Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making Our House A Home

Last November I shared a few stories about the fact that Joanne and I had bought our first house… and what a beautiful house it is!!! We’re living in a great neighbourhood, surrounded by lots of parks and recreation areas and the Thames River is just a five-minute walk away.

Since the previous owners had lived here for over fifty-three years the house still ‘felt’ like them, even tho’ we had our own furniture and paintings decorating the place. Joanne and I knew that it would take a bit of time before our house started feeling like ours.

To help me feel like this is my home, I immediately started digging in the Earth. I love gardening and I couldn’t wait to start preparing some flowerbeds that I will be planting this coming spring.

Well… this is about as far as I got, in that work. The cold winds of winter started blowing and soon we were knee-deep in snow.

I spent the next two months doing what any artist would do – being confined to the indoors – I painted! I finished two commissioned works for my clients. One was a landscape and the other was a portrait of a dog.

The New Year had just started and I thought that I would do a little painting, just for my own pleasure. For many evenings I found myself staring at an empty wall in our living room and I began to think that the wall would look better if I painted a picture on it.

The many weeks that I’ve been working on this project have really allowed me to feel like this is my home. For hours at a time I’ll fill the air with the music I love as I’m painting and the connections I’ve made between me and the walls of this house have brought me much happiness!

Ta-da! A circle is born!!!!

After two more weeks, my circle had expanded quite a bit.

When I was sharing the story about the pet portrait that I was working on throughout December - - I talked a bit about the texture that I was using to create the beach. I mentioned that many times, when a texture is only partially complete, that I will become inspired by something that I see in it. On many occasions I will try to use these new ideas in future paintings.

I took my memory of the beach texture and incorporated it into my wall mural. When I do this kind of thing, I never look back at where my inspiration came from – I didn’t study the texture of the beach. By using the memory of an idea I find that the new thoughts that go into creating the new texture become unique – unto itself.

While I paint, I think of many things. One day, while I was painting one of the large circles, I was thinking about how painting is a form of yoga! Yoga is about movement of the body and drawing consciousness to the mind. Yoga practices can take long periods of meditative actions in a calming environment.

As I continued to paint my way around the circle I noticed all the positions that I put my body into and all the different muscles that I was using in each position. Since it was taking me about forty-five minutes to paint each circle, I became aware that I was performing my own form of yoga!

One of the other things that I started thinking about, was how funny it would be to create a series of photos showing all the different poses that must get into as I paint my circles! And so, I did!!!!

This is my most recent photo of my mural. I took this photo just an hour ago. As you can see, I still have far to go. To give you an idea of how long this project is taking me, look towards the bottom of this painting. You can see that I still have to fill in an area with some more textured wiggly lines. It will take me about six more hours – over the course of this weekend – to finish this area.

I decided to use another texture in this area – different than the texture found inside the first series of circles. One of the reasons was that the first texture that I used took so darn long to paint and I wanted to speed this second texture along, more quickly. HA! Boy was I wrong. I’m actually finding that all these wiggly lines are taking me a longer time to paint.

Live and learn! Live and learn.

I’m looking forward to the completion of this mural, so that I’ll be able to share more photos of its completion as well as the story behind the design. Yup – it’s not just a circle that I’ve been painting, it’s something a bit more inspiring…

But that’s another story!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For The People, By The People and Of The People

I’ve always been a huge fan of Rock’N’Roll music. I love the sounds of a hard hitting drum. I pulse with the droning rhythms of a deep bass. I become electric with the currents of a guitar. Toss all of this together with a powerful voice singing about relevant agendas and I’m hooked!!!

One band that captivated me throughout my youth was The Alarm. There music was like an alarm: pounding, driving, striving to wake up the world to a knew way of thinking. In 1986 they released there second full length album entitled ‘Strength’ and it spoke of finding truth and courage in a world that is coming into a new age. I think that this album made me think about things like ‘world resources’ for the first time in my life…

Absolute Reality (excerpt)

You may affect the truth
You may be seen as false
You may be a king or a vagabond
You may be up, you may be down
You may sit in judgement with the rest of the clowns
You may have love
You may have hate
You may be the president of the United States
But even you, you can’t sit and hide
While the world’s resources die

I’ve always tried to share my love for empowering Rock’N’Roll in all things that I do. I spent many years spinning tunes in clubs across Canada. While living in British Columbia, I had my own one-hour radio show, “Kickin’ At The Darkness”. I brought my voice, thoughts and favourite tunes to the airwaves for a three-hour show while visiting Rankin Inlet in the Nunavut territory in 2006 and to this day I still mix cassette tapes to share with my friends and co-workers.

