Archive for the 'Celebration' Category

Jubilee Farm

When we drove up and parked at Jubilee Farm a crowd was gathering around the top of a little grassy hill, and I could see Erick Haakenson directing adults and children in what I at first thought was a giant tug-of-war game, folks lined up ready to pull on a rope. But it wasn’t a tug-of-war game. They were cocking a trebuchet. A trebuchet is a cousin of the catapult but instead of a winch a trebuchet has a weighted beam. You lift the weight and hold it in place with a pin. Pull the pin, and whatever you loaded into the basket attached to the unweighted beam-end gets flung out into the adjacent pasture, in this case a large pumpkin.

Arriving at Jubilee Farm. If you click for the larger version you can see the line of people about to pick up the rope.

Locked, cocked and ready to fling. Erick stands at far left on the hill while the three pullers pull.

Erick moved everyone except for three adult volunteers off the hill, for safety’s sake, and then the relocated assembly shouted a countdown from ten, at the end of which the volunteers pulled on the rope that held the pin, the pin came out, the 2,000-pound weight dropped, the beam rotated, and the pumpkin joined that relatively small fraternity of gourd vegetables that have been privileged to leave earth’s bonds momentarily behind, lifted into the blue sky above the tops of fir trees. It landed and exploded in a thud of yellow and orange, and all the children ran out to examine it.

Jubilee Biodynamic Farm occupies 200 acres at a sharp bend in the Snoqualmie River, near the town of Carnation. It’s a small farm owned and run by Erick and his wife Wendy. They raise vegetables and keep some livestock, mainly for the manure, and the farm is supported by a CSA program, wherein townies who wish to know where their food comes from and have a relationship with its grower pay an annual fee and receive weekly boxes of the farm’s produce in return.

It’s a princess patch.

I met Erick years ago at the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair. He had a table set up with a few apples and other fruits and some vegetables on it, but he said he wasn’t really there to sell produce that day so much as talk with people about biodynamic farming, which is his passion. Biodynamic farming seeks to restore and maintain ecological balance, so, for example, instead of adding chemical fertilizers to the soil, BD farmers might use manure from cattle, returning nutrient to the soil from right there on the farm instead of importing something external. Basically, it’s farming in harmony with instead of in opposition to the processes of nature. But there’s also a huge emphasis on community in the BD movement, since the approach is based on a holistic idea of the health of the land.

Shortly after this encounter, we took Mara, who was then two years old, to Jubilee Farm to hunt down a pumpkin for Halloween. We climbed into a wagon for a free hayride around the edges of fields full of broccoli and squash and carrots and chard and onions and cabbage, and just before the tractor started to pull the wagon Erick himself jumped up into the wagon so he could ride with us and tell us how things were going that year. As we skirted the fields he shouted above the sound of the tractor to report that it had been a good year for some things but not for others. He talked about wanting to eventually get his tractors off of diesel and onto biofuels, in keeping with the biodynamic model.

I was entranced.

The man was singing my song, namely the song of can’t we just quit bashing the earth we’ve been given for our home and sustenance in order to make bigger profits and start being responsible stewards and reckon the health of our soil and our communities as a bottom line asset?

Silas explains one of his ideas to Mara. He has already proposed marriage and they talk a lot about the house they will build together.

We started planning how we might participate in Jubilee’s CSA program, which was not outrageously expensive but would amount to a rerouting of our food budget that would take some planning and experimentation and education for us to make work for us. Like how do you make a meal out of kohlrabi? And what the hell is kohlrabi? But that’s when we finally moved out of our tiny 1912 cottage-y house into our big swingin’ 1960s plate-glass windows and a two-car garage house (we don’t have two cars), and for several years we were burdened with a monthly mortgage that forced us to retreat from the expensive moral high ground where our food was concerned.

We never joined, and what’s more, we began getting our pumpkins at another farm up north every year with friends of ours who went there, whose daughter is Mara’s oldest friend. I’ve written about our annual trip to Craven Farm at least twice before, and we’ve had fun there. It’s a big operation and a well-oiled commercial enterprise, complete with tractor-pulled hayride through a corn-maze (not free), some small farm animals in a petting barn, a concession stand with a play-and-eating area, even a permanent espresso bar and a gift shop. We’ve been to weddings and other events at Craven Farm. It always seems to be stunningly beautiful there, tranquil and magical and…the word ‘shimmering’ comes to mind, and they have vast pumpkin patches, and a separate patch with smaller pumpkins for littler people. Even though you don’t necessarily feel the farmingness of it, there’s nothing not to like there.

