Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When reality isn't quite what you imagined

A few years ago, I discovered a place on the back of my property with an absolutely stunning view over the rolling green fields with a backdrop of Lake Ontario. In the winter, this place is along the trail my snow mobiling buddies and I take to the Northumberland Forest and beyond for our snowmobiling adventures. Since discovering the natural calming effects of this lookout, I've had it in my mind that someday I would build a little cabin there with my bare hands. I thought that this exercise in manual labour would be good for me - an opportunity to get rid of frustration and maybe even build some muscle. I was also excited by the possibility of using the on board generator feature built into my GMC Hybrid truck. In my mind's eye, my cabin would have a big window to take in the view from a hammock or a comfy old sofa. There would be no TV, no telephone, no reliance on electricity; just me (and my dog) and the view. Maybe it's all part of my approaching middle age, but I find myself longing for the simpler things in life. I'm hopeful that this isn't the first step towards becoming a reclusive old man like the unabomber. My cabin was supposed to look something like the picture above. To get things started, I hauled some lumber up to my little hide-a-way to build a floating foundation. I had some leftover 18 foot 6X6 timbers that I thought would make a good base. At the time I made the best of the fact that these old timbers had warped somewhat; nothing a few good spikes and a sledge hammer couldn't correct. Three months later and I have four walls up, windows and doors more or less installed, and roof trusses in place. This weekend I started to install the plywood on the trusses to make my roof. The little mistakes that I could get away with in the foundation and the walls have now magnified themselves into big problems on the roof. Now the cabin itself was becoming a source of frustration. I packed up my tools with my head hung low and decided I was going to have to hire professionals to fix up my mistakes. However, after a good night's sleep, a full moon and exposure to some sunshine, I've decided that with a lot of trimming and shimming I'll eventually finish my roof and be able to hang my hammock, but between now and then I expect to be making lots of trips up and down the ladder. Lesson learned - take the time and invest in the materials to build a good foundation and the tougher parts of life will come easier, also - I have a new found respect and admiration for the men and women in the construction trades who make it all look so easy. Wish me luck and maybe I'll invite you up to my cabin!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reflections on a world without borders, apples and Chef Christopher

