Life and Death(Star)

Today was my son, Pierce Trouble’s 6th birthday. He’s an awesome kid. This was his first ‘real’ birthday party and he is old enough to have some opinions on how it all shakes down.

So, one night a few weeks ago, we had a family brainstorming session to plan the upcoming festivities. The chalkboard wall in our kitchen/dining area was covered in drawings of X-Wings and a very elaborate Death Star.

We celebrated the Star Wars-themed event at a local park. We made spaceships out of cardboard boxes, pool noodles, duct tape, straws and streamers. We ate pizza and veggies. And then the young Jedis destroyed the Death Star pinata- with gusto. When finally the looming sphere broke apart, it ripped in half, the bottom dropping out. The kids pounced on the candy, tattoos and granola bars and then did an amazing job of sharing with each other so that everyone left smiling. Or maybe the smiling was just evidence of the sugar doing it’s thing… Any which way, it was a blast.

IMG_7293IMG_7289IMG_7291IMG_7273IMG_7296IMG_7285IMG_7295IMG_7302IMG_7305IMG_7309IMG_7326IMG_7338IMG_7347IMG_7344IMG_7351IMG_7355IMG_7370IMG_7375IMG_7380How to make a ginormous Death Star pinata:

1. Buy the Sunday New York Times. Read it and then save it- you will need every page. Perhaps, even the magazine…

2. Make papier mache by mixing 1 cup of rice flour with about as much water. Whisk out the lumps. Boil 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the flour mixture and boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Let it cool and get ready for the glop-mess.

3. Blow up your big-ass beach ball.

4. Put down a drop cloth, tarp or do this whole thing outside (especially if your doorways are narrow- you won’t be able to get the Death Star out of your house…)

5. Place the ball on an open box to keep it stable while you work.

6. Begin glop-mess. Spread rice goo on large pieces of newspaper, tear as needed. I used a chip brush and Aaron used a silicone basting brush when the goo was too hot to spread with our hands. By the way, it smells nice- like fresh sushi and Korean grandmothers. Ahhh, so lovely.

7. Build up no more than three to four layers then carefully rotate the whole thing and repeat across the whole ball.(Once it is dry you can add more layers if you have some weak spots.)

8. Wash your hands, take a shower- call it a night. Use a fan/heater/dehumidifier to help aid the drying time. Drying takes a looong time. Like, 24-48 hours. By the way, thick goo dries faster than runny goo.

9. Cut a circle for your Death Star concave-eye-thing. Find the valve of the beach ball (it may still be sticking out) and use that as the center of your circle. Deflate the beach ball so you don’t cut into it, if you want to save it. Carefully cut this out with a box cutter or x-acto. Deflate the ball some more and pull it out. The goo doesn’t stick to the vinyl- it should come out pretty easily.

10. “Fill” your pinata. I use “” because it is unrealistic to actually put that much stuff in a giant Death Star unless it is old t-shirts or marshmallows or balloons. We put goodies in individual paper bags, slit the backs and taped them to the interior walls to better distribute the weight. For extra effect, Aaron put some Dark-Side themed streamers inside, taped to the top. You can see from the pictures that when it was all smashed the streamers added some serious je ne sais quoi. Space jellyfish?

11. Once dry, paint that sucker. We used leftover primer in grey and white. The center band/equator is electrical tape. I looked at some pictures online but ended up just painting loosely geometric grids of grey and white rectangles. Then Aaron and I added some white lines and bright white dots/lights.

12. Seal her up. Flip that circle piece around and hot glue in place.

13. At some point attach a loop to the top. I missed this part because I was at work and Aaron was home with the boys apparently playing with blades and rope…

14. Figure out how to transport the thing to your party. Aaron walked it to the park- it wouldn’t fit in the car and we live only a few blocks away.

15. Bust it open! For our party, I gathered the rebel army and they each took turns beating it with their light sabers. Everyone got a turn (several whacks- no blindfold) and the birthday boy split it open. Then mayhem ensued- in a good way.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’d be happy to respond.

Cheers,

Christy

Making, Outside (the Box)

Aaron and I had the complete joy of being invited to participate in the second annual Blue Ridge Swim Club Sculpture Competition earlier this month.