Millie became rather attached to her tractor.

But for a number of reasons we decided to go back to Jubilee Farm this year. Even though we’d only been once before, a long time ago, we had been missing it. Or at least Angela and I had. Mara didn’t remember it. But she was game, especially since her buddy Silas and his mom said they’d go with us, and Millie at just two and a half years probably doesn’t even remember Craven Farm, so she was untroubled by the change.

When I saw Erick conducting the trebuchet firing I was immediately glad we had come back. It occurred to me that Erick is always outside talking with people, or driving the tractors, or helping people weigh their pumpkins. I love that. Whereas Craven Farm is big and smooth and feels a bit like going to a fair, like a place eternally at ease, the feeling at Jubilee is more like going to a holiday gathering at your favorite uncle’s farm. Erick and Wendy are always participating, engaging the people who support them not just by being customers, as Erick said, but by being part of the community that the farm operates in. This is a farm with a family at the center of it, and the families that visit it during weekends like this are often families that have worked in Jubilee’s fields in a “workshare” capacity. They know Erick and Wendy and Erick and Wendy know them. At Jubilee Farm, you get a whiff of the realness, the danger, the dependence on the weather and on the community of friends, the skin-of-their-teeth determination that keeps Erick and his family in the game.

Getting our gourd on. Image copyright Juliana W., used by permission.

We caught a hayride out to the pumpkin patch and Silas and Mara had a blast running around and assessing the features that in their minds make up the ideal jack-o-lantern. There weren’t pumpkins small enough for Millie to pick up in the field, but she found a tiny one she coveted later at the cashier’s counter. The wagon picked us up with our chosen pumpkins to take us back to the barn. All three kids enjoyed a large haybale maze in one of the sheds, and Millie twice climbed up unaided into an old International tractor, whose gear levers she seemed to intuitively understand. We had gotten there late and things were closing down. It had been a beautiful day, even hot, which I think surprised everyone. There was hot cider and hot corn on the cob for sale on the barn porch, but we bought popsicles out of a freezer.

Erick’s son David conducted an end-of-day pumpkin fling with the trebuchet, and the dwindling crowd again pulled the rope to lift the 2,000-pound block. This time I shot my hand up when volunteers were called for to pull the pin. It took me and the man and woman with me three pulls with all our might before it came out. I fell to the ground. The pumpkin arced through the sky. The children ran after. It was great to be part of the fun.

David Haakenson readies the trebuchet for another fling.

Silas and his mom had to leave, but Angela and the girls and I took a stroll down the long road across the highway — Angela had asked Erick where the cows were that we kept hearing. A quarter mile down the road the cows were in a pasture picking at what little green there was in the grass after the long drought we’ve had since late July or so. Angela and Mara fed them over the electric fence. If I understand correctly these animals are the engine of soil replenishment for Jubilee’s crop fields. Most of the calves were black — all black, even their faces. The cows were mostly black or black with white faces, though some were a dirty white and one or two were brown.

It was cool in the shadow of Tolt Hill, and a little mist was even coming up, even while the lowering sun was still painting the treetops across the valley. The quiet between the lowing of the cows was soul-enriching. David came walking down the road to check that the fence was on. With him was his wife Kristin, who was carrying their baby son Micah in her arms. He pointed to the new barn being built across the fields, and told us that the cows were being so vocal partly because they were unhappy about the lack of green grass. He said they were moving the herd every 24 hours in an effort to make the fields provide enough nutrient to keep them fed until November, when they’ll go into the new barn for the winter (in the barn, I happen to know, they’ll get good hay that was put up at the end of the summer – dry but tasty).

Millie in the shade of the barn. Image copyright Juliana W., used by permission.

Silas and Mara enter the haybale maze. Image copyright Juliana W., used by permission.

Angela and I missed the tradition of doing Craven Farm with our old friends, but this feeling was more than mitigated by the fun we had discovering new adventures with new friends. Mara had not uttered a single word of discontent (she was happily capering with Silas). Jubilee’s patch was not as large nor as plentiful as Craven’s, and there were no wheelbarrows to stick your toddler in when they tired of tripping around among the pokey vines and stems. Sending us off in our haywagon, Erick had acknowledged that “at Jubilee we grow pumpkins with our left hand; mainly we’re all about biodynamic vegetable growing.” But, he said, he was glad we were here and he thanked us for coming, and in his voice I could hear a person who really knows the non-monetary value of people, of community. We’re not sure Jubilee Farm will be our annual pumpkin patch until Millie is old enough to tromp around on her own, but Jubilee Farm is busy with family events all year and we want to find a way to work this wonderful little farm into the rhythm of our lives.

