Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Neurological Underpinnings of Belvedere Part 1

Bret and I moved here February 2008 and immediately began building our home in Belvedere. We stood on the land where our house is now and Josh Goldschmidt said to me, "You gotta like people if you are going to live here." I knew I wanted to live in Belvedere from the moment our realtor, Jim Duncan told me about it. I immediately saw I could live connected to people and to nature, and the design had amazing child and nature potential. To me, it was The Answer. To what? . . . I am about to tell you.

Then began the interviews with the press. So interesting. Erika Howsare of Cvillian and the Abode called me New Urbanist. I had no idea what that was. It seems it is a design approach to living where houses are close together and in connection with shared green spaces. It was walkable. Its design allowed people to walk to area restaurants and shops in the Town Center. Street design was shifted to focus on pedestrian population as well as cars. I was something, I was New Urbanist. Then came the discussion about LEED and "green." So I researched labels and criteria for environmentally correct building. This EarthCraft focus seemed to be what everyone wanted to talk about. But that is not what attracted me to Belvedere.

I knew that humans are hardwired to connect, and that our culture does not do a good job supporting this notion. Just the statistics from the study Hardwired to Connect are daunting:

  • Scholars at the National Research Council in 2002 estimated that at least one of every four adolescents in the US is currently at serious risk of not achieving productive adulthood.
  • According to another recent study, about 21% of US children ages 9 - 17 have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder associated with at least minimum impairment. These rates appear to reflect actual increases in these problems, not changes in methods or rates of treatment.
  • Despite increased ability to treat depression, the current generation of young people is more likely to be depressed and anxious than was its parent's generation. Source
  • High levels of anxiety, or neuroticism, are not only problems in themselves, but are also associated with major depression, suicide attempts, alcohol abuse, marital problems, and a wide variety of physical ailments, including asthma, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers.
The study details the rise in suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety and disease in children over the last several decades despite a rise in material wellbeing. It states:

. . .US young people not only appear to be experiencing sharp increases in mental illness and stress and emotional problems, but also continue to suffer from high -- we as a commission believe unacceptably high -- rates of related behavioral problems such as substance abuse, school dropout, interpersonal violence, premature sexual intercourse, and teenage pregnancy. p. 9

The study also says that while children are 50% less likely to die from unintentional injuries, cancer, and heart disease since 1950, they are 140% more likely to die from homicide or suicide (which is the third leading cause of death of youth in the country). Again, I quote:

More and more, what is harming and killing our children today is mental illness, emotional distress, and behavioral problems.

Our neurological systems are designed to need contact and social interactions with other human beings of multiple generations. I found this study through a seminar I attended by Allan Schore, one of the leading thinkers in the science of attachment. Part of my training is to help people understand their attachment styles that are divided up into secure, insecure, and disorganized attachment. More specifically, it is how our early connections affect our health and perception. It is a well researched scientific field starting with psychoanalyst John Bowlby.

In his latest book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how it was precisely this social connecting that supported the health and wellbeing of a whole town in Pennsylvania. The first chapter relates the story of a population of Italian immigrants that did not have much heart disease, the leading killer among adult populations in the United States.

In Roseto, virtually no one under 55 died of a heart attack, or showed any signs of heart disease. For men over 65, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole. The death rate from all causes in Roseto, in fact, was something like thirty or thirty-five percent lower than it should have been.

What was the secret of this populations health? Researcher found out it was not the diet, the physical exercise level, the soil, or anything else. The secret lay in the village culture of the town:

What Wolf slowly realized was that the secret of Roseto wasn't diet or exercise or genes or the region where Roseto was situated. It had to be the Roseto itself. As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town, they began to realize why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited each other, stopping to chat with each other in Italian on the street, or cooking for each other in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town's social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the town, that discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.

What supported the health of the Rosetans was their connection to each other in relationship and proximity
. To me, Belvedere's design supports human connection: the narrow streets, the grid-design with alleys and narrow lots, the wide sidewalks, the shared green and public spaces. It allows for what is natural and healthy for humans to flourish as opposed to rural living the way I had been in Vermont. I felt very isolated and disconnected up there. I craved connection and community.

When Jim said "neighborhood" and "nature," I said yes! That is what I want. Proximity to nature also has many benefits. Combining close knit community connections with nature is a one-two punch for health. Part 2 of the neurological underpinnings of my neighborhood will detail just how nature supports human development and how Belvedere does and will do just that.

A Kid's Map of Belvedere

This map was drawn by a couple of kids who live in Belvedere. Mapping is one of the first things I do with children when connecting with nature. Kids see things differently than adults. Enjoy!
You can see what children like to focus on: the bodies of water, the woods, the high points, and the open spaces. Also, the kids have explored all the water tunnels in the neighborhood, naming each one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Agnor-Hurt Elementary is Awesome

When families come through Belvedere, many of them ask me about Agnor-Hurt Elementary, the Albemarle Public School district we send our children to. I have just got say, Agnor-Hurt is awesome.

I did what many parents do before they move their family to a new town; I checked out the public schools. I went to greatschools.net and tried hard to "figure it out" from a distance. I made several visits to Charlottesville before making the move to see what the schools were like. I visited the Waldorf School, Cale, Merriweather Lewis and Agnor Hurt. I was very worried about my son in particular. All he knew was a small very sheltered life in Vermont. His public school there was 100 kids k - 8th grad, and he had been with the same kids since kindergarten. We moved in the middle of his third grade year. I chose Belvedere and Agnor-Hurt became our school.

At first, it was a little daunting because of the size; about 475 students preschool through 5th grade. There were about 60-65 third graders alone (three classes of 20-24 each). We were all overwhelmed with the amount of people in Charlottesville and the kids in schools. But soon, we realized many positive things about Agnor Hurt:

  • The Diversity: Over 23 different languages spoken by students from 16 different countries. The children would never have had that exposure to the world if we had stayed in the Vermont. Nor would they have that kind of exposure if they attended private school or some other schools in the county.
  • The Prinicipal: Michele Del Gallo is amazing. I have attended many of the PTO meetings and witnessed to her organizational and leadership skills. She has really brought the team of 45 teachers, 23 assistants, and 16 support staff together. The teamwork sounds incredible. It takes a talented leader to bring so many people together and have them work efficiently and keep the moral up. She is there for most every afterschool and evening event (and there are plenty!). She makes herself available to students, parents, and all her staff. She is very inspiring to be able to work with to improve the lives of children. She also has tremendous vision for the school.
  • The Teachers: Almost half of the teachers in the school have advanced degrees. I have attended most every event I could and I have been impressed with the commitment of the teachers. The principal tells me the school is researching becoming an International Baccaluareate School because 28 of the staff members were interested in it. I come from a world that highly values homeschooling. I have listened to my friends say many bad things about organized schooling, especially public. While we all agree that the public school system does not work for everyone, I could not help but think that there is no way I could do as good a job as these teachers. They have played close attention to my son, nominated him for special programs, and helped him feel at home. There are many special supports in that school, from the Guidance Counselor Carol Fox who especially helped me make the transition mid-year with my son, to the in-school psychogist, to the Gifted and Technology teacher John Hunter. My son has already learned to make presentations in PowerPoint, something I only learned last year. I feel like this school is preparing my son for the bigger world.
  • The Parents: The PTO is really amazing, a group of parents many of whom have multiple children and a job. We do many things to support the school and their events. The list is long: Choral Programs, International Dinner, Special Assemblies, Skate Night, Chik-fil-A night, Book Fairs, Martin Luther King Play, School Dances, and more. The fundraising that we do also supports the teachers. It is an amazing circle of support for the students.
  • The Programs: Last year, the school put a lot of energy into math and the scores are there to show it. The following are quotes from a powerpoint presentation Ms. Del Gallo made at the beginning of the year:
"Agnor Hurt lead the division in math growth while maintaining our scores in reading on the 2008 SOL tests. We saw 15% gains in pass rates for each grade, bringing our overall pass rate in math up to 89.3%"

