Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dedicated I

Usually I fill my life with many little projects and tasks that fill my days with a variety of different activities. Occasionally, larger projects take the stage which require longer periods of focussed dedication. A few weeks ago I dedicated several days to my driveway repair. I stayed away from the library computers, posted no blogs and forgot about the rest of the world for a few days. It was just me, the saw, the sledgehammer and concrete learning how to work together. I always enjoy these periodic breaks and I accomplish a lot!

Two weekends ago I dedicated myself to the task of gaining control over my garden… again!!! What a great time – sun, nice breeze, sun, and a little more sun!

I’ve never been in any kind of rush to weed my garden. I usually go through my gardens just twice a year so that the weeds don’t totally take over. The main reason for this is that the weeds are somewhat beneficial. The provide a layer of green close to the ground which keeps the soil moist. Toads and many other animals and insects enjoy this environment. All weeds flower – cuz that’s what all plants do – and this adds to the diversity of the garden, which attracts a greater variety of bees (for pollination), insects, and spiders.

I realize that my weeding is changing this environment, but I’m not weeding simply to get rid of these plants… I’m weeding with another reason in mind. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sooo… after the first four and a half hours of crawling around on my hands and knees, enjoying the sunshine, one quarter of the garden had been weeded. And not just weeded. A part of this area was used for growing potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions and beats – but only the potatoes and carrots were successful. After weeding and harvesting the veggies I used a shovel to turn most of this area over and then I leveled the area using a rake. You can see the garbage pail over-filled with the weeds!!!

In June, I shared an idea that someone had told me, concerning the growing of potatoes. The idea is that when the potato plant grows to seven inches of height that the bottom six inches of the plant is covered with soil. When the plant grows another seven inches, another six inches of soil is placed around the plant and so on. Apparently, this makes the plant produce addition layers of potato spuds. When I was able to attempt this, the plant had already grown to its full height. I was not surprised to find out that I had failed. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to these plants, next year, so I’m able to add the extra layers of soil at the proper time of the plant’s growth.

However, I was still able to pull out a nice amount of these veggies – enough for a couple of meals. Later, when I was heading in for the evening, I rang my landlord’s doorbell. When he opened the door I offered him two carrots and three potatoes, “Your rent, my lord!” I said. My landlord and I both laughed and he was very happy to accept this gift!

This is a closer look at my berry patch, which is home to three red currant bushes and one gooseberry bush. I stole these off-shoots from my parent’s garden, two years ago, and I think that they are growing very well. Last year, they were little sticks poking out of the ground.

It will take several more years until they fill a three foot square space… each plant, that is! That’s a big bush! Until that time, I’ve filled the spaces in between the bushes with some hostas. Next summer, the hostas will triple their present size, offering a low ground cover, which will keep the soil moist and provide housing for several toads. In another three years these hostas should be transplanted elsewhere, as the bushes will be getting very large.

Joanne brought a nice lunch out to the garden and we enjoyed it under the shade of our pear tree. But soon after… it was back to work.

Next on the list – since I wanted a change from the weeding – was cutting wood. This pile was created in the early spring, while I was cutting down misplaced trees and pruning others. These lengths are all very long, so I spent the next two hours cutting them into lengths that would make a better burning fire, come this fall.

I started with the largest of the branches first and as time went on, and my strength weakened, the branches got smaller and smaller.

I’m using the first opened area of the garden to stack the branches into two piles. One pile is for the kindling and the other is for the larger branches. In another week or two these piles will be quite large. I would estimate that there will be enough wood for about four evening fires, this coming fall.

Well, by seven o’clock I was feeling a little bushed. I grabbed a chair and a beer and sat in my garden for the next hour. Simply relaxing and thinking happy thoughts about all I had accomplished and learned on such a beautiful day! Most of my thoughts were planning my activities for the next day…there was still a lot of work to do!!!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Food Fair

Every summer, London’s downtown Victoria Park becomes a very active place for many different cultural events. This park is used to host events like The County Folk Festival, Sunfest, Gusmaker Basketball, and Ribfest to name just a few. In the early part of this summer Joanne and I went down to check out the second annual International Food Festival.

