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July 31, 2011

Meet the Improved Harbour House Hotel on Salt Spring

Salt Spring Island's Harbour House Hotel has been around in one form or another since 1916 when according to the book, Salt Spring,by Charles Kahn, a woman named Nona Crofton converted her home into a guest house.

The current hotel in a much expanded form since 1916 is owned by a Victoria lawyer Jack Woodward who bought the hotel because rumour has it he really wanted a garden but the hotel came with it.

Now, the organic splendor out back is a beautiful sight of bounty in action. They grow all types of lettuce, melons, peppers, quinoa, potatoes, tomatoes, tayberries, strawberries, blueberries, garlic, onions, nasturtiums, calendula, echinecea, herbs and  they even tap their own Maple Syrup from a stand of maple trees out back. They four resident goats and one of them, Lilly, even has her own Facebook page. Lilly Harbour links to the main Harbour House Facebook page. Lilly just celebrated her birthday on July 25th.

Current executive chef Paul Stewart comes from a culinary family. His mother Anita Stewart has written 15 cookbooks and created Food Day Canada which took place yesterday. For years, he and his two other brothers who all work in the food industry in one way or another, were his mother's favourite testers. Stewart has worked all over the West Coast and loves using the local ingredients in his kitchen. He got his Red Seal chef's papers by the time he was 17 and has been the executive chef for the  hotel for the past 2 years.
 The owner is an avid beekeeper and his sister Linda has been growing Quinoa out back for the past couple of years. Some of the lettuce in the garden is a small piece of artwork unto itself.  They also sell their produce to local grocers.
Salon services have been added his year through Julie Doobinen`s Solace Organic Spa services. It`s a book-ahead, not a walk-in, service at this point in time.  In addition, the StillPoint Yoga studio offers some classes in a space at the back of the hotel.
 A new manager, Len Brown, was hired in the past two months. He has experience managing hotels in London, England and Manhattan and currently runs a B&B on island with his wife Beverley who was a former pastry chef in the Westin Hotel in Manhattan`s Times Square.
They`ve recently had a new van painted up with Lilly on the back and are offering food tours to hotel guests where they can leave their own cars at home and be driven to some of the islands many food producers as part of a food tour.

The hotel has gone through many changes in the past couple of years and like so many things on island, it seems to take a long time to get people to look at the present with an open mind and objectivity at what`s in front of them, unclouded by the past.

If you haven`t been to the Harbour House for breakfast, lunch or dinner for a while, you owe it to yourself and your guests to treat yourself to their new menus - from farm to plate.

Watch the video

July 28, 2011

Best Part of Sailing is Meeting People

What a spectacular day, yesterday, to spend a few hours sailing on the L'orenda, a 40 foot yawl built by Don Mellor who learned his boatbuilding trade at a Quebec boat building shop. He built the L'Orenda by hand over 8 years in Crescent Beach and has lived on Salt Spring for about 25 years so he knows the Gulf Islands well.  The tour is 3.5 hours and costs $69 per person.

I went on this sailboat about 2 years ago and at the time my expectations consisted of going really fast, maybe having the boat tilt with the force of the wind in its sails and seasalted waves spraying the deck.  That didn't happen.

Yesterday's mission was more of a fact-gathering exercise. I needed to know more about his boat but I have to say, getting information out of this guy is like herding cats. I mean, tell me some stories, cut the bad jokes and it will all be good but NO...Listen up people. If you ever have anyone want to know something about what you do because they want to write something about it, get very detailed and if you can tell them stories without boring the hell out of them, so much the better, but be specific about the type of materials, the type of customers, any funny anecdotes, what makes you or your boat (business) unique, etc.  Coyness? Humbleness? Just screw that. I want the facts, I want what makes you unique and I want them to be interesting. Oy Vay!

I basically gave up on that little exercise, but nevertheless, I did have a good time on the 3.5 hour trip that goes out into the harbour and over to Galiano.    There was a couple from Denmark and a woman from Ontario who had just returned from a kayaking trip through the Broughton Archipelego where she had done a three-day kayak trip with her grown daughter and they saw whales about 100 metres from their boats.  First they had to drive 6 hour drive from Ucluelet to Telegraph Cove.

The couple Sven and Solveig were from a town called Koege in Denmark and they spoke perfect English and were fun.
Coincidentally, Sven and I both have a degree in Communications and he has been doing Kommunications (his spelling) for 25 years for IT companies in the U.S. Solveig is a family therapist. And, oh yes, I did manage to glean this little bit of info from the skipper: Apparently there is an increased number of therapists, psychiastrists who end up on the L'Orenda for a short R&R interlude. None have abandoned ship yet by diving off so it's all good.

We had a really nice afternoon.  It was fun to talk to these visitors and learn about Denmark and to meet Jennifer who has just retired at 58 and figured out that if she rented out her own Cottage on Lake Eerie that she is free to travel for weeks at a time every summer.

And, there really is something ultra relaxing about being out on the water, just being alone with your thoughts and the natural environment or enjoying the others as much, or as little,as you would like.

It was a nice day.

