My Review: Blue Sky Teacher's Planner

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Hello my friends and Happy Thursday! I hope your week is going well! :-)

Today I'd like to share a review of The Blue Sky Teacher's Weekly Plan Book, the planner I'll be using for our homeschooling next year (as well as throughout the summer). I've shared a couple of peeks over at Instagram and Facebook, but I thought I'd go into deeper detail here, since many of us are currently "in the market" for helpful homeschooling tools!

But first, a full (Thursday) disclosure! I sort of used last year's version of this planner, but abandoned it after a few weeks. Unfortunately, as much as I loved that planner, it just didn't fit the bill for me. It was (and is) an excellent planner, but I really didn't need so much structure this past year. Not only is Little Bear's prek-at-home VERY low key, but I really can't plan out nitty-gritty daily details for Earlybird. (He's more a "big picture" kind of kid - so I plan lots of "potentials" and then choose what works day-by-day.) Meanwhile, Crackerjack is doing all of his studies outside the home this year. (Save for math - and who needs to plan math? Lol, not me. We use Teaching Textbooks.)

All that said, I have a different PLAN in mind for how I PLAN to organize this year!

Ok. Here we go ...

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I bought this pretty planner at Staples a couple of weeks ago. Funnily enough, I didn't stop at Staples for a planner, but one look at those new Blue Sky displays and I was a goner. This is the time of year when academic year planners are available as well as those dedicated to lesson planning. Most are made for professional teachers but I find many can be easily adapted to a homeschooling mom's needs. 

Now, there were several versions of this particular planner available - identical layouts, varied designs - but the "Ditsy Dapple Floral" cover really caught my eye. I'm partial to florals anyway, but couldn't help noticing how nicely it matched my new Day Designer personal planner!

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The planner cover is protected by a "frosted" plastic sheet, under which the colors appear a little less vibrant (a bit more pastel). As someone who lives in a house with four not-always-careful-or-neat boys, I am very appreciative of that protective cover! The cover itself is made of a thick cardstock material.

(If you can't tell in these pictures, the word "teach" is done in a metallic gold. Sparkly and fun!)

The spiral "twin-wire" binding is very sturdy ...

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A spiral binding is a MUST for me. I need to lay my planner flat when I write in it or prop it up on display! And since my planners get knocked around a good bit, I need them to be well-made and forgiving - and reasonably priced!

Just before the title page there is a double-sided, clear plastic pocket ...

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I plan to file school correspondence here, including submitted education plans. The title page, like the cover, is made of a heavier cardstock.

After the title page shown above, there are dated calendars for 2018 and 2019, followed by a page for recording contact numbers and emergency information ...

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I'll mark these dated calendars with highlighters to indicate time on and off throughout the year - aka vacation days and such.

Next comes a spread for organizing monthly holidays and special dates:

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As you can see, there are lots of suggestions listed here for fun, random things to celebrate such as "Tell a Joke Day" (August 16th), "Make a Friend Day" (February 11th) and "Children's Good Manners Month" (September). There is also plenty of space for recording your own ideas!

The next spread is set up for recording "Class Birthdays," but as you can see, I'm using it for listing our seasonal homeschooling themes:

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This is the only planner page I have filled out so far! I'll admit setting up these themes is my favorite aspect of annual lesson planning!

The right hand page is for organizing a weekly schedule. I will use this for listing out ABA times and our homeschooling rhythm. (For example, storytelling day, crafting day, nature walk day, etc.)

And now we get to the meat of the planner - the monthly and weekly spreads!

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Soft green and white shades, and a lovely and neutral design. I like my covers bright, but my planning pages soft on the eye!

And I love, love, LOVE a lined monthly grid! It really helps keep the handwriting neat. This month-at-a-glance has generously-sized blocks which are another must for me. (I write small, but I write A LOT!)

Now the thing I perhaps love best about this planner is that it provides a FULL year of planning! There are 14 monthly calendars (12 are tabbed), beginning with May 2018 and ending with June 2019. There are weekly planning spreads for EVERY week of the academic year, June 25th, 2018 through June 28th, 2019. So if you homeschool year-round this is pretty perfect for you!:

And here is that weekly spread:

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A closer look ...

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Nice tabs, too. I tend to use paper clips and/or binder clips with my planners for marking my page and/or attaching notes and lists.

My strategy for this two-page spread is to use the left side for our routine/rhythm (first, green column) and then notes for each of my younger boys (2 columns each). The right side will be for "big picture" planning and notes. (That probably sounds confusing, so I'll share more details on my plans for this spread in a future post!)

At the very end of the planner, after the last weekly spread (June 24-28, 2019) there are a few note pages ...

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My "plan" at this time is to use these three pages for trimester reviews (in November, March and June).

The very last page is a listing of official holidays for each of the next four years (including 2018).


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And finally we have a very pretty back cover!

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(Also protected by a frosted plastic cover.)

I also bought a matching wall calendar for the learning room wall, since the one we have now runs out of pages after June!

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And there you have it! A full tour of my new lesson planner ... with more nitty-gritty details to come soon!

Are you thinking about next year yet? Do you have a teacher's planner in mind (or in hand)? If so I'd love to hear about it!

I'm off for now, but take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you here again very soon!


Mitten Strings for God: Ch. 14 "Healing"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would we ever DO without bandaids??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A closer peek:

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wild & Weedy Apothecary

Earth Mother Herbal

Natural Beauty for All Seasons

101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home

Essential Herbal Wisdom

A Kid's Herb Book

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

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

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend, and I will see you all here again very soon!


A Few April Bits & Bobs ❀

Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday! I'm popping in quickly today to share a few things ... 

First, I wanted to let you all know that our next Mitten Strings for God book study "tea" will take place this coming Sunday, April 22nd. The chapter we'll be discussing next is called "Healing," and it's a rather short, but very sweet chapter. Here's a passage to consider ...

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Full (Wednesday) Disclosure - it was this chapter that inspired me to share last Friday's post, admitting to certain anxieties I have as a special needs parent. Because there's nothing quite like times of stress to inspire more frequent (and imagined) "boo-boo moments." Most of the time it's more about the need for comfort than it is a cute bandaid ... but more on all that in my Sunday post. Later this week (most likely on Instagram) I will share a picture of our own boo-boo basket, which I recently pulled together with my littlest fella in mind.

For now I would like to invite all to join me in this re-read, savoring each chapter as we (slowly) go along. Future chapter topics include: listening, nature, enchantment and grace. :)

On a brighter note though, here are some spring birds from my backyard ...

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How I love watching the goldfinches turn a brighter shade of yellow once the winter has passed. In this collage I have "captured" two males at the top and then a third male in between two females on the bottom. Their vibrant feathers are such a happy sight in the spring!

And here are a few more ...

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On the left is the dark-eyed junco - a lovely "snowbird" who leaves for the north in mid-April. Every year we keep a keen eye out for their departure - often a flock of them will be ground-feeding vigorously one day and then be gone the very next. Come October, juncos will return for the winter (just about the time the chipmunks go underground). They are such seasonal harbingers and the dearest little birds - I just love them! 

