Glass Dreams

chihuly montage

During the last week of the Chihuly exhibit’s stay in Phoenix, I took my daughter out of school so we could visit together one last time while the weather was gorgeous. She was ecstatic  to skip classes and do an early morning trip to the botanical garden instead; not only did we get to see the gorgeous glass, but we had banana bread French toast together in the cafe by a fountain, and she got to bring her backpack full of fairy dolls.

I love Chihuly sculptures.  I love the colors and the shapes, which always remind me of the sea and of the sun, clean pretty colors and undulating shapes, so lovely and  yet with an undertone of  menace, that speak to me in urgent crisp tones of what they show and what they don’t:  Blue. Midnight Zone. High Beams. Medusa’s Hair. Snake Snarl. Icicle Daggers. Shattered Windshield. Fire. Ghosts. Hatttifatteners.

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I even love that they’re mostly put together and installed by a team, not just by the artist, and not just because he’s old now, in his 70′s, but because these things are a complex collaboration — a grand twist of limbs and colors that was put together by twist of people. They’re too powerful and too fragile to be installed alone.  I  love that they come with spares, and if a part breaks, a new one – not even identical – can be installed.  Art that changes like that further commits to its organic inspirations, like the ocean and like the sun, forever changing. (In addition to being financially saavy, and very practical, of course.)

Sometimes the garden has other sculptures, too, and those are interesting: Huge faces made of fruit and vegetables, odd sinuous forms, the huge bugs that I also saw in Chicago. Those make me exclaim, make me laugh, make me impressed, but only the Chihuly sculptures in the garden make my heart sing along to their colors.  Only the Chihulies have me wishing “I want to come here every day, to soak these up into my soul, to absorb their shapes and shades into my mind so I can replay them later, just as they are here.”

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No picture can really keep that feeling, but I took shot after shot, just like all of the other tourists desperate to grasp the fleeting moments, until I finally put the camera away and just allowed myself to enjoy looking with my eyes, remembering with my mind.

So we went one last time to enjoy their beauty and to smell the desert for a while.

isa in dbg 2014 4 web isa in dbg 2014 3 web I hope my daughter was able to soak up some of the beauty into her own spongy soul, too. I know she loved the waffles and was thrilled to play fairies with me all day, and maybe that was her magic on that cool morning.  And to me, seeing her face smiling in the breeze, looking off into the distance thinking her own distant thoughts – that was even more bewitching than the glass. Because the words her sweet face summons are the real ones: Love. Mama. Me. You. Fairies.

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If you get a chance to see the Chihuly sculptures in a garden near you, do it. Go and enjoy them! And bring someone you love.

isa in dbg 2014 2 webP.S.  “Hattifattener” – These are characters in the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson. According to the Moominstore website, “The Hattifatteners are silent beings that are forever wandering around in large herds. The only thing that interests them is reaching the horizon – and once they reach it, they continue on their journey.”

You can google them to see pictures! The books are really awesome – I highly recommend reading them, even if you never see a Chihuly sculpture. I read them as a child and I still love them.




Super Carrot Deluxe!


When I bit into the carrot from my garden, the most startling taste burst into my mouth.  It was as if my tongue had shed cataracts and a thick wet suit, and I was only now tasting CARROT for the first time in my life. It was wholly different from even the freshest organic carrots at Whole Foods. It had nuances of flavor I’d never before encountered in a carrot, and at first I wasn’t even sure I LIKED it.  It was like this:  “Zing! Pow! Ginger-spices-herby bouquet and completely fresh carrot taste, but nothing bitter at all, sweet like fresh fruit and fragrant and orange! KaBAM!”  I did like it, I decided, after I recalibrated my whole mouth to the new meaning of “real carrot.”

Isabel nibbled on one like a bunny and said enthusiastically, “This is delicious, Mama!”

The carrots were tiny – we’d picked them at an inch long, just to see what they were like; curious to find out what was percolating under the organic soil bed. And WOW — those carrots were easily the most carroty carrots I’ve ever tasted.

I suddenly understood what Frances Mayes was talking about in her book Under the Tuscan Sun when she waxes poetic about how the most simple ingredients are so ripe and delicious in Italy, on her land, that nothing more is needed but the tomatoes and olive oil and garlic.  I could see how something so delicious as this CARROT would not even need hummus (even the amazing buffalo flavor hummus from Whole Foods!), because it was so good all by itself.

And it’s not like I’m vegetable-deprived.  My family spend lots of time on Grandma’s farm in Wisconsin where there was a huge variety of garden-fresh produce: red and yellow watermelons, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes.  And we shop at organic veggie stands when we want. But somehow I’d never before experienced CARROTNESS like this. Have you?

In any case, we love our small organic garden; it’s our patch of verdant life and bounty in a parched corner of Phoenix where the sun is already beating down at 102F at the end of April.  The thrill of picking our our tomatoes, chard, bok choy and green onions is still a surprise to me. When I go to the garden, I feel a bit like a kid on Christmas morning, or someone that has been given a huge present in a fancy bow. I feel proud and eager. And although the money & time put in does not render equivalent bank account savings, it is delivering us additional joy and family together time (Isabel loves to harvest and to help her Daddy plant things…she likes to water….) when we all go out to work on the garden together.

