OUR SCRAPBOOK

One of the things I’ll be featuring on my website is activities that kids and grownups can do together—like scrapbooking. The page above is from the scrapbook Arielle and I started when she was in elementary school, chronicling our favorite pastimes. “Us, Livin’ the Life” she titled the front cover we made out of bright poster board.

I designed the page above to celebrate our first play date, which Leia had arranged. (When I’d arrived at Live Oak Park, two-year-old Arielle was about to climb into a play-structure tube. Scampishly, I peered in the other end of it—and she waved me away with a scowl.)

At the start of our project, I took her to Scrapbook Territory on 4th St. down by the bay, which has to be the best scrapbook store ever—or should I say had to be? (I’m still not reconciled to it going out of business.) It had aisle after aisle after aisle of papers arranged by color, texture, or theme, an astonishing array of ribbons I still use for the doll clothes I make, fanciful adhesive letters, and every kind of—flat—miniature you can imagine.

Besides poster board for the covers and colorful papers, you and the child in your life will need:

Two metal rings, scissors, a hole punch, a ruler, glue dots in different sizes, a glue stick, adhesive letters, assorted stickers, colorful brads, ribbon, and, if your kid likes bling, also glitter, sequins and stick-on gems.

I would also recommend you buy a plastic 14” x 14” scrapbook bin for storing everything.

WATER BIRTHS

In A Patchwork Memoir I also wrote:

 

Hurray! Michael Daniel was born last night. Leia’s birthing coach called me this morning with the news, just before Igor was supposed to arrive. (Hey! It’s Labor Day weekend, Leia—how appropriate!) Then, during my Alexander session, Leia herself called twice, but her voice was so soft and dreamy my answering machine kept cutting her off. I didn’t know they did that.

Today when I drop by her house, all the balloons from Arielle’s birthday party are gone, and the house looks uncharacteristically sedate. Seeing the TV on through the window, I knock softly instead of ringing the doorbell, not wanting to wake Leia if she’s sleeping. I’ll leave my congratulations card on the doormat, I think. But Mamachela, Manny’s mother, answers and waves me toward the back room, where I find Leia in a jumble of linens on the master bed with red-faced little “Who is like God?”—which is what “Michael” means. Her two midwives are there too. I have a toy shopping cart for Arielle but want Leia’s approval because I’m worried Arielle could get her fingers pinched in it.

I hold Michael Daniel while the midwives press his feet to a three-tone inkpad and make sets of footprints on two documents. His weight is down from nine pounds to eight-and-a-half, they say. “How come?” I ask.

“Because for the first few days he’s suckling colostrum instead of milk, so he gets all the nutrients he needs, and antibodies, but no fat,” one of the midwives explains.

Leia tells me she started having contractions just a few hours after we got back from the lake. She called the midwives around midnight, when she began to have the urge to push, and Michael was born three hours later at 3:15 a.m. His head came out with one contraction, his body with the next—she didn’t really even have to think about pushing; her body just took over, she says.

“Did he start to breathe as soon as he came out of the water?” I ask.  (That’s the part of the water birth I was anxious about.)

“Yeah, when the cold air hit his face.”

“And Arielle—how does she feel about having a brother?”

“Oh, she wants to kiss him all the time. Unfortunately, she wants to jump on him too. They’re so different!” Leia marvels. “Arielle used to wake me up every hour to nurse; he slept for five hours last night. She was wide-eyed from the beginning, taking everything in. He mostly keeps his eyes shut or squints out at the world with one eyebrow cocked like he’s a little bit skeptical about it all.”

And three years later, a little before dawn, along came Emerald–also a water birth. Arielle–at age five–was going to cut the umbilical cord, but suddenly got cold feet…er…fingers. So I did the snipping, and a few minutes later I witnessed Emma’s first yawn.

MY MUSES

Three more major players in my life are my godkids: Arielle, Michael, and Emma (for Emerald), as I mention in my long bio. From the beginning they’ve been a family of globetrotters. Maybe I should also mention that my friend Leia, their mom, is Dutch, and their dad, Manny, is Peruvian? Besides multiple trips to Hawaii, South America, and the usual European cities tourists visit, they’ve been to Sydney, Cairo, and Istanbul. And I’ve had the great good fortune to know all three kids from birth, since they live only three blocks away in a house Leia bought and renovated years ago. In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote a vignette I called “Movie Star.”

Leia says this time she’s going to have a water birth, that she remembered what I’d said about the documentary I saw—how the babies delivered this way sometimes smile at birth. So she’s rented a tub and installed it in the master bedroom.

We’re sitting on towels at Lake Anza, eating bite-sized chunks of watermelon. Arielle, just turned two, is wearing psychedelic sunglasses, feather ponytail bands, and a neon Minnie Mouse swimsuit. “She’s a little movie star, isn’t she?” says the woman on the next blanket. Oh, she’s way beyond cute.

Leia says when they’re out walking and come to an intersection, she tells Arielle, “Stay close!” And Arielle takes her mother’s hand and presses her cheek against it as they cross the street together.

I tell her how my friend Marcia’s two-year-old, Wesley, makes his little plastic action figures kiss and made up after a skirmish. When he thinks he’s done something wrong, he announces he needs a time-out, then goes into his playhouse and whimpers to be let out.

“Callie, come!” Arielle calls back as she trots down to the water’s edge. I obey.

“You’ve made a cake!” I exclaim when she pours a little pile of sand out of a plastic cup. “But it needs in a candle.” So I stick in a twig I find. She starts to rock from side to side. “Happy Birsday to you, Happy Birsday to you…” she lisps in a soft, sweet voice. Marilyn would have eaten her heart out.