The birds on the right are a white-throated sparrow (top) and a house finch (bottom). The sparrow's song in particular is a welcome and familiar sound around here in the spring!

But speaking of spring ...

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This picture popped up in my "Facebook Memories" feed this morning. It was taken on this day last year and OH MY what a difference a year makes! These azalea bushes, shown here in near-bloom, have barely even formed buds yet this season! What a long, loooong winter it's been ...

But now ... I have some BIG news to share ... because Crackerjack has made his college decision!

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(Soon to be seen on my van's bumper!)

As of Sunday night CJ is officially enrolled at Emmanuel College in Boston, as a member of the class of 2022! His plan is to major in Political Science and minor in Spanish. We are very proud of our young man and extremely pleased he decided on Emmanuel. I think it will be an excellent fit! 

Woohoo, Go Saints!

Well my friends, thanks so much for stopping by and I hope your week is going well. How is spring treating you where you live? Drop me a note if you have a moment, but for now I will wish you well and a pleasant day (or evening) ahead ...

Meet you here on Sunday for Mitten Strings!


Full Disclosure Friday: Autism Siblings ROCK

Two boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would Earlybird's autism challenge HIM?

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

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

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

Moral of the story: 

Autism siblings rock

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

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

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

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

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

See you all here again very soon ...


How I use the Day Designer Weekly Planner

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Hello my friends and Happy Wednesday! I hope your week is going well! Last month I promised a peek at how I'm using my Day Designer for Blue Sky Weekly & Monthly Planner - and here it is at last! :)

I've been using this planner since January, and have found it very helpful. I use a few planners (and most of you well know!) and each one addresses a specific planning need. This particular planner is primarily for viewing my whole week at a glance in such a way that I can really see how busy I (we) will be. I like to keep it on display on my kitchen counter (open to the current week, not closed as shown above) so the whole family can see what's going on just as easily as I can. Well, in theory anyway ... I still have to remind them to check the planner when they ask something like, "are we busy on Thursday?" But usually the boys just want to know: what are we having for supper?!

Ok, let's start with a look at the weekly spread itself:

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One thing I really appreciate about the Day Designer planners (including the Day Designer for Blue Sky line) is the subtle and elegant design. This color scheme (white with soft green) really appeals to me, as does the classic black-and-white stripe of the cover shown at the top of my post! And I really like this kind of weekly format - the columns are generously sized but there are still many areas for extra notes.

I'll start by showing you how I filled out this week's spread and then will discuss each section in a little more detail ...

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As you can see, I really use every space on this spread! I also use post-it notes and highlighter pens for further organization. As I've mentioned before, my small handwriting is helpful when it comes to filling in planners - I can really fit a lot of text in those tighter spaces!

Let's start with the To-Do column on the far left edge of the spread ... 

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Here I list the things I need to get done THIS week (not just say, sometime soon). To the left of the check-box I add an initial if the task is someone else's responsibility - I call myself the "family secretary" since it's my job to be sure everyone knows what they're doing and when! - and I also place a dot in the check-box if a task has been started. (Changing it to a check once it's completed, or an arrow if it's being moved forward.)

By they way, both of these "hacks" I learned long ago while using my very first "serious" planner. I haven't used a Franklin planner in many years but I still remember the lessons that system taught me! Of course I completely disregard their first and most important rule: ONLY USE ONE CALENDAR! πŸ˜³

I also have a post-it note here with errands I need to run this week. This note helps me plan ABA outings with my special needs son and his therapist. (Building community skills is a big part of our therapy!)

(How do I come up with this weekly to-do list? Well, most of what's listed here are things that are pertinent to upcoming events and/or tied to a time-sensitive situation. Some weeks I mine tasks from our master to-do list (things that need doing soon, but not necessarily now), but this week is pretty busy as is. We're just coming off the Easter holiday AND this is our last pre-college decision week, so I'm keeping my to-dos as streamlined as possible!)

Next section: the daily columns.

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The lined daily column runs from 6 a.m. through 7 p.m. with a generous, open space at the bottom designated as "tonight" and a lined box at the top (just beneath the date) for listing the day's "top three" things. I use highlighters to indicate type of activity (green for someplace I need to go, blue for someplace the boys and/or Bill need to go, yellow for hosting at home, pink for self-care). I like looking at the week and seeing where the green is because that tells me when I'll need to be out and about. 

I don't record as much information here as I do in my daily planner - this is more for seeing the week in one glance. It really helps me manage our time, resources and energy!

In the "top three" section, just as in my daily planner, I list any events of note, as well as a little weather information ...

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... and at the bottom of each daily column I write in the night's proposed supper:

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Now, the far right column of this spread is for "gratitude," "notes" and "next week." Here's how I use those spaces ...

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In the top space I list our seasonal theme, which is "April Showers" this week. (I have an upcoming post with ALL 52 themes for our next academic year!)

In the notes section I list the "crafts and comforts" I envision to go along with that seasonal theme. These include nature awareness activities, science experiments, readalouds, recipes, crafts, etc.

And finally, at the bottom of this column, I use the "next week" space just as it is intended:

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A post-it note makes it easy to move this information elsewhere when I'm working on our weekend plans. 

(Also shown in these photos is the bright yellow, flower-shaped post-it note I use for blog ideas. I move that along with me week-to-week.)

A quick tip for keeping your place in this planner ...

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The ever-handy binder clip makes it super easy to flip right to the current week!

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What I love best of all about this planner is its size and feel. It's beautiful, inside and out. It's sturdy and substantial, yet light and extremely totable. The paper is smooth, the palate eye-pleasing and it's comfortable to write in thanks to those firm front and back covers.

(Because I'm often asked, I'll also mention that I use Frixion Erasable pens in my planners - exclusively!)

Well, there you have it then - a peek at my week, and another detailed description of how I use my planner(s) to the best of my ability! Once again, I am just so impressed by the quality and versatility of the Day Designer product line. I am so pleased with the two I use (as well as the monthly "scheduler" I use for habit tracking). And of course I just love the overall look and style of my planners ... so much so that how could I resist this cute little matching mug I spotted at Michaels the other day?

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It was on sale AND I had a coupon so it ended up costing me all of about $4.00. (A pin money purchase!) It has that really nice mug feel, too. (Do you know what I mean? How some mugs are more comfortable than others?) Anyhoo, it's rare to find a "D" monogram - not that Dawn is a common name, but D-names in general are! - so I snatched that baby up right quick! ;)

Ok my friends, I will wrap up now, but as always, I thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed this post and please let me know if you have any questions. As you can see from that bright yellow post-it note, I have lots of posts percolating - thanks, in part, to all of your wonderful suggestions! For now though, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Did you enter my giveaway? Well, you've got mail!

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Or you will ... if you'd like to send me your address! :)

So this is a little surprise from me to you ... for anyone who entered my "blogiversary giveaway" (and there were 80 of you in all!)  ... I'd love to send you a little snail mail, celebrating the new season ahead. This will just be a simple newsletter I print out here at home, with some thoughts and plans for the days ahead. I'm thinking of things like ...

