Quite Ready for Another Adventure (a Day Trip to Fredericksburg)

I suppose it actually has been 5 months since I put up a post on this poor, neglected blog. Most of you must have thought I’d fallen right off into the “Here There Be Dragons” zone of the map while seeking out new expat adventures. That might have been pretty fun, actually… well, if I’d had my dragon-charming equipment with me when I slipped off the edge of the world, anyway. Gladly, it’s a moot point.

Today we go back to Fredericksburg, to my favorite bookshop and to take a little tour of some of my favorite goofy shop windows. Just hang in there while I explain why I've been gone so long...

Today we go back to Fredericksburg, to my favorite bookshop and to take a little tour of some of my favorite goofy shop windows. Just hang in there a minute while I explain why I’ve been gone so long…

There are a few reasons for my long hiatus. The first is, simply, that it’s a very time consuming and sleep depriving endeavor to start your own company. The second is that, limited to a bicycle-riding radius around my home, I was beginning to run out of topics and inspiration. I couldn’t always wait for some occasion or someone else’s motor power to take me to some new town or place worth telling you all about.

So, the big news is (cue drumroll) I finally got some motor power of my own. It took me almost exactly 11 months from the day my plane from Italy touched down, but it was well worth the waiting and scrimping. Perhaps you can imagine the way I felt when I first got behind that wheel and knew that I could go anywhere.

“Wait!” you might say at this juncture. “That’s an exaggeration!”

Believe you me, when you’ve grown up in pre-Schengen Zone Europe, and Eastern Europe during the Cold War especially, it is not. I grew up knowing that you could only drive so far without running into a border – probably involving barbed wire and machine guns – and, even if you got to the other side, you wouldn’t be able to get a bottle of water until you exchanged your currency or ask for directions unless you spoke a different language.

Those of you familiar with Tolkien’s oeuvre will know remember what Bilbo says to his nephew. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

When I read that line as a child, I always thought about America. We’d come back from Europe for the summer holidays and go visit the grandparents. We’d pull out of their driveway to go somewhere and I’d think of the maps I’d studied in school and I knew that, if we just kept driving, we could go anywhere. We could drive all the way to the Pacific and never have to pull out a passport or a phrasebook.

Of course, as an adult, one of the things I love best about traveling is the cultural diversity, the new sounds, smells, tastes, ways of speaking and even ways of thinking that other countries have to offer. That’s the beauty of traveling abroad. The fact remains, however, that I can reverse out of my driveway and the little road outside of my front door could sweep me off all the way to the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert… all those places I’ve dreamed of and never seen. Someday I’m gonna do those things. What I can also do is return to some places I’ve loved and would like to get to know better, something I didn’t have the leisure or liberty to do until now (motor power!).

I’ve been planning this blog comeback for a couple of weeks now. I got a map and drew a 60-mile radius around my house, figuring that anything that fell within it was close enough for a stress-free day trip. Last week I even had my backpack packed and ready to go one morning. I was literally walking out the door when my clients in Italy called me up with yet another urgent job. What can you do when you have your own business? You certainly can’t say no. I was planning to go the next day, and the next…

I didn’t give up hope. The bag waited, ready with maps and camera. Yesterday I knew that today would be the day, and so it was. I set off – not for somewhere new and unexplored, but for someplace I already know and love and had been wanting to get back to for awhile: Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Those of you who have been following my blog may remember that I’ve already done a couple of posts about Fredericksburg. There was the “Sorry Mom” post and the “What to Do When It’s Raining (or Snowing) in Fredericksburg, Virginia”” post, about the Griffin Bookstore and Coffee Shop, which is where I happened to be sitting when I began writing this post (it ranks up there among my favorite places in the entire world). Not only do they have a wonderful selection of used books for pretty any much any taste, the also have some of the coziest rooms in the world and a garden that I could sit in for hours with whatever volume has decided to befriend me.

How can you not stay here until you've finished the chapter... and the next one... and...

How can you not stay here until you’ve finished the chapter… and the next one… and…

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A cool refuge on an August day… and you’ll never get bored in there.

 

It's even pleasant underfoot.

