Poor Customer Service at Cafe Blue, Sovereign

So I had an hour between assignments in Kingston last week Friday morning and I decided to have coffee at Cafe Blue in Sovereign.  It wasn’t crowded at 8:00am and I placed my order for a large latte and smoked marlin on a wheat bagel.  The cafe is a very comfortable space and it smelled like heaven (we do have the best coffee in the world you know!).  The person who took my order appeared to be the manager/supervisor on duty and she was pleasant and welcoming. So I sat, exhaled and took out the daily newspapers, grateful to start my day in such a relaxing way.  Ten minutes passed…then 15 minutes…then 20 minutes…I started to get edgy and restless now…I noticed the place filling up, and then I noticed a couple who had come in after me being served.  Okay…maybe their order was simpler than mine…no problem.  Then I noticed a man who had come in after me being served….not cool!  And by this time, the woman who was directly ahead of me had finished eating and got up to leave.  All this time, none of the staff noticed that I was simply taking up space with no coffee, no nothing in front of me.  I tried to catch the eye of one of the wait-staff, but that never happened.  By this time I was steaming.  I absolutely hate when my time is wasted or taken for granted.  So I got up after 25 minutes and went to the counter and said: “I’d like to leave now.  May I get a refund?”  The cashier/supervisor looked at my receipt and said: ” Oh no!  Sorry.  Please don’t leave”.  I looked her dead in the eye and gave her the Kelly stare and repeated that I’d really like to leave.  But truth be told, I needed that latte…and I still had time.

Still very put out, I sat back down and in 5 minutes one of the wait-staff bought my latte.  She was pleasant and smiling and faintly apologetic, but had no explanation for what happened. So of course I asked her what went wrong…she shrugged and smiled nicely and said she did not know.  Sigh.  In another 3 minutes, my bagel was brought to me by the Cashier/Supervisor.  She was very apologetic.  But she offered no explanation as to what happened.  You know I asked what went wrong.  She said something about my order being overlooked and again apologized.

Here’s what Cafe Blue did right: They apologized when I brought it  to their attention that I had been overlooked.

Here’s what Cafe Blue did wrong:


The staff including the manager were totally unaware of what was happening in the small space that they managed, and how pleased or not their clients were.  A simple scanning of the room at 3minute intervals to ensure that all was as it should be would have clued them in to the fact that the hottie in the corner (me) had been sitting sans coffee for far too long!

They offered no explanation for what went wrong.  Most people I think are reasonable, and sometimes stuff happens.  Had I been apologized to with an explanation that they misplaced the order or something…anything…I would have been somewhat mollified

They offered zero compensation for my inconvenience.  I was sharing with my Bestie how absolutely put out I was at the treatment that was meted out to me at what he considers to be his favourite coffee spot. I thought that it would have been a great touch for the cashier/Supervisor to offer me a muffin or a small gift voucher to use on my next visit to Cafe Blue as a gesture of goodwill. In fact, the voucher would have been a brilliant peace offering, as it would go a long way in ensuring that a dissatisfied customer would return in the future for another chance to be wowed by great service and food.  He shook his head sadly and said that they staff were probably not empowered to give away a muffin or a JD300.00 gift voucher.  “Only at the Ritz-Carlton can you expect that type of service, Kelly.”  He related a story about his having to wait in line in a certain store in the USA for 30 minutes and how apologetic the sales clerk was when he got to the top of the line.  That sales clerk rang up the phone case that Bestie was buying and gave him for free!

The latte was all that I had anticipated and the bagel and smoked salmon on point. It wasn’t the food that left that bad taste in my mouth.

Don’t sacrifice due process for expediency

Here are my thoughts on the Jamaican Government’s latest move to bypass the office of the Contractor General in getting specific initiatives underway.  I wrote them in the form of a letter to the Editor and The Sunday Observer published the letter today:

Don’t sacrifice due process for expediency

Sunday, April 29, 2012

 Dear Editor,
Rendering the role of the contractor general redundant by creating a commission to “expedite” well-needed investments and get projects up and running is not only a retrograde step, but it is moreso an extremely dangerous action.
It is dangerous in terms of the precedent that it will set, allowing Parliament to bypass legitimate organs of the State which were born out of the need to ensure that the tax dollar is spent in the best interest of the country and to ensure that all decisions that affect Jamaica can stand up to scrutiny. It is dangerous, too, given the fact that Jamaica has a legacy of corruption at all levels of society.
The fact that we have racked up massive debt over the last few decades with very little to show for it (think of our decaying physical infrastructure, think of the state of our health and education sectors) is testimony, I believe, to pervasive corruption even if we have not fingered specific individuals.
Let me be clear though, I agree with the notion that Jamaica does not have the luxury of time to sit, ponder, twist and turn when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities that can help to remedy our dire economic and social situation.
I insist that the need to act quickly and decisively, anlong with the need to ensure the presence of checks and balances to guarantee transparency and accountability, are objectives that are not at odds with each other. It is entirely possible for the various State bodies and agencies that are beholden to the citizens and taxpayers of this country and are indeed funded by our blood, sweat and tears, to operate in such a way that the twin ideals of action and accountability coexist to our benefit.
Let us consider what happens in the private sector. As entities grow there is a natural tendency for bureaucracy to set in, and process and form quietly replace that entrepreneurial spirit that propelled them forward in the early days. Indeed, there is a role for the evolution and implementation of policies, procedures and internal controls as the organisation grows and there is more at risk.
But those of us who work in the private sector have seen quick decisions and rapid fire execution when the leadership agrees that a particular initiative is critical to the growth and sustainability of the organisation. What happens is not a disregard for policies, procedures and internal controls, but rather a swift redeployment of resources within the organisation.
That results in the critical initiative being bumped to the top of everyone’s list of priorities and the relevant due diligence is done sooner rather than later, allowing for speedy decision-making and implementation. This is what we refer to as “fast-tracking”.
What I am therefore proposing is simple: once specific initiatives that will help grow the economy and satisfy social imperatives are identified, the notion of “fast-tracking” or speeding up things should kick in. Surely, it is not beyond our Parliament to agree on critical initiatives and to then convince the Office of the Contractor General — the organ of the State charged with ensuring that the tax dollar is spent in accordance with structures that have been set up to protect the taxpayer — of the need to expedite the relevant due diligence, allowing for the speedy decision-making and implementation that I spoke of just now.
Expediting here does not mean bypassing or overlooking. Expediting means allocating resources in such a way that agreed on priorities are dealt with sooner rather than later.
We ought not to sacrifice due process for expediency, and we don’t have to.
Kelly McIntosh

The L Word…not Love, but Leadership.

Like the other L word, this one means different things to different people.  But I think it is safe to say that one question sums it up in a universal way: “Who’s in charge here?”.   Leadership is a field of study all on its own.  Numerous tomes have been written on the subject, everyone has an opinion on it and it is often blamed when things don’t turn out as planned.

I’d like to weigh in with my own thoughts on the topic.
I believe that leadership can move mountains.
I believe that more people are comfortable being lead than are comfortable being leaders.
I believe that there is most definitely a role for someone to define and articulate a vision and get a team       on board to make that vision a reality.
I believe that a good Leader ought to ensure buy in from stakeholders
I believe that there is a role for a final decision maker.  I believe that a single person ought to be held accountable for the final outcome.
I believe that the role of the Leader is to facilitate constructive conflict and then allow the best ideas to prevail
I believe that the Leader ought to coordinate execution activities
I believe that the Leader ought to encourage and deliberately seek to build Leadership among the team of followers

That being said, I also believe that there are some character and personality traits that are common to effective leaders:
Integrity
Mental agility
Articulate by nature
Salesmanship
Understander of human nature
Open minded
Good listener
Decisive
Unafraid of confrontation
Good negotiator
Visionary

Imagine an organization where conflict is encouraged, allowing innovation to flourish…
Imagine an organization where your boss can integrate information quickly and articulate an end game that both challenges and inspires… Imagine an organization where all personality types feel as if they are really part of the team… Imagine an organization where decisions are made in a transparent manner in the best interest of the organisation, sooner rather than later….

Now just re-read the few sentences above, putting “Jamaica” where “Organisation” is…
We can do better.

Hard work they had left behind with slavery.

