Monthly Archives: March 2015

How much should you pay for meat? For example, pork shish kebabs

kebabstill

I have always told my kids, “Shopping is the first and most important part of cooking.”

Which is totally true – great shoppers can afford to prepare and serve fantastic, wonderful meals. Shoppers who do not pay attention to items on sale, or are forced to pay top dollar for food basics, cannot possibly serve such amazing meals.

So I am a great promoter of having a chest freezer (mine cost $125; it has paid for itself many times over). Living in the province of Ontario, you can buy AMAZING meat deals, and other deals, all the year around. Who on earth would pay $26 per pound for a T-bone steak, when you could get them for $5 per pound on sale, and freeze them?

Or who would pay $17 per pound for a pre-made shish kebab, when you could pay less than $2 per pound for the same thing? Check here for my video comparison. Save money, and enjoy better food. What’s not to like? 

Here is the link to the Greek Dressing/Marinate

 

A City Girl’s Guide to Rainbow Trout

F150

How do you know when the trout are biting?

Is it a rainy day in August? (no, that’s salmon spawning)

Is there an “R” in the month? (no, that’s when to eat oysters)

Are there multiple Ford F-150s parked in the lot of the Samuel Wilmot Nature Area? YES!! The likelihood of catching a giant 10-pound Rainbow Trout in Lake Ontario appears to be directly proportional to the number of Ford F-150s in the parking lot. Which I know because I talked to one of the F-150 driving fishermen today; he caught five but only kept one, the ten-pounder. “PLEASE can I get a picture?” I pleaded. “I’m sorry, he’s all packed up in the back, and I have to take my dad to the eye doctor,” the fisherman apologized as he dashed off. Darn.

I love my neighbourhood.

Happy Accidents and Agreeable Disagreements:  My year with the Norwegian Trade Unionists

norway
Our tiny school in the hills near Lillehammer, Norway. (Source: Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker)

 

by Ingrid Thompson

When I was 18 years old, I accidentally signed myself up to attend the Norwegian Trade Unionist school of journalism, Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker.

I say “accidentally” not because I didn’t realize I was enrolling; but rather because I failed to translate the school’s tortuous name and did not realize the school focused on trade unionism.

It didn’t take long for my mistake to become evident: I was a card-carrying member of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party. Debating almost any issue, it was me versus the rest of the student body, and teachers too.

They were arguing in their mother-tongue, while I was speaking in my slowly-improving third language.

Many of my fellow students knew each other well, having come directly from the famous “Utøya” summer camp run by the Arbeiderpartiet.[1]   In very short order the tiny, tight-knit student body began to feel more like a family of 98 people.

And family discussions were all about setting the world to rights: social safety net, individual responsibility, small versus big government. As discussions played out in class or in late-night dormitory chat, I sat tongue-tied: a mute, one-woman minority.

But then, something funny happened.

I didn’t have the language skills to dive in and start arguing, as I might have in an English-language discussion.   It wasn’t an option.  Instead, I was forced to listen.  Really, really hard.

Just to understand what was being said, I needed to ask questions.   Most were basic, such as asking the meaning of the words and phrases; others were contextual.  But regardless, my barrage of (sometimes stupid) questions had a strange effect I hadn’t expected:  my interlocutors felt listened to.

The dynamic of the discussion became almost collaborative, as they held my hands through the process of making sure I fully understood why they believed what they believed.

This understanding was important to me.  My fellow students were kind, smart, and enormously helpful — in contrast, I was the slowest to catch on, and unfailingly last to submit any assignment (except photography).  I was new to Norway; they were keen to introduce me to my heritage.

norway2
An early photo assignment: “Five on the Street” is a standard newspaper layout featuring five street interviews and accompanying head shots. I chose to interpret it literally.

 

No matter what, I would have been horrified to meet such kindness and generosity with disrespect.

As my language skills grew, however, I did want to be able to be honest about what I believed.  So my questions began to lead to counter-statements.  I tried to explain why I saw fiscal conservatism as a foundational value to a sustainable society.  I expressed my nascent views about the role of government – to be supported in the things it is proven to be good at, but prevented from being squeezed into roles best left to families or communities.

Of course I got creamed, at least at first.  I was a fiscal conservative who was once evicted from a Ryerson student meeting for suggesting that tuition costs were good value for the quality of education received; in Norway, I was pitted against students who received not only a fully-funded education, but also spending money from the state (considered a necessity in light of the crazy-expensive beer).