When I think about Rock’N’Roll I always think about a special live recording by The Alarm, from the late 80’s. In this performance Mike Peters (lead singer) quotes Arlo Guthrie by saying that, “Music should be by the people, for the people and of the people” before he screams out, “I want to hear the future of Rock’N’Roll sing with me!” This story stems from these important words.

Since joining Facebook I’ve been introduced to so many interesting people from around the world. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities to share my songs with these friends and as well, I’ve enjoyed receiving links to videos created by others. For today’s blog I just simply want to share a few of my favourite links that have been sent to me by my Facebook friends.

Hem Advani is from Toronto and he plays the electric guitar. This fun and energetic tune is entitled “Rockin’ Til Heaven” -

Tom Gray’s instrumental ‘Blue Moon’ comes to us all the way from Trecwn, United Kingdom -

Darcy Good is a friend of mine who I went to high school with. She is the daughter of a musician from one of North America’s favourite Country bands, The Good Brothers. This link is a bit of a tease as only a portion of the song is available - Darcy plays the violin for this Bluesgrass band ‘Badly Bent’, but I believe that she is working on other projects at the present time.

Babz Hewlett-Beech is into a jazz-fusion style of music and this link was sent to me from Plymouth, United Kingdom - This is a song about “Tomorrow’s World”.

Peter Jam has had a few interesting successes in his life - I’ve seen videos of him performing on MTV! This song is entitled, “If You Want…” and it’s about the joys of bringing peace into this world -

Just after New Years I found this - link posted on my Facebook wall, with a short note. It said something like “Jim, I know that you are very passionate about sharing inspiration with the world through your love of art and the environment. I’ve recently posted one of my songs on Youtube and I would love to hear any comments you may have.” Well… I watched the video and I loved it!!!! Jasmin Adams may not be in a rock band and we may never see her on MTV but her spirit and creativity is a true embodiment of Arlo Guthrie’s beliefs about music and the people that create it!

It was just a moment after Jasmin’s video had ended when the idea for this blog entered my mind. Thanks Jasmin!!!!

I don’t think that it’s an accident that all of these musicians, from so many different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, are linked with one common theme. The last twenty years have seen such an uprising in social and environmental consciousness that it is no wonder that thoughts towards peace, unity and love should be dominating our societies thought patterns… as we embark on a journey into the future!


Ha! Would anybody mind if I used this opportunity to plug one of my own videos?

Good – I’m glad no one objected!!!

So, now, I will leave you with these final words…

“We’ll open all our doors to let the good spirits in and then we’ll dance and sing as we rise above the din!”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Everybody’s Getting On Board!!!

The last two decades have seen an uprising in environmental awareness as well as actions designed to improve our global climates.

Twenty years ago, whispers could heard across the morning breakfast table, speaking of things like pesticides and ozone layers. Ten years ago those whispers became alarm bells tolling the times for significant change. Now, positive actions can be witnessed in almost every aspect of our lives.

Elementary schools now have ‘green’ teams in every grade as they strive to reach higher and higher levels of environmental status. Almost every person I see in the markets and grocery stores carry reusable cloth bags instead of plastic. More and more people are gathering at environmental conferences to learn more and share more positive ideas with their communities. Even employers of large passenger fleets (like my employer – Murphy Bus Lines) are making changes to decrease waste and increase efficiency!

Over the last two months I have been involved in two environmental workshops through Murphy Bus Lines. The goals have been quite simple: 1) to decrease the amount of green house gases (GHG) that are produced by buses and 2) improve the quality of life for all living beings! Fairly positive goals if I do say so… and I do!!!!

