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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!


This, That and A Few Million Other Things ...

Hello my friends, and Happy July! 🎆 I hope your new month is off to a great start!

I'm popping in today to wish you all well and share a little bit of our past few weeks. Now, here's your fair warning - this is a very BIG post with a LOT of pictures and a few (ok, a lot) of notes. I feel like too much time and too many events are passing and I hardly ever get to pop in here and say hi and share with you all what's going on with my family. And that's always been the heart of my blog, really - sharing our days and the big and little moments for which we are so grateful. 💛

Back in my blogging heyday (say, mid to late 2000s) I was blogging ALL the time and pretty much "reporting in" every day! Well, time is not as flexible for me these days, though I refuse to say my energy is not what it once was - ahem! But anyhoo, enough of my babbling, here is a look at some of the things we got up to last month! It was quite a fun and busy June!

First we start with this ...

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Our Crackerjack GRADUATED!!!

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On Saturday, June 16th, our second son, Crackerjack (this boy!) officially finished his homeschooling journey. (Please excuse me while I sob for a moment.)

Now, not all homeschoolers have a graduation ceremony when they are done with their high schooling, but we were very grateful to be part of a beautiful one. For many years we've been members of a wonderful homeschooling organization, a place that offers small classes for middle and high school-age homeschoolers. Crackerjack took classes here for seven years - Art, Spanish and, just this past year, Karate. We will miss this community so much now that we no longer have kids enrolled here ... but I dearly hope that perhaps someday Little Bear will be ready to join!

Anyhoo - all to say, above is our young man walking in to the ceremony hall. There were 12 kids in all who graduated, and the event was entirely organized by the kids themselves and their parents. It was so fun to be part of the planning!

(By the way, the kids chose to walk in to this song instead of the traditional "Pomp and Circumstance.")

We were very blessed to have many family members attend Jack's graduation, including ...

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Mum and Dad, and Bill's Mom and Dad - aka, Nana & Papa, and Grandma and Grandpa!

And here's the rest of our crew, awaiting the start of the ceremony:

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Bill, his folks, my brother Matt, my folks, and my Auntie Marcia and Uncle Karl. 

(Bookworm had Little Bear outside, "keeping busy" - aka "quiet," lol.)

Here is our young man, giving a speech called, "Reflecting on the Year."

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And here we are with our graduate, presenting him with his diploma and sharing our pride and joy in a speech given through a few tears!

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Each pair of parents came up on stage to talk about, and to, their beloved child. And as you can imagine, the speeches were very personal and moving! Another nice touch, the kids all handed their mothers a flower before leaving the stage. We had discussed getting roses or daisies for this activity, but happily, our own peonies were overflowing our garden! So plush, pink peonies it was!

Here are two of my fellas ...

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One who'll be off to college in the fall, and the other who's just starting his homeschooling journey!

Family photo!

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A note about my dress - I had all of about 20 minutes one morning to pop into Macy's and find SOMETHING to wear to the graduation!! Amazingly, I found this one in about five minutes, and tried it on right away.

A. it fit, B. it was marked down, and, C. ... triple bonus! ... the colors matched not only the graduation but also Cj's college's colors as well!

(You all know I'm all about color-coordination, lol!)

After the ceremony, we returned home, and enjoyed a simple luncheon. (We plan to throw our boy an official party in August.)

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Here is our Earlybird who was kept company at home during the ceremony with his ABA therapist. (It would have been very hard for EB to sit through the graduation - too much noise and way too much emotion!) But while EB and Hannah waited for our return, they baked some lovely graduation cupcakes!
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It was such a wonderful day, a lovely way to celebrate and honor the end of our homeschooling journey with our son. It was (and still is) very hard to grasp that "new reality" - but two days later he was off to Emmanuel College for Orientation! And we now have the Summer to enjoy being "done" and prepare our son for his freshman year  ... meanwhile, I have a few scant months to prepare this mama's heart for the big changes to come this September!

Ok, are you up for more stories?? (I warned you this was a big one!)

Speaking of Earlybird, he's been doing very well with his therapy (and med) and making some nice strides with community outings! Here are some pics from a recent Stop 'N Shop trip ...

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He's even been making his own lunch!

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Now, this being (almost) Friday, I'm going to include a little "full disclosure" in my post - because I just had to walk away from this draft for over an hour. Earlybird had a very hard time today - the heat is brutal, his therapists are on holiday break, he's had way too much down time, not to mention, screen time - and it all added up to a bored, hot, restless, grumpy, tech-addicted kid, and he just now had a really ugly, 45 minute meltdown. The kind that involves shouting and crying and stomping and has us sending Little Bear downstairs with his brother because it's just way too upsetting for him to witness ...

So, you see, EB's making some awesome progress and the good times (and good moods) are stretching out longer and getting more complex - in that, he can handle more challenges now - shopping at the grocery store, getting a haircut, walking near a busy street, listening to his little brother sing "Bingo" in the car - but it's not all figured out just yet. Not even close. I'm not sure it will ever ALL be figured out - his special needs and challenges will change through the years just as they have up to this point. But I share both sides of the coin with you in this post because I want other special needs parents to take heart not just from our good times, but also from our not-so-good times. We have them, too ... and we struggle a lot. (And it's just as easy to feel disheartened by someone else's good times in light of one's own curent struggles.)

Truth be told, special needs parenting is the hardest thing I've ever had to handle in my life ... hands down. Thankfully, God blessed me with the support team I needed - a loving and understanding family, amazing therapists, and most especially a strong and nurturing marriage. I don't know how I'd ever do this alone ...

But, let me say this: I am SO encouraged by how much EB's been able to handle and the new things he can do. I KNOW we have only more progress to make in the days (and years) ahead. I try not to let the tough times (like this past hour) rattle me too much. Tomorrow is a new day and our therapists will be here and we will get back on track ... in fact, as I continue to type, EB is here with me in the family room, and all is calm. All is going to be alright ...

We're all in this together, after all! Case in point ...

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All six of us at my cousin's party on the 4th of July! What a GREAT day that was! (More pics below.)

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Ok, here I am with the older boys, my folks and my brother enjoying a birthday lunch for Bookworm last week ... and eep, can you believe he turned 23?!

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Honestly, how is it I now have a child who is a TWENTY-THREE YEAR OLD MAN? #holymoly #timeflies #toofast

At 23, I was engaged to be married and only three years away from motherhood ... and seriously, all of that doesn't seem that long ago ... sigh. But don't get me started, on the whole where-has-the-time-gone thing, lol! That's a whole n'other post.

So in this pic, we had just come from seeing Jurassic World: Fallen World - which was really good! - and tucked in to lunch at Legal Sea Foods - also really good! (And Bookworm's favorite restaurant.) Bill was working at home so he watched the younger boys ... but I plan to take him to dinner next week for HIS birthday! :)

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Ok, forward we go - on to the Fourth!! And how was your holiday, dear (American) friends? I just LOVE this holiday, and it was a really nice one this year. Of course, it was hotter than blue blazes here in New England but just lovely all the same. Sunny, breezy and everything was just so green and bright!

I love to celebrate even when it's "just us," so before the boys woke up, I arranged a festive breakfast buffet ...

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(My 4th grade music class book!)

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And flowers from the yard - picked by Little Bear (still in his pjs) and me. We searched for "red, white and blue" blossoms!

It might be all small potatoes in the scheme of things, but I just love doing this kind of stuff. (Hence, my homemade planner so I can work these kinds of things into our busy family schedule!) I think it will make for nice memories ...

But then, in the afternoon it was time to head over to my cousin's house for our family's annual 4th of July party. Mike and Krista host a fantastic party, and we always look forward to this get-together! And this year, Earlybird's therapist came with us to support him - help him socialize and handle the heat. (It was in the 90°s!) It was wonderful that he was able to join us!

Here are some peeks at our day:

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EB keeping his therapist, Hannah, cool. :)

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Little Bear, who decided to "sit with the girls" and come to their rescue with his battery-operated misting fan.

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My older boys! Bookworm (23) and Crackerjack (18).

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Beautiful holiday signs made by  my cousins, Emily and Elizabeth. 💙

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The tree swing is always a big hit with my boys!

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Bill with my Uncle Karl. :)

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Little Bear with handsome DumDum, wearing his holiday finery ... :) 

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Lovely to see my Auntie Marcia, Cousin Sue, Auntie Pat, Mum, and my cousin (by marriage) Vicki.

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My lovely Mum with my dear cousin, Kara. This beautiful young woman was my flower girl!!

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Dad (on the left) with his brother, my Uncle Dave. 💙

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And ohmygoodness, he was SO pleased to be allowed to eat cheese puffs!!

Some more yummy things from the party ...

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My mum's "triple-layer brownies." They are legendary ...

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A gorgeous and delicious strawberry trifle made by my cousin, Elizabeth. (This was the dessert I chose, and there were a LOT to choose from!)

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Cute candies!!

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Krista's beautiful dessert station. The cake in the front center was Little Bear's contribution! :)

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This here is Hannah, who is Earlybird's ABA therapist and, without a doubt, an angel sent from heaven to guide us. She has such a beautiful way of reaching our son, guiding our journey, and showing us how things can be ... she has also become dear friend. 💙

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More swinging!! What a fun day this was ...

