Saturday, January 27, 2007

My fishy friends

Last night on the CTV news, there was a story about a kid who had saved the life of a lobster, and now had the lobster as a pet. Slow news night, I guess. About a week ago, I got a call from Darlene, neighbour, friend, gardener, spa therapist and fish feeder here at Ste. Anne's. She was deeply concerned. The heating element that I had installed in our small fish pond at Sentosa had tripped the circuit breaker, and a thick pad of ice had formed. She suggested I go have a look. When I saw what had happened, my heart sunk. The 8' X 4' X 18" deep pond was a solid block of ice. I started to imagine how the final few hours had been for our family of gold fish. They have lived through several winters in this icy pond, but it has never frozen solid before. Oh well, hopefully they were in a better place now. None-the-less, I thought I had better make some effort to thaw out this ice mass in case it might do some structural damage to the brick walls. I suppose in the far reaches of my brain I also thought there might be a slim chance that I could bring the fish back. Off I went to Canadian Tire where I purchased a tarp. I used the tarp to cover the pond, replaced the circuit breaker and installed a small space heater. All the while, the temperature continued to drop - it went down to -21C! There was no hope for my fishy friends. This morning, I checked to see how things were progressing with the big melt. Miracle of miracles, there, through the ice, I saw a small school of rather large, slow moving gold fish! They had survived! Now of course, I don't know if they had come back from a frozen state, or if they had found a bubble of water in which to survive, but I do know that they'll never tell me, and they will never thank me. Regardless, I feel a certain bond with these fish and the lives that I "saved" - perhaps I'm no stranger than the lobster guy? What is it in us living beings that creates this bond - this caring about lives that we are somehow touched by? I remember when I was a kid, I raised rabbits, and we had a dog. Our dog would chase and kill wild rabbits, but if one of my pet rabbits escaped, the dog would gently pick it up by the scruff of it's neck and place it back in it's box. Quite often while looking for something to watch on television, I will pass over one of those ads for Foster Parents Plan. As much as I feel guilt, I don't feel empathy for the images I see on the screen; it doesn't seem to work through the pixels of television. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a heartless person who can only relate to gold fish; I do sponsor a foster child, but my decision wasn't triggered by the same emotional response as the one that made my heart sink when I thought the gold fish were dead, and jump when I found they were alive. I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts about bonding and empathy between living creatures.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Assuming the worst, but finding the best in people

If you follow Canadian tourism news at all, you'll know that the number of Americans visiting Canada over the past few years has been on a steady decline. In fact, last year was the worst year on record. Here at Ste. Anne's, most of our guests hail from the 416/905 area. However, we have always enjoyed a strong following from the border states, especially New York and Michigan. Our U.S. based visitors tend to stay longer, probably because of the distance they travel to get here, and as a result, we have gotten to know several of them quite well over the years. Like other Canadian tourism operators, we have noticed a decline in U.S. business. In discussions with my colleagues in the tourism business, we've come to the conclusion that Americans are staying home for several reasons. First of all, the war in Iraq - war can sometimes cause a nation to become isolationist, and in the case of this war, much was made of the fact that Canada declined to participate. Secondly, the declining strength of the U.S. dollar against our loonie. Finally, all the hype about the border, passport requirements, and most recently Stephen Harper's decision to drop the GST rebate have not been perceived by the U.S. media as signals that we welcome our American friends. This past weekend, one of my favourite group of gals from Rochester showed up after an absence of almost 2 years. "Where have you been", I inquired. The answer surprised me. "We've been busy with our kids", was a common response, "going to school getting married, my husband retired, that's quite an adjustment, all that stuff that happens when we hit 50". "What about the exchange rate", I asked - "well, of course this has been a consideration - not that the weak Canadian dollar was the only reason for coming to Canada - it's just that the cost of coming to Canada went up, and not just a little bit, but despite that, we'd still make the 4 hour trip to be at Ste. Anne's, it just took as a while to get ourselves together", they replied. This exchange made me think of all the times in my life where all of a sudden I stop hearing from a good friend or family member. I start assuming the worst - maybe they're mad at me - did I say something to offend last time we spoke? Of course, more often than not, there is a perfectly rational reason. Sometimes we do have to reach out, or show some empathy towards changed circumstances. For my part, I don't think our government has any idea about the impact that the fluctuating Canadian dollar has on thousands of businesses, and they certainly don't appear to have a well thought out monetary policy. Maybe I should call them up and renew acquaintances, or maybe I'll poke needles in my eyes! While I'm doing that, pick up the phone and call someone you haven't heard from for a while - chances are you'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Miracle of Modern Medicine

