Friday, December 30, 2011

Quite a week on the farm

A close approximation of my encounter with One.
This story really started this past summer.  We had corralled  12 black Angus steers into a round pen from which we planned to direct them through a chute where we would apply some de-wormer onto their backs.  Kerry (our horse loving reluctant cow hand) had mentioned that she had had a few close encounters with one particular steer she had nicknamed "One-Horn" (on account of a short stub of a horn protruding from the left hand side of his head).  For this particular exercise we had recruited 3 or 4 fearless men, all of whom regarded "One" as a challenge.  Well, I guess One decided that he was going to accept and trump our challenge.  First he charged the fence, breaking out of the pen. Then he charged one of the handlers, jumping over a feed trough at him. Finally, as his ultimate act of defiance, he charged me and lifted me by my butt up over the fence.

Fast forward to this past week when One was scheduled to start a 90 day program of "finishing", a nice farm term for "fattening".  Once again, One established his domination by breaking out of his stall by head butting a newly built gate.  Then, he jumped clear over the gate, breaking it off of it's hinges.  We humans put our heads together and decided that maybe One should skip the finishing program and go directly to the butcher before anyone got hurt.

In the middle of this drama, our eldest horse Chance stopped eating and declined rapidly over 2 or 3 days to the point where the vet advised that the most humane thing would be to put him down, using a technique similar to that used by Dr. Conrad Murray in the case of the King of Pop.  While its always sad to see a horse die, its even worse to watch it suffer.  Chance was a real gentleman who had a good long life and enjoyed lots of affection over his long life.  He was buried on the farm while One looked on.

Clare, a seasoned local farmer transports our steers to our local butcher.  He arrived on Wednesday morning ready to load One onto a livestock trailer.  Well, One had another idea.  He tested all the fences and gates.  He went around and around staring each of us down, and then, without warning, he put his head down and charged me head on.  My life really didn't pass before me, there wasn't time, but I did think I was in serious trouble.  One knocked me to the ground and one hoof came down on my big toe, while another came down on my head.  All I could think of was Sidney Crosby and his concussion.  I managed to get up and get out of harms way before One came around to finish me off.  Suffice it to say that One is now safely contained in one pound brown paper packages of hamburger and I am not feeling any remorse for his demise, but I think I am starting to remember why I don't care for farming so much.

On the equine side of the operation, a Spa guest dropped off a beautiful mare named Roxy who will be joining our small heard of gentle giants. Roxy is a great jumper and Karey is hoping to show her next summer.  Drop by the barn for a visit.  I will keep you posted.

Monday, December 19, 2011


UPDATE - Problem solved.  Thank you to everyone who posted a review; much appreciated :-) If you are reading this blog because you are a fan of Ste. Anne's Spa, I could really use your help.  Over the past month or so, we have been targeted by some malicious reviews on Google Places.  While I have written responses to each of them, the best response would be to replace these reviews with some positive ones.  It will take some effort on your part as Google requires you to create an account, but I'm afraid that without a concerted response to these attacks, our reputation will suffer.  To post a review, search on Ste. Anne's Spa and then click on the links to post a review. Thanks for considering my request.  Jim Corcoran.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good health is to be cherished

