Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Dreaded HOA Document...Not!

Well, there I was with the nicely bound final copy of the Belvedere Neighborhood Association Disclosure Packet. Here is the document that could codify everything that I might hate about living in a planned community, yet I feel...pleased. In there are pages of little stipulations about how Belvedere will be managed, from trash pickup to maintenance of the alleys and common spaces, etc. Yet overall I come away with a feeling that this is basically a sensible document.

As I told our realtor, Jim Duncan (, if you want to move to Belvedere and put up a geodesic dome it probably isn't the place for you. But overall the restrictions do not appear too onerous and seem more in line with keeping Belvedere an attractive place to live. For instance, in many Agreements there is a clause that toys, bicycles, etc must be picked up and out of sight each evening. I flinched when I started to read the same thing in this document, but the wording has been subtly changed to have things put away when they are not being used for "an extended period of time". Small change in wording, big change in intent.

And then there are the pages that describe the "feel" of Belvedere. While some may view this as excessive control over what their houses can look like, I view it as an attempt to keep a sense of reality in the construction, as opposed to the "faux everything" look I see all over the place in developments that have sprouted up over the last 5 years or so:

From the Document: "Shutters are to be full-operational. Vinyl shutters are not allowed". I say Amen to that! Then there are the pages of guidelines around landscaping which stress minimal impact (yes, I am aware of the extensive impact of the initial clearing and grading) and native species.

I think the heart of the matter is the attempt to create a successful neighborhood by balancing planning and controls with "differentness". Belvedere acknowledges they are trying to do "in a few years what in the past took several decades".

I experienced this firsthand when we visited a development in Chapel Hill, NC called Southern Village. When it was first built I detested the place. Now that it has matured somewhat and the trees and landscaping has introduced some variety to the look I feel less strongly yet there is still in inescapable "sameness" about the place due partly to the fact that all the houses are lined up exactly the same distance from the street. In Belvedere I know that construction was actually held up for a time because the developers insisted on being able to place houses at different places on the lots, rather than have a fixed setback.

As Josh Goldschmidt of Church Hill Homes told me, Stonehaus is actually encouraging what they call "dysfunctional" aspects to the community. Although the word may seem alarming, what it means here is that Belvedere will reflect in some ways the human experience: life isn't all straight lines and perfectly manicured lawns. Our lives are somewhat...messy, and our communities feel better when they reflect that, at least to some extent.

Be An Active Participant

As Kate mentioned, we have found some issues with the construction of our house. Nothing major, and nothing that hasn't been immediately and graciously handled by Church Hill Homes. In fact the lessons that come from this are worth far more then any detailed explanation of what we noticed:
  1. It's your house - take an active role in making it what you really want. This absolutely includes watching the construction as often as you can (without getting in anyone's way of course!) Only by keeping an eye out on all steps of the construction process will you catch problems and avoid (almost) all misunderstandings. And things found early are generally easily corrected, or a solution can be found that will satisfy everyone, as some changes are unavoidable.

  2. Be flexible. In our case, if construction had been completed without changes I would still be very pleased with the house. That's because we had chosen several things that we really cared about and made sure those things were understood by everyone at the start to be high priority items. For other things we can tolerate a fair amount of variability, and we make it clear that the builders can do whatever makes the most sense to them.

  3. There's a saying somewhere that I can't recall but will paraphrase: It is easy to look good when everything is going well. True character is shown by how things are handled when everything isn't completely smooth. I will continue to keep a close eye on construction, but I have full confidence in the integrity of Church Hill Homes.

Being a Pioneer

I love being a pioneer in Belvedere, but as is often the case, mistakes are made with the first one. I find it hard to complain though because I am so happy and hopeful. Bret and I hover over the house to make sure it is being built true to our vision. Actually, Bret hovers over the house. Good thing, too, because some mistakes have been made. Each time, though, Churchill has been gracious. Greg Slater (a.k.a. The Closer or The Luckiest New House Salesman on the Planet) explains, It's because you are pioneers. The mistakes always have silver lining for me. Maybe Bret can shed more light on that.

