Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What will 2009 bring?

On Christmas day in Peru, Virgen Maria and her husband Jorge (a carpenter by trade) had a baby - by cesarean section, and they decided to name him Jesus. Just in time for Christmas a prominent member of the RNC circulated a CD featuring the song Barack the Magic Negro. Israel is bombing the shit out of the Gaza strip in retaliation for the rockets that Hamas is lobbing into Isreal. What can we hope for in 2009? Have a happy new year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!

In a couple of days members of my family will be coming to Grafton from across Canada and the United States. Every second year we get together to celebrate Christmas and catch up as a family. This year there will be 46 of us. I hope that you and your loved ones have a safe, happy and holy Christmas holiday and I wish you the very best for the year ahead. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Monday, December 15, 2008

If I hear one more word about the economy . . .

If I had a nickel for every time someone has said, "given the economic situation", I think I could buy myself a coffee at Starbucks, but I don't drink coffee. Yes, there are some worrisome things going on in the economy - General Motors might go bankrupt and many people may lose their jobs, and yes, lest the banks should stop lending money, despite record profits, not to mention credit card interest rates that rival gangster style loan sharks, fees coming out of the ying yang, let's all worry about them as well. Enough already. Can any North American really begin to comprehend what the meaning of financial hardship is? As my young friend Sam says, "Suck it up buttercup", forget about it; this too will pass - assuming we don't create a real and truly widespread economic crisis by buying into all the negativity in the media, resulting in paralysis by fear and uncertainty and doubt (FUD factors), spread between people who have no reason to worry. This past couple of weeks, I keep hearing people say things like, "given the economic circumstances, I would expect . . . ". Well the economic circumstances have nothing to do with what people should expect. Exceeding expectations comes as a result of a passion for excellence, competition and determination to be the best of the best. Let's celebrate the incredible advantages we have as a society and as a county and continue building on our strengths and enough using the economy as an excuse to stop spending and to stop achieving great things.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Who is God?

As a Roman Catholic, I recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday; "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible", but what does this really mean, and is there room for interpretation in this statement of faith? For some reason this, and other questions of faith and my role in the church have been nagging me lately. As I have written here before, I have for the past several years been following the homilies and the teachings of a Catholic priest, despite the fact that there are many points of Catholicism that I can't accept, and many acts that the Catholic church has committed that I condemn. A couple of months ago, as I sat in church waiting for mass to start I felt a need or a calling to become more involved with the liturgy. On my way out of mass that same day, my pastor took me aside and told me that he was planning to introduce adult servers into the liturgy and asked me if I would be interested. This co-incidence struck me pretty hard. I accepted this calling, and for the past 2 Sundays David and I have been arriving 15 minutes early so that we can don our long white albs and assist Fr. Hood celebrate the mass. While all the other servers have been assigned specific tasks that keep them quite occupied, I have been assigned the role of MC, which leaves me free to stand solemnly, observe and think. Here are my resulting musings: I can accept the facts surrounding the birth and life of Jesus Christ, his mission and the miracles attributed to him, although I tend to think that over time some stories have been embellished to serve the needs of the church. However, I have trouble with the concept of an all mighty, all powerful deity (especially an older white man in long robes perched up in the clouds - I'm sure a jet would have come across this scene by now) unless that deity is the life energy that we all come from and return to. If this energy/life force is "God", and each of us are created in the image of "God", then it makes sense to me that collectively we could accomplish amazing (all mighty) things, like moving mountains, ending world hunger, bringing peace to the world. The trick would be to get us acting as a collective towards these goals, as opposed to focusing on our individual, material corporeal needs. Now that would be a miracle!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Did someone say Perogies in Parliament?

Last week I was going through my freezer trying to think up something a little exotic to cook for dinner and I came across a box of perogies. Aside from a little freezer burn, these little fellas had some of the ingredients I was looking for, so I pulled them out. While I would normally just heat them up on a skillet with some butter, salt and pepper, the back of the box suggested baking them with some vegetables, tomato sauce and some grated cheddar cheese. I fired up the barbecue and grilled up some chicken breasts, and found myself serving a tasting meal that was just a little bit outside of my usual (and limited) culinary range. So, with all this talk up on Parliament Hill about proroguing parliament so that Stephen Harper can give himself and his fellow parliamentarians a little time to think about the consequences of his ongoing attempt to run a minority government as though he had a majority, despite the recent election results, I couldn't help but draw a comparison. Why not throw a few liberals in with a few socialists supported by a bunch of separatists? Like my mixture of perogies, veggies, tomato sauce and grated cheddar cheese, I think it might be a good thing if our elected politicians learned how to get along and manage a country - cover all the food groups in one dish, so to speak. I know there are lots of people who think that this coalition idea, especially with Stephane Dion leading the charge, is not such a good idea, and that it flies in the face of democracy, but really can it be any worse than Stephan Harper and his gang of thugs trying to force their will on the country? I say, let's give it a try - what's the worst thing that could happen?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Social Networking - How do babies learn to hate?

Yesterday CBC Radio "The Current" was interviewing people about the case of an adult women who provoked a teenage girl to take her own life by taunting her on one of the social networking web sites. The people who were being interviewed were lamenting the fact that the internet was being used as a platform for bullying and for promoting hatred. Reference was also made to the recent "Kick a Ginger" campaign launched via Facebook. Most of the discussion on The Current focused around the notion that steps should be taken to limit internet activities that might cause harm to others. I don't want to be flippant about the tragedy of a young girl dying as a result of the taunting of a malicious adult, but I can't honestly see how trying to control what people do or say on social networking sites is going to do anything to stop what humans have been doing to each other since the beginning of time. The upside of the internet being used to spread hatred is that it can be tracked (which apparently has not dissuaded some people from exposing themselves), and the "victim" can chose to log off. Irregardless, long before the internet, people destroyed other people's lives by gossipping and spreading malicious rumours - you don't need broadband to do that. Homosexuals have been killing themselves at a record pace after being outed or shamed by their families and "social networks" since the beginning of time. The image of Victorian era women sitting around in their parlours destroying the reputations of their adversaries over a cup of tea comes to mind. I think the better question is, how, as a society, do we stop teaching our children to hate? Babies aren't born as bigots, or homophobes, or racists. Their parents, or their friends, collectively known as "society", teach them to hate and to fear what they don't know. So "society" can try to police the internet; who knows, maybe cell phones and text messages should be regulated as well; but that will not stop people from bashing each other until "society" starts to teach and practice love, understanding and tolerance from the moment of conception. Do your part - go see MILK, and make a pledge to refuse to gossip, teach or spread hatred and intolerance of the diversity of humanity. You just might save some one's life.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Music and the power of positive thinking

