot to fit in during this busy season, work on a list of Christmas vacation ideas ... brainstorm fun family ideas for 12/26-1/6 (or until whenever your kids return to lessons). Fill a jar with ideas, and then read them aloud Christmas eve ...

**

So I hope this list might have sparked a few ideas but dear readers, please jump in and add to my list if you have a moment! How do you involve your older kids in this beautiful season of Advent? I think being together is what's key here so even if an activity doesn't seem very "Christmassy" to you, if it's appealing to the kids, and brings you all together, then I say just roll with it! Inevitably there will be holiday atmosphere all around you - at home or out and about - whatever you decide to do!

Thank you, Michelle, for asking this important question ... it was good for me to step back and remember that my young men are still my boys and they still look to me for guidance in many ways. As mothers, the holidays very often start with us ... what we do at home becomes memories these kids carry with them throughout life. They might have gotten taller, more informed and aware of the outside world, but that doesn't mean they don't still want to be kids again at Christmas - because don't we all?

Well, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend, and thanks so much for stopping by! I will see you here again very soon ...


Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! Did this week go by REALLY fast or is it just me? Seriously - it feels like we were just finishing up Thanksgiving dinner and now here we are nearing the end of the first week of Advent! 

Well, at any rate - welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and, goodness - please come on in out of the cold and let me offer you something warm to drink. Or maybe it's raining where you are ... or perhaps it's perfectly sunny and warm? But whatever the weather, please do come in! Let's pause together for some rest and refreshment ... time passes too quickly nowadays. We should sit down and savor the season while we can!

Now, my Tea theme this week, as you've probably gathered from the post title, is reflective of where we are in Advent this week. As described in yesterday's post, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation, because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us ...

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2:43 p.m. and yes, the sun is going down ...

So this week we are focusing on the beauty of "earth and sky" - stars, stones, shells, sun and soil. We'll be making crafts that utilize and rejoice in these blessings of creation. Because when you take the time to really observe and think about these things - particularly if you look through the eyes of a child - you get such a sense for how wondrous our world truly is.

And for me personally, I really do relish crafting with natural materials ... these kinds of projects, most of which become gifts or tree ornaments, just seem especially meaningful to me. :)

Ok, so I have several things to tell you about, but let's start with my tea mug this week ...

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This mug is an oldie but goodie and some readers might recognize it since I've shared it a few times before! But it's my favorite and most comfortable mug. And though it feels wintry to me, I use it all year round. And today in this mug I'm enjoying another old Advent favorite - Harney & Sons' Holiday Tea. This is a black tea blended with subtle spices with a lovely vanilla-type of taste. (I don't believe there's any vanilla in the tea itself, but it just seems creamy and comforting to me.) It's GREAT with a wee bit of sugar and a healthy dose of whole milk. :)

The shortbread you see on the plate - one piece for me, one for Little Bear - was baked Wednesday in honor of St. Andrew (of Scotland). Maybe it's because I'm part Scottish (my maternal grandmother was born in Edinburgh), but shortbread is my hands-down favorite type of cookie! I just love the simplicity of shortbread - the flavor and texture is perfect to my mind (or I should say, palate). I'm always tempted to dip the ends of the bars in melted dark chocolate or thick caramel but then never do. Maybe I'll try that for Christmas this year.

In these pictures you can see I was sitting in a rather sunny spot ...

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The kitchen table gets such wonderful light all day. Usually I "take tea" in the library, but this is where I spread out yesterday - it was bit of a "working" tea. ;)

Here is a closer picture of our Advent Garden-in-progress ...

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Last year we set up an Advent Garden on the patio and while I enjoyed having it there very much, I decided to do something different this year. (Ok, truth be told I had a much larger scale project in mind originally - turning a small section of the yard into a grotto of sorts - but that was deemed a project better suited to spring!)

So instead, we're bringing our garden indoors. Throughout Advent, each week we will add a new layer of creation to this terrarium bowl. This week we've added stones (and soon to come soil), then next week will be plants (aka moss from the garden). In the third week of Advent, we'll add some small animal figures, and then finally, in the last week before Christmas, we will celebrate our own kingdom of creation, humankind - with tiny peg people and little wooden houses.

I'm really excited for this project and I love how it's being done in stages ... really highlighting the "waiting" aspect of Advent. It's certainly piqued the curiosity of my cats and kids ... and even guests to our home!

