Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Special House

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Did you have a doll house? (Ah, I have to say I never quite understood dolls, but not the point, and for another day.) But you know? We have been here at Jungle Red for ten years, right? Or more? 

And this is the sweetest blog ever.

Our dear FOTR, Triss Stein, is a wonderfully talented and gifted author and an all around fabulous person--and whoa, you all. This is the best story yet.


What I Did in the Pandemic
   by Triss Stein

It lives on the third floor of my house, in what is now our guest room. The glue that held it together is dried out, one of the wheels on the platform is long gone, and we are afraid moving it will be a disaster. It is big and narrow, 3 ½ ft.long x 15 “ wide and almost 3’ tall. More than four decades ago, my father built it for my young daughters.  

It is a doll house, a copy of our own Brooklyn rowhouse. It came with real leftover linoleum on the bathroom floors and real carpet remnants in some bedrooms.    



Typical of my dad, who loved to build things but could be a little careless on the details, it is gray where our “brownstone” house is actually cream colored. It has an elegant 3-sided bay window, where ours has only two sides. He left out the deck in the back and the elegant stone staircase to the raised front door.

We loved it then; we love it now.  When it came, we papered and carpeted and furnished the rooms. Our older daughter, who liked crafts, hand-made some accessories, including a crayoned computer, complete with drives and cables, that is still in the dollhouse office. Our younger daughter, later, created a busy family life for the resident dolls and put street numbers on the front door and a lock on the back. 



Time passed.  They outgrew it. I didn’t. I added holiday decorations, skis and scuba gear, a stand mixer in the kitchen. 

After old friends visited with two tween-age boys I found a house of horrors: a beheaded doll at the bottom of the staircase and another in the living room, stabbed with the tiny fireplace poker. It was hilarious and no, the boys did not grow up to be psychopaths.

Time passed. Dust accumulated and many objects were broken or disappeared.



Then new tenants moved into our real garden floor apartment; our daughter, her husband and daughters returned to the old neighborhood. The little girls call “Hello?” from the inside stairs and trot up to wheedle pretzels, use our computers and play with the dollhouse.

By February, 2020, Grandma -that would me - saw it was time for her once-a-decade renovation. That’s how it became one of the few coronavirus projects I actually carried out. I wiped down floors and walls. Fixed what could be fixed and discarded what couldn’t. Washed the textiles, discarded some and ironed others, and ordered new curtain rods, a proper desk chair, and miniscule toothbrushes.

My grandgirls, 6 1/2 and 4, now play incomprehensible games that result in furniture piled on top of the flat roof, or scattered “outside” on the supporting platform. I do know the ironing board became a slide.  The little one explained it all to me.     




These days, the dollhouse is no longer adorable and precisely perfect, as it was when I was in charge. It is loved, just as it is supposed to be. Working on it in a confusing and surreal time, I accomplished something tangible and used my hands to make something better. I made a bond with the next generation but also reached back to the last one. My father did not live to see these girls but his spirit is right there when they play with what he made. He is still creating joy and fun. He always did.



What project gave you joy in the last months?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That is adorably touchingly wonderful. Oh, my gosh. Thank you, dear Triss. (And they probably have no idea what an ironing board even is? Maybe?) But we have a tiny tiny garden. With tomatoes. We have a true, honest,  big  growing cucumber! I am enchanted. I love our little garden. It's the first thing we look at every day. How about you, Reds and readers? Yes, what project? And did you have a dollhouse?


Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. She writes mysteries about different Brooklyn neighborhoods, their unique histories, and unique modern issues, in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home.



In her new  book, Brooklyn Legacies, murder gets in the way of historian heroine Erica Donato’s efforts to understand historic Brooklyn Heights’ clashing cultures and seismic current changes. How do historical preservationists, large real estate developers, a powerful religious organization, old Brooklyn society and aging hippies , live side by side? The answer is, with great difficulty.  And It all begins with a classic McGuffin, a lost portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius, Walt Whitman.




