Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Self-Quarantine Exhibition

A truly amazing collection of photographs reflecting the self-quarantining currently underway.

Happy April Fool’s Day! Let me start off by saying a huge THANK YOU to the participating photographers from all over the globe, each of whom shared a little bit about themselves during this profound moment in history. There were hundreds and hundreds of submissions and as I uploaded each one, I thought about your life and world.  And though I corresponded only briefly with each of you, I was comforted by the connection to the greater whole as I have been in quarantine for almost three weeks. There are seven parts to this post so keep going until you get to the end. Pour yourself a big glass of wine or a big mug of coffee and enjoy the collected experience of The 2020 Lenscratch Self-Quarantining Exhibition…and share widely!  Be safe out there. See you on the other side. – Aline Smithson

Michael's Museum: A Curious Collection of Tiny Treasures

On this date, April 1, 2007, an article appeared in the Chicago Tribune "Q" Section written by Barbara Mahany about her visit to Michael's Museum which at the time lived in my guest bedroom.

The article was the beginning of a long journey which ended up in May of 2011 with "Michael's Museum: A Curious Collection of Tiny Treasures" becoming a permanent exhibit at Chicago Children's Museum.

The exhibit is now in its 9th year and continues to be one of the favorites at CCM. Over half a million people (650,000 to be exact) visit the museum each year which translates to close to 6 million people who have visited or at least passed by Michael's Museum. Thank you Chicago Children's Museum!!!

(Photos at top from the Children's Museum 2011. Other photos from when the museum was in my guest room as featured in the Chicago Tribune 2007.)

Original Design by Jenny Schrider: Front of Exhibit

Original Design by Jenny Schrider: Inside of Exhibit

The exhibit as it is today at Chicago Children's Museum on Navy Pier

The Museum Mouse watches over Michael's Museum

The Tribune article in which it all began!

Chicago Tribune news: A world of beauty writ small
The wonder of childhood fits into one-room museum 04/01/2007 10:40 AM
A world of beauty writ small
The wonder of childhood fits into one-room museum
page1image9458944 page1image9461632
By Barbara Mahany 

Tribune staff reporter April 1, 2007

Here's the drill, should you decide some otherwise ordinary day that you need a little, little thrill: You'll need to cut down an alley in north Evanston, just across from where the Metra trains rumble day and night. There, at an old framing factory at the back of a leafy lot, ring the bell marked "residence." Start climbing stairs and don't stop till you get to a wee room, a room with ceiling hung so low that you may have to bend your neck.

Once in that 26-by-10 room, a room that's stuffed with 25 cabinets, eight separate shelves, four ledges, a curator's desk, five chairs and a double bed, do not, whatever you do, exclaim: Oh my, what a fine miniatures museum.

It is a museum, all right. And it is full of little things. But the chap in charge of it decidedly does not go for the word miniatures.
"I find the term pejorative," says the man, who finds the word too cutesy, too often pegged with little things -- owls and butterflies and beer cans, he says -- that go in, then out of style. His things, he says, will not go out of style.

The name of the man, by the way, is Michael Horvich, and this is his museum. Michael's Museum. Not Michael's Miniatures Museum, though you would be sorely tempted to say that.

"I would say it's my interpretation of all the beauty in life reduced to what you can hold in your hand," says Horvich, 61.

It is a collection of collections that can only be termed in superlatives. "Astounding" is one of those terms. And to stand in the room, to turn like the hands of a clock, is to take in a sweep of things in small scale, the likes of which you might never have seen.
Every inch, covered. Every inch covered in things measured in fractions of inches.

"It started out, I tried to leave blank space because empty space is important as well," says the one-man curatorial staff, Horvich, a retired teacher and a supernumerary (who acts but does not sing) at Lyric Opera of Chicago. "But it was hopeless."

Ready for a museum tour? Well, take a breath, a deep one.
In dozens and hundreds and dozens of hundreds, there are chess pawns in small, smaller, smallest. Monopoly markers, metal and not. Croquet sets, with mallets the size of match sticks, balls you might think to pierce with a fork, thinking they were peas. Bingo cards, bingo markers and marbles.

