Happy New Year, Girlfriends! 🎉Well, off we go to a really amazing House of Creativity that you’ve never seen before, the tour of the Holy Nativity Convent I’ve been promising you . . . but first, I’ll say Good Morning, then MUSICA . . . and then a few words about Christmas past!goodmorningimg_7801

Jack says hello. We had a lovely Christmas, still kind of celebrating around here . . .


Although the house is getting back together . . . I mean, boxes of wrapping paper are put away anyway!img_7829

But my kitchen cupboards are still decorated . . . I hang ornaments on the knobs, and if there’s a bit of pretty wrapping with perhaps a bell, that goes up too.


No little outcropping is safe from my passion for decorating. This tree, star and bell? We found it in England and a Christmas Fair.💛


I have to show you the gift I received from Kellee, Sheri, and Alfredo at my Studio in California. I put this photo on Twitter, but not everyone goes there and I knew you would want to see it. Personally, I’m totally WILD about it. Cutest little purse in the world.

img_7800Early morning beauty, the ribbon went on my head, the purse went to my kitchen cabinets where I marvel over it every day. Kate Spade is what the label says. I can’t wait to go on the boat again, and just quietly put it on the table during dinner. So darling!


We put our tree on the living room table this year . . . our coming home and unpacking from England ran right up against bringing everything down from the attic for Christmas! So we kept it simple and did not move the table out of the room.  from E.

My friend Elizabeth sent me the perfect kitty tree decoration, a mirror image of Jack-Jack-Bo-Back complete with mustache.martha's dining room

We were guests at Martha and Gerry’s house (across the street) for Christmas Eve ~  Didn’t Martha do a beautiful job decorating the dining room? (If you remember the dog Iris who used to come visit us, she belonged to Martha and Gerry.)

wildwood martha's cheesecake 2016

This is Martha’s black cherry cheesecake!!! I don’t think I need to say a thing. Wow.


On Christmas Day we went to our friends Bob and Peggy’s and this was their beautiful dinner table. We had a secret Santa gift exchange next to their sparkly tree after dinner that was so touching, small, thoughtful and real, the exact spirit of Christmas I was hoping for this year. I love Secret Santas! So simple, but special, and not over the top, shopping-wise.


Speaking of the spirit of Christmas, remember this lovely votive candle I showed you a few posts back? I mentioned that it was a gift from the Sisters of the Holy Nativity Convent, and that we were going to visit them, and that I would do a post about it? Well, it’s time!


And here they are . . . this was the day we met in 2014.  Let me introduce them, from the left is Mother Pelagia, Mother Xeni, Mother Seraphima, and Mother Martha. And those smiles you see? They never went away. I was there doing a book signing for my book A Fine Romance at the wonderful Best of British (imports from the UK and Ireland) in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I was signing along, when I looked up and was surprised to see there were four nuns in line. This never happened! No nuns had ever come to my book signings before. “What?” I thought, “Nuns? How interesting.” And they were! You hardly ever see nuns anymore, at least in this country, most wear regular clothes now, so they sort of blend in with the rest of us, but it wasn’t always that way. One look and I realized, I missed seeing them! img_6494-700x519

Look at that face! These girls were so sweet, so happy and filled with joy and such Anglophiles, crazy about all things England which is why they’d come to the signing. I fell in love with their loving manner immediately.  We took pictures together, recognizing that we were kindred spirits, and they said…birdandsign


And so we did! We went off-Island a couple of weeks ago, to Christmas lunch with our good friends Bruce and Gayle (they’re the ones we stop and visit at the water’s edge when we’re on our walk in the summer). In the winter, Bruce and Gayle live near Boston, so we asked if they wanted to come along, and they said, “To a convent? 👀 Okay!” Because how often do you get invited to a convent? Gotta do it!!! Could be the MOST wonderful thing in the world! So here we are, in front of the convent, just about to go in.


