Monday, 28 December 2009

I Like Taxes

One Last Word about Politics in Windsor (at least for 2009)

I like taxes. I like paying taxes. I like the good things our collective resources bring, and I shudder at the thought of having to pay for running water, sewage processing, policing, roads and education directly out of my pocket specifically for the needs of my family. I couldn't afford it, but together with the entire community's pooled resources I like my standard of living.

I like politicians. Once I wanted to be one. Once I was one, except for the winning an election part.

I don't like it when politicians play on our most foolish sentiments by trumpeting "no new taxes" or promise no tax increases in a time when the only purpose for babbling such nonsense is for election, or re-election to public office. This selfish drivel only serves to harm the community in the long run.

Now I'm not saying I'm in favour of wasteful boondoggles. When I ran for municipal office (and was soundly trounced by the incumbents and the other guy on the ballot, too) I campaigned on a platform of "are you getting your money's worth?" in regard to taxation. Suffice it to say that didn't have the cache of "I will go through the budget line by line and guarantee a 0% increase", which is exactly the kind of myopic governance that passes for leadership that we have been stuck with for 7 years in the city.

In this year when we really do need to hold the line at 0% because of a dismal economy, high unemployment, lower property values and a decimated manufacturing and tourism base, there's nothing left to cut. We have sacrificed our collective good to satisfy the well-off at the expense of the poor primarily as a public relations exercise that, frankly, worked for the politicians. Incumbents were reelected and legacy projects built.

In 2010 the poorest of Windsorites will be asked to sup from a thin gruel that is already long past nutritious and satisfying, both figuratively and literally.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Feast of the Holy Family - December 27th

Luke 2:41-52 (in which the child Jesus is found in the temple)

Some people feel like today’s society has forgotten all about families. We worry that families don’t matter anymore. We long for days gone by, fond in our memory, for a time when the nuclear family was celebrated and protected.

In my youth we watched television shows about family and we wished we could be like them. Some wanted to be the perfect nuclear family like the Cleavers, others the perfect blended family like the Bradys, we wanted father to know best and mom to wear pearls in the kitchen. Today we see families in the media and we thank God that at least we’re not that bad. We’re not the Osbornes, we’re not the balloon boy’s family, I’m not John and she’s not Kate, with or without the eight.

That's when we can turn to the example of the Holy Family.

We don’t know much about the childhood of Jesus or the life of Mary, and I can imagine Mary as an old lady surrounded by the disciples of Christ asking her, “what was Jesus like as a child?” No doubt she told a great number of stories each of them revealing the very human nature of our Divine Lord, but this one, this story of the child in the temple beginning to make known and perhaps beginning to realize his divine nature all at once and at the same time would be the event that best foretold his great mission here on earth. This is the story Mary pondered in her heart. She and Joseph did not understand what he meant and that’s a very normal family.

When our own children do and say the things that cause us confusion and even heartbreak, God knows how we feel. God knows. No matter how we describe our family situation, what has happened or what challenges we face, God knows.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not perfect people with all the answers. God chose them as part of a divine plan.

"They, too, had to listen to God’s call, and try every day to choose virtuous actions. Whole-hearted effort – not a perfect result – is what it means to be a “Holy Family”. (John Vella)

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Feast of St. Stephen - First Martyr and a Deacon

"Stephen was a deacon in the early Church. We read about him in chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons. Stephen is the most famous of these." (Saint of the Day website)

We celebrate the martyrdom of Stephen, who faced the angry mob and defended the faith.

Deacons are supposed to be the Bishop's right hand man. As my friend Deacon Doug Oltsher sometimes jokes, gesturing towards our own Diocesan Bishop, "We're supposed to take a bullet for that guy!"

The Pope sure could have used a Deacon earlier this week. Check this out:

Saturday, 19 December 2009

4 Easy Steps to Restaurant Bankruptcy, Server Edition

Four things restaurant managers and owners should watch and listen for (unless they like the idea of one very bad server putting them out of business, one customer at a time). These four statements were made in the very first interaction with a server just last week as I attempted to tap into her knowledge for a little guidance. Unbelievable at a Denny's, unforgivable at the $50.00 - $75.00+ per person price range.

1. "I'll give you a few minutes to decide".
(Translation: "I could stick around and tell you about our specials, my favourite entrees, why we're different and better, why I'm the best and most knowledgeable server you've ever had, but I don't know the menu very well, I forgot to check what the soup of the day is, and I don't remember what the special is. So I'll give YOU a few minutes to figure all that out for yourself.")

2. "Everything's good," as I try and pry a recommendation for an appetizer out of her.
(Well of course it is or it wouldn't be on the menu, would it? Can you narrow it down for me?)

3. "Depends what you like..."as she comes beside you and looks over your shoulder to study the menu as if she's seeing it for the first time.
(Yes, of course it does depend on what I like, since I'll be eating it. And if you ask me I'll tell you, and then you could suggest something that will make me rave about this place to all my friends. Unless you consider customers who don't know what they want to be nothing but a pain in the ass, in which case refer to #1)

4. "It's up to you"
(Yup, I knew that. I just thought that since you work here and I don't you might like to give me a hand deciding how I'll get the best value for the c-note I'm going to drop in here tonight. No?)

No problem. See you around. Don't forget to tell your coworkers what a cheap bastard I am for leaving you such a lousy tip. And tell your next employer how you were the best server that place ever had, too bad they closed the doors.

- Bonus observation - beware the servers who can "handle" more tables than you've given them. You think you can't live without them because you can send all the other servers home and if it suddenly gets busy, superserver can handle it. In the end they will dump you and move on after they've pissed off every last one of your guests with their indifferent efficiencies and the business has become so slow they can't make big bucks in volume anymore. Unfortunately it will not come soon enough to save your restaurant.

