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Holiday Tea at Dawn's: Merry Christmas!

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Hello my friends and Happy Christmas Eve! I'm taking a little break from all the wrapping and baking to share a spot of tea with you all and to wish you the happiest of holidays! Blessings to all of you and your loved ones ... I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful day. You probably can't tell from the picture above, but it's snowing so very lightly here ... just a little Christmas snow to set the stage! Tomorrow's forecast is for sunshine and 30 degrees. 🌞

My tea today is an old favorite - Bigelow's "Constant Comment," a spiced orange tea that tastes just like Christmas, to my mind. It's still steeping in this pic, but I am now sipping it in my grandmother's lovely Royal Albert "Yuletide" teacup. It's an annual ritual for me, to savor a cup of Christmas tea in this teacup ... and to think of Gram and how special she made our holidays every year. ❀️

Now, before I go - because I have a cheesecake to bake with my oldest son in a few! - I wanted to share my family's holiday card with you all:

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Can you believe how big our big boys are getting?? This picture was taken on the 4th of July at my cousin's annual party. Such a fun day and a very special memory. Here's a peek at the back of the card, too:

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Our littlest man ... already five and a half years old! How time flies when you're having fun ... and goodness are these boys a lot of fun!

Well I'm off now, but I will see you all back here for Tea again "next year!" The winter season stretches ahead of us and we'll have much to talk about and lots of tea to explore and enjoy together! 

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS and see you again 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!


Holiday Tea at Dawn's ~ Thanksgiving Memories

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Hello my friends and Happy Monday! Can you believe in a week's time we will be starting the very last month of the year??

Well, I hope you all had a nice weekend, and if you celebrate, a Happy Thanksgiving, too! Ours was lovely, but before I launch into holiday memories, I want to say I am so excited to return to my weekly tea series! My goal is to host afternoon tea here at my blog every Monday, beginning today and continuing throughout the holiday season ... I will include the usual disclaimer of course, that as life often gets busy around here, there may be a week or two when tea is a bit late!

Now, as before, each week's Tea will have a theme, corresponding (more or less) to my family's seasonal homeschooling themes. This week, for instance, our theme is "hibernation" and so for the next several days we will be immersing ourselves in Earth's natural rhythm. We'll spend time outside (weather permitting) and inside (through windows) observing changes in our local habitat, the decreasing light and increasing dark, as well as the local fauna preparing for the cold weather to come. We'll take notes in our nature journals and read books about how different species adapt to the change in seasons - humans included! Some of us hibernate and some don't ... but why?

As we head into next week, the theme will morph into "our own cozy nests," and we will undertake our own family hibernation - turning inwards as we prepare our home and hearts for the dark and dreary (but beautiful) days ahead. The weeks leading up to Christmas are well known for their "hustle and bustle," but in our family we try to keep a quieter and more peaceful Advent. Preparing for such a "hibernation" from the holiday "madness" takes a little forethought and some days, even fortitude!

Which brings us to this week, the last in November, which I feel is a kind of "break" between one holiday and the next. After a super busy November, I am currently catching my breath and preparing to take stock of what lies ahead. These are the days to create a plan that will allow us to feel cozy, comfortable, well prepared and ready to sink into the cold days ahead ...

When hibernating, I think it's as important to fill our emotional larders as well as the practical ones. The year's golden memories bring us such warmth and light no matter how dark the coming days may be. Such is the lesson in a lovely little picture book called, Three Pebbles and a Song. A mouse family bustles about gathering what they need for the winter - nourishment and nesting materials, for example - but little Moses brings something special to their family's hibernation. Memories and laughter are just as necessary for comfort and joy!

So in that spirit, what memories will you carry into the winter with you this year? How do you keep preserve those bright happy times for yourself and your family?

I'd love to hear about your Thanksgiving ...

What was your favorite part of the holiday this year?

What do you remember most fondly from your childhood holidays?

The best part of my own holiday was having so many dear ones here with us - many for the first time in years, and a few for the very first time! I also loved the feeling of having all four of my boys home together ... there's nothing like a "full nest" to ensure a mama bird's good night's sleep!

From my own childhood I would say I remember most fondly my grandparents' home - filled up with loved ones and such wonderful smells. I always loved watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as well ... 

But one memory sticks out above all, when I was probably seven or eight years old ...

After dinner my dad and my uncle took a bunch of the kids on a walk, just a little ways down an old railroad bed. I am the older of two children in my immediate family (big sister to my little brother, Matt) so I was always thrilled when we were surrounded by cousins - some of them older than me! But what was particularly thrilling about this late afternoon "adventure" was when it started to SNOW. Just lightly, but still - it was like magic! (To this day, I always hope for a Thanksgiving snow!) We all headed back to the house which was all aglow and the desserts were set out and everything was just so wonderful and warm. The grownups might not have been too happy to see it, but we kids were CERTAIN the day's flurries meant we'd have a white Christmas for sure!

Fast forward 40 some-odd years and we had another lovely Thanksgiving Day, with many, many cousins catching up with each other. Here are a WHOLE bunch of photos from our day ...

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As you can see it was a bright and sunny day ... but so very cold. The coldest Thanksgiving on record, I believe! (22Β° was the day's high.)

Another record of sorts - we were a party of 25! Hosting a dinner for that many people can be tricky - mostly because you need to find places for people to sit! Also, timing a large number of dishes to complete cooking at the same time ... well, that's another real challenge! I am grateful for my family, especially my dear mum, who help me pull it all together ...

And speaking of my dear mum - today is her 75th birthday! Here's a photo of the two of us from earlier this month ... 

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As I said on IG this morning, this beautiful lady is my best friend, my guiding light and I am so blessed to say, my own dear mother. We have such fun together and I look forward to planning many more parties in our future!

So that's a look back at our Thanksgiving, but here are a few more photos from the past few weeks ... 

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Tea with a warm slice of gingerbread, baked in celebration of the season's first snow!

Oh my goodness, and speaking of tea!! My top photo shows you how I'm taking my tea at this very moment ... it's English Teatime (black decaf), served in a big sturdy mug. I was tempted to drink full-test, because we had a bit of a rocky weekend - Little Bear has a rotten cold and has gotten very little sleep - but I kept it simple (and non-stimulating). As I type up this post, I'm sitting at my desk, the day is dark and wet, but my home office is bright and warm. Currently I'm gathering up all my holiday resources - books, magazines, cocoa, candles, planner - but we'll chat about all that next week!

And so, tea will be served here again on Monday, December 3rd, roundabouts 4 p.m. You are welcome to pop by - sip, read, comment if you wish, and/or send me your own pics for inclusion in my post! Just send me an email at drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Next week's theme is creating "Our Own Cozy Nests." We will also talk about managing our hopes for the holidays❀

Feel free to grab this button if you'd like to post about the Teas at your own site:

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For now though, thanks so much for stopping by ... I will 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!!

πŸ’™ πŸ’™ πŸ’™ πŸ’™ πŸ’™ πŸ’™

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

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

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

I will see you here again very soon!

p.s. BIG planner news coming next month!


Full Disclosure Friday: Progress Not Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this might seem like the most common of events - shopping at Target - but let me tell you, it was anything but! For Earlybird, managing a place as over-stimulating as Target is a real emotional and physical challenge. But, with Little Bear's birthday coming up, he really wanted to pick out his own gift ... 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. 13 "Breathing"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you are all doing well! :)

Today I'd like to invite you to sit and have a spot of tea with me, as we chat about the next chapter in our current (albeit slow-going!) book study, Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison. Last month we talked about incorporating more "One-on-One Time," and today - skipping over chapter 12, for reasons explained in this post - we're moving on to the concept of "Breathing."

(Who thinks about breathing, anyway? Well, today, we will!)

Before we get started on our topic though, how about a quick look at my tea?

Today I am drinking a cup of Decaffeinated Irish Breakfast tea, which is kind of our house tea, so there's always an extra box or two in our cupboard! (I hardly ever drink full-caf tea since I limit my caffeine intake to the mornings - when coffee fills my mug and zaps my veins with the energy I need to jump-start my day!)

So please let me pour you a fresh cuppa, and please pardon the mess on the table - particularly, the cats! (Who let them up on the table, anyway??) Today being Sunday I am knee-deep in my "office hours" and trying to get a handle on what the new week will bring. The Vernal Equinox for one thing on Tuesday, as well as the start of my annual spring cleaning - and our seasonal homeschooling theme is "pussy willows." As you can see, Oliver and Archie are all-in ... because nothing invites the cats' keen attention like a little fresh vegetation on the kitchen table!

Allrighty, now let's get on with the chapter chat ...

And what an interesting thing to consider, breathing. It's something we do constantly and automatically ... yet rarely do we actually stop and think about it. Unless we've over-exerted ourselves, and/or are suffering from asthma or experiencing an allergic reaction (been there, done that) - if we are fortunate enough to have no physical ailments to impede it, our body just does what it must do ... our lungs expand, we take in oxygen ... we breathe.

And we live!

So as I read this chapter's opening passage - the description of the Kenison boys running loops around the house, exulting in the very state of being alive - I thought, what a fun and memorable story! But also ... what a lesson!

"We stand there together, hands to hearts, as their pulses slowly return to normal. Then they are off again, flying, exhilarated, reveling in their discoveries of air and speed and strength, the joy of physical experience." (p. 95)

Celebrating life comes so easily to children - they don't think about it so much, or plan it like their adult counterparts do (perhaps a tad obsessively, ahem!). No, they just happily move forward, absorbing and savoring the blessing that is LIFE. This awareness and appreciation comes to them as naturally as breathing, if you'll pardon the pun - but it's true! And I think most of us could benefit from the innocent lessons of an open-hearted and exuberant child.

"How readily our children embrace these humble lessons; how long it takes for many of us adults to relearn them!" (p. 99)

As for racing about the house, I think perhaps we adults might tire after the first quarter-lap, lol! That said, I can strongly identify with the parents here - sitting, and watching - in that first passage. How wonderful to watch our children marvel over the "inner workings of their own bodies." (p. 95)   

So when do we think about breathing, then? Well, for one thing, when we're exercising ...