And there they were, waiting for us! There are 17 Sisters living at the Holy Nativity Convent. Our original four friends were there, smiles still totally intact, and as we toured the house, we were introduced to many more people. Mother Seraphima has stayed in touch with me ever since we first met. The convent has gifted us with delicious homemade bread made by Mother Effie, and it was SO good that I asked for the recipe.  Mother Effie generously sent it to me so I could share it with everyone on the Blog, because it was WONDERFUL ~ and they sent their convent-made beeswax candles, and they prayed for my dad, and Mother Seraphima tells me she prays for me all the time (she knows I need all the help I can get), which I love, because I think their prayers go straight to heaven. So here we were, not having any idea of what this would be like except I hoped to be inspired with the spirit of Christmas. I thought, for Joe and I, lunch with best friends, and a visit to Mother Seraphima and the Sisters, would be our Christmas gift to each other.memories


On the wall inside the convent, a cross-stitched truth of life.


And of course, with hearts like theirs, they are kitty people. They have three beautiful cats living with them in the house . . . I should have written more things down, including the names of their kitties!


I don’t know what I expected a convent to look like, but I learned, it looks a lot like home!img_7425

The brick house was built in Brookline in the 1930s, rooms have been added, but the original charm is still there. This is the window over the kitchen sink which can be opened in the summer to birds singing in the garden. They feed 17 people breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, so their kitchen is very seriously outfitted with blenders and food processors and a huge old restaurant stove.domesticityimg_7423

And, including, of course, a favorite cup collection . . . just like home!


There were charming knobs on the cupboard doors . . .


. . . enough knives for everyone to help, and well-worn wooden spoons.


And travel souvenirs on the wall.


We had a wonderful tour . . . here’s Joe looking at the calendar on their wall . . . we thought we recognized it from somewhere . . .img_7434

Oh yeah! I’ve seen that before! And they’ve marked off who’s in charge of cooking for each day . . .


I liked the cloak room. Each peg is marked with a name . . . for rather obvious reasons!


They had their Advent Calendar up and going! In their Home Sweet Home.


This was the front room of the house, or parlor.  In the corner on the right, is their “shop.” We went through that back door into their lovely candle-lit chapel . . . Stayimg_7376

And met another gorgeous kitty along the way. They have two like this one, a breed called Rag Doll ~ because these kitties have a tendency to go limp and relax when they are picked up. Is that not the perfect cat? I think so! Jack wouldn’t know limp from a hole in his head!TheSweetLifeimg_7386

They go limp until they get sick of you, and then, the relaxing stops, and they go!  Just like home! You can see Mother Pelagia’s prayer bracelets, which I asked about . . . they make them from wool and colored beads.


The reason this post is called The House of Creativity, is because that’s what this convent is. The Sisters support themselves through their industriousness, they make and sell their handmade things, the whole house is a hive of activity. I think that’s one reason they are so happy. It’s amazing, what goes on there. img_7396

Feed Your Creative HeartJust like my own paint blotters at home!


They paint the religious paintings you see all over the house, and also huge murals are painted in this room. The walls behind us were covered with canvas on which they were painting murals.img_7405

Joe is facing two of the wall murals in this photo, one low down on the wall and the other higher up, mostly penciled in as they were just starting them . . . they enjoy good light for their art from the tall windows.


They paint the murals in-house and then move them and install them where they are wanted.


This is an example (from a photo) of their murals on the wall of a church.

img_7502And here’s a little bit of it in their dining room . . . I love what they do with gold leaf!heartimg_7473

They have a laser machine and they make greeting cards  . . .


and bookmarks . . .


and plaques . . .


They do beautiful trim for their own windows . . .


Mother Seraphima’s uncle left them the money for their woodworking shop in his will . . . his forever gift.Simply The Best


The woodworking shop is where they make wonderful laser-cut clocks, and wooden boxes, pendants, and beautiful delicate crosses with olive wood imported from the Holy Land. Mother Seraphima gave me a small, lacy wooden cross in honor of my dad.💞


Here’s their well-organized tool shop! Every time we turned a corner we would see something new and amazing. I think I thought nuns just prayed all day. But there was real life going on in here! img_7490

Joe is holding one of the sand-carved tea lights, like the one Mother Seraphima gave us.