β™₯ herb garden plans

β™₯ Little Women (on Masterpiece this May)

β™₯ spring self-care tips

β™₯ a favorite spring recipe

β™₯ a walk in the spring woods

I had mentioned in my original blogiversary post that 12 readers would be selected to receive my "Spring News" but as I went to publish this post I thought ... why not share it with everyone?

SO here's what to do:

If you are one of the 80 folks who commented on this post here or over at my Facebook page or Instagram account, please send me your snail mail address at your earliest convenience, by emailing me at:

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

(I promise I won't do anything with your address except place it in my home management binder, behind the blogging tab for personal correspondence purposes only. I would never share it with anyone else ... aside from maybe my husband, lol.)

And if you are not interested in the mail ... well that's fine, too!

I will plan to mail out these newsy little newsletters around May 1st. Sometime after that I will make them available here on my blog as a PDF. I just think that snail mail is so fun ... a rare and old-fashioned treat for those of us who still love the look and feel of paper in our hands. :) 

So! I hope to hear from you and thanks so much for stopping by! Enjoy the rest of this lovely spring day ... rainy and cool though it may be, here in New England!

See you here again sometime soon ...


And my planner giveaway winner is ... ❀

Day designer giveaway

HELENA!

Congratulations, Helena! I am so happy for you, and will be in touch soon to set up mailing details! I hope you will enjoy using this wonderful planner - I know mine has made a real difference in how (well) I manage all my weekly to-dos!

My sincere thanks to all who entered my "12 years of blogging" giveaway - especially for all the good wishes! I really enjoyed reading through all your comments and questions - your ideas have given me quite a shot of inspiration! How fun to begin my 13th year of blogging with so much encouragement and so many possible posts already in queue!

Here is Helena's question, which I will definitely feature in an upcoming post ...

"My question for you would be this - I think Little Bear will be in kindergarten in the fall, right? If that is the case, I would love to read about your plans for him - not just the seasonal themes, but curriculum, if you use any, and favorite resources."

This is a great question, Helena, and perfect timing - because yes, Little Bear will be starting Kindergarten this fall! (I can hardly believe it!) So next year, because Crackerjack will be ... gulp ... off to college, I will have just two students in our homeschool: Earlybird (16, special needs) and Little Bear (turning 5 in May). So naturally I'm already thinking about my very last year teaching Kindergarten ... and have started organizing a lesson planner for next year. So far it's mostly just notes and pretty tab dividers, but I will share my ideas and a peek at this planner soon!

You all had so many great questions and I appreciate the time you took to share them! I printed all of them out (including comments left for me here, at Facebook and Instagram - 80 in all!) and filed them in my home management binder, right behind my blog planning tab ...

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I will happily refer back to this list as I work on getting back to a semi-regular posting schedule this spring. :)

For now though, I will concentrate on putting my house put back together and catching back up with routine tasks that often get pushed aside whenever we're preparing for a major holiday! The "holiday hangover" I call it, lol! I will also be posting a new Mitten Strings update soon - I'm thinking our next chapter discussion will be on Sunday, April 15th, but will post a firm "teatime" in another day or two ...

Oh, and back to the planner shown above for a moment - I'll have a tour of "this week" coming up soon, but here's a sneak peek. As you can see it doesn't have much in it! I usually have my planners filled out well in advance of a new week, but with the busy Easter weekend, that all got pushed back ... so this morning (after a super early dentist appointment) I finally sat down to start writing out my spread:

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p.s. No cavities!

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this post and thanks again for the kind words, thoughtful comments and as always, your lovely encouragement! Congratulations again to Helena, and to all, I wish you a day (and night) filled with peace and joy ...

See you here again sometime soon!


My Daily Spread - Working the Plan!

Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday! I'm popping in today to share a little Day Designer news with you!

So, last week - on the 22nd at 12 p.m. EST to be exact - The Day Designer held their official Launch for their new line of 2018-2019 day planners - moving from midyear to academic year platform - and not surprisingly there were some fresh, fun designs! This is my fourth year using a Day Designer, and it's always a challenge to decide WHICH cover to choose, because I really USE my Day Designer!! So that cover will be a big part of my "planning life" in the new year ahead!

There were so many lovely styles - some old, some new - and I was seriously torn between sticking with my current style, "Jungle Out There," because I've loved it so much - the black background and vibrant tapestry-like design really suits me - but in the end I decided to go with something new!

And here it is ...

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Isn't it lovely?!? It's called "Climbing Floral," and it makes me think of an English garden. :)

Here are a few more peeks:

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Now, the flagship planner is not an inexpensive purchase, for sure ... not something most of us would buy on a whim. But I truly feel comfortable with the price because I absolutely use this planner, every single day, and really work it to my advantage! I'm all for keeping life simple, but life with four kids - one of them special needs, one getting ready for college, one trying to find a job and one still in preschool - life is pretty much "all systems GO" for me every day!

So, not that I need to justify my purchase, lol (my husband gave me his blessing - he knows how much my DD helps me!), I thought I might break down the daily planning page layout and share how I WORK this planner to suit my rather unique planning needs as a homeschooling, busy and blessed blogger mom!

Ok, in the top left corner of the page, we find the "Today's Top Three" section:

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This is meant to be a place for setting apart the three most important to-dos for that day, but instead I use this space to highlight any events "of note" for that day - say, a birthday, holiday or full moon - or just anything I need to keep in mind throughout the day. (It's too easy to lose track of the "big picture" as I manage all the nitty gritty.)

So on Tuesday, I wrote:

~ Bill home late (due to an evening dentist appointment) - because our whole evening routine is different when Daddy's not home!

~ EASTER PREP - in all caps, lol. I have an "Easter Prep" list that I'm working on throughout the week. I try to fit tasks in when I have a few minutes "free time."

~ 🌞 pics - this is to remind myself to take advantage of the sunny weather and get my photos done! (My pictures come out much better when it's sunny!) So for example, I took the pictures for this post when the afternoon sun was shining brightly through our kitchen nook window!

~ Amazon delivery - Since I had "Easter basket treats" coming in this package, I wanted to be sure I was the one who got it!

(I also always jot down the weather for the day here, because I'm a weather geek.)

In the opposite corner, we find spaces for "Due/Dinner/Dollars/Don't Forget":

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Due - Here's where I write blogging goals to be working on this week. (Posts on which I should be concentrating.)

Dinner - Here's where I jot down what we'll be eating that night. (I could have noted here my older boys made supper that night!)

Dollars - Here's where I note any monies spent that day. (I look back through these during weekend "office hours.")

Don't Forget - In this space I make note of our weekly seasonal homeschooling theme. (There are 52 in all, as described in this long-ago post.)

Now we're getting to the real meat of the planner! In this next section we'll look at the "Today" column:

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As you can see, I really work the heck out of this area! I keep my Day Designer on my kitchen counter and check in frequently throughout the day. I keep track of everyday tasks and do some simple habit tracking here as well. I also use highlighters to draw my eye to specific activities ...