Now the candles around the bowl technically number 23 instead of 24 - but you didn't hear that from me. *wink* It's all I could scrape up! I had purchased glittery battery-lit tealights for this project but then they didn't really all fit ... size-wise nor sense-wise. (Glitter is lovely but not necessarily, natural.) Then I remembered my collection of beeswax tealights and thought how much more fitting they would be. Some have already been burned a little but that's ok. We'll light a candle each night throughout Advent (one will be lit twice) and that will be another nice way for us to pace ourselves a bit. To gather around the supper table and talk about the good things that happened that day ...

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Here are a couple of stories we're reading during this week of "stones and stars." Three Pebbles and a Song is actually one of our November books but I kept it aside just for this week. It is such a sweet little tale, perfect for this time of year - all about preparing for the long winter and appreciating that we all have gifts to offer. The illustrations - in grays, blues, browns and beige - perfectly suit these bleak days of early December. And another favorite book is this retelling of the fairy tale The Star Child - with its gorgeous illustrations and heartwarming tale of generosity and selflessness. I love how the little girl in the story is so selfless and never once hesitates to hand over something of her own to help another in need. Little ones might fret a bit over the girl's condition (as she slowly sheds her belongings) but her reward at the end of the story is simple and satisfying. 

Speaking of stories ....

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Another thing I'm doing this year is creating an Advent nature story to share with my younger boys - in particular my Little Bear who loves to snuggle and "hear stories."  I bought a couple of bags of "river" stones at the craft store (they're cleaner and more uniformly shaped than our yard stones!) and each stone is painted with a symbol from nature. The story is very simple (just a few lines a day) but it leads us towards Christmas in a way that meanders through creation ...

So ... we begin with a sleepy sun, a friendly starfish, a lonely rock, and a generous star ... and then next week we'll meet proud trees and humble plants ... later on there will be hungry birds, silly crows, clever bees ... and at last ... a humble home, a friendly barn and a very loving family. :)

I'm storing the stones in the 24 little drawers of that wooden Advent tree seen below, and each day we'll pull out a stone, tell its tale (Earlybird can read the card) and then nestle it in amongst the green branches.

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I'm having a lot of fun with it so far! And the boys seem intrigued. :) And since my artistic talents are somewhat limited, I have enlisted our resident 17 year-old artist, Crackerjack, to help me out with painting the stones ... 

Now I have one more thing to show you ... something that will be part of my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway!

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These pretty soaps are made by a company called Hand in Hand, and whether you buy them for yourself or a friend (online or at Target), they are a gift that truly gives back. Because for every purchase, HiH gives a month's worth of soap and clean water to a needy child.  These soaps are so well-crafted, softly-scented, earth-friendly AND gorgeously-wrapped. (I love the subtle colors and natural themes!) I'm giving several people on my gift list a bar of this beautiful soap, and ...

... whoever wins my "Winter Comforts Basket" will receive one as well!

(Remember - to enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite mug or cup. It can be a special one you use at the holidays, throughout the winter, or any old day. You can send me your picture by attaching it to an email (send to drhanigan AT gmail DOT com). Feel free to tell me as much as you'd like about your mug - we love to talk tea here! (And cocoa, coffee, mulled cider, etc.!) I will share these pictures in my weekly Tea posts and then, on New Year's Eve, I will randomly pick a winner! 

So without further ado, here are this week's Tea Friends ... :)

From Elizabeth: "I'm sending you a picture of my favorite mug that I use all the time. I love to enjoy hot chocolate, herbal tea and spiced apple cider in the evenings. Especially with a good book or favorite episode of a beloved TV show or movie."

Friends Tea 1

 

From Lauren: "For your tea post, I wanted to share my favorite tea cup that I use during the winter season."

Friends Tea 2

 ❤

From Heather: "I have to share more than one ... They are all perfect for the season! Happy Advent!"

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

"My 'Home is the Nicest Word There is' Mug."

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

"And these little glass mugs in our hot chocolate bar!"

 ❤

And from Gill:

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"This is a photo of the corner of my kitchen, where I stand to make tea or coffee, cook and bake, or turn 90' to wash up! I spend many contented hours exactly here working or dreaming or gazing out of my window to the front yard, where the dog, cats, hens and wild birds all interact!

In the summer the troughs against the yard wall are overflowing with flowers, now they are stuffed full of daffodil, crocus and narcissus bulbs, covered over with pine branches. The tree is the one we went into the forest to cut down last weekend. The bird feeders are usually busy. It is the funniest thing that the wild birds throw down seed to the hens beneath, and the hens keep the cats away!

You can just see that I have hung my Christmas curtains and that they are swathed with fairy lights. I have my breakfast ready: Norwegian brown goats cheese on bread and a cafe latte in my favorite Emma Bridgewater JOY mug. The board I have my bread on says " A friendly word can work wonders" which is so very true. I had just poured my coffee when your post pinged in, so I snapped the photo and hope you won't mind an Advent breakfast instead of tea!

