Monday, November 5, 2012


This past weekend I spoke with several mother's at the spa who were clearly enjoying a some time away from their kids.  I met another who needed to be at the spa to recover from her role as a mother, a wife and her career.  Unfortunately, her life only allowed her one night away, when I expect she needed 2 or three nights.  I have also encountered many mothers at the spa who are cherishing time with their kids; the greatest joy seems to come when young girls reach an age where they can come to the spa with their mom, and in some cases with their grand mom to share one of the pleasures of being a woman. 

For me, (not having been a parent), the dynamics of human-parent-child relationships are one of the most complex and at times puzzling mysteries of life.  Years ago, a great friend of mine, while trying to convince me to have children, argued that it is the most selfish thing you can do for yourself.  I thought I heard "selfless", but she clarified and told me of the great personal joy she had experienced as a mother.  Recently, a dear friend of mine lost her son.  Even though I haven't had children of my own, I know that her life has changed forever, and I can't find the words to sooth her pain.  My own mother has told me time and again that the worst pain she could imagine would be to lose a child. 

This past weekend, I watched the movie We need to talk about Kevin, an exploration of the relationship between a mother and her son, in a case where the son commits an horrific crime.  This depicts the loss of a child from an often unexplored angle.  So cherish your children, but take the time you need for yourself to be the parent that they need you to be.  And I suppose, not having one child myself, I would have to say that if you do lose one, consider the great gift of the time you had, and take care of the ones you have left.  Life is so short.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Public Transportation Adventure

After four years of mostly trouble free driving, a vehicle lease on a fine piece of German engineering came to an end.  I decided that I would drive the car back to the dealer in Newmarket and make my way home by public transportation.  I have several friends who just do not use public transportation for one reason or another, but I kind of like it, although living here in Grafton, there really isn't much opportunity to use it, other than the odd trip on VIA Rail. 

Well I have to tell you, I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience.  I boarded a VIVA (York Region Transportation) bus on Yonge Street and rode it to the Finch subway station, where I boarded the southbound Union Station Train.  I was hoping to make the 11:35 VIA Train to Cobourg, but through my own fault, it pulled out of the station as I was running along side it.  So, I ended up taking the Lakeshore East Go Train to Whitby where I was met by a friend for the trip home.  My pictures (above) include the big blue bus, the breathtakingly beautiful view of Lake Ontario between Pickering and Ajax, and lonely old me staring out the window of the GO Train.

The first few passengers on the bus were a little sketchy looking, but not scary.  But the bus quickly filled up with a vivid cross section of travellers, most of whom seemed to be heading for downtown Toronto.  It was particularly fun to listen in on conversations and people watch.  The whole trip was in spotlessly clean air conditioned comfort, surrounded by courteous people and modern electronic information systems, and cost me less than $15.  As I was rolling along I thought how easy it would be just to drop off my car keys, get on the bus and quietly slip into a new life.  But then, who would run the spa?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Twenty years ago, when Ste. Anne's Spa was in her infancy, I attended a seminar in Montreal given by Dr. Deepak Chopra.  It was a life changing event for me.  Since then, the wisdom imparted by Dr. Chopra has helped to guide the me through many of life's difficult decisions, and has been at the foundation of what Ste. Anne's is today.  I have signed up for this event, starting at 1:30 tomorrow (Monday July 16th), and I hope that you will join me.  Let's do this together and see where it leads us . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

For several years now I have stood on the sidelines as friends of mine participated in a variety of athletic events; 5K, Pitter Patter, Around the Bay, IronMan, 10K, Marathons, Triathlons, etc.  I have been an observer as they crossed the finish line, often looking like they were about to die, sometimes throwing up, sore, exhilarated but always quietly proud of their achievement, and ready to do it all again.  But I just didn't get it. 

Why would anyone want to push their bodies to these kind of extremes?  In an effort to find out, I spontaneously joined in a 5K run in Peterborough a few years ago.  I was used to walking a few kilometers a day, and thought I was in pretty good shape, so this should be a cake walk for me.  I hated it.  I thought I was going to die.  I couldn't wait until it was over, and yes, I was sore and I swore I would never run again.