--> green - I am going somewhere (aka I am somehow involved with an activity outside the home).

--> blue - Bill and/or the boys are doing something/going somewhere.

--> yellow - We're doing something special at home (eg. hosting a party).

--> pink - I'm doing something for myself. β€

It's very helpful to keep everyday tasks listed on this planner page because even though I do the same things everyday (after day ...), I can lose track of what I've gotten done and what still needs doing. ("Did I give EB his morning meds?" "Oh shoot, the cats weren't fed!") To organize these tasks even further I write them in the timezone in which they should be done. ( It's also convenient that I have very small handwriting!)

Continuing to squeeze more efficiency out of this page, I use a large < symbol next to a time block in which I can work on a personal project or "rhythm" activity. Usually, these < symbols appear when ABA is happening (meaning, EB is working with his therapists). As you can see between 10-11 a.m. I did pre-k activities with Little Bear. Normally in the afternoon session (between 12:30 and 2:30) I would have another < space but since I had to take Crackerjack to the dermatologist this time was spent driving and running errands.

Note: The farmhouse trip was cancelled because unfortunately EB was having ... A DAY. He was just not in a good place for a community outing. So, it got crossed out and will be planned for another day this week ... when he's up for it!

Ok, now about those the colored dots? Well, with these dots (which are just pen marks) I set up rough time blocks for myself ...

red/pink - early morning before the youngest wakes up (my "sit-plan-consume coffee" time)

orange (a.m.) - mid-morning, after youngest wakes up and before therapy starts

blue - therapy hours, before tidy-time

orange p.m. - afternoon, after therapy and tidy-time, before supper

purple - evening, after supper

These dots match up times with my to-dos ... :)

And so here's a look at my "To-Do" column:

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I don't do this every day, but when I have a lot going on, and I really need to make the best use of my time, I love this "system" for keeping up with my to-dos! I put a colored dot next to each task to show in which time block I need (or should) be working on it. So when it's 8 a.m. and I'm standing in the kitchen looking over my planner, I can find, at a glance, the "orange" tasks. I don't even bother looking at the big list itself - no blues, purples or reds - just orange! It kind of simplifies that choice for me!

Also, as you can see here, my to-do list starts with the day's housekeeping routine tasks. I have recently started writing these in blue ink to set them apart. Tuesdays are bathroom days (whereas everyday is laundry day!) and this week's extra chore is any and all Easter prep.

As I go through the day I check off things I accomplish and place a dot in a box indicating that a task has been started. If the task is being taken care of by someone else, I place their initial (in a little circle) next the task. 

And finally we have the "Notes & Gratitude" space:

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To be completely honest, I find it a little uncomfortable to write neatly so close to the bottom of the page, so I like to use post-it notes here. I only have two here today (one got moved up to the to-do column). The soft blue note is a list of photos to take and the yellow note is for the day's preschool activities. (Remember, our seasonal theme is eggs this week!) It's very easy to move these notes along as tasks and ideas get pushed back.

Well! I think that about does it for now - though I'm sure I'll have more Day Designer posts in the near future! Speaking of which - I have a post coming up in which I will show you how I use the weekly planner spread, the one I'm giving away to one lucky reader! All the details can be found in the post at the top of this blog! :)

So please stay tuned and as always, I thank you for stopping by! I wish you all a peaceful and blessed evening ... 

See you here again very soon!


Happy 12 Years, Little Blog! (+ a Giveaway!)

Blog bday collage

Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday!

❀

Today I have some exciting news to share! Not only do I begin my 13th year of blogging today - but I'm kicking off a super fun GIVEAWAY, too!

And here's the grand prize!

Day designer weekly

This is a: 

Day Designer for Blue Sky 2018-2019 Academic Year Weekly & Monthly Planner, Laminated Cover, Twin-Wire Binding, 8" x 10", Navy Stripe Design

 

Woot! Woot!

This is the weekly planner I use to keep track of our family's weekly to-dos and to-gos. I will do a post very soon showing you exactly how I use it, but here are a couple more glimpses inside:Inside planner 1

Inside planner 2(Note: Mine has a black and white striped cover and a green/white interior - but the layout is the same.)

This is a wonderful planner - slim, sturdy and thorough. There is plenty of room to do a LOT of weekly planning in here, as well as to keep track of all your month-at-a-glance details. I absolutely love mine and I would be so happy to see someone else enjoy this planner, too!

So!

ONE lucky reader will win this planner (along with a few favorite blogging accoutrements), but in honor of the TWELVE years I've blogged so far, I will also choose 12 names to receive a bit of fun "spring" mail from yours truly! Nothing too grand or fancy, just a little-old fashioned "snail mail," from me to you, in celebration of the new and lovely season ahead. :)

Ok, so to enter my GIVEAWAY, here's what you have to do:

  1. Leave a comment below this post (or at my Facebook page) with your name, along with a question you'd like to ask me and/or a suggestion for a post you'd like to read. 

It's that simple!

I will collect names up until Monday, APRIL 2nd - that's the day after Easter! - and then "roundabouts teatime," I will announce the GIVEAWAY winners!

πŸ€—

I think this will be fun! And I look forward to hearing from you! I can't promise I'll answer every question asked or write every post suggested, but I will certainly do my best to make my way through the ideas throughout the year. :)

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(I'm keeping a list for future blog posts - including "Full Disclosure Fridays" - behind the sunny yellow tab shown above!)

❀

Now, what would a birthday be without cake? :)

On Tuesday Little Bear and I baked "vernal equinox cupcakes," seen below in a recent Instagram collage ...

Spring collage
I simply frosted yellow cupcakes with ivory buttercream, then dusted half of each top with "spring green" sprinkles and the other half with "snowflake" sprinkles. Because - per New England tradition - Spring almost always kicks off with a good dusting of snow - or more! Hopefully though, having dodged the most recent snowstorm, we will get a little (or a lot of) melting here next week ... because I for one am dreaming of a GREEN Easter! πŸ’š

But back to the cake ...

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Since I only used half of the batter for the cupcakes, I decided to bake my blog a yummy, sunny, sprinkle-topped birthday cake - it's not like I haven't done it before! So tonight after supper, we'll light those sweet-smelling beeswax candles and dig right in ...

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Well my friends, I feel so blessed to be starting my 13th year of blogging and look forward to sharing more of my mothering/home-schooling/home-keeping/seasons-following/nature-loving journey with you all! 

Wishing the very best of luck to all who enter my GIVEAWAY, and to everyone, many thanks for stopping by! Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you 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!


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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

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

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

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! πŸŒž

5:00 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:45 a.m.

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

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

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

9:00 a.m.

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

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

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

9:30 a.m.

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

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

10:00 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

11:00 a.m. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOONTIME

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

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

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

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

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

1:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀ 

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

4:00 p.m.

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

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

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

6:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

8:00 p.m.

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

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

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

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

See you here again very soon!


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!


Mitten Strings for God: Schedule Update!