I guess I had no idea how much music has impacted my life over the years. Just last week I downloaded some music onto my cell phone, and plugged my little ear buds into my head to listen to Willie Nelson belt out "On the Road Again". It was like old Willie was right inside my brain. I was rockin'! His voice, in fact the wide variety of human voices that have touched us and in some cases become hit songs over the years, are really a magical thing. Even more amazing is how a bunch of cells making up vocal cords can create such melodious sounds in the first place, not to mention the miracle of how a bunch of brain cells translate those vibrations into such a pleasurable experience all tied up with memories and emotions. Incredible! The inspiration for this blog was provided, (once again) by my favourite sales rep, Shelby, from my favourite supplier - CHFI, who gave me tickets to see Jersey Boys for my birthday. To be honest with you, I hadn't heard of this show, and really didn't know what to expect - probably the best way to walk into anything - but boy was I blown away. It tells a great story about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and the music is incredible. Funny thing was, the theatre was packed, as were all the restaurants in the area. Yes the economy is struggling, but honestly, enough with the constant doom and gloom already. Even in tough economic times, there are hundreds of millions of wonderfully positive things happening in our world every day. I wish someone would launch GNN, the Good News Network, 24 hours of good news stories, with Rob Marciano reporting on the weather, or course. I'd watch it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Never again

I've never fought in a war, and yet I complain because of the inconveniences we endure as a result of the war on terrorism. Last night I went to see Passchendaele and as my eyes teared up over the shear travesty of the human loss portrayed in this great Canadian film, I can't help but think that there has to be a better way to work out our differences. In the meantime, on Tuesday, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I plan to be giving thanks for the men and women who have given their time and their lives so that I could have mine, and I will be praying that our human race can become inspired to find a way to stop killing each other. Enter November 11th at 11 a.m. as a recurring appointment in your Blackberry, your Iphone, or your smartphone. I hope you will join me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

People who shape our lives - George and "Q"

When you turn 50, as I did last week, it seems as though you start spending a lot of time pondering and reflecting. I suppose it may be a result of the fact that based on the average life span of the north american male (76.98 years), my life is definitely more behind me than ahead of me, so I have more to reflect on than to look forward to. In any case, yesterday I made a trek that I've been meaning to make for a while now. I drove "north of 7" to visit an old friend of mine from my youth (he refers to himself as "Q"). He and I were born 6 days apart back in 1958 and through good times and bad we've managed to keep in touch since first crossing paths at St. Margaret Mary's Elementary School in Pine Grove. As it turned out, his wife had whisked him away for a little surprise birthday escape, so my hopes of wishing him (and he me) a happy 50th were dashed when I instead was greeted by his somewhat paranoid sister-in-law peering suspiciously at me through the glass window of "Q"'s suburban home. I guess to her I looked like a mildly creepy older man to whom she had to break the news that my trip was in vain as "Q"was not expected home until the next day. Somewhat deflated, I got back in my car and made my way home. As I made my way down the 404, I decided to stop at a mega-theatre to take in a movie. I was looking forward to seeing Russell Crowe and Leonardo DeCaprio in "Body of Lies", but it was sold out, so I settled for Oliver Stone's "W" instead. Now that's funny - I had set out to see "Q", but ended up seeing "W"! "W" is a sad tale of ambition gone bad, set amidst the ruin and dysfunction of the Bush family. My advice - wait for it to come out on video and buy it on sale at Walmart for $5.00. Now, how does all this tie together, you might ask? Well, when I was in elementary school, I honestly believed that someday I would grow up to be one of three things, the President, the Pope, or the Prime Minister. Now who would put these ideas into the head of a quirky little nerd? "Q"s mother (pictured with me above) was my grade 7 teacher in elementary school. In addition to being an extraordinary teacher, she raised her 4 children, pretty much single handedly. Today as she approaches 80 years of age, she lives way up north in a cabin by herself where she chops her own wood, shovels her own snow and basically makes hockey moms like Sarah Palin look like a wusses. Looking back, I now realize what a positive influence Jeany Baby, or George, as we called her back in the 60's, was to me. She was one of those rare adults/teachers who made learning come alive, who made her students believe that they could do anything, and that life should be fun. If my memory serves me correctly, Jeany Baby drove a gold Camaro to school, (which "Q" later adopted and turned into a chick magnet mobile). Her zest for life rubbed off on her kids, and on her students. I guess I can admit that I grew up idolizing "Q". He was, and still is a very happy guy with a magnetic personality - people are drawn to him, and he is always the life of the party. A great athlete, great with the girls, and just an all around nice guy. In any case, my life has been made a little brighter and a little better because of "Q" and George. I wish them many more years of good health and happiness. Too bad George "W" didn't have a little "Q" in his life - things might have turned out differently for him.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

