Archive for May, 2009

Pea face

The peas continue to do well. The half row I planted at the end of February got the worst of the “unseasonable” heat and freezes and downpours. They took three weeks to come up and grew slowly at first, but they’re now a foot and a half tall and have flowered.

This face says "what a long strange trip it's been".

This face says "what a long strange trip it's been".

More Folklife fun

We went back to Folklife today. I can’t believe we did, given the discomfort of the jam-packed bus rides to and from Seattle Center yesterday. But Mara had such fun there that she wanted to take her little friend Lily from nextdoor and do it all again.

Mara and Lily enjoy the duo Skolkis, "slinky Swedish strings".

Mara and Lily enjoy the duo Skolkis, "slinky Swedish strings".

It was a much shorter venture today, but we still managed to pack a lot in. Mara and Lily spent the better part of an hour splashing around in the wading fountain. After that we went in search of the painted stilt man from yesterday, stopping periodically to watch some musicians. We never saw Mr. Stilty, but instead encountered the White Fairy Lady from two years ago (both of these I mentioned in yesterday’s post). We shoved Mara and Lily forward with a dollar in Lily’s hand to put in the lady’s basket, so she would dance, but Mara chickened out and pushed Lily forward alone. Lily balked then, so I went forward with them, Lily deposited the note, and then we beat it to get away.

Mara and Lily come as close as they dare.

Mara and Lily come as close as they dare.

We watched some aboriginal Mexican dancers in colorful costumes with beautiful feather headdresses. After doing several dances, they asked if any children wanted to learn a dance. A hundred people around, dozens of kids, but no takers. Mara and Lily declined my enthusiastic prodding. The dancers asked if ANYone would like to learn a dance. No one budged. I saw the woman roll her eyes.

Then I jumped up and said I would learn. I’m sure they were hoping that one of the many attractive and lithesome people in the audience would have volunteered, but they got me. I look like John Barth’s description of Ebenezer Cooke. “Heron of a man, his every gesture was half flail,” or something like that. Nevertheless, the drummer man smiled and told me to “do what they do.” I followed the dancers as well as I could, about a half-second behind and with the wrong foot each time. When they stopped after only a minute, I asked if that was it, and the man dancer said “now we do it faster.”

The headress of Western culture takes its place among more flamboyant traditional Mayan versions.

The headdress of Western culture takes its place among more flamboyant traditional Mexican versions.

I realized that what had just happened was to be considered my instruction, and now we would perform it at regular speed. I briefly considered that if I could not possibly better my first attempt, it was also not likely that I could do worse.  The woman dancer told me to watch her and go when she went. So I watched her, relaxed, listened to the drummer count off the potatoes (or whatever Aztecs call the introductory notes before a piece of music actually starts), and did the dance. It felt better this second time through, and in fact all the photos that Angela took of this venture show me in perfect step with the dancers.

Mara and Lily test-drive an early American prototype: Jefferson's "demobile", a democratic transport where everyone gets to drive!

Everybody gets to drive!

We put the girls in a kiddie ride at what used to be called the Fun Forest, which is the amusement park part of the Seattle Center — ferris wheel, go carts, spinny throw-up rides, shooting booths, etc. Not sure what it’s called now. Mara and Lily did the car ride. Funny, they spend their young suburban lives being stuffed into Subarus and Odysseys, but they want to go on the car ride at the Fun Forest. Maybe it’s because every seat had a steering wheel.

Folky and live at Folklife

It’s a sunny Memorial Day weekend in Seattle, which means that thousands are thronging to Folklife, the largest free folk festival of its kind in the nation. We want Mara to have as much experience with the richness of human cultures as possible, so after lunch today we caught the 16 and went down there. Mara wondered if there would be a play structure.

I used to spend all four days and evenings of the festival contra dancing, twirling myself into dehydrated delirium, and I went home limping. I was in my twenties and had nothing but time and energy. In my mid-to-late forties now and responsible for the amusement and welfare of a four-year-old, my idea of a good day at Folklife is much different. I don’t intend this blog to be about how wonderful my kid is, but really, having a child enter your life makes you see your life more clearly and it’s worth taking note of.