Despite taking Multi-vitamins and Cold FX religiously every day for the past five years, and getting my flu shot every year, last month I came down with one of the most miserable colds I've had in a long time.  It started with a little tickle in my throat, which quickly moved into my chest, producing globs of yellow phlegm big enough to choke a horse.  I called my family doc and he prescribed an antibiotic, which I took as instructed.  I did start to feel better, but the cough never left and this past weekend the tickle in my throat returned.  Thinking I would turn to more "spa" based therapies this time around, I booked myself in for a manual lymphatic drainage treatment, which will usually end an oncoming cold dead in it's tracks.  This was the same day that I started my preparation for my "I'm 50, let the fun begin" colonoscopy purge.  Well these two things do not go well together.  I went from feeling OK, with a little tickle in my throat to feeling like I'd been run over by a truck multiple times.  I suspect some people avoid colon cancer screening because of the somewhat invasive procedure, but let me tell you - that part is nothing compared to the preparation - 2 days of cleaning out the colon, liquids only.  At least for the invasive part you're sedated and pretty much out of it.  Well, today is the morning after, and while I'm starting to feel somewhat human again, I couldn't help but think that my little 3 day ordeal with a blip in my normally healthy life is nothing compared to the battles that many people struggle through for years.  Take care of your health.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kissy, Kissy - Make love, not war.
For some strange reason recently, a great deal of my brain's CPU time has been spent thinking about the foolishness of war.  I think it started slipping into this train of thought around Remembrance Day when CBC radio aired a program debating the merit's of November 11th as a day of national reflection.  I don't think I actually caught the program, but I did listen to several callers who had left messages on both sides of the argument.  Of course there are those who believe that Remembrance Day is all about the sacrifice made by the young men and women who give their lives for their country.  But then there are those who think that this day of reflection can actually be interpreted as war mongering - aggrandizing and encouraging combat as the best way to assert good over evil.  While I don't really want to wander into that debate, I can declare that it seems to me that we humans were either given or evolved to a condition whereby we had one attribute that truly set us apart from all other living beings - the gift of communication.  And so it seems strange to me, that while we can separate ourselves from all the other species by exclusively claiming "civilized" or "sentient" as characteristics that set us apart, we have failed to use this one truly distinguishing characteristic to avoid violence and destruction on a massive scale as a means to settle our differences, whether it be a fight over resources, or a lack of understanding or tolerance for diversity.  What a shame.  By the way Vatican, can you explain why you need to sue Benetton?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Waiting for their 15 minutes of fame
This past Saturday, I had the day to myself and wasn't really sure how I was going to use it.  As fate would have it, a friend passed me on the highway and asked me what I was doing.  She was on her way to the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair in Toronto and that was all I needed to help me decide to meet her there.  I think I may have been to the Royal years and years ago as a child when my dad owned some Charolais cattle and we were showing.  More recently, an equestrian enthused guest invited David and I to join her at one of the equestrian events, which was quite entertaining.  But this year, I wondered into the cow and horse barns in behind the main exhibit halls where you get to see all of the country folks working with their animals in preparation for the competitions.  I ran into a few people from my neck of the woods, and had a good look around.  It's quite comical to see these rough and tumble farm guys fluffing and blow drying their cow's tails in preparation for the judging.  All in all it was an enjoyable day in the city immersed in the country.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


It seems like a long time since I've been able to post a new blog entry.  It isn't that I haven't tried, but I've finally come to the realization that there are some things you can't do from a tablet, and one of them seems to be uploading pictures to blogger.  So I have a lot to report on, but for today, I'm only going to talk about the Keene New Hampshire 21st annual Pumpkinfest.  My sister Anne and her husband Paul have a couple of vacation homes that they offer for rent in New Hampshire lake country.  Unfortunately for us, it works out to an 8 hour drive, so this is only our second visit here.  This weekend our visit coincided with the Pumpkinfest.  People come from far and wide brandishing a bizarre collection of carved pumpkins.  The picture above represents about 1/10th of the total pumpkins on display.  As dusk approaches, people start to light candles in the pumpkins making for a wonderful display for the thousands of visitors to this beautiful part of New England.  What struck me was how much human creativity and productivity just comes together with relatively little fuss to create something wonderfully pleasing..  What if this same amount of human creativity and productivity could be focused on a greater goal - like ending poverty or disease?  Instead, many world leaders seem to prefer to direct human creativity and productivity on domination and destruction.  What a shame.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What happens when we don't get our way?

I've just finished writing a "Management Response" to a review on Trip Advisor.  Recently I discovered that I have a few followers on Trip Advisor who get a kick out of my "Management Responses".  Apparently some of my responses have a touch of sarcastic wit woven into my tactful attempts to set the record straight, or in some cases apologize for our shortcomings.  Interesting.  Trip Advisor, and other sites like it, are yet more proof of the power of social media, usually for the good, and occasionally for more nefarious purposes.  This past couple of weeks, aside from the turmoil on world markets, the media has been obsessing over the use of social media to organize mass protests, and the outrage over BART's decision to block cell phone signals in anticipation of a possible organized protest.  I wonder what they would have said about revolutions that are as old a civilization itself responsible for overthrowing unpopular governments and other oppressors in the past?  Would Maria Antoinette have acted differently if she had Twitter and Facebook to worry about?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The incredible talent of Billy Elliot

It was a strange irony.  As we left the Canon Theatre yesterday afternoon, the last person I expected to see was the lead, the star, Ty Forhan, out amongst the crowd exiting onto the street.  But there he was embracing a woman who I assumed was his mother after having just given an absolutely incredible performance as Billy Elliot

The irony was that although he was smiling from ear to ear, his eyes were red and he was in tears, while my own eyes had just dried up after off and on crying throughout this intensely moving 3 hour performance.  Any more than I could tell you why Ty was in tears, I would be hard pressed to tell you what had me crying. 

