Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Boxing Day (week) Blues (or why I quit politics)

You may not know this about me, but years ago I was an elected official. When I was a student in high school, I ran for, and was elected to the York Region Board of Education. I served for two and a half terms, and then decided to leave and become a contributing member of society. Now, as an employer in Ontario, I'm finding that it is becoming increasingly more difficult not to take on the unpopular characteristics of "scrooge". Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to celebrations, family get-togethers, motherhood, apple pie and happiness. My beef has to do with superfluous statutory holidays like Boxing Day. What exactly is it that we are celebrating on Boxing Day?(Boxing Day was traditionally a day on which the servants had a day off from their duties. Because of this the gentry would eat cold cuts and have a buffet-style feast prepared by the servants in advance. In modern times many families will still follow this tradition by eating a family-style buffet lunch, with cold cuts rather than a fully-cooked meal. It is a time for family, parlour games and sports in the UK). In modern times, Boxing Day is a day when Christmas weary folks join mobs of fellow bargain hunters in search of the deal of the century at their favourite retail store. The fact that employers who open on Boxing Day are forced to pay employees double time and a half because it's a "statutory holiday", the cost of which ultimately has to be passed on to those same poor bargain hunters just seems kind of silly to me. In my case, each statutory holiday costs me about $12,000 in additional wages, and now, thanks to Dalton McTaxme, there are nine of them in the have not province of Ontario, the most recent being that great mid February holiday - Family Day. But, just when I thought Dalt was running out of ways to punish the tourism sector, he's come up with the Harmonized Sales Tax. For my business, this will mean a new and extra 8% tax on all spa treatments, along with a new and extra 3% tax on meals and accommodation. I estimate that just the credit card fees on these new taxes will cost us (and ultimately our customers), about $15,000 a year, not to mention the additional $400,000 it will generate in tax revenue. Maybe there should be a statutory holiday to celebrate this Dalton inspired tax grab/winfall?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Things to do in the winter

As I pulled my cart into the shortest lane at Walmart I looked up at the clock. It was a few minutes to 2:00, which meant that I had finished my Christmas shopping well before previous years, where I have found myself pawing through the dregs close to closing time at the local Shopper's Drug Mart on Christmas Eve. Making my way to the check-out, pushing my cart as aggressively as possible without being rude, the Christmas shopping syndrome started to set into the muscles between my shoulder blades. It was time to go. Once in line, I focused my attention on the customers ahead of me who seemed to take an inordinate amount of time getting their money out or their PIN numbers entered. I could feel my stress levels starting to rise, asking myself how much time these simple steps could possibly take. When my turn finally came, the cashier looked at me and said "You just want to get out of here, don't you", very intuitive of her to offer this greeting as opposed to the company standard "Did you find everything you were looking for today?" Truth be told, Walmart was a last resort in my search for one particular gift that I was unable to find anywhere else. I did most of my shopping at the downtown stores in Cobourg, where I found some great gifts, free gift wrapping and no line-ups. I'm writing this blog from a family Christmas party in North Toronto that was supposed to have started an hour ago, but as of this moment most of the guests haven't arrived. Patience, I tell myself, is a virtue I need to work on. Last weekend I met up with another spa owner/friend to do one of the tougher parts of our jobs, a competitive analysis at Hotel Sacacomie in Quebec - located about 1 1/2 hours outside of Montreal in an absolutely stunning setting. We went to check out their newly opened Nordic Spa - fabulous, but as yet pretty much undiscovered. Apparently the construction budget for this geo-thermal facility was $3.4 million, but it ended up costing $6.8. I wonder what the bank thought about that? We spent a couple of hours in and out of the hot tubs, sauna, steam room and ice cold water fall and were completely invigorated. Take some time and check this place out. I've just had my first empanada, food, oh glorious food to calm the nerves and bring out the Christmas spirit. Blessings to you, your family and friends in this festive season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Inspiration comes in many sizes

Nine years ago, a young man named Ryan applied for a job as a massage therapist at Ste. Anne's. He was a quirky fellow, not shy, and very sure to tell you what he thought of you. At first, I thought he was going to be a rabble rouser, but instead, he rose to become our clear, level headed and honest communicator from amongst the spa staff. From day one, Ryan gave an incredible massage, especially if you like it deep. He didn't hold anything back, I suspect that characteristic runs through the core of his existence. Ryan married, and went on to have a couple of beautiful children, and has one more on the way. He was the first man I knew to take advantage of the option for paternal leave - he's a great dad. Ryan also loves to eat. I would often see him in the staff room unpacking a Fred Flintstone size lunch that looked as though it could feed an entire table, let alone one person. Then one day, I saw Ryan all decked out in Lycra Spandex running the Haldimand Hills. I quickly looked to see if he was being followed by an ambulance, because he really looked like he was working every muscle in his body to the max, including his heart, but no emergency vehicles were in sight. This morning, as I trudged through the snow drifts for my 7th day of exercise on the elliptical trainer, I noticed a car pulling out of my driveway. It struck me as a little odd that a car would be pulling out of my driveway in this weather, and at this time of day. Could this be a stalker? No such luck. As I found out when I got to the spa for my workout, it was Ryan, who had arranged to meet David for a morning run. Unfortunately, David slept through the call, but true to form, Ryan went to the spa to run by himself instead. Ryan inspired David and Rick, and John, and Rhonda, and Jenn, and no doubt countless others to become marathon runners. Several of Ryan's protege ran their first full marathon this past fall in Toronto. Quite an achievement! When I mounted my elliptical trainer, Ryan was already well into his workout on the treadmill beside me, running at breakneck speed. He initially dropped 30 pounds as a result of running, (from 250 lbs.), and there is now no need of emergency medical on standby when this guy is training. My hat goes off to Ryan, a great therapist, a great employee, a great husband and dad, and now a great athlete. Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Mom. And by the way - next time you're at the spa - book a massage with Ryan. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First snow day for the equine kids

For 3 years running, my family doctor has told me that my colesteral readings and my blood pressure indicate that I have a 10% chance of having some kind of cardiovascular event in the next ten years. Of course, this probability can be reduced by medication (complete with side effects), or I could start exercising. I guess you could say that I've been warned, and I'm not really interested in the side effects or the cardiovascular event, so I dragged my sorry ass out of bed this morning and spent a half hour on the elliptical trainer - something I pledged I would start doing every weekday morning for the rest of my life. We'll see how long that lasts. When I left the house at 6:45, I was pleasantly surprised to see a thin skim of white powder everywhere, and of course thought that I could probably workout behind a snow shovel, but quickly realized that I need a routine that I can count on regardless of the weather. Speaking of routine, I then went down to our newly restored stables and put my big horsey kids out in their snow covered pasture. Horses love routine. My Spirited Anglo-Arab Sophie and her more even tempered friend Noche have seen snow before, and took it all in stride, but Sarah and her new pal Titan, both born in June of this year, had their first experience today, but neither seemed phased by it. Sarah did curl up her lip a bit as if she could better understand this stuff if she could smell it, but quickly turned her attention to finding food. I've discovered that owning and boarding a few horses (or any pets for that matter) involves positive routine, dependence, a little bit of exercise and lots of potential for enjoyment.

Monday, November 16, 2009


The pastel above, by artist Paul Murray, hangs over the front desk at Ste. Anne's. I purchased a copy at an art exhibit many years ago at the Buckhorn Fine Art Festival. Most of the art on display was of wildlife and outdoor scenes, so this particular piece really stood out for me. Aunt Emily's eyes say so much. I placed it at the front desk because it serves as a reminder of our patron Ste. Anne - the grandmother of Jesus. I was lucky enough to know both of my grandmothers, Nano (maternal) and Grandma (paternal). They were as different as night and day, but they both shared one quality that seems to be genetically hardwired into grandmothers; unconditional love for their children and grandchildren. They showed their love in different ways, just as they lived their lives. Grandma lived in Niagara Falls in a modest apartment, while Nano was a little more up market in her accommodation, with a farm near Oakville, and a condo in Rosedale. I love them both, think of them often and miss them. Another grandmother friend of mine sent me an email recently. Her son has been diagnosed with a terrible disease that will probably subject him to an early and difficult departure from this life. This has been a source of great pain for my friend. She would do anything to take her son's place or to improve her son's prognosis, but at this point, all she can do is hope and pray. Like so many, my friend and her son suffer in solitude - they don't want others to know about their struggle. Like you, I have other friends who are suffering as a result of as yet incurable disease, many of whom suffer alone for fear of what others might say or think. I've often wondered what would happen if we spent as much on medical research as we spend on the military. Which is a greater enemy, a cruel disease or a despot dictator? My grandmother friend's request was a simple one - go to this website, and sign a charter in support of stem cell research.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For the Fallen

On this day last year, I was upbraided by a guest who was appalled that Ste. Anne's didn't acknowledge Remembrance Day in any significant way. My initial response was to be defensive, after all, I had attended the ceremony at the cenotaph in Grafton, I had worn red every Friday, I purchased my poppy and I felt that the way in which a person acknowledges the sacrifices of our war heroes was a personal choice. Looking back, I know that I can never even begin to comprehend the range of emotions felt not only by those who have served our country, but also by their loved ones who have been left behind to proudly mourn their loss and celebrate their achievement. There are so many cliches that I could use; "war is a terrible thing", "never again", but all I know for sure is that I hope I never have to know the fear, the pain, the grief, the loss, or the pride of fighting for my country. All I can do - all the vast majority of us who benefit from the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform can do is to pause and give thanks. Today, Robert, a principled young man who works here at the spa and has become fast friends with many staff and guests, was up at the crack of dawn, on his knees pinning hundreds of poppies in the courtyard at the spa in memory of his father, who fought in the war. Thank you Robert for helping us find a dignified way to acknowledge this special day. I suppose I still feel that the acknowledgement of this special day should be a personal choice, but a subtle little nudge to those who haven't been privileged to experience true loss and sacrifice for the greater good is perhaps the least we can do.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Are you God's gift to the world?

I am an amateur photographer, in fact, for the most part, I'm an amateur everything. I'm one of those people who tends to take an interest in things, but rarely to develop an interest to it's full potential. Fortunately, I am blessed to have people around me who are much more thorough in their pursuits. One of those people is Katriona, a member of our Ste. Anne's marketing team. Among other things, "Kat" is a "brilliant" photographer. For several years, I have tried to capture the sun in some of her most beautiful moments, as experienced here in the Northumberland Hills. My photographs never quite capture the magnificence of these events. My body clock is still set to 6 hours ahead, so I've witnessed some incredible sun risings these past few days, and today, with the flick of a few dials, Kat helped me capture (one of) God's gifts to the world.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaving the Rock (Thank God!)

When most Canadians think of a place called "The Rock", we tend to think of Newfoundland. For 10 million Britons, (who for some reason unknown to me, travel there annually) "The Rock" refers to Gibraltar, a little piece of land at the southern tip of Spain that they hang onto as a "British protectorate". A friend of mine has a friend who has been posted there for the past little while, so I thought it would be a good jumping off point for a foray into southwestern Spain. As it turned out, I was wrong. Getting to Spain through Gibraltar was a big mistake - next time I will fly directly to Madrid or Barcelona, or even to Lisbon if I want to "do Spain". Aside from the inflated cost of visiting any part of the United Kingdom, the last leg of our journey home left me bewildered as to how so many things could go wrong on one day. Now here I am tending to place the blame on the Brits, but I suppose one could just as easily find fault with the Arabs who flew planes into the World Trade Centre for making air travel for those of us who don't like our planes to crash into buildings such a hassle, or the Spanish GibAir agents who manned the gate at the Gibraltar airport for so badly bungling everything, but really, there is enough blame to go around for the whole human race for letting a lack of trust and insatiable greed make what should be pleasurable and relaxing (travel) into the complete pain that it has become. Here's what happened. We were booked on an EasyJet flight from Gibraltar to Gatwick, scheduled to leave at 11:40. Like good travellers, we arrived at the airport 2 hours prior to departure. Not a soul in sight. The GibAir/Easyjet agents finally arrived around 10:00 and started checking us in. Once we got through security, we sat in the boarding lounge for 2 hours, where the odd announcement was made about waiting for more coaches to arrive. We just assumed these were the coaches that would take us from the terminal to the airplane, as it was pouring rain and gusting outside. What we were never told, was that these were coaches to take us on a 2 hour bus ride to Malaga airport because our plane wasn't able to land due to bad weather. The pilot who eventually flew us home was the first to fill us in on anything. He said that Gibraltar airport is an old military airport with outdated equipment, a short runway, and a big rock making landing difficult when there is wind cand rain in the mix. So off we went, like lambs to the slaughter to reclaim our bags so they could be loaded onto the coaches. Then we got on the coaches, while the bus drivers and the gate agents chatted amongst themselves. When they were finally ready to leave, they made a 2 minute trip to the Gibraltar/Spain border, where we had to get off the bus, claim our bags, drag them across the border, through Spanish customs and security, and then load them and ourselves back on the bus. Off we went to Malaga. As much as this is a lovely drive along the coast, our bus was so loaded with people, and pulling a trailer full of luggage no less, that we didn't ever break the speed limit of 100 k/h as we slowly chugged our way along. When we finally arrived at the airport in Malaga, we were offloaded - again, no explanation, no assistance, we just followed the rest of the sheep into the airport, where we joined a line of at least 200 people being served by 2 Easyjet agents. It took us an hour to get checked in again, and then off we went to the gate, where there was yet another long line to get onto the plane, as the gate wasn't yet opened. We finally were boarded and the cabin crew and Captain began a series of apologies and explanations, but by this time we had been waiting to leave for 8 hours. Someone at Easyjet decided to offer complimentary bar service, but because no one usually buys their crap, they ran out of food long before everyone was served. Arriving at Gatwick, we were put into a holding pattern, and then when we landed put onto another bus, into the terminal where we lined up one more time to get through British customs and immigration. From there we took a taxi to the Hotel I thought I had booked, an airport Marriott, paid 90GPB (equivalent to 180CND), only to find out that we were at the wrong Marriott - apparently there are 3 at Heathrow. Off we went, only to join the end of another line up to check in. I am so looking forward to getting home. Canada may have Stephen Harper to contend with, but like Dorothy, I'm going to be clicking my heals, closing my eyes as I say "There's no place like home".

