My Musical Family


Any house of mine has to have a space for music. Come to think of it, our apartment isn’t big enough to have a dedicated space, though there are instruments scattered throughout. I guess I mean to say that any dream house of mine has to have a space for music. That’s what my dollhouse is – a dream house. It’s a place where I’m free to experiment with colors, ideas, memories and design and a place where I can express my true self. Music is one of those expressions and that’s why there’s a space in my dollhouse dining room for performing. When looking at pictures of colonial homes of the past, many had areas for music; a piano or a violin. I imagine that the dollhouse’s inhabitants (of old or new) play music on occasion, for themselves or guests, or relax listening to others play. I think my dollhouse needs more instruments than what I have here. Music has been so important in my family.

On my mom’s side of the family, my great-great uncle, Jay Gould, was a jeweler and played music in Glencoe, MN. He eventually started a family circus, traveling the midwest as Jay Gould’s Million Dollar Circus. He was quite the showman. I don’t think my own great-grandfather, his brother, Howard, played any music, nor my grandmother, but my mom did grow up playing the flute. I’m not sure about the ancestors on my dad’s side. My dad used to play the guitar and sing while I was growing up. He indulged our many requests to play “Here Comes the Sun” and dabbled with writing his own songs. My brother, Robert, also learned to play guitar and sing and has added harmonica, and several other instruments. I’ve even seen him stick a shaker between his toes, have the harmonica around his neck, the guitar in his hands and sing. A real one man band. He’s a great artist, musically and otherwise. My husband, Steven, also an amazing artist, plays drums and guitar, and my son, at 7 years old, has a natural gift for the drums too.

I only played the trombone in school band growing up. I never really considered myself musical. That attribute belonged to my various family members. I did perform in musical theater every year at my high school, but never had a leading role. I just figured a strong voice and musical talent weren’t my gifts. In the last few years, I’ve joined our church choir and have learned that, with a little practice and experience, my voice isn’t so bad! I’ve even sung some solos. I’m always nervous when I’m up in front by myself, but it’s so fun too. Who knew – both that I could sing and that I liked it?

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 4.42.12 PM

The three of us, post performance

This past Christmas, our friend, Jon, asked me to sing one of the German Christmas carols I knew at our children’s school Holiday Sing-a-long. He played guitar and I sang the solo in front of the other parents and children. A parent who was organizing the school fundraiser this spring, asked if we could perform five songs as part of the live musical entertainment for the fundraiser. We said yes and started working on some music we both liked. My husband joined in on drums, and we came up with the band name, “Dough-Ray-Me.” We had a great evening (despite my mess up of a few lyrics and trouble with the sound system). We did “You Belong to Me” by the Duprees, “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline, “Do-Re-Mi” by Woody Guthrie, “I’ll Fly Away” (an old gospel tune), and “Oh Lonesome Me” by Don Gibson, all good vintage tunes. I even pulled out my trombone and played a solo in the last song.

Some of my favorite family memories have involved music. Putting on a “concert” with my brother and cousins (Mary, Megan and Joey) for our parents. My “big” cousin, Megan (in front of the microphone), turned 40 today! Happy Birthday Megan! Another great memory was going to visit my brother with my husband, before we married, and jamming, all of us together, along with my cousin, Adam, a great violin player (and apparently the mandolin too). I miss my family, living out here in California, and wish we lived close so we could raise our kids together, play music in the evenings or weekends, and just be there for one another. My husband, son, and I have had to create our “family” here and now we’re making great memories playing music with our friends and their son.  It’s fun to be part of a musical family!

Looking Through a New Lens

Have you ever noticed that when your mind is focused on a particular thing, you begin to view everything else through a new lens? A year or so ago, I read a book titled “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. This beautiful story chronicles how starting a gratitude list changed the author’s life. She shared that once she began the list, she saw “gifts” everywhere; a bounty. Inspired, I started my own list and yes, the gifts just appeared: the smell of jasmine when I went out for a walk, the preciousness of a little boy chasing pigeons, a friend inviting us over for soup, my husband’s sense of humor, the feel of dough as I kneaded it, my dad’s voice on the phone, the smell of apples in barrels, and being able to laugh at myself (I was trying to show my son how fast I could run down a dune and instead I lost my balance, flew through the air and dove head first into the sand. My husband and son thought I was doing it on purpose and were amazed at how adventurous I was. After getting over the shock – I didn’t know what was happening! – I laughed hysterically at how I must have looked). My mind was so focused on gratitude and noticing the “gifts” in my life and as a result, I saw them everywhere, even in the moments I might not have considered before.