Here are some more quotes that are just amazing outstanding achievements for Adequate Yearly Progress reports:
  • 100% pass rates for 3rd Grade Special Education Students, up from 42.9% the previous year.
  • 100% pass rates for 4th Grade Special Education Studnets, up from 50% the previous year.
  • 19% increase in reading for 3rd grade free and reduced lunch students, from 66.7% to 85.7%
  • 52.5% increase in match for 3rd grade free and reduced lunch students, from 30.8% to 83.3% (check that out!!!)
  • 49.3% increase in match for 3rd grade African American students, from 38.9% to 88.2% (another huge wow!!!!)
  • 10.8% increase in math for 4th grae African American students, from 69.2% to 80%
  • 40.4% increase in math for 4th grade free and reduced lunch students, from 33.3% to 73.7%
  • 29.7% increase in math for 5th grade African American students, from 66.7% to 85.7%
  • 10.9% increase in math for 5th grade free and reduced lunch students, from 68% to 78.9%
I would say some learning is happening in that school. All the local press has reported is that Agnor-Hurt did not make Adequate Yearly Progress. I say, What? This school has made more than adequate yearly progress, it has made outstanding yearly progress. In reality, they only missed that mark by 1% in the reading levels in free and reduced lunch students. Give me a break. There is definitely a story there should be told and Greatschools.net does not tell it.

Fourth grade for my son has been awesome. My son is a white. The scores for his population are extremely high (in the 95%). Gifted and Technology legendary teacher John Hunter joined the staff and he is a perfect match for my son. This incredible program will allow my son access to many special programs and the schoolwide programs are just as awesome. Here is the list from the beginning of the year:
  • Framework for Quality Learning: every team will create an share a new unit
  • Continue building strong home-school connections with families
  • Adopt a sister school in Africa
  • Continued emphasis on music and art
  • Continue highly effective math strategies
  • New Agnor-Hurt Literacy Plan
  • Writing Across the Curriculum (this is awesome, we just went to the Christmas concert and the music teacher had students write essays if they wanted to be a narrator introducing songs. So creative.)
  • 75 minute blocks for both reading and math
  • Restorative/Responsive Classrooms
  • Schoolwide celebration of every student's successes
I hope to make a difference in that school somehow, too, with nature-based curriculum. Every time Bret and I come away from that school we are in awe. So, don't let an outside report influence you if you are interested in that school. And go and visit for yourself. The school saying is, We Are The Dream. It is a pretty amazing place.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Celebrations . . .

Elizabeth, this post is for you. You have written to me that you love when I talk about the land, and you gave me more money than anyone at my fundraising event for my class for families and nature, and I watched you . . . you were rapt and attentive. Your attention never waivered as I talked about the years I have spent researching and teaching about nature. I celebrate you.

This day I am 46 years young and as a gift to myself I head out onto the land early. As usual, I am instantly rewarded for my effort. Unlike many people, I like winter. I like the cold, and the frost, and the snow, and seeing the trees without their leaves against the winter sky. On this day, before 9 am, I head down to the flood plain along one of the Belvedere loops. Almost instantly, my mood lifts as if someone had come beneath my anxiety and fear and gently shifted them into joy. The frost on the plants glistens in the sun like so many jewels. I remember in Vermont sitting in rapture at the glistening of jeweled snow in the sun. In my world, bad weather is rare; what is more common are bad gear and bad preparation. Oh for the glory of winter!

I run down along the trail jumping over icy puddles and streams. The flood plain opens before me and my heart flutters when I see the plants of the plain outlined in frost; it is an icy harvest. I frolic. I run down along the road to river and as I come around the corner I run into a huge pile of white feathers. White feathers? This is obviously a kill site and one whiff of the feathers tells me a red fox plucked his prey here. Not a swan; a chicken! A roasting chicken at that, but where from? I marvel at the pattern of red fox; I often find kill sites in the middle of the road from canines like the fox and coyote, and their scat as well. I run on with a handful of white smelly feathers. As I run, I smell the red fox here and there. Their scent is very musky, like a skunk. It is especially strong around the Zone.

The cold ground makes purchase on the steep hill up from the Zone easy. As I run home along the sewer line, they are there! Tracks! When I see the strong outline of raccoon tracks, every detail of their human-like front paw I whoop with joy, pitter pattering about looking at the patterns in the frosty mud. A broad wing hawk calls right beside me and I look up and marvel at the huge raptor just above my head. It flies off calling. I continue to explore the tracks, here raccoon, there deer, here some red fox. Whoop, whoop, whoop! My heart feels three times bigger.

I run on home to celebrate. Today is my birthday and I give myself a gift of going outside. I say I am 46 years young. Not many would say I look like I am approaching 50. It is nature, I say, nature and fun and kids, and following my passions. I recently came across a book by Byrd Baylor, one of my favorite children's authors called I'm In Charge of Celebrations. I quote:

Last year
I gave myself
One hundred and eight
celebrations --
Besides the ones they close school for

This remarkable small book details how we can celebrate our lives all the time in many small ways.

I celebrate the frost and sun
I celebrate the fox and his kill
I celebrate the raptor and her call
And the tracks in the mud
I celebrate the trees without their leaves
against the November sky
And I celebrate you Elizabeth, for believing in me

Mitakuye Oyasin


Friday, November 28, 2008

Community Development and New Urbanism

"We are really about community development," Frank Stoner said to me when I began asking him more questions about his world. I do think that Stonehaus is not your typical "developer." I am very new to this idea of building infrastructure. Most of my training in community development is about supporting a culture that supports optimal development and therefore health for human beings, especially children. I almost cried when I listened to introduction of Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers when he described how the health of a community in Pennsylvania stumped researchers. This very close knit community with Italian ancestry did not have heart disease. After thorough and strenuous analysis, the researchers decided it was the community design that supported their health: houses close together, three generations under one roof, constant social interaction from the front porches and in the streets. This community design supported the health of that community. I wanted to telephone somebody at Stonehaus and say, Read That Introduction! I have been telling Stonehaus from the beginning they have something special. Yet, New Urbanism is not exactly a real estate success story, at least not yet. Why Not?