So when these same friends casually mentioned that they were going to run in the Sporting Life 10K Camp Ooch - (a camp for kids with cancer run), all of my internal defence mechanisms kicked in to provide me with all the excuses I needed to once again offer to stand on the side lines as a "supporter", but not a participant.  And then one day, some force from deep within my soul overcame all of my excuses to silence the naysayer.  Deciding to leave the sidelines and be a participant was as easy as clicking "OK" on the Sporting Life website.  But even still, a little voice in the back of my head was saying - you've made your donation, you really don't have to run, or, you can just walk it, or you can take the subway.

As "race day" approached, I "trained" by taking longer, more challenging walks in the morning.  A couple of times I joined one of my running friends and did about a 6K walk/run.  It was tough - after all, I'm in my mid 50s now, and my body isn't what it used to be.

On "race day" I met up with the other runners outside of Sporting Life just north of Yonge and Eglinton.  A group of  21,000 souls gradually assembled as we were divided into corrals, depending on the time we estimated we would take to complete the mostly downhill route to Fort York.  My three friends left me to join up with the first group of people who were estimating their finish to be 45 minutes or less.  Even though I was surrounded by all kinds of people, I suddenly felt very alone.  By about 8:30, my group (estimating to finish in an hour and a half), were moving over the starting line.


As I started into a light jog David Bowie serenaded me with the song "Heroes".  All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with emotion.  My eyes started to well up with tears.  I wasn't alone any more.  I was a living, breathing part of a stream of human goodness flowing down Yonge Street with one common objective - to help strangers who needed our collective love and support.

There were many other "moments of clarity" on the route down Canada's longest street as I passed by many of the bars and clubs where I spent countless days of my youth.  I actually stopped to take a picture of the marquee above the Zanzibar which read (sic) "dozens of nude dancers the show don't stop - mothers day lap dance spectacular". Too funny.  A sign along the route that really impacted and motivated me read " I don't know you, but YOU ROCK".  I completed the run in 1 hour and 7 minutes, which was much better than I thought I would do.  But this time, I wasn't running to prove anything or beat anyone, I was just running and felt great.

Eleven songs coursed through my ear buds and into my head as they brought back memories of my wasted youth and allowed me to float through and with the crowd.  Here is my play list;

David Bowie; Heroes
Missy Elliot; 4 my People
Cat Stevens; Can't keep it in
David Bowie; Cat People
Butterfly Boucher Feat; Changes by David Bowie
David Bowie/Mick Jagger; Dancing in the Street
Cat Stevens; Moon Shadow
David Bowie; Space Oddity
David Bowie; Starman
David Bowie; Young Americans
David Bowie; Ziggy Stardust

The total amount raised to send kids with cancer to camp Ooch from this year's Sporting Life 10K is $1,950,000.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Natalie & baby Liam, about 12 hours old
Since Good Friday I have been making two or three trips a day to the barn to see if Noche (a seven year old Friesen-Morgan cross, maiden mare) has had her foal yet.  About 11 months ago I introduced her to Titan, a four year old, sweet as molasses quarter horse stallion and they instantly hit it off.  Unfortunately, Noche isn't quite ready to give up her prize, despite the fact that she is well past her due date, and looks very, very pregnant.  Mind you, Noche has always looked pregnant - she loves to eat, and eat, and eat, but there are other signs that this is the real thing.  Maybe she just likes the attention.  As far as boyfriend Titan is concerned, he is overwhelmingly disinterested at this point. (Post script update; Noche gave birth to a filly at 1:30 a.m., April 20th.)


In the midst of all this animal husbandry, a dear friend and employee was approaching her due date.  She had made a decision a few years ago that she wanted to bring a new life into the world.  She wanted to expand her experience of being a foster parent to the next level.  She wasn't as concerned about whether or not she met society's definitions and expectations, she just wanted to experience motherhood.  She made the entire process look as easy and as uncomplicated as the incredibly capable job she does of managing over 60 spa therapists who provide the stress relief that Ste. Anne's has become known for.  Less than 24 hours after her maternity leave started, I received a text message "Liam's here".

