A simple thursday.

I arrive at the store feeling a bit ‘rammy’.  The chaos of the changes irritates me a little and I help Leslie M do some sorting.  She too is feeling a wee bit cranky.  We decide to be happy together and sort out some of the clutter.  It helps.  Yes, I even wash my office floor.  Meanwhile,  our computer tech guy is slinking around,  updating faulty windows patches and sorting out a virus that slipped onto one of the machines.  It annoys me that we have to pay to monitor problems and updates with windows.  I wish all of our machines were Macs. Yes, I will have to buy an iPad when they come out in the summer.

In the afternoon a client stops by and asks me if I would consider facilitating a discussion about community priorities.  We’ll base it around great questions that help ignite change.  It’s just the type of thing that I like to do.  I think about whether Alan might be interested in returning for a short day’s work in March.  I also think about my friend Liz and wonder how serious she may be to explore Alberta.

Later in the afternoon, I realize that I am having trouble prioritizing my tasks today and decide the best approach is to use the stack method and just start at the top.  Take the first thing deal with it, move onto the next thing and so on.  I manage to knock several things off the lists without creating too much stress by looking at everything that needs doing.  I find myself looking forward to coming to work tomorrow with a slightly more clear perspective.    The staff all leave for the day and I think I’ll do a couple more things before I fire up Jean Pod and bounce on home.  It will be nice to enjoy the quiet of my office without any distraction.

I do too much administration for Swerve and need to go home to soak in the hot tub and drink a glass of wine or two.  A myriad things off the list today and no stellar insight to reflect except that it’s nice to have quiet days to just plod along.  It’s like the space between the bigger tasks, even if it feels a little like cleaning up debris from a typhoon.

Light.

Alberta skies, Hawaiian light.
Alberta skies, Hawaiian light.

I stand on my step in the twilight watching the sky change, light pink and orange glows on the horizon like an early morning Hawaiian sky. The clear fresh blue above is a welcomed backdrop to the crisp Alberta morning.  The long white hoar frost clings to the trees in the foreground.  Darrel comes around the corner to pick me up for a meeting we have in Calgary (and yes, my fifth trip in seven days). His truck bounces across the ruts in the ice covered street. Darrel is one of the four partners of Swerve Living and we are meeting with a cost consultant and our mortgage broker.  I’m pleased that he has asked me to come along on for this meeting.  It gives us a chance to catch up on the project and renew our energy about the project.

Swerve Living has been about four years in the planning, design, redesign, and sales phases.  We have weathered so many factors and issues.  When Terry and I started this project we thought naively “how hard can this be?”  Like everything else we did we forged ahead anyway.  Wrote funding applications, purchased land, hired architects, and began marketing.  Then… the housing bubble.  Prices for housing skyrocketed, which meant construction costs skyrocketed.  Our project which started out as a three million dollar project quickly escalated to over 14 million.

Vacancy rates were below zero in Red Deer when we started.  People were moving from across the country to find work in Alberta.  Some living in tents on the outskirts of the city.    Everyone thought that there was gold in Alberta.  Construction companies raised prices, partly to attract and pay the best workforce and partly to reap (rape) additional profits in a hot economy.   Workers moved around like honey bees, flitting from one company to the next looking for the highest pay.   Government project, both civic and provincial had deep pockets and were prepared to meet the increase in costs to see projects through.  This left a shortage of labour for the private sector and what could be found came at prices escalated by marketplace demand.

Boom! As always happens, the costs began to exceed the prices that people were willing to pay for the finished product.  Houses and condos could no longer be built and sold for a profit.  Government projects finished and future ones were put on hold until the economy cooled.  The construction market began its correction.  Workers began to leave Alberta for home.  Some had done well, some had come too late, and some had spent with reckless abandon and had nothing to show for it.