83 comments:

  1. What a lovely story, Triss . . . and how fortunate your family is to have such a wonderful treasure. [Kind of like being loved into real, like the velveteen rabbit?]
    And, no, we never had a doll house.

    I fear my coronavirus activities have been far less amazing than yours. There’s been some gardening and a lot of baking going on around here . . . bread and peanut butter bread and chocolate peanut butter brownies and all kinds of cakes [with chocolate topping the list of my particular favorites]. And a great deal of reading . . . thank goodness for wonderful books!

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    1. Good morning, Joan and thank you so much for that lovely comparison. As to other coronavirus projects? I did have big plans that somehow didn't happen. Yes, lots of baking

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    2. I thought about the velveteen rabbit too! And I agree, in the beginning it felt like there would be so much time… But now, there isn’t. Or – – there wasn’t.

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  2. That was so, so sweet. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. That is lovely that your granddaughters are enjoying and enhancing the dollhouse in their own ways, Triss.

    Like Hank and Joan, I have been doing a lot of baking, cooking and enjoying my expanded balcony garden this year. More than 50% of the baked goods and other meals are from new recipes. It is fun to find interesting recipes and to make up my own.

    But there are space limits to this creativity. I don't like eating the same leftovers for multiple days so my chest freezer is packed to the brim with 10 lbs weights pressing the lid down!

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    1. Love the 10 pound weights! I bet that freezer is packed with good stuff

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    2. Grace, I have the same feeling about leftovers. Too bad we aren't close enough to trade. LOL

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    3. You made me smile with your 10 pounds weights. Do you rotate what is inside to have the older at hand ?
      At least you have some leftovers to eat during the heat waves.

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    4. Liz, Lucy. Yes, there are lots of good meals. Not being able to share the bounty with friends certainly means more leftovers go in the freezer.

      Danielle: Yes, I check and move the older foods closer to the top of the freezer throughout the year. So, no freezer burnt food that has been left in the freezer for many years.

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    5. Oh, we should talk about freezers soon! My next topic :-)

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  4. Triss, I loved this story! And how lucky you are to have family downstairs. My best friend's daughter, S_I_IL, and toddler granddaughter live on her first floor, and the little one is always up and down the stairs. And that the dollhouse spans generations is perfect.

    I've always been fascinated by the tiny lives and things in dollhouses. With three girls in the family, we must have had one, but I don't have a clear memory (note to self - ask older sisters).

    After I made a few masks, I haven't had a pandemic project other than writing my books and trying to slow down the weight gain that came from too much baking at the beginning (well, not just that...). My vegetable garden thrives, but it always does.

    Be well, my friend. I'm off to order the new book! I love your series.

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    1. Thank you , Edith. Yes in this time we have been extremely lucky to have family under this roof. You are using pandemic time wisely to do your job! And I love reading about your real gardening as I just try to keep the squirrels from the bulbs in my tiny patch of green.

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    2. Squirrels! It is a constant struggle!

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  5. Welcome Triss! What a wonderful story. My father also made us a doll house, though it was much simpler than yours. It was made of painted plywood I am guessing and had an upstairs and downstairs and a slanted roof. I was a devoted doll player. Loved my Barbies and many stuffed animals, especially cats. I look forward to the days that we went to visit my cousin who was an only child and had everything including Barbies dream house and a convertible that Barbie and Ken rode around in. Sure wish we had kept that doll house! Thanks for visiting and good luck with the book

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    1. Hi, Lucy/Roberta. My dad never built us a dollhouse- this was one of his many retirement projects - and I don't think we had one of the ugly painted metal ones you could buy in a store, either. I was always fascinated by miniatures, though, and loved The Borrowers books.

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    2. The borrowers! Thank you for reminding me! I always thought that was such a reasonable explanation…

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    3. I adored the Borrowers, and turned my sons onto those books - or tried to.

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  6. The doll house is fabulous, Triss! I love that four generations of family have put their love into it, including the murderous tweens.

    I've always been fascinated by all the tiny dollhouse things--furniture, and phones, and pies for the countertop. As with model train layouts, the depth of detail you can get into, if you want your dollhouse denizens to have a rich and colorful life, is astonishing.