Fitness walking is an excellent habit, but one I must admit I fall in and out of according to season. In the spring, as soon as the roads and walkways are clear of snow, I begin my daily morning walks. Spring is a great time for new endeavors! The air smells great, and feels great! At this time of year I feel inspired, invigorated and resolved!

But at first it's a bit of a struggle to get back in the rhythm of walking. And not just physically - making my way up the steep hill at the end of our road - but mentally, too. Beginning with motivating myself to walk out my door - making the time to walk, arranging the child care, putting on my walking clothes and lacing up my sneakers ... letting my brain move beyond the walls of my house and the issues and tasks therein.

Allowing my mind to wander along with my feet ... I find it all gets easier as the season moves along.

My breathing during these walks comes easier too as I gain stamina and my lungs get back into the swing of things. Spring and summer walking is a breeze (green flies and heat waves, notwithstanding) but by autumn I'm afraid to say - with dark days and chilly/wet weather, I start finding excuses to stay home and skip my walks. Soon enough of course, I fall out of habit. 

But to say come spring I'm eager to revive my walking habit again is an understatement! I'm ready to exchange winter's stale indoor air for spring's fresh outdoor air and take a few deep cleansing breaths! And here we are on April's doorstep, so my instincts should be kicking in again anytime now ... once the roads are passable, of course.

*glares at the two feet of snow outside the window* 

So when else do we think about breathing? Well, how about when we're trying to find calm for ourselves, or another?

Do you ever stop when you find yourself in a bit of "a state" and just - close your eyes and count to ten? (Or five, or a hundred - depending on the circumstances!) And as you count, you might find your breathing slows and whatever is happening seems a little more manageable? Even if just in a mercurial amount. Any bit of calm is welcome when the need is great.

Speaking of ...

"When I say to my boys, 'Let's take a deep breath,' I am guiding them into a safe haven, a place where they can release their pain and anger and come back to center again." (p. 98)

Throughout the book, Ms. Kesinson is quite candid about her family's choices and challenges, and as I've said before, so much of it has inspired and supported me in my own mothering. And each time I read, I appreciate some chapters more than others - because my experiences (hopes and fears) change as my children grow. 

So during my current re-read, I found myself pausing over her description of her younger son's emotional issues:

"Jack is still prone to tantrums, outbursts that frighten him and wreak havoc on the rest of us as well." (p. 98)

I couldn't help but think about my Earlybird and his struggles. When EB was very little, before he was officially diagnosed, he would have absolutely awful meltdowns. They seemed to happen all the time, sometimes for no reason, and we just felt ... so helpless. Our older boys (four and two when EB was born) were extremely easy-going children, with nary a tantrum between them. So I'm pretty sure we thought we had the whole "peaceful parenting" thing down pat ...

*rolls eyes at my younger mothering self*

And then along came Earlybird, who, by two was wigging out at the zoo, the grocery store, the neighbor's birthday party, in the car - you name it, he couldn't handle it. And for a very long time, neither could we ...

We learned of course, that Earlybird has autism, and meltdowns out of nowhere are common. They are also, unfortunately, not something he's grown out of - and let me tell you, it's a lot easier to handle the autistic meltdown of a six year old then that of a 16 year old. (Physically AND emotionally!) Thankfully though, we have learned how to help him through these challenging times and, perhaps just as important, we've learned how to make it through these tough times ourselves. Years later we have wonderful therapists working with EB and showing us the way. One of the techniques they began with him quite early on was breathing ...

So when EB is upset - afraid, mad, frustrated, whatever emotion is just too big- they encourage him to take deep breaths, for a count of five.

"Take a deep breath, EB. And again ... one, two, three, four, five."

I remember the first time I watched them do this, I thought: Right, I don't think so. That's not gonna work ...

And yet, sure enough ... he calmed down. Maybe just a little, but usually enough to get us to the next step. His attention was diverted, he could hear us again, and he'd become more aware as he slowed down his over-taxed heart.

Over time, Earlybird has learned to employ this strategy on his own. Often we have to prompt him, but now and then I'll hear him, if he's frustrated by something, muttering to himself: "Ok. Just calm down now, and take a deep breath."

How many times have I found myself (perhaps in the very next room) taking those deep breaths along with him ... ?

If I may veer a bit off topic (kind of) for a moment ...

I've been sharing more and more about our autism journey here at the blog and how we've been able to help our son, but I just want to stress that we are nowhere near perfect, nor do we have it all figured out. We take it day by day (or as we often "joke," hour by hour) and try to handle what we can, as we can. We are blessed with tremendous support, and sometimes it feels like we're on a fairly even keel ... but then something happens and we're frantically adjusting our sails once again.

For a long time we floundered, having trouble finding the right kind of therapy for EB. (Whose issues were complicated by the onset of epilepsy at age 12.) In 2014 we finally matched up with a fabulous ABA center and began home-based therapy that has been invaluable for our son. Without question, it has changed his (and our) lives. That said, we have just recently come to the decision to start him on a behavioral med. This was not a decision we took lightly - indeed, we've put it off for as long as we could. But though so much has improved for EB - there have also been some new and significant challenges for EB in the past year. Perhaps hardest of all has been the rise of an anxiety - for lack of a better word - that prevents him from fully exploring the world around him, taking part in his community and maintaining a peace within himself that allows him to benefit from the supports available to him ...

So we talked long and hard with our neurologist (a Boston Children's Hospital Autism Specialist) about this situation and while very supportive of what we've been doing, agreed with our concern that we need to do something more. So we are starting EB out on something mild and at a very low dose ... and in a few weeks we should potentially see some changes. 

So we're nervous, but we're hopeful ... because we're finally doing something, that has helped other children and adults with autism. We can only pray it will help our boy, too. As our doctor warned us, it won't make things perfect, but it will hopefully take the edge off for him and allow him (US) to live more fully.

If we can find a little more calm in our household I think all of us will BREATHE a little easier! β€

My friends, I hope you all don't mind me sharing this news seemingly out of the blue, but I felt it was important to let people know that this is where we need to go. I know many people reading here also have children on medication, and I am certain it was a decision you also took very seriously. (If you feel called to comment or reach out, I'd love to hear from you.) Throughout our journey we've handled as much as we can and we try, constantly to devise ideas and strategies that help our son with his challenges, but  ... we've come to realize, he needs more help. We need more help.

I will keep you all posted and would be ever so grateful for your prayers!

***

Well everyone, I am going to be off now, as there are still a few hours before bedtime and I still have a few more To-Dos to take care of! I hope you are all enjoying this lovely Sunday ... blustery and bright here, but at least it's not snowing! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have a moment! Remember, all are welcome to join the MSfG discussion ... archived posts can be found here ... and we're not even halfway through the book! Our next chapter is called, "Healing" and I would love to assign it a date, but I know myself too well, and will just say, it will be soon. Ish. After Easter, for sure - but I will post a "meeting time" when we get started in the new month ... 

So please stay tuned and take care! As always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by ...

See you here again very soon!


Full Disclosure Friday ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday. I hope your week's been a good one!

So I've decided to start a new blogging tradition here (or maybe it already exists and I'm just late to the party) called "Full Disclosure Friday." My idea is this - every once in a while, on the occasional Friday, I will share an "inconvenient truth" of some kind, in order to shed a little light on how things sometimes go around here. Because I may be a great one for sharing plans, but I think it may be just as important (if not more so) to share the times when my plans don't quite come to fruition.

Case in point ...

I shared the above picture on Instagram today. This is me (and my polka dot slippers) in the living room very early the other morning, staring down at the usual assortment of things one might find on our rug: Legos, books, pine needles leftover from Christmas ... plus, a paper chain project gone horribly awry.

Yes, this is what has come of our Lenten paper chain, the one I so thoroughly described last month.

Now, I have a post in me somewhere (and I'll do my best to find it) about what happens when your thoughtfully arranged plans go awry - and a project you lovingly assembled for your children is met with disinterest at best ... and defiance at worst. πŸ˜‘

Because, this pretty paper chain? Well, safe to say it wasn't quite the hit I hoped for with our special needs son. As you see here, it's no longer hanging on the kitchen door as a meaningful visual, secured to the bottom of a plain paper cross - but instead laying here scattered and squashed on the living room floor.

And there I was thinking it was JUST the thing for Earlybird this year. πŸ™„

(#everydayisautismawarenessinourhouse)

Plans are fun and easy to make, it's keeping them that can be tricky. Especially when you're working with children ... and most especially when one of your children has special needs. (At least, in my experience.)

Back when I made my initial Lenten plan, what I didn't anticipate was that the paper chain project would really and truly BUG my 16 year old, autistic son - to the point where it was getting plucked at and pushed around so much it was more of a pain than anything. Getting caught in the door, the links all dusty and disorganized ...

Here I was I trying to create an atmosphere of peaceful preparation - but instead I made my son feel anxious and stressed. And let's not even begin to discuss the reaction he had to dipping his fingers into the ink pad for the cross -  THAT was a disaster from the get-go. 

So why did this happen? What about this project distressed him?

Well, as with so many things with Earlybird ... we just don't know, because he's not always a predictable kid. What works with EB once (and paper chains have been a real hit in the past) doesn't necessarily work for him again.

And just like that, when I think I'm really rocking the whole special needs parenting thing, I get a swift reminder not to take things for granted ... and to always keep our plans fluid!

So for now we're just keeping things calm around here, and focusing on the concepts of patience and observation. (And best behavior.) Filling low-key days with low-pressure activities that appeal to our son - but don't agitate. As we like to say in our family, some weeks are for pushing a little, and others are for just keeping afloat ...

Our Lent is looking like the latter to me.

Now, I know I'm not alone in this. I am sure many of you have had things like this happen that prove just how tricky it can be to read our kids (whatever their needs) and meet them where they are (not where we envision them to be).

So what do we do when those carefully crafted plans don't click as well as we'd hoped? How do we handle the disappointment and even perhaps, the dismay?

Well, first we gracefully admit defeat (on social media, natch), and shelve those β€œperfect” plans for another day. Then, we pour ourselves a big cup of coffee (or glass of wine as the case may be), tune into our inner GPS and do our best to "recalculate" ... πŸ€”

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Because if the season of Lent teaches us anything, it's that we must always hold onto Hope.