“At Kingston, Jamaica, in April 1975, Prime Minister Michael Manley, a light skinned West Indian, presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence.  But I found his views quixotic.  He advocated a “redistribution of the world’s wealth”. His country was a well-endowed island of 2,000 square miles, with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other sub-tropical crops were grown.  Theirs was a relaxed culture.  The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously and drank copiously.  Hard work they had left behind with slavery.”  From Third World to First. The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.  Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew.

Forcing me to think…

Sigh. That observation was made more than 35 years ago…I sincerely hope that by now we have ditched the notion of wealth redistribution.  We are still the same size and we are still well endowed.  We still are full of song and dance.  We still know how to speak, announce plans and create an impression with words. (Never mind that the English language continues to rot in the mouths of so many: our children and leaders alike!)  Here’s the clincher per LKY: we don’t work hard. We don’t work hard? 

Yet, I remember on Christmas Eve last year I was making my way home in the heavy Dec 24th traffic with Miss World and Little Master. Our light had just changed to green. And slowly making her way across the road, preventing me from from moving on was a woman pushing a heavily laden cart with produce.  She strained and pushed wearily, obviously heading home from selling all day.  Little Master said: ” Mummy, don’t blow your horn!  Isn’t it sad that that lady has to work so hard on Christmas Eve?”.

Did you know that vendors in our markets gather their produce and take a long journey every Wednesday night to their market of choice and often remain there until Saturday night?  Sounds like hard work to me.

What of domestic helpers who leave their own children behind to live and work in the homes of middle and upper class Jamaicans, caring for those children.  Sounds like hard work to me.

What of the single mother who is holding down a job in corporate Jamaica.  She drops the children to school and then heads in to office to put in 8 hours. She picks up the children in the evening and heads home through bumper to bumper traffic.  Homework and dinner prep mark her next shift and then she gets to do it all over again in a few short hours.  Sometimes, she manages to squeeze school in to all of that!  Sounds like hard work to me.

Quite a few of our local companies are posting huge profits…GraceKennedy, Sagicor, NCB, BNS, Pan Carib, CPJ, Honey Bun… Did the profits happen without hard work?  Let’s slow down here…  I’m sure somebody had to sweat out a strategic plan.  I’m sure somebody had to craft the weekly and monthly reports that checked to see that they were on track.  So yes, somebody was working.  Sure…you ask: how much of those profits were generated from productive endeavors where value is added to A to create B, creating a base from which future profits are guaranteed?  And how much of those profits were generated from simply moving prices for goods and services up higher?  When will the law of diminishing returns set in?
I’m not setting out here to validate a business model.  It seems to me that in spite of the model, somebody is working.

The Jamaica Stock Exchange

Then we have a SME sector that is still breathing…I think of a venture like EduFocal, small food processors, small players in the hospitality industry, entertainers, consultants, traders and farmers…these brave souls who risk their own capital and manage to make a decent living for themselves and their families!  Sounds like hard work to me.

Yet 35 years after the great Lee Kuan Yew made his observations, here is what we have: a shrinking manufacturing sector, the real foundation I think, for creating a sustainable, profit generating base from which to grow.  Our debt is increasing, crime is on the rise again and our trade deficit widens with each setting of the sun. We pray for IMF funding for our nation that has been “independent” for the last 50 years.  Our leaders fantasize about a “Greek-style” bailout.  We seem to have perfected the art of “after the fact”controls, sussing out public sector corruption long after the horse has gone through the gate. We seem unable to put in place mechanisms which prevent it from happening in the first place.

So is our present state due to the fact that we left hard work behind with slavery?   


I humbly posit that the correct answer begins with “L”.

More anon.

Here’s what I think about Great Customer Service in Jamaica

I work hard for my money, so when I spend it, I want to feel appreciated.  After all, in most cases, I have a choice. Here in Jamaica, we’ve been slow in recognising the need to make Customers happy.  The social anthropologists among us can go to town postulating as to why this is indeed so.  So anyway, when I do have a good experience in the places where I spend my money, I like to share them.  Amazon blew me away when I broke my Kindle last year and they replaced it without blinking an eye, also crediting my account with the USD50.00 that it cost me to ship the damaged one from Jamaica to the States. My expectations were exceeded at no cost to me.