A part of it all

Mara became interested in Morris dancing at as early as four years of age. Angela played a CD of Morris music and Mara took rather a fancy to it until it became one of her favorite discs. And she’s always known that music was for dancing to, so she started dancing around in the living room to Morris music with shakers and bells, which is just a step away — literally — from Morris dancing.

A little nervous.

Saturday we breakfasted early and high-tailed it over to a retirement and assisted living home on Queen Anne. We forgot Millie’s diaper bag but we remembered to have Mara wear red pants and a white shirt, which along with a striped sash and elf hat would identify her as a member of Seattle’s newest youngest Morris group, Peppermint Stick Morris, a “minor” version of Sound and Fury Morris led by Kimberly and Dave from that austere troupe. Mara told us that morning that she was feeling a little nervous about the dances they were to perform for the retirees there and then again at the Winterfest crafts festival being held at Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center. We would be rushing her from one venue to the next. I was glad she was able to articulate her anxiety, and I told her how nervous I had been whenever I had to get up on a stage as a kid, and that the nervousness is completely normal.

It's about being part of something. Peppermint Stick Morris (and a half).

Eleanor (left), Ian (top), Soren (right) and Mara (bottom) perform a stick dance at Queen Anne Manor.

She has performed with members of this group before, once at an event at Seattle Center and once at a farmers’ market, but some of the parents were also dancing with them then. This would be the first time the children would dance all by themselves and would have to remember the moves without adult prodding. At her age I would have been petrified. I was particularly excited because I had not been able to be present at those earlier shows.

Jingle Bells. Mara's knee is blurry because she's rockin'.

Waiting to go on. Something about this photo gives me a panicky joy, like she's leaving us for the wide world already. The look says, "don't worry Dad. I'm all set."

How happy I was watching Mara do this activity she loves to do. It is one of the most true things about my oldest daughter that she does not allow herself to be forced through things she is not comfortable with, but when she is comfortable she can overcome any fear. I was amazed at how easily she moved through the morning, even and especially after having announced her trepidation about it. The dining hall at the retirement facility, while spacious, was pretty sparsely attended by residents, so in a way it was the perfect ice-breaker for the performance at Phinney Ridge an hour later, where scores of people were gliding in and out — including groups of adult Morrisers waiting to follow Mara’s group onstage — and the noise and bustle were constant.

Giving something to the community. What could be more fun? Peppermint Stick Morris at the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center.

Misty City Morris await their turn.

Mara’s group performed three dances with sticks and one with kerchiefs, the latter of which Mara did not participate in because she joined the group too late to have learned it for this time around. They also sang three Christmas carols. I was surprised and delighted that Mara did not show any nervousness at all, despite the nervousness she’d claimed. She in fact looked like she was just out for a lark with friends.

And that brings me to what I love most about this whole thing. Mara intuits a facet of performance that always seemed to escape me — that it’s fun! She feels united with her group in the activity and united with the audience in giving them a performance. It’s all about togetherness, or at least it should be. I never felt that way when I was on a stage. The fear of making mistakes always dominated the event for me, which made me miss the joy of being part of something and even made me view the audience as a sort of potential enemy. I was always just eager to get it over with. I missed a lot because of that. I’m glad that Mara seems to get it. I could see it in her antics while she was waiting with her group to go on, and in the way her little body couldn’t help but groove while she was singing the carols.

In ways I would never have predicted, my children become my teachers.

Stepping out into Winter

In the time since we gathered last year for Thanksgiving Dinner at my sister’s house, my father passed away and the percentage of all humans brought into the world by my sister who are married increased from 25 to 50 percent. Other than that, our Thanksgiving dinner gathering was much the same this year, which is to say comfortable and homey and happy. We all miss my dad’s quiet and yet foundational presence at the table, his enjoyment of other people’s merriment and of young people and their news. However, we knew he would not have wanted his absence to make us somber. The evening passed with much conversation and laughter and the eating of good food. I took no photos because I assumed the event would be exhaustively documented on people’s phones.

Non-commuters experience the busride as a fun thing.