It's such a gift to be able to attend an event like this, all of us together. Usually we have to spit up and take shifts, or one of us (Bill, myself or my mum) has to just sit out an event if EB's having a particularly hard day. Thanks to Hannah, we felt confident we could bring EB and we could relax while we were there. Happily, our boy not only handled the party beautifully - he ENJOYED himself, too!

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And just look at that smile!!

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Alrighty, I think I should wrap things up now, seeing as how I've kept you here so very long! I'm so grateful you joined me, and allowed me to share a little bit of our June ... and my rambles!! I'd love to hear from you, too, if you have a moment!

A quick bit of business before I go: our next Mitten Strings book study will be delayed ONE week. (I'll bet you're not surprised, lol.) I just have not had a chance to re-read the chapter yet! ("Nature") My posting goal is a week from Sunday - July 15th. (St. Swithin's Day!)

Ok, I'm off for now, truly - but I wish you all well, and a peaceful day (or evening) ahead. Thanks so much for stopping by ...

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. BIG planner news coming next month!


Full Disclosure Friday: Progress Not Perfection

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Happy Friday, my friends! I hope this week has been good to you. I'm sorry my posting has been rather sluggish lately - we've been in a rather busy pattern lately. But as we near the end of the year I feel my schedule is finally starting to smooth out a little. :)

So today, in the spirit of full "Friday" disclosure, I'd like to share another glimpse into our special needs family life. We've had some significant changes to our therapy situation recently, coming at a time when Earlybird is really struggling with a variety of challenges, and adjusting to a new (and first ever) behavioral medication. One beloved therapist moved away, and a new one began ...

But with change comes renewal, and with fresh perspective comes hope!

We've also been granted more ABA hours so Earlybird is now getting more therapy assistance than ever - and this includes weekends! This development could not have come at a better time, and with the med we started him on this spring we've been seeing some subtle improvements. Overall then, after a bit of upheaval, we are getting ourselves (and our boy) back on (a really good) track!

Now, I try to keep things as real as possible here. Yes, I like to focus on the positives, but I think there is also much to gain in sharing our tough times. Fittingly, this post highlights both sides of our autism journey. Oftentimes a new success highlights the larger struggle still looming - so though we're ever mindful of keeping perspective, it's so important to celebrate every step, no matter how small. 

So  ... yesterday, we braved Target together, Earlybird and me (and his therapist).

And this might seem like the most common of events - shopping at Target - but let me tell you, it was anything but! For Earlybird, managing a place as over-stimulating as Target is a real emotional and physical challenge. But, with Little Bear's birthday coming up, he really wanted to pick out his own gift ... 💙

A bit of back story, first:

I shop at Target all the time, but it had been 6 years since Earlybird last stepped foot in this place. That time he was much smaller, but his meltdown was HUGE. (Wailing and thrashing-on-the-floor, security-alerting huge. 😳) That day sticks out as one of those memories we point to when confessing just how very hard things can get. (I think most autism families have them.)

Well, yesterday, with the support of our ABA therapist, our boy returned to that very same store to buy his own “perfect” present. He'd been talking about it for weeks, but to keep it as simple as possible, we prepared an "action card" for him. On it was listed three things:

  • present
  • card
  • gift bag

ALL DONE √

The good news is ... he did it!! We made it through the store and he completed his card.

The less-so-good news? He struggled the whole time ... and mightily.

The parking lot was busy, the cart was noisy, and just inside the doors, he stopped and said, “I want to go home.” But with the encouragement of our therapist, we got him moving and directed him straight to the toy aisles.

Oh, he balked, he fussed - he even yelled and stomped! But 10 (loooong) minutes later, we were back in my van headed home. 🚙 💨

Of course that was not a fun ride ... because EB's emotions boiled over and he really let his anger and anxiety loose in the backseat. (Thank God for our therapist!)

Were my nerves frayed? You bet. But was the mission accomplished? Yes.

So we're calling it a win. :)

Folks, don’t ever take the “everyday” things for granted - the things you or your children can do without a worry or second thought. Be grateful for every mundane and meltdown-free moment. And celebrate every hard-won success!! #progressnotperfection

I am SO GRATEFUL for the support we receive and the hope we keep kindled in our hearts. 🙏🏻 We are so blessed by this boy whose heart is pure gold and whose hopes are the same as anyone else’s: to be loved, and live a meaningful life.

Is shopping at Target meaningful? 🤔

Well, it sure can be! Because our son faced his fears so he could buy his own gift for his brother. Those ten minutes seemed eternal to him, but he did it! 👍🏻

And I can’t wait to see the look on *both* my boys’ faces when that gift is unwrapped! 🎁

Well my friends, thank you so much for stopping in today, and allowing me to share a little of my life as an autism mom. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and I will back here again very soon!


Full Disclosure Friday: Autism Siblings ROCK

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Full disclosure: Life with an autistic child is challenging ...

But as parents, we are blessed with a deep and unconditional love for our child as well as (not always, but often enough) the mental and physical reserves we need to weather what this life - and this child - throws our way.

As for life with an autistic sibling, however ... well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

To put it plainly ... my greatest joy in life has been being a mother to my boys, but my greatest fear is that I've somehow bungled it. That perhaps I could have expended more - energy, flexibility, confidence, whatever - to have met the needs of ALL my boys better than I have. That when Bill and I faced the challenges of autism parenting, we could have been braver or more open-minded. That we let our fear (and perhaps lack of sleep) make the decisions for us more often than not.

I struggle with guilt - not all the time, but often enough - that so much of our family life has been shaped by the pressures of Earlybird's autism. I worry that our older boys had a childhood that fell short in significant ways, or that they missed out on the life-shaping kinds of experiences their peers probably enjoyed ...

We don't travel. We don't eat out. We rarely go to the movies ... or museums ... or the town parade. They've been to see fireworks ... once.

And that's not to say that we haven't been aware of these omissions (acutely so) but I hesitate to say, "Well, we do our best." Because I'm so afraid maybe we haven't.

We are, however, getting better at this, because finally we are getting the right kind of help and figuring out ways to make things happen that we couldn't before - for Earlybird AND his brothers.

But as for our older two boys ... well, they're young men now. Their childhood is over. And though I feel it was a good one - full of love, togetherness and home-centered joy - there were times of turmoil, too. A lot of tiptoeing around their younger brother's moods. A lot of activities that had to be missed - or seriously curtailed - because Mom and Dad were simply not able to manage them. (Logistically or emotionally speaking, depending on the day.)

How often did they surpress a need - or a dream - because they could see how stretched thin their parents already were?

I've often said our older boys have gained truly great gifts as the brothers of an autistic person. Through the years they've had ample opportunities to practice such virtues as patience and tolerance, compassion and understanding ...

I'm sorry we can't go to the pool party, but Nana can't watch Earlybird for me and there's no way we can take him.

I'm sorry we can't make it to the beach today (even though we've already driven halfway there) but your brother is melting down and we need to turn around.

I'm sorry I can't come inside and mingle with your friends' mothers - EB needs to stay in the car, and therefore, so do I.

They are the least demanding young men you could know. They understand. They accept. They never-ever make us feel we are cheating them. And yet ... still, I worry.

Did we put them first, too? Did we honor their individuality? Did we meet their needs? Or did we rely on their easygoing natures a little too often?

Anther gift they've earned through the years is that they have a keen sense of acceptance - they do not judge. Because they KNOW firsthand that you must always give someone the benefit of the doubt. They know better than anyone that the full story is not always what can be observed at first glance. 

And while they may not always be compassionate towards their brother (they are human after all!) they mostly always keep their tempers in check. Because they've understood that they are the older brothers ... they are the example from which Earlybird can learn. Above all, they have been an incredible support to Bill and myself, especially perhaps since the birth of our Little Bear.

And here's the crux of my full disclosure today, the latest worry to niggle at my heart ...

How will Little Bear handle his brother's autism as he grows up? How will it shape his childhood ... his development and personality?

When we found out we were expecting a fourth child, back in October, 2012 ... we were quite surprised - make that shocked - as well as extremely happy. But yes, a little anxious, too! I had so far enjoyed three wonderful pregnancies as a mom on the young side (at 26, 30 and 32). Now as "older parents" having a "geriatric pregnancy" (their words, not mine!) we were understandably a little concerned about some of the risks that come with pregnancies over 40.

There was my health to consider, the baby's of course, and then there was our family itself. As the parents of a child with autism we couldn't help but worry about the potential risks with this next child. We knew he would be special - each and every child is - but would he have special challenges? Older parents have a higher risk of having a child with autism, as do parents who have already had a child on the spectrum ...

When we were feeling brave we'd say, well, we already know how to be autism parents and we know this child will be loved and amazing and everything will be fine no matter what. When we were not feeling brave ... well, it was harder to feel so confident. We worried about how we'd handle the needs of an infant AND those of our special needs son. We worried about practical things like the number of bedrooms in our house and the hours of sleep we wouldn't be getting ...

But I think we worried most of all about how a baby would affect Earlybird. How would he handle this? How would his autism affect his ability to accept and embrace a younger sibling?

Well, Little Bear arrived hale and hearty (after a few agonizing minutes spent blue and being assessed by a team of neonatalogists) and EB surprised us with how easily he both accepted AND embraced his little brother ... but soon enough we found ourselves wondering:

How would Little Bear fit into our special needs family, an environment that on most days could be best defined as, "loving chaos?"

How would Earlybird's autism challenge HIM?

This is a question we're still finding answers to ... especially now that Little Bear is nearly five years old, and just such ... a little person. Aware now - sometimes too aware! - and full of observations and opinions and energy and needs ...