Storytellers of old were the conscience of the people. The West Africa griots that drew me to Africa over 20 years ago taught me that praise is much more powerful than criticism. Praise singing inspired the people. If you did right, your song was sung, and that is how I operate. If errors were made, storytellers found really positive ways to bring things back into balance. This is what I studied in college and what I try and practice. At the heart of things, I am a storyteller, one who knows the power of the story and its function.

Stonehaus, my story for you is The Jumping Mouse. It is a story of hope, vision, daring, sacrifice, tenacity, and magic. That story is for you Bob Hauser, Frank Stoner, Drew Holzwarth, Chris Schooley, Nate Cunningham, Josh Goldshmidt. You are the Jumping Mouse.

Patterns, People, Trails and Tales

I am out on the land in Belvedere again, but this time with two grown men as opposed to the 9 year old boys I usually track with. And this time, we are not tracking, we are trailing. Rivanna trailing to be exact. Chris Schooley of Stonehaus is meeting with Dan Mahon of Albemarle Parks and Recreation to map out how trails in Dunlora will connect with trails in Belvedere, and then on into the Rivanna trail system and over to 29 north. It is pretty exciting and I am so happy to be asked to go along and excited to be outside, at least for a few hours, and in the company of such interesting people. I have to admit though, those guys are a lot bigger than the boys I usually track with so I end up feeling small, and my enthusiasm blends with my playful nature so that I feel like a kid. Maybe even like a puppy, my tail wagging all over the place. This is fun, fun, fun. And when the men begin to talk about landscape architecture I half listen and begin to scurry about, sniffing here and there, looking under leaves and for patterns on the land. They take me places I had not been before.

Earlier in the week, my son and I went tracking, looking for tracks to dig up for a presentation on animal tracking at his school. He held my hand most of the way, and talked and talked about all kinds of things. We found some excellent tracks but I really needed a shovel to get them up undisturbed. In the Zone, we walked all the way to the Rivanna River and stared at the small set of falls there. Lovely. This time in the Zone, what I saw most was how people used the land instead of animal track and sign. A few dirt bikes had been there recently, and what looked like a small woman with a big dog. The roads have huge ruts and the dirt has been disturbed from vehicle usage. Someone left their cooler. I don't know. I get a little upset by unconscious human use of land, so I noticed how somber I began to feel. My son noticed all the poison ivy. Some of the trails are quite steep, and my son balked. "Come on," I said, "Let's go down." "No Mom, don't go, it's too scary." "I'm tough!" I said, "I'm tougher than you, " I teased. That got him, and we laughed, slid and climbed up and down the steepest part of the trails.

But today, I am not sure exactly where we are going, all I know is that I am super pleased to be out and can just float in and out of the seriousness of the men as they talk and walk. We start out finding where the properties meet. Dan has a GPS unit and the men talk about when they were there before. Before Dan arrived, Chris pointed out landmarks to me on a topographic map, and we talked about the process of building Belvedere. Yes, the loss of trees is terrible for everyone, Chris and Stonehaus, too. Chris talked about the process of becoming a developer and making hard choices. That is a theme of the men's talk, too, and I hear how weary it can be to develop natural areas. Chris has had to make some hard choices, and since he is quite lovely, you can see his distress on his face and hear it in his voice. I have heard a lot of chatter about how terrible Stonehaus is for developing, but I challenge anyone who wants to follow that line of talk to stand in front of Chris and feel the truth of the process.

Dan Mahon is quite interesting. Even in the car before setting foot on the land we talk about patterns in the natural world. Dan tells story of his childhood in the Chesapeake and his ability to see wild asparagus against the tall grasses. Dan Asparagus Man. This guy has the eye! His stories are lovely, and I hear the specialness of his boyhood and know it is important and was perhaps the root of his adult success. Back then, people still wildcrafted for food, and Dan tells stories of going along with his papa, his father with a Budweiser in his lap, driving slow, looking for food in the wild places along the Chesapeake. Chris joins in with stories from his childhood, growing up on a farm in Augusta. But children don't roam the way they used to. Jim Duncan passed along an interesting link about the roaming patterns of children:
How children lost the right to roam in four generations.