People who make the world a better place

Once again, I find myself riding the rails - VIA Rail, that is. I'm on my way to Toronto to have dinner with an old and dear friend. Luc is a couple of years younger than me. He is a Quebecois, and one of the finest and funniest guys I've had the pleasure of knowing. He is in Toronto for a board meeting of the ALS Society, a cause he took up when his brother was diagnosed with and ultimately succumbed to it. Even though our lives have gone in different directions since we first met 23 years ago, we have always kept in touch. Above all, Luc is a kind hearted and genuine human being. Luc lost his brother to ALS in June. Now, as a member of the ALS Canada board, he and his colleagues fight for their share of charitable contributions in an ever widening field of diseases that afflict our species. According to Luc, because ALS kills a relatively small number of people each year, efforts to raise awareness and money for research have had limited results. I can't help myself from doing the mental math to calculate the cost per life lost of retaliating against the events of September 11th. I find myself overwhelmed with grief as I consider this statement and what it says about our society. As the train winds its way along the north shore of Lake Ontario, I contemplate the difference between Toronto's urban sprawl and 2 U.S.cities I just returned from - New York and St. Louis. While all three of these cities have ghettos, the U.S. situation is dramatically different from what you find in Canadian cities. Block after block of burned out, boarded up buildings have become a common feature of American cities. Americans born into these neighbourhoods face a constant, uphill and dehumanizing battle. In Canada, it seems as though the gap between the rich and the poor isn't quite so wide. Perhaps its because Canadians have evolved towards a comfortable cross between socialism and capitalism, where the Americans still seem to cling to an "every man for himself" mentality. The fact that Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin are trying to brand Barack Obama as a terrorist and a socialist for his vision of a kinder, gentler America demonstrates some of what ails this once bright beacon of hope for a new world. Canada's record isn't perfect - we have work to do, for sure. But whether we like it or not, we are intrinsically tied to what happens in America. Maybe an Obama presidency will focus on fixing what's wrong in America, rather than interfering in other parts of the world. Just before parting company with Luc as I head to Union Station to catch my train, I encourage him to think about running in the upcoming Liberal leadership race. Luc tells me that he has considered this, but has also considered the tremendous investment that is required to run for political office. We extend our hands to shake, and I pull him in for a hug. I hope our friends in America put Barack Obama in the White House so that he can bring the troops home, stop the spending on a pointless war, and bring the focus back to health care and compassion. Even though Canadians are not Americans, we are North Americans, and we are a mouse sleeping with an elephant. What would it look like if the world could vote in this election? Have a look at the video on this website. We can only hope.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The lazy man finds his match

One of the last things I would have expected to find in Northern Ireland was a Thai therapist providing one of the deepest and most authentic Thai massages I've ever experienced in my life. Thai massage is sometimes referred to as a lazy man's yoga. The therapist performs all kinds of stretches on the client's body - in my case, quite a painful experience. With each stretch, I'd pray for it to be over, but then, strangely, I'd want more. Under different circumstances, the mild mannered woman pictured above might be charged with assault. But at the Lough Erne Golf Resort, a new £20 million resort just built a few miles outside of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, people actually pay to have their bodies pummelled like a rubber ball. The pain releases endorphins which end up leaving you feeling renewed and invigorated. The stretching I suppose helps to release locked up muscles producing a whole lot of other benefits. Suffice it to say, this incredibly authentic Thai experience found in the beautiful surroundings of Northern Ireland is well worth the short term pain that one endures. We are staying at a lovely spot just outside of Lisbellaw in what was once a stable, (Belle Isle Estates) now converted into very comfortable self catering cottages. This little piece of heaven has given us a chance to spend some quality time together, reading, resting and relaxing. We've had a few lovely meals out, but just as often have stopped by at the Irish version of Walmart (Asda) and picked up some food to cook back at our cottage - a big difference in price, but even still hard to imagine how the British can afford to live here - everything is double the price we pay. On Saturday we will be making our way east to visit distant and newly discovered relatives on my grandmother Quinn's side of the family - that is sure to be interesting, and hopefully will lead to being able to fill in a few more branches of the family tree. Weather here - mostly rainy, but very, very typically Irish.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Off to the emerald isle

I'm sitting here at my desk frantically trying to wrap up a few loose ends before heading off to Picton to watch Dave cross the finish line at the Prince Edward County Marathon - his first half marathon! From there we make a mad dash to the airport to catch a plane to Belfast via Newark. Six or seven hours later, while my Canadian friends are sound asleep, I'll be rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as I jump into a little Irish car for the 2 hour drive to Lisbellaw, where we'll be staying in a courtyard room at Belle Isle Castle. We're there to research Irish spa trends, do some family research and to help my father celebrate his 81st birthday. I'm hoping to sit down at a PC and update this blog, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy this Irish blessing.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Last night marked the first episode of the third season of the Showcase series "Dexter" on the movie channel. Tuesday night the second season of "The Tudors" airs on CBC. Sad as it may seem, I have been looking forward to settling into these shows once again this fall. In "Dexter", we follow a member of the Miami-Dade forensic team who has a nasty addiction to murder. However, he only murders bad people who have escaped the justice system. "The Tudors" follows the exploits of a good looking version of King Henry the 8th. A few years ago we were just as hooked on "Six Feet Under", "The Sopranos", and Rome. Of course these are all forms of modern day soap operas, and I'm sure there are many things I could do to better exercise my brain, but I choose not to. I do find though that good TV can in some instances promote creative thought. For instance, I can't help but draw some comparisons between the excesses of the Roman Empire, The Tudors and Bush democracy. Today George W. asks lawmakers to pass a bill that would give him the power to tax the American people to bail out the failing financial community, after bungling and continuing with a multi-billion dollar war on terrorism. Meanwhile, average citizens walk, run, and ride in efforts to raise money to bring down real enemies directly impacting their lives like cardiovascular disease, cancer and AIDS (diseases responsible for many more deaths than 911, according to this web site), and struggle to pay for their own health care costs. The U.S. banks who are being bailed out, have created their own mess, but don't worry, King George to the rescue. Despite record profits, record CEO salaries and bonuses, and a licence to print money through fees and credit card interest rates that rival Tony Soprano's preferred gangster rates, can we expect the same scenario to unfold in Canada? Perhaps not, we're already so highly taxed, I'm sure legislators know that this well has been pretty well tapped. So what's my point, you might ask, other than a Monday morning rant? I guess I just got to thinking, which would be worse; to be a lowly serf back in King Henry's day, or a taxpaying member of the great democratic electorate today? What do you think? It seems to me like there were some pretty good times to be had back in Henry's time and I do think the Romans had a really good thing going, not to mention the fact that there were no online income tax deadlines to worry about.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Living in the moment and other deep thoughts