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."

***

Oh my goodness, wasn't that fun? I just love talking "tea" (etc.) with friends. I do so wish we could all sit down in person and chat, but I guess for now this is the next best thing. (Maybe someday I'll figure out that periscope trend, lol ... or maybe host a "seasonal tea" webinar??)

My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Mary, Lauren, Heather and Gill for sharing their beautiful cups! I loved seeing them and hearing their thoughts on this cozy, happy topic!

And thank you all for joining me today ... I hope you enjoyed our teatime and hearing a little more about my family's Advent rituals. I will share Tea again here next Friday, and all are welcome to partake. If you'd like to send me a picture for the post (and giveaway!) please do so at your earliest convenience, by attaching a photo to an email addressed to ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you! Until then, have a happy and restful weekend and I will see you all here again very soon!


Our 2016 Advent Calendar ~ Themes & Ideas

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Hello again, my friends! It's a busy posting week here as we get our Advent season underway! This Friday I will host my first Advent Tea - and I am so excited about that! - but right now I'd like to share with you what we're doing for an Advent Calendar this year. (Daily activities are listed below.) I've teased a few pictures on FB and IG but here are ALL the details ... :)

Now, first of all, I cannot take credit for this idea. I first saw it on Pinterest as I searched for "nature-oriented Advent ideas" which led me to this lovely blog post by Kelly Rowe. As soon as I saw Kelly's Advent calendar project - which brilliantly utilizes an over-the-door, 24-pocket shoe organizer - I knew immediately we must do this! I am ALL about interesting visuals and hands-on holiday projects, so needless to say ... this really got my wheels turning!

First I ordered a plain plastic shoe-organizer from Amazon and hung it up in the kitchen. I did this before Thanksgiving to give it some time to air out. (Our guests were wondering what on earth we were getting up to!) Then I got my thinking cap on and started brainstorming our Advent activities.

Just like last year (and in Waldorf tradition - though that's not why I do it) I assigned each week of Advent an aspect of nature. So the weeks unfold like this: earth and sky (11/27-12/4), plants (12/5-12/11), animals (12/12-12/18) and humankind (12/19-12/25).

*Note: if you're wondering why I connect the two concepts - Advent and Nature - my reasons are explained in this post. :)

Next I listed liturgical feast days and natural phenomena such as the full moon and winter solstice ... as well as birthdays and any family/community events. Then I started brainstorming potential activities, going from pages of scattered notes to a more organized grid of 24 post-it notes, one for each day of each week:

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As you can see in the picture above, I also added book titles to each day's note. Some of these we own, but many we request from the library. (Note to self - I've got to get on that!)

With our activities decided, it was time to get those 24 pockets filled! So after Thanksgiving I stopped by the craft store with a hefty supplies list in hand. Thankfully I had coupons, plus there were plenty of sales. It was a MADHOUSE though and about 10 minutes in ... I really just wanted to be done and go home! But I kept going and got most of the things I needed. (A few things will be ordered or picked up at a later date.) As you'll see in my activities list below, we don't really do candy or toys, but rather, simple crafts and seasonal projects. They might take a little more effort and preparation but I feel it's worth it ... :)

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Now I'll admit I'm a bit like a kid in a candy store when I'm at the craft store. Can anyone relate, lol? I try so hard to stick to my list, but then I keep seeing all these neat things and envisioning all these "potential" projects - so I can hardly resist picking up extra supplies "just in case." Sometimes that turns out to be a good thing though, because an original idea might not work out right and something I picked up randomly might work even better. In any case, I am not ashamed to say I have a pretty healthy craft stash - but it all gets used in one way or another before too long.

Ok, enough of my explaining myself ... ;)

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So now it was time to make that shoe organizer look pretty! So I tied a ribbon to each hook and wrote down the four weekly Advent candle themes (with a fabric marker) ...

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And then I decorated and filled each pocket ... 

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On the front of each pocket is a small beige doily with a woodland-themed adhesive chipboard number. (They look like a slice of log with a little holly sprig and a red number.) I found these in the final moments of my HOUR-long craft store expedition! Just as I was about to give up on finding number stickers I liked, I stumbled across (literally) this last package dangling from a hook. And they are so perfect! If they had had a second package I would have bought more ...

Each pocket was then fitted with a small brown treat bag ...

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... and then filled with a few simple items.

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Some bags just have one or two things that will suggest what it is we'll be doing (while the bulk of the supplies are set aside).

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I really, really love how this came out!

