Oregon Renaissance Faire

I was so excited to discover, only a couple of weeks ago, that there is a Renaissance Faire close to us. Given how much fun the boys had at the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire last year, it seemed obvious that we should attend this; and since it was so close, I decided to bring Mica as well. With a bit of planning we managed to get the boys’ best friend from school and his mom to come along with us, which helped to stoke Nathan and Ryan’s enthusiasm.

We skipped the rainy weekend but arrived when the heat was in full force, and spent several hot afternoon hours wandering the faire. The kids found wooden swords almost as soon as we entered, and despite my admonitions to see what else was on offer first, we eventually went back and got them. There is a strict no-sword-fighting rule in the faire (except for designated events, like the tournament), so they were forced to content themselves with running around under the trees, slashing at shadows.

I was interested to see what Mica would make of the faire. She was very interested in the pony ride concept and wanted to go there first; but when she discovered that I was standing in line to let her actually ride one, she ordered me out of the line. She also liked looking at the various displays, and we spent some time trying on lovely circlets, but in the end she too chose a sword as her souvenir. (She might have taken a glass flute instead had I allowed, but there was no way that was happening.)

None of the kids were interested in sitting and watching the various shows, which was a pity since the small bits we caught were very good. Maybe in a few years they’ll be ready for that.

More Beach

There is more to the beach than crabs. When I was a kid there was something to do at the beach regardless of time or tide level, and that has apparently not changed.

There are sticks, for example, which can be weapons, or tools, or… well, to be honest, mostly those two. Maybe mostly weapons. A weathered board laid against a washed-up mass of tree roots makes a springy ramp for walking and jumping. Logs are worn away so that the stumps of their branches stick out extra far, and they turn and shift under your feet. I watch my children play with their balance and reaction times.

And there are endless Things To Find. Bits of shell; interesting rocks; smooth driftwood. Rubbery seaweed with tough, fluid-filled pouches. Thousands of baby snails. Sand fleas. And more and more and more, so much that a two-year-old (or, if I’m feeling like I’m on vacation, I) can poke around in mud and sift through sand for hours.

Cape Lookout

beach1

In my ongoing quest to ease our family into camping, we recently spent a couple nights at Cape Lookout State Park. This park boasted the obligatory deluxe cabins, a lovely beach, and close proximity to the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I was pretty sure we could find plenty to do there.

The beach was so close that, despite some rather chilly windy weather, we spent most of our time there. And it was awesome. Nathan and Ryan are old enough to enjoy climbing on the rocks and playing tag with the waves; Mica did less climbing and less tag, but spent plenty of time running barefoot along the sand or playing in the nearby stream. People walking by, bundled up in their coats and hoods, would do a double-take at the barefoot toddler splashing happily in a cold stream.

beach2

Dave and I, meanwhile, learned more about what to pack and how to use a grill, and had some really good meals, which the boys partook of modestly. (They ate a lot of chocolate sandwiches.) We continue to learn. Next time I think we’re aiming for three nights, and hopefully not needing an emergency store run to get crucial things like salt.

And we ended the trip on Nathan’s birthday by hitting the afore-mentioned Tillamook Cheese Factory, which not only has a really cool observation platform where you can watch the manufacturing line, but also sells ice cream.

beach3

Riding

We were up early the morning of the Faire, which didn’t start until 10am, and our hostess consented to give everyone a chance to go for an early morning ride.

Nathan and Ryan had ridden exactly once before — the last time we’d visited Shawn and Trina’s house. On that occasion both boys had been interested, but nervous, and in the end I’d ridden Trina’s oldest and mellowest horse with each boy taking a turn up in front of me. It apparently made a big impression, for at the top of Nathan’s to-do list was riding a horse — this time without any aid from me.

riding2

So Trina downed her coffee and we all headed up to the pasture. We must have spent at least half an hour with Trina patiently leading her (also very patient) mare up and down and around a small enclosure. Nathan at first rode alone; Ryan declaimed any interest. But after a while he was intrigued enough to grab a helmet and get up behind his brother. And then he decided it was time to try it himself.

riding1

riding3

riding4

riding5

By the end of that day we’d been to the Faire and seen jousting, chased rats and dragons, watched shows, and tried our hands at archery. And both boys still claimed that riding horses had been the best part of the day.

They want us to go back. Soon.

Shows And Expectations

I’ve written before about how wrong my expectations can be when it comes to my children, and how much fun it is when they surprise me. At the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire it was Nathan who surprised me most, with his appreciation of the various shows we watched.

I’d been talking up the joust and sword-fighting mainly because I thought the boys (especially Ryan) would get a kick out of watching people battle. When we discovered that the actual joust was preceded by several rounds of equestrian displays, I was a bit worried — and Ryan, true to form, became increasingly impatient. Nathan, however, seemed riveted, and eventually I figured out why: partly he liked the horses, but mostly he liked the cheering.

joust2

Not being a family that engages in or particularly cares about organized sports, my boys had never been to so much as a Little League Game before. Their biggest exposure to sports has been the football my Dad watches over Thanksgiving weekend. I think when the announcer divided the crowd into sections to cheer for the different riders, it was a novel and thrilling experience for Nathan. We were rooting for Wales, and he yelled out with real vigor whenever our rider was up. By the end of the joust, unable to sit still, he’d migrated down to within a few feet of the fence and paced back and forth, jumping and cheering at every opportunity.

joust1

He was so excited by the process, actually, that he took us back that afternoon for the second show. The crowd was much thinner in the afternoon heat, but that didn’t stop him from cheering through the entire thing.