Yesterday, Angela and I took the girls down to the beleaguered Seattle Center to see the miniature train village that they put up in the Center House every year during Winterfest. Mara and I have gone to it several times, but I don’t remember blogging about it before. The Center House has a lot of food vendor storefronts around a central gathering area and a stage in one corner. In previous years we saw tap dancers, break dancers, and singers of various kinds on the stage. But yesterday we got there so late in the afternoon that we had missed all the performances. The train was there, which held Millie’s attention somewhat, but Mara seemed to be obsessed with the candy store we patronized last year, whose storefront was now hidden behind a wall that separated the public space from a lot of remodeling construction going on. It was not open or even visible, but the memory of choosing several pieces of candy from this brightly colored and sweet smelling shoppe is evidently emblazoned on a part of Mara’s brain that has easy access to her tongue, which wagged the daylong with wonderings and musings about when they might open again, and whether we might possibly find our way to some other source of a treat.

With so many of the food vendors closed and no music, it seemed a little bit of a let-down to me, and certainly to Angela, who had not been along on earlier visits to Winterfest when it was more lively. But the girls were not disappointed at all. Because we were all together doing something outside the house, it was automatically a good time for them. Plus, we visited a balloon lady and got Mara a giant candy cane balloon and Millie a mouse balloon, which she enjoyed even after she untwisted most of it and all that was left was a little mouse head and a long tail. We spent probably an hour outside by the big fountain just watching people trying not to get wet and getting very wet indeed (it shoots jets of water in all directions in an unpredictable pattern and sometimes shoots all of them at once, and people young and old — even in the damp and cold of November — cannot resist trying to touch the domed base of the fountain without getting tagged).

It was a fun adventure and it struck me that it is not very often that all four of us get to do something like that together. I think it was Emilia’s first bus ride, too. It’s a taste of great family adventures to come. Just one more thing I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving weekend. Here are some photographs:

Watching the trains

A miniature winter wonderland. What's not to love?

Mara getting to drive the train = two dollars. The thought of her doing this while wishing she was at the candy store = priceless.

Romantic pastoralist indoctrination or harmless wondermaking?

The picture of sisterhood begins to emerge.

A hallowing

From about my late teens until a few years ago Halloween didn’t mean much to me, and like many people who don’t particularly enjoy suiting up, I wished this day would go away. The pressure to don a costume, my laziness or embarrassment or whatever it was that kept me from doing so, and then the dim self-hatred for not being able to participate were all external or internal discomforts I had rathered not deal with.

Millie teeters off toward Coren, Mara and Gwyneth (far right).

But like many things I didn’t fully appreciate until I had children (they weren’t apparent until I was a parent, har har), Halloween has become a treasured annual tradition in our family. It’s drawn out over weeks with us, though not intensely. First we go to a pumpkin patch with friends in mid-October to get our pumpkins — in recent years we’ve gone to Craven Farm in Snohomish, where there is a big central area with old boats and tractors and other things to play on and hot dogs and bowls of chowder to buy, plus a tractor-pulled hayride and pumpkin catapults, though years ago we went to Jubilee Farm near Carnation, a smaller farm run by a charming pair of biodynamic farming pioneers named Erick and Wendy. Mara and her buddy Gwyneth cannot remember a time before this tradition in their lives, and their little siblings Coren (Gwyn’s little brother) and Millie are jumping into it gleefully behind them. This is something I really value for my kids, the scrounging about outside in the mud of a real farm, the annual reinforcement of smells and air temperature and angle of light and community that will inform a lifelong deep-memory association of this time with the earth and good friendships — and the cultivation of both. To me it’s the perfect way to kick off what I must inevitably call our Halloween Season.

A barrow full of smiles.

Let the carving begin. Mara hunkers down at Hillary's elbow to wait out the sharp part.

Next, there’s a day when we carve the pumpkins, which we usually do separately, Gwyn’s family tending to be on the ball earlier while we are lucky if we get carving done the afternoon of Halloween. This year our friend Hillary came over to carve with us and help Angela alter the clothes that would become Mara’s Rapunzel outfit. Angela bakes up the pumpkin seeds just right for a delicious and wholesome harvest-time snack.

And finally the great day, the hallowed e’en, comes. Although dressing up as princesses with your best friend and running around yelling and squealing is actually kind of a weekly thing for Mara and Gwyneth, the addition of being outside (after dark!!) and getting free candy at house after house turns routine fun into a sublime hoedown of candy-coated madness. But even a parent worried about tooth decay can see that it’s about more than just the candy. For Mara it’s the door opening…that moment of expectation. Will there be a scary person behind the door (always a possibility, and she has never forgotten the time when the man in our neighborhood we call the Halloween Man opened his door wearing an Edvard Munch’s “Scream”-like mask, which sent Mara and Gwynnie back down the stairs in a candyless retreat)? What kind of candy will they offer? Will they let her take two pieces? Three?