❀

Thank you, my friends, for listening. I know this wasn't my "usual" post, but it felt like something I needed to share. As always, I thank you for joining me here and if you too are parenting a challenging child, I'd love to hear from you - please know I am with you! And if it helps, we could talk more about it. :)

Keep on shining, Mamas! And don't forget: we light the way for our families, but we must kindle our own little flames first!

Take care, everyone ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Earlybird's Chores for Thanksgiving ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday!

A few folks have mentioned that they'd like to hear more about our autism journey and how we manage as a special needs family - and I would be very happy to share more of that! Earlybird is moderately autistic with significant developmental delays ... and he's just such a joy, an absolute blessing to our family. He is homeschooled along with his brothers, something we are always tweaking to meet his (ever changing) needs.

To be sure, as a family we have faced many challenges on our autism journey thus far, but each one we've faced (and handled with varying degrees of success) has made us a little surer, a little stronger. With time and experience, a new challenge might seem a little less daunting, and we might feel a little more confident in our choices. As time passes and all of these experiences become part of our family fabric, I grow more comfortable in my role (and ability) as a special needs mom ...

At the end of the day I can say each of my boys have shaped me as a mother in their own unique way - though perhaps none quite as dramatically as Earlybird. :)

But those are stories for a later day. :) Right now is just for sharing a nice idea that's worked well with EB this month!

As I've blogged about before, EB gets VERY excited about holidays and parties. We usually have a countdown of some sort that helps him channel this energy and pace his enthusiasm a bit. Well, no sooner had Halloween passed when we were on to Thanksgiving! Our blessings tree was up and our blessed basket was full ... but EB needed something a little more hands-on to help him prepare for the holiday in a way that was meaningful for him.

So I came up with the idea to organize a super simple chart for the days of the month, and each day EB earns a check from me, if he's done an extra chore around the house. These checks each represent a dollar and next week, EB will get to visit Whole Foods (his absolute FAVORITE store on the planet) and spend his hard-earned cash on food that will be HIS contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner ...

It has been such a hit and a great way for him to really SEE how many days we have until the big Turkey Day - and how he can be part of this annual tradition! This was done with a lot of support and encouragement from EB's daily ABA therapists, who make sure he's given ample opportunity to earn that check on that countdown! (Today's extra chore: picking up and vacuuming the learning room.)

Here are some photos from today when my mother stopped by to visit and talk about the Thanksgiving menu with me. EB joined us at the table to talk about the food list and add his own ideas. (Mac and cheese was mentioned right off the bat.)

He also showed his Nana how he was doing on his chart and she gave him quite the proud-nana pep talk as you can imagine!

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This may seem like a really simplistic idea and, well ... it is very simple. But very often it's the simplest things that work really well for Earlybird. We try to meet him where he is and where he needs us. He needs to feel included and needed. This project does that very nicely. And he needs to be given very do-able tasks with an appropriate reward. (Perhaps with a little assistance.) All these things were figured into my plan.

I thought about having him earn money to buy food we could donate - and that would be a wonderful thing to be sure - but that's just not where he is, at least not yet. Loving and aware as he is, this year he's learning that Thanksgiving is about being part of a family and contributing in whatever way that he can. And let me tell you, this boy is proud ...

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As he should be. β€

Thank you so much for joining me here tonight, my friends, and letting me share a little of our special needs homeschooling this month. I'll be happy to share more of our Earlybird tales when I'm able ... and I LOVE hearing from others with special needs kiddos. What a support we can be for each other! I'm far from an expert in all of this ... I'm still figuring things out for my own child and trying to determine what's needed next ... but I think sharing stories and successes - and not-quite-successes - is very helpful. Let me know how things are going for you and if there's anything in particular you'd like to talk about.

Blessings to all on this dark and cold November night ... I will see you here again tomorrow!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 5 "Simplicity"

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Hello my friends, and welcome to this week's Tea and MSfG discussion! We are now on chapter five, "Simplicity," and what a wonderful chapter it is ... my favorite of all, I think! Mostly because there is one passage in this chapter that just stands out so strongly to me, I've remembered it more than any other all these years ...

Also, because I feel like simplicity is something just so powerful and alluring (there's a whole movement after all) and I feel I am always striving towards it - finding it in some areas, yet falling short in others ...

Anyways, before we get further into the chapter talk, I want to talk a little about my tea shown above. Now, I am going to be completely honest with you - this was not how I originally imagined my "simplicity" tea. You see, every week when I start thinking about a tea post, I like to envision just how it might look, according to that week's theme:

What cup might I use? What treat might I bake? Which tea will I choose and in which cozy spot will I sit?

It's really quite fun to think about these kinds of things - and sometimes, my vision does come to life! Other times ... not so much.

So this week, as I kept "simplicity" in mind, I was envisioning a teatime setting that was not quite so ... busy. Something very neat, maybe - quite tidy, and sparse. All in soft colors, with perhaps a plain stoneware mug, a simple shortbread on a small plate alongside one of our new cotton napkins ... nicely arranged in a quiet corner of our library, somewhere out of the way (clutter removed, natch), where I might sit by myself and earnestly consider how I might bring a little more simplicity to my life ...

Well, with all the energy I was spending on thinking and arranging - I was creating a rather complex situation for myself! πŸ˜œ  Here I was going to great lengths to create what I thought was a "simple tea" but it just wasn't happening (not without a lot of fuss) and it was frustrating!

But that's me in a nutshell ... I slow down by doing things like taking tea at home on a quiet afternoon ... but then I complicate the whole process by involving too many time-consuming details, and working a bit outside of reality, if you will.

From the second page of this chapter:

"We set the bar too high, take on too much, turn small doings into big ones." (p. 35)

My lesson learned: simple isn't necessarily how something appears, but rather, how it fits into your life. How it makes you feel inside.

So instead of whipping up a "simple tea," I decided to keep it real, and (to quote my GPS), recalculated ...

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My reality that very day (as it is most days) was taking tea at the worktable in the sunroom. I was here trying to get a handle on the new month to come ... and I was surrounded by STUFF: my workhorse of a tea mug filled with my everyday tea, piles of books, open-faced planners and notebooks, myriad school supplies, plenty of sunshine and ... a cat.

(Always, the cat.)

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I didn't even have time to grab a cookie - let alone bake something sweet and pretty!

So is it simple? Maybe not in how it all looks, because obviously there's a LOT going on in that photo! But in spirit, yes this was keeping things simple for me. I wanted to share tea with you all, and I wanted to talk about this chapter, and here was where it was simplest for me to do that. :)

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The nice thing about tea is that it always makes me slow down a little no matter what I'm up to. Because it's often pretty hot to begin with and usually I have a really full mug. So I really can't rush it! And most days I find myself needing a cup (or sometimes two or three) in the afternoon, just about the time it makes sense to slow down a bit - maybe check in at my computer or crash on my couch with my kids.

But let's get back to our chapter now because I think I've talked about tea long enough! (Boy, can I talk about tea.)

A little "simplicity moment" from my home last week ...

O boo halloween

Here's Little Bear in his first-choice, much preferred Halloween costume this year - handmade by us both. (And the cat.) It took one piece of construction paper, a pair of scissors, a hole punch and twine, and we were done. And funnily enough it fit well and stayed put!

Meanwhile the $30 costume I bought from Amazon weeks ago still sits up in my bedroom - completely refused and rejected! (LB wanted NO part of that bright green "creature power" suit with its velcro mask and detachable tail. Oh, no ... it was simply too much.) Mama should have listened to him when he insisted last month that all he really wanted to be for Halloween was a ghost ... because for him, it was enough.

How sweet is a four-year-old, I ask you?

And this leads me to the part I referenced at the start of my post, the Mitten Strings passage that has stayed with me all these years: 

"It is not enough anymore to pull together a Halloween costume from the dress-up bin, add a few extra touches, and head out the door to go trick-or-treating. The store-bought costumes are more elaborate, more expensive and more grisly every year. There are decorations to buy, light shows to orchestrate on the front lawn, haunted houses to visit, and a week's worth of pre-Halloween activities to attend. Last fall my neighbor's six-year-old daughter had been in and out of her costume so many times that she refused to put it back on for Halloween night. She'd been a ballerina in a parade, at school, and at two parties. The novelty had worn off." (p. 36)

I've always maintained that the Halloween we celebrate in our family is one that has ancestral roots and a mostly innocent agenda - filled with festive foods, old-fashioned games, homemade decorations - nothing much to do with what society does or what's selling fast at Target this year. And yet, here I fell for the "snazzy costume trap" hook, line and sinker!

Of course, keeping in mind that lesson I learned up above - it's really all what feels simple to you. For some folks, picking up a costume at Target IS the simpler solution! Finding the time and energy to make a homemade costume is anything but. (Though I'm not sure you can beat our ghost mask for easy!) I think it all depends on what works for you.

Simple looks different to everyone ...

Simply put, I think it all boils down to how something affects your life, and beyond that your family. How will it make you all feel? What choices feel right and cause the least stress? Because then you're living authentically and I think this is what we want to share with our children ...

"Watching us manage our own lives sensibly, our children will learn to set limits, too." (p. 39)

I found this particular chapter to be very timely reading, because currently I'm fleshing out our Thanksgiving and Advent plans. And these are the weeks when it is VERY easy to get swept up in - not just what society is offering, but our own schemes and dreams, too. I may envision a homemade, homespun, home-centered holiday ... but if I wanted to - and in some ways I do - I could easily stuff every moment full of activity and awareness ...

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So I pause my pen above that page and rein in my tendency to over-plan ...

"It takes conviction to say, "This is enough." (p. 38)

So you see, simplicity lessons are not just for those who are always on the go, seeking to be where the action is ... but for we introverts, too! And I'm a perfect example of that! 

(Side note: I'll be sharing my (hopefully) rather simple holiday plans in an upcoming post!)

Now, I love this quote too, from the last section of the chapter in which the author offers some wonderful steps toward simplicity:

"Don't feel guilty about skipping events that everyone else attends." (p. 39)

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The above picture was taken while doing just that ...

Last weekend we skipped our town's annual "great pumpkin hunt" to simply stroll around our own yard and seek signs of autumn's end. This is Little Bear gathering weeds and feeling those feathery grasses ...