It’s even pleasant underfoot.

Fredericksburg is, of course, a town with a ton of stories to tell. George Washington’s boyhood home was here, after all, not to mention the Civil War battle that took place here. On my first visit, when I’d only been back in the States about a month, I saw the historic homes, plantations and the battlefields. I took the trolley tour and explored the antique shops. Since then, I’ve been back a couple of times and, obligatory tourist stops aside, it’s also an extremely pleasant place to be. The locals are much friendlier than anyone would have any right to expect them to be in a tourist town such as this, there are more bookstores than grocery stores (Finally! A town with it’s priorities straight!) plus some really excellent restaurants. We’re not going to be serious today. Today, I’m going to show you some of my favorite shopfronts and store windows – the kind of things you spend your time looking at if you’ve already visited a couple of times before (which you have, if you’ve been following my posts). Enjoy!

Let’s start with those bookshops. Besides the Griffin, there are a couple more right on Caroline Street, the main shopping drag, whose windows I always enjoy.

What a fantastic name for a kids' bookshop. The stuff they have in the window is enough to make any small child with a big imagination  (wait... that's all small children, isn't it?) write a very long wish list.

What a fantastic name for a kids’ bookshop. The stuff they have in the window is enough to make any small child with a big imagination (wait… that’s all small children, isn’t it?) write a very long wish list. The window isn’t that fun today, but I’ve seen it veritably brimming with the kind of toys that make me wish I were a kid again.

 

Riverby Books is a little more serious. The browsing is excellent but the lack of the coffee shop aspect means I'm not inclined to stay for quite so many hours... just one or two.

Riverby Books is a little more serious. The browsing is excellent but the lack of the coffee shop aspect means I’m not inclined to stay for quite so many hours… just one or two.

Riverby also has a whiteboard in their one window that’s always worth stopping by to read. Here are a few of the things I’ve seen there over the last few months:

A tongue-in-cheek Fredericksburg architecture primer

A tongue-in-cheek Fredericksburg architecture primer…

Anyone got any Lego to get rid of?

Anyone got any Lego to get rid of? (This was back in May, but I bet they’re still buying.)

This one was from around graduation time. I know the glare makes it hard to read, but give it a try. It's worth it.

This one was from around graduation time. I know the glare makes it hard to read, but give it a try. It’s worth it.

Alas, man (and woman) cannot live on books alone, so off I headed to find some lunch. The Virginia Deli seemed like a good choice for a quick, budget meal and indeed it was. I was tempted by the southern pulled pork BBQ sandwich but, in the end, opted for a less soporific roast beef. I did have to ask the owner about the suspicious statements on the signage:

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He cleared everything up for me. Both George and Bobby have eaten there. Only, their likenesses are a little misleading: the former is the George who owns the Blarney Stone up the street, while Bobby owns an establishment a couple of blocks in the other direction. So, as you see, it’s all true.

Later on, once the Griffin had closed its doors for the day, I turned my steps toward the Hyperion, the local specialty espresso shop and hangout for the kind of people (like me) who like to plonk their computers down on a table near an outlet and not move for a few hours. They’re open a little later, even on Sundays.

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A little caffeine jolt did me good for the ride home, which was rather more adventurous than the ride in. I decided to set my GPS to avoid any highways and see what would happen. What happened was rather a lot of cows, horses, deer and generally extremely windy country roads. It was a lot of fun, but I did get home quite a bit later than planned. What this means is that some of those photos I took and things I wanted to share will have to wait for another post. That’s ok, I’m sure I’ll be going to Fredericksburg again.

Let me just close with one more of my favorites for now:

Super-sophisticate handmade shoes should always be paired with silly socks. How else would you wear them, really?

Super-sophisticated handmade shoes should always be paired with silly socks. How else would you wear them, really?

Meanwhile, my new motor power should help finally have some new expat returned adventures. I look forward to sharing them here with you. Thanks for reading and see you again soon!