Two Rapunzels, a lion and a ladybug. Here we are. You know the drill.

Mara, Gwyneth and Coren on somebody's porch. Mara immediately reports every item of candy, how many pulls alotted, and any other data she can think of. The CNN of candy traffic.

Millie was only four months old last Halloween and Angela wore her on her chest. This year, Millie had her own ladybug costume and held her own bag and stood mostly on her own feet and made her own startlingly prehensile grasps into the lowered bowls. She even said “Dant doo” quietly to each bowl-holder. One older lady actually understood this little toot of a spondee and smiled and said “Oh you’re very welcome.” What could be a more beautiful thing to experience on a cold night in autumn silvered by a crescent moon?

Millie wasn't really keen on her ladybug costume, either, but she got into it, literally, when she saw the big kids donning theirs.

It occurred to me last night that while I have in the past ridiculed this annual tradition, it was only because I was seeing it from my curmudgeonly perspective. Adults held hostage to packs of roaming sugar-fiends. But what I saw tonight I saw through Mara’s and Millie’s eyes — for Mara the joy of an adventure with her friends, gathering a bounty hidden behind doors with the added titillation of potential frights, and for Millie an extension of her unspoiled worldview to the wider community. While it may be a new thing for her, it is no strangeness that we’re knocking on the doors of our neighbors. That they open, that they smile and express delight at seeing us, that they bless us with gifts.

It didn't take Emilia long to get the hang of the bowl. She even said thank you.

She doesn't mind if she does.

And why not?

The City Dump will never be the same

Among the adult male voices imprinted on my memory, only that of my father goes back further than this one. Not even my two uncles who lived in Seattle when I grew up, not even the men heading the households in my neighborhood, not even the anchormen I heard every evening on the news, have been more immediately recognizable to me throughout my life by their voices than this man.

It was like trying to see Jesus. Mara is at lower left, indicated by the red arrow. Note all the big red noses.

This morning, watching YouTube videos I had dug up to demonstrate to Mara what fun we were in for today, I felt an instant feeling of well-being as the sound of the voice stroked some paleo-neurons in my brain, receptors formed early in life around the particular resonant and velvety frequencies and the roundness and breadth of enunciation that could only belong to Julius Pierpont Patches, Seattle’s beloved hobo-clown.

As far back as I can remember, and in fact back to 1958, J.P. Patches, the “Mayor of the City Dump”, came on television every morning and again every afternoon to amuse both children and adults — we kids loved his slapstick antics and the cartoons he would introduce by taking off his hat so the camera could zoom into it, and the adults sat behind us busting a gut at J.P.’s double entendre and at other aspects of the show that were above our heads.

For instance, all the other characters besides J.P. were played by one man, Bob Newman, including Gertrude (J.P.’s girlfriend I guess), the Swami of Pastrami, Boris S. Wart (the second meanest man in the world), Ketchikan the Animal Man, Gorst the Friendly Furple, and the voice of Miss Smith of Miss Smith’s Delivery Service, whose front side we never saw but she was ostensibly a white-haired old lady who rode a motorcycle, wore a helmet and leather jacket and growled like a longshoreman. Sometimes J.P. would tease his fellow actor by putting him in the impossible position of having to voice one character while appearing as another, for instance, if Gertrude was present he would say “let’s call up Ketchikan the Animal Man and see what he knows about this”, and while J.P. called Ketchikan on the huge black phone, Newman-as-Gertrude would have to step surreptitiously off-camera and throw his voice so that we kids would believe that Ketchikan was on the other end of the line. The two actors frequently cracked up in fits of laughter, and the crew was notorious for bonking J.P. on the head with the microphone boom or delaying sound effects.

When it comes to Simon Says, J.P. plays dirty, and the audience loves it. Still, this Patches Pal (in the white shirt) withstood the barrage of tricks and prevailed to win the candy.

