Thursday, March 29, 2007

Where does the time go? Just trying to squeeze in a few words about the last few days before I head home for dinner. I'm stressed! I just spent three days in Toronto at a Leading Spas of Canada conference. I've been in this spa business for the last 15 years, and have always been a believer in networking, and self improvement through sharing of ideas and a little bit of peer pressure. I honestly believe that collectively we can create better spas, and get the word out to more people about our spas by working together in a cooperative model. This group, however, has had it's share of challenges. Trying to get everyone from across this great, but very diverse country of ours together, on the same page, in the same place, singing from the same song book is challenging to say the least. Long story - ask me some day if you really want to know all the gory details. Where was I - being in Toronto is always a nice break. We stayed at the King Eddy; not a bad hotel, but showing a little wear around the edges. In her heyday, she was such a "grand dame". There were people there from just about every region of Canada, but Ontario and Quebec, who have the most spas, and are the closest to the conference, were not very well represented. Go figure. We made some wonderful new friends though, and came up with lots of great ideas as to how we can make the Canadian spa experience even better and more appealing and accessible to more Canadians and tourists from abroad. The Canadian Tourism Commission recently moved their offices from Ottawa to Vancouver, and it seems as though the move has injected new life into this organization. We had the pleasure of meeting with Giselle, Frank and Jens, all from the CTC, all very energized and full of new ideas for promoting Canada to the world. Check out Jens' blog, for some great travel tips, and check out the CTC web site. It will make you proud to be Canadian, and hopefully inspire you to plan some of your vacation time right here in your own back yard. We also had the pleasure of a visit from Susie Ellis, owner of SpaFinder. Susie has the onerous job of checking out spas all around the world. We first met her in New York a year ago, when Ste. Anne's was awarded the 2006 SpaFinder Reader's Choice Award for Canada's favourite spa. This past weekend, we got to show Susie a few great Ontario Spas, and she gave us the thumbs up. Check out Susie's blog for great tips for spa lovers. For me, the highlight of the conference was a talk given by Gary Guller - the one armed mountain climber. What an incredible story about acceptance and inspiration. If you're feeling a little down on your luck or feeling sorry for yourself, check out this guy's story. Got home late on Tuesday night, and appreciated a good sleep in my own bed. Since then have really been enjoying the great weather - spring is so lovely. Last night I walked home, just so that I could walk to work this morning. The air is so fresh, the birds are singing (even heard a woodpecker), rabbits are running, fish jumping, ducks doing what ducks do, dogs sniffing and peeing, squirrels running from the dogs, scolding them all the while, so many beating hearts to share this great countryside with. Then there are the humans; lots of litter on the side of the road, a nice fresh bag of KFC trash, cigarette packs and butts, beer bottles, Tim Horton cups, and horse manure. "Wait a minute", you say, "horse manure isn't trash", "it's biodegradable". Not if it's on your windshield! Larry, one of our massage therapists was heading home from work on Tuesday night. He came upon three people riding horses down the middle of the road. Thinking he should give them some warning of his approach, he lightly tapped his horn. Well, one of the horses reared, and Larry was greeted with some choice words and hand signals. I guess one of the riders was composed enough to make a note of Larry's vehicle, and the next night, Larry found 2 inches of horse manure smeared on his windshield, along with a note "Maybe this will help you, sh** for brains". Perhaps Larry made an error in judgement by using his horn to warn the equestrians, but really, does the punishment fit the crime? I don't think so. I shudder to think of the possible consequences of such an exchange in some of our urban centres. Humans! Despite this little bit of excitement, life here in Grafton really is fresh, wonderful, and peaceful, especially at this beautiful time of the year.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

How did mud get such a bad name?

My love affair with mud goes way back, but it is in the spring, as the last bits of dirty snow melt or get rinsed away by April showers, and as the frost starts to let go of it's icy hold on the dull and dirty looking earth, and as there seems to be a growing grumble about the mud that I remind myself how I first developed an appreciation of mud. It happens every year; gentle but persistent voices start to remind me that the parking lot is muddy, the paths are muddy, shoes are getting muddy, BMWs are getting muddy, "why haven't you covered all these surfaces in asphalt, for Pete's sake?" Back in the early 90s, we were in the early stages of determining what kind of spa Ste. Anne's was going to be. In my not very spa savvy mind, I had decided that in order to be taken seriously as a spa, we needed to have some kind of immersion baths. I'm quite sure this was before the age of the Internet; because the process of researching anything to do with spas was quite arduous. I was somehow lead to believe that a tour of Quebec spas would teach me everything I wanted to know, so we set off to Montreal in search of spas with immersion baths. After visiting a tourist information centre in Montreal, where no-one seemed to know what we were talking about, we finally found a guidebook on the eastern townships. The guidebook featured several spas along highway 10, en route to Magog. On our way we went, only to find out that several of these spas had hydrotherapy tubs, and some used mud in body wraps, none offered the full immersion type bath experience that we were seeking. Back at home, I somehow found a reference to Calistoga, California, as the home to a cluster of spas built around hot mineral springs and mud baths. From what I can remember, we spent about 4 days in Calistoga going from one mud bath to the next; I don't recommend this. As it turned out, the first one ended up being the most memorable, although we picked up the mud bath intelligence we were looking in bits and pieces along the way. The first one we booked into was called Nance's Hot Springs. This place has been around for a long time. To say it was earthy would be an understatement, and a bit of a pun. However, when I lowered my body into the somewhat smelly mud, I had a very powerful, somewhat spiritual revelation. Immersed in the very thick, somewhat prickly mixture (prickly from the Ontario peat moss that was combined with volcanic ash to make the mud) I felt at one with the earth. As I was lying there, it occurred to me that even when we aren't surrounded by such a dense molecular structure, i.e., when we are surrounded by air, we are all connected and part of a wonderful, symbiotic living organism, otherwise referred to as a planet. I've never forgotten that experience, and I was deeply moved by this revelation. Once back in Ontario, we searched the world over to find a mud for our newly constructed mud baths, which wehad built based on the principles we had studied in Calistoga. Ultimately a spa owner in Hawaii referred me to the Mud Man (Marc Ste. Onge, owner of Golden Moor Mud), located about 3 hours from Ste. Anne's Spa, in Casselman, Ontario. Marc sent us some mud to experiment with, and we loved it. It was the by-product of a glacial lake bottom, silky smooth and chock full of natural goodness. The only problem was that it wasn't thick enough to stand up to the cleansing process that needed to take place between mud bath patrons. After some more research we decided to mix our mud with clay from Saskatchewan which thickened the moor mud, giving it a silky smooth consistency. So, there it is, my rationale for celebrating the mud of spring that gets on ours shoes, our pants, and our cars. Whether it is in a mud bath at a spa, or in a mud bath in a thawing field or a river bank, I think of it as a wonderful reminder of the miracle of life that springs from the mixture of soil, water and sunshine (otherwise known as mother earth) that brings us pleasure in such a multitude of wonderful ways. So don't expect to see asphalt at Ste. Anne's any time soon!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Just like old times

Earlier this week, a CN Rail derailment in Kingston (leading to an interruption in VIA Rail service to Cobourg), gave me an opportunity to do one of my favourite things - hang out with Ste. Anne's spa guests, especially after they've been at the spa for a while. Even though VIA provided bus service in place of the train, we decided to drive the limo back to the city with a group of six very relaxed passengers on board. The bus, with all it's stops along the way just didn't make the grade. I love to hear what departing guests most enjoyed about their stay at the spa, how they heard about the spa, and in some cases, I get to hear about where we could do better. On this particular occasion, everyone had a great time, and as so often seems to be the case, despite all the money we are wont to spend on advertising, they all came to the spa on the recommendation of a friend. One of our passengers had been dreaming of a visit to the spa for years, ever since being in school. She has now graduated and has a young one to care for. While at studying at school, she had seen a brochure and decided that this was a place that she wanted to go someday. Another guest gave me strict instructions before we got into the limo "not too fast - I'm not a good passenger". She was quite free to admit that she had a problem - something to do with vertigo, I think?? We had lots of laughs - I started off by telling everyone that I was really excited about driving, since I'd just recently had my licence re-instated, after a long suspension. To a query about whether we were going to get any freezing rain, I replied, "no, just a little sleet and black ice". I love deadpan humour, and as it turned out, so did my audience. On the 363 days of the year that VIA Rail doesn't have track problems, there is no better way to get in and out of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa or Quebec City. The service level has improved dramatically over the years. But on those other days, Jim & Dave's Limousine is warmed up and ready to ride!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Has this picture been retouched?