But this post isn't about our answers ... we're still working on those. Every day I am keenly aware that EB's autism is quite apparent to Little Bear - who is also keenly aware that his brother is different. And sometimes that's a good thing ... and sometimes not. 

Already Little Bear is learning that EB can't always help his behavior, and that just because EB does (or says) something, doesn't necessarily mean it's ok for him too. Our youngest son is what you'd call - ahem - a very strong-willed child, and so I think this will be a really good thing for Earlybird. Developmentally, EB is still quite young so as LB grows, they can learn from, and with, each other. With the support of their Mom and their Dad, as well as their much older brothers, these two boys will one day be the best of friends ... of that I am sure (mostly).

Moral of the story: 

Autism siblings rock

Every child is special and every child has needs ... what a blessing it is to be given such responsibility as parents. What a gift to be so trusted with these beautiful minds and dear hearts.

I sincerely hope that as Little Bear gets older, we only get better at this. That we're able to learn from our mistakes, and remember our strengths, and see past our limitations. That we will model for our boys a level of patience and resilience and compassion that they will emulate as they get older - because one day we'll need to rely on three of our boys to take over for us and see to their special brother's needs. As hard as it is to say this - think this - Bill and I won't always be here and that I think is perhaps the greatest fear of an autism parent ...

Above all I pray we may continue to find the kind of help we need - whether it be from family, friends, therapists, medicine (or most likely a combination of all) - that supports not only Earlybird's progress, but the health and vitality of our family life, too. This is what I hope for most of all.

✨💙✨💙✨💙✨💙✨

Well everyone, thanks so much for letting me share this part of my life with you all. I know I rambled on rather long, and I could probably spend another few hours picking back over this post and making it read a little smoother, but alas ... I'm afraid my computer time has reached its end! So for now I'll wish you all well and a peaceful day (or evening) ahead ...

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you all here again very soon ...


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! I hope your week's been going well!

I thought it would be fun to share a "day in our life" with you all, so as we went through our day, one day last week, I took pictures and jotted down notes. Here then is a little recap of last Thursday, March 1st. :)

(Note: Our weekdays are currently quite similar in that, Bill goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Another constant these days is we have two ABA therapists who work here at home with our 16 yo son, for a total of four hours a day. And then some days Bill works from home, and four days a week our 18 yo son has outside-the-home classes - to (and from) which Bill or I must drive him because he does not yet have his license! But hopefully he will by the end of this month!)

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! 🌞

5:00 a.m.

I wake up and realize I'm the first one up, which is quite surprising because usually Earlybird is the first to rise. (He has in fact been my alarm clock for the past 16 years!) I look over to see if Bill is still sleeping, and am not all that surprised to notice that the body softly snoring next to me is not my husband's but that of our four year old son's - with his head draped across my pillows, mind you! And this would explain the crick in my neck ...

I then realize Bill has already gotten out of bed, so I grab my phone and send off a text:

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As you can see our texting skills are not at their best this early in the morning! (Per family tradition, we always say RABBIT RABBIT on the first of the month - it's supposed to bring you good luck!)

Within a few minutes I hear Earlybird get up and head downstairs, and Bill sees to EB's needs (a snack, a water cup, the family room TV clicker) while starting a fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait, in the darkness, with as much patience as I can muster (which isn't a lot), until Bill brings me that first blessed cup of coffee. sigh ... JOY!

So while I savor my first cup, curled up in the rocking chair by my bed, Little Bear sleeps on with hefty pillows piled up on either side of him. (Our bed is quite high and I don't like to leave him alone in it - yet I'm loathe to move him for fear he'd wake and be up for the day!)

It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's a purring cat in my lap ...  

Soon enough, Bill starts getting ready for work - though he often takes calls at home until mid-morning - and Earlybird is happy as a clam in the family room with his Kindle Fire and breakfast snacks. 

(Note: EB usually wakes up VERY early - he always has! Sleeping past six is rare for him. He can't be left unsupervised however, so Bill and I always rise just as early as he does.)

Now some (perhaps many!) might cringe at starting one's day so very early in the morning, but honestly, I don't mind. In fact, I actually like it! As long as I have my coffee, of course, I appreciate these early hours before the day truly begins, when I can gather my thoughts and launch the day slowly ...

So the next few hours are spent in this way - I'm upstairs watching the room go from pitch dark to soft light, savoring cup (after cup) of freshly brewed coffee, working on my phone until it's light enough to see and then I start working in my planners. (Checking email, social media, news, etc.) I also use this time to think quietly and say my morning prayers. I love catching the sunrise when I'm able ... 🌅

* Morning planning: I start with my little Katie Daisy planner, at the monthly spread, crossing off yesterday's block (February 28th). Since it's the first of the month, I readjust my binder clip to the March page. Isn't it fun when you get to start a new monthly spread? I then open my seasonal planner and consult the weekly spread - where are we at, what's what for today? Thursdays are "nature walk" days, per our weekly homeschooling rhythm - and as this is "thaw/sap" week we'll be looking for signs of winter-melt and possibly, any maple trees in our neighborhood. It's supposed to be a clear and very mild day so this is perfect! Finally I move on to my Day Designer and set up my daily page. If time permits I use a highlighter to visually target drive-times and outings.

(Note: During these early hours, spring through fall, I try to grab a quick 30 minute walk before Little Bear wakes. These days however, winter weather (and dark mornings) keep me inside. I do have a treadmill in our bedroom but I don't use it regularly ever.)

8:45 a.m.

Little Bear seems to be sleeping in, so I wake Crackerjack (first reminding him to say RABBIT RABBIT) so he can keep an eye on LB and an ear out for EB while I grab a quick shower and get dressed. 

(Note: I think it would be fun to do a post on our grooming/health/beauty routines, don't you?)

Once I'm done with my "primp and prep" (such as it is) Crackerjack goes off to get himself ready for class, and Little Bear wakes up soon thereafter.

9:00 a.m.

We head downstairs to officially begin our day! This is about an hour later than usual for us, so I'm running a little behind. Earlybird heads upstairs to his bedroom since he no longer has to be quiet, but first I give him his (anti-seizure) meds. Little Bear and I feed the cats and start making breakfast ... I always tune into the TODAY show throughout the morning. I can't sit and really digest it, but I like to catch a few segments here and there. :)

BREAKFAST: whole wheat waffles, apple cider, cheese and vitamins.

I now switch to decaffeinated tea. I try not to drink caffeine after 10 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

I drive Crackerjack to Spanish class, leaving the rest of the boys at home with Bill. Just before leaving I receive an email from a good friend of mine who is organizing our March Nature Club activity (maple sugaring!). She needs me to get back to her ASAP on a few dates/times so that gets me thinking and strategizing on the drive.

I drop CJ at his class, and head back home (a five-minute drive). Kiss Bill on my way in (and his way out) and then scramble to get things ready for Earlybird's first therapist who arrives at 10 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

Earlybird is working on his daily routine with his ABA therapist, Michael. First he showers, shaves and dresses - then he works on chores like cleaning his room, changing his bedding, doing his laundry, taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, etc. All these tasks build good skills but are also important for working on the concept of compliance. (Doing activities that are not preferred.)

Meanwhile, I return my friend's email, letting her know the dates that work for us, give my Mum a call, and then do some preschool activities with Little Bear ... and this is where I first start taking pictures!

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Here's Little Bear coloring a Welsh dragon for St. David's Day! We also read a book, and make a paper plate cloud - in honor of March coming in like a lamb. Little Bear says he's "still hungry" and wants toast, so we pop some bread in the toaster and start working on a Peppa Pig puzzle. 

Suddenly, a telltale rumble on the road tells us mail has arrived! So we decide to head outside for a bit to retrieve said mail, check on the hens and have ourselves a little nature walk.

But first we pop downstairs to change up the laundry and see if Bookworm is busy. (He's not working full-time at the moment, but doing computer design/site building at home currently, while studying for java certification.) We find him on his computer, but he tells us he'll join us outside for a bit. (While Bookworm looks for full-time employment he has been a HUGE help to us with childcare. I feel so blessed to have this time with ALL my boys at home!)

11:00 a.m. 

Outside now, and what a beautiful day! Bright and warm, nearly 60°! Not at all usual for New England at this time of year. (But we'll take it!)

After checking on the hens' needs, we walk around a bit. I love our yard because it's a good size and there are always interesting and new things to "discover!" Some things are new but familiar ...

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Such as the first daffodil shoots of the year! We found these growing by the front walk, beneath the dog rose bush.

Other things are not new, but perhaps unnoticed, and definitely not familiar!

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Such as this orange and green "fur" growing between the cracks in the stairwell. (It's actually moss - aka Hairy Moss!) Little Bear, as you can see here, made sure he grabbed his shovel, because ... you never know when you might need to dig.

I leave LB with BW and head inside to place a call and check on EB and Michael ...

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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How I love a good mail day! New books, catalogs and magazines and ok, yes, bills. But still - I love when our mailbox is full!

Back inside I find Earlybird and his therapist taking a break in the family room. (EB gets five minute breaks between tasks and usually he likes to watch a little TV during this time.) I decide to place a call I need to make ... rescheduling a long overdue eye exam!

After earning that check, I decide to work on some chores, since Little Bear and Bookworm are still outside and Earlybird and Michael have left on a bike ride. It seems VERY quiet in the house, lol! Just me and the cats ...