The show, which ran until 1981, was unrehearsed and improvisational and completely off the wall. J.P. had a doll named Esmerelda whose contribution to the show was a canned child’s laugh track that was played whenever he spoke to her. There was a stuffed dog named Griswald, a grandfather clock whose face became animated when he spoke with J.P., and Tikey Turkey, a headless rubber chicken that “lived” in a metal oven at the back of the room. There was also a bookworm named Sturdley that emerged from a shelf of books occasionally. Often Chris Wedes, who played J.P., and Newman came into the studio not having any idea what they would be doing on the show, but with so many characters and friends, there was never a dull moment. This was early T.V.

Several generations of Seattleites grew up with J.P. and call themselves “Patches Pals” to this day. Many were brought onto the show as part of a scout troop or school class. As a kid I thought these were the boring moments, where twelve kids would shuffle in and J.P. would stand behind each one and ask their name, and if the kid wasn’t paying attention he’d grip their head in his hands and tilt it up to look at him. But for the kids who were on the show, it was a moment they never forgot.

No one ever forgot J.P.’s ICU2-TV set. Say it out loud to get the joke. This was a cardboard box with a T.V.-tube-shaped opening into which J.P. would peer while sitting “Indian style” on the floor. The camera was inside it, and the set’s magical powers allowed him to see that, for instance, little Katy who was turning seven should look in the dryer for her birthday present, or Jamie, who might be turning nine, should look in his sock drawer. Parents would call the studio with these hiding places and J.P. would “discover” them through the ICU2-TV set.

Selecting contestants for the hula hoop contest.

J.P. never talks down to kids, and they could always tell that he enjoyed their own wit and energy. He made them the stars. His games of Simon Says, which he has continued to conduct at the many public events he has appeared at in the decades since the show went off the air, were legendary.

Wedes is 82 years old. I don’t know and have not been able to find out whether Newman is still alive. I found out late this week by the merest happenstance — a newspaper headline glimpsed on the sidewalk — that Wedes would be making his last public appearing as J.P. Patches today at the Fishermen’s Fall Festival at Fishermen’s Terminal. Patches Pals old and young would be able to see the Mayor of the City Dump live just this one more time.

I hadn’t seen J.P. in a live performance since the early ’90s when I wrote an article about him for a local newspaper. I felt a sudden and profound sense of loss, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that my father recently passed away (which makes J.P. the Elder Vox), as did a beloved older member of our church community. There has been entirely too much of old men riding off into the sunset lately for my inner little boy. I had to see J.P., and although I didn’t know if she would appreciate the significance of seeing a clown she’d never heard of, I wanted Mara to be able say someday that she saw J.P. Patches do his thing. This would be her only chance.

We hit the road. Emilia’s nap precluded her and Angela’s attendance.

One of the lucky Pals (and a very young one, all in all) gets her photo taken with J.P. We never even got in this line.

We got to Fishermen’s Terminal in plenty of time, even found the last parking spot, but I had grossly underestimated, or forgotten, the loyalty and dedication — to say nothing of the sheer numbers — of Patches Pals. It was like trying to see Jesus. There were a few score plastic chairs set out in front of the stage, but just beyond the last row of chairs — all of which were occupied — was an impenetrable wall of Patches Pals. Mind you, these are not kids, these are people in their 40s and 50s. There were a dozen or so kids down in front — we could not get there and there was no room anyway — but the seething throng of hundreds of people were adults like me who quite simply adore J.P. Many wore the signature red clown nose of the Patches Pal.

I am too slight and too old and Mara now too big for me to put her on my shoulders, but I hoisted her onto my back in piggyback fashion and she could just barely see over my shoulder, between the arms of the people holding up digital cameras, to the place on the stage where J.P. was. He asked if everyone here were Patches Pals and the place erupted in a single affirmative roar. Similarly a negative when he squinted and wondered if there were any “Boris Buddies” present (Boris Buddies are the minions of the second meanest man in the world). Then he got to the business of the Simon Says contest for kids, the Simon Says contest for adults, and the hula hoop contest. Candy was doled out to winners and losers alike.

I was sad that we couldn’t see him better, but two-thirds of the way through the show a spot opened at the front of the human wall that Mara could get to and she bravely threaded her way among the knees and elbows and got to where she could see a little better.

Mara’s wooden boat becalmed. We floated it at the adjacent marina.

After the show J.P. was escorted by Seattle Police officers to a booth where a line formed for autographs that included literally hundreds of people. Instead of standing in this line, Mara and I went and got fish n’ chips. Checking back after an hour, we found the line to be just as long. Mara really wanted to get an autograph (and was even keener to have the J.P. action figure), but she wisely chose again to give the queue a miss, whereupon we sheered off to join the madness of hundreds of children trying to build wooden boats with their parents standing behind them nipping at their every move. (J.P. was just one attraction at this festival, which included lots of things for kids to do.) Hammers, glue, nails, and building materials were provided, but room to breathe was not. We checked the line one last time and it had not shrunk, or really even moved much. Everyone wanted to sit down with J.P. and get their picture taken, which took time. I wondered how long the old man could do this. It must have been exhausting, all that adoration.