Just this minute, I've finished listening to the last of a 3 CD collection where the late John O'Donohue read from his book "Beauty, The Invisible Embrace", in between reading Eckart Tolle's "A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life's Purpose". Yesterday I listened to a CBC radio program about how to write a better blog. Apparently, one should write about something you love, something you tend to think about and talk about more than most other things. So, I asked myself, what do I love to this degree, so much so that not only do I want to think and talk about it incessantly, but then go on and pontificate about it on-line? Aside from the obvious obsession that men are cursed with, I suppose I love reading, and especially love a good suspenseful mystery. As a small child I would read the Hardy Boys long after the lights were supposed to be out - often with a flashlight under the covers. When I found my eyesight straining, I attributed reading under the covers as the root cause of my astigmatism. Later on in life I became a big fan of Agatha Christie and her fictitious detective, Hercule Poirot. As I approach the half century mark, I find myself spenindg more time reading and wondering about a greater mystery; the mystery of life. Why are we here, where did we come from, what should we be doing, what happens after we die, etc., etc.? Despite trying my very best to pay attention to Tolle and O'Donohue, I don't have any answers to my questions - the mystery remains, for me at least. Both authors try to encourage the reader to live in the present moment, and to separate the "evil ego" from the conscious self - an assignment that I have yet to master. I'm planning on passing "Beauty" on to my mother - I know she'll enjoy O'Donohue's wonderful Irish lilt and the musical interludes, and I have a feeling some of what he has to say will resonate with her. As far as Tolle's work is concerned, I'm planning to try listening to it (on CD) to see if I can pick up on it a little more the second time around, perhaps with less distraction. At some point in his book he points out that you need to be ready for the awakening that he speaks of. This book came to me via at least 3 different channels, so apparently someone thinks I'm ready, I just need to snap out of this slumber. Wish me well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Door Man

I've always wanted to have a door man. A friendly soul who greets you as you come and go, a trustworthy chap who keeps an eye on things for you. Lucky me, another prayer has been answered. For the better part of the summer, the rather handsome (but very focused looking) fellow pictured above (or a close relative of his) can be found outside the door to my house. He's a little shy, so usually I'll just give him a quick wink on my way through. If I make a move towards him, or ask him how he's doing, he tucks himself into the woodpile (he calls it the guard house), just out of sight. He's probably just a little reluctant to get too close to the people he protects, after all - he has a job to do. Now, back to prayers that get answered . . . On Sunday mornings, like many other Canadians, I leave my home to go to a place called church. Of course, as I leave the house, I give a little nod to the door man. I'll have to be honest though, (regular readers will know this), one of my favourite parts of this holy morning outing is the home cooked breakfast we treat ourselves to after church. Church satisfies a hunger of the soul, while greasy sausages and over easy eggs satisfies another hunger altogether. I digress. One of the things I've been working on at church recently is to pray for selfless, and yet seemingly hopeless causes, like an end to world hunger. Similar to my approach to playing the lottery, my thinking is that if you ask for the same thing enough times with consistent determination, you might just get it, or some part of it, as opposed to not playing (or praying) at all. The problem with a goal as lofty as an end to world hunger however is that it really seems to be beyond the capability of anyone but the big guy, you know "God", or so I thought. You see, it has been revealed to me that achieving goals like finding an end to world hunger are a little bit like eating an elephant; do it one bite at a time. Honestly though, I wasn't surprised when I didn't get an email from God telling me that He was working on my problem and would get back to me with a solution shortly. I was surprised however, when I got an email from my sister Cindy asking if I could help a friend of hers who works in Haiti by writing about her on my blog. I was surprised because it occurred to me that this might just be God providing me with a very clever answer to my prayer. "Yes, I will end world hunger, but you need to work with me by helping Cindy's friend." Yes God does work in mysterious ways. So far, the effort required on my part has been pretty minimal; to double click on the link to Cindy's friend's website, do some reading, and then think of how much I could donate. Donating money to a cause like this is easy as well, (with credit cards, the internet and all), but I really think God expects more from me, and more from my fellow North Americans who take so much for granted - like clean drinking water, for instance. As far as my door man is concerned, he also helps out when he can by eating bugs. What can you do?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A night on the town

This past week, Shelby, our account manager at Roger's Media invited us to join her in the Roger's box at the Roger's Centre to watch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the New York Yankees. As part of our night on the town we were also treated to a room at the Windsor Arms Hotel. I don't think I've ever stayed at The Windsor Arms before, but I do have fond memories of meals enjoyed in the Three Small Rooms many years ago, before the hotel's major renovation that saw the addition of condominiums and the closing of this Toronto culinary treasure. Everything about this hotel is first class, especially the service - impeccable. The only thing missing were other guests. The place seemed rather empty. Newly renovated rooms are beautifully decorated and equipped with state of the art electronic TV and audio equipment, so much so that I couldn't figure out how to operate it. The only fault I found is more a general observation than a criticism - I found it nearly impossible to read anything due to my aging eyes, due to low lighting and small print. The Jays didn't disappoint. Everything you could imagine is provided for you in the Roger's box from hot dogs to sushi and a chocolate covered ice cream bar to top it off. Baseball can be a little slow but this game was well played with an exciting 2-1 win by the Jays. My hat really goes off to Shelby, our hostess for the evening. She is a consummate and professional sales executive who has mastered the art of building client loyalty with exemplary customer service and a focus on strengthening personal relationships. I love being sold by a pro!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Memories, like the corners of my mind . . .