Mitten Strings for God new button

Hello again, my friends! A quick note about our Mitten Strings for God book study schedule. I have a request to make, and I hope you'll all be ok with it ..The next chapter in our book is called, "Surrender" and it addresses the concept of children playing with weapons. (Toy weapons, obviously.)

In truth, I'd been feeling a bit apprehensive about this chapter and how to approach it ... it's a tricky topic to discuss with other families, though it is definitely worthy of honest and respectful discussion. As the mother of four boys (not to be sexist), it's something we've encountered many times throughout the years.

But my friends, I just don't have it in me to tackle this particular topic at this highly sensitive time - especially in light of the horrifying events in Florida last month. It is perhaps THE time to talk about this with each other (and our children), but I don't feel I have the kind of time I'd need to craft a blog post that would be as thoughtful and careful as I'd want it to be ...I just don't have the heart for it, I guess.

So, I hope you all understand that I'd like to skip this chapter (for now, anyway) and move on to the very next chapter which is called, "Breathing," and I'd like to host that chapter chat on Sunday, March 11th - roundabouts teatime!

March 11th is Rose Sunday AND the day when we here in the USA turn our clocks forward and gain an extra hour of daylight. So it's quite a day for feeling joy and hope, and I would love to share a sweet cup of spring tea and our thoughts on slowing down and learning to breathe ...

I hope you will join me!

Remember, everyone is welcome to join our MSfG discussion - the archive of all previous posts can be found here. I'd love to share your thoughts (and pictures?) here in my next post and if you are interested in sharing, you may send me an email ---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Or just jump into the comments box at anytime!

Wishing everyone a very peaceful week - I will see you all here again soon!

❀

 


Planner Goodies: Using a Spiral Snap with my DD

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! I hope your week's going well so far. :)

Today I'd like to show you a neat planner gadget that I've just started using in my Day Designer - it's called a "Spiral Snap" and it's available in sets of four for $5, sold by Anchor Lime Design. What these "snaps" allow me to do is display all kinds of information ... right in the middle of my daily planning spread! Now, truth be told, I'm not always "in the know" when it comes to planner goodies and hacks, but I'm really happy I found these clever little things. I think they have endless uses: lesson plans, menu plans, shopping lists, habit trackers - you name it!

Here's a look at a Spiral Snap before inserting it into my planner:

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So as you can see, these are simply plastic strips that are punched along one edge in order to fit (or "snap") into the coils of a planner. They feature a length of adhesive tape which will securely hold any kind of paper item you'd like. You can easily pluck the Spiral Snap out of the coils as you turn the pages in your planner, thereby moving it along as you go forward, day to day. 

Another great feature? The adhesive is reusable, so as long as you remove your paper items with care, you can re-use your strips multiple times. 

Ok, clearly this is a really neat planner goodie! Now, here is how I'm using it ... :)

I have two stacked in my planner, one for monthly notes and one for weekly routines.

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This top page is made with a sheet from a "March" note pad made by Susan Branch. I have a pad for each month of the year and they are absolutely charming as you can see! On this sheet I listed out our March home learning goals/plans ...

And I'm even using the back side of this sheet!

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Here I listed out March "Events of Note." So it's kind of like a monthly calendar, only vertical! 

Now you might be asking yourself, doesn't she have all this information listed out elsewhere? And well, that's a fair question ... one to which I must sheepishly answer, yes. But I do love having this pretty piece of notepaper here - it's quite inspiring, in both looks and content, and allows me to keep the "big picture" in mind as I hone in on my daily plans.

Now, underneath those monthly notes, I have a second Spiral Snap ...

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... and this one is holding a weekly routines list. I gave a thought to using this sheet as a current agenda, but since I already have - not one, but two - dedicated week-at-a-glance planners in action (as detailed rather obsessively here), I decided use this as a general reference.

A closer look:

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This sheet is from a set of planning pads made by momAgenda. I bought it a while ago on Amazon but could only find it listed currently at the momAgenda website. (Anyone here use momAgenda planners? I did for a couple of years and they were lovely.)

I used blue ink here for my housekeeping tasks, and black ink for our weekly homeschooling rhythm. It's all pretty basic information (things I've written out enough times I'm certain I know by heart), but still nice as a reference when I go to plan out a new day's page.

As for the backside of this sheet ...

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I thought it would make a handy spot for ongoing to-dos. I used a few post-it notes for this ... you all know how much I love post-its!

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Now, the sheets I used are made with rather thin paper, so they do seem a tad fragile. So I'm careful when I turn them but not overly concerned. If I were going to make up my own sheets for these Snaps I'd probably try using cardstock instead to give it a bit of heft. If I did make one up, I'd also like to add a "topper" of some sort that could serve as a bookmark or page-finder. I'll probably fiddle around with some of my scrapbooking paper and random planner supplies when I have a chance.

Ok, full disclosure - I've only just started using these Spiral Snaps and so far I'm finding them quite fun and helpful - a real novelty! I'm not yet in the habit of moving these lists along with me as I turn the pages in my planner - I sometimes forget and then have to retrieve them! - but I think that will just be a matter of time. 

So that's that! I'd love to know if you have something like this in your planner and if so, how do you use it?

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my planner today. I have a couple of new posts in the works and will do my best to get them up in the next week or so. Until then, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


My Primary Planners & (March) Planning

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

Well as hard as it is to believe, March is arriving at the end of next week, so I thought I'd share a peek into my planners as I start looking ahead to "what's what" next month. I try to do this around the third weekend of each month - in hopes I'll have enough time to gather my thoughts and any materials we'll need for the coming weeks. These items would include library requests, craft supplies, educational resources, ingredients for special recipes, holiday/birthday cards, and any special books we have set aside in our seasonal bins ...

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(Our seasonal theme next week is "thaw/sap" and our March world culture is Germany.)

Now, note I said planners (not planner) and that's because (as I described in this post from January), I find it a challenge to limit myself to just one! Most of the time I'm just fine with that - because I really do enjoy all my planners and each one of them really does meet a particular need. That said, I also feel like I spend a lot of time juggling all these planners - time I don't really have to spend - and often find myself yearning for a much simpler system. In my heart I'd like to be a one-planner gal but I'm not sure if I'll ever get there ...

So if you use just ONE planner, and it works well for you - well, I am in awe of you! (And perhaps even, a wee bit jealous!)

Anyway, all this planner soul-baring will have to wait for a future post - for today let me get on with the ones I'm using at the moment. And first up is a planner I'm not sure I've shown you before!

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This is my sweet and special 2017-2018 Katie Daisy planner! (It can also be found - for a little less money- at Amber Lotus Publishing here.)

Now, very often one of my planners takes the lead in the ongoing race to be "lead planner," and currently this is the one - because I am just SO in love with this lovely little book! It is, without a doubt, the prettiest planner I have EVER seen. It's the one I reach for most often, and the one I prefer to take with me when I'm running out somewhere. It fits perfectly in my purse ...

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(This is actually a rather roomy tote, but as you can see I can easily fit both my KD planner and a slightly larger notebook in this bag.)