The Shell Gas Station in Havendale

The female pump attendants here are always smiling.  It’s amazing how something as simple (and free!) as a smile can transform the interaction between customer and server.  They always end the transaction (still smiling) by wishing me a safe journey.  One night I couldn’t stand it anymore and I asked to see the supervisor. I told her that I had been buying gas here for years, but that in the last couple of weeks, the staff has been so friendly and polite and I wanted to know what happened!  She told me that the team meets for a few minutes before start of business and sets the tone for the day. I congratulated her and told her to keep up the good work.  I can get gas anywhere, but the consistently pleasant interactions keep me coming back. 

Courts Jamaica Ltd.

So last year this time I bought a TV at Courts.  At the time of purchase, the clerk advised me to purchase the warranty with a bit of advice about buying electronic items without this little bit of insurance.  So I did.  In late December, the TV started showing an awful green tint that would most times disappear about 30 min into viewing.  But it was damned annoying!  My heart was heavy as I contemplated lodging the complaint with Courts…I really couldn’t find my purchase documents, I thought I’d have to schlep the damn thing to Courts, I quivered at the thought of only one TV left in the house while they dealt with the green one and I groaned inwardly at the thought of what I was sure would be an unplanned expense.  Anyways, the horrible green tint aggravated me long enough (2 months!) and I dug one night until I found my purchase documents.  I went to Courts and lodged my complaint.  I told the Customer Service rep dealing with me that I almost couldn’t find my documents.  She smiled sweetly and and assured me that all my information was in the system and it wouldn’t have prevented them from attending to my issue! She said a technician would come to my house, assess and decide whether to repair or replace.  Amazing! Yay Courts Jamaica!!!!  Long story short: that complaint was lodged at noon.  At 6pm that same day, a well dressed and well identified technician showed up at my house.  He was professional and efficient and in 15 minutes my TV was fixed and re-installed! My need was met without any hassle whatsoever to me.



Jamaica Automobile Association

When a dead battery left me high and dry, totally immobile at my house this past Tuesday, I determined that I must never again be in a situation where I have to be calling around and hoping that someone would rescue me!  So after my local taxi-man came and jump-started my car and I dropped the kids to school (not too late!) and replaced my battery, I settled down at my desk and called these JAA people.  The lady I spoke to assured me that had I been a member, all I would have to do is call the number on my membership card and they would come and bail me out!  Note that I had called my insurance company who are supposed to have a roadside assistance plan, but they totally blew me off and told me that roadside does not extend to my garage!  Next time I’ll push the damned car out to the road and give them a call!  Rubbish! I will be dealing with them later and will simply switch providers if they will not meet my need.  Miss JAA filled out a membership application form over the phone, advised me of a promotion going on (50% off current rates!) and told me that she would send someone to collect payment.  I am now a JAA member without even leaving my desk.  My need was met without any inconvenience to me.  They also have a great website, where you can join and pay over the web.  Rock on JAA!

Chad-Ad Distributors Limited

Rewind back to the part where I replaced my battery…

Right. So I drove into Chad-Ad on Marcus Garvey Drive where I had bought my now dead battery 1 1/2 years ago.  Note that there was a warranty on my battery for 1 year, but I had totally voided the terms of the warranty in that I did not have them inspect the battery every two months.  Anyways, the same mechanic who installed my battery 1 1/2 years prior was still there and he inspected by battery and tested stuff that I suppose was relevant while I waited in air-conditioned comfort. He came back with the verdict: the battery had a defective cell.  And while I had not honoured the terms of the warranty and while 12 months had long gone, they would give me a 33% discount on a new one.  Furthermore, they were out of stock of the battery I needed, but another of their outlets nearby, had in stock, and would I wait just a few minutes for them to get it for me…Oh yes indeed!!!!  I drove out with  a new battery, having saved some money and yes, this time I’ll honour the terms of the warranty.  My need was met, I was comfortable and I saved money.

about GSAT

GSAT is an exam that all students in Grade 6 in Jamaica have to do in order to be placed in one of the hundreds of government run secondary schools on the island.  Standards of performance vary widely from secondary school to secondary school, with the better performing ones being in the minority.  There is therefore stiff competition, with literally thousands of children vying for only scores of places in these more desirable institutions.   Here’s a letter that I wrote to the editor of our leading daily, the Gleaner, that was published on Wed Feb 29.  It got Letter of the Day.

LETTER OF THE DAY – GSAT Symptom Of System

Published: Wednesday | February 29, 20128 Comments

THE EDITOR, Sir:
So GSAT is to be reviewed. That is good news, though I am not sure what is going to really be achieved in the final analysis.
In my opinion, there are two issues at play here: GSAT as a tool to assess a grade six student’s knowledge and competence per his/her grade level; and GSAT as a tool to place students in a secondary-schoolsystem which appears to have different levels of success, evidenced by CSEC examination results.
I am a mother of two, and my experience with the GSAT curriculum aggravates me on two levels. First, it seems that GSAT emphasises trivia at the expense of the thorough understanding of mathematics and language arts. There really is nothing wrong with general knowledge, but when children are forced to cram information such as the second-largest lake in South America or the name of the third ship that Columbus sailed on, it leaves little time to ensure that the foundations of learning are properly crafted.
Second, with the volume of information these 11- and 12-year-olds have to memorise, little time is left to explore other areas of learning that are critical to building well-rounded, self-assured individuals. The end result is that the fun is sucked out of learning and the natural curiosities that lead to inventions, innovations and learning are snuffed out.
Thousands disadvantaged
The other issue is with GSAT as a placement mechanism. With just a few schools being deemed ‘good’ based on exam results at the secondary level, and thousands of children and their parents seeking entry to these ‘good’ schools, GSAT effectively acts as the selection tool.
Therefore, thousands of children who achieve average results (75-85 per cent) are made to feel like underperformers and placed in the ‘not-so-good’ schools.
The issue here is not that there is GSAT at all. The issue is Jamaica’s educational system, where performance at the secondary level varies significantly from school to school, the better-performing institutions being far fewer in number than the underperforming ones.
The bottom line: No matter how you tweak GSAT, until performance increases across the board in our secondary schools, you will always have to screen and select in order to place children in the few ‘good’ schools. This is our reality, and our children suffer.
KELLY MCINTOSH

…about Good Jamaicans!

I  had intended this post to be about the future of Agriculture in Jamaica.  You see, last week Wednesday my brother and his family and me and mine made a 2 vehicle trek to Malvern, St. Elizabeth to visit my friend and colleague Kingsley.  Kingsley has been a farmer for decades and in recent times, Kingsley has added to his agricultural endeavours in a really high-tech way.  You see, Kingsley now cultivates crops in what we (ahem!) agriculturists refer to as a “controlled environment”.  You all (ahem again!) would be familiar with the term “greenhouse agriculture”.  Simply put, growing crops under cover allows you to control variables such as water and wind, offers a more suitable environment for controlling pests and diseases and allows you to also optimise plant nutrition.  Sure there’s a high initial outlay (relative to growing in the open field), and you have to use specific seed varieties and monitoring becomes a necessary science.  But the results when you do get it right, is a higher yield per unit area, more predictable yields and improved quality.  You can now operate your farm more like a factory floor, predicting and guaranteeing output.  So yes, this was initially meant to be an expose on agriculture in Jamaica.  But the more I reviewed our excursion, I became convinced that this was more about the soul of the farmer than his activities. What he has accomplished is more about him, than it is about the science and discipline of agriculture.  Come with me…

So we set out from Kingston at 8:00am.  Every time I drive out of Kingston I am impressed by awed by just how beautiful our island is.  Uneventful is how I would describe the drive over.  The view of the St. Elizabeth plains when you are descending Spur Tree took on renewed significance, as I said to my children: “We are most definitely heading straight into the heart of the bread-basket of Jamaica!”.

View of Jamaica’s breadbasket from Spur Tree

Me being me, I asked for directions 3 different times once we made that left turn at the foot of Spur Tree.  I could just see my brother rolling his eyes in exasperation, since I was the so-called expedition leader.  Whatever.  I am “directionally challenged” and lose my sense of direction at the drop of a hat!  

Three hours later we arrived at Kingsley’s house.  By this time we were joined with another of Kingsley’s friends from Kingston, Pat.  He has a massive greenhouse in the front of his property.  No…don’t look for an actual greenhouse. It’s really a metal frame overlaid with a combination of plastic and mesh, designed to allow for appropriate ventilation and light and for the exclusion of insects. In the event of a hurricane warning, it’s apparently quite simple to remove the coverings and lower the plants.  The frame should be still be standing after the storm.