July 23, 2011

Food and Travel the Ingredients to an Adventurous Life

I've started doing some Tweeting for a restaurant here owned by chef/owner/teacher/radio personality Bruce Wood of Bruce's Kitchen or @bruceskitchen on Twitter.  Now, in spite of the fact that I love to eat, my own expertise with food preparation and menu planning and anything related to hosting others for a meal has grown even slimmer in the past few years than it used to be as a result of being completely out of practise.
With the intent of picking up some ideas for Tweets,  I've been tagging Bruce a bit like I'm some kind of groupie (which, for the record, I'm not, not that he's not interesting.)  I really enjoy listening to his local radio show (Thursdays 2-3pm) on Salt Spring's radio station CFSI-FM. 

In a stream of consciousness delivery, he'll  talk for an hour about what he's going to be doing for his Friday night communal dinners (for max. 18)  and other cooking tips. Sometimes he makes reference, in French, to ingredients that I've never even heard of. I really love to hear him describe sauces and what to do with all the fresh produce not to mention his love affair with goat cheese. I've discovered that his favourite word is stunning! The whirled peas are stunning. The risotto is stunning. The salmon in fig leaf then smoked is stunning. And, you know, they are.  
 Bruce's Kitchen is based on a communal dining concept and you just never know who you might sit beside. One day, a woman who had worked for the American embassy in Paris for 10 years came in with her father and we enjoyed our soup together. Strangely enough it was the morning I had been doing some Google research on where a friend might possibly stay on her upcoming trip with her husband and daughter on a wonderful month-long journey to Paris, Normandy, Brittany, Scotland, Wales and London.

These two events - my Tweeting for Bruce's Kitchen and also enjoying the smallest bit of research for my friend's upcoming trip - combined to  take me down my own memory lane. Ten years ago, I backpacked through London then over to Paris for 5 days, then back to London and on to Oxford, into The Cotswolds, York, Bath, Edinburgh, Stirling, Oban,  the Isle of Mull and full circle back to London over a 5-week period.

July 18, 2011

What You Probably Didn't Mean when You Said "I Do"

Maybe it's because I'm the youngest in my family that the institution of marriage in the way I've observed it seems a little over-rated especially when it comes to the amount of work that gets divided up between men and women. As the baby, I didn't have to do too much in the way of making meals or looking after anyone else. As a result, (and I acknowledge that this is both good and bad) being responsible for others definitely hasn't been one of my life's issues.

It does surprise me a little when I hear stories or see women who continue to do it all, still!  And, yes, I realize that there are men who find themselves in this situation, but there are a lot fewer of them.

Getting back to the mom-slaves, they typically have a full-time job. They do the cooking. They do the grocery shopping. They load the dishwasher.  They empty the dishwasher. They raise the kids. They taxi the kids. They talk to the teacher at parent/teacher meetings. They clean the bathroom. They decorate (or not) the house. They are the ones to handle the emotional melt downs. And, most significantly, they are basically "on top" of things and pay attention in ways that their husbands do not.

I've always wondered why one would sign up for that? I mean just imagine if someone handed you a contract  before you took a job and they said, You won't mind doing 80% of the work for less pay than the rest of us do you? Just sign here. Right here! Oh, and did we mention that you're also on call 24/7? In 20 years or so you could take a break every now and then.

Have you ever wondered what it might be like if the tables were turned? What if, as a female, when your husband/partner was off on a business trip for a few days, you just left all the dishes you'd ever used in that time on the counter and in the sink and when he returned and he had a little melt down, you'd turn to him and say, "What's with you?" I'll do them!

Imagine having to figure out what to feed people every single night and then clean up as well when you've got 2-4 other able bodied people in the house?

Or, maybe you'd like to try this out.  When you're about to go on a trip wait for your husband to pack everything, the night before, and as he tries to remember everything in a last minute packing frenzy and starts frantically firing questions at you, you don't bother to get up from your chair in the other room. You just half listen and then respond indignantly because hey, offense is the best defence, by saying, "I don't know where my jeans are? Why don't you know? You just washed them didn't you?"

 Imagine if when your mother came to visit, you just made yourself as scarce as possible so that your husband would be left to entertain her and listen to her while you just kept on about your week as if she wasn't visiting at all.

I grew up in an ultra traditional family and I have a fraternal twin brother. I set the table and did the dishes. He cut the grass, sometimes and with a lot of nagging, he took out the garbage. But, that was 40 years ago.

I honestly believe that there is no greater way to turn girls off marriage than to have them grow up witnessing the division of labour in a traditional marriage.

My father worked as an electrician and  I know he worked hard. But, I think my mother worked a lot harder. She did everything else, including dealing or not dealing with all the emotional crap that hits the fan in your average family. At a certain point, she even added a part-time job and I remember how we all hated that at first. How dare she work for someone else taking precious time away from our needs?  The moral of this story is that it's best to start being less competent as a mother when your charges are young before they are lulled into a delusional sense of being princesses or prodigal sons.

I'm not saying that marriage or any other relationship is ever going to be 50/50. It doesn't work that way and it shouldn't and when you get to a point of observing in detail what you aren't getting then things aren't working in a much bigger way.

