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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just back from the west coast

The west coast of Ontario, that is. On Saturday afternoon I packed my suitcase and set my Garmin GPS for the Benmiller Inn and Spa, just north of Goderich, the site of the annual general meeting (AGM) of Ontario's Finest Inns & Spas. One of the things I like about the British lady living inside of my dashboard device is that she sometimes takes me on the road less travelled, giving me an opportunity to see things and go places that I otherwise wouldn't have. I also like the fact that if I grow tired of her somewhat nagging, bossy tone, I can press her "mute" button, knowing that she won't take offence, and won't pick up where she left off. We discovered a new game on Sunday afternoon - I set my destination as the place I was just leaving, and then drive in the opposite direction to what GPS girl is telling me. She keeps telling me to make the next safe u-turn, or turn left here, or turn right there and I just ignore her. Splendid. However, I keep an eye on the projected arrival time, allowing me to wander freely and know exactly when I will have to turn around if I want to make it back for my 3:00 massage. I must say, much of south western Ontario is very flat - farmland for miles and miles - somewhat boring, but reassuring at the same time - after all, these fields feed us. With the idyllic weather we had this weekend all the farmers were out in full force cultivating and spreading piles of very ripe manure left over from the long winter. Besides some very nice vistas of Lake Huron, and the odd quaint small village, this area also seems to be a real hot spot for wind generators. They look so graceful and hypnotic as they turn every so slowly. When you get up beside them they are absolutely huge. I took a drive around downtown Goderich and down to the beach - I wasn't overly impressed, but perhaps there is more life there in the summer months. I also made a visit to the local Walmart to buy a pair of slacks for dinner and at the check out found myself buying a country music CD, something I've never done before. It turned out to be just the right music for cruising the long country roads of Huron County with my windows open wide. I found myself missing my dog, my cowboy hat and the fact that I hadn't recently been dumped by an old girl friend. OK, back to the meeting; Ontario's Finest Inns and Spas is a mildly eccentric group of very creative and independent entrepreneurs, each of whom has created or inherited one of a wide range of wonderful and eclectic places to get away from reality for rest and relaxation. Our host property, the Benmiller, is a wonderfully restored woolen mill overlooking the Maitland River. Along with the Elora Mill, the Benmiller is now managed by Sequel Hotels, who are in the process of restoring their properties to their former grandeur. We enjoyed outstanding meals and four diamond accommodation, all pulled together by a warm, hospitable staff. Mark at the front desk, Kevin in the dining room, Cathy in the spa, and Innkeeper Scott provided especially memorable service. Our AGM is a time to do a little bit of business and discuss how we might better entice Ontarians to enjoy the many treasures that exist right here in our back yard. But by far, the best part of these get togethers is the opportunity to catch up with the many friends we've made over the years. When you do visit one of Ontario's inns or spas, you have to make a point of seeking out and chatting up the owner - these are some of the finest, and funniest people you'll ever meet. Here's a few to look for - Sue Murray at The Harbour House in Niagara on the Lake, Wolfgang Stichnothe at The Millcroft in Alton, James Orr at Sir Sam's, Holly Doughty at The Rosemount in Kingston, Gerda Della-Casa at the Woodlawn Inn in Cobourg, Jaques O'Shea at the Trinity House in Gananoque, Michael Kalmar at The Old Mill in Toronto, Helen Young at the Inn on The Twenty in Jordon, Troy Vedova at the Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley, Hugh Sibbald at The Briars in Jackson's Point, John Egan at Eganridge, John Keilty at the Gananoque Inn in Gananoque, Gayle Waters at The Little Inn of Bayfield in Bayfield, and Troy Loop at the Vintage Goose Inn in Kingsville - tell them that Jim sent you! Tonight I am back at Ste. Anne's - nice to be home. I took a walk along the pier on Cobourg's waterfront this evening - the picture above is taken at dusk looking back towards the town - quite pretty. In another couple of weeks the harbour will be full of boats, probably staying close to their moorings as the price of gas approaches another ridiculous record.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Strong Genes and the scent of spring

