Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life in the country

It was on a day like today, twenty six years ago that I first remember making the long trip east, past Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa; beyond Bowmanville, Port Hope and Cobourg to Grafton Ontario to visit what was touted as a country castle in the real estate section of the Globe & Mail. I was a mere 22 years of age at the time. I was taking a few part time courses at York University and serving my 3rd term as a school board trustee on the York Region Board of Education. I was still living at home with my parents in Nashville, Ontario, so I would have to make a choice; stay in York Region and continue to pursue my fledgling political career, or drop everything to follow my parents to a run down old stone "castle" to pursue a dream. Needless to say, the allure of the Grafton Castle proved to be irresistible, and here I am, 26 years hence sitting at my desk writing this blog. In 1981 there were no blogs, no PCs no cell phones to speak of and yet, somehow we managed to get by. Where am I going with this, you might be asking yourself? It was last Saturday night. We were sitting at home and I suggested that we go out for dinner. After a little bit of a discussion about the merits of going out for dinner, we jumped in the car and set out for Cobourg. We passed Wendy's, Pizza Hut, MacDonald's, East Side Mario's Casey's, and Swiss Chalet. Sadly, this list represents the main dining out choices for the residents of the greater Cobourg/Port Hope catchment area. Sure there are a few others that have popped up over the years - The Oasis, The North Side Grill, Zest, and The Lantern, along with a few Chinese restaurants, and a couple of pubs, but after 26 years, one tends to have over-exposed one's palate. We finally settled on a seafood restaurant that serves particularly good prime rib amongst a somewhat tired decor of fishing nets and other marine based objects. It was a good meal, the service was very friendly, but we were the only guests in the dining room. These are the times, and I must say they are fewer and farther between as the years go by, and I become more and more settled in my ways, when I miss the distant memories of lives lived within the variety, the diversity, the culture and the bright lights of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and the many other wonderful cities of the world. My consolation; I can always go to the city and come back to my castle in the country.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The great outdoors

For those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning, you'll know that I've already come out as a snowmobiler. For those of you who are new, you'll just have to get over it. This story started last weekend. Our local snowmobile club, The Great Pine Ridge Club, operating out of the Ganaraska and Northumberland forests, had our first poker run of the season. My snowmobiling friends and I took up the challenge with a total of eight sleds. In a poker run, everyone meets at the clubhouse where you sign up and find out the itinerary for the day. From there, you follow signs posted through-out the trails, picking up something at each check point to indicate that you covered the route. Back at the clubhouse, you turn in your proof, and pull a bunch of cards. The winning hand for the day gets a prize. Everyone else either settles for a barbecued hot dog or hamburger. All in all, it makes for a fun day, believe it or not, you actually get some exercise, and lots of laughs and camaraderie. The other thing that can happen on these days of man and machine usually has to do with breakdowns or minor accidents (referred to as "ending up in the rhubarb".) On this particular day, we had 3 out of our 8 machines breakdown - 2 Yamahas, and an Arctic Cat. This turned out to be a gloating opportunity for Keith, the owner of the Polaris who did all the towing. Don't worry, his time will come. At the end of the day, we all agreed that once we had our machines repaired, we'd join Andrew and Tracey up at a cottage they had rented up near Bancroft the following weekend. Winter has become somewhat truncated in these parts, so we need to "make hay while the sun shines", as the saying goes. By mid-day on Friday, two of the broken down machines had been replaced with new models. There was much excitement as to what these new machines would be capable of. Late Friday afternoon, We all made our way up to Beaver Creek Resort, a cluster of log cabins overlooking the Beaver Creek, set in a stand of pine trees about 20 minutes south of Bancroft. It was a beautiful place, and we were blessed with a sky full of stars to boot. I was one of the ones with a new sled, which happened to be a bright orange Arctic Cat Crossfire. I also bought equally bright orange jacket so that I would match my new sled, and it wasn't long before Keith had given me the nickname "Pylon" Oh well, I've been called worse. After enjoying a hearty breakfast on Saturday morning all twelve of us suited up and set out for the trails. It was a perfect day for snowmobiling, and for the most part the trails were in good condition. The most fun came when we took turns racing the new sleds against the old favourites on an open stretch of lake. I'm proud to say that Pylon on Crossfire came up a winner on more than one occasion! After the race, we headed back into the trails for some curvy driving. We had two children along (pictured above at one of our rest stops), so we took turns sharing them. At one point, my little rider fell asleep. This made driving a little challenging as his head bobbed from side to side, but it was all good. At one point we passed a dog sledding team, a pretty neat sight. Those dogs are so pretty, with their bright blue eyes, and their unbridled enthusiasm. In a group this size, usually a few of the more experienced riders end up leading and a gap opens up between the front of the pack and the stragglers. Everyone looks out for the team though, making sure that turns aren't missed, and regular breaks are taken to avoid any one from getting fatigued. I'm usually in the slower group - I tend to be a bit of a cautious rider, lacking in experience, and taking time to enjoy the scenery. It was getting late in the day when about 9 of us pulled off the trail to use an outhouse that someone in need had spotted. Before long, one of the leaders came back to report that Keith's Polaris had broken down with a blown engine. This meant we would have to head back to the resort, and Keith's sled would have to be towed in. We all pulled ahead to the scene, and after ribbing Keith about his short lived status as a tow-sled operator, we started to make arrangements to attach a tow line to tow his Polaris, and select the best route back to the cabin. While we were busy doing this, a couple of O.P.P. officers pulled up - they were on their way to assist the dog sled team we had encountered earlier. We got chatting about this and that, and just as they were about to hop back on their sleds and leave us, the younger one noticed that one of the twelve sleds was missing a current licence sticker. Well, all hell broke loose. We were all instructed to produce our ownership, licence and registration. Out of the twelve sleds, they found 2 that had missing paperwork, and we were told that these two would also have to be towed back to our cabin. This was really going to make the ride home unpleasant. After giving us the requisite lecture, off they went, without any tickets or supervision, which apparently was a signal that we really didn't have to tow our machines, but we should be a little smarter than this next time. After all, except for a few minor technicalities we were all law abiding, responsible citizens, just out enjoying the Ontario wilderness. These were nice officers. Back at the resort, we enjoyed another hearty meal and reminisced about our day. Keith took quite a bit of good natured ribbing about his bad luck - as Lynn sang a verse from an old country song "Honey if we didn't have bad luck, we'd have no luck at all". Two people were celebrating a birthday this weekend, so the chef set off some fireworks over the creek as we made our way back to our cabins for the night. After a night cap, an open air hot tub and some snow ball throwing, sleep came easily, as we'd all had lots of fresh air, exercise and full bellies. Next day, I thought I better get back to Ste. Anne's to check on things at the spa. All in all, it was a great weekend, once again proof that Ontario has so much to offer as a great winter recreational destination. The only thing missing on our snowmobiling adventure was a hot rock massage at the end of our day! See you on the trails!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Back to reality