    I had a dollhouse, but it was a prefab, printed metal thing, and my sister and I only played with it occasionally. We were more into Barbie-sized adventures that involved our Breyer horses. I think the dollhouse disappeared the first time the family moved. It would probably be a cherished vintage collector's item now.

    As for isolation projects, I have a whole heap of knitted strips that I think will someday come together into an afghan, and a yen to get back to my quilting. I have a newly finished novelette and a novel that's begging me to come back. And I have a few fewer boxes in my front room, which has been storage but is now becoming my work office. It's progress, but not speedy progress.

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    1. Gigi, we had one of those metal dollhouses, too, but it's probably just as well it was lost. They got rusty very fast, and they were really dangerous toys!

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    2. Yes, I remember seeing those! With all those sharp edges… And things painted on.

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    3. I do remember it getting rusty, and things snagging on the rolled edges where they cam together at the corners. It wasn't a very inviting plaything. I envy people who had the lovingly hand-made ones.

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  7. What a wonderful living family heirloom! I did have a doll house but nothing like the grand one you have. I loved playing with the tiny pieces of furniture and other things. Someday your granddaughters will realize how absolutely fortunate they are and I'm talking about way more than the dollhouse. I will be reading the next installment of your series for sure.

    I picked my first cherry tomato yesterday and have already picked several cucumbers. The blueberries are almost ripe enough to enjoy and the wild raspberries are delicious even if they are very small.

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    1. Yeah for just picked produce!

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    2. It tastes so wonderful! We are trying to decide when to pick the cucumbers. Very serious.

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    3. I know just what you mean, Hank! I think it depends on the variety. I don't like big seeds so I maybe picked mine a little early. I was hopping they would get a little longer but instead they got fatter with big seeds. The kind I planted are the kind to make dill pickles even though that's not what I will do. Longer slicing cukes are too much for me. So trial and error and you'll figure it out. My son eats them skin and all but I do not.

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  8. What a wonderful story, Triss. The dollhouse is clearly well loved.

    The Hubby has been doing all those "I'll get to it" projects that have been on a list on the fridge for a year. A new 15-pane window door for the kitchen. He finished a bookshelf of reclaimed wood. Painted the storm door to the basement. And so on.

    Me, I experiment in the kitchen. I recently made a Samoa Caramel Cheesecake that my son proclaimed "Worthy of the Cheesecake Factory." High praise.

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    1. My list of "projects" remains mostly unchecked.Bravo to your husband. But my husband and family/tenants downstairs have liked the baking, too. Bravo to your experiments

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  9. LOVE that doll house! I had one but by the tie it got to me it had very little left in it. My daughter started drawing houses, floor plans, elevations even, before she was six. She built block cities that covered her bedroom floor. She played endlessly with a dollhouse. Papered its walls with wallpaper samples. Made furniture for it. She's now an architect (she renovates brownstones in NYC) and now her daughter Franny makes 'rooms' and 'houses' on every available scrap of shelf space in their apartment, trying to keep them out of reach of her little brother, a one-kid wrecking crew.

    The project taht's given us greatest joy these last four+ months has been teaching Franny which helps her parents out since they're working from home. We do it via Facetime, and every day she takes us on a Facetime 'tour' of her latest dollhouse room or structure. When she was here last weekend she built a five-story Lincoln Log tower. It's so much fun to see talent play itself out in *play*.

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    1. Hallie, Franny should meet Dash, Art Taylor's and Tara Laskowski's son! He makes complicated Lego houses. Together they could whip the whole country into shape.

      That kind of space perception ability is the sign of great intelligence, by the way. It's very unusual to be able to visualize complex shapes, inside and out, and then to execute them. You have some smart cookies there.

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    2. Hallie, I loved your story. Even before you said it, I thought, "An architect in the making." And sounds like her daughter might be too. I am impressed that you are teaching on Facetime. We have loved it for visiting with our little grandson in NJ - he plays hide and seek with us!