I know these men represent the past and I am hoping that we can recreate at least some of their wilderness experience for children today, knowing that that wildness mixed in with their personalities to create the men they are.

We walk down an existing road and onto the flood plain into the magic of green grass, and then along the river, noticing beaver sign, river topography, frogs and toads. Chris and Dan talk about creating a put in for boats (canoes and kayaks) and maybe even a locker system for residents so that the boats can be stored there. Chris narrates the location of SOCA, and parking lots and bathrooms. Sounds so organized. We hike up the extremely steep road along the sewer line that will eventually, supposedly, become the road to SOCA. Dan talks about the trailhead.

Along the way, I gently prod Dan for stories. We have the same passion: how to embody indigenous ways of connecting with nature without appropriating native culture. He has been on the journey a long time. He tells tales of the Monacan people and how they used the land, some places near Belvedere. How do we teach the children to see the land in a good way, to find that sense of place that both men have that I know is part of the living fabric of their interior? Dan says, "Tell them that the landscape is like a blog." We all laugh. But, the landscape is not a blog, it is not linear, and is circular and three dimensional, and full of patterns.

We end our two hour walk standing on top of the Village Green. Chris narrates the design: a serpentine hill to observe the mountain ridge; tunnels for kids to hide and go through, boulders to climb on, and amphitheater for activities for families, and lots of trees. Chris also points out the trees Stonehaus has just planted, some 40 feet tall. Chris and Dan make a plan to do a presentation for National Trails Day in June. Sounds exciting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Comments are Activated

They won't be moderated, but we keep a pretty close eye on the blog so we look forward to seeing what you think.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What is an EarthCraft House?

As I wrote earlier, one part of our purchasing process was to hire a builder friend of ours to look over the house design and give us advice. This was useful not only in helping us make a few design modifications, but also to help us understand exactly what we were purchasing. Our friend wanted to know exactly what was meant by an EarthCraft home and specification, and how that matched up with building standards he was familiar with in Montgomery County, Md.

The first place to start is with Church Hill Homes "Green Building Fact Sheet". Although this does not tie directly into an EarthCraft checklist, this is great for seeing how Church Hill Homes is actually building the house. For instance, it talks about the "Zip System Wall and Roof Sheathing". You can see this on the photos as the green panels on the outside with black tape lines between. This for the most part eliminates or at least reduces the need for Tyvek house wrap. It looks like something that saves time when building the house and also can make for a more tight envelope. While the Earthcraft specification may not say this Zip System is needed, using it is one way to make sure the house will conform to EarthCraft standards.

So I advise potential buyers to look over the Green Building Fact Sheet as a way to see how Church Hill Homes will actually build the houses. It is where "the rubber meets the road" so to speak. It does not say much about the actual EarthCraft homes specification however; for that we must look elsewhere.

I see EarthCraft Virginia has recently put up a website: EarthCraft House Virginia. It is a little "green" yet (couldn't resist) but it has a resources page with very useful documents. The one our builder was most interested in (and the one I found fun, although potentially overwhelming to read) is the EarthCraft Virginia Technical Guidelines (1.5 MB). Here is everything you might want to know about the big and little things that set an EarthCraft home apart from normal houses. What I found most interesting is that EarthCraft encompasses the entire design and building process: there are sections on how to clear the land and develop the site all the way to very detailed descriptions and drawings of how to seal around vents and pipes coming into the house.

From what I understand, an EarthCraft specification is fairly flexible - there are specifications for all aspects of the building process, and points are awarded in each category (site plan, clearing, erosion control, insulation, sealing, HVAC systems, and so on) for meeting each specification. A builder has some flexibility in choosing between these guidelines in order to achieve an overall score that makes the finished product an EarthCraft house. I am looking forward to seeing the completed worksheet for our house.

The Virginia EarthCraft House site has other files available on their Resources page on sealing, indoor air quality, etc. There are also worksheets and checklists so you can see the way a builder can combine choices to achieve EarthCraft certification.