Oh, the marbles. Marbles of glass, marbles ceramic, marbles of Bennington pottery. Marbles called steelies, and a marble of copper, heavy enough to break your big toe. Marbles opaque, transparent, translucent. One sports an onion-skin swirl.

There are fetishes, milagros, billikens and kachinas, all little objects to bring you good luck. There are Nativity scenes, 40 -- one in an ostrich egg, one in a walnut shell and, in one, a Mary and a Jesus, each the size of a rice grain.

There are Coke bottles as thin as two toothpicks and Coke cans the size of the nail of your pinkie. There is a Statue of Liberty half the size of a raisin. There are things in a bottle, four-leaf clovers, jumping beans, penny whistles, Oscar Mayer wiener whistles, a plastic Heinz pickle smaller than one elbow of macaroni.

Oh, and that's only the half of it. Or, more likely, the tenth of it. (Horvich hasn't a certifiable census of all his little things; must be somewhere in the millions, although he has never counted. "It would be too claustrophobic to know," he sighs.)

"It's a way of preserving my youth," he says, opening the glass case that holds the teeny blue flasks that hold leftover droplets of Evening in Paris. That was the perfume his mother wore all through his boyhood, growing up on Chicago's North Side.

"I guess I've been collecting all of my life. If I had, say, a favorite car, I'd stuff it in my pocket and carry it around all day." His front right pocket, he says, was always filled with things that caught his eye. Not typical boy things, like a frog or a pocketknife. Usually, a sparkly thing. A beautiful thing.

"I remember sitting on the stairs in the hallway outside of a school friend's second-floor apartment. We were maybe 6 or 7 years old. He had a cigar box of sparkly things that his mother had given him. There were bits of broken jewelry -- loose sequins, rhinestones, pearls and silver and gold chain. I remember thinking this was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen."

He started collecting his own bits of beauty. It wasn't long before he set up his first museum installation, as he calls it, on an upturned orange crate on Broadway at Ainslie Street. He'd bought some "first place award" pins at a dime store, pinned the pins to a tablecloth, sat on a stool and "presided as people walked by," he recalls.

Through the years, Horvich says, he couldn't help but collect in collections. "If I've got two of something, it's a collection."
Until five years ago, his collections were a bit, um, unruly. Stashed in a drawer here, on a tabletop there. But then, he and his partner, architect Gregory Maire, moved into a rehabbed industrial space, and Maire pointed up the stairs to the room at the top.

"'Oh, boy,' I said, 'it's Michael's room,'" recalled Maire, who rejoiced that all the scattered stuff could be harnessed in one place, "much like the inside of a sugar Easter egg."

The museum, by appointment only, has no entrance fee (though donations are not turned down). And it does have a gift shop: a wooden box, disguised as the book "Treasure Island." Inside, deaccessions of collections that have lost their pizzazz. Or, simply, duplicates. You come to the museum, you get to choose one thing, gratis.

Horvich wants you to leave with a little delight in your heart. He wants you to have reclaimed a bit of your childhood.
And most of all, he would like a real live museum to make a home for his not-miniatures museum.

"Just to share with everyone," he says. "Imagine the joy. Instead of 50 [people] a year getting to see it, maybe thousands. Can you imagine bringing your children to see all this stuff?

"And then the plaque might say, 'Imagine the magic. Experience the joy.'" A man who loves littles, dreaming quite largely in scale.
Should you find yourself hankering for a tour, check out
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
page5image9544704 page5image7457216,1,305926,print.story Page 5 of 5

A year-end follow-up in the Tribune

Michael's Museum in the guest room of Gegory and my home.
Photographs taken by Tribune Staff Photographer Chris Walker

Our cat, Mariah.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Empty Feeling of the COVID 19 Pandemic


Café du Monde in New Orleans

City Parking in Evanston, Il 

Condo Hallway

Lyric Opera of Chicago

The Diner by Edward Hopper 

Le Grand Jette by Saurat

Times Square, New York City 

St Mark's Square in Venice, Italy 

tRUMP hopefully on his way out!

The Other Side of the Glass


Sitting at my computer in the condo, the east wall of my living room is almost entirely glass: three bays of floor, almost to ceiling glass.