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Now admittedly, it will be a challenge to keep my younger two boys out of these pockets! Earlybird (growing like a weed) can peek into most of them and Little Bear is just the right height (and age) to be filching through the lower bags whenever he gets a chance! So far though they are taking it to heart that they MUST keep their hands off ... and wait for it. 

In the meantime, I have a "key" to all these bags and I will check in with it each night. If tomorrow's project doesn't seem "doable" (due to time, energy or weather) I will change things up before morning comes - by either switching bags around or changing a bag's contents for something simpler.

Now finally, here is the description of each pocket - organized by weekly themes and listed by ...

Date: (items found in the bag), activities for the day, the book we will read. :)

Week One: Earth and Sky (Hope)

12/1: (stationary) Write a letter to Santa. What are you hoping for? The Christmas Cat

12/2: (starfish) Make a shell ornament for the tree. Song of the Stars

12/3: (pipe cleaners, colorful beads) Make a star ornament. The Christmas Star

12/4: (decorative items and paint) Decorate a small vase for our St. Barbara's Day branches. Let's hope they bloom by Christmas! The Star Child

Week Two: Plants (Peace)

12/5: (silk poinsettia bloom) Field trip to the nursery to buy poinsettia plants. (gifts) It's so peaceful in the greenhouse. The Legend of the Poinsettia

12/6: (candy canes & cocoa packs) Enjoy a special St. Nicholas Day treat! The Baker's Dozen: A Colonial American Tale

12/7: (mint sprig) Make mint-scented play-dough and small jars of mint-sugar-scrub. (gifts). Mint is a calming, peaceful herb. The Legend of the Candy Cane

12/8: (apple, small star cookie cutter) Enjoy a cup of spiced cider and grind spices for "glogg." The Tomten

12/9: (muslin spice bags, cinnamon stick, lemon) Fill spice bags (gifts) and help make a dried fruit garland. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

12/10: (evergreen sprig) Make salt dough ornaments (with evergreen impressions), make silver pinecones (gifts). Cobweb Christmas

12/11: (red candles): Walk with dad to find our yule log in the woods. Isn't it peaceful out here? Christmas Farm

Week Three: Animals (Joy)

12/12: (polar bear wooden ornament) Let's learn about the arctic! What can we do to help the polar bear? Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?

12/13: (reindeer lantern) Field trip to a local farm to see the lovely herd of reindeer. The Wild Christmas Reindeer

12/14: (new train ornament and "15" candles) Happy Birthday, EB! Here's the story of when you were born ... A Night of Great Joy

12/15: (colored Christmas light bulbs) Look outside - our solstice tree is all lit up! We hope the critters enjoy! Night Tree

12/16: (baby food jar, white glitter) Make a snowglobe. Decorate the solstice tree with edible ornaments. The Animals' Santa

12/17: (beeswax) Make candle jars and rolled candles. (gifts) An Early American Christmas

12/18: (mitten-shaped cookie cutter) Bake sugar cookies with Mom. The Mitten

Week Four: Humankind (Love)

12/19: (jingle bell ornament) Watch the Polar Express as a family. Discuss trust. The Polar Express

12/20: (clementine) Bake clementine snowball cookies and watch The Snowman. Discuss friendship. An Orange for Frankie

12/21: (snowflake cupcake liners) Bake "welcome winter" cupcakes. Discuss comfort. Sleep Tight Farm

12/22: (nativity ornament) As night falls, a surprise in the garden (new nativity figures under spotlight). Discuss family. B is for Bethlehem

12/23: (frame ornament) Make a family picture ornament for the tree. Discuss love. The Christmas Story

12/24: (felt heart shape) Make a scented heart tree ornament (stuffed with wool and herbs). Discuss giving. The Christmas Baby

*** 

Ok so that was a very long post! But I hope you enjoyed hearing about our Advent Calendar project this year and that maybe you found a few new ideas for your family. I am really looking forward to giving a little of my time and energy each day this Advent to this project. I think my children will enjoy it - I KNOW I will enjoy it. I know it probably sounds like a lot, but truly, these are all simple activities. They won't take up too much of our day. We have a few other Advent rituals planned and I will discuss them a bit more in my Tea post on Friday ...

What a wonderful season this is! So rich with potential and promise ... a wonderful time to shape how our children view the world. The one they live in at home and the one they face when they step outside their doors. My HOPE is that I bring a little peace, a little joy and a whole lot of LOVE into their Advent journey. So grateful to have these days before us!

So enjoy the rest of your evening, my friends! I will see you here again very soon ... later on Friday ... with a cup of tea and some pics to share ... and more thoughts on this most wonderful time of the year. :)

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


Some Thoughts on My Advent Planning Sheets ❤

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Hello, my friends and a Good Tuesday to all! I hope your new week is off to a great start. :)

In today's post I'd like to share some thoughts on each of the sections in my Advent Planner. I had hoped to get this post up before the first Sunday in Advent, but alas, that was not meant to be. But here I am today ... so I'll get on with my notes before I get carried away rambling!

