Monday, November 26, 2007

A new look

Many years ago, when Ste. Anne's Spa was more of a bed & breakfast than a spa, my youngest sister came to me looking for a job. At the time, we needed some help with our accounting, so I offered her an entry level job as an accounts payable clerk. Over time, Marijo started to show an interest in the marketing side of the business. Bit by bit, I turned over more and more of the marketing decisions to her. Before long she had taken the reigns and developed sales, marketing and front desk into a tight, well organized operation. As the business grew, Marijo anticipated that the job she had grown into might ultimately outgrow her skills and she decided to go back to school. She selected a 3 year program in Graphic Design at Durham College. For 3 years we tried to find a replacement for Marijo, but we weren't successful. I suppose one could conclude that because we knew Marijo was eventually going to come back, we really didn't try very hard to replace her. In any case, while Marijo was at school, in addition to single handedly raising her 2 beautiful daughters she became an active participant in the Maranatha Church in Belleville, both very life changing events. Today Marijo owns her own graphic design company. She has also published a book. Most recently, she redesigned our website, and I just love it - I hope you do too. Marijo, like many of the women who have come to depend on Ste. Anne's as a place where they can reconnect with themselves and recharge their batteries, is an incredible human being. I have been blessed with 4 incredible sisters, a wonderful mother and a great team of women who work with me at the spa. Today I want to loudly applaud the working women in our society who are responsible for so much hard work, dedication, creativity, beauty, love and compassion. As employers we need to support and encourage our daughters and our sisters as they continue to make a difference in our world. It's hard to believe that they had to fight for their rights.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Making the best of a situation . . .

I guess you could say that generally speaking, I'm not really a big fan of the whole marriage concept. Not ever having been married myself, one might assume that I'm just a sore loser; bitter at having been left behind. But honestly, I think I've just grown to be a bit sceptical about the whole "and they lived happily ever after" fairytale myth. Let's admit it, as great as life can be, it has it's fair share of bumps in the road, and I'm not entirely convinced that the western marital model provides the best structure for accommodating them. So, it was with some trepidation that I considered an invitation to my third wedding of the year from my third nephew to wed. The greatest selling feature was also a potential downside. This wedding was combined with a week long trip/holiday (with family) to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. What I really didn't give much thought to was who else might be on the guest list. There-in lies one of my great quandaries about matrimony. I can see having this ominous event witnessed by immediate family members, and maybe a few close friends, but I'm not sure I understand the point of including crowds of one or two hundred. This issue, when considered relative to a three or four hour event is magnified when applied to an event spanning an entire week. However, it seems as though these kind of weddings are gaining in popularity. In the course of aging over the past 25 years, I guess I'd forgotten how much fun it could be to drink yourself into a comatose state, pass gas on a bus and deny culpability, jump naked into a pool and wake up the other hotel guests at 3 a.m., apparently just a few of the key ingredients to a successful wedding in the islands. So, in an attempt to find a source of amusement more suitable to my age group, my brother-in-law Paul and I discovered the St. Maarten past time of "riding the fence". This entails standing at the end of a runway hanging on for dear life to a barbed wire fence while a jumbo jet takes off pelting us with high velocity jet blast. What a rush! As each day passed more and more of our group rode the fence as we became more familiar with the schedules, and the type of aircraft most likely to give you a good ride. Another related activity that provided almost as much of a thrill involved lying down on the sand as one of these massive airships dropped out of the sky to the runway beyond - breathtaking! So, if you are planning a trip south and think you might want to try something a little different, book yourself into the Sonesta Maho for a few days and have yourself a blast - a jet blast that is. FYI, the wedding was beautifully executed, on the beach, at sunset, stunning bride and groom, garnished with lots and lots of love from a very nice group of adoring family and friends. Congratulations to Mark and Shawna and best wishes for a lifetime of happiness.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Keeping it fresh

