Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pitch-Perfect Anniversary Ambiance

Our anniversary was December 23rd, and even though my to-do list was still long, my husband and I ventured off for two days to a gentrified country inn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It was perfect for a holiday get-away.
The Inn at Perry Cabin charms guests with varied roof heights, dormer windows, and columned porticos. Enshrouded in the mist of winter, the clapboard hotel seems to float above the Miles River which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.

A variety of outbuildings and garden follies add to the property's quaintness.

The interiors, decorated in English country style, are cozy and inviting.

Decked for the holidays, the hotel is an ideal place to celebrate Christmas.

The inn is located in the Victorian town of St, Michaels, Maryland which is replete with antique shops and bookstores. At this time of year, the village churches were especially festive.

If next Christmas you are looking to splurge on a big anniversary or if it is your year to share your family with the in-laws, I'd highly recommend The Inn at Perry Cabin. It's wonderful at any time of year, but especially uplifting for a winter holiday get-away.

p.s. We have been married over 40 years, and I am still learning how to be a better wife. Let me share two insights from our trip last week. I should have put aside the pressing Christmas card list, and just enjoyed face-time with my best friend. On a positive note, we did take time to pray together. As the old expression goes: "The family who prays together stays together". On our trip I analyzed why that is true and concluded that when you express your thanksgiving, your wishes, and your hurts to God in the presence of your spouse, they learn a lot about what makes you tick and vice versa. Besides, when your "better angel" talks to the Almighty, it is endearing to the one listening in on the conversation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

No-Fuss Decorations with Memories

Little by little, I have been getting the house dressed for Christmas. As I age, I increasingly try to simplify my decorations, aiming for arrangements that won't have to be redone multiple times between December 1 and January 1. Even with simplifying, it is a lot of work to deck the halls. That said, I enjoy it because it reminds me of happy memories from Christmases past.

These silver trees have been used on table tops around the house. I purchased them at Wannamakers in Philadelphia on a shopping trip with my sister. That department store closed years ago, but when I put out these trees I can almost hear the pipe organ swells reverberating off the marble floors of that grand old store, and I think of the fun that sister and I have had over the years. This year the still- glistening trees found a place on our library mantel. I'm loving the simplicity.
 In the short hallway between the living room and library is a door to the lower level. Every year it seems to be the perfect spot for a wreath I made when we were first married. I smile when I remember how creative I had to be to decorate our small bungalow on my meager salary when my husband was in grad school. What we didn't have in the way of discretionary spending, we made up for in love.
The freeze-dried boxwood balls fill this bowl year around, but I added some small shiny glass ornaments in honor of the season. You can't get any simpler than that.

The tiny nativity set on our living room coffee table has special significance. Our first baby lived only a few hours. Shortly after he died, my husband and I took a trip to the Outer Banks. We walked the beach and cried together. On that trip, we visited the amazing Christmas shop on the southern end of the island and purchased this Mary, Joseph, and Christ child. Now every year as I put it out, I remember our little boy who looked so much like my husband, and I whisper a prayer thanking my heavenly Father for sending his Son to purchase eternal life so we have hope of seeing our son again.
Across the room, from the nativity are three angels made from antique lace and linen by a kind neighbor. These remind me of the three "angels" God gave us after our first baby's death. (My adult children will smirk at this.)
Over the years, we have collected quite a huge choir of carolers. We purchased the first family when we lived in Haiti. Our resident school teacher went home in the summers and worked at the factory where these are made. I gave "Miss Chris" money to buy some for us. She kindly added a pooch to the family to represent our little cock-a-poo. Over the years our choir has grown much as our family has.
Our Christmas tree is a vagabond. Yearly, it changes locations. This year we placed it between the kitchen and the sunroom. Happily, in this spot I can see it as I prepare meals! My sweet sister gave me the angel that sits atop the branches.
When our kids were younger, I bought the June McKenna nativity because children could handle it without breakage. The initial pieces to this set were purchased at The Charm House in Leola, PA, and additional angels and wise men came from Donekars, a family department store in Ephrata. Neither store is still in business. However, I sure do have happy memories of shopping at both places! :)
Three of the buildings of our Dickens village on the dining room sideboard were an anniversary gift from my husband's parents. When I set them out each year, I recognize their wisdom in affirming our marriage. My wise in-laws were simply following the Proverb, "A wise woman builds her house, a foolish woman tears it down."
On my dining room table is the simplest table arrangement I could think of--glass balls heaped in a large bowl. This does not wilt nor need to be watered!
 And what could be easier than placing some poinsettias in a footed brass cooler?
 A final touch of Christmas hangs in the kitchen from the oven door. (I keep easy-to-launder ones on the lower oven door.) I bought a red embroidered towel like this to give a friend one Christmas. However, the design stuck with me,  so I went back and purchased a couple more for myself. Now these cheerful towels remind me of that friend and my own folly. :)

There you have it, in no particular order. I hope you enjoyed a stroll down memory lane and a few ideas for no-fuss decorating.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Giving Thanks this Year at Our House

We have a whole lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Two of the biggest blessings this fall are the births of two healthy little boys.
James Danford born in September
William Mark born in November
In response to God's gifts, we have tried to share his goodness with others. We made harvest baskets for our neighbors.
I decided giving in the fall is easier than baking bread on Christmas Eve--which I have done in the past. Here are the local favorites that I included in the baskets:  strawberry jam, peach salsa, home-made 7-day pickles, chow-chow, and apple butter...
 some corn chips for the salsa...
 a loaf of fresh whole wheat bread...
 and some special Lancaster caramel soft creams.
  A few ears of indian corn and a big brown bow added a festive touch.
Why did it take me so long to think of gifting in November rather than at the hectic Christmas season? I don't know, but I'd highly recommend it.