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... who are intently observing a chipmunk perched just outside the patio doors!

According to my weekly housekeeping schedule, on Thursdays I clean the "back rooms" - meaning, the sunroom (aka the learning room) and family room. I decide to start in the sunroom since it's just SO lovely out I can have the windows open while I work ...

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My cleaning routine goes something like this: de-clutter/tidy, sweep, vacuum, dust/wipe.

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If I'm able to have windows open all the better for airing out the room, too!

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I leave the table set with things for Earlybird to see and work on today ...

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Just as I finish tidying this room, I am hailed by Bookworm and Little Bear to "Come see what they found!" I will spare you this picture though, since what they found was most surely a rather disgusting owl pellet! Fascinating, for sure ... but also, quite gross. 

NOONTIME

Michael is off and it's time for lunch! Bookworm brings Little Bear inside and sees to his washing up, while I set about making lunch for the younger boys.

LUNCH: popcorn, lemonade, cheese quesadillas, apple slices and fig cookies.

I also keep an eye on the noontime news - it seems we have quite a storm heading our way!

Earlybird's second therapy session begins once Gideon arrives. They head out to the sunroom to start in on his homeschool assignments and various other life skills activities. I clean up after lunch - with Little Bear's help, natch - and then LB and I settle in for a bit of reading time in the living room. He's really into "The Magic School Bus" right now and as you can imagine we have quite a few of those in our collection!

(Note: I need to read with Little Bear where Earlybird can't hear us since he has a strong aversion to people reading aloud, singing, talking too much. We're actually working on desensitizing him of this sensory challenge and some days one of his therapy activities is simply to listen to me read aloud (with or without LB present, depending on EB's current mood). We do this for a few minutes or pages at a time. Otherwise, LB and I read aloud when EB is elsewhere in the house or otherwise engaged with his therapists.) 

1:00 p.m.

I leave Bookworm home with EB and Gideon while Little Bear and I head out to pick up Crackerjack from class and run to the library. But first, I pour my fresh cup of tea into a travel mug! Here is my bag sitting on the seat next to me:

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It's not the most interesting picture, I just really love that bag! We have a few books and videos to return and I have a couple of holds waiting for me.

We pick up CJ - who as you can probably tell from this picture, had a karate lesson after Spanish!

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(We're very fortunate to have an active homeschooling community where we live. CJ, like Bookworm before him, has been able to take classes with other homeschoolers at a couple of different locations. This has made a huge impact on our high school homeschooling. I plan to do a separate post about our homeschool approach in the high school years ... now that Bookworm is actually OUT of college and Crackerjack is making plans to attend in the fall.)

Ok, we're now off to the library! We are here at least once a week - to make returns, pick up holds and sometimes just to browse. Today I allow Little Bear to pick out a video or two. He has a hard time choosing and finally decides on Reading Rainbow and The Adventures of Clutch Powers. (He is SO into Legos right now!)

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Before we leave, Crackerjack points out a book he thinks looks nice for Little Bear, Shelter. It is indeed absolutely lovely, and I make a note to add it to my November planner for "hibernation" week. (I scribble myself a note on the index card attached to my little planner and then transfer that note to my seasonal planner back home.)

A few minutes later we are back home, and heading inside, but Little Bear wants to feel the soft buds of the magnolia tree ...

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He is enchanted by the texture - though somewhat dismayed when he plucks the bud off the tree without meaning to! I reassure him the tree is fine and suggest he place the bud on our nature table. 

First though, LB takes a closer look under his "microscope!"

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He places the bud on top of his bowl of moss-dirt.

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"Doing science." 😉 This little magnifyer was a wonderful purchase! It has served us very well for several years.

Btw, here are the books I had on the hold shelf:

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The Dance of Time is right up my alley - I LOVE learning about the calendar! I forget where I heard about it, but I decided it would be an interesting book to check out! The Vanity Fair Diaries is not something I'd normally read, but I saw its author, VF editor-in-chief Tina Brown interviewed on Greater Boston one evening last month and thought it all sounded quite intriguing! (We don't watch a lot of TV, but Bill and try to catch GB every weeknight - plus Beat the Press on Fridays as well as the wonderful Rick Steves' Europe also on PBS!)

3:00 p.m.

Now, time for a break! We sit in the family room for a bit - and yes, the TV goes on! Nature Cat and Wild Kratts are favorites and while Little Bear watches, I work on my plans for next week (and the weekend) and enjoy a rather large cup of tea!

Here's where we crash for a bit ...

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I just love this east-facing window - it gets wonderful morning light, and the cardinals just love those spruce trees! The couch is a bit beaten up (though only a few years old) but it's quite comfy. :)

Just as I decide to put off the rest of my "Thursday chores" I hear a car pull up the drive ... and we are all thrilled to see it's my brother - aka Uncle Matt!

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We have SUCH a nice visit with my brother ... as usual, he spoils us with a bunch of Trader Joes treats (he's a TJ's manager) and a new game for family game night! He doesn't need to bring a thing of course, it's just great to spend time with him. :)

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And this right here is why I'm so grateful to be at home, and that I live close to my family. My life is a simple one, but it brings me tremendous joy! 

❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤•❤ 

Now I will confess, I got off track a little at this point - I stopped taking pictures and jotting down notes! But here's my recollection of the rest of our Thursday, March 1st ... :)

4:00 p.m.

After Matt left, I started in on my usual afternoon tidy. And by started in on, I mean, I didn't get through it all. (I almost never do!) "Afternoon tidying" includes sweeping the kitchen, prepping supper, neatening the kitchen sink and counters and wiping up the half-bath in the foyer. It's really great when I do make time for these simple tasks because they greatly impact not only the way I feel in the evening but especially how my next morning goes. 

Meanwhile, the boys were all over the house doing their usual things. I can (and do) often ask the older boys to keep an eye on Little Bear if I need to take a shower or work on a project of one kind or another.

I neatened up the learning room a little, by organizing the materials used and lessons completed. Then I turned off the space heater and lights and locked the door for the night.

6:00 p.m.

Bill got home around 6 p.m. and as usual, we sat down to supper right away. This is one of my favorite moments of the day - when we can all catch up and chat.

SUPPER: potato-leek soup (not homemade), grilled ham and cheese panini, steak fries, salad.

Once supper was eaten and dishes cleared, we all retreated to our comfort zones - the boys to their devices and Bill, Little Bear and I to the family room. Generally Bill and I like to watch a little TV at this time of night (as described above) before I head upstairs (planner bag in hand!) to tuck Earlybird in bed. (Because unsurprisingly, Earlybird loves an early bedtime!)

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My planner bag with all the things I'll need in the morning!

8:00 p.m.

Tucking EB can be a process - some nights he needs "two more minutes" multiple times! - but usually it doesn't take too long, since he's such an early riser. After washing up and getting my own "PJs" on, I readied all the beds for sleep and then let Bill know it was time to bring Little Bear upstairs. After washing up and donning "footie" pajamas, he snuggled into Mama and Daddy's bed to hear his special bed stories. Currently he loves hearing these three books before bed. :)

While Bill and Little Bear read, I read my own book until my lids grow heavy ... and next thing I know, everyone's asleep, save for the older two boys who are in charge of their own bedtimes these days! 

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this peek into our day! It was a very long post to be sure, but then - our days tend to be pretty long! (And of course, I tend to be wordy!) But as always, I thank you very much for joining me here today, and I wish you all a pleasant week's end ...

See you here again very soon!


Mitten Strings for God, Ch. 12: One-on-One Time

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! Thank you for joining me as we continue to (slowly) work our way through the wonderful Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison - my favorite parenting book of all time! Presently we are on chapter 12, the focus of which is providing our children with "one-on-one time." I am quite eager to hear your thoughts on this particular parenting concept - because maybe you, like me, struggle with this, just a bit?

So I have to admit, I was a little nervous approaching this topic. Well, perhaps "nervous" isn't quite the right word for it - more like, reluctant? Because this is one of those family values that I know in my heart is important, but is not currently a priority in our family. (Not that it shouldn't be a priority, it just isn't right now.) Spending alone time with each of our kids is one of those rather hopeful ideas that (unfortunately) often gets left off the to-do list ... along with "buy local," "exercise more," and "plan more date nights with Bill."

There are valid reasons why we can't seem to manage this kind of activity on any regular basis - we are busy, we are tired, we are stretched thin, our third son's special needs make it challenging to leave him home with others - but I know in my heart we could do this if we tried, and we should do this. Because time is a wonderful gift for a child, especially when we make it all about him. 

Now, don't get me wrong - we are with our kids a great deal (we do homeschool after all!), but we're hardly ever alone with any one of them, individually. At least not in the way described in this chapter, or the way I envision other, more active families do ... going on random outings and taking fun, spontaneous adventures.

So you can see why I wasn't all that eager to dig into this chapter since I knew it would pinch a little - highlighting, as it would, the kinds of meaningful things we're not doing for our children - and, honestly, who relishes the thought of adding another heap of parenting guilt to their plate?

And yet, I dug in anyway! And of course, I found the chapter ... wonderful. (As all the chapters are!) Because even when the truth is uncomfortable, it's good to just face it so we can start figuring things out ...

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*<

I think it was easier to do "one-on-one time" when all my children were small, back when life seemed to move at a slower pace and we all followed the same schedule. Time is more structured these days, and we're all going in different directions, but that doesn't mean we can't work with what we've got, right?

