Every year we are on the epic adventure of finding great light displays.  My boys spend so much time at the hockey rink in Gloucester and we’re lucky to be able to drive down Reynard Street this time of year to admire their wonderful holiday spirit.

Please send along information about other neighborhoods….near or far, that you know of!  We’re looking to take a nice ride on Saturday night!

Nichole’s Picks 12/15 + 12/16

Pick #1: Rockport Makers Festival

Saturday and Sunday!  Read more HERE

Please read more to learn about all of the fun and exciting activities that will be taking place.  Much thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and participants!  What a fun holiday weekend.

Just some of the fun…

Print-your-own event at Rusty + Ingrid

A book signing at the Paper Mermaid by the author of A Day in Rockport

Meet and Greet with puppies from Cape Ann Animal Aid at the Good Dog Gallery

Jam Making Demo at Seven South Street Inn

Indoor Farmers Market

Horse Carriage Rides

A showing of A Christmas Carol at 7:00 pm for FREE at the Shalin Liu

and much, much more…..  Not to mention all of the great shopping one can do!

A Town-wide Festival

  • Shop local and handmade

  • Maker-themed events in local shops

  • Fun and crafty family activities

  • Festive food, holiday music

  • Special programming at Rockport’s famous art venues




Pick #2: Holiday Ice Skating at MarketStreet’s Rink

With the new warming tent and JP Licks hot cocoa next door, this is a fun way to get the kids outside and knock off some holiday shopping at the same time.



Pick #3: Winter Lights at the Stevens-Coolidge Place



NEW: This holiday season, the gardens at two of our most popular historic homes, Naumkeag in Stockbridge and The Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover will sparkle with thousands of shimmering holiday lights. Each weekend features performances and activities for the whole family, from the young to the young at heart.  See something new throughout the season.

Don your coats, pull on your boots and join us for a new family tradition!

Please note: paths may be muddy and slippery, please wear appropriate footwear. No handicap parking available at Naumkeag though drop off at the front driveway is permitted.
Select a date below to purchase your tickets
Entrance to the gardens is ticketed in 15-minute increments between 5-8PM. Upon selecting a date below, you will be prompted to select an arrival time. Please be prepared to arrive 10 minutes prior to your ticketed entrance time to help expedite the check-in process.

Members: $12
Nonmembers: $17
Children 12 and under: FREE



As always, for a comprehensive list of family activities, visit our friends at North Shore Kid!

USS Thomas Hudner Commissioning

Thatcher gets to do some unbelievably cool and special things as part of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps with the Gloucester Sea Cadets – David G. Ouellet Division.

Participating in the commissioning of the USS Hudner on Saturday at Boston’s Black Falcon Pier nears the top of the list. I couldn’t stay, so I stole photos from Thatcher, LTJG Robert Pallazola and Joanna Edith.  Thank you!

The Gloucester Sea Cadets had the opportunity to witness history, pay tribute to heroes, and be in the presence of so, so many including, just to name a few, Mayor Walsh, Governor Baker, State Senator Bruce Tarr, both the Hudner and Brown families, MANY Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and even General Joseph Dunford, the highest ranking military officer in the United States military and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Having just lost President George H.W. Bush made this ceremony even more poignant.

Commissioning marks the formal entrance of a ship into the U.S. Navy Fleet and is the point when the ship changes from being Pre-Commissioning Unit

I am so thankful that he had this opportunity and that he is a part of such a tremendous organization.

The video below shows the entire commissioning ceremony and you can read more about Medal of Honor Recipient CAPT Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., USN  HERE



Holiday Windows

Have you seen Main Street?!  Downtown Gloucester is looking absolutely gorgeous!  I can not wait to take a walk and photograph all of the beautiful holiday window displays.  I am so appreciative to the businesses who went above and beyond to decorate their storefronts to spread holiday cheer.

Here is just one of the many amazing displays.  Get downtown, do some shopping, and feel the holiday joy!

Get ready to VOTE for your favorite decorations during the “Downtown Gloucester Holiday Window Contest”! We have 72 participants… you read that right, 72 participants in the contest in 5 categories!

The voting starts this Friday, Black Friday, November 23 and continues through December 20th! So starting Friday, get downtown and check out all of the great decorations and Shop Locally! Forget the Malls!

Downtown Gloucester is where it is at this holiday season!

Go to the following Facebook page to view all of the contestants and the categories and to VOTE: DOWNTOWN GLOUCESTER HOLIDAY WINDOW CONTEST.




Nichole’s Picks 12/1 + 12/2

December, yikes!

