life’s little observations

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Something occurred to me the other day.  And I am not a psychologist or expert in the field of how negativity affects people, especially where they live, so these are merely my opinions and observations.

Stress and it’s impacts on us is widely studied.  This article from 2018 was insightful-  Stress and our mental health – what is the impact & how can we tackle it?. So was this article- Psychological Stress, Physical Stress, and Emotional Stress, and this one – All the Ways Living in a City Messes With Your Mental Health.

We live in an area that was bucolic and peaceful. Agricultural and equine heritage and traditions.  It is now being overrun by development.  Every time you turn around, another community is threatened. That is stressful if you are directly affected/impacted, and it can raise your blood pressure just driving by a place where you used to see cows, or horses swishing their tails while they grazed to seeing how  it is now just a big pit of scraped earth or budding Tyvec-wrapped communities where everyone is or will be jammed in like lemmings.

And then there are all of the pipeline sites. They are ugly and raw and NOISY.  People’s property values are declining, their wells being poisoned by whatever the heck it all is they drill with (there are enough articles in local papers etc about this, right?) And we can’t forget the sinkholes. When I was first coming out to Chester County before I moved here, I used to love when I turned on 352 off of West Chester Pike if I came that way.  All of a sudden it was just green with rolling stretches of lawn and trees. Now it is a raped landscape that actually stresses me out just driving by it, so I can’t even imagine how directly affected residents feel.

Or other area stressers like contested sites within municipalities where state agencies like PennDOT are concerned.  Take the site of Route 352 (A/K/A N. Chester R or Sproul Rd) and King Road in Malvern.  This directly affects residents in East Whiteland and East Goshen.

And here we are at year end and no one knows what is happening for sure at that intersection, and that includes the directly affected residents.  Will they face any eminent domain? Will they face a complete loss of certain properties through eminent domain? It’s a big mystery. And I watch email after email by affected residents go by to municipal officials and PennDOT.  PennDOT never replies. It is like they are ignoring the residents utterly and completely, which adds to the feelings of stress, dismay and uncertainty.

Is it just me or have any of you noticed how people aren’t putting up their usual Christmas displays in some of these areas targeted by pipelines, development,  construction, and PennDOT? This is what I have noticed, and it bums me out to see houses usually bright and cheery at the holidays look dark and sad. But in all fairness, if you were facing any of these things, how cheerful and full of Christmas spirit would you feel?

Life can be hard, that is the reality of life.  But for a lot of these people, it shouldn’t be so hard. These folks moved here and bought their homes to raise their families.  Their piece of the American Dream.  You live right, pay your taxes, are part of your community.  And your home is indeed your castle, and for a lot of these people there are quite literally barbarians at the gate.

Elected officials NEED to think about how these scenarios are affecting their constituents. All they have to do is drive by and notice how the longer these negative issues persist, how they affect people. Real people. People who in a lot of cases voted for them. It shows in the little things like gardening and holiday decorations.  I think it is criminal to drive by homes where you know the owners were once so house proud and see these changes.

Just some of life’s little observations.  Wishing these people peace.

time to start decking the halls!

This year I was going for a simpler, almost nostalgic look. Above is my dining room chandelier. Originally, it was given to me by my late father many years ago and it lived in storage units and attics until we bought the house we now live in. Here it was the perfect chandelier for our dining room. (The chandelier originally in the dining room was repurposed and now hangs in our front hall. It’s a small chandelier and it is the perfect scale for the front hall.)

This year my chandeliers were completely inspired by a childhood memory. When we were little and lived in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia one of the things we did at Christmas time was attend the St. Lucia Festival at Old Swedes in Philadelphia.

This is such a beautiful tradition and it is still hands-down one of my favorite things about Christmas in Philadelphia.

Lucia Fest is actually this coming weekend in Philadelphia at Old Swedes:

Friday, December 6th – 6:00 & 8:00

Saturday, December 7th – 2:00, 3:30 & 5:00

Sunday, December 8th – 2:00, 3:30 & 5:00

The Lucia Fest weaves together a number of Swedish holiday traditions into a colorful musical pageant. The heart of the celebration is the Lucia procession, in which a young woman is joined by other female members of the household in taking hot coffee and a warm Lucia bun to all the residents of the home. She comes crowned with candles, dressed in white, singing her traditional song, “Sankta Lucia.” In Sweden, her day is celebrated in homes before dawn on the 13th of December, which, at one stage of life with the Julian calendar, marked the winter solstice – the point at which the hours of darkness begin to diminish and the daylight hours begin to lengthen.