The rules were simple:

1. Artists have two days: Saturday and Sunday, to create a sculpture on the Blue Ridge Swim Club property.

2. All materials used must be found on the property.

3. No power tools (not even battery-operated ones).

4. Artists may work in teams of up to four people.

Blue Ridge Swim Club is an inspiring place. It is a true oasis in this modern age of motion and bustle. This spring-fed, man-made pool stretches for 100 yards and deepens from 3 feet to 10 feet. Nestled in the shade of surrounding trees and a bamboo grove, it is an all-natural salve to the soul. This year, the Swim Club turns 100 years old (but doesn’t look a day over 60).

0000Image courtesy of the Blue Ridge Swim Club

In mid-summer tadpoles we were joined in the greenish water by tiny, newly-legged tadpoles. Cicadas provided the soundtrack until someone began strumming a guitar by water’s edge. Lovely, breathable, a summer vacation available any day of the week.

So, we jumped at the chance to spend a few days exploring our new-found love for the Swim Club and our creative fervor. Aaron bravely teamed up with our two sons (Pierce, 5 and Judah, 4) and I eagerly ran off, solo.

The 3 boys chose a location by and in the creek. The collected rocks, leaves and clay. In the end, their piece told a story, a fantastical narrative about a family of moss slugs and stick snakes. They were gathering and journeying and adventuring.

I found a curvy path where vines hung from young trees. I began exploring the tension that I could create. I pulled and buried the ends of the rope-y vines, which in turn, arced the supple trees. Where the vines went down into the dirt, I mounded the earth up. Now it was unclear: Were the vines growing up from these mounds? Were they pulling the trees or sprouting from them?

I decided to take a break mid-day. Ross, the organizer of the event, brought everyone sandwiches. We ate. We swam. We got back to work.

And work it was. I was amazed, although not surprised, at the hard labor that was happening around me. Artists were shoveling and sawing and hammering and carting load upon load of mud and rocks- all for the sake of art. Absolutely all artists are ‘starving’ but that’s because they work so bloody hard! Folks were soaked with sweat and covered in grime and it was beautiful.

IMG_7148Fellow artist at work

I didn’t return back to my vine mound obstacle course right away. Instead, I turned my attention to a tree that had caught my eye early on. It had a buldge near the base that wrapped around the trunk just so. It seemed to be the start of something. Using the burl as my inspiration and anchor, I created a line of collected moss, spiraling around and up the tree. Using mud and raspberry thorns, I stuck the moss to the trunk. A lifeguard from the pool, offered a ladder and so I was able to continue up, up until I found natural conclusion to the line. And then I moved on…

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Next, I happened upon the fire pit, still smoking but with piles of black coals and white ash inside the ring of rocks. I picked up a handful of warm, black chunks and found another tree. High up, suspended from the branches hung a cucumber-thick, severed vine. The vine rested against the trunk- separate but affiliated. I started with the vine and drew a thick, expanding spiral around and down to the roots of the tree. Using my hands and hunks of burnt wood, I filled in the line, rubbing it into the smooth bark of the tree. Shadow of a shadow remained. And then I moved on…

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I went back to the mounds where I finished the first day.

The boys had arranged their rocks and gathered moss. Aaron had successfully redirected the flow of creek water through a collection of bamboo ‘pipes’. He was pretty confident that the piece was done, the story was complete.

The next morning, we headed back to the Swim Club. The boys played in the water and wandered around, looking for the other sculptors and their works. Despite some rain, the pieces were left intact, as we hoped. Aaron put the finishing touches on his and went off to make a bow and arrow out of bamboo, string and a feather that I had found the day prior.

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I, on the other hand, hauled sod and growing things to cover the mounds. At one point I turned the bend in the sun-dappled path to greet a black snake, about 4 feet in length, winding through the new, manipulated terrain. I went around to the other side of him and worked on that end until he had wandered off (I saw him a few more times throughout the day). Finally, my piece was completed. I felt excited about offering an experience to the people who would visit later for the evening judging and tour. Visitors would need to stoop, duck, side-step and wait. There would be no danger and no fear (unless the snake returned, perhaps). It would be an unexpected but pleasant meander through a piece of land that was familiar and odd all at once. Tension would be evident both physically and psychologically but not in an unsettling way, in a playful and absurd way. And true to my hopes, it was a joy to see the smiles on the faces of the children and adults alike as they navigated the brief piece in the afternoon light.

