Thursday, October 17, 2019

A Stich and Time: The Slofemists at the Dunlop Art Gallery

The Slofemists (Lois Klassen and I) were honoured to be invited to Regina as artists in the Stitch and Time exhibition and related programming at the Dunlop Art Gallery curated by Blair Fornwald and Wendy Peart. We showed work from our collection and created new work with drop-in community sewing sessions at the gallery.

During Nuit Blanche people were invited to stitch with us and sit at the "Menditation Station" where they could write their intentions to mend something broken in their lives and steps to take to fix it.

These  menditation masks you see in the photo above are created using cyanotype on fabric I made with plants. They're filled with lavender, wheat berries, and buckwheat. You can wear them to block out the light when you're relaxing and you can put them in the fridge and apply cold whe you have a headache. The leaves used in the cyanotype above have been altered by leafcutter bees that cut holes out of plants to use as nesting material. Lois and I took a walk near Waskana Park and found some leaves that had been used by local leafcutter bees.

We also saw some great signage on leafcutter bees in the Native Plant Garden at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

I was very touched by our interactions and conversations with folks who dropped in to stitch alongside us. In particular, the person who created the embroidery below had never done anything like this before. Amazing! Stitching is a simply hands on activity which focuses the mind and calms the heart. It allows us to create a space with a gentle spirit where connectivity can flourish.

It was great to connect with new and old friends as we stitched the pattern Lois created on unbleached muslin panels.  Lois writes: "Famished Road Ecology (for 25 Million Refugees) is a new embroidery pattern that the Slofemists designed especially for Nuit Blanche Regina 2019. The stitches laid down onto unbleached cotton panels will be added to Jennifer Kim Sohn's 25 Million Stitches--a project that is working to realize the quantity of refugees listed by UNHCR in 2016." 

Luckily, the gallery is in the main branch of the Regina Public Library, so I was able to find books on native prairie plants and books on embroidery which we could use to create patterns that represent flowers growing in the ditches on the sides of prairie roads. These are the plants I reunited with this summer as we brought my father's ashes home to rest.

As we stitched, we listened to the haunting sound track from Mindy Yan Miller and Susan Miller's piece Needle and Thread. It is a meditative soundscape dedicated to victims of the Holocaust with recited names, singing and birdsong. We were also stitching alongside another piece by Heather Majuary and Terre Chartrand called Neighbours: A Community Quilting Project which is a Truth and Reconciliation project. It struck me that people who are displaced are often separated from the plants of their homeland. Many of the weeds we see in ditches are medicinal plants that immigrants bring with them to help heal the trauma of displacement.

It seems it is the time of year to remember the people who have been displaced, traumatized, missing, murdered, or simply lost. Lois and I went to the thrift store to find orange shirts to wear on the day when children who were forced to attended residential schools are remembered.  I watch a newscast where a red banner inscribed with the names if children who died in the schools in unfurled. Its length fills me with sadness. From September 11th to All Soul's Day, to Remembrance Day on November 11, we pay respect to collective trauma and loss. We also take small quiet steps to repair the damage in our social fabric.

And some of those steps are exploring a connection with the nature outside the gallery. Lois and I take a walk through the green heart of the city. We discover a double crested cormorant resting on a branch.

We were also inspired by the signage and the foliage and the native plant garden installed at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

We were lucky to be able to travel around the city and be inspired by the art on display in the galleries. I was particularly charmed by this piece by Bill Burns called "Bird Radio and the Eames Chair Lounge"  at the Mackenzie Art Gallery.

Special thanks to all the folks who made our contribution to A Stitch and Time possible!

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Slofemists are Coming to Regina!!!!!

Please join the Slofemist actions at the Dunlop Art Gallery!

Sunday Sept 29, La Nuit Blanche 4:00pm-8:00pm

 Dunlop Art Gallery, Central Branch

Journeying home to the prairies is a way for the Slofemists to be reaquainted with plants—some of them wild and indigenous, others feral and introduced. The diversity of species in ditches is surprising. Roads carry people, but also seeds, spores, and pollinators. The road is “famished”, to use Ben Okri’s term, in its demands to carry our stories and to hold traces of us including the seeds and garbage we have left behind.

We invite you to drop in and join us in adding stitches to a  “Famished Road Ecology” fabric panel during La Nuit Blanche.

The stitched panels will become part of “25 Million Stitches” by artist Jennifer KimSohn ( In 2020 KimSohn aims to display 25 million stitches to represent refugees around the world. She estimates that it will take about 2000 of panels this size to represent that number. According to the UNHCR (2016 statistics) there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people, of which 25 million refugees are a part. By encouraging people to fill these panels with stitches, Jennifer KimSohn hopes that people will take time to consider the magnitude of displacement and what we can do to support people who are forced to migrate along the famished road.

