Christmas in Chadds Ford/Kennett Square, PA

All states have beautiful places, and it’s common for people to be attached to “their” parts of the country. I love Kennett Square and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. This area is, I think, a magical place to visit. The Brandywine River Museum is a popular destination around Christmastime; in addition to the always-showcased art of N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew Wyeth and his grandson Jamie Wyeth, among others, there are several seasonal fixtures that are not to be missed.

Around the holidays, Longwood Gardens dresses their trees in thousands of tiny lights, which illuminate the garden in a most unique and unforgettable way. There is a fountain and light show in the open air theater and intricate decorations adorning every structure.

Visiting these places as a child are integral to the intense pleasure I recall feeling around Christmas. But this year for the first time, I became conscious of something I had always known: much of the fond and fierce attachment to places you’ve known and loved is intricately linked with those who were with you when you knew them. My family is there in almost every memory of walking through the greenhouses, singing carols while the fabulous organ trumped all voices, coming upon treehouses and lakes or streams with fish and birds unexpectedly, as though they weren’t where my parents had been leading us.


-o- The Brandywine River Museum -o-

In the courtyard, local farmers and artisans sell their wares. For years I purchased beeswax ornaments for my grandmothers and begged my parents for flavored honey sticks to suck on… I didn’t really like them, but they were sort of like candy. There is usually a wonderful woman selling hot apple cider to help cut the cold, and though we missed it this year, there is often a vendor selling hot roasted chestnuts. This year, I bought a hand-crafted gold and mother-of-pearl ring from a jeweler out of Paoli-Malvern.

One of the best parts of visiting the museum during the holiday season is the train display. It was PACKED this year and obtaining pictures was tough, but I managed to get the waterfall and the adorable black bear family displays. The longest train this year was touted as having 140 cars, but my family counted 142!

Each year at least four decorated pine trees accompany the Noah’s Ark and “Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” displays crafted out of natural objects like pinecones, burrs and dried flowers.

The art of three generations of Wyeth artists and other brilliant painters, sculptors and illustrators adorn the walls. I enjoy perusing the galleries, but the holiday displays are truly what keep me coming back. Finally, though it is usually too cold to walk along it, I love the Brandywine River upon which the museum sits.


-o- Longwood Gardens -o-

Even in the wind and rain, walking through the gardens when dressed with lights is a wonderful experience. This year, we made it to the Ballroom in the Conservatory just in time for one of the organ-accompanied caroling sessions. When Pierre DuPont commissioned the building of the organ, it was the largest ever purchased for a private residence. Some of the pipes of the organ are on display; the pipes that produce the deepest notes larger around than a man’s thigh and the ones producing the highest notes thinner than a pencil.

The ballroom:

Each year, the Gardens create a “Christmas Route” through the greenhouses that includes some of the most beautiful trees, flowers, cacti, bonsai and floral creations in the greenhouses. This year the route included a Gingerbread Room, filled with edible trees, a train, and tables filled a scrumptious-looking selection of desserts.

A few of the flowers:

The gardens are lovely in every season. In the summer, there are dozens of varieties of roses in a large stone square. In the spring you can walk among hundreds of thousands of many-hued blossoms and smell the scent of new growth in the are. But I am recommending now that you visit in the winter and see the lights, the imaginative Christmas tree and Poinsettia displays, and smell the gardenias and lilies that perfume the air in the extensive glass-walled conservatories.

And just when I thought the day couldn’t be improved upon, on the way out my parents bought me a cookbook from the gift shop, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas gifts from this year. The New England Soup Factory Cookbook by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein has over 100 soup recipes, and I can’t decide which to try first (and, as it happens, I got an immersion blender from my mother for Christmas!) Check out one of my favorites, Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut Soup, on how2heroes.


A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… Top eBooks of 2011; The Washington Post’s Christmas Myths

-o- Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry fail to collect 10,000 signatures in VA
I’m no fan of these men, but I was surprised and even felt kind of bad for them when I got the alerts informing me of their failures to meet the requirements (10,000 signatures on a petition) to appear on the Virginia primary ballot. Here’s the CNN video.

I know people who still think Gingrich will get the nomination, though I think Romney is still a more likely nominee.  Especially now:  is Gingrich’s story of his divorce from his first wife true? CNN‘s take.

Anyone want to weigh in?

-o- Random House’s  Best-Selling eBooks of 2011
The top mystery/thriller eBook this year is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The top science fiction/fantasy eBook is A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. The bestselling history eBook this year is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

See all the lists on their site.

-o- The Washington Post‘s 5 Myths about Christmas

  • Myth #1: Christmas is the most religiously significant Christian holiday.
  • Myth #2: Religious authorities agree on the circumstances of Christ’s birth.
  • Myth #3: Jesus was an only child.
  • Myth #4: The secularization of Christmas is a recent occurrence.
  • Myth #5: “Midnight mass” is still held at midnight.

I think a few of this are a big broad/ambiguous, but they are interesting to read! Visit their website to read more.

-o- Incredible Sporting Images
BBC News posted a selection of awesome pictures from sporting events from Getty Images’ archives. Views them all here.

(Of course, I love the second one the most! )

-o- Newsworthy Male Faces of the Year
Also from BBC – 12 men who populated the news this year. The featured headlines include screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar win for The Social Network and Herman Cain’s suspension of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

See them all here.

-o- Some of The Washington Post’s best photography of 2011
See the selection here.

-o- Twitter: A Year in Review from Mashable
Mashable collected a list of 2011 Twitter milestones, from the #Occupy phenomenon to their new record for most tweets per second.

