Monday, January 9, 2017

Debbie Reynolds, actress, costume archivist...and horn player

Debbie Reynolds, legendary actress, died on December 28 at the age of 84 following a stroke and the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher. There has been so much coverage of her death the day after Carrie’s death that if you didn’t know about it, you have probably been on a desert island.

You probably can also picture Ms. Reynold’s in some of her most famous roles: The Unsinkable Molly BrownTammy and the Bachelor, Divorce American Style, and especially Singin’ in the Rain.

She was the ultimate girl next door—


Singer, dancer, actress—


Famous mother—



You may even know that she was a Hollywood costume archivist



But did you know that Debbie Reynolds also played the French horn?




You can even catch her playing the horn at about a minute in on this movie cut: 






And, besides a vintage raincoat or two, I have the horn in common with Debbie. 😊




Thursday, December 15, 2016

My 2016, part II


As promised in my last post, this is the better news side of 2016 here at denisebrain.



First, I have never had so many great vintage items to offer. My storage units runneth over! And I have a new friend with a passion for vintage who has helped me with the hanging and organization. (Thank you, Fay!—If you are in Spokane, you should go visit her space at Chosen Vintage.)


Then there is the book, which I had planned to publish in November. You know when you really want to do something and for some reason you aren’t getting it done? Something was up with me, and I figured out what it was: The book is missing a couple of sections to make it a complete beginners guide to vintage from my perspective. I am now progressing without that weird feeling of being held back. It’s back to being an exciting prospect.



Then there is the new website, which is  thisclose  to being ready. I know Google has it right about people using mobile devices to search, and I know my old website is not terribly mobile-friendly. This old Neanderthal is finally about to stand up straight! Expect lots of pink (duh!).



Next comes the annual end-of-the-year roundup of favorite items sold. Perhaps you will see something that now hangs in your closet—If so, I hope it’s making you happy!

I love, I mean LOVE seeing customers in their purchases! In fact, I’m devoting a section of the new website to customer images. (If you’ve been holding out on me, now’s the time to make right!)

This 1970s Gunne Sax dress went to a great connoisseur of GS dresses, Rie (thewelldressedethicist on IG) 


Kymi  (kymijojo on IG) staged a prom birthday party, and wore this princess-y 1950s gown like a true princess


For her birthday, the colorful Sophia (sophiamzell on IG) wore this 1960s party dress


This 1940s New York Creations hat went straight to the head of the elegant Eliza (vintagerosegirl on IG):


(As you can probably tell, I’m doing more over on Instagram this year. If you’re there, stop by and say hi to me @denisebrain_vintage)

Some favorites that found new homes this year:



















Starting on September 7, 2016, I began setting aside 10% of sales for saving endangered manatees. I’ve been called the Manatee Lady, and I thought I might as well prove it with every sale.

Then, on November 10, I opened a shop-within-a-shop in my Etsy store. The Pink Heart Shop has vintage fashion with 100% of sales going to Dress for Success Worldwide.

The contributions I have been able to make to these causes so far make what I do even more worthwhile to me, and the support customers have expressed literally keeps me going some days.

If you read my previous post, you know it hasn’t been the easiest year for me, but I am fortunate in so many ways. For someone with health issues, having a good team is something to cherish. I have a wonderful, supportive partner in my husband John. I have good doctors. I have caring friends and family. That would be plenty, but I also have the distant but real friendship and kindness of customers and colleagues in the vintage world. You all lift me up.

So goodbye to 2016...



...and hello to a new year of hope, health, joy, and love for us all! 



My best to you, Maggie of denisebrain

Sunday, December 11, 2016

My 2016, part I


What a ride 2016 has been. We all know what happened in the news—but we don’t very often know about each other’s lives.

At the start of the year there was a memorial service at which I said goodbye to a woman that I called “one of my hierarchy of mothers.” She wasn’t my blood relative, but she was definitely a family member to me, and one of my favorite people. She was the last of the adults around whom I grew up.

Jennee in the 1950s

Jennee was intelligent, funny, interesting, beautiful, independent, talented—and most definitely fashionable. I remember leafing through her Harper’s Bazaars and stopping into the most fabulous boutiques with her. She would try on a coat or pair of shoes, parade them around the store like a model and, with the greatest discernment, choose just the most stellar. (She was like that with furniture and art too!) Some years ago, Jennee gave me many of her items of clothing from the 1960s and 70s to sell. I’m so glad I saved out her sailor-style coat for myself.



Two days after Jennee’s memorial, I had surgery on my right hand. 

Let me go back a bit. Late in 2014, I was stepping up onto a riser with my French horn, and instead of landing on that riser, I fell backward onto the edge of a lower riser. This was at a concert of the Spokane Symphony with a full house in the art deco theater the orchestra calls home. The good news is that I saved my irreplaceable horn from damage, the bad news was that I went to the E.R. I was pretty badly injured.

In the spring of 2015, I woke up one day barely able to move. My hands felt like they were broken, both painful and tingling. My shoulders and elbows hurt, my hips hurt, my knees hurt. It was supremely challenging to get up out of bed. I went to my doctor, who sent me to an orthopedic surgeon, who sent me to a hand specialist and someone to test the nerves in my hands, along with putting me into a very long queue to see a rheumatologist. My blood pressure had spiked 30 points.