Pick #1:  Welcome Back, Santa!  Rockport

A hight light of everyone’s holiday season is when Santa comes to town by lobster boat in Rockport Harbor.  Events happening between 1:00-5:00 pm.  Santa’s arrival, photos with Santa, singing of carols, and the ceremonial tree lighting!

Where else can you see Santa arrive by lobster boat? Santa will arrive at Rockport’s T-Wharf on Rockport Harbor on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 1:00 PM, following a brisk lobster boat ride across Sandy Bay. Then Santa will climb up onto a Rockport Forest Fire truck and proceed along T-Wharf and Broadway to Spiran Hall (at the corner of Broadway and School Street) led by Rockport cub scouts. This year Santa will be able to linger a while to visit and have photos taken with the children at Spiran Hall until the Tree Lighting Ceremony begins. Then Santa will head over to Dock Square to greet the crowd and kick off the Tree Lighting festivities, before climbing back onto the fire truck to begin his long return journey to the North Pole.

The Tree Lighting Ceremony will get underway at 4 PM welcoming Santa and the public to Dock Square with carols and a stirring rendition of “Christmas in Rockport” performed by the Dock Square Carolers.

The Chairperson of the Board of Selectmen will offer official greetings from the Town and will conclude the ceremony by pulling the switch to light this year’s Rockport Christmas tree.



Pick #2:  Castle Hill’s Christmas by the Sea

Friday, 5-8PM

Saturday, 10AM-4PM

Sunday, 12Noon-4PM

Member Adult: $10;
Member Child: $5;
Nonmember Adult: $20;
Nonmember Child: $10;
Ipswich resident: $10 with proof of residency

Visiting Castle Hill at Christmas is a time-honored tradition for many New England families. Don’t miss this year’s spectacular “Christmas by the Sea”. Each room in our 1920s mansion is festively decorated by florists, designers, garden clubs, or volunteers. You’ll find live music and dance, fresh baked cookies and cider, a treasure hunt, family activities, and a visit with Santa.

Make Friday, date night with evening tour hours, a cash bar, light appetizers, and festive music.

Come with friends on Saturday for great decorating ideas, shopping in the Castle Hill gift shop and Harbor Sweets pop up cafe, and more.

Bring the children on Sunday to visit with Santa, take photos, and hunt for sea-themed items in our holiday treasure hunt.


Schedule of Events

Friday, November 30, 5-8pm

Piano music by Robert Allison in the Drawing Room

Cash bar with beer, wine, and our own holiday punch in the Drawing Room

90th Anniversary of the Illyria 1928-1929 South Seas Expedition on the Third Floor

Saturday, December 1, 10am-4pm

Christmas by the Sea treasure hunt

90th Anniversary of the Illyria 1928-1929 South Seas Expedition on the Third Floor

10am                     Ipswich High School Bel Canto and Chamber Singers directed by Abigail Frost in Drawing Room

11am                     Ipswich High School Carolers in the Gallery

12Noon                   Ipswich Middle School Clarinet Choir in the Butler’s Pantry

1pm                       Ipswich High School Jazz Orchestra directed by Sean Lee in the Drawing Room

2pm                       String Quartet music featuring Michael Hamill, Carlos Heymann, Alice Newell, and Ann Ward in the Second Floor Bay

2pm                       Solstice Singers directed by Marybeth Dyer in the Drawing Room

3 pm                      Ipswich Moving Company’s Youth Dance Ensemble in the Drawing Room, Dining Room, and Stair Hall

Sunday, December 2, 12noon-4pm

Christmas by the Sea treasure hunt

90th Anniversary of the Illyria 1928-1929 South Seas Expedition on the Third Floor

12Noon-2pm           Visit with Santa in the Second Floor Bay

12Noon                   Ipswich High School Honors Brass in the Drawing Room

12Noon                   Ipswich High School Honors Clarinet Quartet in the Dining Room

1pm                       Ipswich High School Chamber Orchestra directed by Michael Coelho in the Drawing Room

1pm                       Venti in the Dining Room

2pm                       Phoebe Bright in the Dining Room

3pm                       North Shore Ringers directed by G. Paul Naeger in the Drawing Room


Courtesy of the Trustees of the Reservation 

Pick #3:  Tree Jubilee at Marini Farm

Browse the holiday cheer and try your luck at winning the tree of your choice!  More than 60 beautifully decorated trees will be raffled off to benefit the Ipswich Humane Society!

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Marini is proud to host the Ipswich Humane Society’s 5th annual Tree Jubilee. Be a participant in this years Tree Jubilee. Decorate a Wreath or a Tree and donate it to the Ipswich Humane Society to be raffled off during the event at Marini Farm.

This is one of the Humane Society’s biggest fundraisers to help differ the increasing costs of the shelter. Although the event is free to view… 100% of any raffle purchased goes directly to our four legged friends.

Event Details

Tour the gallery of beautifully decorated trees and wreaths donated by local organizations, families, and businesses — then choose the ones you want a chance to win!

More than 60 spectacularly decorated trees and wreaths will be raffled off (decorations and all!) at the end of the Jubilee. You never know what our donors will decorate their trees with!

2018 Gallery Viewing:


Friday, November 30th – Noon – 8pm

Saturday, December 1st – 10am-8pm

Sunday, December 2nd – 10am-7pm

Friday, December 7th – Noon – 8pm

Saturday, December 8th – 10am-8pm

Sunday, December 9th – 10am-3pm (EXTRA DAY!!!!)

Winners Pick-Up:

Date: Monday, December 10th

Time: 4pm-7pm

Marini Farm
259 Linebrook Road
Ipswich, MA 01938

Admission: FREE!
Raffle Chances: $5/10 chances


As always, for a comprehensive list of family activities please visit our friends at North Shore Kid

More Great Light Fights

It’s funny how some holiday traditions are tried and true over the years and some happen very spontaneously and somehow become ritualist when you’re least paying expecting it.

Watching the Polar Express on Thanksgiving Night is a tradition that I started intentionally and one that we look forward to every year.  Heading to the Beverly Tree Farm the day after Thanksgiving to find our perfect tree is also something that we chose as a tradition and are sure to repeat each year in the hopes of building memories for the boys.  Christmas wouldn’t be the same without my mom’s coffee cake….and my boys look forward to pulling and kneading the dough for their fried dough after opening their stockings each year.

The Great Light Fight….well, that is a tradition, maybe just as special to the boys, that has just kind of happened….with no planning, no forethought, no intention.

So….last night, there we were again, all of sudden snuggled on the couch watching the new season of The Great Light Fight.  I grabbed Finn at the hockey rink after his practice, cooked brussel sprouts upon his request, and then hunkered down to watch the first episode of the new season of the Great Light Fight.   I didn’t know it was on….hadn’t bothered to actually check any kind of programming….but, when Finn somehow heard a promo, we were both pretty excited.  Thatch rolled in an hour later and plopped himself down immediately.  And then, just like last year and the years before that, we started our familiar routine of choosing which light display we liked the most, who we thought would win, how they might spread more good cheer with their winnings….and where we might drive to see some lights this weekend.

It is so, so silly….but yet someone these often quirky strangers, these Captains of Christmas and Directors of Decorations, always manage to teach Thatch and Finn something about the true holiday spirit and about family ties and bonds.  One contestant said last night, “The family who displays together, stays together.”  No doubt.

I’m happy that while those families share their traditions with their communities….and now national television….we can at least pop a squat on the sofa and have a mini tradition of our own.

Sometimes the littlest things are the best.


The Great Christmas Light Fight showcases the wildest and most spectacular Christmas displays in America. In each one-hour episode, four families from all around the country decorate their homes to the extreme in the hopes of winning the coveted Light Fight trophy and a $50,000 prize, with a total of $300,000 given away for the season. As the temperature cools down, the competition heats up when families invite us from out of the snow inside their homes to witness their fanatic Christmas décor for the very first time. In addition to all of the stunning inside/outside displays, the first ever “Heavyweights” episode will showcase light shows that have grown too large for any home.

screen-shot-2018-10-17-at-10-06-05-pmlightfightlight-fight-1543287701Duluth Christmas Lights Fresh Olson Family Light Show The Great Christmas Light Fight

Do Your Children Have March School Vacation?

If so, have them join us for two action packed weeks at Gloucester Stage!

Harborlight will be spending two full weeks learning all there is to know about the world of theatre at Gloucester Stage Company. At the end of the two weeks they will perform an original show.  Thanks to the amazing team at Gloucester Stage and Harborlight’s Performing Arts Director, Katie Oberlander, students will have the opportunity to learn what it takes to pull off a professional production….from soup to nuts.

Earlier this week teams from both organization met to structure the week.   So many exciting components are in the works and the two-week session promises to be one that these students never forget.

I n t en s i v e  T h e a t r e  P r o d u c t i o n

Harborlight Players, grades 4-8

This two-week course takes students to Gloucester Stage Company (GSC) for an intensive experience in theatre production, on stage and backstage. In addition to acting, students participate in all aspects of production, including box office management, lighting and set design, auditions and casting, costumes and props. Actors, assistant directors, stage managers, designers, and marketing and sales are all part of what it takes to stage an original production, which is what the students do on the GSC stage as the culmination of their theatre experience.



Harborlight Montessori in Beverly is ecstatic to be debuting Experience Weeks this year.  For six weeks, one in February, two in March, one in April, and two in June, students (both enrolled at Harborlight and from elsewhere) can participate in rich, exciting, experiential, and fun Experience Weeks.

The two week collaboration with Gloucester Stage is just one example.  Students from other schools are invited to join us during February vacation, April vacation, and the last two weeks of June as well! See what is happening during your child’s school vacation!  Partnerships with Maritime Gloucester, Salem Sound Coastwatch, and much much more!



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Nichole’s Picks 11/17 + 11/18

Pick #1:  It’s All About the Turkeys in Essex This Weekend

On Saturday, enjoy the Essex Turkey Scavenger Hunt thanks to the Essex Youth Commission.  1:00 at Essex Town Hall at 30 Martin Street.

Join us in a hunt for turkeys throughout Essex and a chance to win a free Thanksgiving Turkey. Meet at Town Hall for the clues and work with your family or a group of friends to find all the hidden turkeys.

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And then on Sunday enjoy the Annual Turkey Trot 5K Race and Fun Walk. The Race begins at 1:00


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Pick #2:  The North Shore Food + Gift Emporium

Sunday, November 18th 10:00-4:00 at the Turner Hill Estate in Ipswich

See their Facebook page HERE

Reserve Your Free Ticket HERE

The most delicious event of the season celebrating 4 years. No, we are—still—not a holiday craft fair. Think of us more as a vibrant marketplace nestled in the rooms of a beautiful historic mansion.

This event is a celebration of food + gifts made by local passionate individuals (we consider them courageous, as well). We’ve procured 50 deliciously talented makers and have brought them together for a day of tasting + shopping.

Who knew there were so many talented entrepreneurs in our midst? Honestly, we feel like this area has some pretty awesome local businesses. Why not create an event to celebrate them + showcase their goods?! Boom . . . the North Shore Food + Gift Emporium is born.

Come taste + shop from over 50 local food + fine gift makers—even more than last year! Sweet, savory, salty, spicy, crunchy, chewy, colorful, festive, shiny, fragrant, unique . . . you name it, we’ll have it. This event is designed to bring out the fun lovin’ foodie + savvy shopper in everybody.

Hosted at the gorgeous historic Turner Hill mansion in Ipswich, the North Shore Food + Gift Emporium will be the perfect event to get a head start on your—dare we say—holiday shopping. But don’t be dismayed, you’ll easily find something for everyone on your list . . . including something for yourself!

This FREE community event is created by two friends who share a deep love for the North Shore + for local entrepreneurs:

Lauren Guley
Creator of Now & Zen “Planting Ideas”
Jessica Brand
Cofounder of the online magazine,


Pick #3:  Opening Weekend at the MarketStreet Rink

MarketStreets ice skating rink now boasts a warming room where skaters can don their skates away from the elements and hop inside when the weather gets a bit too chilly for extended ice skating.


As always, for a comprehensive list of family activities, please visit our friends at North Shore Kid

For the Love of Hockey

For a few years now you have been subjected to reading my thoughts about Thatch and Finn’s hockey experiences with Cape Ann Youth Hockey.  There is, after all, a lot to say….or, I suppose, write about.  Rites of passages, teammates, championships, early mornings, smelly gear, miles of travel, scheduling nightmares, learning opportunities, goals, assists, penalties, wins, losses and laughs…lots and lots of laughs.

Through it all, the highs and the lows, shines the Sal Grasso Memorial Friendship Tournament. It’s a big deal with Cape Ann Youth Hockey Nation….and this past weekend was the 26th annual.

Since 1987, Cape Ann Youth Hockey teams have been playing in this tournament against Westmount teams from Quebec. The tournament alternates home ice. Two years ago the maroon and white caravanned to Montreal and enjoyed three days of hockey over the border. Last year, the Westmount teams came to us.  Then again, in turn, this same time last week Cape Ann families started the trek north.

Some left on Wednesday, some Thursday, and others finally on Friday.  Some made pitstops in Burlington, Vermont, some stopped to visit family along the way, and others checked in early to catch a Canadiens game at the Bell Center.  All, however, were united in the children’s love for the game…and, if I do say so myself, their commitment to foster that passion and turn it into memories to last a lifetime.  Martyrs we are not, however….for most of us were also united in having a really good time for ourselves.  No doubt we all get a kick out of watching our children take the ice (over and over again) especially in Canada, but we get just as much of a kick out of team dinners, yummy cocktails, and late night hours in the hotel lounge.  The Westmount Tournament is a perfect balance of all of the above.

Sportsmanship, friendship, and teamwork are at the heart of it all, but both countries will tell you that winning is nice too.  The Westmount teams, unbelievably, took the trophy for the tournament’s first 14 years in a row!  Since then, Cape Ann has won seven and Westmount four…well, now five.  This year the competition was neck and neck, but in the end Westmount was victorious by just a couple of games.

While Cape Ann was sad to leave the trophy behind, we are all looking forward to next November already. We will be back on home ice, ready to make new memories and regain possession of that prize.

Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, and coaches.  Thank you for the time, effort, and hours you put in every day, but especially during the time leading up to and during the very special Westmount Tournament.  For the love of the game, for the love of hockey, and for the love of our hockey families. Until next year.


The Cape Ann/Westmount Friendship Tournament was started back in 1987 by Sal Grasso of Gloucester and Mike Deegan and Peter Wallace of Westmount when Sal paid for a bus out of his own pocket and took a crew of Gloucester kids 6 hours north to play some hockey.  The trek was a huge success as most players billeted with host families and formed bonds that continue to this day. When Sal passed in 2006 the Tournament was aptly re-named the Sal Grasso Memorial Tournament.



Peace, Love, and Beauport

Beauport’s iconic Volkswagen Beach Buses, our Hippie buses as they were called when I was first learning to drive, exude Peace and Love….. if I were naming the darling duo that’s what I would call them.

I stop and snap a photo of them each and every time I see them parked at the Beauport.



Who Wore it Better?

Something happened over the weekend that made me remember that I snapped these photos at Stone’s Pub right around Halloween.

Freddy and I happened to be sitting at the bar for a quick bite when one of Stone’s patrons came in dressed as, none other than, Stone’s bartender Jamie.

Nice job.  He did, in fact, shave his head and dye his beard to complete the outfit along with donning the Stone’s Pub t-shirt and jeans.


Holiday Trolley Ride with the Good Witch of Salem

Sometimes when I do my “Nichole’s Picks” post on Thursdays…just prior to the beginning of a new weekend, events are already booked up.

So, with that in mind, I am throwing this event out now.  It doesn’t take place until December 9th, but no doubt it will fill up.

Reserve your tickets now.  Sounds like a super fun day for young children!


Sun, December 9, 2018

3:00 PM – 4:30 PM EST


Join the Good Witch of Salem on a quest to find the Gingerbread Man aboard the Holiday Trolley! The race through Downtown Salem will begin at Jodi Bee Bakes with a story time all about the Gingerbread Man and how he came to life one day. All will get to view the baking equipment and tools used to create the Gingerbread Man prior to boarding the Holiday Trolley. Be on the lookout for the Gingerbread Man throughout the entire event. Together we will take off to find that cookie! You’ll never know where he will pop up!

Filled with songs, instruments, dancing, and special surprises along the way, this trip is sure to be a memorable one. In addition, the trolley will make a stop to spread some magic reindeer feed for Santa’s most beloved animals, his reindeer! The trip will conclude once the Gingerbread Man has been caught and then end with a special treat.

Ticket Details:

This is a ticketed event. Non-ticket holders will not be allowed entry to the event space. Everyone boarding the trolley must have a ticket. Tickets are $25.00 per person. Children 2 and under are admitted at no cost if sitting on the lap of an adult. Please note that tickets are non-transferable and non-refundable. Event begins at 3:00PM and ends at 4:30PM. Trolley will be departing promptly at 3:30PM.




Pete Frates’ “Pete’s Park”

“A Place for All”

I was so happy to have been at the Ribbon Cutting for the new Pete’s Park in Beverly this past Friday. The playground that Pete Frates grew up playing on has been rejuvenated and redesigned to be accessible to all and is really amazing. In addition to the Frates family, friends, sponsors, neighbors and more….also in attendance were Mayor Cahill, Governor Baker, Ray Bourke, and the brand new 2018 World Series Trophy.

Quite a line up to celebrate quite a collaboration….and an amazing guy.

This collaboration, in fact, began three years ago and the list of donors, sponsors, volunteers, and those who gave of time and talent is impressive.  From the sports courts in Pete’s Boston College’s Maroon and Gold to the blue fish painted to indicate the accessible paths throughout the park….from the unbelievable basketball hoops to the custom built boat, the Lucy Fitz, this park has it all.  It is truly gorgeous and speaks to how much love exists for Pete and the Frates family while also emphasizing their goal of creating a family friendly space for everyone!

Congratulations to all who worked so hard and gave so much.  You hit it out of the park….as one of the speakers said, “for Pete’s sake.”