Cute Kids Feed

Happy New Year, and ...

... can you believe how big these young people are getting??
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The Hanigan Kids, November, 2021

Hello, my fond and faraway friends - long time no see! I cannot BELIEVE it's been an entire YEAR since my last post here!

This was definitely the longest "break" I've ever taken from blogging - unintentional, certainly, but that's just the way the ball rolled around here this past year! As for most of you I suspect, 2021 - much like 2020- was an up and down kind of year for us. (I'll share a family update in an upcoming post.) But for today I wanted to get my January 2022 planning sheets posted here for those readers who like to use them!

My apologies that A. they are so very last minute, and B. I only have the first PDF (January) to share so far. #dontmakepromisesyoucantkeep 😬  I do have the whole year in draft form and I will be adding more PDFs here over the next few weeks. Watch for that pinned post at the top of this page to update soon!

Ok, here is the first in a 12-part installment:

2022 Planning Sheets: January

Please feel free to print and use these at home for your personal use. If you share the sheets online, I'd appreciate a tag or link back to my blog (or IG acct.) and as always, let me know if you have any trouble opening the files! :-)

(Speaking of IG - or Instagram - if you are able to access that platform, I post there almost every day. Do check my feed for a peek at some of our "doings" this past year.)

Ok and now, finally, since I have you here ... I would like to share some very happy news that just unfolded over the past couple of weeks ...

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We have a dog now!!

My friends, please meet, Fenway! This is our yellow Lab puppy who is all of 8 weeks old and just came home to live with us yesterday. Isn't he handsome??

It's kind of a neat story how his arrival came to be, and if you'll indulge me a moment or ten, I'd love to share it!

About a month ago we decided we wanted to get a dog, but it all came about after a few twists and turns! Little Bear (as you know, an avid animal enthusiast) had been campaigning for some kind of pet he could handle (as in, hold, pet, play with) in a way the cats (bless 'em) don't really allow. So that ruled out fish, turtles, birds and lizards (though each were considered, briefly) and then hamsters and guinea pigs also seemed a bad idea (re - the aforementioned cats) ... and then finally we seemed to settle on the idea of a bunny. Bill even purchased an adorable used bunny hutch and we started planning for how to go about getting ourselves a bunny and how (on earth) we would keep and manage that bunny.

Then I had a very important conversation with a dear friend who owns a bunny as well as three dogs, and after that chat I realized A. a bunny was not a great fit for our family (or at least, Little Bear's needs) and B. we might actually be ready for a dog!

What happened next was a very quick and fortuitous thing. We started out looking at many different adoption options. Our priority was choosing a breed that was known to be gentle, good-natured and comfortable with a large, busy family. Healthy, happy and hale, and as easy-care as possible. So we started searching different prospects online, when one day, Earlybird and his therapist bumped into our neighbor who introduced them to her new lab puppy. When she learned we were in the market for a new puppy, she told them there was one still available from her breeder ... soooo we called right away and spoke with said breeder, and because we had the reference of our neighbor she offered him to us!! All the other pups were spoken for ...

So we visited this pup the very next day and absolutely FELL IN LOVE! ❀

Fast forward two weeks to yesterday, the day our pup was ready to be brought home and now - here we are! 

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What do the cats think, you might wonder? Well ... it will be a slow warm-up I think. So far, they are mostly just curious and perhaps a little on edge. Both parties are aware of each other, but we are not allowing any contact yet. All "socializing" is done through gates and crate doors. 

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So we are going to take the introduction slooowly. Fingers crossed, they'll at least learn to tolerate him - and yes, he does match the cats - even the chickens are "buff" colored! πŸ˜…

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Anyhoo - as I mentioned above, I will have a family update for you in an upcoming post (hoping to do some Wintertime Teas), but let me just say briefly, that we are all doing well. Crackerjack actually tested positive for Covid the morning after Christmas, but he has been in isolation since (feeling much better now) and the rest of  us knock on wood are fine. (Little Bear, who has a bad cold, tested negative yesterday.) We are all vaccinated (even LB, who gets his second dose this week) and very careful about where we go and always wear masks in public. But such is the state of things now, nearly two years into this pandemic - breakthroughs are happening and a countrywide surge is upon us again. Let's hope and pray 2022 brings better days!

Be safe and well, my friends and I wish you all a very Happy New Year! I will see you here again very soon ...

xoxo ,

~ Dawn


Yuletide Tea at Dawn's ❀

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trader Joe's Winter Wake Up Tea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then I topped each tart with a star!

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

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About 15 minutes later:

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

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

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

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

From Jennifer:

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

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From Shelly:

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

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From Mary:

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

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


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From Stacey:

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

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

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And last but certainly not least, from Holly:

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

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

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

MARY MASON LESKOWITZ!!! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For the reindeer ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There was a little bit of glitter involved, too!

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

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There was cookie-making one chilly morning ...

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

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

Here you see our tree:

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(Plus my goofy husband, lol.)

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

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Can you believe how big these kids are getting?!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love making crafts that bring natural materials together!

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

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

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

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... twig star ornaments!

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

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

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

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

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

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And this was my tray ...

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

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

From the inside flap:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"Winter is dark,

Yet each little spark

Brightens the way

To Christmas Day.

Shine little light

And show us the way

To the bright light

Of Christmas Day"

~ H. St. John

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Ok, NOW - about that GIVEAWAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tea @ Dawn's ~ Early Spring Ponderings + Free Printables!

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Hello my friends, and Happy March!

Well, despite its extra day, February really seemed to fly by - and here we are beginning a new season. In the liturgical world, Lent began last week and in the natural realm, we are just 18 days away from the start of spring. (This year the equinox falls on March 19th - the earliest since 1896!)

Most of us in the northern hemisphere know however, that winter absolutely loves to linger ... and spring is perpetually running late. And here in New England our weather has been a little messed up - in that, it's not actually been all that messy! It's been a fairly mild and practically storm-free winter, and case in point here is my local forecast for next week:

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Please excuse me while I knock on wood - because that forecast is astounding for the first week of March! (And the week after that looks just as mild, if perhaps a bit more showery.)

So ... "in like a lion?" Maybe not so much. And an early spring in the cards? Well, so said the groundhog, and if it comes to pass, I for one will be very pleased. Because the only thing I don't like about New England winters - and yes, I do like them! - is that most years they just don't know when to quit! By March we're often still knee-deep in snow and I am positively longing for even the subtlest signs of spring ...

Speaking of ...

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This was last week in my little Katie Daisy journal, which I'm currently using mostly for nature notes. I've been trying to jot down every little nuance we notice - and we notice a lot as you can see! There have been plenty of little signs of spring's approach - chipmunks scampering, owls hooting, skunks digging, woodpeckers drumming ... and holy moly, the red-winged blackbirds have returned to the marsh!

March is chock-full of interesting nature, and while we're on that topic - here are two resources I think you'll enjoy:

Wild Kids Magazine March 2020

And, this great nature calendar from The Massachusetts Audubon Society:

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(I use this every month with Little Bear to see how much we can observe!)

By the way - have you seen the preview of the 20-21 Katie Daisy planner cover? It premiered on Instagram this week, and I just love the blue floral design - with touches of my favorite yellow!

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(You can pre-order on Amazon, and I believe the publication date is May 8th.)

Ok moving on now - As you can see in my top picture, on this bright and brisk St. David's Day I am enjoying a cup of Barry's decaf black tea in my beloved Royal Tara china. (The set I inherited from my grandmother - the set I supped from as I learned to love tea as a child.)

Traditionally I like to make daffodil cake on this feast day, but that was just not in the cards today. (I might make it next weekend when Crackerjack is home for spring break.) Instead I nibbled on some Girl Scout cookies, a treat my husband picked up at the grocery store yesterday. (Though they're called "shortbread" cookies now, long-ago Girl Scout that I am, I prefer to call them by their original name, Trefoils!)

So as I enjoyed my tea by a sunny window, I set about editing my latest seasonal planning printables ...

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And here they are, fresh off the presses!

Early Spring Planning Packet

My 14-page booklet includes forms for organizing various seasonal events, brainstorming comforts and joys that are special to this unique time of year, tracking early spring phenology and exploring the March and April full moons. My planner is also peppered with seasonal quotes and vintage illustrations (found on Pinterest) and is free for your personal use!

Also, since Easter is just around the corner (6 weeks and counting!) here are some extra Easter planning sheets from my Printables archive:

Easter Prep Worksheet A

Easter Prep Worksheet B

Easter Sunday

Easter Memories

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I really have such fun assembling these planning sheets, and I hope you also find them fun - and useful!

(Next up will be Late Spring and I hope to have that posted by the end of April.)

Now for the liturgical season ... Lent is upon us! And I thought I'd share a couple of things we did (and did not do) this past week, in the spirit of "keeping things real." Because as usual, my best laid plans went seriously awry and I had to make a few "adjustments."

So you might remember in my last post, I had originally planned to take Little Bear to Mass on Ash Wednesday morning so we could receive ashes at church. Then we would swing by the craft store so we could pick up the supplies for creating a new and "glittery" ALLELUIA for "burying." (An old Catholic tradition.)

And what happened instead was ... well, not quite that.

After an extremely stressful morning with Earlybird (who is back to resisting school and having a very hard time with the side effects of a certain medication - which he is now weaning off of ) we just could not make it over to church. We didn't hav the time and I didn't have the wherewithal to be perfectly honest. As it was, I had to have EB's ABA therapist come to the house to help me get him ready - ride with us even - and we arrived at school quite a bit little later than usual.

Clearly Mass was not going to happen, so instead Little Bear and I made ashes at home. :-)

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To do this, we simply burned one of last year's palms and mixed the ashes with little holy water.  I found some instructions in The Catholic Home, a lovely book I've had on my liturgical shelf for ages. Then I said a little blessing and made the sign of the cross on Little Bear's forehead. Then I let him do the same to me.

It was a simple activity and perhaps a tad unconventional, but Little Bear seemed to enjoy the experience very much. And to be honest, I relished the quiet togetherness, and appreciated the reassuring comfort of home.

Then came the time to craft a new Alleluia ... but we couldn't dash over to the craft store because I needed to be near the phone (in case Earlybird's school called), so instead, I mined my craft stash to see what we could use ...

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Happily, I found some golden alphabet stickers - had to fudge a few, making an E out of a B, and I out of an F and some Ls out of various letters - and then cut some purple construction paper into a paper cross shape.

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We then piled the letters in the middle of the cross, and folded the ends in order to make a kind of pouch. (Thereby, "burying the Alleluia.")
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Last step - a butterfly to hold the pouch closed and then we placed it on our Lenten mantle. 

(Spoiler alert: I will use those letters to make a colorful banner for Easter morning!)

Moral of the story - life does not always unfold as originally planned. I was really looking forward to attending Ash Wednesday mass with Little Bear, but what was most important that morning was figuring out how to best help Earlybird find his calm and courage. Once I had EB safely at school, I next focused my attention on Little Bear - reassuring him all was well, while listening to his worries. He's at the age where he's maturing beyond his autistic brother and we're trying to help him see and accept that EB's behaviors do not always reflect what we know is in his heart.