When I saw the rheumatologist half a year later I had gotten pretty used to aches and pains, resting when I had to, changing my life around to manage energy lulls. The rheumatologist diagnosed psoriatic arthritis along with osteoarthritis in one hip. I’ve had psoriasis for 20 years so this is kind of predictable. An injury or illness can trigger the arthritis side of psoriatic disease, and that fall at the symphony may have been the catalyst. Psoriatic arthritis is an auto-immune disease that can be treated but not cured. It has five “flavors” (none of which are peppermint!) and I have experienced a spectrum of the possible symptoms. I’ve got spondylitis, dactylitis, tendinitis, bursitis, blah-blah-itis...I can’t even remember all the itises.





Have you ever noticed how many vintage fashion items have back zippers and/or buttons? I have spent a year and a half not easily reaching anything back there—not zippers, not buttons, not my hair—all things I used to take for granted. I usually can’t put my right sock or shoe on without stretching for awhile. 







The nerve doctor said I had carpal tunnel syndrome, and the hand specialist said I had trigger finger. After trying a few less drastic things, I scheduled for surgery to alleviate the excruciating pain in my right hand. Although there is still some pain, my finger is much better from that surgery. So chalk up one positive from early 2016.

I’ve seen a naturopath, spoken with an old family doctor, gone to months of physical therapy, joined the YMCA for exercise. I gave up eating certain foods that I am sensitive to. I have taken a medication that weakens the immune system and can severely damage the liver, so I quit drinking alcohol. My weight has gone up even while eating better and exercising more. Eyes can be affected by psoriatic disease and mine have been painful and reddish at times. I sleep sometimes 10 hours a day, and am still tired. 

In mid-June, with sudden pain in my side, I wound up having a very infected appendix out. Again, something to chalk up on the positive side. Good riddance—but most of all I felt that having that infection out of my body would help my psoriatic disease. My rheumy agreed I should give it a try, and I spent a few months without the scary medications. 

Unfortunately, the psoriatic disease didn’t get better. In the meantime, when the standard EKG was done prior to my appendectomy, it was abnormal. Following up, I found out that I have a partial right bundle branch blockage, a small interruption in the electrical firing of my heart. Psoriatic disease can cause cardiovascular problems too, so this may be part of my heart’s problem, or it may be exacerbating an existing issue. 


This week, I started a new class of medication for my psoriatic disease. It may or may not work, has some very serious possible side effects, and has to be self-injected, but I am happily giving it a go. I am so eager to have a bit of my good health back.


Why am I writing this? I don’t believe in making excuses, and I don’t need anyone’s forgiveness for not being fully on. Life is hard for many people, and some are making it without a wonderful partner like I have in my husband. I have caring friends and family. I have medical insurance and good doctors. I’m not complaining, just explaining. Well, maybe I’m complaining just a little...



So what have I been up to for denisebrain this year? I have found plenty of glorious clothes that I am dying to show you. I have a book mostly ready to be published. I have a bright, shiny new website that is almost done. I have met so many wonderful people. I haven’t been able to do as much work, but I have done some good work.

I will show you some of the happiness of the year in my next post...there has been plenty!




Friday, November 25, 2016

So thankful to so many


I am so very thankful for all my wonderful followers, customers, readers, colleagues, and friends in the world of vintage. On this day after Thanksgiving, my deepest appreciation to each and every one.


This year, my husband and I are celebrating Native American Heritage Day today, in appreciation to the most courageous people in the country right now, the Standing Rock Reservation protestors.

A Young Ute Woman, 1880-1900


America, I Sing Back

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, 1958
for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.

Sing back the moment you cherished breath.

Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.

Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,

held her cradleboard, wept her into day.

My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,

held her severed cord beautifully beaded.

My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,

nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.

My song comforted her as she battled my reason

broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.

Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,

as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.

My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries

circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.

Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and
     every peak,

carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth
     singing—

and sing again I will, as I have always done.

Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing

the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside,
     polite

Mother of her world. Sister of myself.


When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to
cradle.

Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,

day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to
     envision—

Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so

When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,

I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.


Copyright © 2014 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. Originally published in Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.





Thursday, November 10, 2016

the PINK HEART shop


As you probably know by now, 10% of my sales go to Save the Manatee Club, for the protection of this beloved endangered animal. I am thrilled that so many of you are eager to help this great cause!

In addition, starting today, there is a section within my Etsy shop with 25+ vintage fashion items. When you purchase any items from The Pink Heart Shop, 100% of your purchase price goes to Dress for Success Worldwide.

Dress for Success is a top-rated international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Since starting operations in 1997, Dress for Success has expanded to almost 145 cities in 20 countries. To date, Dress for Success has helped more than 925,000 women work towards self-sufficiency.

Visit the Dress for Success website for more information about this fantastic organization.

Visit The Pink Heart Shop and come back often to see what’s new.


Call it a fight for the metaphorical pantsuit—after the U.S. election, I feel compelled to do something for the empowerment of women.

Fashion by Rodier Paris, 1971