I am in North Carolina as I write this. This morning I ran around a New Urbanist project called Southern Village. It is remarkably like Belvedere except for the landscape; it is too hilly for people I think to really interact on the street. Not as comfortable to preamble about. Its town center seems to be thriving with a natural food store, cinema, and many little restaurants, shops and services. There is a public school there and now a big park next to it with a soccer field. Fabulous. There are nature trails and I see children in the forest as I run past making dens and playing in the creek. Ah, this is great! Tiny little pocket parks sport small but very interesting play equipment. This is what is possible and I dwell in that. This development is about 10 years old.

Back at the house where I am staying I make remarks about Southern Village. Out come the criticisms. It's Boring. The people there are all the same, white upper middle class. There is no diversity. So, I start to clean and pack to get ready to go home to Belvedere, I begin to sort out how to make communities more diverse. We talk about this in Children In Nature Design Symposiums. How do we design to decrease the culture of fear we live in, the fear of difference? There is no common watering hole where we all come to get water and mingle. Another criticism: The community did not develop until it had programs that attracted people. In other words: The infrastructure was nothing without the people. So, how to build it so they will come (to paraphrase a line from Field of Dreams)?

I am very hopeful and also very aware of the edge upon which Belvedere sits. Somehow, there is something unkown and very important that sits just beyond the edge of my awareness at the moment. I need more information then I put it all inside me and turn it around like a tumbler on a lock. I know I can find the right combination. I just need all the information. Can you help me? Post a comment and tell me what you think I need to know. Belvedere is not like Southern Village in many ways. I just need time, input, and the co-creation of others to find the right mix.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


A Wilderness Skills Class

Offered by Earth Connection School of Wilderness Survival and Ancient Skills

Learn The Way of Making Fire Without Matches!

3:30 – 6 pm
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
At the Fairview Swim Club grounds
Belvedere Boulevard and Free State Rd.
Charlottesville, VA 22901

This class will cover a little bit of the history of making fire from rubbing sticks together. We will also use the Bow and Drill technique in teams to actually make fire. Different Native stories about the origin of fire and a firm talk about fire safety will conclude the class.

A parent or guardian must attend for each family and be responsible for the kids that they have brought. All ages are welcome! 5 and under is Free! All materials provided by us. Hot dogs provided (you may also want to bring a snack).

Fees: 1 person $35; 1 parent + 1 child = $45; each additional child $15

For information in the Charlottesville area contact Kate White: 434-996-2002, katercst@gmail.com

To attend this class: Visit our website at www.earth-connection.com/familycourses.htm and read though our information, then click on our Family Course Application, fill out the form and mail it to us with the tuition. We need to receive your applications and tuition at least 7 days before the class. Once we receive an application, we then send out class information and detailed driving directions.

Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills, wilderness survival and self sufficiency offering weekend courses and custom weekday courses throughout the year in Northern Virginia. Earth Connection is now in the twelfth year of continuous operation. Our specialties are Friction Fire Making and Wild Edible Plants. We also teach a variety of other subjects such as Tracks and Sign, Basketry, Primitive Tool Making, Hide Tanning, Wilderness Survival, Organic Gardening and much more!

Earth Connection School of Wilderness Survival and Ancient Skills

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Belvedere Updates (the poop and scoop)

Too much is happening in my life to spend time sitting at the computer, so I apologize for not writing much. We have lived here 3 and half months now. Somehow, I want to feel more settled than I do. It takes a long time to feel "at home." Here is the news as far as I know:

The Neighborhood
We are going to get two new neighbors this month! The house behind us went under contract, and the house two doors down. I have heard that one more townhome needs to be sold and then the townhome row will be finished. Yay! I am so tired of looking at the unfinished homes. Hauser has lowered the price of the homes in Belvedere so if there are readers out there lurking and looking for good prices on homes, have a look.

The Construction
The home across from my house and the one next door are almost complete. Great, I am so glad. I have not liked living with all the construction although I knew that I would be living with all this. The guys are totally friendly and it is lovely to see the homes completed. The one next door to me is huge, definitely a party house, with a wet bar next to the kitchen. I walked in there the other day to see what the workers have been doing. They had finished installing a most gorgeous kitchen with this little room off of it that had places for glasses and wine bottles above a little sink. My grandparents had one of those. But to be honest, the construction noises and mess are really grinding. Bret and I agree that it causes constant "low level stress." Sorry Stonehaus. Luckily it doesn't last long in the scheme of things (like the rest of our lives), so for families considering buying into Belvedere, it isn't that bad. Just prepare yourself and you can always come over here and be comforted.

From listening to my neighbors, I would say Eagle is doing a great job supporting the Church Hill homes that have punch lists. I have not heard where they are going to build next although I know they are discussing that.

I have been following Stonehaus's efforts to find funding for the Town Center. Apparently there is interest in that project because of the apartments that are projected to be built. This is something we all want here in the neighborhood so that is one of my biggest concerns besides getting more neighbors! It seems to me that Belvedere is still unfolding in a good way, only slower because of the credit crunch and recession. The carriage house units with apartments above them are a big interest to people who want to work out of their homes.

The Land and other Ambiance
The other day, three hot air balloons made their way directly overtop our house, and many have chosen to land in our neighborhood. I love this. Those balloons are really amazing. I often sit outside with the birds, too. The bluebirds are really wonderful. This last month, flocks of starlings were here although I think they have moved on. The trail system is continually being worked on. The other day I popped out of a trail only to find a interesting group of workers starting up a strange type of riding mower machine that is good at cutting trails. "Hey," one guy yelled to me, "are you Kate?" "Yes!" I said back, pleasantly surprised. This guy read my blog! Thanks Sean. It is fun to be a land steward. "Is this the Zone?" he asked. "No, the Zone is over that way!" I said, pointing north and west. I gave them an overall orientation right there on the spot. There are still areas of trash that need to be cleaned up, too.

The overall vision is still holding, at least as far as I can tell. There is playground planned for across the street from me on the green lot that is part of Fairview. The swimming club and Stonehaus have some agreements that I am not clear on, so I can't speak to them. I am looking forward to having more children here. We are not using the Village Green much except for kite flying and dog walking. Several four wheel vehicles decided it would be fun to tear up the land behind the village green one night and one truck got stuck. I also see evidence of fourwheeling on the flood plain, and we have heard hunters, too, shooting. I would like Stonehaus to look into these things and impose fines on people if they are caught. I am often down on the flood plain, and hearing the gun shots is not encouraging.

The trail system is lovely. I often run down to the fields next to Dunlora and back. This is called the greenway on the Belvedere trail map. Every time I am out on the land I encounter deer and sometimes other animals, too. I always find a nature treasure to bring back home. I just wish I had more time to explore.