And it wasn’t just the jousting that he wanted to watch. There were at least four stages scattered around the Faire, with a constant rotation of performances at each one, and I was privately astonished when he wanted to watch a troupe performing gypsy dance. When they invited people up on stage to join in their last dance, he clearly wanted to go — and when I offered to go with him, he went for it. Then he decided to stay for the people singing ballads that came on afterwards. (Ryan spent much of this time hunting rats in the area and pretending to stab things with his new wooden knife.)

shows1

shows2

Our last performance of the day was an extremely tongue-in-cheek presentation of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, done by an excellent trio of actors (with a little help from the audience). The boys liked it, particularly when the “dead” Pyramus kept correcting his companion. So in addition to the other excitement of the Faire, I can report their first exposure to Shakespeare.

shows3

Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire

faire5

For more than a year I’ve been planning to attend the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, held each year in King’s Valley, Oregon. One of Dave’s college friends lives with his family just a few minutes from the site, and had mentioned that they’d be happy to have us stay with them the night before. This made everything easier for me — our kids played outside with their kids that evening, we all got a good night’s sleep, and we arrived at the Faire with experienced guides.

faire1

Dave’s migraines did not leave him feeling up to attending, and so to simplify things further I left Mica at home. I had a feeling that trying to keep track of a two-year-old at a busy Faire would be be somewhat challenging and might dim my enjoyment slightly — not to mention figuring out her nap. (We weren’t there long before I knew I was right.) This was just a special adventure for my boys and me.

faire2

I’ve only been to two other similar events in my life, both long ago. This one was by far the most fun. For starters, there were rats. Not the small furry kind, but the large two-legged kind. When we came in the kids signed up to be rat-catchers, and got a plastic bracelet and instructions on how to help rid the Faire of rats. Every time they saw a person with a rat face on their head and a tail tied to their waist, they were to chase them down and (gently) tag them in order to earn a colored ribbon “tail” tied on to their bracelet. At the end of the day they could return and get a small rat pendant for their efforts. Ryan was particularly vigilant in his pursuit of rats.

faire6

faire4

There was also the Amazing Maze of Amazement, where for a dollar each kid got a foam sword and the opportunity to enter the maze and attempt to slay the dragons therein. In theory they were also trying to find their way out, but we distinctly saw our kids double back several times rather than arrive at the exit. They weren’t dummies; there were dragons to slay.

There was wonderful food, too, and some really excellent shows, including knights jousting, many different musicians, playwrights, jugglers, etc. (More on those soon.) We watched coins being stamped with patterns by “The Winching Wench” and the boys tried their hand at a little archery.

faire8

As is apparently traditional, the day was very, very hot. We left the Faire only after it had mainly emptied out — hot, tired, sweaty, and agreed on the most important point: we’ll need to do this again.

Further Adventures In Camping

Recently we did a group camp with some other parents from around the Salem area. This was a great opportunity for me, because while tent camping doesn’t worry me per se — much — the truth is I still don’t have all that much experience with it, and I’m always worried I’ll forget something crucial. Like matches (which I once forgot). And small children are not exactly stoic in the face of deprivation. Having other people around just feels like a good safety net.

Plus it gives the boys other kids to play with. There were three other kids in their age range (the rest were toddlers), and just like the Back-To-School campout last year, the boys would disappear for hours at a time with them. In fact I suspect that the entire trip, from their perspective, was a long saga of outdoor play, punctuated occasionally by turns on the swing (one of the fathers is a professional arborist, and hung an awesome swing from a 25-foot-high branch) and pesky needs to eat.

For me things were slightly more complicated. There was the tent, which wasn’t too much trouble, although I suspect I was the only person there who had to actually look at the directions when setting up my tent. (One of the other parents saw me doing that and promptly volunteered to help.) There was the food, which I kept simple by letting us eat mostly hot dogs and nutella. (One of the other parents noticed this and spotted me some extra BBQ chicken and corn-on-the-cob.)

And there was keeping track of the baby. The one hitch in the trip came just an hour after we’d arrived. The tent was set up, Nathan and Mica were hanging out in it, and I told Nathan I would get some more things from the car (thirty feet and six tents away). The trouble is that I didn’t explicitly tell him he was in charge of Mica, and I took a little longer than I expected… and when I got back, probably seven minutes later, she was gone. Entirely gone. I scanned the visible campground — nothing.

Naturally I started going up to other campers, asking them, in a totally not-panicking way, whether they’d seen a red-headed baby wandering around. And one of them had. It turned out she’d gone out of the campground, turned onto the (fortunately little-used) road next to it, crossed a bridge and was heading off to find her fortune, a water bottle in one hand and a graham cracker in the other.

So it was fine, and the experience only took a few years off my life, and reminded me that 1) no matter how capable and helpful Nathan is (and he really is), he’s still only eight, and 2) Holy Moses but that girl is quick.

But otherwise we had a great time. There was a creek flanking the campground, cold and shallow and ideal for splashing around in — which was great, because the temperatures midday were sweltering. The older kids would wander off just far enough to be pseudo-unsupervised but still within earshot, while the parents hung out, cooled our feet, and chatted. Mica, displaying a typical lack of fear, wanted to plunge straight into the creek and explore all its interesting features, especially the little waterfalls, which I helped her with until my feet got numb. (“It’s great that she’s so exploratory,” one of the other parents, whose daughter is considerably more cautious, said to me. “Yes, if we can just get her to survive to adulthood, she’ll be a really interesting person,” I answered.)

And I am almost — not quite, mind you — ready to consider the concept of taking the kids camping solo. Maybe in a year or two, when Mica’s concept of boundaries are more evolved…