Saturday, October 17, 2009

If only I had the courage to try

A week ago now, we landed in London for a little R&R. Despite all the hassles and expense of travelling though London, I´ve become hooked on the daytime overseas flight. I can´t stand flying overnight and arriving like a zombie, usually taking two or three days to adjust to the time change. However, I think I´ve seen the sights of London enough now, and was happy to move on from there to Gibraltar - although not being enough a world traveller to know that I was landing into a British protectorate, we spent 2 more days enjoying the worst traits of Britain and Spain rolled into this tourist trap. Finally we were on the road to Tarifa, a beautiful oceanside town, once known for an unusually high rate of suicides, sometimes attributed to the never ending winds, which of course make it an ideal location for kite surfing (pictured above). This looks like an incredible amount of fun - a sport I´d love to try, but I just haven´t found the courage to give it a try. When I get home I´m absolutely going to start working out, really, I mean it, so I will have the confidence to try some of these things. The wind really did howl endlessly, but the sun was also non stop, and Tarifa is a charming place to spend a couple of nights. We were tempted to take the 35 minute ferry crossing to Tangiers, but in the end, decided that it might be just one big haggling market, a little too much for this trip. From there we travelled further into the Spanish countryside with a day trip to Arcos de la Frontera, and Ronda, two equally spectacular towns with stunning views and natural beauty. We then took a trip along the coast to Cadiz, but decided it was too much of a city for our taste, and instead made our way back to Conil, where we found a great little Apartmento Hotel for not very much money, close to walking, beaches lots of sun, sand and doing nothing. Aside from checking work emails once a day, I think we are starting to unwind, and getting lots of good ideas for importation back to Ste. Anne´s. The Spanish people are very nice, and the food is wonderful. The only depressing event has been a rather poor review posted on Ste. Anne´s by a recent guest on TripAdvisor. If you are a true fan, please take a minute and post something positive for me. After 20 years of investing love and sweat into a business, it really hurts when someone takes their best shot at ruining your reputation. Why don´t they just call me when they aren´t happy? Oh well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Roseneath Fair

I was raised on a beef farm. Originally we had Black Angus cattle; later on we migrated to Charolais. At the time, I wasn't much for farming. It seemed as though we kids were raised for the exclusive purpose of providing free labour for this endevour, and more often than not chores seemed to interfere with play time, later with party time. In hindsight, many good life lessons were learned growing up on a farm. Strange then that I should find myself bidding at a steer auction this weekend at the Roseneath Fall Fair. Earlier in the year, I had been talked into buying 10 calves to raise here at the spa in response to the high prices we were paying for meat. Other than counting them every once in a while, my involvement has been pretty limited as they seem pretty content just to eat grass day in and day out. Our champion grass cutter at the spa, Evan, and his brother Colin invited me to attend in hopes that I would bid up the price on their prized steer, Urban Legend. Attending the livestock auction at the fair required a little more intimacy, than raising the 10 calves had to this point. I had to get into the ring, poke and prod the prospects; (some of whom wanted to sniff and lick my hands and shoes), and ask a few questions about how they would get from the ring onto the grill. Once the bidding started, my adrenaline kicked in, and before I knew it, I was proud owner of 2 hefty looking steers, one being the show champion! In a month or so, if all goes to plan, they'll show up on the menu at the spa. I know that's not a very nice thought, but our guests love their meat, nothing beats locally raised food, and I'm not about to become a vegetarian. For a brief moment, I considered taking my two new mooing friends back to the spa to pasture, but one of the real farmers talked me out of that option, as apparently they are at their prime for eating. We also checked out the sheep shearing, the vegetables, the pig races, the dog show, and the equestrian display. On our way out we ran into some friends enjoying a ride on the Roseneath Carousel. If you've never experienced a real country fair, you really should. Next weekend is the Norwood Fair - there's something there for everyone, and it's a great education for the kids. Check it out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Use it, or lose it

Living in Ontario, we are blessed with so many opportunities for recreation, entertainment, spiritual fulfillment, fine dining - you name it. Last week I drove to Stratford and thoroughly enjoyed "West Side Story". What energy and talent erupted on the stage in this incredible performance. And yet, Stratford has not had a great year - crowds have been down, once again, due to the "economy". I don't think I've been to Stratford since high school, when I believe we went to see Romeo and Juliet. Walking into the theatre brought on a strange and distant deja vu kind of feeling for me. Until I read my program, I didn't realize that West Side Story was an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. Somehow, I had it mixed up in my mind with Midnight Cowboy - go figure! Over the past several months, as I've followed a small group of runners to various marathons from Picton, to Belleville, to Toronto, and Peterborough, I've also had an opportunity to witness incredible feats of athletic achievement, and to be in cities and towns bursting with pride at their growth and creativity. And yet, crowds are down, due to the "economy". In my travels, I've also visited several different churches, St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto, St. Gregory the Great in Picton, St. Peter in Chains in Peterborough, St. Michael's the Archangel in Belleville, and again, crowds are down, but perhaps not as a result of the economy. After 2,000 years the Catholic Church risks losing it's relevance with followers, but who is to blame for that? It seems to me that we Ontarians have a tendency to become complacent, to take what we have for granted. If we want to continue to have great opportunities for recreation, entertainment, spiritual fulfillment, fine dining, and you name it, we have to speak up, vote with our feet, enthusiastically support, encourage and engage ourselves in these aspects of society that define us. Take your TV remote control and toss it. Get up off the couch and get involved - make a difference.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walking home one night

Most Fridays, I dress down a bit and try to get out of my office routine for the day. Not that I dress up the other days of the week; long gone are the days when I would pull a fresh white shirt out of the wrapper and choose one of a small selection of ties to match one of a small selection of suits, black shoes and knee socks. Thank God for that. I usually try to seek out some kind of physical activity to give my mind a bit of a break. Not that physical work doesn't require thought; I guess I'm in search of a change, a break in the routine so to speak. I also try to wear a red shirt as a reminder of and a tribute to the men and women who are serving our country in the war on terror, although I'm sure there is much more that I could be doing in that regard. As it turned out, this Friday there wasn't any specific physical chore calling out my name, so I opted to return a leased car (having reached the end of it's term) to the dealership . I didn't make any arrangements for a ride home, thinking I'd just wing it. The dealership was at the corner of Division and Elgin Streets in Cobourg. After dropping off the keys and waiting for the salesman to take a reading of the mileage, I started walking south on Division towards the lake. It was a beautiful day, sun shining, nice breeze, clear blue sky. I passed KFC (without going in), St. Michael's Church (also without stopping), thought about walking down to the waterfront, but instead made a left at Hwy. 2, or King St., as it is known in Cobourg. I popped into the Green Machine and withdrew enough cash to get me through the weekend, and to take a cab back home. I briefly contemplated the cab ride, the stale smell of cigarettes, the small talk and the cost. I kept walking. Before I hit the edge of town, I sent a text message to a friend hinting that I might need a ride. Subconsciously, I think that more than anything, I was testing the strength of the friendship. A new art gallery caught my eye, so I popped in, hoping that I wouldn't attract the attention of the volunteer attendant. Just as I thought I was in the clear to make a clean getaway, she asked me if I wouldn't mind signing the guest book. I complied, thinking that this would be quick and painless. Just then, my PDA vibrated. A response to my text test was pending. At that very moment, the attendant, who had circled around me politely appreciating the works of art, read my entry in the guest book and exclaimed "Are you the famous Jim Corcoran?" I could feel myself turning red, knowing that my escape plan had been foiled. I asked her what she meant by "famous", assuming she was referring to recent spate of articles in the local newspaper about my dispute with my fellow Catholics, but no, she was referring to my association with Ste. Anne's. As it turned out she had been a regular guest about 20 odd years ago, before I had taken over. In those days, there were a number of groups who would take over the whole place for a weekend of tennis, gastronomy, cocktails and boomerfun. My claim to fame with those people was that I spoiled all that by introducing the spa concept and hiring a chef. I've always sensed that those groups were not some of my biggest fans. In any case, we chatted each other up politely, and she commented on viewing the most beautiful baby in the world as having been one of her last memories of Ste. Anne's - I'm assuming she is referring to my niece Jenna, now in her final year at U of T. How time flies. I made my escape, and immediately checked my text messages. I got kind of a lukewarm response to my hint for a ride, to which I replied "Sounds like you're busy - the walk will do me good." Now I was committed. I stopped and bought a bottle of cold blue liquid and set off on my 15 km. journey. It was 3:30. Walking along Hwy 2 between Cobourg and Grafton isn't a walk I'd recommend. The shoulder of the road and the speeding cars are a little too close for comfort. I noticed a few people pass by who I knew, who didn't stop, and a couple of people who I didn't notice pass by, actually turned around and pulled over to ask me if I wanted a ride. One friend passed by and then called me on my cell to see if I wanted a ride, but I sensed he really wasn't going my way. I declined all the offers and pressed on. Walking just to get from point A to point B, with no purpose other than the simplest mode of transportation, affords one the opportunity to think things through. I made full use of this opportunity. Three hours later, as I entered the town of Grafton, I was dead tired. Everything was aching and the worst part of the walk loomed ahead of me in the form of a steep 4 km climb to the spa. I stopped and picked up a newspaper, I sat down on a short wall and was even more stiff when I got up. Too tired to care about the repercussions of defeat, I sent one more text message to my friend saying "Don't you know, no means yes?" Just as I sent it, another friend stopped by and offered me a ride up the hill. This time, I took it. Two days later, the pain and stiffness is gone but the memories and the lessons of my long walk almost home are still with me. Now I know that I can almost do it - and I'm sure that if I didn't take the ride, I would have made it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Africa comes to Rice Lake