So for our giving gesture that day, we talked about how Earlybird acts out when something makes him feel scared or sad. And right now he's a little scared of going to school, and he feels sad to leave home. Those feelings are hard for any child but especially overwhelming for a child with autism. Earlybird can sometimes act out in very inappropriate ways.

We also talked about how all this makes Little Bear feel - nervous he said, and a little mad and a little sad. Feelings very similar to his brother's. I tried to reassure him that no feelings are wrong, because nobody can help their feelings ... but we can help how we react to them. And children need tools for managing their reactions. Little Bear can talk to us and he can pray with us and he can let Earlybird know, in different ways, that we're always, always on his side.

So we decided to make a card to encourage EB:

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I told Little Bear I was proud of HIM for trying to see things from his brother's point of view, and for forgiving him when he says things that are not very nice or when he raises his voice or makes a mess because he's mad. Or when his behavior gets in the way of something we really wanted to do. Just like his oldest two brothers before him, Little Bear will have lots of opportunities to learn patience, tolerance, forgiveness ... and I hope to help him find ways to connect with a brother whom he likes a lot  - but sometimes resents for rather "unlikeable" behavior.

There is no easy fix, and this will be a lifelong journey - we can only take each day as it comes and take it as easy on each other (and ourselves) as well can.

Written in my journal later that day, a quote I came upon, a rather timely reminder ...

"Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself." St. Francis de Sales

❀ How perfect and lovely is that? β€

Well my friends, I hope your new month is off to a good start, and I thank you as always, for stopping by my little "home"on the web. I am grateful for your time and attention and if I may ask for you to remember our Earlybird in your prayers and thoughts and send him a little positive, happy energy. And may I ask - how are you doing ... how is your family? Have you watched any good television lately? (Sanditon, anyone?) And how is the weather where you live?

Drop me a note if you have the time, and I'll be in touch again just as soon as I can. :-) 


Birdfeeding, St. Brigid & Cute Candlemas Crafts!

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Hello everyone, and Happy Sunday! I'm popping in here today to share a few things with you all on this cool and cloudy Candlemas afternoon ... but first, how is the weather where you are? And what did your groundhog have to say? I say "your groundhog," because as I understand it there are a few of them out there - weather-predicting rodents, I mean - though I believe Punxsatawny Phil is perhaps the most famous. And happily, according to Phil, we are to expect an early spring this year, a prediction that was seconded by the esteemed Ms. G of Massachusetts, the lady groundhog who lives in Lincoln, at Drumlin Farm Sanctuary. πŸ˜Š

Continuing with a weather folklore theme, we can also turn to a old lovely verse for a hint of what's to come ...

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

Well, it just so happens it was indeed "dark with clouds and rain" here in Massachusetts today so knockonwood perhaps an early spring truly IS in the offing!

(p.s. This Wednesday is National Meteorologist Day, so why not write a letter to your favorite weather guy or gal and let them know you appreciate them? Maybe ask them if they put any stock in groundhog predictions or other ancient weather "wisdom?")

Alrighty then, on with our post ... and how about we all offer a warm welcome to February?! Because I'm not sure about you, but January seemed awfully long. Not terribly stormy or anything, but February is just that much closer to spring - aka the actual Equinox which occurs on March 19th this year. #markyourcalendar!

And did you remember to say rabbit-rabbit yesterday? I did - though unfortunately I had already muttered a few words after midnight, such as "go back to sleep," please make coffee," and "no, it's not time for breakfast." (That last one was to the cats.) I think it still counts if you say rabbit-rabbit at some point on the first day of the month, but maybe it brings extra good luck if you remember to say it before anything else! 

Anyhoo.😜

I wanted to share a link to an absolutely wonderful resource for anyone who loves nature and following the seasons of the year, but especially perhaps for those of us who enjoy sharing that passion with children:

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The WILD KIDS February issue is here!

So remember in my last Tea post I shared a picture of Little Bear with a chickadee perched in his hand? Well, I wrote up a short article about our experience hand-feeding wild birds last month and my friend Alicia Bayer (author of Wild Kids, as well as several books on foraging and other nature-related topics) invited me to share it in her magazine!

Here's a link to the issue, and a little bit about the magazine, from Alicia:

This month, we have information on how to feed wild birds by hand, instructions to make a simple shell or stone sundial, info abut aloe and mallow, and vintage wild bird collectible cards, along with the usual seasonal poems, botanical coloring pages, nature journal pages and more.

This issue is 22 pages and as always, it is ad-free and 100% free to read online or print out.

I was so honored to be asked to contribute to this amazing magazine, and I hope to do so again in the future!

Now as you all know, nature is a huge part of our family life - observing and caring for the flora and fauna around us, and paying attention to seasonal nuances as the years come and go. We weave those nuances into our home life, our homeschooling and even in the way we practice our Catholic faith. I've posted many times through the years about the strong connection I feel to creation and the how-s and why-s of our seasonal homeschooling, but for today I'd just like to share some of the things we got up to last week! 

So last week's theme was "frost and fire," which had us focusing on the deep cold of winter and the blessing of home and warmth. I like to assign this theme to the week leading up to Candlemas since we're usually making candles and talking about fire and fire safety. And a neat counterpoint to the cozy warmth within, is the frozen world without - because at this time of year frost (along with its cohorts ice and snow) is commonplace. All creation must adapt to withstand the cold - animals outside, and humans (mostly) inside. This is a wonderful theme to explore on so many levels!

We were also focusing on two special liturgical events this week: St. Brigid's Day and Candlemas (February 1st and 2nd, respectively) and there were a few fun holidays mixed in here and there - plus we were busier than usual to boot!

Here's a quick peek at my weekly lesson plan and agenda:

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I'm working on a post about how I've been using my homemade planner lately, so I'll get into this page a bit more deeply very soon. In the interest of time though, I will move on with our week!

First, there was National Chocolate Cake Day on Monday ...

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And we celebrated with cake, natch!

This cake was also baked in celebration of my mother-in-law's birthday. I took a video of the boys singing "Happy Birthday," and if you hop on over to my Instagram page you can not only hear them sing, but also read my behind-the-scenes story of why this was such a very special "milestone" moment for our Earlybird. πŸ’™

And then Wednesday brought National Carnation Day ...

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True story: I couldn't find white carnations at the store, so this is actually a picture from last year! I love this experiment and for some reason it always works really well for us, though I hear from many folks who can't get good results. I can only say we make sure to trim the stems very short and use very small containers (baby food jars work great). We use McCormick's food coloring (found at any grocery store) and we definitely don't skimp on the drops of coloring when doctoring the water!

Also on Wednesday, we were off to our Audubon class ...

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Little Bear and I are both enjoying this weekly nature program very much! This past week we learned about "Winter's Herbivores" - deer, mice, rabbits, and groundhogs, etc.. We discussed how these plant-eating animals survive the winter and then we looked for signs of their presence throughout the sanctuary by searching for scat, seed caches, as well as chewed and stripped bark.

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I am so grateful to the Massachusetts Audubon Society for offering these wonderful classes. It's been a fantastic experience for Little Bear (and his mama) and he's learning so much - and we're meeting some really nice folks, too!

On our way home from class, LB and I stopped at the library to pick up a few books about groundhogs:

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And on Thursday we took a field trip to the garden center, to buy a few things AND soak in all that humid soil-scented air!

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Little Bear picked out a small succulent (immediately named, "Planty") and I picked up some paperwhite bulbs. We also popped into the craft store on our way home and I couldn't resist grabbing a few supplies for a Lenten craft I have in mind.

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(Still working on the details, but I hope to have our Lenten plans put together - and ready to share - by mid-month.)

Thursday also happened to be National Croissant Day ...

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... and we just happened to have a can of crescent rolls in the fridge so we whipped up these tasty treats lickedy-split! (This is not the recipe we used, but pretty close.)

Friday is usually our home-all-day day, so sometimes I plan more involved crafting for this day. So on Friday we made candles for Candlemas!

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First we made our usual melted-beeswax/mason jar candle using up some beeswax bars I had on hand as well as a cute little reusable jar. (You can find a detailed post on our process for this craft here.) This little candle will play a quiet and hopeful part in our Lenten table ...

I also happened to have a candle-making kit on hand, so I pulled that out, figuring Little Bear would love it - unfortunately, however, the craft proved a little too fiddly for his little fingers!

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So I set to work rolling those beeswax sheets, while Little Bear was put in charge of the paperwhite bulbs!

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The bulbs now live in my kitchen window by day and on top of the fridge by night - since paperwhites are poisonous for kitties and my kitties are very naughty when it comes to nice things like plants.

But at the end of the day we had a nice bunch of candles ready for blessing!

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Saturday brought February 1st and I began setting up my new calendar ...

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(More on my calendar in my next post!)

We also had some lovely traditions for St. Brigid's Day to uphold ...

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We first hung our Brigid's Cross (made last year using dried grasses from our yard) on the front door ...

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And, in honor of St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland and dairy farmers, we made butter!

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We do this every year and honestly, it just never gets old! Nor does this wonderful picture book ...

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p.s. Speaking of this feast day, I recently realized I left a page out of my Deep Winter Planning Booklet and though I've since updated the PDF, here is the missing two-sided planning sheet itself: St. Brigid's Day & Candlemas PDF.

And so that brings us to today, when I was planning to make custards for Candlemas following my mother's lovely recipe using my own hen's loverly eggs, but two things kept me from that culinary endeavor:

One, I was nearly out of eggs and two, my hens aren't laying yet!

So instead, I made some buttermilk scones (from a mix!) and served it with lemon curd (from a jar!) as well as some freshly whipped cream. (That was from scratch.)

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And yes - they were as good as they look!

Another Candlemas tradition we enjoy is walking the yard and looking for signs of spring ...

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(Inspecting a caved-in groundhog burrow.)

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(Inspecting some left-behind seed shells.)

Not much to report, but it was nice to walk the property anyway now the snow has melted and there's the faintest whiff of spring in the air ...

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And by faint I really mean non-existent, but still - just look at that smile and those rosy little cheeks! Brigid's Day and Candlemas (or Imbolc as some folks call/called it) might have once been considered a time of changing seasons - winter's end, spring's debut - but that's just not the way things roll around here. Sometimes I forget we actually live in New England and not England proper - where February is quite milder and where one might actually expect to see things like tender little snowdrops underfoot. In these parts at the start of February we mostly just have actual snow underfoot ...

But we must not lose hope! There is always hope and there are alway signs ...

Such as the owl I heard calling just this morning!

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I wish I knew how to share a video here, but even after 14 years (come March) of blogging I simply have no idea how to manage such a technological feat - so I would encourage you if A. you're on Instagram and B. you are interested - to check out my IG Stories to hear what I heard at six a.m. this morning!