Several years ago, when my niece was little and came to California for a visit, she inspired me to see through a new lens as well. When we’d go for walks, she would collect any leaf she found interesting. They might have been crumpled, dead leaves, but to her they were beautiful. Maybe one had some red on it, or one was really big or an interesting shape. Because the huge pile of leaves wouldn’t fit in their suitcase, they had to leave them behind when they returned home to Minnesota. For Christmas that year, I decided to make her a leaf book and for the next several weeks, I gathered all the interesting leaves I could find. I hadn’t thought of California, or at least Marin, as having much in the way of fall colors (compared to the midwest), but I was amazed at how many beautiful leaves I found once my eyes were opened to seeing them. I found red Japanese Maple leaves, giant yellow Sycamore leaves, orange Live Oak leaves and a plethora of others I was sure she wouldn’t have back home; like Eucalyptus and California Bay. I was a dangerous driver at that time, looking up at the trees way more often than I looked down at the road, slamming on my brakes and pulling over on busy streets. If I saw a tree with a leaf I didn’t have, I had to stop and collect it. I pressed all the leaves I had collected and glued them into a scrapbook. I left plenty of blank pages and suggested she could fill them with her findings back home. What a gift we gave each other!

I notice a similar thing happens when I’m doing a craft, home or garden project. Suddenly a pile of old bricks look like a new path for the garden; I look at an old jar and see a beautiful vase; and when looking at an old button-up shirt, the outline of a new child’s apron appears. When I first started to renovate my dollhouse, I began to look at everything differently as well; through the dollhouse lens. I love dollhouse furnishings, but I also wanted to get creative and see what kinds of things I could find that might work in the dollhouse, things that weren’t “dollhouse things.” In my previous posts, I’ve shared some of those securedownloadthings: broaches become paintings and artwork, beads and kitchen skewers become curtain rods, and a handkerchief becomes a tablecloth. I once even spotted a great pair of dollhouse picture frames, hanging from my friends ears! It is fun to see what kinds of things you can find when your eyes are open to them.

Shortly after I received my dollhouse, we visited Sausalito’s Spring Yard Sale with over 60 booths of local residents selling no longer needed items. I found this beautiful little gold framed mirror and after a little clean-up, it looked grand and gorgeous. Many colonial homes (from my favorite colonial home book) had similar mirrors and the dining room seemed the perfect place to have this elegance. It also seemed that a good New England colonial home wouldn’t be complete without a large framed painting of a ship. I know I don’t live in New England, but my ancestors did, and it seemed fitting that this home would pay tribute to its own and my New England heritage. I found a picture of this painting and snapped a photo of it with my iPhone, shrunk it down and printed a color copy. securedownload-6The frame it’s in was a little frame meant to have a real portrait in it. It had a little flap on the back to stand it up on a desk or shelf. I took the flap off and mounted it to the wall.

I’ve mentioned generous freecyclers in several of my previous posts. For those of you who don’t know, Freecycle is a online community with local branches throughout the world where you can give and get stuff for free. When I got my dollhouse, I posted “WANTED: dollhouse furniture” and got at least two responses from some folks who each gave me a box of dollhouse items; many of it antique looking furniture and trinkets that were actually made in the U.S.A. That means that not only are the items miniature replicas of antiques, but that they are antiques themselves. When I brought the boxes home, it was like opening presents on Christmas morning. There were so many little things wrapped up in tissue paper and they were such quality pieces. A few of the things I received are here in the dining room. I felt so lucky to have gotten a piano, a violin, a music stand and a gorgeous chair and end table. One day I was sitting down with my copy of Alive Now, reading some poems, scripture and prayers. With my eyes seeing things through my dollhouse lens, I spotted some music notes amongst a collage of graphic images behind one of the poems. “This would make perfect sheet music for my piano!” I thought. I cut several sections into small rectangles, thrilled at my find.

My dollhouse dining room is shaping up to be pretty fabulous. I still have a little ways to go and a few more things to add. I always keep my eyes peeled, looking through my dollhouse lens.

Time for Tea


I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Every once in a while, I’ll have a sip or two of my husband’s mocha, if it’s chocolaty enough, and only if I’m really tired and need the caffeine or if it’s really cold outside and I need the warmth. Two things turned me away from coffee. One, when I was around age four and in daycare at our babysitter Fran’s house, Fran was having coffee and watching “All My Children.” I had stopped napping by that point, but I had to lay there on my mat until all the other children fell asleep and then I could get up. I realize now that that was Fran’s way to see if I might fall asleep (and perhaps sometimes I did). I thought it was just to make sure it looked fair to other kids, which could also be true. When all the kids were asleep, Fran had her coffee and watched her soaps. When I didn’t nap, I sat with Fran on the couch and watched too, and one time, I asked what her coffee tasted like. She let me try a sip and it was the worst thing I had ever tasted, besides the liver and onions my dad made every once in a while and forced us to eat. We had to sit at the table until our plates were clean. My brother and I would slip some in our pockets or store it in our cheeks until we could escape and either flush it down the toilet or feed it to the dog. Upon tasting Fran’s coffee, I decided I never wanted to have that again. Ditto for the liver and onions.

