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These weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to pass too quickly each year. Between the fluster of finishing our school work, giving or making gifts, visiting family, and joining local celebrations with friends, time feels so concentrated. One way I’m trying to slow up our days and enjoy the season a bit more is having a craft and read-a-loud time each afternoon with my children. These are often hours contrasting with the loud, boisterous mess of handmade projects and the quiet doodles with candles and warm drinks and read-a-louds. Honestly, it’s been wonderful. Even the mess.

Last week, for one project, we made salt dough ornaments together. I pulled out all of Christmas cookie cutters (and the boys grabbed the Star Wars pancake molds in honor of the anticipated movie release–ha!).  My sister and her three children joined us, because this project is really fun and easy for all ages. She created a really sweet video from our afternoon together, which you can view by pressing play in the above box. In case you’re interested in making these at home, I’ve included the recipe we used below (and doubled). Enjoy!

SALT DOUGH ORNAMENTS (adapted from Moonschooling Eleanor)

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
1/4-1/2 cup water
a few drops of essential oils (optional)

  1. Mix together 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup salt really well.
  2. Slowly add water until a dough forms–careful not to make it too wet!
  3. Add a few drops of essential oils (peppermint, balsam fir, or orange/clove –if your child isn’t sensitive to the clove)
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it chill in the fridge for about twenty minutes.
  5. Roll out dough on floured surface and cut shapes.
  6. Poke holes using something toothpick-sized.
  7. Bake at 200 degree oven for about 60 minutes. Check them often, so they don’t harden or brown.
  8. String with twine and use for your tree, gifts for friends, or as gift tags for presents.

 

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Although, like most children, you all have always loved the Christmas season, we’re bridging new years as a family, years where you enjoy the giving of gifts and crafting just as much as receiving. You are also beginning to understand the deeper meaning and gift of Christmas, too, and I’m loving our conversations about this somewhat culturally complex holiday. Together, we’re understanding, it’s actually quite simple.

Olive // You helped me pick out gifts for an eight year old girl who has so very little. We picked a doll on her list, and you held that doll tightly, and told me, “I think she’s going to love it.”

Blythe // You and Liam worked together to wrap gifts for our little angel girl, helping me tie a salt dough ornament to one of her packages–a small gift from our home to hers.

Burke // I watched you carefully craft a list of everyone to whom you wanted to make or give something. It was thoughtful and personal. I love that.

Liam // You asked to give all of your allowance money to help gift something to someone else instead. I love your maturing heart, the moments when you offer yourself to help others without solicitation.

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Every year on the weekend following Thanksgiving, we pack into our car and pick out a tree together. It’s a simple tradition really, one that’s not particularly unique to our family, but something we look forward to every year just the same. This year, it was mild and drizzly, the preface to a cold, wet storm. Blythe grabbed the empty wagon. My husband held the saw. Burke helped cut and catch the tree. Liam supervised and helped push the loaded wagon to the car. Olive found a ladybug and had her toe rolled over by the wagon. And in the quick 2o minute adventure, I took the pictures and forgot to get in one myself. It wasn’t an overly romantic outing, but it was an honest welcome to the Advent season.

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Liam | We’re having more conversations with you about your interests and talents, about university and life when you leave our roof. We still have a handful of years, which I’m grateful for, but admittedly it still feels weird to think of you as a man one day. Where ever life leads you, you’re going to be a good one, that I know.

Burke | I’ve only recently noticed you are a gift giver. When you want to express your appreciation or love of someone, you give them something special, often purchased with your own money. To the common eye, these gifts might seem small–a bar of dark chocolate for me, a small truck for your cousin. But I know how little money of your own you have, and in my estimation, your generous heart makes these little things extravagant.

Blythe |  Last week, I overheard you reminding the boys to put away the [movie or video game] discs when they’re done. Liam responded, with a slight laugh and encouragement, “you’ll make a good mom one day, Blythe, keeping your little army right in line.” Whereas this might have been given as an insult or out of annoyance, his tone toward you was gentle and full of esteem. He’s quite right, too.