Jo’ and I like living close to the downtown because we get to attend many events in an environmentally friendly way. We ride our bikes or walk.

From our house we get to enjoy a variety of scenes as we make our way into the heart of the city. We ride past many beautiful old Victorian styled houses with colourful flower gardens before we hit the trails of a community park filled with children playing. We wind our way over a small bridge and watch the Thames River flowing underneath. Passed another open park, we emerge in the downtown core where thousands of people are enjoying the shops and patios of a huge variety of restaurants.

Last year, I wrote a story about how London’s community events are becoming ‘green’. Throughout Victoria Park – during these events – waste stations are set up to separate compostable and recyclable waste from landfill waste. During one event a station was set up to allow people to ‘rent’ plates and cutlery to enjoy their food. Once a meal was enjoyed, the plates and cutlery are returned to be washed and reused.

I was very disappointed to arrive at the park to realize that although the waste stations were set up, the plate rental station was not. I later found out that the rental station is only set up for just one of all the events that take place here. I am hopeful that this idea will build more momentum over the years and one day it will be a ‘norm’ in this city and many others.

Soooo… without the ability to rent plates and cutlery, Jo’ and I knew that our food choices would be limited. We know that it is everyone’s individual responsibility to make choices that place the environment above all other things, so we did not purchase any food that was served on styrofoam plates with plastic forks. We noticed that most – well… pretty much all – people didn’t seem to think about the fact that a ten minute meal would create garbage that would last for another thousand years.

We ate a lot of small hand-held appetizers. These were served on small paper containers or just a simple napkin, which were later put into the recycling waste stations. We laughed when we realized that our choices were allowing us to sample so many different varieties of food, instead of just one single meal. We really enjoyed all the varieties of food choices – representing all the differences that our world has to offer.

We made our way to the central bandstand in the park, where we enjoyed our food and all the people. There was a variety of entertaining performances by many local youth organizations and when the stage was being prepared for the next act, Jo’ and I would watch all the activity taking place in the crowd.

We spent a few hours enjoying our dinner and entertainment during this event – it was a sun-filled summer evening. We decided to take our time going home, so we rode our bikes through a few more parks until we noticed that the sun was getting ready to set. We arrived home as the first stars were beginning to appear, with happy bellies still full of wonderful food.

The world offers each of us so much beauty and bounty to enrich our lives. I think that the time is well overdue for us to start making these simple (yet profound) realizations so that we can act accordingly to ensure that future generations have these same opportunities.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Classroom On A Bus????

You can learn something important from everyone you meet. It doesn’t matter if that person is a window washer, mechanic, farmer… or bus driver! I’m hoping that the children that ride my bus walk away with a little bit of knowledge about art – how to use different mediums and instruments to create their art, how to compose a design layout, how to gain knowledge about the subject that you are creating art about and most importantly… how to gain confidence to realize that it is the ‘effort’ and not necessarily the ‘result’ that counts. I’ve never created a peace of art that is perfect – every single creation has had mistakes. It is our effort to express ourselves in positive ways that will enable us all to grow.

Two weeks ago, I asked the students that ride my bus to create ‘peace-art’ for The Peace Bus. Since then, I’ve been totally overwhelmed with their enthusiasm and their marvelously colourful art creations…

I must have sounded like the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon to some of the younger children. I think that what they heard me say must have sounded like, “Whoh whoh whoh whoh decorations whoh whoh whoh whoh art whoh whoh whoh whoh colourful.” Their art did not have any peace symbols… but it sure is colourful and full of peaceful inspiration…

I still have to add the student’s name to the following artworks – before I print them off and prepare them to decorate my bus, but I’ll share the images with you anyway…

It doesn’t bother me that some of the peace symbols are drawn improperly – what counts is the effort of expression that the children are putting forth. The young artists love it when I use their art as a teaching tool. Whenever I hold up one of their drawing I can hear the artist whisper to their friend, “Hey! That’s my drawing!” and I’ll look to see a big smile on their face as they listen intently to what I have to praise about their work.