I was feeling bad that I hadn’t been better prepared for viewing the show — and there’s no next time to apply lessons learned about Patches Pal Density Quotient — but we made the right choice, because as we were walking to our car we saw J.P. being driven away, and it had only been a few minutes since we last saw the line snaking away across the grounds. I can’t imaging the disappointment of all those people in the line who never even got to the booth, who were told, in effect, sorry, J.P. is over forever.

The passenger-side window in his car was rolled down as he passed, and I shouted “We love you J.P.!” Another lady said the same thing right after me (copycat).

“Thank you”, J.P. said with a wave. “Goodbye!”

Festivities: a fast rewind

Spring is always a pretty busy time for us, and I was taking pictures all season with a view toward blogging, so I have the material, but I have not had the hours when I’ve also had the poop to write. So this will be a sort of visual tour of some of the funner things we got up to since April.

At Kelsey Creek Farm. Which way to the long lines?

A cloud of sugar!

It seems like a lot of the photos I have are of Mara running, but that’s good in a way — it means we’re succeeding in getting our older daughter out of the house for the adventures she needs to occupy her very busy brain. Though Mara’s baby sister Emilia is also turning out to be a person who approaches life very kinetically and “hands on”, her tender age means she needs the opposite — lots of naps at particular times, which is why Mara and I have been swashbuckling as a duo a lot lately.

Emilia and a favorite admirer. Photo by Angela.

We did all manage to get to the sheep shearing festival at Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue again this year, and even were joined by a very special friend of our family. That was on the last day of April. The day after that, Mara and I got up early and beat it down to the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard, also known as the Government Locks or “Gummit Locks”, where some Morris Dancers we knew were ringing in the May with dances and songs of spring.

Powering up for a day of adventure.

The Morris group Sound and Fury out early for a lark at the locks.

Then Mara and I did Folklife. I wrote about Mara’s first Folklife festival two years ago; it was so fun that first year that we went two days in a row, and both days she ended up getting herself soaked in the wading pool. We went last year, too. This year, Mara and I rode the 16 down to the Seattle Center and met some friends. I spent most of the day blazing a trail for Mara and her friend Gem and Gem’s parents through a crowd of festival-goers that turned up in spite of a lousy weather forecast, and when you spend your day like that, you get to the end of the day and tally up what you did and it turns out to be only about three things, two if you don’t count getting food, and one if you don’t count finding a bathroom.

Mara dodging the fountain's tentacles of water at Folklife.

Down in front, Mom. Five-year-olds mosh to the sounds of The Board of Education.

So we walked around a lot and we heard a lot of music peripherally, but we didn’t really get to hunker down and enjoy a full set of any single act’s music. But that was okay, because kids like to keep moving; they’re grazers. We caught a little of this on the way to here and a little of that waiting for one of us to return from the restroom, a little of something else while standing in line for an ice cream cone. Because of all the crowd-wading, I didn’t get a lot of photos. I didn’t get a picture of Mara wearing the balloon sword and scabbard and helmet that the balloon artists made her (they were the same ballooners that we encountered last year at the University Street Fair), nor any decent shots of her in the wading pool, which has now become a tradition, a checklist item. 

A tribute to the songs of Woodie Guthrie. Some amazing musicians stepped up for this.

Mara and water chasing each other. This happens a lot.

It was like that at the sheep shearing, too. We spent four hours there and really all we did was stand in line for the tractor-pulled hayride, then eat some lunch we’d brought, then stand in line for the pony rides. By the time we’d gotten through all that, they’d finished with the sheep shearing. Not the end of the world, since we saw it last year, but it’s no wonder you come home exhausted. It’s a lot of walking, carrying, and standing in line, and you don’t realize how many hours are going by. 

The tractor was an early contributor to the ruin of the American small-holding farm, but when you look at one of these early Farmalls, you can see the appeal. There was also a Ford, a Deere, and an Allis-Chalmers.

One dizzy pony. No Oscar, but Blossom treated Mara well.