Was it the struggle of the coal miners, the struggle of Billy, the love between father and son and mother and son, the acceptance of the gruff coal mining community of Billy and his passion for the dance, or just wave after wave of complex emotions brought on by this group of very talented people?  I don't know. 

I do know that this little 12 year old boy was working harder than I see many adults work.  And with such energy and talent.  It really was overwhelming.  I guess I wasn't expecting much - I loved the movie, and I wasn't sure how the stage production could be any better, but it was in so many ways.  If you haven't been to see it, try to fit it in before it leaves Toronto - you won't regret it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When the student is ready the teacher will appear

A few months ago, a dear friend returned a handful of DVDs that I had loaned her.  She also gave me a copy of a movie that she thought I should watch "The Shift - by Dr. Wayne Dwyer".  For weeks this DVD sat on my coffee table collecting dust and scratches, until one night it found it's way into the player. 

Now, this caused me to once again reflect on my more youthful days, when another work of  Dr. Dwyer's, the book "Your Erroneous Zones" helped me get through the emotional minefield of my adolescence.  In 'The Shift, the owner of the resort where Dwyer's movie is set muddles around in the background dressed like a caretaker, offering advice and commentary to anyone who happens upon him. 

So the stage is set for an early morning this past weekend when I stopped by the pool at Ste. Anne's to set up some new umbrellas to replace the ones that had been mangled by a recent storm.  As I drove up to the pool, I was surprised to see that a guest had already staked out her territory with a couple of lounge chairs, a couple of towels and a magazine. 

As I entered the pool, this guest got up and left, leaving behind her magazine and her towels.  I went about my task of installing the new umbrellas, passing by the two lounges chairs that had been separated from the others, each time thinking to myself; "is she coming back?, should I rearrange the chairs?".  Ultimately, my need to create an orderly world overcame my live and let live instinct and I reordered the chairs, picked up the towels, and placed the magazine in a place where I thought the guest would find it, should she return.  In the meantime, David stopped by to check my work, and without me knowing, he moved the magazine into the bathroom, along with all the other magazines. 

Shortly thereafter, the guest returned to the pool area.  I picked up body language that said "why did you move my lounge chairs?", and then she approached me and said "Where is my magazine?".  I smugly replied, "I'm sorry, I wasn't sure if you were coming back, it's just over here".  I lead her to where I had left it - it was gone.  She quickly said, "don't worry, it's just a magazine", but again, her body language was saying something different.  I asked her to give me a second while I called David, I found the magazine all the while thinking "I've ruined her day".  She went about her business, re-establishing her lounge chairs and towels and started to read a book. 

I thought to myself "stress makes people so . . ., but then that's why they come to Ste. Anne's".  After a few minutes of listening to the voices in my head, I approached the guest and introduced myself.  Her name was Sonia, and it turned out we had corresponded by email about her upcoming book launch.  She told me that she had seen me rearranging her things from her room, and at first wanted to run down to the pool to stop me, but then reached into the lessons of her book (Unsinkable), to let it go. 

Meanwhile, I made my best attempt to explain the thought process I had gone through in deciding to move her chairs and put away her towels and her magazines, and she made her best effort of telling me it wasn't a big deal.  We ended up having a nice chat - her about her previous life of dealing with the public in her former life in fitness centres, and me telling her about my current life of dealing with the public at a wellness spa, (mostly now dressed as a caretaker working in the background and in the shadows of so many very talented healers, gardeners, cleaners, fixers, chefs and servers). 

Aside from giving me a lead on a good book, Sonia also left me with the title for this blog "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear".  I guess if I could figure out who is the student and who is the teacher I might actually start to learn something.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


For many years now, I have spent the weekend adjacent to Canada Day joined by a small but loyal group of friends and fellow Ste. Anne's Spa employees setting up a tent at the arena park in downtown Grafton for the sole purpose of handing out about 1,000 hot dogs to fellow Graftonites as a way of giving back to the community where we are so fortunate to go to work every day. 

We usually have our tent up by 11:00, and as volunteers start to arrive, we get to work setting up barbecues, tables with condiments, bunning stations, and troughs full of ice and pop.  There is always a bit of a lull before the parade starts when we cook off a few dogs, and sample them, trying to make sure we have our little assembly line all set to go.  As the parade of marching bands, tractors, fire trucks, horse drawn carriages, and church floats winds it's way into the arena parking lot the tension in the tent mounts as we brace ourselves for the inundation of happy, hungry revellers swells around the tent. 