Other useful resources I have found are:
  • "Living in the Green", an article about renovation and new construction meeting EarthCraft specifications in Atlanta.
A huge difference between our home and traditional construction is the way the house envelope is treated. Traditional construction has the envelope extending from the first floor to the ceiling of the top floor. Indoor air needs to migrate to the attic, where a venting system removes heat and humidity from this air. In this design two things are critical: being able to insulate the house from the attic space while not unduly restricting the ability for air and especially humidity to pass through to the attic. Then the attic and roof absolutely has to be able to vent this air to the exterior, otherwise mold and mildew will accumulate in that space. There can also be mildew problems in the crawlspace if enough airflow is not built into the design, or even with it as moist outside air contacts the cool underside of the house, or cool air conditioning vents and condenses.

Our house will behave quite differently: the attic and crawl space are part of the house envelope and the heating and cooling is extended into those areas so they do not need exterior venting. They stay about the same temperature as the rest of the house so heat and humidity differentials are greatly reduced, in short, the house is more comfortable.

This building method was greeted with skepticism by builders unwilling to change what have been fairly static construction methods for a hundred years or more. Even now after years of successful houses built using this method I encountered worries ranging from interior air quality and humidity control to the roof shingles melting due to increased heat in the attic.

After all my research I still found myself with many questions, some of which were inspired by the criticisms I noted above about humidity and shingles. Josh Goldschmidt of Church Hill Homes has answered these questions to the best of his ability and I am satisfied that I will be living in a more comfortable as well as more efficient house. And to his credit, Josh was not afraid to say that he didn't know 100% why these things worked so well, but that he has simply experienced the result. Furthermore I have found him truly excited about the whole process; he freely admits he is looking forward to living in Belvedere because it will enable him to do his job better as he will have direct knowledge of what is like to build and live in his own EarthCraft house.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Language of the Birds (a.k.a. Belvedere Pocket Parks)

When I came back from Africa for good, fifteen years ago (long story), people asked me, What is the most exotic country you have ever been to? I answered, This one. Truly, the United States is one of the most impressive countries when it comes to natural beauty. We came back in late winter and I was wowed by the snow and icicles. Then, spring came. I was blown away by the flowers and the trees, even though I hadn't been away from this country for long (on and off for 10 years). What an incredible place this is. And then there are the birds. Back then, I could not believe the beauty, grace, abundance, and colors of the birds of North America, and I felt special that I could see them every day. And I still feel that way.

As a naturalist, I say that birds are a girl's best friend. I completely rely on them in the forest to tell me what is going on. When I was trained in nature awareness, my teacher, Jon Young (, taught me that there are five different calls that are important when paying attention to the birds. Each call has a different meaning, and there are different behaviors to observe as well. Birds will tell prey that a predator is approaching. Birds will tell me if a crazy person is in the forest. Jon has amazing stories about what birds can communicate.

In Vermont, I had a small group of chickadees adopt me. Sometimes when I went into the forest, they came along, and I could hear them saying, Here she comes, she's going into the forest, the one who feeds us, the one who lives in the yard! It was often quite sweet. There have been times when I have been soundly scolded by chickadees, too. For those who have been scolded by chickadees, you don't forget.

I first heard about Belvedere through my realtor, Jim Duncan. He listened to what was important to us and then said, consider Belvedere. I read the website, thought about it, and called up Stonehaus saying I want to be a homeowner and a businessowner. I am researcher, a scientist and a healing arts practitioner working with children in nature ( I said, if you are designing all these pocket parks as a part of your neighborhood, then you might want to consider the research on children and nature. I directed them to the powerpoint presentation under Resources on my website, but the good research can be found at the Children in Nature Network.

It was clear from our early communication that Stonehaus had a big commitment to providing a good natural environment for the residents of Belvedere. I was able to give the organization a complete presentation on the research of children and nature, including recommendations on how children use the land. Landscape architects involved in the project attended. On the way out of that presentation, I heard chants of "Jim Duncan." Yes, he matched us up.