When I was first being trained as a bus driver I was instructed to – upon first entering my bus – start the engine. While the engine was running I completed my ‘circle check’ – checking tire pressure, operating lights and signals, etc. When my inspection was complete it was time to hit the road.

I would arrive at the bus yard to the sounds of many engines idling and lots of lights flashing… it was rather noisy. Now I almost feel like I’m entering a place of sanctuary, as the bus yard sits in silence. This was the result of one of the environmental workshops that Murphy instigated. We no longer engage our engines until all ‘circle check’ procedures have been completed. Simply, we turn the engine key to ‘auxiliary’ instead of turning the motor on. All the lights, fans, heaters, windshield wipers are still operational and can be checked during our inspection.

For every litre of diesel fuel burned by a school bus, 2.8 kilograms of carbon dioxide are produced. Every fifteen minutes of idling uses one litre of fuel. With these new ‘green circle check’ policies now in place each bus in NOT idling for almost forty five minutes a week. That means that each bus is now saving between 2-3 litres of fuel each week. With over four hundred buses in its fleet, Murphy is now NOT consuming over 1000 litres of fuel each week and NOT polluting close to 3000 kilograms of carbon dioxide… each week – or did I already say that!!!!

The second environmental workshop that I attended took these ideas another step forward…

We didn’t really learn anything shocking or new about how to drive our buses more efficiently. The classes were more like reviews about things that we already knew but with a focus on the positive environmental results by following safety guidelines more closely.

We re-examined situations like starting and stopping our buses. We were encouraged to simply begin our excelaration more gently – not stomping on the gas pedal when the light turns green, but gradually applying our foot to the pedal. By looking ahead we can determine whether an upcoming light may change from green to red so that we can ‘coast’ the bus up to the stop line instead of slamming on our brakes.

We talked about tire pressure and how that affects that amount of diesel that is needed to run a bus.

We talked about courtesy on the roads and allowing other more aggressive drivers to have the right of way in situations where we might be ‘battling’ them. Battles see drivers accelerating more aggressively and using their brakes more frequently, both using more fuel in the process.

We talked about cruising speeds and learned about studies that have determined that buses travelling on highways or freeways should not travel above 80 kilometers/hour. Each kilometer above 80 uses more fuel, costing more money.

I was most surprised when we talked about healthy diets and how this affects all drivers’ attitudes and our ability to react more efficiently. I was surprised in a good way. Few people seem to realize that a healthy diets affects every aspect of our lives on this Earth.

We talked about a lot of things and I think everyone felt rather positive by the end of the whole thing!!!

All of these positive actions, combined with our new ‘green circle check’ are estimated to be able to save the company up to $256, 000 dollars a year!!! Incredible! I wonder if that means that I’ll soon be getting a raise???

And it’s not just Murphy Bus Lines getting involved with these programs. Last month 1, 200 bus drivers in just Lambton and Middlesex counties took part. As Richard Donaldson (executive director of the Ontario School Bus Association) says, “We are pleased to see operators taking a proactive approach to help reduce the pressures of global warming. Our goal is to train school bus fleets right across the province.”

There are over 18, 000 buses on the roads in Ontario each day. If one company of 400 drivers is able to save $256, 000 dollars a year, then all of Ontario could very well be saving over 11.5 million dollars a year! I can think of a lot of great uses for that money, like more education, tree planting, more education, river cleaning, more education, and possibly more education!!!

Imagine if all of Canada’s provinces ‘got on board’ with these new programs. Imagine if the United States followed suit. Imagine if every country around the world followed these positive initiatives!!!!

The future that we are so quickly building will be determined by the actions of each person now living. Let us continue to build on positive examples such as this and let us continue to evolve into the frame of consciousness that we are destined for!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Save Our Environment and Save Money!

My last blog told the story about how people from around the world united to raise their voice about concerns for climate change. I firmly believe that actions like this are a great benefit because there are many people who still have no idea that our existence is in peril and actions like this help to educate more and more people.

Although raising awareness is important, it is even more important for each of us to find ways of actually solving these problems and that is the focus of this story.

