Adiron-Deck the Halls: An RLPS Holiday Village

My brother-in-law, John, works as a project architect and construction administrator for RLPS, an architectural firm based in Lancaster.  For many, many years his firm has created a unique Christmas-themed display which is then opened to the public.  After our family Christmas gathering on Saturday, John gave us a private viewing of this year’s village and of the gorgeous office space he gets to work in every day.


The theme this year is the Adirondack Mountains and all buildings are required to reflect this turn of the century (circa. 1900-1930) architectural style.  Several rules accompanied the design and creation of this year’s theme: all models are at a scale of 3/8″ – 1’0″ (making people about 2 inches tall), all visible material other than windows, roof structure and lights are edible, and 75% – 100% of the  exterior walls  are made of pretzels.  I was blown away by the precision of construction and the attention to detail – even the interiors had glowing fireplaces, Christmas trees and an occasional grand piano.  With moving parts, a multitude of twinkling lights and a heavy dose of whimsy and humor,  Adiron-Deck the Halls was an unexpected delight  for me.  I’m thankful for my connection to an insider so I could take my time investigating it.

Some statistics:

  • > 30 unique pretzel shapes used
  • 40 gallons of Royal icing
  • 120 12″ x 12″ sheets of gingerbread
  • 15 pounds of salt
  • 16 pounds of aluminum wire
  • 652 trees
  • > 50 pounds of candy
  • 20 pounds of rock candy
  • 17 houses
  • > 2400 lights

This is what happens when designers, draftsmen, and architects play with their food:

Adiron-Deck the Halls 




















So much fun…thanks, John!

UPDATE: John sent me the link to a time-lapse photography video on Youtube showing all the prep that was involved in putting this little display together.

A Little Yule Cheer: Day 21 (Christmas Card Outtakes)

Ever since my youngest child joined our family, my husband and I have been exploiting our children to create adorable Christmas cards.  When Aaron was four months old, we dressed the kids up as  Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  We used an old Crate and Barrel magazine rack for the manger and pillow cases for costumes.  The card was a huge hit and a tradition was born.  Through the years the kids have been angels, shepherds with cardboard sheep, lions and lambs, Santas, and the reindeer you see below.  They’ve held candles, played in the snow, and spelled the word Joy with cardboard letters painted gold.

Now that the kids are older (my daughter is 19 and my sons are 16 and 14), we’ve pretty much given up doing creative family Christmas cards.  The last time I asked the kids what theme they wanted to do, my middle son suggested a recreation of that first manger scene complete with my youngest son, who is now 5’7″ and 170 lbs., playing the role of baby Jesus.  That went over like a lead balloon as you can probably guess.  With that, our card tradition has come to an end.

I wish I could say that I miss creating all those Christmas cards, but I really don’t.  They were a lot of work, mostly because getting three children to look at a camera at the same time and smile is difficult  under normal circumstances.  Add props like a lit candle or uncomfortable costumes and it becomes an impossible task.  Photos sessions always ended with someone in tears (usually me and at least one child) and an oath that we were never, ever, doing this again (which we always did).

Somehow, we always managed to put a card together before Christmas and as much as I don’t miss doing it, I’m so glad we made the effort.  Our family and friends have enjoyed the cards and w e now have a wonderful collection of images of our children across the past 14 Christmases.  The funny thing is, when I look through the photos, I love the ones that didn’t make the cut the best because that is where each child’s personality really shines through.  Sweet Julia, who has always been a pleaser, wanting to do exactly what we asked of her and who the boys could get to laugh at the drop of a hat.  Mark ,who was always half annoyed that he had to participate and who could never keep his eyes open when the flash went off.   And Aaron, who has the most expressive face of anyone ever and who couldn’t sit still for 5 seconds.

The photos below are from our 2007 Christmas card.  The kids are 11, 8, 6.  You’ll notice they are signing in some of the photos.  I found that it helped them to smile if they sang Christmas carols.  None of the photos below made it to the cover of the Christmas card that year but I love every single one of them.  They are the perfect example of what our Christmas card process was normally like and are beautiful reminders for me of who my children were at that time.

Christmas Reindeer of 2007

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Thank you for allowing me to revel in some Christmas nostalgia and for joining me.

Where I’m At…


You might have noticed that Whimsey Pie is turning into a compilation of  book reviews for The Eclectic Reader Challenge and a gallery for Weekly Photo Challenges.  This is not what I originally envisioned for my blog but it will have to do for the moment.  To be honest, I’m more than a little overwhelmed with life so the fact that I’m posting anything at all feels like an award-worthy accomplishment.  And, I guess I could be doing a lot worse by this little corner of the Internet than talking about books and sharing some of my photos.