I had JUST been reading this article regarding the nesting behavior of owls and enjoying my third cup of coffee when I heard it ... a great horned owl calling from somewhere in our woods. According to the article (which included a link to an owl call soundbite), owls are among the first birds to begin laying nests in the late winter. So to my mind -  and groundhog's proclamations aside - here is solid, scientific evidence that spring truly is coming!

(If you can't get on Instagram, here is the link to the soundbite. My owl sounded EXACTLY like this.)

Back inside, a bit later on in the day I began working on a little handcraft I've had in mind for some time ...

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Little Bear has been fascinated lately by the concept of a dream catcher - Bookworm still has one he made when he was young hanging in his bedroom - and though I don't believe LB's actually plagued by any bad dreams, I decided to use up a bit of my felt stash and make him a sweet-dreams pillow.

I started with a small rectangle of felt, some sheep's wool and dried lavender from the summer garden. I had LB mix the herbs with the wool while I started stitching ...

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Mind you, I'm no seamstress of any measure - I can barely thread a needle to be honest - but I figured this kind of basic stitch couldn't be too hard to do. (Notice I'm not showing you the back of this sachet!)

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Little Bear really loved the smell of the lavender and the feel of the sheep's wool ...

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And I think he really liked watching me make this. There's something very comforting, I think, about watching a parent working with their hands ... the quiet productivity, the rhythm of the needle or - as the case may be - the paintbrush or hand saw. I myself feel soothed when I work with my hands, and I love the questions he asks:

Mama, what will it be? Mama, can I help? Mama, how can you do that without stabbing yourself?

So we'll tuck this under his pillow and see how it goes!

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A couple of things I try do to when crafting: use natural materials as much as possible, and make items that are meaningful in some way to myself or someone else. I also really, really love it when a craft is made using something from a season before or perhaps is made to be used in a season yet to come. Case in point - the cross we made using grasses gathered from our garden (and soaked with snow melt). Or the candles we made and blessed on Candlemas which will appear again in our springtime Lenten journey. And the lavender we dried last summer provided a special touch - as well as a fragrant memory - to our cute little Candlemas craft.

I find it very satisfying to craft in this way, to carry a message through the year (and years) that everything is connected. We're all connected to each other, and we're all connected in many ways to the earth. Slowing ourselves down won't slow time itself, but it can leave us more open to these connections. I hope all these little moments and traditions foster a feeling of belonging in my children and that it encourages them to learn and love the cycle of the seasons, to glory in the amazing world to which we all belong. I sure am grateful I get to begin them on their pathways because everything I do for them only strengthens my own journey.

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And goodness, but this post got much longer than I originally intended! Did I say I was "quickly" popping in? - I think I'd best take that part out. As always though, I thank you for reading and I hope you are all doing well! I also hope that wherever you are, the day's weather has been just to your liking and that the week ahead will be a good one!

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


Tea @ Dawn's ~ Shortbread, Schedules and Deep Winter Sleep ❄️

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

Thank you so much for joining me here today, on this bright and beautiful winter afternoon. As I type up this post, the sun is taking turns with a few dark, dramatic clouds and the temperature is near 50Β° ... not bad for January here in New England!

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Today I'd like to share with you a wee "Scottish Tea," in honor of Burns Night, which my family celebrated at supper last night (January 25th). As I'm part Scottish, we've enjoyed incorporating this fun holiday into our family's winter calendar - but more on the Tea in a moment!

Today I'd also like to share a few fun things with you: a little about what we've been up to, some thoughts on seasonal sleep, plus some new planning ideas for the year ahead, beginning with a brand new PDF!

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Yes, I've made more seasonal planning pages - I can't seem to help myself! πŸ˜‰

So if you remember back in December, when I posted this year's planning sheets, I mentioned that I removed all the extra "monthly event" pages in order to give the planner a bit more "wiggle room." What I aim to do instead is to share seasonal "booklets" that will serve as supplements to my main annual planner. It's a joy to make up these pages and very easy to pull them together since I'm utilizing templates I already have on hand, and just spiffing them up with some sweet vintage artwork found on Pinterest. That said, I apologize that the January bits are mostly moot at this point - but I do hope you enjoy them for next year!

Ok, here 'tis ...

β™₯Deep Winter Seasonal Planning Bookletβ™₯

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I will be sharing more of these seasonal booklets throughout the year - and I will do my best to have them available before a new season begins!

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The above "schedule" is something I made up as I thought about my seasonal teas, and how often I might be able to host (post) them. I've decided I will aim for monthly posts and since this year I'm focusing on the "art and blessing" of keeping a home, at each Tea I will share a little of what I'm doing on that front. :-)

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More on homekeeping in a moment, but for now, let's talk a bit about today's Tea, pictured at the top of this post. I'm sipping from very pretty thistle-adorned china called "Queen O' Th' Highlands," and this cup originally belonged to my grandmother. I am blessed to own many of her vintage teacups! Gram was the person to introduce me to the pleasure of tea and the joy to be had in making a little ceremony of it.

Now, I didn't have any Scottish tea on hand, but I did use an Irish blend I like very much made by Barry's Tea. It's a decaffeinated black tea, with a lovely yet bolder flavor than my regular tea. I prefer to drink this brew with a splash of half-and-half and a wee spoonful of cane sugar.

As for the shortbread - well, that was all (or mostly) Little Bear's doing!

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Now, this is not the recipe we used but I am eager try it next time we bake: Classic Scottish Shortbread from King Arthur Flour. The recipe Little Bear and I used did not have oats and to my taste had a bit too much salt. The rest of the family seemed to like the cookies very much however!

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Shortbread is a great cookie for baking with children. It's a very easy recipe and the kids have such fun pressing the dough into the pan ... and then of course "stabbing" the cookies with the tines of a fork! Little Bear was quite proud of his tray of shortbread bars ... :-)

While we waited for the cookies to come out of the oven, we also looked through a wonderful book I purchased a few years ago, The Wee Scot Book: Scottish Stories & Poems by Aileen Campell. It has the loveliest illustrations!

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Now, I'm a shortbread purist myself - no chocolate coating or caramel-dipped ends, thanks - but Little Bear thought the cookies would be so much more interesting if we added some sprinkles, and so - that's just what we did. And in the colors of Scotland's national flower, of course!

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❄️

So moving on, according to my Home Care & Comforts Schedule, January brings ...

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(I didn't actually make the vanilla milk as originally planned - but I do explain that lovely beverage later in the post!)

January homekeeping focus: MASTER BEDROOM

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Voila, the north side of my master bedroom!

So I've been working in this room quite a bit since Christmas and I'm happy to say it's finally getting there! My bedroom suffers quite a bit over the holidays because it basically serves as Santa's Workshop between November and December 25th, which is to say, it gets to be QUITE the mess. So January is the perfect month to tackle this zone. 

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I'm also pretty keen to clean out that closet shown above - note the doors are closed! - because Bill has offered to turn it into book storage for me. (Not to worry, I have another closet for clothing in the opposite corner of the room.) At this time this closet full of random things like photographs, packing supplies and old journals ... but I think it would be a great place for storing all my paperback novels (of which I have many). Bill is more than willing to put up the shelves - I just need to get to decluttering the space!

I've still got the other side of the room to deep clean - and this includes two overstuffed bureaus! So I hope to share more pics in my next post, although in February I'll be concentrating the younger kids' bedrooms ... 

Speaking of kids and bed ...

I've been talking a lot about sleep lately because it's something our family finds ... challenging at times. Maybe you saw my instagram post last week, in which I described how Earlybird, our 18 year autistic son, has struggled with sleep issues for many, many years. Actually, his parents are the ones who struggle with it - he doesn't seem to be phased by his odd sleep patterns at all, which I guess is a blessing. Long story short - EB used to wake up around 2 a.m. and stay awake for a couple of hours before finally falling back to sleep - but only for a few hours. Several years ago he started sleeping through the night but waking extremely early - hardly ever after 5 a.m. Occasionally he goes through a week or so of waking closer to 6 or 7 but those times are rare. Very often he gets stuck in a pattern - as he is now - of waking FOR THE DAY between 2 and 3 a.m. (And by that I mean he doesn't go back to sleep, he's just up ... and because he can't be left unsupervised, so are we.)

I won't get too far into that story (though I will return to it in a future post) but let me just say this before I start waxing poetic about sweet and special bedtime rituals ...

Sleep issues are serious and can be debilitating for many families, and they exist in both children and adults. Even if you can identify what the issues are, it's not always easy to change things. For most human beings, at bedtime we're pretty exhausted and not in our most flexible frame of mind.  So fixing a sleep issue is not always as easy as changing up one or two environmental factors or trying out a new "hopefully helpful" schedule. For some people it goes far deeper than that and also, for some, it carries over into the next day. Bad sleep usually also means a rough morning after ...

Anyhoo, as I said, I don't want to get too deep into the sleep struggle issue - for today I'd like to just offer a few thoughts on making your Winter Bedtimes a little more special. I don't mean to suggest these little "tips" will help someone who is dealing with a serious sleep challenge, but maybe an idea or two might help a reluctant sleeper ...

Either way, I think it's always nice to consider the more routine parts of our day and envision how we might make them a little more special for ourselves and our loved ones. And perhaps use these everyday moments to connect more deeply with the season at hand.

A few ideas for possibly promoting easier (and happier) bedtimes:

✨ Get a good dose of fresh air and outdoor activity each day! 

✨ Keep the window shades open through the day to allow in plenty of natural light.

✨ Limit the amount of artificial light as the sun goes down.

✨ Limit screen time after 4 p.m. (for everyone!).

✨ Eat supper at an earlier time, allowing for better digestion as well as time for a simple evening "tea" ritual. And this would be decaffeinated or herbal tea naturally, but a lovely, child-friendly alternative is steamed milk (organic whole milk brought to a simmer in pan) with just a touch of vanilla and maybe a dollop of honey.

✨ Enjoy an evening tea ritual while listening to an ongoing read-aloud or perhaps gazing together out at the night sky. Or, ask Alexa to play "classical bedtime music." (Try it!)

✨Visuals are great - such as bedtime checklists and token boards - but making it into something really fun and creative can weave true bedtime magic: visualizing together how an evening winds down, what each steps looks like and who does what. Make note in your story of "cozy" seasonal elements (the summer evening breeze, frosty windowpanes on a winter morning, etc.). As you spin the tale, reassure your child that all is well and he/she is safe and sheltered from the cares of the day.

✨Assess the bedroom setting for good sleep: comfortable temperature, thoughtful lighting (some kids need a night-light, others are actually kept awake by it), and preferred comfortable bedding. Have toys been put away, is the floor clear of clutter, have window shades been gently pulled down?

✨Make seasonal bedding part of your family tradition! We make a big deal about "changing the beds" in the spring and fall. Laundering and then washing up cotton bedding for cool sleep in the warmer months, and warmer textiles for the colder nights of the year. 