Next week, we will be hosting fifteen guests, so I have revelled in decking our home for the holiday. Here are some snapshots.

I made an indian corn wreath. It was so easy and turned out so well that I think I may go into business selling these! :)

I added my pilgrims to the entryway sideboard along with the white pumpkins hold-overs from Halloween.
Then I filled a large bowl with vegetables and set out the silver pheasants.
I left the Murano glass pumpkins on the coffee table.
And tucked the grandmother and child figure my husband gave me for my birthday next to the ceramic turkey.
Now I'm ready to wrap the Christmas presents for the little ones, so I can avoid mailing them. Then I will do the food shopping and baking. I love having everyone come home. The six young children are so fun to entertain. And this year we will have two tiny babies to love on. My heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving.

Is it your turn to host Thanksgiving? What did you do to make your home festive? I'd love for you to post photos in my comment section.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lots to Celebrate: the Royals, Halloween & two Birthdays

My daughter, the party-planner-extraordinaire, had no less than four celebrations at the end of October. Why not?  It's not every year your team makes it into the World Series to play in your home town just before your son's birthday and right around Halloween. Here's how the parties played out.

Monday, October 20th, was Nate's actual birthday as well as the day before the Giants and the Royals played game one of the 2014 World Series in Kansas City. To commemorate two such momentous events, Rachel planned a simple baseball-themed "real" birthday party. Greatgram made the centerpieces, and Gram brought the baseball cake.

A few days later, the kiddos donned Ninja costumes to trick-or-treat where dad and granddad work. It required a Herculean feat to get four kids into garb in time to get pictures taken before loading the kids into and out of car seats and up an elevator to greet the associates and partners at Polsinelli.

Even the baby, just a few weeks old, got in the act.

On Halloween, the whole family got into costume to trick-or-treat in the neighborhood. Daddy was Splinter, and Mama was April O'Neill. Oldest brother, Will, was Michelangelo; Nate was Leonardo. Vivi dressed as Donatello, and baby James was bad-boy, Raphael. Pretty cute, huh?

The next day, Rachel decked out the house and her sister-in-law, Audra, made the food for the extended-clan party celebrating two birthday kids: Nate, who turned three years old,
and Kaya, who turned two years old.

Birthday girl, Kaya, on the right; her cousin on the left.
Here are some pictures of Rachel's decorations for the big bash.

I never cease to be amazed at this daughter's stamina and creativity. With four little ones five-years-old and younger, how she has time and energy to make so much fun, I will never understand. She must have inherited some of the Ninja powers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lighten Up Halloween

I don't know about you, but I am not looking forward to the sculls and skeletons this Halloween. The world has enough death and fiendishness. In our neighborhood, it seems, others agree with me. Here are some happy Halloween vignettes from our neck of the woods.

Smiling scarecrows adorn the porch posts.
This jolly fellow dares you to frown.
 Thankfully, harvesting pumpkins beside a cemetery is as ghoulish as it gets.

Passersby who see our neighbor bringing his harvest from the field can't help but be charmed.
A bountiful harvest is worth celebrating.

This local stand invites party purchases.

Baskets and benches display fall gourds and pumpkins according to size and color. Mums make a lovely seasonal backdrop.

Bales of hay and shocks of corn provide dimension to this wagon display. Doesn't it make you want to take home some colorful autumn decor for your own front step?

Beyond our county and state, others seem to be joining us in minimizing the macabre. I was encouraged to read that this will be the last year for the House of Horrors in Hubertus, Wisconsin.

The diocese outside of Milwaukee is closing the $2 million-dollar annual fundraiser in part because the event became too violent. The decision was made when a video depicting killing, decapitation, and cannibalism was shown as a scare tactic. Maybe these fundraising parents could try what entrepreneurs here have found to be successful: hayrides, bonfires, and corn mazes.

Thankfully, different faith traditions sponsor fall festivals which are a welcome change from the dark-themed parties. For example, our Jewish neighbors just finished celebrating the seven day festival of Sukkot which commemorates their ancestors' forty-year sojourn in the desert. I applaud the secular Jewish congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan that sponsored a community-wide harvest potluck celebrating food across cultures.
Catholic Christians, such as these in Seattle, Washington, celebrate All Saints Day by giving parties on Halloween featuring costumes of saints rather than ghouls.
Holy Rosary School in west Seattle, WA
Last year in Davis, California the Grace Valley Christian Center sponsored a Reformation Day costume parade. After all, it was October 31, 1517 that Luther's nailed his 95 Thesis to a church door in Wittenberg challenging his fellow priests to debate church tradition versus biblical doctrine.

This year we need no more proof than nightly news to recognize that evil is real. Let's use Halloween as an opportunity to fight it, not join it.