Cyanotype 'Slofemist Menditation Masks' filled with lavender and buckwheat

You’re invited join the Slofemists for additional drop-ins at the Dunlop:

 Monday Sept 30 7:00pm-12:00am, Oct 1, noon to 4 pm Dunlop Art Gallery, Central Branch, Oct 2, 4 pm to 8 pm Dunlop Art Gallery, Central Branch Library, Regina

 The Slofemist Action: Menditations and “Famished Road Ecology” Banner

The Slofemists will lead groups of participants in a guided ‘menditation' on the healing properties of native prairie plants. (8-10 minutes) This menditation is created to help people overcome plant and insect blindness, an affliction that is causing us to lose our connection to the healing power of plants, and the essential roles they play in our lives.

You are also invited to add stitches to our  “Famished Road Ecology” banner.

You’re invited to a bee talk!!!

Keep them Buzzing: Smart Gardening for Native Bees

It’s more important than ever to get smarter about what we plant to provide native bees with food and nesting material. Lori will share some top tips for growing hardy plants that support several species of bees in your garden. She will show examples of garden projects that will inspire you to create your own oasis for our essential pollinators. Lori will also have copies of her book for sale for $25 each.

Lori Weidenhammer, aka Madame Beespeaker, is a performance-based interdisciplinary artist and educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is originally from a tiny hamlet called Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. It is in this place, bordered by wheat fields and wild prairie, that she first became enchanted with bees. She is the author of an award-winning book called Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees published by Douglas and MacIntyre. Lori works with students of all ages on eating locally and gardening for pollinators. On occasion, she likes to dress up in silly costumes and talk to bees.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Weedy Green Salsa

It's that time of the year when the tomatillos are ripe and ready to use in my favorite fall recipe: salsa verde. The original recipe I've used for years was given to me by my dear friend Lindsay MacDonald, and I have it in one of my homemade family cookbooks as "Lindsay's Green Salsa". I've made many variations over the years, and this year I decided to give it a weedy twist.

Ever since I found out that purselane contains Omega 3, I've tried to think of new ways to add it to our diet, especially as our child has become vegan and all the family meals we cook at home are now vegetarian. As it has a lemony flavor, I thought I'd add it to this year's salsa verde. I like to buy my tomatillos from the Maya in Exile Garden at the UBC Farmer's market. The Mayan gardeners harvest the purslane, which grows as a weed on the farm in disturbed soil. Conventional farmers blast this weed with herbicides, when it's likely more nutritious than the food plants they are growing for sale.

I love the slow ritual of asking for the tomatillos and then watching the farmer put them in his homemade scale to measure them. Another customer disturbs my zen by peppering the farmer with questions, thrusting vegetables in front of me to demand how much they cost. He has two whiny children in tow who are just as pushy and demanding. I wish folks would just chill out and wait their turn.

 I take a walk around the farm and soak up the sights of the ripening fruits and vegetables. A team of farm workers laugh and toss squash to each other and load them up on the wagon with colourful baskets. Bumblebees work the dahlias and the zinnias, or just take some extra time to sleep in until the air temperature warms up a little. I head back to the market to pick up a beautiful bouquet of fall flowers with snowberries and amaranth added for seasonal texture.

 I head to Virtuous Pie for my lunch and order the seasonal "street corn" pizza. It's so delicious I immediately try to think how we could recreated the flavors of a Mexican roadside roasted corn stand at home.

For the recipe I used garlic and walking onions grown in my own garden, but you can use regular white onions, or whatever you've got on hand. Simply put the cleaned and chopped ingredients in a food processor and blend to the desired texture. If you like cilantro, you can add 1/2 a cup or more.

1 lb tomatillos
1 cup chopped purslane
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped onions
4 cloves garlic
juice of one lime
4 seeded jalapeno peppers

This salsa is great in soups and stews and you can use it as a condiment for anything that appeals. I hope you are enjoying this wonderful harvest season!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Victory Gardens for Bees in Regina!