Two hours later we look up from the grill, wipe our collective brows and take a swig of something cold as we exchange guesses as to how many hot dogs we served.  The frenzy is over and the clean up begins.  Every year, this parade co-incides with the PRIDE parade in Toronto, sparing us the temptation of having to choose one over the other. 

This year, however, due to some kind of alignment of the stars, the two parades were on different weekends, and a great friend of mine was in Toronto with a room perched right over Yonge Street offering a bird's eye view of all the festivities.  After the parade was finished, we took to the streets.  In my mind, I thought I would run into people who I hadn't seen for 10 years or so, and I thought there would be lots of happy reunions. 

As it turned out, there was such a crush of people, you could barely move, only able to shuffle forward as the momentum of the crowd squeezed you forward at a snail's pace.  Once we freed ourselves from the crowd we decided it was time to go back to Grafton, a town with a population less than the people squeezed between Wellesley and Maitland Streets on that hot summer day in Toronto. 

For a fun activity, see if you can figure out which of the pictures above were from the Grafton celebration, and which are from PRIDE 2011 in Toronto. (Hint:  take a really close look at the fire truck - otherwise, this one might fool you).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Farming or Facebook

I don't exactly know what it was that started me on the whole Facebook habit.  I think I had a profile for quite a while, but I wasn't active.  For whatever reason, I suddenly decided that it was time to start sharing more of my activities, my thoughts, my photos and my observations with a broader group of "friends".  But last week, after having a heated verbal exchange with a friend, I found myself "unfriended", not just by the person who I had the heated verbal exchange with, but her teenage daughter as well.  My feelings were hurt.  I was surprised at how this app, living on my smartphone, was affecting me.  I was letting this binary string of zeroes and ones hurt me, and yet I chose to carry it in my pocket, check on it several times a day, often first thing in the morning.  After coming to the realization that I was choosing to let something that only existed in the Ethernet hurt me, I deactivated my account.  I'm done with Facebook.  But, if I have a change of heart, I just have to log back into my account, and all will be forgiven, and we'll pick up where we left off.  Right.  I'd rather be farming.  I can check on my live animals several times a day and as long as I keep feeding them and grooming them, they won't unfriend me.  I can freely chat (or not) with like minded rural-agri types and get my fill of updates and small talk.  I can reveal what I want to reveal (or not) and I can exercise my body (or not).  So, if you are used to finding me on Facebook, you might just find me down on the farm chewing on a piece of grass trying to make friends with the newest member of the herd (that's brand new Lady Bird Birdie", shown above in her contemplative state, and below, tasting mom's milk for the first time).


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Too busy to blog

Sophie and her new son Bentley

The last time I sat down to write here, I was still numb from the stunning blue tide that had swept the country, but that seems so long ago now.  So much has happened since then, but in this hectic world it seems easier just to type out a few lines on Facebook.  Maybe blogging is already becoming a passing fancy, a luxury that life doesn't afford us any more in this ever evolving world of social cyber tech.  But today, with looming threats of 32°, I've escaped to my little piece of heaven, my never quite finished "shack" for a cup of tea, some CBC radio and a soothing view of the rolling green fields before I start my day.  So, what's new, you ask? We opened The Dorset Manor on Friday the 13th of May.  Formerly known as The Hillcrest, which Ste. Anne's last operated from 2000 - 2004, this magnificent Port Hope mansion will give us a place to send spa addicts looking for something a little quieter, but also a great place for executive retreats and exclusive use events like Liz's 'girl's weekend'.  With just 9 guest rooms and 6 spa rooms and 20 seats in the dining room.  It really is a lovely property, but she requires constant attention, and tends to be accident prone. Lots of stories!  David has been over there most days, which gives me great peace of mind.  Then on May 25th Sophie had a baby, her second.  He's quite adorable and a real character.  This past weekend, Marijo ran her 1st 1/2 marathon in Ottawa, with a great time  of 2:16 as mom, Dave, Bryan, Mike, Reem and I cheered her on.  This is my third trip to the capital this year, I like it more each time I go there; a city that has really come into it's own.  I took Massie to the vet yesterday, he has been off and on lame on his hind feet for several months now.  After much hypothesizing on possible causes it was decided to leave him over night for an x-ray.  I teared up a bit as he obediently hobbled into a kennel, and turned to give me his most adoring look, I really hope he can be helped without too much suffering.  Well there's much more I could go on about, but I should get to work, and I suspect I've lost all but my most loyal followers by this time.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Farewell Osama