A few weeks ago I wrote about my search for ancestors using the tools available on the web. I located a 1911 census record indicating that my father's mother's (Anna) father, (Mark Quinn), (pictured above in 1939 on his 90th birthday) was, on June 6th, 1911, living on Queen Street in Niagara Falls with his wife Eliza and his 5 of his 6 children. One of his sons, I think it was John, went on to marry a woman whom I came to know as Aunt Lizzie. I remember visiting Aunt Lizzie on her farm in Virgil, a town neighbouring Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake (I have memories of lots and lots of flies and lots and lots of kids). I believe Aunt Lizzie had 14 children, one of whom was Tom Quinn. My grandfather and namesake, James Corcoran, was a bootlegger, and Tom's cousin. According to Tom, my grandpa used to store boxes of prohibition liquor in Lizzie and John's barn. Tom and his wife Joanne came to the spa for a visit this past week where I had an opportunity to photograph him with my nephew Mark Abernethy (now an enterprising entrepreneur and the proprietor of Ste. Anne's Water to Wine in Oshawa). Can you see the resemblance between Mark and Tom and Mark? Strong Irish genes, I suppose. At 81 years of age, Tom is still recovering from open heart surgery. None-the-less, he is a great story teller, and quite a character. One of my favourite stories is how Tom, being a good son, would give his mother money to go out and buy a new set of teeth. Lizzie never did buy the teeth, instead she spent the money buying food for her kids. The other picture, on the right is a close up of a bamboo patch that I cut back this weekend. If you look closely you can see the new shoots starting to push their way up past last year's old dead shoots. (There is a connection here between this story and the family story above). Spring is such a wonderful time, as colour and life start to push their way back into our world after a long winter absence, just as the last few piles of dirty snow melt to provide the water and the nutrients for the life giving soil. My dad went back to his adopted home of northern Ireland this past week after spending a little time visiting his kin here in Canada. We had lots of good times together, celebrating my mom's 80th birthday, watching movies, walking and eating out. Last weekend my dad and I spent the weekend together as Nan was away for a sister's weekend and David was working a trade show. On Saturday morning we set out for breakfast to the "Under New Management" Scenery Drive Restaurant at Highway 45 and Centreton Road. This place has been serving up good old country fare for as long as I can remember - I just hope the new owners don't change things too much. As it turned out, the parking lot was packed with pick up trucks, so we continued north to Pitcher's Place in Gore's landing where we both ordered and enjoyed a delicious home made Eggs Benedict. After breakfast we walked down to Rice Lake where the ice was starting to melt and water was running everywhere. We discovered a charming little Anglican Church up on the hill over looking Rice Lake - St. George's. From there we went on to Linwood Acres where we picked up 120 7" trout to transplant into my pond at Ste. Anne's. This man made pond is now home to close to 3 or 4 hundred trout of various sizes. I think this year we're going to have to start fishing some of them out - they're getting pretty big. After our road trip, I made a mental note to return to St. George's church some Sunday to see whether the service would be as enchanting as the building. That opportunity came this past Sunday when we missed our 9:00 mass at St. Mary's in Grafton, after a visit with my sister Cindy in celebration of her birthday cut into our church time. David, mom and I headed back up to Pitcher's Place for breakfast. Unfortunately we were a few minutes too late, (and as a result too shy) to venture into St. George's, but we had a great breakfast all the same and agreed to come back another day. We took a road along the south shore of Rice Lake on our way home and came across yet another architecturally alluring church called Sacred Heart (R.C.), just as a small crowd was gathering for the 10:00 service. We pulled in, only to be greeted with hugs from Mike Butler, a chef who had worked at Ste. Anne's many moons ago - looking much better than when we'd last seen him. We followed Mike and others into the church only to find the heat was off, apparently because they had run out of oil. It didn't really matter though as the warmth of the congregation and Father Stan made this a joyous discovery, prayer and song filled hour. You just never know what you'll stumble upon when travelling the rolling countryside of Northumberland!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Can we ever achieve true selflessness?

This past weekend Ste. Anne's participated in Lifefest - a 3 day show primarily for women at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto. David, Katriona, John and Laura "worked" the show on behalf of Premier Spas of Ontario. On Saturday afternoon I got a call inviting me to come into the city for the night. After a little bit of hunting on-line, I ended up booking a couple of hotel rooms at the Sheraton Centre through's "name your own price" feature. I had thought about using this tool in the past, but was always afraid that I'd end up in some awful hotel in the wrong part of town. As it turned out, it worked just as promised, landing us newly renovated rooms in a great location for $75 - a great deal. I picked up Katriona's other half on the way into the city, and along with David, the four of us went out for dinner at Terroni's new Adelaide Street location. I was first introduced to this authentic and very friendly eatery at their Yonge and Balmoral location, which is just across the street from my dentist's office. I now try to co-ordinate dental work with a gastronomic treat. We had a great meal and lots of laughs, returned to the hotel and had a good rest, although in the morning I felt as though I'd smoked a pack of cigarettes - I guess I'm not used to city air. On our way home we stopped at a greasy spoon on Carlton, just east of Church Street for breakfast. The waiter was just as entertaining as the food was good as he told us that his closet included at least 200 pairs of jeans, just as many dress shirts and shoes - quite a character. As we left the restaurant a somewhat aggressive panhandler approached us. Our first instinct was to get past him, but then I thought of how much money we had just spent on ourselves and proceeded to drop a fiver into his cup. I encouraged him not to spend it on cigarettes or booze. He had a salt and pepper beard and his teeth looked like they could use a good cleaning. I'm quite sure a warm bath would have done him some good as well. We jumped in our cars and headed for home. At Bayview and River Street there was another panhandler, there is almost always one there, I guess its a prime location. I rolled down my window and reached for the spare change that I keep in my ashtray. At first I pulled out a few coins to give him, and then I decided to dump the whole thing into his hand. Now I'm not telling you any of this to sing my own praises as a generous guy - quite the contrary. I could be a lot more generous than I was or than I am. You see, as I gave these guys money, I was very aware of the people I was with and what might think of me for giving, or not giving. Of course, I wanted them to think of me as kind and generous, which instantly turns the act of giving into a selfish act as I derived something back. Even if I hadn't had any witnesses, somewhere in my subconscious mind I'd be hoping that my creator or my final judge would be making a note of my actions. For people who make a life out of charitable works, who go on missions, who take in the less fortunate, I have no doubt that their act of charity gives back to them, be it through recognition by their peers or the recipients of their good works, or simply in the hope that they will make it into heaven as opposed to spending eternity in hell. One could argue that even the greatest to live amongst us anticipated and collected a reward for their sacrifice, even if what simply the approval of their father and the knowledge that they had saved mankind from eternal damnation. So, here is my question: how can a human being achieve true selflessness, or are we denied this simple pleasure once we grow out of the innocence of birth into adulthood?