Every spring my goddaughter Arielle and I created a fairy garden in a large terra cotta basin with mini-flowers, driftwood, polished stones, and a pool in a small glass bowl of water.
I never did finish my thought in my last blog, did I?—when I said, “Arielle made a pair of…” Actually, she had a surprise for me when she came over to decorate the tree, one that also requires a backstory:
When she was a sophomore in high school, she decided she wanted to spend her junior year studying abroad—in Viterbo, a little town in Italy. That Christmas I went for the first time to Baubles and Beads, a store a few blocks from me, to buy the makings of a pair of green earrings for Emma—short for Emerald. (She had pierced ears while Arielle, who hated needles, didn’t.) And that became a springboard for Arielle and me to make earrings together—a new venture for both of us. This was the way she hoped to earn spending money for her year abroad.
Now, bear in mind that only a year and a half before, she was nearly killed in a car accident. At age fourteen she’d gone on a summer program to Mexico. One night she and her host family were driving through the desert and hit an injured cow that was lying in the road. When I saw a picture of the car, I was astounded that Arielle had survived. As it was, she had a fractured shoulder blade and collarbone, six fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured vertebra, and a concussion. If she hadn’t been handled so carefully after the accident, doctors at Stanford University hospital told her, she would have wound up paralyzed. And here she was (above), happily planning another foreign adventure.
On weekends throughout that spring, she set up a card table in front of her house and offered free cookies to customers who bought her earrings. There were plenty of passersby, since we live on the edge of Berkeley’s “gourmet ghetto.” (Ella even came up with a name for her little enterprise—Ear Candy.) Months passed, until one day Arielle announced she was ready to have her ears pierced. I’ve never worn much jewelry and had had no plans to get my ears pierced ever. Nevertheless, we headed down to Claire’s on Bay Street to do just that—only to discover that the shop was gone So a week later I got my ears pierced at another Claire’s, alone, because Arielle had changed her mind. Fast forward six years to last week—the day she dropped by after her arrival from Chicago. The first thing she did was pull back her long hair to show me the earrings she was wearing in her pierced ears—of her own design, of course.
So after we’d all had pizza and opened presents three days later, I brought out my earring supplies, and she made a new pair before going back to our puzzle. When I belatedly asked if she’d like to take a picture of them for my blog, she said she had already given them to a friend for Christmas, but she brought over a number of other earrings she’d designed for me to photograph.
Above is Arielle’s scrapbook page for Christmas 2010. It’s hard to get anything to stick to glitter paper, so we tried various adhesive embellishments to hold photos in place. The captions “Tree Hugger,” “Head Elf,” and “Spiked Eggnog” are hers. The pointed hat is a tree made of Christmas tree sequins I found at Pier I Imports.
There are no pickles or dolphins or spaceships on my tree. Half of the glass ornaments I’ve been collecting since my twenties are traditional round ones, and the remainder have a holiday season theme, broadly speaking: Christmas trees, Santas, snowmen, icicles, pinecones, candy canes, bells, stars, and hearts, as well as musical instruments (like drums, lutes, and horns) and toys (like tops, rocking horses, and locomotives). The one exception is a single strawberry—because it’s snow-capped and the first ornament I ever bought. Oh, and did I mention my myriad birds? One year the only ornament I bought was a white dove at East Bay Nursery, which has a fabulous selection. Coincidentally, my therapist, Annee, bought only the very same one, which I like to think reflects that we’re birds of a feather..
I also have a little collection of mini ornaments (above), including a wreath, nutcracker, sleigh, and gingerbread house. (The toy car and mitten I added later.) When my godkids were younger and came over for our annual Christmas celebration, the first thing Michael and Emma wanted to do was play “Find the Ornament”—even before they opened their presents! I had a list that I would read out one at a time, and they would compete to see who could spot it first. Of course, the miniatures were a special challenge—so much so that sometimes when Ella and I took our tree down, we couldn’t find them among the rigidly drooping branches, which accounts for some of the blank places in the box above.
I mention all this for any parents who might like to play the same game with their kids.
Those of you who’ve read “about” (the author) on my menu bar have seen the cardboard dollhouse I created for Arielle when she was little. For the holiday season, however, I fashioned the alternate living room above and snowy yard below. The inhabitants are “Kelly” dolls, Barbie’s little sister and brother, and the lights on the little tree actually work! (I found them at Ace Hardware, part of their electric train exhibit.)
Every year in the run-up to Christmas, I make trips to Michael’s, Crate and Barrel, and East Bay Nursery to look for things the kids can decorate to make ornaments—wood or glass or ceramic shapes of stars, Christmas trees, wreaths, etc. I also buy plain pillar candles that we adorn with sequins and ribbon, affixed with short pins. Last year I happened upon white, blown-glass trees like the one above. Arielle decked hers out with gilt edging, adhesive gems, and sequins attached with mini glue dots.
I don’t have photos of the kids’ other creations, so I’m posting a couple of my own below.
The only face missing from the quintet on Ariielle’s Halloween scrapbook page is Emma’s—so I wanted to include a picture of her too. She’s wearing yellow and black stripes because that’s the year she was a bumblebee.
