Man(ta) Ray: Surrealist bicycle seat

Bikes are pretty rad.

I lost interest in the two-wheeled transport a few years back when my bike was stolen from behind the Virginia Discovery. I had been up all night helping Aaron install one of his exhibits at the children’s museum, and when I finally left around six in the morning, my turquoise Mongoose, that I had ridden since seventh grade, was gone.

A friend found me a cheap beater bike, which I rode until a few weeks out when the whole gear/pedal/crank mechanism blew apart all over the road. Springs and nuts were literally rolling down the street. I carried the floppy, broken pile back home and ran to work instead.

I was done with bikes. They had broken my rusty crank shaft of a heart and it was time to move on. (I guess that was about the time I started roller skating, but that is a whole other story…)

So, now here we are, a full-on biker family. How did this happen? Well, our two kiddos hit the ground rolling, as it were, with the whole bike thing. We started them off on small bikes and took off the pedals so they could push with their feet and balance fearlessly. (You may have seen those snazzy strider bikes that are essentially the same concept, only they cost as much as a functioning bike and once your kid is ready for pedals they are done with the strider. Lame-ness.) Our boys both asked for their pedals when they were ready, and Pierce was zipping around at age 4 and Judah at 3.

Recently, I happened upon a yellow(!) Specialized at the Salvation Army for $25, and I fell in love all over again. I took the bicycle over to Community Bikes and got Honey tuned up. The volunteers there were superb. She needed a new thingamazoo, which they had and installed. Now she rides as smooth as her namesake.

While we were at Community Bikes, Aaron bought a couple of bike seats- also known as saddles to rip apart. Now, a horse riding saddle-maker by trade, he set out to use his skill and ingenuity to make something fantastic for a bicycle.

To him, the bike saddle conjured images of a manta ray. He researched rays, ordered some eyes from a taxidermy supply company, and came up with a quirky, yet slick piece of equipment.

I can’t wait to try it out on our next free-wheelin’ family bike adventure!

Scarf it Up

Delicious DIY project of the day: cheap, cheap T’s sliced into tasty scarves.

Dirt-cheap t-shirts have become a vice. I have a basket full, just waiting for some scissor love. I have made costumes, bags, headbands, dresses, play food, and more out them. Locally, I paw through the 5 for $1 bins at an otherwise obnoxious, and (for the sake of peaceful small-town living) unnamed) thrift store.

I even found a book on altering t-shirts second-hand. (Yes, I am a firm believer in the Thrift Guides from a strange and frugal spiritual realm.)

T-shirts and me go back a long way. In high-school I was making dresses and pants out of vintage He Man sheets and the like. And then I started chopping t’s.

Here are some more recent additions…

Usually, I won’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on a t project, but every once in awhile I settle in for a half hour or so of pinning and sewing.

Today, I made some scarves while I watched old school Speed Racer cartoons with the boys.

  • Lay out the t on a cutting mat
  • Slice off the bottom hem
  • Cut 1 1/2″ strips horizontally across the shirt (not a continuous spiral) up to the bottoms of the sleeves

  • Pull and stretch the strips to lengthen and so the edges roll

  • Cut an extra strip that is about 18″ in length from the chest area of the t to use a a tie for the bundle of strips
  • Stretch the extra strip and wrap the bundle of strips
  • Stitch the ends in place

  • Wear and pretend that the vines/octopus tentacles/mutant earthworms are strangling you, fashionably

What are some t-shirt projects that you love?

Rack ’em, Kid!

I brought two of these wooden, spice-rack-shelving-thingies home from Circa with visions of organized rows of tiny toys marching through my mind. Sure enough, thanks to a salvaged piece of convex-quarter-round-trim-molding (?), several screws and anchors and I had a classy set up for the boys’ exponentially increasing collection of Playmobil guys.

Basically, I leveled the molding, marked it and drilled pilot holes for two screws. I put two plastic anchors in the drywall, double-checked the level, and installed the molding. Next, I hung the shelf so that the inside top edge rested on the open edge of the molding. I slapped on a little wood glue and taped that sucker in place overnight. The next morning, Judah and I lined up the little dudes in their new barracks. Remarkably, the boys enjoy the display enough to put their toys back in place at the end of play time.

Tip o’ the week: If kids know where items belong, they will put them there with very little resistance and/or assistance. (Bonus if your storage system looks rad.)

Storylines

Like the tireless push of blood and air, stories wind their way through our bodies. Systems of disorganized movement, words and images, supplant the actual with memory. And as the streams turn to rivers and seas, we form cyclical connections with those who listen, who speak, who drink in the narrative of our collective journey.

During my time in Australia, several years ago, I learned about the Songlines of that continent’s original people. Through song-stories the people navigated the land and shared their history. The fluid of stories guided these ancient people through the tides of colonization and into the sharpness of invasive cultures. Paintings, songs, words carried the children of the Stolen Generation back to the heart of their homeland.

Hope resides in stories shared.

In my childhood summers I found light in the musk of old books. Creased and tucked into the lap of a mouldering armchair, surrounded by the swirl of dust and old glass, I would read for hours. I was finding a way home. I was listening to the storylines converging like a wild river.