Many years ago (mid '90s) I travelled to Europe with my mom, her sister Barb and David. We took a train from London to Paris, to Venice, Budapest Vienna and Prague. All in all, this was a wonderful itinerary, albeit a little rushed. However, while most of eastern Europe was celebrating their new found freedom, our trip took us through Croatia which at the time was still under the control of very serious men wearing uniforms, complete with big hats. To pass through Croatia we needed to obtain a visa. Early one morning, as our train pulled into the Zagreb station a contingent of officious sounding men boarded our car, knocking loudly on our cabins exclaiming "PASSPORT". We made our way into the police station, (my mother was in her nightie) where we had our documents inspected and stamped several times. Zagreb was a pretty grey looking place and the police station was a bit of a dump. I can't say this left me with a great impression. It all seemed so silly. I don't mean to sound naive, but in today's world with today's technology it seems to me that borders are such an old fashioned and inherently selfish thing of the past; designed to keep the unfortunate out, to intimidate and to collect taxes. Now, in one of his more brilliant moments, George Bush has come up with the idea of building walls along his borders, and Stephen Harper is arming our border guards! Wow. Fast forward to 2007 and I had the pleasure of having a shiatsu massage with our newest Shiatsu therapist, a Croatian Canadian named Drazen. I elected to have my treatment in one of our gazebos, something you definitely have to try. It was probably one of the best spa treatments I've ever had. His technique combined with his genuine warmth and sincerity complemented his professionalism and self assured knowledge of his craft. Talk about globalization - born in Croatia, practicing the Japanese art of Shiatsu in Canada! Drazen tells me that things in Croatia have improved dramatically since I was last there. I'm inclined to believe him, and will be sure to stay a while next time, if only to meet more people like Drazen. Back in the early 60s, when I was just a little boy my maternal grandfather owned an apple orchard at Dufferin and Finch which was considered at the time to be on the northern fringe of the growing city of Toronto. In their wisdom, another bunch of officious bureaucrats from the province of Ontario expropriated my grandfather's farm to turn it into either a land fill site or an incinerator - I can't remember which it was. While the plans to turn this beautiful orchard into a final resting place for the city's garbage were never fulfilled, the orchard and my grandfather never recovered from this cruel decision. I have memories of visiting the barn where a huge machine crushed the apples to make cider. The smell of the freshly crushed apples was intoxicating. This time of year, as the long days of sun start to ripen apples on the fruit laden branches memories of my grandfather, who was also an MD, and his passion for healing and farming start to float back out of the recesses of my mind. On Sunday I spent most of my day puttering around the spa, picking up after guests too relaxed to remember (or care) where they left their sunglasses or their half finished bottle of water, and moving sprinklers around to try to give the parched grass a little refreshment. As I came through the central stone archway into the courtyard with one of the sprinklers, a couple of guests opened a window on the second floor and proclaimed "We love Ste. Anne's." They made my day! Full of glee and pumped up with pride, I then went to find Chef Christopher, who happened to be picking some fresh (organic) produce from our kitchen garden for his spa dinner guests. On my way to the kitchen garden, I passed through an old orchard just to the east of the tennis courts. The branches are heavy with small but tasty, crisp apples. I wish I knew how to prune a fruit tree so that I could bring this orchard back in my grandfather's memory. I should have paid more attention to him when he was alive. As I approached Chef I was overcome with a sense of gratitude and affection for having this gifted, kind and extremely talented man in my life, and the lives of Ste. Anne's guests for the past seven years. I count him among my good friends. If you haven't had a chance to meet the man behind the culinary team at the spa, be sure to introduced yourself next time you are here supping at his table. Chef Christopher is in the final stages of launching our own line of Ste. Anne's jams, marinades and dressings - not to be missed. While the rustic, natural beauty of Ste. Anne's makes it the perfect spot for a healing oasis, it is the 130 people who have been called to work here, like Chef Christopher and Drazen, and my mother Nan - (responsible for all the decorating touches) that make it an earthly paradise for so many.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Almost 35 years ago while riding a school bus from Nashville, Ontario to Woodbridge High School, I remember the day when the signs went up on Highway 7 proclaiming that we were entering "Getaway Country". At the time, I really couldn't comprehend what it meant to be entering a place that implied that you wanted to get away from it. How could this be something to celebrate? I'm guessing that in the mind of an Ontario tourism bureaucrat, this moniker was given to the area to the north and east of the GTA - Durham, York, Peterborough, the Kawarthas, Northumberland, Bancroft, basically a grouping of what seemed to a Torontonian as a great unknown. More specifically it wasn't Niagara, it wasn't Muskoka, it wasn't Ottawa, it wasn't Collingwood and it wasn't attraction rich southwestern Ontario. Having lived in the heart of Getaway Country now for the past 20 years of my life, I think I am only now beginning to fully appreciate just how wonderful it is to live within an undiscovered, unspoiled jewel. This past weekend a gang of us made the journey deep into Prince Edward County to savour the beaches of Sandbanks Provincial Park. (There are 3 - Sandbanks, my favourite, The Outlet, pictured above, and The Dunes.) As I made my way out to the sand bar through the gentle waves of crystal clear Lake Ontario water, I reflected on why this area has such appeal. The conclusion I came to is that on top of incredibly beautiful and diverse natural landscapes, this area is made even more desirable by virtue of it's proximity. We're close enough to Toronto that we can go there if we have to, and yet we're that much closer to Montreal and Ottawa than we were when we lived in Nashville. These cities have become real favourites of mine, so rich in history and culture. We are also just a short drive to Prince Edward County as it comes into it's own with wineries, fine dining, the towns of Bloomfield and Picton, and the best beaches in the country. Cobourg, and Port Hope are growing into wonderful lakefront communities, retaining the streetscapes of days gone by. There's Warkworth, Hastings and Campbellford straddling the Trent Severn waterway, and The Kawartha Lakes region; Peterborough and Lakefield are unmatched in their natural beauty, as yet unspoiled by over development. So take your time to discover this part of the world in Getaway Country; it will grow on you.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Latin invasion of Campbellford

It's hard to pin point exactly when I first became infected with the latin bug. Perhaps it started with Dezi Arnaz and his heart warming role as Lucy's Cuban companion, Ricky Ricardo, or maybe it was my Cuban exciled, uncle Jan, who used to keep everybody laughing and loving. His nick name for me was yimmy, yimmy, lump, lump. There was always a party at uncle Jan's house, home of the endless barrel of red wine, and uncle Jan was always the life of the party. Certainly my love for the latin culture was reinforced and expanded by trips to Columbia, Mexico, Spain, and Equador. Recently however, it was on a return trip to Westben Theatre in Campbellford where the sounds of Herencia Latina, Salsa Band reminded me once again of the beautiful spirit of the latin people. The barn was full of people of all ages, who like me have been influenced by this enduring culture of the heart. At times it seemed as though even the hanging plants, the trees and the grass surrounding the barn were swinging to the beat of the music as a lovely breeze kept us cool. I think most people who know me would agree though, that the final straw for breaking the backs of this waspy family with the latin fever came when David came into our lives. Most regular guests at Ste. Anne's Spa have been touched by David in one way or another, and have come to appreciate his love of life, his sense of style and his ever present laughter and support. It was his inspiration that lead us to the salsa concert at Westben this past weekend, and his inspiration that keeps us all conspiring to cheer on and encourage the latin invasion of our lives. Imagine if all invasions were as pleasant as this! David has been with Ste. Anne's for 15 years where he has played a vital role in almost every department. He is currently Director of Marketing and Media Relations. He was born in Equador and immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 4.