thinking about new home space

I’m about to start another work week.  We moved the clocks an hour ahead so we have lost one hour of sunlight in the morning.  It’s still bright enough when I wake up though, so it will just seem like more daylight this afternoon.  I’ll enjoy that.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the renovations of the house.  For those of you who don’t know me that well, Terry and I live in a small bungalow built in the mid 1950s.  We renovated the kitchen some years ago, added the sunroom that I love so much, and now we are looking to renovate the other end of the house.  We are in great need of a new bathroom and a bit more, and better appointed closet space.  I would also like a work station at home, and so we are going to reconfigure the three rooms into two, and create a large bathroom.  I’m hoping that the new office space will be filled with light, be quiet and yet connected to the rest of the house.  This week Terry and I will meet with our architect again and continue to develop the design.  After nearly 20 years together it is time to get rid of the pink bathtub and the rotting walls, put in a proper size shower, and a wash dryer on the same floor as the closets.  What a novel idea.  It’s all strangely different to how we configured our space 50 years ago with separate rooms, when today we prefer more open space and a more minimalist approach.

I think this relates to the idea of space.  We need space that is not filled with things, that feels open and bright and airy.  White space for us to live in.  I’m of the belief that as we do some of these changes it will change our relationship as well.  Perhaps not during the renovation process, but once things are completed.  It’s important that the house has all of the functions that we both need in order to live our lives.  Terry enjoys cooking, and watching television while he does that.  I enjoy reading in absolute silence.  There is a challenge for us in design.  Meanwhile, we both enjoy entertaining, so an open concept is much more interesting.  Some of the changes that the architect proposes for the kitchen and the living room are brilliant.  It will be exciting to see this happen.  I thought I had enough of renovations with the store last year, but now we are moving it into the house.  I must like pain.


I’m sitting my sunroom surrounded by things that I like and art that I’ve created.  This room is probably more a reflection of me than any other room in the house.  One thing that I learned so clearly this year is the important of space.  It is really becoming a theme for me.  I need space in which I feel comfortable, both physical space and inner space.  This year I talked many times of white space.  In the world of art and design white space is the negative space around the subject and within the subject itself.  When you get the right balance of white space to the graphic or image, the impact of the image itself is heightened.  As I look at the my own paintings, I see bold blocks of colour and stillness which offset the busyness of the composition.  So it is in the design of this room, when it is tidy and things are put away there is enough space around the beautiful things to help them be better than they are, and the whole presents a much more unified image. At the very moment I then want to get up and tidy a few things away so that my experience in this sunroom is better.  So that I become the complex busyness around which the white space exists.  So that the room itself enhances me and my performance.

White space exists in our inner worlds as well.  It may well be part of what sleep is about.  We spend much of our days doing things, interacting with people, solving challenges, creating, communicating, and becoming.  Do we create enough white space around our activities to really enjoy them?  Is there time for personal reflection or activities that invite personal reflection such as gardening, cooking, and exercise?  For me, the greatest troubles I have in my life occur when I am not allowing myself enough inner space for reflection and quiet. It’s interesting because these times also coincide with a cluttered physical space.

My grandmother, Mary – with whom you will probably become familiar if you continue to read my writing – used to say,  “Just sit still and twiddle your thumbs”.  She would make us sit on the sofa for what seemed a long time. Maybe she just wanted some peace and quiet herself, instead of grandkids running all over the house, or maybe she knew that reflection and inner space is a skill that we need to develop, and the younger the better.

Today as I start this new adventure, the creation of this web space, this virtual white space, I hope to share and find interesting insights into our personal worlds. I hope you come with me in a spirit of questioning and discovery.

Restart and new chapter.

I’ve just returned from Montreal where I spent 10 days with my best friend, Alan.  During that time I was able to think about my life, the directions it is taking, the important things to me, and smaller things like the meaning of life and the universe.

As I come back to Red Deer and am very much ready to change directions, finish up some of the projects that I have been working on and seriously consider the new directions that will take.  Unfortunately, I managed to get food poisoning the day after I returned and it has taken the bounce out of my step the past couple of days.  I’m 40% now and by tomorrow I’ll be coming around to half capacity or more

One of the things that I’ve really missed is writing in this public blog, and so I’m ready to begin that again.  I’ve been studying carefully social networking tools and considering how they relate to career and life and I hope to offer interesting insights and observations about life and the way we all are with one another in this time.