Instead of holding up a drawing that doesn’t have the correct peace symbol and saying, “Okay – this is how we don’t draw a peace symbol” I will hold up another drawing and say, “Just a small reminder for all you artist to remember that this is the correct way to draw your peace symbols. Let’s also remember to fill the entire drawing area with colour. We don’t want a picture of a peace symbol on a page with nothing else around it – leaving lots of blank space. That’s boring. What’s exciting is seeing a peace symbol surrounded by other things… like other peace symbols, hearts, trees, flowers, birds, planets and stars… that sort of thing.” I’ll see their heads nodding and I’ll know that my twenty second speech communicated to them the same lessons that could take an entire class to learn.

It may have taken me the last three hours to scan their images and add borders and names and to write this blog – on my Saturday off (LOL – never any rest for an artist!!!), but it will be worth it when the students get on the bus on Monday morning to see that I’ve added fourteen more drawings to the ceiling of The Peace Bus!!! They will be so excited and proud of themselves… as they should be!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Two days ago, I mentioned that the elementary students that ride my bus have created so much peace-art for me to decorate the bus with that it would take me several blog entries to share it all with you.

I always think it’s great when students create art for me. I think it’s even greater when I find that I’ve inadvertently created an ‘art machine’ – LOL!!!

That seems to be the case with Patricia. Patricia is in grade 1 and she is an unstoppable art machine!!!!

Daily, she brings me her peace-art creations, with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. When I see that twinkle I feel like I’m looking deep into the heart of universal love. I think that’s why Patricia’s peace-art has (on many occasions) incorporated the heart design into her creations.

I think that this is my favourite one, so far – LOL!!! I love the dramatic design elements in this creation. The use of colour is very advanced for such a young artist and the patience that she illustrates by using pointillism techniques is outstanding!

Thanks, Patricia for going above and beyond…!!! I’m sure that we’ll all be seeing more of her creations, very soon.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hosta Heaven

It’s amazing to see the differences from…

…this photo (taken in April)…

…to this one (taken just two weeks ago)!

It’s been a lot of work turning these old and neglected flowerbeds into a place of beauty, and I’m happy for every effort that I’ve put into it!

I think I’ve learned more about hostas than any other plant, over the last two years. I’ve become acquainted with the three species that were already growing on this property and I’ve introduced four other species, just this year (species that I’ve stolen from my mom’s garden and two of my neighbours).

Some have very dark green leaves – which remind me of elephant’s ears. Some have rubbery leaves that are quite small and some have leaves that are a very bright green. Some leaves are tinged with purple and some are almost yellow with green highlights.

Some flower at the end of June while others bloom in July. I really like the flowers that are in bloom right now – one is filled with large white flowers and the other is filled with delicate purple flowers. I like these ones the best because they are late bloomers. While most flower gardens are nearing their end, at this time of year, these beautiful hostas still have two more weeks of flowers to share with the world.

Two summers ago (when Jo’ and I had just moved in to this house) there was one large and lonely hosta growing in this flowerbed… with lots and lots of weeds. This was the first flowerbed that I worked on restoring. I dug up the hosta and split its roots into seven sections and spread them through this garden. In between the hostas, I planted many spring flowers – two species of tulips and daffodils. Now this garden blooms twice a year. Once the spring flowers have finished their season the hostas grow up and over them to fill this space with green until they are ready to bloom. The spring flowers’ leaves fill the underside of the hostas and this keeps all the weeds from growing. Ta-da! I’m learning how to design flowerbeds that are almost 100% self-sustaining and seasonally changing – requiring very little maintenance and with no weeds!!!

When we first moved in, this front garden had just two hostas – one near each set of stairs and lots of weeds. Again, I split the hostas into smaller root clumps, spread them out throughout the entire flowerbed and filled the space in between with tulips to bloom in the spring.