Last night, I watched a cute Canadian film called "Starbuck" about a man who becomes the father of 500+ children through his donations to a sperm bank.  In the movie, Starbuck is confronted with a class action lawsuit from a group of his offspring who want him to reveal himself.  I won't spoil it, but it is a funny flick. 

With Mother's Day just around the corner (one of the most popular times of the year here at the spa), all of this makes me think about the miracle of birth.  How two tiny little cells, a sperm and an egg, sometimes quite deliberately, and at other times quite by accident, can get together and flawlessly create a new perfect living being, horse, human, or otherwise.  And then the life long bond that quickly evolves between parent and child is equally mysterious and miraculous.  Aside from being a popular place for mom's and daughters to spend some quality time together, Ste. Anne's is also a popular place for starting families; removing stress in a relationship often provides the ideal conditions for conception, as well as a popular place to come to recover from the strain of childbirth and parenting, not to mention the fact that we have a very healthy and fertile procreation program going amongst our employees and their families. 

And me, not having had the experience of parenting, get to watch and enjoy all of this from a safe distance, with my 84 year old mom looking over my shoulder and keeping a loving, watchful eye on me, her 54 year old "boy".  Love you mom :-).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A love lost

This past weekend, I went with a colleague of mine to visit another Ontario inn.  This inn however, instead of bustling with employees anticipating the arrival of new guests, was closed for business, and for sale.  Over the past several years I have seen a number of once popular inns and small hotels either change hands, in many cases under duress, or close. 

Walking through a business that has exercised the option of closing it's doors rather than face the prospect of continuing to operate is a sobering experience.  In this case, the beds were all still made, a table was set, but the life energy of the place was gone.  In most cases, the death of a business is a slow, gradual process that once it actually happens, seems inevitable, but while it is happening, it rarely occurs to the operators until the final hours that something is actually wrong. 

Complacency is the first sign.  Light bulbs not replaced, out dated decor, poor housekeeping, maintenance projects left undone.  And then usually there is some kind of trigger - a family  feud, a bank pulls their funding, a government induced poison pill, an employee revolt or deep discounting can spell the beginning of the end for a small business.  And of course, customers who have been loyal and supportive for years, seem to disappear overnight. 

As Canada's economy continues to show signs of weakness, there will undoubtedly be more casualties in many sectors.  We will continue to wake up to the sad news that this hotel, or that store that had become an important part of our lives, is no more.  Employees, employers, and customers who care, must watch for the signs and stay alert.  The demise of a business can be averted, but the same selfless love and dedication that originally turned an idea into a thriving business, is needed ten-fold to save a business from itself and the changing world around it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why me?

Lisa, Judith, Nancy and Jim at Ste. Anne's
Well, I've been back from my vacation and back at work now for three weeks.  Several times I've sat down with the intention of answering my own question (see previous blog); "Did two weeks doing nothing on a small Caribbean island allow me to relax?", and each time, something got in the way.  So, here it is, Saturday afternoon on a snow covered March day in my basement office in Grafton and I'm at my desk trying to decide whether I was relaxed three weeks ago.  Not an easy task, as it turns out. 

The trip itself was really nice.  Seadream House, as always, was wonderful.  We had invited some people to join us, and the comings and goings of our guests made life interesting for sure.  I booked myself a couple of massages with Bridget - I find that I need to kick start my body into relaxation mode some soft tissue manipulation.  But ultimately, the journey home still seems to knock any benefit out of me.  We took a ferry from Harbour Island to Nassau and spent a night in Nassau at the Sheraton so that we could catch a flight back to Toronto the next morning.  My mom wasn't feeling well for most of the trip home, and whatever she had, I got later on in the week. 

So, I had a lovely time, but at the end of it all, life marches on and I go back to the same old routines pretty quickly.  As much as I feel as though I should make changes and somehow find more meaning in my life, I haven't.  Which brings me to the reason for posing the question "Why me?" at the top of this blog.  This past week, David mentioned that a long time guest of ours was at Ste. Anne's with a friend.  This gave me a reason to drop by for a visit.  I can't remember the last time I saw Judith, but I would guess that she has been coming to Ste. Anne's for about 18 years.  Before long it was as though no time had passed.  She introduced me to her friend Nancy who she had brought to the spa to recover from the recent loss of her husband. 

