Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seedy Friday with the Kindergarten Kids

On Friday we explored seeds all day with both kindergarten classes and their older buddies. Kids this age are almost always delighted with the licorice scent and taste of fennel, so it's a good seed to start with. I like students to be able to use their five senses to explore seeds.

As part of the process, students were given a bowl of mixed bulk seeds and tried to find five kinds of seeds and separate them from the chaff. They decorated their own seed packets to take home.

We talked about beneficial insects: the ladybugs who are attracted to fennel and the bees attracted to sunflowers, calendula, marigolds, and buckwheat. We studied the stages of life of a ladybug: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

The students collaborated on drawings of seeds and ladybugs and some glued seeds to the artwork. Students were engaged and focused. I think seeds have the magical power to create a meditative state. One of the grade five students said wryly: "Look at us sorting seeds like a bunch of old grannies."

The afternoon class planted some marigold seeds. The quote of the day: "Can you help me? Because I don't like to get my hands dirty when I'm gardening." Indeed. I did manage to get him to stick his pinky into the potting soil. The afternoon class staged a mock royal wedding in honor of William and Catherine, complete with security, imaginary horse-drawn carriages, cookies (proper biscuits) and plastic crowns. I pretended I was a visiting reporter from the CBC, capturing their smiling faces for the Canadian public.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Parataxis: Join us on a walking and reading tour of Taxi!

May 1, 12:00
Parataxis: The Ride with Anakana Schofield and Lori Weidenhammer (in association with UNIT/PITT Projects)
Celebrate International Workers’ Day by viewing your city through working class eyes in Helen Potrebenko’s 1975 novel Taxi!
Pigeon Park, Vancouver.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rereading the Riot Act

This event will mark the anniversary of the reading of the Riot Act in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on April 23, 1935 by Mayor McGeer to an assembled group of unemployed workers, their families and supporters. It is the first in a series of Rereading the Riot Act events, curated by Anakana Schofield.

Meet us outside 16 E. Hastings at 2pm on Saturday, April 23. We will make our way to Victory Square from there.

Rereading the Riot Act intends to provoke an emotional, politicized engagement with civic space and how or whether we want to narrate (back) to it. We also hope to re-inscribe Vancouver's history of labour struggle and mass protest into the commemoration of the city's 125th year. Rereading The Riot Act will culminate in a publication to be released in September 2011.

Participants in the project will include Lori Weidenhammer, Carol Sawyer, mynameisscot, leannej, Jeremy Todd, Juliane Okot Bitek, Hanif Karim, Renee Rodin, Dave Eby, Dianne Wood, Karenza T. Wall, Christine D'Onofrio, Aaron Vidaver, Penny Goldsmith, Michael Barnholden, Bobbi Kozinuk, Jeremy Isao Speier, and members of the Solidarity Notes Choir conducted by Earle Peach.

UNIT/PITT Projects gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Canada Council, the BC Arts Council, and the City of Vancouver. We are also grateful for the support of many artists and cultural workers, without whom we would be unable to continue.

UNIT/PITT        Projects (formerly The Helen Pitt Gallery)

I hardly ever go to downtown Vancouver these days because it depresses the hell out of me. I hate shopping malls. I hate the big box stores. I hate the cement and concrete. The architecture is cold and uninspiring. The rampant consumerism sucks the joy from my heart. What an interesting journey it was to travel through the shadow and the valley of this capitalist darkness into the warm afternoon light of Rereading the Riot Act.

This collective event was the brainchild of my friend Anakana Schofield, a brilliant writer who is also starting an exciting new career as a performance artist. It always takes someone like Anakana to breathe new life into the discipline, and she is generously bringing us along by asking other artists to respond and take part in her events.

I loved watching the members of the Solidarity Notes choir arrive, greet each other warmly and warm up their voices and bodies. They infused the event with a spirit of inclusiveness, fun, and a sense of the history of class struggle and worker's rights.

Each artist that performed or read at the event hit their own notes of solidarity, from Carol Sawyer's wailing vocalizes to Bobbie Kozinuk's socially critical performance vignette. This is the kind of performance that used to happen when I first came to Vancouver that inspired me to make it my home. As Vancouver becomes more and more of a resort town we need these interventions to keep the city's critical voices free and alive.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beespeaker Bloom Day

I see that some garden bloggers are posting photos of what is blooming on key dates of the month. I'm a bit late for April bloom day, but since it was a sunny Sunday I took photos of what's blooming in our back yard. First up--an azalea with the first mason bee of the season and he's hungry!

Bleeding Hearts in the shade garden.

These daffodils should be called Sunny Side Up.

Dandelions, of course.

The forsythia is starting to wither. I pruned my roses today and after the forsythia finishes blooming I'm going to prune that too.

Forget-me-nots and hyacinth.

Sweet little muscari.

You know, I have no clue what this is and I didn't even know it was in the garden!
ETA: Jean says this is Daphne Spurge and it's toxic and invasive. (See comments.) Bummer.

Rhododendrons looking a bit cold.

Honey-scented Skimmia for the bees.

Just look at the tulips in waiting! I also have one tiny primula blooming and some Siberian squill out front. Our neighbor's lilac looks ready to bloom later in the week. We need some warm temperatures now to keep those mason bees from catching their death of cold.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Checkered Lilies Blooming in April

This is one of my favorite flowers. I hope they are all right now that the weather has been dipping into almost freezing temperatures.

A Child of Nature

It is so satisfying to work with students who are enthusiastic and appreciative. I love that this boy was completely engaged in my workshop and decided to take it to a different level, sketching his designs from the daffodils in the garden outside his classroom.