It seems as though my family has been renovating one thing or another for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories as a child are of our farm in Nashville, where every minute that we weren't in school, my dad had us involved in some kind of project, from fence painting to wallpapering, to plumbing and electrical upgrades. Looking back to 1981 when we moved to Grafton, anything that we had taken on in Nashville looked like child's play. I remember going to see the Tom Hank's movie "Money Pit" and thinking, 'this is my life'. But in those days, we could pretty much renovate at our own pace, as it was only us who were affected by the upheaval that emanated from such projects. Once we opened our doors to the public though, especially with guest rooms that tend to run at occupancy levels of 85% all year round, it became a different ball game all together. I remember one renovation back around Christmas 1991. My sister Anne, her husband Paul, and their 3 sons Ben, Brian and Matt were visiting for the holidays. Somehow we got it in our heads that this would be a good time to redecorate the Cathedral Suite. We were literally applying the last strokes of paint to the ceiling as we watched the guests walk into the courtyard. You would think we would learn! As it turned out, Paul and Anne and the boys enjoyed this frantic state so much, (and after much begging on my part), they decided to accept my invitation to leave their home in Westport to join me in launching Ste. Anne's Spa. I will be forever grateful for the tremendous contribution they made, and I can honestly say that the four years we worked together were some of the most exciting and the most fun. Anne's incredible decorating skills, and Paul's hard work are still very visible throughout the spa. Anne and Paul returned to Connecticut, where they have recently launched their own rental property, where we visited them this past weekend on our way back from New York. It is an absolutely stunning lakeside cottage in New Hampshire - check it out! This past week, our newest Facility Manager, (and I/T guru) Jake, and his team, Debbie and Steve took on the task of renewing a 1981 vintage bathroom in the Blue Room (Jake and Debbie hard at it and the ensuing chaos, pictured above). They did a fantastic job - Jake has surprisingly good taste (for a man, ha, ha), but once again, we found ourselves putting the final touches on the job just as the guests were arriving for the weekend. My job was to run into Home Depot every couple of hours to get that one last thing that we forgot about. I think I made a total of 6 trips. I guess what they say about history repeating itself rings true here at Ste. Anne's.
Here's a tip for you: If you, like me, enjoy writing but struggle with grammar, check out this web site. I just stumbled on it and found it to be quite helpful. We're off to attend my nephew's wedding in St. Maarten this weekend. Seems like a long way to go to witness someones nuptials, but hey, what do I know? Catch you on the rebound!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bored at the border

On Tuesday morning Natalie, David and I set out for New York city to collect our Reader's Choice award from SpaFinder Magazine. This year the awards are being handed out as part of a consumer trade show at Grand Central Station. We had our truck all loaded up with signs and props to make our little 10X10 booth look inviting. As we approached the checkpoint at the border David told me that I shouldn't make any jokes with the border guards. Probably good advice given the power these guys have over you. Our guy was nice enough, asking the usual questions about citizenship, where we were going, how long we would be away, and the purpose of our trip. When we told him we were going to a trade show in the big apple, we seemed to pique his interest. He made his way towards the boxes in the back of the truck and started pulling things out, starting with a bar of Aveda soap (made in the U.S.A., but still suspicious). He was soon joined by two more members of the Homeland Security team who also started rummaging through the boxes as though they had just stumbled upon a Saturday morning garage sale. One of the burly men pulled a bathrobe out of a box, and exclaimed "oh boy", while his colleague pulled a teddy bear out by the scruff of his neck, saying "have a look at this". Trouble with a capital "T". We were ordered to park the truck and come inside their headquarters, where there were at least another 10 or 12 very bored, but serious looking men and women in black, armed to the hilt. I was the only potential criminal in the joint. You see, there are very specific rules about importing textiles into the United States, not to mention teddy bears. In the end, I was given a stern lecture, charged $10.75 and sent on my way. All in all though, I felt better knowing that our border is safe from the forces of evil, thanks to the increased vigilance of our men and women in uniform, and the great wisdom of George and Dick up in head office. Holding a spa show at Grand Central station was an interesting concept. Quite a broad cross section of people have passed by our booth, most asking where Ste. Anne's is, a surprising number wincing when we say Canada - a place that a majority of New Yorkers apparently associate with unbearably cold weather. The booth next to us was handing out little individually wrapped pieces of chocolate, which they had to hide from regulars who would circle their booth grabbing a handful of chocolate at a time. My favourite visitors were the elderly New York matrons who visited us, fully bejewelled, hair dyed and made up as though they were on their way to play a part in a Broadway musical. I'm not sure how many of the people we spoke to will be heading north any time soon - the new found weakness of the U.S. dollar is bound to impact their enthusiasm for travelling too far afield. However, I always enjoy New York, and sincerely hope that things will soon improve for this once great "super power", who I found myself feeling sorry for, more than anything. Not only did their leaders let them down on 9/11, since then they have kept them in a prolonged state of fear and isolation.