hark I hear there is a bonnet contest somewhere today?

Reader submitted photo

I don’t know if they were going for Jane Austen or Jane Eyre….. or perhaps Surrey With The Fringe On Top LOL?

Reader submitted photo

You can tell they spent noodles (and OODLES LOL) of money on their costumes….. but I’m sorry this isn’t supposed to be a masquerade party is it? Or is it?

Reader submitted photo

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paying it forward: the meandering path of life

Life is a crazy, meandering thing.

This is Cathy Costello. I never knew she existed until yesterday.  She showed up on one of those crazy Oklahoma Senior Follies/ Ms. Senior Oklahoma pageant emails I have been trying to get off the mailing list of for over a decade (It started out as pageant emails for Ms. Senior Oklahoma pageants and then morphed into Senior Follies in Oklahoma emails)

Over the weekend I started getting Oklahoma Senior Follies emails again, and I shot off an email to the entire un-BCC’d mailing list. And yes I was QUITE testy…I have been trying to get off these email lists I never signed up for for over a decade. I have found it maddening (right or wrong) that I can’t get off these e-mail lists.

I do not even have any friends or family in Oklahoma, I just ended up on these e-mail list and chains. And for over a decade it has been this thing that (again right or wrong) just irritated the snot out of me – it didn’t matter if I was polite or miserable, I could not get off these e-mail lists. Even by blocking many of the senders e-mail addresses I could not stop the flow of misdirected e-mails.

Anyway, this lady Cathy Costello replied to me by accident in response to my cranky gram (a get-me-the-hell-off-this-email-list-it-has-been-over-a-decade message), and after I climbed off the ceiling from being Ms. Cranky Pants  we swapped a couple of e-mails and she told me her story. Her husband Mark, who had been the Labor Commissioner of the State of Oklahoma was stabbed (and subsequently died) by a young man suffering from schizophrenia on a psychotic break.  The young man was one of their children. Her son. Reading her words was almost surreal and put life right back into perspective in as much as what is truly important. (As in shut my mouth and quit complaining is what I said to myself)

It never ceases to amaze me how people who are total strangers to one and other can relate to each other for even a moment in time, or in a misdirected email.  Crazy as it sounds, this Cathy is the kind of person anyone would like to have as a friend.

So today I Googled her story.  I was blown away by the devastating reality of it.  I found her Facebook page Cathy Costello for Hope and gave her video a listen so my pen pal by accident had an actual human voice.

Six degrees of separation – it’s crazy the way life and fate connect you to people for even a few moments or a few hours.

I think Cathy’s voice is a good one to hear, so I hope you take the time for her video, and more importantly her message. She is true grace in the face of unbelievable loss and tragedy so I am paying it forward.

Mental illness touches so many.  I have had friends affected by it over the years, and I have friends who have had family members affected by it for years.  One of my closest and best friends is a mental health social worker in another state – she has been the help and advocate for so many over the years.  And I can’t help but also think about the teenagers lost to depression and suicide in this area over the past few years, as well.

So I am paying it forward.

Her website is Cathy Costello for Hope.

Thanks for stopping by.

public parks and private money: good partnerships?

The Willows Radnor Township

The Willows in Radnor has been the subject of controversy in recent years. The buildings needs massive renovations to bring it up to code. And the past few years residents and Radnor Township have struggled on how to best use the site.  They put out an RFP a few years ago and people thought a caterer would take over the house and make it a wedding venue. That fell through. Then a nursery school wanted to move in, and another proposal involved a private citizen buying the house (people incorrectly refer to it as a mansion, it is in fact just a house that sits on a spectacular property!)

Now the Willows is being studied yet again. It has been in the local papers.  It is an example of how communities struggle with publicly owned properties being run by private concerns. Hypothetically these are great adaptive reuses and can be great to keep the life in old and historic structures, but it’s a balance.  The problem as I see it with the Willows has always been the disconnect between the politicians and the people.  

