Tuesday, January 17, 2017


The dollhouse began as all stories do. Once upon a time. One time a long time ago a little girl like me...is the first line I write on a blank paper. In 1992 divorce was in my near future. I was blessed to have my sisters' little children in my care then, and having never put away my childlike awe, we played and learned from each other as hearty loving equals. I started the build of this dollhouse and finished the construction in 1994: the year the divorce was final, and I had a new home in my mind if not in real estate. In 1996 I was diagnosed with cancer. I needed a haven, respite and safe harbor from the world of disease. The outfitting of my alternate reality commenced in earnest. Most of the accoutrement in the house is art from life. The wreath in the bedroom stairway is a scaled reproduction of one I still own. The bedroom furniture is modeled on my set which is 120 years old in 2017. The Black Mariah stove is constructed to resemble my great-grandmother's, and there is a coffee grinder with real coffee in it. On the fireplace mantel is a miniature of the hand-tooled clock I bought for myself in 1980 which still keeps time and good company on my desk. As the years went by, I gifted the house. Last year was a plate of artisan-made springerle cookies.This year is the 20th anniversary of being cancer free, and I think this is the year to donate the dollhouse. My lovely friend Carol suggested C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. With that goal, I will chronicle the tale of the dollhouse here. Life is stories. Parents and ill children need good stories. And a place, path and passion to imagine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cancer In A Jar

January 1997.  I no longer remember the exact day. We had to be at Harper Hospital at 5:00 a.m. Another woman was checking in as well, and we "no, please, you first" responded to the call for next. An O.R. was scheduled for 12 hours to get the cancer in my head out. In the room would be my surgeon, a maxillofacial prosthedontist (and his spare parts, including a nose, maxillary bone, eye socket) a back-up plastic surgeon, many other professional medical people. My sister said she couldn't imagine what I was about to live through. I told her it would be her who lives through those hours. I'd be awakened in post-op after it was all over. I awoke in recovery to a guy in surgical gear calling my name. First thing I said was there are duckies on your cap. He said it's in a jar. Do you understand me? It's in a jar.

That January day was preceded by a year of trying to get a surgical referral, of learning at high speed through a traumatic situation how to get what I needed. How to hurdle the gatekeepers, trample the stoppers. That was the year of Flat Alice: anyone who tried to get in my way. The year of Beckie being at my side for each encounter, of her agreement to hold my consciousness until I was ready to take it back, of her getting me to a chair before I passed out when I saw the room of face parts in the MP's office as I hung up my coat. Of sitting in her car in the freezing cold after the MP told me he could replace my eye, but he couldn't make it blink, and Beckie slamming both hands onto the steering wheel, shouting "Damn it! Why can't he make it blink?" Of her being my ears, my guide, as well as continuing to be my Best Friend in the Whole Wide World.

Of children who became my spiritual advisors. Of my mother, unaware she was going to die of cancer soon, trying to find a way to bond with me that did not include disease.

A year of fools and misogynists and incompetent famous doctors and ridiculous healthcare network rules and paperwork. A year of miracle workers, angels on earth, and family, friends, laughter and terrible pain.

There would be another six years of surgeries to repair and replace. Six years of deepening and new friendship and acute self-discovery. Six years descending into personal financial crisis, and ascending to gratitude and awareness. Six years of losing my mother and friends to that awful disease.

Through it all there would always be that day in January when Dr. John Jacobs said it's in a jar.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Welcome to Medicare in the Three Story Life

First doctor visit with Medicare for me. My brother and I went together. He's been on Medicare for years. Our Medicare reports came same day. There is a $47 charge for both of us for 15 minutes worth of depression screening. My brother has Alzheimer's disease, is nonresponsive, so screening did not happen. I am completely responsive, and I didn't get 15 mins. screening either. Neither one of us is on depression medication, so screening shouldn't be a proforma billing opportunity anyway.

Except - yeah - who reads a Medicare billing report?

Medical now bills like legal, in 15 min. increments? $188/hour for depression? Please don't tell my therapist this.

I went into the office, copies were made. Explanations were given. We didn't do this here. It's the system. You'll have to discuss this with Medicare. The biller is out to lunch. The biller will call you. When I hadn't gotten a call by Friday, I went in again.

Copies made right away. Notes taken. Date of birth(s), phone number. Explanations commenced. The biller is out to lunch. This invoice comes from headquarters. We can't do anything about this here. You'll have to take it up with Medicare, with HQ. Different person, same script.

It's the system.

"So your system is AI, is it?