THE EXPURGATED VERSION

Well, the conversion of our apartment building into a mini-dorm continues. Though I put in earplugs last night to block out—or at least mute—any noise this morning, I awoke to my body vibrating with every hammer stroke, along with the entire structure around me.

Nevertheless, I’m determined to continue too—with my memoir.

Another major player in my life was my father, who was—arguably—my primary parent and who would exert a powerful influence over me long after my mother divorced him and moved my brother and me halfway across the country. He was brilliant, it must be said—perhaps the most intellectually vital person I’ve ever known. In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote:

Everyone called my father Red, but it was years before I connected this nickname with the color, it sounded so completely different to my ears. He used to wear a nylon stocking over his head to train his dark red hair back, like Einstein’s. Throughout my childhood he spent the better part of every day holed up in his study, reading, except for the hours he taught at the university. I’d knock on the door timidly, afraid to interrupt him at his work.

When I was a child, he was the one I took all my questions to because he—literally—knew all the answers. He gave my brother a chemistry set (Doug says he was six at the time) and bought us both a microscope with which we peered at the one-celled organisms he brought home in jars of swamp water. He took us butterfly hunting, sent away for eggs, and eventually hatched from cocoons a cecropia moth and the most spectacular luna moth I’ve ever seen, even in museums—huge, pale green, its body covered with white down and its extravagant tails tinged with pink. Cases of insects of all kinds stood propped on dressers and hung from the walls.

He took us lizard hunting on cross-country trips. In our bedroom was a terrarium filled with reptiles. He created tools for their capture—a slip noose on the end of a fishing pole for the collared lizards that sunned themselves on the rocks of Oklahoma, a two-pronged fork on the end of a broom handle for the lizards that camouflaged themselves under the sands of New Mexico.

In Carlsbad Caverns we caught a giant millipede that wound up in the terrarium too (even with all those legs, it couldn’t move very fast). Throughout the southwest, we took night rides to capture tarantulas by the glow of our headlights. Near the Desert Museum outside Tucson, we caught two sun spiders—the most hideous arachnids I’ve ever seen—and put them in a jar. Later we discovered they’d completely dismembered each other.

On one of these trips we found an egg, brought it home, and waited to see what would hatch out of it. What finally emerged was a hog-nosed viper, a tiny spotted snake with a flattened nose. For weeks my father sent my brother and me down to the Triangle—the vacant lot at the end of the block, overgrown with weeds and nettles—to catch insects to feed it, but, curiously, it never seemed to eat. From among the last slides my father sent me a few years before his death—he was cleaning out mementos—I held one up to the lamplight, only to see that tiny snake swallowing a lizard twice its size.

There was the time Dad captured a porcupine and kept it in a barrel in the basement till the stink became unbearable. The time he fired his gun into a crevice in a rock and dragged out a rattlesnake. The time he returned from Mexico with the back seat full of five-foot iguanas, which he donated to the local zoo.

He took my brother hunting and both of us fishing—at the Twin City lakes and in the northern wilderness, where we would rent a cabin without water or electricity. Each morning we would row out on Lake Owen or Radison at dawn to the call of loons—and catch sunfish, crappies, bass, and northern pike that my dad would scale and fry up for breakfast. On one trip we even went on a long trek through the dense woods (in Minnesota, you had to worry about poison ivy, not poison oak) eager to see a small, newly discovered lake.

These are the activities that I shared with my father and brother in the years before my parents’ divorce. And this is the expurgated version of my relationship with my dad—the one without any mention of how much he intimidated me, the one he would have allowed me to write without threatening a lawsuit.

STILL THE LAST TO KNOW

My last blog was about how it used to be. But some things never change. No one ever mentioned that a wrecking crew would show up today. At the moment I’m writing to a deafening surround-sound accompaniment: the crash of walls being torn down upstairs and down, the strident clanking of items like sinks being lobbed into the metal bins outside my window, the machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat of a jack hammer breaking up the foundation, the whine and buzz of power saws and drills and the shouts of workmen, as well as ongoing random thumps and bumps at various levels of volume from muffled to thunderous.

This is the work of the new owner—Bob. As I’ve already mentioned, our building with its seven small units—mostly unoccupied—was once a single-family residence. In fact, one recent morning on our way to breakfast, Ella and I saw a man and woman loitering on the sidewalk, contemplating our house, and found out it had been his grandmother’s.

Now Bob is determined to turn six of the already small one-bedroom units into two-bedroom units! How is he going to manage this? Every miniscule kitchen is going to become a second bedroom. Then new kitchens will be installed in the already tiny living rooms. He’s bent on developing a mini-dorm for U. C. students, assuming they won’t be bothered by living in such compressed quarters because they won’t be here long-term and, besides, they’ll know they’re lucky to find any lodgings near the campus at all. In the meantime he’ll be making twice the profits.

Because he can’t evict Ella and me, thanks to rent control, he did offer us a paltry settlement to leave. Otherwise, he’s advised us, we’ll be living here amid the ongoing chaos of renovation for the next eight months. Also, he plans to tear down our handsome floor to ceiling fireplace, the centerpiece of our living room, because he needs that wall for a supporting wall.

Of course there won’t be any parking for all the additional tenants when the renovation is done—not in the back nor on the street. And just imagine what life is going to be like for Ella and me when all these college kids have parties!

Ours isn’t the first building he’s converted in this way. In some of these mini-dorms, we’ve heard, they install bunkbeds, so, legally, how many people could be living here in eight months? Let me do the math. Four apartments times four beds, plus one apartment with six beds equals twenty-two additional tenants in what was supposed to be a single family residence. This is the wave of the future, Bob tells us. Gee! So much to look forward to!