The White Greenhouse

Seedlings are planted in to pre-prepared bags of coir which are set up prior to planting, with drip irrigation lines appropriately placed.  The fertilizer is mixed into tanks with the irrigation water and applied at pre-set intervals throughout the day.  The net result is no water wastage and giving the plans exactly what they need in terms of food.  Kingsley’s set-up  is well equipped with an automatic timer and pH and electrolyte meter to ensure that the water is of the right pH to allow for effective delivery of the nutrients.  Farmers in this neck of the woods rely on rainfall for irrigation.  Kingsley has added gutters to his house and his greenhouse to ensure that not one drop goes to waste.  The water is stored in a combination of black plastic tanks and a pond that he excavated and lined.

The kids (and adults too!) had a great time harvesting the most beautiful tomatoes you’ve ever seen from Kingsley’s greenhouse.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse

The sweetest cherry tomatoes in the world!

Some crops are also grown under a less strict regime: tunnel houses.  The sides and front and back are open in this method.  But drip irrigation/fertigation and covering on top, still afford some measure of control.

Cabbage in the tunnel

Tunnel House

 Kingsley still plants in the open field too!

Irish Potato field

Little Master pulling carrots from the field.
Miss World with her just pulled carrots!

We ate pumpkin bread and drank carrot juice made by Kingsley himself! That is another blog post.

Apart from being totally impressed with Kingsley’s efforts and his fantastic results, I left feeling that Kingsley represents all that is good about Jamaica and Jamaicans.  He has carefully planned and invested.  He has done his sums and the result is a thriving business utilizing the best of Jamaica: soil, climate and people, producing in  a sustainable manner, produce that is wholesome.  Kingsley is one of the hardest working people I know and his sons see this and emulate him.  All is not lost in Jamaica Land we Love. What a great day!  

Kelly and Kingsley

Anger and Choices

It continues to be a rough time for me…emotions swinging every which way.  Sometimes things happen that will do that to you.  That’s called Life.  And in the middle of living, stuff happens. In the last week, two icons passed away, and their deaths gave me pause: Jamaican journalist Wilmot ‘Motty’ Perkins and World Super Singer, Whitney Houston.  

Wilmot ‘Motty’ Perkins

Motty had an incredible mind.  He never went to University, but I’ve never known a topic that he couldn’t speak about with some amount of authority.  But on top of his incredible knowledge, Motty possessed an 
extremely analytical mind.  Knowledge plus powers of reasoning an deduction make for a very interesting individual and an asset to any society.  I used to listen to Motty religiously up until about 3 years ago.  So if he was so phenomenal, why did I stop?  Simple.  Motty appeared to me to be an angry person.  He was most times correct in his analysis, but I could sense venom and bitterness whenever certain topics were broached.  Three years ago I separated from my then husband.  There was enough anger and bitterness to go around in my life at the time and I became extremely selective about what I allowed to enter my mind and my space.  So I simply turned off Motty.  I hate nonconstructive anger…you know…that kind of anger that just goes on and on without creating any kind of change.  Listen, I am sure that when you check it out, most anger that we feel or that others around us feel can be justified.  But when we stop at simply feeling anger and never move on, and when we make decisions borne out of that anger then it gets dangerous.  Unchecked anger will most certainly result in physical illnesses, alienation of those we hold near and dear, compromised decision making and a very unhappy existence.  I still struggle with personal anger.  I can justify why I feel angry.  But I make every effort to be honest with myself in analysing the root cause of my anger, managing my thoughts and in so doing, controlling my emotions.  I have had to learn to forgive and I also acknowledge that this is a process, so change is not often overnight.  As long as we are honest and aware of unproductive emotions and doing the right things (managing thought especially!) in dealing with the so-called negatives in out lives, let it go.  The feelings will eventually fall into place. 

Then Whitney died.  So very sad.  She had such a tremendous talent. Every single time that I look at the video of her singing the American National Anthem at an NFL match in 1991, I am blown away.  Hers is the face of a Champion who knows that she is kicking butt.  She is totally in control, totally enjoying the moment doing exactly what she was born on this earth to do and she knows that she is in that zone where a better performance is impossible.  It does not get much better than that for us Humans!