That's all for now. I have started working out of my carriage house. I am massage and craniosacral therapist and specialize in the perinatal period. I will post separately about my work as a therapist and an educator. I have a lot going on in my work life and I want Belvedere to benefit from that.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Answers to Important Questions

With the foreclosures on Churchill properties in Belvedere, Bret and I have been fielding phone calls and emails about how this affects us. We have also been, as always, listening to criticism of the project. I have tried to come up with some explanations for those who want to know. Here goes:

About the Foreclosures:
What I understand is that Churchill foreclosed on properties to protect potential buyers because some liens were being put on the properties that had nothing to do with the houses (called "judgments"). These were judgments are connected to other Churchill issues, not in Belvedere. AND there are mechanics liens on the properties, too. There were 19 on ours. I have no idea what is on the other properties (and it is not my business, really). Churchill got into financial difficulty because of the times we are in, like many other home builders. Yes, Bret and I are affected by the foreclosures in several ways.
  • It is difficult to watch people we care about stress out. This includes Churchill owners AND the staff. We got attached to builders, as many of you who have built houses know, the carpenters and foreman become part of your family for a time. Josh Goldschmidt is amazing the way he stays balanced and upbeat despite many personal and professional difficulties. He and Jamie fought bankruptcy and saw foreclosing as a way to protect buyers instead of entangling the sales further.
  • My neighbors are suffering, too. When a house goes to foreclosure it can be bought from the bank but AS IS. Those who got started with Churchill expected a finished house with a warranty. Who wants to buy a house that doesn't have a warranty and a long punch list? Josh has extended himself to say he will help finish houses and provide technical support through whatever means he can, but promises at this time are a little hard to take to the bank, so to speak. We are just in difficult times. Sometimes I just want to go to the builders and say, hey, cut it out, just do your job and finish the houses! But my savvy neighbors have put money in escrow that won't be paid until the work is complete. We have yet to see how potential buyers will complete the purchases of the houses sold to the bank on Friday.
  • Is my house worth less than I paid for it in July? Probably. But, I am here for the long run folks. I am not turning my house around to make some money. I bought into Belvedere for the lifestyle, especially the connection to nature and health. This neighborhood is experimental, it is a model of living that brings many different kinds of people together. I am here for the health of it and I am watching to see how it shakes out. When people come at me with criticism of the project, how much the houses cost, etc., I say, it is a start in what I think is the right direction. People living close together sharing amenities and sometimes meals (definitely child friendly and pet friendly. It is nice to have someone watching over our house and cat when we go away.) Yes, I took risks when we became the pioneer and I am like that. This neighborhood design is sustainable and tries to include nature and health in the equation. It is my type of idea, and while the house is a lot fancier than anything I thought I would ever own, I decided that I was going to support this idea, better yet, I was going to live it. I decided. If you have criticisms then search yourself and wonder why.
The bottom line for me is that we are all concerned about whether or not Belvedere will be what it said it was going to be. As my neighbor has said, I didn't buy into Belvedere for the lot! We all signed up for whole package, the mix-use walkable neighborhood, and those of us who are pioneers have paid a hefty price tag. If the town center is not built, the organic farm not put in, the health programs not launched, then I will consider selling and moving on (Take Note Stonehaus.) Which leads me to another point:

"Expensive" and "Self-Segregating." Let's talk about this for a few minutes
We are living in times that might make a few of us pause and think maybe there are other ways to live. It is not comfortable to change. I recently went back up to Vermont where my friends said (and I have heard this here in Cville, too), isn't that going to be self-segregating community of people who can afford to live there? You know what, America, for all its rhetoric as a great melting pot, is self-segregating. I have never been in a more self-segragating arena than some of the communities I was in up in Vermont. In fact, they wanted to secede from the nation during the Bush presidency. It is not about money. I think people are just afraid of difference and want to take someone to task. Face it, we all want someone like us next to us, but if we are going to learn to live together then maybe a new model of living needs to be unrolled. Maybe now we are going to be forced to make a change.

My home and healing arts center in Vermont was bought by two families. The mothers were both healing arts practitioners, the fathers both very handy men. The men made a workshop out of the garage and the women work in the center. They are raising their children together. When people come at with me with this attitude that only rich people live in Belvedere then I say, well, there are town homes, there are duplexes, there will be apartments. But people don't want to give up their single family lifestyle or their land. Then, I say, accept the responsibility of that. The builders here are coming up with new designs, smaller homes. They are listening. Personally, I want one of those 800 sq. foot cottages. If you are truly interested in Belvedere, come on down and lets talk. If you have this argument that we are exclusive here, let's look at that. Yes, in some ways we won't have immigrant communities here or people who live below the poverty line, unless of course they decide that apartment living is okay with them, or even renting one of the carriage units. It is quite possible for two families to buy one of these big houses together and learn to live, love, and raise children together. How nice it would be to have another mother in my house. If I my life comes to that, I would definitely consider it.

A Model Of Health
We have a distinct approach in biodynamic craniosacral therapy that honors we call the health in system. As James Jealous, DO says, "The embryo does not make a mistake." As native peoples have said, we have Original Instructions, all of us human and more than human (nature). My first experiences with Belvedere were through Stonehaus and the philosophy behind the design that includes nature instead of looking to control or worse, just destroy it. While Stonehaus had to cut down the trees, they have planted many many more. This development company is trying very hard to do something different (and sell it, too, I might add, but what do you expect, they are businesspeople). I am a big picture person (and detail oriented, too). I saw Belvedere as a chance to consider a different way of living, one that is about WE, humans and nature. It is not perfect. I just hope that all the fear will not squelch it.

I miss my life in Vermont, the nature, the peace, the fire, the life close to the edge. And I am trying something different now.

What to do from here?
I am concerned about the current state of my neighborhood. Hauser has laid off people and work at the company's homes is at a crawl if at all. This has been a very difficult beginning to a new life. I have likened the building of this home to a difficult birth and my neighbors laugh and say, my home has a low Apgar score (the score given to babies at birth, the higher the score the better the condition of the baby.) That is how it is here. So, here are my questions for myself and anyone else, How do we make a repair with these pioneer families to keep them resourced and in good health? What do we do when a community starts out with such difficulty, under-resourced? How can I help increase the health in this system?

I have clearly planted my feet and, in a healing metaphor, am holding Belvedere and waiting for the health in the system to reset. Maybe we all doing that in these times for ourselves, our communities, our country. As a practitioner, I have learned to sit, hold and wait. It takes faith and belief in something larger than myself to continue. That's where I am at. Where are you?

Thursday, September 4, 2008


With the advent of September, it seems that a whole new crew of workers floods Belvedere every morning. Oh My God. It is amazing. And while I did write that the construction noise is irritating, ( or can be!), the presence of the new crew is energizing. Like Bret said, it means that work is being done and we are closer to completing the vision of Belvedere each day.

The Connexion people have been putting in the fiber optic system over the last few weeks. They camp out, in the rain, and in the sun. There is a box on the corner near our house and I have been watching them. One of them stopped us the day it rained to comment on the mud. And now the blaizng heat. What troopers.

The sidewarlk ends are filled in and the alley is going to be complete soon. Yay!

So, while living in a constuction zone is low-level stressful, it is also inspiring and exciting.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Home at Last

I has been a while since my last post and I apologize but we've been a bit busy (see Kate's post below). Between monitoring the finishing of the house to packing and moving, then closing, unpacking working out new schedules and routines...whew...well, I finally am starting to feel settled.

One balm has been the almost daily spectacle of the hot air balloons floating by in the early summer mornings. One day I'll be on one of them looking down I guess but for now it is a nice reward for getting up early.