Financial institutions quit lending to capital projects.  The federal government trumpeted the success of Canadian banks and hearing the praise the banks tightened lending even further.  Where did all of this chaos leave us and our Swerve Living project?  Well, it left us actually in a quite fortunate position.  We were too early in our design phase to be ready to build before the escalation of costs occurred.  We were troubled by the labour shortage and climbing prices but the situation caused us to hold the project until the pricing could correct itself.  The corrections to the market have been happening.  Construction costs  have been coming down, but then with the exodus of people from Alberta and unemployment rising, the housing market has taken severe drop.  Our project could be built at reasonable costs but the housing market prices needed to recover to make it profitable.

Here we are at the beginning of 2010.  All of the conditions are favourable.  Construction costs are in line with housing prices.  The housing market is beginning to grow at a reasonable and steady rate.  Lenders, especially private lenders, are starting to be interested in finding projects to fund. We are now receiving steady calls on the project and purchase interest as picked up.

Darrel and Adele joined us in this project about 18 months ago and have weathered most of the storm.  As I travel to Calgary today with Darrel all of this goes through my head.  I think about how much I would have learned about real estate development in a steadily rising market, but I also think about how much more I have learned in a market that has been so wild for the past three years.  I’ve learned who I can trust and who I can’t.  I’ve learned how this process could be better and what pitfalls could be avoided.  I’ve also learned the importance and power of business relationships during the hard times.  I’m reminded of how my creativity and tenacity has served me.  Without one another’s support, and that of friends this project could have died an early death.

Swerve Living is one of my dreams.  It will be built and we will start construction in March or April of this year.  The cost consultant and the mortgage broker are pleased with the plans, the budget, and the vision that we have brought to this project.  Swerve Living will change the face of downtown Red Deer.  It is community friendly featuring a wonderful street presence, it is people friendly featuring beautiful designed light-filled spaces, and its design is light on the earth.

Our meeting goes very well and we have a clear checklist… and you know how I love lists… to meet our goal to begin construction soon.  I’m feeling quite confident in our team as we leave the meeting.  Darrel and I talk about details and the activities that we need to do in the next couple of days.  We make a pit stop at Ikea on the way home for yet one more shelf unit for my office. As if my fingers aren’t numb enough from yesterday, wielding that odd-shaped Ikea screw bit.

The journey home goes quickly and before you know it I’m back at my office assembling the last of my new shelves.  Leslie M is busy painting the second floor of Sunworks.  It’s looking great.  Matt shows up and offers some advice about the changes.  I leave his thoughts to rattle around in my brain with the ideas from Glynis and her friend, the Sunworks staff, and Alan. It’s going to be hot.

Terry comes to take me home.  I bamboozle him into helping me move furniture around in the store.  I’m happy to see changes and realize that painting of my office may be way sooner than I was thinking.  It feels so great and it’s giving me new energy to work.   Tomorrow will be cleaning and serious desk work.  Painting on the weekend?  Hmmm.

At home, we eat dinner and then watch Obama deliver the US State of the Union address.  He talks about weathering the storm and that change and uncertainty is not easy.  He speaks of faith in the future.  I think about how much more hopeful I am in the world since Bush left office and what a disaster he was.  I think about how anti-American I became when he was in power.  Now, I feel hopeful for the future of the United States.  I may someday be proud to have them as neighbours again.

It’s only two years ago this April that Alan and I attended a week long course on Inspired Leadership in Totnes at Schmacher College, England.  The lead facilitator, Meg Wheatley, opened her comments by saying “America is Dead.” Not the most inspiring thing to say but it certainly reflected Bush era and the results of US involvement in two wars.

Climate change was barely a credible topic, yet we were trying to create an environmental friendly building.  At that time the price escalation troubles of the Swerve project were fully known.  The world seemed to be quaking under with despair coming from every direction.  I worried about how my own projects would do. I wondered about how I could be an inspired leader.

Today the recession storm mostly passed, another undoubtedly is brewing.  This morning the sun rose creating with beautiful colours against the cold morning.  Tomorrow I will work hard and enjoy the light that is in my life now.  I will have faith and hope in the future.  I will sing happy songs.  I will wash my office floor!

The blessing of company.