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The last piece that I made was in the ladies’ bathhouse. A simple block building, it seems the same as it may have been in the 1940’s. High up on one long wall there are 16 tiny alcoves, spaces for who-knows-what. It was in these alcoves I placed 16 tiny birds’ nests. Each nest had ‘treasures’ woven into it- bits of shiny foil, string, insect wings, orange fungus and so on. Perhaps one day the birds will find these simulacrums and will pull them apart, using the bits and pieces for their own purposes. Until then, I hope they serve as a subtle reminder that shelter is shared and making a home is a simple joy.

IMG_7193IMG_7197This piece was not made for pictures…

When it came time for the final judging, my son was confident. He had placed a final touch that he knew would win over the judge, a professor at the University of Virginia. “People will think it is funny. Because poop is funny.” Giggling, he had fashioned a little mud pile behind one of the mossy creatures, thus adding his signature to the sculpture in a way that only a 6 year-old boy (and perhaps conceptual artist, Manzoni) is able.

Sure enough, the boys came away with the official win: First Place!

As our gracious judge pointed out, “There is no best. Who can judge?” She proceeded to give out various “awards” and recognitions, including the Bamboo Award and to me, the Moss Award, and so on. I hope to compile some more photographs of works from the event. There were 6 additional pieces by very accomplished artists…

What a wonderful way to spend a weekend: making art, in community, in a tranquil setting. Glorious!

Super Creatures!

The past two Saturdays there have been heaps of community-wide, artistically-minded and strange events happening in Charlottesville. In fact, the entire weekend of April 11-14th was overflowing with creative energy. The Tom Tom Founders Festival brought hundreds of musical performances and innovative thinkers to local microphones and parks. We spent a good portion of Friday hanging out at the McGuffey Art Center for the, now annual, block party. Kids were going nuts (think: dancing, big foam cubes, snow cones, climb-able sculptures…) while the adults felt a sort-of hipsterbia, indie art camaraderie. The next day of the TomTom, there was a big family-friendly picnic celebration at Lee Park but we decided to stay home and just be.

Ever since our dating, college days, Aaron and I have kept a day set apart from the rigors of the other six. Call it a Sabbath or day of rest or just Wednesday- it has been an anchor for our relationship and a respite from the pressures of maintaining a certain pace of living. Over the years our day of rest has changed from week-end to mid-week and back. Currently, Saturdays are our “family day”. We don’t commit to activities (even really, really fun ones), as a rule. Instead, we go with the flow as the day unfolds. So, on TomTom Saturday we stayed home and played games, made food, and I painted everyone’s faces like the Avengers. See if you can guess who is who…

dylan avengerpierce avengerjudah avengerboys avengersdaddy avengermama avenger

This weekend, Aaron was really pumped about going to the Stan Winston Arts Festival of the Moving Creature at UVa (uh, who wouldn’t be pumped?!). A friend, who is one of the instructors in the course on creature making, invited us to participate in the parade. We didn’t commit but an hour before the parade was to begin, we decided it was a go. I scuttled up into our attic/crawl space and dragged out bits and pieces from the stuffed animal costumes that I made in college. The boys put on slippers and wigs and masks and tails, in addition to the stuffed animal accessories. Then we all squeezed into the car and headed over to The University (as it’s called in these parts).

Later, Aaron and I talked about how amazing the experience was; how this town offers so much wonder for our kids. They were right there when a giant alien ant-thing battled a huge, blobby, leopard octopus and then went on to attack the Alderman Library.

551274_592899150722239_1924240954_nPhoto by Scholars’ Lab DIY Aerial Photography

From beyond that mayhem, a mechanical elephant approached, luring the children closer to its whirring gears with bubbles (and apparently by pooping candy). Hundreds of people blocked traffic, taking to the streets, surrounded by creatures overhead and amongst the crowd. There were balloons. There were lion-dancers. And that silly ant even attacked a Prius on its way to the field of moving trees. Awesome.

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Everyone went to bed early that night- I’m sure the dreams were intense.

The next day we biked a few miles from our home to Charlottesville Mennonite Church. Afterwards, we stayed for an impromptu potluck lunch and then we pedaled off to the Annual Children’s Bike Rodeo sponsored by Community Bikes. (Check out our cameo on the news.) Judah’s preschool teacher, Shelly Stern, was one of the organizers of this fun and informative event. Shell asked me to help with the design of the flyer and t-shirts this year- so fun!

bike rodeo flyer4The boys had a blast and we all learned some great things about biking in this town: the boys learned how to signal when turning and I learned how to properly load a bike onto a city bus. Exhausted, we cycled on home.

Such a rich and full few days of adventure!

I can’t wait to see what pops up next weekend…

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!

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