Over the Christmas holidays it seemed as though every second person I ran into was coming down with one heck of a cold. My grandfather was a doctor, and for years a close family friend was our family doctor, so as a family, we've always been blessed with access to good medical care. However, one of the side effects of having access to this inside track has been a propensity to self prescribe, especially now that supplements and other "more natural" remedies are so readily available. It seems to me that the proliferation of vitamins and over the counter concoctions has exploded in recent years. Armed with this approach, I bulked up on Cold-FX and Shark Liver Oil - two immune boosting products that I've read about, been taking and promoting to anyone who would listen. I also get the flu shot every year. Despite spending more money than I care to admit on all this prevention, I came down with the same cold that everyone else had. Of course, looking back, I blame it on letting myself get worn down, but really, who knows for sure. I tried using Buckley's cold remedy, which seemed to help for a while, but this cold just kept coming back, and getting worse. Well, as luck would have it, my little cold progressed into a full blown sinus infection. I had no energy, a constant supply of multicoloured mucous and increasingly painful sinus congestion. Giving up on myself as a health care provider, I broke down and called my doctor's office and asked if I could get an appointment. "Sorry, he has nothing available until January 23rd", I was told, by someone who really didn't seem to care about anything other than getting off the phone. I thought about visiting our local walk-in clinic at the hospital, but just couldn't bear the thought of trying to convince an intake nurse that my sinus infection required any kind of serious attention within the confines of a "trauma centre". So, I called my doctor, my friend really, on his cell phone. I just hate doing this, but he was so good about it. I love him. Turns out I had this exact same cold last January, so he asked me a series of very thoughtful questions, and then offered to call in a prescription to the local pharmacy for an antibiotic. An hour later GNP Pharmacy (a great pharmacy by the way, if like me you've grown tired of the dismal service being offered by the mega red & white pharmacy/grocery/gift shop/post office outfit that seems to be taking over every Canadian town and giving poor service a whole new meaning) called me to tell me that my prescription was ready. I rushed in, picked it up, popped a pill (10 tablets for $75!) and today, three days later, I'm finally feeling human again. So, what have I learned? As Canadians, we do have a good health care system, but like anything, it's only as good as all the people who make it work, the receptionist, the doctor, the nurse, the pharmacist, and the patient. Oh, one other thing, I'm not offering any more suggestions on how to avoid a cold, other than sage advice from mom "don't let yourself get run down, and avoid stressful situations". (and of course, a visit to Ste. Anne's Spa once every few months for some quality R&R can't do any harm)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Slimming down

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones - I've never really had to worry about my weight. I don't know whether it's my metabolism, or my genes, but for most of the last thirty years my weight has hovered around 170 lbs. (I'm 6 ft. tall). Mind you, I do get the odd comment about my chicken legs, but only when I am wearing shorts and hanging out with my very best friends. I know I have chicken legs - I've seen pictures! However, as I approach the big half century mark, I have noticed my belly starting to protrude a bit. What really shocked me though was when I stepped on the scales at my brother's house a few months ago and read 185 lbs. Never in my life have I weighed 185 lbs. It was time to do something. The next day, I was in the Vitamin Shoppe and a very helpful chap approached me and asked if he could be of service. I smiled and said that I'd like something that would get rid of my tummy. He promptly walked me over to a product called CLA, and said that it would target belly fat. He suggested taking it for about 9 weeks, at which time I would start to notice results. This is not an endorsement - it's just my story; today I stepped on the scales and I was down to 175 lbs. and my belly is smaller. In the meantime, I saw a piece on the CTV news talking about CLA and the promise it had shown in a recent trial. I've attached a link to a body building site that answers some questions about CLA, if you're interested in finding out more. Of course, changes to diet and exercise routines are undoubtedly just as effective. (By the way, those two guys in the picture are not me!)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Niagara Falls on New Year's Eve

As I get on in years, I find that my capacity for social celebration is diminishing. As a teenager, I have fond memories of staying up all night on New Year's Eve, drinking champagne, kissing everybody, and having a great time. Since then however, I could count the number of years that I've made it past midnight on one hand. For the past 16 years, I've been at Ste. Anne's, to ring in the new year with our guests - making sure everyone staying with us had a nice time. More often than not, our spa guests choose to retire to their rooms after a good meal, usually before midnight. I suspect many spend those last few minutes of the year in the company of their best friend in front of a fire, reflecting on the year gone by and thinking about what lies ahead.
This year we had some friends visiting from Ireland so we decided to take them to Niagara Falls for the night. We booked rooms at the Sheraton Foxhead overlooking the falls, and signed up for a dinner and dance with entertainment provided by a 16 piece orchestra and Rick Sonata - a Frank Sinatra look/sound alike. The percussion man was missing in action for the first couple of hours, but once they got going, they did a good job of entertaining the group of about 200 revellers. We were told to show up for cocktails at 6:00, dinner at 7:00, and by about 9:30, we were all stuffed and getting a little restless. I made 2 trips to the casino to try to stay awake and keep the time moving forward, but by 11:00 we decided to head back to our room. As luck would have it, there was a party in full swing on the floor below us, and Foreigner was banging away in the rain on a stage set up in the park adjacent to the hotel, so sleep didn't come easily.
At midnight there was a spectacular fireworks display, and the party subsided somewhat, and finally about 1:00 I fell off to sleep. This was my second trip to Niagara Falls this year, both times entertaining visitors from Ireland and I must say that I was a little embarrassed. The falls never let you down - it is truly an amazing feature that I am spellbound by no matter how many times I see it. The problem is with what has grown up around the falls - just as tacky as Vegas, but not as classy, and not as well run. What troubles me the most is the blatant intent to rip off the tourist at every turn. Valet parking at our hotel was $19 the first night, and then it was jacked up to $35 for the second night, even though we paid over $700 for a room and one meal. The exchange rate being offered on U.S. currency on Clifton Hill was less than half of what it should have been. Where Vegas leaves you wowed with the service, Niagara seems to be resting on her laurels. I really can't blame Americans for shunning Canadian tourism when I see this kind of practice being engaged in. It's too bad that such a beautiful natural wonder has been spoiled by human greed. I don't think I'll be going back any time soon.