One bay has a huge, heavy sliding glass door that goes out to the balcony, overlooking the third-floor rooftop garden. Lovely trees, bushes, and in spring and summer a variety of flowers pass through the days to cheer one up.

The second bay has two panels of fixed glass on top and two tip-in windows on the bottom with screens to keep out the bugs.

The third bay has two smaller, inoperable panels on top.

The place, on bright sunny days, is bright and sunny. A second sunrise occurs when the sun goes down behind the condo building and is reflected off the buildings to the east and into my living room.

Why did I spend all this time painting a picture of my condo living room for you?

For two reasons, first, because I love my condo; it is clean and nicely laid out with many of my collections on display on walls and table surfaces. All surfaces are covered! While there are many, many items on display, the room feels well organized and not at all chaotic but rather peaceful and welcoming.

The second reason for sharing is that as I am sitting here, looking out the windows, I am thinking about what is going on the other side of my windows, with COVID 19 looming large in other condos, on the streets, in grocery stores, in now for delivery-only restaurants, in small businesses around the state, country, and world, in the lives of so many.

I think about the people who are not as fortunate as I am to live in a safe, comfortable, supportive environment; those living on the streets or in sheltered doorways or on the train grabbing some shut-eye between stops.

I think of those who have lost their jobs or if lucky those working at home. I think about those who are in isolation, sick at home, or in hospitals. Those who are dying or who have died and the grief of their families, if they were lucky enough to not be alienated from their families.

A third reason I am sharing is that I am astounded at how removed I feel from all of the COVID 19 going on around me. While sheltered at home and only going out, quickly, for a grocery list or to pick up medication from CVS, my life is much the same as it was before the advent of the escalating deadly virus that is poised to destroy not only life but our economy and life as we know it!

The main difference between BC (before virus) and AD (after virus) is that during the winter I find it preferable to hibernate at home, turn inward. Being winter I only go out when I have to, enjoy working in my condo on various projects, cooking dinners, talking to friends on the phone, and watching TV or movies, reading a good book. Naps figure into my days and my kitties (really cats but I still call them kitties) keep me not only busy maintaining their lives but also cheered as they purr while being pet.

Other differences of which I am aware as affecting me, include the arrival of social distancing, not eating out (which I haven't been doing much since I got my new "Smart Oven," the absence of being with people in person, and not attending theater and opera.

But otherwise, my life is much the same.

So here I sit at my computer, in my sunny living room, enjoying my condo and kitties and dinner while staring out the window at the trees which are about to bud, the grass which is about to green, the bushes and flowers which are about to bloom and I feel joy and happiness and the COVID 19 (at least at this point) is something that seems to be on the other side of the glass and not part of my world!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Disturbing Read

However, I prefer to know as much as I can so I can make informed decisions. 
Much of what is discussed here was addressed in a videocast I watched last night presented by a resident who lives in my condo, an infectious disease doctor, and clinical assistant professor who is involved with the COVID-19 response through the Northshore University Health Care System and the University of Chicago Medical Department.

The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.

The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.

Grocery Store Precautions

Shopping and Carry Out Safety

Friday, March 27, 2020

Moved To And Beyond Tears!

There are people in the world who have made such an incredible, positive impact on you that they significantly affected the course of your life forever.

Among these very special people in our lives are Michael Horvich and his partner, Gregory Maire. In the early 90s, when we were living in Chicago, Ken earned his way to becoming a licensed architect and started working for Gregory and his firm. Gregory was a brilliant, kind mentor. Michael, also at the helm, helped to manage staff and projects. They worked on many exciting projects together and Ken eventually took a leading role in the firm. 

Over the years, Gregory and Michael became more than just employers. They became dear friends who became family, and eventually godparents to Kai and Paz.

In 2005, our world was shaken with the news that Gregory was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. During their battle with this unrelenting disease, Michael and Gregory inspired us with their unconditional love, grace, and resilience. Michael cared for Gregory with steadfast patience and understanding. Even in these most challenging times, they humbled us with their generosity by helping Ken and providing him with assets to set up his own firm, One World Architecture. 

In 2015, we were devastated when Gregory passed away from Alzheimer’s. If you ever want to see a story about the strength and beauty of the human spirit, check out the film made about Gregory and Michael called "Alzheimer’s: A Love Story.” It has been featured in over 60 film festivals around the world and won dozens of awards. 

