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.



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.

sw elephantsw treessw blobsw aaron

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…

Color Me Badd

Best name for a tanning salon: Color Me Badd. In Detroit. In the nineties. When I went back to take a picture of this magical gift of culture and signage, it was nowhere to be found. I swear, it was real. (This was before the true coming-of-age of the interwebs, mind you.)

Today was a colorful day, and not always in the best sense. My son contributed some colorful behavior: slamming doors, yelling, crying, etc. And I offered some colorful language, out of earshot of aforementioned kid, barely. Once that was resolved and Thing 1 was off to kindergarten, I made rainbow popsicles with Thing 2.

We used orange juice, ’cause it’s what we had, added some Elderflower syrup, dropped in some food coloring, and poured it all in the amazing Zoku pop maker.

IMG_5737IMG_5745“The colors match my sweater!”


It was a great lesson in color mixing and a decent lesson in patience. While we waited for each color layer to freeze, Judah and I played Chinese checkers for added flair (It was his idea that we each use two colors of marbles).


Bright, fun and delicious.

Super Choice Champion Chart

Since the end of winter break, it’s been a ragged transition into the heave and ho of routine. My five-year-old is especially having a rough go of it…

There have been several freak-outs and not a few fights.

Tired tears are flowing soaking many late, late nights.

I’ve had it with the shouting, the whining and the like.

And if I see those eyes roll once more,

I swear I’ll wreck your bike.

I’ve got something for you, you snotty, hissing child,

(Especially my first-born, who is neither meek nor mild)

Shut up. Sit down. (And here comes the kicker…)

“I love you, sweet boy. Have another sticker.”

So, under the wise and loving guidance of my step-mom, I made each of the boys a behavior *star* chart. First night: great success!

I’ll keep you posted…

judah super choice chartpierce super chartIf you want one for your sweet, obedient child, I am taking orders for custom charts :).  They are 8.5″ x 11″, laminated for use with dry-erase markers and so stickers can be removed/reused.

Incidental hugs

He looked defeated as he stepped heavily down the bus stairs. It was as if the big yellow box exhaled my five-year-old son onto the gravel. And there he stopped. He didn’t want to walk towards home and he certainly didn’t want to turn around and hoist himself back into the heaving bus.
His eyes were a little pinkish around the edges and his kindgartener-sized back pack slumped around his shoulders.
“How was school?” I asked the tried and true mom question.
“I don’t know,” Pierce responded like the mini-teenager he has become.
“Please walk with me- I’m cold and want to get home.”
He wouldn’t move, his blinking reptile shoes rooted in the grey dust and chilly air.
Finally, after many halting steps, I picked him up and carried him home. He kicked and pushed the whole way, but every time I gave him another chance to walk he seized up, overcome by his will to be immobilized.
Frustrated now, I plopped him in his room and gave him some “settle down” time.
Ten minutes later, his cries changed from angry vocal pushes to lonesome whimpers and I recognized myself, the child that I continue to be. So I held my son, held myself, and listened.
His day had been difficult. There was an incident at lunch when his curiosity led to unintended and challenging consequences. He made a mess of things and then cleaned it up, ashamed and confused. Fear had entered the equation after the equal sign. Somehow the sums and differences balanced out but he wasn’t sure how. “I don’t want to tell you,” he managed, ” I don’t think you will like it.”
“Maybe not, but I will always love you. No matter what your choices.”
Finally, fretfully, and with the gentle, innocent prodding of his little brother, he described the ordeal and named his part.
I watched the fear rush out of him, exhaling much like the pneumatic bus doors. Fear, shame slimed with tears and snot, my son found himself, again, walking on solid ground.
This morning when I walked with him into his school, he was ambushed by two girls. On the left, the one whose lunch he had knocked on the floor yesterday. “Pierce!” She exclaimed with a broad smile. Two pink backpacks jostled towards him. Two puffball pony tails bobbed with the dance steps of four running feet. And my son, my broken boy, was covered, surrounded by the loving arms of forgiveness and joy and my own child-heart was whole again.


In this dark season of waiting, may you find the solace and comfort of humble joy, fierce love and courage in community.

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.)

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