Then come the sounds of Hauser and Church Hill workers starting in on the unfinished houses. For some that might be terribly annoying, but to me it is the sound of - completion - and I can't wait to have the houses and townhomes finished and occupied. As I tell people "I hate my neighbors", but now that another owner is moving in I can't say that any longer. It has been a trying and difficult time, certainly more challenging than I would have ever dreamed, but I feel strongly that we have turned a corner and things are only going to get better - much better.

We haven't gotten any bills yet (there has been a little glitch with the post office not handling our mail properly) but I promise to post them as they come in so we can get a sense of exactly how energy-efficient this house is. I won't make any conclusions for awhile as the season is turning, and we are still getting our house routines down, but it will be a nice long-term project.

One thing I can say is that the house (as Josh Goldschmidt had assured us) is very comfortable. It has a lovely airy feel to it, and whether the windows are open in the mornings or evenings or closed in the hotter afternoons it never feels stuffy or "artificial". It is also always a pleasant surprise to go to the top (attic) floor and have it be only a degree or two warmer than the one below.

So if you drive by in the evening and we're sitting on the porch chatting and looking peaceful it is because we are happy with where we are living.

One Month Report

Okay. As requested. Here is my one month report.

It has been exactly one month since we moved in. While the environment has been tough (no rain, subcontractors going on temporary strikes, businesses bought and sold, neighbors having to delay moving in), I have just loved living here. And we are not the first family to move here. I have met a family of crows (they are quite communicative), a herd of deer, and a flock of blue birds. Here is a short of list of the good and the bad.

The Bad first:

Living in a construction zone: It's not too bad but I don't like it much. The hammering and the generators can be loud but we knew that. And I really hate it when the construction workers whistle at me. Look, I am an old married lady (our 20th wedding anniversary is this week), definitely a maid, not a maiden, nothing to get too excited about. I run a lot, and yesterday when I ran by the crew working on the Hauser homes and I got that whistle, I thought, I am going go up close to those guys and give them a hard time. I didn't though I thought about it. I don't like that.

The Red Mud: Really, I like the mud. The tracks here are amazing, and my daughter loves the mud, too, but it gets on everything. We have to be careful to not track it into the house. Our shoes are probably going to be permanently stained (who cares?). I can't wait until the landscaping for the first phase is complete. The red mud is on the sidewalks, the grass is not growing anywhere. Ack!

Not Many Neighbors: Finally, the second home owner moved in yesterday. We can't wait for more people.

I am sure Bret has his short list, too, but over all, the development company has just been awesome, helping us every step of the way. The fiber optic communications is not in yet but the builder and developer, and the communication company Connexion, have been great.

The Good:

The Land: Whenever I think that maybe this was a mistake and I should have stayed in my private little sheltered life in Vermont, I go and sit on the land. It is a spiritual practice of mine anyway, and I have chosen a high spot on the land that stays a secret to you all because I don't want you finding me. Anyway, I sit there in the early morning in awe of the mountains and the trees. The view of the sunrise and the moonset is amazing, and then there are the hot air balloons. They come floating slowly over Belvedere and you definitely get the sense that, Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. I feel imbued with a sense of magic and awe when I am out there.

The House: The house just rocks. I can't wait until more people move in to experience the feel of the structural design, the porches, the sidewalks. The light is awesome, the window treatments have been intense; what to choose? I am not really a house person, but my husband is, and the neighbors are. I just adore listening to them love their house, too. I look forward to really being a neighborhood.

The Trails: I am out on the trails everyday. I am told that the Belvedere trail system will be revealed shortly by the developer, Stonehaus, so I won't say too much here except that Dan Mahon and the Rivanna Trail people did an awesome job with the trail through the Dunlora woods. I run and walk down there all the time. My daughter and I spend time looking at all kinds of things along that trail, from the massive mastcrop trees to the spiders to the creek system and animal tracks and sign. Bret and I run along the trails down to Dunlora. The other day, massive amounts of grasshoppers flew up ahead of me as I ran through the Dunlora field trail. I will often find sign of animal behaviors in the flood plain, like coyote kill sites and deer paths, and of course, lots of frogs. The Zone has beautiful trails, if only I could keep the four-wheelers out. There is much to explore and love about the trails and the land.

The Builder and the Developer: The builder, Church Hill, has been just awesome. Even though they have clearly struggled, they have stayed in touch and are very gracious to us. And Stonehaus, you have also been great. I ask a lot of questions, and have tried to be measured in my approach to your vision but sometimes, I can't help myself. The potential is just too amazing and I tend to be exuberant anyway. I really think things have just begun here and are going to get better.

My Yard: The Permaculture Garden is still planned. I plan to put in a fence and some more plant beds. I hope to have the fruit trees planted this fall.

Other Amentities: The Fairview Swim Club was great this summer, just walking up and jumping in the pool. I hope my kids want to be on the swim team. SOCA is still planning the soccer field house, the Village Green will one day be green with the activities promised by Stonehaus, and there are plans for classes and other health-related activities that are not my place to say just yet. I know they are coming down the pike, though.

"We Need Powerful Rain"

The day the rain began to fall, the rain barrel man, Bryan Buckley called me about our rain barrels. He said, "The blessed rain has fallen." A perfect thing for the rain man to say. We have had no rain for almost 2 months, and the drought is keenly felt in Belvedere. Our lawn is green because Bret nurtured it like a newborn calf. We had been warned and worked over by the people who put it down. Everyone was concerned about landscaping in August. The seed/straw combinations put down in Belvedere did not produce much green, and the trees are suffering.

But the words, "We need powerful rain," came from my little girl, Eleanor, age 4. My husband asked her why. "Mud," she said. She is a mud specialist and I let her revel in it. With the recent rain, she donned her raincoat and boots and went out to find the muddy places. Also, she loves frogs. I went down to the Zone after the rain and said, "Eleanor, I saw many frogs down in the Zone," hoping to pique her curiosity so that we would go down there together. "What kind?" she asked. Wow, I thought, she is mentoring me. This is a mentor's question, getting the student to think about species identification. "Mainly tree frogs, " I said, "and some leopard frogs."

"Oh," she said. "I want a green frog." She paused. "And toads. . . . they are my favorite."

She's four years old and knows the frogs. Awesome.

We Set A Record

We set a record in Albemarle County with the number of liens on our property. Our closing date was set to be July 31, a Thursday, and move-in was that day, too. We had business in New England the week previous, and we knew that something was not quite right when we began to get emails from the settlement lawyer about the title. The first title we saw had about 5 liens, all filed from subcontractors who had not gotten paid by Church Hill. By the time we went to settle, there were 19 liens on the property, a record in Albemarle County. Bill Tucker, our most excellent settlement attorney worked his legal butt off the get that title clean as a whistle, because not only were there liens for people who were owed money, there were conditions that required Church Hill to get signatures from subcontractors who had not filed liens saying they would never file liens. Church Hill had to go around and get signatures in July when many people were on vacation, and well, the delay was intense.

I was still in New England when Bret called me and said, "I just had a conversation with our lawyer that a new home owner never wants to have." I had those conversations, too. Bill Tucker started calling us the Belvedere Poster Child, and amid threats that we were not going to close, we persevered. It was difficult though. But once the papers were signed and filed, Bret and I finally could relax and really be in our home.