At Gloria Dei Church the celebration is held within the walls constructed by Swedish settlers in 1699-1700, in the beauty of candlelight, with a large entourage of young girls joining her in song and procession. For many people, participation in the Lucia Fest is a unique way of marking the beginning of the holiday season.

If you have never been, I actually encourage you to go. There are many Lucia festivals across the country. PLEASE NOTE that to attend at Old Swedes in Philadelphia you need tickets!  that is not the way it was when I was growing up, but even then it was a mad crush of people so I think it is smart of the church to do that, plus the tickets are moderately priced and proceeds go to the church. This church is one of the most historicly important in Philadelphia.

In the Lucia procession, young girls wear crowns of seasonal greens with candles. I doubt very much anymore in most places that the candles are live, but they were when I was a little girl. 

Anyway the Scandinavian simplicity and beauty of this festival was my inspiration for my chandeliers as silly as it sounds. And I’m very pleased with the results.

I did not use real garlands, because they would not last the Christmas season inside. On Wayfair and Etsy I found felt garland and that’s what I purchased to create my Lucia inspired chandeliers. The Company Store and places like Pottery Barn also sell the felt garland, but their prices are much higher than what I found between Wayfair (and the felt pine garland I found on Wayfair is already sold out) and Etsy. There are also some options on Amazon and elsewhere, but you have to hunt through the garlands.

The garland I purchased was both wired and not wired. You can also use other artificial garland for this purpose I just liked the almost childlike simplicity of the felt garland. It has whimsy.

The garland is placed simply enough on the chandelier and I had a half dozen white felt birds that I tucked in here and there. But the best part of the garland is it is the perfect foil for my great grandparents’ German kugel which my mother gave me a few years ago. It is my favorite Christmas ornament. It is not a giant kugel as I have seen displayed, but it is super lovely.

There are also three beaded tassels in a lovely cranberry color. I have absolutely no idea what store they were from originally, but I bought them on a whim from the Smithfield Barn and put them away until I had a use.

The table is dressed with a festive tartan cloth (also from the Smithfield Barn!) In the center of the table, keeping with the simplicity of the chandelier above, are my glass candlesticks with cheerfully festive candy cane striped candles. They are all sitting in a copper tray.

I am not anywhere near finished decorating and there will be a lot less of it this year and it will be slow going because of my knee. But I think it’s actually a good thing that I had to change my routine up this year because I am liking the results so far!

Fa la la la la!

thanksgiving prep: cranberry sauce

First of all a shout out to Great Jones cookware! I am a really happy customer and bought three of their pots/pans. The one above is called “Saucy“. this is the pot I chose to make my cranberry sauce in this year. I will also note that I am not a compensated blogger, I am just telling you about certain things because I use them, buy them, like them.

Thanksgiving is going to be a little more simple for us because I am waiting on another knee surgery so I am limited in what I can do and should do. So today I made the cranberry sauce and Wednesday I will make the stuffing and the sweet potatoes and then all we will have to do is heat those up. (Yes,I am not doing the stuffing in the bird for the first time ever.)

Cranberry sauce is not hard to make. And basically it’s one bag of fresh cranberries, one cup of sugar, 2 cups of liquid. Today I used orange juice, and I forgot to add the orange zest although I had an orange waiting in the refrigerator. I also added cinnamon and ground mace to taste.

I brought the mixture to a gentle boil on low heat with a lid on the pot. If you don’t have a lid on your pot or a splatter screen your cranberry sauce will end up all over your stove!  I will note that I did have a little lift to the edge of the pot so steam was able to escape. I have these little silicone things called lid rests which are made for this.

I did stir occasionally as the berries were cooking so nothing stuck to the pan.

When my mixture was brought to a boil I used my potato masher to mush the cranberries. I then added two little packets of Knox unflavored gelatin, and stirred and stirred until dissolved and incorporated into the sauce. I like my cranberry sauce to be a little bit jellied so that’s why I do this. However, I am not a fan of canned cranberry sauce.

I put my cranberry sauce into three jars, and when it cools I will tighten the lids and refrigerate. I do not do a canning water bath on these– I just cook and jar and refrigerate.

These three jars will take me through the holiday season. Thanks for stopping by!



do you believe in santa claus?

The photo above isn’t some random act of Google photo. It is my cousin Suzy visiting Santa Claus at Christmastime, in 1954. A full decade before I was born. A Philadelphia area department store Santa Claus. I am not sure which store.

I have many memories of going to see Santa and to pose for photos. Usually with my sister. I don’t remember us ever having individual Santa photos, we were a three years apart matched set with Santa.

Christmas was magical in Philadelphia when I was little. The Christmas Village at Lit Brothers, the Dickens Village I think at Strawbridge & Clothier, Christmas displays at Gimbels, the organ and Christmas everything at John Wanamakers.