There was a time when I felt that a little heartbreak would have added dimension to an already fantastic range. Alas..we speak so casually of heartbreak…as if recovery is automatic. Bobby Brown was, well…Bobby Brown. I don’t think he forced Whitney to love him. I don’t think he forced her to do any of the things she got up to with him. Yes, we can speak about “undue influence”, but at the end of the day, the choice is always ours. She was a humongous talent whose humanity was all too evident for us to see. Whitney Houston remains undiminished in my eyes.

Let’s be cognizant of the choices we make and the possible repercussions, especially as it relates to those near and dear to us.  Let’s also consciously manage our thoughts and eschew anger.  It makes for happier living. 

…about Pets!

So Little Master has a thing for animals.  Let me confess: if I could live my life without a single pet I’d be fine…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  We used to have 2 dogs.  One died and Dad got custody of the second one.  I really did not put up a fight.  Although, when he (the dog that is!) passed a few months ago, I have to confess, I felt a moment of sadness.  That dog was born when we were breeding dogs to raise cash to build our house.  He was the dog that my fearless toddler used to harass.  
R.I.P. Lion


Perhaps my apparent antipathy towards pets is really a (sub)conscious attempt to mask and subdue pretty strong emotions deep, deep down when it comes to animals and their lot in life.  I remember when I was in primary school, at about age 9, I saw a group of boys huddled together, shouting excitedly and my utter dismay when I realized that the object of their animation was an injured bird.  So there I was, horrified and totally torn up in the face of the suffering of this poor birdie.  I shouted and rushed in with one single aim: to rescue the bird.  I scooped it up while bawling and marched to my classroom cradling Birdie with the stupid, shouting hoard behind me.  Thank God my teacher was on my side and I was allowed to take it home.  I placed it in an empty chicken coop (we had layers, broilers, goats, bees,  rabbits, dogs and cats!) and nursed it back to health for a few days.  I happily set him free once I realized he was good to go.  I also remember when my dog Polly was hit by a car and succumbed to her injuries.  I grieved for that dog.

Anyways, I reluctantly agreed that Little Master should get a hamster for Christmas.  Sigh.  He already has a pet-the ideal pet in my view!- a little turtle.  No noise, no running up and down, low maintenance.  Sweet.  
 
The ideal pet: Low Maintenance Turtle


So Harry joins the family (be sure to say “Harry” with a British accent please…Little Master’s dictate of course).  Harry is a rat…damn.  He is scary.  Ugh.  Look at his toes!  Look at his beady black eyes!  Have you ever held him?  Have you felt how soft his fine, little bones are?  But, because I am absolutely in love with Little Master, I help in the cage cleaning and the feeding.  And, yes, I’ll confess, Little Master has caught me on more than one occasion sitting in front of Harry’s cage watching his feeding, drinking and playing habits. 

So earlier this week I was in the kitchen preparing lunches and making breakfast when something caught the corner of my eye.  No way!, I thought…a white furry rat on the ground in my kitchen?  Oh hell!  HARRY IS LOOSE!  So there I was at 5:30am shouting to I really don’t know whom: “ HARRY IS LOOSE!  THE HAMSTER IS OUT OF HIS CAGE!”

To my eternal credit though, I switched into Wonder Woman mode very quickly.  I grabbed the green bucket and cornered Harry who looked totally bewildered, by the way.  I covered him and got his cage.  Somehow, his climbing tube had come apart in one place and the little creature had squeezed out.  I then re-set his cage and tubes and opened it up to receive its tenant once again.  I held that little rattus and placed him back in, none too gently I must confess, as even with gloved hands, it still freaks me out tremendously to handle Harry.  My sigh of relief that Harry had not gone AWOL in the house was very quickly replaced with a sudden startling revelation: Harry was hanging out by a rat poison block I had placed in a corner of the kitchen!  Lord have mercy! Did he eat any?  Would he be ok?  By this time, Little Master was up and I was brutally honest with him: we could come home to a dead Harry in the afternoon.  We hoped and prayed (yes I did!) and we were on Harry Watch for the next 24 hours.  If Harry was too quiet, we prodded him out of his little house and cheered as we watched him forage and feed and run.  Poor Harry.  He had very little rest as we sought to assure ourselves that he would live.  Today Harry is as energetic as he ever was, much to Little Master’s joy.  And yes, I’m glad too.
Harry!