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I turned on the TV and tuned to CNN.  A tape of President Obama was being re-aired as he announced that Navy Seals had killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.  Not quite ten years ago, I remember sitting in front of the TV as the horror of September 11th played out.  I remember thinking that this could be the end of the world as we know it.  On Saturday night, I laughed out loud as President Obama and later Seth Myers humiliated Donald Trump for his decision to use the birther movement as a platform for his bid for the presidency and as a thin cloak for his angst over the fact that a black man is living in the white house.  You know Donald, I think we have the right man in charge.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Girls do it up right

As one of seven children of Nan Corcoran, I have many blessings to be thankful for.  Aside from being raised by a wonderful, loving and selfless mother, I have also basked in the love and support of four sisters, all of whom reflect my mother's many attributes.  This past weekend, three of my sisters took my mother away for a celebration of her 83rd birthday.  The above video is a short sample of the great time that they had together.  Happy birthday mom; I love you with all my heart.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lady Gaga, Gordon Pinsent, Greg Keelor, and Dogtooth

Gordon Pinsent, Greg Keelor at the Venue
This past Saturday night, when Gordon Pinsent said, "This is the first time I've been to  Peterborough (long pause for applause) since 1959, and it really hasn't changed that much", I'm not sure the crowd at the Venue knew exactly what he meant, but when Greg Keelor said "I hope our music isn't interrupting the conversations in the balcony, (long pause for applause and reflection), and I can hear every fucking word", I'm pretty sure everyone knew exactly what he was getting at.  As much as I agreed with Keelor's angst with the some impolite members of the audience, my issue with a night out in Peterborough had more to do with the weather.  It seems almost inevitable that a winter night out in this rural Ontario city will end with some kind of weather event making the short drive home to Grafton into a bit of a challenge.  Pinsent and Keelor teamed up with Travis Good of The Sadies to put some of Pinsent's poems to music, and I, being a big Blue Rodeo fan, agreed with friends that it might make for an interesting night out, and it did.  This is my second attempt to take in a Blue Rodeo experience via half of the band; the first was a Jim Cuddy show in Cobourg in a similar kind of venue about 2 years ago.  Both experiences, while interesting in themselves, paled in comparison to my memories of the band playing at The Horseshoe Tavern many, years ago while I bumped up against Tom Cruise, another big fan, dancing next to me, all in a bit of a drunken haze.  Back to 2011.  Just two nights earlier, I was the designated driver for 3 other friends who accompanied David to take in his birthday present; Lady Gaga at the A.C.C. for her presentation of "The Monster Ball", (which apparently means, "I reserve the right to keep you waiting for an hour and a half before I come on stage"), but which ultimately turned out to be a memorable event for those in attendance, none-the-less.  I instead opted for a walk up Yonge St. to the Carleton Cinema where I watched Dogtooth, the only film starting at 9:45, and a film not likely to come to Peterborough, or rural Ontario for that matter, any time soon.  Well, all I can say is that Yonge Street sure has changed, especially at Dundas Square.  Who says that being a spa guy doesn't mean you can still be a culture sponge?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Winter scene at Wicklow Beach
JFK once said; "All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -- whether it is to sail or to watch it -- we are going back from whence we came."  Although I am a huge fan of his, I'm not sure I fully agree with his conclusion as to why we are drawn to the sea.  Yes, I am drawn to large bodies of water, but I don't really differentiate between salt water and fresh water, and ultimately, while I get the whole evolution concept, I just don't think humans evolved from a fish.  When I want to clear my mind, or just take in some really fresh air, I will often make the short drive down to the shore of Lake Ontario.  Directly south of here in Grafton the beach is predominately stone covered, although further west in Cobourg and Port Hope, or to the east in Brighton or Prince Edward County one can find some of the finest sandy beaches in Ontario.  Either way, the lake shore is soothing, even on stormy days when the waves are crashing against the shore, whether the water is fully fluid or full of ice chunks.  My mom loves to walk her dog down on the beach while she searches endlessly for bits of sea glass and interesting shells.  The fact is, since the invention of the automobile, we humans have been devolving as we find it much easier to jump in a vehicle to do just about anything.  I drove David up to Peterborough this weekend to run in a 1/2 marathon, and easily managed to talk myself out of joining the 5K run, or even jumping in the pool for a swim.  I did fit in a walk up and down George Street with Massie by my side, but really, without become an obsessed marathoner, there really isn't any good reason why I couldn't walk at least 5K every day just in the course of my regular routine.  Please, someone, besides my doctor and my conscience, give me a reason to be fit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Growing up in the country