✨ Make up a little lavender water and keep it in a designated spray bottle. As you turn down the beds, spritz the sheets with just a touch - allow your child to help and let him or her know this will promote good dreams and happy sleep. (I'm not a fan of the "monster away spray" idea!) 

✨Make up a special basket just for bedtime reading. Decide together what - and how many - stories to include in your bedtime ritual. In our home, Daddy is the bedtime reader and Little Bear is read two stories. Or instead of books - maybe try your hand at storytelling? A simple tale about a little person or creature and how they end their day would be enthralling but not overly stimulating.

✨End your bedtime ritual with a simple prayer said together or a recollection of the day, perhaps naming something for which each of you was grateful. Saying a blessing over your child is a truly lovely way to say goodnight and nurture tender feelings of protection and peace.

Now, we certainly don't do all of these things, and currently employ only one or two - but some years we're better at bedtimes than others! Please don't think we have it all figured out ... oh my goodness, no. But I hope maybe one or two of these things might inspire a new idea for your family's bedtime routine. I think a lot of these points could be helpful for adults as well - we could all benefit from treating bedtime as a special and important of our day - not just an after-thought. 

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Now, something else I like to focus on in January is creating and updating my calendars and reviewing my planning system(s). And this too deserves a whole separate post, but allow me to share a few pictures from my progress, starting with this crazy pic:

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Post-it note mega-planning!

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An overstuffed homekeeping binder ...

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Colors = Concerns

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To be filled out once I gather all my little scraps of paper ...

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TBD ...

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Six columns for six people ...

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Calendar-keeping and color-coding ... a topic to be continued!

And this probably all seems rather cryptic, but I'll share more once I get my own story straight!

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And finally - here are a few pictures of our Homeschooling this week

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Celebrating National Squirrel Appreciation Day!

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Walking into the woods with our weekly nature class ... 

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... and OH MY GOSH hand-feeding birds!

I'll be sharing a bit about this incredible moment in the February issue of Wild Kids - I've been invited to contribute a short piece about our experience! So please stay tuned and I'll post a link at my FB page when the new issue comes out!

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OK, almost done I promise! Before I go, here are a few links to older posts filled with crafts, books and recipes for Deep Winter holidays:

Happy Epiphany!

A Wee Tea

Tea & a Craft for The Days of the Blackbird

Happy Carnation Day!

A Citrus Craft for Candlemas

Bits, Bobs and Mittenstrings

Good Candlemas Morning!

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And now I'll be off ... I hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday, my friends and thanks, as always, for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... and I'll see you here again very soon!


Tea @ Dawn's ~ Birthdays, Bluebirds & Sweet Winter Blessings

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Thank you so much for joining me today - may I offer you a freshly brewed cup of hot tea?

On this breezy - and strangely balmy - January day, I'm pouring a tasty new brew called, "Winter Wake Up Tea." It was a gift from my brother, and I must say - it's delicious!

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(Truth be told, since caffeine and spice are things I have to be careful about - I cut my tea with a little plain black decaf and an extra large splash of lowfat milk!)

So I have to tell you, our Tea today is extra special because January 12th just so happens to be ... National Hot Tea Day! Yes, it's a real holiday ... or at least it has been since 2016. #whoknew πŸ€·πŸ»β€β™€οΈ 

Also happening today, rather serendipitously, is a day-long Jane Austen "extravaganza" airing on my local PBS station! So if you'd care to join me while I put on the kettle, I have this playing on the kitchen tv ...

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I'm sure many of you can name that beloved movie on sight - it's one of my all-time favorites! You might recall from my last post there's a whole bunch of fun programming coming up this year, and something I'm really looking forward to is "Sanditon," a new Masterpiece series that premieres tonight at 9 p.m. (An air-time which is sadly after my bedtime so I'll be catching each episode a day (or two) after its first airing.)

Anyhoo.

May I offer you a little something sweet to go along with our tea? How about a thick slice of birthday cake?

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Yep, on this lovely day honoring hot tea AND Jane Austen, I'm also celebrating ... my 51st birthday! :-) 

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First of all, I can hardly believe I just typed that number - because wow, I am now decidedly "in my 50s." (And holy crow, how did that even happen? No, honestly. Wasn't I JUST in my 30s?)

Anyways - today I'm raising my glass, er mug, to a brand new year - and a new profile pic! ;-) Had to snap a selfie yesterday because I had just gotten home from the hairdresser and my hair never has a better moment than in that first hour after leaving the salon. Soon thereafter it's back to unruly curls and cowlicks, lol.

Hair issues aside, I'm giving sincere thanks today for so many things - most of all the gifts of Life, Love and Wonderful Friendships. I'd like to say thanks to all of YOU for the kindness and encouragement you've all shown me through the years. For helping me make this a happy and homey little corner of the web. How I have loved keeping this blog going for the past 13 (almost 14) years!

But before I get too far off-topic let's discuss the pretty cake I'm right now setting out on my favorite Irish china plates ...

"Penuche" Cake is a specialty of my mum's. We're blessed to have her as the Family Baker of All Birthday Cakes and though we all have our favorites, she always asks what cake we'd like this year. I usually request Penuche Cake, and since we had a good bit leftover, I'd love to offer you a slice - it goes wonderfully with a hot cup of tea! (As you can see from my first photo - it had disappeared before I got that final shot!)

If you're interested in the recipe - check out this birthday post from 2016. I've posted the frosting recipe in the comments.

And if I may revel in my birthday joy a moment or two longer, here is the card the boys made me ...

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Pretty sure I need to have this framed ... I love all those colors!

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Ok, now that we have our tea and cake, let's settle in and have a nice little chat. I thought I'd share some of the things I've been thinking about and noticing these past couple of weeks. As you all know, I assign each week of the year a seasonal "theme," and right around my birthday I like to contemplate "winter comforts and joys." Because it's mid-January and we've just finished Christmas and now the long winter looms ahead - so I like to brainstorm the ways we might celebrate the season rather than bemoaning it as too cold or dark or dreary. Not that it isn't some or all of those things at one time or another - but I'd rather focus on the blessings of the season rather than the burdens, if you know what I mean. :-) 

In my Deep Winter bullet journal then, I have a whole page devoted to these kinds of thoughts ...

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I take such comfort from the simplest traditions and rituals - little things like saying "rabbit rabbit"on the first of the month, and creating a new planner at the start of the year. Hosting a New Year's roast lunch for my family and watching for the Bluebirds to return, as they usually do, right about this time of the year ...

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Aren't they gorgeous? They visited our feeders for all of five minutes one day last week ...

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Birdwatching is fun all year long, but there is something extra wonderful about winter birdwatching. When it's hard to get outside in nature (due to severe cold or stormy weather) it's easy enough to sit ourselves beside a window and watch the comings and goings of the local wildlife ...

And as winter rambles on, we get to know the "regulars" - the Finches, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Titmice etc. - while also looking forward to the more seasonal visitors. There are Bluebirds in mid-winter, and then roundabouts February we'll start hearing (and hopefully seeing!) the resident Barred Owl. One day near spring we'll hear the familiar "squeaky wheel" of the Red-winged Blackbird returning and then before we know it, come April or May, a flash of orange will announce the Orioles are passing through ...

I also take joy in observing and exploring nature phenomena ... like the January thaw which we are enjoying today (it's 70Β°!) and all the monthly moons and the folklore attached to them. For instance, the Pink Moon in April really does look pink - like an Easter egg! And the Sap Moon brings on sugaring season, while the Harvest Moon is always huge and as orange as a pumpkin ...

But how about January's full moon?

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Here is the best shot I could get of the Full Wolf Moon as it rose over our woods Friday night. But did we howl at it? Why, you betcha we did! 

And here are the notes I scribbled in my seasonal journal - ideas for celebrating this moon, this week, and this time of year, with my family ...

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And per family tradition, we read this book EVERY year as we celebrate the Full Wolf Moon:

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The Story of the Kind Wolf is hard to find but if you do find a copy - grab it! 

We also baked some fun "Wolf Paw Cookies" on Friday afternoon ...

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I got the idea for these on Pinterest, and they are basically a sugar cookie with Ghirardelli melting wafers and chocolate chips arranged to create the look of a paw. I'm not sure how well they achieve this, but needless to say they were a hit with my kids! (We left the candies off some of the cookies for those among us who are tragically unable to eat chocolate - the plain ones we called, Full Moon Cookies.)

So a book, a cookie, a moon view and a howl - all easy things to do, all sweet traditions to keep.

I've been doing these kinds of things since my children were tiny and it just never gets old, at least not for me! Obviously as the young ones get older their participation in and enjoyment of each "tradition" changes a little. But I still involve everyone who's home - Bookworm is away visiting friends right now, but Crackerjack is home on winter break and though he didn't howl or read the book with us - he happily partook of the cookies and he did watch the moon rise alongside us. 

I like to think these pastimes create lasting memories as well as a subtle yet meaningful awareness of the turn of the year. I hope most of all it adds a happy kind of glue to the days of our year - the ones that seem to go by too fast, while my boys quickly grow into young men.

I love doing for my family but there are also things that bring me personal comfort and joy, in the deepest days of winter ...

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Favorite magazines ... with such lovely, wintry covers.


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My favorite weekly "paper" - how I love Maria Shriver's writing! It arrives in my inbox early each Sunday morning, and I try to carve out time each week to savor her words and explore her links.

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My planner basket ... helping me feel a little more in control of my time and my responsibilities ...

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... and the miracle of the sunrise, which blesses us every day without fail. :-)

I stopped the car while driving Earlybird to school the other morning, just to snap a pic and absorb this peaceful moment. And I must confess, I was not at that moment feeling very peaceful, because it was not an easy ride that particular morning. EB was balking at going to school (kind of a new and challenging thing) and I was a jumble of over-caffeinated, over-tired nerves ...

Will he get out of the car this morning? Will he calm down and relax? Will I get a call from the school nurse today?

But the sunrise was still glorious as it is most days, and that golden orb rode silently alongside us, so I chatted with EB about what a really nice day it could and would be. He calmed - I calmed - and the eventual drop-off went about as well as it could. #phew

More comforts and joys ...

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These guys - 'nuff said.

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Keeping in touch with family and friends is important to me, though I wish I was a more timely correspondent! But how I love organizing a little correspondence basket - a place to stash stationary and stamps, a thick address book and the bundles of letters and notes in want of a reply.

I love to take pleasure in the little things but ...

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Most of all this. THIS is my favorite kind of comfort and joy.

I had just come home from that tense drive with EB and was working in the kitchen - half paying attention to the Today show as I got my own "today" going - when an  interview with a panel of older women who were all reinventing their careers caught my attention. They were all lovely women and the segment was certainly inspiring - but I paused to consider the fact that while I too am "getting older," as a full-time, homeschooling mom, I haven't had an actual "career" to speak of in nearly 25 years. 

And then my littlest guy wandered into the kitchen, fresh from his bed, still clad in his footies and all sleepy-eyed he said, "Mama, I need a hug."