It seemed to me that there was much more hype leading up to the recent time change than there has been in the past. Granted, we did move our clocks ahead earlier than we have in the past, and we are following in the wake of our big neighbour to the south (once again), but really, the idea of shifting time has been around since 1916. At my house, all the hype turned into stress. We actually had a back-up plan just in case we didn't wake up on time for the 9:00 mass. We would have breakfast first, and then go to the 11:00 mass. If one person woke up before the other, be sure to wake everyone up, but not too early. My goodness, it's only an hour we're talking about here! As it turned out, I woke up at the usual time, (the time that my bladder tells me to wake up). We made it to the early mass, no problem. Since then, I've actually slept in a little later, but still seem to get to work at the same time. And to be honest with you, I don't think I'm using any less electricity, but I guess the jury's still out on that. Now, speaking of sleep, I usually go to bed right after watching the CTV 11:00 news at 10:00, which is 10:30. I brush my teeth, take my vitamins, and then, I put a peppermint flavoured sub lingual melatonin under my tongue, put on my 1.25 reading glasses, read for 20 minutes, and fall asleep, just like clockwork. I can't say that melatonin is for everyone, but it sure does the trick for me - but then, when I started taking it, I didn't have trouble getting to sleep, or sleeping through the night, for that matter. I first started taking melatonin purely out of vanity, when about 10 years I watched a CBC news segment claiming that people who took melatonin reduced the symptoms of aging. I was in Montreal for the weekend, and was so intrigued by this concept that I went across the border into the U.S. to find some. At first I didn't notice any change, but before long, I was hooked on the sleep inducing and jet lag softening effects of this little pill. You be the judge - has 10 years of melatonin reduced the signs of aging, or do you think this picture has been retouched (this picture was taken when I was 17,650 days old)? Speaking of the signs of aging - go see Wild Hogs, it'll make you laugh. Have a great day, and sleep tight tonight!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Waffles for one

I want to tell a story. I have changed the names to protect the innocent, but those of you who know me may be able to guess who the main characters are in this drama. Fifty seven years ago, two young people fell in love. They married, had children, and built a life together. He was a company man, she was a stay at home mom. Back then, that was the only kind of mom there was; few women with children worked outside of the home. Time moved along, the children grew up and found spouses. Soon there were grandchildren and great grandchildren. The young people who fell in love so long ago found that they didn't have much in common. Their relationship strained, and ultimately, despite their love for each other, they found that living apart was easier than living together. Everyone remained friendly, but this became the new reality. For him, living alone was a new and exciting adventure. For her, it was lonely. She missed the hustle and bustle, she missed getting meals ready for the one she had loved and cared for all her life. After trying various houses and communities to try and make this new reality work, she moved into an apartment next to one of her children. This new apartment was quite a bit smaller than what she was used to, and it meant leaving many of the things that she treasured, the things that she thought held her memories, in storage. At first she was sad about this. She was unsettled with all the change in her life. She was especially worried about how she might become a burden to her child, an imposition in his life. After the dust of moving day settled, everyone gathered in her new, smaller and somewhat cluttered apartment. Even though there were less things in this space, there seemed to be more more room for family, more room for love. A meal was prepared, and a home was created. One day, after a few months of living under the same roof, her son asked her if it was an imposition that he and his friend were coming over for dinner almost every night. She replied, "Oh no, I love the company and I love the challenge of getting a meal together. When I was living alone, I was eating waffles every night for supper; I think I might have been lonely." Well no wonder she wasn't looking very healthy! My message; people need people, and people need purpose in their lives. Without people, and love and purpose, human life withers. So, on this somewhat gloomy day of freezing rain, sleet and snow, take a moment to look at how beautiful the trees are dutifully carrying their coat of ice, and think of how you can warm someone's heart by making a place for them at your table.