From age 4 - 18, I grew up in rural Ontario, north west of Toronto.  I have fond memories of Dell Casely and Bob Purvis at Card Lumber, Bud Maw at Maw's Grain Elevator, our next door neighbours, Eva and Len Patterson, the Vermeers, the Keoughs, the Bensons, postmaster and mistress and general store keepers Dan  and Jan Hennessy, the Miller sisters, and many more people who made growing up such an adventure.  As a teenager, I hung out for a while with Kelly Maw and Kevin McCallum.  We developed a habit of dropping in on friends and neighbours, unannounced, just to visit and chew the fat.  One of our neighbours and the local doctor, lived at home with his parents.  Peter dropped in on us quite regularly, but his parents weren't so keen to have us drop in on them - something about being British and proper.  When we settled in Grafton back in 1981 we really didn't know anyone, but quickly found that dropping in on neighbours was just as acceptable in these parts, however, it did take some time and effort to sort out who our friends would be.  This past weekend, I dropped in on a local family, only to be offered lunch, and then invited to help with the construction of a backyard igloo.  I was a little sceptical at first - I had trouble trusting the notion that this domed dwelling could be built without some kind of a form, or at least a secret formula passed down through the generations.  After about 6 or 7 rows of blocks, there was a slight cave in, but after some fine tuning and refinement of our technique, it wasn't long before the final block was being place to make the roof.  What fun!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jack Yellowlees

Today I lost a dear friend.  Around noon, when I received the news of Jack Yellowlee's passing, (something that I knew was inevitable once I heard that his doctor's had given up on treating what turned out to be a very aggressive lymphoma), I immediately teared up as I realized that I would never again receive his encouraging phone calls, benefit from his sage advice, bask in his belly laugh or his unwavering, unconditional and non-judgemental support.  But as the day progressed and the bright blue sky embraced a sun shining ever so brightly, and later, as the moon followed suit, circled by a great white ring, I knew that Jack was home and that the heavens were in a state of ecstasy as they claimed this great man for themselves.  I may have lost my earthly friend, but now I have a new guardian angel.  As one my dad's best friends and business associates, Jack was one of a handful of IBM executives who were always in our lives growing up.  So about 15 years ago, when my father thought it was time to create some distance between himself as a business coach to his entrepreneurial sons, and later as he moved his life to Ireland, he left us with a great gift.  He asked Jack to chair an Advisory Committee to advise my brother John and me on our business dealings.  Jack would make the trip to Grafton for our quarterly Advisory Committee meetings in his sensible Volvo station wagon.  He ran the meetings, with a casual elegance asking a myriad of questions, and offering his advice and encouragement.  He was always so genuinely inquisitive.  I suppose my father knew that Jack would fill a void for us that he realized he could never fill, only because he was our father.  What surprised me though was how easily I would come to love Jack and his wife Helene as gentle, gracious friends.  I can't say I've ever felt inspired to quote Ronald Reagan before, but today his words from January 28th, 1986 are stuck in my mind as my friend Jack has 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God'.  Godspeed Jack.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The icy grip of winter

Icicles hanging from my roof
For as long as I can remember, I have a habit that awakens around mid January or early February where I find myself spontaneously surfing last minute travel deal and airline websites to plan an escape from the dead of winter, thinking that if I break it up with a week or 10 days of sunshine, spring will come around a little sooner.  This urge has been especially strong over the past couple of weeks as snow storm after snow storm and deeper and deeper plunges of the thermostat start to rattle my bones.  But this year I am trying to fight it, perhaps to prove something to myself, that I can not only withstand a full winter, but that I can embrace it.  After all, if you dress for it, winter really isn't that bad, I keep telling myself, and there are many things to enjoy about winter - a cup of hot chocolate by a crackling fire is really fully appreciated at this time of year.  Then there are winter activities, like skiing, snowmobiling and skating that wouldn't have the same appeal in August.  So, cheer me on and join me in celebrating part of what makes us Canadian, snow, slush, ice, winter drivers and a good old winter storm warning!  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What is it with horses?