Note: Green or red text indicates one section (or box) from the Planner. I'm starting with the first sheet ...

Hopes for the Coming Season (Describe our ideal Advent atmosphere ...):

As I said in my earlier post, I think it's a great idea to sit down as a family and talk about the month of December and the season of Advent, in particular. Are we happy with the way the season has unfolded in the past? Were there aspects of Advent we missed that we'd like to include this year? I have pretty strong ideas about this time of year, and as the main family planner, things tend to go my way, lol. But our family plan should be just that - one that reflects the hopes of each family member.

Now, for me, I like a quiet and cozy Advent. I don't mind that there is all kinds of hustle and flash and noise out there ... but in here ... I try to keep things a little simpler. There is still joy for certain - but it's a joy tempered with a bit of restraint. We're building anticipation ... and fostering a quiet peace that is supported even by the nature all around. Darkness is descending outside, but there's a light growing steadily within us. In Winter the earth may slow down, but it's never completely still ...

I like to take my cues from nature when I can and I do feel Advent connects so beautifully to the natural world. I am always weaving nature into our family life, and this includes our faith life as well. I think it's because I see and feel and hear God so strongly when I am feeling a part of His amazing creation. He did this for us! He created this glorious world - every creature and every miraculous, awesome layer of life - and I am thankful for all of it. So for me, an Advent with "a natural feel" is deeply satisfying.

But practically speaking ...

I envision candles in the windows, lighting up dark December afternoons. The tree in the library imparting a similar glow as the sun sets earlier each day. Fresh greenery and old-fashioned decorations - some borrowed from nature, some found in the attic. As much time spent at home together as possible, with good scents in the air and the promise of something special on its way. We're busy, but there's a quiet purpose to our busy-ness. Soft Christmas music as we drive around town ... noticing nature whenever we can with daily walks around the yard, taking care of our animals (both wild and domesticated). A few busy baking and crafting days planned so we can feel part of the season's bustle!

But that's me ... others might want a different feel to their Advent. My kids might want to be out and about a little bit more - their audio selections are probably a little different too! I'm sure if they were asked to think about it, they'd have their own ideas about this beloved season - and I want to hear them!

(Remember this section is for describing our "ideal" atmosphere - not always realistic, but something to work towards!)

This Year's Advent Calendar Project (How will we count down the days?):

An Advent Calendar is a special tradition for a lot of families. We do something every year to count down the days until Christmas. I use this as an opportunity to give my children something meaningful to do that will burn a little energy! Having something small to look forward to each day is a nice way to pace that Advent joy! Because I love crafting I tend to come up with a new idea every year, but it's usually connected with the natural world and special liturgical feast days. (I have a post coming up about this year's project!)

Advent Countdown:

In this box I will be noting each day's planned activity. It takes me a bit to get to this point ... I start with brainstorming themes and general ideas and then I narrow things down into individual activities - a la post-it note planning.

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I arrange the notes under their week - according to theme and any special days of note.

Family Holiday Traditions (What do we most look forward to?):

Another "agenda item" for the pre-Advent family meeting! It's always neat to find out what things really make the holidays for different people. A trip to the Tree Farm ... Secret Santa ... Christmas Breakfast ... Midnight Mass ... watching A Charlie Brown Christmas ... singing carols ... lighting the Advent wreath ... driving around town to see the lights ... Grammie's gingerbread  ... adopting a needy child's Christmas List ... visiting a beloved relative ... displaying cards from friends and family ... ?

These are the kinds of things we might want to work into that Advent plan!

Gatherings:

It is what it says it is! I will use this section to plan our annual Family Christmas Gathering. (Christmas Day, late afternoon.) I might also print a second copy in case we host a second (or rather, first) gathering with Bill's side of the family on Christmas eve. Actually, come to think of it, I might also print a third copy for Earlybird's family birthday party! (Which takes place on the weekend before Christmas.)

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Savoring the Season:

This is where I go a little outside the lines of a traditional holiday planner. These are concepts that are very important to me during Advent and so I designated a special spot for each area of planning.

Creating cozy corners, finding moments of peace ...