This past week was a little stressful as one of the respondents to the HRC case decided to use his office and all of the Catholic Churches in the Peterborough diocese to establish his authority, and my guilt, and to spread his version of recent events that is substantially different than what I perceive the facts to be (sound familiar?). So, a trip around Northumberland County to visit some of the artists displaying their work in the annual Studio Tour was a welcome diversion. Our first stop was at a barn that has been beautifully restored and converted to a studio to view the works of Martha Robinson. Martha's family and my family have been friends since the beginning of time and we love her work. Many years ago my mom and sister gave me one of Martha's portraits of a sheep, which I treasure dearly. Some of Martha's work is currently on exhibition at Ste. Anne's. From there we made our way up Harwood Road to drop in on the studio of Graeme Coxon, another long time family friend. Graeme specializes in digital images of plants - absolutely stunning work. For the last stop on our tour, we made our way to the opening of ZimArt's 10th public exhibition, on until September 27th. We have been lucky enough to have some of ZimArt collection on display at Ste. Anne's over this past year, and two of the artists, Biggie Chikodzi and Singi Chiota where artists in residence in our walled courtyard just a couple of weeks ago. Art is such a wonderful gift. The prices attached to pieces of art can sometimes be hard to swallow, but really, when you experience a piece of art, it becomes a part of you, and when you own a piece of art, you take a piece of the artist with you. Well worth the price, if you ask me. If you can find the time over the next couple of weeks, take a drive up to the outdoor ZimArt Exhibit, and mark your calendar for next year's Northumberland Studio Tour.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Crossing the finish line

I took this picture a few weeks ago while visiting Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. Until today, it, along with a few other memories of that little holiday, were captives of a handy little digital camera (that will work under water), that I used my last few RBC points to acquire. Today, I used the same camera to capture a shot of a friend crossing the finish line in what was supposed to be a triathlon, but in fact ended up being a biathlon due to choppy conditions at the Cobourg beach. There are so many stories woven into this first paragraph, but I'm afraid that if I tried to tell them all, I would lose your attention. So, I will focus on the most important message. My friend, the runner, has been running with another friend. Both started running in an effort to improve their overall health, and to lose some weight. I've never been much of a runner, and as far as exercise is concerned, I always use the excuse that I'd like to work out with someone, rather than work out alone, so I don't work out. As a result, for the first time in my life, I tipped the scales at 190 lbs this morning. I have never weighed this much. I should probably weigh 175. Instead of having the swimmers build that I always wanted, I have the little ponch that I always dreaded having. I can find comfort in the fact that I'm in the majority though - I love to eat, I'm great at making excuses, and I'm always at the finish line cheering on the runners and taking their pictures, instead of being in the race. The picture above is a depiction of a guy who definitely got in the race, and crossed the finish line. In 33 short years He made such an impression on people that we're still talking about him 2,000 years later. At almost 51 years, I'm pretty sure that I've passed the half way point of my life. I know that I have been blessed with many gifts, but I feel as though I'm still waiting for the starters pistol. Years ago, one of my goals was to go to Europe. For years I fretted about the language, the cost, the flight, the different currencies, and for years I allowed this fretting to keep me from experiencing Europe. And then, one day I was on my way to meet some friends in Paris. When I later explained to someone how I overcame my fears, I remember saying "it was easy, it all started by picking up the phone". So much in life is like that, whether it's running in a marathon, or being a Messiah, it all starts by taking one step in the right direction. What will be your next step?

Monday, August 24, 2009

A week from hell in paradise

Summer is always a busy time at Ste. Anne's, and this year has been no exception. With the reintroduction of our "Diva for a Day" $99 day spa, our guest visits are actually up significantly over last year - something I feel very proud of, given the doom and gloom we are subjected to on a daily basis regarding the economy. There is no doubt that consumers are very price sensitive these days, so offering the best value proposition is more important than ever. However, it just goes to show that even in tough economic times, people still crave relaxation through the gift of healing at the hands of their fellow beings. None-the-less, one of our commercial lenders has decided that they don't want to be in the "hospitality" business anymore, so they've given us the requisite notice to go out and find a new lender, a costly and frustrating exercise, meaning that I get to spend more time than I would like with lawyers and number crunchers - yahoo! Please say a prayer for me. The extreme heat and humidity has resulted in a few requests for more air conditioning, but for the most part, our guests have enjoyed and embraced the onset of summer (late as it is), and have used the pool to cool down. A couple of weeks ago, we were hit by a pretty violent thunderstorm - (before the one that caused so much devastation in the cities of Vaughan and Durham). We had at least 10 trees down, one of which landed right on top of the power lines, leaving us in the dark for most of the night. Once again, our great friends at OPG had us up and running before the sun came up - thanks guys! However, these huge downpours can sometimes have a negative impact on wells, so following the storm, we had to make sure all of our drinking water, and the water we use in our spa treatments was safe to drink. Ever since the tragic consequences of Walkerton, the Health Unit has been saddled with the responsibility for making sure that all businesses serving drinking water to the public are taking regular samples of their water and responding to any adverse results. These folks at the Health Unit seem to have a love affair with chlorine, but to be honest, I'm not sure I'd rather take on a little water borne bug than be subjected to a known carcinogen. To make matters worse, right in the middle of the last thunderstorm, one of wells either took a direct lightening hit, or some kind of electrical malfunction resulting in a dead short, knocking out the pump and cutting off our water supply. So once again, there we were in the dark, rain pouring down, pulling a 50 lb. pump and 100 feet of pipe filled with water up from the depths of our main supply well. Thanks to a great bit of teamwork everything was fixed up before guests started arriving for their spa treatments. Today the sun is shining brightly, smiles are all around, the water is sparkling and clean, and I'm alive. What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Honestly, I'm not choking him!

