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

Last week's "Red Dirt Alert" in 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."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Patterns, Eology, and the Garden

We are poring over the books that our permaculture gardener, Terry Lilley has loaned us: Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, The Integral Urban House by Helgo Olkowski, et. al. and of course, The Edible Forest, (2 vols.) by Dave Jacke. The design process is fun, and also, serious. Dave Jacke has written hundreds and hundreds of pages. Wow! Bret and I want to make the garden useful and right. Then, I read the chapter in Jacke's 2nd volume on A Forest Garden Pattern Language and I remember the first time I met with Stonehaus to discuss our involvement.

We sat at a series of tables put together in a horseshoe shape around a screen on a wall. I was fairly concerned that the developers were going to do what they proposed, this green development that included nature, and one that included community and health, especially of children. Bret and I came from an experiment of community building in Vermont around the notion of sustainability and community, nature and cultural health. It was a community particularly devoted to the future generations. It wasn't the best experience. So, I was very pointy with the staff.

There was this young guy there, a member of the development staff, who asked me some pretty interesting questions. Most people aren't that curious about what I do for a living, but this guy had some experience with my profession, and also had some interesting ideas. He said to me: Are you familiar with Christopher Alexander? No, I said. He wrote a book called A Pattern Language, he said. This philosophy influenced Belvedere's design. Well, I went and read that book so I would understand what he meant. Originally written in the 1970's, Christopher Alexander and his friends observed and analyzed development of home and community in many cultures and came up with a list of elements that he called patterns that could be used to create great places to live. This huge list could be considered building archetypes. Alexander examined what worked and what didn't work based on these patterns.

Dave Jacke writes about the same thing, only with regard to the garden. His patterns come up with ecologically sound and functional ways to plant, grow and enjoy a sustainable garden. Best patterns generate a sense of aliveness, he says, and patterns solve problems. I am particularly struck by three points that I think can be applied to anything. When designing, Jacke advises:

1. If you find yourself in a garden or other place that "works," (feels good), define the physical features of the place worth abstracting. What makes it so special? What is the essence that makes the place work so well?

2. Define the problem the pattern solves or the field of forces this pattern resolves.

3. Define the contexts where this problem or field of forces exists, and where this problem might therefore be useful.

This little bit has given me immense food for thought. I work to help resolve patterns that don't serve people. I start with the prenatal period. I work with couples who are expecting first, then assist in the birthing process, and catch the family on the otherside, educating, resolving, supporting, encouraging health in the system of the family. That is what I do for a living. I think Belvedere is a pattern that can help resolve the real estate development problems of our time, and apparently there are others out there who think the same thing (Reid Ewing). I want my garden to reflect this health in the system, what is possible, and what is alive. It all feels right to me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shift Happens

Sunday's Daily Progress published an article about how development needs to shift toward mixed use neighborhoods: Author: Huge shift in development needs to happen

"Communities in the Charlottesville region and elsewhere, (Reid Ewing) said, ought to have housing, schools, workplaces, shops and recreational opportunities all within walking or bicycling distance. Smart planning, he said, can cut the amount that residents drive by up to 40 percent." This is exactly what Belvedere is about, adding nature and wellness into the package. Right on!

Okay. In the field of craniosacral theray, we have a saying: "shift happens." Only in most cases, the shift needs a fulcrum to allow the change. Fulcrum: "
a: the support about which a lever turns b: one that supplies capability for action" from Webster's Dictionary. Belvedere design and concept provided by the team at Stonehaus development is the fulcrum in this case, and successful projects like Belvedere will provide fulcrum for the field of real estate development to shift.

I have many friends who live at the grass roots in straw bale homes and/or other sustainibility concepts. They don't necessarily see Belvedere as sustainable because of the price of the homes. But I say, we have to start somewhere. This mix use neighborhood is the beginning of a new and necessary way of living, according to Reid Ewing. Things will shift even more in our lifetime. And when people complain, I say, I have faith in the human world to apply their adaptability and creativity to overcome, and invite others to consider what is possible instead of criticizing and complaining.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Landscaping and Tall Grasses

I was coming out of Belvedere the other day when there was some moderate gusty wind. The grasses are getting long on the berms next to the road and I stopped for a few minutes and enjoyed the visual play of the movement that was created. I recall one of our first meetings with Stonehaus when they described the landscaping they intended to do in the public areas like the entrance. They talked about having longer grasses and native species rather than the typical sod/short-cropped grass.

We were told this would not only require less watering and mowing, but an important aspect was also the visual play and movement that would be created as the wind rustled the grasses...

It works, beautifully. Like watching the facets of EarthCraft certified construction as the house is being built it is one thing to hear talk about sustainable and beautiful landscaping, and another thing to see it in action.

What's Most Important

In case you forget what is most important, this came in from Jim Duncan (who runs the blog

Raising Eco-Minded Children

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Green Landscape

Fig Trees!

She said fig trees.

I am sitting with my gardener, or maybe she should be called a Green Landscaper. I had just drawn out our plot with house and land on a piece of paper, and then marked the sun exposures. She said that fig trees would do very well there. Wow, that idea takes me back to when I was traveling in France and tasted my first fresh fig. Omygosh, the possibilities.

Terry Lilley is a permaculture expert, having received her certificate in 2007. Her work and life was featured in Abode in July 2007: "The house on green street - One Charlottesville couple goes green, ground-up".

I want an edible garden and together we are designing it. She starts by saying to me: Choose a fruit tree and then we can support that tree with different guilds of plants. She asks a lot of questions about what is allowed at Belvedere:

Can you compost?
Can you have rain barrels?

I pass those questions on to Stonehaus. There are some rules in Belvedere. We need an "edge." It can be green, they tell me. Terry says, you can have blueberry bushes, and I see a long line of bushes and many dollar signs. Yes, she says, think of your budget. Uh oh.

You can grow up, she says to me, pointing to trellises on her land for flowers and vegetables. You don't need a lot of land to grow in a sustainable way.

The first thing, she says, is to make the soil healthy by adding compost, lots of it. That means huge piles of manure. Oh boy. Okay.

We are meeting with landscape designers at Stonehaus on Tuesday.

The Feeling of Home

When I arrived in Charlottesville, I felt I was home. I grew up here and the Blue Ridge has always represented home to me. Now, three months later, I am realizing more about the felt sense of home. I am a somatic specialist trained to track sensations in myself and others. I am aware now that it takes time to "feel" at home. There is the sense of being in a place that registers in my bones. I become more aware of my own structure as I relate to those structures around me.

Watching our new home take shape before my eyes is an experience I have never had, not from scratch, much less a whole community of trees, plants, people, houses, businesses. I have built additions and renovated old spaces. There is a wonderment about it. I want that feeling of being at home, the familiarity of my own space and the ache that comes with not being there. If this ache had a sound it would be a creaky door or step. Out on the land, I feel held and received. There is this pressure on my back that feels comforting and an openness to the front that says I am supported there. Yet, I crave the rhythm and the flow of knowing and being in a place, of being able to greet the same trees and the same people everyday, and the familiarity of my own territory.

When I decided to move to Virginia, another tracker said something like this to me: "Get used to where you are on the landscape (meaning, find yourself a home), and remember that sometimes it will be shady and sometimes it will be sunny. You can move into the sun and then chase the sunny spots as the sun moves over the land, or you can just get used to the shady spots and remember that no matter where you go, sometimes it will be sunny and sometimes it will be shady." Meaning: Sometimes life is good and sometimes life is not so good. Get used to it.

He was right, and Vermont was not where I wanted to be. Here, now, I know this is right. I travel a lot in my work, going in and out of communities in lots of neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. and other cities. I know this design and concept is right for me. I feel it in my bones, a firm but elastic supportive structure. I can't wait to move in.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Red Fox Tracks at Belvedere

There is something wonderful about the red clay behind the homesites. It is like a slate that is constantly refreshed, and on it is drawn the record of the wildlife that lives near us. There are always deer tracks, but it is exciting to find nice fox tracks. Here is a photo showing the distinctive chevron the heel pad of the foot makes, one of the things that can help identify it as a fox track and not just some small dog. The fox is moving right to left, although the toes are not as clear as the heel.

Here's a visual aid to see what I am talking about when I mean toe pads and "chevron":

Here is another close up of a track going the same direction. The clay here is a bit harder and only the toe pads and the chevron show up clearly. The claws are not showing in these pictures, although they are commonly visible; that is a good way to be sure that these delicate tracks were not made by a fox and not a member of the cat family.

Clicking on most of the images will bring up a larger version in a new window or tab. That may make it easier to see the things I am talking about.

Our son has done a Science Fair project on tracks; he made plaster casts of deer, raccoon and fox prints. We're thrilled he enjoys this also.

Photo Progress Update

Here's a change I mentioned earlier - the dormers originally went to the peak of the roof:

They have been redone so they come into the roof a little lower. It is a small change overall, but I think results in a much improved look:

Nice to see the house with the windows. The garage is going up now, and the ductwork and electricity is being run, as well as the Modern Home Systems "future-proof" data and entertainment wiring.

I stopped by on the first (rainy) weekend of the EarthCraft home tour and saw the insulation going into the model homes. The first photo is of an exterior wall, with the recycled newspaper insulation. Jamie Spence of Church Hill Homes explained that it is sort of "poured" in wet into the wall openings, with a form held against the studs and moved up as the insulation dries. The foam at the top prevents heat loss through the area of the ends of the joists, where it is difficult to apply conventional insulation. There is also foam (not seen here) applied where the exterior wallboard meets to prevent air and heat loss there.

There is also foam applied around where pipes come through the walls and ceiling...

...and even where wires come through also.

There is foam or caulk at all the window and door openings, and even between studs on the exterior wall. I was impressed.
Here's a look at the crawlspace, where the rigid insulation is foam sealed at the joints as well:

It is one thing to read about the EarthCraft specification and another to see it as it is actually applied.

Charlottesville Tomorrow

As a soon-to-be Belvedere resident I am trying to keep up with county developments that will affect the project. I am interested in news about: the Meadowcreek Parkway (bike paths, PLEASE!), the SOCA soccer facililty at Belvedere, recycling, water supply, and so on.

I can't imagine a better place to have a permanent link to (or subscription to the RSS feed) than the Charlottesville Tommorow News site and main blog. Current articles cover all the above topics:

Meadowcreek Parkway interchange issues and utility relocation.

SOCA field approvals and recommendations from the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.

County-city collaboration on recycling

Well, you get the idea. The sheer amount of time and effort that is put into this site is phenomenal, and it is a great opportunity to inform yourself as things are being discussed. It is information you really don't usually get until some project or decision is completed and then it makes the news.