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At home, Mike doesn’t really talk a lot about his job at the university.  Don’t mix business with pleasure is what he always says, and when chatting with his kids at suppertime he prefers to talk about their experiences at school, in their spare time, or in the sports club rather than his day at work. That, however, has changed with his most recent project, concerning Kite Aerial Photography.  He seems to be pretty fond of this project and the students working on it.

He keeps on talking about the kite, how big it is, that it can lift off with hardly any wind at all, that it carries a remote-controlled camera, that his students - wonder of wonders - work on the project deliberately and highly motivated, and so on and so forth.

“We still have to see if the kite is as good as the one I built for our grade 3 school project”, says Felix.

“ At least it’s larger.”

”Taller than me?”

“Yep, 8 feet.”

“Cool. And you did that?”

”Well, ... strictly speaking my students.”

”How high can your kite fly?”

”100 metres, that’s all the air traffic control would allow.”

”And if your camera drops down from that high up?”

“Then it’ll be gone.”

“And if the camera falls on someone?”

“Then the guy will be gone, too.  Hey, you are asking weird questions.”

“I’m just concerned.  Why don’t you attach a parachute to your camera, just in case.  Or better still, send something soft that high up into the air.  Guess what?  I could lend you Black Jack.  He’ll love parachuting.

Felix is serious about his suggestion.  Black Jack, the soft and fluffy black bear from Halifax, is Felix’ favourite stuffed animal.  He’d never give him away without good reason.  And Franziska has a good idea, too:

“Say, Daddy, how about searching the internet about how to build a teddy parachute.  Make sure you use a safe search engine, something like like”

Mike has to think about that.  Him being an adult and all, he of course prefers having good ideas himself.  But eventually he switches on his computer and searches the internet.  Using google instead of fragfinn, though, after all, he’s not a little child any more.

And he finds what he’s looking for.  There are ways to let stuffies parachute from a kite.  In most cases, a so called kite ferry is involved.  You can think of that as a little sailing boat that is hooked up onto the kite line, blown up the kite line by the wind until it hits a stop, where it releases the stuffies that would then gently glide downwards under their parachutes.  That involves sawing tubes and a wooden disk, bending some strong wire, cutting fabric for the chute, the chute pack and the kite ferry, and most of all a lot of sewing.

The kids are all excited

“We’ll do that”, says Katharina.  ”My teddy Columbus has already told me, that he wants to parachute first.  That’s because he’s the bravest stuffy of all, you know.”

Mike hesitates:  “But making a parachute and a kite ferry isn’t exactly a piece of cake.  You’d have to do a lot of handicrafts.  Drilling and sawing and all that.”

“I can do that,” says Katharina.

“And operating a sewing machine?”

”I can learn that.  Hey Dad, think of your students.”

“Why that?”

“They’ll surely want to do something else than only taking aerial photos.  And of course they may use our parachute then.”

“I’m sure they’ll be delighted to hear that.”

”But tell me:  Do your students still have stuffies of their own?”

”I don’t know.  I’ve never dared asking them in my lecture.  But back to the sewing machine, my friend:  I’m afraid that’s a hell of a tricky machine.”

“Daddy!”, Franziska enters the conversation, “Mum’s sewing machine is great.  It’s noisy, made of steel and it has a gas pedal.  You’ll like it.”

“But threading the needle and all that intricate stuff.”

“Just let us do this job.  I’m sure Mum will show us how to cope with that.”

So the next Saturday morning, Katharina hauls Mum’s sewing machine onto the kitchen table - “Uff, I’m the strongest” - and Mecki introduces her family into the mysteries of machine-sewing.  Lock stitch, upper thread, bobbin hook, needle feed or spool pin washer - you name it, the kids are now familiar with it.

Then the work starts.  Katharina, who has built a mobile for her cutest and newest, because recently born friend Caroline, claims the fretsawing of the plywood stop in the kite line as her job.  She also bends the release wire of the kite ferry from an old hanger of Grandma’s .  Quite an important job, because the release wire will become the heart of the kite ferry.  When the ferry hits the stop in the kite line, the release wire will be displaced backwards for about an inch releasing the stuffy with the parachute.

The tubes of the kite ferry are sawn to their proper lengths by Felix and Franziska.  All three share making the parachute gores - each kid being entitled to craft 4 gores - and they also share the machine sewing.  That’s the most interesting part anyway.  To attach the 12 chute lines to the chute, Felix made Dad teach him how to tie a bowline.  Being a fond canoeist and camper, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to use this knot anyway.  The last major task is sewing the chute pack, then everything is done.

Except for packing the chute, of course.  And this requires special attention.  “The only one to pack Columbus’s chute pack is of course me”, says Katharina, ”I don’t even want to think about what could happen if someone less caring packed the chute.”  Well, she shows responsibility.  And so she attaches the chute pack to Columbus’s back, threads the static line through the upper centre hole of the parachute and carefully packs everything into the chute pack.  Finally, she makes sure that the static line goes right through the middle of the chute pack’s lock, ensuring that the pack will open when the Columbus jumps.  Then Columbus is ready to start parachuting.

It’s Easter Monday.  With a fresh breeze blowing in Rheinbach, the conditions for kiting and parachuting are just perfect.  Columbus’s big day (and also Black Jack’s, Mouse’s, Hein’s and Dal the Tiger’s big day) has come.  Katharina attaches “her” stop to the kite line, Mecki lets the kite soar, and Katharina runs to get Columbus, but Mike is faster.  He quickly attaches a strange blue sack to the kite ferry.  Katharina protests:

”Hey Daddy!  I said Columbus is the first to parachute!  Only he is the bravest!  Anyway, what’s that strange blue sack gotta do here?”

”I’ve sewn this sack myself.  Secretly”, is all Mike replies, and then he has good luck because a sudden gust of wind lifts the kite ferry and the strange blue sack up the kite line before Katharina has a chance to interfere.  Soon, the ferry reaches the stop, the sack opens, and a whole bunch of little parachutes, all cut from grocery bags, glide downwards.  OK, they don’t carry any stuffies - these chutes would be far too small for stuffies anyway - but they each carry a mini Toblerone chocolate bar.  And that’s pretty sweet, too.

But the payload is not everything that is released high up at the stop.  The line holding the ferry sail is released, too, so that the ferry sail collapses and the ferry slides gently down the kite line again.  That way, it doesn’t take long for Columbus - remember, the bravest of all stuffies - and also Black Jack, Mouse, Hein, and Dal the Tiger to have their turns parachuting.  At first one jump per stuffy, then another one, and then many, many more, as far as the kids’ legs carry them.  That’s because if your beloved stuffies parachute from that high up, you gotta get running to catch them before they hit the ground, and then you better keep running to take them back to the kite ferry for the next jump.  That way, a parachuting afternoon for stuffies is always a sports afternoon for kids.

Two and a half hours later.  Mecki and Mike pack the kite into its bag, Katharina watches silently, holding Columbus in her arms and eating the last Toblerone.

“Mum”, she asks, “could you come, I have to whisper something to you.”

“Why that?”

“Felix musn’t hear me.”

”All right.”

“Mum”, she whispers gently, gently enough for Felix not to hear, ”I’m tired, but only a wee little bit.”

“Well, I’m tired, too.”

And then Katharina asks:  ”How did you like our parachuting stuffies?”

“Oh”, says Mecki, ”they’re great, all of them.”

”But Columbus is the bravest”, says Katharina, and then she continues:  “And Columbus wants to go home now.  How about you, Mum?  Let’s go.”  And then Katharina, hugging Columbus with both arms, slowly starts heading home.

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