The second excuse I always give when asked why I don’t drink coffee, is that I wanted to spare my children the misery on Christmas morning. When we were little, my brother and I would wake up early on Christmas, as kids do, and go wake up our parents, barely able to contain ourselves, wanting to get to those stockings as quickly as we could. The first thing my parents always said was, “OK, but first we have to make our coffee,” and that was the most excruciating wait we ever had to endure. I made a vow to never make my children go through that. I think the real reason is that I just don’t like the taste and haven’t ever attempted to acquire it.

I never did get in the habit of needing one particular thing to get me up in the morning or get me through the afternoon. Sometimes I drink water, other times orange juice or milk and when wanting to warm up or slow down my day, I make myself a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate. I find tea so soothing and it’s always a sweet thing to share when having someone over to visit or to have all by myself when sitting down to read a book or do some writing. For me, having tea is self care. I love chamomile, or earl grey with some honey and fresh squeezed lemon, or Good Earth Sweet and Spicy, among others. One of my more recent favorite tea moments was this past summer when visiting my grandma in Montana. I hadn’t seen her in a few years and happened to be on a retreat in her area. I booked my return flight one day later so I could spend a day and evening with my grandma, Patricia. So there we were, the two Patricias, on a Sunday night, in our PJs, sitting on my grandma’s sofa. We had finished a nice al fresco dinner on her patio (having eaten a light, fit-for-women meal; quiche and a salad with pear, goat cheese and nuts) and now she IMG_1774was wondering what we should do. I suggested having some tea, because it seemed like that was what one should do when you were with your grandma. We sipped tea, looked at photo albums and told family stories late into the evening. A perfect time with Grandma!

I envision a special place for making memories like that in my dollhouse. In a perfect world, in my dollhouse, I make more time for tea with family and friends. Life is slow and calm and sweet. I decided to make the dining room a grand place, filled with rich colors of dark wood and golds. I didn’t have a table big enough for the space, so for the time being, or maybe forever, I’m using a table I made from some wood I trimmed down and vintage wooden spools for legs. I had a beautiful handkerchief from my great-grandmother, Florence Cambell Gould. It’s white and lacy and has Cambell written in very tiny letters in the center of the fabric. This sat in a drawer filled with special linens until I realized what a nice dollhouse tablecloth it would make. Only it wasn’t quite big enough, so I sewed a gold patterned tablecloth to go under it from some fabric I had and it blended beautifully with the room.

securedownload-4The tea set came from a dear friend, an older gentleman who had heard me mention both my dollhouse and how receiving it was a homecoming of sorts for me and also about my special meeting place with God. I had drawn a picture once of a bench with vines and flowers growing around it, in the shape of a heart. When I needed to talk to God, I would envision that place, that special bench. God and I would sit there, sometimes next to one another or sometimes with my head in His lap and I would feel such comfort. I would sip tea and talk over the things that were troubling me. What a surprise when this sweet gentleman brought me a little bench and a tea set for my dollhouse!

Here, the table is set for two, an intimate get together. I connect best one on one and prefer talking about life, memories, spirituality, creativity, philosophy, history, languages, music and art. Of course one needs candles. The candlesticks came from a generous freecycler. I painted them gold to match the rest of the room and made candles from some sticky wax I had, rolling them around pieces of thread to look like a wick was poking out. I wish I had chairs made from dark wood, but this is what I have for now and it’s still beautiful. It’s time for tea. Anybody like to join me?


Merry Christmas!

I know, I haven’t posted about my dollhouse in several weeks. Late November and December are busy months for me (as I’m sure they are for everyone!). I work as Director of Children and Family Ministries for a Methodist Church, so it’s extra busy. The time is filled with wonderful things: church holiday bazaars, gift making and cookie decorating events, Christmas Pageant rehearsals and performance, and preparing for Christmas Eve Services. On top of that, I made several gifts for family and friends. That’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas; the gift making and the gift giving. I made it a priority this year to dedicate more time to that. I thought I would share some of the creations I made, not only because I had so much fun making them, but also as proof of why I didn’t get to blogging about the dollhouse.





I did ask for some things for my dollhouse this Christmas and though I didn’t find anything under the tree, I did receive a coupon for “A Trip to the Dollhouse Store.” I am looking forward to picking out some things for the dollhouse and looking forward to getting back to blogging. See you again soon and Merry Christmas everyone!