We would go and visit things with my great aunts and then we would also have lunch in the Crystal Tea Room in John Wanamaker’s.

There was of course the year when I was really little and we used to have to do the Crystal Tea Room lunch also with my father’s sister and possibly her daughters as well. My aunts’ daughters were self-perceived Christmas perfect. Never a hair out of place. Also about as warm and fuzzy to me as an ice cube. I have forgotten a lot of our enforced togetherness. It was tough being a kid and knowing to your core they didn’t like you.

What I do remember was the year I accidentally dropped my chocolate milk in my Aunt Teresa’s lap. And she was wearing a white wool Christmas suit. OOPS!

When we went to the Crystal Tea Room I always had scrambled eggs and toast for lunch and chocolate milk. This one year I must’ve been playing too much with the chocolate milk and my mother told me to “drop it”. She probably wanted me to eat my lunch, but literal child that I was I dropped the milk all right… in my aunt’s lap!

Christmas in Philadelphia back then in part was so magical because of all the displays that were about the holidays and celebrating the holidays. They weren’t necessarily attached to specific items or displays of items to buy. It was just about the Christmas season. And you could call it Christmas without everyone freaking out.

Other memories I have include going down to South Philadelphia to my great aunts’ house on Ritner Street. And when I was really little they did the seven fishes. That was when my Uncle Pat or PJ as we called him was alive. He lived with his sisters, and none of them ever married although I remember PJ having girlfriends. PJ had a gruff and gravelly voice and when I was little I remember he used to tease me by asking me if he could have some of my Christmas presents, especially the dolls. My great aunts used to buy us these awesome dolls and I loved them as a little girl.

South Philadelphia was alive with Christmas lights and decorations. They would literally string the lights across the street. It was really pretty I don’t know if they still do that anymore but it was very magical as a kid. And they went all out on Christmas decorations. I found the photo above on Google and that’s what it was like. Streets strong with stars, candy canes, Santas.

My mother’s brother Jack and his family lived up in the Northeast. My Uncle Jackie also loved Christmas. I remember lots of lights and I swear I remember Christmas music being piped outside from the roof a la Clark Griswold and Christmas Vacation. I also remember one year my Aunt Connie taking ceramics classes and making everyone those vintage ceramic Christmas trees. I don’t know if anybody still has any of her trees but I remember they were pretty!

Now did you believe in Santa Claus? We did. It was a truly magical time when we were little and I loved it.

I’m sure my parents didn’t love having to wait until we were all asleep to load up everything under the tree but it was so awesome to come down on Christmas morning and see the presents under the tree and see the crumbs that Santa left behind from the cookies and milk we had put out for him. Of course there was that thing my father used to do – he used to use his non-normal writing hand and leave a note to us from Santa thanking us for the cookies.

In truth, I do remember some of the department store Santa Clauses being more scary than jolly. and while I believed in Santa Claus I never believed that those Santa Claus folks were real. But as a child I did like to play along when it wasn’t scary Santa sitting there waiting for us. Or the occasional boozy Santa who smelled like he had gotten into the Christmas cheer on his lunch break.

As an adult do I still believe in Santa Claus? No, but I believe in the beloved tradition of it all. I also believe how Santa Claus is part of a very magical season. A season of giving and miracles. I do believe in Christmas miracles.

Santa Claus is steeped in history. And thanks to the History Channel you can read all about it on their website.

Christmas is a really special time of year and even though it is highly commercialized I’m really glad that some of the traditions still endure. There is one Christmas memory that I wish I had actual photos for and I was really little. And it is the memory I am going to leave you with today.

When I was a really little girl, my parents had a red VW bug. That was the car they had so that was the car that used to get a Christmas tree strapped to the top of it. Our house in Philadelphia had really tall ceilings so it was easily a 10 or an 11 foot tree that would get strapped to the top of the Bug.

I remember one snowy Christmas as a little girl and I’m thinking it was the Christmas of 1969. They bundled me up and I went with my father to pick up the Christmas tree. I remember going through the snowy dark streets of Philadelphia down to a railyard. I’m guessing around South Philadelphia but I’m not really sure. I remember people buying trees as they were pulled off the freight cars. It was snowing too.

This will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories and I’ve never forgotten it. As a matter of fact that is part of the reason why I bought a couple of Christmas ornaments that were mercury glass a couple of years ago that were VW Bugs with little Christmas trees on top. I also bought them because my husband loves VW Bugs.