The impact that Gregory and Michael have made goes way beyond us. After Gregory’s passing, Michael created an educational foundation in his name to give annual scholarships to homeless youth in Chicago.

If you already think Michael is wonderful like we do, that’s not all. If you’re ever in Chicago visiting Navy Pier, one of the city’s most popular destinations, check out Michael’s Museum, a permanent installation featuring Michael’s magical, lifelong collection of tiny treasures. 

Michael, you are amazing and we want to wish you a wonderful 75th Birthday. There are no words to express how much we love and appreciate you and Gregory. But we’ll spend the rest of our lives trying.

— celebrating a birthday with Ken Parel-Sewell and 2 others.

Happy Birthday Michael & Mom

My mom, Adeline Horvich.
RIP March 27, 2010.

She began the next part of her journey
on the day she helped me begin mine!

Happy Birthday to Me

Click the picture to hear the birthday song
"Estas Son Las Mañanitas"
"These Are The Mornings"
which is serenaded at one's window.

See the lyrics below.

And at the bottom read the story

These are the mornings
That did sing the King David
Today for being your saint's day 
We sing them to yo
Wake up, my love, wake up 
Look it has already dawned
The little birds are already singing
The moon is already set
How beautiful is the morning
When I come to greet you
We all come with pleasure
A pleasure to congratulate you
The day you were born
All flowers were born
In the christening row
The Nightingales sang
It's already dawning
Daylight already gives us day
Get up in the morning
Look its already dawn
If I could bring you down
The stars and a star
In order to show you
How much I love you
With jasmine and flowers
This day I want to agree
Today for being your saint's day
We come to sing to you
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Manuel M. Ponce
Las Mañanitas lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

My 75th birthday is today, March 27, 2020. Besides the usual Happy Birthday songs, I love "Las Mañanitas" sung in Spanish. You may know that I am fluent in Spanish, majored in Spanish in college, taught it to Junior High students for a few years, and have traveled to Mexico often. For some reason, the Mexican culture is part of my blood. I adore speaking the language, dream in Spanish, and especially enjoy being able to tell a joke in Spanish to a native speaker! Not an easy task.

Meanwhile, I am repeating here an essay first written on October 1, 2010, about my early days studying Spanish in High School and an adventure in Mexico, maybe 55 years ago by now although in the essay it says 30 which is when I first visited Mexico!

Pulgas Vestidas or Dressed Fleas

When I was in high school, every year a trip to Mexico was offered by the Spanish Club. Miss Erickson (RIP,) my Spanish teacher and the trip chaperone, would pass out the multi-paged mimeographed itinerary for the trip. I can still see and smell the 8.5x11 rough-grained multi-colored paper on which it was printed. Every year I would take home a copy and memorize it. My family was not able to afford me the experience but I dreamed anyway.

One year Miss Erickson brought to class some souvenirs she purchased in Mexico on the previous year's trip. One item, in particular, caught my attention and my fancy. In a ⅛ x ¼ inch handmade paper box were glued two dressed fleas. One was dressed like a groom and the other like a bride. You could barely tell what was in the tiny box without a magnifying glass. I was astounded. I was amazed. I wanted a dressed flea of my very own.

Flash forward some thirty years. Either for my "running away from home - late" or my "midlife crisis - early" I had quit teaching, was waiting tables at Jerome's Restaurant at Clark and Arlington in Chicago and decided to take off on my dream trip to Mexico.

I took Amtrack to Fort Worth, Texas where I spent a week with my sister and her family. I proceeded to San Miguel de Allende for a stay which lasted for a month and a half and then took the bus to Mexico City where I spent another three weeks. Besides being lonely, by the end of my time in Mexico, I had just enough money to fly home so my adventure ended after two months.