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  10. Welcome Triss and thanks for sharing your photos and family stories with us. The doll house is amazing and I would have loved it to pieces when I was a child. The restoration project that you accomplished during the pandemic is admirable. None of my projects has been anything that important. Your new book sounds like something I will have to read and is going straight onto my TBR list.

    When I was little, I adored doll houses and dolls. My dollhouse was similar to Gigi's a metal thing that I played with endlessly, making up stories about the family inside. I did have a dress-up doll that my aunt bought me and every year she added clothes to her wardrobe, pre-Barbie. She was one of my favorite toys. I kept track of her tiny clothes and had a special little case for her belongings. Like Roberta/Lucy, all my stuffed animals were well-loved as well.

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    1. Hearing about this! I just… Never did that! Believe it, now, how that chunk of my life did not exist. I did play with paper dolls…

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    2. You play with characters in your books, Hank. It's much the same skill set, only without the obsession about clothing. No dolls needed.

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  11. Triss, congratulations on your new release. I love your dollhouse story! We built a dollhouse for our older daughter from a kit, and gradually furnished and decorated it over the years. It didn't make the cut before our last move, but the little girl who found it at our garage sale was thrilled.

    Inspired by the village recycling day on Saturday, I'm going through a garage stall filled with boxes of old utility bills and bank statements, bagging them for the commercial shredder. I found a short story manuscript from a few years ago, and submitted it yesterday.

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    1. I'm impressed with your paper recycling project. I had big plans for the decades of accumulated photos, but ...sigh.

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    2. Oh, that vision of the little girl at the yard sale is so precious! And what a good plot beginning…

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  12. Oh Triss, this brought back so many memories and a tear to my eye. I am a dollhouse lover, and I spend hours as a child playing with mine. When my daughter came along, she had one too. We bought it but I decorated it secretly, getting ready for Christmas morning delight.

    Thank you for bringing smiles this morning. And congratulations on the new book.

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    1. Isn't it fun to play with these things as an adult? Did you ever read an old children's book, Rumer Godden's The Dollhouse? It was actually a little creepy story but I remember being so fascinated by the details of renovating the house itself.

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  13. What a fabulous family treasure, Triss. May your granddaughters remember this time as special instead of scary.

    I had a Barbie doll house. I was all about Barbie as a kid.

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    1. Ramona, Barbie seems to be immortal. I missed her by a few years but one of my daughters loved her Barbies for a long time and wrote a college paper about what they added to her childhood! And yes, my grands have a Barbie dollhouse too, much loved. Very pink. :-)

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    2. Ramona! Congratulations on your new book! And we will talk about it right here next week— Put a link in the comments so people can find it!

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  14. I wonder why miniature houses are so fascinating. We visited the Renwick Gallery when they had the Frances Glessner Lee Nutshell Stories, which are scale houses of murder scenes. The exhibit was absolutely crammed full of avid visitors.

    My brother's wife bought a dollhouse for his granddaughter Bella (who is about to have her second little sister in two years, so it's destined for hard use), and it's so fun watching her play with it. Like yours, Triss, it's three stories, although Barbie-scaled. And pink, gah. For some reason a horse lives in it, and sometimes the car is parked on the third floor.

    In isolation I have somehow wrestled a scraped-bare yard into something lush and productive. Every time I look at it I marvel, because I'd swear I had been sitting on my keester this whole time.

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    1. I think a living garden is a perfect pandemic project - beauty and hope. Applause! And I've heard about those crime scenes miniatures and hoped to see them someday. There are a couple of very special dollhouses in the Museum of the City of New York - much loved.

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  16. I have nothing to show for being marooned at home. I’ve continued my role as the one who holds down the fort while others are doing whatever. Our granddaughter brings home samples of what she made in culinary school. Husband spends several days a week at his acreage getting it habitable. Son is wrapping up his training at Ft Sam and will be home in just a few weeks. My current project is the annual decision of is my 2003 vehicle going to hold up or should I start looking for something newer. I’ll see what the mechanic says. One of the back windows died so have to fix that before rain reappears in our forecast.

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    1. So you DO have something to show for being marooned at home, Pat: The Fort, all lovingly held down and kept together so it will function for your family. That's a big thing. If they don't appreciate it, you can come hold down my fort.

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  17. Triss, welcome to Jungle Reds! What a wonderful legacy your Dad created. Do you share stories with your grandchildren about their great grandfather?

    Thank you for sharing your dollhouse virtually with us. Although I never had a dollhouse, I loved dollhouses. When I visited Windsor Castle, I saw Queen Mary's Dollhouses.

    What a joy for your grandchildren to be able to play with the dollhouse built by their great-grandfather.

    What projects have I been doing during the pandemic? I have been participating in a writing project with a wonderful author (one of my favorite authors) and about 50 other participants on Facebook. I have been baking and cooking. I made a wonderful vegan mac and cheese, which IMHO tasted better than mac and cheese with dairy. My vegan mac and cheese is wheat free and dairy free. I also have been writing more book reviews and my book blog.

    Diana

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    1. I would love to see the Queen Mary dollhouse someday.I've known about maybe since I was a child. Though I have been to London several times I never got to Windsor. But I did see some magnificent ones in Amsterdam, playthings for adults not children. Answering your question, we do talk about their great-grandfather to the girls but they are not very curious (not yet) They much prefer the live grandfather who takes them to the playground!

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    2. Love that story about the playground. Have you put together a family tree for your grandchildren in case they are interested when they are grown up?

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    3. I haven't and it's a great idea. Maybe my next pandemic project? A lot more fun than cleaning out closets, right?

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  18. Oh - this made my heart do that happy/sad thing we do when memories and choices collide. I had a dollhouse, also made by my father and decorated by my mother. It was a homemade version of a Barbie dream house with carpet and wallpaper and a working glass (Plexiglass) elevator for it's three stories. It had a stylishly slanted roof and a deck to the side. BLISS! I played with it for years, kept it in my room long after the playing years were over and moved it into my first US house when I came home with my children from Senegal. My children were not doll people. The house stayed in the attic as they grew up. Faced with a move to a house with almost no storage and the prospect of future children in the family to love it drifting away, we gave the dollhouse to a friend who was furnishing a shelter for displaced families. I comforted myself with the thought that the elevator, the garage, the cool kitchen and the remnants of our house decor would be a place of distraction and respite for children navigating chaos. And I am comforted even as I miss having easy access to something my parents built with such care and creativity. Thanks for the chance to wander through memories, Triss!

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    1. This is such a lovely story, Lysa. Thank you for sharing it. Knowing that the dollhouse your parents made with so much care is now helping children who have had tough childhoods is endlessly touching. There is a wonderful picture book there, IMHO.
      (And they MADE a Barbie house? How endlessly cool.Not truly a Barbie fan myself, but my grandgirls do have a Barbie house and do love it)

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  19. Triss,

    What a wonderful story. It's a loving tribute to family and the flights of imagination that can carry us away to for hours of enjoyment.

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  20. I didn't have a doll house. My father was a model railroader so I had a whole town in the attic. I couldn't touch it. I could look and watch and wonder.. the storytelling started then.
    Nice memory Triss. Thank you.

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  21. Those model railroad setups were almost as magical as a great dollhouse. There used to be a store right in Manhattan that had supplies for both. What fun

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  22. Triss, what a wonderful story!! Can't wait to read the book, too--you had me at the missing Walt Whitman portrait!

    I never had a dollhouse, and I didn't play with dolls at all. It was all horses and stuffed animals for me, and playing action figures with my boy cousin. But one of the tragedies of my childhood was never being given a model railway set. My ten-years-older brother had one and I was SO jealous...

    No dollhouse for my daughter, either. She had toy garages and barns and farms--and lots of ponies. I'm seeing a theme here! My four-year-old granddaughter does play with dolls, though, and would love a dollhouse.