Jennnifer

Tea on the Tiber, or, What to Do When It’s Raining (or Snowing) in Ellicott City, Maryland

IMG_7869 Having so recently moved from Rome, I was intrigued when, in December, some friends suggested an afternoon outing at a place called Tea on the Tiber… in Ellicott City, Maryland. My curiosity was piqued, not only because of the name, but because the place was billed as a Victorian Tea Room, and I do enjoy a real high tea – when it’s done right. I set out to see what I’d find. The first thing I learned was that Maryland’s Tiber River was a little different from its namesake, as you can see.

Tiber River, Rome, Italy

The Tiber River, Rome, Italy

Tiber River, Ellicott City, Maryland

The Tiber River, Ellicott City, Maryland

Apples and oranges, really. Pointless comparisons aside, I found Ellicott City, Maryland to be a charming little town. It felt a bit like a time capsule, with giant rocks looming like cliffs over Main Street and its 1950s-style shop signs. Here are some views of the town, snapped as we walked from the riverside towards our destination. IMG_7864 IMG_7865 IMG_7867 It was a busy Sunday afternoon, one of the last before Christmas, and the streets were a little too crowded with parked cars and the sky a little too grey to be as picturesque as it could be. With all the odd boutiques and specialty shops lining the main street, I could see why people would come here for their holiday gift shopping,but it was a little bit too much like rush-hour for my taste. IMG_7868 IMG_7878 Then, at long last (it was cold enough to feel like we’d been walking for much longer than we had), our destination came into sight. The last time I’d had “high tea” had been at the famous Babington’s tea room at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Could this little American town – beautiful and historic, yes, but nestled among encroaching tentacles of suburbia – offer anything that would compare? IMG_7884 The entrance was certainly inviting enough… now to see about the inside.

A festive mantel decked for the holiday shoppers

A festive mantel decked for the holiday shoppers

Inside, attention had been paid to every detail. More than walking into café, it felt as though I were entering as a guest into someone’s home (and judging from the florals and pastels, the home of a well-to-do English woman or Austen fan) where every piece of furniture, every painting and decoration had been collected over a lifetime as opposed to chosen, each with a history – as such things are in a true home. The establishment took up an entire old house, and each room had been either furnished with two or three smaller tables or, in the case of the one we were given, one large table to accomodate large groups. Indeed, I believe that you can only attend Tea on the Tiber by reservation. So, the atmosphere was up to snuff. Now it was time to see about the menu. IMG_7886 We had come for afternoon tea. That meant we were each able to pick a type we wanted from an extensive list including various black, green and white teas, as well as a variety of herbal blends, coffee and chocolate. Anyone who knows me will know that I generally always go for the coffee. At tea (and I intend that as meal, not the beverage), however , that would be quite the heresy. I picked an almond-flavored black tea blend instead. The service it is served in is charming, and the contents are all I had hoped for. The menu was fixed, which saved me the pain of choosing (I always want to try everything when I’m someplace new). We had been promised a three-course meal divided into three parts. When it came, we realized that division was really quite literal. On the middle tier was the savory, consisting mostly of a variety of finger sandwiches, including the famous (and, in the American mind at least, quintessentially British) cucumber. On the bottom tier were what the menu listed as English Manor scones. These were served with two things I'd never tasted, although I'd read about them in books: clotted cream and lemon curd. All I can say is, despite their less-than-appetizing names, once you taste them, there's no going back. We had to ask the poor waitress to refill those dishes at least quite. The jam, though lovely, was forgotten. There were also sweet breads (not sweetbreads), fruit and cheese and, on the top tier, what me might call the crowning glory: the read sweets. I don't know what was more decadent, the rich chocolate cake or the shortbread (I'll go for the shortbread every time, if forced to choose, but that's just me. Any chocolate lover would consider me a madwoman for saying so). On the middle tier was the savory, consisting mostly of a variety of finger sandwiches, including the famous (and, in the American mind at least, quintessentially British) cucumber. On the bottom tier were what the menu listed as English Manor scones. These were served with two things I’d never tasted, although I’d read about them in books: clotted cream and lemon curd. All I can say is, despite their less-than-appetizing names, once you taste them, there’s no going back. We had to ask the poor waitress to refill those dishes at least twice. The jam, though lovely, was quite forgotten. There were also sweet breads (not sweetbreads, thank goodness), fruit and cheese and, on the top tier, what we might call the crowning glory: the desserts. I don’t know what was more decadent, the rich chocolate cake or the shortbread (I’ll go for the shortbread every time, if forced to choose, but that’s just me. Any chocolate lover would consider me a madwoman for saying so).

