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.