- Bonus observation #2 - beware the server who doesn't write down the order. Any fool can remember one order dictated by a customer (at least until the first distraction occurs between the table and the POS computer). A true server guides and suggests their guests' experience through the menu; they have to write it down. They wouldn't dare risk forgetting to bring anything that would complete the perfect meal.

Monday, 14 December 2009

P.R.A.Y. our way to "Yes"!

Saying “Yes” to God

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:39-45

It’s not easy saying “yes” to God. It’s never been easy. God asks a lot of those who pray daily “thy will be done”. He asks more from those who live it. How can we be ready when God asks our obedience, in small or grand ways? How can we get to a life of faithful obedience in God, like Mary? Most of what God asks of us may not seem so dramatic, but it can be every bit as life changing, as challenging and as important to our salvation. Here’s a simple acronym for saintly obedience that I think will help us to get to where we need to be. We use the four letters of the word “pray”. P.R.A.Y.

P – Prepare, ponder and pray. Especially pray. Mary was clearly a prayerful woman; in fact some of the words she speaks in the Magnificat are taken right out of the Old Testament books and from some of the psalms. Whatever else we know about Mary, we know she was a prayerful woman who prayed with the scriptures. We can pray the scriptures – perhaps a few verses of the Word, or even just few words. Be still. This is the sort of thing we might do on a retreat, but we can also do at home or in the quiet of our Church before Mass begins. Prayer is a communication that isn’t all about just asking for something, although that is part of it. Prayer is a good time for thanksgiving and praise, but also for expressing fear or anger or confusion, just the way you’d speak to your father or your very good friend.

R – read and reflect. We can read God’s word in the bible, and we should be getting our sustenance more often than once a week at Church. It’s OK to pick up the bible! But there are also good books that help us to understand the words in the bible, and my own preference is books that are scripture based. None of that Chicken Soup crap or internet "lump-in-my-throat, send this to your friends" nonsense for me. The Word is not meant to be an anesthetic for the pains of life. Sometimes the Word comforts us in time of sorrow, but sometimes the Word challenges and make us very uncomfortable. In reflecting on God’s word in a prayerful way, we prepare our hearts for the gift of obedience.

A - Act. We know what is right and wrong, in our hearts, and so we are called to be good Christians, good Catholics every day and every moment. There is a principle of Social Justice that says we are to See, Judge and Act. A thoughtful and prayerful Catholic need not be afraid to stand for what is right. If not us, who? All of this leads to the last letter in the word PRAY – Y.

Y is for Yes. Yes Lord. I’ll do it. Yes to your church through active participation in the Mass and in ministry. Yes to being a member of an imperfect congregation. Yes to my faith, not just the sacraments but definitely the sacraments, but weekly and daily and every moment. Yes to Jesus in spite of all worldly evidence to the contrary. Yes to the Eucharistic sacrifice for us.

P-R-A-Y. Pray, reflect, act and, “Yes".

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Road Test - 2010 Mazda 3

I get to rent a lot of different vehicles when I travel, and I try to rent a different car every time just for the fun of it. It kind of takes care of that nagging desire to go out and buy a brand new car every six months.

I arrived in Ottawa in a blinding snowstorm and was offered a rear-wheel drive Dodge Charger (cool car, heavy on gas, last time I rented one was in the dead heat of summer), a Honda Civic (pretty nice little car) or a Mazda 3. I've never driven a Mazda before and I didn't feel like the inevitable snowstuck / sidespin driving style of the Charger, not that the old "motorboat method" of driving wouldn't have come back to me. But since I was already booked into a Holiday Inn that hadn't been renovated since the 70's, one trip in the Wayback Machine was all I needed on this visit to Ottawa.

So I chose the Mazda. Here's my review:

  • Gas mileage
  • Gas filler access on the right - a safety feature so you don't get clipped by passing traffic when you fill from a gascan if you run out of gas on the side of the highway
  • It's a tank in the snow (I parked in unplowed spots and didn't have to worry about getting out)
  • Manual shift feature on automatic transmission (great in blizzard and snow)
  • It's peppy

  • I like the "hello" feature on the readout when you turn on the ignition
  • Well laid out dashboard, cupholders, radio controls
  • Split folding rear seats
  • Locking fuel filler door
  • Info on dash like outside temp, date, time
  • Trunk room
  • Interior room

Growth? (room for improvement)
  • There was no light in the trunk
  • Turn signal stalk was a bit touchy and I tended to turn on high beams when reaching to signal
  • Would have like remote entry and corresponding security / alarm (probably available on upgrade)

Overall - a pretty cool little car. I'd buy one if a cool little foreign car was what I was in the market for.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christ the King - The Original Inconvenient Truth

Christ the King – an Inconvenient Truth or Liberation? November 22, 2009

John 18:33b-37

We are invited to listen in on a conversation in today’s Gospel. Two men face off, one very powerful and influential by the world’s standards, the other – Christ. There’s a lot riding on the outcome of this encounter, although it’s clear Pilate doesn’t quite know the extent of it.

Picture a time when a society is clearly divided into those who have the power, those who want power, and those who will never have power. This was the situation in the Palestine of Jesus’ time, with Roman occupation men like Pilate had all the power and wealth, and the armies to enforce it.

Occupied Jews who were smart knew enough to stay on the right side of the Romans did fairly well. The Pharisees and the High Priests do OK by keeping things quiet, and they live a pretty good life as they await the coming of the Messiah to give them back their promised land.

Along comes Jesus to rock that boat, and they don’t quite know what to do with him.

He preaches a different kind of love of God – one in which after God, we are commanded to love our neighbour. To put our neighbour ahead of ourselves, because isn’t that, my friends, the definition of love – to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own?