They etched the glass in their windows themselves and made the casings . . .


This is where jealousy began to take over, but I was in the perfect place for asking forgiveness. That is a paper cutter like nothing I’ve ever seen. Because yes, they also bind books!  And paint the edges of the pages . . . img_7448

This is another room, doesn’t every house have one of these? Because they make beeswax candles here. Because of this, the whole house is lightly scented with honey. 💟img_7450

We were shown how the candles were made. I don’t know how they learned to do all of this, but I would imagine it happened one day at a make it look so easyimg_7463

These candles, I can tell you from experience, are slow burning and smell beautiful . . .

img_7455They sell them in their webstore shockingly inexpensively . . .


In all sizes and shapes . . .


You can buy them HERE, along with prayer-bead bracelets, sand-carved tea lights, and all the other wonderful things made in this House of Creativity; pure Inspiration, Inspiritus, the breath of God.


This is the sewing room where they make things for churches . . .


. . . like cassocks and vestments and other church items . . .

There is beautiful religious art on every wall in the house . . . on a much, MUCH smaller level, it reminded me a little bit of Westminster Abbey in London, so many things, so much interesting calligraphy, and everything handmade.


Like this . . .


Which they do for their own enjoyment . . .and to honor their deep faith.


They also make things with Mother of Pearl, I’m not sure if they made this, but it was so special I had to take a picture.


And here is where they dye wool which they sell and spin themselves . . .


Some of the dye colors . . .


Coloring the wool . . .


Color-match samples on rings in the dyeing room.


And a little spinning going on . . .HomeSweetHome Susan Branch


There were drawerfuls like this one of dyed wool in all colors. . . the convent does not solicit funds, they don’t wait around expecting to be supported, they work for a living . . .


If I was a nun, I would want to be the embroiderer! Baby’s bibs, jean pockets, and pillowcases!


Their doll collection on a shelf in the yarn room . . .


And cat bed nearby, just like home!
img_7349This is their third kitty, a rag doll also, but this shy kitty does not go limp when there are strange humans around.  It goes the opposite of limp and gets out of the room as quickly as possible. Got a good photo of her little nose though.domestic bliss


They also make beautiful mosaics . . . this one is only about half done . . .


We were shown how they break up the glass to make the right sized pieces . . .


And the tools they use to do it . . . we just shook our heads in amazement.


Mother Xeni thinks I should write a book about our trip to Scotland! I told you, they are ANGLOPHILES!!! Mas Musica, for the Sisters and for us . . .💞


In their cupboard, vintage dishes and tea things, and their collection of Beatrix Potter coins from the Royal Mint in England. My kind of girls!


When they added their library onto the Holy Nativity Convent, they knew they wanted a room big enough for all of them to sit in front of a fire on snowy days and read, or make things, or drink tea or pet the kitties, so they built this!  The most comfy room imaginable, and all dressed for Christmas. So homey on that cold blustery day!headerwildwood

There is no doubt in my mind that these Sisters dreamed this all up and made it happen for themselves. The nurturing life they wanted to live ~ so special, creative, and original, it just had to happen that way. I’m standing at the fireplace looking back into the library where everyone was gathering.img_7543

Emma Bridgewater tea things, of course, what else for a house filed with Anglophiles! They presented us with an . . .afternoon tea


And beautifully done . . .


With lots of yummy things to eat, including homemade bread, and real English Lemon Curd…img_7528

Gayle was thinking, just like me, how did we get so lucky?  Because this was just the taste of Christmas spirit we’d hoped for. Almost a real-life Santa’s Village, filled with charming, indefatigable elves.img_7567Laughing, talking about books and England, and about their once-a-year trip to the Holy Land . . . having a wonderful time.homesweetnessimg_7841

Mother Seraphima gave me this thimble with the image of Beatrix Potter on it . . . I just love it.lucky


It has these words on the back . . . now it sits with my Beatrix Potter people on the kitchen shelf over my sink . . . SO lucky. ❤️


They fed us so well! Bruce finally had to give up!


