What good is great weather if no one throws an outdoor party?
During August Peg and I attended three excellent parties and threw one of our own. Each of the parties was different and each one had its own reason for being, but the common thread was fun . . . and perfect Pacific Northwest weather.
The Urban Beach Party has taken on a life of its own. Created by Dan Engell when he lived in a small home just off Sixth Avenue, it now takes place in his backyard just off the fairway at Highlands. The potluck was tremendous fun with about 75 people cooking their own burgers and brats and listening to the music of local bands while Dan poured beer.
A year ago Sharon Kaufmann had a successful lung transplant. As a celebration, her husband Bill bought a catered party at the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 Auction and reserved a date in early August. A tent was set-up on the Kaufmann’s lower terrace. On the upper terrace people gathered and enjoyed the view of Fox Island and the peninsula. Once the buffet was prepared we were all summoned to an excellent and elegant sit-down dinner.
Gilligan and the Skipper and were present at a Castaways Party by Patty Stamper. Patty converted her yard to a deserted Pacific island for a three hour tour. There were grass huts, fru-fru drinks with little umbrellas, pirates, and plenty of people in Hawaiian shirts, leis, and beach clothes. She had grass skirts and bamboo mats over the canopies that housed the bar, dinner buffet and even the portable potty. The summer party raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Patty had a silent auction, tropical lagoons, little islands, and a South Pacific/Asian menu of good eats.
Although our 40th or “ruby red” anniversary isn’t until November, we decided we didn’t want to celebrate in the cold and rain. We wanted to take advantage of the August weather and have a deck party. As it turned out, however, only a few people stayed on the deck.
Several years ago our daughter, Andrea Neill, and Don’s sister Marsha Doman had a garage sale, which we set up under our deck, which also serves as a three-car carport. The deck provides shade and easy access to a level driveway. We discovered then how pleasant it is in the summer heat.
Although we have been getting back into our favorite form of entertaining, small intimate dinner parties, we wanted to invite our friends to see our home. Over the past several years, our private quarters have grown and the public viewing areas have become smaller. We've been trying to finish up remodeling projects, cleaning out clutter, and getting visible art out where people can actually appreciate it.
Our expanded deck is a source of joy. Son Del wrapped our deck around to the front of the house and friend Dave Schmitz from City Glass provided the glass railings, which take full advantage of our view with a feeling of openess. Artist Carman Komm designed the fabulous mosaic art Underwater Marine View on our Eastern exterior upper wall. Inside son Del again performed magic by replacing, some flooring in the dining room, while daughter Andrea artistically painted the walls. Friend John Reding stripped and re-finished the dining room furniture and the whole room just glows. We have yet to plan our first dinner party there but it's coming.
Some guests were neighbors. Some came from Seattle and two guests came from Bend, Oregon. Family and friends set up and organized the Saturday event. Friends Rob Erb and Donn Irwin arrived by 12:30 PM to set up Donn’s barbeque. Donn’s wife Deb who also arrived early said, “That barbeque cost more than our kitchen stove. But I don’t care. I don’t use either.” Donn is the one who likes to cook . . . unless Spam is on the menu.
Donn and Rob Erb flipped burger and cooked all day. Later Rob remarked, "That's the longest blank blank party I've ever been at."
Deb showed up about three hours before the party began. She composed a flowing display on one wall of the dining room involving an oriental robe Don bought for Peg several years ago. She also helped clean and straighten up before the party by folding clothes. Deb declared, "Don wears boxers," to many guests. Uhhhhhhhhh, thank you, Deb.
Both Debbie Irwin and Vickie Erb are great helps with clean up and set up. They are both so cheerful. They make dealing with their husbands tolerable. Deb ran home for a shower and quick change before the party got underway.
Our daughter Andrea was in charge of the event and wore a name tag that said it all, “I am the boss of you.” Except for an ice run and a beer run (neither unanticipated) everything went pretty much as planned.
Andrea and my sister Marsha sell whimsical art products (chairs, tables, murals, etc.) at local street fairs and shows. They are able to set up and take down their canopies in minutes with the able assistance of Andrea’s twin daughters Demetria and Dakota. Andrea will frequently ask them, “What happens if we whine?” They know the lesson and respond, “We don’t get paid.”
We couldn’t have put the party on without our family and friends. Each of our three children (Andrea, Del, and Patrick) helped out and all children, spouses, and grandchildren attended. Our family usually has a good time kidding each other and making our own type of fun.
Andrea brought books and fun party activities for the grandkids. Sidewalk Chalk converted into a giant piece of driveway art with almost every grandchild contributing. Most of the grandkids both played and worked during the party.