A nice cuppa

A nice cuppa

Well, I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did. And, I don’t know about you, but I think I’m about ready for a cup of tea after all that, so I’m going to sign off here. Here’s wishing you all a lovely day. Toodle-oo and thanks ever so much for popping by! 😉 Cheers, Jennifer p.s. and if you should feel the need to try out those scones with clotted cream for yourself (and I highly recommend it), here’s all the info you need (of course, you could just clink on this link to Tea on the Tiber’s website if you missed the one at the top of the post, but I thought the business card was classier): IMG_7885

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The NYC Origins of My Love for Cafés & What to Do When It’s Raining (or Snowing) in Lexington, Virginia

Café Pick Me Up: My favorite 'office' in New York City, as it was back in the day (c. 2000). Since then it's suffered a fire and changed owners at least once, but it's still there. I check every time I visit. Its name is the  English translation of the Italian cake called tiramisu. A small wonder it appealed to a recently-returned-from-Italy girl such as myself.

Café Pick Me Up: My favorite ‘office’ in New York City, as it was back in the day (c. 2000). Since then it’s suffered a fire and changed owners at least once, but it’s still there. I check every time I visit. Its name is the
English translation of  tiramisu. This is where my café obsession truly began.

Perhaps it is the years I spent living in New York that taught me to treat coffee shops as though they were an extension of my home. Anyone who has lived in that city for any length of time, and especially in their young and poor years, knows that most living situations there are far from ideal. Apartments are usually small, often cramped and quite frequently dark and crowded with variety of animals (domestic and otherwise) and roommates (domestic and otherwise). That’s why New Yorkers love their cafés. Go to any coffee shop and you’ll see the locals parked at tables strewn with books, journals, computers and tablets, sandwich wrappers and coffee cups. I remember it well. The table (preferably with a nearby power outlet) becomes a desk, the café’s sitting room your office, your fellow patrons your colleagues. Since then, I have never lost my love for whiling away the hours in a coffee shop and, when I lived in Italy, it was one of the things I missed most (nota bene: the Italians may have the world’s best coffee culture, but they have no café culture to speak of, at least not in the way we envision it).

Yesterday, my personal mission to complete my mental map of the world’s coziest and most welcoming coffee shops took us to Fredericksburg, VA. Today, it takes us to Lexington, also in Virginia, which I visited last summer, not long after I’d come back to America. It is a university town, so I expected to find a café of the sort I love. I wasn’t disappointed.

When I first walked into the Lexington Coffee Shop, I couldn’t wait to choose a mug and go up to the bar to order my coffee.

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The Mug Wall at the Lexington Coffee Shop

IMG_6249 Then, however, I looked a little closer. What a marvelous idea! As an out-of-towner, I felt a little left out of the fun. However, if I were a local, I can think of nothing better than to know my mug was waiting for me at my favorite coffee shop. After my New York café experiences, I like nothing so much as to be able to think of my neighborhood coffee shop as a kind of detached annex to my home, and having my own mug there all the time would certainly do the trick. Perhaps, if I go back there, I’ll bring one along just for the heck of it. When you find a good place somewhere in the world, even if chances are slim that you’ll return, it’s always nice to know you’ll be welcome. A mug on a hook with my name on it, so to speak, would sure do the trick.

Until next time, stay cozy and stay caffeinated!

If you take a stroll around town once the weather clears, you'll find that the Lexington shop owners have a talent for interesting window-dressing.

I’ve heard of a jackalope but never of a basset-houndalope. Strange critters they’ve got down south…

Oh, and by the way, if you take a stroll around town once the weather clears, you’ll find that the Lexington shop owners have a talent for… unusual window-dressing.

