volunteering with Processional Arts Workshop for Astor Alive — a dream come true!

The weekend before we had our very first Krampuslauf Philadelphia in 2011, Ben and I took the kids to Rhinebeck, New York for the Sinterklaas Festival and Parade. (Tucker house sat for us. The day he came over to learn to work the locks and coffee maker and stuff was the first time he ever came to our house. It’s funny to think back on that.)

The entire Sinterklaas Festival Day was amazing; literally like something out of a fantasy. Everywhere you turned were puppet shows, jugglers, stilt walkers, goats wearing Christmas dresses… old-fashioned diners and spaghetti dinners in church halls… we went nonstop for literally eleven or twelve hours. We watched the parade appear at the top of the hill — those glowing stars with their human faces — and we were just astounded. And cold.

The next year, we volunteered in the Parade itself. And we did so again in 2015. The people who make the puppets and help organize the “parade” portion of the Sinterklaas festival are called Processional Arts Workshop. They do a lot more work than just the Sinterklaas Festival. When I saw a few weeks ago via Facebook that they were asking for volunteers to come in September to help prepare puppets and other dynamic sculptures for the “Astor Alive” festival, I signed up immediately. (As in, “See you later guys.”)

As it turned out, it was in the week between co-op and classes starting for Tuck, so I had a companion, and we were pretty excited.

We took a bus to New York, had time to get lunch, and went to our first making session.

We “met” Alex and Sophia in the space where all the making was being done (the site of the old St.Mark’s Book Store), but recognized Alex right away from lining up outside the library on top of the big hill in Rhinebeck, getting ready to be part of the parade.


And we made legs. It wasn’t glamorous; but we were soaking up a lot of knowledge, about puppet movement, and joints, and manifolds… we said later that we felt like Boris and Natasha.

When we left, we were hungry, so Tucker had some cereal clumps soaked in liquid nitrogen…


And we had dinner at Bareburger, which was great.(We had no idea there was one right here in Philly, but we are glad to know that now.)

Then we went to check in at the hotel, which was… insane. We had a free night from Ben’s business traveling, but how could we have expected to have been put in a room that overlooked not just Times Square, but THE NEW YEARS’ BALL? I presume on other nights, this is a five thousand dollar hotel room!

(tuck reads a room service menu on the floor, by the light of times square)

The next day we tromped to the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), which was a blast, and then back for more making. That day we worked primarily on reproductions of the famous Astor Place cube. This was very puzzle-like… and cube-like… and you can imagine who liked that a lot.


And then we raced for the bus home. With new knowledge. (Like the Secret Power of Bearer Belts.) And we had met people who liked to just sit around and make big puppets and smell hot glue. I wish we had been there every day.

Check out our entire whirlwind 36 hours in manhattan in the Flickr set. We would have loved to have gone back for Astor Alive, and got to see videos from it, but that was Béla’s birthday weekend and although it would have undoubtedly been fun, “helping in parades” is just something he would consider “going to work with Mom” and not a real birthday. We know now how fast spots fill up to help make things for the East Village Halloween Parade, and that we should start thinking about that for 2017.

I would love Sophia and Alex to come to Parade of Spirits some year!