This past weekend my mother and I set out for the Quinn family reunion in Virgil, a tiny town just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake. Quinn was my paternal grandmother's maiden name. As we approached the crowd gathered under a stand of trees I scanned for familiar faces, somehow hoping that I'd see people who either looked like me, or looked like my father or my grandmother. Before too long, I spotted Tom Quinn's wide grin as his wife Joanne made her way towards us with open arms. One after another I was introduced to this relative and that relative and given a few clues as to how we were related. It could just have well been Greek as none of it was taking hold in my brain or making any sense. At some point someone passed me a photo album of pictures from previous picnics, where I came across the picture shown above. That's my grandma in the middle, my sister Cindy to Grandma's left, me on Grandma's right, and my brother John and my father Carl in the background. Most everyone I talked to had very fond memories of my Grandma - she was a real sweetheart. I loved visiting her in Niagara Falls. She drove us around in her powder blue Valiant with push button gear shift. Her skin and her hair was so soft. She was a strong and disciplined women. Whenever she'd come to visit us, she would give us each a dollar. I once tried to refuse, and she scolding me - telling me that you should never turn down money. Now, back to the picnic. I asked Viva, the hostess of this auspicious event if I might be able to borrow a pad of paper and a pen. I then made a little chart listing my Grandma's siblings. I then went back to people who I'd been introduced to and located them on the chart. As I made my rounds my brain was starting to acknowledge that I had been here before, although I really had no memory of the event shown in the picture. Bit by bit though, things started to fall into place. One memory would jog another and before I knew it I actually started to have vague recollections of being at the site of the picnic years ago as a child when it was an active farm visiting my rural cousins. The human memory is really quite amazing. It seems as though little bits of information are stored here and there and unless required, they stay out of the way for the most part. It is only when they are stimulated by social interaction and activated by the senses that they fall back into place. In any case, this whole exercise prompted me to sit down at my PC for 3 or 4 hours on Sunday to input what I had learned about my family into a fantastic tool that I found at http://www.ancestry.ca/. This web site lets you input what you know and then invite other family members to contribute what they can. I'm not sure I've figured out why family history is so intriguing to me (and I'm not alone - lots of people are into this), perhaps it helps one to establish one's place in the world and to feel connected. I only wish I'd been more attentive when I was younger and when some of the people who contributed their DNA to my existence were still available to consult with. Take the time now to get to know your family. You never know when they'll be taken from you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

True Confessions: I'm a drug addict

In our society, we tend to associate negative stereotypes with the term drug addiction. We spend millions of dollars to try to control drug addiction, and yet, with the other hand our governments collect millions of dollars taxing drugs like tobacco and alcohol. The fact of the matter is, many of us are "drug addicts", albeit being addicted to "good" drugs is looked upon more favourably, despite the fact that our "dealers" often engage in questionable tactics. Once every three months, I make my trip to the drug store to get my fix of Nexium, a drug that helps to control acid reflux (heartburn). Yesterday on the news I caught a story about how Nexium, and other drugs in it's class can lead to brittle bones, especially in older people - a group that Gray Power Insurance tells me I'm about to join. The cost of Nexium, relative to the cost of the inconvenience of heartburn seems like a deal, but relative to other over the counter medications is quite hefty. This lead me to search the web about the cost of prescription drugs - a cost that many Canadians are immune to, thanks to company funded drug plans, and government funded health care. I came across this article in the New Yorker. Nexium is one of the cheaper prescription drugs that are chronically prescribed. I could rant and rant about the cost of trying to control so called illicit drug use, but I have a meeting to go to. My heartburn has returned.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Some time back, I'd say close to six years ago now, my friend David was asked by his sister Mary and her husband Val if he would be the godfather to their new born daughter Isabella. David eagerly accepted this honour, before he fully understood exactly what this entailed, that is according to the Santa Barbara based Catholic priest who was going to baptize Isabella. David would be required to provide a note from his parish priest attesting to the fact that he was a good, practicing Catholic. Up until this point, we had only a casual knowledge of our parish priest through the occasional marriage or baptism we'd attended at St. Mary's in Grafton. To meet the requirements of the Santa Barbara pastor, David arranged a meeting with Father Hood (pictured above with David and Mother Hood - some say he looks a little like Elton John), at which time it was agreed that the requisite letter would be provided on the condition that David start attending mass on a regular basis. As it turned out, this was the beginning of a long and enjoyable association not only with Father Hood, but also with his Mother - yes, you guessed it - Mother Hood. Having started out as an Anglican priest, and converting to Catholicism midway through his career, Father Hood gives an engaging homily, always treating his flock to an interesting, quite often colourful account of the history of the church in the context of the life of Jesus Christ. My mother, our friend Marg, David and I have also enjoyed Father Hood's company many times over dinner and a movie. This came about after Father Hood preached about his love for culture, at which point Marg thought to invite him to join our movie club. Over the years, Father has become a good friend and a spiritual inspiration. Today was Father Hood's last day in Grafton. Last year a friend and I organized a letter writing campaign to try to convince the Bishop not to move Father Hood, given his mother's fragile health, and given our attachment to him. None-the-less, our Bishop believes its a good thing to move his priests around, so starting next Sunday, Father Hood will take over the Cobourg Parish of St. Micheal's and Father Henry will take over Grafton. Better Cobourg than Coboconc, according to Father Hood (an urbanite at heart), who was terrified of being exiled to the far reaches of the diocese. Through Father Hood we have also come to know several parishioners, most of whom are wonderful people.  There's an ever changing cast of characters in the adult choir, a hoard of altar boys and choir girls, the ladies of the CWL and the men of the Knights of Columbus. During his 12 year tenure in Grafton, Father Hood welcomed a diverse group of people to this small church for worship, and he accomplished a great deal. We will miss Father Hood and we'll miss Mother Hood, but it's comforting to know that they're only 15 minutes away in Cobourg. Adios amigos!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Gifts

A ringing phone woke me up at 5:30 this morning. I stumbled around for a few seconds, not sure if it was my cell phone, or my house phone doing the ringing. It was Allan, the ever faithful night auditor calling to tell me that he couldn't connect to one of the servers on the network thus preventing him from updating our key numbers. I pulled on my favourite pair of track pants and my new John Deere shirt and ambled down the stairs to gather my keys. As I jumped in my truck, I turned my wipers on to remove the dew from my windshield, thinking that in my sleepy state I'd have to watch for deer crossing the road on my short trip to the spa. 4 weeks and 4 days ago my good friend and I/T superstar turned in his keys and said he was done. Done with these early morning calls, done with the emails and voicemails complaining about lost connections, sticking keyboards, missing messages, done with me trying to grow him into more responsibility as a property manager. He was suffering from all the classic signs of burnout. I've seen it before when someone who works tirelessly behind the scenes to provide hours of reliable service just gets fed up with hearing about all the things that aren't working, and never hearing about the millions of things that are working. I'm hoping that he'll be back soon, but I'm also thankful for the gifts that his absence has brought me. I've been forced to relearn skills that I'd long since forgotten, simple things like resetting a password, deleting a voicemail box, troubleshooting technology, but more importantly I've learned to appreciate the value of one of the many people who make a place like Ste. Anne's function day in and day out. Allan the night auditor, Jane the morning waitress, Debbie the gardener, Steve the mechanic, Tyson the morning chef, and this morning I was treated to a breathtakingly beautiful sunrise and the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of morning, so dependable day in and day out. Who would we call if the sun didn't come up one day?