Now, the second home owner has moved in to Belvedere. Church Hill properties in Belvedere have been bought by Eagle and new energy is flowing into the project. Things are moving in many different ways. Our esteemed realtor, Jim Duncan, says, "Belvedere will survive." It may be awhile, but I think Belvedere will thrive. Just watch.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

We Have Met the Future

And it is us, to paraphrase an old saying.

Two recent articles in major newspapers about "development" could be about Belvedere.

Gas Prices Apply the Brakes to Suburban Migration


Gas prices drive push to reinvent America's suburbs

These say that urban development with businesses and residences are the wave of the future, Belvedere just adds Earthcraft homes, green space, community and organic garden, soccer fields, and cool nature-based activities.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

"There's Still Money"

Here are more answers to questions from people, and the big message is, There Is Still Money. If you are concerned about whether or not Belvedere is floundering, don't worry about your investment. Things have had to change somewhat, with staff and timeline changes, but the big message is all is well (or better than well, actually, Great!)

Stonehaus Development Manage LJ Lopez came and spent time with me yesterday, the day after move-in and explained a few things. It is easy to look at this unfinished place and see a project not complete or threatening to fail, but actually the opposite is true. Here are few explanations, as I understand them:

The Storm Water Park is still going to happen, but the drainage will look raw for awhile. There is a large sediment catchment area because there is huge run-off from the lots that don't have sod. Actually Josh Goldschmidt explained the value of sod to me yesterday. So, just take a deep breath and look beyond the muddy water to the tree lined path beside the levels of water and small fountains in the Stonehaus plans. That is still online for the neighborhood.

As is the Civic Core, and Belvedere's commitment to the community and the arts. The Civic Core includes the Village Green, where this fall there will be several events. SOCA is in process and committed to building the indoor facility. The other parts of the Core include the Town Hall and the Montessori School, all still planned and in the queue for building. The residents of Belvedere are going to be, in part, responsible for the programs and what is going to happen on the Village Green but I know Stonehaus is planning on music and movies. And after talking with people interested in living in Belvedere, there will be many more interesting things that might happen here.

The Organic Garden is still going to happen, and Stonehaus is going to send out more information about that this fall. They want to wait to promote until the gardeners get in there and begin to "do something" (as it was explained to me), and actually, that garden amenity has turned out better than they anticipated.

I am unsure about the Retail and Commercial Space, more the timeline than the content. I am reassured that there are many interested parties who want to support that space. We just need to move down the timeline a bit.

For those of you who came out and talked with me about the plans (not just LJ), I thank you for your honesty. LJ in particular made it clear that Stonehaus will stay with the process and will not abandon the project, and wants to more of a presence than most "development companies." I imagine that many a development firm who would want to be a part of something like Belvedere. So Belvedere remains the green gem it was designed to be, and there are peaks and valleys within the process of making it real. (Sometimes the peaks and valleys can occur on the same day, my hat off to you Churchill and Hauser for staying solid.) I have definitely felt those peaks and valleys, and bear witness to what this time in our history is doing to the perspective of so many people.

My advice to those reading the blog interested in buying a home here is to talk with many people, particularly Josh Goldschmidt, Greg Slator, my realtor, Jim Duncan, and any of the pioneer families here. This is an urban design that doesn't have much precedent.

As yes, I'm Still Tracking! And I was just down near the Zone yesterday. I am into my third season on the land here. There is someone caretaking down there, I saw the chain saw work. The floodplain vegetation is higher than myself. I just felt so grateful. Having lived connected to land, I know that it takes years to get to know and understand its patterns. I will be full circle here next winter (February), and then I can start to map and identify species and patterns. It takes time. As I ran by the field, a deer jumped into the path ahead of me, out of a line of green reeds about 6 feet high. That place is rich with wildlife and plants, and I look forward to being in relationship with that more-than-human world.

First Day in the House

Well, the first days in the house have been interesting. Move-in Day was long and dramatic, with a hustle at the last minute to get all the boxes off the truck before the staff went into overtime. Then came the collapse and the glass of wine and the deep breath. Those who have moved know that it takes a lot of work. My mother was here, bless her soul, to help with cooking and childcare while Bret and I pushed boxes around. There is a short punch list that will get looked at this week but the house is beautiful. My favorite room in the house is the front porch, or the cool space as Stonehaus calls it.

I also can't wait to make the yard my own. I have a preliminary plan that I carry around in my head, one bigger than the design handed into Stonehaus for preliminary approval. I am just back from New England where I visited the gardens of Dave Jacke permaculture assistant George Leoniak. (George is also an extremely gifted and hardworking animal tracker. We have a tentative plan to have him come to the area next spring to help me launch the Charlottesville Area Tracking Society). More on the yard and its design in a separate blog. The sod is necessary and we are all afraid it will die in the August heat, so we are watering and nursing it like it was a newborn calf.

Then Channel 29 came to do the interview for the news. That was fun! Thank you so much Christina Mora for the story on Belvedere. So many people want to know, How is it? It is wonderful to be "at home," and be able to start the process of making this house my space. The construction noise is not loud and the crews are friendly. When I look around Belvedere, I see the finished place in my mind's eye. I don't dwell on what it isn't, I groove on what it is going to be. Now that I am in my house, I know that different levels of settling are going to occur, and my projects are going to take off. The garage office is looking great, better than I expected, so I hope to be open for business next week! I will post pictures, soon. I have been hanging out with my neighbors who will be moving in soon, this month and next. We are planning the welcoming parties! I just came from the open house next door where the realtors have been busy meeting with clients. More lots have been sold and more phone calls are coming in since the houses have started going up.

I remember six months ago on a cold windy morning, we stood on our lot with Josh Goldschmidt and Jim Duncan, and Josh said to me, "You've got to like people if you are going to live here."
And I said, "Woohoo, let's get started!" (and we still have red mud stains in our van from that trip!). That was not so long ago, and now see what is here. I'll repeat what I said to people, yes, I am happy, I am excited, and I am ready to work to make Belvedere what the developers outlined to me over the last year as I expressed interest in being a homeowner and a business owner. Watching the changes in the staff of Stonehaus and witnessing what the builders have had to go through to make things happen was a little anxiety provoking, but I have received many assurances that things are going to stay on track. Stonehaus and Churchill have extended themselves to make me feel at home and confident. I thank you!

Since the newstory last night, people have been streaming into Belvedere. Bret and I have been fielding questions from passers-by. It's been awesome. Don't hesitate to ask us questions about the process if you see us out and about. I've been asked to write about being here at different intervals, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Children, Nature and the Belvedere Potential

I have said I am a somatic practitioner (massage, craniosacral therapy) and I specialize in working with families, children, and babies. I have a lot of somatic skills and can work with just about anything that comes in my treatment room (Jim, would you call this Shameless Self Promotion? Feels a little strange to be explaining myself). But another part of my work is working in nature with children and families.

When I first met Bob Hauser, he said that he had a vision of creating a neighborhood where children are inspired to get off the couch and out into nature. It was a vision of returning childhood to what he remembered it was, where children played outside. He said his children are his inspiration. Well, I just had to hold onto the table because I thought I was going to fall out of my seat. Creating programs for families and children so they can connect to nature is part of my mission here, and I have the perfect place to do it in the Zone. You can see about my work with children on in the slide show on my old website. (My new website coming soon).

