Praxis in action.

Just yesterday I thought to myself, “writing in my blog is starting to come back to me, I could be interesting again.”  Now I sit here looking at the blank page and wonder what it is that might be interesting today.  I’m not sure, and that is kind of boring to write about.  I find that sometimes if I just begin the words do come and there is something interesting for me to reflect about.

The staff meeting this morning goes well.  I ask the question that I proposed here yesterday.  “What did we do right during those particular record breaking months from last year?”  The conversation almost immediately turns to the three months that we did so poorly, and all of the external factors that we can’t control — possible reasons why we did badly in September, October, and November.  I try a couple of times to reroute the conversation and Leslie M works at it as well, and finally we get there.  Here it is:  a customer commented yesterday that every time she comes into our store it gets better and better.  Then we talk about how we are in the state of constant improvement, that we upgrade what we’ve done in the past and do things a little better as we learn.  We point to the example of the second floor.  It was only two weeks ago when Alan attended the meeting that the group  hatched the idea of creating a sale room, painting, reorganizing the fixtures, and tightening up the displays.  The second floor is transformed and new ideas emerged today to make it even better.

In facilitation work, and I suppose in life, I am absolutely committed to the idea of inner reflection — to praxis.  To stop for a moment and do ‘praxis’, that is to ask questions about our shared experience of actually doing the exercise that we were doing.  So today, we stop the discussion to do praxis together.  We ask the good questions, what are we doing when we ask these questions? why are we doing this? what is is like for you personally? how does it feel?  The most amazing discussion quickly appears, led but Heather who speaks about how it gives us a chance to feel part of the business and to honour one another.  Liz says how nice it is to feel belonging.  Everyone has interesting and thoughtful comments about what we are doing together.  The air feels electric with connection and everyone seems to feel that they have a voice.  I hope they feel that way, since we work so hard at it.

I reflect for a moment with the group on an insight that I had, and that was that it seemed hard for all of us not to go to the negative and instead focus on our strengths and not our weaknesses.   Everyone agrees that they experienced something similar.  I wonder how often we sit with ourselves individually and begin with a question about our accomplishments, and soon find ourselves focusing on the things that are not done at all, or not done well.  Why is it that we are so hard on ourselves when we have the power to give ourselves space to celebrate our successes?  Here I am, a living example of this very thing.  I notice now that I opened this entry with just such a statement.  Since what I write today is so related, I’m going to leave it as an example. Often I delete the opening paragraph after I’ve found my way into the writing.

Later in the afternoon I would on crafting a workshop about questions that create community change and my mind goes back to the morning. I think about how do you craft good questions together.  What real techniques, examples, exercises will help to create the very best questions?  Then once we have those questions how can we begin to explore them with new questions that will add detail, illuminate, refine, and expand our thinking not contract it and bring us down into a place where we are focusing on the weaknesses.  We must built and encourage our strengths and our ability to question well in such a way that the weaknesses and factors beyond our control are no longer pertinent or credible.  It’s a bit strange that we give power to unknown factors, instead of focusing on the things that we do know and letting that inform our future.

In the doing of these things today, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that when we work on anything we have two parallel processes taking place.  Those are: the activity or exercise that we are undertaking, and the reflection on the shared practice of doing the activity.  If these things can be done in harmony then we can achieve alignment of purpose in the doing both, and we can make our activity congruent with our reflection.  We use the same process to do the activity as we to do reflect on the activity.  One informs the others.  It’s a self adjusting system that offers us great internal wisdom.

Now I think about the question from this morning in the quiet of my office.  Why are we successful?  Why did we have a record breaking year in the midst of a recession?  Perhaps it is because we are reflexive, that we have started to internalize praxis, that we reflect with one another in a way that allows us to honour one another. Perhaps it the practice is a safe place for respect to grow and that in turn results in giving each of us a voice with the others.  If this is one thing that we have been doing unconsciously, what will comes of us and the store as we make this part of our retail practice?  How does this relate to the feeling we have of belonging, or the customers’ feeling of belonging?  Gosh I am excited to see where this all may go, but one thing is quite possible.  Sunworks could have another record year and customers will continue to come in and notice that thinks are getting better and better.

Functioning within normal parameters.

Sunday last, I realize that it is the last day to submit a proposal for a show at the gallery.  It is Sunday so I don’t have to do other work.  I spend the afternoon writing and putting together the required images, CV, and artist’s statement.  It is amazingly helpful to write the artist’s statement.  As I think about it now I feel a growing need to paint.  I have a sense that the doing of art in my life will help give me balance in my work life.  It’s balance that I need, even though I’m quite pleased with the way my work is going.  There’s a possibility that I could completely clear out the ‘do to tray’ by Friday.  That would certainly give me space this weekend.  No! This is not your clue to give me anything else.

Today I am up just before dawn and can hardly believe how refreshed and clear I feel.  It’s a great contrast to yesterday.  I drive to the gym in the cold and gray, the sky is the same muddy gray colour as the ground.  My work out once again goes well, and I decide to stop at the store and do some work before the staff come in.  I sit and do some analysis on the store projected revenue with all of the numbers since we started at the farmers’ market in 1996, 14 years ago.  It’s incredible to think that Sunworks is that old, or that I’m that much older.  We have steadily grown in sales and experience and are getting better at what we do.  Last year in spite of the recession 8 of the 12 months were the best we’ve ever achieved.  One was the second best.  September, October, and November were absolutely abysmal.  Overall we had our best year.  I sit there and scratch my head about why those months should be so bad compared to the rest.  I show it to Leslie M when she comes in.  Then it occurs to me that it really doesn’t matter.  The question that we need to answer is “what did we do the other 9 months, that created so much success?”  We’ll talk about it at the staff meeting tomorrow.

It takes me a couple more hours to sort out the projections for 2010 and to input them into our software.  I’m happy that my database skills are intact, and I enjoy myself very much… all except for the one moment that I thought I deleted three years history.  False alarm.  Our IT specialist, Byron with Advanced Systems, installed the software I need to do all sorts of queries on our business data, and I’m looking forward doing this analysis.  Okay, I’m a geek… you see now why I have to paint?  In between canvas I’m going to put my logical left brain to work as the king of Structured Query Language (SQL), my claimed title from college days.  I suppose this is a form of asking questions too.  Hmm, that’s interesting and just nerdy enough to thrill me deep inside.   It fits in the same category although side the fact that I have a Tricorder Application on my iPhone.

Did you know that according to research of business teams, high-functioning business teams ask 20 questions for every one statement they make.  Low functional, and I’ll add dysfunctional teams make three statements to every one question they ask.  Questions like ‘what if?’ ‘what’s next?’ are not often in their minds.  As I go to the staff meeting tomorrow I’ve got some good questions to ask.  I wonder what other good questions will appear as work together.  I wonder how the store will do this year.  I’m sure I’ll have some queries to write!  I’ll think of these as digital questions. Exciting.

It is in the asking of good positive-based questions that motivation and good ideas are found.  As I work through the analysis today, ut’s really nice to be reminded that the store is continuing to do well and to grow.  Now as we come out of the recession, will be expect that good service and doing thing right things will continue to serve us in our growth.  I have a sense they will.  Tomorrow we’ll upgrade our way of working together and create new possibilities.

That’s it. I head for home and never go back to the office.  Do I write my long over due Christmas Letter?  No.  Do I paint?  No. I work on the Swerve Living project, visit with my best friend Alan, do laundry, start scrubbing the kitchen floor.  In the late afternoon I drive to Sylvan Lake for a massage.  I notice the gray skies and think about the coming sunshine,  think about my art application, and question where life could be this time next year.   I wonder why I feel so different today than I did yesterday.  Perhaps my Borg implant isn’t functioning within normal parameters.

The question arises again.

I drag myself through the winter cold to the gym today after being away nearly 10 days.  It’s time for spring and I wonder if the green will ever come again, it makes me freak out a little that I can’t remember well when it was green.  I’m feeling a little gloomy about a couple of my personal projects.  I don’t know if it is the winter that is making me feel blue, but it seems a convenient excuse.  Poor winter taking the blame.  Come on, time to pack your shoeshoes a trudge off to the north.  At least there is more light during the day.  My friends in Ireland are talking about the snow having gone and the spring flowers starting to appear.

I think that maybe I worked a little too hard last week and that I just need some quiet time at home.  Maybe catch up my laundry, read some.  Instead I’m in my car on the way to the gym.  My work out is great.  Weights are up and form is good.  Corey says that he can see nice changes in my lats.  That’s encouraging.  I appreciate hearing positive things about my efforts.  I was not feeling very much gumption when I arrived.

Janice and I go for lunch.  I have a steak with salad that I was craving.  Original Joe’s comes through again.  We talk about change processes and the power of social constructionism.  Of the influence of well crafted positive questions. She is a ray of sunshine, even though we are both feeling a bit despairing about the amount of time it takes to accomplish anything in the city or the province.  For example, where is that train we’ve been talking about for 20 years.  That infrastructure project would transform this province during the recession and create amazing opportunities in the future.  It would attract all kinds of interest in Alberta.  I wonder if I’ll see it in my life time or whether the province will come out of the dark ages.  Still positive change occurs.  We think about how to create civic engagement around important things that would make our city a better place.  We talk about the election.  Then it happens again, the question.  Will I, should I run for City Council?  Can I get more done on the outside then the inside?  I used to think so, now I’m not so sure.  I’ve changed so much in the past couple of years.  I’m far more ready invite difficult dialogue.  I wonder about whether having open honest conversations about what the community could be would be received well during a campaign.  There is time to decide, and I must get Swerve Living under construction before I take on anything new.

At the store Leslie M makes a point of saying some kind words to me about me, my skills and the things that I do.  She tells me how well respected she thinks I am in the community.  It is lovely to hear.  It reminds me of how important it is to tell others the good things we see in them. I feel quite grateful that she has come to work with me at Sunworks.

I sit at my desk and wait for work inspiration.  There is so much I could do.  I settle on government reporting and spend the afternoon feeling out forms and reporting WCB numbers and doing T4 slips.  If one is feeling blue already, might as well use it to your advantage and do the nasty tasks.  I’d rather clean the bathroom than fill out government reports.   Once that is done, I get my Christmas letters out and think about writing everyone back, instead I chat with some close friends.

In the evening, I continue my work on the Swerve Living website and by the end of the night I have the floor plans posted.  I’ve made it through the day, done some things well, made it through some mucky stuff, and spent some time with friends.  The day seems fairly balanced.  Perhaps tomorrow will be laundry day and letter writing.  I’m hoping that as I go to the gym tomorrow, the winter will relent just a wee bit and let the snow soften and the sun shine through.  I hope I’m feeling sunny and bright tomorrow.  Thanks to all of you friends that continue to support and inspire me.

Standing beside myself calmly.

I sit at my desk and reflect on my efforts this week and marvel at it all.  So many things were accomplished that moved every project along just a little.  Some more than others, but nothing insignificant in any area.

The changes on the second floor of the store over the past week have made all of the difference to the way it looks and feels.  You can always have a wee peek on the webcam at A lot of hard work was done by the staff happily, including painting and setting up new displays, and a sale room.

Swerve Living is getting a lot of inquiries and the project is moving along quickly now.  I’m doing my best to keep up with the administration and requests of the team.  Not an easy task some days, but I’ve for the most part cleared my desk and enabled the team to keep going.  We are planning to break ground very shortly, at the first sign of spring.

Without listing everything, know that there has been great progress everywhere.  As I finish this week and think about all that I need to do next week, I feel really good about the way that I’ve organized the next week.  Oh sure, I have big piles of work but everything feels well in hand.  I’m not experiencing that ‘tharn feeling’ that I get somedays when things seem just beyond my knowledge level and too much for the time available.   Why, I ask myself?  Why is it that I feel confident and strong and able?

I’ve heard so many times in my life, “how do you accomplish so much?” Yet, most times I’ve felt the stress that comes from doing a lot.  This week that feeling is not with me and I know that I’ve accomplished a lot and done it happily and for the most part with skill and grace.  Here is a little reflection on what I’ve done differently and want to continue to practice.

I was reminded earlier about the best way to help others as I offered some thoughts from my own experience.  One can never be inside the skin of another.  We can never really know what it is like to see through another’s eyes or have another’s life experiences.  We can only know what it is like to be within our own bodies, and even then we are often not in touch with every experience we’ve held.  When a dark time appears in the life of those we love, the best thing we can offer is our presence.   We can stand beside them, hold their hand, and peer into the dark hole with them.  As friends have done with me. We can’t go into it ourselves — it’s theirs alone to face.  We are all solitary by nature, even if we chose the company others.  We can be beside them, we can express our love, we can offer ideas and encouragement, we can clap and cheer, but we can’t do anything in their own inner space for them.  All that spiritual and psychological processing has to come from within the individual themselves.  There is no short cut.  People have to come to things on there own.  Our role with others to just to be, and to be with.

It’s so easy to feel trapped in the challenges of others, to want to play the role of rescuer, to think that we can somehow fix things on their behalf.  We can’t, and the more we play it over and over in our heads we create our own internal stress and frustration.  This is not to say that we don’t have gifts to offer, each of us has many.  The best gift we have to offer of ourselves is the gift of our being true to who we are.  The way that we live our lives is more important that any bit of advice we might offer.  To share stories from our own lives is a way of connecting with others and giving voice to our own existence. It’s the basis of relationship.  To stand beside another, to share your stories, to offer your energy through touch and voice, these are the only real things one can do.

For me, the doing of these things helps me to pay attention to the space between words.  I feel we  spend much of our time in constant thought.  We rehearse, debate, replay, fret, and analyze.  Or we fill our time with noise of the world, news, TV, and radio.  Too much of this doesn’t allow us the space to be, to be with ourselves, and to be with others.  When others are in need we may not even notice because we can be so internally focused on our own inner dialogue.

This week I was present, not only with others, but with myself.  I was able to ‘stand beside myself’ and witness my own behavior and feelings.   Even though each of us must become comfortable in our aloneness, we still have the ability to play the role of friend and companion for ourselves.   No one else can be inside our souls or see from our perspective completely. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed my the work or the situation I find myself in, that my mental dialogue is going full tilt.  There is no space between the words that I can notice, there is only the endless stream of words.  I stop being present with myself. It’s a seriously awful downward spiral that I can get myself into. Here’s a little exercise that has helped me when I feel stress or any number of other difficult emotions.

Imagine you are standing beside yourself, whatever state that self might be in.  You focus the quiet space between the words, the silence.  You are present, calm, and centered.  You feel whole and able to access your own experience, wisdom, and yours stories.

You place your hand on the shoulder of your other self.  You let your calm energy flow into your other self. You know exactly what to you say and the encouragement to give, because unlike friends and others in your life, you do have access to your own experience and stories.  You can see through your own eyes.  The wisdom is all there.  Say what you need to say, offer the insight that you have to yourself.  Focus on the strength and happiness within you.  Be your own angel to yourself.

I think that this takes patience and practice to internalize, which I hope to do more fully.  It’s my belief that these skills are the same whether caring for yourself or for another.

I number of people have mentioned to me that they are reading my entries and are enjoying them.  Some of the ideas I write about are part of a book that I am working on, which I may never finish, but can can work on it and enjoy the process.  Your thoughts and reflections would be interesting to me but I also invite you to share your thoughts here with others that are reading.

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.


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.


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.