I am hoping that other residents of Belvedere will help in the design of the pocket parks, making them friendly spots for the birds. I can see Blue Bird houses and park designs for other birds down by the Storm Water Park, and plants that encourage butterflies in other parks. Early designs for the Village Green and nature trails reveal the intentions of Stonehaus to make good on their claims to get children off the couch and into nature, harkoning back to days of old when children played outside all the time. And then the birds will know us, and tell our stories.

So, I say, Stay True Stonehaus.

Getting Outside Help

As we see the house exterior coming to completion I am grateful for a decision we made some time back to hire a builder friend of ours to look over the "stock" design and specifications and make suggestions and recommendations. As competent and friendly as I have found the people at Church Hill Homes, I think this is an area where any new home buyers can ensure that they are a participant in the process, rather than being a passive consumer.

In our case our builder helped us with our design, as well as our understanding exactly what we would be getting in the package. Design changes he suggested were:
  • Extending the front porch the full width of the house, rather then the 2/3 width in the stock design.
  • Substituting the casement windows on the second story front with double-hung windows to match the top and first floor windows. I'll post a photo when the windows are actually in.
He also looked over the specifications and was able to reassure us that Church Hill was building a quality home, from the materials, to the insulation package, to the heating/cooling system. We did not follow all his recommendations, but decided which issues were most important and discussed and negotiated with the Church Hill folks on pricing and implementing those changes. The whole process made us more informed buyers, and was well worth the money we spent (and the additional costs of his changes).

As our friend put it, "you will be coming home to this house for a long time and you want to be really happy with how it looks to you, especially the front." He is also fond of asking this question: "In ten (or twenty) years, how much will the additional cost of doing what you really want seem - while you will have enjoyed the benefit of your decision the entire time."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Spring, Dens and the Zone

"Kate, Kate! A deeeeeennnnn!"

That is the call I hear almost all afternoon. The boys are looking into every hole and crevice and proclaiming them to be dens. Even small holes in the meadow are "field mouse dens." They are disappointed if I don't look at every one and engage them in the art of seeing. I ask them questions around most of them but I am pushing the boys toward the Magic Zone and I had a spot I wanted to explore on the way. This is not good nature awareness etiquette; one must not have an agenda while out in the forest. We (those of us trained in nature awareness facilitation) seek to create a feeling of timelessness. But, I know just how much time I have out there, and having been at the edge of the Zone last week, I wanted to go there again, AND explore the creek beds.

Having been rewarded by my experience at RiverRun with the many spring flowers and skunk cabbage, I want to see if the same species grew here in Belvedere. They don't. Not many flowers are growing now along the creek bed, and the water source is part of the water for the Belvedere House (an original structure in Belvedere), so Pam tells us to be careful. We quickly walk down the creek and into the flood plain. Standing in the creek bed there, the boys begin to spin stories about how this place was a hideout during the World Wars. They want to play and I should stay and be with them but I urge them on.

We walk along the floodplain, occasionally going to the side of the Rivanna River to explore. I am looking for owl pellets. The kids find more dens and scat. Nick is particularly good at this and I am in awe of what he sees. This guy has tracker potential, and when he walks into an area where a red fox has been and correctly identifies the smell of fox urine, I know for sure he has a gift. He is a quick study. I only showed him that once before. Along the way, the boys name different land marks. Kids do this naturally and I will use the way they see to make a map in the end. The HideOut Tree, The Place With The Old Car, The House Tree, The Bomb Shelter. And on and on. It is a technique called Songlines.

The boys discover something that looks like intestines in a puddle. Those are eggs, I explain, toad eggs. And the pull them out to look at them. Awesome. (For a good explanation of the different kind of frog and salamander eggs see I especially like Robyn's questions to answer about eggs at the end of the page.

Finally, we are at the Zone, and just two steps in we are rewarded with fresh beaver sign. The area is covered with blooming Spring Beauties which give the area a kind of ethereal glow. What makes this area different than the rest of Belvedere? It gives it additional magical weight. We turn left down the creek. The boys start harvesting what they call "magic sticks" (just so you know, they don't know I call this place the Magic Zone) when we stumble across an old skeleton of a small deer without the skull. The boys are in awe and begin to paw through the white bones, identifying the parts. Look, says Nick, I can put this one on the end of my stick! He has a small vertebrae.