Many friends volunteered to help too. When Cindy Zamjahn received her email invitation she responded immediately to help. When Andrea called for help, Cindy said, "I can be there in ten minutes." We love our family and friends!
The entertainment started at one in the afternoon and went until eight in the evening. The Ed Taylor Group started the party off with some very smooth jazz. With Ed were a keyboardist, a drummer, and a horn player. It's not often you get to see a flugel horn in your backyard. The four musicans blended well. Kathleen Olson of the Zoo Society said, “I need to book them for Zoobilee.” Ed played early so his group could play another gig at Oscar’s in the evening. Always in demand Ed has played with names like Smokey Robinson, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Rick James. We've known Ed since the early nineties.
Seattle artist Travis Hartnett followed Ed Taylor with his finger-style acoustic guitar. Travis uses a foot-controlled phrase sampler to record his playing as he goes and then adds harmonies and layers on top of it.
Both Travis and Ed Taylor had CDs for sale and they sold well . . . even among the muscians. Barb Trapp made me promise to order Travis' CD when she noticed that he had gone after she performed.
Barb Trapp and Jan Runbeck of Barb and Jan played what Barb calls Music Dependent Bluegrass. (They need the sheet music.) Barb has been a violinist with the Tacoma Symphony. Jan plays rhythm guitar. They have been friends since grade school. Near the end of their set Peg joined them and sang May I Have This Dance, For The Rest of My Life. It was so sweet . . . I cried of course. For their last number Barb and Jan played Can I Play Your Fool Again written by local legend Art Mineo.
Art, who just turned 88, missed his song being played but arrived with wife Toni as Northwest Quintessence were setting up. Art strolled over, picked up the bass and played for a minute or two and then sat down at the keyboard. He played several numbers and then the rest of the group joined in as he played Satin Doll. This was a great honor for both the group and our party.
Although he plays piano and writes almost every single day, Art turns down frequent invitations to play in public.
Northwest Quintessence played two sets in the early evening including a song dedicated to Peg and me. They play classic jazz with a contemporary flare. Northwest Quintessence have been playing together for the last 3 years, but the individual members have been important elements of the Seattle music scene for more that 20 years. Though most of the musicians were classically trained, they have gravitated to jazz out of a love for the opportunity to create something fresh and new in each performance. Northwest Quintessence plays frequently at several Seattle jazz haunts, including St. Clouds in Magnolia, Triangle Tavern in Whitecenter, and the Richmond Beach Restaurant in (your guessed it) Richmond Beach. The individual musicians are also regulars at the Port Townsend Jazz Festival. We could have listened to them all night long, but even though our neighbors were all invited to the party, we thought that an early evening end to the festivities were best.
All of the muscians were gracious and laid back. They all went along with everything and were a pleasure to both deal with a listen to.
As I introduced the ensemble I gave a little history of the courtship of Don and Peg and how I proposed (the back parking lot of McDonald's on Pacific Avenue . . . She said, "I'll have to think it over"). Friend and shill, Randy Melquist, stepped forward and read our handwritten vows (supposedly) from 1966. The audience enjoyed the over-the-top comments, “You are Fab and Gear. You really sock it to me. I am your Ringo. You are my Starr. You are the flower in my hair and the jingle in my tambourine.”
We asked people to not give us gifts, but some did anyway. Thank you, we really appreciate the thought. The most unusual were: a gift bag featuring tiny Ruby Red Absolut Vodka bottles from Joanne Carey; a promise to help find a new wrought-iron chandelier for our dining room, hang it, and wire it from Kathy Whitacre; and a torn up check for helper Richard by Jan Runbeck and Mike Mowat.
Choosing gifts is always hard. For example, my gift to Peg for our ruby anniversary was a 4.2 ct ruby ring. It was declined. We donated it to TACID (Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities) for a fundraiser. At the fund raiser, she won it again as first prize in the raffle. For the second time, she turned it down. My gift to myself was a ruby red Infiniti M30 convertible. I kept it. Peg's sister Marie called it the "Pimpmobile." Don't feel bad about Peg not getting the ruby ring (twice), however. She chose instead a fiery opal set of ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace. Plus, she will probably receive more gifts in November.
We received a ton of letters and cards congratulating us on our anniversary. Thank you, again. And our favorite charities received donations as well: The Heifer Organization and Rotarians for Hearing Regeneration. And again, we thank you.
We conservatively guess that 160 people attended the party. The sky was blue, there was a slight breeze (enhanced a little by a revolving fan under the carport), a friendly atmosphere, and great music from local artists. I think everyone had a great time . . . and isn’t that what parties are for?