Sunday, April 29, 2007

Miracles do happen - every day!

Today was one of those picture perfect spring days; birds chirping and encouraging their newly hatched chicks to leave the nest, sun shining brightly with the odd cloud lazily floating across the blue, blue sky, a gentle breeze, Lake Ontario magnificently sprawled against a distant horizon. I couldn't help but think about the miracle of nature that is so especially prevalent at this time of the year. A few weeks ago everything seemed so grey, and dead. Now, everything is coming back to life, and not just in an ordinary way - it's spectacular; literally the greatest show on earth, with vibrant colours, unique shapes, and a multiplicity of forms. The gardens are just starting to transform themselves into a beautiful show. I have assembled a few pictures to make my point; one lonely and persistent tulip on the grounds of the Millcroft, enjoying life before the lawnmowers make their debut, a before and after shot of our front gardens at Ste. Anne's, and a close up of some Arabis Snow Cap perennials bringing some new life in amongst the remnants of last years dead stocks. From a scientific point of view, I can get my mind around the idea that we all evolved out of some kind of accident on the shores of an ancient seabed. However, I just can't imagine how, without the help of some divine force, some burst of creativity and energy, the first seed or the first cell came to be. Call me simple, but I prefer to believe that this miracle of life, this tapestry of creation was the work of some higher force; a force that we can aspire to be part of and to be like in our daily lives. Savour the seasons!!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Checking out the competition

About 15 years ago, a group of innkeepers from all parts of Ontario gathered for a meeting at Langdon Hall near Cambridge. We had been summoned there by the Ministry of Tourism who thought that we should put our collective heads together to let the world know about our unique inns. After a few starts and stops, we agreed to form an association, we agreed on the definition of a country inn, and we launched our first co-operative brochure. This took two years of sometimes heated and emotionally charged debate. These inns were like our children, and our competitors were initially perceived as a threat to our independence and to our livelihood. Over time, our group has grown in strength and numbers, and many of us have become good friends. We have also made some great strides in terms of marketing initiatives, all of which have ultimately benefited our customers. I think our greatest achievement has been the implementation of an independent quality assurance program. Each member is subjected to a rigorous surprise inspection every 18 months. Achieving less than 80 % on the inspection can mean removal from the group. Our group is known as Ontario's Finest Inns & Spas, and I encourage you to send away for one of our guidebooks. There are some incredible properties in Ontario - you owe it to yourself to check them out. One of the more onerous tasks that befalls an innkeeper however, is competitive analysis. Every once in a while, whether we like it or not, we have to get in our cars and check out the competition. I am writing this entry from Alton, Ontario, home of The Millcroft Inn & Spa with the full knowledge that my good friend, innkeeper Wolfgang Stichnothe will read what I have to say about my experience at his property. As always, the food experience and the service at the Millcroft was spectacular. On our first night we had a "Scotch pairing". Interesting, but I'm not a big scotch fan, so, I enjoyed wine with my dinner. Most of the men went outside after dinner to enjoy a cigar and some more whisky - again - not my thing, but still enjoyed by some. Even with the little bit of scotch and wine, I still had a headache in the morning - I guess I'm just getting to that age. This is the first time I have been to the Millcroft since the opening of the new spa expansion. And I must say - I was quite impressed. The exterior of the new building is architecturally pleasing, and it fits into the existing collection of buildings quite nicely. Inside, the facilities are very well thought out and efficient. I booked myself in for a Swedish massage and a gentleman's facial. The staff were all very accommodating and professional. All in all, I would encourage spa hoppers to check out the Millcroft Spa, if you haven't already. For me, and I believe for many spa goers, part of the addiction is to check out new places and compare them to your old standby. As long as you come back to Ste. Anne's in the end, I guess I'm OK with you keeping us on our toes by checking out the new guys ;). See you on the spa circuit!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When will the madness stop?

The last time I went to fill my hybrid vehicle up with gasoline, I pulled into the 401 "rest stop" just west of Port Hope to be greeted by this amusing Esso sign. (Funny they should call them rest stops - maybe something like "Corporate & Convenient Pick-Pocket" is a better fit). Much to my chagrin, I had just passed an Ultramar station at Port Hope offering regular fuel at 98.9 cents a litre. Of course, when I got to the pump, I found that Esso Extra was in fact $1.10 a litre, not the posted $1.00.2. The cruel irony is that the product being sold, now broken down into units about 1/4 the size of what people my age are used to, is never purchased in the unit measurement that it is priced in. In other words, no one buys a litre of gas - we generally buy a tank full. So really, the sign should read, Tank of Esso Regular: $50 - $150, in which case we might stop to think just how badly we are being fleeced by the oil companies, and how ridiculous our hunger for independent travel has become. Here they are selling us a non-renewable resource mined from under our country at absolutely obscene profit levels. The world price of oil goes up, someone in Iraq sneezes, a storm threatens the gulf coast, and instantly the price at the pump is jacked up. Worse still, a weekend approaches, and the price is jacked up. I had to laugh when the grossly over-paid CEO of Imperial Oil recently purchased a full page in the Globe & Mail apologizing for the inconvenience that might have been caused by some stations being closed due to a fire at one of the company's refineries. No mention in the apology about how badly he felt for using this event as yet another excuse to falsely jack up the price at the pump. And how often do you see the price at the pump drop when the world price of oil goes down. I'm all for capitalism, but something is rotten in the Imperial world of gasoline. We owe it to ourselves to find and start using renewable resources to satisfy our insatiable appetite for energy. Imagine if we had put some of the profits of the oil industry into building a world class mass transit system in Canada. In the meantime, I find that gas stations in Port Hope almost always offer a better price than stations in the surrounding areas. Here's a web site you can go to to find cheap gas in Toronto.

But I just finished raising my family!

At 78 years of age, my mother has been dragged kicking and screaming to motherhood once again, but this time, her new baby is a darling little fluffy white kitten. Snowball arrived in our lives in the parking lot of the Canadian Tire parking lot in Cobourg this past Sunday, where we met up with our cat broker and exchanged this little gem for a wad of twenty dollar bills. She has made herself at home in Nan's home, bringing a new kind of joy to our lives. This brings our combined pet total to four - two cats, a dog, and a kitten. The other residents have not quite figured out what to make of this little fur ball, but in time, I'm sure they'll all be good friends.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is this really April 12th?

I don't mind snow, and I don't mind rain, but experiencing them all at once in the middle of April as slush seems to be driving me to distraction. I've been trying to understand why this is bothering me so much, and I've come up with a theory. I think it has something to do with control. I've been described as a control freak by some of my closest friends, but really, I think part of being a human, the dominant species on this planet, implies that we like by nature to be in control, not only of ourselves, but of others and of our environment. I have to say though that I get the same feelings of anxiety when I wake up to this kind of weather at this time of year as I get when I see people who could be making a contribution just doing the bare minimum, when I see government taxing us to death and consistently delivering programs that fall short of expectations, when I see co-workers leaving their dirty dishes in the sink, and not ever being able to catch them in the act. Perhaps it's the absence of certainty, like trying to push a snowball uphill in a thunderstorm. It's like mud, as opposed to earth, like a radio station playing a great song with a weak signal that cuts in and out, like slush as opposed to snow or rain, or sunshine. It's like having something tantalizing dangled in front of your face, just out of your reach. It's frustration! Uncontrolled frustration in humans can lead to impatience, irrational and sometimes destructive behavior, which leads to more frustration. Fortunately, the cure for this vicious cycle is also provided by humans through empathy, and loving, supportive relationships, touching, hugging, listening, all of which can be found in abundance at a spa like Ste. Anne's! So, keep the slush coming - it's probably good for business!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Weighing in on the health care debate

By all indications it was going to be a regular Thursday, other than the fact that it had that "end of the week" feeling to it, given that it was the Thursday before Good Friday. I suppose I was a little anxious as I had agreed to be one of the apostles (getting my feet washed by my pastor) at a mass commemorating the last supper. I had also arranged to meet a member of our reservations team for lunch at a new Thai restaurant in Port Hope. This person has been off with injuries sustained in an automobile accident last July. His small Honda was crunched by a tractor trailer on the 401 while he was on his way to work. Although he more or less walked away unscathed from the scene, he has sustained life changing injuries. As we were waiting for our lunch, we talked about his condition. He wants to feel "normal" again so that he can return to the life he had before the accident. I asked him how one knows what "normal" feels like. For me, my current normal involves aches and pains, good days and bad days. I tried to make the point that it may be possible that focusing too much on trying to be or feel "normal" can lead to a state of constant correction, or hypochondria - like trying to keep your car between the lines, instead of just driving straight ahead. As we were enjoying our appetizers - a delicious and mildly spicy soup and a spring roll, I was aware of a dull pain in my gut. I wasn't sure what it was, it felt like a little gas, or like something spicy trying to make it's way through my system - all things that seem "normal" in the body of a 48 year old with a less than perfect diet. We had a good lunch and went on our way, wishing each other the best and hoping that we would see each other again. I made another stop on the way back to work, picking up a few chocolate Easter eggs for some co-workers. When I got back to work, the pain in my gut was intensifying. I started to think kidney stone, although this was the last thing I wanted to deal with on a Thursday afternoon of a long weekend. I had things I still wanted to do, this was not the time for a wellness retreat! Within a half hour, I was on the floor writhing in pain, fighting waves of nausea, definitely outside of the realm of "normal". I contemplated making the 15 minute drive to the hospital, but decided to drive home instead. The pain intensified - some say passing a kidney stone is comparable to labour. I decided that the hospital might be a better place to be. The 15 minute trip seemed like an eternity, but I made it there in one piece. The triage nurse took down my details, and had me wait for a few more minutes, suggesting that a urine sample would be helpful. At that point, I couldn't think of anything but the pain, and my need for some kind of painkiller. However, a few minutes later, I found myself filling a sample bottle with a reddish liquid. I guess it was around this time that the pain started to subside. Another nurse came and took me into a room, where I was given a gown and a blanket. Now I was starting to feel a little silly, because the pain had all but disappeared. When the doctor came to see me, I had to explain that I had been in a lot of pain, but now felt pretty much like "normal". We agreed that if in fact I had a stone, it must have passed, and I was free to leave. Next morning, the pain returned. This time, I didn't wait for it to intensify, I went right to the hospital. I was admitted quickly and hooked up to an IV to re-hydrate me, treat the pain, and the nausea. I must have slept for a few hours, at which point I was taken by a very cheerful young lady for a CAT scan. The doctor came around and told me that I had a small stone, but it was down low, and should pass without any problem. He wrote me a prescription for pain killers and sent me home. Seven hours had passed, and I was feeling more or less back to normal, so much so that I thought I might not bother filling the prescription until I needed it. It turned out this would have been a big mistake, as the pain returned about 1:45 in the morning. I took some pain pills and urinated into a strainer (which the hospital had given me). There were a few little grains, smaller than a grain of sand - was this what was causing all the fuss? As I write this blog, my gut feels fine, but I know that this isn't over. Something in my diet, my genetics or my lifestyle is responsible for this condition. I will have to make some changes. In the meantime, I am voting "YES" for Canada's universal health care system. The people I encountered during my 48 hour ordeal were courteous and professional, the facilities were clean and modern and the result was positive. While I was waiting for the time to pass, I did make a list in my mind of the subtle differences between a visit to a spa and a visit to a hospital:
  • spas don't put sheets of paper down for you to lie on on the treatment beds
  • spas don't page the therapists over the P/A system
  • spas don't stick needles into your skin
  • spas don't leave you alone in your treatment room
  • spas don't subject you to the illnesses of others
  • spas don't have a sign in the reception area telling you to behave
  • spas tend to afford you a little more privacy
All in all, given a choice, I'd rather be in a spa any day. Too bad preventative health care, and visits to spas aren't included as part of our universal health care system, like they are in some other countries.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The bird with the red beak

Living in the country, one realizes that we are never truly alone. We are surrounded by creatures, large and small, some of whom seem very persistent at making themselves known to us, others who would just as soon keep to themselves. Since moving into our current abode at Maison Sante, my first encounter with other species happened last spring when I found myself being taunted by a family of brash chipmunks. I had put a couple of bird feeders up, and while I attracted a few birds, I attracted at least seven "cute" little chipmunks. They would sit at the bird feeder as happy as could be, filling their cheeks with birdseed, spilling much of it onto the ground. Once the bird feed had stopped flowing, they would chew their way through the wooden sides to get at the last bits. At first they didn't seem to mind my presence, although they would look right at me, chewing all the while. I tried a variety of tactics to discourage their greediness, but ultimately the only way I could keep them out of the bird feeders was to suspend them (the bird feeders) from a clothesline between a couple of trees. As if to show me that they were going to step this battle up a notch, the chipmunks chewed a hole in through the fascia of the house, right into the ceiling above my bed. I tried patching their hole with wood, and they chewed right through it. Eventually, I covered it with a piece of tin - this seemed to do the trick, or so I thought. For months, I didn't hear the scratching and hustle and bustle of my uninvited guests, until one morning I woke up to a tremendous amount of clatter at my bedroom window. The cats were going crazy jumping from the bed, to the windowsill and back again. Eyes still a little bleary from sleep, I peered over the headboard out the window, and there, to my surprise, was the source of all the racket. It was a beautiful red bird with a bright red beak scratching and clawing against the window. As soon as my bird friend caught a glimpse of me, he quickly flew off into the trees. I went back to sleep. Now, every morning begins with a visit from the bird with the red beak. I went on Google today to find out what kind of bird this was. Thanks to another blogger at Birdchick Blog, I have determined that my new chum appears to be a bald cardinal. Oh, about the chipmunks - I heard some familiar scratching in another part of the building - I think they have found a new way in. Now, if only Google could tell me what these daily visitations of the bald cardinal are trying to tell me. Could it be a message from the Bishop? Anyone out there proficient in Animal Speak. Please let me know.