There was a pull to be sure - my husband is more of an extrovert than I am, and usually he's more eager to get "out there" and mix it up with ... well, whoever all shows up at an event! But my reasoning was ... just the day before we had enjoyed - really thoroughly enjoyed - a wonderful family Halloween party. We had spent hours frolicking inside and out, doing all kinds of Halloween-y things, including ... hunting for pumpkins! Was Little Bear running around with dozens of kids in a jumble, while his parents sipped cider and made small talk with strangers?

No, he was playing with his cousins and brothers while his Mom and Dad were having a grand old time with dear ones we can never seem to spend enough time with. :)

Now, had he really wanted to go to that community event (either Bill or LB) we would have gone. Because again, it's about balance and what feels right to each family. But when we really thought about it, our previous day had been so nice and we were thoroughly (and pleasantly) exhausted. Little Bear had his pumpkin (and a few to spare) and we all came away feeling just the right kind of full-up of happy and tired.

One more time though, I'll stress - this all made sense for my family. That "homey" weekend was a pure and simple joy for us. Another family would not find throwing a party for two dozen people easy or fun. For them it might be much more enjoyable to roll out of bed a little later in the morning and throw the kids in the car, off on an adventure ...

So to each his own, is my motto ... and ours is most often (nearly always) here at home. β€

Well, I've gone on quite long now, so I'll wrap up - though I still have several other quotes marked in my chapter! I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this chapter - or on simplicity in general - if you have the time. You are welcome to share your thoughts here in the comments below, or if you've done a post at your own site, please feel free to link me up (and let me know) and of course, all are welcome to email with links, thoughts, pics, etc. ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I'll weave contributions into this post as I receive them and catch up with comments left below as I can. :)

For now though I'm off ... I'll be back again soon with my November planning pages and book list, plus some old journaling pages like the one I shared on IG this morning! I'm enjoying looking back over old notes and clippings, and I thought you all might like a peek too!

So enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone! Next week we'll be talking about ... gasp ...TV! And to be honest, I'm a little nervous about this chapter, lol ... I think I may have to face the harsh reality that things are not the ideal I'd envisioned back in my early mothering days! But we'll catch up on that later ... next Friday we'll strive to get back on track, but there may be some weeks (like this one) where I need to postpone things a day ... or two or three. πŸ˜‰

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Happy Halloween ~ from My Family to Yours!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Halloween! I'm popping in today to wish you all a nice (fun & safe!) holiday and to share a few pictures from our Halloween party last weekend. What a fun time we had with our family!

Now, you all know we love entertaining, and we host several gatherings throughout the year, but this was our first big Halloween party in some time! And it was mostly our Earlybird's idea. :) He got it in his head last month that we needed to throw a Halloween party and so, together we worked out what that party would look like and how to go about making it happen!

So over the next few weeks we made up a guest list, filled out invitations - mailed those invitations with help from a kind postal worker who found THE perfect jack-o-lantern stamps for us to use! - and then set about planning out food and decorations. This project took up our whole October and boy, was it fun! 

Anyhoo ... below I have some pictures from our day, but first I'd like to share a couple more pictures of my autumn-inspired writing desk from last week's tea ... it really captures the Halloween spirit for me!

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I don't use this desk as often as I do the one in the family room - for one thing, it's a little more removed from the general household, nestled as it is along the far western wall in the library ... and though that can be a good thing sometimes, I usually can't remove myself for very long from said household! Also, I don't have a computer here and normally I need that handy when doing "work" or whatever else I might get up to. But I love having this desk all the same, and I relish it especially in the autumn time. Because the sun sets just beyond those woods, so the afternoon light is beautiful here ... which seems all the more important as we head into the dark time of year ...

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And as the days grow cold and dark, I think it's very important to create some nice, cozy spots for ourselves where we can. So I have some tea lights and "fairy" lights here in the window, along with some silk leaves and mini pumpkins. My cup of tea as described in this post is surrounded by lots of fun things: a few special books (both Mama's and Little Bear's), a pretty notebook and some Halloween cards, and right there in the middle is one of my old journals, from October, 2009. I was looking through it for ideas and getting caught up in old autumn memories!

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I have always loved Halloween and have so many fond memories from my childhood. I especially liked learning about the ancient agricultural roots of this Celtic celebration. In recent years though, I feel society's version of Halloween has become very commercialized (not to mention creepy!) so we tend to avoid outside activities. I prefer a quiet Halloween for my kids, with time spent in nature and a few special family traditions ... some festive food, grinning pumpkins, cozy lights and a little frolicking 'round the neighborhood. It's all in good fun, nothing too scary or severe. In our town tonight we are dealing with the aftermath of a crazy windstorm and so trick-or-treating has been cancelled! So instead we'll be having a "Halloween Supper" and then making some s'mores at the fire pit before wrapping things up with a few holiday specials on tv. :)

Ok, now for the party pics! First is a collage of the "Halloween" menu ...

Halloween collage

Clockwise from upper left hand corner we have:

  • witch's potion punch
  • mummy dogs
  • haunted pumpkin patch cake
  • autumn apple-pear salad
  • deli wraps in Halloween colors
  • vomiting pumpkin dip (yep, I went there)
  • Frank-en-Guac
  • bread dough bones and "dipping" sauce
  • poisoned apple cider cocktails

It was SUCH fun researching recipes! (A few of the above ideas can be found at my Halloween Pinterest board.) My mother was a big help in putting this all together, though I admit she was a bit shocked by that vomiting pumpkin! (Also, I should note - Bookworm made the bread bones and frankenstein dip!)

As for party activities, on the patio we had set up the pumpkin tic-tac-toe I showed you in this post, as well as a tabletop Jenga game Bill and Bookworm made. And then, in the way back yard (next to the old barn - my future "she shed") we set up a little "pumpkin patch" for the little kids to visit!

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(Next year we're determined to grow pumpkins for real!)

Naturally, Little Bear made sure he found his pumpkin before his cousins did ...

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Here he is with my cousin Kate's daughter, dressed up as an adorable owl ...

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They really had fun running all over the place ...

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And what a beautiful day it was ... plenty of golden sun and almost 70 degrees!

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I love it when we're able to bring a party outside ... it provides a nice change of scenery and a little breath of fresh air!

Here are my older boys with a couple of their friends ...

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They spent most of the party watching "scary movies" down in the man cave ... ;)

And here's another pumpkin patch cutie, my sweet niece, with her parents ... 

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Happy 1st Halloween, little one! πŸŽƒ

Meanwhile our girls were wondering just what the heck was going on!

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(Do you know they don't care at all for pumpkin? I thought for sure they'd love it but nope - they were completely uninterested!)

But here's their contribution to the party:

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πŸ’›

Ok, back inside now, here I am with my beloved mum ...

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Just two (good) kitchen witches brewing up a little culinary magic!

And next we have Aunt Anne (Bill's godmother) and Ami, my dear sister-in-law ...

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... aka my sweet niece's mom!

And now for a few hectic, slightly blurry foyer shots as everyone arrived ...

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And as usual there were plenty of choices at the desserts table ...

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My mum's beautiful cake (spice cake with penuche frosting) was the biggest hit, I'd wager!

And lastly, happily - and shockingly! - we were able to wrangle our four boys into a family picture! 

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Wishing all my friends here a very Happy Halloween ~ I hope your October is ending on a good note!

 Can you believe how big they're all getting? πŸ˜±

We'll have lots to talk about later this week ... November plans, another Autumn Tea and Mitten Strings, of course. (This week we're discussing chapter 5, "Simplicity.") And don't forget I will be joining Pam Barnhill at Homeschool Solutions Thursday afternoon on Facebook Live! We'll be talking about MSfG and how it's shaped my homeschooling through the years ... please wish me luck! I'm not the most tech-savvy person, as you well know, so I hope I do the interview justice!

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


Seasonal Homeschooling: Pumpkin Week Recap!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! 

I'm back again because I have SO many pictures of our pumpkin week, and I just have to share! If you're new to my blog you might be wondering what in the heck a "pumpkin week" is, so - just to explain briefly - every week of the year we explore an assigned seasonal theme as part of our homeschooling. These themes are a big influence on our younger boys' learning experience, but they also infuse our family's home life as well.

I won't go into the whole "why and how" of our seasonal homeschooling, but the important thing to remember about it is - it's more a guideline than a rule! :)

Sure, some weeks we do it up big (case in point, pumpkins!), but other weeks just fly by and we only casually observe our theme. We may be very busy that week, or it might be the theme is not quite as appealing as another might be. Well, pumpkins in October (as you can imagine) are a big hit with most children! And pumpkins lend themselves to all kinds of great learning experiences - whether they be in the disciplines of science, social studies, language arts, cooking, storytelling, etc.! It's very easy to plan for pumpkins - just type "pumpkin activities" into the Pinterest search bar and you'll hardly know where to start!

Well, personally, I start with our own book baskets and family calendar - then start plugging things into our weekly rhythm! Here's a glimpse at last week's planner page as I was just getting started ...

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It's important to my planning "psyche" that I incorporate seasonal awareness wherever I can! So divider pages are vintage reflections of seasons and holidays past, ribbons and washi (when I use them) are also seasonally inspired ... as are the font colors I use in each monthly section. I just loved how the light hit this bit of planning paraphernalia on my kitchen table ... :)

Books are pretty much the backbone of our homeschool, so one of the first things I did, as I planned out our week, was to comb through our autumn book bins and pull out any that had to do with pumpkins ...

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Not surprisingly there were a lot!

Then I got busy planning out activities that would potentially A. appeal to my kids and, B. fit well into our week. Post-it notes are helpful for me here - because due to the special nature of our very hands-on homeschooling (one preschooler and a special needs teen) - I need things to be, above all, flexible. It's impractical for me to plan out each day's to-dos a week in advance, though I do set a rhythm to our week. (Mondays are nature days, Tuesdays are crafting, Wednesdays are for storytelling ... etc.)

So on a drizzly Monday we kicked things off with a little pumpkin investigation!

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I had a sugar pumpkin "specimen" all ready and I found a neat worksheet for them to use (on Pinterest). I don't use worksheets with my preschooler very often but Little Bear does get a kick out of them! First thing he said when he saw this one was, "Mama, I need TWO crayons! Orange and green, please!" Then he got right down to coloring those pumpkins!

Once the REAL pumpkin was open though, he was all about the seed scooping ...