Olive | You love chewing gum and tend to carry a dollar or so with you any time we grocery shop, just so you can buy a fresh pack to enjoy. Yesterday, you opted to chew three pieces at once, and I had to ask you to throw it out since it was hindering your speech. One piece is a good rule of thumb. You have sometimes tried to save your gum as well, like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Last week I watched you leave it on your neck during your meal, and again I made you put it in your mouth or in the trash. Years from now, when I think of you at age six, I will remember a large, gap-toothed smile and a wad of gum.

 

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Olive | You are always moving. Bouncing. Running. Talking. Slowly your words are catching up to your deep sense of emotion. You told me this week, “Blythe is really distressing me! Look [pointing to a stool in the play tent]! Is this where the stool belongs? I don’t think so!” The irony is that you are the one typically making a mess or leaving bits about the home. I loved the turning of the table, as they say.

Blythe | This week you woke up, ate breakfast, and immediately set about your work, timing yourself as if it were a race. By the time you had finished, everyone else was merely wandering to the table. You are such a diligent worker, so faithful in the little things. Sometimes, at the sweet age of nine, the hardest lesson for you is how to be patient with those who are not as fast-paced or so highly motivated.

Burke | I regularly find you snuggled up in or on something soft, reading or thinking. Sometimes on the sunniest of days, I’ll find you lying in the grass, motionless, and I have to step closer to make sure you’re alive. “I’m okay,” you respond, “I’m just resting in the sun.” I call you my kitten, because of the way I find you lying around places so still, although you prefer to be likened to a puppy, which is only appropriate when you are wrestling with your brother.

Liam | You are changing, which you recognize, too. Sometimes your emotion will swing and surprise the both of us. We’ll joke about “pre-pubescent mood swings” referenced in Big Hero 6 which makes both of us laugh. The coming years will be new territory, one I’m slowly treading into with joy and a little bit of caution.

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Olive | I grabbed a scarf from my closet last week, and it reeked horribly, which I assumed might have happened during its summer hibernation. The other day, I went to grab a shirt in my closet and smelled the same wretched smell, and decided to search my closet’s top shelf a little better. Upon removing my small scarf basket, I discovered a bowl with blackened something and a billion fruit flies to accompany it. I ran it out to the trash immediately and loudly called your name. You are the only one who sits at the top of my closet, and I never allow food there. You stared at me with wide-eyes and a quiet mouth, while I asked you about the black stuff in the bowl. “I think that was banana peel,” you shyly responded. Double-blink. I was speechless. Horrified and disgusted and speechless. I clarified with you about my food policy (pointing to the fruit flies swirling my closet air space) and left it at that. I’m sure I’ll laugh about it one day, maybe after the fruit flies leave my home for good. Wink.

Blythe | You look so grown up here, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it yet.

Burke | A different book. A different day. Same activity. My old soul.

Liam | You made each of the kids swords with some scrap wood, gorilla tape, and spray paint you found in the garage. These sort of projects make you so happy.

 

 

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I took these images a few weeks ago on a typical Sunday morning at home: the kids piled in my bed playing; my planner and hot coffee in hand; the smell of fresh fruit pancakes wafting through the air. Although this room belongs primarily to my husband and I, from the time our children were toddlers, they have always loved meandering into our bed for snuggles, reading, little talks, or even playtime. The busyness has changed over the years, but I know I’ll miss all of this energy one day.

When you live in a small home, every thing and space within it occupies more than one purpose. While during the late evenings and night our bed is a place for my husband and I, in the day it might morph from workspace to reading space to trampoline. I don’t mind the last part as long as their feet are clean. On the days I need a little more privacy or “alone time,” as we refer to it around here, I set boundaries that provide it (since my children are a bit older to respect them), and I often encourage my children to the same when emotions run high, wanting to model for them at young ages how to recognize and take care of themselves when they feel overwhelmed or in need of some quiet. This sort of conversation and shared language is helpful with so many shared spaces, especially as we all spend so much time together.