I travel to the airport with my best friend, Alan.  We talk on and off about the great work he, Glynis, and I have done over the past few days.  I express how thrilled I am that he had the opportunity to meet and work with Glynis, since I find her such an inspiration.  We talk about our life experiences and how the richness of our lives has helped us to see our work together from three very different and equally informed perspectives.  I feel blessed to have been able to work with two of my most cherished friends.  We form a strong team, each bringing out the wisdom in the other.

The sun is starting to set, weaving in and out of the clouds, casting a sundog down to the horizon.  The clouds shift slowly with a mood of winter loneliness and I try not to think of the months and days that will pass before I may see my friend again.  I’m surprised by my willingness and ability to be both centred and present in the moment.  Partly the pain of separating, and partly the joy of having been together.

We pass Didsbury and I realize that we are past half way.  I want time to slow down, to savour these last few hours before he is off to home.  In the airport we find a place to sit and drink sodas until the time comes for him to pass security.  One last embrace good bye. I stand and watch him wrestle with security.  The boots, the pat down, the reassembling.  Wave.

12 dollars to get out of the parkade.  I travel quietly down the highway on my way home, painfully aware of the hole in my heart.  I think of how lovely it will be to catch up with Terry after he is done with his Whisker Rescue Society meeting.  He’s just returned yesterday from a conference and Chicago and I haven’t seen him for four days.  The roads are calm and quiet. I call and chat with my friend Corinne on the phone about life and the directions each of us is taking.  I think about coming straight to the office and begin to sort my office for the week — to catch up on all that has been put aside as I worked with my consulting team.  I think about my friends and how blessed I am to have each of them in my life, no matter how far away they are or how often I get to see them.  I look forward to being at work tomorrow.

Terry texts me to say that the meeting is nearly over.  I go straight to the house, just in time for a cupcake, and to say hello to Stacey and Pete.  The four of us make plans to see one another this weekend, to drink wine and share stories.  I’m really happy to be home with Terry to enjoy our home, and one another’s company.  Again, I think about how blessed I am.

In the morning I begin to take hold of my work and my office.  I assemble shelves most of the day, in between I help the electrician sort out wiring for the new heating system we are installing in the building next door.  It’s boring stuff to do, but I know that it will be rewarding once it is done and paid for.  I wish January were a little busier.  Leslie M and I go buy paint for the store.  It is exciting to see the second floor transform with colour.  We stop for lunch and have some really good laughs.  It’s nice that she too is in my life.

Now and I sit and write this, I think of what this blog may become and hope that people will read it and enjoy it.  I hope that there are interesting things to say and insights that might make the world a better place.  Over the past couple of days I’ve felt close to so many people.  Friends, colleagues, clients, family.  I am reminded again tonight of the solitude that we all own by virtue of being alone with ourselves in our own bodies.  There is still, an incredible richness of company that can surround us if we stay present in the moment and appreciate that we all have an incredible diversity of fellow travellers in our lives that bring us great joy just by being associated — but only if we allow our hearts to be open.

Some reflections about Japan.

It’s Sunday morning and I sit here in my sunroom looking out at the grey sky.  Last Sunday I was spending my last day in Japan and beginning my travels home.  Terry and I had a great time there.  I’d wanted to visit Japan since I was a teenager, and it has taken me this long.  Terry found tickets on a discount travel site and so for the two of us to go it was $1200 Canadian dollars return, taxes included.  How amazing is that?  Discoveries we made about travelling there.  First, buy yourself a first class Japan Rail pass.  You must do this outside of Japan.  You can’t buy them there.  Then you can travel on any train, anytime, to anywhere in Japan.  If you want to travel in the first class car you just have to book at the rail stations before the journey begins.  We travelled from Tokyo, to Akita, to Juniko, to Aomori, to Sendai, to Kyoto, and back to Tokyo.

The second money tip is that there are hotels everywhere and you should be able to get a small but nice room for no more that $70 Canadian.  The staff at the desk always show you the price before they go ahead and book it for you.  They’ll type the price into a calcuator or write it on a pad and then present it to you in the palms of their hands, like an offering.  It’s quite lovely and non threatening.  We were thrilled with the prices since the one we booked online for the first night was $168 Canadian.