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My mum had come over that morning and with her help, and Earlybird's therapist's support, this science activity was a real hit with both my younger boys!

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Soon the sugar pumpkin was all scooped out and carved to the boys' specifications!

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While Little Bear scooped and colored, Earlybird answered the worksheet's questions:

Was the pumpkin big, small or medium?

Was it orange, yellow or white?

Was the outside smooth or rough?

How many lines were around it?

How many seeds did he think would be inside?

How many seeds WERE inside?

Did he think the pumpkin would sink of float in water?

(Spoiler alert: It floated!)

The next day was better for outside investigating so we headed into the backyard with magnifying glasses in hand. Recently - and curiously - we have one tiny pumpkin plant growing alongside the back of the house - and we didn't put it there! So I wanted the boys to look it all over and think a little - theorize - about how it might have sprouted up here if we didn't actually plant it.

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What was SUPER cool about this observation though, was nestled in the center of the plant itself, alongside the one tiny yellow pumpkin bump we found forming, was a milkweed seed! Just one fluffy little seed, and there it was all snuggled up next that budding pumpkin! We do have milkweed growing across the street, but we mused it would take quite an adventure for a seed so small and delicate to find its way all the way here to our tiny plant. (And we were just discovering milkweed last week!)

This "mystery" seemed to me the beginnings of a really neat nature story ... the tale of two wayward seeds. (More on that in a moment.)

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For a craft I had in mind for later, I set the boys to gathering the driest, crispiest, most colorful leaves they could find ...

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Well, you can imagine how Little Bear took this assignment to heart!

The next day we were back on the deck with a little "leaf glitter" craft in the works ...

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Here's Earlybird with his therapist, working on those fine motor skills ... and sensory issues ... and patience!

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I just drew simple pumpkin outlines on orange paper and then the boys traced those lines with glue. Final step - crumbling all those dried leaves to make "glitter" and sprinkling it all over their gluey pumpkins!

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(A craft for the outdoors, for sure!)

Back inside the learning room, here are the boys' pumpkins on display! :)

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Another neat pumpkin activity this week ...

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Pumpkin tic-tac-toe! I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew it would be a lot of fun - especially for our Halloween party coming up this weekend. Fingers crossed the day will be a nice one and I think folks will have fun trying their hand at this tabletop game! 

Back inside, at my kitchen table later in the day: a fortifying cup of tea and a little read-aloud ...

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How I love Tasha Tudor books, and this one especially. I decided to "splurge" and buy a new board book version for Little Bear. He 

And speaking of my LB, I just had to include this pic of him hugging our giant blow up jack-o-lanterns on the front lawn. Pretty much every day this fall, on our way in or out of the house, he just needs to hug his pumpkin friends!

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Now, as I've mentioned before, our weekly rhythm includes a day for storytelling. These little stories are usually simple tales I make up myself, using our own yard, critters, weather, the season itself, etc. as a prompt. I like to place items in the learning room mailbox that will introduce the story theme and offer a few items Little Bear can use to play with as I narrate the plot. Well, here's what he found in the mailbox last week!

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This is a soft pumpkin doll rattle - something we've had for nearly 20 years! It's kind of amazing it's stayed in relatively good condition. The boys used this when they were babies and then it joined our finger puppet stash. (We also have a carrot!) So today this sweet little fella was an adventurous pumpkin seed fairy and as you can see he was surrounded by airborne milkweed seeds! (Remember, my story was reflecting our recent backyard garden adventures!)

I also created a watercolor verse card for us to read aloud. I used a pretty poem I found online ...

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I'm creating a collection of these seasonal cards for our homeschool!

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Now, when I plan out our seasonal themes, I'm mostly following the natural cycle of the year, though I often tap into the liturgical or secular calendar as well. I assigned this week in mid-October as "pumpkin week" for obvious reasons - they're everywhere and on everyone's minds right now! - but it also tied in nicely with the annual showing of this family favorite ...

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Last Thursday night all my boys, save Earlybird who does not like Charlie Brown specials, gathered on our couch to watch that timeless classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Yes, we could watch it on DVD (or streaming?) anytime we'd like, but there's something really fun and special about watching "specials" when they're actually being shown!

(The boys were kind of blown away by the fact that *ahem* ... back in our day ... if you missed a special on the night it was shown, well you were just plum out of luck until next year! And there was no pausing or rewinding, either!)

Friday morning - quite serendipitously and generously - my brother stopped by the house with a WHOLE BUNCH of pumpkin goodness for the boys!

Pumpkin goodies

My favorite item so far? The Apple Cider Jam! It's like Thanksgiving in a jar ... 

Now, we didn't get to all the activities I'd planned for the week, but that's perfectly ok. We did what worked and clicked this year - there's always next year for other experiences! On our "marketing" day we tried to find as many pumpkin products as possible at the grocer's and on "hearth and home" day we baked pumpkin donuts for tea. Over the weekend we were going to visit a local pumpkin patch - but unfortunately it was just WAY too busy for my younger guys. (Like, crawling with customers crazy!) I had in mind a far calmer, less commercial experience - so I'm hoping to arrange a quieter visit for my fellas sometime next week. Next year we hope to have a little patch of our own so this past weekend we decided where we'd like to plant it and got the soil prepared. There was also pumpkin French toast for breakfast Sunday morning!

So there's a little glimpse of our pumpkin week and all we got up to! Here's a peek at our learning line and seasonal bookshelves as I tidied them Sunday afternoon ...

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And here's a peek at THIS week's seasonal planner spread ...

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One thing I like to do - because it is of course what happens in nature - is have certain themes trickle into other weeks. So for instance, we did "autumn seeds" weeks ago, but as the fall unfolds there are plenty of opportunities to learn about and live out this theme more. Case in point - those milkweed (and pumpkin) seeds last week! 

This current week's theme is "goodnight, garden" and I like to tie that in with Halloween. To our ancestors, Halloween literally meant the very end of summer - the time to secure the harvest final crops and prepare the land for the cold, hard winter ahead. We clearly don't live quite that close to the land anymore, but I think activities that echo those ancient seasonal traditions often resonate with us instinctually. So this week we are (as you can see from my planner above!) walking the bounds of our property, harvesting the last of our herbs, clearing our garden beds, raking up leaves, tucking spring bulbs in the ground, gathering natural materials for a bonfire, and seeking God's blessings for our "little farm" as winter approaches ...

Come All Hallow's Eve next week we'll be a little more prepared for a season of deep cold and darkness - both practically and spiritually speaking!

✨ ❄️ πŸ‚ πŸŽƒ πŸƒ πŸ”₯ ✨

Well my friends, I guess I'd better wrap up now because once again I fear I've kept you here too long! But I hope you enjoyed this little peek at our pumpkin week. Remember this was an exceptional week - I had lots of plans, and happily the weather, our time, my energy and their interest levels all cooperated! Not every week is quite so "seasonal" but pumpkins were especially motivating - for my homeschooling kids AND their mama!

I will be back later this week with my weekly Autumn Tea - and as I announced here and on social media, we will be continuing on with our Mitten Strings for God book study at a slower pace than originally announced. This Friday we will be talking about chapter four, "Quiet," and I'll be serving up a spot of Halloween Tea ... AND I have a fun little announcement to make in regards to our MSfG re-read, so stay tuned - and please take care!

I'll see you here again very soon ...


Autumn Tea and Tidbits!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! Welcome to my first Autumn Tea  - of 2017! Something I hope to make a semi-regular recurrence at my blog going forward. Every so often I'll pop in with a cup of tea and a few bits and bobs from our homeschool ... a way to catch up and celebrate the season at hand. :) I'm hesitant to set a schedule however, as tempting as it is because you know I LOVE schedules - but it's been a little bit hectic so far this school year. Time at the computer (nevermind time for tea itself!) has been a little on the low side. But two things that make my heart so very happy are blogging and savoring tea, so I'm determined to make more time for both in my life!

So since it's been a while since we talked tea ... what are you drinking these days? I myself am enjoying Allegro Black Decaf during the afternoon (sweetened with raw sugar and a splash of whole milk) but after supper, now that the nights are cooler and darker, I am turning to a cup of decaf Constant Comment. There's something about that orange-spice flavor just makes me think AUTUMN! I still savor a cup or two of coffee in the mornings but after that I limit my caffeine intake as best I can ...

Well, I started in on my tea-taking early today as the above photo was taken just now (Saturday around 11 a.m.) because I was ready to get down to the lesson planning and for that, I absolutely MUST have tea! But before we talk about autumn homeschooling ...

Grab yourself a cup of your favorite brew and make yourself comfortable, please ... I have lots to share! :)

Let's begin with a peek into my October planning. Below you see the cover page for this month's section in my homemade planner (also seen in the top photo) ...

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And here is my planner stack on my kitchen counter - aka "mama's command center!"

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Sitting below my homemade planner is my Day Designer, and below that is a project clipboard. (I always put something underneath my planners in case there are spills or marks on the counter.)

So after the cover page (which is made from that cute vintage paper I love!) I have the two-page monthly calendar spread ...

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I added the stickers and a few quotations written with black ink and soft colored pencils ...

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I love peppering my planners with seasonal poems and quotes!

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Next page has my October menu calendar ...

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I described how I fill out these menu calendars in this post, but I want to stress that this is an ideal - we don't always keep up with the "new" and "varied" meals I've envisioned. Often - especially when we're busy or I'm tired (the state of affairs more often than not around here!) - I fall back on tried and true, easy meals. (Homemade pizzas, baked pasta, grilled cheese and soup, burgers, meatloaf and roasted veg, etc.) 

And next comes my monthly overview ...

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I added the highlighted notes at the top of the page this month, and of course there are post-its! The green apples reflect our October homeschooling themes and topics. I try to review this page every weekend to see where we're at and what tasks and activities can be scheduled in the week ahead. Note: "October Goals" became a place to write down upcoming movies, tv shows and books.

A closer peek ...

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And here is last week's spread!

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Next week I will do a WHOLE post on how I'm using this weekly spread, but in the interest of time and word count, let me move on and show you  ...

... next week's spread that I'm filling in now!