I am planning several nature based programs for Belvedere, one called the Green Hour that will start in the fall with nature games, songs, and stories on the Village Green. More to come for sure, as things build and blossom. Just after I move in, I am going to spend time with my favorite all time nature practitioner Martin Maudsley from the UK. He has created a movement in the UK called Playwork. See about the conference.

Meet Martin Maudsley and the programs that inspire me

Hear a recent BBC podcast about children and nature.

I am trained by a lot of different naturalists. But more about that later!

Belvedere amenities, the trails and the Zone, the outdoors spaces and its values include this very basic and necessary part of being outside, connected to nature and to other people. Bravo Bob Hauser! Let's make this come true.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Felt Sense of Home

We are nearing move in date. It has been scheduled for this Thursday, with some things starting to be moved in on Wednesday. The house shines like a jewel, and John Garvey of Piedmont Landscaping is installing the beginnings of my permaculture garden today. I will be making additions to the garden starting immediately. So me, the yard person, the land person, the one who connects with the vision of Belvedere has fallen in love with house. Never in my life did I expect to live in such a place. It is the smallest house on the block, but it feels like a palace to me.

Bret and I have not blogged much these past weeks, engaging with summertime and the kids in a big way. I received a membership to Fairview Swim Club with my home purchase, and we have been at the pool. But we have both participated highly in the house construction, going everyday to observe and make finishing touches. With each trip to the house and the land, I notice a rise in anticipation and a range of sensations that mostly revolved around a familiar ache. Every tree now becomes familiar, and the vision of the sun on the grass on the turn around the bend to Belvedere creates a cascade of feelings.

I am a somatic therapist, and I know how consciousness includes the body in memory and the present moment, co-creating with the mind, a person's reality. I am also a tracker. So, the exercise of creating a home to the finest detail has been excruciatingly delightful, a combination of arousal, hope, love, and fear. I track the sensations in my own self, following them down to ends of the nerves as I track the red fox to the Zone.

One thing about home, is that there can be some pieces out of my control. Well, more than some pieces, maybe life in general. I have certainly given this my all but am old enough now to know that things don't always turn out as planned. So, here are some answers to a few questions people have been asking:

How's it going? It's been great, are you kidding? Yes, the downturn in the economy has slowed things down but this has been an awesome experience.

What's it like, being the first home owner? We are little concerned about being there with no other families on the land, surrounded by empty homes. But other families are coming in soon. Two more in August, and another in September, and then more coming during the year. I am looking forward to meeting them.

But aren't you going to be living in a construction zone? What is that going to be like for you? I have to say that with this project, I feel like I have inherited a bunch of brothers. From the house painter on the ladder to that little guy who has been painting my interior to Josh Goldschmidt who is owns Churchill to Bill Hammerick who wrote my mortgage to the guys toting bricks, and the electricians who patiently rewired my great room after I took out the office there, to John Garvey who did not know what to think of me when I said NO to holly bushes, please, I want something different (who knows what he REALLY thinks of me) to Greg Slater who helps immensely with every detail, to Jim Duncan who actually opened the door and introduced me to Belvedere to all those guys at Stonehaus, wow, it has been great. And I think of them when I enter Belvedere and I am so grateful. AND there are sisters on the path, Clay Green of Churchill has also endured interior changes and dealing with the different personalities of Bret and I (who really wants to be between a husband and wife in the homebuilding process? That's Clay Green for you), and of course, the ultimate Fierce Woman, Pam who is Stonehaus's supervisor on site.

Aren't Hauser and Churchill and Stonehaus all going broke and filing for bankruptcy? NO. They are simply reorganizing and downsizing. This has been a difficult time for everyone, but sales are still happening in Belvedere. This project has get loads of traffic on open house days, Thursday through Sunday. It gets loads of traffic other days, too. Lots of people come walking through to see the house sites. And we'll permanently be there soon, sitting on the front porch, sipping our ice tea! Feel free to say hi if you see us there, and ask more questions!

Okay, more answers to questions later. Move in day is coming and I have got some packing to do. Also, I am jonesing for the Zone. The forest is calling my name.

See ya!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Too good to keep hidden in the comments:

...We feel very strongly that the Belvedere neighborhood will be, truly, THE development that will change the way Albemarle approaches development over the next decades. I have a master's degree in planning, and I'm continually amazed at the fact that so much of what the developer and builders are doing is *right* from a planning, environmental and new urbanist perspective...

That's our feeling also and what sustains us as the project gets off the ground. But right now, each passing day brings so many good changes that I can't help but feel that we're over a hump and that it won't be long before many others decide to live in Belvedere also.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Photo Progress Update

Exterior is just about done. We've gotten nice comments on Kate's color choices. The man in the white shirt is Rick, the construction manager. He's a great guy and just exudes competence and good humor. Even though we caused him to redo some work under the tight deadline (our fault totally) he has been right on top of things and we're grateful to have him in charge.

Wood floors are in, trim is next.

Our neighbors' houses are going up. Right next door is still unsold but the others are taken.

Across the street work has started on one of the houses with basements. It is starting to feel cozy and neighborhood-like now.

And everywhere work is going on - sidewalks poured, trees planted, etc.

The Ednam is move-in ready. It is stunning inside.

The initial vision of a neighborhood with front porches and sidewalks is becoming reality.

On a nearby street Hauser Homes has started construciton on the townhomes.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Two recent trips to the Zone revealed its richness in track and sign, and species. Here are series of pictures. They don't include the newborn fawn found by Chris Schooley, and the little red fox seen by the Harris family as they explored the Zone.

First set: On this very sunny Wednesday tracking afternoon, the two boys, Nick and William, and I travel down to the Zone with Chris Schooley and Nate Cunningham of Stonehaus. They have a little device along to measure how far the trails are down to and within the Zone. It is a little orange wheel on a stick. We stop every half a mile so Nate can mark a tree; he is creating a running trail for Belvedereans. I tell the two boys we need to teach these grown men about tracking, and they are pleased to be charged with such a sacred duty. The five of us set off:

The road to the Zone, down the sewer line.

Just to illustrate the richness for animal trackers, the next series of photos illustrate several animal species in the mud at the entrance to the Zone down on the flood plane. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to walk down the sewer line to get to the Zone:

Raccoon, or as Chris tells me, 'Coon. (you're in Virginia now, he says, speak Virginian)

The smallest deer footprints ever, probably those of the baby fawn we saw during our walk with Chris and Nate.

Red Fox prints, hard to make out but you can clearly see one print. Almost a direct register, this animal is in a baseline gait.

Squirrel or Raccoon?

The kids play in the mud, a great "loose parts" experience for good brain development!

The Frog experiences in the Zone are extraordinary . The next series are about tree frogs, and at one point, we emerge into a living carpet of the tiniest frogs, hundreds of them, that have emerged from a large puddle. Bret tried to capture it with the camera, but there was no way to relay the incredible experience of being surrounded by frogs smaller than a penny.