The Rest of the Details

OK. You’ve seen the bed, you’ve see some heirlooms. Now I want to share the rest of the details with you, at least in regards to the master bedroom. What helps define me? What things hold meaning? It’s all in the details.

securedownload-3Several years ago, my friend gave me a book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. It’s a great book that suggests certain exercises to help you on your path to discovering your creative self. I diligently wrote three pages in my journal every morning and took myself on solo dates to interesting places. On one such date I was window shopping in the Haight and wandered into a store filled with funky and vintage things. There in the display case was an antique wind-up alarm clock, a cream colored Westclox Baby Ben. I looked at it with love but told myself it was not something I really needed. As a child I had learned the difference between want and need and also learned that most things are just want. As usual, even though I really WANTED it, I left the shop, finished my solo date and drove home. I thought about that clock for many days and finally had to drive back into the city to buy it. It worked for a while, but stopped running, no matter how often I tried to wind it. I haven’t found a good clock repair place and it’s fallen off my radar of things to do, but it still looks beautiful in the bedroom. The little clock I have on the nightstand in my dollhouse looks quite similar, though silver. I like to imagine that this one really works. I completed seven weeks out of twelve in The Artist’s Way and then I got pregnant. Thrilled but suffering from morning sickness, I took a break from the book and never picked it back up.

Also on my nightstand in the dollhouse; a little red book that looks like my leather bound Bible. I used to read my Bible every day. If you read three chapters per day, you’ll finish in one year! I’m glad to say I did it, but not glad that I have fallen out of the habit of daily reading. In my dollhouse, I always make time for prayer and reading and now I’m hoping this will encourage me to in real life too! I keep a glass of water on my nightstand because I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night. One of the biggest sins of all, which I learned as a child too, is to set a glass of water on a wooden table without a coaster. Gasp! I do hate to see water marks on nice furniture, so of course I have a coaster underneath my water glass here too.

securedownload-4You’ll see some additions to my bed. We have a sweet cat named Nancy. He is now fifteen years old! And yes, I said “he.” We got him from my cousin when I was in college. He was so tiny and mostly just fluff. We were told it was a girl and he was so small that it wasn’t really evident yet. We named him Nancy and only later found out, after a few months, that this was indeed a boy. We still liked the name and kept it. He is precious and had to have a  place in the dollhouse too. I love the little trombone on the bed. I played trombone in middle school, high school and one year of college. I keep it in its case here at home and pull it out once and while, maybe to play “Happy Birthday” for someone, play the National Anthem on the Fourth of July, or to play some Christmas songs. I feel nostalgic when I play and wish I would’ve kept it up. I really wish that I had the energy and time of about four or five people, as there’s so much I want to keep up with and so much more I want to learn how to do.

All very fine homes must contain very fine things; a tapestry, a wooden trunk, a dressing table with pearls and fancy things. The wall space in this bedroom was so large that it demanded a beautiful tapestry. It’s really a piece of fabric I loved. I hemmed it, added loops of that green ribbon I used for the pillow on the bed and hung it from a rod made from a kitchen skewer, which I painted brown, with a wooden bead attached to each end. I hung the whole thing from brackets that I made from little triangles of wood, cutting a notch in them for the rod to set into. I glued the brackets to the wall using Aileen’s Tacky Glue, which I find dries faster than wood glue and holds more securely than glue from a hot glue gun. There’s an antique sewing machine. I never did learn to work the pedals of one of those, but I do love to sew. On the trunk, the vase, candle holders and the candles themselves are made from beads. The flowers are dried boutonnieres my husband has worn in his siblings’ weddings.

One year for Christmas, we bought ourselves a vintage looking telescope from Restoration Hardware. It came in this gorgeous trunk. I took the telescope out and filled the trunk with lacy handkerchiefs that look like old linens. Someday I’d like to sew a little wedding dress to put in the trunk. It’s just asking for it! The vanity reminds me a little of my aunt’s vanity. My Aunt Jane has lots of great antiques and she has a vanity in her bedroom which has an antique handheld mirror and matching brush. I can’t remember if it’s silver or mother of pearl, but I’ve always admired it. I made my mirror (though it doesn’t have a handle) from a gold button, flipped onto the other side with a piece of shiny metallic paper put inside. I got the comb with some dollhouse things from a generous freecycler. It was made of green plastic and I “painted” it with my pearl colored nail polish. I did the same thing with the metal chain. Technically, it should get hung up somewhere or placed in a jewelry box, but my dollhouse self must have taken it off before bed and been too tired to put it away. I have some other miniature things tucked away in the drawer of the vanity that I plan to turn into more jewelry.