Trudy Ferguson captures the Wild Mustangs at Ste. Anne's Spa
I recently observed a woman in the paddock occupied by "the wild mustangs", a small group of horses rescued by a foundation that I was made aware of a few years ago by Albert Botha as part of his effort to improve the outcome for these animals.  She was armed with a camera, and spent hours patiently trying to capture the magnificence of these beasts on film.  She came over and introduced herself to me, and asked for permission to continue shooting, to which I agreed.  Trudy Ferguson had discovered these horses during a visit to the spa, and as a part time student at SPAO in Ottawa wanted to take photos for her final masters class.  A few days later, she friended me on Facebook, and sent me a link to some of her photographs.  I have given most of my daily equine chores over to one of the guys who works on our property management team at the spa, so I don't have as much contact with my horses as I used to.  I miss it, but not in this cold weather.  Today I wandered into their paddock to make sure their water wasn't frozen, and the youngest, Sarah (Sophie's filly) quickly wandered over for a visit.  She sniffed my coat and nuzzled my chin.  Before long, big Franklin, the main man amongst the ladies, sauntered over and paid his respects.  Little Romeo - more a pony than a horse also came by to say hello, more curious than anything.  Sophie, Noche, and Jasmin just kept eating - glancing up to let me know that they saw me, but that their hay was more interesting.  Each horse has a distinct personality, and they quickly get to know their handlers.  We humans have had a long association with horses, and it really isn't too hard to figure out why.  A couple of weeks ago CBC radio hosted a discussion on the merits of eating horse meat - Canada's 3rd largest export of meat products.  Needless to say, both sides were passionate about their arguments.  For my part, I think I will stick to cows.  They also have their own personalities, and can be quite friendly with their handlers, but I just don't trust them, so I choose to eat them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Looking back - the first 30 years

It was on a cold winter day early in 1981 that my father, mother and I first met Harold Winters, the caretaker of what was known locally as the "Grafton Castle".  At the time, I was living with my parents in a renovated farm house in Nashville, Ontario.  My parents had spotted a real estate ad that piqued their interest.  The place was all boarded up - there was no heat, and no furniture.  Harold took us through room by room with a flashlight.  The building was not in good shape.  Large chunks of plaster were hanging from the ceiling.  Water running through the roof had lifted the veneer on what was once intricate pine panelling.  The floors were painted yellow and blue, the walls were faded.  And yet, we were all intrigued.  Perhaps by the thoughts of lives that had been lived here, by the incredible sweeping views toward the expanse of Lake Ontario, or by the magnificence of the stone walls, the walled courtyard and the turrets.  After all, who wouldn't want to live in a castle, even if it wasn't just a little run down?  After some back and forth with the lawyers for the Blaffer family, a deal was struck, and we took possession the 1st of June.  I moved in right away with my high school friend, John Wood and we started work on cleaning years of algae from the walls of the massive swimming pool, thinking that in the days ahead we would need a place to retreat to from hard, hot days of dirt and dust.  For 2 years, I did my best to lead a group of skilled tradesmen in the renovation.  In 1986, Tom Hanks starred in the movie "Money Pit" - I went to see it and found that it was like watching a home movie, not only because I had a bit of a resemblance to him at the time, but also because of the similarity between his story and ours.  My father was working at IBM in Don Mills, and eventually he and my mom moved in as well.  We were all living in camp-like conditions, mattresses on the floors, bats flying in and out of the attic at night, no heat, and construction everywhere.  Before too long my brother John and his wife Nancy moved to Grafton as well, along with Ed Christensen, (our farm hand), his family and a couple of hundred Charolais cows.  Everybody pitched in, and it wasn't long before this vacant building started to feel like a home.  Those of us who were young men and women at the time all thought that once this place was finished it was going to make a great party house.  Well, my dad had a different idea.  I remember sitting around the kitchen table one night when he threw out the idea of starting a bed and breakfast.  I'm sure the cost of the renovation, (which ultimately exceeded the original purchase price of the property) was starting to tax him.  He surmised that with a little elbow grease and some luck we might some day be able to generate revenues of $100,000 a year with a bed and breakfast business.  We all thought he was crazy, and besides, how could we have a party house if it was full of couple looking for a quiet, romantic escape to a quaint bed and breakfast?  Well, I guess he wasn't crazy after all.  In 2010 we exceeded our previous highest revenue record, we maintained over 150 fulltime jobs with a payroll in excess of $5 million, and thanks to the people occupying those jobs, we have a strong reputation for an unpretentious approach to rest and relaxation.  Many things have changed over the years of course.  The bed and breakfast morphed into a country inn.  We doubled our square footage with a series of extensive building projects, and we introduced the incredible power of healing through human touch with the introduction of spa treatments.  I guess the only thing that hasn't changed is that our bankers still think (after 30 years) that this "spa thing" is a short lived trend, prone to economic downturn, and that we fit their traditional "seasonal Canadian hospitality model" to a tee, despite years of consistent growth and 90+ year round occupancy rates.  God forbid that a made in Canada success story in an "emerging" industry (spas have been around as an extension of the health care system in Asia and Europe for centuries, but never mind that) might ever be considered anything other than a flash in the pan.  Oh well, apparently Canadian banks have saved us all from financial ruin thanks to their conservative approach (not to mention their substantial profits); I suppose I should be greatful.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Meeting a click through in the flesh