Contrary to what you may have heard, English is NOT well spoken by many people in Japan.  I would say it would be similar to the amount of French that we speak in the Alberta.  You’ll find someone eventually, but most of the time you are on your own.  Since the Japanese use a writing system of ideograms, it is impossible to read without some studying before you.  You will see some things written out with abc’s, which may give you some clues.  Train stations are good that way.  We learned to recognize the symbols for cities we were visiting, which was helpful.

The people were warm and friendly and helpful. We were very careful to wear our Canadian flags prominently, so that we didn’t repeat the experience of being mistaken for Americans that we had when we first visited Europe in Spring of last year (pre Obama).  We met some wonderful people whom we would like to go back and visit and perhaps take friends to introduce.

Japan did not seem as ‘futuristic’ as we had thought it would be.  (Everyone we met had cellphone but few had emails — wouldn’t that be heaven.) It is just as modern as any developed country that we’ve visited but really no more so.  I was surprised but the absence of historical building.  It seems that almost everything has been replaced within the last 60 years and not much of it with really high quality.  I reminded me of what we’ve done here in western Canadian in the 60’s and 70’s.  We took down anything old and replaced it with stucco and vinyl.  The Japanese love plastic, everything was made of plastics.

The last day in Toyko we discovered a restoration taking place of the main train terminal.  The building is just over 100 years old and looks more European than Japanese, but still it quite significant to their history.  The restoration reminded me a lot of the work that is happening in London with the King’s Cross station (famous to us from Harry Potter, platfrom 9 1/2).  The Japanese have the added work of lifting the whole thing up and fitting it with a shock absorbing system that will help the building withstand earthquakes.  There was an earthquake one evening while we were in Aomori — we survived.

The wondrous thing about the Japanese is they way they have preserved their culture.  I recognize that I have no way of knowing how it may have changed but still it seemed to me that in the absence of heritage buildings they have managed to preserve their custom of respect for one another and visitors, through their actions and language.  They value things being tidy and organized.  “You can eat off the streets,” I heard so often. It was amazing.  I which we could keep Sunworks this tidy and clean. (I hear the Sunworkers groaning already).  We learned to bow and to be polite in our requests and our thanks.

I was reminded by this short Japan experience to never take anything or anyone for granted.  I should respect and honour not only the things that I have for a time, but the people in my life.  Connections and relationships are most important, everything else needs to be cared for, for others in the future to enjoy.

Orange moon rising.

DSCF2246Tonight Terry, my sweetheart of 18 years, took me out to begin my birthday celebration — his idea not mine, but how can I complain about starting a month early.  It was quite a day at work, so much to do and never enough time to do it.  I never seem to have quite enough time to spend with the staff at Sunworks — to tell them how much I enjoy them and their efforts.  I seem so rushed and it’s difficult some days to frame my thoughts and connect with them the way I would like.

Swerve Living is consuming a lot of time time right now.  A number of people come by each day to look at the show room and to learn about the project.  Slowly the condos are selling and that is really important to the project.  As each day passes construction draws nearer.  I look forward to when the first shovel hits the ground, to see the first forms go in, the first cement trucks, the first steel beams, the first windows.  I imagine how the Swerve corner will look and what it will be like to see the transformation of the street. I look forward to the completed project.

Meanwhile the work on the neighbour’s project, Executive Place, is noticeable, the glazing is slowly creeping its way up the side of the building.  The forms for the roof are close to being in place.  It won’t be long before the building will be closed in.  Not long afterward the construction of the Cenotaph Park at the end of the block will begin.  It’s an exciting time on Ross street and in the downtown of Red Deer.  I belief with the few projects now on the go we will reach the tipping point. T he downtown will become known again as vibrant urban oasis, against the stark backdrop of expanded strip malls and pavement offered in the south and north of this City.  The community is desperate for the changes that are happening downtown.