Last month, I had several meetings with furnace installers as I was going to be replacing the thirty year old furnace in my home. Our furnace wasn’t going to last for more than another season or two and right now the Canadian Federal and Provincial governments have programs that help homeowners upgrade the efficiency of their homes with tax credits as well as substantial rebates.

The first installer that came by filled me with lots of information and we chatted at great lengths about things that people can do to save energy and money. This story is me passing along his knowledge to you. This information is relevant to ANY homeowner who has a furnace that is fifteen years old or older – which is about 85% of all the homes (with furnaces) on this planet.

We went to the basement and he pointed at this box. He said, “This is your furnace’s blower.” The switch was then on the right side of the box and he said, “Right now your blower switch is in the automatic position. This means that your blower is on only when your furnace is being used to heat your home.” He pushed the switch to the left side of the box and then said, “Now, your blower is in the ‘on’ position, or what some people call the ‘summer’ setting. Never change this switch from this position and you’ll save $250 - $300.00 dollars a year on heating costs.”

So… there ya go! If everyone owning a furnace that is over fifteen years old simply spends two seconds of their life to switch the position of their furnace’s blower to the ‘on’ position then – on a global scale – we could save billions of dollars of fuel and hydro costs. I need to think about this massive thought for a minute before I continue. Hmmmm… two seconds of our lives = a higher quality of life for all living creatures… AMAZING!!!!

For those who are satisfied with this information I would suggest that you stop reading now! The rest of this story gets a little technical as I explain how this actually works…

(Since it would be boring to have photos of my furnace, etc. accompanying this story I thought that I’d add some delightful ‘peace-art’ that the students from my bus have been handing in lately.)

So… getting technical…

Have you ever noticed that it gets a little chilly a few minutes before your furnace turns on and that it gets a little too hot just after your furnace has shut off? This is because there is an 8 degree difference (throughout your house) from your floor to your ceiling at almost any given time. If you’ve set your furnace to 68-70 degrees then your furnace actually raises the temperature of your home to about 73 degrees before it shuts off. Over the next 25 minutes this temperature slowly drops until your furnace turns on again.

The hot air enters a room through ducts found on the floor or on the lower part of a wall. This hot air rises and stays – for the most part – at ceiling level. This air slowly seeps through cracks in the walls or windows and eventually cools.

When you turn your furnace’s blower to ‘on’ the difference in temperature – from floor to ceiling – will only be 2 degrees instead of 8. When your furnace turns on, the same hot air will enter a room, but it will not stay at ceiling level. This is because this air is being sucked from the ceiling back down to the floor so that it can enter your ‘air return’ ducts, to be sent back to your furnace to be re-blown throughout the house again.

Because your air is being circulated throughout the house continuously, there is never a ‘layer’ of hot air at the ceiling or a layer of cool air at floor level. It is now being circulated in such a way as to create a uniform temperature throughout your house.

With your blower in the ‘automatic’ position the air in your house gets circulated about 1 ½ times every time your furnace is on. When in the ‘on’ position, your blower will circulate all the air in your home about 5-6 times each hour. This continuous circulation also helps to pull more dust and other dirty particles out of your air as it travels through the furnace’s filters.

Because the air in your house is now more evenly heated you will notice immediately that your furnaces just doesn’t come on as often, any more. When your furnace is not heating air you are saving money and energy.

This is just one reason!

To continue… Now, let’s say that your blower uses about 600 units of energy (hydro) to run after it has initially been turned on. When your blower is on ‘automatic’ it will switch on 3-5 times an hour – every time your furnace comes on. Each time your blower is activated it uses 10 times more energy during its ‘start-up’ period.

If your blower is on 24 hours a day it runs at a constant of 600 units of energy per hour. If your blower is on automatic it uses 6000 units of energy up to 5 times (totaling 30000 units of energy) each and every hour on top of the standard 600 units of energy used.

Now… think about this… When your furnace is on ‘automatic’ as most furnaces are (that’s what I’m trying to change right now!) you can hear your furnace click ‘on’ when it’s time to heat your house. Have you ever noticed that you hear the furnace click ‘on’ and then several minutes pass by until the blower turns on (using 6000 units of energy)?