This little cross is a wooden pendant for a necklace, which I stuck to the wall with a special kind of wax. Although some of the things in this bedroom are more ornate or fancy, some things are more beautiful in their simplicity and this cross is one of those things. A simple symbol of faith. I am a very religious and spiritual person. Hopefully I practice that in a much different way than those in colonial times. In our real home, we have a cross hanging above each bedroom doorway from the outside. It feels like a symbol for blessing, peace and protection for us and the place where we sleep.

securedownload-6It seems so romantic to have a writing desk. I wish I used one. Mine is covered with the computer and printer. If we had more space, I would have another one just for writing. I would keep notecards for writing to friends and all the other supplies for when I got inspired. Most likely I would never use it, instead I would sit on my bed or at the dining room table. On this desk, I have an old quill and ink bottle, a miniature seashell, probably found on a beach vacation, and some photographs, one of me and one of my husband and me on our wedding day and one of the two of us and our son from about four years ago. With my iPhone, I took photos of the real photos, emailed them to myself, then dropped them into picmonkey and turned them into black and whites. I then pasted them into a word document, shrunk them down and printed them out on regular printer paper. Then I cut them out and put them in these cute frames and stuck them to the wall with wax.

securedownload-9Here is the completed room, or at least how I have it now. My friend’s mom, Helen Fearon, paints murals and designs stage sets and I asked her how to paint a floor to make it look like real wood. She gave me great tips. I first painted the plain orangish brown floor with white primer, then with a paintbrush the width of the floorboards I wanted, I painted a thin layer of brown paint, thin enough to let some of the primer show through. This helps give it a look of grained wood. Then, I slightly overlapped each stripe. I think it turned out pretty well.

There are still things I need to truly finish the bedroom; a railing for where the staircase comes up in the back left, a different, more authentic rocking chair, softer rugs on each side of the bed and a light fixture. They will come, but I haven’t found them at the price I’m looking for yet, which is either for free or for Christmas. And yet, even though there are things I’d like to change, I still think it’s an exquisite bedroom. What do you think?

Using Heirlooms

I love vintage things. Sometimes I love what people call, “That old junk?” Often I can turn it into something cool or by putting it in the right setting, it becomes artistic, a neat antique, a salvaged piece. I love these things so much more than new things. My 7 year old son knows me really well. He sees something old sitting by the side of the road and says, “Wait, Mom might like that!” Or lately it’s become, “Wait, I might like that!” I love that he likes to salvage old things too, though I don’t always love the things he wants to salvage. Rusty car parts, a rearview mirror. I try to keep the house clear of clutter and he’s bringing home more things. I guess he’s been taught well! I do love that he can laugh with me when we say, “That’s not junk, that’s vintage!”

Some of the vintage things I have are most certainly not junk. My Grandma, Ardis Hillman Wheeler, gave me a beautiful jewelry box filled with some of her special things. Indeed, I have several heirlooms from my Grandma. I have a china doll that had been hers when she was a little girl. It was her birthday present to me when I was five and I cherished it. I have a beautiful handmade dress, not sure from when exactly, but made sometime between the 1930’s and the 1950’s. My dad came across it when packing up her home and it fit me perfectly. He also gave me her tin full of buttons and sewing notions. My aunt has given me several of my grandma’s vintage hats throughout the years too. Knowing how much I like to sew and do crafts, my mom gave me a little sewing basket from her great aunt, Margaret Campbell, and it was full of vintage lace, buttons, and little embroidered things.

When I was beginning to restore the dollhouse, I thought it would be fun to use some of the special things from my family, from the women in particular, as that’s what I have and the things are so beautiful. Plus, using these things gives me a tangible way to see and feel that we are connected. Our hands have touched these things, theirs long ago, mine now. I wonder what they were thinking and feeling? I can imagine a movie, the plot centered around generations of women in one family, the opening scenes of one woman with an heirloom or a handed down object. We see her life and then it circles back in time and then further back, revealing the women’s stories with the heirloom as the centerpiece. It would then return to the first woman and we would finally understand how she became who she is, even if she never will. It would probably be a foreign film, French or Italian I’m sure. I know I am connected to the women in my family in so many unseen ways, I can feel it. They are a part of me, I know them, even if I’ve never met them. The bedroom, the place where I dream, imagine, and reminisce, was the perfect place to display these precious items.

I most likely would never wear these broaches, at least not often enough for how beautiful they are. They make very fitting framed art for my dollhouse and now I can enjoy looking at them. They deserved more honor than staying tucked away in a jewelry box.

Before I repaired the trim on the windows, I glued on rectangles from various pieces of plastic I could find, the tops of lettuce containers, the bottom of a clear, plastic, to-go box, the package from my son’s toy. They were nice, sturdy bits of plastic and made great window panes. I then painted and attached the trim for the windows and had tiny trim that I cut and used to divide the window into several panes. It looked more colonial that way, though all the photos I had seen had even more panes, but I decided I didn’t need to go that far. Dividing the window into six panes was work enough. I couldn’t imagine dividing it into sixteen panes! I had also received decorative trim from a freecycler, and used this pretty piece as the bottom of the window frame.