"No human entered this code from here."

"Well, not really."

"The system did it."

Nod. "We can't fix it here."

"Because the system."

Nod. "Can only be fixed after the fact. And not here."

Blank stare.

Face transforms to sympathetic aspect. Shrug. "It happens."

"Yes, to millions of us."

"Well. Not here."

Monday, October 10, 2016

RJ Spangler Trio with Larry Smith

The RJ Spangler Trio featuring Larry Smith performed the first of four concerts in a 2nd Sunday jazz series yesterday at our Salem-South Lyon District Library. The sessions are sponsored by the Jazz Foundation of America, and the Metro Detroit Book & Author Society 2016 James Dance Performance Grant. You'll have a chance to see them perform again in Dec., Feb., and April.

L to R: Oliver Nevels, guitar; Larry Smith, alto sax; Greg Cook on bass; RJ Spangler, drums. Listeners were treated to standards from the jazz book, beginning with Body and Soul, 1930 music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton.

The audience asked for Take Five composed by Paul Desmond, debuted with the Dave Brubeck Quartet on their 1959 album, Time Out. Take Five had a piano lead for Brubeck - we heard a George Benson arrangement featuring Oliver Nevels on guitar.

Take the A Train, composed by Duke Ellington. RJ shared the backstory on this classic: Billy Strayhorn had been sending compositions, arrangements to Ellington. The Duke finally told him he probably needed to join the Ellington organization. How to get there? The rest is superb jazz music history.

We heard Larry Smith's long rich music background, told by RJ, and - just so we didn't think it was myth - confirmed by Downbeat magazine. Larry went to high school with Henry Mancini! In Pittsburgh, he played with a George Benson R&B group. Benson noticed Smith wasn't playing the R&B grooves. What do you call what you're playing? Smith took him to a place with a jukebox, put a dime in the slot and Benson asked "who we listening to?" Smith responded, "Bird." "What's a bird?" And once more, the rest is jazz music history. 

After the concert I asked Larry Smith what maker built his horn. Bundy Selmer. He told us how saxophones used to be made of a combination of silver, brass and gold; offering a rich tonal resonance he doesn't hear in the new brass horns. My Dad's tenor saxophone is a Herb Couf instrument, and it still breathes music in the hands of Tony Lustig in NYC. Larry also talked about always having that special reed on hand, along with backup.

The concert closed with Watch What Happens, composed by Michel leGrand; a song that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Known for his movie scores (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Thomas Crown Affair) leGrand wrote just as eloquently in jazz. Still composing, still musically strong, his 85 Concerts for My 85th Birthday World Tour is getting underway. Concert dates will be released by the end of this month 2016.

I'm missing one of the tunes because I got lost in hearing my Dad play his tenor in my mind, the background music to my whole life. When I was little, I went with him to rehearsals, usually in somebody's basement. I knew the words to Deep Purple, Little White Lie, and Darn That Dream before I was six. My father is second from the left, saxes. At the piano is Joe Fredal, our family's future dentist.

One of the days I was remembering yesterday afternoon. Dad on that gorgeous Herb Couf tenor, me on my Great Aunt Suoma's little organ. He's using a jazz mouthpiece! I didn't remember he even owned one of those. For my medicine bag when I was fighting cancer, I asked loved ones to contribute a powerful talisman to kick that mess. My father gave me a saxophone reed. One more beautiful example of the healing power of music, and the importance of always having that special reed on hand. And a backup.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dollhouse Art Studio Installed

Set the art studio components in the 3rd floor office of my dollhouse today. The ladders are handpainted. I used a piece of 2x3 luan plywood I saved from when I made miniature diaramas; sawed it to fit the ladders. The art framed in the stack of frames is a copy of a big oil painting I did years ago.

A small bag of mini-tiles I've never used finally got use as the top of the work table. Craft sticks stained with furniture repair markers finished it.
Tinted glue made a jar of used water. Nice that it matches the corner tiles! The actual watercolor color was French Ultramarine, but the glue whitened that. I made the rolls of tape and paper towels. The ceramic art jars are made by Shari at Miniature Maker Supply. The brushes are made by Taylor Jade.

The paint tubes I made from Sculpey clay with labels signed by me. Would have used white clay if I had some. The shoulder of the tubes are half a crimp, the caps are clay painted black.

Next time - if there is a next time - I'll use the metal from the neck of a bottle of wine. The metal would look good for oil paint tubes. Saw that idea on the internet. Bonus: I'll have a bottle of wine in the house!

Holiday time is coming up! I'll be decorating the front of the dollhouse for Thanksgiving. For Christmas dollhouse tree decorations, a Christmas cactus and a poinsettia I made, have a peek at my etsy shop

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Dollhouse Art Studio Under Construction

Halloween dollhouse decorating inspired me to add some more art. I have a greenhouse still in the box for 10 years, but I'm not ready to designate it as a studio. Yet. Bought a paint-spattered step ladder for too much money, then found a cheap supplier of unfinished step ladders. My paint job is shown here. Wrote a note to Shari from Miniature Makers Supply for my first needs: 2 paintbrush jars in glaze colors of her choice, (she chose Lilac and Celery) and 2 water jars, one for used water (this will be accomplished with tinted glue) and one for clean water. She created a custom order for me. Love her and her shop! My sloppy paint rags are in the picture, and the pliers hold a glued tube which will be a roll of paper towels.

I have an easel, a brush and some blank canvas in my dollhouse office, so I'll begin by adding to that space.  I'm going to make my own paint tubes. We'll see how that goes. A 6 inch watercolor tube will be only 1/2 inch! Still haven't found a decent box to hold it all, but maybe I won't need it. My work station will be 2 ladders with a piece of basswood on top. If I make use of the greenhouse, I can spread out later.

These are ceramic dishes glazed and signed by Shari at Miniature Makers Supply. She has a section in her shop for Oops! - cases when the glaze goes walkabout. Love those one of a kinds! I appreciate her palette, and craftswomenship. And I love that she creates and works in Michigan. It's always my goal to support Michigan artisans in whatever way I can, and especially women artists. We need all the sales we can get!

Now I'm envisioning a "Sidewalk Closed During Construction" banner at the front of the dollhouse. Creative chaos!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

White Collar TV Show Review

This isn't the only phone camera shot I took of this series. And there are X number of episodes left in this mess of television stuff. I don't even know how to write about it.  I slogged through the first 10 episodes of the first season. And there are. Five more seasons. 5. And the reviewers rate this thing 8 of 10 stars. Absent deliberate ongoing planetary obliteration, this year's run for POTUS and oil company manipulation of the universe, this is the next annihilation of anything posing as intelligent left in the universe I want obliterated. If you can't spell, HIRE SOMEONE. A couple of the screen shots were of the highest end premier in the fashion universe episode. The biggest pink diamond ever. With background holes in the ceiling set. Holes. Nobody bothered with that. I take my rare pink diamonds seriously. As does Aja Raden. But not this show.

Gee. It's about the money, innit? Dumber is better. Lamer sells. Kill me now.

Let's start with Neal. The man has access to a tasteful millionaire Black Man's wardrobe, and he wears brown shoes with a blue suit. And one stylish hat. He is a notorious international forger criminal and he walks like a studied hipster. Think Draggable Dan, from the first web goofball character. He has blue eyes with tiny pupils. He couldn't look sinister on a billion dollar bet. And the eyes the producers think are cool wouldn't be instantly recognizable anywhere. And he goofs up. Enough to be caught by Peter Burke. Twice.

Peter Burke. A schlep, who stands on, through the 10 episodes I could stand to watch,  his singular reputation for capturing Neal Whozits twice. Oh Lord, can we please buy this guy some lips?

And here we are at Burke's wife El. She is a successful event planner, seen in one episode on her phone on the street telling the caller that 10 tables with 20 people each will look elegant. OK. No. That's Madison Square Garden pregame at a Knicks event. The next episode with her actual life involves inviting her husband (NOT) to bring Neal (who has TASTE) to sample a lunch from a caterer she's interviewing. Her husband (who, lucky for us stupid ass viewers are informed has no taste at all) pulls a Tom Hanks from Big and almost spits his pate, while Neal tastefully agrees.

And she runs Peter Burke like a watch. Can we spell stereotypical henpecked, boys? Here are 2 pictures of a wife in a TV series. Please identify the patriarchy prototype.

Hair on this show. It's all the same. I'm done with the lank long tresses, colored in a bizarre combination of Crayola Brown and Tumbleweed, twisted down a back, and limped over the front for every female on the show.

Ditto the short dresses, tall heels on actresses who can't walk in them particularly showcasing really bad asses. No, I don't mean bad asses. I mean these boys wouldn't know a good ass if they had it planted on their face.

Geez. The story. I saw 10 episodes hoping for better story. No. And there are F I V E more  highly rated seasons that I hope to die before I watch.

Thank (your higher power here) for Willie Garson without whom.