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I tend to linger in PJs most of the morning on these days, taking my coffee and planner back to my bed where I think about the upcoming week. Taking a rest from work on Saturday often helps me approach the new week with a fresh perspecitive. I write out a few simple goals for my personal work, our school work (projects or activities), and our home, and use these lists to help guide my time and work during the week ahead. The last few weeks I’ve lost this quiet planning time due to travel or some other circumstances, and I can tell you it deeply effects the quality of my week, especially when busy weekends happen in a row. I’m grateful to be reaching the upcoming holiday week, where I can collect my scattered thoughts and routine again.

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In many ways, the holidays have quickly crept in this year, and I’m just now beginning to think about Thanksgiving next week (insert: shock and awe) and Christmas close behind. It’s good for me to have a short list of what our family really needs or wants, and to also have an idea of how those gifts impact others. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to feature a couple of brands and products that we love that are working to make a difference in the world in some way. I hope this inspires you, or at the very least helps you cross off some things on your list, too.

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This post is sponsored by Sudara, a small business dedicated to rescuing women from the sexual slavery in India, making clothing “with hope.” All images and thoughts are my own, and as always thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space going. 

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Most of this week you spent time in your friends’ homes while Dad and I traveled to Boston for a few days. You each were ecstatic and gladly kissed us and waved goodbye. Although I think any of you would have been happy to travel to Boston as well, I love your confidence in being away from us, too. I’m so grateful for friendships that feel like home.

olive | You still sort of hate cleaning up after yourself, and we find your things littered everywhere. Literally. I’m hoping this skill will grow as you do. Until then, happy sweeping dear one.

blythe | You were so proud when you realized you could reach this limb without effort.

burke | My favorite laugh of yours.

liam | Always with your nose in a book.

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Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker. – Linus,  It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

This year, we wandered the one usual neighborhood street with the cousins, mingling with neighbors, enjoying the mild weather. It reminded me of the family walks we used to take together when you all were little, strapped to our chest or back or riding in the stroller. Time seems overwhelming some days. After collecting your small bags of goodies, we joined friends for their annual party, where you all ate sugar in various forms for dinner, I think, and ran around in the grass howling and giggling like wild creatures.

liam | It’s funny as you grow older how I can quietly predict little nuances in your behavior, such as waiting until the last minute to finish your costume. You are never short on ideas. The hard part (for everyone, honestly) is always how to follow through with them. Although you had originally planned to be Scarecrow from Batman, you opted to watch the annual viewing of Arsenic and Old Lace with Dad instead of finishing sewing your costume. At the last moment, you opted to be a very serious elephant, probably a close friend of Babar.

burke | The head for your original costume broke at the last minute. Although I offered to help you hot glue it, you instead improvised by snatching a piece of fabric and turning yourself into a bandit.

blythe | You knew from the beginning, you wanted to be a Monarch butterfly. The variety of neatly arranged colors suits you well.

olive | A baby bat, just as you wanted with a set of proudly made wings.

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Every year, around this time, I grow a bit heart-sick. While I scroll through images on my phone of apple orchards, cozy sweaters, and brightly colored leaves, our air remains warmly humid and summer foliage endures. I love our small town because of the people we are connected with here, but it is not in itself a beautiful place. It is our home and that is what makes it beautiful. Everyday friends stroll by with their children in wagons or walking their dog and simply pop in to say hello. Although not all of our friends live on our street, many live within two miles, and I realize there’s something special about our small town living that has little to do with foliage or weather. Still I do love the outdoors. My children and husband love the outdoors, and we live in a somewhat forgotten neighborhood, with no immediate wild parts to roam. This is the season where I learn to look a little deeper to find beauty right where I am.