I try to envision where it would be nice to have a spot for resting and reflecting. Near the tree, perhaps ... with all the necessary comforts around me. A basket of books and a couple of throw blankets. Maybe a special journal and pen. Then I try to find a regular time for getting myself into this space each day, even if it's only for 30 minutes. I think of this place as my charging spot. :) I also like to place a pretty candle (or candles) in my kitchen window. For one thing, this spot is out of reach of my kids - and for another, the window faces the setting sun. On December days, setting my own little light against the gathering darkness is a wonderful feeling. :)

For the kids, a quiet place where they too can feel cozy and peaceful is such a nice idea. Reading corners are perfect for this, but so too are bedrooms! I like to make up my boys' beds with flannel sheets and ask Bill to add some lights, too. And how about a special Christmas bath time? It's very simple to pick up some seasonally-scented soap or bath gel - pine, clove, peppermint, orange, etc. Or better yet, find a recipe for a natural herbal blend if time allows! (Note to self for next year!) The older kids can use the bath products as they shower and younger children will enjoy a bath with sweet scents and maybe even a little holiday lighting? A candle in the window or a holiday nightlight perhaps?

Special time with the children ...

Christmas is especially beautiful when you have children to join you in celebrating! Our Advent Calendar project will provide the boys with daily "special time," but I also like to plan a separate activity for each of my children. The older boys and I will visit our favorite bookstore for a little browsing and a delicious holiday beverage. We'll also plan a fun family movie night for after the younger boys are in bed. Earlybird and I will be delivering goodies to community friends (the mailman, the postal office, the librarians). And Little Bear (my nature nut) will receive a new Advent story stone every morning ... :)

This is also a good time to consult those ideas mentioned by my kids when we held our family meeting!

 Enjoying Advent in nature ...

This is where I'll jot down ideas for bringing nature into my own Advent. In addition to our Advent Calendar activities (most of which are nature-related), I like to plan some opportunities for sending off autumn and welcoming winter myself. Gazing upon the sunset each evening as I work in the kitchen. Feeding the birds (and squirrels) and sitting by the window to watch them flit about the garden. Taking a walk under the stars with my best fella. Stopping by a favorite pond to admire the quiet, resting habitat. Noticing the frost in the morning. Working with favorite natural materials as I bake and craft (spices, herbs, beeswax, wool, shells, pretty stones, pinecones, etc.).

Baking-making days ...

Crafting and baking (especially making gifts to give) is a big part of the season for us (me especially) but it's one thing to say I'm going to bake a lot and craft a bunch, and another thing entirely to have the time to do just that! So again, looking at the calendar with the family and budgeting in a few days when there will be adequate time at home, a bit earlier in the season, will be key in making it happen. 

Family Attire (Special clothing for special events ...):

Who needs what? What holiday occasions require a particular kind of outfit - something dressy for an elegant event, festive outerwear for a tree lighting or skating party, a funny sweater for a family party, holiday PJs for Christmas morning! 

Outside Decorations (Shining our light ...): 

A space to take inventory of outdoor decorations - lights, wreaths/swags/garlands, garden flag, figurines, creche, etc. What needs replacing or new batteries/bulbs? Also, for us, it's a good idea to pick a weekend to devote to setting up these decorations. We actually don't do a lot but it still takes us some time! (And patience, lol.) Perhaps plan a special warming meal for the hard workers and helpers! Crockpot chili comes to mind ...

Inside Decorations (Adding festive touches here and there ...):

As above - we start by taking inventory. We bring down the Christmas bins once the fall bins have been packed away! Then I work on setting out decorations through the first week (or sometimes two) of Advent. I'm in mid-transition right now, fall to winter ... hoping to add my "festive touches" this weekend while Bill and the boys get the outside and windows all arranged. (And of course, right now we have a 3 year old and a couple of young cats, so breakables are on a "break" for a few years.)

The Tree! (Theme? Notes ...):

Several things to think about here! Real or artificial? Where to get it - farm-fresh or pre-cut? Then of course, where does it go and do we have all the "stuff?" Stand, skirt, star, working lights? Who's in charge of keeping the tree watered? Are we doing a special theme or certain colors or just "anything goes?" Do we need any extra items or replacements? Are there little ones in the house and therefore a "soft" tree is the way to go this year? Is there a special tree blessing we could say as a family? Should we have a tree-trimming party? And we must be sure to leave room for all the ornaments we'll be making this Advent!

Family Faith Traditions (Keeping things real ...):

In all we do throughout Advent, I hope the undercurrent is the sweet anticipation of our most Holy Night - and not just because Santa is coming! I hope to share with my children the wonder and appreciation I feel for the world God has created because He loves us so much. I hope to instill in them a sense of gratitude for the vastness of our blessings. I hope to share with them the joy that is living with Christ by our side. I hope to foster a sense of peace in our family, that it might be our small part in striving for peace among all people. I hope our own inner light shines so brightly the darkness of the world shrinks before us. I hope to kindle a love for all mankind, especially our nearest and dearest. These are my highest goals when shaping our Advent plans ...

