Bits and Pieces

Maine Winters demand SOMETHING to smile or laugh about!

Maine Winters demand SOMETHING to smile or laugh about!

“Penelope has a tendency to be verbose which we are working to correct,” Some things take years and years to correct.  I found this first English class comment in my boarding school Bio file in the archives and swiped it.

Longtime readers may recall a post on Charles Bonnet syndrome and the useless spectacular wallpapers it enables me to wrap my world in.  I now see moving figures, too. Last Sunday dozing over The New York Times, I “saw” a huge, 12 foot scantily clad basketball player outside my bedroom window,  bare armed and legged, dribbling a basketball in the snow. Last seen stark naked soaring skyward! Am I better or…?

To all who sent me cards, emails and responses to the explanatory post Wonderful Barbara Stroud wrote about my silence, Bless you!  You made me feel surrounded by loving, well wishing friends. What a healing gift!

Enough! See you soon?    p


Personal Public Service Warning!

From Twenty Nine Palms, to the shores of the sunny Saco to You!

In the wake of Friday’s Government shutdown and in the absence of careful thought and planning for the well-being of visitors to the still open National Parks –  Please Note Well!  If visiting a national park, bring a private stash of toilet paper. Law enforcement, the only park staff permitted on property during the Shutdown has no access to Sanitation supplies.

When the thousands of Park Restrooms left open for the comfort of visitors run out of toilet paper, my daughter, the Park Ranger, thinks the cost and need for recovery could  move to a whole new level!

Update! Just heard the government has re-opened – so you may want to save this information for future use! 😉 

Due to unforeseen circumstances…


Hello everyone!

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Penny is unable to write her blog at this moment. She is recovering and rest assured she will be back soon! – Thoughts and prayers are always welcome!

I know we all miss her stories and her quick wit – she will continue as soon as possible – and I’m sure the stories will be as amazing as she is!


Barbara (friend of Penny’s)

*Note: Thank you to those who have commented/are commenting. Your comments will be replied to once Penny returns – if this is your first time commenting the comment has to be approved before it will appear – Please DO comment, your comment will appear once Penny has seen it 😊 – Thank you!

New Year’s Eve ’62 – A Grand Party


Howdy and Penny anxiously await any sign of a party guest coming through the snow.

An ongoing project at my house has two opposite (sort of) sides, both aimed at long term gratification and simplicity, each resulting in what seems to be an everlasting state of clutter, disorder and confusion. The two goals are finding missing objects that Must Be Here Somewhere. The other is De-Accessioning Things, lovingly acquired by me over a lifetime of appreciation, greed and acquisition, and apparently of no appeal to my next of kin. Happy and fortuitous finds occasionally spice or brighten the somewhat negative feel of life while this goes on. Today’s blog is based on a yellowed and faded sheet of three ringed notebook paper neatly labeled New Year’s Eve ’62. Covering both sides of the sheet, it clearly reflects a different stage of my life but possibly of middle-class suburban American life in the sixties as well.

At the time of this party, Howdy was a partner in a New York City law firm practicing corporate law, working long hours and often working at home on weekends. I was an “at home” mother of four and an active volunteer for the Junior League, my boarding school, and my college. Our sons were seven and five, our daughters three and 9 months. I had a trustworthy cleaning woman who worked one day a week from about 8:30 to about 4:15.  She made things look as “If real people lived there” but, according to others who hired her, was not a good cleaner. She always did some ironing and if asked, would polish silver and brass. I had no help for these Christmas parties either to serve, cook,  set the scene or clean on party day. I look back in mixed horror and pride when I remember this. Scarcely imaginable to this slow moving old gal!

We gave an annual Christmas holiday dinner party. It could be anytime between December 18 and January 2. The basic menu was always the same, the regulars “our crowd “ occasionally had additions if some regulars were unable to come.  I kept meticulous notes on who actually came and ate so as to get my planning as perfect as possible. Our congressman queried his wife after perhaps the third party. “Why does Penny always serve the same food?” “Oh Peter, darling,” she told me she replied “Don’t you understand? It’s a traditional party, the sameness is part of the fun and it’s always different!” The year one of our guests challenged all the other men to see how many could take my good inherited damask napkins, fold them diagonally, and tie them around their waists, our Sally, ironing the napkins later, asked what on earth had happened to make the napkins so out of shape? Fortunately the instigator’s wife gave him hell in the car going home so that happened only once! In later years, other men, hoping to do better because of lost weight, were told firmly by all wives they were not to do that to” Penny’s  beautiful napkins” Their “Damask be damned” feelings were clear but being kind to the hostess took precedence!

The picture above was an annual guest at all our winter/ holiday parties after its appearance Feb. 20, 1960. After we moved off our hill in Irvington and away from our long private drive which shared the steep uphill entrance to the high school – rarely plowed on weekends! I framed the cover. It lives where I can enjoy it daily, in my bathroom gallery. In Irvington it moved into the frame that normally featured my 11×14 picture in my wedding gown.  The above picture is of it framed, so not the greatest image. Despite the hill and annual parties for about 37 years, we never had the disaster the poor pictured couple seem to be suffering. Our crowd was game and loved a party. The one night we had a serious snowfall in progress, the party star was Connie, born, bred and taught to drive in Toronto. After several useless attempts with her Dutch husband at the wheel, she took over. Backing the car carefully across Broadway and into the entrance to the lane opposite our road, she waited for a clear shot, stepped on the gas and virtually flew up the slippery hill which, she reported in triumph at the party, “scared the bejesus out of my flatland bred husband!”

Guests brought nibbles but I served the following: Baked West Virginia ham, sent to me unbaked by mother, biscuits, a canned green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms, and canned French fried onion rings, and a jellied black cherry and grapefruit slices molded salad with a special homemade salad dressing, rolls or biscuits. Coffee was served with a choice of home made bourbon balls and/or, in the years when she was alive because the recipe died with her, a fantastically yummy chocolate prune cake from a Wheeling, WV caterer Mother knew.

The guest list had 39 regulars who were always asked although a few moved away and others moved in. In 1962 the list had 53 possibles but 10 were never asked because 53 was really too many. According to my notes that year, only 28 really ate dinner and as 11 of the 39 refused, that seems accurate. Fun was had by all, even the host and hostess and while occasionally a pajama clad child showed up briefly in later years, our kids mostly slept through the happy din. That very hostess was in bed reading by 9:30, New Year’s Eve 2017 and asleep over her book before ten. Wakened by a stiff neck, I was off and so were the light a few minutes later. Gone are the days when we kissed everyone at eleven and rushed off to see the ball drop in Times Square with our sleepy children.

See you soon. Happy 2018! Hope your year is a great one!   p



Christmas dinner 2017: Full of yummy dinner and ice cream melon mold, I am wearing the contents of my Christmas popper. Crown is worn correctly bandit mustache was applied upside down.

Becky took the above photo with her iPhone from her end of the Christmas dinner table past six on each side to where I sat next to my son, the host, at the other end. I am festively adorned in the crown and bandit mustache from my Christmas popper and chock full of roast beast, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes with yummy host-made gravy, hollandaise sauce on broccoli and ice cream melon mold. I do not look properly sinister in part because my moustache was on upside down but who could look dangerous so soporifically stuffed with good food, prosecco and camaraderie as I was?

Its’ purpose for this post is to accentuate my feeling of  being blessed by the “new” (34 years) relatives in my life, Becky’s family. Inheriting so welcoming a family of in-laws you really like, admire and have fun with, is a HUGE blessing. (Thanks, Clint!)

Thinking about this over coffee in bed this morning, I found myself thinking how kind people can be and of various times when busy people blessed me with gifts of time and help when I really needed both.  Joan Lord drove me fast to the hospital in White Plains when I thought my 4th child was staging an early arrival. Thankfully “it” Joanie, who was president of the Junior League which was having a rare night meeting at 7:30 that night, never revealed a sign of concern about timing. I would have been a nervous wreck in her shoes. As I was recording secretary, Joanie was pleased I was new-baby-less and we both made the meeting easily.

For the on-time arrival of this same baby, I had three different baby sitters lined up. Each knew well not only my two sons and very young daughter but also our house and routines to come if needed to stay with the children when we rushed off to the hospital. Neither of us had family nearby. Labor pains started at five something a.m. on a chill St. Patrick’s Day Saturday and none of the three could come. Taking a deep breath I called our congressman (and close friend) who had volunteered if all else failed, he could come. While Howdy stared, stunned at my 5:55 call, Peter Peys answered and cheerily said “All else failed, eh?” He said he’d be there in five minutes as he didn’t need to find a girdle or matching stockings, and he arrived in about eight. Reviews on his performance were outstanding. He organized laundry folding for the mountain on the dining room table, served pancakes and sausage for breakfast having grabbed the sausage from their refrigerator on his way through their kitchen. After breakfast, he took the three to Becker’s to pick out presents which “the new baby had asked him to buy for them”. No other child of ours got the same warm welcome from her new siblings as Peter engineered for Margaret.

This next rescue is a bit mortifying to share as I was behaving like an over-tired, over-stressed idiot but the fact that all involved knew it and they still bailed me out I find marvelously kind and impressive. Our family, Howdy and I, our sons, five and three, and 21 month old daughter plus the dog, were leaving next morning for a ten hour trip to visit my parents at the Muskoka cottage for two weeks. It was July and oppressively hot and humid. The children were napping or amusing themselves, packing would be finished after they were in bed at nightfall. Meanwhile, I was trying to finish making matching Madras jackets for the two boys. (Idiots was more apt than you expected, wasn’t it?)  We had bought our Maine cottage the year before and would go from the lake to the seashore. My family were cross about this as they felt it was a dumb purchase. Mother was also cross because I was newly pregnant with number four and she felt I was stressed, tired, overworked and was angry with Howdy about all this, too. By arriving at ther cottage with 3 beautiful, well dressed children with some snappy homemade clothes, I intended to prove how on top of my game I was! So there!  However, when Joanie called to see how I was doing and wish us a lovely vacation I burst into tears. I’m not even very good on my little Singer featherweight and matching madras was well beyond my skill level, quite possibly impossible which terrified me! Joanie quickly got the picture and asked could she come and take the boys to the Country Club pool with her kids? “Don’t worry about finding towels and their suits- they’ll help me,“ she said. I couldn’t believe my good luck but I realized that when Julia awoke from her nap, she would want to help me sew. How would I ever manage to finish my ridiculous project?

I should have known better. When Joanie arrived in 15 minutes she was followed by Marguerite Peyser. Peter, our baby’s god-father, was just home from the city –“too hot to think!” and craved the honor of entertaining Julia in their little rubber backyard pool with their youngest. 

Kindness makes the world go round. My assessment of blessings did not include any outstanding gifts of time and effort such as these on my part, sadly. I say thank you even to the dog and cat and to my double lights by my bathroom mirror which I adore but which have four bulbs and are a bit prickly about how many will turn on together. I think that saying thank you is working wonders with them. I apologize freely as needed and much too often according to good friends but I don’t think I have ever dropped my life to help someone handle a crisis in theirs. I hope to God I am wrong but think I am not. An uncomfortable realization but I’m lazy, very old and extremely short on agility and energy. It may be too late for me to be anyone’s savior.

New Year’s Resolution season is  upon us. If more of us put qualities of character at the top of our lists and we had some success in our follow through, we could make our personal worlds nicer ones. I’m considering giving up my useless striving to be neat and leaving the kitchen clean before I leave it after a meal as just hopeless. Eating gives me new bees in my bonnet to attack! Too many of my resolutions mimic a “to do” list. While I’d like to suggest all politicians put HONESTY at number one of their resolutions, it has been suggested I, myself, may lean too far that way. Thoughtfulness is my top goal for 2018 with a sub category of a more practical iteration: PAY ATTENTION! Generosity, humility, helpfulness, courage, kindness and  patience should all find places on my list as should frugality –my latest electric bill is an absolute doozy! Perhaps striving in so many directions will magically thin me down?! Fat chance! Perfection is not the goal, liking who I am better is. See you soon? Next year, for sure! Happy New Year!  p

Merry Christmas!


November 1952, Netcong, NJ. Tom Hardie, editor Netcong-Stanhope News, photographer

Dear Followers and Drop-By Readers, 

 From my heart to yours comes the hope that this day exceeds your expectations and, if it doesn’t, that you’re okay with that. Blessings on you and yours.

An apology is in order! I do not fully understand where the egregious typos came from in the last post. Probably my ever worse vision and the loss of my clearly professional proof reader to sunny Mexico. I try, hard, but even I don’t know what was supposed to be said and am too disgusted to spend more time on it. At least you know no robot has had a hand in my posts!

I will NOT apologize for the fuzzy image used today, the only copy I could find of scan size and permanently attached to the frame it wears when sitting on my chest of drawers. It is the only suitable picture for this post. Tom Hardie was Howdy’s best friend growing up in Baltimore, at Princeton, and in the war. Howdy and I had met Tom and Dee for a Princeton home football game and were spending the night in the Hardie’s apartment to see it for the first time and admire Tom’s weekly newspaper office. He had asked us to pose for a picture to commemorate the visit and we had stood decorously side by side, perhaps holding hands. Tom raised the camera, looked through it at us, put it down again and said, “Marshall, you can do better than  That!” The picture above is “better than That!” I also own a c. 20 by 24 inch copy, a relic from my 80th birthday party.

The reason this picture is so apt for today is that 65 years ago, Christmas 1952, just before Christmas dinner, at home in Fairmont , Howdy called me from Baltimore to say he never wanted to spend an important day or holiday without me, would I marry him? My heart was doing triple time but I calmly (I think?) said “Of course” leading to a ” You aren’t supposed to say that” which received a faintly tart “Don’t be silly, you wouldn’t have asked if you didn’t know what the answer would be.”  “Well, yes,” said my beloved,” that’s true, of course.”

Talk about exceeded expectations!  My whole life changed forever. This year at my house there are no outside tree lights, no greens and little white  lights on the mantles, an absence of many treasured Christmas traditions including my tattered, grubby, handmade- by- my- grandmother, Nell Brown, stocking with its little pinned on note to Santa asking him to be good to  the sweet baby, Penelope. I’m down to essentials this year: the tree, family, appreciation of life and of the miraculous birth of the Christ baby. And to a ridiculously late renewed recognition that Howdy’s call that Christmas put joy, thanksgiving and some especially wonderful young ones into my life.  He was and is my best Christmas present ever, celebrated daily.

See you soon. Maybe even one last 2017 posting. Maybe. It’s Christmas. No counting of typos. p





Tanenbaum – O Christmas Tree


Christmas 2010: One of the most shapely trees we’ve ever trimmed It took 15 pictures before I was smart enough to leave the messy kitchen table top out of the picture.


It was December 23, the first day of our children’s Christmas break and while they were still asleep, we, too, had slept late having forgotten to set the alarm after a late night of wrapping gifts. Howdy was racing to catch the first train after his normal one and I was rounding my second sharp turn to the left en route to the kitchen on the double when, something in the far right corner of the dining room seemed wrong somehow. It was the Christmas tree, leaning substantially to the right and occupied in the top branches of the upper (previously left) side, was a cowering kitten, our new, as of about a week ago, cat. Equally new to trees in the house, she looked terrified and was making little sounds of deep distress. Similarly distressed, I let out a piercing shriek for “Howdy!” My shriek sent the cat scrambling toward the tree top making the tree list even more with the upsetting sound of fragile tree ornaments falling to swell the crowd already assembled on the carpet. Howdy, tastefully turned out in black shoes and socks, pastel under shorts and a tee shirt as white as the shaving cream still on much of his face careened into the room, halting just short of me.the tree and the troublemaker. Taking in the scene before him, he grinned broadly. chuckled and then began to shake with laughterd, Stunned at first by his reaction, my lips twitched and I joined him in relieved laughter. Still laughing, he collected the cat who gratefully licked off some shaving cream as he announced, “Forget the train. Let’s eat and then clean up the mess.  I wouldn’t have missed that vision for anything!You’re looking fetching,” he added admiring my mismatched socks, sneakers, shocking pink  underpants and an inside out sweater of his he had worn the night before, I have no idea when this happened ot who the cat was. It took writing this post to bring back that traumatizing , colorful morning. Only two glass balls were broken.

My earliest memories of Christmas are of Wheeling, WV and nighttime  car rides with my parents to view the quite rare illuminated Christmas decorations. Two houses in the more affluent residential neighborhoods had Santa Claus, his sleight and reindeer on their broad porch roofs lit up and spreading breathless joy to one little girl. I remember nothing of our own inside Christmas trees until I was 5 and in Hagerstown, Maryland. Passionate about trains as was my father, I found Santa  had brought Daddy and me a neat little wind-up metal train on a circular track, sitting beside the tree . That was the first year I went Christmas shopping for Mother’s gift after dark with Daddy and saw the lights and decorations of downtown. Just remembering the wonder of it makes my heart race a little. At this darkest time of the year,  the exuberant cheer of all those lights is both breath taking and cheering. I found it magical, still do.

While we lived in Fairmont, WV, the depression gave way to the war. Mother, perhaps because of Scotch Calvinism in her blood, felt outside trees should not be lit until at least my brother’s birthday, Dec.19, and the inside tree went up on the 23rd or 24th, whichever worked better. Spurr trecs featured colored glass balls of mixed sizes and big (by today’s standards) colored lights. Plus strings of tinsel or scattered silver icicles. (We Marshalls ccame in two types. Those who place shimmering strands of silver one at a time and those who toss whole  handfulls carelessly. Anticipating the future, all agreed that knowing one’s future spouse’s icicle placing style was Essential!) Somewhere about my 13th  birthday I asked for permission to decorate the tree myself. I planned on moving us into a more stylish, Vogue-ish kind of look. I weeded out the garish colors and did the tree entirely in blue and white and tinsel. When Mother, Daddy and Gram came to admire it, everyone was polite  and pseudo enthusiastic, sort of like the tree itself. It was a very disappointing reception and no one disliked “my” tree more than I did. Daddy saw my face. “If you’re not happy with it, Plops, how can we help you fix it?” he asked,”Some red bulbs? Maybe a few green ones?” “No, every color” I said, “everything but orange!”  And lo, it was vastly improved.  Our first Christmas in Maine, I opted for an all white tree. A fine New England custom, we should try it and honor it. Once was enough. I am addicted to color. I bought a whole string of tiny pink lights a few years ago just so I could steal pink bulbs and introduce one of my favorite colors to what is now truly “My” Tree. A little pink, like a little chocolate, almost always improves things.

We lived on a hill in Irvington, NY and decorated trees on either side of the front  porch steps with many colors. We used to leave the outdoor lights up until Easter, lighting them for celebratory occasions, dinner parties or just when we needed the cheer of lights in the chill of winter. When Howdy’s father visited one Easter, he was absolutely appalled by this slovenly, obscene practice and made us spend a lovely afternoon taking them off when we had hoped to light them to guide the Easter bunny to our house.  Thereafter, the newly Christened Easter lights went up for Christmas and some years  never came down at all. What is it about sons and fathers??

At 90, seeing poorly, gimpy and low on energy, I have just received the most wonderful birthday present. Long on things, I wanted very little. Help is really what makes my heart flutter in joy. So when my children I have come to be a burden to asked if I would like them to buy, put up, light up and decorate a Christmas tree as my birthday present I was thrilled. They found a gorgeous tree, an enchanting 5 year old boy to participate and play loudly  (zoom zum) with trucks in the background, and it is pure perfection. I sat and admired their work and especially the clever touch of wiring the lights into an Amazon Echo directed socket.  I can say “Alexa, turn on the tree lights!” from my bedroom and see it waiting to greet me, lit up and sparkling.

Alexa played Harry Bellafonte’s Christmas album as the tree came to life and the enchanting five year old and I gorged on Hershey kisses and an Advent calendar with chocolate behind at least nine past-dated doors we could open,  It was the mysterious absence of our beloved gold star that crowns our tree every year that started me remembering trees. When we were first married and living in our Vincent Astor rent controlled, 3rd floor walk-up, brownstone apartment on New York’s upper East side ($63.25 a month rent), I bought a tiny tree, a baby about  30 inches high. I decorated it with little red bows and what few ornaments we had that were super small. I had to make a star proportional to the tree’s height for its top. Taking some remarkably sturdy silver wrapping paper, I cut two identical little stars from it, stapled or taped them together and left a hole to slide down on the tree top.  Our missing gold star I made for our first real tree in Irvington in1956. This time I used corrugated cardboards from a delivery box, put the bumpy side in, stapled the two stars together and sprayed both sides of the star with gold spray from  the hardware store. Humble, amateurish and looking not only homemade but worn, it was an important part of our Christmas for 60 years. It has always seemed to me that a homemade star to top the tree is in keeping with the simplicity of the birth place of the Christ child  whose coming we celebrate at Christmasa symbol, for me, anyway, of the simple eart racle for which we celebrate Christmas. I’ve the makings of a new homemade star . Should I try to make it myself now or await the arrival of younger family members r Christmas?

See you soon? Merry Christmas! Don’t forget Santa’s cookies. Howdy thought leaving Santa a shot of Bourbon a nice touch and even a shotmof Grand Marnier in case Mrs. Claus came along for the ride and was cold or tired. We both felt, however, that it would be better not to let the children know about thatp