Which of course was a need easily, and joyfully, met by this mama.

And that my friends, is one of the sweetest and most rewarding perks of my decades-long "profession" - the comfort and joy of being there for my kids when they need me. It's a blessing to be sure, and I don't take it for granted, not for one little minute. I am grateful I can be here - for their sakes as well as my own - and that I can devote my time and my energy to the business - and art - of keeping family and home.

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A final thought before I go -

Every day is a gift and every new year a blessing! And while  January is still fresh and new, I find myself looking forward to making some fun wintry memories ... and of course, sharing more cups of winter's tea with you all! 

As always, I thank you for joining me here today, and I wish you all a lovely week ahead. I'll be back with a fresh pot of Tea a little later this month, but you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook in between posts. 

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... I'll see you here again sometime soon!


Tea @ Dawn's ~ All Creation Waits, Welcome Winter & Gingerfolk!

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Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! Thanks so much for stopping by for Tea today.  :-)

With Christmas just around the corner, this is the last of my Late Autumn Teas - but I would like to continue in the new year with a follow-up series of "Deep Winter Teas." I haven't an official schedule or a list of tea themes in place yet, but will let you all know my plan just as soon as I can ... most likely I'll have information to share in my very next Tea which I'll host on January 3rd.

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Well, we're really down to the wire now aren't we?! So how are you all doing? If you celebrate, are you ready for Christmas? Or do you (like me) feel like you could use just a little more time? And I mean this both practically and spiritually speaking. As much as I try to absorb the beauty of Advent, and to make the season meaningful for my family - it always seems like the weeks fly by ...

And then there's me, torn between trying to slow down and trying to keep up. I do love to be organized and efficient - but I don't want any of us to feel overwhelmed or over-spent. I think that's perhaps one of the best arguments for keeping a planner and using it consistently - not necessarily to get MORE done, but to make room in our days for MORE of what's meaningful to us ...

A calm and peaceful home environment is very important to me - especially as the mom of an autistic child who struggles with anxiety and overstimulation. This is why I come up with these detailed plans for keeping Advent in such a way that our time is spent on slow-lane activities - like making homemade gifts, baking goodies, watching holiday specials, and getting out in nature. Inevitably however, reality intrudes upon my "quiet little Advent plan" and then there's a last minute flurry of activity thrusting me out into the world for things like forgotten gifts, tip monies, feast day ingredients - batteries! - etc.

For the most part however, these past couple of weeks have been quite lovely - and now this mama bear has all her cubs around her in the ol' family den! Bookworm (24) is taking his last final as I type up this post and Crackerjack (20) came home from college a few days ago ... Earlybird (18) finished school on Friday and Little Bear (6) and I are on a little break from (formal) homeschooling. The younger two will be back to school/homeschool after New Year's and the older two will be back at classes later in January.

Speaking of all my kids - here is our Christmas card this year!

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(front)

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(back)

(With thanks to my cousin, Kristen, for taking our family photo on Thanksgiving Day! The photos of the younger boys on the back are their "class pictures" this year.)

Now, let's get on with our Tea, shall we? As you see in my top photo, it's a rather basic tea for me this week - a favorite seasonal blend served in one of my sturdiest holiday mugs. I've had this set of mugs (and a matching pitcher) before I was even married! I like to serve the boys cocoa or wassail in these mugs (and eggnog in the pitcher), but they do a bang-up job holding a generous amount of tea, too. I snapped this pic as I worked in my bullet journal the other night, sitting beside our tree. I didn't even have a snack with me at the time, though I do have some lovely ginger "folk" cookies in my oven right now and oh my GOODNESS do they smell good!

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Cookie making is a holiday activity I've unfortunately let slip the past few years, and everyone misses it. Especially my husband who fondly remembers Christmases when his mom was busy baking in the kitchen and he and his siblings were gobbling up his grandmother's snappy and spicy gingerbread men. So Little Bear and I made up a batch of dough this week to keep in the fridge so we could bake cookies whenever the mood struck.

Here's my little kitchen helper ...

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So earnest ... ❀

So as I've mentioned in previous posts, our Advent journey is nature-based, celebrating the wonders of God's beautiful creation. The first week was all about the HOPE of heaven and earth (stars, stones, shells) and the second week focused on the PEACE of the plant kingdom while in this third week of Advent we are finding JOY in the animal realm - in particular those that live in our local habitat but most especially those that live in our own home!

Here's a peek at my planning for this week in which "all creation waits" ...

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And here is my journal spread open and set on our sunny work table ...

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I love our wooden animal collection but perhaps never more so than during Advent!

Here are some of the books we read this week ...

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... and this is the verse I read aloud:

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(The lovely poem comes from this book, a favorite resource among Waldorf homeschoolers. I use each seasonal volume ALL THE TIME in our seasonal homeschooling!)

Speaking of books, do you have favorite holiday stories you return to year after year? 

The page spread below is from one of my favorite Christmas books - Baby's Christmas by Eloise Wilkin. It's a very simple little story depicting sweet and precious Advent activities in a home with a few small children and every page is just like this one here ...

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This picture just says Advent to me - that sky, that snow, the birds at the feeder and the natural decorations in the window. Not to mention the little ones bundled up singing carols! I read this book with Little Bear this week and we really looked this page all over. I pointed out the birds and how beautifully they blended in with the celebration - perhaps the birds were listening to the children's voices, maybe they were singing along themselves? We noticed how the sunset sky looked just like the one outside our own windows - Advent colors, in fact! I thought this whole scene complemented our theme this week nicely ...

We also spent a lot our "school mornings" making crafts this month. I love to craft, but try to be mindful of making things with a purpose and using materials responsibly. Here's what we've been up to ...

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HOLIDAY SPICE SACHETS 

Exploring seasonal spices on St. Lucia's Day ...

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I placed whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise in a small bowl and then let Little Bear go at them with a pestle ...

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Boy did he enjoy grinding those spices! A satisfying activity and wonderfully fragrant as well!

We next filled a little muslin sachet bag with our "holiday spice" blend...

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... and then hung it in the tree!

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(I made the little tag using a snowflake craft punch and some natural brown card stock.)

This is the book we read on St. Lucia's Day ...

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... and this is the cinnamon-maple biscuit bread ring we made for tea!

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("Tea" being a child-friendly, gently spiced juice blend - but we called it "Glogg.")

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Also last week, we expanded our little Advent Garden ...

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The beeswax candle (supervised closely and nestled in pebbles for safety) represents a gift of the bees.

Meanwhile, Oliver stood guard ...

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Let me tell you, it's been quite a challenge, keeping the cats away from this little shell-, stone- and moss-filled garden ... but look how prettily it it sits on our table, echoing the late-setting sun in the distance:

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(Not to worry - I blew the candle out as soon as we were done taking pictures!)

Another craft we had much fun making last week was a merry mini mitten made from sheep's wool and felt ...

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MITTEN ORNAMENT

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We began by cutting out mitten shapes from the red felt, and a snowflake shape from the white. (This was mama's job and I used that craft punch again to make a snowflake stencil, then traced the shape onto the felt with a marker.)

We placed a bit of sheep's wool in the center of one mitten half, and sprinkled it with a wee bit of catnip ... that was all Little Bear. ;-)

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I could have sewn the edges together and honestly that might have been the better plan, but instead, we used glue to seal the mitten and attach the little snowflake embellishment.

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This is a project that might be too fiddly for little hands alone, but with a big person's help it should turn out ok!

Although ...

We hadn't taken into account just how NUTS our cats become when there is catnip in the house!

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I'm not sure about other cats, but catnip does not make my fellas all dreamy and happy and relaxed. Oh no ...

MY cats go absolutely feral ... beserk, even! So we quickly realized the pretty mitten with its bits and bobs would be torn apart in a heartbeat (and most likely ingested) so instead we decided to hang the mitten high up on our tree.

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(I just glued on a little ribbon edging and made a loop for hanging.)

A wonderful story to go with this craft - and for wintertime in general:

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The Mitten by Jan Brett.

We are BIG Jan Brett fans and have nearly all her books in our collection. I have a very happy memory of taking two (or maybe three) of my kids to a small bookshop in Cambridge many years ago, to wait in line for an author signing. The wait was long and I remember my kids were a little cranky but Ms. Brett was quite lovely!

Returning to the present though ... because if you get me waxing nostalgic this post will become very long indeed!

On another day we stumbled upon a wooden shape I had in my craft stash, and when Little Bear declared it "the perfect stable," we decided to fancy it up a bit to represent each layer of creation ...

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COZY CREATION CRECHE

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We first gathered some stones and sticks from the yard ...

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... and brought the lot of it inside.

(As  usual, Archie considered himself project supervisor ... ahem!)

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Stones were applied to the foundation of the creche, and trimmed branches were fitted along the framework ...

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Our last step was to glue bits of (craft) moss and lichen to the rooftop:

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A very simple but very satisfying craft!

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I asked Little Bear what should happen inside our stable as we move closer to Christmas - and he's mulling that one over, considering our vast animal collection and some wooden peg dolls his mama has set aside for a nativity scene ...

But in the meantime, we talked about another big event approaching - the changing of seasons this weekend! So as the week drew to a close and the first day of Winter loomed near, we made up little treats to honor the many types of wildlife that visit our backyard ...

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SOLSTICE "TREE" TREATS 

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Oranges are such a lovely wintertime treat - healthy and delicious, their shape and color reminds us of the sun which is now growing stronger every day. I sliced some oranges for Little Bear's critter treats but set some aside for drying in my oven (200Β° F for 2-3 hours). I love using dried oranges in festive winter garlands.

Little Bear meanwhile, set to work ...

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Crunchy peanut butter smeared on pinecones and tp rolls, rolled in black oil seed ... orange and apple slices, too!

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All ready to go!

We like to choose a tree (or bush) for an outdoor "Solstice Tree" each year, and this is where is where we hung our treats!

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We also remembered to honor our chickens with a few treats on this cold snowy day ...

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Our hens just love black oil seed and (not shown) a tray of sweet corn kernals is always a hit.

But we were not yet done with our Solstice gifts!

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We made a sun shape from seed on the patio - how fun!

And as we watched the last sunset of autumn slip behind our western woods, we spied squirrels enjoying our simple offering ...

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Goodbye until next year, dear Autumn ... and welcome back, Sun!

Now before I go I want to remind you all that there is just one more day left to enter my "Winter Comfort & Joy Box" Giveaway!

Thank you to all who have left comments and/or shared my posts here and elsewhere online. You may leave comments again here on this post if you'd like and tomorrow evening (Monday, December 23rd) I will go through all the names and then ...

I will be announcing a winner!

So please stay tuned and as always, I thank you for joining me for Tea! I hope you all enjoy your Sunday ...

I'll see  you here again late tomorrow!