This is because your furnace is building up heat before the blower begins to push this hot air through your house. All of this heat is sitting in your furnace waiting until a certain temperature is reached before your blower turns on. While this time is passing a huge percentage of this heat is simply floating up your chimney and filling the atmosphere with warmth… a HUGE waste!!!!

If your blower is ‘on’ then any amount of heat that is generated by your furnace begins to immediately circulate through your house.

When your furnace is on ‘automatic’ most of the air in your house and ducts is (what I call) ‘dead’ air, because it’s just kinda floating around very slowly, or even just hanging around the ceiling, slowly seeping out of windows, etc. When the furnace heats up and turns the blower on, all of this new hot air must fight against a household of dead air. The blower has to push all this hot air into this dead air to keep it moving. All of this resistance in air qualities means that you are wasting energy as the hot air needs more energy to move it through your house.

So… that’s how you will save money and energy by keeping your blower in the ‘on’ position throughout the winter.

In the summer you will not be using your furnace to heat your house, so many people simply turn it off. Even in the summer you should continue to set your blower in the ‘on’ position as you will improve the quality of the air in your home and save more money.

Most furnaces are in the basement, where it does stay quite a bit cooler than the rest of the house. By switching your blower to ‘on’ all of this cool basement air circulates through the rest of your home, cooling it by several degrees. If you have an air conditioning unit on your upper floors you will find that you will not have to use them as often, as your house will now be a little cooler. This saves energy and money.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes your basement smells and even feels a little musty during the summer? This is because this cool basement air is stagnating. By continuously circulating all the air in your house, this problem should disappear.

With your furnace system turned off during the summer months, molds, dusts, bacteria, mites, etc. have a happy home in your duct system, while you get sick. By switching your blower to ‘on’ these problems will cease to occur, because the air is being continuously circulated and these air particles will get trapped in your furnace’s filter. If your air is always moving then these air particles will never get a chance to collect and grow into bigger problems.

After we switched our blower to the ‘on’ position, we noticed a positive difference, right away.

When I get up at 5:00am in the morning I usually turn the temperature up to 67 degrees. When I leave to go to work I turn the temperature back down to 62. When Joanne gets out of bed at 6:30am she turns the temperature back up to 67 until she leaves the house for the day.

Before we had made this ‘blower’ change, Jo’ would get up and notice that the temperature had dropped all the way back down to 62 degrees in the hour since I had left the house. After we made this change Joanne immediately noticed that when she got up that the temperature had only dropped slightly from 67 to 65 or 64 degrees. When she turns the heat up again the furnace only needs to add 2 degrees of warmth to the house instead of 5 degrees.

We’ve noticed that the air feels so much better now, too! We used to notice that one room would be warmer than another, but now our entire house sits at a more even temperature.

I’ve shared this story with a few of my friends and even my parents and everyone who has tried this idea has told me that my furnace installer was correct and that they are now more comfortable in their home than ever before.

My furnace installer told me that this information came from the Canadian government. About ten years ago a massive study was conducted in thousands of homes across Canada – from British Columbia all the way to Nova Scotia – and all the studies found that by leaving your furnaces blower in the ‘on’ position all year long the average household will save between $250-$300.00 in oil, natural gas and hydro electricity.

Now… please try this suggestion and when you’ve learned to love saving money and the environment then I hope you’ll tell a friend or a thousand – LOL!!!!

The reason why this works on furnace systems that are over fifteen years old and not the newer furnaces is simple… the newer furnaces are designed to do this already. Some new furnaces – like the one that I purchased – also have systems that compress the exhaust gases into reusable fuel thus saving even more energy and money!

Just imagine how much money and energy there is to be saved if everyone did this action that takes just two seconds of your life to enact.

Have a happy time greening our planet!!!!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Is 350?

Over the last several years I have been able to connect with a few friendly people who are also involved with activities that protect and heal our home, the Earth. We share emails and ideas and keep each other posted about community events. At the beginning part of October I received an email informing me about an upcoming event meant to raise awareness about climate change. Seemed like the sort of thing that I should be involved with, so Joanne and I attended.