Before Christmas, we went on a school bus trip to Oslo, to see the ‘LO Congressen’ – the Trade Union council often called Norway’s “2nd parliament.”  We left ridiculously early. Waking from a nap when the bus stopped at a gas station around 7am, I moved my things to an area at the back of the bus where there was more room to stretch out, and joined the queue for the washroom.

When I was done, it took me a minute to realize… the bus had left!  My seatmate quite reasonably thought I was sleeping up front.  I still hadn’t learned the name of my school, and I was clueless about where specifically we were headed.

Abandoned on the side of a Norwegian highway, at 7am on a cold winter morning with no wallet or coat, I almost gave up and called home.

Luckily for me, a stranger pumping gas noticed my distress.  Thus ensued a car chase on a winding mountain highway that would have stood up well in a James Bond film.  Eventually, Sjur the bus driver was shocked to see me waving frantically at him from the back hatch of the Toyota weaving erratically in front of him.

Eventually, the adrenaline subsided.  But for the rest of the trip – for the rest of the year! – every time we went out somewhere as a group, confirmation was humourously sought: “Har vi Ingrid med oss?  Ikke glem Ingrid!” (Do we have Ingrid with us? Don’t forget Ingrid!)

As the dark winter months saw my language skills improve, my confidence grew.  Arguments and discussions continued.  I could feel how passionate my friends were; saw that their beliefs came from a love of their country that I already shared.   I respected how much work they were willing to expend to back up their opinions, and how, as budding journalists, the path to any “victory” lay in having the best grasp of inarguable facts.

Progress felt slow.  But eventually I began to surprise them by sometimes being able to hold my own.  Bit by bit, I became more than just the class pet and sounding board.  I argued back.  Sometimes, passions got heated.  Usually, I still got creamed.

But never, never did I feel disrespected or alienated. When tempers cooled, and apologies had been offered, there were no winners and losers – just more understanding, bridging an ideological divide that felt increasingly smaller.

Later that spring, when “Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker” celebrated its 50th anniversary, I was honoured to be chosen to speak on behalf of our student body to the invited guests.

Few experiences have made me more proud.

And no experience would have been better preparation for the new job I started 10 years later, as Press Secretary to a Minister in the Mike Harris cabinet.

In fact, my accidental year spent studying among Norwegian Trade Unionists ranks among the happiest memories of my life.  I’m signed up to attend our 25th reunion, this June.  Will I still get creamed in debate?  Probably.

But then the question will come “Do we have Ingrid with us?” And the answer will be heartfelt: Yes!

norway3
Speaking with my co-host Ståle Melhus to the 50th anniversary gathering for our beloved school, Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker (Photo: Paal Ravnaas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Sadly, the same camp tragically terrorized 20 years later by Anders Breivik.

How NOT To Give a Presentation

Tsubouchi

by David Tsubouchi

Most of the time, we attend lectures and presentations on how the correct way is to do something. In many cases, it relates to our professional lives or work. We have endless facts pulled from best practices and legislation presented to us while we sit on hard chairs that become harder and more uncomfortable in direct proportion to the level of droning by the speaker. At the end of the session how much have we retained? Our attendance may have been mandated so our company can tick off a box for being compliant with some regulation or internal education program. But honestly, what have we really learned?

Because we are people we seem to remember the negative more than the positive. The media thrive on negative stories. That’s what sells newspapers. The headlines are about mistakes made by politicians. The sports headlines are about mistakes made by athletes. Tabloid papers thrive on the negative. We seldom repeat stories that are positive. The juicy stories live on endlessly.

Recently I heard Steve Howse speak. The topic was IT Governance, not a topic that would at the top of most of our lists of lectures to go to. Steve makes an interesting presentation using real life experiences to make a point. He uses “Stupid Steve” to make the point. First of all, Steve Howse himself is a brilliant man and the way he presents the cases and makes the governance connection is attention grabbing and memorable. His cases are about the mistakes that you should not make. When he speaks you are taking notes. Steve is an example of how one should make a presentation.

I am going to use one of the worst presentations I have ever endured as a real example of how NOT to make a presentation. I am one of those people who take lots of notes when I find a seminar, panel discussion or lecture interesting. That’s how I remember. This particular lecture I took one note and that was to write down the title of the presentation.

I also do not have much difficulty with national accents. East Asian, South Asian, European, South American or African accents do not normally present me with much of a challenge. So my being able to actually understand what is being said is not often a problem created by how it is being said.