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Blackberry and The Mourning Doves

Even on the gloomiest days, the world is full of promise, joy and new beginnings. Just next to the spot where I park my truck, there grows, despite all odds, a blackberry bush. Each night when I get home, a few more hard red berries have been ripened to a deep black juicy state offering themselves up to me as delicious sustenance. This is my idea of a useful blackberry. And then, just outside my office window, hidden in the gnarly limbs of a scraggly old scrub is a little nest. A few blogs back I wrote about the 3 mourning doves that appeared to be checking out this little piece of real estate. (No worries about sub prime mortgages and opportunitstic bankers with this group.) I've been keeping a close eye on developments in this happy household, and as you can see above, much to my joy, new lives have been nourished and launched. It's so funny to watch as the relief sitter comes in to take over. I'm not sure what his (or her) relationship is to the main layer, or to the eggs for that matter, but the bicker free teamwork is a sight to behold. I hope you don't have to look very far in your world to find bicker free teamwork, joy and inspiration.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Warkworth Rodeo

A few weeks ago I noticed an ad in the local paper promoting the Warkworth Western Weekend. Since taking up horse back riding again, I'm feeling a little more drawn to all things western, so I made a note of this event in may PDA. THe weather on Saturday was just perfect for an outing, so I loaded up the truck with Dave and my dog and arranged to meet sister Marijo in Brighton. Friends Dan and Rebecca also thought this was a good excuse to get out on Dan's motorcycle so we all met up at the Warkworth Liquor store at high noon. I failed to notice that the rodeo didn't actually get underway until 2:00, so after conducting a quick tour of the show grounds decided to head off to Oak Heights Winery for what turned out to be a spectacular lunch. If you like wineries and have a healthy appetite, this place is a must see. We arrived just as a seniours tour bus was preparing to pull out on it's way to Westben Theatre. I overheard more than a couple of seniors complain that this outing involved a little too much walking for their liking (they were talking about the walk from the dining room to the bus - about 20 metres), but for the most part they seemed pleased with their experience. The rodeo itself was more fun than I expected, lots of hooting and hollering around the events dripping with testoserone, (both from the cowboys and the cowgirls). The video clip is of the barrel racing - which the horses and their riders make look so easy. I can't even stay on my horse trotting in an oval, let alone around 3 barrels with lound music pumping and a cheering crowd. No animals were harmed, and infact they seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially the angry bulls who got to throw their pesky loads off in a matter of seconds, and then turn around and stare down anyone who dared remain in the ring. I'm still working on my western look - my head is already big enough without adding a wide brimmed hat to it. Not sure what to do to get that Brad Pitt look going. All in all a fun and sun soaked day in the beautiful Northumberland Hills.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The cycle of life

A couple of days ago, I noticed that there were three birds, (I think they were Morning Doves) sitting on a bush outside my office window. Two of them appeared to be checking out a vacant nest while the other looked on. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of family this was; could it be a husband and wife with the mother-in-law in tow, or perhaps a young lady with two gentleman suitors? In any case, I noticed one of them sitting in the nest today for a while, at which time another one came along to relieve her; I guess she had to go out and do some chores, or maybe meet up with her other "friend". Who knows, these days nothing surprises. While the nest was empty, I took a picture, and what do you know - there were a couple of fresh eggs. (Good thing I'd already had my breakfast). All day one or the other bird has been sitting patiently to unwittingly bring another couple of beatiful lives into the world - pretty amazing when you stop to think about it. Maybe a birds life beats a dog's life, flying, singing as opposed to barking - not bad - maybe a consideration for my next life. Also pictured above is my latest little niece posing with several of her cousins - no shortage of girls in this family, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sophie's got a boyfriend!

Week after week I am given something to rant about, or postulate on, but alas, this week I have nothing. As I sit here at my desk, trying to conjure up something clever to say, I'm afraid that I may be suffering from blogger's block. I suppose I could tell you about attending Sophie's internal exam. I found a beautiful Friesian stallion who is willing to commit to a very short term relationship with my mare, so it was strongly advised that I have the vet check her parts out to make sure she would be receptive to this proposal. Not a very amorous affair, to say the least, but everything was in order, so in about 16 days we'll be calling on King Tys for a sample of his DNA. Sophie, I really wish this could be more romantic for you, but King Tys is afraid of getting kicked. I guess I could also tell you that I've decided to take a break from riding Sophie - she is still a touch temperamental - in horse circles they call her hot blooded and too smart for her own good - I call her a less flattering name and choose to ride someone else for the time being. David decided that he would give Sophie a try and true to her reputation, she gave him quite the ride; nearly threw him off not once but twice in fact! I'm not sure how keen David will be to get back on Sophie this week. A very dear friend of mine who has a huge heart is heading into the hospital this week to allow his doctor to have a closer look at some of the pipes supplying his main pump - please say a prayer for him. To my dear father, recovery from a nasty bug whilst away on the emerald isle, I send this Irish Blessing: May the Irish hills caress you; May her lakes and rivers bless you; May the luck of the Irish enfold you; May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The price we pay for vanity