This gray tree frog thinks we don't see him. Nick saw him! This frog's survival strategy is to blend in with its surroundings. Doesn't he look like a leaf or a piece of bark? We undoubtedly caught him in mid stride going from one green spot to another.

We come across a kill site, an opossum, or 'possum, as Chris informs me. The Big Mac of the forest, says Chris.

There is some scat at the site. Either Wild Dog or Coyote has come this way. The tracks are plentiful and Bret and I engage in the kind of discussion I love around a track. Dog tracks are wider than coyote. Coyote tracks have a tell-tale round heel pad. But what about the X you can see in the track? says Bret. The track is too wide for coyote, I say. But doesn't mud make tracks expand? asks Bret. Well, yes. Look at the nails, they are so close together! Anyway, it could go on and on. Makes me want to go tracking right now!

We head on down the path to the river.

There are two great places to hang out next to the river, one with a small set of rapids (or falls):

And one with a rocky beach that would make a great fishing hole, and swimming place, too:

The boys (big and small) skips stones. The Big Boys Mentor the Smaller Boys in how to do it, a quintessential boyhood moment. We need more of those these days, as childhood is so changed from what it used to be.

If you head around the path beyond the turn up to go back along the railroad tracks, you can access to railroad bridge. Here is a photo of Chris and Nate:

Two Developers on the Right Track

Friday, May 30, 2008

In Every Great Story

Frank Stoner, this entry is for you.

In every great story, there are trials and tribulations. There are hardships, and in the best stories, there is transformation. Personally, I like humor, too. Laughter makes everything better. But, there are always trials, and FEAR. The heros and heroines overcome obstacles and do impossible things.

In The Jumping Mouse, there is a place where Jumping Mouse must cross the plain, and this is the hardest place for the little mouse because he is most vulnerable. Even with the cover of the buffalo who said he would protect him, it was hard for that little mouse to be out from under cover, open to attack from birds of prey. In that situation, you had little warning that something was about to strike, so there is a state of vigilance and readiness that is garnered, for protection sake. It takes a lot of energy to be vigilant.

In the Belvedere story, there are some great elements. One of them surely is transformation, taking a concept and making it real, committing to something "sustainable" and "wholistic" is certainly different than many "developments." There are some untold parts of the story that I know that tell me there was a before and after moment at the beginning of the story, one of transformation. Then there is excitement with the vision and the beginning of the journey to the mountain (or in this case, this mixed use neighborhood), and then there are the trials and tribulations. We are on the plain now, and perhaps we are all feeling a little vigilant, a little vulnerable.

I don't presume to know how real estate developers think. I am sure it is not so idealistic as the story of the Jumping Mouse. But consider life action as metaphor for something greater. Perhaps no eye will be sacrificed, Frank Stoner, but certainly, something was and something is. And those in the middle of the great story often can't see its greatness.

This is still a great story (even though I am accused of being too positive and also, affected by Urban Philosophy). This is real and represents change.

Keep going, Jumping Mouse.

Now It's Our Turn

Like in most construction, there are times when you just need to redo something. Bret's design of the office on the first floor with the diagonal island in the kitchen just didn't work. We had to scratch it after the sheet rock went up. We now have a completely open area and a rectangular kitchen island with three stools to sit at it. Bret has a work nook.

I had to redo the small garage to be a bit bigger to accommodate my work, a good temporary space until I can rent an office from Stonehaus in the Core or the Town Center. It was a little expensive and it was our fault for not really translating what was on paper to a real functioning space. I want to encourage people to go and visit the Belvedere houses, ours included and stand in the spaces and feel what they are like. We are often there after hours and love to chat with people who have questions. There will be a June 14th barbeque for those who want to come out. It should be fun! We will be there in the afternoon.

Edible Landscape

"Not many people are doing this," said Terry, when I began to ask questions about what plants go with what trees to produce the best edible garden. Different plants nurture the soil in ways that support specific trees in a good way. Okay great, I think, pioneer again. I guess I am just going to have accept this pattern. It is fun to bushwhack, but it can get tiring.

Terry takes me to Edible Landscaping off of Rt 151 in Afton, VA to look at possibilities for my garden, starting with the edible hedge and the first stage of the garden with fruit trees. I feel like I have lots of space in my garden, thanks to my small garage choice and the corner lot. We are planning on one rain barrel. Terry's partner Bryan Buckley tells us that our roof pitch and space will produce 600 gallons of water per one inch of rain! Wow! We are starting with one rain barrel, but Terry floats the idea of "cistern" into Belvedere plans. A community "rain barrel." Well, that idea might be a future project.

We have planned small raised bed with a little pond, small sandbox in the southern corner, with a Dwarf Mulberry. We are calling this space the "Child Zone," and I can see this place easily in my mind, having had one in Vermont. Iris, Lamb's Ear, Sweet William, Lillies of different kinds. Lavender perhaps and some annuals. This picture is a mature dwarf mulberry with Terry in the hiding space under the leaves. Perfect for the children.

Here is a picture of the little pond space I had that I want recreate in my Belvedere yard. The children love it.

We also choose an espalier apple tree for the garage wall, under the stairs:

We have also chosen and Asian Persimmon and an Edible Dogwood:

The edible hedge is a bit of a puzzle for me. Our first pick is a type of current.

Other features in the yard include beds for vegetables and an herb spiral:

Along the way we meet permaculture landscaper Pierre who, when told what I was doing, exclaims, "I have been doing this 40 years and now, just when I am about to die, it is starting to be done!" He is very funny!

There are many options to make this garden full and functional. Stay tuned! For prospective buyers, you get a $4000 allowance for landscaping. We are starting with the landscape design of raised beds and berms for trees, fence, and current hedge. So much to do, and I am patient and excited.

The last bit I have planned is a Forest Garden to the north for the front of the house. This special small bed will include Cohosh, Solomon Seal, Dutchman's Breeches, Virginia Bluebell. Trillium, and whoever else wants to come a live in that little space. These small green plants, and the Tulip Poplar called me back to Virginia.

More to come!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Just a coincidence?

Found on the sidewalk in front of the house today:

Kinda scary, but in a good way :)

ps: I am assured by Stonehaus that the balloon is biodegradable. Nice touch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aerial Photo of Belvedere Site at cville.com

Last week's "Red Dirt Alert" in cville.com features an aerial photo of Belvedere. Read it here: "Green to red to "green" at Belvedere"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Clotheslines and Solar

A reader asked about whether Belvedere, like many developments, would have restrictions on line drying and solar power/water heating. Call it an opportunity to see where the rubber meets the road: would Stonehaus follow through on their commitment to sustainable design and living, or would pressures of home values and appearance win the day?

Here's their answer:

Clotheslines: Our permaculturist/landscaper asked Stonehaus directly about clotheslines in a landscaping meeting we had with them and the answer was that they are fine. My guess is they might be discouraged in the front yard, but like everything else, if properly located they would add a "homelike" feel to the community as well as being practical and Good for the Earth.

Solar: "Absolutely! Someone is putting solar panels on his house and we agreed this was a great opportunity to celebrate the panels. A lot of 'subdivisions' would want to hide them, we think it will add something to the streetscape if they are tastefully visible."