I’m especially excited about my current writing project and the shape that it may take.  I’m hopeful that some of this material will appear here.

British Airways – January 11, 2009

On the early evening on January 11, 2009 we landed in Calgary on a British Airways flight direct from London, Terminal 5.  We cleared customs and made out way to the baggage carousel to collect our luggage.  We usually travel fairly lightly and don’t have checked baggage but with a wonderful Christmas holiday in the London and other parts of England we had checked baggage.  We took our Christmas presents for one another from Canada in Terry’s new Carhartt bag and returned home with them and other things.

We stood at the carousel for quite a long time while a friend waited for us outside to give us a ride back to Red Deer.  The bags stopped coming and Terry’s Carhartt bag, the one with Terry’s gifts, some clothes, chocolates for friends, and a few other important things wasn’t there.  It was then that we noticed at bag at looked almost identical to Terry’s still going around.  We checked the tag to be sure.  It belonged to a person with the last name of Higgins, who was on the same flight as us. The bag had Trinidad 2006 stitched on the side, was not as new but besides that was exactly the same shape and size.

We took this bag over to the lost baggage centre and explained that although our bag could have been lost or stolen it could also be possible that Higgins, presumable Mr. Higgins had taken it by mistake.  We suggested that they phone him before he got to far from the airport.  In stark contrast with the in flight service, British Airways staff were very unhelpful, saying that they didn’t have access to that information and only their supervisor could look up the information but that she was closing another flight. They gave us a business card to call back in the morning on the 1-800 number with the file number.  They just shrugged their shoulders and said that they could do nothing.  They said the customer would call and return it likely.  We had our doubts.  People working in drilling on the rigs could travel 100s of miles to their jobs.

So we filled out the missing bag forms as instructed, knowing full well that the all that was in between us and the path to getting out bag and gifts back was a simple phone call.  We would have been quite happy to go and collect it ourselves.

The alarming thing about this is that our bag potentially left the airport with someone else.  In this time of high security is that something that should be happening?  We would like help in retrieving our bag and possibly seeing changes to the way security is handled.  Does anyone have ideas about what we should do next?

Universe unfolding.

Why do I blog tonight?  It was a brilliant day all round.  I suppose that I just want to share some of the goodness with you, or perhaps just had too much coffee in the morning.  Thanksgiving has just past and although I’m not terribly religious I am thankful for the wonderful life that I have.  Filled with lovely people and interesting projects.

The store is doing really well, all of the hard work is starting to pay off.  We’ve finished a large part of the renovations and are doing the rest in well quoted, well timed chucks.  I’m just no longer capable of uncertainty around any of the projects.  A colleague of mine has taken up the ball and is running with it.  He’s organized the railings, windows, stairs, firedoors, and a few other bits that yet need to be done.  It won’t be long and we’ll be thinking about the listening music bar on the second floor — which we’ve be trying to get big shiny Brian to come back to town for, but which is probably a hopeless thing.  And then it is onto designing and renovating for the coffee bar on the second floor.  The team is going away for a day, and I’m looking forward to it in a big way.  We are going to have time to spend with one another to be in nature.  We are thinking about going down to near Rosebud, Alberta.  Everyone it seems if looking forward to it.

Swerve Living is finally coming along.  We’ve been working with architects that believe in the project and also understand what a budget it.  That is a long story, too long to tell, but the ground breaking is a few months away now and we’ll be building in the spring.

Love and friendships are absolutely wonderful.  Terry and I are going to England for Christmas to spend time with Alan and Tim.  A few days in London and then some time in the country before we return to work in January here.  There is no doubt that we’ll be spending more time with these lovely friends.

Body building is going really well.  I’ve gain about 10 pounds and have slimmed down at the same time.  I’m having such at hard time with sticking to the diet, but what is amazing is that when I manage to eat all of the food (the right food) I seem to lose fat, and become more muscular.  It’s amazing how the body works.  I’m going to make a valiant effort to stick to the plan for the Christmas season.

Life seems to be going well, but I am also very clear that it is what you make it.  It’s tricky to remain grounded in reality, be fluid in your thinking and in your willingness to adapt to changing circumstances in your life, positive with people that throw all kinds of baggage your way, and trust the universe to unfold as it should.  Sky’s the possibility.  I suppose I’m having a good day in being healthy and dealing with the issues and opportunities that have recently appeared.  Horizons look great and I know that I’m daily becoming a better person.