But those are lofty goals, aren't they? ;)

I guess what I hope is that our family's faith is lived out in our most common days ... sometimes in the simplest of ways but also in special observances. At Mass or during a quiet, prayerful conversation at home. I hope we achieve a good balance, and I hope I do the best I can by my family. I think it's easy to get caught up in society's view of this season - the candy canes and silver lanes and elves that sit on shelves. And truly all those are special, fun things - but I like to be sure we're remembering what it is we're really celebrating here ...

All that said, our family faith traditions are sacred to us but understandably not for everyone, and that's as it should be. I point out to my children that we all celebrate the year differently and all families are to be respected however they live out this particular season. In other words - whether you wish us Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas or Blessed Yule, we will be honored you shared a smile and a bit of your own faith tradition with us. :)

Town & Parish Events (Special activities, service opportunities ...):

A listing of things we'd like to consider for participation. The Village Tree Lighting or the Angel Tree at Church - things like that. Once we know what is happening we can decide what fits our time, resources and expectations best. (I check our parish bulletin and tri-town newspaper for information and ideas!)

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Errands & To-Dos:

Well, this is pretty self-explanatory! Here I list where I need to go and what I need to do. Stop by the post office for more stamps. Order Christmas cards. Order cookie packages. Clean this-that-and-the-other-thing before guests arrive. I like to keep organized about these kinds of things because it keeps our Advent a little more peaceful. As hard as I try to stay calm about things, I can get as stressed as the next mom when Christmas draws near and important tasks are left undone. Plus, if I have that list handy (and written up early) I can delegate more smoothly!

Recipes & Projects to Try (*find on Pinterest):

I use Pinterest for keeping these kinds of things organized but I am using this section to make note of the pins I really want to remember! If you're interested, here are my pin boards called 2016 Planner: November-December and Happy Christmas. :)

Advent Week-by-Week:

This section can either be used for a breakdown of To-Dos (what needs to be done each week) or a breakdown of themes. The four Advent candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy and Love ... and this could be a place for reflecting on those themes, how each concept might be woven into your family's week. I'm actually writing out notes for my Advent Teas here! ❤️

Gift-Giving:

Also self-explanatory! I'm waaaay behind on this!

Our Season's Greetings:

Another obvious section! :) I've just ordered our cards and will be organizing the addresses over the next few days. Got my Christmas stamps, so that's done! I'm going to set up a little "work" basket at my writing desk in the library. I will share how it all looks in my Week Two Advent Tea. :)

Advent Calendar:

Can I just say I really like how this calendar came out? :) Bill helped me with it and I was so excited to find a way to make those blocks lined! I may be using this template to make up some monthly calendars to go along with my 2017 planning sheets. But that's getting ahead of myself (though not by much!) and off-topic! In this planner I will use it specifically for Advent-related activities. 

And finally ...

Notes:

A space for anything that doesn't fit anywhere else! :)

*❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *❤️ *

So there we have it, friends! My notes on Advent planning and then some! I hope this was helpful or at least fun to read. I can hardly believe Advent is already underway! I have my first Advent Tea planned for this coming Friday (and there will be one each Friday throughout Advent). I would love to see your favorite mug (or cup) for tea (or coffee or cocoa) and if you send me a picture of it I will share it in one of my Tea posts AND enter you in my Winter Comforts Package giveaway. You can send me your pic(s) by sending an email to:

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope you'll join me for Tea!

Also, I have another post I hope to get up in between now and Friday (I know, I'm setting more of those lofty goals, lol) describing our Advent Calendar this year. I am so happy with how it's come out! Some of you might have seen a little of it on Facebook or Instagram (or both) but I'll share a pic here too ....

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(Speaking of pics, the ones above are from a beautiful book illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. I absolutely adore this book and in particular, those two illustrations. They are so perfectly in line with the kind of simple, homey, natural Advent I aspire to!)

Ok, I've kept you long enough - I'm off! I wish you all a pleasant evening. Please drop a note if  you have time. I'd love to hear from you! :)

BLESSED ADVENT!


Planning Sheets for Advent & Christmas ~ from Me to You!

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Hello and Happy Friday, my friends! I am back with those planning sheets as promised, so before I get on with my post, here they are:

Celebrating Advent & Christmas Planning Sheets (a 14-page PDF document)

And here's a second set of Advent planning sheets for writing down daily reflections:

Advent Daily Journaling Pages (11/27-12/24)

And now, a little about why I made up these sheets and how I'm going to use them ... :)

Very simply, I love planning - paper planning in particular - and now that I've figured out how to create personalized planning sheets with a seasonal flair  ... well I must say, I'm a little addicted! I've created planning sheets for each week of the year and recently, a Thanksgiving Day planner, too. Needless to say, Advent deserves a few planning sheets of its own!

