Thursday, March 24, 2016

Aladdin Kit House

I recently learned that the house I grew up in was kit house. Built in 1919, it was a product of the Aladdin Company of Bay City Michigan, and it had a name: The Pomona.  

Kit house companies sold houses in a variety of styles which could be selected from a catalog. Once purchased, the kit house company supplied all the materials needed for construction. Every piece of lumber needed to build the house was pre-cut, labeled, and then shipped to the customer. Shingles, doors, windows, railings, hardware, and paint were included. When the materials arrived, the customer would then arrange to have a carpenter assemble the pieces.

It seems like a strange way to get a house built, but more than 100,000 kit homes were constructed in the United States between 1908 and 1940. They revolutionized home buying and building for the middle class.  

The Aladdin Company was one of the first manufacturers of kit houses, and also the most long-lived. Begun in 1906, the family owned business continued to make houses until 1981. Kit houses were also made by Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Pacific Ready Cut, among others.

We moved into our Aladdin kit house when I was three, and I lived there until my early twenties. But I never knew it was a kit house, and I don't know if my parents were aware of it. 
(That's me on the steps with my chihuahua in 1958.)

Located on the corner of Third and Cedar in Wyandotte, Michigan, our house had a lot of great Craftsman style details, but it was torn down by the city to make way for a development of brick McMansions in 2000.

This is the best photo I have of the house, taken in the fall of 1999. The front porch of our Pomona was enclosed, and it had brick-looking asphalt siding. The eave supports were covered over with aluminum siding, but the criss-cross detail in all the the windows remained intact.

I regret selling the house to the city so they could tear it down. I miss being able to see it; to drive by that corner and remember my childhood there. And I'm sorry I'll never be able to show it to my grandchildren. But, at the time, it seemed like the best thing to do. 

I saved one of the doorknobs from the house before it was torn down, and it has been in my china cabinet since then. 

I was thinking about that door knob one day not long ago when it finally occurred to me to Google, "Aladdin Houses." 

It delighted me to learn our house on Cedar street had been a kit house, and it especially delighted me to find the Aladdin catalog description of it, and its floor plan, online:

I am now slightly obsessed with Pomona's. Here is one in Oklahoma without the window details, and the unfortunate addition of  shutters: 

Here is one in nice shape, with the window details & the original eave supports:

Here is one that has lost its chimney, but has the eave supports and the original front door - which I remember distinctly: 

I found these photos online, and I'm sure they are just a tiny sampling of the many Aladdin Pomona houses that must be out there. I would love to be able to go into one some day. Especially if it had the 1919 floor plan. Walking into a version of our old house would be so cool. It would be like traveling back in time. Reviving the dead.

Here's another one:

And another one:

I am fascinated by the way these houses are all the same, and yet no two are exactly alike. It reminds me of people. Of DNA. And the nature/nurture debate. These houses are all made from the same design, the same pre-cut lumber.  Their "bones" are identical. But they became individuals because of  choices made by their owners and the amount of care they received.

The Aladdin catalog copy for the Pomona spins the story of a  young woman from Pomona California, transplanted to the East Coast and longing to retain "some part of her golden west."  The Pomona was supposedly designed for her. "A home that would radiate the delightful sunniness, and typify the bungalow-craft for which the sunset country is renowned."

"If there is such a thing as personality in a home the Pomona surely expresses the feeling in every angle and line. Bathed in a hot summer sun's rays, its wide eaves, shady porch and many windows offer cooling protection...  The porch in front is in perfect harmony with the balance of the house. Observe the tapered porch pillars of stucco, surmounted by clean lined columns of the same design."

As an additional selling point, the catalog mentions that the bedrooms have closets.

You could get the Pomona as a single level, or with a staircase and a second level. Our house was just one level, with unfinished attic space.  Our house had three bedrooms, oak floors, oak woodwork, cove ceilings, and an Art Deco chandelier in the dining room.

My parents bought the house from the heirs of the original owner. They purchased it in 1957 for $10,000, and paid an additional $250 for "furniture, rugs, dining room set, glider, and stove."  The rugs were room sized oriental rugs that remained in the house until the 1980s.  The glider was on the front porch until sometime in the late 60s. And I still own the china cabinet from the dining room set. It is where I keep the door knob.