Friday evening bike ride.

Artist, Dawn Candy

I work most of the day, writing the final version of the Culture Vision (2008) for Red Deer.  It is hot and by the evening I think I need some more exercise and so decide to bike down to Sunworks for a visit. On the way I pass an old senior moving very slowly with her walker.  She’s got a fluffy little dog to keep her company.  I say good evening to her as I pass and she smiles.  Then, I see Stacy and Pete contemplating life from a park bench.  I stop and say hello to them.  I’m really glad to be out tonight… what else with the evening bring?

It’s the first Friday of the month and I have totally forgotten that the galleries are all open.  I go over to The Velvet Olive and it too has an opening.  It’s Dawn Candy’s new show called Simon Says.  She reminds me that Terry and I helped her name the show and think of games that people play solo, of which the show is mostly about. The show is beautiful and I love one piece in particular and so have to buy it.  I already have one piece of Dawn’s work that I bought at Affairs of the Arts years ago.

Dave More talks to me about how the galleries and emerging and how a few years back, he would never of dreamed of an ‘Gallery District’.  Now there are three side by side.

Someone says to me it that it would be great if there were a way to get into the Sunworks from the back.  They didn’t know that we cut a door in just this week.   He says that this laneway is really amazing, and wants to help it grow.  I mention to him that we’ve been asking to have the lane named.  Lorne Daniel has told me that a focus on this lane will be a recommendation in the Greater Downtown Action Plan.  I’m thrilled by this fact.  I could be a really great place to be for more than just our buildings.

II call Terry and suggest he come down.  As we sit there and have a drink we think about how strange it is to have built all of these spaces and yet 95% of the people attending tonight have no idea we had anything to do with the lounge or the galleries.  It’s rewarding in a way to know that the buildings and the work have a life of their own.

As I think about the current work I have been doing with culture it gives me hope to think that things are changing in Red Deer.

Terry and I just got back from San Francisco where art and culture pours onto the streets.  I hadn’t gone looking tonight for it and it just happened for me.  It is great to know that sometimes you can just stumble upon great things when you are not looking in Red Deer.

Moments later a short rough fellow approaches the bar and orders a straight shot of sambuca, while it was coming he proceeds to tell us that he will go camping this weekend and take his guns.  Some place where he can shoot and poo in the woods.  He tells us he has 4 daughters and a wife and he is going by himself this weekend, because they don’t like to poo in the woods.

Well that was interesting, we thought, I guess we are back from San Francisco.  We thank Dawn for the show, and for the painting.

Falling in Line
Falling in Line

It’s still light and so I ride my bike back to the house.  As I approach a red light on my ride home I come across two younger men beating on each other.  One is pounding the other with his foot.  I think that he will kill him, but he stops.  The smaller of them gets up and chases the other.  Soon I am in between the two of them trying to get out the way.  The small one yells at me to get out of the way, and I think to myself to move and avoid the whole mess.  He’s about half my size but I guess that is what drugs do to a person. He looks worn down, and battered.  It is sad.

I didn’t see anything like this in San Francisco, a city much bigger.  The whole juxaposition of the night was revealing.  Red Deer is on the edge of a shift, we haven’t quite come to grips with the drug problems here, and in fact the property crime rate is 43% higher than the national average.  We also haven’t supported the growth of culture in Red Deer as much as we should.  It seems to me that one will help with the other.  So why do I write this tonight?  It seems like a odd collection of events that just needed to be shared.

Painting to centre.

I come home tonight after a day’s work and although I did get quite a not accomplished I still don’t feel centred.  I have the overwhelming desire to paint, which pleases me greatly.  I drop the groceries and the laundry at the back door, get out the wine, put the music of Cecilia Bartoli (that women has the voice of an angel and hair that would make Leslie Greentree weep openly) singing Mozart’s Arias on the Bose, and sit down to paint.  I’m well underway within 20 minutes and paint most of the evening.

Here is the progress tonight with many hours left to go.  I probably will paint again in the morning light.

And that is it for the night. Too dark out to work any longer. I hope I’m still feeling painterly tomorrow.


Terry is on the camera with a worried look about whether they will all fit in the truck.

Well this will be a boring entry so stop reading now.  Terry and I went to Calgary last night to pick up more shelving for Sunworks.  The expansion continues and I wonder if it will even be done.  Nonetheless
we need more shelving to accommodate all of the new products coming in. We had serious doubts whether we would make them fit into the truck.