With the windows looking beautiful, they needed proper curtains. I sewed curtains from the same fabric as the bedspread and sewed my great-great aunt’s vintage lace on for an added touch of femininity. When I had made the canopy for the bed, the raw edges of the wood were showing through the tulle. I added a strip of another lace around the frame to conceal the wood.

edited pillow 2Finally, I opened up my grandmother’s button box and found a beautiful gold button. I used it to add an embellishment to one of the throw pillows on the bed. I had two green ribbons, one sheer that had been around my bridal bouquet and a darker shade that had been in Great-Great Aunt Margaret’s sewing basket. The two ribbons and the button created a pillow I wished I had on my bed.

Thanks to my grandma and my great-great aunt and all the other women in my family that have influenced who I am by the things they’ve passed down, seen and unseen!

My Refuge

Primer. That’s the first step I took in renovating my dollhouse. Every room got a fresh coat. I wondered if I should restore any of the rooms to their original design. The bathroom had a painted tile floor, white with black lines to separate them. The kitchen had speckled flooring and one of the bedrooms had wallpaper my mom had added when I was little. Should I keep these things or start fresh? I decided a clean slate was in order. The design would be my own, inspired by real colonial homes.

The first room I began to work on was the bathroom, but it just wasn’t speaking to me. The master bedroom was. My own bedroom had always been my place of refuge, my hang out spot, my place to be alone. I love to be with friends, but I like my own company too. When I was young, I would play alone in my room. My grandma, Ardis Hillman Wheeler, had taught me how to play jacks and had even given me her set of jacks and her big black ball. She had told me how she and her friends would play jacks on the sidewalk until their knuckles were scraped and bloody. She would only go inside when her mom called her in for dinner. Sometimes she would play until dusk and she couldn’t even see the jacks anymore. I brought the set home and would play in my room, by myself. Toss, scoop up a jack, bounce, catch. Toss, scoop up another, bounce, catch. When I mastered that, I would see if I could scoop up two jacks at a time. How about three? I could play for hours and loved to challenge myself. That room, in the first house I ever lived in, was a beautiful old room; hardwood floors, odd nooks and crannies, a fluffy white rug in the middle.

As I got older and we moved into the log house, my bedroom was where I did my homework, listened to music, and talked on the phone. I probably spent most of my time there. I’d get home from school, go to my room, close the door and not come out until dinner time. The teenage years. In college, I’d sit on my bed, studying for exams or reading books. For as long as I can remember, my favorite part of the day is when I crawl into bed at night and lay my head on the pillow. With a smile on my face, I let out a big, contented sigh. I wish my favorite part of the day was waking up in the morning, ready for a new day, new challenges, new adventures, new joys. I do like that, but climbing into bed gives me such a cozy and comforting feeling.

ImageAs I was designing my dollhouse bedroom, I wanted to make the kind of bed that just felt beautiful and the kind of room I would want to spend time in. My refuge. I looked through my favorite colonial book,  American Colonial; Puritan Simplicity to Georgian Graceand was inspired by this photo. I loved the softness of the bed and the combination of colors; the dark wood, the white trim and fabric, and the salmon pink walls. I never liked pink growing up, in fact, I hated it. It was too girly and I wasn’t that kind of girl. Sure, I liked dolls and things, but I also liked playing G.I. Joe with my brother and making roads for Matchbox cars in the grass. I liked building forts and getting dirty. I laugh when I share the story that in high school, I would wear my brother’s jeans to school, baggy gray Carhartts, and my Doc Martens. My son can’t believe it; Mom wore boys’ clothes! I answer back, “That’s ok. My brother wore my skirts!” They were long, crinkly, hippy skirts. I think he did it mostly for the shock value, and they looked good with his orange mohawk. Those were the 90s. A lot has changed. As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to embrace my femininity and not only decorate with pink, but wear pink too and I love it! It’s still not the pink pink, the girly pink, but dusty pink and salmon pink and it just feels right. Mixing some shades of paint together, I got to work on my dollhouse room.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 7.13.45 PMDesigning my bed was fun. I’ve never had a canopy bed, but love the idea of it. I save scraps of fabric and fabric people are giving away and I remembered I had this beautiful, lacy tulle in a box under my bed. I glued it around a brie cheese box and pinned it to the ceiling. I posted on freecycle, looking for dollhouse furniture and got a gorgeous antique bed along with several other amazing items. I sewed a blanket for the bed, made a bolster pillow and wrapped it in the tulle, sewed two other pillows to add some color. I put it altogether and wished I could climb right in. I remember sitting up late at night, right after I finished it, just admiring, breathing deep and feeling such a sense of peace. For a few days afterwards, I’d walk by the dollhouse, look at it lovingly and daydream.