Check out the gallery.

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart… and the very next day I had to wait a whole year for it to come again!

And now it’s here! So I thought I’d revisit last year’s memories to get myself in the mood again (because in D.C. is it unseasonably warm).

Last Christmas Eve, Brian and I took our Dinah kitty and our Bean cat to Baltimore to spend Christmas Eve with Brian’s parents, his sisters and their partners. Brian’s sister Renee and her husband Ryan hosted a Christmas Eve dinner (which Renee’s husband’s family also attended) for which Cristin and I roasted several root vegetables and created an extravaganza of winter veggie goodness. Renee roasted a pork shoulder that got raves all around. There were also simple but perfect roasted potatoes of which I’m ashamed to say I likely ate the majority.

After dinner and gifts, Brian and I drove with our incredibly unhappy kitty cats to my parents’ house in the Philadelphia area. The drive was stressful, but in the morning we awoke to stuffed stockings on the feet of our beds and this beautiful display downstairs:

Our kittens were very naughty and wanted most of all to play within the branches of the tree; in their defense, it was the first tree they had ever seen. (This year Brian and I have a tiny little baby tree that I love if only because it’s our first one together.)

A few days later, we traveled to Washington D.C. to spend a few days enjoying the holiday atmosphere there. We saw a fabulous performance of Candide, ate scrumptious food, and walked the National Mall.

We also visited the ICE! How the Grinch Stole Christmas exhibit at the National Harbor. This is part of a Christmas tree made entirely of Christmas-themed marshmallow Peeps:

And this is Brian and I acting out the scene from the story in which the Grinch and Max take the sleigh to Whoville to steal Christmas; in hindsight I wish I had been the Grinch!

This and several other scenes were crafted entirely of ice and took dozens of artisans weeks to craft the two tons of ice into the 15000 square foot exhibit. It was cold, but fun!


This year, we are doing things a bit differently. We are having a Christmas dinner Friday evening and then spending Christmas eve with my family in Pennsylvania. There we will probably see a movie that we all tried but couldn’t agree on, eat at a restaurant, and then get in our pajamas and watch Santa Claus Is Coming to Town! narrated by a Clay-mation version of Fred Astaire.

Christmas Day we will eat brunch with my dad’s sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews and then have dinner with Brian’s mother’s sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews.

I am so looking forward this family-filled season and I wish you all a wonderful holiday month!

Ocean of Gifts

I recommend checking out this website for beautiful items that can either be gifted or… worn.

Ocean of Giftsocean scene600

They have jewelry, clothing, and pretty things for the home such as this “A Little Birdie Told Me So” lamp:

A Little Birdie Told Me So

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – shopping for other people is slightly less guilt-causing than shopping for oneself. Enjoy!

I love care packages

I got a package from my momma yesterday and it was simply TEEMING with goodies! As the oldest, I often get to be the first recipient of my mom’s cast-offs. So far it’s been working out wonderfully: she has fabulous taste in jewelry and every few years her jewelry boxes literally overfloweth and I am the beneficiary.

This week, I received in the mail the by-products of her preparations for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. I got four cookbooks, after-dinner drink glasses, glass-handled pâté knives and forks, an array of spices include of an unheard-of amount of saffron (threads AND powder), and some Christmas decorations. I was giddy upon receiving and am still riding the waves – planning recipes with my new spices, rifling through the cookbook trying to identify gems.

Thank you, Momma, for getting me into the holiday spirit!

All Fired Up: Accumulating Christmas gifts begins now!

I love to paint pottery. The first time I went was on a Saturday afternoon with my friends Amanda and Ryan and my new boyfriend Brian. I was hesitant; Amanda raved about it, but it sounded boring to me. I’m impatient and really not at all artistic, and sitting and painting a plate sounded like something I was glad I’d moved on from in elementary school.

I was partially right: my first experience was less than satisfying. Ten minutes into it, I was finished with my ridiculous frog with a wide-open mouth for which I had no intended purpose while the rest of my friends had barely finished conceiving their elaborate ideas. So my frog ended up having super weird eyes with several layers of paint, racing stripes and a creepy mustache… but it was fun! And since then I’ve gotten much better. I even made the Wall of Fame once or twice and in 2008 I painted a salad bowl for my mother which only recently met with a tile floor in a fatal collision. It commemorated our song from when I was a little girl and had a very colorful polka-dotted exterior.

Point: it’s way fun and I recommend trying it out! There are at least a few different places in D.C. There’s a Color Me Mine in Adams Morgan, an All Fired Up in Bethesda and in Cleveland Park, and Clay Cafe Studios in Falls Church.

My apartment has plenty of painted stuff at this point: a lovely vase, mugs and a spoon rest, a pencil cup and a toothbrush holder. But, for gifts! I plan to paint some little dishes for salt or olives or nuts for my trendy aunts and maybe coasters or something for my sister’s house. We’ll see!

A week from today, All Fired Up in Cleveland Park is having a “Black Tuesday” 15% off sale on all of their holiday items. I plan to be there for a few hours in the evening, painting gifts, eating falafel and drinking wine. Join me after work! You just pick a piece (they range from $12-$30 depending on whether you want to paint a mug or a large pitcher), and then check out all the cool stuff they have there you can use. They have all different colors of paint, puff paint, stencils, art books with ideas, tiles with examples of different techniques, and the best part: the staff is super sweet and very helpful. They will show you how to do anything you are thinking of. So, check it out! It’s fun and as long as you’re not messy you can bring beer or wine and a snack. Hope to see you there!