I like to see students who become immersed in the tactile sensation of paint and who are proud of their work. Some are hummingbirds, quickly finishing any task you set before them. Others are more meditative, spending an hour on each step, fully immersing themselves in the process.

I heard an award-winning teacher speak on CBC this Sunday. He said to be a good teacher you have to have a sense of gravitas about important subjects, you have to care for the students and you have to cultivate a flair for the dramatic. He also stressed the need to know your subject inside out.

One of the reasons I love teaching is the chance to explore new materials and subject matter. This was the first time I worked with gourds. It took about five months to dry them. I spent a weekend painting them with a base coat, coating the inside with beeswax, and punching holes for string.

It's a good introduction to bird feeding to make this craft. We also made pine cone feeders as well. These are usually made in winter when suet pudding is in season, but luckily my butcher had one bag of suet left in the back of his freezer. You can buy suet in bird stores, but it is almost always mixed with nuts, which cannot be used in schools because of allergies.

I used sunflower butter I made from shelled broken sunflower seeds I bought at the bird seed store mixed with sunflower oil. The students loved pouring the millet seeds over the pine cones.

We made a huge mess as usual. (I owe the custodian a bag of his favorite coffee to stay in his good books!)

If you feed the birds while they are nesting in the area they can spend more time on the nest and defend their chicks against those hungry crows.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Omelette Fines Hops

I had to fix a quick lunch between teaching gigs and I had some nettles in the fridge from the winter market. I also had spied some hops sprouts peaking up like asparagus under the hydrangea. So I made a spring omelette. I steamed the nettles, handling them with yellow kitchen gloves and I quickly sauteed the hops tips with a bit of garlic. I only used the tips because there's some bejeezley big prickles on the lower part of the stems. What to drink? Rhubarb juice with sparkling water.

Please note that due to the Vasakhi Parade, this seed ball workshop has been moved to Saturday May 7:

Herbal Seed Balls for Pollinators


Lori Weidenhammer
Seed balls originate from an ancient form of agriculture
performed by creating balls of seeds, clay, and compost
and sowing them on the surface of the soil. The seeds
remain dormant until environmental conditions allow them
to germinate and flourish, creating nectar and pollen-rich
habitat for pollinators. In this workshop we will be creating
seed balls for spring planting. This workshop is suitable
for families. (Children under 5 must be accompanied by a
caregiver.) FREE! In the LOBBY at Sunset Community

Friday, April 8, 2011

Buddies for Buddies and Buddies for Bees

Today I worked with a grade 4/5 class and their buddies in kindergarten. One of my favorite things about this school is their mentorship program and it works really well with art projects.

The older students helped the k's paint a rock for bees to rest and sun themselves. (Painted rocks should not rest in water.) Then they painted the outside of a terracotta dish (leaving the inside unpainted!) and filled it with sand and pretty rocks. You can place this "bee oasis" in your garden and keep moist with the rocks above the water level so the bees can land on the rocks to take a drink. Don't use too much water or you will be growing mosquitoes! (I learned this trick from my friend Brian Campbell.) You can use water without sand, but then you need to change it every day. It would be a good idea to take the terracotta bee oasis inside during the winter so it doesn't freeze and break.

The students created designs inspired by floral designs and bees. It's lovely to see the sense of compassion the older kids develop for their buddies.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eating Mason Bees

No, it's not the latest foodie craze. It's a dream I had. Yes, I dreamt that some mason bee guru told me that you had to eat the cocoons so they could hatch and so I ate them like vitamin pills. It was very strange. What does it all mean? It means I have been reading about mason bees from dawn to dusk. I also have a feeling in my bones that the males are gonna come out this weekend. Now that the sun is out, masses of cherry trees and Pieris Japonica (see above) are blooming, it's time to see some mason bees! I've got some cocoons in my fridge that I might put out this weekend, depending on the long range forecast. In the meantime, I'm going to be hosting a mason bee charette with a grade 6 class. Each group of students will design the ultimate mason bee condo. Here are the criteria. Why not try it yourself and let me know how it goes?


1) Waterproof, weatherproof and sheltered from the elements (ie cold winds, snow)

2) Keeps cocoons safe from large predators: skunks, raccoons, woodpeckers

3) Keeps cocoons safe from tiny predators: mites and parasitic wasps

4) Has a way to be attached to the (south)east side of a building or architectural structure.

5) Has a way for bees to orient themselves to their home hole so they don't end up in a fight.

6) Allows the cocoons to breathe in wet weather and not get mouldy.

7) Opens up so that it can be cleaned and sanitized in November and easily reassembled for the spring.

8) The tunnels are made with a material that the bees have traction to navigate and turn inside the tubes without slipping.

9) The materials are ecologically sound and safe for the bees.

Bonus points for:

1) A safe compartment for cleaned cocoons

2) A predator guard

3) A really cool name

4) A really cool sign

5) A visible home so that you can monitor the bees at work

6) A way you can modify the home for summer mason bees and/or leaf cutter bees

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Work for the Birds

I have started a residency at an elementary school. We are exploring ideas on habitat and how to attract birds and insects to your school and back yard. Yesterday we made woven forms to present nesting material to the birds.

The students also made some lovely drawings. It's a very talented class and it was a pleasure to work with them. I also talked to the students about Bower Birds and they drew images of objects that would attract them to a human oriented bower. (I suggested chocolate, of course.) What did they come up with? Lots of flat screen televisions and cold, hard cash!