Hmmm, maybe the rest will fit in the back sit!
Looking East

We managed to get them in, we skip a romantic dinner out and a drink with the men in town and head back to Red Deer.  The sunset on the way and the scenery were stellar and I thought of my friend Tim having never seen this flatness before.  Of course a picture doesn’t really do the real thing justice.

Looking West
Looking West

Steady progress.

Here we are rounding the last corner in our business plan for Sunworks and the building.  By the end of the year, we’ll have 90 percent of the building renovations done and will have taken out original investment of $2000 which we started the store with and turned it into $2.5 million that it is today.  It took 10 years of work.  I don’t think that I’ve ever written this story and so over the next couple of dozen entries I’m going to recall and record as much of the story as I can remember.

Coming to Red Deer

I moved to Red Deer in 1991 in the summer.  Moving back to you parent’s house at 29 is not something most people would want to do.  I’d been through a really bumpy time in Calgary and had learned a lot about trust, entrepreneurship, hard work, and the kinds of people in the world.  I owned a business which failed but really shouldn’t have.  I was involved on a business level with the wrong people, integrity, honestly, and respect where not characteristics that any of these people had.   In the end, the business was mine, but by then I was starting with a handicap left over from the debris the leaving partners left behind.  Had I been starting by myself, the whole thing would probably have worked. After a couple of robberies, problems with a leaky roof that the landlord refused to fix, I closed. Then, I sold my first house — the one the I have always loved and miss to this day.  It was the original farmhouse, a dairy farm I believe, built in 1914.  It was the only house on the prairies before the mountains when it was built, today it is in the district of Altadore in Calgary, 4301 – 17A Street, Calgary.  If you ever drive by it think of me, send me a picture if you are so inclined.  I loved the age of the house.  I was made of brick and seemed to me to be an answer for everything new that existed in Calgary.  There were building in Calgary that I watched being build as a kid and saw being torn down as a 20 something.  It was such a mistake to sell in hindsight.  Someday I’ll buy it back just for fun and partly to complete the circle that feels left opened.

I paid off as much as I could on everything with the sale of the house and moved back home with nothing but some old furniture.  I immediately went to work in Red Deer thinking that I would be moving back to Calgary. shortly.  By the spring of the next year I was working in men’s wear in Red Deer, and driving back and forth to my parents farm, about 50 minutes each way.  Around April of that year Terry and I had met and were contemplating moving in together.  By summer, I moved in with him in Red Deer.  We’ve been together in this house for 15 years.  Seems like it was just yesterday that I left Calgary.


It comes to my attention today that at least one person out there is reading this blog and wondering when I am going to write more.  Well the truth is that I have lots to write about but not so much time to write.  So tonight I start again and maybe will write shorter bit for you a little more often.

Blessing 1

One of the most powerful and interesting events happened a few weeks ago.  In hindsight it seems to have foreshadowed the events unfolding now.  Max and I get up Friday morning and go down to the store to meet the Monks that have come from Edmonton to bless the restaurant next door and our new prayer wheel.  Max and I dress in orange shirts in honour of the Monks and are just about to leave for the store when the phone rings. It’s Lisa from the store, she tells us that the Monks are here and ready to bless the store and the restaurant.

My good friend Alan told me the week before to just enjoy the process. Today he tells me to listen to the universe for any message that might be there and so I listen carefully. As we walk out the front door of our store, Phay, Mao’s sister greetsus and introduces us to the Monks. Everyone smiles. We go into the restaurant to decided while the group decides what to do. Sunworks is to be the first to be blessed, we had hoped to have the prayer wheel blessed and are surprised that they are going to bless the store as well.

Max and I hold the doors open for the Monks and the group of elder Lao ladies, who I think are from Red Deer, that have come to help. Monk Sien and his Master enter the store along with a third Monkwho carries holy water in a large brass hand-pounded bowl. There are flower pedals in the bowl and a twig brush. Monk Sien wears bright orange. The Master wears a caramel colour exactly the same share we used the first few years of the store to decorate our booth at the farmer’s market.

I watch, I listen, and I enjoy the process. I let the monks and the group do what they need to do for us. Inside the store, they tell us to sit on the chairs at the front of the store. They tell us to hold our hands in a certain way which is very much like the way we were taught to prayer growing up as Christians — but somehow it feels different. Monk Sien and his Master begin to chant and the other of the three moves around the store splashing the place with holy water, returning to the front to splash us with holy water, and then prayer wheel. As they being the chanting and I can sense a clearing of the room. An odd sensation. They finish their blessing and the elder women present all smile at us.