You’re invited to my talk in Regina, Saskatchewan!!!
Oct 1, 6:30 pm, Regina Public Library Central Branch

Keep them Buzzing: Smart Gardening for Native Bees
It’s more important than ever to get smarter about what we plant to provide native bees with food and nesting material. Lori will share some top tips for growing hardy plants that support several species of bees in your garden. She will show examples of garden projects that will inspire you to create your own oasis for our essential pollinators. Lori will also have copies of her book for sale for $25 each.
Lori Weidenhammer, aka Madame Beespeaker, is a performance-based interdisciplinary artist and educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is originally from a tiny hamlet called Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. It is in this place, bordered by wheat fields and wild prairie, that she first became enchanted with bees. She is the author of an award-winning book called Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees published by Douglas and MacIntyre. Lori works with students of all ages on eating locally and gardening for pollinators. On occasion, she likes to dress up in silly costumes and talk to bees.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Ephemeral Nature of Goldenrod

Today I was drawn toward a clump of blossoming Canada goldenrod, glowing bright yellow in the afternoon sun. It was about four feet tall and teeming with insects. There were all kinds of flies, wasps, and bees climbing over the flowers in a feeding frenzy. As I leaned over to get a closer look at the bumblebees, I noticed a subtle herbal aroma. Burying my nose in a cluster of flowers, careful not to get stung, I inhaled its sweet and slightly medicinal scent. Most of the goldenrod I’ve visited in the city is already past its best, the colour faded to dull straw, and the nectar tapped out. These blooms were fresh and vibrant. It’s like I found a secret pocket of high summer on this east Vancouver boulevard. I took a few shots with my camera, but I knew it would fail to capture the dreamlike quality of what I had witnessed.
August in Vancouver is a bittersweet time of the year, when summer seems to be fully arriving and threatening to leave at the same time.  It’s the time when the number of bees and variety of insect species starts to ebb and dwindle as fall approaches. So much of my daily routine is built around exploring the relationships among insects and flowers, that lack of insect floral activity leaves me anxious. Working in the garden helps me internalize this transition into fall. As I begin to harvest spent lavender flowers and the seedpods from nodding onion, I gradually come to terms with the changing of the seasons and the sharp notes of dried plant material that signal the coming cold. Seasons are dynamic in nature, gardens are always in a state of flux, so one must internalize this reality as well. Some days I want to have the superpowers to play with time and to hold onto summer just a bit longer.

August seems to be a particular month when I ritually grieve some personal losses. Last fall, I lost my father, and this month we are taking his ashes home to Saskatchewan. We’ll be seeking a stage of closure to the long process of saying good-bye. There have been other recent losses this summer, and I find myself in a tangle of the weeds of grief. As a part of the healing process, I have been immersing myself in natural settings whenever I can. Being a prairie person, I’m a bit suspicious of forests, but my friend has a cabin on the Sunshine Coast surrounded by some pretty nice looking trees. There are lots of stately Douglas fir and big-leaf maples that ripple and dance in the coastal breezes. On afternoon in early July I stood in a ray of sunlight and watched a tiny object flutter down from the forest canopy. Thinking it was a delicate wind-borne seed, I bent over to examine it. It was the mottled wing of a butterfly. A bird had likely made a meal of the body and clipped off the wings. It was evidence of the cycle of loss and regeneration, gently evoking the bittersweet comfort of the natural order of things.

Grieving is something that happens in private and in public. As social animals, we need to share the experience as a form of affirmation and finding ways to slowly fill the space that our loved one has left in our lives. And our father left a very big space in our hearts. Sharing grief defines grief, gives it the shape and form, the finite qualities we need to see so that we can ultimately let it go. There is a phenology of grief. As we pass through the seasons, memories connected to that time of the year surface, reminding us of the deep connections this person has in our history. As we move into late summer, I am reminded of all the times we celebrated the season by taking photos in fields with the swath and the bales against a deep blue prairie sky. Of course there were family photo ops with crocuses and pussy willows every spring and snowsuits and snow drifts in the winter.

Dad taught me to get outside, take my camera and let my body enjoy the natural sensory delights that surround me. He taught me to connect with people, be fully present with them on everyday activities and special occasions. He taught me to take pictures of the full range of gifts life presents, even if it’s in the metaphorical sense of storing images in your memory rather than on a hard drive. Some images burn themselves onto our heart’s memory even when there is no photographic record. There was an evening in my childhood in deep winter when I lay my snowsuit on my wooden sled, looking up at the stars and thinking how very lucky I was to live in this quiet, beautiful world. There are no photos or videos of this experience, just a really powerful and lasting memory. I can easily recall the fuggy scent of our dog Lunar drooling on me in the front seat of dad’s gas truck, the prickly texture of the sunflower stems in mom’s garden, and finding a white arrow point in the soft sand at the mouth of a gopher hole. These recollections I keep in my heart’s pocket and take them out when I need inspiration and consolation. As we head home to Saskatchewan in another celebrate of dad’s life, we are inspired by him to make every day a celebration of life itself.

I spent many hours in peaceful solitude on the prairie during my childhood, gathering critters from the dugouts to put under a microscope, taking note of the phenology of wildflowers and watching the ground squirrels play hide and seek. But I also spent many hours in the silent company of my father, collecting interesting rocks, driving to ponds to see migrating sandhill cranes and snow geese, and exploring abandoned homesteads. Sometimes dad would just invite me to jump in the car and take me and Lunar on an adventure, without a word of explanation. He’d bring his camera and we’d go look for the horned owl that liked to perch in the window of an empty farmhouse. 