Last week, we were invited up to a friend's home/cottage up on Sturgeon Lake, near Fenelon Falls. As I child, I spent my summers playing on our family farm in Nashville, which, according to my dad, had everything and more than a trip to the cottage - a pond (as opposed to a lake), barns, a river, fields and forests. None-the-less, the 2 or 3 times that I was invited up to a "real cottage" in Muskoka or Haliburton holds special memories for me. Our 24 hours at "the Point", as the locals call it, was no exception. We took a walk around and oogled the other homes - some palatial, some quite modest, some occupied by famous lawyers, and a couple even haunted! We sat by the water and watched the waves, Massie even went in for a swim, We enjoyed a wonderful meal, lively conversation and lots of laughs crowded around a table flanked by new found friends. Liz, our hostess with the mostess could not have been more hospitable or accommodating. Her and her sisters are like a barrel of monkeys - just a hoot - and such great people. We were also introduced to a little Yorkie - his name escapes me now, but he was quite cute, and of course everybody fell in love with him. He was making the permanent move to "the Point", having left behind his new family back in "the shwa" (Oshawa). Before leaving we agreed that we would take 2 of his babies, one for mom, and one for another friend who recently lost his cat and moved his mom into a nursing home, so very much in need of some company. Mom loves her new chum, and Rusty loves mom. By the way, for those of you who know my mom, it seems as though she has pretty much recovered from whatever knocked her down a month or so ago. Her doctor thinks it was a virus, while the homeopath thinks it was a magnesium deficiency. Truth is we don't really know, but we're all happy to have her back to her old self again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New York

I don't often get a chance to get away in the summer, but I had a few free days, and I felt like a little break was in order, so I hopped on the 401 with a couple of friends and we set off for the "Big Apple". Although this drive can easily be made in a day, I prefer to break it in two so that it is a little more enjoyable. The first night was spent on the eastern edge of the Finger Lakes in a pretty little town called Skaneateles. My friend the GPS lady took us through some interesting parts of Syracuse to get there, but we got there, none-the-less. I had booked us in at the Mirbeau Spa - always try to incorporate a little competitive analysis into every trip, if possible. This is a lovely spa in a lovely town, well worth the drive. I would love to pick the whole place up and drop it into the middle of Ste. Anne's property - I just love the feel of it, very well thought out. Next morning, got a good start to our day and made time on secondary roads so that we had time to stop in Old Greenwich, Connecticut - a town I spent 2 of my teen years in during my dad's stint at IBM World Trade in White Plains, New York. My sweet sister Anne welcomed us into her home in Westport for two nights. Anne was instrumental in helping me get the spa started back in the early 90s. She is a collector of many things, and she has a wonderful sense of humour. She and her husband Paul have two cottages in New Hampshire that they now rent out to wayward travellers, so that has kept them very busy fixing them up and furnishing them in Anne's very warm and inviting fashion. Paul drives a truck that runs on used french fry grease, so he spends early mornings on the prowl for fuel. Gives new meaning to "chip wagon". Seems there is a whole cult movement towards this kind of thing. I think he was planning to attend an event called "Greasefest" - interesting. Next day we took the train into Manhattan - a very civilized way to get in and out of the city. It was raining, so we decided to spend the day in museums - the Cloisters, way up town, and The Frick, in mid-town. Both were incredibly beautiful and a wonderful way to spend a rainy day in the city. The next morning we set out for home, but again decided to break up the drive with a stop in a charming little town, Dorset Vermont. All of the homes on the main street where white clapboard and neat as a pin. We also took note of the United Church where a sign humbly proclaimed that "all welcome" since 1784; what a concept! Of all the meals we had while we were away, dinner at the Dorset Inn was the best by far (not counting meals by Anne, or course!). For the last leg of our journey we headed to Montreal, always a favorite of mine. As usual, the city was alive with joie de vivre, and a plethora of street festivals. To get home we took the 401 to the Thousand Island Parkway, stopped for a quick gab fest with my friend Jacques, the ever gracious innkeeper at Trintiy House Inn in Gananaque, through downtown Kingston, then along "prison row" - the Bath Road to the Glenora Ferry, into Picton, Bloomifield, Wellington, Brighton and Highway 2 to Grafton. We are truly blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world. I left most of the navigating to my GPS friend, and I can honestly say her route through Ontario, New York, Connecticut, Vermont and Quebec was, for the most part a full of eye pleasing scenery. You really don't have to go far from home to relax and enjoy a little time away.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The History of Ste. Anne's Spa

As told be Patricia Sullivan, 1991

"In the spring of 1858, Samuel Massey arranged two private mortgages totalling $1,000, and the construction of a stone house began on Lot 23, Concession 2. The home which Samuel and Mary named "Sunnyside" was built in the Georgian Style of balanced proportions. This style was so predominant in the province throughout the nineteenth century it became known as the Ontario House, also called the Loyalist Vernacular. However, the Massey house did adhere to one important principle of the Regency style then in vogue: the dramatic site for the house was well and carefully chosen. At the south edge of a plateau, it commanded a breathtaking view. The walls of the Massey house, 2 feet thick and made from locally quarried rose quartz and pink limestone support the roof, a technique usually attributed to Scottish stonemasons.The gabled roof provided more headroom on the upper floor than was allowed in the roof style of earlier houses. Chimneys, at either end, balanced the exterior, as did the placement of the double-hung windows. The original front doorway, located in the middle of the longer side, was surrounded by a square transom providing extra light for the main hallway. French doors, (which may originally have been tall windows) on either side of the front door continued the symmetrical appearance. The doors and windows were all fitted with shutters.

To be continued . . .

Friday, July 10, 2009

Recipe for chicken noodle soup

I've just returned from a funeral. One of my brightest, youngest stars on the management team at the spa lost her mother after a long battle with cancer. The service was held at a small church in a rural community just north of Kingston. Due to a truck colliding with a hydro pole, there was no power in the church, or so we were told. In fact, the church was full of power - the power that emanates from the life force -the power of love and the power of faith. The power of song and prayer, the power of showing support for friends at a time of need. The lights may not have been on in this church, but someone certainly was home. Our Nat stood up and gave a powerful eulogy to her mom - I was so proud of her. A few years ago she would have been terrified to stand up and speak publicly, let alone as her mom's body lay resting a few feet away from her in an open casket. Nat talked about what a giving and loving person her mother was, and ultimately what a great mother and friend she had lost. And yet Nat was not tearful - she was happy that her mom was pain free and at peace, and she was following her mom's directive "Don't you dare cry for me. Smile and laugh, just like I have through-out my life." It occurred to me that a living being is made up of so many elements, flesh, organs, hair, and yet without the life force, it really is just an empty shell. Like chicken noodle soup, which is really just a pot filled with water, until you add the essential ingredients that make it into a healthy, soothing, nurturing meal. And yet when someone passes from life to death, none of those essential ingredients leave the planet, they just aren't working together anymore. Nat's mom will live on in the many people whose lives she has touched, and in Nat who has become a healthy, soothing and nurturing human being of whom her mother is well proud. Congratulations Tudy, and God speed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

If I were in charge of the universe . .

I was up at the spa when Gail, one of our housekeepers, breathlessly informed me of the news that Michael Jackson had passed away. I remember, or I think I remember hearing about JFK's untimely and shocking death - I was 5 at the time, and I definitely remember hearing about John Lennon's murder - it seems as though these events have been etched in my mind. Michael Jackson's death was somehow different. Perhaps because we have become so accustomed to the King of Pop's antics, the initial response was not one of shock or grief, but rather, a roll of the eyes, thinking, "here he goes again, another crazy stunt". Even today, after watching hours of tributes and news coverage, I'm still thinking that he is going to magically reappear, amidst all of the adulation, only to pull off the most spectacular hoax/comeback of all time. But alas, death is death, and except for the one big exception to this rule back in the days of JC, I highly doubt that even the King of Pop will be able to beat this rap. Michael Jackson lived a life, that despite his huge personal fortune, most people would have trouble living. Starting with a relentlessly demanding and abusive father, and ending with an equally demanding and abusive public. His music will live on - lord knows the past few days of tributes have brought back many great memories - and his life has already inspired the lives of many other musicians who will continue to entertain us, but he will be missed. Sometime on the weekend, while scanning the various cable music stations, I ended up watching "Ghosts". I don't remember ever seeing it before, and it seemed as though it was custom made by Michael as the last word on how he has been treated. It certainly leaves you with the realization that there can be no doubt that despite the best attempts of the media to make him out as some kind of freak, this was a very talented, hardworking man. So, if I were in charge of the universe, yes, I would give him MJ the chance to perform one last time at a venue of his choosing so that he could experience the outpouring of love that was so muted as a result of the claims that were made against him, and that he was acquitted for. But apparently, I'm not in charge of the universe.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's a girl!