While in Mexico City, eating amazing food and taking in all the cultural sites I could, I was on a quest to find "Pulgas Vestidas." At every little souvenir shop, I saw I asked, "¿Se vende aquí pulgas vestidas?" "Do you sell dressed fleas here?" And at every little shop I received the same quizzical look and the reply, "Never heard of such a thing." Remember this is 30 years after Miss Erickson had purchased hers.
One day, well into my stay in Mexico City, I was walking around on a Sunday afternoon when I passed a gift shop that was closed but had interesting items on display in the window. The shop was dark, the windows dirty, the displays dusty. I was about to turn and continue my walk when I noticed an almost empty shoebox in the corner of the window. The box had seen better days and at the back of it was a stained, curled sign that said "PULGAS VESTIDAS - 50 Pesos." Oh my God (or OMG as the tech-savvy say nowadays) I had found my dressed fleas. There were only two tiny boxes in the bottom of this shoebox and they were a boyfriend and girlfriend, not bride and groom ... but EURECA, success! 

I probably laid awake all night waiting for the Monday morning opening of the shop that housed my treasure. I was waiting in front when the owner unlocked the door, I spent my 100 Pesos and gingerly carried the bag containing my prize back to my hotel room.

Some stories end happily. Perhaps the moral of this story is: Never give up. Or perhaps: If you work hard enough and wait long enough, your dream will come true. Both my Dream Trip to Mexico and my finding Pulgas Vestadas finally had happened and continue to hold an important place in my reminiscences. 

Visit my Pulgas Vestidas at Michael's Museum at Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Shopping With COVID 19


I arrived at the Trader Joe's near my condo at 8:45. The Internet said, "Open at 8:00." The sign in the window said, "Open at 9:00." A lot of grocery stores, which open for the first hour for seniors only, have delayed opening the doors by an hour ahead so they can get fully stocked and workers in place.

To my amazement, there was a line forming at the door, most people with their cart at the ready, six feet from each other. Instead of being grouped around the door ready to push their way in to the toilet paper aisle, this queue formed at the door and proceeded to parallel the building then double over into the parking lot.

"Very civil," I thought to myself. There must have been twenty people waiting to get in, quietly waiting, six feet +/- apart. As people walked by to get to the end of the line, they even made sure not to come too close to the people in line ahead of them.

There was a clerk at the door who welcomed in the first three patrons who were greeted by another clerk, wearing rubber gloves, with a wipe for the cart and a bottle of hand sanitizer to spray your hands. Both were cheery, smiling, welcoming. Again, "Very civil!"

After the first dozen and a half were allowed in, sanitized, and had begun their shopping the "guard" let more of us into the store as the flowers and produce area at the entrance cleared with shoppers moving deeper into the store.

The shopping experience was interesting. No carts to avoid. No children. No waiting for someone to move out of your way so you could reach a cucumber. As people walked by throughout the store, they kept their distance. Very pleasant and smiling but not closer than 6 feet. If an aisle began to get backed up, the shoppers automatically held back until they could enter and keep their distance.

The shelves were well-stocked and orderly. From what I could tell, hand sanitizer was the only missing item. I purchased one six-pack of toilet paper silently saying a prayer of thanks to the White Porcelain Goddess." I also put four boxes of Kleene into my cart.

There was a full staff of checkers and baggers. They did not cut back on the number of employees just because the store was not packed like it usually was pre-COVID 19. In many ways the experience was surreal as well as enjoyable but also pointed out "HEY PEOPLE THIS IS REAL! BE SAFE, BUT BE CONCERNED! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"

When I arrived home by 9:45, the city parking garage (also home to the condo parking) which is usually filled to capacity was frighteningly empty. "This is not a drill" as I thought, "How civil!"

Monday, March 23, 2020

BRAVA: An Ovation For An Oven


I have been cooking on a Brava Smart Oven since July 2019. To see what it is all about I direct you to their web site:

The Brava lives on my cooktop which I have not used for months. The extra trays and pans live in the oven. Sometimes I use the microwave in conjunction with the Brava meals.

Here is a compilation of what I have been cooking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as a few baked goods. Done with easy management and easy cleanup. A standing ovation to my Brava for keeping me happy and healthy and well-fed.

PLEASE leave a comment or some acknowledgment that you have been here. It can be totally anonymous. You do not have to leave your name. You could use your first name only, your initials, or nothing.

Under each new post you will find the word COMMENT. Click on it and a window will open where you can leave your comments.

It asks you to SIGN IN, but you can also click on ANONYMOUS.