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You might wonder how long it takes me to fill in all those spaces, but honestly, it's not very long. A lot of the information is already available (Days of Note, Seasonal Theme, Dinners, Weekly Rhythm) so I just write those things in first. The to-do list is also pretty quick to fill in - I look at last week's list as well as our weekend planner to see what tasks still need doing. I take another look at the monthly calendar to see what new things have been written in for the week (a new event to prepare for, for example) and I also look back at that monthly overview to see what To-Dos can be fit into this coming week.

Beside my homemade planner I have parked my Day Designer ...

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Here's how it looked one day last week (when I first started working on this post!) ...

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Ok, moving on from planning (let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up on anything!) ... I thought I'd share some random photos from the past week or so ...

First, because it was the week of the Full Harvest Moon, I had planned to make "Harvest Moon Muffins," (a quick bread recipe baked in muffin tins) but due to the aforementioned busy schedule/tired mama syndrome, I stopped short at "Harvest Moon Applesauce." πŸ˜‰

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I love using my grandmother's food press when making applesauce! 

This was actually part of a little "science" experiment this week, making applesauce together! The boys helped me with counting and measuring before I loaded the apples, sugar and spice into the crockpot, and good GOLLY did it smell wonderful in our house all day! The apples were done cooking just before bedtime so I placed them in the fridge for the next day. After milling the apples into sauce we set up a little taste-test - our homemade applesauce vs. Stop 'N Shop brand! Could people tell which was which? (The answer, happily, was yes!)

Then last weekend I combed through the autumn book basket and pulled out titles that matched October's weekly themes ...

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  • Changing Leaves (10/2-10/8)
  • Woodland Flora & Fauna (10/9-10/15)
  • Pumpkins (10/16-10/22)
  • Goodnight Garden/Halloween (10/23-10/29)

I also have two sweet board books for my younger boys for learning the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers, as part of Holy Rosary month. :)

Speaking of books though, look at these lovely new titles that arrived in my mail last week!

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A couple of picture books we usually get out of the library to celebrate the Full Harvest Moon, a new (and adorable) autumn board book for Little Bear (which might be my new favorite autumn book of all time!), a CD of scientific storytelling for Earlybird (which we once owned but now can't find!) and a new Waldorf-inspired crafting book for Mama. I'm positively swooning over that last one in particular - a bit of a splurge, but worth it!

Here's a gorgeous page from Hello, Harvest Moon ... 

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Did you happen to catch it last Thursday night?

Harvest moon rising

We are surrounded by trees here so we have to wait a while before the full moon is visible ... but honestly, I think the way it peeks through the branches and illuminates the tree-line is quite magical! We let Little Bear stay up a bit late so he could watch the full moon rising ...

LB and the full moon

Now, back to books for a moment ... just look and see what arrived in my mailbox early last week!

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A very thoughtful gift from my friend (and longtime reader), Penny! When Penny read that I was positively pining for this particular PW book, she offered me her own copy. (How nice is that?!) Naturally I said I would just LOVE to have it, so she popped in the mail and I received it a day later! Hooray for packages in the mail and hooray for the ever-speedy USPS ... but most of all, HOORAY for kind-hearted and generous friends! ❀

Ok, now we all know the Pioneer Woman loves boots ... well, I'm no cowgirl, and I haven't been on a horse since I was 12, but how do you like my new "riding" boots?

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I have lusted after these "Westport," Maine-made boots for years ... and finally (with Bill's blessing of course), I made the splurge! I ordered them online because I don't get over to LL Bean's that often, but was very happy that not only do they FIT just as well as I'd hoped, they are truly quite comfortable. I thought they paired rather nicely with a knee-length denim skirt. :)

(This was me on my way to Sunday brunch with my college girlfriends!)

Speaking of shoes though ...

Archie and sandals

That's my Archie, flopped all over my favorite pair of summer sandals ... the ones I can't bear to put away for the season just yet. (Though truly, we've had plenty of summer-like days recently.) But as you can see, Archie's looking rather relaxed here, smug you might even say ... because while Oliver had to be at the vet's annual exam last week, Archie got to skip it completely. And all because he's just SO naughty when we bring him! Nothing like the sweetie-pie he is at home - at the vet he's all hissing, spitting and growing ... frankly, it's a bit of a horror show. The next attempt was going to include some serious sedation ... which makes me very nervous ... but fortunately our vet is wonderful and fully understood our apprehension. We decided he can wait till next year when he is due for his rabies shot. (My cats are indoor cats, but are still kept up on all their vaccinations.)

In other wildlife news ...

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Howsabout this guy???

Isn't he magnificent? This is a Barred Owl, and we hear him (her?) very often in the woods behind our house - usually around dusk, but my older boys (night owls themselves) say they hear hooting late at night as well. Well, there I was at the sink starting supper last Friday night when Little Bear, looking out the kitchen nook window, exclaimed: "Mama, look! It's a snowy owl!!"

And this is what he saw ...

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Isn't he GINORMOUS?? And clearly looking for his supper! I took this picture above with my cell phone, then went outside with my big camera to try for a better shot. The first owl picture was taken from beneath the tree just to the right of the feeders. The owl was staring at me - really peering at me with those gorgeous black eyes! - then his attention would be caught by something moving in the underbrush and he'd turn his head downward ...

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Finally he'd had enough of me, my snapping camera and restless Little Bear and took off ...

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He landed in the front yard where LB and I were joined by Bill and Earlybird and we watched the owl fly across the road and into the woods to the north. Absolutely amazing ...

(Crackerjack and Bookworm were out on a driving lesson and missed the whole thing!)

Ok, and now for some autumn homeschooling ... these pics are all from the past couple of weeks!

First came APPLES ...

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Apple Week included apple snacks, an apple star surprise, drying apples, applesauce and an apple-y harvest wreath on the front door. :)

Also, I finally made use of that peg dolls book I showed you a couple of posts back, and look who Little Bear found in his learning room mailbox one morning!

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I made this "autumn star fairy" from a wooden peg base, with a little sheep's wool for hair, an acorn cap for a hat and a silk leaf (plucked from a garland) as wings! I made the verse card with a blank postcard and watercolor paints. I just wrote the verse on the card once the paint had dried. I've been using these cards for little poems, prayers and verses this year and I love the effect of those pretty paints!

Next came SEEDS ...

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Seeds week included seed gathering, sorting and observation, seed crafts, seed treats, seed experiments ... and very happy chipmunks!

And then on Michaelmas Day we had our first Nature Club meeting of the year ...

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My younger boys all came along and we met with other homeschooling families to take a walk along a local trail. We found everything on our Nature Scavenger hunt checklist as well as garter snakes, spiderwebs, several types of leaves and some very cool fungus. Best of all, there were Michaelmas daisies growing all over the woods! :)

The next Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels ...

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I made another watercolor card for the Guardian Angel prayer and set up this small scene on our learning room table. I lit the beeswax tealight and read the prayer aloud to Little Bear ... who took great joy in blowing out that candle! :)

We also found time to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, our family patron saint ...

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Little Bear especially enjoyed assembling "all of creation" as I crafted a simple grotto and read aloud our favorite child-friendly version of Francis's "Canticle of the Sun." I made a verse card for the first stanza and plan to make cards for the rest of this beautiful prayer. :)

Last week we also visited a local agricultural fair - along with Earlybird's therapist and Bill who took the day off so he could join us. :)

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And the day after that we joined our homeschool group on a field trip to a local corn maze!

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It was a beautiful day - as you can see, warm enough for short sleeves! - and what fun we had navigating our way through the rows of corn and listening to the raspy dry ears in the breeze and hearing great vees of geese honking overhead! 

✨ πŸ‚ 🍎 🐿 🌻 🌞 🍁 πŸ„ 🌽 πŸŒ› ✨

Well this was quite a long post I'm afraid, but I hope you enjoyed it! I had meant to create posts around each of these collages - with more details - but time kept slipping by and then we'd be onto the next thing! I can certainly expand on any of these themes and projects (as well as my planners) in a future post and happily, though last week was particularly busy with two field trips, a fair trip, a vet appointment AND the SAT ... the coming week will be much quieter! Knock on wood!

So I will leave you now my friends, with my thanks for your visit and my wish that you all enjoy a lovely autumn weekend. I will be back again here just as soon as I can but in the meantime you can always find me on Facebook or Instagram. :)

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


May was for milestones ... 🌞

Happy Tuesday, my friends - and long time no post! I feel like it's been sooo long since we last talked! I'm sorry I've not been able to post much lately. It's certainly not for lack of interest! I have so many things I want to discuss and share with you, but it's been an incredibly busy month for us - time at my computer has been scarce! But things are starting to get back to normal and I'm popping in to share some photos with you all and catch up ...

Ok, going back a bit ... here is some lovely china we inherited from Bill's godmother. This set belonged to her mother and was in need of a good home, and Aunt Anne very kindly gifted us with it ALL!

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It matches our kitchen nicely but will be used primarily in the dining room. I asked Bill if we could display some of the plates on the wall. I've always wanted to do that! One thing I love about green china is that it can work so nicely with multiple holidays - Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. :)

Ok, next - check out this super cute scrapbook paper I purchased recently!

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"The Children's Hour" is made by the same company that publishes the vintage papers I like to use when making my weekly planners. I just LOVE how seasonal these designs are and of course, the vintage look and all those cozy images of childhood. More on what I'll do with all those papers soon! :)

Next we have these lovely monthly notepads, a gift from my thoughtful cousin, Kara ...

Monthly note pads

You might recognize the illustrations? These pads are made by one of my favorite author-artists, Susan Branch! The whole set came with post-its notes and page markers ... I will find SO many uses for these papers!

Now, a couple of recent bird sightings ...

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This is a Pine Warbler I believe - a new sighting for us! And below, spotted on the very same day, is another new species (for us) ...

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A Pileated Woodpecker! She is absolutely huge! We had heard her tap-tap-tapping early in the morning (not knowing it was this kind of woodpecker) and then when a very large black bird flapping through our yard caught my eye, I grabbed my camera and starting snapping pictures. As you can imagine we were all pretty excited to add a couple of new birds to our life list...

And before I move on to recent (and exciting) events, here's a peek at a lovely new teacher's plan book I purchased recently ...

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I will do a full tour soon here at the blog - it's really well-designed and (subtly) colorful inside! And I'm quite eager to dig in and get next year organized for a new year of home education! (Our 18th!)