This quote was an a-ha moment for me:

"Now, some years later, one-on-one time takes different forms." (p. 80)

I love to remember all the sweet things we did with our boys when they were little (though not necessarily one-on-one) but sometimes I think it's too easy to slip into nostalgia and dwell on the fact that those times are over. Aw, remember when we used to sit on that stone wall and just watch the ants? Well, these are new days, and things are different now, but why can't "new and different" make memories that are just as meaningful? We're the same family, and these are the same (albeit taller and busier) kids.

"Given our other obligations and the length of our to-do lists, it is all too easy to forget the good stuff - namely, how much we like our own kids as people." (p. 81)

Bottom line, spending time together one-on-one can be tremendously fun and rewarding. And it's important too, if we want to connect with our kids outside the role we play in our families - not just as "Mom and Son" (or Daughter, as the case may be), but as complex, creative and curious human beings. Sure, to my boys I am - and will always be - "Mom," first and foremost, but that doesn't mean that's all I am in my life.

"When we do recognize our children in this way we also invite them to see us more fully, not just as a parent but as another human being." (p. 82)

(Of course Little Bear just went through that phase when NOBODY was allowed to call me Dawn. I was Mama ... end of discussion.)

So as I read this chapter I tried to resist the urge to revisit all those old memories - lovely as they are - and instead thought, what about now? What's keeping us from doing this for our kids, and is it really all about time? Or is it perhaps a matter of perspective?

Because it may be cliché, but it's true - so much of parenting is just being here now. Not trying to be where we were three years ago, and not hyper-focusing on where we might be three years from now, but embracing the season we're living at this moment ...

So maybe instead of working against the grain and letting our limits define us, why not find what COULD work for our family? Maybe change our way of thinking a little and think outside the box?

And as I started to brainstorm, I realized - hey, maybe we're not doing as badly as I thought! We may not be getting out for cafe dates and museum excursions, but we are spending some one-on-one time when and where we can, in our own humble-bumble way ...

Here are a few examples ...

As I began this post yesterday, Bill and Little Bear were outside, just the two of them, "cleaning out the hen pen." (Don't laugh! I'm going somewhere with this.) Now, in truth, LB was driving his trucks through the mud outside the pen, while Daddy was doing the actual shoveling out of the you-know-what, but LB chatted away about this and that and was just generally as pleased as all get-out. He and Daddy were doing their work ...

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... and there's nothing LB loves better than working with Dad!

So I started thinking back on a few other "one-on-one" times this week ...

I folded laundry while Earlybird tidied his bedroom across the hall and we brainstormed our Easter Dinner menu. (His idea, not mine, honest! The boy loves his holidays.) And when it's just the two of us up very early in the morning - while Bill's getting ready for work, and the rest of the boys are still asleep - we often end up watching the sunrise together. It's a very special thing, really - and it makes me so happy that EB loves things like sunrises and full moons and the smell of the air when the seasons are changing ...

Wood

(This is us visiting EB's neurologist at Boston Children's Hospital one day. Bill was with us too, but it was special for EB to have Mom and Dad all to himself. And any drive into the big city is "an adventure" according to my kids - especially if we pick up take-out on the ride home!)

Last week I picked up Crackerjack from a class, and I had my van all to myself - and on that 20 minute ride home we talked about something that was bothering him. CJ's a great one for "car talks" ... and I was so glad we found a quiet moment to have that discussion.

Wood

(CJ and I attending Mass alone together, one wintry morning.)

One day last week, Bookworm joined me in the family room where I was having my late afternoon tea and, while Little Bear played with Legos on the floor, we talked about recipes he'd found that he wanted to try. He's developed a real passion for cooking over the past couple of years, and we talk about recipes all the time!

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(Moving him into his college apartment, junior year. Not a one-on-one moment, but the only recent pic of the two of us together I could find!)

Now, spending time alone with Little Bear is very easy to do - because he's my baby and he's with his Mama 24-7! But it's good to remember to slow down and share a little joy - by singing together, playing together, building Legos, reading together (natch), or best of all, spending time in nature ...

Wood

(This is a very old photo - he's about 16 months old here, and we were waiting for his brother to come out of class. A perfect opportunity to "connect!")

Now, not one of these moments described above were very flashy or outrageously fun, but in each there was a true sense of "togetherness" just the same.

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*<

Moving on, I think just making the space in our calendar would be a good first step towards more conscious connecting - and so this is what a I did:

I simply took out my calendar for next week and penciled in the boys' initials!

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(I actually used pen - but it's erasable!) 

I just tried to see where it would be easy enough to spend a little alone time with each of my boys, and here's what I came up with:

R (Earlybird) - Drive over to drop CJ at class, and on the ride back, we can listen to his audiobook or maybe chat about whatever topic he's keen on at the moment. Stop in to mail something at the post office, another favorite activity of his.

O (Little Bear) - Bring him to the library while EB is working with his therapist. Just a quick trip to pick out some fun books to read together this week. So often we pull up to the library and one of the older boys runs in to drop a return or pick up a hold, and then we're on our way again - always on a tight schedule it seems.

L & J (Bookworm and Crackerjack) - Two birds, one stone! We'll leave the "youngers" with Dad, and swing over to the B&N cafe for a cuppa and maybe a new book splurge. (Driving practice there and back! I may make them listen to Mom's disco Pandora station!)

Another thing I'm going to do as I go forward is to not get hung up on ONE on ONE. Sometimes I'll just have to combine two kids at a time - this is just the way it has to be sometimes, especially in families with multiple kids. Sure they have to share me, but they don't usually mind that when we're doing something fun, like here in this memory from years ago ...

Silly

(A ferry ride across Boston Harbor to meet Daddy for lunch! Goodness, just look at those babies!)

And not to turn my back on the advice I gave myself earlier in this post - to avoid mourning days gone by - but I do feel badly sometimes that I'm not as free as I was then to do these kinds of things with my younger two boys. No, it's a different kind of fun we're going for these days ...

Silly

(And some days that's just making ourselves laugh silly over selfies!)

Because the thing is, due to EB's special needs and numerous therapy appointments, we usually have to stick close to home. But in this season, right now, that's where we're at. We're embracing slower days and simpler pastimes, like making crafts and baking goodies - as well as taking nature walks through the yard, feeding the birds or even just getting the mail! (It's a long driveway and there's lots to look at on the way!)

So yeah - mother guilt is always there for the taking, but I'm going to do my best to give it a pass and look for what works and make the best of things as they are. After all, isn't that a lesson I want my boys to take into their adulthood?

Don't let your limits define you!

Now, this post is getting very long, but I'd like to mention one more quote because it makes such a wonderful point: 

 "Mothers can get so caught up in the caretaking that we may overlook each child's need to be seen as an individual, with unique tastes and temperment and gifts." (p. 81)

I fully admit I can be guilty of this. Caring for my family is my full time job - and I'm devoted to it - but we all know there's more to "taking care" than just providing three squares and clean laundry. But the days are often filled with so many tasks and to-dos, it can be hard to make time for less immediate, physical needs. And sure, some kids just naturally (and necessarily) demand more of their parents than others - but I know each of my boys need me (and not just my housekeeping skills), in their own way. 

"Yet when we do that bit of extra juggling required to make a special, separate place for each child, the rewards are well worth the effort."

And what a sweet reward it is to connect with, and truly enjoy, our children. Practically speaking, it's such a smart investment of time that pays handsomely not just in the here and now, but in the future as well. Emotionally speaking, it's a gift - to them and me, both. This kind of time spent is never a waste, and I find when I do have a personal moment with one of my sons we both come away feeling deeply content. I can see it in their behavior and I feel it in my heart. If ever there was something essential to plan, this is it ...

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< 

Well my friends, I'm going to let you go now, before I make a very long post even longer, but I thank you for reading and would love to hear from you too if you have time. All are welcome to join in on these MSfG conversations ... by leaving a comment here, or linking me up to something posted somewhere else, or sending me a blurb or a photo by email ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

We have many more Mitten Strings chapters to cover (18 in fact!) and at the rate we're going it will take us many months to finish! But of course finishing isn't the point ... savoring is! Although I'm sure you're all thinking: Why can't she just finish this post, lol?! 

So! Leave a note if you can, but as always, I wish you well and hope that we'll connect here agin another time. For now, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. If you're wondering what on earth that top photo has to do with this post - ha ha! -well, it is a picture of my tea spot as I started this post. I guess I forgot all about it! I'll have to do another post just about tea, another time. :)


Bits, Bobs & Mitten Strings ... ❤

Candle tea cup

Hello my friends, and Happy Monday Tuesday! I'm popping in today to share some Mitten Strings for God book study scheduling news, as well as a few other bits and bobs. :) I had meant to do this over the weekend, but alas ... life! And in particular, special needs parenting life. I won't get into the details of all that right now, but if I may ask for your prayers/good thoughts for Earlybird, who's having a rough time at the moment, I'd be sincerely grateful. 

But on with the good stuff! First I'd like to share this quote from our next chapter in MSfG, "One-on-One Time" ...

