creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Oxford Part 2 : The Bike-ish Invasion

Oxford: population 800 + 15,000 international cyclists throughout the day...

On July 29th, Oxford, Iowa hosted it’s first ever ride-through visit by RAGBRAI, The Des Moines “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. My mother served as co-chair for the planning committee. It meant a lot of organizing work for her and she was quite excited by the event, so I planned my 5 week long trip to coincide so I could be a good son and help out. She asked me to act as a sort of Master of Ceremonies / Glorified Barker, who made announcements, cracked jokes, introduced the special entertainment acts, and welcomed bikers as they arrived into the city and announcing the various food booths and activities the participants could engage on their ride through. I was happy to oblige.

Your MC Jason blending in

Silly headgear & bike helmets are common attire for RAGBRAI riders, so I was asked to wear a wild hat that my aunt gifted me. To keep things moving along in a fun manner, I compiled a list of mostly bike themed jokes and threw in a few “just-dirty-enough-to-make-adults-laugh-but-over-kids-heads” for good measure. I even solicited jokes from various riders, who came through with some true knee-slappers.

I especially enjoyed one given about the guy who spent hours upon hours contemplating where the sun went when it set…and then it dawned on him!

I elicited a lot of groans throughout the day, especially with ones like: Why can't bikes stay up without a kick stand? Because they're two-tired. Just like these bikers must have been after 60 miles of their 75 mile ride that day!

City hall at 9:45am

Throughout the course of the day from early in the morning until about 6pm, an estimated 15,000+ bike riders from all over the world rode through the town of 800+ residents. It was fascinating to watch how the city streets transformed over the course of the day.

The morning was rather tranquil and sleepy, primarily with the hardcore biking types who liked to zip right through the various locations to make it to their destination city.
City Hall at 3:30pm

Enjoying a cold plunge through the Studebaker sprinkler

 Other bikers like to take their time and sample what the various towns along the way have to offer.  By early afternoon the town was bustling with new arrivals constantly streaming in. Oxford was the second to last stop for the day, which is often considered "the party town". So a majority of the riders  stopped to check out what the town had to offer by way of food and drink. I had to try many of the various offerings myself to confirm that the town was indeed serving up some tasty treats.

The planning committee went all out to make it a special stop along the RAGBRAI route. They even printed up themed souvenir t-shirts with the logo “Fired Up for Oxford”.  The City of Oxford Fire Department was raising money for the purchase of new fire equipment, so they were the focus of the city festivities. I encouraged riders throughout the day to cool off from the heat by visiting the 1929 Studebaker fire engine, which was converted, via modern ingenuity, into a fancy sprinkler system.
It was a highlight of many riders experience, and made for many photo ops.

My Mom between some biker fans
Several people throughout the day made comments that it was one of their favorite stops during the entire week. Additionally the town of Oxford received many accolades from ride officials who were impressed by how much effort the town put into making it a memorable day. I’m proud of my mother and the many other volunteers for the hard work they put in so that it could be a great experience for all.

Enjoy the following other pictures from that day! Click to enlarge.

Another wild helmet
Massage tents for the needy
The Clear Creek Amana Cheerleaders entertain

One example of a group of theme costumed riders

A view of the town's main street, Augusta Ave.

Midday was quite crowded!
Bikers filling up their water bottles
Once more the Studebaker Sprinkler does its job

The Polka-Dots Tuba player

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oxford Part 1: “The Bikers Are Coming”

My mother works as City Clerk for the town of Oxford…Iowa that is, not England. Although I have visited that most prestigious city of Oxford, England several times and been charmed by its gorgeous spires and most fabulous history, the quaint little town of Oxford, Iowa is pretty swell too in its own unique way. The town is actually  well-known across the world thanks to a photographic art book called "The Oxford Project" by Peter Feldstein and Stephen G. Bloom.
One view of downtown Oxford as it currently is

In addition to her regular civic duties, my mother choose to volunteer as the co-chair of the town’s planning committee in preparation for it being a ride-through stop during “RAGBRAI”, The Des Moines “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa”, on July 29th. It would be the first time Oxford officially participated. In preparation for that event my mother got the idea it would be nice to have postcards for the town to sell as souvenirs. This idea came with just few days to create and order them so they would ship on time, so I quickly went to work designing, not just one, but two postcards that displayed an “Oxford: Then & Now” theme.

One card features old photographs of the city from the early part of last century on one side, and the other half with recent pictures I took from around the town. Additionally, since Oxford was highlighting the fire department during RAGBRAI’s visit, I made the other postcard feature photographs of all the various fire-fighting equipment through the ages from their 1918 Chemical Cart which held 45 gallons all the way to their brand new Freightliner Truck which holds 1000 gallons.

The back of the postcards include information about the front and I thought it would be cool to include a map of Iowa in lieu of the traditional box where you put the stamp. I think it adds a nice touch. The star represents Oxford’s location in the state.

I’m pleased with the way they turned out and apparently they hold the honor of being the city’s first official souvenir postcards!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Simple Little Pleasures: Sharon Center, Iowa & "The Littlest Parade"

We live in a world where certain things naturally tend to evolve towards advancements and growth. Bigger and bolder is better…right?  We like to think that progress means improvement, but we must recognize that isn’t always the case. Sometimes simple is far more grand.

