TBT – The House

The House

My mom’s friend Anne painted this picture.  It’s the house I grew up in.  The house is now over 100 years old.  Although my parents sold it over two years ago I still consider it my home.

I grew up in this house.  It has creaky floors, drafty bathrooms and a huge rock in the basement.  It also has so many memories that it’s hard to remember them all.

Like the cow bell.  When my mom and dad were in Austria for their honeymoon they bought a cow bell.  A big ass metal cow bell.  That cow bell lived on the cabinet by the front door of this house.  It had one purpose.  When it was time for us to come home, my mom would stand on the front doorstep and ring that cow bell.  Everybody knew when they heard the cow bell that the Hamilton kids had to go home.  The cow bell had done its job.

Or the living room.  The room where my dad would have his scotch every night after work while he read the paper.  The room where the fire place would  warm us all up after being outside.  The room where we hung our Christmas stocking each Christmas.  The room where I told my parents that I was going to Europe instead of college.  The room that my son learnt how to crawl in.  The room that I used to rock out to Sonny and Cher to.  Ya, that’s right.  Sonny and Cher.

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Then there’s the kitchen.  The tiny kitchen that somehow produced enough food for many, many parties, Thanksgivings and birthdays. I can’t remember how old I was when we finally got a dishwasher.  After dinner there were three jobs to do in the kitchen.  Wash, dry or feed the cat.  Accidents happened in that kitchen.  Typically after too much wine.  I learnt how to cook with my mom in that kitchen.  Typically after too much wine.  Wait,did I say that already?

My dad’s study.  The tiny room at the top of the stairs.  Boiling hot in the summer but holy crap what a view he had.  If you climbed out the window you were at the top of fire escape.  When the door was closed we knew to be quiet.  The dreams that were hatched from that tiny room have helped my family be who they are today.  The black rotary phone on the mahogany desk that my dad used to make endless calls getting his business up and running.  Funny how the smallest room in the house may have had the biggest impact.

Perhaps the best part of the house wasn’t even in the house.

The yard.  The tree in the back that my sister fell out of and broke her arm.  The metal pallets that we would put the wading pool on so the water would warm up faster.  The thousands of rocky holes and nooks and crannies where my parents hid foil covered Easter eggs every year for us and then for our kids.  The steep driveway that you had to take a run at to get out of if it snowed.  The cherry tree that we could reach from my sisters bedroom window on a warm summer day.

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I wonder sometimes as I write these posts if anybody is even interested in my old house? But then I think that one day I will be old (er) and maybe I won’t be able to remember all the great things about the house.

The Best Thing in Life is going to be reading this years from now and smiling the same way I am smiling today.

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That’s Not Me

scary little monster

Do you ever see friends (or strangers) doing stuff and think.  “Why don’t I do that?”

I do.

It’s a bad habit but one that seems to just creep into my mind every so often.  It’s really part of the whole “grass is always greener” syndrome.  No matter what you do there is always going to be something that someone else is doing that you aren’t.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is good, it’s just that a small ugly part of my brain occasionally gets out of its cage and starts telling me I could do better.  Do more.

Who could bring that ugly part out you ask?  There are a few I can think of.

The Adventurer – this is the friend that is always just back from some incredible adventure.  Backpacking through the Costa Rican jungle.  Spending nights in grass huts and eating bugs.  Back county snowshoeing in Alberta…..with her three kids (one in a baby backpack) and husband.  It seems that they are capable of carrying on a regular life punctuated by these incredible, life altering adventures in exotic lands without batting an eye.

     That’s just not me.

The Business Maven – savvy and well connected, this friend has a constant stream of lucrative opportunities rolling around in her head.  None seems to require a full time commitment but always create an income.  I know that it takes some money to create these opportunities but somehow that isn’t an issue.  Admirable in that it takes guts to jump off the cliff into a business and actually make it work or accept its failure and move on.

     That’s just not me.

The Crafty Baker – with an account at Michaels this friend actually uses the coupons they hand out at the cashier.  Pinterest Fail is not in her vocabulary.  Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter are all just waiting for her to create some delicious and awe inspiring cookie that my daughter will talk about for days on end.  Able to create a full dolls wardrobe out of raffia and felt, they enjoy a quiet afternoon at home to create and sew.

     That’s just not me.

The Fashionista – impeccably and always appropriately dressed.  Wether it’s for a morning on the soccer field or a night out at a fundraiser, this friend has her finger in the pulse of what’s fashionable.  But, and here’s the kicker, it always looks effortless. Like she just threw something on at the last minute to run out the grocery store.  No mommy jeans on this one.  And it’s been my experience that these outfits are accompanied by perfectly coiffed hair despite the regular North Vancouver downpours.