Each year, at my place, my godkids and I made a gingerbread haunted house, using kits I bought at Cost Plus or Party City. We’d decorate it with candy corn, gummy worms, marshmallow ghosts and pumpkins, Skittles, jellybeans, and more. One year I discovered when I opened the box that the pieces of gingerbread were all broken up, so—after I went back and bought another kit—we used the broken shards to create a toothsome graveyard. Of course, the kids always wanted to take their creations home afterwards—and somehow or other Char, their black lab, always managed to savage them. (By the way, Cost Plus carries Halloween packets of “Beanboozled“ Jelly Bellies in flavors like Barf, Rotten Eggs, Stinky Socks, Boogers, etc. I tried only one of these and had to spit it out.)
One year Ella and I took pictures of each other making ghoulish faces. I scanned the photos, enlarged them to life-size in Photoshop, and printed them out on heavy glossy photo paper to make masks. Then we greeted the kids at the door on Halloween wearing each other’s faces. Of course, they were eager to join in the fun. And though it might seem incongruous to some, Arielle decided she wanted to wear the tiara she’d picked out at the Lacis museum—a birthday gift from me—with her Native American princess costume.
Above is the scrapbook page Arielle and I made that year. We used bat stickers to attach the photos to their mats, but, on the gingerbread house photo, I attached the bat wings with small brads, so you can lift the picture and see the surprise underneath—a pumpkin I carved with Michael.
Rummaging through more of my boxes the other day, I came across a baggy with fold-dye—as opposed to tie-dye—art I made with my godkids when they were younger. Actually, I cautiously introduced Arielle to the technique when she was only two. That was the year I was busy writing A Patchwork Memoir—and just as I made a point of chronicling my outings with Earl, I described all my play dates with her:
“Did you have a dream?” I ask.
She shakes her head, rubbing one eye with her fist.
To reanimate her, I whip out an envelope with more stickers for her—cats, fish, and birds. It’s then that Leia brings out a book with waxy pages that’s already filled with every kind of sticker imaginable.
Luckily, I’ve got another ace up my sleeve. I cut paper towels into quarters, then fold the squares into different shapes, letting Arielle dip the points into bowls of food coloring—red, yellow, and blue. “Les see what’s inside,” she lisps, carefully unfolding each one so as not to tear it—a tricky business because once they’re saturated, they glom together. I don’t know if she can see that each bright kaleidoscopic pattern is different, but she’s properly enthusiastic, taking my word for it, I have a hunch, that they’re beautiful. One day she’ll have her own opinion, I think, but for now she’s satisfied to share mine. Each time I start to fold a new square, she politely asks, “Is that mine or yours?” though I invariably assure her, “It’s yours.” I was worried that this project might be too sophisticated for her—well, it is and it isn’t. Pretty soon I catch on that I’d better be the one to dunk the squares—sparingly!—into the blue dye, or by the time she gets done with all the unfolding, they’ll be murky brown messes. She loves to use her hands, I muse—I wonder what she’ll be? An artist?… musician?…surgeon? Already I’m look forward to bragging, “I knew her when…”
Two hours later we’ve got designs laid out on waxed paper all over the dining room floor. “When they’re dry, you can pick your favorites and hang them in the window,” I say. She continues to ignore even the Dutch crepes with honey that Leia has made us, though I’ve already wolfed mine down between foldings, and like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going and going.
One morning—I no longer remember the date—I was rereading Karin Fisher-Golton’s charming Amazing May blogs about gratitude and felt prompted to write about something, besides penicillin and the internet, that I’m grateful for:
My writing desk faces a picture window and half a vacant lot where a sprawling coast live oak grows, a sort of grand hotel for squirrels. (Actually, there used to be more than a dozen trees that screened out the properties beyond, so that I could imagine I was living on the edge of a wood.) Throughout the day squirrels cavort up and down the oak’s leafy byways. I’ve seen them hanging by their feet from branches like trapeze artists as they munched on acorns, swinging in the breeze. I’ve also watched them taunting the orange cat that likes to loll around on my car, leaving dirty paw prints all over it. They venture down the trunk of the oak to within a foot of him, then, at the same moment he lunges, they reappear halfway up the tree.
Though my little deck stood one story up from the ground, they had no trouble scrambling up the supporting pole at one corner, so I started hiding nuts for them—to see if they could find them in and around my pots and planters of flowers and vines. They did, of course, even though I took more and more elaborate pains to hide them. In those days, every spring, one or another of my three godkids and I would make a fairy garden in a large terra cotta basin—with tiny flowers, moss, polished stones, driftwood, and a bowl of water for a pond. In the fall when all the greenery died, I’d empty out the basin, leaving just a little soil at the bottom. Throughout the winter, the squirrels could be seen jumping into it and rolling around, giving themselves dirt baths—one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed because, like all squirrels, they lived in an accelerated dimension of time.
Sad to say, my deck was dismantled a few years back because the wood was rotting. Then the live oak was over-zealously pruned, and all but two of my other arboreal neighbors were felled. Now a cement parking lot covers half the formerly “vacant” lot. But I’ll always be grateful for the delightful memories and the squirrels that still come to entertain me.
Hint: For those of you who would like to make a fairy garden with the children in your life, I found driftwood and polished stones for aquariums in a tropical fish store.