"This place is Treasuretopia," my son says. I smile. Yes, it IS, and I need to get the boys back to the car. We are out of time. I hate that. We have a long way to go, and as we walk back, deer scatter through the woods around us. Next week is spring break for the kids, so I want to come back and spend more time. I will be Zoneward Bound.

Why Belvedere (Bret's Thoughts)

Taking a break from obsessing about our house, I thought I would add my piece on why I am looking forward to living in a community like Belvedere. It certainly seems implausible that someone who moved to Vermont just five years ago in an effort to find wilderness and independence is now moving into a neighborhood with small yards and neighbors close by.

Like Kate I am passionate about nature and the outdoors. I have studied survival and nature awareness and have served on the board of directors of a wilderness school. Like many who rediscover the beauty and power of the natural world I really felt a need to "get away" from the city and suburbs and be able to live with nature around me, with land around the house to wonder in. That was a large part of moving my family to Vermont. And that is still a fine thing to be able to experience.

But what I came to realize, slowly, grudgingly, was that as much as I felt it was "right" for me, it was not the best thing for my family. In Vermont, even though we lived close to town, we still had no close neighbors with children for ours to play with. So we were constantly arranging play dates - which might involve a 20 minute drive to and from the other house - repeated again for pick-up.

The sheer physical distance also affected my relations with friends who I had hoped would be a close community when we moved there. Instead, with most of us busy with work and children and geographically far apart we had to settle for a more remote community where we would gather for occasions, but we lacked the close-knit support network that would have made a huge difference in all our lives.

Furthermore, when I really faced up to it, I realized that I was not completely healthy in that environment. I work from the house, and the isolation plays into my solitary nature, leaving me a bit lonely for ... well, neighbors. And as much as I loved that land, the people, and even the winters, a part of me simply missed the mid-Atlantic forest I grew up in. And most of all I missed being close to my (and Kate's) family.

So when we decided to move to Charlottesville we faced the choice that I believe many have: to live in a neighborhood close to or in the city, or to take advantage of the beautiful land in the surrounding counties and to some extent, re-create our Vermont experience. As they say, it was no contest. Every time I felt drawn to the countryside I found myself thinking of more driving to and from play dates and other children's activities. And I would find myself looking forward to the first time my son could just "go over to a neighbor's house to play". (That has happened here already in River Run, by the way - hallelujah!)

Living in Belvedere will mean compromises in how I choose to live. I do not have the same level of trust that Kate has that everything will come together as planned. But as I told another Belvedere prospect a few days ago, I view the community as a place where the easel and paints have been laid out but it is up to us to really paint the picture. From what I have seen, heard and read, Stonehaus is doing a huge amount of work in designing and creating the structure and nature of a successful community. To fill out that community, to give it life, vibrancy and fullness is the task we home buyers face.

Yet to some extent, the very choice of living here will involve every resident to some extent in the experience of the Belvedere community, because of the way it is designed. I believe this is one of the main things that sets Belvedere apart from the the co-housing communities that are also gaining popularity - and is actually one of the things that I like. People will be free to contribute to the extent that they like, given their time, interests and personal nature, and that is just fine.

I am ready to help Kate in any way I can in settling our family here and in helping build the kind of community that is satisfying for us. I will still have nature close by - the oaks, sycamores and tulip poplars I love. I have red clay to track in. I look forward to Saturday rides from C'ville Bike and Tri. And I get to do it all while living in a beautiful, energy-efficient house that I have helped make special.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Latest Photos

We stopped by the site yesterday evening and I was able to walk inside the first floor and finally see the results of our design process. (I might add here that it is extremely useful to live or rent fairly close to where a new house is being built. In our case we deliberately chose a rental close to the Belvedere site and in the same school district - although school districts can and do shift from time to time).

We can see the full-width front porch and the nice overall symmetry of the Millmont design.