Every night when I get home I forward my cell phone to my home number. You see, my cell phone number is posted on the back of every door at Ste. Anne's, and every guest who checks in gets a note telling them to call me on my cell phone if anything goes wrong with their stay at the spa. Luckily for me, I have a great team of people working for me, so my cell phone almost never rings, and for that matter, my home phone doesn't ring that often either! Oh well, I guess that's a good thing, right? Well this morning I was awakened by three short little rings from the phone beside my bed around 6:00 a.m. Because of my general lack of incoming calls, I tend to associate an off-hours ring with trouble, so I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, picked up the receiver and squeezed out a sluggish "hello". There was some static, and no dial tone - my alarm clock was still staring at me so I concluded that the power was still on. Must be a power surge, I thought. Now it was my bladder's turn to get me out of bed, full from the pop I consumed at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope last night. (I took my mother to see Shortbus a movie someone else picked for us, a somewhat sexual, artsy film; not a movie you want to take your 78 year old mother to). Back to my bladder. . . "what the heck", I thought - "might as well get up and get to work". After bathing, brushing my teeth and getting dressed, I ventured outside. Despite all the hooplah in the media about some big blizzard coming through town, other than a few snow drifts, this so called storm really was a bit of a disappointment. When I got to the office, Sarah was at the door to tell me the power was off. Here we go, I thought - it's going to be one of those days. Others started to arrive, my cell phone rang to let me know that some people weren't going to be able to make the drive, and people started walking around in circles, not knowing what to do with no phones and no computers. Luckily, we had installed a generator at the spa a few years ago, so we were all able to go over there to get our fix of technology. I then thought I better place the call to Hydro One to let them know we were having a power outage. Of course, I went to Google them, and found our T1 connection was down, because the router is located in one of the buildings without power. How to find the phone number? Once I found my glasses, I discovered that the good old paper phone book still works pretty well, even without power! I dialled the number, ready for a busy signal, or a long wait for service. Turns out that gal - you know - Emily - the same one who answers the phone at Bell (she didn't say her name, but I'm sure it was her), is now working at Hydro One! Once she sorted out my language preference, she told me that she already knew about the power outage in my area, a team had been dispatched, and our power would be restored by 9:45! Go figure. I was really impressed. How did she know where I was calling from? This Emily is a real asset to the corporation. I'd love to meet her some day - maybe she'll come to the spa for a massage, or a facial. Still a little out of sorts, and without power in my office, I decided to drive the roads and see if I could find the source of the problem. It wasn't long before I spotted a crew of guys from Hydro One all smart looking in their orange suits, up in their Canadarm baskets fixing things up. These guys are real troopers - just like Emily - but a little less mechanical sounding, more mechanically inclined. In a situation like this, they're like gods - we are so helpless without electricity. They had the problem fixed in no time, and then they were on their way. I invited them in for a cup of coffee or a hot tub - they said they'd be back, and I'm sure they will. Hat's off to all the men and women at Hydro One who keep the lights on, and thumbs down to the overpaid executives who keep getting fired and receiving fat severance cheques while the front line labour force keeps getting their numbers squeezed. Yea, boo, yea, boo.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


My mom, David and I decided to take advantage of a few vacant nights at my brother's place on Harbour Island, leaving on a last minute flight out of Toronto on Tuesday morning. As always, it is great to be here, but each evening, while sitting watching the sun go down, after a perfect day I can't help but wonder what I ever did in a previous life to deserve to spend time in this incredibly beautiful place. My parents started coming here about 45 years ago to a resort called Pink Sands. Over the years some of us were lucky enough to join them, and memories of those holidays are still etched in my mind. Eventually Pink Sands became a little rich for our blood, and we tried other sunspots in Mexico and the Caribbean. About 6 years ago, my brother and his wife bought a piece of property and built Seadream House. We've stayed at Seadream House several times and always have a wonderful time. The first couple of days we were here this week, we stayed at a wonderful little property called Runaway Hill, owned by hockey legend Mark Messier. It reminds me of Ste. Anne's in so many ways - family run, very small and intimate, with every detail covered. We had a wonderful time there - great food, incredible views, and falling to sleep to the sound of the ocean each night. We met some wonderful people there as well, which always makes a vacation more memorable. A charming and very funny Steve Flannery runs the place, and we had the pleasure of meeting his mom and sister, as well. When I get back to my office, I'm planning to put together a Ste. Anne's on Harbour Island spa escape package. I think it's just what the island needs, and I hope it will appeal to some of our regular guests looking for something a little different in the winter months. Drop me a line if something like this would interest you. Well, off to the beach we go!