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What to Do When It’s Raining (or Snowing) in Fredericksburg, Virginia

IMG_6791Anyone who knows me knows that two of life’s greatest pleasures for me are books and coffee – and I have a definite weak spot for any place that can combine both. Whether they be neighborhood coffee shops with shelves of second-hand books for customers or bookshops with couches and caffeine on demand, be they big or small, sophisticated or down-to-earth, it’ll be hard to drag me back out of the door once I find them. In any town I’ve ever visited or city I’ve ever lived in, I generally found them all within a matter of days or even hours. And what better and cozier thing is there to do on a snowy (or rainy) day?

Sidewalk temptation

Sidewalk temptation

As you can see, when I first discovered the Griffin Bookshop and Coffee Bar, we were at the tail end of summer. The trees were still cloaked in brilliant, living green and, if anything, I was looking for a place to escape the heat of the late-August sun. Still, on this snowy March day, I would love to be curled up in a corner of the Griffin with a steaming cup of coffee, surrounded by its seemingly endless shelves of books. The front room has tables devoted to subjects ranging from new fiction to local interest. In the back, behind the coffee-bar, a further two rooms are stuffed to the ceiling with shelves where books are arranged alphabetically and by subject-matter, as neatly as in any library.

Yours Truly enjoys two of her favorite things in the world: a cup of coffee and a nearly endless supply of reading material.

Yours Truly enjoys two of her favorite things in the world: a cup of coffee and a nearly endless supply of reading material.

The feeling, however, is more as if I’d wandered into the private reading rooms of some wealthy intellectual who has, inexplicably, given me the run of his home for the day.

The smallest reading room at the Griffin looks more like a private sitting room than the back room of a coffee shop,

The smallest reading room at the Griffin looks more like a private sitting room than the back room of a coffee shop

A garden for fair-weather reading, a most excellent pastime

A garden for fair-weather reading, a most excellent pastime

They also have a little, brightly colored and carpeted nook of a room off the main reading room where everything – from the decor to the size of the furniture to the choice of reading material – has been chosen for the very youngest of readers. Seeing it was enough to make we wish I’d had a chance to be a kid in Fredericksburg. And the Griffin’s not just a welcome refuge when the weather’s bad, either. Their tables out front and the marvelous back garden make this a perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon in the springtime. A soon as this snow melts, I think I’m going to have to head back for a day. Call me strange, but I’ll drive an hour and a half for a good coffee shop any day…

Here’s wishing you all somewhere as cozy to wait out these last days of winter.

Until next time, stay warm and keep a good book close to hand!

– Jennifer

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A Hint of Spring and a Memory of Winter

Yesterday, when I saw these flowers that had sprung up through the dry grass and coat of winter leaves lying strewn across a neighbor’s yard, I could hardly believe my eyes. After such a long winter, I had become so accustomed to seeing nothing but shades of brown that the bright yellow and lavender of these blossoms came as a shock. I had to stop and take a picture.The first spring colors after a long, long winter

The first spring colors after a long, long winter 

Looking at them, it’s hard to believe that I took this next picture just 6 days before the other!

Garden owl, snuggled into the snow next to what remains of last year's lavender, waiting for better weather

Garden owl, snuggled into the snow next to what remains of last year’s lavender, waiting for better weather

I am actually a great fan of the winter, the cold weather and the snow. This season, however, has been a little too long even for me. I am looking forward to spring. My bicycle is in the garage looking sad and bored and the woodland trails I love are a muddy morass. Bring on the spring, with its its bright greens of new growth and its warm, soft grass to lie down on. It will be coming soon. Until then, however, here is a little encore for the winter: some pictures from our last two big snowfalls, one a week ago and one two weeks before that.

Two in the bush: a male and female cardinal wait their turn at the bird feeder

Two in the bush (so to speak): a male and female cardinal wait their turn at the bird feeder

Waiting his turn

Waiting his turn

Vying for position

Vying for position

Under the bird feeder, the ground feeders clean up the fallen seeds

Under the bird feeder, the ground feeders clean up the fallen seeds

Following the hoof prints through the snow...