When I was a little kid there was a swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room, but it was removed.  There were also french doors between the dining room and living room, but those were also removed.  And our fireplace was plastered over.  Such a shame.

This is one of the last photos I took inside  the house, just before I drove to the city hall to collect my check and give them the keys.

This was taken in the dining room. The opening leads into the living room - that's where the french doors once were.  I felt heartbroken the day I walked out of the house for the last time, knowing it would be torn down. But it was the last old house left standing on the block, and the city would have given me a hard time if I had tried to sell it to someone. I'm sure the plumbing and electrical were not up to code.  The house was in need of a lot of work.  I'm just so sorry it couldn't be done.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Scanner art

A few months ago I discovered scanner art, also know as scannography.  This is the art of using a scanner to make creative images. You just plop something down on the scanner, scan it, and then edit the image with photo editing tools.  While editing, I  sometimes layer the scanned image with a second image, giving it added texture or interest.

I could make scanner art all day, everyday.  The possibilities are endless.  And it's so much fun. I only wish I had more time to do it.

Here are some of my favorites so far:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Movies 2015

I saw 28 movies in 2015.  Of these my Top Ten favorites were:

1. Still Alice
2. Wolfpack (doc)
3. Carol
4. Love and Mercy
5. Finding Vivian Meier (doc)
6. Wild
7. Room
8. Spotlight
9. She's Beautiful When She's Angry (doc)
10 Mr. Turner

My least favorites were:  Palo Alto, Magic in the Moonlight, While We're Young, This is Where I Leave You, and Trainwreck.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Memoir Rejection

After editing my memoir manuscript one more time, I recently made a last ditch effort to send proposals to ten small presses, and I have so far received rejections from three.

Two of these rejections were from long-shots, and I pretty much expected them.  But one was from a press I really had my heart set on.  It seemed to be the perfect match for my work, and I daydreamed about how great it would be to be published by this press.  

So when I got their rejection on December 21 - just days before Christmas - it really hurt.  I was disappointed, disillusioned, and also annoyed that they couldn't have waited a week, or until after the new year to send their email rejection.

But what really irked me is that the person who sent the rejection took the time to write about how much she liked my work.

"...  you are a wonderful wordsmith.  I enjoyed the sample chapters you sent...  While I find the story interesting, I cannot express further interest.  Memoirs are indeed a hard genre for publishers;markets have been saturated and we have trouble getting the sales that we need.  I am sorry to write this disappointing news; it is more of a business decision than a critique of the work." 

When I complained about this rejection to my friends they all said how wonderful it was for me to get such a nice response.  What?!!??!   This response infuriated me.  I have been rejected in spite of being a "wordsmith," and in spite of writing an interesting story.  If this editor is sincerely being honest, than I can only conclude that the reason my work has been rejected is because my story is in the form of a memoir.

Can that be true??   Has the memoir genera sunk so low in respect that it is now being summarily rejected?   (Excepting those which are guaranteed to sell a million copies, of course.)

This rejection came from a university press.  Not a big publishing house.  And so you'd think they'd be interested in literary merit.  But apparently not.

I was also annoyed by the statement about the market being saturated with memoirs.  That's a lie.  I love reading literary memoir.  It's my number one choice in reading material.  And I can't find enough of it.  The problem is that the market is saturated with too much self-published crap. I'm afraid the memoir genera is now too often associated with poorly written, self-indulgent stories of woe. And what a shame that is.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Year

A year has gone by since I last posted to this blog,   A YEAR.  How is that possible?   It's true that I have had a lot of other distractions, but it is also true (as cliche's tend to be)  that time goes by much faster as you age.  Time flies.  As they say.

For the last few years I have been diligent about keeping track of the events in my life in a little notebook.  I have been jotting down the dates of trips, gatherings, visits, illnesses, celebrations, milestones, etc...   So that when a whole year goes by in a flash at least I can look back and see where it went.

It's pretty darn handy.  I have recorded the last five years in this inexpensive little notebook, which I started keeping  when I became lax in keeping a journal.

In truth I was never much of a journalist.  I am more of a diarist. And I have discovered, since meeting my paternal siblings for the first time last year, that I come by this naturally.  Genetically.