When it comes to procreation, I've had a somewhat abysmal track record. As a small child, I had rabbits. After giving birth to 12 babies, my doe decided that the ordeal was too much for her. She died. I nursed the little babies along as best I could and tried to be a mother to them by bringing them into my bed for a little nap. Unfortunately, I fell asleep and rolled over on the whole lot of them - they died. Many years later, I had my cat bred. I had trouble finding a suitable mate for her, so the cat breeder who sold her to me thought that her father might be able to do the job. I was a little concerned about the side effects of inbreeding, but my breeder assured me that this was more of an issue if my cat were to take up with her brother. My cat spent a rapturous weekend with her dad, and a few months later went into labour. The litter died during birth - their faces were too flat to make it out of the birth canal. I nearly lost the mother in the process, but after a large vet bill, she survived and has become a very loving and affectionate friend. So, it was with some hesitation that I decided to breed my mare Sophie (Arab/Anglo cross) to a beatiful black Friesian in hopes of producing a nice, long maned stud that I could ride. This morning, around 6:30, I received an email from the stable to let me know that Sophie had given birth to a healthy young filly overnight and that I should come and see her right away. I jumped out of bed, pulled on some jeans and headed off to the stable. Sarah Anne is pictured above. She's just like her mother, spirited personality, bay in colour, with a long neck and long legs. Thank you to stable hands/mid-wives Kareylee, Sandy, Lauren and Leia. She's beautiful.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

On our way back from a home renovation celebration/backyard barbecue at Katriona and Sorab's place near Cobourg last night, around 10:15 under a full moon, we spotted a coyote slipping through the tall grass and under the fence into the paddock where the wild mustangs live. This morning, on our way to mass at about 8:30, in a light drizzle, we saw a doe cross the road in just about the same spot. We slowed down to avoid frightening her, as she stood for a few seconds to return our gaze, but then she jumped up over the cedar rail fence into the forest. I spent a bit of time searching the web and looking through my "Animals Divine Tarot Cards", and my "Druid Animal Oracle" to try to glean some understanding of what these sightings meant, but in this particular case I came to the conclusion that these close encounters with wild animals is only meant to remind me that we live in close proximity to a wide variety of species, some who are relatively discreet, while others seem to take some pleasure in sharing their presence with us. Our house is surrounded by a wide assortment of birds, who aside from the odd misplaced dropping, bring great pleasure to our days with their colourful displays of flight and their melodious songs, while our chipmunks seem to delight in their taunting, mischievous ways, both inside and outside our walls. My mother's cat, Snowball, will sit at the screen door for hours watching the birds and the chipmunks. I'm not sure if he sees them as potential playmates, or a delicious meal.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

To pray, to wish, to do . . .

At some point in our history, the ideas espoused by Adolf Hitler must have seemed to make sense to some segment of the population. A man doesn't rise to control an entire continent from a position of power in a vacuum. This past week I watched two movies - first Valkyrie, and then The Reader. I knew what I was in for with Valkyrie as I had seen numerous trailers and ads, but The Reader was a complete unknown, (aside from it's recognition at the Academy Awards), and a pleasant surprise. I found both to be exceptionally good movies with a number of good, thought provoking messages. When we know something is wrong, how culpable are we if we do nothing to correct it? Is it enough to pray for a resolution, or to wish for a better outcome, or are we obliged to take action. I would argue that we all have the potential to curb evil, not only in our prayers and in our conversation, but in our actions. I'm not sure that it is enough for able bodied people to stand by while evil is being perpetrated, any more than following orders that go against your notion of what is right is a justifiable excuse for hurting others. Having said that, I believe that as a first step, we can pray, we can hope, we can encourage and we can think positive thoughts, but we mustn't be hesitant to take the next step when we are called to do so.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Blossoms, blossoms everywhere

While walking to the spa yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and scent of the display of lilac blossoms, so much so that I made recurring note in my PDA calendar to remind me of this annual event. I want to know when exactly when this peak of perfection is, so that I can anticipate it and look forward to it. Quite frankly, at this time of year, when we are surrounded by so many of the wonderful characteristics of spring, its hard to imagine ever needing a reminder, unless of course one harkens back to just a few weeks ago when we were surrounded by the grey, dull remains of winter. On the weekend a friend and I helped my mom plant seeds in her vegetable garden. No doubt the rabbits appreciatively watched us from their secret hiding spots, eagerly anticipating the green sprouts that will offer themselves up for munching before too long. Birds who have been busy renovating last year's nests are now hatching their young, leaving eggshells strewn about as they sing songs of celebration. And then there are the dandelions. Last week, bursting with colour, this week, nothing but a long string of a stem, supporting hundreds of ugly heads of seeds turning a perfectly trimmed lawn and turning it into an eyesore. Spring - is it an accident of evolution, or one of the perfect blessings of creation?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A horse named George, you say?

One of the lead stories on the CBC news last night tells the story of the RCMP presenting Queen Elizabeth with a horse, formerly named Terror, now named George, after the Queen's late father. He is a very handsome horse, and the Queen looks well pleased with the gift, although this article appears to have reignited the old monarchy argument, and it seems as though not all Canadians are pleased that we have a Queen, let alone that we are giving her horses. I for one like history and tradition and am all in favour of retaining some of the pomp and circumstance of days gone by. I've been to London many times, but only once did I catch a glimpse of the Queen, at which point I did feel a special "warm" connection to Britain and the old gal. I never tire of visiting her many homes and museums. Good for tourism, that's for sure, and as they say, it's not always what you know, it's who you know - and I'm glad that we are in the Commonwealth. Inspired by the Queen and the RCMP, my mother and I stopped by the humble barn where I board my horse, (Sophie) at Valleyview Stables, a stone's throw away from Ste. Anne's. Sophie is very pregnant, due to give birth towards the end of June. Despite her extra tonnage, Sophie seemed to be in uncharacteristically good humour - I even got the sense that she was happy to see me (for a change). We had a bit of a nuzzle or a snuggle and then she resumed her habit of stall pacing while chewing on bits of hay. Valleyview runs a first class operation, with a collection of very fine mares, stallions, geldings and 2 friendly cats. Horses are such beautiful animals - so strong and powerful, and yet there is often a sadness in their eyes. I have stopped riding for the time being; for one thing my allergies usually act up after about an hour in the barn, and Sophie, once broken, was not a good ride for me. I always felt she had plans to unceremoniously dump me into the dirt at the first opportunity. I'm hoping her offspring will be a little better natured and more to my liking, at which point I plan to take up riding again.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The slow ride home