Following the hoof prints through the snow…

Can you see them all huddled together? I tried to count them, but there were more than a dozen of all sizes and ages.

Can you see them all huddled together? I tried to count them, but there were more than a dozen of all sizes and ages.

As I stood watching, a flash of red caught my eye. Never before had I been lucky enough to see the neighborhood fox, but there he was, in broad daylight, prowling right past the herd of deer. They watched him but gave no sign of alarm at the sight. He was bright red and bigger than I would have imagined – he came up higher than some of their knees. I could see the white tip of his tail as he made his way up the hill behind him, slinking sleekly through snow. I couldn’t catch him in a picture, but I won’t soon forget.

This straggler and a couple others were busy stripping the bark from trees. It's been a hard winter for our local deer.

This straggler and a couple others were busy stripping the bark from trees. It’s been a hard winter for our local deer.

The deer won’t the only local animals to have a tough time this winter. We’ve done our bit for the birds, as well as for the squirrels.

Squirrel prints on the snow. They've discovered the pile of peanuts we put out on the porch before going to bed last night.

Squirrel prints on the snow. They’ve discovered the pile of peanuts we put out on the porch before going to bed last night.

Here they come!

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Action shot! The squirrels don’t so much run as  leap in bounds across the surface of the snow, braving the hawks that circle about the yard and the nearby woods

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Well-earned snack

On that note, I’ll close, hoping that I’ll have no occasion to put up any more pictures of snow until next November!

Thanks for stopping by!

See you next time.

– Jennifer

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Backyard Wild Kingdom (a Stay-at-home Adventure)

The arrival of winter weather back in December left me at a bit of a loss for awhile as to what my next expat-returned adventure should be. With snow and ice covering the roads and sidewalks and  rendering the edges of the forest trail indistinguishable, I had no choice but to park my trusty, two-wheeled steed in the garage. The snows have come and gone since, but each time they melt they leave deeper mud mires where my paths through the woods used to be, and low points have been covered in a good six inches of standing water. However, even staying home is a bit of an adventure when you live so near the woods.

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The backyard we jokingly call our wild kingdom is teeming with all kinds of furred and feathered creatures. Even with a chart of local birds on hand, I’m hard-pressed to identify all the kinds that come to our yard.

This blue jay is one of a bold pair that comes right up onto the porch to snatch peanuts from under the squirrels' noses.

This blue jay is one of a bold pair that comes right up onto the porch to snatch peanuts from under the squirrels’ noses.

With their beautiful, bright blue plumage, who would ever guess they belong to the same family as the crow?

With their beautiful, bright blue plumage, who would ever guess they belong to the same family as the crow?

There are tiny birds with bright yellow feathers accented with black, which I’m pretty sure are finches. There is a large family of brown sparrows which has made its home in the birdhouse. There is a woodpecker with a head so red it looks like it’s been dipped in paint the color of a maraschino cherry. The mourning doves come in pairs to eat the seeds the others let fall from the feeder to the ground and squirrels and rabbits scatter when the shadow of a hawk or vulture passes across the grass.

One of our two wild rabbits. They rarely venture far from the protection of the backyard fence.

One of our two wild rabbits. They rarely venture far from the protection of the backyard fence. (As you can see, this photo was taken a few months ago. I’m looking forward to seeing our bunnies return come springtime.)

The squirrels feel safe from birds of prey when perched in the branches of the trees (they've built a nest high on top of our pine)

The squirrels feel safe from birds of prey when perched in the branches of the trees (they’ve built a nest high on top of our pine)

Sitting on the fence to eat their breakfast...

Sitting on the fence to eat their breakfast…

...they're sheltered from the hawks' fast dives by the tree branches above .

…they’re sheltered from the hawks’ fast dives by the tree branches above .

The cardinals come in all seasons. I haven’t been able to get any photos of the female, but the male is bolder (and  vain enough to stay relatively still long enough to have his portrait taken).

Summer

Summer

Autumn

Autumn

Winter

Winter

Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to getting out into the woods as soon as the trails are open again. Meanwhile, however, it’s quite nice here by the fire, sipping a cup of hot cocoa and watching the wild kingdom in my backyard.