One day shortly after, my husband and I moved our bed away from the wall, to vacuum the dust behind the headboard. There was a window behind the headboard, we never opened the curtains of it because it was so dusty and the headboard was blocking it anyway. Once we moved the bed and vacuumed everything, we discovered the view out that window was beautiful. The neighbors had done some landscaping over the past few years and it looked fabulous. We wanted to look out that window too, so we moved the furniture around in our room. Once we did that, I decided it needed a fresh coat of paint. One thing really does lead to another. I headed to the hardware store, colonial book in hand, and had them make up a batch of paint to match the color of the photo. I then got to work on our bedroom. Life inspiring art, inspiring life. Though much smaller and less fancy, it gives me that same sense of peace that the room in the dollhouse does. Being that time of night, I think I’ll go crawl into bed right now. I’m so looking forward to it!

With Gratitude and a Happy Birthday!

I’m going to veer off course in this post today, but only slightly. I want to pause and say thank you to the women in my life. I am blessed to have great friends who give me encouragement, support and love. Some of you have always been there, and some of you have passed through my life. I want to mention three women in particular who have motivated and inspired me to start this blog, even if they weren’t aware of it.

Jacquie Donahue. I spent a magical weekend this past June at her ranch in Whitefish, Montana, complete with a double rainbow the first evening of our stay. She held a retreat for women, “The Inheritance of Intuition,” where we were guided to know, trust and honor ourselves, to let go of things that no longer served us and to embrace our authentic selves. She gave words to the process I was experiencing with my dollhouse; that by making deliberate and conscious decisions about each item, each room, I was reclaiming my past, choosing which parts I would keep and letting go of others. Check out her courses and retreats at:

Megan Flatt. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a seminar for moms looking to reenter the workforce or reinvent themselves. Megan was one of the speakers. Her talk reminded me that I need to take time for those things that inspire me and bring me joy. As moms, we don’t always find the time, and yet we can learn to make the time; time to enjoy family and motherhood and time for our own passions too.

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 12.27.16 PMAnd last, but definitely not least, my mom. She’s my original design inspirer/mentor. We moved out to the country when I was in grade school and built a log home. I don’t mean that we hired a contractor and construction crew to build it; WE built it. My stepdad was a log home builder, so he did the major work, but my mom helped in every way and my brother and I peeled the logs and cleaned up the sawdust. We taped, puttied and painted the walls and filled the home with things my mom created. Our bathroom sink was made from a cool old dresser. She painted it, cut a hole on one side and put a sink into it. It was an original. The living room coffee table was made from three timber chunks that she leveled off and used for legs, with a round glass table top they were throwing away at her office. She was (and is) a great mom. I rarely stayed home from school, only when I was really sick, mostly because I didn’t want to miss something; maybe they’d learn to conjugate a new verb in French class and I was sure I would fall behind. One day, I was sick enough to stay home from school, but not sick enough to put some time into painting an old cardboard file box. I needed a place to keep my artwork and a beautiful box would be the perfect place. I only got half of it done that day and by the next day, I was well enough to go back to school. I asked if I could stay home again, even though I wasn’t sick; I just had to finish the box. She knew it must have been really important to me and that I must have needed that day at home more than I needed to be at school. She let me. What an awesome mom. She doesn’t have a website to check out, but if you ever need a starter or alternator repaired and you’re in northern Minnesota, I know just the place. Happy Birthday Mom! No matter how old you think you look, you are still as beautiful as you were in this picture. I love you.

A Home At Last

Image“We are the proud owners of a two-story colonial!” That’s the title of the e-mail I sent to my family and friends the day we brought my dollhouse home. I attached this photo and wrote, “Probably the only house we’ll ever own in the Bay Area.” And I was ecstatic!

We have a charming apartment in an old home and we love it, but this, this house belonged to me. When you put work into a rental or even your own home for that matter, you leave it behind when and if you move. I like to think I’m not a material person, but when it comes to sentimental things, especially things I’ve created, vintage finds, or things that have been passed down, there’s always a little sadness in leaving them behind or giving them away (even when there’s joy in the giving too!). There’s something special about the things you create; each piece is like a child; something that was conceived within you that you actively bring into the world. Its birth is sacred and beautiful. Luckily, I don’t have to leave this house behind. It can come with us wherever we go. Someday it will get passed down again, but not yet. For now, it is my home.

There’s something else really special about this dollhouse. The year it came back into my life had been a year of longing; longing for a sense of home. I had been feeling melancholy, even bordering on self-pity, lamenting the fact that the special places from my childhood had been sold or were gone. My parents had divorced when I was seven, so I’d had two homes; my dad’s, where I had lived from birth through age 14, and my mom’s, that we had built and where I had lived from fourth grade through my high school graduation. We also had two cabins, one on each side of the family. I wanted to share these places with my family, my son, feel that sense of connectedness that comes with being in those places that hold special memories. My heart felt sad and lonely. In my mind, I understood; life changes and we would make new memories in new places. And yet I felt as if I had no anchor. Then this house arrived. I believe it was God’s way to show me both that I am cared for and also that God has a sense of humor. Suddenly, I did have a home from my childhood. My memory could serve as that place of rich history and roots I was longing for in having a childhood home. I could use the dollhouse to fill with my memories, my stories, family heirlooms and mementos.