Speaking of (home) education ... my oldest son and (former) student, graduated from college last week! Yes!! Can you believe it? Personally I'm having some trouble coming to terms with this development! Not that I'm not ridiculously proud and happy - but GOSH did those four years go by fast! Bookworm now has his Bachelor of Science (in Computer Science) from Boston College ... here are some pictures from the Baccalaureate Mass on Sunday and Commencement on Monday!

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I will forever remember this moment ... as a mom and a homeschool mom, especially. I'm just so pleased for our young man and proud of how hard he has worked. Let me tell you - this boy took his education very seriously and really applied himself to his studies. BC is a pretty big school but Bookworm found his niche - finding good friends and a lovely girlfriend who also graduated this year ...

And now, he's home and will start looking for a job. (Won't lie and say I'm not thrilled to have him home!) Can't wait to watch his journey continue ... :)

Now, the next in line is our Crackerjack ... who will be a senior in high school next fall. But this past Saturday night, CJ enjoyed a rite of his own - attending the Homeschool Prom!

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Crackerjack attended Prom with a large group of friends, but I didn't want to include any of those kids in my post for privacy reasons. So here he is with his mom and dad!

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Ok! So we've covered Graduation and Prom ... and now for Little Bear's 4th Birthday! (Told you it's been a busy month!) We had our family over yesterday for a lunch celebrating not just LB but my brother, Matt, whose birthday is next weekend and my cousin's daughter who just turned one last week! 

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I'm sure some of you are familiar with the Nick Jr. show, "Blaze and the Monster Machines" ... a cute little cartoon featuring monster trucks (and subtle science lessons to boot!). I had the bakery do a "Blaze" cake since Little Bear just loves it. :)

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But goodness - how did he get to be four so fast? Honest to Pete, I googled "how to make life slow down" this morning because I just can't stand it ...

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Here's Little Bear greeting his youngest cousin, just three months old! He's quite enamored of babies ... πŸ’•

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And here he is with his Uncle Matt who had just informed Little Bear that some of these presents were for him. Lol, LB was not too happy to hear that! (And of course, my brother was kidding!)

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And here he is with his biggest brothers ... :)

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Earlybird  - who sometimes has trouble with parties - did really well yesterday. He joined in with the festivities (retreating to his room when he needed a break) and very nicely - one might say, eagerly - helped his little brother open presents. :)

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You are probably wondering why EB's wearing mittens. Well, it's a very long story, but very quickly - about two weeks ago the boys were coming down with a cold and Earlybird started getting nosebleeds. All of my kids, EB included, have gotten them before, but with EB it's really quite difficult to handle. As most of you know, EB has autism and with that comes extreme anxiety and sensory issues. He just panics when we try to help him and that makes the flow just awful. To make it worse, even though we were able to stop them each time they happened (every day for almost a week) he went through a compulsive issue where he would just jam his fingers up his nose to make it start. Some days I had to just sit with him for hours and hold his hands to keep him still. I had my mum and Crackerjack helping me (and of course, Bill when he was home from work) keep up with the house and Little Bear and driving CJ to class. I finally gave EB mittens to wear to keep his fingers out of his nose and he has come to really rely on them. He hasn't actually had a nosebleed in over a week knock on wood but he just relishes the comfort (emotional and physical) of those mittens. (Prayers for his complete healing would be so appreciated ... I feel we're on the right track but it's still all been a little nerve-wracking!)

Ok, back to the party! Time to open all those presents!

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Little Bear received a car carrier truck from Earlybird ...

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.. and a gorgeous, ginormous dinosaur puppet from his oldest two brothers! Little Bear is just getting "into" dinosaurs and he also just loves puppets.

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High fives for Aunt Anne, Cousin Kara, Grandma Barbara and Uncle Karl ... !

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Bill's folks with Crackerjack ... aka Grandma and Grandpa!

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My dad (aka Papa) and (great!) Auntie Marcia ... :)

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Me with my beautiful mum - better known these days as Nana!

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And here's my cousin Kate's husband Paul with their beautiful little girl, just turned one year old! πŸ’•

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Little Bear sharing his toys with his cousin ... :)

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My Bill holding the newest member of the family - our sweet little niece. πŸ’•

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Aunt Ami and Uncle Eric - the new mom and dad! - with their precious girl. Such a lovely, happy family! 

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Cake time at last! Getting help from his brothers blowing out the candle ...

BUT ... there was a bit of a snafu, lol. Please click the link below to watch a brief video I posted on my Facebook page to see what I mean!

Happy Birthday, Little Bear!

And here's a picture I'd been hoping to get - of Little Bear and his dear baby cousins. :)

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It's such a happy time when the family starts filing up with little ones again!

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Last shot ... this lucky boy had a wonderful party! And he's been playing non-stop today with all his new toys - Legos, cars, trucks, etc.! He also got several wonderful new books - a couple which we read in the rocking chair when he first woke. And plenty of art supplies that we'll dive into later this week ... as well as some fun nature exploring tools! I love this age - when they're so full of energy and imagination, wonder and joy. I am ever so grateful God blessed us with this boy ... and I pray for the ability to slow down and savor this sweet time, so that the years ahead may pass with less swiftness than they have so far ... because these are such precious days and because this was JUST Bookworm playing with toys on the floor, I could swear it. And look where he is now! πŸ’›

Well my friends ... thank you so much for stopping by, and for your patience in my slow posting - not to mention my long, rambling posts! I am stunned to think that in two days we will be in the new month of June! (Seriously, Life - remember we talked? About slowing your roll just a bit?) I will do my very best to get my June planner post up ASAP - with extra planning sheets and thoughts on the new month ahead. I want to promise a post by Thursday the 1st but realistically I will temper myself and say by the end of the week ... fingers crossed!

Hope all is well with all of you, my friends! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


Our Family Easter, 2017

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Hello and Happy Wednesday, my friends! I hope you all had a nice weekend, and a lovely Easter too, if you celebrate! I am currently writing up a post about the file crate, but for today I thought I'd pop in quickly to let you know I just added a photo album to my sideboard (right side of the blog and linked below) with many pictures from our Easter. Most of them are from Holy Week but there are several from our Sunday celebration as well. I hope you enjoy, and I will see you here again soon!

Our Family Easter, 2017


Our Lenten Mantle (& Plans) ... ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! As hard as it is to believe, Lent begins this coming Wednesday! I thought I'd share a few of the things my family will be doing this year as we journey through this beautiful season ...

I considered repeating the elaborate post-it note countdown I created last year, but in the interest of time and energy, I decided to keep things a bit simpler. I'm hoping to set a mood, offer opportunities, and then step back and let Lent happen naturally ... beginning with a few things arranged on our library mantle.

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To ready the space, I first took down all the Valentine decor and dusted the mantle itself - a little squirt of lavender spray lent a nice cleansing touch. :) Then I took down the boxwood wreath and placed in its stead our grapevine cross ...

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We've had the grapevine cross for many years - I found it at either a Michaels Crafts or A.C. Moore store. It's hard to remember now! It's seen a bit of wear and tear, but I just love it. :)

The small wooden "Hope" sign I found at Michaels several weeks ago and thought it would be a nice theme for both Lent and spring. (I love merging nature and faith!) I simply tied the word onto the cross with some plain kitchen twine. I kind of like the symbolism of Hope tied closely to the cross ...

And throughout Lent, a little "life" will spring forth here each week - tiny sprigs of greenery I'll add in secret - and come Easter morning the cross will be covered in bright flowers!

Beneath the cross I placed a single white candle ...

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I planted it in some potting soil and will leave it like this until Palm Sunday, at which point we will sprinkle the soil with grass seed - and fingers crossed it will bloom a week later! (I adapted this idea from one I found in All Year Round, one of my favorite resources for seasonal celebrations.) Finally, on Easter morning, the boys will find the candle lit and hopefully surrounded by pretty green grass.

A plain little butterfly box also sits on the mantle ...

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On Ash Wednesday we will "bury the Alleluia" (an old custom) by placing that small slip of paper inside the butterfly. On Easter morning the butterfly box will be open and empty - the slip of paper will be gone! Instead there will be a golden "Alleluia" banner hung above the mantle and perched in the middle of the cross will be a bright and beautiful (silk) butterfly.

I also placed a glass jar for collecting alms here ...

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(Monies saved by skipping certain purchases each week.)

On the left side of the mantle I placed the brass crucifix made by my maternal great-grandfather, along with a small crystal votive candle holder (a gift from my parents - straight from Ireland!) This candle will be lit on Fridays as we contemplate the Stations (described below). I added the simple wooden rabbit because I plan to explore with the boys the many aspects of Easter that are tied in with both nature and faith ...

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On the far right side is our Marian statue (which belonged to my paternal grandparents) as well as a prayer card for the March devotion (St. Joseph) ...

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The purple jar will be used as a vase in which we can display any little bits of blooming nature we find through the season - forsythia most likely or pussy willows, perhaps. I may also add small vases for tiny things that pop up like crocus, snowdrops, and dandelions, etc. (I like to use small cordial glasses for this.) These will be flowers for the Blessed Mother but also a growing sign of returning life.

(As part of our seasonal homeschooling I have a few nature-based activities planned for each week, and these too will be woven into our Lenten path.)

Also seen in these pictures are the read-alouds we'll be using throughout Lent: The Parables of Jesus and The Miracles of Jesus, both by beloved author, Tomie dePaola. My hope is to read a passage aloud to the boys in the library each afternoon. I'll have a coloring page for Little Bear to work on (and ask Crackerjack to help keep him busy/interested) and see if Earlybird might want to participate, too. Listening to read-alouds can be difficult for EB (due to sensory issues) so this might be quite a sacrifice for him! I might even schedule this activity for earlier in the day when EB's therapist is here for support.

Finally, I strung a wide length of burlap ribbon along the front of the mantle to which I attached the Stations of the Cross, using small wooden clothespins. (The ribbon and the clothespins can be found at Michaels, or any craft store most likely. The lovely Stations cards were purchased through Catholic Heritage Curricula.)

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Once again, I had a lot of help as I set up this special space ...

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(He asked me to take his picture in front of the mantle. He was very proud!)

I have one other activity planned for Lent - and that involves working Lenten themes into our journey. Each Wednesday at dinner I'll present this small basket of rocks ...