πŸ‚ ~ Thanksgiving Memories & Advent Plans ~πŸŽ„

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Hello, my friends and Happy Friday! I'm popping in with a quick post on this bright and brisk day-after the big Thanksgiving feast! I wanted to share some pics from our family's gathering and I also wanted to share a couple of links with you all since Sunday not only brings us December - it also begins the much anticipated season of Advent!

Goodness - where has the year gone, I ask you?!

Now before I get started on sharing a bajillion or so family photos, here's what I'm also working on today - as I sip my tea and put up my feet - a little Advent planning!

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These special pages are part of my December 2019 planning sheets, but if you'd like just the holiday planning section, here is the separate PDF:

Preparing for Christmas 2019 

Also, if you are looking for some family-friendly Advent ideas, here are a couple of activity guides:

Advent Countdown: Stories & Simple Activities

24 Nature-Based Advent Activities

These were created over the past couple of years so their timeliness (re ~ Advent weeks and dates) might be a bit off, but since I myself am looking over these guides as I work on our December plans, I thought you might find them helpful, too!

Today however, we are in "recoup" mode - recharging our batteries you might say - and tomorrow we will be getting our tree before a storm hits Sunday night! I've been poring over the pictures taken yesterday and feeling such gratitude for another holiday spent with our loved ones. It was a truly enjoyable day and possibly the largest gathering we've had in recent memory! We spent the day cooking, eating, laughing, eating some more - and cleaning up over eggnog and coffee!

People often comment that it must be an awful lot of work to pull together a holiday gathering of such a large size - and it is, certainly. But we are blessed to be surrounded by many helpful hands and so this is all very much a team effort. Bill and I ready the house - but everybody cooks (especially my Mum) and several folks pitch in to help clean up. I am also thankful for our son Crackerjack who took these lovely pictures!

First a little look at the set up:

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I like to spread the food and drinks around the house so people move around and mingle. For most gatherings, Bill's desk gets turned into a pretty spot for serving punch and special seasonal drinks ...

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We enjoy serving a "signature cocktail" at our parties and this year we had not one, but two! First we had these delicious fruit wines purchased from a favorite local orchard, and then across the room, where desserts were served, I set up a smaller punch bowl next to the coffee urn. I  filled it with a couple of bottles of delicious (yet potent!) Trader Joe's Egg Nog, courtesy of my brother, Matt who works for the chain!

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Now, if you're a long time reader then you know how I feel about punch - if it's a party there must be punch! Usually I follow a particular recipe but this one was literally thrown together at the last minute. I just mixed some fruit punch with sparkling cider and tossed in some sliced apples and oranges ... and it was quite refreshing! I think I will serve something like this at Christmas, perhaps with a bit more citrus and a pretty ice ring filled with cranberries and herb sprigs ...

I must admit, I really enjoy all the cleaning and prep before a holiday ... well, maybe not the cleaning as much, but I do love decorating my home with the little knickknacks we've gathered through the years ...

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In this particular bookcase, messy piles of homeschool books made room for a cozy seasonal display!

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And here is our gratitude tree for the family's blessings - branches gathered by my boys and leaves organized by my cousin Caitlin. As a family we enjoy sharing our thankful thoughts after dinner each year, but here's a little shocking confession ...

We forgot to do them this year!! πŸ˜³

And here I thought I was begin so clever with that vase full of branches, lol. Usually I place a leaf and a crayon by each place setting and then gather them up after dinner to be read over coffee, but I guess out of sight equaled out of mind!

So alas - our gratitude will have to be carried silently in our hearts, while these leaves will go into a little storage bag and we will be ALL SET for Thanksgiving 2020!

Now as you can imagine, seating for 26 can be a little tricky ...

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But we managed it!

In the dining room proper, we set a table for eight, but pushed it towards the front-facing windows. This made room for a second table which served as a buffet.

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The kitchen table got an extra leaf and was also pressed into service for eight.

(Tip: Flowers can be expensive so I like to use candles and other items I might have on hand for centerpieces when I can. On this table we filled a cornucopia basket with shiny red apples!)

We also set up three small rented tables in the family room - I didn't get a good pic of this set up - and these provided seating for 12 people. In the center of each of those tables I placed a mason jar with a couple of sunflowers, as well as a small tea light candle.

Now for some food shots - but first, here is our head chef, the woman without whom none of this would be possible - my mum.

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(We didn't even plan the coordinating tops, I swear!)

So yes, Mum does most of the cooking - with my Dad handy for temperature-testing and carving - while I run around and help where I can!

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Oh, and by the way, my ovens died - momentarily - just after we took out the 22 lb. turkey to rest! 

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(My ovens are OLD and badly need replacing. Maybe I should speak to Santa about that?)

Thankfully though, after a brief rest, the ovens rallied and we were able to heat all the side dishes ...

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There's my Dad getting the carving underway! As you can see, we combined a ham with that large turkey this year, and my mother-in-law also cooked and brought up an eight lb. roasted and stuffed turkey breast!

Bookworm also does a lot of the cooking - in addition to a fabulous sweet potato dish (topped with ricotta cheese, pecans and dried cranberries) and a scrumptious peanut butter pie, he also made this cute and quirky dish ...

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Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Chocolate Bark!

So if you're familiar with the beloved holiday special, you might remember that Snoopy serves the gang - spoiler alert! - a Thanksgiving dinner of buttered toast, popcorn and jelly beans. You might also remember that Peppermint Patty balks rather ungraciously at this admittedly, untraditional meal - thus providing the dramatic tension that leads to a thoughtful lesson from Linus - meant for us all - in tradition, history and respect.

(You might also recall I take my Charlie Brown special very seriously!)

Ok, moving on - we were very blessed this year to have a house-full of youngins and as you can imagine, Little Bear was in his glories!

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(Always in motion, these two peas in a pod!)

You know, I remember when these two (below) were the "younger kids" and now look at them!

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Crackerjack (20) home from college and Earlybird, 18 in two weeks ... this is a little sneak peek corner of our Christmas photo! (Full reveal at Tea on the 20th!)

Now for some more family photos ... πŸ§‘

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And last but not least, we sang "Happy Birthday" to Mum!

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(Spice cake decorated with spice drops, served with maple-walnut ice cream - her favorite!)

And so that was our Thanksgiving! And now ... we're on to Christmas!

Well, Advent to start of course, but before we know it, December 25th will be here and we'll be gathering together once again, to rejoice and reconnect before 2019 comes to an end.

β€οΈπŸŽ„πŸŽ…πŸ»β„οΈβ€οΈ

Now, before I go I want to remind everyone that I have a Giveaway going on through December 22nd! Please read this post for all the details - and please note - a comment here will be considered another contest entry! :-)

A week from today (12/6) will brings my next Tea @ Dawn's post and my themes will be Heaven & Earth, Holiday Greenery & Christmas Trees. I'm so looking forward to it!

Well my friends, thanks so much for joining me here today, and I wish you all a happy end to November ... enjoy the weekend and I will see you here again late next week!


Hello, my name is ... and Happy September!

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Hello my friends, HELLO! 😊

Goodness, it's been a long, long while since I last posted ... and I'm pretty sure I started my most recent post that way (way back in May!), but I am checking in today to share something I posted over on Instagram this morning, a little update on our homeschooling status, since so much has changed in recent years!

I hope you are all doing well and that you had a nice summer. Ours was really nice and fairly relaxing, even if I didn't get back into the blogging groove as I'd hoped. This first week of September we've been in "re-entry" mode, getting everyone started off on their various educational paths (see below for details) and I am now REALLY ready for the weekend! Whew, as much as I love getting "back to routine" in the fall, I'm finding it a challenge to adjust my mindset and energies - to keep everyone on track and still find time for myself and my own personal routines. 

Well, I have so much to talk about - I mean, are you as excited for DOWNTON ABBEY this month as I am??? We must discuss - but for today I'll just share this update, and hope to be back again soon to continue catching up. I have a new PDF booklet to share - "Early Autumn Homekeeping" - and with just a few more tweaks I should have that ready to go this weekend. I hate to promise anything these days but I will do my very best to be here more often ... in the meantime, you can find me on Instagram where I post a little something just about every day. I'm a little slower at Facebook, but I am over there too on occasion!

Ok, see you all soon ... I hope you enjoy this post and I hope you will stop by the comments box below and drop me a note! I'd love to know how you are doing and what kinds of changes this fall might be bringing to your life!

πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚

✨Happy Friday, everyone! It's been a while since I've done this, so I thought I'd post a little #fridayintroduction today. I wanted to catch you all up with where I'm at as a homeschooling mom these days!

Well, first of all, my name is Dawn, and I am a mom from Massachusetts. 😊And since this begins our 20th year of homeschooling, I guess you could call me a "veteran," but these days our homeschool looks mighty different than it once did! If you followed my blog "back in the day," when our older boys were all little and homeschooling, you might be surprised to learn their current ages: 24, 20 and 17! (Believe me, I'm just as shocked as you are.)

So this year I am homeschooling just one "student" - our youngest (affectionately known as Little Bear in social media circles πŸ˜‰), who is now six years old and just starting out on his homeschool journey. How happy it makes me, to do this all over again ...

Teaching first grade for the fourth time around may look very different, but it feels absolutely wonderful!

So how are our older boys doing? Well, Bookworm graduated from Boston College in 2017 and is now pursuing his master's degree in Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts. Crackerjack is now a college sophomore, studying Sociology at Emmanuel College in Boston, with a minor in Spanish. He hopes to enter the field of social work when he graduates in 2020.

Earlybird, our 17 yo son with autism, is now enrolled at our local high school. Having been homeschooled his entire life (as were all our boys up until college) this was a HUGE decision, and though it seemed to happen rather suddenly last spring (a speech eval at the school turned into an invitation to "try things out") it just seemed to really make sense for our son whose needs had outgrown what we were able to provide. And this is really a topic for a whole separate post (meeting special needs when homeschooling), but let me just say that I am 100% content with our decision to put EB in school - just as I am forever grateful we were able to homeschool him for his first 17 years of life.

I truly believe it was all meant to be - his experiences at home and within our family (as well as the past five years of home ABA) brought him where he needed to be in order to be ready for THIS new experience. And he is doing so well at school and is considered such a joy and a "ray of sunshine" to his peers and teachers. I post often about our "life with Riley" and I try to be as open as I can about the struggles as well as the triumphs. The journey is full of ups and downs, but as I like to remember - every day is a gift and we hope for progress not perfection!

And so all this brings me to Little Bear, my little homeschool fledgling! As I mentioned above this year we begin first grade at home, and we are using Oak Meadow Curriculum - as well as many other things! We've used Oak Meadow with all of our children, combined with my own "seasonal homeschooling" curriculum. I would call us "eclectic" homeschoolers with a leaning towards Waldorf and Charlotte Mason philosophies.

I will be posting a lot about our homeschool journey as we move through the year (and God willing, years) ... so I hope you'll check in and take a peek, say hello, let me know how your days are going! I'm a pretty active poster on Instagram and it is my goal this coming school year to be more active at my blog again as well.