Kennedy Supplee Mansion

For over 20 years the Kennedy Supplee Mansion at the edge of Valley Forge Park was a successful high end restaurant. But then around 2006 that came to an end when the business that owned the restaurant went under.  Since then, the place has slowly deteriorated. Last year I had seen on the National Park Service website an open RFP to I guess get a new tenant. I do not know whatever happened with that RFP.

This is not a new concept at Valley Forge National Historic Park, but over the past couple of years the topic has been getting more attention.

Daily Local: Valley Forge is renting out historic buildings to businesses
By Gary Puleo, gpuleo@21st-centurymedia.com
POSTED: 01/26/15, 4:58 PM EST | UPDATED: ON 01/27/2015


UPPER MERION >> How would you feel about heading over to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a double shot cappuccino and a blueberry scone — in a quaint café setting where memories faintly resonate off the walls?

It could happen before too long.

The National Park Service has put a few historic buildings up for commercial use, including the venerable Maurice Stephens House, which one entrepreneur is eyeing to transform into a charming cafe.

“We’ve had a couple of groups through the building and one is interested in turning it into a café of sorts so that people at the park will have a place to go to get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat,” explained the park’s business manager Patrick Madden, standing outside the 1816 stone farmhouse nestled off of Route 23.

Valley Forge Park needs help. No doubt. I am not sure how the money was spent over the past few decades, and I think it was a huge mistake when they lost the now new and opened and fabulous American Revolutionary War Museum to Philadelphia.

Now Valley Forge just had some great news I learned courtesy of my pal Caroline at Savvy:

Thanks to its newly invigorated citizen militia, the nonprofit Valley Forge Park Alliance, it’s marching forward with dazzling plans that will affect ALL of us – anyone who “recreates” in the park (90 percent of visitors), brings guests there, or even drives through. Ten Hut!

Here’s what’s afoot:

1. A TV show. Star fixer-upper Jeff Devlin, host of “Stone House Revival” on HGTV/DIY Network wants to film six episodes in the park and forge an ongoing partnership….

…..2. A new café with character – and a scenic deck for walkers and cyclists. A local real estate guy (not allowed to tell you who yet) is in serious talks with the National Park Service to lease the Maurice Stephens House….For the record: Of the 113 buildings scattered around the park, 74 are historic and 12 of those are colonial era. Bare bones budgets have left many in rough shape, or worse. The Stephens House was built in 1816.

Already a hit: Weddings in the park. Spiffed up and leased by Robert Ryan Catering, the old Philander Chase Knox Estate and adjoining tent hosted 30+ shindigs its first year and will host at least 44 more in 2017.

Ok I make absolutely NO secret of it that I am an old house geek. I am a HUGE fan of Jeff Devlin. He is the real deal and his work is gorgeous. So I think his potential investment in Valley Forge is awesome.

I do not think creating a respite for tourists, cyclists, etc in the form of a café  at the Stephens House is a bad idea per se, although a “scenic deck” gives me pause because I think the historic structure should remain intact so how will a “scenic deck” be constructed? What money will stay with this old house to help it in the future? I have that concern given the condition of Kennedy Supplee and the fact that mansion had a long term tenant …..until they didn’t.

Reader submitted photo pre-wedding venue days at Knox House

So another park structure the Philander Chase Knox House is now a wedding venue. And it is NOT cheap to marry there according to weddingspot.com which said:

The average wedding cost at Philander Chase is estimated at between $15,705 and $23,044 for a ceremony & reception for 100 guests.

Knox House has gotten freshened up. It is a rented space, but it sits in the midst of a PARK as in Federally owned, taxpayer funded land. They have put up signs asking people to walk a longer way around during events and that seems to be mighty inconvenient if you want to get to Mt. Misery from the main park side. (I have not seen with my own eyes and given the way my knee is still wonky post-surgery.)