On Wednesdays David goes running with his marathon buddies, Rick and Ryan.  But before he goes running, he lines up a few tasks for me, just to make sure I keep busy until he is done running.  So this past Wednesday, I was assigned to drop off a couple of spa guests at the Cobourg VIA Rail station so they could catch a 6:44 train.  Years ago, when we first introduced the "Stress Express", train station runs were one of my regular jobs.  Back then I didn't have a car of my own, so I usually borrowed my sister Anne's Volvo, and for a brief period of time I recall having to use a Yugo - a very utilitarian vehicle that was available to me for some reason at the time.  One of my first big investments was the purchase of a second hand Fleetwood Cadillac for $5,000, exclusively for the early, popular trips between the station and the "Grafton Castle".  That was a great car - I loved looking out over the expansive hood - it was like driving a jumbo jet.  As the spa grew, the "limo runs", as they became known, became a full time job for a variety of characters over the years, and we purchased bigger and grander automobiles to suit the task.  But sadly for me, I lost this opportunity to meet excited guests full of anticipation as they were arriving, or chat with them about their spa visit on their return trip.  So when I get called back into active duty to do a limo run, I get quite excited.  About a week ago in fact, I was so excited and talking up such a storm with my passengers, that I lost track of my speed, and was pulled over by the O.P.P. for speeding through downtown Grafton.  Luckily, one of my passengers spoke up and produced a ticket for a pending train departure, which convinced the constable to let me off with a scolding.  On this most recent limo run, I asked the departing guests if they would mind if we made the trip in a Jeep that I had borrowed from a friend for the night as opposed to the limo, because of the snowy roads, and if they would mind sharing the back seat with Massie, my canine companion.  They were up for the adventure, and very easy going.  The fifteen minutes we spent together was far too short, they were a charming couple, and they loved their stay in the Games Room.  And they told me that they had booked their stay as a direct result of a Facebook Ad that my brilliant Wanda (Director of Sales and Marketing, and turning 40 today), had placed just prior to Christmas.  Each day of our first campaign, Wanda and I had followed with excited amazement, the growing number of impressions and click throughs to our site from the Facebook ad.  And now, fate has given me the pleasure of meeting my first new found customers as a result of our cyber-experiment.  I felt like a proud parent - the seeds planted into cyberspace had first produced a torrent of interest, resulting in new visitors to our web site, (lovingly referred to as click throughs),and now a face to face meeting with living sentient human beings, new fans of Ste. Anne's Spa.  Amazing!

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Beginnings, gifts of many kinds

The living room at Seadream House, Harbour Island

Jim, John & Anna at John's Junction
They say, God works in mysterious ways.  Just over a year ago we received a call to let us know that my brother Bill's dream home on Harbour Island had burned to the ground.  A Korean-Canadian couple who had opened up a Japanese restaurant in Cobourg sold it when Anna was faced with a life threatening illness.  In their time of need, both of these families looked to Ste. Anne's for a hand up as they worked out a plan to rebuild their lives.  Ste. Anne is the grandmother of Jesus, and has been credited with thousands of  miracles, many of which invoke the acts of a typical loving grandparent.  Yesterday Bill called me to say that after a year of rebuilding out of the heartbreak of the fire, Seadream House was ready to receive guests again - he sent me pictures and the results of his work, and the work of his wife and fellow Bahamians is absolutely breathtaking.  And last night David, Nan and I enjoyed a wonderful, healthy meal at John and Anna's new restaurant "John's Junction".  Anna is fully recovered.  They also say, God sends crosses to those he loves.