Archive for April, 2012

Lettuce pause

Than growing food I can imagine no worthier enterprise. It’s what I should have done with my life, what I would be doing if I didn’t have to work. I know, I just said that out loud to fully imbibe the insanity. Those of you who have followed this blog since early days may recall that we grew peas a few years in a row, and lettuce once before, and pole beans and pumpkins and cucumbers and tomatoes, but then the wave seemed to break on our heads and we’ve been awash in too much to do since then.

A good season for green and purple lettuce.

For several years now our yard has of all things most closely resembled a weed preserve. I can hear the voice-over for the conservation video:

Here in this suburban enclave nestled in the unlikely environs of North Seattle, vegetate supercompetitors such as ivy, clover, morning glory, blackberry and dandelion are free to flourish and reproduce without the threat of physical and verbal abuse (harm to both root and reputation) that they would otherwise face. Ivy clambers exuberantly up every vertical surface, morning glory and blackberry raise their periscopes to the sunlit world from below every square foot of garden, clover and moss sashay unchecked across every corner of the lawn, dandelions sink their carroty anchors deep among the grass roots, and the grass in turn moseys into every patch of cultivated earth…”

I can barely keep the lawn mown.

So it was something of a victory over entropy when Mara and I went out one day in February, pulled all the three-foot weeds out of the farm box I built years ago on the planting strip by the street, mixed in fertilizer and compost, and planted some peas and lettuce — two kinds of romaine, Valmaine (green) and Petite Rouge (purple) — from Territorial Seed Company seed packets we had purchased at City People’s the week before. I was careful to let Mara do the actual dropping of the seeds so she could feel she really had a hand in it, because I had no intention of making her weed the box later, inflicting the lessons of toiling at cultivation on her at her age — just the thing to kill her very real enthusiasm for playing in soil.

The ones that made it. We like the Sugar Sprint variety.

It almost didn’t happen, but we did it at the right time. Of course, with the maddening late freezes and pelting rains we get here ONLY right after you’ve carefully planted seeds, the peas were much disturbed. They’re hardy little buggers, but heavy rain turns them up out of the soil, and…well, I don’t know if the late cold really hurts them, but at all events half of them didn’t come up. I was so excited to have lots of snap peas this year, they’re so tasty right off the bush. We will still have peas, but not the lush bounty I’d planned.

The lettuce has so far fared better. We didn’t do any successive plantings, so it’ll just be one short crop, and you have to thin the rows to give the best individuals maximum room to grow, so you lose a lot there, too. I’ve purposely let Mara’s lettuce rows grow as much as I could before thinning them — you’re supposed to do it as soon as they come up — so that we could eat what we thinned. This past week the lettuce really put on weight, both varieties, and so Mara and I thinned the rows and took the thinnings inside and washed it. I let Mara use a very sharp knife for the first time in her life to cut the earth-ends off each clump, and tonight we enjoyed tasty, wholesome greens fresh from the garden in a little salad that we ate with our cheese pizza.

Ham over salad. Mara shows off the first greens of the year.

It was a delicious harvest. I’ll get to the weeding later. Or not.


A momentary grammar

Our youngest daughter has been very vocal for the past couple of months and I’ve been meaning to write about it because she’s doing something that is, if not downright unusual, at least very interesting to me. She has developed her own method of saying two-syllable words.

I started noticing this with the words and names that she was very familiar with, like “cracker” and “apple” and “Togy” (our male cat), the words she was hearing all the time. But now she is doing it with any old word that reaches her ears on the wind, the very first time she hears it.

What’s fascinating to me is not simply the fact that Emilia is speaking words in a unique way — I guess every kid does at first — but that the simple grammatical rule she applies to the pronunciation of each word is so consistent. It’s such a reliable grammar that we can, when she says something we don’t understand, pause and reverse-engineer the word in our minds by applying her rule backwards.

Here’s the rule: say the first syllable twice and end with the most interesting consonant. In this grammar, “apple” becomes “ah-ahp”, “cracker” becomes “cah-cahk”, “Grandma” becomes “ga-gam”, “carrot” becomes “cah-cad”, “Togy” becomes “toh-toge”, “waffle” becomes “wah-waff” and my friend Jeremy is called “Je-jem”. “Mah-mok” is Millie’s word for “marker”, “teh-teb” is her word for “table”, and “be-beth” is how she refers to Jeremy’s wife Bethany.

A sunny morning brings new opportunities for saying exactly what she means.

Emilian grammar has a fine point or two. Her first syllable is always very simple even if the input is not. She does not pronounce the first ‘r’ in cracker or Grandma, and Jeremy and Bethany’s daughter Gwyneth is referred to as “gi-geth”, not “gwi-geth”. Angela notes that if she says “horse”, Millie will say “horse” too, but if she says “horsie” Millie says “hoh-horse”. The letter ‘l’ is altered; she does not pronounce our other cat Tillie’s name “ti-til” as you might expect, but simply “ti-di”. Also, the rule applies to the occasional three-syllable word, such as “ah-aff” for “elephant”.