It amused me to learn that two of my new-found siblings are life-long diarists and archivists.

In my diary I have recorded quite a few significant and notable events for 2015 so far:  I got married.  Had two wedding receptions.  Finished my book.  Traveled to Chicago, Kansas, California, and northern Michigan.  Found my ex-husband's birth parents.  Spent a lot of quality time with my grandchildren.  Suffered from nosebleeds, Vertigo, dirt in my eye, and a bout of bronchitis.  And, most recently, battled a pooping possum in my backyard.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Finding my father

My father is listed on my birth certificate as "unknown,"  And the only person who could have told me something about him, my mother, died in a car accident when I was an infant.

No one knew my father's name and it seemed impossible that I would ever find him.
But that didn't stop me from searching.  

I had reason to believe he was an Air Force Officer, and so I formed an image of him as a jet pilot. Tall and handsome. A hero.  I imagined him on holidays, sitting at the head of a table in a tastefully furnished suburban home, maybe somewhere in California, surrounded by his loving wife and his grown children (my siblings) all with interesting careers and hobbies. 

I searched for eight years, but didn't find him, and came to terms with that fact.
I grieved for my unknown father and moved on. 

But then everything changed as the result of the increasing popularity of DNA tests.  So many people have taken these tests - in the interest of genealogy or just out of curiosity - that it is now fairly easy to find biological relatives this way.

As the result of several DNA tests, and some determined detective work,  I finally learned the name of my father last month.

Ted Hadley died in 1990, but I have learned a lot about him from my newly-found paternal relatives.  I have been given many photographs and a DVD of his home movies.  So, even though I will never meet him, I feel like I know him a little.

I am extraordinarily amazed by all this, and yet it is such an ordinary thing:  to know my father's name. 

As it turned out, my father was not a jet pilot.  Not a hero.  And not what you'd call a family man.  But he sure was handsome.  Also hard-working.  And fun-loving.  "He liked being the center of attention," my  half-sister recently told me.   

This is a photo of Ted Hadley in his costume for a children's television show that 
was broadcast in LasVegas in the early 1950s.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month and here is my opinion about that:

Adoption is not something to celebrate.  It is always the result of a loss of one sort or another. Something has gone wrong in someone's life in order for adoption to be necessary.  We should aim for a world where adoption is not needed, and celebrate that.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Six decades

In celebration of my 60th birthday, here are some photos of me in each decade I have lived  (so far!) 

1954  with my mother in Sunnyvale, California 

1964 - I gave myself this haircut

1974  - Kalamazoo, Michigan 

1984 - with my sons

1994 - in Chicago with my grandmother

2004 - camping in Muskegon Michigan

2014 -   DC with Beth 

Thursday, October 23, 2014


As a mother of identical twins I find THIS  (click for link) fascinating.

Identical twins develop from a single fertilized egg, so they have an identical genome.But differences in their genomes can occur throughout their lifetime.  Genes can be turned on or off, a process called expression, as the result of environmental factors like diet, exposure to toxins, stress, and exercise.  So identical twins can be formed into biologically different people as the result of their life experiences and lifestyle choices. Which is a great example of the fact that we are all the product of both our biology and our environment.  Our lives make us who we are.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ten years in three word sentences

I have been teaching memoir writing classes for more than year now and this is a wonderful writing prompt that is always a hit with my students.

Here's how it goes:
1. Pick a ten year period in your life.  
2. Write several paragraphs about that period in sentences of only three words each.  

Write as much as you'd like, but each sentence must contain exactly three words. Of-course each sentence won't be grammatically correct, but you will end up with  more material than you thought you had about those ten years.  Try it and see!  Here's one that I wrote about 1990 - 2000. 

Moved to woods.  Married to Tim.  Rural like sucks.  Work at library.  Driving the van.  Rural life sucks.  Trip to DC.  Trip to Florida.  Justin's appendix burst.  Pepper, our dog.  Walking in woods.  The dirt roads.  Listening to CDs.  Had chronic bronchitis.  And then pneumonia. OJ on Trial.  Summer reading clubs.  Lake Michigan beaches.  Snow, snow, snow.  My mom died.  Meat and potatoes.  My first garden.  Searching for Stanley.  My deep disappointment.  Sets, scripts, rehearsals.