Clapping to Ross' Rovers at the Northwest Court Stage. Heat stroke imminent.
Mara, Angela and an anonymous third potential heat stroke victim enjoy Ross’ Rovers at the Northwest Court Stage.

We started with just a walk-through, experiencing the clash of tones and rhythms as we moved from one busker’s audio-zone to another. Fiddlers, balladeers and guitarists, drummers with djembes, drummers with paint buckets, a tap dancer. Wandering through the crowd at one point we encountered a man on stilts, dressed all in white, with white face-paint, and wielding a long net. Every once in a while he would drop the net on someone and “catch” them. There’s someone spooky like this at every event like this we attend (a giant yellow chicken lady at the Easter Egg Hunt at the zoo, a white-painted fairy lady at a previous Folklife who stood motionless until someone dropped money in her bowl, then began a gyrating dance), and Mara is always riveted by these uncanny figures. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the stilt man, more’s the pity.

We sat and listened to some Celtic music, but the sun had become hot and Mara was baking. She’s clapping in the photo above, but the sun was killing us. What she really wanted to do was splash around in a wading fountain that she’d seen. So we did that. Since we didn’t have a swimsuit or a change of clothes for her, we told her she could wade but not get her bottom wet. After she fell, though, she just started paddling around. She is usually very cautious, but around water she grows fins.

Next we availed ourselves of the food booths to get a corndog for Mara and some crab caesar wraps for us. After this dinner al fresco, we checked out the dance hall, hoping there might be a contra dance. Neither Angela or I is into the whole mad contra scene anymore, but we thought we might twirl a line once with Mara just to introduce her to the idea.

Happy kid. Just add water.
Happy kid. Just add water.

No such luck; it was zydeco hour. Some cajun band was clattering away up on stage and the hall was full of people in cowboy boots. As we stood behind the line of onlookers at the side, Mara grabbed our hands and urgently said “follow me!” We humored her and she pulled us right out into the midst of the crowded dance floor. So we bounced and dipped in our best zydeco style and followed the slow turning around the hall. Mara seemed to intuitively understand that Folklife was all about jumping in and letting go, gettin’ wet and gettin’ down.

We finished up by eating strawberry shortcake while listening to a marimba band, and before heading out we bought Mara a little fairy princess dress at one of the booths and let her wear it home.

We think she’ll have pleasant memories of Folklife.


All the broccoli has bolted. I don’t know why. It was looking so dark green and lush, but even before this week I noticed how their stems seemed awfully narrow, not like the shelaighleighs you see in the grocery store, so I was already worried. Then today we noticed that every single of my dozen or so plants had shot straight up and put out a little floret. They looked like little green sparklers.

We snipped those off this morning and ate them. Angela thought they were tasty. I thought they tasted a little weird, like natural gas. Mara said “it tastes bolty.”

When broccoli gets anxious.

When broccoli gets anxious.

The lettuce seems to have the opposite problem. It has slowed way down. It won’t bolt, (it’s Slo-Bolt, bred to hold back from bolting) but it doesn’t seem eager to leaf either. Mara and I tried some, and she gave it the nod. It tasted like lettuce, I guess.

The peas still look good and are starting to flower, but still, I’m very discouraged. I was really looking forward this year to growing all these different vegetables, and I started early with seed, and I did everything by the book. I even thinned scrupulously (lettuce and broccoli, not the peas), despite the psychological agony thinning induces. But we had this crazy spring with early heat and late snow and torrents of rain, which all seems to have combined to bewilder my little seedlings. A neighbor Angela talked to says she thinks that the broccoli couldn’t figure out the weather and finally just said “the hell with it, I’m going to seed.” And she thinks the lettuce is getting too much afternoon sun, of all things.

