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.


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 am thankful for Thanksgiving

There are only two years in my life I have missed Thanksgiving with my family, and this was one of them. The first was in 2007 when I was studying abroad in Madrid, Spain; my group and I went to a restaurant that prepared us a special Thanksgiving-style meal of turkey and mashed potatoes. It tasted nothing like American Thanksgiving dinner, but it was delicious!

This year I attended the Baltimore Bieretz family Thanksgiving dinner, and it was lovely.

The Menu
-o- Bieretz family Artichoke Dip
-o- Mozzarella, oven-dried marinated tomatoes and homemade roasted red peppers with crostini
-o- marinated olives

-o- Roasted Turkey
-o- Grilled Bourbon and Cider- Glazed Ham
-o- Mashed Potatoes with Cream Cheese
-o- Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Coconut-Pecan topping
-o- Roasted baby yams
-o- Assorted Grilled Vegetables with Dijon-Shallot vinaigrette
-o- Boston Lettuce Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Avocado
-o- Cornbread and Bacon Stuffing
-o- Garlic Bread

-o- Pound cake with Toasted Almonds
-o- Cheesecake
-o- Pumpkin Pie
-o- Apple Tart
-o- Chocolate Chip Cookies
-o- Pumpkin-Cranberry Cookies

a few photos

My Happiness List

This week on Lifevesting, the author posted her Happiness List and tips for creating one’s own. The best part: making the list becomes one of your happiness things. Because how could it not be fun thinking about what makes you happy? Remember “My Favorite Things”? Aw man, now I need to resist adding raindrops on roses… and oh, whiskers on kittens!

Find her post here and below find my own Happiness list.

-o- Jennifer’s Happiness List -o-

1. Slippers and robes
2. Animals that love me (my precious kitties especially)
3. Looking great in a purposefully-assembled outfit
4. Large family gatherings
5. Showtunes and songs from Disney movies
6. Whole dill pickles
7. Fall weather you can’t help but describe as “crisp”
8. Playing outside
9. Cooking successes
10. Holidays
11. Finishing a book and needing to lie down and think about it for awhile
12. Items with hidden compartments, like lockets
13. Old houses
14. Sprigs of holly
15. Chocolate
16. Feeling like I’m on an adventure
17. Sad movies (it seems oxymoronic, but I’m sure you know what I mean!)
18. Crossword puzzles
19. Board games that involve – nay, encourage yelling (Taboo)
20. The silhouettes of leaves against the sky
21. Cabins in the woods
22. Real Italian antipasti
23.  Being squeezed by someone larger than I am
24. Random acts of kindness
25. Fresh berries


Check out Ashley’s post and then make a list of your own!