So I say, ‘bring it on’ to that carrot – I can’t wait for more of them to ripen!

“This One Needs A Little Help”


Monarch at the Desert Botanical Garden


A few weeks ago, Isabel and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden with friends. Our main stated goal was to visit the Butterfly Pavilion, but of course we were open to any random plans that materialized along the way, and with 5-year-olds in tow, that’s not uncommon.


So we meandered through the garden, stopping to watch quail scurry across the path with bobbing head-crests, and exclaiming over a monarch butterfly on a wildflower, and letting the kids grind mesquite pods into flour at the grinding station.  When we got to the butterfly garden, there were hundreds of monarchs clustered on the mesh ceiling, very still, and just a few fluttering around the plants. The day was overcast and coolish, and the monarchs were sleeping in. It was a perfect day for photos around the garden, but the girls were disappointed that the butterflies were not landing on them, and they kept hopefully putting out their finger for butterflies to use as a perch (Thanks, Fancy Nancy, for making that seem reasonable.)


Isabel was close to crying because butterflies were not approaching her, even though we’d discussed M.A.N.Y. times that butterflies don’t land on fingers, and they don’t seem to land on you even if you wear yellow, and Daddy is just super-lucky that they always land on his jeans even though he’s the least interested in them of all (he attracts them, they way aloof people attract cats.)   So when we saw one butterfly resting wings open on a flower, the girls were excited to get really close and take a look.  “It’s wings are OPEN!” Isabel exclaimed. “Is it a moth?” We had learned that butterflies keep their wings closed when landed and moths keep them open. She and Elena discovered that it was a boy monarch.  The guide had explained: Boys have a black dot at the bottom of each wing; girls do not.

The butterfly was extremely cooperative, and lay there, wings open, as the girls got so close that their eyes crossed and their noses were almost touching it. It was SO cooperative, in fact, that I became certain that it was dead.  “I think,” I said carefully to the girls, “That butterfly might not be….alive…any more.”


A volunteer was hovering nearby, like a too-close saleslady in a department store, following you through aisles to make sure you are not planning to steal something. “Let’s not get too CLOSE!” he called in a fake chipper voice.  “Remember, we don’t touch the cute widdle wiggly budderflies!”

“This one is not very…wiggly,” I told him.  “It’s rather motionless. In fact, I think it’s deceased.”

The volunteer came closer and bent down.

“It’s antennae are all floppy,” Isabel complained. “And they’re not moving at all.”

“It’s brief time of mortality is over,” I explained. “It’s gone to the Great Butterfly In The Sky.”

The volunteer interrupted loudly, “This one is maybe having a TEENSY little problem. Just maybe. We’ll get a staffer to take a look at it later and see if it, ah, needs any, ah HELP.” He looked around to see who had been shattered, ruined, sent into a mental tailspin by my comment. Nobody seemed to have even heard, except for our small group.

“It’s beyond help,” I said to the general area. “The only help IT needs is to be boxed up and sent back to the mothership.”

The volunteer shot me a pained look.
“What?” I said. “Don’t you collect them when they die and count them and send them all back?”

“Ah, well, YES, but ah, I think this one just NEEDS A LITTLE HELP,”  he repeated firmly.

My daughter looked at him like you’d look at someone slow.

“We think it’s dead,” she told him, skipping around.

“Since it’s clearly no longer of this world,” I said to the volunteer, “Don’t you think it would be OK to let the kids touch it, just for a second? I mean, just one touch, to feel how soft and powdery a wing is. It won’t hurt it now, know what I mean?”

He ignored me and waved at a group of older kids, like 8 and 9 year olds. “This one is just RESTING!” he proclaimed desperately. “Sometimes they nap!”  The kids were not looking. They were asking their leader about lunch.

“Its legs are all shriveled up, “Isabel observed. “It looks kind of dry.”

“It just needs a little help!” the v. said, and then, “Are you on your way OUT now?”

I bent over to look at it. “It’s all part of their life cycle,” I told Isabel. “It’s a little bit sad when they die, but before they die, they lay lots and lots of eggs which will eventually turn into new butterflies that we can enjoy. Their life span is much shorter than ours.”

“I’m not sad, Mama,” she said, “I know there will be more of them.”

The volunteer shot me another look. “It may just need a LITTLE HELP!” he almost shouted. I thought he might be going to cry.

“Ok, let’s head on out now,” I said in my own chipper voice.  I was distressing him, clearly, and it felt mean, like poking a caterpillar on a branch.

I refrained, as I walked past the V., from hissing in a horrible scary-movie voice, “It’s DEEAADDD! AAARRRGGHGHH!”

His misplaced sense of protecting the innocents from the “harsh realities” of the butterfly life cycle was awesomely hilarious.  I always know I can count on the butterfly garden volunteers to do something wonderfully stupid and make my day complete.  It’s part of the whole package, and I love it! Butterflies…beautiful scenery…and some laughs. How can you ask for anything more?

Well, you can if you’re five. You ask and whine to stop in the Gift Shop on the way out. Luckily it was closed for renovations, and we were able to breeze right on out, enjoying the Chihuly Sculptures on last time on the walk back to the car.

Friends at the DBG