MSfG quote bigger font

That is Little Bear of course, but the picture's a couple of years old. (It's weird that I can say that about his pictures now. Wasn't he JUST a couple of years old himself?!) It was taken during a woodsy winter solstice walk, and technically, it wasn't a "one-on-one" outing - because Bill was there, too! But I feel like this kind of picture represents the quiet times I spend connecting with LB apart from the bustle of everyday life. For this outing, we had left the noise and demands of the household behind us for a bit and it was a wonderful thing - to just focus on LB and his dear developing personality, to watch his funny expressions and listen to his very interesting thoughts. Young children have such a wonderful perspective on life, don't you think? And that's not to say I don't enjoy time spent with each of my boys, but I find myself alone with Little Bear most often these days. Spending one-on-one time definitely comes with more conscious effort as the kids grow older ... they get busy, and seem less enthralled with what their parents might have to say ... but more thoughts on all this at our next MSfG Tea!

And speaking of! Our next Mitten Strings for God study/tea will take place on Friday, February 16th. It's a bit later than I originally proposed, but I am trying to be very honest with myself about my free time - eg. how much I do and don't have! (Not nearly as much as I'd like but that's just the season of life that I'm in!) So please join me a week from this Friday for a wee chat and a winter's tea here at the blog. Let's talk about chapter 12, and the importance of making time for each of our children - while appreciating each of them for who they are. (As the mother of four sons I can honestly say that children are all just SO different, even same gender siblings raised in the very same way!)

Now, this might be a tricky chapter for me, because I don't think we (as in, Bill and I) do exceptionally well with this concept. As homeschoolers I think there's a bit of the feeling that "well, we spend tons of time together, anyway!" And special needs parenting comes into this, too - the demands it places on family life and the effects it has on maintaining balance - not to mention, sibling relationships. So I have some deep reading and thinking to do ...

As always, I'll be very eager to hear all of your thoughts on this, too! I invite you to send me those thoughts (with or without photo) or just chime in at the post itself. All are welcome to join this ongoing book study! (And at this rate we'll be talking about Mitten Strings all year!)

Now, while I'm here, I thought I'd share some photos from the past couple of weeks, beginning with Little Bear's first visit to the Lego Store ...

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Can you even believe how big he's getting? Granted, we're all crouched down around him, but he's truly getting quite tall. And the way he's talking has changed, you know? Even the way he walks is different now. It's a little heartbreaking how quickly time flies when our children are small ...

Well, about those Legos ...

Last fall, Little Bear - already a huge Duplo fan - discovered the extra-special magic of building with REAL Legos. Like the ones that BIG boys (and girls) build with. He's just four, so he's a bit young for such Lego building - they can be frustrating for little hands - but he's handling it pretty well and just loving all the creating and getting his biggest brothers (longtime Lego fans themselves) to help him out. I love this picture above because it's me with my Lego kids, big and small. And not to keep harping on the "time-flying" thing, but I swear those older boys were just the "little" Lego kids in my house. I certainly have the zillions of Legos to prove it - stashed in the attic AND the basement - not to mention the scars on my feet!

So since I'm now a bonafide 18 years + Lego Mom, I bought myself a minifig for my key ring ...

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That's "Rey" from Star Wars, in case you were wondering! :)

Now, here are some books from my "Deep Winter" basket ...

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Books that had gone MISSING because  - well, I'm not sure why they went missing. It's a bit of a mystery! Usually I'm very careful about our seasonal book collections, but somehow last year our Deep Winter and Early Spring bin got divvied up and the books ended up here and there in our basement. *GASP* Thankfully though, I found them all on Candlemas morning (Feb. 2nd) just in the nick of time to celebrate Groundhog Day!

But to back up a day, here are some pics from our February 1st, also known as "St. Brigid's Day," a lovely feast we enjoy celebrating each year ...

Butter

Firstly, by making our own butter! (St. Brigid, is patroness of Ireland and dairymaids.) This is that ol' marble-and-cream-in-a-ball-jar trick - the one the children think is SO cool until they realize just how hard and how long they have to shake that dang jar! (Mama gets quite an arm-workout on Brigid's Day, let me tell you!) We like to serve the smidgen of butter we end up making with our bread rolls at supper. Daddy always makes sure to be suitably impressed!

We also like to make a Brigid's Cross for this feast, a craft I've only in recent years gotten the hang of ...

Soaking rushes

We started with "rushes" from our yard. (Actually, dried ornamental grass, but they work!) Because the material was rather stiff though, we soaked them in snowmelt for about an hour before attempting to weave our cross.

(And note I said, "cross," not "crosses." Clearly we gathered enough grass to make several crosses, but in truth I overestimated the interest and energy levels of my children and their mama!)

Here's the end result:

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Now this was Brigid's Day morning ...

Muddy melty

Muddy, melty and the ground still smattered with snow ...

Ice

Not to mention ice once the temperature dropped! February can be a fickle month in New England, but mostly it's just cold and snowy ... and cold.

And YET ...

Eggs

Our hens have started laying again!! To me that's a sure sign spring is in the air ... or at least, in the amount of light we are getting every day. (Which has been increasing every day since the winter solstice.) I try to keep my senses very keen to the nuances of each season and I can tell you - the light is changing, and the bird song is different ... and yes, the air smells a little different on those drippy days. I feel certain that spring is stirring in the woods, underneath the half-frozen ground, deep inside those tough yet tender branches ...

Meanwhile, back inside ...

Archie in basket

Archie is purrfectly content (sorry, had to) soaking up the afternoon sun, spending his winter days in a cozy basket. Even when said basket is not meant for him (but rather, my books) Archie considers it fair game.

But really, how could I move him?

So instead I set up at the kitchen table a little to the left ... 

Cirtus week

And worked in my homemade planner to iron out some lesson plans for the week ahead. The current week's seasonal theme? Winter citrus ... :)

Last shot:

Daffs

My kitchen window yesterday morning. It was so bright and beautiful and the air was a balmy 40° ... I allowed myself to focus on these delightful daffs and those fresh eggs from my hens. It made washing dishes a little less of a chore and a bit more of a blessing ... I was home, I had my family to care for, and that sunshine was so good for my soul ...

Oh, and by the way - the first picture in this post is a shot of my writing desk, with a teacup candle I made for Candlemas. Very easy to do with a bit of beeswax and a simple wick ... I think I have a post that explains how this works somewhere here, hang on ...

Yup! Here it is. Same method, just a different vessel this year! :)

Well, my friends, I'd best be off now ... but I wish you all well and thank you, as always, for joining me! I hope you enjoyed these rambling thoughts and photos and I look forward to chatting once again in the not so distant future! For now though, enjoy these lingering winter days, and please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 11, "Stories"

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! I am so glad to be back here at the blog with you all! I know my posting has been quite slow these past few months, but I hope - as we move forward into this bright and beautiful new year - I will be able to pick up a little blogging steam. So to begin with ... how are things in your corner of the world? How is Old Man Winter treating you? Are you reading any wonderful stories these days? I'd love to hear how you are if you have a moment to say hi ...

I am so excited to sit down with a cup of tea and dive back into our Mitten Strings for God book study. We left off last autumn with the chapter on "Wants and Needs" and so that brings us to the eleventh chapter, "Stories" and I'm quite eager to hear what you think! (And just as eager to tell you what I think!)

(Note: for those just joining us, here is the MSfG archive. All are welcome to participate as we read (and in some cases, re-read) this lovely little gem of a book about mindful mothering, slowing down, savoring life, and nurturing our children's ever-widening world. Feel free to chime in at any time and on any chapter!)

I should warn you though, this was, perhaps, my favorite of all the chapters, so this here post is a little *ahem* wordy ... but before we get into the chapter itself, I'd like to talk a little about my tea shown above. (Longtime readers know I love to "serve tea" whenever possible alongside my post!) My tea today ("English Teatime Decaf" - one sugar, whole milk) is served in one of my BIG ol' sturdy kitchen mugs. I enjoyed it at my sunny kitchen table this morning with my Mum (her tea is the rather bracing "American Breakfast" - no sugar, low fat milk). And, as you can see, Archie was not to be left out. ;)

So here's the thing about this chapter ... when I first read it (back in the early 2000s) I had a whole different concept of "storytelling" in mind, though I do love how it re-shaped my ideas. You see, I grew up listening to family stories told by my maternal grandmother, usually around her kitchen table - or sitting in her den, or in the car, or on the screened porch. Actually, it didn't matter where we were, she was always sharing stories from her life ... and I just loved them. I loved hearing her talk about her eight brothers and sisters and her beloved parents -  one from Ireland, one from Scotland - and the way life was back in her day ...

The big old house near the train station and the cousins that lived all over town. The animals they raised and the visiting they did and the personalities of each sibling. School days, work days and even a few family tragedies which to this day still haunt me when I think on them. But I especially loved hearing about my grandmother's life as a young mother and housewife ...

I was enthralled by the simplest stories about how she managed her home back in her day: the mending and tending, the cooking and cleaning, the serving and preserving and the storing and saving, etc. My grandparents came through the depression and built their own home in the 40s - a house still owned by my family today -and I was intensely fascinated by the cost-saving methods she used and continued to use in present day. She was, without a doubt, the best home-keeper I've ever known and even when I was a young girl I savored these homey bits of wisdom. I felt privileged (and proud) that she shared them with me, her eldest granddaughter.

(To this day, I just relish books that are full of these kinds of domestic details. Admittedly, I could read a whole book about one woman's housekeeping through the year. I'd find it so soothing and fascinating! Wouldn't you?)