We’d take photos until the sun went over the horizon and we lost the light. I miss his companionship, and think about how he would enjoy the thrum of insects around the purple coneflowers and brown-eyed Susans in the gardens in mid August in Vancouver. In honor of my father, I will stay out until dusk and photograph the bees lay sleeping in their petals until I lose the light. I will walk home, thinking how lucky I am to live in this complex, beautiful world. I will celebrate the ephemeral nature of goldenrod.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mapping Pollinator Hotspots in the Riley Park Community Garden

What a lovely event we had on a beautiful sunny Saturday with the bees a buzzin' in the community garden. Thanks to everyone who came out and brought such delicious food for the potluck and helps us map the garden! I brought my homemade scones, which I like to to spread with honey or jam and clotted cream.

Before lunch, we had fun looking for bees and wannabees in the garden. I worked with my youngest netter ever---not even three years old. He was so excited about catching bees, which we put into jars for a closer look. But what his favourite thing to do was let the bees go. So I taught him to take the lid off the jar and let the insect fly up and away. This is also a skill! Not many folks can remain calm enough to get the hand of it, but he is gifted. During lunch he kept asking me when we could start "bee-ing" again. So cute! This is my favourite part of what I do--connecting people to nature, especially ones with long lives of exploration ahead of them.

The Hot Spots

# 1  Goldenrod Corner

I made small labels for some of the key pollinator plants that are blooming right now in the garden and we walked around to check which ones were really busy at this time of day (1:30 pm to 3 pm).
Not surprising, the goldenrod on the southeast corner of the garden was probably the hottest spot for pollinator diversity, with many sizes of bees, flies, wasps and beetles in a nectar feeding frenzy. And of course, where there are a lot of insects, there are also those insects that feed on other insects, which is also a part of the healthy biodiversity of the garden.

Eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens)

 Long-horned beetle

Sweat Bee

Small Wasp

There are other plants blooming on Goldenrod Corner that help make this a pollinator hotspot: purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Agastache 'Heatwave' and potentilla. Furthermore, there is exposed soil under these plants where the mining bees are making their nests. It's also a warm and sunny spot, making the nectar flow at midday.

#2 Herb Garden

The herb garden and surrounding beds are also a hot spot, even in mid afternoon when they are in dappled shade. The big patch of pearly everlasting attracts small-ground nesting bees and syrphid flies. There were lots of bald-faced hornets hunting for prey on the lovage, and tiny insects on the flowering parsley. The oregano is very popular with many species of bees, including small leafcutter bees. The borage by the shed is popular with honey bees and bumble bees because it pumps our nectar every five minutes! The mint is also a popular one here.

 #3 Pollinator Border (Central Section)

At this time of the day the central section of the Southern Border is sun-warmed and very active with pollinators. Hummingbirds, bumblebees and honeybee are very attracted to many of the flowers here. The popular plants at this time of the year are the bee balms (Monarda), cat mint (Nepeta), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), tall verbena, fennel, sea holly, sedums, Balkan sage,  and white buddleja. The Persian cat mint on the corner of the beach garden also attracts many honey and bumblebees.

The east end of the pollinator border has persicaria, joe pye weed and snowberry, which are very important pollinator plants for this time of year.

#4 Three Sisters Bed

Bumblebees and hummingbirds love the scarlet runner beans and honeybees and bumblebees love the sunflowers and squash blossoms. A higher number of sunflowers would make this garden more attractive to many species of bees. They are heavy feeders and take lots of nutrients out of the soil. However, they do remediate the soil, taking out toxins.

#5 Medicine Wheel Garden

There are many great pollinator plants in this bed. The persicaria, fireweed, and yarrow are blooming now.

#6 The Espaliered Orchard

There is an eclectic mix of plants here that are blooming while the fruits are forming. The zinnias are and swamp milkweed are much loved by bees and butterflies. Moroccan toadflax is loved by bees that can stick their tongues right into the floral tubes containing nectar. Alyssum is very important for small species of beneficial wasps, flies and bees.

Closing Notes:

Most of the plants in the native gardens have already bloomed and are now producing fruit! I would love to see some native selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) planted around these wild strawberries, replacing the introduced clover. We also need to add some Coreospis grandiflora, native gumweed to the garden because they are the later-blooming native plants that support a wide variety of pollinators. A native clover called Dalea purpurea would also be a great addition.

Finally, another reminder not to plant frilly double flowers that lack nectar and pollen for pollinators who sleep in the flower and need a little sugar boost to get them out and flying again.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this workshop possible! Let's do this again.