Because this event had to do with climate change Jo’ and I decided to enjoy a walk to the bus stop and a trip through the downtown core where we delighted in seeing all the colours of Autumn painted on every tree. This bus ride took us to John Paul II High School where the ‘350’ event was about to take place. Many people had biked to this event and one lady enjoyed all the attention her special bike received.

One of the first things that I noticed was this colourfully painted banner that must have been created as a youth group effort. It’s hard to read clearly – as it’s printed so small – but in the upper left there is a quote which reads, “If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired!”

There were a few of us gathered, chatting away, when someone asked me what 350 meant. I shrugged and then we chatted about what it could represent. A minute later I decided to ask a person who I know would know. I was told that 350 represents the ‘parts per million – ppm’ ratio of the greatest amount of carbon dioxide that is acceptable in our atmosphere for continued life on this planet. I was also told that our atmosphere is unfortunately, at 380ppm and that our world is adding 2ppm every year. YIKES!!! I returned and shared that story with my group and then it was time for the event to begin.

It was great to see such a diverse crowd with grandparents holding the hands of their grandchildren, high school students, moms, dads and a few furry four-legged friends. The speaker told of the meaning of 350, the history of these calculations (in 1870 the number was reaching ever higher but 280 is better than our present situation), and that we were the voice to carry our community’s concern to parliament. She also informed us that hundreds of other gatherings – just like ours - were happening on this same day in countries around the world.

I thought that this was brilliant and amazing – for the first time ever, humanity can join together in positive actions, uniting as one…

… and these are just a few of the photos from different cities around the world!!

Over the last decade or so, I have witnessed several events that have reached around the world in positive ways and this makes me happy. At this point in humanity’s existence we are just beginning to take positive actions and I’m confident that this movement will continue to build momentum.

After a few more words from some other local environmental groups we were asked to raise our voice – and document it, too! – by signing a petition that would be taken to our government.

Now it was time for our group to create our own ‘350’ for the world… we just had to wait a few minutes as a couple of cameramen climbed on top of the school’s roof. While we waited, several smaller groups took photos…

… and this person entertained us with a little drumming!

It was quite a comical event as we organized ourselves to shape the numbers 3, 5 and 0. One person, on the roof, would yell down that the bottom of the 5 was crooked and people bellow would move around a bit only to hear, “Wait! That’s even worse!!”, coming from above. But we did eventually get it right – LOL!!!!

After the successful photograph we were all asked to walk – or ride bike – around the school track, three times… and we all did!!! For part of our walk the lady with the drum pounded out a beat and a simple song that most people joined in singing.

There were even a few dogs that wanted to say something about climate change, as well! Lots of small conversations broke out, here and there, throughout the group. For me, it was a chance to say ‘hello’ to a few people that I knew. It seems like every time I attend an event of this nature I bump into a few of the same people… and this is a great thing!!!

As you can see, it was quite a windy day!!!! The cool, crisp air made us want to keep moving to keep warm!

After this event was over and ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see ya laters’ were done, Jo’ and I hopped back on the bus for a trip into the downtown core. After a bowl of potato with roasted garlic soup Joanne and I split up for a few hours. Jo’ had some shopping to do and I wanted to stay downtown to attend a 350 meeting at the Central Library.

There was a really big turn out for this event – many of the same people were there from that morning and a large number of others. We listened, watched and learned a lot about climate change and how it’s affecting our planet. We shared some of our own stories about actions we had taken and many people left feeling inspired. Of course, one final group photograph was taken… which later appeared in the premier edition of Ecovox!

I was able to hand out lots of my peace Stik-ers to all the children – old and young – and I had several conversations with a number of interesting people.

I decided to enjoy some more of the fall colours, so I walked home from the library. My walk took me past a farmer’s market, an outdoor play area for children, a couple of bridges and lots of homes getting ready for Halloween. I think that it is a wonder of Nature to herald in the change of seasons with such a variety of textures and colours. While I write this I’m looking out my window at the bare trees and snow covered ground remembering with fondness the pallet of colours that warmed our hearts just a few months ago.

Stay warm and think happy thoughts!

ps - for more information about 350 please visit