Through the electronic hum I have managed, in my adulthood, to find those tributaries of rushing words. One such place is The Moth. “True stories told live (without notes).” Started by a cousin of mine, under the curtains of Spanish moss in Savannah, it has become a community of believers in the power of sharing stories (There is a free podcast available as well as youtube videos.). The Moth has been an important catalyst in the movement to reclaim our stories. And that movement has expanded to Charlottesville through a nascent organization called Big Blue Door Jam.

On Thursday night, my good friend Charlie told a story, his story in front of the Big Blue Door.

Listen to Charlie’s story

(Warning: This story contains adult themes and language and is probably not suitable for those under the age of 17.)

It was powerful to hear. Funny, dark, humble- it carried us, the audience, along the shores of who and where he has been. Past the fearful night of addiction and isolation, into the lull and push of tides changing. I was so proud of his honesty and thankful for the opportunity to listen. The storylines wound around our warm bodies in the small gallery, like the old wood of a sturdy ship.

Little Free Library

Our library in the news! -click for video-

I happened upon the Little Free Library community completely by accident. In my research for some consulting work, up popped woodworking plans for the construction of what looked like a cross between a dollhouse and a dog house, with a door and a shelf or two. Odd, intriguing and when I read further, utterly genius.

The concept is simple: take a book or leave a book. Anytime.

Started in the Midwest (US) a few years ago, the number of Little Free Libraries has grown to over 2500 across the globe. To read more about the movement please visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.

Our library was a composite of evening chalkboard drawings, compiled materials we scrounged from our own collection of odds and ends, and generously donated materials from local cabinet shops and exhibit builders.

When the post was set, the paint dried and the mascot installed, it was time to invite the patrons. The boys went around knocking on doors and passing out bookmarks with the info about our Grand Opening! The shelves were filled to capacity within hours.

The stock is always changing but never empty. We have met more of our neighbors and have connected with a broader global community through shared love of reading, books and stories.

Come on by and see for yourself, the library’s always open.

Dia De Los Muertos en Charlottesville

Beyond the mischief and innocent mayhem involved in the goings-on of this time of year, there is a significance of remembrance as well.

My dear friend, Estela, invited me and many others to a Dia De Los Muertos celebration at her and her husband’s music studio downtown. Estela and Dave are incredible musicians and have a true passion for their cultural ancestry.

Often as a white American, I find myself hesitant to participate fully in many unfamiliar cultural traditions. I don’t want to make others feel that I am commandeering what rightfully belongs to them or worse, that I am disrespecting the practice of faith, history, sorrow and joy with my ignorant engagement.

With Estela’s invitation came permission to be a part of a joyful community. Dia De Los Muertos is a celebration of life, a celebration of the futility of death’s grasp and a time set apart for sharing memory, music and food.

I painted my face, I pinned a flower in my hair and danced and danced in a circle of children! And for that and the lives of my ancestors, I am thankful.

Turtle Power!

Photo by John Lee

I love Halloween. Not so much the scary stuff or the candy, more so the community of play that seems to spontaneously erupt from neighborhood sidewalks and city streets.

When I was living in NYC, I made a point to jump in the Village Halloween Parade, annually. One year, after the parade had ended, I was in a late-night dive around St. Mark’s when I was barraged by two wildly gesturing young men. “You are my hero. I loved you so much… And here you are!” One of the guys then proceeded to kiss my cheek. When he pulled back to face me, I could see that he was crying.

I was dressed as Rainbow Brite.

The crazy thing was, he wasn’t the only one. All along the parade route, young mothers, college kids and even some teenagers, emphatically shouted at me. Well, at Rainbow. They were so shockingly and honestly emotional, the representation of this character all of a sudden took on some serious responsibility. It was time to smile, wave and throw more Starburst.

Growing up in Trenton, New Jersey, my dad would set up these elaborate and totally geeky A.V. Halloween spectacles. Once, there was a pumpkin-headed man that would talk to folks coming in for candy (Yes, you had to come inside the house for candy). My dad was hiding behind a partition and was doing the whole man-behind-the-curtain routine: speaking into a mic and lights would flash and whatnot. It wasn’t meant to be scary, just inventive, conversational even. Kids left screaming, some didn’t even bother with the candy.

The following year, dad dressed up like- who else- Jesus. He got some of the same reactions, crying and whatnot, that I did as Rainbow Brite years later. And strangely, (although it was the 80’s, who can say what was strange) the following year dad stayed home and I went trick-or-treating chaperoned by our visiting family friend who was dressed as “an abusive, fat, alcoholic”. The irony was completely lost on our working-class neighbors.

Regardless the get-up, I have always reveled in this shared night of bizarre behaviour and playful interchange. Unexpected things always happen.

When my youngest kiddo was only a week old we dressed up as a family of chickens and got out into the fray. My newborn chick stayed tucked in his sling while his dad and brother flapped their wings at wizards and monsters.

We’ve represented characters from The Cat in the Hat, Where’s Waldo and most recently all of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

We are that family. And I hope we will be for a long time…

Photo by Jen Lucas

Photo by Jen Lucas