A couple of quick things before I go ...

I am absolutely still blogging - I hope to pick things up over here this autumn!

I will have my 2020 planning sheets ready to go just as soon as possible!

I am super excited to see the Downton exhibit this month AS WELL AS the movie, and I will definitely be posting about all THAT!

πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚πŸ’›πŸ‚πŸ§‘πŸ‚

Thanks so much for reading, my friends, and as always ...

I hope to be back here again very soon!


Holiday Tea at Dawn's ~ Cozy Winter Nests (Pt. 1)

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! I hope you all had a nice weekend and that your December is off to a great start! β€οΈ

Well, I just had so much to share with you today, I decided to split this post in two! More on that in a bit, but first of all, WELCOME! Thank you so much for joining me for another weekly tea. Today we'll chat about crafting a little "cozy" for ourselves before winter sets in. We'll also talk about my favorite tea, my homemade planner and few of our Advent plans for the week!

But let's begin by talking about tea - which for me, is pretty much synonymous with "cozy" - so let me ask you this if I may:

If you could conjure up the perfect, most comforting and appealing "tea" you could imagine (with or without goodies), what would that tea look (and taste) like?

Well for me it would be a big mug of a preferred and special hot beverage, accompanied by just a little something sweet and homemade, such as a plain cookie or biscuit. I usually just drink black decaf (tea) through the day, but lately I've been indulging in an extra special evening tea that - though it requires a little more prep - is entirely worth the extra effort!

So, have you ever heard of a London Fog Latte?

< Now, here is where I would have posted a picture of this very special and preferred tea beverage of mine, only - real life got in the darn way! So today's afternoon tea became a less "special" affair, though certainly no less satisfying. Earlybird had a physical this afternoon at 1:30 and, as many of you know, our autistic son has some BIG anxiety when it comes to doctor's appointments. Happily, the appointment itself went really well ... but unfortunately, Bill got called into work, so he had to miss the doctor's visit (we usually go together to the kids checkups) AND so, he was not on hand this afternoon to make me my very special beverage!! (He's quite involved in the prep work, and it's just not the same without him!) Anyhoo, the appointment (though great) went long, we had some food shopping to do (natch), and we just got home now (at 4:13 p.m.), so I've made myself a very "regular" cup of tea - my old standby - and this is what I'm having right now as I type ...

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It's so dark at this time of day!! I know that bothers a lot of people, but I don't mind so much. The sun was going down as we finished up our errands, and it just felt SO GOOD to get home ...

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... I might have had to slow down and take a dashboard pic of this sunset! For me, whatever the season, watching the sun set is always a cozy moment - but perhaps all the more so in late autumn.>

Ok, let's get back to our tea discussion now! In my NEXT post I will show you what my favorite drink looks like, but for now you will have to just take my word for it: it's a very pretty drink!

I stumbled across a London Fog Latte - on Pinterest maybe? - but the first time I ever had one was at Starbucks. They don't list the drink on their menu, but I heard it through the grapevine you could ask for such a thing, and so that's just what I did! Admittedly, I might have felt a little silly asking for something off-menu (much as I did the time I requested a "Franken Frappuccino" or some such nonsense one Halloween) but the barista barely blinked at my request and got right to work. It was a very good and memorable drink - but I like the ones we make at home even better!

Here is how I make this comforting and delicious hot beverage:

I first prep a cup of Earl Grey tea just as I usually do. I use Bigelow's decaf version with one sugar and a good splash of milk. As my tea steeps, Bill starts steaming some whole organic milk. He uses a Breville Milk Frother to steam and froth the milk (a gadget we've had for years but I've never used myself). You could just heat some milk in a saucepan but then you wouldn't get those lofty peaks of dairy delight!

Once the tea is prepared, I add a splash of vanilla, and then I top it off with the delicious and creamy frothed milk Bill has prepared ... and it is just so, so good! It would perhaps be really nice to make some lavender sugar to dust on top sometime ... but I am a little hesitant to mess with perfection!

Now, I don't drink this every night but maybe once or twice a week. I started drinking it a few months ago, when I found myself needing more of a "ritual" for unwinding in the evening. It's soothing and just a little sweet, and it just presses a button in me somewhere that says, "slow down and settle yourself." :)

Also, fyi, I recently found a loose tea blend from Harney & Sons called "Victorian London Fog."

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I have yet to try it but will let you know once I do!

Now, let's talk about the cookie portion of my "tea" and for me, I can think of no "cozier" cookie than shortbread. I made these little "bites" on Friday, in honor of  St. Andrew's Day. They are incredibly easy to make and keep really well!

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Shortbread cookies have long been my favorite - to me they are an absolutely perfect treat: small, simple and suffused with a soft buttery flavor. I use a recipe I found online and it is just so super easy! Just three ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. What's not to love??

I usually cut the baked dough into simple rectangles (with the iconic fork marks) but I decided to try star shapes in light of the first week of Advent. (As many of you know, we follow a nature-based Advent tradition, and this week our theme is "seeing the light of earth & sky." For more on our family traditions, please see my Advent Crafts and Plans archive and in particular, for this week, this post.)

Now at this time of year, it's all too easy to spend time inside, where it's warm and bright and ... yes, cozy! But there is something to be said for getting outside when we can ... and creating a little light of our own to hold fast against the gathering darkness. So the other night we took advantage of dry conditions and had ourselves a little "Welcome December" bonfire ...

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(Pop on over to this post to see a quick bonfire video!)

You all know I love to talk weather, so I must ask: how's the weather where you are? Is it chilly and gray, inspiring you to seek your comforts indoors? Or is it mild and bright, luring you outside? It's been up and down here in New England. As I began the draft of this post, it was a very dark and rainy Sunday ... but as I finish up at Monday teatime suppertime, the day has been sunny and unseasonably mild!

Speaking of weather, one thing that can be tricky when planning out an Advent Countdown is, in fact, the weather. Sometimes I have a particular activity in mind, but if the weather turns foul a change in plans becomes necessary. So one of the things I like to do when I sit down to plan out our week - any week of the year - is to consult the Weather Channel app on my phone. 

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Not that the weather can't change, but usually the weekly forecast gives me a pretty good idea how easy it will be to get the kids outside! (Happily the week looks great for finding nests, gathering branches, and taking an evening "lights" walk!)

On that note, since we're now talking about plans, here is a better look at this week's spread in my homemade seasonal planner ...

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This week's seasonal theme: "Cozy Nests." Our first week of Advent theme: "sticks, stones, stars."

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The left-hand page is an overview of the week ...

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While the right-hand side is set up for the week's agenda (schedule) and homeschooling notes ...

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It was important to me to include a section in my planner for seasonal crafts & comforts ... 

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(We don't do it all, but I do keep the plans from year to year!)

This corner shows where I write out all the "events of note" for the week, as well as our dinner menus plans.

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And finally, here is where I write in my little weather notes!

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All these pages shown here are in my spiral-bound planner, but I have been experimenting with keeping these pages in a three-ring binder instead. Each planning platform has its merits - I just need to figure out which works better for me!

Now before I go (for now) ... I feel I need to tell you about some really wonderful holiday programming on this Thursday night!

First, at 8 p.m. ...

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A Charlie Brown Christmas ... :)

It's family tradition to all sit together and watch this show WHEN it is airing on national TV. Sure we could watch it anytime on DVD, but that's just not the same.

Amiright?

And then, immediately following ...

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The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition!

I'm very much looking forward to watching both of these shows. The Baking Show is on after my bedtime, so thank goodness for that DVR!

Well my friends, I'll be off for now since I've kept you here for so long. We have more "cozy" concepts to discuss, so I hope you'll join me later this week in a follow up post. I will share thoughts on enhancing the comforts of home, as well as some pictures of my own "winter nesting spot." And if anyone would like to share their own nest, please feel free to email me your pics (with a brief description) and I will include them in my post!

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Thanks so much for stopping by everyone ... see you here again very soon!


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

Hello my friends, and Happy July! πŸŽ† 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. πŸ’›

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 90Β°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. πŸ’™

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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. πŸ’™

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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. πŸ’™

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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!


Mitten Strings for God, ch. 15: "Listening"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! I hope this week is going well for you so far!

Now, before digging into our book study, I must first apologize that this post has arrived much later than promised ... and that my posting in general has slowed down so much lately. I feel like a broken record, but it's been such a busy season for us and I really haven't had a lot of time to spend on my favorite "mama" things (blogging, journaling, reading, making planners). You know, all the fun things that get highlighted in pink in said planners!

Anyhoo, we've finally made it through all that busy-ness! Because just this past week we not only wrapped up our school year, but we also celebrated Crackerjack's graduation AND attended Orientation at Emmanuel College! And these are all good and happy things ... leading up to what I hope will be a fairly quiet and restful summer. Because I'm not one for busy-ness to be perfectly honest ... needing to "hustle" does not make me happy, lol!

But let's get on with our Mitten Strings for God chapter discussion, shall we? This week we are talking about the concept of "Listening," and what a wonderful thing for a parent to consider ...

How often do I make time to stop and listen - not just to my children, but with them?

When I (re)read this chapter I immediately thought of a particular homeschool memory - an activity I blogged about 10 years ago that illustrated the value in slowing down and opening our ears (and hearts) to the natural world around us.

Longtime readers might remember this picture ... ?

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"In order to listen, we must be quiet." (MSfG, p. 104)

This picture was taken during one of my favorite homeschooling adventures, a Nature Club meeting back in April 2008. These are my older two boys, "on the trail," and the theme of this excursion, organized by two fellow homeschooling moms, was "Silent Spring." The purpose of the outing was to encourage our large and boisterous group to enter the woods in total and complete silence, so that we might:

"... amplify our other senses, and catch things we might otherwise miss. We could sketch, draw, take pictures, write notes or even poetry ... but not a word was to be passed - until we met back up again an hour later to compare findings." (A quote from my original post.)

It was such an amazing walk! Our kids who loved running about and climbing and shouting and chasing and pretty much doing absolutely nothing to entice wildlife out of hiding - took right away to the idea of silence, and enjoyed figuring out how to share their thoughts without words. They developed signals and used sketchbooks to communicate their questions about - and impressions of - the nature they encountered.

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We moms could have told the kids all about the things they'd see, but instead we left it to them to make their own observations and form their own opinions. Many times our wide eyes would meet across the trail as a sudden sound caught our attention - but we expressed our wonder and awe in ways that required careful attention. I think it was a richer experience for us all, immersing our silent selves in that not-so-silent woodland on that beautiful, unforgettable, spring day ...

Rereading this chapter (and reminiscing over that nature walk) reminded me of a vow I once held dear in my heart - to raise my children to be aware of the more subtle (yet plentiful) joys of our world. Day in or day out. Rain or shine. Whatever the season might be. Such an awareness doesn't just happen - it needs to be cultivated and maintained. I realized then (if I've sometimes forgotten it now) that it's up to we parents to show them the way through the years ...