It’s easy to look view online lives on my little hand-held screen with a sense of longing, whether it is over a dreamy home, a style of living, or the natural beauty of mountains, woods, and ocean. Any amount of my own discontentment can cause my heart to ache a bit. Without realizing it, I can find myself with thoughts, “if only. . .” and left unregulated those thoughts can quickly send me spinning. While online connections can be in so many ways a large sense of encouragement and inspiration, they can also distract me, keep me from taking a deeper look at our life, at my heart.  I’m sharing this so you know no one is invincible to distraction, to heart-ache, to longing for something other than what we have. Even here, I am learning to let go, to put down my phone more often, to live and enjoy right where I am.

I’m often up before the sunrise, and right now, as it’s the coolest part of our day, I am enjoying these first moments of dark passing to light right on my front porch with my morning coffee. It doesn’t matter where you live, the warm, hazy glow of morning light will always reveal beauty, even the most obscure. For thousands of years, people have written about the miraculous newness of morning, even simply that it happens every day. In my opinion, a morning walk is the best cure for a longing heart. It gently revives the soul. It reminds me to pay attention. It cultivates gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago at first light, I went for a walk with my camera. The girls, still in their PJs, joined me on their bikes, and the boys not long after. Here are a few snippets of morning from our humble street, a gentle reminder for all of us: beauty is found everywhere.

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My children have actually made their own Halloween costumes every year. Although this sounds noble and intentional, it actually began more for economic reasons. I just couldn’t imagine spending their clothing budget on cheaply made costumes, and I haven’t ever known how to sew, the reason we’re all learning now. Ahem. In the past, they have used old dress-up, paper, toilet paper, tape, and other art supplies, some of which you might remember last year.

As I mentioned in this post in August, I have really tried to include handwork as a larger part of our learning this year. I don’t necessarily have a specific goal in mind for these skills, only that I know children generally love making things and as an adult having skills to make things can be quite useful. To begin, I’ve chosen a few general and somewhat foundational skills that might grow or apply to other interests down the road. Mostly, they are lessons I hope to learn right alongside them. (Wink.) We began with sewing, using the book Sewing School, based on a good friend’s recommendation, and the pace, images, and projects have been a perfect start for our novice group. As Halloween has neared this month, costume making seemed the perfect, fun way to put our new skills to use.

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Early on, Olive decided she wanted to be a baby bat, using a play mask we already own. Each month this year, the kids have received a play mask of an endangered animal in the mail from Opposite of Far, a part of their mask of the month club. (I wrote about some ways we’ve added them to our learning here last spring.) Blythe, a natural lover of design, wanted to take the masks and create costumes for each. Olive joined her, and one entire afternoon they sat on my bed discussing ideas and plans for everything from paws made out of socks and paper to tails made from boas and shirt bellies covered with cotton balls. Since Olive opted for the bat, wings were a must, something easily coupled with her black dance leotard.

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We shopped for a bit of brown felt at the local craft store, where I let each of the kids pick up a little something to add to their costume projects. I folded the felt and drew a simple pattern in chalk for the girls to cut, and then we pulled out the needle and thread and set to work attaching little bands to slide her arms through. She thought my idea for sleeves sounded far too hot.

I tied knots in the thread for Olive to begin. She still needs quite a bit of help, mostly because she gets distracted. When she lost interest and went outside to play, I finished the sewing, although I sort of regret doing that now. Instead of finishing, as she asked me to, I wish I would have simply shelved it until her interest returned. Live and learn, right? I sadly don’t have any images of her sewing this project. When Olive has a needle, all eyes and hands are on deck–I totally missed the photos. Still, you can piece together the idea.

Although our sewing skills are still quite amateur, I like that we’re all  (myself included) having to try something new, and when we fail or mess up–that happens often–we learn lessons about trying again or improvising. As I said, all of it is foundational, bits we’re learning through playfulness.

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This post was sponsored by Opposite of Far, a small business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat.