The Philadelphia Outsider
Discovering Philadelphia from the Outside In

A few weeks ago (in the middle of the 12 Days : 12 Ways : 2 Buy Local series), US Airways Magazine named Philadelphia the #1 Best City for Getting Into the Holiday Spirit.

I couldn’t agree more (though admittedly I’ve only been in one of the other top 15 cities during the holidays – London, which was indeed beautifully festive).

The joyful happenings around town are so plentiful, I’m left thinking, “Where can I get that cloning technology so I can go to everything. Experience everything.”

In the past month we’ve done our best to participate in the city-wide celebration. We endured a very cold lighting of the City Hall Christmas Tree (and consequently Christmas Village). The Narberth Dickens Festival, where the streets were transformed into 18th century London, was such a fun way to spend a winter afternoon with family.  And dear old Santa Claus at Center City Macy’s was worth the wait and oh so sweet to my little ones.

Soldier Boy and Miss Sassafras @ Philadelphia City Hall Tree Lighting

Sadly, our timing was off to see the light show in the Grand Court, but we might make it down there one last time before the lights dim for the season.

Speaking of little ones, my kids have delighted in several quintessential Christmas-in-Philly experiences, including the Reading Terminal Market Holiday Railroad, the Comcast Holiday Spectacular show at Comcast Center and countless other opportunities to celebrate this special time of year.

Yes. I’m aware these kinds of things happen in cities and towns all over America, but this year for me … I don’t know … they hold a unique merriment. Possibly because it’s all new to me and I’m eager to establish our own uniquely-Philadelphia family traditions.

Everyday I cringe at the possibility of missing the next interesting event. Last weekend’s big misses were the Running of the Santas (and I know the boy would have loved seeing that) and the Independence Seaport Museum Lighted Boat Parade.  Much as I would have liked to go, my family just needed the down time.  (Really, I needed it!)

But I’m making a list. And next year, I’ll check it twice to make sure we get to see all the things we missed this time around.

Who knows, I may try to pack in a few more festivities in these last days of December.  Philly Parents Circle just published a list of holiday happenings we might have to do before year-end.

Where will I find you celebrating?

If you’re like me, then you way too much going on this weekend.  So I’m taking a break from 12 Days : 12 Ways : 2 Buy Local and will pick it up again on Monday. Soldier Boy has already been to one of two birthday parties he’s attending.  The second party is this evening.

But before that, we’re “getting our Scrooge on” over to the Dickens Festival in Narberth.

A free family event held each December, the Dickens Festival transforms the streets of downtown Narberth into 1840’s London.  Ebenezer Scrooge and all the characters from A Christmas Carol roam the streets spreading Christmas cheer.

There are activities for all ages, including a scavenger hunt, a viewing of A Christmas Carol at Narberth Theatre, puppet shows, carriage rides and more!

I’m looking forward to taking the family and I’m hopeful we won’t meet the Ghost of Christmas Future.

In the words of Scrooge himself, “”I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

On a recent October morning, when it became evident the nice weather would soon be gone, I layered Miss Sassafras in warm clothes and loaded her into the car for a visit to SMITH Kid’s Play Place in Fairmount Park near Center City Philadelphia.   

I had heard about this historic playground on a much warmer October day from a mom I met at the Candy Cane City playground in Narberth.  With a little research, I quickly discovered that the SMITH Playhouse is a historic building from the 19th century – and I knew right away that it was a must see.  

SMITH was built by Richard and Sarah Smith, a prominent Philadelphia family, in memorial of their son, Stanfield Smith.  Opened in 1899, it was designed to provide children 10 and under from diverse backgrounds with free and accessible one-of-a kind play experiences that meet their physical, behavioral, and developmental needs. Learn more about the history of SMITH here. 

The actual Playhouse is an enormous mansion (24,000 square feet) with three levels of play for children ages 5 and under.   Miss Sassafras and I entered on the main floor and made a donation to the collection box in anticipation of the wonderful things to come.  We were not disappointed.    

The main level has several wooden play structures children can climb on including a train, bridge and airplane.  After playing conductor for more than her fair share of time, I took Miss Sass up the wavy staircase to the upper level, where we discovered a large toy room, a library and a building blocks room.   There was already a toddler playgroup upstairs when we arrived and the room was very noisy, which is to be expected.  Still, Miss Sass felt a little overwhelmed so we kept our visit upstairs short and quickly made our way to the less populated lower level.  

Sidebar: Every Tuesday is Family Day at SMITH.  There are NO playgroups or field trips scheduled on Tuesdays.  Next time, we’ll go on a Tuesday.  

Back to the Main Topic of Interest:  The lower level of the Playhouse is home to Smithville, a play town and roadway where little ones can hop a train, drive a car, observe traffic laws or, in the case of Miss Sassafras, interfere with traffic patterns.  One moving violation and a few tears later, we made our way outside to visit the incredible outdoor playground.  


We were fortunate to be there on one of the final days the playground was open.  (The outdoor area is closed November 1st through March 31st.)  Miss Sassafras started in the tot lot by testing every piece of play equipment available to her –and there are more than 20!  I thought there might be a shakedown over the ladybug rocker, but she was so excited about the playground I was able redirect her when another child wouldn’t relinquish the bug.

Next, we went on the Giant Wooden Slide, which was originally erected in 1905. The slide was restored in 2005 through a significant contribution from Ida Newman, who played at SMITH as a child in the 1920’s.  The slide was dedicated in memory of her daughter, Ann Newman.  Legend has it Mrs. Newman, aged 92 at the time, was the inaugural slider when it reopened.   

It took some coaxing to get Miss Sass to go on the slide.  But she was hooked after one speedy ride seated upon a large burlap potato sack.  Together.  Side-by-side. Alone.  Together.  Again.  Again.  Again.  I lost count of how many times we went down.  Who knew 39 feet of shiny polished maple could bring so much joy?  Just see for yourself:    

Get Ready!

Get Set!


Miss Sass would have been happy sliding for hours, but there were more areas of the outdoor playground to explore. Swings. Pirate ships. Rocking boats. Net climbers. Tire swings. There was too much fun for one three year old to have.  We both left there tuckered out but ready to return soon.    

And it will be soon… The “Awesome Autumn” is happening on November 20, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.  Children under 5 are invited to join The Junior League of Philadelphia for a fun-filled day creating fall-themed crafts.  Sure sounds like fun and it’s free!   

SMITH also hosts several FREE monthly events.  On the first Wednesday of each month, take your preschooler to Storytime in the Playhouse at 10:30 a.m.  On the third Friday of the month, your child can do Crafts in the Playhouse 10:30-12.  Remember, only children under 5 in the Playhouse.   

SMITH is located above Kelly Drive near the intersection of 33rd and Oxford in East Fairmount Park.  Admissions are free (donations can be made at the door) and SMITH requests that you adhere to the age requirements.  Children under 5 are allowed in the Playhouse.  Children under 10 can take advantage of the outdoor playground.      

Playhouse Hours: Open Tuesday thru Sunday for children 5 and under   

Year Round: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.   

Playground Hours: Open Tuesday thru Sunday for children 10 and under   

April – October:  10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.   

Last Weekend of June – last weekend of August: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Saturdays and Sundays Only)   

Restoration of the Playhouse’s interior is scheduled to be ongoing until December 23, 2010.  I encourage you to check their website for related closings.      

Even though it is located in Fairmount Park, SMITH is funded primarily by the generosity of patrons and the countless volunteers who donate their time to keep admission free.  You can contribute when you visit SMITH or by going here.  Interested in volunteering?  Click here.      

For further information visit  or call 215-765-4325.     

I squeaked in on the last day of registration for WordCamp Philly 2010

 This will be my first time attending this kind of event and I am so excited to meet fellow WordPress users from the Philadelphia area.  The program agenda doesn’t look to shabby either. 

See you Saturday at Temple University’s Atler Hall!

Will you be there, too?  

If so, be sure to bring canned food items for donation to Philabundance, the region’s largest hunger relief organization. 

Priority: Get The 502 in order

Priority: Get the family settled into our new lives

Priority: Find gainful employment

I’ve been working hard on 1 & 2.  Last night, I started on 3.

At 5:07 p.m., I hopped on the local train to Suburban Station and joined my husband at a networking event.  For only 5 bucks I was downtown in a flash with no hassle and no traffic.  It was seriously that easy.  In Birmingham a trip into town would have required a car.  My husband was waiting as I stepped on the platform and we walked, suburban, a few blocks over before emerging street level one block from our destination. It sounds more romantic than it actually was. 

Chima Brazilian Steakhouse glows with ambiance and cuisine.

We walked into Chima Brazilian Steakhouse at the corner JFK and 19th where about 200 professionals were gathered to attend the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Best Places to Work event.   I’m no restaurant critic, but I have to say the atmosphere at Chima is beautiful –from the art and aesthetics to the serving staff and cuisine.  It’s stunning … and at the same time, very friendly. 

The room was filled with professionals who work for really great employers.  The perfect place for a job hunter to mingle.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to work at one of Philadelphia’s Best Places to Work?  They were all there to find out if their company was a Gold, Silver or Bronze honoree in this annual contest by the Philadelphia Business Journal

While it wasn’t quite as exciting as the Oscars, there was a lot of enthusiasm as the awards were presented.  That’s probably because the contest is based on how workers score their companies.  There are no outside judges or subjective criteria.  And when the employees say it’s a great place to work, then it has to be.  Here’s a complete list of the 2010 winners!  Congrats to all – employers AND employees! 

I took this opportunity to meet as many people as I could, doing the “networking thing”.  I don’t know if attending this particular event will translate into a job, but it was great to be surrounded by people from companies that are working hard to keep their employees happy.  With so many stories about staff reductions and businesses closing, it’s nice to know some employers still recognize the intrinsic value of job satisfaction. 

Now, I just need to find one that will hire me!