     That’s just not me.

The PAC President – committed to our kid’s school and its programs with a never ending supply of energy and ideas for fundraising and improving classrooms.  Willing to give her time to any cause that helps the school.  Willing to sit through PAC meetings.  Every month.  Ugh.  This mom knows what is going on in every classroom and is always politically correct when discussing school business and other people’s kids.

     That’s just not me.

There are more but these ones seem to stick out in my mind.

So what is me? 

Me is a fear of flying, cookie burning, fashion challenged, business commitment scaredy cat, classroom averse blog writer.

The Best Thing in Life is being able to tell that ugly part of my brain to go suck it because I’m just fine the way I am.

 

Get a Job

working man

As my seventeen year old begins his search for a summer job I got thinking about all the jobs that I have had over the years and what they have taught me. Jobs, I think, are not always about learning how to build things, or add up numbers or serve people. They can be full of life lessons without you even realizing it. Simply having a job teaches you responsibility, time management and economics. It can also teach you how to deal with disappointment if you were to, perhaps, lose said job.

My first job was at the Fish and Chip Shop in the shopping area close to my home. I was probably thirteen years old. The owners were a lovely British couple named Rina and Paul. (I think…c’mon it was 36 years ago). Arriving for my first day of work I imagined that I would be taking orders and serving the much loved fish and chips. Nope. The first task I was given was pulling the bones out of the fish in the back of the kitchen. After a few weeks I was elevated to washing dishes in addition to pulling fish bones. Eventually I got to take orders, but it did take a while. I learnt that you need to start at the bottom.

When I graduated from high school I was pretty sure that I wanted to work in the hotel business and I think I know why. A close family friend was a VP with C.P. Hotels. He and his wife lived in a suite at the Hotel Vancouver and had wicked parties catered by hotel. I assumed that this was were I would end up. With his connections, I got a job as a bus girl at the Banff Springs Hotel. The dining room was huge; like football field huge. Breakfast shift started at 6:00am. Huge tour groups would flood in, eat and then leave to catch their buses. Dirty dishes, heavy bus pans and sore feet became a regular part of my life. I learnt that a lot of hard work is required before those great parties can happen. If they ever do.

Over time I realized that hotel/restaurant work was not my destiny. I took a two year Business Administration program at the local technical school with the hopes of getting into the business world. I was fortunate to get a job with an actuarial consulting firm as their office manager. For those of you who don’t know, actuaries calculate the future incomes of pension plans. There is a lot of money in actuarial consulting and the firm did really well. It was all very L.A.Law. Partners meetings, extravagant Christmas parties and lots of office politics. I learnt that some people really do use the math they learnt in grade 12 to make a living.

In 1995 Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment was where I met my husband. It’s a bit of a funny story. When I started working there I was married. When I left, three and a half years later, I was divorced and the mother of a three year old who was dating a co-worker. Talk about office gossip. I worked in the finance department helping with payroll. My future husband, worked in arena operations. It was a very dynamic place to work. Lots of young, energetic employees, exciting basketball games, concerts and the occasional Russian hockey player sighting. What did I learn from this job? I learnt that if you can open yourself up to new opportunities that great things can happen. Also, that NBA players are very highly paid.

When I went for my next interview I didn’t know that the company I was interviewing with was Starbucks. What a crazy experience. The job was Administrative Supervisor for Western Canada. It was pretty intense. To start, I was trained to work in a Starbucks store and had to complete a certain number of hours as a Barista. Regular trips to Seattle included a tour of the bean roasting plant, meeting Howard Schultz and numerous coffee tastings. I spent the first few months learning the Starbucks language. At Starbucks it was never half way. You were either all in or you weren’t. I learnt that some companies want your heart and sole and if you can’t give it to them, it’s not the right job for you.

My most recent position was with a small business software re-seller. It started out as an admin position but eventually I ended up in the sales department. I loved the company and the people were great, but sales was not my thing. If they didn’t want to buy it, they didn’t want to buy it. Who was I to change their mind? The hours were flexible though and the owners were understanding of the fact that my husband traveled and sometime I just wasn’t available. From this job I learnt that sometimes you can’t have everything all in one package. You have to take the good with the bad.