I realize that I may sound boastful, but this is not my intention in saying that today, for Mother's Day, I granted 3 wishes for my Mother. The first wish was to accompany her to mass. My mother converted to Catholicism about 59 years ago when she married my father. Since then, she has been a devout Catholic and an avid church goer. As a mother of 7 children, she would line us all up on an old wooden bench in our Sunday best. She was always active in the church and by going with her to mass today, I honoured her faith in return for the gift of faith that she has passed on to me. The second wish was to take her out for breakfast. My mother and a couple of church friends look forward to our Sunday breakfast, usually at a local greasy spoon, as does my dog Massie who waits in the car eagerly anticipating a few table scraps. Today we were turned away from one of our favorite spots due to an over abundance of Mother's Day diners, but we ended up at another nice spot on the south shore of Rice Lake in Harwood, called Buck's. The third wish was to visit Father Hood's mother May at her new home; a nursing home in Cobourg, where she moved on Friday. Mother Hood is a wonderful graceful woman with a sharp mind and a quick wit. Before the group of 12 parishioners (see Jim's Blog, April 21, 2009 "Never Assume") focused their attacks on me, they accused Father Hood (among other things) of putting the parish at great risk by having his 92 year old mother live with him in the rectory. Hard to imagine. Mother Hood has settled into her new home with an positive outlook and an optimistic spirit. She is by far one of the liveliest ones in the place, and was so very appreciative of our visit. Twenty years ago, my dad's mom lived in this same nursing home from what I remember, she was well taken care of. I once went to visit my grandfather at a nursing home in Toronto. He was a little slow getting around, so I held the elevator door for him. I felt badly that I might be holding up some of the residents who shuffled into the car ahead of him, so I made some kind of an apology, to which one woman replied, "Don't worry, time is all that I have left". Growing old, especially in an institutional setting, must seem like the rough end of a long road. As a society, it seems to me we should be make a better effort to care for our loved ones in the twilight of their lives in the same way that they cared for us when we were helpless - in our homes, and in our arms. May God bless all the mothers in the world, for where would we be without them? Pictured above is a painting by artist Paul Murray entitled "Aunt Emily", a copy of which hangs over the front desk at Ste. Anne's Spa, meant as a gentle reminder that patience truly is a virtue. I love you mom.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The changing face of Canada

Yesterday, I was forced to choose between attending a first communion party in Grafton for the son of a friend, or the confirmation party in Toronto for the niece of a friend. (From now on, everyone referred to in my blog will be referred to as "a friend" to avoid the possibility that my new found group of 12 faithful followers from St. Michael's will be tempted to continue to use my blog to draw erroneous conclusions about the nature of my relationships. I hope this self censoring won't interfere with your enjoyment of this place in cyberspace). Back to the story. For a number of reasons, I ended up going to the confirmation party in Toronto. I was a little late leaving, so I ended up missing the actual church part, and headed directly to the reception, which was held at a small restaurant called the Sky Ranch, at Dufferin and Eglinton. The restaurant also specializes in Argentinian food. Across the street from the restaurant is a place specializing in falafals and another selling some kind of Filipino speciality. Driving from Yorkdale and the 401 to Dufferin and Eglinton, one drives past a number of other shops of varying origin. Same thing happens driving along Finch Avenue, College, or Bathurst, through Woodbridge, Maple, or Brampton. A world within a city, on our doorstep. Upon entering the Argentinian steak house, I immediately felt the energy of the South American people, the beat of the music, the smell of the food, the lively conversation all reminded me of trips I've taken to "Latin" countries over the years. These people have a love of life that enriches our sometimes reserved, and often quite boring "North American/European" tradition. As the night went on, I was reminded of a camping trip to Sable Beach that I was invited on a few years back by some of the same people hosting this party. As a boy, I was an avid cub scout/boy scout and venturer. I loved camping. However, my memories of camping didn't include the kind of all hours dance music and drinking that this Argentinian crowd subscribes to. As a white guy amongst mostly brown Latinos, I felt a little out of place, especially if I made any attempt to join in the dancing, the laughter or the drinking, as apparently I was born without rhythm, and dance to a completely different beat. I have learned to enjoy eating much more, and have broadened my range of food choices immensely, as is evidenced by my bulging waistline. At this particular gathering there was a mix of families from Ecuador, Argentina, Italy, Ireland, and other places, I'm sure. Toronto, and for that matter much of Canada, has become such a rich weave of multicultural tapestry, all living side by side in relatively perfect harmony. We are so fortunate. So if you haven't already, open your mind and wander into some of these "foreign" places. You will be rewarded with warm hearts and wonderful food. If your experience is anything like mine, your life will be enriched and enhanced.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Footprints in the sand

On Friday night several friends came over for dinner, after which we watched the movie "Doubt"; a spectacular performance by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. If you haven't seen it yet, I strongly encourage you to. For me, one of the strongest messages in this movie comes when Father Flynn preaches a sermon about gossip. Father Flynn uses a parable to tell a story of a woman who seeks repentance for her sin of gossipping. The woman's confessor tells her to go home and find a feather pillow, take the pillow to the highest point in her village, and rip it open with a knife, letting the feathers be taken away by the wind, at which point she should come back to receive her penance. After dispatching the feathers in the wind, she returns to the confessional for instructions. She is told to go out and gather all of the feathers that she let loose. When she objects to this, claiming that it is an impossible task, her confessor replies; "And now you know what happens when you gossip". Brilliant .

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter, Buona Pasqua, Felices Pascuas, Joyeuses Pâques

When I agreed to join the adult Acolytes at St. Michael's Church, (after a hiatus of about 34 years) I'm quite sure I had forgotten how many hours of standing, kneeling and praying I would be in for between the start of Lent and Easter Sunday. Mind you, the last time I served on the altar, I was a little more flexible, and my joints were a little more limber. None-the-less, I have no regrets. Being an active participant in my church during Lent and Holy Week has really helped to stregthen and renew my faith. Now I'm not, and I don't expect I ever will be what you would call a bible thumper. And despite all my years of being a Catholic, I still have my doubts about religion and about the faith that we ascribe to. But if I'm honest with myself, I also have doubts about many other things. Despite the "science" that proves so many things, I have very limited experience when it comes to experiencing these "proven truths" for myself. For example, we believe that the earth is round, but I don't know this from my own experience. I have taken the word of a handful of astronauts who have been to outer space. I have trusted the mathematicians who have "proven" this. But I have no personal experience to confirm this belief. I suppose I would have to fly a plane around the world to recant my doubt on this topic. So did a man named Jesus really come into this world through a virgin birth, perform miracles, die for our sins and rise from the dead? I believe he did, but I have no proof, only the written words of his followers. However, regardless of what I believe, the fact is that the lessons that were attributed to this man are as relevant today as they were the day he spoke them, for example "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another". Of all of the liturgies that I attended, the most moving was on Holy Thursday when the priest gets down on his knees and re-enacts the washing of His disciples feet. As I stood behind each of the men having their feet washed, I was overcome with the humility of this act. At one point I had to fight back tears. This ritual of the washing of the feet is a part of many of the treatments that are performed at Ste. Anne's. We incorporated this into our treatments after experiencing this many years ago in Thailand, a country that exudes humility, except it would appear, when it comes to it's method of changing governments. May the mystery of life and the wonder of creation inspire you and your family over this holiday weekend - Happy Easter.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A funny think happened to me on my way to the coffee aisle