I was reminded of that fact quite clearly during my 4th of July experience. I traveled from Los Angeles (the biggest city within the biggest state in America — which is undergoing big budget debt problem) to spend the summer in Iowa (a relatively small state with a big budget surplus). My mission was to volunteer for part of the time on an organic farm, which is by all accounts a rather small scale operation, compared to the big agricultural operations surrounding it. But that juxtaposition is another story…

I arrived a few days before the fourth, and was urged to attend a parade that my cousin Mike and his father Roger helped create with some friends in 2002. It takes place in a very small town out in the middle of the countryside, called Sharon Center. The parade started out as a bit of a joke between a few farmers. While the “bigger” towns and cities had developed lengthy parades, they thought it would be funny to put together one of their own. They had the idea of merely driving a few tractors along the road from one farmer’s place toward a community center about half a mile away. They thought their families could sit on lawn chairs as their audience to wave them on, and they would end the parade with a potluck lunch. Something altogether simple by design.

The nickname of this new Sharon Center Parade thus became “The Littlest Parade and the Biggest Potluck” — because they wanted to have lots and lots of food to share afterwards. They contacted a few other people from the surrounding area to see if they were interesting in joining their little endeavor, and sure enough it caught on and became something much more than a joke. It became a reason for the rural community to gather and celebrate; almost like a family reunion.

So I grabbed my mom to join me for the parade. We took out our lawn chairs and set up under a big shady oak tree next to a few other spectators. As we sat there and introduced ourselves, my mother quickly recognized some of the faces and names of people as acquaintances of her parents (once farmer’s in the area as well) and that she hadn’t seen in years. The event became a reunion for her as well and I got to recall some of my own childhood memories, back before the Internet and cell phones when there were huge family reunions for people to reconnect with each other.
Roger, parade co-founder
As promised the parade was indeed mostly farmers riding by in their tractors, some firetrucks, old cars, and low-key floats. No big spectacles, just a quaint parade like from years gone by. I contemplated the simple joy of an afternoon free from over-commercialization and big crowds that seem to have dominated the holiday. It was a truly independent venture to behold on Independence Day.

Afterwards, there was a potluck, held under a large white tent. Everyone it appeared had contributed a dish or two and everyone had their fill of delicious, mostly home-cooked food as they mingled as a community united.

As bragging rights go, it may not have been the littlest parade or the biggest potluck in the world, but it was a most splendid way to spend Independence Day and experience some of life’s simple little pleasures.

Mom (to the left of my empty chair) and other parade watchers
Very cute way to display pride for your grandchildren
Yup, a riding lawn mower flanked by kids on scooter
Indeed it does (as long as we stop killing off bees with GMOs and treat cows well)

No Iowa parade is complete without Shriners on 3-Wheelers!
My little pony
A community band
That's a classic

Patriot dogs
The line for potluck
And inside, lots of food awaits

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Little Intro to My Iowa Summer

A little moment I shared with a rabbit among the raspberries
We all need and deserve to give ourselves a "ReTreat", which means a period of time you treat yourself by getting back in touch with the greatest source of creativity; Mother Nature. So, what better place to be then at an organic farm, where the Source's presence is at work all around. I'm spending 5 weeks back home in Iowa at an organic farm. I'm here not only helping during one of it's busiest months, but to learn what I can and soak in the natural environment. Although I've mostly been pulling weeds, being surrounded by the abundant growth and good people, and the fact that I'm making a difference, feels good on many levels. The concept of "weeding" - a process that pulls out distracting or invasive plants so the maximum amount of energy goes into the main crop -  provides many insights and lessons to pick up on.

Some mustard gone to flower after the harvest of the leaves
As an artist invested in the art of life, this particular summer is all about connecting energetically with the Earth and tapping symbolically and spiritually into my roots. Being back home for an extended period of time is feeling absolutely sublime and invigorating. I'm seeing familiar places with a fresh and somewhat more mature perspective than ever before. Some of the changes to the surrounding areas of Iowa City and Johnson County are quite wonderful. It has a very inspired mix of art, worldly philosophy, literature, and rural charm. I'm appreciating just how fortunate my life has been and still is by being here. I'm deeply in love with this place and the people who make it what I foremost call home.

I'm also discovering that my return here is providing me much more to consider then I even imagined. Just as with nature, there is a lot more beneath the surface at work in creation. Crops may be the tangible/visible result of the labor, but the process involved in creating the produce is something far more complex and interwoven. For starters, life works best when community is at the heart of it all. When society works together with the common good at heart, not just individual selfishness. Much like a bee hive thrives from the cooperation and hard work of many individuals contributing to benefit and health of all. Life is indeed interconnected, and I'm learning just how important it is to be here and now, putting things into perspective, learning about life's many mysteries.

It is absolutely urgent we all open our senses to Mother Nature, tread consciously and carefully. Find a moment to plan your own ReTreat  - and consider doing something that gives back to the health of the others at the same time.

Below is an assortment of just a few of the crops the beautiful Dirty Face Creek Farm is involved with:

Sunsugar cherry tomatoes in transition

Abundant leafy Kale

Striking red veins of Chard

Garlic scapes that are curling up from the garlic bulbs below

Aromatic and flavorful basil

And of course lush red raspberries!