Drink up, Harry



De-stressing in Jamaica

To say that the last 2 weeks have been stressful is an understatement.  So, not one to wallow in unhappiness and stress and strain, I hastily planned a weekend doing some of the things I enjoy best!  The yells of joy when I informed Little Master and Miss World confirmed that I had made the right decision.

ROAD TRIP!  Yep, I absolutely love a good drive out, and the state of our roads notwithstanding, the Jamaican countryside is soooooo beautiful. I decided to head west to my all time favourite place on the island: Negril.  Here’s the thing about Negril: that 7 mile stretch of white sand and clear, blue water and the absence of the more commercial, high-rise complexes and the way Jamaicans and tourists quietly co-exist make Negril’s vibe relaxing and therapeutic.  There is never loud music offending you, but always the quiet, low throbbing of a comfortingly familiar reggae beat, gently lulling your soul into a state of rest.  The beaches are shallow and waters calm, allowing for children to frolic safely and allowing you to paddle and soak and just be.  And when the sun sets, there are no words.  The beach comes to a standstill for a few minutes while everyone basks in the awesome sight of the sun dipping below the horizon. Negril sunsets never, ever get old.

Negril Sunset

 I have been staying at a modest hotel right on the beach for the last decade or so called Negril Treehouse Hotel.  This is where Stella got her groove back!  Well, before she discovered that her groover was bisexual/gay/whadeva…Oh well, Stella aside, I ALWAYS enjoy my stays there.  The rooms are modestly priced and modestly outfitted.  But really and truly, when you are in Negril, you really only need the room to shower and sleep. All waking hours are best spent on the sand which is literally footsteps away from your room.  I walk with my igloo and my beverages of choice (woohoo!!!!) and set up camp under a huge almond tree and happily pass the hours away there.  Negril Treehouse is owned by the Jacksons (Mr. Jackson passed away late last year…may he rest in peace) and you can feel the impact of these owners/managers throughout your stay.  There’s a real family feel there.

But before I got to Negril, I had to drive four hours to get there from Kingston.  We departed at 6:30am, a cool, clear Saturday morning.  It was an uneventful, enjoyable drive.  The ubiquitous speed traps were largely absent and the radio station of choice was on point with their selections.  We enjoyed lots joking and laughter and singing and even some quiet time as at one stage I was the only one awake! 

   Bamboo Avenue, St. Elizabeth

                                                   
I decided to stop in Middle Quarters for “peppa swims” (read: peppered shrimp).  The shrimp are prepared in the shell with lots of salt and a whole heap of hot pepper, stuffed into small plastic bags and sold by the roadside.

 Eating the spicy treats was an adventure, but being the prepared traveller that I am, bottles of Catherine’s Peak spring water were quickly deployed to deal with the burning!  Apart from the spice, beware the spiny claws and other appendages on the shrimp.  They stick…hard!

    Peppered Shrimp from Middle Quarters


Negril was just what the Doctor ordered…the kids played, I relaxed, I napped and I really enjoyed having what I thought was great conversation with Rachie and it was just, well…perfect…

Negril Tree House

I should mention that Negril Tree House serves a great breakfast that is included in the cost of the room!



 Callaloo, ackee & saltfish, johnny cakes, ham & cheese omelette and pineapple

          
Yes…it was a well needed break.  Sometimes you just need to put down the load for a while, regain some strength and then you can take it up again once you’ve rested a while.  I put down my load this weekend for sure!



   The view from between my legs 🙂

                                                
Reluctantly, we packed up midday Sunday morning.  Sigh…back to life, back to reality. Cho man…
It was a great day for driving and at Miss World’s request, I decided to drive back via the North Coast.  That’s a 5 hour hop!

Road Warriors on the move

We stopped for cold coconut water in Trelawny and for soup at Scotchie’s in Drax Hall. 

Thank God for a moment of fun in the middle of living.  Tomorrow is another day.  And we will continue the struggle having rested a while.  “Strength  for today and bright hope for tomorrow”.