I don’t think I’ve shared this directly, but I began full-time work on an on-line Masters degree in August.  It’s been challenging, to say the least.  I don’t think I’ve ever doubted my life choices and intellectual capabilities or struggled with time management issues so much in my life.  I’m discovering that working a full-time job that requires constant creative and critical thinking and taking graduate courses which demand more of the same drain me completely.  I have nothing left to offer here at Whimsey Pie or anywhere else.  I’ve been wondering a lot lately if creative energy is physiologically like will power – a finite reserve that runs out and must be replenished often with relaxation and novel experiences.

Anyway, I’m not writing this to whine.  I’ve made my choices and am living out the consequences the best that I can (although whining about it occasionally does make me feel better).  No, I’m writing all this simply to say I haven’t had much to say lately, and certainly not much of anything that any of you lovely readers would want to read.  So for now, I hope you enjoy the book reviews, the Photo Challenges, and the occasional inspired post. I anticipate that things will eventually turn around.  Thanks for sticking around while I get my feet back under me!




Happy Accidents

As I’ve stated numerous times before, I am a rank amateur when it comes to the technical aspects of photography.  My ineptitude concerning ISO, aperture, and shutter speed (and lots of other technical terms that scare the heck out of me) has frustrated my creativity on numerous occasions.  This frustration has propelled me toward taking a photography course sometime this year.

Needless to say, I make more than my share of mistakes.  The bloopers are usually deleted without a second thought.  Occasionally, though, a “mistake” steals my heart because it captures an aspect of the moment better than I ever could by doing everything “right”.  I thought I’d share some of my happy accidents and the reasons why these shots ended up in the keeper file instead of the trash bin.



The first two photos were taken in the Penguin building at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida.  Conditions for photography were dismal – dark room, moving sidewalk, exhibit behind glass, penguins swimming at the speed of light.  Not expecting any shots worth keeping, I still felt compelled to give it a try.  I wasn’t able to acquire one clear image.  Instead, I ended up with two interesting abstract compositions that aren’t so much about cute little birds in tuxedos as they are a representation of movement and speed in rich, vibrant colors.



I live less than an hour from Hershey Park, a popular amusement park located in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Almost every summer we spend a day there, enjoying the thrills from park opening to closing.  The Scrambler is usually our last hurrah before we head home.  It’s a fast, spinning ride that creates incredible centrifugal force.  The person in the outer position in each car gets crushed, so copious amounts of laughter and screaming always accompany the ride.  It’s as much fun to watch as it is to take a spin.

By normal standards, the two photos above are sub-par. They are too dark and very blurry.  Why do I love them?  Because they perfectly capture the speed and energy of the ride and the emotions of my daughter and niece.  If I had to choose, I’d pick the second shot because there is less artifact, but the expression on my niece’s face in the first one is priceless.  I’ll be keeping both images.  Every time I look at them, I’m instantly transported back to that night and I have to smile.


This photo was taken while we hiked the Shades of Death trail at Hickory Run State Park one hot and humid afternoon.  Poor light quality and the fact that I was walking when I snapped the shot helped to create the painterly, Impressionistic quality of this photograph.  I absolutely love it!  (In a million years I would not have been able to purposely make this happen.)


Everything about this photo is wrong.  The orange coloring, the candlelight reflected on the lens, blah, blah, blah.  But somehow I still managed to so completely capture the spirit of my daughter on her 15th birthday that all the technical no-nos don’t even matter.  The smile, the crinkled nose, the position of her hands – everything is unposed and natural.  Can you hear her laughter?  I thought so.  This is definitely a keeper.


This last image is my most recent mistake and the impetus for this post.  It was taken inside the historic Desert View Tower at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  I fell in love with the building, both inside and out, and took copious amounts of photos.  On the way down the stairs to the first floor, I attempted to take a photo of my sons. The stairway was very poorly lit and I could tell right away the shutter was going to stay open too long for a crisp image.  In resignation, I pulled the camera away from my face before the shutter closed.  Look what I got – a circular blur!  It looks like the boys are traveling through a time warp.  It’s a very cool effect that, once again, I’m not sure I could have produced if I’d intentionally tried it.

Photography has always held an element of uncertainty and even a bit of magic for me.  I never know exactly what I’m going to get when I finally press that shutter release button (is that what it’s called?) and I like it that way.  Wonderful accidents pop up now and then that surprise and delight me.  Hopefully, the camera magic that I trifle with now will only become deeper and stronger as I gain a better understanding of the technical aspects of taking photographs.  I’m looking forward to the learning process, the new discoveries, and the many “mistakes” that are sure to appear along the way.

Do you have any favorite photographic mistakes you’d like to share?  I would love to see them!