Now admittedly, when I first bought this petite planner last summer, it was one of those purchases I absolutely recognized as extraneous but I simply could not help myself. It's just that pretty. The size of it intrigued me, too - but more than anything, I was completely enchanted by the gorgeous seasonally inspired pages!

So I used it on and off beginning last August, but when I added a set of pastel monthly tabs to the edges I found it even more useful!

(And PRETTY!)

(Note: I paid far less for these tabs at Staples, but I can't seem to find them elsewhere online.)

I also added, along the top, more adhesive flags and tabs marking spots for seasonal planning. Honest-to-goodness, I find myself a little obsessed with these tabs, those flags, and this planner ...

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Happily, Katie Daisy - a brilliant watercolor artist whom I follow on Facebook and Instagram - is publishing a 2018-2019 version of this planner! I was able to pre-order mine here ... and I am positively swooning over that new black floral cover!)

To make this planner work even more efficiently, I use a coordinating binder clip to connect the front cover to the current monthly spread. Then I use a simple gold paper clip to do the same between the month-at-a-glance and the current week's spread. This makes it very easy to quickly get to the place in my planner I need to be! 

Here's a closer look at those clips in action ...

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Now, I'm going to "flip" through the pages of my planner, starting with this week (shown above) and moving forward through March - just to give you a sense for how I'm using it and just how LOVELY it is ...

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The last February weekly spread is split because March begins on a Thursday ... above is an example of one of the many inspiration pages found throughout the planner.

And next comes another pretty pair of pages, with one side for notes. I decided to make this my spot for Spring Cleaning notes, and as you can see I have only just begun to plan it out - beginning with a post-it note outline ...

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(I begin so many things with post-it notes ... what would I ever do without them?)

And now here is the March calendar spread:

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The blocks are a bit small, but I found it comfortable to write all the things I need to write here. (It helps of course that I have tiny handwriting.)

And now here's the first weekly spread in March:

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On the left there is a soft green note page which I'm using for "Vernal Equinox" planning, and on the right, the second half of the first week of March. (Also, note - at the very top of each right-hand weekly page I'm writing out our weekly seasonal theme. This way I'm able to find a week I'm looking for in a jiffy!)

Isn't the green and cream palette just perfect for March?

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Each month is similar, in that, the colors and illustrations match the feel of the season perfectly.

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(You can see more page examples at the publisher's site here.)

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And though you can hardly see it in my pictures, the planner paper (which is very smooth and lovely to write on) has a very faint quad-grid - which is SUPER helpful for those of us who appreciate a little help with keeping our handwriting straight!

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Ok, the very last week in March features a small note space where Sunday would be (because that Sunday is APRIL 1st!) and then the next turn of the page leads to another one of those wonderful inspiration spreads  ...

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And then we are in April!

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(This note page is where I'll be writing out Easter Sunday plans.)

So as you can most likely tell I am very much head-over-heels in love with this Katie Daisy planner! I would really like to use it exclusively because it feels so simply sufficient - and E-fficient - but most of all, it's so very ME. I've toyed around a little with trying to make it meet ALL my planning needs - but alas, I have an awful lot of those and it would be a rare planner indeed that would be able to accomplish that!

So with that pronouncement, I turn to my next planner - my Day Designer!

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So this is my 2017-2018 midyear flagship Day Designer - a daily planner (with monthly calendars included) that runs from June 2017 through May 2018. I now only have a few months left to use in this planner and I can honestly say I've used just about every (daily) page!

The monthly spreads however, I don't really use ...

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... though they're great! And since I hate to waste planner space, I've been trying to come up with other uses for this spread. I think I might keep a reading log here! :)

Here though is the meat of this planner ...

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The daily planning pages! There is one for each day of the year (although weekends share a page) and the layout it absolutely perfect for my daily planning needs. Here's today's page for example:

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I took this picture quite early in the day so I hadn't earned too many checks! As you can see I use this page for essential information pertaining to just that one day. Things I need to remember, and do, and places I need to go. If I was paring down to only one planner, this would be a hard one to do without. It's not as portable or endearing as my Katie Daisy planner, but it is a real workhorse when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of managing my family and home every day!

For more about this particular planner, please see my Day Designer archive here, but now let's take a look at my homemade seasonal planner ...

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This too is a planner I've shown you many times before, but here are the March pages:

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The very first pic at the top of this post shows you the charming divider paper I use for each month in this planner (part of this collection), and above is the back side of that sheet (left) and the March title page I created using some vintage clipart I found on Pinterest (right).

And now here is my homemade March calendar spread ...

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When I made up this planner, I made sure to give myself PLENTY of room for monthly planning! I wanted to be able to add stickers and quotes and all kinds of information (days of note, full moons, weekly themes and ideas). And lined calendar blocks were an absolute necessity!

This month I went with a Beatrix Potter theme, and used colored pencils to softy shade in the quotes. So it's different from my Katie Daisy monthly calendar in that I'm able to include much more information - and yet they both appeal to me visually. And they both make me happy!

Now moving on to my next spread you'll see I have YET ANOTHER monthly calendar here! But this one I use specifically for menu planning. Or nature notes, depending on my mood. (It will be the latter this month so I haven't yet written anything down. I've found I can't really plan out a whole month's menus at a time - too impractical. It's a week-to-week thing for us these days.)

And on the right hand side of this spread I have a monthly overview page for to-dos, home and garden notes, seasonal ideas and goals ...

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I had hoped to have this spread filled out to show you but alas - I have not had the time! (Probably spent it all working on those monthly calendars, right?!)

And here is the weekly overview and agenda for next week, the first week in March (2/26-3/4):

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This is also still a work in progress - I just filled in things that quickly came to mind yesterday and will work on it more over the weekend. The post-it note is our weekend to-do list which I will use when I fill out the next week to-dos. (Whatever doesn't get done over the weekend + whatever needs doing next week!)

I like to start my "next week planning" on Thursdays, though I very often end up scrambling to pull it together over the weekend. Ideally if I begin my forward planning at the end of a week, that gives me the weekend to gather resources and prep materials and devote a little more attention to writing out actual lesson plans. The page on the right-hand side of this spread is for these details.

(Note: I plan "lessons" - or better to say, "learning activities" - for my younger two boys. Four year old Little Bear is doing pre-k and 16 year old Earlybird, who has autism, is working at various grade levels. We are blessed to have two wonderful ABA therapists, who come for two hours each (four hours a day, Monday through Friday) to work with Earlybird on all kinds of things. It's up to me to plan and organize most of these activities - which target all kinds of learning and growing experiences: life skills, behavioral management, sensory challenges, community outings, etc. It's a lot of work for sure, but extremely rewarding and it has been a super fit for our son!)

Happily I'm able to coordinate many activities that will appeal to, and include, both of my younger boys - and to an extent, the whole family. My ongoing goal is to weave our seasonal homeschooling themes into as many aspects of learning and living as I can!

So for example, next week, the first week in March, we will be exploring the theme of "thaw/melt/sap," and here are a few of my thoughts ...

