Our magic elf has done yeoman service so far this month. The outdoor tree was lighted while we were all out of the house; a tabletop Noble Fir, just for my daughter, appeared one morning after I left for work. He did all these things despite being…conspicuously absent. Speculations were aired. Doubts were raised. Stil no elf.After hopping from picture frame to window sill, from light fixture to art niche, the elf made his way onto the tree Christmas Eve a year ago, waiting to hitch a ride back to headquarters. I can neither confirm nor deny that Schizzle the Elf may have been a victim of friendly fire. Friendly wine-fueled Christmas Eve very-late-night-gift-setting-up fire. There is no need to point fingers! Mistakes were made, magical creatures got hurt (or misplaced). We all have regrets, and I very much regret how anyone else may feel about this. And remember, this was MY magic elf as a boy, and my mother’s before me. I still have hope to find him napping in a toolbox or some other such out of the way place where prying eyes are not likely to look.
Fortunately, the North Pole sent reinforcements via eBay and Etsy. That’s right: reinforcementS. Where once was one elf, now there are several. They move and hide and change places. Speculation and doubt have been replaced with curiosity and excitement, and though Daddy may have inadvertently and prematurely killed the magic (my daughter no longer whispers to the elf), at least Daddy restored the will to WANT to believe. So setting the holiday stage was complete…except for what to do about the Christmas stockings.
At our previous home there was neither mantel nor molding. We had a 50’s era stacked sandstone fireplace; I used a tiny drill bit to make barely perceptible holes into which I slipped long, thin brads to hold our stockings. They were hung by the chimney…WITH NAILS! Here, into a blank space in the architect’s drawings I designed a slightly ‘proud’ wall with an inset fireplace, a steel surround of my own design, and a pair of assymetrical niches to display a couple pieces of Blenko and a Tlingit-style eagle bowl my father carved. No mantel, no moldings, no chimney…no nails or hooks, either. This is hardly a design disaster on the lines of, say, “Look At My New Landscape and Planting (That Made it so I Can’t Wheel My Lawnmower Into the Yard and So I Will Have to Pick It Up and Carry It Up A Whole Bunch Of Steps For the Next Nine Years).” That sucked. But still, Christmas stockings on the floor are No Fun…especially when there is candy in the stockings and your floors are heated.
Our Christmas decorating can best be described as Festively Understated. Partly because I hate storing stuff that isn’t “used,” and partly because my wife and I both find ‘sparse’ to be a desirable design principle, we just don’t put a LOT of stuff out. But we have things that our grandmothers made, and things we both loved as children, a few things we have acquired together; my mother-in-law made our Christmas stockings for our daughter’s first Christmas. They need a place of pride.
Each year I gather a few distinctive pieces of driftwood from the beach at my Dad’s place on Orcas Island. These go into mySomeday Box, as in: Someday I Will Have Time and Will Do Something With This Stuff. I found a piece last summer that was perfect–that unmistakeable driftwood color, and where the branches had broken off, the branch collars dark and distorted. I set some small screw eyes at the rear inside corners of the art niches, where they cannot be seen. Then I laid the driftwood on a flat work surface to determine where the contact points were. To these I applied small squares of adhesive-backed felt furniture pad; and set another pair of screw eyes into the top plane of the driftwood. Using forty-pound test fishing line (line of this heft isn’t much good for fishing around here except for halibut and lingcod, but heavy 40- or 50 pound monofilament has a place in your toolbox next to the duct tape and the Mastercard, trust me) I tied a length of line each to a pair of small S-hooks (using the angler’s barrel knot, but a nonslip loop would have done, too). I put the hooks through the screw eyes in the niche, measured out how I wanted the whole affair to hang, and tied the other ends to the screw eyes in the driftwood. The result is an easily removeable, sculptural branch that seems to float on the wall, and is padded so it can’t mar the paint. Then, on the bottom plane of the branch, I attached one vinyl coated cuphook for each of our stockings. Lastly, I put two very small squares of the furniture pad at the edge of the niches to keep the line from cutting into the drywall. This whole operation took me way longer to type with my musclebound sausage fingers than it did to actually do, and the result? Just look! Martha Stewart my eye, says I! Now our stockings are hung by the chimney…with driftwood. That, and my MIL won’t ask me anymore why they are lying on the floor. Christmas is SAVED!