We had to get a picture together . . . look at darling Mother Pelagia and Mother Xeni at the bottom. Sisters! Full of light and joy.HomeForChristmas


It was getting late, there was a storm brewing, lots of wind, it was time to go, and they all came out on the front porch  to say goodbye…


It was a wonderful afternoon. It won’t be the last. We’ll go back someday.True beautyGratitudeT H A N K    Y O U   D E A R   S I S T E R S. 💖


And that wasn’t all! They sent us home with a bag filled with wonderful things to put under our tree, one of which was a music box, a wooden creche with a star on top that you can turn to hear Silent Night!  img_7630

And this candle lights us into the New Year.  We’re going two doors over to my girlfriend Lowely’s house for dinner tonight. We’re in charge of the salad which I need to get busy with now!  Hopefully later tonight, by the time the ball drops in New York, we will be tucked in our beds, visions of sugar plums still dancing in our heads with prayers for a peaceful loving 2017.💖

Happy New Year

My first project in the New Year will be to finish the 2018 calendars (they are due the end of February, and will go on sale sometime in July, believe it or not! I started painting them Heart of the Homein 2016, FOR 2018, which is more confusing than you might imagine!) We’re getting a reprint done for AUTUMN and A FINE ROMANCE . . . And then, as reward for all our hard work, Joe and I are taking the train to California for my mom’s 87th birthday at the end of February. We’ll be out there for about a month, that way we can go back and visit Mom three times, in-between other visits. I’m also planning a book signing in San Luis Obispo at the Apple Farm sometime between the 12 and the 25th of March, just in cases you are in the area, I would love to see you! I’ll let you know the date as soon as it’s set in stone. It will be the only signing … too short a time for a book tour! We need to be back home early April, for lots of spring cleanup around this place and a garden that is calling my name! Might have to write a new book too! I’ve been thinking about it. Lots of fun surprises in the New Year.grand-essentialsHope you enjoyed our trip to the convent! You never know what you will find on this blog (and interestingly, I never know either! 🤗) But I’ve heard that lots of you have the smell of Spicy Short Ribs wafting through your houses today, so life is good! 🍾 Happy New Year to you all. ❤️I’ll see you next year! ❌⭕️

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  1. Goodness, this is absolutely wonderful and just what I needed while we are getting stir-crazy at home because of the dangerous ice in Alabama (not nearly the sparkling blizzard y’all are having!) It made me tear up to see so many good-hearted women working together to create such beautiful things. The scope of their work is just incredible and their beaming kindness is nearly tangible through the photos! Thank you so much for writing about your experience and for being the type of person who truly appreciates and seeks out special adventures like these. You and Joe are trailblazing inspirations!

  2. Suzanne Ludwic says:

    I just got a chance to read this and I am in tears. Good tears. After feeling sad and defeated these past couple of months, the good sisters’ joy filled my heart and woke it up. Thank you so much for posting.

    • sbranch says:

      So happy to hear that Suzanne, we will be needing that heart of yours, up and busy and spreading its loveliness around the world.

  3. laurie says:

    Loved this article and the pictures…what a truly special place…thanks for sharing!

  4. Sue G. says:

    Oh, Susan! I LOVE the Sisters already! Thank you for sharing this beautiful account of your special visit with these wonderful Sisters! I love their wonderful way of life – so creative. loving, giving and heartwarming. What a lovely experience to share! Hugs! Sue

  5. Meg Diskin says:

    I feel kindred love with these women, and am reminded that we are all on the journey together. What better way to travel together than to create beauty and share it with others.

  6. Gaylene says:

    Did anyone ask where that bunting came from in the picture of Susan in front of her fireplace? It’s soo gorgeous!!! Did you crochet that yourself??!!

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