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... and one of us will choose a rock for the coming week. As you can see above, each rock has a word written on it in purple: prayer, silence, gratitude, forgiveness, service, spiritWhichever word is chosen from the basket will be a theme we can all work into our week - privately and as a family. (I have some activities planned to help the younger boys with this project.) At the end of each week the rock will be placed upon our Lenten mantle.

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Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed hearing about our plans for Lent this year! Are there any Lenten traditions you follow with your family each year? Are you trying something new this year? Do you have a special book (or books) you are reading this season? Drop me a note if you have a moment - I'd love to hear from you!

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful weekend and as always, I thank you for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again sometime soon!


Advent Tea, Week 4: Happy Hearts at Home

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday ~ Merry Christmas Eve! As I feared might happen this week, things just got too busy, and I didn't have time to finalize my post yesterday. But I'm here today - on this rainy and mild Christmas eve - to share with you one last cup of Advent Tea. For tonight we begin a most beautiful and blessed new season ...

"Blessed is the season that engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

❀

In our final week of Advent my family continued our celebration of God's amazing creation. We had previously explored the wonder of earth and sky, the peacefulness of plants, the joys of wild (and not so wild) creatures and now, we aim closer to home. This week it's all about God's greatest creation - humankind - and the love He has for us - that we have for each other! So this week we relished our family being together and rejoiced in our beloved home ... while remembering the holiest family, their humble first home, and the noble journey that started it all ...

Let's start with a look at our Advent Garden. This was a really fun project and I am sure we will do this again next year ... remember how it started?

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In week one (earth & sky) we added pebbles (and later soil) and surrounded our garden (a shallow glass terrarium) with beeswax tealights. Well here is how it looks now as Advent comes to a close ...

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Soil was topped with moss from which frosted tiny trees soon sprouted ... then a pretty spotted deer appeared. And this week, up rose a cozy little neighborhood. β€

(Note: I bought the trees, deer and houses at my local Michael's craft store. They were fairly inexpensive. The houses were plain but I spread the rooftops with a little white paint and added a few shakes of white glitter. The moss and pebbles came from our yard and the earth was found in a bag of potting soil parked in the garage. The candles I ordered through Amazon.)

Today I moved the Garden off the kitchen table (which will soon be set up for a Christmas buffet!) and into a small nearby alcove ...

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Above it I hung a pretty wooden ornament also embellished this week ...

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This was a very inexpensive wooden craft, one of several I've picked up this season ...

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I actually really love the look of unfinished wood, but the addition of a little white paint and glitter lends a soft and simple touch ...

A few more nativity scenes around the house ...

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This is a new lawn decoration this year! Bill and the boys "gave" me this as a gift last Christmas - but it took me till this fall to find one I really liked. We have this nestled beneath - appropriately enough - our family room windows. :)

Let's pop on out to the library and take a peek at the tree for a moment ... 

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Isn't this ornament gorgeous? You'll probably tire of hearing me say this but this is another treasure I found at Michael's. This was discovered in one of the boys' Advent pockets this past week.

And how about this one? :)

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I found this picture frame ornament up by the registers for a couple of dollars. So very pretty and perfect for a small family photo. I think I'd like to make this a tradition - add a new family picture ornament each year.

Speaking of ornaments, one of our crafts this past week celebrated our family members and what Mama loves most about each of them.  

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I started with a plain plastic ornament ball ... wrote our family names on small heart stickers and placed them all over the ball's surface ... and then filled the ball with colorful strips of construction paper. Each slip of paper was curled up tight, with a hidden message inside.

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I think this might also become a new family tradition ... :)

One more peek at the tree, a few new ornaments were added this week ...

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I found these pretty red glass initial ornaments at Target, and bought one for each of my boys. (The "H" is actually made out of cardboard or some such material.)

And since we're talking about my boys, here's a peek at our Christmas card this year!

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It's the first time we've done a collage and I rather like it! It was such fun to look back over all the photos from last year ... though it proved a shocking reminder just how quickly time has flown. We even added a couple of photos to the back - one of the chickens and one of the cats!

I absolutely adore Christmas cards, don't you? We display ours here on this door leading into the library ...

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Bill sets up the ribbons and then I attach the cards with tiny clothespins. I love to see this doorframe fill up! Visually, it's a wonderfully decorative spot - but also a lovely reminder of the friends and family we have been blessed with over the years.

And though we've been doing "photo cards" for years, I still love traditional Christmas cards. We always bought ours from a company called LANG, and when I spied some boxes of Lang cards at Joann's Arts & Crafts recently (marked down 60%!) I just could not help myself. I bought a few varieties for next year ...

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❀ 

Switching gears now - because we haven't even talked about tea yet! Now, if you scroll way back up to the top of this post I showed you my teatime spread this week ... or, here it is again ... :)

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As you can see, I was in my glories at Tea this week, surrounded by all my boys. They were supposed to be helping me with neatening the tree - I bribed them with cookies! - while I sat down to look over my holiday notes. In my "Blessed" mug (a new favorite) I had a large serving of my preferred black tea with a lot of milk and a bit of sugar. The cookies are store bought, but were still gobbled up quickly! I had hoped to make Bill's grandmother's much-loved gingerbread recipe this week but that just did not pan out. (I'm going to try again at Epiphany.) So a box of "Gingerbread Family" cookies had to do. Thank you, Pepperidge Farms!

Yes, it is wonderful having our Bookworm home! I never sleep as well as I do when all my sons are home. The older boys do love to sleep in though if they are allowed ... but this morning we needed to get an early start so I made up a platter of cinnamon-sugar toast in hopes that the fond and familiar aroma would get them out of bed!

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Cinnamon-sugar is without a doubt, one of the best things in my kitchen. (Along with my fresh coffee beans and a large bottle of vanilla.) I grew up eating cinnamon-sugar toast made by my mum or grandma and its scent still says "cozy, home, comfort" to me. :)

It's little things like this that make a home feel warm and welcoming. Because a home is so much more than just walls and windows and a (hopefully) sturdy roof. Home is where our loves live ... it's where we come together to share our journey, our thoughts and our memories. We are nurtured and encouraged and accepted here. We are allowed to crave comforts and seek solace ... it's the place we can relax and rejuvenate and gather our strength when we once again face the world outside that front door ...

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Jane Austen had it right. Home is where it's at ... and that's that. :)

❀

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Oh, and how could I forget? Here's another "Giveaway" sneak peek! January is a perfect month for letter writing - in fact, 1/23 is National Handwriting Day! So here are some pretty notecards to help you catch up on all those holiday thank-yous. :) And once the busy-ness of Christmas has past, time frees up again (in theory!) for leisurely pastimes like reading for pleasure ... how about a nice issue of Mary Jane's Farm? Both of these things will be tucked into that Winter Comforts Basket! :)

I am having such fun putting together this basket, and although only one reader will win it, I really wish I could send a little wintertime "comfort and joy" to each and every one of you. I am so grateful for you all - for all your support and kindness and encouragement over the years. I know most of us have never actually "met" in "real life" but I count each of you as my friends. I always look forward to hearing from you and I keep every one of you in my prayers. My wish for you on this beautiful Christmas eve morning is that your coming days are filled with the blessings of family and home, that you know friendship and love, good health and happiness, and that your new year will be an AMAZING one. I look forward to sharing 2017 with you all!

Now, before I go - I am still accepting teacup (mug) submissions! And I have several more friend posts stockpiled to share next week ... if you'd like to join the Giveaway contest, please send me a picture of your favorite mug - whatever you most enjoy drinking your tea (or coffee, cocoa, cider, etc.) from ... and you are entered. I will announce a winner on New Year's Eve - a week from today!

You can reach me at: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Next Friday I'll have a Christmas Tea of my own, but in the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful weekend. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and see you all here again very soon ...

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Advent Tea, Week 3 ~ Finding Joy in Creation ❀

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

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

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

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:)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So glad we made sure to fill our feeders yesterday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good morning, pretty girls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*❀*

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

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

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

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

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

I will see you all here again very soon!


Advent Tea with Friends ... December 12th ❀

Advent tea with friendsHello and Happy Monday, my friends! Thank you so much for joining me for another 4:00 teatime. :)

All throughout Advent I'll be sharing readers' favorite cups and mugs, every weekday at 4 p.m. ... and returning on Fridays with my own special Tea post. Anyone who participates will be entered in my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway ... and on New Year's Eve I will announce the basket winner!

If you'd like to join us, please read more giveaway details in this post - but for today, let's pop in at Leslie's and see what she has brewing by the fire ... β˜•οΈ

Hello Dawn! Last night I texted some neighborhood friends and said "tomorrow morning I will put on a large pot of coffee and place a log in the fireplace. Will you join me after you drop the children off from school?" I took out our fanciest cups and saucers (including the cream and sugar bowl passed down from my grandmother) but everything else was quiet and casual ...

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A great way to start the day!

*❀*

Oh my goodness, what a lovely setting, Leslie - and such a gracious gesture, to invite friends in for morning coffee and conversation by the fire. Thank you for taking the time to share a little of your Advent with all of us ...

Dear readers, isn't this a nice idea - to begin a cold December day with the warmth of fresh coffee and friendship? What a wonderful example of sweet and sincere hospitality. I must say I was especially pleased to stop in at Leslie's today - not just because it's all so inviting! - but also because ... Leslie is family! She is my husband's cousin and we met for the first time at a family reunion a couple of years ago ... in the backyard under the "train table tent" with our little ones all around. :)

It was so nice to hear from you Leslie, and I'm wishing you and your beautiful family a very happy holiday season! β€

And friends, thanks to all of you for joining us at teatime ... I hope these posts are a little bright spot in your day. Have yourselves a wonderful Monday and ... see you here again very soon!


Celebrating Advent with Older Kids ... ❀

Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

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

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

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

So Michelle's question got me thinking ... 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*❀*

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

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

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


Our 2016 Advent Calendar ~ Themes & Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then I decorated and filled each pocket ... 

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

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

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

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

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I really, really love how this came out!

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

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

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

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

Week One: Earth and Sky (Hope)

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

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

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

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

Week Two: Plants (Peace)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week Three: Animals (Joy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week Four: Humankind (Love)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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