    I suppose my pandemic project has been my garden. Lots of cooking, too, but neither of those things are that out of the ordinary. Yesterday, however, I made a chart of all my fountain pen inks--now that has got to be the height of pandemic nerdiness!

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    1. You charted your fountain pen inks? I truly love it. And I get it too. Ah, did no one think of a railway set for a girl? And they call it the good old days. I wasn't a big doll lover either -I really preferred books to anything - but I would have loved a doll house. (The Borrowers was a favorite book series...) My dad didn't start making these elaborate projects until his retirement

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    2. Deb, a fountain pen ink chart is nerdy all right! But we all have our own coping mechanisms, no?

      Thank you, Triss, for this sweet dollhouse story. I enjoyed it, even though dollhouses were not my thing as a kid. Brooklyn Legacies sounds terrific - I'll look for it!

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    3. Charting fountain pen inks? Of course! Sounds like my kind of thing. Like the day in April I catalogued all my cookbooks.

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  23. OH oh oh oh!! As a lifelong dedicated miniaturist, I LOVE your dollhouse and all its works, Triss.

    I could go on and on about minis, but I'll just say one thing: I have that Barnes & Noble bag too, from a visit to a miniatures shop in NYC about, oh...1980?

    What a perfect Pandemic Project. (I'm learning the Ukulele.)

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  24. My old sisters confirmed that our mother's father made her a two-story dollhouse, and all the furniture, too. My grandmother - who later sewed us fancy Barbie doll clothes (do you know how HARD that is?) - made the curtains, bedding, and doll clothes. I knew I had played with a dollhouse. No idea where it went, though, alas.

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    1. I'm laughing - I guessed you meant "older" but wondered how your "old" sisters reacted! And I am very impressed at your grandmother's sewing skills. I do know how hard it is to make those tiny clothes.

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  25. I did have a doll house as a girl, and I loved it. That's where I began crafting stories, I'm quite sure. How lovely this house is and how poignant to have your father so present in all your lives with such a gift. Looking forward to your book - I love Brooklyn and Walt Whitman! Congrats, Triss!

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  26. What an awesome dollhouse that is, Triss. That your father built it for your daughters, and now your granddaughters are playing with it is just the best kind of family heirloom there is. And, that you aren’t concerned about keeping it pristine but are letting it be loved and played with is the way it should be. I have a chest of Barbie dolls and clothes and such that I have let my granddaughters play with because the money I might be able to get out of the toys doesn’t compare to my joy seeing a granddaughter having fun.

    I have to remind everyone here just what a great series Triss’ Erica Donato Brooklyn series is. I have learned so much fascinating history about Brooklyn from reading these thrilling mysteries. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend you start. One of my favorite series!

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  27. Aww, thanks, Kathy. Great to see you here. And isn't it amazing how Barbie seems to be eternal? My grandkids love Barbie as much as their mother did, just as yours do. (My older daughter was never interested and I just missed them - was already too old for dolls when they came along.)

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  28. No real house but dolls and furniture lived under my dresser for a while. I did see Queen Mary's dollhouse. It is big and very detailed! My brother got the train set but we both played with it and both bought and made things for the village. Dad put up a huge platform with the tree in the middle and the village around it for Christmas.

    My grandma made me and my doll matching nightgowns with a little flower embroidered on them. Grandma was a master crafter. Stay safe and well.

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    1. Thank you Sally. Your grandmother sounds awesome.

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  29. My thanks to Hank for inviting me, to the rest of the Reds for welcoming me, and all of you readers for your wonderful comments. What a fun day this has been. I'll check in again later. Best to all, Triss

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    1. We loved having you! What a wonderful story..and you are such an important part of our lives! xoo

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  30. I think we may have had a small, retail doll house, but what I most remember are the doll clothes my mom made for my dolls and the ones I made for my younger sister's dolls. Cousins had a wooden pretend kitchen their dad made for them. Lovely memories! This quarantine, I am mostly reading, and a bit of necessary sewing . . . next up, putting a wire in masks friends made for me. My allergist says it will make them fit my nose better. ;-)

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