My Gram also introduced me to tea (along with my Grampa who was just a big a tea drinker as Gram, if not bigger!), so in my memory, all these family tales were spun at their kitchen table over cups of black tea served in Gram's best Irish china. (Grampa, of course, would take his tea in a giant porcelain mug.) I know this is where my fondness for tea drinking began - and to this day I connect my favorite beverage with comfort, love, inspiration, contentment ... and stories.

But I'm getting wildly off-track and I think it's time I started in on the chapter at hand!

Stories for me as I've said were rooted in family and so that's where I began with my children. When I first read MSfG (a fortunate find through the Chinaberry catalog if I recall) I was so taken by many of Ms. Kenison's ideas. As new and fairly eclectic homeschoolers, I found Waldorf education appealed to me deeply, and much of the ideas Ms. Kenison describes in this book resonate with this methodology. (She even references Waldorf Education resources in her final notes to her readers.)

At this time my children were small - we had just a couple of boys at the time - which was kind of fun for me because the Kenisons also had two boys, though when I first read the book they were a bit older than my own small lads. But a big part of my enjoyment of this book back then was the sense of reading another "boy mom's" thoughts, and one who seemed to find the same things important that I did. A mom who was trying to gently shape her family's world in a way that made sense and felt right ... and who seemed to truly have it all - or mostly - together.

So when I first read that eleventh chapter, I immediately thought, YES - yes, of course! Stories! Our boys will grow up hearing stories. 

I already knew of course they'd be surrounded by good books and that we'd work on our observation skills and staying connected with nature ... but the concept of telling stories - not just reading them - was fascinating to me! Eager to jump in (I was already looking up local storytelling groups I might join) I instead started small with familiar tales (of the folk and fairy kind), plentiful at the library but also firmly in memory. Then as I stretched my creative muscles I found I especially enjoyed creating nature stories - little tales that brought the world around us alive. Tales that marked the changes in weather, the flora and fauna in our surroundings, the sky and the earth and the four seasons themselves. Over the years I've told stories of all kinds and from all kinds of prompts, but nature stories still remain my very favorite. :)

Storytelling was going quite well for some time, but then our third son was born with special needs and one of his challenges was an intense dislike of being read or (worse) sung to. So fingerplays were out - as were puppets and most overtly imaginative play. I scaled back on the weekly group storytime and tried to slip in tiny bits of story magic where I could ... and leaving things open-ended seemed to appease him:

"Look! That crafty spider in the stone wall is peeking out of his home today ... I wonder what he's up to?"

"Hmmm, the apples are hanging very low on this tree ... who might come along and take a nibble?"

"The air smells a bit like woodsmoke today ... I wonder who's tending a fire?"

Sometimes these tiny prompts would garner a short answer or brief look-see - but sometimes they sparked some real interest and we were able to expand a bit on the theme. I had to watch how far I took it though - often I'd get a: "MAMA! That's enough!!!" 

And then, as life happens, the older boys got older and EB got older too, and less interested in hearing anything resembling a story. So we kind of put storytelling on hold ...

But then along came Little Bear ...

So storytelling, I'm very happy to report has been revived in our family once again! And not just for LB (though at 4 yo, he's clearly my biggest fan) but for Earlybird, too. He's becoming less rigid and more open to listening activites - though I still have to do sing-songy things with LB when EB is out of the room. (I won't get into this too much right now, but blessedly three years ago we began a new and daily therapy routine with amazing caregivers who are working with EB to help him relax and allow for more creative experiences. But that's a post for another time!)

Storytelling for the older boys has continued through the years but in ways that are more similar to my own childhood experience - via family tales at the kitchen table. :) To this day supper is always a family affair though Earlybird is excused to eat in the other room because the sound of chewing is too much for him. So the older boys and Little Bear and Bill and myself gather at our kitchen nook table every night (and at lunchtime often too) and naturally we often find ourselves sharing stories. Shared memories, old memories, interesting tales we heard somewhere, sometime ...

I think for many families, storytelling seems easier when the children are younger and I agree that's true ... but I don't think stories have to go away once kids are old enough to own a phone or a computer. Once upon a time families gathered around the hearth to while away the evening hours - nowadays of course people are busy with activities that more often than not take them outside the home or pull their attention away from the family circle. But if your family is used to gathering together at recurring times of the day or week, it's relatively easy to begin sharing memories or reliving fun times. I think the family table makes for a comfortable storytelling space and the enticement of good food never hurts! I love the habit of Sunday dinner with the expectation that all who can make it will ... and with the promise of a delicious meal the audience will be even more receptive! Car rides, too, are a good opportunity for story-sharing as are neighborhood walks.

If storytelling appeals to you as much as it does to me, you might find this book a worthy read, as it expands on the ideas in this chapter and is just chock-full of storytelling inspiration!

Storytellingn with childrne

Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon is another one of those books I've had for many years and as you can see, it's quite battered - but beloved! (I share a few pics of the insides further down in this post.)

Now, I'm pretty sure I could quote this entire chapter, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few favorites. ;-)

"Years ago, parents told stories to children both to entertain them and to teach them about the world's complexities. But we lost the art of storytelling when we lost that sort of open-ended time with our children, the reflecting, wondering, watching time that gives rise to stories." (71)

Speaking of wonder then, I had to snap a picture of Little Bear today in his rather fitting sweatshirt:

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"Never lose your sense of wonder." A cute and comfy Target find! Stories will percolate in your mind and trip off your tongue if you leave yourself open to wonder. That's the cool thing about wonder - the urge to share it is powerful! :)

(Little Bear's in mid-story himself here. Something about a Lego ship and a very stormy sea.)

As I read through this chapter, I was amazed by how easily storytelling seemed to come to Ms. Kenison - but then I realized she was intentionally opening herself up to the experience - by paying attention to the world around her, "observing the minute particulars of a season, a day, a moment ..." (p. 73)

She goes on to admit:

"... whenever I feel that my story well has run dry, it is only because I have not been paying enough attention to my life."' (p. 77)

I think this is a wonderful example of why this book has so many ideas that make sense for all of us - not just parents. Making time in our life to pay attention to the world around us - practicing mindfulness, connecting with others, reflecting - is something that tunes us all in to our inner voice. Children benefit from this certainly, but so might we all:

"And so for my own sake, as well as for my sons', I stop then, and breathe deeply and look more closely." (p. 77) 

Whether or not we go on to tell stories I think it's a worthy practice to cultivate: to slow down and be fully present with ourselves and our loved ones.

Another quote that clicked for me:

"The stories that seemed most satisfying were often the simplest ones - they made us feel alive and part of things, they fed us and made us happy." (p. 73)

I have found this to be true. Sometimes I spend a good chunk of time crafting a potential storyline to go along with a seasonal theme - for example, it's "snow" week so I'm cobbling together snowflake tales - when in truth, the quick impromptu tale I spin as we notice something in the here and now delivers the most sincere and memorable lesson. I find this kind of storytelling more honestly connects us with the world around us at that moment, and what a feeling it is to be part of the here and the now!

In truth, this kind of storytelling takes very little time - I think sometimes we make things out to be a bigger production than they are - but time is such a hot commodity these days!

"Real stories take time. They require, first, that we lay our own concerns aside for a while and open ourselves to the present moment." (p. 71)

Another lovely lesson to take from this chapter - perhaps the best of all - is that in storytelling we are first and foremost, making time to be with our children. We are doing something specifically FOR them with nothing more than the efforts of our hearts and minds. (Finger puppets and story props notwithstanding.) I think most parents are well aware of the need to make time to be present with our children, but let's be honest. Even when we're not doing anything else but sitting alongside our children, our minds aren't totally turned off. Maybe they're just set on pause, perhaps unconsciously listening for that ping or that ring ... for any reason that we might be recalled to the "adult" world where serious things need to be done. These days we are all so mentally busy, concerning ourselves (sometimes overly so) with what we need to do, where we need to go, what to read, watch, and yes - even post on social media. Even when we're not doing any of those things, they're percolating there in the back of our minds. It can be a real challenge to just turn all that off and give our kids the kind of time we know would deeply benefit them.

 That's getting a little heavy though, so here's a lighter thought:  

"A candle helps create that ritual space; somehow, a flame invites inspiration while also reminding teller and listener alike of the sacred nature of this work." (p. 71)

This was the storytelling candle I bought EONS ago when my older boys were quite young ...

Candle for stories

I'm pretty sure I bought it at a local Waldorf School Holiday Faire. It's a heavy thing, made of solid beeswax and so very sweet-smelling! Just the whiff of it brings me right back to those early years with my older boys. I had always meant to decorate this with symbols of the four seasons, but never mustered up the courage to do it! (Modeling wax and me have never been the best of friends. It requires warm hands and a very patient nature!) Well, I brought this candle out of retirement recently after re-reading this chapter and then lit it late this afternoon just ... well, because. I was alone in the room as I cleaned up the worktable ... but as you can see, the sky was growing dark outside. The wind was picking up and tree limbs were shaking ... the hen light was on in the coop ...

Not surprisingly, I felt a story forming!

The use of a candle in storytelling is touched upon in the aforementioned Mellon book as well:

Candle for storytelling

I can't help but share a couple more pictures from her wonderfully illustrated book, this first was the page I was reading today, soaking up some wintertime inspiration ...

Winter stories

And this one shows how lovely the illustrations are in this book!

Aprons

This chapter was where years ago I got the inspiration to make this ...

