In the garden…

I’ve seen the green shoots in the garden that no one wanted. The snow keeps smothering and then melting just to smother again- like the covering grief. We are not sure whether to welcome the newness of the transitory precipitation of sadness or whether to nestle in and pray for thaw. Still, the garden is growing. The promise of blooms keep us waiting despite the cold.

A few months ago, our community quaked with the loss of a young citizen, friend, and daughter. Charlotte was six years old when she was struck and killed by a truck on a quiet city street in the middle of the day. I didn’t get the news until the evening- a friend phoned while I was painting at my shop. Alone, my response was one of fury, of rage. I screamed. I roared into the absurd night. And then I gathered courage and sought out shared tears.

Charlotte was one of the children in our little “yurt school” cooperative. Full of fire and glitter, she burst into every space, romanced every flower, and choreographed the wind. She danced with abandon, shared with gusto, and stood her ground like an oak sapling.

How do you explain the death of a child to a child?

The next morning, with mussed hair and sloppy pajamas, we sat with our boys. I slowly and quietly explained to them that our friend Charlotte had been in an accident and that she was taken to the hospital and that she had died. I watched my five year-old’s eyes change as the words clicked into place, their meaning contracting and expanding the muscles in his small face. This was the most frightening moment: The realization that I would never fully know what mechanisms were at work, what cogs were turning and what internal parts of him had just transformed. Again, I was angry and fearful. What has changed in my son? Is there a stony crust formed somewhere deep in the recesses of his trusting heart? Has the muscle of his love for others grown stronger? Is the acid of this senseless loss bleeding into his veins? There was no way to know. The line of distinction between the person-hood of mother and child revealed its rich ink.

We raise our children to let them go. Each milestone becomes a landmark on a course of departure. But we all carry the hope, maybe even conviction, that the route circles back, that somehow our sons and daughters are on a ship riding the tide that ebbs, flows and returns.

So when our faith returns an empty ocean, a broken vessel, then what?

Our perceptions are always changing. Our gratitude, sustaining. And still we search for what is beyond our vision, beyond our understanding. We linger on the hopeful shore: mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters and brothers. And we fill the tides with our tears and change the course of ships with the moon of our love.

No one wanted to plant Charlotte’s Remembering Garden- we didn’t want to have to re-member, we wanted the moment to be alive in her presence. Over one thousand bulbs went into the cold earth on a rainy morning. Hands caked with mud massaged them into the soil. And now we wait for spring, trusting that the season will change and bring her joy to us again, again.

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If you would like to hear more about our experience of how we’ve walked with our children and community through this tragedy, please feel free to be in touch. Leave a comment or send me an email trouble.trace@gmail.com.

Zipper cussing Merge

There is a lot of road work going on and around this city of ours. Close to my shop is an ongoing cluster-cuss of construction that is projected to continue well into next summer. As a result, driving has become less than enjoyable. I mean, I learned to drive in Detroit when I was 17 so I can handle aggressive driving and such. What I can’t handle is the dumb, stupid-slow, blind u-turn, no indicator free-for-all that Charlottesville city streets have become. Quintessential Southern mentality and the gentile duplicity of well-meaning citizens, has led me to my current state of vehicular frustration…

Zipper Merge. It’s a thing. A good thing. Recently, I found myself driving in a lane that was slated to end in about a three quarters of a mile. Mind you, I was traveling at about 35 miles per hour when I saw the first sign. Traffic was pretty heavy but most of it was concentrated in the right lane (I was in the left). I continued on, slower, but still in my lane, when I had to put on the brakes and come to a complete stop because a single car was straddling the two lanes. I realized when I tried to move around the vehicle (and the driver subsequently moved further over to block my way), that he was policing the merge. All by himself, blesshisheart. It was all I could do to keep from unleashing the pent-up Detroit-borne teenage road rage on this guy. I stared hard at his Oakley’s in the side-view of his car. I watched the confused, elderly driver behind me, honking gently. And then I drove up onto the grassy, raised median and went around that brothertrucker.

“Zipper Merge, cusshead!” I wanted to yell, as I bumped and swerved past.

The Zipper Merge, also known as “late merge”, is a tested traffic flow directive that, as the name suggests, requires drivers to merge as late a possible to create a one-two, me-you, zipper-effect. This “zippering” keeps traffic moving at a consistent pace and greatly reduces accidents ahead of the merge point.

Here are some links if you want learn more:

They do it in Minnesota, doncha know.

Everybody loves a little wiki merge info.

Jon Stewart on the subject.

There’s even a video on youtube…

Share this concept with your loved ones. Tell your neighbor with the Oakley’s. ‘Cause next time, I’m not going around him- I’m going over him like a zipper over tighty-cussing-whities.

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…