Every family has Christmas traditions and Christmas memories. And part of the magic of the season is trying to keep these traditions alive as we go forward throughout our lives. Yet we have to adapt them to our living circumstances today. I will note that I still to an extent put ornaments on the tree the way my father did. From size, to shape, to really special ornaments last.

Next week is Thanksgiving, and then after that we are full court press into the Christmas season. Don’t just make it a race to the finish line, actually take a minute and enjoy the magic. And go see Santa Claus.

Thanks for stopping by.

the holidays aren’t a hallmark movie, and that is o.k.

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The holidays are hard for people even when you aren’t a holidays-are-hard-person. You always want them to be perfect, yet they rarely are at all.  It’s human nature and accepting we don’t live in a Hallmark movie set.

Thanksgiving is the seasonal kick-off to weeks of we want familial perfection. Only have you met a perfect family? I haven’t.

The holidays are romanticized and commercialized to such an extent that we think we have to be perfect every year or the world might end as we know it. I am no exception.

Last Thanksgiving was the year of the turkey that would not cook.  My husband wanted to put it in the oven at one time, and me another. In the end he had his time choice and then it was like a comedy of errors courtesy of the turkey gods.  We ate late, and had turkey consternation.

Please note that according to Sunset Magazine:

For a 10-13 lb. turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 350° oven for 1 1/2-2 1/4 hr.

For a 14-23 lb. turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 325° oven for 2-3 hr.

For a 24-27 lb. turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 325° oven for 3-3 3/4 hr.

For a 28-30 lb turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 325° oven for 3 1/2-4 1/2 hr.

Times are for unstuffed birds. A stuffed bird may cook at the same rate as an unstuffed one; however, be prepared to allow 30 to 50 minutes longer. While turkeys take about the same time to roast in regular and convection heat, a convection oven does a better job of browning the bird all over.

 

This year we are starting the turkey earlier and I think I am doing the dressing outside of the turkey.  This year, I also need help since I have managed to tear the meniscus in my other knee.  When I tore my meniscus in the other knee a couple of years ago, my meniscus waited until well after the holidays.

Translation?  I will also need more help at Christmas and I won’t be cooking dinner for around 14 people.  Maybe having that break is a good thing, but I actually like doing Christmas dinner. Cooking for people at Christmas is one of my favorite presents to give.

This also means I will be decorating differently. And more simply. It might kill me. No not really, but my inner Christmas elf might revolt. Sigh…and fewer kinds of Christmas cookies will be baked too.

Asking for help and knowing you need help is not the easiest realization.  Again, I am definitely no exception. But I guess when you need it, it’s a lesson in working together and trust. Admitting I will need some help this time around for the holidays is maddening. Trust me. There is so much to do.

The other thing about the holidays is giving back.  How do you give back? Do you volunteer at a shelter? Cook meals for the less fortunate? Donate to a toy drive? I don’t think it matters what or how much you do as long as you pay it forward in some small way. And it doesn’t have to be publicized for thousands of atta’ boys or atta’ girls, just do it to pay the magic in this season forward.

And back to the Hallmark movie versions of the holidays.  I love my Hallmark Christmas movies, don’t misunderstand me.  But it’s a little unrealistic. From the apartments and homes that 20-something characters  have (in places like New York City and Chicago no less!), to the always perfect hair, perfect coupling up and don’t forget Hallmark movie characters don’t have sex ever, or show too much boob in their Christmas party dresses…it’s like life in a snow globe.

A delightful time warp bubble that transports us for a while from everyday life. But hey now, everyday life is not so bad, flaws and all.  And we all have to acknowledge and accept as nice as those saccharine sweet made for TV holiday moments are, do we really want to trade that for our own realities? I mean sure it would be especially nice if the kitchen cleaned up itself magically after holiday meals, but as for the rest of it? Maybe let it inspire a tablescape or other decorations, but don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself.  I know because somehow I do it every year.  Holiday Perfectionists Anonymous come on down!

Image result for norman rockwell holiday angelThis year I aim to be a little different.  It might kill me, but I will try. Meanwhile, I will be sure to look for all the perfect holiday tableaux as seen on social media, knowing full well reality might be a lot different.

Don’t Botox your holiday social media.  It’s actually o.k. to be less than perfect, look less than perfect. And I have to laugh because any time I personally express a less than perfect social media persona it starts.

“Are you ok?”

“Did you see what she posted?”

Lord love a duck, it’s quite all right to be human.  Have a bad day occasionally. My plastic surgeon and professional stylists tribe are on vacay, ok? Sometimes I do not have a village, and it’s just me not wearing make-up…. (a cardinal sin in the eyes of my mother who told us never to go to the grocery store without lipstick years ago.)