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See you again soon and thanks for stopping by!

– Jennifer

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  • For those of you who’d like to make a wild kingdom of your own, here’s a good article published last May about How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard (nature.org). It’s not too early to start planning! Spring’s on it’s way, after all…
  • I’ve seen all three of these types of woodpeckers in my backyard, but so far they have been  too quick and shy for me to photograph: Winter Feeder Birds: Indentifying Woodpeckers (donnallong.com)

See you next time!

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Ice Garden

The scene I saw from my window when I opened the blinds on Monday morning…

View from an upstairs window

View from an upstairs window

… was a garden of ice, a magician’s fantasy, the masterpiece of some mad glassmaker.

Each blade of grass has become a blade in truth

Each blade of grass has become a blade in truth

Every leaf of every bush is has been set in a crystal bauble

Every leaf of every bush is has been set in a crystal bauble

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The trees shiver under an overcast sky that promises more snow to come

Memories of flowers, frozen before berries can be born

Memories of flowers, frozen before berries can be born

The pines have dressed their every needle in a coating of ice

The pines have dressed their every needle in a coating of ice

This branch wears a red pendant

A red pendant

Sparkling winter green

Sparkling winter green

A cluster of berries hang enshrined in crystal like a bunch of garnets on some art nouveau bauble

A cluster of berries hang enshrined in crystal like a bunch of garnets on some art nouveau bauble

On a morning like this, I could just about believe this was a Narnian lamppost

On a morning like this, I could just about believe this was a Narnian lamppost

Even the most mundane things are made beautiful.

A rusty nail…

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A gatepost…

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A chain-link fence…

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A suburban street…

Not a soul to be seen

Not a soul to be seen

The ice may be beautiful, but it has done its share of damage.

The wintry silence is broken only by the occasional sharp crack and whoosh of a frozen tree limb snapping and falling to the ground. The branches could not bear the weight of so much frozen water.

The wintry silence is broken only by the occasional sharp crack and whoosh of a frozen tree limb snapping and falling to the ground. The branches could not bear the weight of so much frozen water.

Boughs of glistening glass overhang the street and sidewalks

Boughs of glistening glass overhang the street and sidewalks. I almost expect them to chime in the wind.

It's time to go inside for hot cocoa with marshmallows.

It’s time to go inside for hot cocoa with marshmallows.

“What are those marshmallow things, anyway?” That’s a question many of my European friends have asked me. What can I say? That they are confections of sugary delight? Perhaps that’s a little too ornate of a description. I hadn’t had cocoa with marshmallows in years until this very cup in the picture. I do freely admit that our American cocoa cannot even approach the heights of deliciousness attained by the thick, dark, creamy chocolate I have drunk in Vienna or Milan, but there is something about the humble and rather silly marshmallow that makes American hot cocoa magical. It evokes memories of coming in wet and caked in frost and snow from sledding, snowball fights and snowman building, of childhood Christmases and visits to grandparents’ houses, playing games or reading in front of the fire while the snow came down thick and white outside the windows.

The next morning when I woke, it was snowing in earnest…

Overnight, the ice had been covered over in snow

Overnight, the ice had been covered over in snow

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I’ll close with a wish that you all are able to fit in at least one snowball fight in between bouts of grumbling about power outages and shoveling the driveway. We grownups have to deal with the problems winter poses, but its important not to lose sight of the magic and fun it brought us when we were kids. Enjoy the snow if you can, even when it’s doing its worst! If you have a hard time with that, well, hot cocoa with marshmallows might help. Our high temperature tomorrow is going to be about 18 F (that’s -3 Celsius), so I’ll certainly be making another cup.

Thanks for stopping by! Stay cozy.

– Jennifer

I know what I’m having this afternoon in place of my five o’clock coffee. The problem is, which of these lovely recipes do I try first?

And, for my local readership:

To conclude  here’s a link to a pair of “winter berry” earrings made by a fellow blogger, expat and jewelry maker who lives in France. I was reminded of them when taking the photos of my own ice garden. I love her creations, inspired by the nature that surrounds her beautiful new home:

Enjoy!