Tonight we were watching a movie as a family and at one point I commented on the action, “here comes trouble”. Millie wasn’t even watching, she was playing on the floor and looking the other way but she absentmindedly and automatically applied her grammar to the last thing she heard. “Tuh-tub”.

The first word I noticed Millie’s grammar on was “coffee”, which of course came over as “cah-caff”. I heard it every morning when I sipped my joe and then started realizing that she used similar repetition with other words.

bunny = “buh-bun”
sippy = “si-sip”
diaper = “dah-dap”
pencil = “peh-pes”
tower = “tah-tow”

We have used this grammar to decode dozens of Emilia’s words, and it follows that you can even anticipate how she will say words of a certain kind. She would say “hah-ham” for “hammer”, I’m sure. The grammar also applies in the new two-word and three-word sentences she’s practicing. Yesterday we took the girls to Ravenna Park to play in the playground, and afterwards we set off up the trail that borders the restored creek running through the ravine. Angela cheerily announced “here we go on our nature walk!” and as Millie trotted after her I heard her say “neh-netch…wahk”.

The thought has crossed my mind to worry that this very durable grammar might be a kind of dyslexia, but I don’t really have any reason to believe that and I know how hyperactive my imagination can be when running in the shadows.

In any case, I find it not only adorable but also very helpful. If we hadn’t noticed this rule I’m sure we’d be missing a lot of what she’s saying. I don’t remember Mara using any such consistent rules, though she certainly had her own interesting turns of phrase and she used a wider vocabulary of signs before she had verbal language than did Millie, who still uses a few signs but never took to signing with the same enthusiasm.

Millie about to set out on a neh-netch walk.

This usage will vanish soon, which is why I wanted to write it down. Someday it will seem impossible, we will remember only the fact of it, not the actual sound of it in our ears, even though we will tell Millie years from now that she used to speak this way. Mara does not remember saying “paahtu” for “pasta”. She didn’t believe it until we showed her a movie clip of her as a toddler in which we asked her what her favorite food was.

To me there’s a sadness in this. There are so many things now that we ask Mara whether she remembers, things she used to do every day or things we used to do with her, how we used to play a chasing game we called Hunting Dog and how, when she was only three, she would study Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever in bed at night and fall asleep with the huge book over her head like a tent. When the answer is no, she doesn’t remember, we feel a little sting of melancholy, as though we had thought she were there with us and she wasn’t.

She has only our word that things really were that way, and that word is what is passed on, that’s what she’ll remember. For our daughters these things that we cherish from their earliest days become legends rather than memories. They become the family stories we tell, like a collection of shells on the mantel — no longer inhabited by the things that made them and gave them their original shapes, but imbued with a later, oral, assigned and handed-down magic and charged with the task of constituting and holding together our history as a family.

GSGH #12 solution

I thought that Gargoyle #12 might keep even Issy occupied for a while since its location is a little bit off the beaten path of my usual wanderings, but she pegged it as the Eagles Auditorium on the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Union Street. Here’s a wider shot of the eagle that posed for our original hunt post:

The west entrance to what is now called Kreielsheimer Place, just one of its many names.

This is another building I have zilcho history with, and in fact I only noticed the decorative eagle on it for the first time when I was out one day shooting city fountains for our Aqua Urbana tour. That doesn’t mean the building doesn’t have any history, and in fact it has been “as busy as Issy” since its completion in 1926, if you’ll allow the minting of a new phrase.

The old Eagles Auditorium has housed A Contemporary Theater since 1995.

The building now is called Kreielsheimer Place and houses ACT Theater (sic), which, because people have always insisted on appending the word “theater” to its acronym, has given in to common usage and must now pretend that its acronym does not mean anything, or at least that it does not already include the word ‘theater’ — an untenable turn of events for the dwindling race of strict grammarians, equivalent to a normal person’s zombie apocalypse.

The hall in earlier days, around 1926. This is the southwest corner of the building, or the northeast corner of Seventh and Union. Image property of Museum of History and Industry.

But where were we? Oh yes, we were about to go back in time. But I’ll let the National Park Service repeat what’s on their “Seattle: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary” web page, since it’s so evocatively told:

On February 6, 1898, a group of theater managers met to discuss some business matters. The men decided to take a walk along the tide flats, and upon reaching the shipyards, settled upon some pilings, where the conversation took a philosophical turn. Combining their ideas on democracy and brotherhood, it was decided that an organization should be formed to reflect this spirit, an organization called the “Seattle Order of Good Things.” Later renamed the “Fraternal Order of Eagles,” the society’s constitution asked its members to “make human life more desirable by lessening its ills and promoting peace, prosperity, gladness, and hope.”

I don’t know anything about the Eagles, except that I met and danced with my wife at a folk dance in a hall that they built in Ballard, so for that reason alone they’re okay in my book. I find the above vignette actually very moving and while I know that some of these fraternal organizations surround themselves in great secrecy and wear funny hats and develop secret handshakes and assume austere titles for themselves, I think if they’re also achieving in any measure the goals they set for themselves in their original constitution then they’ve done well.

