I just realized that my category Fun Activities, while it included two pictures of my “Christmas dollhouse,” didn’t include one of the entire original dollhouse I created for Arielle. When she was two, after Michael’s birth, I used to visit her regularly at the family home just a few blocks from mine, until one day she asked wistfully, “Can I come to your house? Do you have toys for me to play with?”

So I went out and bought a car seat for her, stocked my apartment with books and toys, and built her a doll house out of colored poster board. It featured a bedroom with a wardrobe closet and drawers; a kitchen with a sink, dish drainer, and even a paper towel dispenser, as well as cabinets that opened and a stove with an oven; and a garden with a birdhouse, potted flowers, gardening tools, a watering can, and a pool with two turtles. Its inhabitants were Kelly dolls, Barbie’s younger sisters and brothers—and eventually we wound up with quite a collection of them!



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 coast 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.

Christmas 2021

Christmas 2021

This year Christmas with my godkids almost didn’t happen!

In the first place, the morning Arielle, Ella, and I were to go tree-shopping I woke up with a rough throat and thought: #%$! If I’ve got Covid, kiss Christmas good-bye! Luckily, there were still test kits available and within the hour I knew I was negative.

In the second, there was a shortage of trees again this year, thanks to California’s recurrent wildfires. At the first lot we went to there were only stunted rejects, while at the second the one noble fur worth considering was browning at the top. So I had to take it on faith when a worker claimed the tree wasn’t desiccated, it was sunburnt.

In the third, there was hurricane Ida. Because of her, Emma had been evacuated from Tulane University in the fall and spent unexpected weeks at home while the damage on campus was being repaired. Consequently they extended the semester to Dec. 23, one day after Ella flew down to southern California to spend Christmas with her brother. Which left only December 27 when we could all be together.

But then it turned out that Michael’s work shift started at 3:00 in the afternoon. So instead of an evening celebration, we had to have a makeshift Christmas luncheon that day. I set a festive table, anyway, with holly placemats and poinsettia napkin rings, and we ate out of plastic—takeout from Picante, a favorite restaurant of the kids. (By then, of course, our tree was dried up and sagging—the tinsel rope straggling all over the place and some ornaments touching the floor.)

Because our boom box gave out last year, this year Arielle created a Spotify playlist for Ella and me of all our favorite Christmas albums that we listened to as we ate, including songs by Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Celine Dion, Kathleen Battle, and Patrick Ball on the Celtic harp.

Ella and I hadn’t been able to find Bud’s eggnog— the best!—in any of the local stores, so we settled on Trader Joe’s, though Arielle abstained, determined this holiday season not to lose the definition in her abs.

As for the Christmas crafts we do always do together, when I went to buy sequins at Michael’s beforehand, the shelves were empty, so I ordered packets from two different companies—and paid a whopping shipping fee, though the merchandise weighed only a few ounces, to get it here in two days.

And that’s how we cobbled together a Christmas celebration!

I’m attaching photos of the candles we made—and of the nine sets of earrings Arielle also made.



I’ve been intending to post more activities for parents and kids to do together, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase more pages from “Us, Livin’ the Life.”

One of my first gifts for Arielle was Playdough. I bought her a toy contraption that you could load wads of different colors into and squeeze them out mixed together in various shapes and sizes like noodles from a pastamaker.

Another of my early gifts was a tea set that we used for our frequent tea parties. Whenever we had ice cream, we ate it from these bowls with the accompanying tiny spoons—it lasted longer that way.

I also bought Arielle her first set of playing cards and taught her to play War, Go Fish, and Concentration. Later she would teach me B.S., Indian Poker, Texas Hold ‘Em, and Speed.

One of the pastimes that always got us belly laughing was making up Silly Stories. I would write a secret narrative with blanks for things/nouns, actions/verbs, etc. and ask Arielle and Ella to supply whatever words came to mind in the appropriate categories. Of course, they proffered the funniest words they could think of.

When Arielle learned about pointillism in school, she wanted us to try the technique together. She drew the outlines of the composition in light pencil, and we applied the points of color with Q-tips.

We devised a secret code and kept our messages in the envelope above.

This is a technique Arielle learned in school and taught me. You start with a band of color in a corner of your paper. Then you apply another band conforming with the first while also adding more to  the shape—and simply repeat the process over and over until you reach the far side of the page. You’re liable, as we were, to wind up with blank islands among all the ribs of color that you can fill in with various patterns. This is an unfinished example I found among my papers.

These are some of the first jigsaw puzzles Arielle and I did together. When we were finished, I would spray the back with adhesive and affix a cardboard backing so she could hang them on her bedroom walls, the ceiling, along the hall… 

I remember the day the kids wanted me to take them to the Tokyo Fish Market to buy these animal erasers that were the rage among their cohorts. They made the diorama mobile homes themselves, using scraps from my collection of fabric swatches for doll clothes.

Creating a scrapbook page each year is a wonderful way for kids to commemorate their birthdays. For Arielle’s cake I always studded with candles the biggest glazed snail donut carried by Happy Donuts, her favorite treat.

Emerald created this page for her scrapbook for her eighth birthday. After Scrapbook Territory closed, I’d periodically take the girls to Michael’s to pick out the scrapbook papers they liked the best, including birthday and holiday papers. (Right before Halloween and Christmas they have a larger selection of designs to choose from, of course.)

The article above, entitled FASHION ALERT, begins:

      This season wearing any garment in a conventional way is the gravest of fashion faux-           pas. No longer is there such a thing as dressing for the occasion. Anything goes!

Arielle and I staged more than one avant-guard fashion show. If you look closely, you’ll see I’m wearing a philodendron coiffure, a reading light on my nose, and scrabble letters on my cheek, while Arielle sports a belt necklace and swimsuit shoulder bag, accessorizing with kitchen utensils in her waistband. For undergarments, we’re both wearing Tupperware containers and coat hangers for a sharp, edgy silhouette.

The title of this page—illegible in this scan—is Important Documents, and the one on top is a list Arielle and I compiled when she was little of all our favorite things to do together. The docs are in a clear “report cover” cut down to size and attached with brads.



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.



Before I go any further, I’m thinking, I should post a montage of scrapbook pages from “Us, Livin’ the Life”—to showcase the activities for kids and parents featured there. Among them are the following:

Using felt markers, draw a quick, spontaneous scribble with a dark marker, then color in all the sections for a beautiful abstraction.

Make a What In the World Are You Doing? booklet of your favorite answers. This is a game I made up for my godkids to pique their imaginations. Here are some of their whimsical inventions:

         What in the world are you doing riding to school on a chicken? (Michael’s answers                 invariably involved a chicken or the toilet.)

         What in the world are you doing combing your hair with a cactus?

         What in the world are you doing taking a bath in the dishwasher?


Make a cootie-catcher fortune-teller, another fun opportunity for invention. Examples from my godkids:

         You will grow a beard 1,000 miles long.

         You will eat a magical hot dog that will turn you into a bowling pin.

         You will get trapped on a desert island and the only thing to eat will be Brussel                       sprouts.


If you have a scanner and know Photoshop, you can minimize your kids’ fold-dye and other art to display as collections on a scrapbook page. Having a papercutter, too, helps!




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, Toni, 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. 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 drooped branches, which accounted for some of the blank places in the box above (till I added a toy car and a mitten).

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.