It was finally here. June 11th - my date with my dentist. I had postponed it once, now the time had come to face the music. As I made my way along the 401 headed for Toronto, I couldn't help but ask myself "What are you - crazy? You're actually willingly delivering yourself to a procedure that you know is going to be uncomfortable at best, and potentially painful, all for the sake of removing the last bit of amalgam in the very back of your mouth to replace it with a white composite material - why?" I also made a note to myself while driving - this is why our guests at Ste. Anne's Spa are so stressed when they arrive. The fast pace of the 401, which is made even more frenetic when you tune into 680 News to check for traffic snarls, is stressful - I think they must speed up the radio announcers a bit, probably with copious amounts of coffee, they make you want to go faster. I guess I'd read or heard somewhere that a mouth full of amalgam could potentially leach mercury, and somehow became convinced that removing and replacing it was the right thing to do. I started this process a couple of years ago, but there was one last hold out at the very far reaches of my big mouth that neither I nor my dentist were looking forward to working on. Really, it was my dentist who had to do all the work, so what am I whining about? I just had to lay there and stare obligingly into the white light, grunting out my best response to any questions thrown my way, and stand ready to put my hand in the air if I felt any pain. But, true to form for my dentist, aside from the little pinch of the needle administering the local anesthetic, the whole thing was quite painless, for me that is. My dentist performed some near contortionist type moves to get at what was left of this once mighty molar, and at one point muttered "you're not paying me enough to do this", and "a root canal might be in your future", but in the end she did a bang up job, as she always does. I was a little worried when the somewhat nervous dental assistant told me that she was the new girl in the office, but she also performed exceedingly well, under the circumstances. My dentist brings her entire team to the spa once a year, so they're all very appreciative and enthusiastic when David and I come for our visits. I don't know how David gets any dentistry done though, he spends the whole time laughing and carrying on with his hygenist. He must have mastered the art of laughing and talking with a mouth full of fingers and stainless steel instruments. Thanks to modern dentistry, I now have all white fillings, (or something close to white), with just a hint of gold, from a crown I had put on years ago, before the price of gold went crazy. David tells me that if I smile really hard I look like a gangster from the hood. So, next time you see me, make me smile!

Monday, June 2, 2008

For as long as I can remember (although I really couldn't say when it started), I've had a mild obsession with Sunday morning breakfast. When I lived at home in Nashville, mom used the smell of bacon cooking and wafting up through the house to encourage growing teenagers to fight the desire to continue sleeping. Later, as a young man living in Toronto I had several favourite haunts that served up lip smackingly good morning meal (Mars on College street is one, but there are many, many more). And now, as I approach the 1/2 century mark, one of the moments I most look forward to each week is when my waitress pours that fresh cup of coffee (I only drink this one cup of coffee a week) and asks "would you like to see a menu". Of course I don't need to see a menu - I'm a terrible creature of habit - 2 eggs, over easy, bacon and sausage, rye toast, home fries and orange juice will provide the fuel I need to face another day. You might think that I'm a little heavy on the protein, but keep in mind that Massie loves breakfast just as much as I do. I always take him a sausage and a piece of toast, which he of course gulps down without even tasting it, but none-the-less, he appears to relish this moment almost as much as I do. We bounce between a couple of spots for Sunday morning breakfast - The Grafton Village Inn puts on a nice spread, albeit quite pricey and just a little precious, as does the Bullpen, (more down to earth and reasonable), also in Grafton. Once in a while we'll prolong the experience by making the drive up to Pitcher's Place on Rice Lake (nice Eggs Benedict), but our all time favourite is Kathleen's Kountry Kitchen (formerly known as Scenery Drive Restaurant), in Centreton. (The pictures above: a fellow diner enjoying a sip of sweet nectar, as seen from our table at Kathleen's, and my breakfast)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Coming home

Seventeen years ago, when I was a fledgling bed & breakfast operator, I was invited to by a keen staffer at the Ontario Ministry of Tourism attend a meeting at Langdon Hall (near Cambridge) to discuss the challenge of marketing Ontario Country Inns and Bed & Breakfasts to the world. We were told that while we had some pretty amazing and unique properties, we could do a better job of telling our stories. I remember being so intimidated at the prospect of joining this auspicious group of seasoned hoteliers at such a prestigious property that I almost didn't make the trip. I stopped in Toronto to calm my nerves with a few drinks, and by the time I sobered up enough to make the rest of the trip, I found myself checking in to Langdon Hall at 3:00 a.m. This was my first experience in a Relais & Chateau property and I was in awe of everything, but the dining experience was beyond anything I could imagine. After many painstaking meetings, The Independent Innkeepers Association of Ontario was born, which has subsequently been rebranded as Ontario's Finest Inns & Spas. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of returning to Langdon Hall several times, and each time I feel the same sense of awe that I felt during that first visit. This week we had an opportunity to return to Langdon Hall for the first time in many years to attend a meeting of Premier Spas of Ontario. Owners Bill Bennett and Mary Beaton have worked tirelessly to create and evolve one of Ontario's finest inns - a beautiful facility where every detail has been thought of. Spacious and bedrooms outfitted with ultra luxurious beds call out your name, inducing instant relaxation. The architecture is stunning, and of course, the food is to die for. General Manager for the past seven years, Jill McGoey leads a team of warm, professional staff who create a warm, inviting ambiance like you would expect visiting wealthy relatives at their country estate, anticipating your every need. Industry icons like Bill and Mary have provided "youngens" like me and many others with the inspiration and the confidence to do what we've been able to do with the rough around the edges properties we started with. If you haven't been recently, check it out - I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mother's Day

Last weekend we celebrated Mother's Day by taking my mom out for dinner at Dougalls on the Bay in Brighton. It's not far from Presqu'ile Provincial Park, right on the water, and the food is always good. Earlier in the day I had decided to succumb to mom's hints for a vegetable garden in the back yard. In my mind I had conjured up various means to achieve this objective. I tried hinting to expert spa gardeners Debbie and Darlene, but at this time of year they are very busy with their own projects. On several ocassions these hard working women have commented on how most men are only happy working if they have a motor between their legs. True to form, I procrastinated on this project, dreading the thought of turning over a plot with a shovel - this just seemed like too much work. In the end, I think I expended just as much effort and energy by enlisting the help of a couple of machines. First I rented a sod cutter from the Rentall Centre. What a brute of a machine that thing was, very heavy and quite unwieldy. It wasn't until I was about 1/2 way through the sod cutting that I discovered the setting for sod thickness, so the first few rolls of sod were huge, with about 3 inches of top soil attached. Lifting these gigantic chunks of sod up and onto the back of my truck was a back breaker. Next, I picked up 10 bags of peat moss and 10 bags of triple mix to replace the soil I had removed with the sod cutter. Finally, I used a rototiller to work the peat moss and the triple mix into the soil. Needless to say, my back is aching, but it was all worth it when I saw the smile on my mom's face as she discovered her new garden. Amazing that at 80 years of age she is able to plant a garden - I hope I'm so lucky. (Pictures above: my mom and my sister Marijo at Dougalls, the garden project before, during and after my adventure. Hopefully I'll have some pictures of some vegetables to show you before too long).