Eight hundred members of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) raise their hands in a yea vote to continue a strike in 1937. For the naysayer behind his hat in the front row, his vote is something he'd rather not have his neighbors find out about in the morning paper, a reminder that extraordinary courage used to be required of ordinary people at regular intervals. Image property of Museum of History and Industry.

The building was, I think, a hotel at some point called the Senator, although I have no more information than that and don’t know when that might have been. In the 1950s it passed into the hands of the Unity Church of Truth, which did its thing there until 1960, and from the mid-’60s until 1970 it hosted many musical acts, including Leon Russell, the Grateful Dead, John Mayall and Jethro Tull.

Here’s a shot of the avian decoration above the south-facing entrance on Union. Thanks again for playing, Issy. Every time you (or anyone else) win one of these hunts, I learn something about my town I didn’t know before.

This Eagle is slightly smaller and its wings are stretched out to its sides rather than upward.

GSGH #13 winner limerick

I’ve been really busy lately (in a good kind of way) and I haven’t even done the solution post for Gargoyle #12 yet, but I promised Issy another limerick for #13 so I thought I’d best get to it. Our resident slayer has put up two more crisp wins. Gargoyle #13 turns out, as Issy rightly declared, to be on the Caroline Kline Galland Building on the southwest corner of Second Avenue and University Street.

Gargoyle #13. I included some of the building's name because I had thought this hunt would be harder.

Although I have taken a few photos of it both intentionally and incidentally I know almost goose-egg about this structure. The only history I have with it is that I fell in love with a painting called “Oakley Doakley” by Idaho artist Jerri Lisk, which hung until it was sold in the Patricia Rovzar Gallery, which occupies the corner space at the street level. (The gallery rotates its artists and it just happens that Lisk is the featured artist again as I write this, so if you’re curious you can stroll by and have a look at her style.)

One of Seattle's early steel-frame buildings. Not having to rely on brick or stone for load bearing enabled exterior walls with larger windows. Hey, perfect for art galleries!

What’s in the name? The Bavarian-born Caroline Roseberg wed two men, first the successful Seattle clothier Louis Kline and then the retired successful San Francisco merchant and Seattle philanthropist Bonham Galland, outliving both of them. She had Max Umbrecht design this little investment for her, supposedly in 1906, though I can’t figure out why, if that’s really the date of design, the lions’ medallions clearly announce “1905”, unless building supply companies sold year-old lions back then the way shops sell day-old loaves of bread.

The Caroline Kline Galland Building shortly after it was completed, with the kind of massive overhanging cornice that invariably seemed like a bad idea after an earthquake. The construction date is listed on records as 1906, but the lions and I have our doubts. Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries.

Ms. Galland died childless only a year or two after the building was completed, and all of her many real estate holdings — except this building — were sold to fulfill her wish that her wealth “may bring to the lives of the aged men and women … the greatest degree of contentment and happiness in their declining years.” Annual income from the Galland building was used to build the Caroline Kline Galland Home for the Aged and Feeble Poor, which, according to a Samis Land Company document I dug up from 2007, was at that time still operating in Seward Park and still equipped to care for 205 residents. The document is here and it includes a lot of interesting old photos which are unfortunately very low resolution, but it’s still worth a look.

This angle from a parking tower up the street shows the top floor with its outdoor patio. I can't tell from earlier photos if this was original or added later. If anyone knows, say.

It’s no surprise to me that this building turns out to be a Samis building. Sam Israel bought the building in 1969 from the trustees of Galland’s estate, the Seattle Title and Trust Company. I wonder if it was because like Galland, Israel was a philanthropist who had a passion for helping fellow Jews. I once heard this about Sam Israel, though I don’t know how true it is or isn’t: he bought up a lot of old properties in Seattle and sat on them. He didn’t improve or update the properties but he wouldn’t sell them either, which made developers crazy in the 1960s when they were tearing down the old brick and stone city to build a new one in sleek concrete. I heard that he’d keep the roofs in good repair to protect the investment, but he was deaf to tenant complaints and appeals for other improvements. He channeled the rent money from his properties into charities that benefited Jews and the nation of Israel.

It's kind of an odd duck, really, Chicago at the front with some winking Frank Lloyd off the side of the top. From this angle, the top floor looks integral to the original design. Someone please invite me up.

During Israel’s later years, the old properties around his were all torn down and the lots redeveloped and the streetscape of Seattle changed gaggingly for the worse, but the buildings Israel owned are now civic treasures. Thank you Sam for your miserly refusal to stoke the engines of Progress, and thank you Caroline for your many gifts to humanity, including this belioned building.

And thanks to Issy once more for your unflagging enthusiasm in keeping the game afoot. Here’s another limerick for Seattle’s winnin’est gargoyle hunter.

That Isabelle is quite a gal, and
she found our last cat on the Galland.
A gargoyle she’ll tether
regardless of whether
it’s footed or finnéd or talon’d.


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt