read it and keep: altered book contest, massanutten regional library.

altered book voteHaving been teaching and studying literature, and reading and writing for a long time, I’ve amassed a small library of books. They’re everywhere… all over the house. I haven’t quite made the leap to the e-reader yet, partially because I remember The Great CD Conversion of 1988 during which I spent a small fortune (for a 16 year old) replacing all my music cassettes. The thought of replacing just a tiny percentage of my book collection (say, the Joyce Carol Oates part, for example) is just too much to absorb. Plus, books are just prettier than an e-reader. I love how they look piled in a stack. I love moving them from the “To Read” stack to the “Finished” shelf. And some of their covers are nothing short of exquisite. In many cases, commissioned artists design those covers. And so a real paper and cardboard book is a work of art, through and through.

It’s sad to think of a book in a dumpster. In the landfill. But to hoard every book I’ve ever owned to prevent it from ending up in the trash is… well… hoarding. The neat freak in me can’t do that.

Much to my relief, my inner neat freak and my inner art lover reconciled once and for all when Brandy and I attended Massanutten Regional Library’s Altered Books Contest and Gallery last Friday. The practice of altering gives old, perhaps worn out books — books on the very brink of disposal — a new life and purpose. Their tattered pages no longer have endure the flips and tugs of careless readers; that pressure is gone. All an altered book has to do anymore is sit somewhere and look awesome, interesting, beautiful. The newly rendered “book” even gets a new name, as I noticed at the library’s display. Truly, a rebirth.

altered book balloonsSo we browsed the altered books, submitted for competition by adults (ages 18 and older) and youngsters (ages 12 – 17). We saw the piece created by last year’s contest winner, Diane Landis, entitled In a Dark, Dark House — she’d used several discarded books to create a majestic castle. Some were quite useful… like Carol K. Smith’s Hooked on Books. She turned books into a coat rack with a frame. Some were really large, like From Tree to Book to Tree Again — a big tree sculpture made by several artists out of pages of books.

altered book tree loomNancy Dauer built this huge loom thing out of torn up and disassembled books (From Words to Yarns — ha ha!). And Ben Fraits somehow glued the pages of his books together so they became completely solid, then carved them like a block of wood.

altered book fyodor altered book castleAnna Thornbury and Andrew Shantz cleverly constructed literal interpretations of their books. For example, a wooden stake pierced the cover of the book Dracula; the book Titanic appeared to be split in half by an iceberg; Joan of Arc was partially charred. They called this collection A Novel Death.

altered book stakeThe kids’ entries were even more impressive. Explosion featured origami exploding from the center of a school textbook. For Bird’s Eye View, Chantel Pence made a diorama out of a book. And in Alice is Stuck in Wonderland, a barbie doll Alice protrudes — stuck, indeed — from the center of the book.

altered book alice fans altered book foldsbwAll this awesomely creative art work simply is not something you can do with your Kindle. Sorry. Soon the library will announce winners in both categories — adult and youth — the winning “books” will be on display April 14 – 19. Can’t wait to find out how this story ends! And stay tuned for more photos this week!

altered book hostsCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

rear view: pickups: a valley love story, at spitzer art center.

burgIMG_3615When I arrived at Spitzer Art Center last Friday, I parked near an interesting-looking pickup truck. An old, classic Chevy — teal, or maybe sea foam green. Its hood was open, and when I peered underneath, I saw a bottle of Crown Royal somehow rigged to the engine.

burgIMG_3623I thought, “This is gonna be a fun art exhibit.” Yes, you’d expect an art exhibit on First Friday at Spitzer Art Center, but this one sorta changed my expectation of art itself. This was art about art. It was, like, meta art or something. A new level.

On this Friday, you could view photographs from Howard Zehr’s new book Pickups: A Valley Love Story. The photos show pickup trucks with their proud owners. And not only are Mr. Zehr’s photographs beautiful, but the trucks themselves stand as gorgeous, gleaming sculptures of time and memory and grit and spirit.

burgIMG_3599 burgIMG_3587Mr. Zehr spent numberless hours interviewing truck owners, hearing their stories… of how they came to own their trucks, of harrowing and hilarious experiences with their trucks… of why their trucks mean so much to them, then published it all in his book. And so that sunny evening, the walls of Spitzer shone with images of much-loved trucks and the words of their adoring owners.

burgIMG_3609bw burgIMG_3583bwSome owners, like Lois Brown, appreciate practicality in a vehicle: “It’s not what I call pretty, but it sure is comfortable,” she says of her brown and beige Ford. Actually, I saw several of those two-tone trucks that night. I probably never noticed before, but they are pretty. I saw photos of trucks for hunting and hauling and just rolling over stuff. Even for selling coffee, like Tom Hayman of Grains of Sense. Some owners use their trucks as other vehicles, like Josh Bacon: “The kids like to pretend it’s a boat and fish off the back.” A practical solution for imaginative youngsters. And Corey Oomps — he loves his truck because “I like horsepower.” Fair enough.

Yes, trucks have lots of practical uses, but some owners even feel like their trucks make them better people. Like Matthew “Goosey” Dolemar, who says, “Without the truck, I’d probably just be mean!” And Shannon Pollock has realized that “each thing that’s wrong with it means it’s something else I get to learn.” A kinder, smarter nation… one truck at a time.

burgIMG_3596Some owners love their trucks for purely sentimental reasons. Richard Randolph’s truck is “a real joy, that it can be as old as it is and still be useful.” And some keep their trucks as a reminder of days long gone, like Bill Goldberg: “It’s one of the last links to my long hair, Grateful Dead, hippie days.”

However, the most touching element that seemed to pervade the entire exhibit was devotion. Everyone’s got that one true truck love. According to Eric Beck, any new truck is just a “rebound” truck — acquired to ease the pain of losing a former truck love. You can literally see the commitment people have for their trucks, some with mismatched parts… evidence of owners desperate to repair and preserve their trucks, whatever it takes. No matter what kind of patchwork quilt it ends up looking like, that truck you fell in love with is still in there, dang it. Nancy Slye possibly relocated here from New York just to use her truck more: “Running around in a pickup in New York — that was not a cool thing to do.” You know it’s serious when you actually move to another state for the one you love.

burgIMG_3570You can see the exhibit all month at Spitzer Art Center on 33 West just a block or two from downtown. Of course, you don’t get to see all of Mr. Zehr’s photos or read any of his stories (including the one about that Crown Royal truck!) unless you get the book itself. You can find it at Barnes and Noble, or from the publisher, or you can get a signed copy through his web site.

In our next post, we’ll tell you, and show you, a little more about Spitzer Art Center and our visit there. And, of course, several more megabytes of photos. Stay tuned!

burgIMG_3683Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

local man “never played baseball.”

Being the youngest child in a family has its ups and downs. On the one hand, the baby of the family gets cuddled a little more, excused a little farther, and pushed a little more gently. No one wants to see the baby grow up and move out, so he/she is encouraged to remain childlike and youthful. To the baby, this is fun! (I should know — I’m the baby in my family.) On the other hand, being the youngest is lonely. The baby gets dragged around to older siblings’ activities, is told, “Aw, honey, you’re too young,” and learns to occupy him- or herself at such uninteresting events. Then the siblings grow up and move out, leaving the baby alone in the nest. The youngest can be an outsider, but also… independent and resourceful.

This is what I thought when I saw the cover and read the preface of Chris Howdyshell’s new book (yes, you read that right) I Never Played Baseball. He goes on to discuss aging, ultimately explaining the reason people get grumpier with time is because our bodies slow down while life maintains its speed. In fact, he almost named the book Old People Are Pissed, but perhaps it wouldn’t have matched the photo on the cover, of his son watching a baseball game. Maybe he didn’t have a picture of pissed off old people at the time. And I guess baseball is more timely for spring, wouldn’t you agree?

book on phoneThe book is roughly divided into sections. If it had a table of contents, it would read something like this:


A Series of Positive Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pages 1 – 27
Jokes I Wrote . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 29
<untitled section> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pages 31 – 50
The Last Point . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 51

And over the course of its fifty-couple pages, it goes way farther than baseball or childhood memories. Common themes include age, disillusionment, technology, love, war, God (I think), human interaction, and Elton John.

I must mention a few notable parts, like the part about Tuggs the bastard child of Lilly McCoy, raised by bears. “Jibber Jabber,” which reads either like a dream or like a situation involving too much Theraflu, contains Ralph Sampson, newspaper-eating creatures, Julia Child, a witch, leprechauns, ogres, unicorns, and a VW bus. All at Reddish Knob. And “What It’s All About” — a really sweet piece about… well, the meaning of life: “It’s about being thankful/it’s about being here.” Presence and gratitude.

Chris and kidsBut I have to say my favorite part is called “Attic,” a frame story-ish piece that starts with how he’s never been in his own attic either because a) there are bees up there, or b) he’s too lazy to get the ladder, and ends with the idea of finding a (small) treasure chest or even a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Sometimes you gotta fight your fear and/or laziness and haul yourself up in that stuffy space!

Things you will come to understand about Chris after reading the book, if you didn’t already know: Chris loves his home (except the attic) and he loves his family. He’s happy where he is, not because it’s “perfect,” but because he sees life as a gift. He hates bees and war, and he loves music and people. And, he never played baseball. Who knew?

You can find Chris’s book here on Lulu. It’s funny, it’s weird, it’s poignant and confusing, sentimental and sad. Download it, read it, and be inspired to share your story/poems/joke/anecdote/lyrics/musings/ramblings/weird dreams!

Howdyshell FamilyCopyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

major artery: larkin arts.

larkin arts ellaRemember when Studio Art Shop was downtown? This was way back when Dave’s Taverna was on Water Street and Main, and Jokers (now the Blue Nile) was the hot spot for local music. Studio Art Shop was located where Oasis Gallery is now… I remember that art store fondly… the smell of paint and canvas, rows of colorful bottles, rainbows of oil pastels, stacks of naked sketch books, jars of never-used brushes with smooth wooden handles, neat paper bags of rabbit skin glue, Gesso, tubs of Gojo. Simply walking in there would inspire even the least artistic of us (like me) to create.

Needing more space, Studio Art Shop expanded to a larger store on Neff Avenue and became the place for art students to purchase supplies each semester. Lamentably, Studio Art Shop closed its doors for good a few years ago.

No doubt Valerie Smith remembers Studio Art Shop, too, and thanks to her, her hubby Scott, Lynda Bostrom, and many other local art supporters, Harrisonburg once again has a full-service art supply store on the Court Square… an apt location in the heart of a city that loves and values art of all kinds.

larkin arts val and scottBut Larkin Arts is not just a source of supplies; it’s also a gallery, a school, and a studio–a place for learning, creating, and displaying art. The store itself carries thousands of products for the new, developing, or veteran artist, and a cozy lounge area where one can sit and sketch or peruse hundreds of art books from their library, all the while listening to albums on the old-school stereo system, from Loggins and Messina to Talking Heads to Fugazi, the Beatles, or even “Latin for Lovers.” :) And, even if you’re not an “artist,” many of their items make lovely, unique gifts for people of all ages and for any occasion, really.

larkin arts1In the space adjacent to the store is the gallery and reception area. Two large, open, bright spaces regularly feature curated, juried, or group exhibitions.

larkin arts denise larkin arts food larkin arts reception2Down the hall to the right are three (three!) classrooms hosting a variety of classes. Every Monday from 6:30 to 8:30pm the public is welcome to attend live figure drawing. Children ages 4 – 12 can attend classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, weaving, and art history. What a great way to spend dark, chilly afternoons, and when the weather is warm and school’s out, kids can attend week-long art classes — even one taught by our own Brandy Somers! — during the 2013 Youth Summer Art Program.

The left side of the hallway houses local artists’ studios. Large, bright, open rooms with closets and plenty of space to haul out your supplies and make a big ole mess.

In the last couple of months, Brandy and I have visited Larkin Arts a number of times. Back in December, we did some Christmas shopping there. More recently, we’ve gone to visit the gallery. Nathan Shearer’s simply framed photographs of LEGOs blew me away. One, I love LEGOs — I even have a LEGO room in my house. Two, the scenes he depicts in the photos are both realistic and imaginative. Three, his attention to detail, posing little LEGO figures in front of less playful backgrounds, getting the scale just right so that the photo is as believable as a portrait. And four, the colors! I wish I could have bought every one of them and hung them all together on a single wall in my house. You couldn’t be unhappy in that space. To see more of Nathan’s photos, please check out Katie Schmidt’s photos, here.

larkin arts nathan s nathan shearer bwThe other exhibit we attended was that of Jade Webber, an artist currently studying at JMU after completing a degree in Fine Art at New Mexico State University. Her large, heavily textured paintings depict the natural world, which is, as she describes it, a blend of “the metaphysical, the supernatural, and the ineffable.” Her work particularly reflects a love of animals, who “remind us that we, too, are animals. We are subject to forces beyond our control.” In this way she underscores how natural art is to the human experience: it springs organically from the artist herself; tools of wood and hair and metal push around hues of the outside world we see every day, resulting in a connection between artist and viewer that is not forced, but… ineffably genuine. You can see Jade’s work at Larkin Arts through the end of February.

jade webber notes jade webber 7 jade webber 5 jade webber 1The kids were with us, of course, and what would an ilovemyburg post be without the antics of children? Let’s see. Bree dropped her cupcake on the floor, icing side down (major tragedy). A couple of the Judy Chops were there to perform (because, let’s face it — all of ’em would have caused a sonic boom-ish catastrophe knocking the artwork right off the walls), and so lots of giggly, dizzying dancing ensued. Scott whipped out some brown Model Magic for the kids to “play with.”

larkin arts cupcake larkin arts blake ella judy chops 3 larkin arts brownAnd Cal left a note on Brandy’s car that said, “Your butt looks really good.” She laughed and acted like it was silly, but I bet she taped that thing to her bathroom mirror. Ha ha!! After she previewed this post, she clarified that it is NOT on her bathroom mirror. It’s on her fridge. :)

Congratulations to Valerie and Scott for opening this Harrisonburg gem. We hope you will visit soon and see why it’s so, so special. It’s yet another reason we love our burg.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

city noise no. 6: massanutten regional library with jmu steel drum band.

“You don’t look like hell.” Those were Brandy’s words to me when we met at the library on a recent Saturday. Ha.

That’s okay—it’s compliment enough for me. I’ll take it. Then she made me search her bangs for the one strand of hair that had flopped over her part. I couldn’t find it. I didn’t have my glasses.

On this day, we were at the Massanutten Regional Library to (check out forty pounds of books and) see the James Madison University Steel Drum Band perform. The event was organized by MRL’s Clare Eakin, who serves as the Youth Services Coordinator and has an awesome haircut. Brandy and I took the kids (this time we both had our kids with us) into the meeting room and sat in some chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. The kids plopped on the floor, and as other kids arrived, they started making cute conversation, such as “What are your guys’s names?” “I like your shirt,” and “Smell my hand.”

The JMU Steel Drum Band, comprised of six female and four male students, is led by Michael Overman, who before starting the concert, gave the kids some steel drum history. He asked the group, “Where do steel drums come from?” and one kid shouted, “Trash cans!” (Actually, he explained, they are oil barrels.) Alas, he was really asking a geographical question, so he tried again: “Where in the world were steel drums first made?” Another kid answered, “A factory!” Ha! I LOVE that kid. (Really, it’s Trinidad.) Anyway, then he talked about the hammers and pounding and dents required to make the instrument, and he explained that the steel drum is the only instrument which, when you hit it, vibrates as a whole—the entire drum contributes to the sound.

Then he went back further, before the steel drum, and talked about the primitive instruments of an oppressed culture—how they were not allowed to possess instruments, so they made what they could, usually bamboo sticks they’d beat against various surfaces… but that they also used the sticks for “nefarious purposes,” often sharpening the ends of their “instruments” (you have to picture Michael’s air-quotes here), like Roger in Lord of the Flies. It’s all fun and dancing until someone sharpens his bamboo stick….

Anyway, the bamboo sticks evolved into biscuit tins and then, at the end of WWII, oil barrels left behind at the base in Trinidad. Cool, huh?

So they played several numbers. The first was called “Steel Drum Paradise,” and this adorable kid in an orange shirt started breakdancing. I LOVE that kid. The kids kept on wiggling through “Zombie Jamboree”–they must have happy zombies in Trinidad because the tune was NOT scary at all. Next was “Island in the Sun,” which Michael said would sound familiar if we were Harry Belafonte fans. Well, I had to research that, and sure enough, click here.

Everyone loved it when they played “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”–the kids danced, the grown-ups sang…. Brandy asked her daughter, “Would it embarrass you if I got up and started dancing?” Ella shook her head “no,” but inside she was, “HELL, YES.” Brandy refrained. At this point I was longing for flip flops and a drink that’s served in a coconut, and I thought if I ever have another, ahem, “big event” in my life, I’d hire these people so they could play “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” all night.

The fifth number was “Everybody Loves a Saturday Night” (yes), which we all sang once we learned the lyrics, and you know? You have to sing really loudly to hear yourself over those drums.

Between songs, the instructor let the children walk through and touch the drums, except for the one kid who was asleep. Who falls asleep during a steel drum performance? That kid. I LOVE that kid. Anyway, the kids had a chance to play the drums and interact with the musicians, which they loved.

Kudos to Clare Eakin for another great kids’ event at the library (we’ve also attended events involving horses and llamas). Click here to see more about children’s activities at the library. And many thanks to Michael Overman and his steel drum band for their educational performance. You can find a schedule of performances by the JMU percussion ensemble here. Be sure to catch them before the semester ends!

friendly city antics no. 1: granny longlegs

 When I told my kids we were going to Granny Longlegs today, I got mixed reviews. Cal was unusually excited about it—later I realized he thought I’d said “Granddaddy Longlegs,” and he must’ve expected some kind of spider-themed Chuck E. Cheese or something. Bree reserved her enthusiasm, as usual, until she found out Brandy would be there with her camera and this wouldn’t be a typical shopping trip with boring old Mom.

If you haven’t been there in a while, like me, you really should get in there soon. When we walked in, we joined several customers already perusing the sweeping assortment of second-hand goods. While the store (which is an extension of Mercy House, by the way) carries mostly apparel—clothing, shoes, accessories—they also sell books, housewares, and collectibles. I don’t know what it is about pouring over the former belongings of strangers, but it’s… comforting. Every item in the store has history, has a past, has a story—just like people. Everything is vibrant and alive and eager to become part of a new household. Brandy’s shutter clicked like a hundred times, capturing the life of shoes, purses, all of it.

Here are some things we love about the place:

1. It’s so clean! Everything is neatly arranged, there’s room to move about and see what’s being offered, and its organization is logical—which is good for someone like me, who gets overwhelmed quickly at even the idea of shopping.

2. The clothing is arranged by type (shirts, pants, skirts, etc.) and then by color within each category. I like that. Size is not the focus. It’s almost like size is irrelevant—a new experience for most women. Look for the color you’re drawn to, then find your size. Plus, a whole rack of yellow shirts just makes me happy.

3. There’s a book closet. Actually, two. One for hardbacks, one for paperbacks. It sounds nerdy, but what a joy to stand in a four-by-four closet and be surrounded by books. I want that in my house. I’d sit in there all day. Maybe add a mini-fridge and a hot plate… I’d be all set.

4. There’s a PURSE closet. Ohgollyohgollyohgollyohgollyohgollyohgolly. You know, I’m a practical person and I don’t get all crazy about the Dooney & Bourke purses or the COACH bags. I usually approach “purse shopping” from a utilitarian standpoint: does this thing have enough pockets for all my crap. But seeing all those purses, of various ages, styles, and social statuses, lined up on the shelves of three walls literally made me clap. And I might have even squealed except that my excitement was so deafening I’m not sure what I said. At any rate, I bought one. THE BEST ONE.

Those closets made me fantasize about a sledgehammer….

5. In the back of the store is what seems to be a man’s walk-in closet, filled with hats, ties, suits, socks, shoes, and even underpants. Since we felt relatively sheltered from the public, all tucked away back there, we got a little silly. First, hats. Bree picked a Yankees cap, Cal put on a Pittsburgh Penguins cap, Brandy chose a “Father of the Year!” hat, and I wore a Pike’s Peak hat that said, “I like it on top.” Hee hee.

Several group photos later, I thought it would be cute to dress the kids like old men, each in a jacket, tie, hat, and oversized shoes, but it turned into what we later dubbed “Mafia Moments.” Look at the photos—you’ll understand.

All in all, we loved our visit to Granny Longlegs and recommend you go there, too. For $15.00, I got a purse (WITH a matching change purse), an L.L. Bean corduroy skirt (adorbs!), a hat, and two books for the kids. Plus awesome photos, thanks to Brandy (she is AMAZEBALLS), and fun memories to deposit in my heart.

Oh, and in case you were worried, Cal had such a good time that his disappointment about “Granddaddy” Longlegs vanished. By the end of the outing, he’d asked Brandy if she wanted to come over and see his “bat cave.” Wocka wocka. That kid.

In short, Granny Longlegs is yet one more reason why I love my burg. Visit them soon in downtown Harrisonburg, next to Jess’ Quick Lunch.