Reader submitted photo

I am guessing preservation here comes at a cost because yesterday a friend of mine who is an avid outdoorsman and who loves Valley Forge Park sent me a note about Knox House as a wedding venue:

….People go to hear bird chirping, and enjoy peace and as much quiet as possible without piped in music from loudspeakers. Yesterday got to listen to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder while enjoying Mt. Misery and Mt. Joy. Unreal!

Since Knox went wedding venue I know people who were used to cutting through to a public parking lot by using the house driveway have been stopped by I presume catering or valet staff. Now if an event is in progress maye that would be understandable, but I keep coming back to this house sits in a publicly funded park, so how does all of this work? How should all of this work as a public private partnership?

Should the tenant have to put up some sort of aestheticslly appealing fencing that would delineate the space in its entirety?

So when structures are rented out on publicly owned land to private parties is it a good thing or is it a form of prostitution? Some critics actually DO consider these partnerships sacrelige and not respectful of the history.  Advocates see these partnerships as a necessary evil: adaptive reuse helps old and historic structures survive in a modern world. 

But….are the rules defined enough with these public- private partnerships? And what money out of revenues earned are put aside for historic structures these businesses are renting? Should there almost be managed trust accounts for these buildings?

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

pony up for hat wars

It’s here! The sport of kings everyone heralds Memorial Day and the first minutes of summer in with: hat wars at Devon Horse Show.  “Ladies” Day is May 31, and I am certain it won’t disappoint.


“Buy your reservation now”? Seriously are they paying someone to write this stuff? What happened to “make your reservations now, purchase tickets today?”

But please note The Devon Horse Show category of “Best Jewels of Devon” – I shudder to think about that bedazzling that will be done…can’t you just see bedazzled Lilly LOL?

Sigh….remember the genteel days gone by that once was Ladies’ Day? It used to be so civilized and nice. Today’s Ladies’ Day is just not for me.

I have lovely friends who are still stalwarts of this event.  But even they do not care for the element of Nouveau Devon it attracts.  It’s that whole faux society of it all.   Some of these women think that because they can throw a few fake flowers on the wrong color straw hat and layer on fake pearls that are so cheap they look like pop beads, and buy new Lilly dresses that they are instant society. And the irony is how many of them have ever ridden a horse, how many of them are in fact afraid of horses?  How many of them actually know what is going on at equestrian events?  (I do not pretend to be an expert, but I rode a little as a child and I have a general idea of what’s going on because I have a lot of friends who are horse people for lack of a better description.)

I have always loved horses. And I used to love going to the Devon Horse Show.  But what Devon has evolved into in recent years makes me wish and hope it returns one day to what it was. 

In my mind’s eye I see the Devon I personally remember best. The Devon of the mid 1970s through the 1990s. That was the Devon where you still saw the real Lilly Pulitzer and Vested Gentress dresses and spring/summer ladies pants outfits, and gentlemen had their khacki pants (lots of “Nantucket Reds”) and boaters.

What always sets the vintage Lilly apart from the modern Lilly are not the patterns, but the fabrics.  Today’s fabrics are cheap looking and feeling for the most part.  The fabrics of vintage Lilly and vintage Vested Gentress had weight to them and body. The cotton material was of such a high-quality and weave that it would hold up to heat and humidity.  Modern Lilly has fine patterns but the actual quality of the fabric cheapens the whole deal.

What will be interesting to watch this season at Devon is the society coverage. My money is on Caroline O’Halloran and her Savvy Main Line society glam squad and what will be their coverage.  

Caroline has added a real society column to her super popular website. Caroline’s columns feature a team of ladies who actually used to work for the society pages, and real coverage of events. And with their photos and Caroline’s columns you don’t just have people lined up for well-dressed society mugshots, you have well styled photos, an actual description of the event, what it’s benefiting, and so on and so forth.   It’s old-school and delightful in a modern website format and for those who chose to advetise it is a superior platform and I am not compensated to say that, it’s my opinion.  I find Savvy a much more polished and comprehensive a product when compared to what Susan Scovill puts out, unfortunately for Susan. While Susan pioneered the idea of a local website with event photos when she and the Main Line papers got their divorce a few years ago, her website in my opinion needs to evolve.  