I am also not going to name the company or presenters because there is nothing positive that can result.

The first rule of any presentation is to be prepared. You must know your material. As the presentation transpired it became apparent that each new slide was greeted by surprise by the presenter. If you are surprised then you will need to pause and read it along with the rest of us. If we read faster than you, we will quickly become impatient. It was evident by the second slide that this was a new presentation because the presenter had not created the slides or he was a last minute substitute. If he was a last minute substitute then if he had said so, the attendees would have been empathetic but no such explanation had been given.

The audience soon became restless because the speaker spoke with the two deadly Q’s of speaking, quietly and quickly. After a few minutes of no one understanding anything, the organizer went up to the speaker and adjusted his microphone. Even after the adjustment the speaker was hard to hear because he seemed to lower the volume of his voice as much as the adjustment had increased it.

There still remained the problem of the speed of delivery. The organizer then walked up to the speaker and presumably asked him to slow down his speech.

Unfortunately when the speed of speech was temporarily reduced it revealed the worst part of listening to this speaker-his cadence. The cadence of his speech was like listening to Captain Kirk on a day that he had too much to drink. The stops and starts in strange places in a sentence caused me to continually check my watch.

As much as Steve Hawse used useful and memorable real cases to make his point, this speaker had made up cases that were so extreme in nature that unless you were a blithering idiot you knew the answer and wondered why you were asked. One of the attendees who was a very senior and experienced executive when asked for his comment on a case responded by saying that he wasn’t going to waste his time responding to such a stupid case. This marked the point in the presentation when the audience started to mutter its displeasure.

On a side note, the presenter used many acronyms that no one understood. I finally said I have no idea what that acronym meant at which point about half the audience agreed with me.

Now that the audience had turned against the speaker, he then wanted people to pair up so that a case could be discussed. We had been sitting in a big “U” formation with the speaker at the front of the room. Instead of saying “please pair up starting here. You two, you two, etc.” he said everyone speak to the person to the left. At this point everyone started laughing.

If your audience starts laughing at you, not with you, pack it up.

Unfortunately the speaker soldiered on for another half hour. A clear indication that you have lost your audience is the steady stream of people who decide to go to the washroom or just leave.

When the ordeal ended, for both the audience and the speaker, it was with a whimper not a bang.

There are several lessons contained in this exercise. Here’s a final thought, giving a speech is like the oil industry-if you don’t hit oil, stop boring!

Leadership Lessons from LeBron James

Hugh head shot

By Hugh D. MacPhie

If your initial reaction to the title of this article is that there must be some typo or mistake, you can be forgiven. My hunch is that a Google search of “LeBron James” and “Leadership” might not yield many results. Leadership just isn’t part of the LeBron James brand.

Or so we thought.

But let me share why my admiration-level for LeBron James went up considerably.

I was at the Raptors-Cavaliers game with my family. And before tip off, from the perch of our nosebleed seats, I decided to just watch LeBron, because I wanted to see if he was going to do his chalk-dust thing.

But I witnessed something very different instead.

Pre-game, LeBron went up to every other player on his team, and either did a cool hand-shake, fist bump, or some other personal ritual along those lines. He did it with every player  – from the starting point guard, to the guy everyone knew wasn’t going to get off the bench all game.

He then shook hands with each of his coaches – looking them in the eye respectfully.

But he wasn’t done. Reaching into the stands, he shook hands with the Cleveland staff traveling the team. He the moved along further – warmly greeting what appeared to be the TV and radio crews in from Cleveland.

Along the way, LeBron hugged the bench staffer, who was literally about half his size. And he made a point – made a point – of approaching, fist-bumping, and hugging the guy whose job it is to wipe the sweat off of the players’ chairs during the game.

Every. Single. Person.

And LeBron did it authentically. With a combination of swagger and genuine respect shown to every person he touched.

I have got to believe, that even for the people who see a lot of LeBron, that those interactions make them feel pretty special.

So the next day I was sitting with a friend who leads a very large organization, and I relayed this story.

Because as a leader, he also creates that feeling of specialness with everyone he walks past, meets, or simply acknowledges.

For leaders, human interactions go beyond the functional requirements of getting things done. Those interactions also have a symbolic element.

If you go down to the cafeteria to get lunch, and genuinely interact with people in line and behind the counter, you’re doing a lot more than just picking up some food. You’re doing something that has a profound impact on the people you “touch”. And don’t think they won’t tell their own co-workers, and their family members, and their friends, about who talked to them, smiled at them, learned their name, and appeared to genuinely listen.

This idea – making the most of otherwise mundane interactions – doesn’t just apply to CEOs or rock stars or NBA basketball players. It applies to all of us.

Over the course of his life, LeBron learned that he was pretty good at basketball, and people see him as a role model for that reason alone. He has learned to exploit – in the very best sense of the term – the positive emotional impact that he can have on people by just acknowledging them.

And that can impact his organization’s effectiveness.

Final score? Cleveland 120, Toronto 112.

***

 

 

For St. Patrick’s Day: best Guinness spot ever

momo1

A St. Patrick’s treat for anyone who has never seen it: best Guinness spot ever, “Round up your mates for a Guinness.” 

“It’s a capacity crowd of 16…”

“He’s a legend in Gloucester, but we’re in Yorkshire today, so of course that means nothing…”

“You could hear a pin drop, if we weren’t in a field…”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – or week – whatever you celebrate!

Challenging Uber with common sense

kristine
Beck Taxi’s Kristine Hubbard visited the home of World War Two veteran Doug Cochrane when he became Beck Taxi’s 7 Millionth Call in 2011. Cochrane won a basket of prizes from Beck and Canadian Tire; he couldn’t linger long, though, because the reason he called a cab was that he had a doctor’s appointment. Cochrane is the kind of customer Beck refuses to abandon to smart-phone only technology.

Congratulations to Kristine Hubbard for delivering THE BEST QUOTE I’ve read all year!

Hubbard is the Operations Manager at Beck Taxi, which is rolling out technology which rivals Uber’s – while also managing to comply with all the by-laws and regulations required in Toronto and Ontario, which Uber conveniently ignores.

Commenting on the fact that Beck will offer both smartphone and traditional phone-based service, Hubbard observed:

“We want to make sure that the senior citizen who doesn’t have a smartphone is still going to be able to get to the grocery store.”

Go, Kristine! Toronto is lucky to have Beck Taxi as its back-up TTC.

French Canadian Potage – vegetables+

potagestill

My friend Benoit Violette, who is French from New Brunswick, taught me how to make authentic Potage, the ultimate vegetable soup. There was nothing more welcome on a cold, snowy Ottawa day than to arrive home and smell Ben’s delicious, comforting Potage cooking on the stove!

Click here for the video.

(Once, when my dad was visiting Ottawa I was cooking t-bone steaks for our dinner; while I was preparing steaks, Dad ate 3 bowls of Ben’s Potage with french bread – he could not stop eating it. He ended up skipping the steak altogether as he had completely filled up on Potage!)

The only thing I have changed is that I add fresh ginger to the pan with all of the other vegetables; I like ginger with root vegetables.

One bowl of Potage can basically provide you with all the vegetables you are supposed to eat in a day.

 

 

 

Two of the smartest businessmen I know

“You cannot possibly save as much money as real estate can earn you,” George Tsinokas advised Baris Huner and I today. In 30 years of business, I have never heard truer words spoken. And that was just the start of our tour! I am so delighted for my readers that George has agreed to be my first Business Podcast. Stay tuned, I will be posting soon.

valentino's

baris6
Smart business people find each other by telepathy or vibration, the way dolphins find each other in the ocean. Baris Huner (far right, owner of the 24 Hour Shopper’s Drugmart in Oshawa, Highest Achiever in my last Carnegie class) was so impressed by George Tsinokas (far left, partner in Valentino’s Grande Salon in Whitby, Carnegie Assistant Business Coach) Baris asked me if we could set up a tour of Valentino’s so he could explore George’s successful business practices. In the centre is Hannah, who organized our Tour.
baris4
Of course Baris and I had to get a “selfie” in front of Valentino’s beautiful Selfie Board. Hannah took our selfie, which makes it a “not a selfie” but we were having too much fun to worry about that.

 

baris1
Valentino’s is the single largest trainer of apprentice hair stylists in the Province of Ontario, and is now a provincially-recognized trade school and Training Academy. Here, Baris poses with 4 of Valentino’s 65 stylists/colourists in front of one wall stocked with just  HALF of the colours they work with. The biggest regret Baris and I had was that he has no hair, so he could not actually have the full “Valentino’s Experience” including massage and moisturizing treatments; he  just had to IMAGINE how nice it would be.

 

Warning: do not read this book

mccarthy cover

Dude. Definitely don’t read Blood Meridian.

I am telling you, do not read that book. That book will get inside your head and mess you up. And worst of all, you’ll have no idea what is happening – not to you AND NOT EVEN IN THE BOOK. I have been reading and re-reading it since 2009 and I am still fuzzy on even the most basic of plot details.

Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece is difficult to read for two reasons.

(I am leaving out the obvious reasons that apply to all of McCarthy’s books: he doesn’t use punctuation; you can never really tell who is speaking; many of the most important characters are never given any back story; there is no mention of what anyone is thinking or what their motivations are; dialogue is often written in Spanish without any translation.)

First, it is the most violent and repulsive thing probably ever written. Second, it’s written by Shakespeare. Well, Shakespeare but he’s an existentialist cowboy serial murderer.

And that’s why it will get in your head. The material is vile but the language is beautiful. It is definitely the kind of book you’ll have to hide in the freezer before bed time. But you’ll find yourself reading lengthy passages to anyone who will listen! It’s messed. Here is a sentence. I picked it completely at random.

“The dead lay awash in the shallows like victims of some disaster at sea and they were strewn along the salt foreshore in a havoc of blood and entrails.”

WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING IN THIS SENTENCE??? Nobody knows. But it’s horrible and beautifully written and I want to read more sentences just like it. That’s the problem. Every sentence in this book disgusts you but you want to read more and then you feel disgusted with yourself for wanting to read more.

But the gore-geous rendering of violence (see what I did there?) is nothing compared to the judge. Judge Holden is the bad guy. I guess. Everyone in this book is so awful it’s hard to say who the bad guy is. The novel is about a bunch of cowboys that ride to Mexico to scalp Indians (and, eventually, anybody) in 1849. But it turns out the Yumas and the Maricopas were schooling people in scalping long before these guys show up.

So pretty much all of the characters are scum; but the judge is definitely the antagonist by the end of the story. However, everything he says is just out of this world brilliant. He’s certainly evil. I can’t even bring myself to detail some of the horrific things he does in the book. But then there’s passages like this:

“They posted guards atop the azotea and unsaddled the horses and drove them out to graze and the judge took one of the packanimals and emptied out the paniers and went off to explore the works. In the afternoon he sat in the compound breaking ore samples with a hammer, the feldspar rich in red oxide of copper and native nuggets in whose organic lobations he purported to read news of the earth’s origins, holding an extemporary lecture in geology to a small gathering who nodded and spat. A few would quote him scripture to confound his ordering up of eons out of the ancient chaos and other apostate supposings. The judge smiled.

Books lie, he said.

God don’t lie.

No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.

He held up a chunk of rock.

He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.”

I KNOW! RIGHT?!? Pretty much every scene with the judge is that badass. By the end of that passage you don’t even care what an azotea or a lobation is. Here are a few more of his quotes:

“Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings.”

“… and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.”

“Your heart’s desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery.”

And the problem is, after a while, this starts to make sense (!) But it is impossible to make sense of. That is why McCarthy is never spoken of without mention of other works. (The cover of my copy of Blood Meridian compares it to Melville, Faulkner, Dante’s Inferno, The Iliad, and the Bible. Just on the cover!)

No one can assimilate him into a worldview. They can’t speak of him on his own terms. Academia and reviewers have never been able to talk about this book without comparing it to Milton, Dostoyevsky, or Shakespeare. You would think this means Cormac McCarthy is great, that he is a great writer – but that’s not what it means at all.

It means there is no way to interpret him comfortably without using accepted categories to pacify his bizarre trek into the absolute depths of everything that is revolting about human nature. He has no predecessors. You can add up Milton and Shakespeare and Homer and Dante and Dostoyevsky and King James and throw them into a giant literary stew and you would never get a passage like this:

“Now driving in a wild frieze of headlong horses with eyes walled and teeth cropped and naked riders with clusters of arrows clenched in their jaws and their shields winking in the dust and up the far side of the ruined ranks in a piping of boneflutes and dropping down off the sides of their mounts with one heel hung in the withers strap and their short bows flexing beneath the outstretched necks of the ponies until they had circled the company and cut their ranks in two and then rising up again like funhouse figures, some with nightmare faces painted on their breasts, riding down the unhorsed Saxons and spearing and clubbing them and leaping from their mounts with knives and running about on the ground with a peculiar bandylegged trot like creatures driven to alien forms of locomotion and stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows.”

THAT’S ONE SENTENCE!

Don’t read this book, man. I’m telling you. You’ve been warned.

–David Smith