For example, the crossing at Gaetz and 32nd street is such a disaster in our City that friends and I have joked that we are going to apply to the City to open a lemonade stand in the centre of the intersection because it’s so wide that people walking will need to stop, recover, and wait for the next light to make it all the way.  In fact now on the Gaetz Avenue south the lights are so badly timed for pedestrians that most people can’t make it all the way across in one go, they must stand on the median and wait for another signal.

Enough of that for now, but I will no doubt come back to it another day.

At Sunworks we continue with our own enhancement plans.  Renovations on a small office space on the second floor are underway. It will be a wonderful space for a new tenant — one that has yet to appear.  This week, the ceiling has been taken down and a new more environmentally efficient one will be installed.  Electrical for track lighting is in, new heating, and plugs.  Insulation is going in soon and new drywall.  Then we’ll upgrade the flooring to match the rest of the second floor.  Beautiful hardwood.  I’m curious to know who will come to us as a new tenant.  Rent will be about $400/month.

Meanwhile, efforts this week in Sunworks have been focused on the second floor.  We’ve rearranged and installed the fixtures, merchandised new products, and gathered together items for a 50%-90% percent off.  There are many great deals to be had and a lot of new products to see.  One of the most exciting features of the the upstairs is the new music store.  We’re close to signing off on the design for the new cabinetry.  One more review and we should be able to give the cabinet makers the go ahead.  The completion is scheduled for November 1st, and music selections are being made, with the help of one enthusiastic and talented Sunworker named Paeton.  He’s taking requests, so don’t be shy. It will be a wonderful mix of contemporary and classical music with an emphasis on music that helps your soul feel good.  There are a couple of you out there that know a lot about classical music… we need to talk.

We’ve began the finishing of the garden room.  The construction has began on a facade for a new trompe l’oeil which will imitate an old European store front.  I’ve taken so many pictures over the past couple years of building facades in France, England, Spain, and Italy.  I hope that we’ll bring something home to Red Deer and will reflect our travels and inspire our visitors.

The topic at hand was my birthday, but as usual went off down some side path.  Terry took me out to see a movie tonight.  I really wanted to see Julie and Julia.  He remembered and tickets where presented when I woke this morning.  It was a brilliant movie.  I love a love story, especially one with very few Hollywood twists, and I love food.  Meryl Streep brought together both with the role of Julia Child.  Amy Adams played the role of Julie.  It’s a movie truly worth seeing.

As we walk toward the car, the full moon was rising — a giant orange globe scraping along the treetops, slowly rising above them with a certain lunacy.  The movie made me feel good especially as I considered that, like Julie and Julia, I just may accomplish my dreams and bring something nice to the world.  I needed this feeling today.  I already felt good as I left the cinema but the sight of a the beautiful orange moon was a perfect end to the evening.

Appreciation.

Today as I worked at the Sunworks on a variety of things, I appreciated the work that each of the staff was doing so much.  It’s the strongest group of people that we’ve ever had and they love and respect one another.  There are no hard feelings between anyone and the support they give one another is powerful.  It feels like we are finally getting into all of the corners, that the policies and procedures are in line with our philosophy of customer service. The store is clean and tidy and the inventory has increased significantly.  The bookstore looks like a bookstore and we are getting great comments from the customers on the selection.  Over time our literature section will increase.  Sunworks is becoming what we all imagined it could be.  This next year will see the final changes to the makeover of the building.  Max may finally get his cafe and coffee bar.

As we contemplate our next major expansion into music it is fun to watch as the new CDs come in and are well received.  Tomorrow we are meeting with the fixture designer to tweak the design they are doing for us.  It’s my goal that that section is well under way before Christmas. It’s going to be an amazing year for Sunworks.  Another record year and we continue to grow and become better at helping our community appreciate life.

Meanwhile, as things become better at Sunworks, Swerve Living is ramping up.  Soon we will have great housing to offer to people working in lower paid industry, or attending school. Condos are for sale and we are working toward beginning construction on the project within weeks.  The building permit has been issued and some of the condos are already sold.  It’s all about the banking now.  I’m so looking forward to the transformation that this will create on Gaetz Avenue.  18 months from now, the project will be done and occupied.  It’s been a long road but a good road.