Here is hoping people are better behaved at Devon this year, right? Last year and the police stuff wasn’t very Devon was it? And here is hoping that the people who attend Devon Horse  Show behave better than the people who attended Radnor Hunt, right?  People who are members of Radnor Hunt have been chattering about those who were guests at this season’s event which is at a private club who behaved liked early Animal House Frat House and if this is true, how could they show such casual disregard for Radnor Hunt?

It’s a lovely day for Devon today, however, so go buy a hat, see the horses and have a lemon stick!

modern family


The concept of family is a sacred thing. When you are little they are that group of people bought together by blood that all look like you.

As you grow up you realize as you form your own family units the concept of family can be redefined. I have a lot of friends who don’t have much family by related blood per se, so the friends fill the family shoes.

When my sister and I were little there were a lot more of us. Not in our immediate family, we were just four people- but through aunts and uncles and cousins and great aunts and great uncles and grandparents and great grandparents there were more of us.  As we grew up, the numbers thinned. But we still had both of our parents.

In 2005 our father died. He had fought prostate cancer valiantly and on his own terms.

For me, the death of my father is still somewhat of a surreal event. My memories from that time are a lot like flashes of  Kaleidoscope images.  Lots of bits separated by flashes of color.

I remember my mother and my sister being so instantly devastated and falling apart around me that I was almost afraid to grieve for a very long time.  I remember looking out across the church which was standing room only giving one of  my father’s eulogies .  In order to get through that and not embarrass myself by dissolving into tears I found two of my friends Stevie and Barb, and focused on them.

Other things I remember from the day of my father’s funeral were two people who weren’t there. One was my father’s brother, his only brother. Even as a child I never thought much of him and I pretty much wrote him off after that. He was like a selfish caricature version of my father. Truthfully, and without guilt and reservation, I can say with a clean conscience I don’t care if I ever see him again.

The other person who wasn’t there that day was my godfather.  That was a more bitter pill to swallow, especially since he lived down the street from the church. He was literally two or three blocks away.

My late godfather was a great disappointment to me on that day.  He had known my father (and mother) since high school and he gave the toast at their wedding.  So I let my godfather go. I was sad for a moment when I heard he had died, but I did not attend his funeral which was at the church a block away from where my father’s funeral had been held. I saw no need to open that door one last time.

We all moved on. It took a while, but we found our way and it was OK but it was different.

Then in 2010, we also lost my brother-in-law quite suddenly.   Our little family unit was devastated all over again. It nearly broke me to watch my sister and her children grieve because there was nothing anyone could do other than to be there for them. It was also so incredibly hard to watch my mother grieve this new loss as well.

Eventually the clouds lifted and we all moved on. One day our mother finally ‘fessed up and told us she was seeing someone. (We had suspected this, incidentally.) Mother seemed almost scared to tell us like we would be upset.  But we weren’t upset, we were very and truly happy for her. We also felt that our father would not have wanted her to be alone because he loved her that much. Our mother was truly happy and alive again, and we loved it.

So for the past few years we have watched a rather remarkable love story develop and unfold. At a time in life where a lot of people tend to wind down and accept a more solitary existence, my mother once again found love.

And my sister and I grew to love her gentlemen as a surrogate father. We felt so lucky and so blessed to have him.

I am especially personally grateful for him as he really gets me as an individual . He has this uncanny intuition with people and capacity to listen to, understand, and love that is just lovely. I don’t know how else to describe it.  And on Monday, 22 May, 2017 he officially became our stepfather.

It was a quiet and intimate occasion, just the children and the couple whose dinner party inadvertently introduced them. Yes, this was something that happened quite literally by fate.

My mother and new stepfather were married by a judge they knew. After the ceremony was complete, the judge asked the children if they had anything to say. My sister spoke, but I didn’t have my words at that time. So I did not speak.

It has taken a couple of days for my wandering thoughts to come together. And among those thoughts I marvel at the modern family we all have become.

My own little family unit is a blended family, and now my larger family unit is a blended family. My sister and I have five stepsiblings! We gained four brothers and one sister…and that does not include spouses and children!

The thing about my newly blended family is how marvelous they are. Seriously, they are awesome.

We (the children) have all gotten to know each other over these past few years as our parents came together from being widowed.  So this is actually a really happy time for all of us. We all have had our bittersweet moments as we remember the parents who are no longer with us, but we are so fortunate that our parents have found such a wonderful love together and bought all of us together.

The power of love and happiness is a powerful thing indeed.  We are all stronger and better together. A true case of  Yours, Mine, and Ours — which incidentally is one of my favorite movies.  (The 1968 version starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda.)

Believe in love. It takes you on the most unexpected journeys in life.

Thanks for stopping by.

when gardening, know your mail order grower


The photo above (and the next photo below this paragraph) were both  taken on a garden tour last spring. I love hostas! I really generally speaking have a hosta disease! I am always looking for interesting cultivars and growers who might have hostas I want to try but never have been able to find locally.


But I learned a valuable lesson recently about knowing your grower. And knowing your grower especially when it comes to mail order plants.

I have been ordering plants from reputable growers up and down the eastern seaboard and as far away as Washington state for years.

I was searching out particular hosta cultivars and decided to check eBay.  Believe it or not I have had wonderful luck with some small plant growers on eBay in the past. For example, I received wonderful woodland ferns from a small nursery outfit in Tennessee.

So there is this grower who is a dually listed on eBay and Amazon. I figured since they were on two sites that generally try to police their sellers I was OK ordering plants. I didn’t stop to pay attention to the reviews. I should have. If I had paid attention to the reviews I would’ve saved myself a lot of trouble.

I ordered the plants and then I waited. And waited. When I received no tracking number to track my package from the seller after over a week I messaged the grower to ask if the plants had shipped and if I could have a tracking number.

I also at that time asked if I was getting bare root or if they were coming in pots. The seller said they always ship bare root.

I am not a novice gardener and I am fine with bare root plants. I figured all would be fine.

Boy was I mistaken.

The plants arrived Saturday. Poorly packaged in a small square box, they arrived mostly dead. I literally had thrown my money away.

For all of the plants I have ordered over the years mail order, never had I received any in such poor condition. And what was described as a “starter” plant (for example) looked like a piece of wilted micro lettuce.

The plants were shipped in dry newspaper in little sandwich baggies with the hosta cultivars scribbled illegibly on the outside of the baggies. There was no ventilation in the little square box and the plants were dried out, wilted, and mostly dead. And so small. I am used to mail order plants but these were puny, so not as described in my humble opinion.

I took a deep breath and contacted the “grower” to see what they would do. I gave them the opportunity to do the right thing. I wanted healthy plants, not a refund. And I was not seeking free plants. I would have been satisfied with an “I am so sorry.” Or even an intelligent conversation in the hopes of achieving an amicable resolution. After all, who likes wasting money?

The response from the “grower” was swift and nasty to be honest.  They accused me of “blackmail” and demanded (not requested) I mail back “their” plants (even though I had paid $70+ for “their” plants.

I will be honest, I was taken aback by the sheer nastiness of their attitude, and I said calmly that I was not going to put myself out MORE money to mail back sub par mostly dead plants.  

I have learned a valuable lesson. And if I had read the reviews posted online I probably would not have purchased a thing from them. If they need my hard earned money so badly, hey they can keep it.

Know your grower. And if you do not, check them out. (And yes, another case made for buying local.)


On a certain level I am disappointed, because people who are true nursery men and women are generally speaking some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Do not be afraid of ordering plants via mail order, just check out the grower ahead of time. Again, lesson learned for me. I broke my rule of checking them out.

Good customer service matters.