And the holiday race for more social media “friends”? Oh resist. The real ones are so much better. Truth.  I have started turning people down and culling the herd. I don’t need neighbors of people I barely know as friends and if I did not like you in high school and you didn’t like me, well not to be mean but why do I need to be part of your people collection?

And that is what I always find fascinating about social media.   The fakeness of it. Especially when you know it’s so far removed from the truth.  And that fakeness factor increases around the holidays because so many people have a hard time for a multitude of reasons.

So I guess I am saying slow down and appreciate what we have in this world. You don’t have to fake it until you make it. You can admit you love the holidays knowing it might have a couple of flaws.

Love the holidays for what they are. Don’t resent them for what they aren’t.

And pay it forward.

Enjoy the magic of the season.  It’s totally there when you stop stressing over perfection. Have you seen my lipstick? I need to go to the grocery store…..

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remembering with love

Today is an anniversary of sorts in our family.

14 years to the day when we lost my father to cancer.

13 years to the day when we lost my cousin Suzy to cancer.

Both people who played a big part in my life.

But it’s a day to remember them with smiles and happy tears. I don’t think we should bury them in memories of sadness.

I have never actually really written about this before. And today it just seemed like time.

My late father was at times a complicated man, but well-loved by us all. He was often described as a Renaissance man by his friends, and there are a lot of things that I get in part from him. He taught me how to garden. He gave me my Christmas disease. He taught me how to go to antique shows to educate my eye and when I was very little he put me on top of his shoulders so I could see all of the Van Gogh paintings on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. as an adult I would do things like go to estate sales with him.

I have lots of memories of my father like little Kodachrome snap shots in my head. The same with my cousin Suzy.

Suzy was my mother’s niece, goddaughter, and my first cousin. To me for most of my life she was also like the big sister I didn’t have because technically in my immediate family I was the big sister. As a little girl, I remember her sleeping over and spending the night on the sofa when we didn’t have a guest room – my parents were restoring an old house in Society Hill and for my younger childhood years a lot of the time it was like living in a construction site.

Suzy got married young, and my parents hosted her wedding. She got married out of our parish church – Old Saint Joseph’s on Willing’s Alley. The reception was at my parents’ house in Society Hill, by that time was put enough together at least on two floors that we were able to have the wedding.

Jimmy Duffy and Sons did the catering. They would in later years, cater my sister’s wedding, and mine as well. From my cousin Suzy’s wedding, I have a few distinct memories, including sitting with my cousin Carol on the steps to the back staircase off the breakfast room eating hors d’oeuvres. I remember we were specifically eating water chestnuts wrapped in bacon, which is why when I got married, they were added to the list of hors d’oeuvres we served.

From Suzy I got my love of junking and flea markets. She also was a Christmas fanatic (she would organize caroling parties every a Christmas season) and liked to go in and out of antique stores.

Suzy and her first husband raised their daughters in Newtown, Bucks County. She lived for her girls. I would spend a lot of weekends with them during those years and we would do things like get up at the crack of dawn and go to Rice’s Market in New Hope when it was really cool. We would spend days exploring small towns like New Hope and Lambertville and Pennington and other places along the river on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania side. I treasure those times and it was so much fun! I remember going into a store with her once on the New Jersey side that was all Russian nesting dolls and Fiestaware.

So much time has passed since they both left us and so much in all of our lives has happened. That’s the thing of life isn’t it? It goes on. And I think while we have to mourn the loss of loved ones, I also think we should celebrate them by trying to live our best lives.

Life is for the living and we shouldn’t squander it.

Anyway, that’s it from me this morning. Remembering with love, my father Peter and cousin Suzy.

Thanks for stopping by.

vintage christmas wonderland

The Smithfield Barn opens it’s big barn doors November 8th – 10th for their Vintage Holiday Market in Downingtown.

Me and my cane got a look see this evening (NOT open to the public.)

I love Christmas and I love vintage Christmas and Kristin has outdone herself with the spectacular ornaments and lovely Christmas things.

There is some new mixed in with the old because for example there is this amazing wood carver who has some things in the barn.

There are also some fabulous vintage Christmas ornaments from the Ukraine. They’re very different and beautiful.

Yes, I literally have a torn meniscus and I had to brace my knee up and bring a cane just so I could take a look because I don’t know when (given the state of my leg) I will be out again. One of my best friends was nice enough to drive me.

This was just what the doctor ordered and it makes me so happy to see a little Christmas in a big old Chester County barn. This is literally a big old barn and this is not a store so you can’t just show up whenever.

Smithfield Barn 425 Little Conestoga Road Downingtown, Pennsylvania 19335.