Voltaire said “appreciation is a wonderful thing, it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. ”  Today is a day for appreciation.  I appreciate what we’ve co-created at Sunworks.  I appreciate the staff and the huge amount of talent they have.  I appreciate the customers and the positive things they offer.  I appreciate the way our street is changing and becoming a great part of the downtown.  I appreciate the faith that our community and friends have shown in us as we have worked for positive change.  Most of all I appreciate life and the happiness that comes through the offering of one’s gifts.

Swerve Living.

It’s been a long road but we are finally in building mode.  We hope to have the construction crews on site in a matter of weeks.  Swerve Living is an environmentally friendly condominium complex.  It’s designed for urban living in the downtown of Red Deer.  During this past week we’ve been setting up the sales office and showroom.   Right now we have condos available for sale;  some have sold in the first week.  This Saturday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. we are hosting an open house at Sunworks.  You are invited to come down and have a close look at the complex, ask your questions, and catch the excitement we feel for this project.

billboard-01 Swerve Living has been in the planning and design stages for about three years.  With the help of officials, both elected and employed, of the City of Red Deer, we’ve been able to design a building that meets the new Alberta Building Code  and embodies high quality environmental standards. This is a  super insulated building which consumes no gas to operate.  It is designed for future solar integration and wind energy.   Our municipal Planning Commission and City Council has supported this project from the beginning.

Swerve Living is a traditional building in many ways. It however keeps in mind the aesthetics of our downtown and integrates well into our changing community as we imagine and plan for new residential living in downtown.

As a long term business resident of the downtown it is quite exciting for me to see the changes happening here.

Executive Place on the corner of Ross and 49th Avenue has nearly reached its maximum height.  They’ve started putting windows up and soon they’ll be solely working on the inside.  Once that project is complete the City will build Cenotaph Park which will create a vibrant cultural space downtown. The park will be directly in front of the building where the construction staging area is now.  Ross Street won’t return to four lanes of traffic; it’s great to see how Ross Street has changed, from a place that the strippers and drug lords hung out to the busiest and most vibrant street in Red Deer.  The merchants on this street have worked tirelessly to create something important for us all.

I believe that as Swerve Living progresses it will further the transformation of the downtown along Gaetz Avenue.  If you haven’t been downtown recently you really must visit us.  There is now a wide range of international restaurants, all independent and all great places to eat  — from Fijian to Thai, from Mexican to Lebanese.  The shopping is the best in the City and the increasing walkability of the downtown makes it a rich cultural experience. It’s a good reminder that our roots in Alberta are deeper than our oil and gas industries: we come from all over the world and we have a rich and diverse heritage.  Downtown is the place to be; it’s not for mall shoppers.  It’s for those that seek to connect with this place we call Red Deer in a much more substantial and rich way.

Reflexivity.

Tea in the Garden with Rachel and AlanI’m sitting at home in my hallway office thinking about life and the changes of the past year, and also of the changes that are about to occur in the next year.  It is truly amazing what can happen if one thinks about one’s life in a long term perspective.  Reflexivity! as my best friend puts it.  By my definition it is the ‘power’ to create one’s own world by thinking about one’s present world.   By asking questions frequently about how I feel and what I think I need or want, I’ve begun to build up a praxis of my life and I think my future possibilities — even if it doesn’t involve slingshotting around the sun to go back in time and try again.

I find it absolutely amazing that most people don’t spend time thinking about their own lives and all that is happening to them, or rather all that is happening in which they play an part, as an actor. Just today, I was speaking with a smart colleague about this and it occurred to me that most people don’t think about their lives… or don’t think about what they are thinking about.  Strangely, the later is one definition of being sentient.