Meanwhile, folks who blithely picked up vegetable starts as an impulse buy from Home Depot and Fred Meyer are probably set to enjoy bumper crops (the weather is now beautiful). It brings out my cynic, as you can see.

But that’s why I’m doing this, and that’s why I’m writing about it. It’s an important thing that I need to incorporate into my life — doing all that I can do, the best way I can, and then accepting the way things go.

Sometimes things go bolty.

House proud? You bet!

Angela felt that it was a little uncharitable of me to include in this recent post a photo of our garage door in particular, especially in the context of the accompanying diatribe against garage doors in general. I did take pains to say also how much I love the house for what it represents, but to be fair I herewith append two other photos of the house that show some of its more charming aspects.

Of course, a lot of this house’s “official” charm lies in the fact that it is getting old enough to have earned a euphemism: “mid-century.” (The house is exactly as old as I am.  When I get old enough to need a euphemism, that’s what I’ll call myself — “mid-century.”) It was real estate agents, I’m sure, who first applied the word to houses, but younger couples these days are apparently gaga over mid-century homes, and they’re not just being manipulated by marketing. I don’t know if it’s the clean lines, the open floorplans, or the big plate glass view windows, but kids love ‘em.

Once gagworthy, now a dream come true

Once gagworthy, now a dream come true

We love this house because it offered us everything we needed at the moment we needed it. Before Mara came along, Angela and I used to turn our noses up at anything post-World War II. Passing by split-levels built in the ’60s and ’70s we would stick our fingers in our mouths and pretend to retch, smug in our certitude that small-roomed, cold-hardwood-floored, drafty-ass, tippy-walled, wavy-windowed Craftsman authenticity was the only kind of house for us.

But (we felt) we were outgrowing our (see string of adjectives above) cottage after Mara started walking. We lived pretty much in the upstairs, since the basement was dark, dank and unfinished, which means three of us were getting along in 550 square feet of space. (If Tim C. reads this I’ll get another earful — see “Worm bin Jedi” — because he and his wife raised their daughter in about the same amount of space, presumably without griping.) Our refrigerator was not in the galley kitchen but rather on an enclosed back stoop above the basement stairway. With a small table in the dining room and a sofa and some benches in the living room, you could hardly move through the place. Mara had a narrow angled path about 18 feet long that she could run back and forth on, like an aisle in a grocery store. Oddly, our bathroom was so spacious you could dance in it.

We looked all over north King County at bigger houses, and were even starting to see the good sense behind the split-level plan, since we now had a toddler who was going places. But every time we found something that was in good shape and our price range, we became depressed. They were always nestled in some warren of streets whose sidewalks, if they had existed (which they didn’t), would have led only to strip malls and Taco Times. Especially for Angela, who stays home during the day as a full-time mom (she teaches dance in the evenings), this was a serious bummer.

The best part - room in the kitchen for dining with friends!

The best part - room in the kitchen for dining with friends!

Living in Wallingford/Greenlake had really spoiled us for walkability. We couldn’t seriously see ourselves living in a place where we couldn’t walk to the grocery store, our church, the parks, and coffee shops and cafes. We would wither, we knew. Perish outright. But for years, the market was such that even if we raked profit selling our little cottage we still wouldn’t be able to afford a cardboard box in our own neighborhood.

When this house came on the market it was the answer to our prayers. It was located only three blocks away in our very own neighborhood, we could (just barely) afford it, and its floorplan included two features that have relieved pressure out of our lives like a steam valve: 1) the kitchen and dining room are one big bright space where Angela can fix a meal or a snack while still enjoying the company and conversation of visiting moms and keeping an eye on kids playing there, and 2) the hallway and living room form a large loop, which Mara loves to run around more than anything in the world. We run around the loop every night before bedtime, changing direction to startle and scare each other.

These are just a few of the things we love about this house, but it’s getting late and I have to work in the morning, so I’m out.

Oh yes, and it's full of wonderful natural light

Oh yes, and it's full of wonderful natural light


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt


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