So what advice would I give my son as he goes out into the world looking for a job. I know that my advice should be “Do what you love” or “Follow your passion”. But the truth is that he just needs to get a job. A job that will teach him that he needs to be on time. Every day. That he needs to be able to follow procedures and rules. Even the ones he disagrees with. That he may not like his co-worker, but he still needs to get along with them so that he can do his job. That the government will take a potion of what you earn whether you like it or not. Really, he just needs to get a job and know what it feels like to work for a living. Or in his case. Gas money.

Rob

In the business world no endeavor is riskier than opening a restaurant. Few make it. Expensive start up, transient staff, fickle customers and changing trends make it a tough go. So when an establishment makes it, you know you’ve got a good thing. Verdicchio’s Deli was one of those establishments. So why did it close last June?  My friend Rob Verdicchio owned Verdicchio’s for 15 years. When I spotted his new business, Homewatch North Shore, on line, I had to know how and why he made such a huge change in his life.

If you grew up in West Vancouver in the 1970s and 1980s and didn’t know a member of the Verdicchio family, chances are you were living under a rock. “How many cousins do you have?” I asked. “Lots.” Not only where they a large Italian family but they also owned Peppi’s. At the time it was probably one, if not the only, fine dining restaurant in West Vancouver. On the beach at the foot of 25th Street, it was the quintessential Italian restaurant. Red and white checkered table cloths, Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling and more spaghetti and meatballs than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and even if you were underage, chances are you could get still get a glass of wine with your dinner. So I heard.

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Peppi’s Restaurant

I can’t remember when I first met Rob. I think it was 1981. Rob and I bussed tables at the Ambleside Inn. It was my first job at a high end restaurant and thank god for Rob helping me out or that butter whipper may have gotten the best of me. Both being in the restaurant business on the North Shore, we ran into each other a lot over the years. Many great times. Many late nights at Holidays or Tommy Africa’s. The time Rosemary and I moved all of his furniture out of his basement suite onto his back lawn. That pistachio suit. And of course late nights at Milieu. Good times. So how did he end up owning a successful deli?

Orazio Scaldaferri and his wife Rosana (Rob’s cousin) first opened the deli under the name Scaldaferri’s in Dundarave sometime in the 70’s. Along with another cousin, who came over from Italy, they operated the deli for many years. Rob, at the time, was managing the Beachouse, an upscale restaurant in the building that had housed his families beloved Peppi’s.  When an opportunity presented itself in 1998, Rob purchased the deli and changed the name to Verdicchio’s. It took a few years to re-establish the clientele after things had slipped a bit, but from there business took off. Rob was even able to secure the lucrative, but intensive, hot lunch program for numerous West and North Vancouver schools.

But a few years ago things started to change.  Four years ago Rob gave up drinking. “It was time to end the Verdicchio curse”. Working in the restaurant business and being Italian can be a death sentence apparently. Additionally, his chef was battling cancer.  His kids were getting older, his wife was getting back into her career.  It made Rob realize that life is short.  Owning a restaurant is a hard go on a day to day basis.  Long hours, difficult suppliers and constant upkeep.  So at the end of the day, it was time to move on from Verdicchio’s. A tough decision I would imagine. When you put your heart into something, it is never easy to let go.

So now he’s at home (for now) and his wife is working on her career. “The house has never been cleaner, the laundry is done everyday and heaven help anybody who gets in “my” kitchen.” Rob says with a laugh. After a few attempts at getting back into the restaurant management field, he thought maybe he would try a completely different direction. And so Homewatch North Shore was born. Homewatch is a personalized home watch for absentee owners. As any good businessman would do, Rob has done his homework and the market is certainly there for this service. Homeowners who travel or live oversees can leave their property in the hands of a responsible company and know that it will be looked after.  Check it out.

The last question I asked Rob was if he had an unlimited supply of cash would he resurrect Peppi’s, the family restaurant? “…I would love to. But an updated version.” How great would that be? I think that as we both head into our fifties, we have the Best Things in Life ahead of us. Although, that pistachio suit was quite spectacular.

Nicky

When we do decided to go to Whistler last week my first thought was “Yipee, I get to go skiing”. My second thought was about how much I enjoy the village of Whistler. Hanging out in the stores, eating at the great restaurants and cafés and just generally people watching. Then I remembered that a friend of mine had just opened a new business in the village. Nicky and I had met a few times through a mutual friend but had never had time to really chat. This would be a great opportunity to get to know her better and find out about her new thing.

Walking into the Green Moustache Juice and Live Food Bar In Whistler is like walking into somebody’s warm and inviting kitchen. Of course it couldn’t be my kitchen. It’s way too healthy. Juicers are whirring and the kettle is boiling for a cup of organic tea. It’s the kind of place you could hang out in all day (if they let you) and enjoy a healthy salad with a smoothie on the side. They have only been open since December but if the steady stream of people coming in is any indication, business is good.

If you ever meet Nicky you will notice two things. She is a incredible ball of energy but at the same time incredibly chill. A true free spirit. The thing Nicky is most passionate about is nutrition. But not just the kind of nutrition that will keep you healthy day to day. The kind of nutrition that could save your life. She is a Certified Gerson Therapy Consultant. Gerson Therapy, I have discovered, involves consuming copious amounts of fresh, organic juices and supplements that are designed to activate the body’s ability to heal itself.

After working for the municipality of Whistler for 5 years Nicky realized that her job was literally making her sick. Each day she went to work feeling good only to experience sneezing and congestion as soon as she arrived. One day last May she couldn’t take it anymore and quit. “Now what?” She thought. She and Pierre, her husband, took the opportunity to pursue their dream of starting their own business. Over the next few months Nicky spent time looking at spaces and talking to other business owners. Using what she learnt; she wrote a business plan for the Green Moustache. The goal? To provide highly nutritious food that is also delicious. “You need to love what you put into your body” she says. She set out to create not only an amazing place to get fresh pressed juices and smoothies but a “hub for community wellness”. A place to share her vast knowledge of how food can make you feel good and heal you from the inside out.

Aside from the steep learning curve of opening their first restaurant, things have gone really well. Hiring god staff has been key for Nicky. She was told by local businesses that the hardest thing to do in Whistler was to keep good staff. It’s just the way it is in a resort town, they said. Nicky’s approach to this? “Hey, if they’re going to leave to pursue something else they love then they should go and do it”. There’s that chillness again. As a result she has a dedicated staff that by two weeks after opening had their roles nailed down. This has allowed Nicky to spend more time on her consulting. After all, her goal was not to spend every day working at the Green Moustache. Her true love is educating and helping people.

I could have sat there all day feeding off of Nicky’s enthusiasm for life, business and nutrition, but the ski hills were calling me and she had a client to meet with. We were both moving on to the best parts of our day. But in the hour that I spent with Nicky I learnt, not only an amazing amount about Nicky and her consulting, but some great advice about starting a business. “You have to completely love what you do and believe in it 100% and you have to know that you don’t need to know everything.” That is one of the best pieces of advice I have heard in a long time.

Going forward Nicky wants to continue her Gerson Consulting but now also wants to help other people start their own businesses. Passing on what she has learnt through this experience. She calls it the Green Mo Revolution and it is going to take off. Thanks for a great hour Nicky!

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Finding my Thing

I recently left my job. I had worked for the same company for eleven years and while I liked the company and the people, I didn’t really like my job. Sales was never really some thing I was good at or aspired to get better at. My oldest child is graduating from high school this year and getting ready for college (fingers crossed), my youngest is navigating the grade one playground and exploring every activity we will allow her and my husband travels a lot. And I mean a lot. So when the opportunity presented itself I decided that this was just the right thing for me to do at this point in my life.

I had been thinking about what I would do with my time now that I am a lady of leisure. I’m almost fifty and with the kids in school I have a few hours every day to fill. While running and yoga will be high on my daily list of things to do, I feel that having another focus might be a good idea. So I thought that I would join the thousands of others out there and create a blog. Only problem is I wasn’t sure what to write about.

I don’t really have a “thing”. I’ve often wondered what my “passion” is. Never found my “niche”. Getting the picture?  I do, however, have an abundance of friends who do have a thing. From high school friends to mom friends to family acquaintance; I seem to know a lot of people who do really cool things. If ever I need advice, products or just a connection to another friend I know exactly where to go. The majority of these people have managed to create a business from their passions and are thriving in life. Whether creative or practical they are doing what they love with amazing dedication.

So where does that leave me? It leaves me with a wealth of stories and connections for great people and cool jobs, hobbies and passions. So here’s what I’m thinking. I’m going to spend the next few months ( maybe years) exploring those connections and those people. This may involve lengthy conversations over coffee or on the running trails or may even involve some wine. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to find out how they knew what their thing was and where it’s taken them. Maybe they didn’t know right away and have some cool back story about the day they discovered it. Then I’m going to share it with you.

I’m also going to try and discover what my “thing” may be by exploring all that life has to offer.  New experiences with family and friends are definitely in my future and, of course, will be well documented right here.

Here’s to discovering what the best things in life are.

Susan

P.S. I would love your feedback and comments.