The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 6, 2008

(Mostly) Safe and (Not Entirely) Sane: A Vanderhoeven Fourth of July

Filed under: Family — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:43 pm

Over here on the Eastside, the Fourth of July tends to be something of a low-key affair for many people, mostly because virtually every city in the area has a total ban on private fireworks, and only a handful of public displays take place.  In previous years, a public fireworks display took place at Marymoor Park which could be viewed reasonably well from the back deck of my parents’ house, but this hasn’t taken place in several years, and even when it did it tended to be plagued by delays and other problems.  These days, the City of Redmond instead opts to light off their community fireworks display a week later, in conjunction with the annual Derby Days festival.  To be honest, I find the public fireworks displays to be too much of a hassle to bother with anyway, since if you want a good spot you have to get there hours in advance to stake out your space, and getting home after the display is over means wading through traffic.  For some of the larger displays (such as the one on the Seattle waterfront) you have the option of watching on TV, but what’s the point of doing that?  With these restrictions in place, there really doesn’t seem to be much point in doing too much celebrating on the Fourth of July these days.

But as it turns out, there is hope.  It seems that in the semi-distant town of Bonney Lake about 40 miles south of here, where my aunt Pam and Uncle Mike live with their family, they actually still allow people to light off their own fireworks.  And from the looks of things, it appeared that there was no shortage of fireworks being lit down there either.  Given the apparent pyromania that seems to come with the Vanderhoeven genes, there’s no way we were missing out on the one day of the year when such traits may be considered to almost be socially acceptable.  After the jump, a Fourth of July the way it was MEANT to be celebrated.

For a Vanderhoeven family gathering, this one was actually somewhat small.  In attendance were the Sirrines (it’s probably a good idea to stick around when you’ve got a bunch of people running around lighting off assorted incendiary devices near your house,) my parents and their dogs (it was decided that it might not be such a great idea to leave them alone at home on the night of the Fourth,) Jacki, Terence, Connor and Cory, Uncle Ady, Opa and myself.  By most peoples’ definitions, that’s still a bunch of people, but considering the fact that there were no Walshes or members of Jeff and Valerie’s family present, it was considerably less than usual for us.  On the other hand, there weren’t a whole lot of kids running around.  Of course, being the Fourth and July and all, I think it was the grownups that you needed to keep an eye on, especially given the close proximity to large amounts of celebratory pyrotechnics.

The Sirrines had purchased a considerable amount of fireworks for the evening, and Uncle Ady brought over fireworks of his own. 

I also noticed that among the pile of recreational explosives, there seemed to be a considerable number of little plastic army men as well.  Something told me that there were going to be some casualties…

After all, who in their right mind would want to find themselves staring straight down the barrel of a loaded 36 shot happy?

Something tells me this one might not be quite as smart as they would like you to believe.

Of course, before we could get to some serious recreational incineration, there was the slight matter of eating dinner to deal with.  Aunt Pam made up a batch of her soon-to-be-famous fried chicken with all the fixins.

There was a slight problem with breeze causing the napkins to fly away.  Fortunately, we had a solution to the problem…  We;re just going to set the thing on fire later anyway, so why not get some use out of it first?

But wait!  Would Common Sense Coach approve of using your fireworks as impromptu paperweights?  I don’t see anything that tells you not to, so it must be OK.  Then again, I don’t think Common Sense Coach is setting a very good example for the rest of us anyway.  Either that, or he has been driven to insanity by a badly aimed Roman Candle.  Either way, I would strongly suggest that my readers refrain from using Mr. Coach here  as a role model.  If you decide to ignore this advice, don’t point a finger (or what fraction thereof happens to be remaining) at me for suggesting it.

Once the food portion of the evening was out of the way (with the exception of some excellent strawberry shortcake that came later on, but I forgot to take pictures,) it was on to the celebratory pyromania of the evening.  Over in the culdesac, Ady and Mike set up their own plastic army man battle.  Mike, a retired Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, took the American side, leaving Ady to command the politically incorrect middle eastern opponent.

Although the WMDs were deployed early in the battle, they proved surprisingly ineffective.

As the battle raged on, casualties on both sides were high on both sides. 

Some soldiers seemed to be unable to withstand the heat of the battle.

In the end, the whole thing turned out to be more of a Cold War era Mutually Assured Destruction scenario, and when all was said and done, it was clear that there was no winner, but there was plenty of chaos and destruction.

I’m not sure whose idea it was to just set the whole thing on fire, but apparently it didn’t go over too well.

We’re expecting a strongly worded denunciation from the UN  and/or the city fire department any day now.

Eventually, as the evening went on, we moved to other fireworks, starting with the aerial stuff. 

With the new digital camera I purchased a few months ago, I have found it to be a significant improvement over my old camera in the department of taking action shots.  As long as you let it handle all the autofocusing voodoo beforehand, you can get it to react quickly enough that it’s mostly a matter of the operator getting the shot.

Eventually I got the timing down, and was able to get it to work pretty well.

This doesn’t work quite as well as it could while there’s still a lot of ambient light, but it’s kind of odd how the smoke trail doesn’t seem to suggest that the rocket is actually launching out of the bottle.

Eventually, after changing the launcher (to a spent paratrooper launcher casing) and waiting for it to get a bit darker, I got better results.  This was probably the best one I got.

As it began to get darker, some of the more colorful stuff began to come out. 

The combination of strobe flashers and spent casings makes for an interesting effect here, although this looks a lot cooler later on when there’s more stuff to cast shadows.

Eventually we ran out of fireworks, and in order to make sure we weren’t going to burn anything down we rounded up all the spent casings and soaked everything to be on the safe side.  I’ve got a fair bit of video from the festivities, but I need to sort through it and edit it down some.

Throughout the neighborhood, the fireworks kept going off continuously, creating a display rivaling some of the professional shows in the area.  I was amazed by the sheer quantity of fireworks that were going on all around.  Even as I returned home from the evening’s festivities, there were huge fireworks lighting up the sky all around on the drive up the Valley Freeway, eventually tapering off as I got into the more urban (and less fireworks-tolerant) areas.

All in all, it was a great Fourth of July, and it was the first time in years that I actually had a chance to light off fireworks.  It brings to mind some of the Independence Days of years past back in New Mexico when there were few fireworks restrictions, although I’ll refrain from too much detail just in case there are any statutes of limitations that might not yet have expired.  I’ll definitely be coming back down here next year, and I’ll be bringing stuff with me too.

For another perspective, be sure to check out my Mom’s account of the evening as well.  As soon as I get a chance to tinker with it some, I should eventually be putting up video as well.

Update:  My Aunt Pam has posted on the evening’s festivities as well.



  1. On one hand I could say I was surprised by this, but having been in this family for 15+ yrs, that would be a lie. This is exaclty how I would have pictured you guys getting together! Looks like a lot of fun!

    Comment by Aunt Valerie — July 7, 2008 @ 8:23 am

  2. Great post Brian! And I love the pictures. They really tell the story. Thanks for coming all the way down to Bonney Lake to celebrate with us. We can’t wait for next year!

    Comment by Aunt Pam — July 7, 2008 @ 10:26 am

  3. so fun and great pictures. Wish I was there

    Comment by Judy — July 7, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

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