This picture is the only real “Before” photo we took. That’s because my husband took it. He’s great at documenting special moments and remembering to capture the journey. I just jump right in and begin to create. We had fun this first day, before the work began, and discovered the house also makes a fun space for Star Wars guys. I look forward to sharing how the house has changed since this picture.  I’ve done a lot of work in the past two years, though not nearly as much as I would have liked to. I hope to spend more time doing so in the coming months. I read an interesting article the other day, which comes to my inbox as Eknath Easwaren’s Thought for the Day from The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation. The part I loved said, “Mogul art, one of the great periods of artistic achievement in India, often is in miniature. The artist concentrated on very small areas, on little things, and worked with tenderness and precision. Only somebody who understands art will be able to see all the love and labor that has gone into it.” I don’t know what Mogul art is, but I think the same could be said about dollhouses. It does take lots of love, labor, tenderness and precision. It is worth it; it is my home at last.

The Beginning

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.01.01 PM

This is me when I was four. I must have been shocked, surprised and half asleep. It was Christmas morning, 1981 and I was the lucky recipient of this gigantic dollhouse. My great-grandfather built it for his daughter in the early 1900s, it then passed to may aunt and then to me. I loved it. It became a house for all sorts of dolls; little dolls, plastic dolls, wooden dolls, paper dolls and Barbie dolls, though they couldn’t fit through the doorways. It didn’t come with much furniture, so I spent my time making things to fill the rooms; sofas from folded up t-shirts, coffee tables from those plastic, three-legged things that go in the middle of a pizza, a toilet from a short glass filled with water and cardboard attached for the back and seat and a waterbed for Barbie; a gallon Ziploc filled with water placed into a box with some kind of fabric stretched over the top. You get the picture.

Playing dolls for me meant designing the rooms, designing their “stories” and creating their look.  It was all about setting things up. I was a nanny for several summers as a teenager and one day the girls asked me to play Barbies with them. I jumped at the chance. We created their clothes, built their house with books for the walls, designed the rooms, and made up names for each doll. After about an hour, the 5-year-old said, in her very articulate, patient way, “You know, Tricia, we’ve been in here a long time and we haven’t even played.”  What?! For me, designing was play. I’ve done it my whole life. Once, in college, right in the middle of preparing for some intense paper, I decided it was extremely important to create a whole German village out of shoe boxes (I was a German major after-all). I painted each building, cut individual tiles from orange construction paper, painstakingly gluing each piece to the roof of every building, made a church with stained glass windows from wax paper, a tiny Bible for the altar and lots of little candles so those entering the church could light them as they prayed.  I then labeled each building with its German name, die Schule, die Kirche and each part of the building with its name, das Fenster, die Tür and so on.  It took me several hours every day and I stayed up late into the night working on it. Eventually I finished it and gave it to my cousin’s little daughter. I’m not sure how I managed it, but somehow I got my paper done too. Did I mention I love designing things?

Back to my beloved dollhouse; it had gotten left behind at my childhood home when my dad moved out and another relative moved in and had been missing somewhere in the family for several years. I imagined it had gotten passed down somewhere along the family line and was never to be seen again. You can imagine how excited I was when, just a few years ago, an adult with a child of my own, I received a call from my mom.  She had the dollhouse! It had gotten passed down and then passed down again to my brother’s daughter, unbeknownst to me. She had outgrown it and they were cleaning out the garage. My brother brought it over to my mom’s, wondering what to do with it. It was still in pretty good shape, despite some water damage in one of the bedrooms, appearing just as it would in a real house. There’s truly something magical and living about this place. How to get it to me from Minnesota to California in one piece without spending a fortune? Just put it on a friend’s semi truck who was driving a small airplane from trade show to trade show. Two months later, he arrived, and yes, the dollhouse was still in one piece. He was relieved to get it off his hands, having nightmares every night of the antique dollhouse, full of family history and memories, sliding off the shelf in the trailer and smashing to pieces. After we loaded it into the back of my husband’s GMC Jimmy with part of it sticking out and bungee cords holding the trunk closed, I imagined it slipping out and smashing on the freeway just 45 minutes away from home. It made it and now graces our dining room.

I have challenged myself with its restoration and renovation of the rooms. I want to create a special house, a unique piece, not just fill up a dollhouse with random things.  My dad told a friend I was going to restore it and she asked, “Is Tricia pregnant with a little girl?”  No, I’m not. This one is for me.

I hope you’ll come along with me as I set about to claim my family history, to tell my story and to create “A House Full of HERstory.”