Late February and early March is maple sugaring season in New England! A time when the daily temperatures might reach 50Β° while the nights still dip below freezing. When this happens the earth begins to thaw and the sap begins to run - and local sugarhouses open up to visitors! To my mind, this is a wonderful, and most welcome, first sign of spring! And according to my Weather Channel app, next week looks to fit the bill rather nicely, temperature-wise ... so we'll observe the concept of "melt" and "thaw" here at home and of course, try out some "maple" recipes. In addition, our homeschool group has an annual maple sugaring activity and whether or not that falls in our "sap" week, we'll definitely be participating (as we try to every year)! We'll also observe the Full Sap Moon on Thursday night - just after we enjoy a special St. David's supper (potato-leek soup, Welsh Rabbit and daffodil cake). These are all things we've seen/done/eaten before, but happily embrace their familiar and instinctual joy every year. :)

After all the March weekly spreads, I have a page for a month's end review as well as planning pages for special events such as the Vernal Equinox shown here ...

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My entire planner can be found in my printables archive, but I am working just as hard as I can - which means in fits and starts when I find time! - to make this into something I could publish and sell to interested parties. I thank you all for your patience, and will hopefully have something to share with you before too long (or at least, before the academic year begins!). In the meantime, feel free to help yourself to those free printables and let me know if you have any questions!

Well, now - I'd say it's about time for me to wrap up! But I thank you, as always, for stopping by and I wish you all a very nice weekend. Thanks so much for reading and please leave me a comment if you have a moment! I can be terribly slow at responding, but please know I read (and appreciate) each and every comment!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This quote was an a-ha moment for me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few examples ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't let your limits define you!

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

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

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

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

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

>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< >*<>*< 

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

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

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

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

I will see you here again very soon!

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


Lent at Our House πŸ’œ

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! We are now two full days into Lent, and so that means ... this post was meant to have posted two days ago!

But - and stop me if you've heard this one before - such is the way this week is rolling. The boys have all come down with a cold and it's really gumming up the works around here. (Just a garden variety thing I'm pretty sure - no fever or body aches, thank goodness.) So classes are being missed, lessons are being skipped and our free time is being spent lolling around on the couch with a handful of cough drops, the tv clicker and tea ...

Anyhoo.

(It's rather ironic I felt compelled to give up "complaining" for Lent this year, because I feel like I've been more prone to it than ever lately ... and that's not normally my nature. Generally speaking, I'm very much a "glass is half full" kind of gal - but then maybe that's the point? Lent is a great time to work on one's weaknesses and address any negativity in one's life. So my strategy is this - each time I find myself complaining or feeling the urge to do so, I stop and think about (or ideally, write down) something to be grateful for right that very moment. I'm two days in and so far, I've surprised myself with how often this happens!

So in the spirit of (over?) sharing, I've gathered these beautiful blessings today ...

  • freshly brewed coffee
  • Burts Bees Honey Throat Drops
  • open windows
  • a good book to read at bedtime
  • the sound of the wind in the trees
  • daily behavioral support for my son

And now I'll add (in response to my opening paragraph) ...

The blessing of being at home, with my kids, allowing ourselves a low-energy day and working on things like this ...

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πŸ’œ

Temps were in the 50s today, so boy did it feel good to stand in an open front door while I worked on this wreath! It was, rather sadly, still dressed for the winter holidays so instead, for the new season upon us - I removed the red-berries-and-golden-bells garland, left the ecru lace ribbon in place and added a dark purple ribbon on top. Pretty plain, maybe - but pretty enough! On Gaudete Sunday (March 11th) I'll switch out the purple for soft rose and then on the Vernal Equinox (March 20th) I'll add some pale speckled eggs. When Easter arrives 12 days later there will also be a host of brilliant silk butterflies fluttering here. :)

In my top photo you can see the wreath on our front door as it opens into the foyer and the kitchen door beyond that upon which I hung our Lenten cross countdown (detailed in this post). You might note there are no fingerprints on the cross yet ... ahem ... and I might remind you that I saw that coming! Definitely going to be a weekend activity, that fingerprint thing. So on Sundays I'll invite the boys to add their colorful fingerprints in multiples as they think back on how their week went. (Easier for washing the ink off, as well - to just do it all in one go.) It's a little strange to see this doorway shut like this because the door to the kitchen is almost never shut! (The door to the left leads to the basement, in case you were wondering.)

Now, moving on through the door to the right (which is not in the picture, but is there all the same), we step into the living room where I set up our Lenten mantle today ...

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I kept it pretty simple as I usually do at this time of year. After removing all the winter items from last month, I wiped down the woodwork (carefully supervised by Archie) then set the following things along the mantelpiece:

  • a glass jam jar for collecting alms
  • our brass crucifix, draped with sheer purple ribbon
  • six tea-light candles, each set in a small grapevine wreath (one to be lit each Lenten Sunday)
  • a large pillar "paschal" candle, also set in a grapevine wreath - which will stand unlit until the Easter Vigil
  • a vase of freshly snipped forsythia branches (in hopes they'll bloom by April 2nd)
  • a plain brown butterfly box in which we've "buried" our alleluia ...

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For this I printed out the words "Alleluia Alleluia" on paper, cut them into a small strip and then we tucked that paper inside a small sack (a muslin mulling bag!). That sack was then placed inside the plain brown, butterfly-shaped box shown above. On Easter morning the boys will find the box open, and the sack empty. There will be, however, a beautiful banner strung across the grapevine cross hanging above the mantle, joyously announcing, the theme of the day: ALLELUIA!

Speaking of that cross ...

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We've had this cross for years and I'm fairly certain I bought it at Michaels Arts & Crafts. (I've seen similar ones at Amazon, but for WAY more than I paid! I think I paid well under $10.) True, it's a little worse for wear, with one or two broken vines now, but I adore it - nature and faith in one symbol - and use it pretty much year round. At this time of year, though, it plays a very special role!

Throughout Lent then, I start adding little bits of (silk) greenery and so the boys see this cross as very much "coming to life" as we near Resurrection Sunday. On Easter eve, before heading to bed - because NOBODY beats Earlybird when it comes to waking - I stuff this cross full of fresh, colorful blossoms. (I always buy an extra bunch of flowers just for this purpose. Nothing is blooming in New England in March and April except possibly for a few tender crocus!) Across the front of the cross, covering up those wooden letters, I hang the aforementioned Alleluia banner.

(Here's a peek back at the cross as it appeared on Easter morning, 2008!)

For now though, I love the "Be Still" phrase on this cross, which I added using a hot glue gun some time ago. It's a wonderful concept to teach children - to be able to slow down and just BE - but I find it especially fitting during Lent. In fact, I find myself using this concept of "stillness" as we talk about the sleeping earth and how we must wait for it to awaken ...

Right now, in the dead of winter, all seems very still. But it's good to be quiet and let the earth sleep - it needs it! Soon though, if we are patient and pay close attention, we will be rewarded with signs of new life!

I love how so much of the rhythm of nature ties in so beautifully with the traditions of our faith, and so I am quite pleased when I find resources to support this connection! Which brings me to this book ...