But the tricky thing about Advent is - it's such a special time of year and so highly anticipated - but too often our reality falls far short of our "vision." So we have all these meaningful intentions but then all of a sudden it's Christmas Eve and ... we're not at Midnight Mass or sipping cocoa by the fire (or in bed early!) as we'd hoped. Instead, once again, we're scrambling to run last-minute errands and finish all those Christmas to-dos. Feeling all edgy and exhausted and maybe even - dare I say it - a little bit scroogey.

So the first step in sticking with a vision is a plan. A plan is always a good place to start ... but a realistic plan is even better! And by realistic I mean - something that will reflect your family's real situation, not what everyone else seems to be doing. Praying over an Advent wreath each night might seem right for your family ... but maybe not. Perhaps a star-lit walk through the forest is more appealing? Or a car-ride to look at the neighborhood lights. Younger children rely on us to start (and keep) traditions but older kids may have their own ideas and expectations. So talk with your family about their own seasonal hopes! What does their Advent vision look like? What makes the holiday - and the days leading up to it - for each of them? How can you pare down the have-tos to make room for the hope-tos? Maybe get everyone on board with a little more family-time this month? Then - together - build space into the family schedule for the wants and the needs. (And I mean this literally - work with a calendar and mark out those times!) Divvy up some of those holiday tasks, too. If you're like me, you may feel like most of it needs to be done by you ... or it just won't get done right. Well, that's not doing anyone any favors, least of all us! (I admit - I'm a bit of a control freak, lol.)

Try to organize some in-home, family-only activities - an evening movie with popcorn, an hour of gift wrapping followed by hot cocoa, a baking afternoon with favorite music - those times need to be scheduled as much as any outside commitment! I say this from experience! Create rituals and visuals that help keep everyone in the Advent spirit and on the Christmas ball ...

As with all the year's seasons - but especially at Advent - there's just so much to enjoy, and so many little things that might get swept away with the rushing of time and to-dos. This is why I make up seasonal planning sheets. They are my gift to myself and my family - a way of slowing us down and keeping us aware of the smallest blessings. I'd guess my schedule is as busy as anyone's, but I am happiest when I am feeling a part of the season - not standing aside watching it pass by. And you all know what they say about a happy mama ... !

As for how I plan to use these sheets, - well, just as I do with my weekly planning sheets, I'll be filing them in my homekeeping binder. In the spirit of keeping things simple, I'm trying not to spread my thoughts and my stuff out too far. Keeping my "tools" to a minimum, so to say. Because my binder is open on my kitchen counter all the time, and because I'm already in there keeping my family's week in order - then this is where I'll be planning our Advent.

(Or at least, that's the general idea.)

Note: When I print out the documents, I choose two-sided and then three-hole punch the sheets to fit in my binder. You might print them the same way but use a slimmer binder devoted to holiday planning. (Decorating the cover with some pretty stickers or clippings from magazines perhaps.) Or you could print the pages one-sided and keep them on a handy clipboard. As for making them portable, the slimmer binder would be easy enough to pop in your bag or you could do as I do - I take a picture of the pages I need with my phone and then I have the information available to me when I'm out and about.

Now here are some planner visuals, just because ... :)

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The pretty December cover page in my binder - I love vintage scrapbook supplies! Purple flag marking the Advent planner's place in the binder ...

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Which is just behind this floral cover page, in front of the December calendar ...

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Here's my homekeeping binder on the left, parked next to my Day Designer ...

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And here it is as it looks today - November @ a glance calendar on the left, and this week's planning sheet on the right.

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And finally, here the binder is open to the Advent planning section itself. 

Well since I went on so long, in a follow up post - sometime next week - I will talk about each page of the Advent planner and how I plan to "tackle" all those boxes. Just some of my thoughts on each area of Advent planning. :)

But for now I'll wrap up because I've kept you quite long and I know you all have other things to do besides listen to me ramble! I myself am going to make another cup of tea and ... fold some laundry! Whoo ... I know, I'm living it up here today! Actually though, we spent the morning at a salt marsh with our homeschool Nature Club positively SOAKING in the glory of this beautiful November day. Even the car ride over and back was nice - nobody argued (I packed snacks) and we played the very last chapter of our current audiobook as we neared home. So the rest of the day stretches before me ... as does my task list! Because the house - which we left in a rush this morning - is in quite a state. Very glad I got in a little seasonal appreciation earlier today! So I'm off ...

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