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for getting caught up in the "current economic situation", I eventually gave in to all the pressure in the media and decided that I had to start worrying and take immediate and decisive steps to minimize my exposure to the global economic crisis. At first, I set my hopes for a bailout, either from the government, the bank or the lottery people. I rushed to the mailbox each day, I checked my voicemail every hour on the hour, but much to my surprise, and chagrin, I didn't receive a priority post envelope with instructions on how I should access my bailout, or a special delivery invitation to attend a news conference about how my bank would be making new forms of credit available to me, or lowering fees, nor did I get a voicemail asking me to contact the lottery office to make arrangements to pick up my massive winnings in front of a live press conference. Undeterred, I decided that I was fully capable of taking matters into my own hands. I implemented a new policy that required all of my department heads to submit purchase order requests to me for approval a week in advance. I also informed my accounting staff that from now on I would be signing all the cheques and reviewing all transactions. It took a little while, but one by one, each of my team members fell into line and gave me back the control that I had so proudly delegated to them over the past 19 years. Everyone that is, except my Chef. As it turned out, our food service supplier (a big multi-national company that has food service supply down to a fine, fine art) had pretty much taken over the ordering process, and they weren't too eager to give it up. As much as I like to be sold by a good salesperson, nothing gets my back up more than when my sales person cuts me right out of the buying process. To force myself into the process, I put a moratorium on ordering from our regular suppliers and invited my Chef to join me at the new Costco store, recently opened in Peterborough. I think my Chef thought I had finally gone crazy, and God knows I was driving him crazy with my new found interest in his purchasing habits. None-the-less, we shared a couple of hours of tense fun pushing big carts from the meat section to the produce section to the canned goods, and back again stopping at every sample table of course. We racked up quite a bill, but it was still significantly less than what we had been spending with our regular food service supplier. Now to be fair, part of the reason for the difference was because we forgot some things, because, as I said earlier, we weren't really in the habit of putting our orders together ourselves, and I didn't think our food service supplier would be too keen to join us on our shopping expedition at Costco. However, there definitely were savings, and I think there was an immediate impact on waste and over buying brought about by my direct involvement in the process. Now, one of the things we bought was coffee. I was a little worried about this purchase, because, although I'm not a big coffee drinker myself, my spa guests are very particular about their coffee. I expected that before long I'd be getting complaints about the cheap new Costco coffee we were serving. So you can imagine my surprise (and glee) when I received an email this morning from our dining room manager asking what we should be telling guests who were raving about our new coffee and asking where we were getting it from. Go figure! I'm still shopping at Costco once a week, and we have an ordering system in place for all departments. The jury is still out as to how much of an impact all of this senior management interference is having, but I have a good feeling about it. Our recession fighting plan is now well underway; it was a bit of a rough road getting there - and we still have a long ways to go. But gosh darn it, we're going to do our part to bring this economic beast to the ground by cutting back our spending, controlling our labour costs, and reducing our credit requirements, and doing our part to contribute to all the fear mongering going on in the media! (Yes, I am being sarcastic, thank you for noticing).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Ste. Anne's

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take a short road trip to join some friends for some spring skiing at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont. Every once in a while I love a good road trip, I don't mind driving and sometimes being alone at the wheel gives me a chance to think and reflect, although on this particular trip I found myself missing my canine friend Massie at times. I did enquire at the border, and apparently he is welcome to cross the border as long as he has his shots up to date and documentation readily available. I let my GPS do the navigating, and she took me along the 401 to Cornwall, where I crossed into Akwesasne territory. My first reaction to the conditions on the American side of the border, a collection of falling down houses and barns, closed down businesses and general signs of despair was that all the news I had been seeing about the state of the U.S. economy was evident in real time, was soon replaced with the realization that this was more a case of how the indigenous people of North America have been neglected much longer than this current economic cycle. Once I crossed the state line into Vermont, conditions were much better with very few "signs of the times." Another thing that caught my eye over the state line was a highway sign pointing to Ste. Anne's Shrine. I was on a bit of a tight timeline, so I decided to leave this diversion for my return trip. I got to Smugglers just in time for a warm Canadian welcome and a good home cooked meal. The next day we tackled the mountain - ski conditions were OK, but a little icy. Then the sky opened up with rain, and that introduced a whole new skiing experience. The weather cleared after lunch, enough that I decided to cut through a patch of brush to another hill, hitting a patch of mud on my way. Well, I found out that skis prefer snow to mud, so while my skis came to a dead stop in the mud, my body kept going and down I went. Other than a bruised ego and a sprained thumb, I was none the worse for wear. I made the mistake of checking in with work when we got back to the chalet, which resulted in me deciding to head back home the next day to tackle some pressing issues. On the way back I made 2 stops - one at the Ste. Anne's Shrine, and one at the Akwsasne casino. The shrine was pretty much closed for the season, but was still quite moving. Ste. Anne's statue has a great view over Lake Champlain, a crucifix and the stations of the cross on the lake shore. After a self guided tour and some prayerful meditation, I set out for my final stop where I donated my last American dollars to the casino.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Drink some green beer for Pat's sake!

My mother was born on St. Patrick's day, and my father currently resides on the Emerald Isle, so for most of my life, March 17th has been a festive day. I've been to St. Paddy's day parades in Toronto, New York and Dublin; and without a doubt, the very best place to be on this day is Dublin. All the pubs are full and everyone is in a good mood, which is not to say that everyone is drunk, but rather, people are kind, happy and hospitable. The parade itself is nothing short of spectacular, colorful float after fanciful float winds its way through the historic streets of this fine old town. On this particular St. Patrick's Day, my mother and father are taking a little break from the last gasp of winter with a visit to my nomadic brother John and his wife Nancy in Florida. I half thought I might make a short surprise visit to Florida myself (I love surprises), but then I thought it might be nice for John and Nancy to have mom and dad all to themselves this year. So find yourself a nice cozy pub with Guinness on tap ("smooth as a mother's milk", as my friend Tim Gilligan, proprietor of the Queen's Hotel in Colborne describes it), settle in with a few close friends and enjoy the day. You never know, you just might run into me there, in which case, I'll buy you a pint or two! Until then, "May the road rise up to meet you; may the wind always be at your back; may the sun shine warm upon your face; and rains fall soft upon your fields; And until we meet again; may God hold you in the palm of His hand." (an Irish Prayer, origin unknown).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Could that be spring I smell?

The past few days have been so hopeful. All the elements of spring passed through Ontario - warm, bright sunshine, rain, the time change, and of course, lots and lots of mud. This morning, as I tried to scratch enough ice off of my windshield so that I could find my way to work, I fought the urge to feel discouraged by the fresh coating of snow. Spring is such a hopeful time of the year. But alas, despite all my bragging about avoiding a winter cold due to my fervant belief in the preventative health benefits of Cold FX, today I am sniffling and sneezing my way through the same cold that everyone else around me has had for the past couple of weeks. But we know that all this will make way to more bright sunny days, bits of green pushing their way up through the soil, robins returning to pull fat worms out of the earth and spring will have sprung again. Now what else have I been up to? On Saturday night a friend and I went to visit Dan & Rebecca's newly opened day spa on Glen Miller Road, just north of Trenton. What an incredible job these two have done of transforming space. Even though I haven't had the gift of offspring, I couldn't help but cluck just a little like a proud mother hen when I saw what an inspired creation these two had spawned. If you're feeling weary, you definitely need to consider a trip to Lolly Lodge. Also spent an hour on Friday night(second in Lent) as the Crucifer in Father Hood's very meditative "Stations of the Cross" at St. Michael's Church in Cobourg. Around the 3rd station my hands started to ache a little, and my stomach started to grumble in anticipation of a post service meal. As Father Hood skillfully guided the congregation through the 14 stages of the Crucifixion, I couldn't help but draw a comparison between my hunger and my discomfort, and the incomprehensible sacrifice made by JC 2000 years ago. I am quite a wimp, no doubt about it.