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My storytelling apron. :)

I started with a plain (inexpensive) crafter's apron, and I thought to add some pretty iron on patches (representing nature) but I have yet to get around to that part! I use the pockets for the elements of my story - often finger puppets, but also, wooden toys, natural items such as acorns or feathers, or perhaps a painted story stone. I use cute wooden clips to attach extra things like the wooden snowflake and felt leaf shown here. Tucked inside the large pocket is some white woolen felt ... all these items were part of a story I formulated for this week's seasonal theme, "under the ice." I imagined a wintry pond and the creatures that live in, and around, it having to handle a particular harsh winter. (Of course, had we encountered mild temps this week I would have tweaked the plot to include a January thaw!) 

I love to come up with my own stories because I like to tap into our own home habitat, but I do find inspiration in lots of places! These books are longtime favorites:

Kindergarten books brighter

I bought these through a Waldorf education website, but you can easily find them at Amazon. They are filled with poems, verses, songs and stories for young children (kindergarten I believe is the target audience, but I think they work well with all ages). As you can see, they're organized by season and I find them invaluable when writing up lesson plans for our seasonal homeschooling.

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter

Here are some of my favorite storytelling prompts:

Story stones

Story stones - sometimes painted with words, or simply with pictures.

Wooden toys

Wooden toys - lots of animals, from all different kinds of habitats!

Fairy tales

Fairy tale books such as these beautifully illustrated examples are wonderful storytelling resources! (Waldorf education has a whole schedule for which stories match up with which grade levels.) I also have many hardcover collections of traditional fairy tales: English, Russian, German, Scandinavian, etc. I just picked up a wonderful retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at the library today, because we are studying Norway this month and this is a great example of that country's rich folktale tradition.

Speaking of this old tale, look who popped up in our learning room mailbox this week!

Billy goats gruff

This mailbox has been a fantastic tool for storytelling in our homeschool! I enjoy coming up with different prompts to match our weekly seasonal theme, but these goats went along with our library book this week. Often I tell stories while the boys are working on a craft of some kind ...

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:)

Other prompts I use: our nature shelf treasures, our backyard - bird feeders and gardens, the scribblings in my own nature journal, a large collection of finger- and hand- puppets (as I've shown you all many times before!). If you'd rather not paint stones as I do, you could write words on cards and use them to inspire your children's creativity. Or how about starting story ... and then asking your children to work on the next part? A fun activity with a collection of picture stones - sit around the fire on a soft summer's night and pass around a bag of story stones. Each storyteller takes a turn creating a new page in the tale! 

Well, as you can see, I have a real soft spot for this chapter, and if I could, I'd go on ... but I am going to stop now because I've kept you all here so very long! I hope you enjoyed my post and I hope you are enjoying this book if you are reading along! I'd LOVE to hear from you if you have a moment. Please share your thoughts on this chapter (or topic) or just pop into the comments to say - hey! It's always lovely to hear from you. :)

Before I go a final word about storytelling. I have found it to be one of the most rewarding activities I've done with my children. It has created for us so many tender moments, and for me, so many treasured memories. These are dear times when we are quiet together, the boys listening only to their mama's voice and their mama pushing herself outside her comfort zone ...

It's humbling to ask my young fellas to stop, listen and appreciate the words I'm offering ... the story I'm crafting. It's an honor to have such a rapt and sincere audience. Most of all, what I love about telling my children stories is that I'm sharing a glimpse into my own imagination and the great love I hold for this world. For in every story told the teller reveals a little (or perhaps a lot) of themselves. When my children remember our storytelling days, that's what I hope they best remember.

"Telling a story is really a way of  breathing deeply with our children. Taking that deep breath, exhaling, and putting ourselves at the mercy of something universal, we allow our own voices to become instruments of our souls." (p. 72)

I wish you all a lovely weekend! I'll be back again soon with a long-promised planner post and details on our next MSfG discussion!


A Special Trip to Whole Foods with Earlybird!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! Tonight I thought I'd share a quick EB report with you all, to follow up on my post from last week and let you all know how his much-anticipated shopping trip went!

Well, I'm very glad to tell you - it went very, very well. :) EB had worked on a list of things to buy, and he had the $25 gift card he earned by doing all those extra chores ... and Thanksgiving was (is) upon us! So, with his ABA therapist along for support, my mum and I took EB to Whole Foods today!

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And this was a kind of milestone event for us. It was EB's first time back to this "supersize" Whole Foods in three years, since an epic meltdown that lasted almost half an hour, and took place just inside the doors of this beautiful (crowded, colorful, noisy) grocery store. Our then 12 year-old-son had had public meltdowns before, but it was this particular experience that made us realize EB needed serious help - something way beyond what we were able to give him ourselves, or even knew how to find for him at that point ...

It was around this time we'd just started working with a neurologist (EB had recently developed a seizure disorder) and this man was (and is) just an incredible doctor. He's the kind of professional who's comfortable getting personal, if you are fortunate enough to know what I mean. At our first meeting at Children's Hospital (after EB's first grand mal seizure) and in subsequent office visits, Dr. Peter quickly became one of EB's "best friends." He always took his time with us, allowing EB his quirks (for example, doing vitals in the waiting room when the hallway was just too much to face), and really seeking to understand our child - and our family. To use a phrase I use often in reference to my children's developmental and educational needs, Dr. Peter "met us where we were at" and determined it was time to get EB some home therapy. (EB's anxiety was growing after several poor experiences with ill-matched doctors and therapists. He was steadily developing a fear of any kind of medical appointment, but visiting Dr. Peter in Boston really turned things around for our son.)

Anyhoo, six months later we were hooked up with a kind of therapy (and therapists) that just worked for EB ... and finally it seemed progress was possible. And in fact progress was being made every day - albeit in the tiniest of steps. We first worked on simple compliance and basic self-care ... and then a whole big list of hopes and dreams started to form ... things we wished for our son one day. We've done some of those things (bike riding, haircuts, a full physical at his pediatrician), but it's a long list, and we still look forward to doing things like: going to a movie, visiting a museum, riding a train ... learning to swim!!

Well, after that Whole Foods fiasco in early 2014, it was six long months before EB was able to handle being out in public again. It's a very big part of his therapy - helping EB become a confident and productive member of society, but we started very small ...

For example, we visited a local (tiny, quiet) mom-and-pop grocery to buy ... one pear. And that's all we did - walking in (with his therapist), going right to the produce department (knowing it was just inside the door), choosing one pear, bagging it, buying it ... and then heading right back to the car. And that was SUCH a success. (As in, it went smoothly AND we were so proud!) The next week we tried again and this time EB had a list of three (preferred) items ...

And happily, that day went well, too!

It has not always gone smoothly, however - we've hit snags and plateaus and Earlybird has struggled at times with ongoing sensory challenges and new irrational fears - but things have gotten steadily better these past three years. So much better that today - just two days before a major holiday, I felt (relatively) confident that Earlybird would be able to handle a short trip to this superstore in order to do his part for our family's Thanksgiving meal. He was motivated, we were prepared, and - most importantly - we had support. And it was a wonderful time!

So if I may, here are some pictures of our morning. Yes, I'm the crazy mama who takes pictures of her kids doing the silliest of things - like pushing a grocery cart - but you and I both know that even the most seemingly mundane things can be incredibly meaningful. 

Ok, here we go ...

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First of all, it was a beautiful day! Sunny and oddly warm for November in New England. And as you can see, EB was all (tentative) smiles heading inside.

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And yup - it was just as busy as we expected! We had to pass through a waft of holiday music being piped in near the entrance - I cringed because music is a tough thing for Earlybird - but he didn't even blink.

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Safely inside the store, here's EB choosing pears ... 

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And crackers ...

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And mac and cheese! (Of course we serve mac and cheese with our holiday dinners!)

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Cart full of his goodies, EB was ready to head to the registers!

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On his list EB had: pear juice, lemonade, mac and cheese, corn muffins, ice cream, crackers, pears and flowers. Impulse items included turkey legs (for Nana to make gravy), a science magazine, and a turkey cookie for Little Bear. :)

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EB with his beloved Nana, my Mum - how much she means to us all. <3

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And here's Mama with her Earlybird. (If you knew me well you'd know that's my ... "we're almost done, he's done so well, let's not push it" smile.)

I'm just so proud of this boy!

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And a hug for his therapist, Michael - an extremely kind and patient man. He has a wonderful way with our son!

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Getting ready to pay with his Whole Foods "credit card" ... (The bill came to be more than $25, so I gladly "spotted" him the extra cash!)

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The only thing on his list that we didn't get was flowers ... and only because it was WAY over on the other side of the store and we were right there at the registers and I decided it was best to leave on a high note. I assured EB I'd pick up flowers while out shopping tomorrow morning ... because yes, I'm heading out tomorrow to get the final items we need for our dinner! 

In addition to shopping (super early, coffee-in-hand shopping) there will be much to do here tomorrow - and I'm counting on lots of help from my boys! (And Bill, who's working from home.) Things like: cleaning of bathrooms, setting of tables, cooking of cranberries, and bathing of children ... oh, how I love getting ready for a holiday!

Well my friends, thank you very much for joining me here tonight and sharing in our joy for Earlybird. He's been on a long and slow road, but we are seeing such progress and have so much hope for our boy! I'll keep you all updated on his "adventures" as I can ...

But for now I will wish you all a pleasant evening and a very happy Thanksgiving Day - if you celebrate - but a day full of blessings, regardless ...

Here's to counting all of our blessings, the big and the small!