Here's the interior (stitched together from 2 shots, so the sun on the floor and some other angles are a bit odd). I'm standing pretty much at the far corner of the kitchen. In front of me will be the counter; to the right is the office and the six windows in the midde background pretty much form the southwest corner of the house. The light is delightful, the openness is delightful, and (whew) the relative sizes of the spaces look fine. We can't wait to be able to go upstairs.

Why Belvedere

I notice that the press wants to talk about the "green" homes in Belvedere. Everywhere there are articles about "green construction," and "eco-friendly building." Everything is going "green." The chatter seems to be about the house. But a home is more than a house, as realtor Jim Duncan has said in his outstanding blog on local real estate. And Belvedere is about more than the Earthcraft home. It is the vision of Stonehaus that keeps me in the project. As you may have gathered, I like being outside. Heck,I could probably live out there and make a shelter out of sticks and leaves and be okay, so I find all the chatter about the houses to be enough already. Let's talk about a few other things.

If I understand it correctly, Belvedere is about community, it is about people, children, nature, healthy living. There is a sound philosophy of Health and Connection to the community design: greenspaces designed to encourage children's play, trails to run and walk on, an organic garden for vegetables and delivery of other specialties, and even this soccer facility. Part of the Belvedere ethos and core values is the inclusion of the non-human world as part of the community. That really caught my eye. I have never heard of a development firm purporting to design a place for humans and plants and animals, too.

When we went and stood on our lot for the first time, Josh Goldschmidt of Churchill Homes said,you have got to like people if you are going to live here. Stonehaus and Churchill have been very excited about the sidewalks and front porches, places where people can sit and connect, "cool spaces" as they are called. They wanted parking on the street so people could connect there, too, and common green places to gather, including the Civic Core. Their design follows what is our inherent plan: humans are hardwired to connect to each other We are also hardwired to connect to nature. Belvedere is more than a home, it is a pattern of health and connection and living like this is our birthright.

My work on the land is about teaching how to connect to nature through pattern recognition, and I do that in many ways, through play, adventure, story song. I am also health practitioner trained to help heal the overwhelmed nervous system and help human beings connect to their own innate and inherent health. In the craniosacral tradition, it is called "the health in the system." Is is powerful and subtle, and I can feel it with my hands.

For me, Belvedere is about that larger pattern that is macrocosm of the inner pattern, what is balanced and right. I just attended a seminar last night about Strong Families and Communities at my son's school. We are living more isolated and disconnected than ever, and faster than ever, too. It is my hope that people moving into Belvedere will embrace the importance of building community, for each other and especially for the children. But, even if they don't, they can sit on their front porch, in their "cool space" and enjoy the view. I like that about Belvedere, too. It is completely voluntary, there is no obligation to participate. You don't have even wave at people if you don't want to, but you will still be a part of the pattern.

It's Wednesday. I am goin' tracking. See ya out there!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Green Hour

Yesterday after dinner, I insisted that we (myself and the children) go outside for The Green Hour (, even though it was misting and wet outside. I just had to get out and Bret was away on a business trip. The Green Hour says that every family should get outside in nature for at least an hour a day, citing evidence that being in nature is on the decline. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America says so ( Heck, National Public Radio says so so you know it must be true (

This evening we are very rewarded for our effort. We slip out the back of the townhouse at RiverRun we are renting and down the hill to the creek. A herd of deer is just ahead of us, stopping to stare before sending up their white flag tails and bounding away. They accompany us on our short walk always just yards ahead of us. A HUGE Eastern cottontail speeds away from us like a silver bullet. My goodness that thing was the size of a small dog. Skunk cabbage is starting to come up next to the creek and the forest floor is alive with Dutchman's Breeches and Trout Lilly. The Spice Bush is still blooming and the creek is up from the rain. The deer bound ahead of us, and my son bounds after them before experimenting with hiding next to trees, and inside parts of them. He is wearing gray camouflage, so his hiding is good. We turn a corner and a huge deer is standing there, not 10 feet away. I swear my shoulder is as high as hers. A smaller deer joins her and they bound into forest toward Meadowcreek Golf Course. We stand in the rain and watch about ten deer browse and cavort on the course about 1oo yards away.

What a great way to end the day. Nature. You gotta love it.