Earlier in this blog I proposed a few questions to think about daily.  As I have done this reflecting myself, the questions have changed for me. The act, or performance, of asking yourself these questions, (or any reflective question, I imagine), has the potential to help you align your dreams and your purpose in life.  I may be being too nebulous and intellectual here;  so instead I issue you a challenge.  Try this for three weeks…. as my mother said, for 21 days: the number of days it takes to create a habit…. take five minutes every morning and answer these questions in a journal (electronic or otherwise) or on a piece of paper that you can tape to the mirror.   See what happens with your thinking.  Think about how you would like to change the questions.  Think about your answers.  Think about what you know and don’t think you know.  Reflect on your life and your part in the world. You’ll think as part of your daily journey.  Most of all, enjoy yourself and be kind to yourself, as you travail.

Here are the questions, as I have written them.  Feel free to alter them as time goes by. As you ‘unpack’ the language in these questions (like the difference between need or want) you’ll see multiple ways of thinking. Don’t worry about the questions too much, just consider your answer.  Sometimes it is the first thing that comes to your soul.  There is no correct or absolute way to reflect… there is only to begin and continue — for yourself and no one else really.  I believe we should all remember that we are all solitary travellers on the earth.  It often reminds me of a film that I saw while I lived in Alabama titled. “A Company of Strangers.”     That’s another story.

What is the most important thing I need (or want) to be for myself today?

What is the most important thing that I need (or want) to do for myself today?

What is the most important thing for me to do for others today?

What is it that I most need from others today?

What are the most pressing items that need doing in the businesses today?

How curious do I feel?

Do these activities take me toward or away from my future vision?

I invite you, as I have done all along, to post comments and thoughts to this blog.  Share what you are learning for yourself and others who read and reflect.

Stuart Ross reading at Sunworks.

I’m so pleased to let you know that we are having an reading at Sunworks on June 25, 2009, at 7:oo p.m. Here is a little information. I think it is going to be a great time and I encourage all of you that can come to join us for wine and cheese and a great evening.

FREEHAND BOOKS LAUNCHES STUART ROSS’S NEW COLLECTION OF FICTION IN RED DEER

Freehand Books will be celebrating the Red Deer launch of Stuart Ross’s critically acclaimed new collection of fiction, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, on Thursday, June 25 at 7:00 p.m. at Sunworks (4924 Ross St). Stuart Ross will read from Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, and wine and cheese will be served. This is a free event and open to the public.

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog is the first book of fiction since 1997 from the consummately underground Ross, and this diverse collection has caught the attention of reviewers across the country. Patricia Robertson, writing in the Toronto Star, says “It’s as if Jane Austen and Franz Kafka collaborated on a short story collection while Albert Einstein acted as editor,” and Vue Weekly calls Ross “a challenging but unerringly entertaining writer.” Released less than two months ago, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog is already going into its second printing.

Stuart Ross is the co-founder of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, Poetry Editor at Mansfield Press, and the Fiction & Poetry Editor at This Magazine. He has published two collaborative novels, a collection of stories, six poetry collections, and a collection of personal essays, and is the editor of the anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence. Ross has taught writing workshops across Canada, as well as in the U.S. and Chile. He lives in Southern Ontario.

For more information phone Paul at 403-341-3352.  I’m looking forward to seeing many of you there and enjoying this great writing together.

first fridays

So this gallery hop has been growing over the past several months. Tomorrow, that’s Friday May 1, three openings happen at once. I hope that you’ll put on your snowshoes and trudge down for a glass of  wine and a good look. The Harris-Warke gallery has an interesting show with ceramics, which I totally love. The Velvet Olive has the photographs of a self-proclaimed “new artist in town” who explores the human body as a canvas. The Gallery IS in its new location on Alexander Way beside McBain Camera and features a series of portraits and constructs. Definitely worth a look.

Alleyscape Studio is open and it’s always worth it to drop in and see Paul Boutlbee and his work. That’s located opposite the Sunworks bookstore entrance near the Velvet Olive.

In the old Gallery IS location the francophone society is gearing up to participate in first Fridays as well, so that is something that you can look forward to.

Sunworks of course is open late that night and is always worth a good browse. The bookstore is in full swing featuring lots of new titles. The rest of the store is packed with great finds, with more ever on its way. What a great way to support our local economy and our local artists. In gloomy and uncertain times art really has a way to improve life.