Judith wanted to say hello to Massey, who happened to be in his usual spot in the back seat of my truck.  As I brought him in, I noticed Lisa, one of my favourite massage therapists, curled up on the sofa on a staff day spa.  It was then, as we posed for this picture that I thought, "Why me?  Why have I been so blessed with this wonderful life, full of wonderful people in a safe and beautiful part of the world?  Will I pay for this in the next life, or I am I being rewarded for the torment of a previous life?"  I didn't get an answer, so I went down to the farm and connected a grader to the back of the John Deere tractor and started the mindless task of working out some of the pot holes in the driveway.  Life is good.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where do spa people go to relax?

People visiting Ste. Anne's will often ask me, so what do you guys do when you need to relax?  While I love to travel, I tend to want to travel as an extension of my job; I want to be the tour guide, with an entourage, showing people the wonderful places that I have been lucky enough to experience.  But at the end of the day, I'm not sure that really allows anyone, least of all me, to really relax.  So for the next two weeks, I am trying to practice what I preach at Ste. Anne's - allow myself the freedom to do nothing.  It takes me a few days to let go, (i.e., here I am logged into blogger to update my oft neglected blog), but after a few long walks on the beach and a massage with Bridget, my body will start to switch into low gear.  The edge comes off and I become human again, or at least that's the plan.  Having friends and family around always helps as well.  So, this is day three of the program.  We are on a little island in the Bahamas called Harbour Island, staying at Seadream House - a miracle in itself - lost to fire in 2009, but lovingly built back up better than ever by owners Bill and Julie Corcoran.  Harbour Island is tiny - only about 3 miles long and about a mile wide, but it overflows with wonderful people who welcome visitors with open arms.  There is always fresh seafood at the dock, lots of sun and surf, and absolutely nothing to do.  Cell phone service is so expensive it is prohibitive, so other than the odd wi-fi zone that allows you to plug in, most of the time you are free of the need to be on the phone or send endless text messages.  This is my prescription for stress relief.  I'll let you know how it works next time I post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Call it what you like; a sign, fate, a master plan, Divine intervention or coincidence.  There are those persistently optimistic folks who love to say "everything happens for a reason" - I'm not sure I whole heartedly buy into that concept, but when it happens, it always sends a little shiver down my spine.  I guess it feeds the ego and makes the universe a little less lonely when you get the feeling that someone has taken the time to create a plan for you and actually checks in once in a while to make sure the plan is on plan. 

I am a big fan of Matt Damon's work and one of his recent movies explored this whole concept in a pretty creative and entertaining way.  If you haven't seen it, check out "The Adjustment Bureau", and I think you'll get what I mean much better than I am able to express here in black and white. 

So what has this all got to do with cookies?  I received an email on Sunday night from a guest (Eden) who had stayed at the spa over the weekend.  Due to a number of minor but unfortunate circumstances, her stay with us fell short of her expectations.  As I normally do, I picked up the phone and called her.  We had a nice chat, and I invited her and her friend back to "re-do" their stay, without the shortcomings.  She said she would think about it and get back to me.  Fair enough. 

The next morning, I re-read her email, and noticed a link to a blog, on the bottom of the page.  I clicked through to her blog, and I started to read.  Like me, Eden blogs not about her business so much, but about her life.  Before long, I realized why she so desperately needed a visit to Ste. Anne's, and why she felt so let down when things didn't work out the way she had hoped.

I then followed a link to Eden's business web site.  Eden is a cookie monster!  Now here is the spine tingling part.  As it turns out, my Chef Christopher, and my "trusted right hand" (Tina, my assistant who would normally have received and responded to Eden's email), are at this very moment, in California taking a course on baking all as part of their planning and preparation for the opening of our Ste. Anne's gluten free bake shop. 

So, the timing for our introduction to Eden and her very successful bake shop seems pretty bang on, almost Divine.  A sample pack of cookies are on their way to me from New Moon Kitchen.  I only hope that in time, I will be able to provide Eden and her friend with the much needed TLC that they came to Ste. Anne's in search of.