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There is so much joy to be found in the activity of listening itself! We all know how wonderful it is to share a special moment with a child, to listen together for either a specific sound or perhaps await a surprise. The giggles, the hushing, the eyes that widen when at last a sound reaches our eager ears ...

How wonderful to encourage this type of quiet activity - and to engage in it ourselves! Children may be noisy creatures, but they also love to conspire. :)

"... within each child there is also an innate talent for listening that deserves to be honored and encouraged." (p. 105)

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(Now, this might look like an action shot, but actually, Little Bear and I were staying as quiet and still as possible here, perched on our herb garden, "communing with" the chipmunks all around us. I also have a neat little video you can watch (and listen to!) here ...)

For certain our world is a noisy one, and kids are, by and large, just that. Noisy. My house, for example (and as you might imagine), is not always (or often) quiet. (Reminder: We have four boys - 22, 18, 16 and 5 - and all of them (happily) live at home.)

The laughter and chatter of my children, the sounds of our home doing its thing - feet on the stairs, a coffeepot perking, the hens squawking, the birds singing, a toilet flushing, a door closing (perhaps slamming) ... these are loud sounds sometimes, yes, but life is just FULL of such happy, life-living sounds. (Well the door slamming isn't really happy and believe you me, some sounds are not as cheerful as others, but all in all, I am grateful for all these noises that represent a full and family-oriented life!

Our house, like many others I would guess, can also be full of just plain old noise, because there are audio/video devices everywhere - on our walls, in our cars, in our hands. Text alerts, tv shows, radio news, video games ... part of life, yes, but not necessarily the sounds I'd like to surround myself with frequently.

Too much artificial noise not only drowns out the "muted sounds of earth and sky, soul and spirit," but it can alter our listening "palate." Softer sounds like the wind in the trees, a distant bird call, the soft drip of rain off a roof - these might not hold much appeal if a child is not first shown how to appreciate them.

But oh, how they respond when they're let in on nature's secrets ... :)

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Quiet times spent together are such a gift - for both parent and child. We slow down, they absorb - we all enjoy each other. What a life-long gift to not only teach our children how to enjoy such times, but how to find a little quiet where they can. 

"We can all find a moment in every day for listening, a moment in which we gather our children close, open our ears, and luxuriate in the sounds of our world, wherever we may be." (p. 107)

I so enjoyed this chapter - as I do every chapter - and I deeply appreciate the lessons it reminds me of, veteran mom that I am now. ;-) I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, too! Please drop a note if you have time ... but as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading. 

I had all intention of setting a Mitten Strings for God book study schedule with this post, but alas - I'm cautious to do so. I do anticipate a quiet and laid back summer and in theory I should have more time for blogging, but I'm hesitant to set myself up for failure!

That said, the next chapter is a topic near and dear to my heart - Nature - and I am really excited to delve into it. I am going to propose Sunday, July 8th for our next Mitten Strings Tea ... but if I need to tweak the timing a bit I will let you know as soon as I'm able. (I generally announce things like that on Facebook and Instagram.)

For now though, I will be off ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

I will see you here again very soon!


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 ... πŸ’™

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 β€œperfect” 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, β€œI 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. πŸš™ πŸ’¨

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 β€œeveryday” 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. πŸ™πŸ» 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? πŸ€”

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! πŸ‘πŸ»

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!


Mitten Strings for God: Ch. 14 "Healing"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Thank you so much for stopping by. It's been a bright and mild weekend here in New England, and the brisk air smells like woodsmoke and soft earth ... I think it's safe to say Spring has finally sprung! πŸ’š

How are things where you are these days? I'd love to talk weather, and compare notes ... but first, may I offer you a cup of tea?

As many of you know, I drink tea nearly every day, and as I suspect most tea-lovers would agree, it never tastes (nor feels) quite so good as it does when one is feeling a bit under the weather. I find it to be the very best kind of medicine - much like a hug in a mug. :)

Now, generally speaking, I stick with black teas (and usually decaf) but I do love a nice herbal tea from time to time. The soothing heat and fragrant herbs seem to go straight where I need them. I find all teas both physically and spiritually nourishing, but herb teas really seem just a bit magical, don't you think?

Have an ailment? There's a tea for that:

Can't sleep? Lavender. Tummy upset? Peppermint. Need to relax? Floral. Brain fog? Lemon.

I am definitely no expert in herbs and herbal teas, but I am eager to learn as much as I can. It's a bit of a hobby of mine, though my thumb isn't quite as green as it could be. But with each growing season I get a little more "authentic" as a budding, amateur herbalist, and I try to expand how we incorporate herbs (and other natural alternatives) in our household with each passing year, too. 

As for today's tea, though - it's a rather healing one, and perfect for this post. Because honest to Pete, I am in fact nursing a sore throat. It seems a bit early in the year to blame allergies, so instead I'll point the finger at Crackerjack who brought home a lousy cold early last week. Usually I'm fairly immune to most cold viruses - for some happy reason, they skip over me - but this one is gathering steam and has become a bit of a bother. So herbal tea was my choice today (a lovely Buttermint I'm particularly fond of) and for good measure, I threw down a few of my favorite cough drops. (I also snuck a dollop of honey in my brew ... I think half the battle is lifting one's spirits when fighting an illness and I'm the first admit I like things rather sweet!)

Ok, so that's enough about my tea - which as you can see above was taken at my writing desk, with a nice view of the side yard where Bill and the older boys were doing some burning. At the other window, a little further down on this wall, I had situated the younger two, who were not allowed outside until the burning was done (or nearly). I encouraged them to sit here in the window and watch, while I worked on my weekly planning on the other side of the room.

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As you can imagine, the leaping flames caused a bit of excitement! Finally, once the pile was nearly done, I brought them outside to sit and watch ... at a distance:

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We haven't burned in years, as we try to compost as much as we can instead - but this past winter's tree damage was really above and beyond what we can handle. So burning was the thing to do on this day!

Ok, so now you're all wondering - weren't we here to talk about a book?

Well ... continuing on with our Mitten Strings for God book study, this week we are talking about "Healing," an important (and multi-layered) parenting concept. Because there's taking care of our children's bodies when they are injured or ill ... and then there's taking care of their insides - wounded feelings or weepy moods - when it's needed. These are all opportunities to teach our children how we treat those we love, and show them how much they mean to us.

"When we minister to our children with love and care, we teach them to care for others in return. Through our own loving example, we show the healing way, opening their hearts to the needs of those around them." (p. 102)

Healing our children is so much more than just tending to a knee bump or a head cold - because as we do, we are also comforting and soothing their very spirits. We are showing them how love works. We're reminding them they're not alone in this world. We're proving to them that they matter. And we are telling them we are here for them always - a little blood or boogie isn't going to keep their mamas (or papas) away!

"But sometimes our children are really asking for more from us than a perfunctory response, and that is when we must minister not only to the skinned knee, but to an inner need as well. It does not good to advise a weeping child that the pain will go away on its own. We are mothers, after all, and it is our job to DO something." (p. 100)

And so that's what we do, we mamas ... we figure out just what TO do. Sometimes it's just a brush of the bottom and a kiss on the cheek. "Ok, you're fine - off you go!" But sometimes a little more attention is warranted, and that's when we reach for the heavy artillery: cough syrups, calamine, soothing salves and perhaps best of all, the bandaids ...

What would we ever DO without bandaids??

"To an adult, a Band-Aid may be nothing but a sticky plastic strip; but to a child it is a badge of honor, imbued with magical healing properties. Be grateful, and stock up." (p. 101)

Now you might keep these kinds of medicinal products and first aid accessories on a shelf in your pantry or a bin at the bottom of your linen closet. But what I LOVED best of all about this chapter was the suggestion to make up a special basket to use when tending to our children in their time(s) of need.

"And so I created the "hurt basket," a treasure chest of magical lotions, potions, and healing aids." (p. 101)

We keep our medicinal supplies in a few different places. There is a small assortment of vitamins, cough drops and pain relievers at the very top of the kitchen pantry, but the bulk of our supply is kept in our bathroom cabinet:

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Aka the subject of a future "Full Disclosure Friday" because like most of the storage zones in our household, it's woefully underused and despairingly disorganized. So while we're at it, here's another storage area that I have yet (in five years living here) figured out best how to use:

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(This one is located just outside of the bathroom, inside the master bedroom. Truly, we have so much storage space in this house there is really no excuse for clutter - but I have been TERRIBLE about taking advantage of it!)

Alas, I digress (as I'm wont to do) ...

So here is what I set up some time ago, our own "boo-boo basket" ...

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This lovely basket was hand-painted by Bill's grandmother many years ago ...

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 It was just the right size and shape to hold a nice selection of supplies, and still fit inside my cabinet.

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I chose items that would soothe and comfort - no yucky medicine or stinging sprays here!

A closer peek:

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I think the very ritual of bringing out a basket filled with "mama's special potions" - all pleasant-smelling and kind to tender skin - is healing in and of itself. It won't always be so easy to comfort our children, but such special treatment will not go unnoticed. This kind of care goes deep, and lingers long ...  

"The day will come, of course, when our small ministrations are no longer enough to ease our children's pains, but until then, we can stock their emotional larders with a bounty of love and tenderness, precious stores for the future." (p. 103)

Sometimes all our hurt or ailing child needs is a hug, and sometimes he or she needs an actual prescription ... but for those in-between those times, there is a place for gentle, whole-body healing. 

(And here's an idea - how about setting up something like this, just for ourselves? Maybe a mommy-care basket? Now that's a topic for a future post!)

Before I go, here's a quick list of the books I'm using to learn more about herbs and homemade herbal products. It's easy nowadays to find natural and herbal products in the stores, but I really love growing and making my own!

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The Wild & Weedy Apothecary

Earth Mother Herbal

Natural Beauty for All Seasons

101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home

Essential Herbal Wisdom

A Kid's Herb Book

I have a large binder in which I've been taking copious notes, and by now I know more about herbs than I should for someone with so pale a green thumb! But I am getting there, slowly ... this year I hope to grow a nicely-sized herb garden and continue to expand my hands-on learning while keeping up with my "studies." If you are an herb grower (or crafter, or enthusiast) I'd love to hear from you! I would love advice and especially would love to hear how you USE the herbs you grow and how you keep your herbs ALIVE over the winter! (If possible.) 

Well my friends, I am going to wrap up now, but as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter (and topic) if you have a moment to drop a note. Please remember - all are welcome to join this book study! And we are only about halfway through ... many more topics to talk about and more opportunities to support each other in our mothering! 

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend, and I will see you all 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.

βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨

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! πŸŒž

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 ... β€ 

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 ... πŸŒ…

* 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 60Β°! 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." πŸ˜‰ 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. β€

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 clichΓ©, 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.

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(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. β€

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 ...

IMG_6341 (1)

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 ...

IMG_6365

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

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

IMG_E6287

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:

IMG_6185

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 40Β° ... 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!