This year I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to add some additional flowers to compliment this garden. You can see the large plant that is just off of the centre mark, getting ready to bloom with lots of small purple flowers. I don’t really like gardens that are completely symmetrical. I always challenge my designs to create ‘balance’ using asymmetrical theories. To create the asymmetry I had planted several lilies to the left of the tall plan. Hmmmm… where are they?

Whenever a plant is transplanted its first obligation is to its own roots. The plant usually spends its first year getting stronger – healing from its move – and it produces a minimal amount of blooms. The lilies that I planted were quickly overgrown by the hostas, but I know that next year they will bounce back with full strength and then my planning will come to fruition.

Even though these lilies were dominated by the hostas they still strove to survive to produce what flowers they could. At first, I thought that the lilies had died and then one day I was mowing the front lawn and the tiniest hint of colour caught my eye. I got onto my knees to peer under the hosta leaves and behold!!!! A surviving lily! I hadn’t failed… maybe just miscalculated by a little bit.

I’ll end this story with another photo of my front porch garden, as it looked last week… in full bloom! The hostas in white and the other flower (not sure what it is) blooming in bright, light purples turned out rather nicely!

I’ve often thought that plants can teach us a lot about ourselves and I always enjoy learning about both, while I’m tending to my gardens. I’ve come to recognize that most flowers are very social life forces that enjoy living in communities that offer unique environments for their growth and happiness.

I’m feeling inspired to share this story with our local city planners so that they will learn that humans need happiness to grow within a community setting – not a housing development surrounded by fast-food chains and department stores!


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Peace Bus

The students that ride my school bus are great! They exude positivity and creativity in everything that they do. They take care of each other, ensuring that everyone gets onto the bus safely or crosses the road safely. And they are all amazing artists!!!!

The first art assignment that I gave them was very simple. I told the students that I would like each of them to help me decorate the bus with peaceful images. That was it – the students had absolute freedom in designing drawings of whatever they wanted… with thoughts of peace.

I shared a story – last week – about the first peace of artwork that was handed in to me.

Before I left the school to take the children home, I held up Stephanie’s art to further inspire the students to want to participate. I sweetened the deal by telling them that I would give them one of my peace Stik-ers for each peace of art that they handed in. This statement got all the students very excited!!!

Over the next four days I received so much art that I have decided that I will have to write a second blog story to show you all the art that was created. For today, I will be showing the first ten drawings that were handed in…

Both Mikayla (Grade 4) and Patricia (Grade 1) delighted my senses with the bright colours that they chose. Mikayla put a lot of thought into her colour selections and the detailing of colours around the words ‘Don’t Hate – Appreciate!’ was handled masterfully!!!

These artworks were handed in by Alex (Grade 4), Kimi (Grade 4) and Jason (Grade 1). The first thing that I asked them was, “Where did you find these colouring sheets?”, as they looked like they came from the same source. Alex told me that he had googled ‘colouring sheets peace images’ and that he easily found a site with many images. I told him that he was being very resourceful and I liked that he had shared his findings with Kimi (his neighbour) and Jason (Kimi’s younger brother).

I was really delighted with this colourful creation by Emilia (Senior Kindergarten). For someone so young, she sure did a grown-up job using her coloured markers! One student made the comment that her drawing didn’t have a peace symbol in it. Emilia simply said, “But butterflies are peaceful!” and I laughed!!!!!

Alexis is a very energetic artist in Grade 1. After school, she came running to the bus waving her artwork in the air, “Mr. Jim! Mr. Jim! I drew a peace picture for you!!!” And what an energetic creation she had for me. I really like this one!

This drawing really made me happy. Danielle (Grade 6) presented this to me on Friday and it really made my day. I was delighted that someone thought to make a drawing to title our bus. I will be placing this drawing right at the front of the bus, just above my head so that everyone who enters will know that they are on “The Peace Bus”.

And this is just the beginning! I still have lots of other artwork to share with you – from this first assignment, so you’ll have to visit my blog again…soon!!!


P.S. Happy International Peace Day and Autumn Equinox Day to everyone!!! I have a very special gathering to attend, this evening. I’ll be sharing that story soon!