Blessing the entrance.
Blessing the entrance.

Monk Sien goes outside and paints a blessing on the window of the store. We stand silently inside and watch. It is interesting and beautiful and makes me feel happy. As we exit the group tells us that our business will be very prosperous and I think about all that we are trying to do right now.

We move next door to the flower shop and do this all again at Laura’s place. She is thrilled beyond anything I have seen before. Laura has quite a following in the Chinese community and teaches Tai Chi, so already has some sense of the meaning and the importance of this. Later in the day she talks about how this ties all three of our business together in some way, because of this shared experience.

After the blessing of the flower shop we all pose for various pictures inside and outside of the businesses. I had been worried about taking pictures but then Monk Sien pulls out a high tech digital from his robes and asks up to take pictures on his camera as well.  I chuckle to myself.

We take a couple of photographs in front of the prayer wheel.

Next we all move to the restaurant to wait for the Mayor and guests to show up. Monk Sien and his driver leave to go back to Edmonton. The Master stays to perform the blessing in the restaurant. As we wait he takes the opportunity to bless each one of waiting. Most of the staff receive a blessing. Max offers to the Monks to come up and spend a day working in the yard of the monastery helping to landscape it.

This day is very interesting to me.  The day before we were in Edmonton working on our Swerve project which we will build.

While there, at the architects discussing the budget, we have a incident that left me feeling anything but positive about the process of our project.  I felt beat up an angry, so on this day of the blessing I really needed to feel something positive.

I take my seat across from the Master and do as I’m instructed. I put my right wrist out palm down, and my right hand up like a half of prayer. The elder ladies and other gather behind me and near and touch one another or me forming this kind of grouping. The master chants and ties a yellow and orange bracelet made of a several thin strings around my wrist. When he is done, he tells me twice this will bring you lots of money. I say nothing to anyone and think of yesterday. Some ladies tell me it is very lucky, and will bring health. I get the sense that their definition of luck is different than ours.

Blessing the Prayer Wheel
Blessing the prayer wheel

Everything changes as the Mayor and City Council arrive, a couple of photographers, and the television crews arrive. I feel good about having some influence in our community, about being able to bring all of these people together, about being able to recognize an important opportunity. There is an excited buzz about what this new restaurant means to the City and to the downtown.

Just before 1100 they line up two rows of chairs in from of the master. They ask the men to sit in the front, this almost offends the women that have come. The elder Lao ladies sit in the second row and explain what is happening. We again are instructed to raise our left hand like half of a prayer and hold our right wrists out. He begins to chant and the Lao ladies bring around bracelets for each and everyone in the room, including the media, guests, camera and TV men. Everyone gets a blessings. Afterwards they ask the Mayor is there is anything that he would like to say on behalf of the city.

He does a great job speaking about the importance of diversity, of community, and of this new restaurant in the downtown. About how interesting and important the downtown is. The interpreter then says, okay it’s time to eat.

We take our place at the a couple of tables and they bring out a lot of food. Everyone is impressed. Just before the group leaves the restaurant Mao and his family present the Mayor and the city a piece of art from the Lao community. It’s brilliant and now hangs in City Hall outside the Mayor’s office. The whole experience was brilliant. I hug Mao, shake the hands of the others. Terry does the same. We look around as we leave the the entire restaurant is full with new
customers. There is not one sit empty. They are off to a good start.

And we are on our way — new restaurant blessed, store blessed, prayer wheel blessed, blessed personally, flower shop blessed, a bonding experience, and beautiful welcome, good media coverage that will help them get started, new friendships formed, and a message about the downtown that rings loudly and clearly. Quite incredible really. I am in my office shortly after noon feeling like I’ve done a whole day’s work.

Then Andrea marches in with a demolition permit. She had sneaked out during the lunch and gotten the last signature, then gone over to the city and got the permit signed. Wow! We are making way for Swerve on faith alone.

It’s six weeks later and much has changed, the old building will come down next week, the work on the Sunworks building is near completion, the appraisals of our work came in higher that expected, new partnerships
are forming that will be paramount to success, and the budget for Swerve is slowly sorting itself out.  It is amazing how much actually happens in such a short space of time.