Friday, May 9, 2008

My (other) big brother

I was born in 1958, the middle son in a family of 3 boys, and four girls. As a child growing up, my oldest brother Bill seemed like an all round "Wally Cleaver" kind of guy. He was good at sports, popular with the ladies and good looking. I guess my younger brother John was a little like "the Beav", a nice guy with a real charm about him, with Wally looking out for him. Even though there were more years between John and Bill, they seemed to bond. When we were old enough to play tennis, John and Bill would team up against me and my dad. I wasn't much of a tennis player, and as a result got the odd ball to the back of the neck when I missed a shot at the net, so I tended to try to avoid these outings. I preferred hanging out with my friend Paul Casely at his grandmas house where we'd watch TV, eat toast with butter, and wrestle. In my early days, I guess I was a bit of a loaner, I used to play down by the river and out by the pond - I loved the mud, and I loved the water. For the most part, I think I was a happy child - one of my nicknames was "the lightbulb" - I didn't mind that so much, but later on when I earned the handle, "Bozzo the clown" - I think I may have started to get a little more serious. I was a joiner - an altar boy, a cub scout, boy scout, and venturer, and later on became a bit of a nerd, starting a school store, a bit of acting, I loved working behind the scenes with the lighting crew in junior high, and ran for student council. Fast forward to seven years ago when Christopher Ennew joined our team at Ste. Anne's as a sous chef. I had noticed this very tall quite guy working away in the back of the kitchen on his mise en place. It wasn't long before he was promoted to Executive Chef and today, in my estimation, he is one of the finest spa chefs in Canada. Through my involvement with Ontario's Finest Inns I got to know industry icon John Egan, owner of Eganridge Inn & Spa. John is a real gentleman and a sort of senior statesman to our association and to the industry. While visiting John at his inn one day I noticed a real bond, a friendship between John and his chef. In hindsight, I guess this one of many pearls of wisdom that John passed on to me - in this business, your chef should not only be one of your most treasured and valued employees, they should be one of your best friends. Over the years Christopher and I have gotten to know each other pretty well. He accepts me for who I am, and I have tremendous respect for him. Sometimes I'll be in the kitchen chatting with the team, and Chef Christopher will step up behind me and start massaging my shoulders with his big strong hands. He hasn't had an easy life, but he sure has brought light into the lives of many people. He has become a great friend to me, and in some respects the big brother that I missed growing up. And it goes without saying that he has also become one of the pillars that supports the work that we do here at Ste. Anne's Spa. As I read through guest surveys, rarely does someone review a stay at the spa without mentioning the great food, and quite often they will also mention having met this culinary giant. This guy is golden.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Girl's night out

My mom loves Red Lobster. I'm not sure why, I think it has something to do with the coconut shrimp and the cheese bread, but more than anything it's a night out on the town. When the call of the shell fish becomes too strong to resist, we set out for Peterborough, where we'll usually take in a movie at the downtown multi-screen theatre (love the big comfy seats). Last night we asked my sister-in-law/Innkeeper Nancy if she wanted to join us after a long day working at the spa. As we worked our way up Highway 28, someone suggested that we stop at the Kawartha Downs Casino - we had a little extra time, so why not. Nancy said that her husband won't take her to the Casino - "just give me the money and I'll throw it out the window", he says. There were 3 gamblers in the car and one naysayer, so there we were amidst the bright lights and bells feeding our hard earned money into the machines. I lost the others as I headed straight for the "players circle"; I like to get it over with quickly, preferring to feed a few twenties into the $5 slots, hoping for a big win. When I was out of twenties, I had winnings of $120 (up $40 from what I went in with); not bad for 5 minutes work, I thought. I found my mom in amongst the quarter machines - she was up by $30 and pretty pleased with herself. Then I found David; down $20 and ready to leave (he's the naysayer, in case you hadn't guessed). Then I found Nancy, sitting at twenty-five cent machine where she'd just hit the jackpot and won $400! She didn't realize she'd won - she was pressing all the buttons to stop all the noise coming from the machine! Then Nan came around the corner, fresh from a $200 win. I sat down beside Nancy and put $20 into a new type of machine while waiting for Nan to cash in her ticket, and I won a $500 jackpot! In the end we walked out with just over a thousand dollars in fresh $100 bills, smiling from ear to ear. Of course gamblers never tell you about their losses - what fun would that be? After dinner we watched Deception - not a bad flick, but you can probably afford to wait for it to come out on DVD.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Who won the war?

As the lead up to the U.S. election drags on, with one side promising to pull out of Iraq immediately, while the other side postulates on the possibility that there may be troops in Iraq for another 100 years, inevitably history will have to pass judgement on the efficacy of this war, and pick one side or the other as the winner. For me, its quite simple. As long as I have to take my shoes and my belt off to get on an airplane, I am clearly the loser in the war on terrorism, no matter where the terrorists hail from. As long as I have to be subjected to long lines and a myriad of questions to cross the border into the U.S., I am the loser. As long as I consider the possibility of being blown up over the Atlantic ocean as part of my thought process in deciding whether to travel to Europe or not, I am the loser. As long as I get sweaty palms whenever I board a plane with other humans who dress and speak differently or have a different skin colour than me, I am the loser. Whenever one segment of society exerts their will over another segment of society, be it through force or through fear, that segment of society has won. I suppose the question really is, will ongoing loss of life through fighting and peacekeeping missions by North Americans in the Middle East help to solve the problem? I don't know. I'm sure its a much more complex situation than my little brain can comprehend. I just want to enjoy flying again - but then there's that whole issue of jet fuel. Argh.