But what does that mean? That all this striving for power and status and material possessions mean nothing at all? Apparently the poor are the blessed ones, the meek are blessed, and the lowly are in fact the first for God’s affection. Christ threatens the fabric of society of his time. He is not exactly the messiah the Jews have been waiting for, not only because he doesn’t arrive in a blaze of glory, but because what if they believe what he preaches they will have to renounce all that they believe to be true.

It’s no different for the Romans. If they believe what Christ says, their world will be very different indeed. If Christ is King, then he is the highest authority in the land, in the world, and that means going against the most powerful government on the face of the earth, with potentially disastrous results.

Christ has become the original inconvenient truth.

Two men face to face and Pilate isn’t keen on recognizing the King in front of him.

How is that different from today’s world? Don’t we tend to hold in high esteem those who have achieved positions of great wealth in our society? Beyond financial wealth, we value talent and good looks and physical fitness. We idolize our rock stars and our sports stars and our Hollywood stars and even the sons and daughters of the well to do, whose only accomplishment seems to have been that they were born to wealthy parents.

Oh come on. We want to be like them. Bigger houses. Nicer cars.

"You can do it. If you believe it, you can achieve it." We motivate ourselves by reading quotations from famous people. I have personally spent hundreds of dollars in the last 30 years of my business career attending seminars, buying books, motivational calendars – all with the goal of “making it” in the business world. The next promotion, the biggest bonus, recognition, maybe even elected office….

And you know, relatively speaking and in comparison to most of the rest of the world, we’re actually very wealthy. Even the relatively poor among us are doing well in comparison just by the accident of their birth on this side of the equator, or that they live in this country with all its natural resources, temperate climate and access to water, wood and oil…

Sometimes, though, just as the Jews and Pilate were, we are forced to face the truth in our midst. We are forced to see the poor among us. The poor in health, in hospitals and hospices across this country and in our community. The poor in spirit, the lonely, the elderly, the unemployed, the business person who’s just lost everything. The weak and the unsuccessful.

Often just two people face to face, like Jesus and Pilate. You see that scene played out every day across our community.

The street person asks the passerby on her way to the coffee shop if she can spare a few coins. The dying patient alone in the hospital asks the Hospice worker to sit with her a bit longer. A friend’s mother dies and she just needs someone to talk to. Just two people, one in need, the other being asked to give. A little like our scene in the Gospel.

Although it probably didn’t seem like it, and there isn’t a happy ending to the story, there is good news for Pilate in all of this. He has a choice.

The Christ is right in front of him. Jesus Christ has offered Pilate the chance to recognize him as King. Imagine the realization slowly dawning on Pilate that who he has in front of him is no mere rabble rouser, no run of the mill trouble maker for the Jews.

All the way through his ministry Christ has offered the truth and invited people to follow him, to become one with the truth. But, as I have said, it is an inconvenient truth.

Because if you believe, if you really believe, and embrace what Christ is saying, and follow him with all your heart, and proclaim him King – not a King but the King, then you must give up all that you hold valuable in this world in order to gain eternal life in the next. You must show a preferential option for the poor, you must recognize that those who have little or nothing are the blessed, and those who put wealth and power ahead of all else will have a difficult time finding their way to heaven.

It’s not going to be easy for Pilate to acknowledge Christ as King, but at that very moment, what if he had? What if Pilate had fallen to one knee and turned his life over to Jesus Christ. Christ never said it would be easy.

Pilate had an option, the Jews had an option, and the people of Jerusalem had an option.

We have an option. Not many of us are in a position with power of the magnitude of Pilate’s, but we are asked to deal with the problem of Christ in our daily lives. It breaks down into two parts.

The first is a question of what we hold dear to our hearts. What is it that motivates us? Is it material possessions, or status, or simply having more than everyone else? Any time we place something ahead of God we are worshiping false gods and false royalty. We know that, still it’s no easier for us to hear than it was for the people of Jesus’ time.

The good news is, the truth is, when Christ is at the centre of our lives in prayer, worship and in practice, those other things don’t quite matter as much, and we’re free to love our family, our closest friends and the strangers in our midst. A weight is lifted off our shoulders. The truth has set us free.

Secondly though, is a question of how we treat the poor, the lowly, and the down on their luck. Christ himself said, and this is what gets him in trouble in the first place, “when I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome…” (Matthew 25)

Pilate just wanted Christ to go away.

We gain for ourselves a place in the Kingdom when we find ourselves face to face with the hungry, the thirsty, and society’s cast-offs, the lonely, the sick, the dying… and we face the truth. We forget ourselves for a moment, our ambitions and our possessions and our foolish pursuits and put their needs first as Christ loves us and puts us first even to the point of dying. We acknowledge Christ as King in the loving and prayerful service of others in the name of God.

This Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, was originally implemented in 1925 by Pope Pius XI who hoped that a day acknowledging Jesus Christ as King of the universe would act as a corrective to some dangerous political ideas of his time, and would help bring about peace and harmony and calm order in his time.

He could have issued a Papal encyclical, but instead established this solemnity, in his words “the annual celebration of sacred mysteries is more effective informing people about Faith and in bringing them the joys of the spiritual life… solemn documents are often read by a few…feasts move and teach all the faithful.”

This is a message of hope.

This man whose sacrifice for us we celebrate at the table of the Eucharist, this Christ; is he our King?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

DMK Burger Bar - see, he get's it!

As I continue my quest for the world's best burger....

Chicago Chef Kornick Launching Burger Concept: 7 Reasons It Can Succeed

The sit-down restaurant, DMK Burger Bar, is scheduled to open its first unit in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood at the end of May.
Allison Perlik, Senior Editor -- Restaurants and Institutions, 3/10/2009 7:35:00 AM
Chicago chef Michael Kornick knows burger joints are the industry’s latest cliché. New gourmet chef-driven spots, upstart fast-casual chains and national fast-food giants seem to open doors to new locations daily, yet Kornick—known for acclaimed fine-dining restaurant mk as well as his work with the Las Vegas-based N9NE Group—isn’t fazed. Here’s the rundown on why he thinks DMK Burger Bar is destined for success:

Friday, 16 October 2009


At work we talked today about greening the email process, with some reporting that they are forced to print emails unnecessarily because they don’t have time to organize their Outlook, and consequently fill up their allotted space. Courtesy of my good friends in I.T., here are some easy steps they suggested to avoid needless printing.

Use the tools available in Outlook, starting with “off-line”.

1. Your “Deleted Items” file is taking up space. The Solution? Set up your email to empty the “Deleted Items” folder upon exiting. This way all deleted emails are permanently deleted every time you exit Outlook. Tip: The downside of this is if you use your “Deleted Items” folder as storage instead of the trash bin it’s meant to be, you may lose important emails. Just use your offline for storage instead – read on…

2. You’re so darned popular! You can’t get to the huge amount of emails you receive daily as fast as you’d like to. The Solution? Create a “rule” to move emails or a certain size, or from certain people to an off-line folder and sort your emails from there. You might title it “sort” or something like that.

3. Size matters! You don’t get many emails but somehow you still fill up your allowable space. The Solution? Consider the size of your emails, not the amount of emails in your inbox and sent folder. One decent sized attachment can take up a disproportionate amount of allowable space.

4. Empty your “sent” file! You may empty your deleted file regularly, but you still get the “mailbox over limit” message. Consider this – if you forward an email you have received with an attachment it is now taking up the same amount of space twice – in your inbox and in your sent file. Tip: try sorting your emails by size, then move / delete / deal with the largest emails first. Make a point of regularly checking your “sent” file then file offline or delete sent emails.

5. Who cares who read what? If you’re tracking read or deleted emails you’re filling up your inbox with “read” receipts or “deleted” notices. Do you really need to know that I deleted your heartwarming “fwd: This will make you cry” email two minutes after you sent it to me? Do you really want to know that I deleted it without reading it? Really?

6. You’re not using your off-line. The solution? Start using it. We’re not getting any more space on our Outlook, they’re not growing trees fast enough for the paper we’re printing, and they’ve run out of decent plot lines (if they ever had them) so there isn’t going to be another “Fast and Furious” sequel. These are painful truths. Deal with it.

"It is estimated that 97 billion e-mails whisk through cyberspace every day. And according to GreenPrint Technologies, despite 20th century predictions of a paperless office, North Americans use enough sheets every year to build a 10-foot-high wall that would stretch from New York to Tokyo and beyond..."

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Southern Kitchen - Atlanta

A few years back...

It was in Atlanta, a restaurant called the Southern Kitchen. It was lined up so I sat at the bar and asked the bartender to bring me something to eat that would make me go back to Canada and talk about his restaurant. He started with a drink that was fantastic and to this day I don't even know what it was.

Then he asked me what kind of food I preferred, and I told him I would eat WHATEVER he put in front of me and love it. So he asked me to narrow it down to three choices, and the third was Fried Chicken. That was the one I didn't want, thinking I'd end up with KFC. So asked him which of the three he would have for dinner if he could.

He told me that if I left Atlanta without trying the Fried Chicken it would be a shame and that he would definitely have the Fried Chicken for dinner if he could. So I ordered it, even though I wouldn't have ever chosen it off the menu and I really didn't want it. But, if you're going to trust your server, then you trust your server all the way. He told me it was going to be the best chicken I would ever taste.

Turns out he was right. It remains to this day the very best experience of a server who knew his menu, appreciated his customers and was proud of his work. It was nothing like what I expected and every time I think about it I just want to jump on a plane, head down to Atlanta and order it again.

And here's the best part. I ate at the Southern Kitchen because a friend recommended it. It had been recommended to her and she loved it. And now I recommend it to you.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Whoever Wants to be First Must be the Servant of All

Deacon Greg Kandra writes beautifully on the subject of catechises (oral religious instruction) using this Sunday's Gospel Mark 9:30-37 (whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all) as his inspiration. Read on...

The Deacon's Bench: Homily for September 20, 2009: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Make meeting time more meaningful | | The Cincinnati Enquirer

After yet another dismal meeting with no agenda, no minutes from the previous meeting, and not surprisingly, no results, I long for the day when meetings are only held because they are the best course of action in the specific situation.

Make meeting time more meaningful | | The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Ayn Rand rolls over in her grave...

So this really rich guy from Windsor puts down a million and a half on some sort of fancy sports car, and the Detroit dealership allegedly runs away with his money and doesn’t turn over the car. This makes the front page of the local rag and the reaction from the hoi-polloi is to criticize the newspaper for making it the lead story, and the rich guy for being so…rich, I guess.

Here’s my reaction. First, let that be a lesson to those among us who would put down a 100% deposit. I say hold back a couple of hundred thousand to make sure you get what you ordered – the colour you wanted, the CD player, that sort of thing.

Secondly, let’s call the criticism what it is: envy. Who are any of us to tell this self-made billionaire how he can legally spend his money. Would we really have the employees of the auto company go jobless while he gives the cash to charities instead? What if our town made high-end sports cars instead of minivans, how would the tune change?

And third, it is front page news. How many people do you know who can spend that kind of cash on a car? Many of us have met this man around town and didn’t even know he was a billionaire. His company, Atlas Tool employs several hundreds of people. He is an entrepreneur who has opened several successful businesses in the area, a philanthropist, he has endured great personal tragedy that would sideline a lesser man and kept his family and businesses together, and by all accounts is a great guy.

And his reaction to all of envious reaction to his misfortune? He hasn’t said a word, but hopefully, Atlas shrugged.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

A Specialty Restaurant in Toronto

My son and I have had our eyes on this one for awhile, so when I finally got my chance to try it I was still tossed between which naughty pleasure I would enjoy while in Toronto for a convention ; Hooters (for the chicken wings, of course) or this poutine specialty restaurant. I went for the poutine. (Less to explain if your wife finds you dead of a heart attack than if she finds a Hooters receipt in your wallet).

The menu is basically a whole bunch of different combinations of stuff you can put on standard poutine, which of course consists of fries, curds and gravy, eh? I had the pulled pork on top of the heaping mound of poutine. I may never eat again. Heck, I may never see my feet again.

Good - fresh cut fries, hot gravy, real curds. Some places try and get away with using mozzarella cheese just because it's white and melts up real stringy. That ain't right - it's supposed to be curds. This place uses them.

Great - Pop Shoppe Pop in the bottle. I had the Cherry Cola. Aaahh, the memories.

Room for Growth - I deliberately don't name the restaurant because I don't want to wrongly accuse, or seem to accuse. Cashier / order taker / cook working alone rang up my order with cash drawer open. When I asked for receipt he had to ring it up again to print the receipt. Typically that may mean that a) that cash was never destined for the cash drawer, or b) the taxman ain't getting his full share because not all sales get recorded, or c) cashier is correcting a previous error by not getting management involved.

No matter how you slice it, this is a danger signal that could mean that this place won't be around much longer if controls aren't in place. The owner probably can't figure out why his sales are down and food cost is up. Glad I came when I did, I may not get another chance.

I can only imagine how good this place is at 2 a.m. after a few brews. I'll let you know after the party tonight.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Naked Fish Market

When I decided to write about restaurant experiences for the benefit of anyone who feels like reading this stuff I started with only three rules:
1. If I was going to name the place I would always say something good. In a few restaurants where this was not possible I have told the manager/owner in person and left it at that.
2. Never write about a friend's restaurant.
3. Never write about a restaurant in my own backyard.

Today I break rules #2 and #3 to rave about The Naked Fish Market in Kingsville, Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie in beautiful Essex County. My friend Rob Taylor owns this little fish and chip shop. Rob and I go back 12 or more years in the restaurant business, and I have always appreciated two things about Rob - his creativity and his commitment to quality. That pretty much describes TNFM.

The menu gives choices of several types of fish combos and other great appetizer and entree offerings (like Pulled Pork). I especially like the self-serve ice cream bar - buy your cone or cup and fill it as high as you want, one trip only. Rob says that's pretty popular with the kids from Kingsville High.

The ambience is cool, with just enough "naked" references to make it fun without being scandalous. You can buy an "Eat Naked" t-shirt for $10, or trade in the one you're wearing and pay nothing. Rob always has a way of taking something ordinary and putting a fun twist to it.

The place is small, busy, trendy, fun and fantastic. Rob is friendly and welcoming and putting everything he's learned from Red Lobster to Applebees and countless other smaller non-chain restaurants over the last decade into making this place work. He's clearly learned what doesn't work and left it out of TNFM. Working in the restaurant business can introduce you to some really amazing people and some pretty unsavoury characters too. Rob has his own story to tell about how he became the accidental entrepreneur after years of sweating it out in other people's kitchens, but I'll summarize for him. When life handed him lemons, he cut them into slices and served them with fish. I had the breaded fish and french fries and my wife had the battered haddock and fries. Both came with coleslaw. You can choose the number of pieces you want in a dinner and the price is reasonable. The fries are fresh!!

It works. It's cool. Sure, it's deep fried trans-fat free so I won't be eating there often. But as the most interesting man in the world from those beer commercials might say, "I don't always eat fish and chips, but when I do, I eat Naked."

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The 5 Coolest Things about Windsor, Ontario

1. We're a microcosm of the Canadian experience. We can literally see how close Canada really is to the United States, we have a strong manufacturing base and a growing white collar base, we are agricultural and we are tourism and conventions. Fresh vegetables and fruits from the farm on which they are grown are no more than 30 minutes away for most Windsor residents. We are, however, a little light on snow and frostbite.

2. You can see next year's car models being driven around Windsor and Detroit. They're the head turning cars that have no name badges that make you wonder "what the hell is that?" Yesterday I saw a Volkswagon convertible sedan, might be a Passat. VERY cool!

3. We're fully bilingual. We speak American and Canadian. We drive in km/hour, purchase our gas in litres (when we're not across the border paying much less per gallon at the duty-free) and we measure the outside temperature in Farenheit degrees.

4. Good people do good work for their neighbours everyday in Windsor. Oh sure, we've got our share of movers and shakers (who are more often than not really just bobbers and weavers in cheap suits) but amongst the hoi polloi some very generous and caring people live.

5. We have at least one member in each level of government who really gets it. Brian Masse MP, Sandra Pupatello MPP and Bill Marra Councillor Ward 4 are straight shooters who are leaders among their peers. Good people.

Worst Greeting Ever

Worst greeting ever (at a restaurant last night after the movie let out).

Waiter/Bartender charges to the door as my wife and I walk in: "The people behind you left the doors open, they should be shut," brushing past us and directing us to the doors.

Me (confused): "What are you saying?"

Him: "The kitchen is closed." I look at my watch, it is 9:20 p.m. on a Tuesday night. We leave, no further pleasantries are exchanged. We get escorted out.

We won't be back.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Welcome Back City Workers!

A word on the new found civility in Windsor, Ontario...

Since our public employees started back to work this week I have found them to be polite and thorough in our interactions. My garbage was picked up and the area left clean, and the staff at the municipal gym are more friendly and accomodating than they've ever been.

I am also hearing that the city managers seem to be showing a generosity of spirit and a desire to show leadership in providing a welcoming and healthy workplace.

In other words, everyone appears to be doing their best to get along with everybody else; staff, management and hopefully customers (taxpayers) alike.

The only fly in the ointment is the squabbling at city council. This, unfortunately, was entirely predictable no one is paying any real attention to it. To paraphrase George Carlin's newsman routine about a publicity seeking fool, "nobody has noticed and nobody gives a damn."

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Humanae Vitae

41 years ago today...

Humanae Vitae was published.

"The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships."

"Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death..."

Pope Paul VI

Thursday, 23 July 2009

"The Works" in Ottawa - as I continue my quest for the best burger ever

A Saturday night in mid-July, we enjoy dinner at The Works...

The Works

I'll cut to the chase. It's a very good burger. I discovered the place when a friend of mine brought me there after a bit of a dispute over the In-N-Out recommendation. I happen to like fast food; Dean, not so much. He likes his burgers brought to the table by a waiter. So Mr. Fancy Pants brings me to The Works and I'm sure glad he did and I'm sure glad I came back last week.

Great - The concept, the presentation! Full of attitude, lots of cool burger names and combinations to choose from, like "The Love Goat" (goat cheese +), "Sam and Ella" (Salmonella, get it?) and "Sum Yung Guy" (OK, that's still juvenile and considering the toppings, it's gross). I had the "Bruschetta Bomb" - and it was very, very good! As The Works describes it, they have 5 locations, 8 burgers, 66 toppings, 528 combos... This is Toby's Goodeats Toronto in the 80's to the power of 10. Something tells me the brains behind this operation enjoyed a Toby's burger or two back in the day.

Good - The burger itself. Not too plain, not too seasoned. "You pick a burger - it doesn't have to be beef," our server tells us. "Oh yes it does," says I. You pick the combo. You pick the side. "It doesn't have to be fries," says the menu. "Oh yes it does," says I. The fries are hand cut and seasoned with sea salt. A little greasy this time - maybe the oil needed changing in the deep fryer, or the temperature of the oil was too low.

Room for Growth - Very efficient and well presented server missed the opportunity for a little interaction. Frankly he was a bit stonefaced; friendly enough but not outgoing. He started out well with the "have you been here before?" question and the walk through the menu. Taking it up a notch with a few suggestions, and few questions about what we like and dislike would have earned him expert status and a better tip. We ordered water, but looking at the menu in hindsight there were a number of good milkshakes he could have suggested - he probably would have had the sale. He didn't, for example, offer us the opportunity to order a special burger not on the menu but advertised on the tent card that would have helped with fundraising for the hospital and earned me a chance to win a 1970 Malibu. I would have gone for that!! Trouble is, by the time you've gone through the extensive menu you don't start looking at the promo card until you're in the "waiting for my burger" zone, which incidentally isn't rushed but well worth the wait.

The Ultimate Comment Card Question - will I come back? Yes, and hopefully while there's still a chance to win the Malibu. Even without a cool car and charitable connection, this burger stands by itself and I recommend you try it next time you're in Ottawa.

Lessons from the Windsor Municipal Strike

Three things I have learned from the Municipal strike in Windsor, Ontario.

1. We refer to strikes as "labour disruptions, labour unrest, labour this, labour that... " Without taking one side or the other, is it equally possible to refer to this strike as "management unrest, management strife, etc."? Just asking...

2. People went hungry. No matter whether you agree with the issues they struck for, people on the picket line did not bring in enough strike pay to even cover the mortgage, let alone car payments and food. You have to respect that there are still people in this society who are willing to sacrifice personally for what they believe to be the collective good and that isn't a bad message to be sending to the kids (bad behaviour from one or two idiots aside).

3. If you manage your garbage very carefully be composting, recycling, rinsing and considering the end result in your purchasing decisions, you can really increase your diversion rate from the landfill. I think we're all a lot more aware of how much garbage we produce because we had to haul it away ourselves.

4. A little wildflower growth ain't all bad. It's possible we've overmanicured the public greenspace and this strike has taught us that we don't have to be so damned pristine. I hope that we'll let the grass grow in select areas by cutting back from the road a few feet and letting the rest get a little wild in a controlled fashion. It's a beautiful thing in the right places.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Dinner at Kelsey's Restaurant, Kanata

I go on and on about my quest for the world's best burger to anyone who will listen, which inevitably leads to recommendations. Now my own guidelines are simple - the restaurant must be primarily about burgers - it must be the main item on the menu. The fries are an important part of the burger meal no matter what Men's Health says. That's it.

Burgers aren't the main item on the menu at Kelsey's, however since the Peppercorn burger has been recommended to me on several occasions, I thought I'd check it out.

I was almost apologetic when I suggested Kelsey's to my friend as we chose a place for lunch. I don't go often because in the past I have found it unmemorable. Not this time.

Good - actually the burger was good. Kelsey's is advertising their new sirloin burgers and the meat is quite tasty. The presentation is good with shredded lettuce and tomato slices on the side. The bun was fresh and toasted. I'd try a burger again, but probably not the Peppercorn as it was difficult to carry on a conversation as we were constantly reaching for our beverages to counter effect the pepper. I'm looking forward to other items on the menu next time.