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Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter

Published in 2016, but new for us, I will be using this LOVELY resource with my younger boys this year. Soothing, peaceful, child-friendly ... infused with gentle connections and meaningful suggestions - this is already a new family favorite! πŸ’œ

Here are a few peeks inside:

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I just love how it explains Lent to children in a way they can easily understand, posing thoughtful questions and highlighting their own feelings ...

"I like to have nice things. I like to buy treats. And I like to eat my favorite foods. But not all the time. There are times for filling up and times for emptying out. Lent is a time for emptying, for sharing, for giving away. It is good to make space."

I have collected so many books through the years - for just about every season, holiday and feast you can think of - but I often find choosing Easter books for my children rather tricky. The story of the Cross is not an easy one for tender hearts, especially the very young and those with special needs. I might find a book appealing but fear it will frighten or confuse my younger boys. But while the true Easter story is right here in this book, I appreciate that it's done in a way that remembers its audience ...

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If you are looking for a new Easter read this year, I highly recommend Make Room. (If you couldn't tell by my glowing review, lol!) It's realistic and soft-hearted and wise ... and oh so lovely to look at! I feel it was $15 well spent. :)

(Because I've made it a goal this year to spend less on non-essentials, I did check my library system before "splurging" - but I'll admit I was relieved to learn they did not in fact carry a copy!)

Well my friends, I thank you for joining me and I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my home (and my reading basket!) as we begin our Lenten journey. I so love this time of year, a kind of "pre-spring" when winter is waning and hope is building, and we must muster our resolve and weather on through many dull and dreary weeks before LIFE returns to our world ...

Wishing all a peaceful Lent, however you spend it, and hoping to see you all here again soon! πŸ’œ

p.s. Mitten Strings Tea is coming but MAY not be up Friday afternoon as originally promised. I will do my very best to have it up by Sunday at the latest!


Our Lenten Cross Countdown ❀

Lent 1

Hello my friends and Happy Monday!

Today I am popping in to share what we're doing for Lent this year - because good grief! Ash Wednesday is THIS Wednesday! It catches me off-guard every year - even though I've had "work on Lent plans" in my planner since Epiphany! πŸ˜œ  Well, I'm keeping things pretty simple this year, though I am scanning back through my post-it notes with a purpose for some inspiration. I also shopped Pinterest for ideas and saw a couple of things I liked - a hanging paper-chain (because we are always up for a paper-chain in this house!) as well as a fingerprint-filled cross. I combined the two projects and this is what I came up with ...

Lent 1

The paper chain is filled with all the colors of Lent - as well as the last two days of Winter Ordinary Time, since my younger boys did *not* want to wait for Wednesday once they saw those links hanging on the kitchen door! So there are purple links for regular Lenten days, white links for Sundays, a pink link for Gaudete (Rose) Sunday, and three red links for the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). At the very bottom you also see - two green links for today and tomorrow! πŸ’š

It's probably pretty obvious what we'll do with this chain, but the plan is to allow one of the younger boys to remove one link for each day throughout Lent. But since they both LOVE to do this they will have to take alternating days and patiently wait their turn. Showing patience does not always come easy around here - going by Little Bear's tearful reaction this morning as EB won the "first link" coin toss - so this little sacrifice will work in nicely with the overall Lent theme. πŸ˜‰

Next I affixed the chain to the bottom of a plain white (posterboard) cross, and then added simple black stickers to spell out - PRAY FAST GIVE - the three main pillars of Lent. Now here's what I plan to do with that ...

Lent 1

I bought this multi-color ink pad at the craft store, and it has enough colors for each person in our family, if Mom and Dad share a color. Each evening at suppertime we will press our fingers on that pad and then add our own unique fingerprint to the plain cross on our door. (Little Bear will need to be lifted, natch!) These prints will represent our daily Lenten offerings, whatever they may be. (The boys will be welcome to share with the family or keep their actions between them and God.) In theory, we will do this each night but I know how "daily activities" tend to slide as time goes on ... so I'm prepared to do a weekend "catch up" if needs be. :) I also checked that the ink is washable since Earlybird is so sensitive to dyes and fragrance. I tried each of the colors on my own fingers and they all washed off readily.

I also made up a Lenten binder for myself (since I'm the designated cruise director on this here family ship!) and inside I have a page for each day throughout Lent with an idea of something easy to do or suggest to the boys.

Lent 9

Here are a few sample pages ...

Lent 7

Lent 9

Lent 9

There are so many wonderful Lent activity charts and lists readily available online and off, but in order to keep things as manageable and meaningful for my family as possible, I find it works best if I design our own unique plan. Basically I try to keep things simple, easily adjustable, and compatible with our interests and limitations. (Something that might work for us might seem silly to someone else, whereas an idea that makes sense for another family might be impossible for us to do with our special needs child.)

I've also been adding some small post-it notes when I get an additional idea for a certain day. For example, I remembered a book we had about Pope Francis that would be nice to read on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (Feb. 22nd). Also, I remembered the Full Sap Moon is rising on March 1st, St. David's Day, so I added a "family moon walk" for listening to spring sounds and feeling blessed by the turn of the seasons. 

I could have added these sheets to my main planning/home & family binder but since they are quite bulky and because I had an extra PURPLE binder on hand, I decided to make it a special book of its own. πŸ’œ  Filed in the remainder of the sheet protectors I have printouts from the library of all the books I want to request over the next several weeks, as well as a list of seasonal books we already own. (I spent the weekend unearthing those books from the basement!) I MAY also add coloring pages and/or craft projects/recipes as I have time to print them out ... but that seems a little ambitious at the moment, so we'll see how it goes!

(By the way, I originally thought to have our fingerprints kept in the binder, right on the daily pages, but then saw the cross craft on Pinterest and decided I liked that better. I think it will be nice for the boys to watch this rather plain cross "bloom" with our actions and be bursting with bright colors come Easter Sunday.)

The last part of our Lenten prep is to re-do our winter mantle ...

Winter mantle

But I have not gotten that done yet! I hope to work on this project tomorrow and will probably post "after" pictures at Facebook and/or Instagram. :)

Well, everyone, thanks so much for stopping by and if you have a moment, I hope you'll say hi! I will be back again later this week with our next Mitten Strings for God Tea and chapter discussion. (We are up to chapter 12 now, "One on One Time.") You can read more about that upcoming post here ... but either way, I hope you might join me! In the meantime ...

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


Bits, Bobs & Mitten Strings ... ❀

Candle tea cup

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

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

MSfG quote bigger font

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6341 (1)

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

Well, about those Legos ...

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

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

IMG_6365

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

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

IMG_E6287

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

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

Butter

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

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

Soaking rushes

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

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

Here's the end result:

IMG_6185

Now this was Brigid's Day morning ...

Muddy melty

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

Ice

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

And YET ...

Eggs

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

Meanwhile, back inside ...

Archie in basket

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

But really, how could I move him?

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

Cirtus week

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

Last shot:

Daffs

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

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

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

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

I'll see you here again very soon!