On Saturday, I had this refreshing conversation with a male acquaintance. He had his sister's 9 month old baby in a snuggly against him. She was visiting him from the Lower Mainland where she had left a second toddler at home with her husband. This acquaintance was saying how he didn't have much use for his sister's husband because he didn't really do anything in the house or much with the kids and as a brotherly observer it was really bugging him.

"But what would make that change?" I asked, knowing that nagging doesn't work and the only thing she can do is change her own behaviour or figure out a way to map out duties in a very literal and directed manner.

I don't necessarily agree with his answer but I liked it. It was so exquisitely simplistic in the way that men often think.

"You punch him," he said. "That's what you do." "You punch him."

He was only partly joking!

(PS: Don't try this at home. I do not condone domestic violence. I do condone people recognizing that the person whose behaviour they must change to see change is their own.)

If you've got any tips for ensuring you don't become the overachieving headmistress of everyone's domain, maybe you'd like to share them here by leaving a comment.

July 11, 2011

Are you Tapping Abundance or Scarcity?

Today I met a man on the ferry who began to talk to me as soon as I was seated on the top deck of the small Bowen Queen. I thought he was a little different when he first began speaking to me but I couldn't really put my finger on why I thought that. When I have that thought come up with strangers, I try to acknowledge it internally and keep with the conversation. I want to see where it might go; see if my intuition is accurate.

He began talking to me about a course he had taken in Atlanta, Georgia that had to do with requesting things from others.  You apparently get sequestered for two weeks with others and then on the third week they let you loose on the unsuspecting public.  In this course,there were three pages of things that the participants were required to request; things that you almost always have to pay for. 

At the beginning of this course, they take away your wallet, your credit cards and cash and in exchange they give you a couple of small books which are your only currency.  The first time he took the course, he said he made about $3.00 a day. The second time he took the course he made enough to feed himself. The third time, he made more than enough to live on. (Read that last sentence again and think about that!)

This particular twist in the conversation started because I said I liked the boots he was wearing. They were a nice pair of shiny, black ankle-high leather boots with a square toe. He proceeded to tell me that he got them at Nordstroms. They had other boots on sale but he didn't want those. He wanted these boots and he wanted 10% off so he asked for the manager. The manager, a happy earnest young guy, said,  "What can I do for you?" The man said he wanted these boots and he'd like 10% off. The young manager looked at him and said he couldn't do that. They weren't on sale. "You can't just come into a store [in North America] and ask for 10% off," said the young guy who had no idea when he woke up that morning what kind of interpersonal mindtorture was coming down the pipe.

The young guy told this man  that he should look at the other boots that were on sale and choose one of those and then he just turned and walked away. But, this man, persisted, always remaining completely polite and calm and he continued to persist because he said it was only 10% and really there was no legitimate reason why it didn't make sense for the manager to give in. So, after 2 hours of this, the young manager finally relented.  "Really," I said, my right eyebrow pretty much raised as high as it could go thinking how much I'd hate to have him for a partner, imagining myself slinking into the woodwork on most public outings.

He then gave me another example. He told me about walking into a chain grocery store and having to get something off the shelves without paying for it. He asked for the manager. Now this particular manager began to ask him a lot of questions almost as if she was interviewing him. At the end of her questioning, which lasted about 20 minutes, she said she wanted to hire him. He said he didn't want a job but he had a friend outside and she needed $100 and could work for 3 days. After speaking with this man, the manager hired his friend on the spot just because of his request. She then turned to him and told him to take what he wanted off the shelves.

Finally, he told me about his experience of walking into a restaurant and asking for a free meal. Of course, the waiter had to call the manager and the manager was another young guy.They were going back and forth and finally in exasperation when the manager said he really didn't know what to do, the man took this opportunity to tell him: Get me a cheeseburger, some fries and a coke." He got it.

"People want to help you," he said. "We don't know how to ask for help," he said, at which point I thought he might just be a messenger from God.

Now, regardless of what you think of his approach, the lessons behind this story are interesting ones. Too often we think that things are impossible when all we have to do is ask for what we want.You know those people you meet who think just because things are a certain way they can't change even though take a look around, the rules are really quite arbitrary for the most part.

The other interesting thing to note is that I honestly believe it's probably true that you'd only ever end up having such a conversation (or maybe I'd only end up having such a conversation) on a ferry heading towards Salt Spring where individualists unite!

July 05, 2011

Care To Change Video Results

In May, I attended  with two other friends the Care To Change weekend sponsored by The United Way Lower Mainland and facilitated by ReelYouth. A collection of adults who ranged in age from their 20s - 50s came together to make short films about a social issue. These are the results of that weekend.  Nahani Willis, one of our team members (above) who is neither an actress nor a mime did an amazing job acting out how poverty puts many people, in this case women, into an invisible box that keeps them from fully participating in life.  This is the result of us learning "everything" (in front and behind the camera) in less than 3 days on how to make a short two minute film (mentored by Reel Youth facilitators) about three issues in society that affect us all whether we experience them directly or vicariously.


Isolation of Seniors