Great - the service! I can't say enough about it; it was textbook. Stacey was prompt and attentive and made some great 'upgrade' suggestions throughout the meal - gravy for the fries, a specific appetizer to share, dessert, coffee... We only took her up on the coffee, and she was right, it is good coffee. Stacey was properly relaxed but not overly casual. She presented the bill with a handwritten thank you card asking us to go the Kelsey's website to rate the service. I will for sure. When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note from your server? WOW. Even if this is just part of a service program, Stacey has embraced it and made it very personal. She used my name when she returned my credit card!

Kelsey's has risen to the challenge of providing the "Cheers"-like experience their commercials promise; no small feat.

Room for Growth - the fries. I wish they'd been piping hot - they were warm, almost at the "send them back" threshold, but not quite. I should probably be having soup or salad anyway, but having the fries at Kelsey's is not a bad choice because they don't heap 'em up, just a moderate and reasonable serving size.

Will I come back? Oh yeah! The food is always good at Kelsey's but the service in the past has been inconsistent. At Kelsey's in Kanata it was fantastic from the front door greeting to the final farewell. You could videotape Stacey's service from start to finish and present it to all restaurant servers as a flawless "how to".

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Lewenza and Mayor Eddie Exchange Pleasantries

You're not officially the Mayor of Windsor until the head of the CAW tellls you to "F-off!" That happened just last week to Mayor Eddie Francis, who promptly showed Ken Lewenza the door.

Relax Eddie. That was just Kenny-speak for "I'm here to broker a deal in the 7-week strike between CUPE workers and the city, and I take you very seriously."

It's simple. When Ken Lewenza tells you to "f-off", you return the greeting, hug it out, get down to business and go for a beer together after you get it all worked out.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

You're Fired

You know, there’s something to be said for the way Donald Trump does it on the Apprentice every week. 

A team messes up and comes in second place.  The leader is asked to account for what happened.  If the leader can’t make a great case for why their subordinate is to blame in spite of development, direction and delegation, then logically the leader is to blame.  

The failure may be due to a lack of development – the subordinate isn’t ready for responsibility.  It may be due to lack of direction or relevant supervision or follow up – the subordinate doesn’t know the plan or doesn't know he doesn't know.  In the worst case, it may be due to a lack of delegation – the micromanager who just can’t let go.  Or too much delegation too soon - the macromanager who needs to get a grip.

In real life and beyond extenuating circumstances you get a second chance and a third chance.  However, if a pattern of failure is evident, sooner rather than later somebody needs to hear the words “you’re fired”.  The leader, after exhausting all reasonable options, either says it or hears it. 

It’s not personal, it’s just business.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Legendary Leadership

Behind the leader's back there is a culture he or she has created and the stories are told and retold of things he's said, things she's done. No amount of coaxing, cajoling, threatening or bribing on the boss's part could ever get those stories told to his or her face.  If you're the boss, you'll never really know what people are saying about you when you're not around.

If you have been an amazing leader, like a lady I once reported to, the legends speak of compassion, vision, determination and fairness.

Sometimes the stories are not so kind. You might be surprised which of your behaviours your subordinates least respect.  You might be surprised to learn what they notice, which of your behaviours they model and which they wouldn't touch if you paid them.

It seems to me that one way to succeed in leadership of people or to be a sales or service leader might be to ask yourself what kind of stories you want told behind your back, and then govern your behaviour to fashion the tale.

Do you want to be known for your integrity and loyalty?   Want your team to be people with a good balance of priorities?    Want truth and conviction in the workplace, a commitment to excellence and top-of-mind customer awareness?  Do you want your company to succeed?  

Be the servant leader who demonstrates daily what the company values really mean.  Have lunch in the company cafeteria and fly coach.  Be loyal to your spouse and to your family.  Go home when the job is done, turn off the Blackberry and spend some time with your family and friends.  Volunteer in the community with a cause you really care about, not necessarily the glamorous cause-du-jour.  Skip the galas and the fundraisers and roll up your sleeves even when the cameras aren't present.

We notice.  We'll follow you anywhere.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

South St. Burger Co.

Still on the quest for the world's best burger... (as if that's my place to say)

I have eaten at South Street Burger Co. probably 8 times in the last two years as I continue to seek my favourite burger. This one has a lot going for it, which is why I keep coming back. It's really good, but what stops me from declaring it my favourite?

1. If I did, I'd have to take up a new hobby.
2. And, there's room for improvement. But that's just my opinion - you should check it out yourself; you won't be sorry you did.

I really want South St. to be the most amazing burger experience ever. It has a lot going for it, probably because of the drive and business savvy of Jay Gould of New York Fries fame. The burger is fresh and free from all fillers, antibiotics and other stuff. There are no heat lamps. The 1/3 pound burger is served on your choice of toasted white or whole wheat bun. The topping choice is simple, but it is your choice. Everything is made right in front of you, pretty quickly. They have a cool combo set-up - just choose a burger, fries and a beverage and they'll take a buck off the cumulative total and call it a combo.

Good: The burger itself, the toppings, the fresh bun. It's just fine, but not memorable. I wonder if it is deliberate that it's not seasoned in any way I can taste. If so, I think that might be a mistake. The right seasoning could set this experience apart.

Great: The fries of course. You can't have a great burger without great fries, and New York fries come with this burger.

Room for Growth: A little more attitude. The decor is funky and secure with itself, the restaurant is spotless and the flow from cash register to assembly to presentation works just fine. But apart from the classic rock playing softly through overhead speakers, I can't find the "oomph" that makes this experience fun and different. I'm not suggesting they emulate Licks with all that singing and yelling, but they could turn up the tunes and have some interaction with the patrons other than the topping conversation. Don't get me wrong, the staff are friendly and polite, but not outgoing. If they're allowed to smile most of them haven't gotten the memo.

Would I come back? As it stands, South St. is an upscale Harvey's. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't think that was the goal. Yeah, I come back but I haven't recommended it. If South St. Burger Co. took it up several notches in the energy department, I'd bring friends and family with me next time and every time!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Fake Grass

The entrance to our city has long been an eyesore, and our Parks and Rec people have undertaken in the last few years to do something about it.

That's fake grass, and it's not going well with some residents of the city. I think it's a big improvement over what was there before.

A scene like this is what we're faced with everywhere else in the city since the outside workers walked off the job.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Milestones Dixon Road Toronto

I had the pleasure of dining at Milestones on Dixon Road in Toronto last week. I was in town for a quick trip with meetings out near the airport. I arrived hungry and looking for a decent meal.

Milestones is a step up from Kelsey’s, but not a big step. The meal was worth the money I paid, and the atmosphere was upscale roadhouse friendly. The greeting was friendly but not outgoing or conversational. She wasn’t a natural hostess, and a little effort could have taken it past a pleasant acknowledgment of my presence to a welcoming invitation to dinner.

Good – the steak and shrimp special was quite nice. It was cooked a little on the rarer side of medium-rare, but I’m just not that fussy. The shrimp was a bit of a disappointment. Six medium-small shelled shrimp broiled and placed on top of the steak. This would have been a real wow if it were two jumbo shrimp, tail on, grilled. Then again this is upscale roadhouse, not casual fine dining.

Great – friendly service from the bartender, efficient and pleasant. He knew his menu and suggested the special, which really helped him establish himself as knowledgeable committed to a great experience. Not to overstate the potential, but his enthusiastic recommendation of a good special got him the extra sale of a fantastic decaf Cappucino at the end of the meal. The higher the bill, the higher the tip.

Room to Grow? He didn’t know his wines. I asked for a recommendation with my meal and he brought in another server to make a suggestion – which was GREAT! The room to grow is that she didn’t tell me what she had selected, and I had to ask. The bartender could really take it up a notch by knowing his wines, suggesting a good one, telling me what he selected and why, and establishing himself as a trusted expert. Follow up with an invitation to come back next time I’m out by the airport and I’d definitely make a point of it.

Would I come back? Yes, the meal was good on two different visits to Milestones. Service was outstanding in London, average (with the potential for great) on this occasion.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

I Ain't Complainin'

I wanted to tell you about the “Complaint Free World” seminar that some friends and I attended together.  

Will Bowen, a Pastor at one of those new-age churches came up with the idea while preparing a sermon.  The plan was to get everyone to wear a rubber band on one wrist, and every time they verbally complain switch it to the other wrist.  He figures that if one can go 21 days without switching you will have formed a habit of not complaining and be a nicer person because of it. 

Actually, it’s quite fun to try and he gave good examples of the difference between complaining and stating the facts.  If you tell the waiter your soup is cold, it ain't complaining, it's stating a fact.  If you tell your dinner partner but not the waiter, you're complaining. 

My only criticism of Will Bowen is that he left the religion out of it.  I know he has to in order to speak to so many people and get buy in, but couldn’t he at least attribute his source?  Presumably if the idea came to him as he prepared for a sermon, surely it was inspired by scripture.  I sure hope so, because if it wasn’t then the whole point of the Sunday sermon was missed. 

These are the thoughts I gleaned from his lecture, then.  

First, I really am working on not complaining thanks to the method he teaches.  Secondly, though, is that when one preaches no matter how brilliant an idea he might have, if independent of God it can’t help but fall short.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

So today I turned 50

The Top 50 Coolest Things about turning 50

50 to 11 are all variations on the same theme - "it's better than the alternative."  I may not be 6 feet above ground level, but neither am I 6 feet under.  Here's the other reasons I'm feeling pretty good today:

10.  Good health.  I'm in good shape.  I did 50 pushups this morning just for fun.
9.  Most of the people I hang out with socially think I'm just a kid (in comparison).

8.  People over 50 get it when I tell them our three kids are named Vera, Chuck and Dave.  One of my kids gets it, too.

7.  If you're 50 plus you've probably seen original episodes of The Brady Bunch, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Batman and Lost in Space.

6.  The Mayor of my city, the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States are all younger than me.  

4.  At this point my future boss at Wal-Mart has already been born.  And someday I'm going to be the best damned Greeter that place has ever seen!

5.  Hawaii celebrates its 50th year as a state this year.  Coincidence?  Yes.  

4.  I've been married for more than half my life.  The better half.  

3.  When my kids did essays and projects on Kennedy or Trudeau or JPII, I had personal insights to share.  And they'll have Obama...

2.  The ladies in the Catholic Women's League think I'm a nice young man.

1.  They're right.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Hawaii Five-O

The Missus and me just got back from Hawaii.  I've been promising to take her for more than 25 years, but frankly never had the money.  By a combination of luck, low prices and being down to only one dependant, we had a few bucks to spare and we headed to Hawaii to celebrate our upcoming fiftieth birthdays.  We called it "The Hawaii Five-O Trip".

It occurs to me that Hawaii is a lot like a good marriage.  

When you first get there you are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the place.  The flowers, the jungle, the sea, the sky...  breathtaking.  It's a lot like "being in love."  

I would imagine that if you moved to Hawaii you couldn't possibly survive having your breath taken away every day.  Neither could your marriage survive very long if you felt as "in love" as you did the day before you were married, every day thereafter.  There'd be little time for anything else but breathlessness.  So, in Hawaii and in marriage, you get past the sheer wonder of it and start living in the "here and now" of everyday life.

But occasionally I bet you step out your front door in Hawaii and notice how beautiful your surroundings are, or maybe driving home one night there's an awesome sunset, or maybe on your day off you go for a swim in the crystal clear ocean and remember why you fell in love in the first place.