As a side note, the pony rides at the sheep shearing were kind of anticlimactic this year. We had hoped that the same “ponies” would be there this year as last year (they were full-sized horses), in particular the one Mara rode named Oscar. We have talked about Oscar the Palomino ever since last year. But this time they had only very small ponies, and instead of being led around a large ring they were hitched to a merry-go-round that moved in a tight circle, as if they were milling flour, and there was a sign that said “You must be no taller than this sign to ride the ponies”, a sign than which Mara was slightly taller. They let her through anyway, which was a good thing, because we’d stood in line for more than an hour before arriving at the sign, and I’m not sure who’d have thrown the bigger tantrum, Mara or her dad, if she’d been refused.

Mara’s Restaurant and Cafe: a grand opening

One of the deepest held hopes I have for my daughters is that when it comes time for them to earn their bread they are able to imagine ways of doing so that do not involve punching a clock or collecting a paycheck. If they really want to be software engineers and work for Apple (or better, some company that does not outsource the manufacture of their products to countries whose labor laws lag our own by a century) then fine, I will do all I can to speed them on their journey and try to keep an open mind and an open conversation with them about what it is about that kind of work that floats their boat.

Welcome to Mara's Restaurant and Cafe. Note the name and face on the menu.

A taste of what it might be like.

But my true wish is that my girls become craftsmen or tradesmen or small business owners — landscape designers or fixers of engines or sculptors or creators of fine chocolates or soap or mandolins. Or restaurateurs. I want them to love what they do, that’s all. My belief, and there is research to support the belief, is that in the main people who work with their hands are happier and healthier on more levels than are people who work in abstractions only. (It’s important to note that I’m not talking about my daughters becoming assembly line workers in Detroit. I refer you once again to Matthew Crawford’s book “Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Nature of Work.”) 

Sometime last year Mara expressed interest in opening a restaurant here in our house where she would make food for her friends. We jumped all over that idea, and said that maybe sometime we could have a few friends over, give them a short menu, and we would help her cook. Mara’s sixth birthday was last week and we celebrated today by inviting her fellow étudiantes from her homeschool French class and her two closest non-school friends to a grand opening of Mara’s Restaurant and Cafe.

Jay and Mara make the rounds.

Jay waits to take Amelia's order, which turns out to be Combo #3.

Learning to walk with beverages has to be one of the hardest parts.

We didn’t actually cook, but we put together a menu of snacks and sat the party attendees at kid-sized tables in our large kitchen, each table adorned with real flowers in a vase. We told all of them to bring a purse, which half of them forgot to do, and we gave them each a wad of play money, and we charged exhorbitant prices for the snacks so that they would get to count out and spend plenty of it.

It was a riot. Mara wanted to be the server, and while her original vision had assigned me to the kitchen to help Angela chop vegetables and fruits and slice cheese, one of the other parents beat me to these tasks while I was answering the door, so I photographed the doings and helped serve. It was such an inspiring event that I took a frillion photos.

Not hovering, not neglecting. The ideal server.

By the time it came to paying the bills the veneer of refinement had begun to wear off.

My hope is that as Angela and I take their ideas seriously, even in play versions, our children will grow up confident that their ideas are worth trying and that their interests and passions could precede (and ideally guarantee) making a living. In that regard we thought that simply being able to pull this off today was a huge success. Also, Mara worked her butt off today serving her friends, which we feel is a beautiful way of being. She got to be the center of attention during Present Opening Time, but for a solid half-hour she circulated among the small tables, wearing an apron her aunt in St. Louis had made with her name embroidered on it,  and asked what else her friends would like to order. She had help from Jay, an 11-year-old girl who is also one of the homeschoolers and, being the sweetest child on Earth, is like a big sister to many of them. Jay wrote down the orders and added up the bills afterward. Like waiters in a real restaurant, Mara and Jay sat down to eat only after having worn themselves out bringing food out to the guests.

Something for every palette.

Time for some sugar. The Birthday Girl still has her serving apron on.

The children took it all very seriously. You might be astonished at how easily young children adapt to the idea of being led to fancy tables and making their own choices from a menu. Even when they chirped “This is the nicest restaurant I’ve ever been to”, they did not sound as though they were playing or pretending. They looked like small adults dining. Sure, there were moments when they cut up, and Mara had a blast shouting “Three #1 Combos!” to the kitchen. But by and large, it seemed to me that the girls were all feeling extremely grown up and honored by this unusual birthday theme, which was just a bonus we hadn’t anticipated.

And then they all turned into children again and started chasing balloons.


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