B.C plus 3 by Liz Saunders

Wow, I did not sleep well Friday night.    Sometimes my Restless Leg Syndrome actually affects my back – don’t ask me how – and I end up with back twitchies.  Not sure if I was over tired or this has anything to do with B.C.  In any event, I slept on a golf ball for a while and it stopped.And I spoke too soon about my thumb.  Woke up this morning and first thing I was aware of…you guessed it, my thumb.  But so far, other than thumb and this crazy cold or maybe allergies…no major changes.

So, off we went to play golf at The Sands just outside Gravenhurst – Joe, daughter Siobhan and grandson Jaden.  Tempers were flaring by the time we were approaching the first green and I thought the day would be a disaster.  Things calmed down and the boys stopped butting heads but all I was really interested in what was to come later in the day.  Like a little kid on a car trip “are we there yet?”.

But first, I must bore you with some background information.   Last year, I took an art class through the TDSB continuing education program, in an attempt to get over various emotional injuries from the past.  I was having fun until one fateful night when the teacher (who really hadn’t taught me much) embarrassed me in front of a group of students and I walked out, never to return.

My friend, Wendie Donabie told her friend, Pat Fairhead about the disaster and Pat said to Wendie “bring her to me”.  So a few weeks ago, I drove to town from the cottage, picked up Wendie and we went to visit Pat.  I was SO nervous.   When Wendie and I got there, we had tea/coffee with Pat and chatted a bit.   Okay, I confess, I cried a bit too as I told my story.   Then we moved to Pat’s studio.  Next thing I knew, there was a blank piece of paper in front of me and I had a piece of conte in my hand and I had broken out in a complete body soaking sweat.  But, the result was some simple pictures, in media I had never tried before.  It was quite liberating as I had not touched paper, pencils or anything else since the disasterous class last fall.

What has this to do with yesterday you ask?   This weekend and last weekend have been the Muskoka Autumn Studio Tourand Pat had her studio open to the public.  Pat asked Wendie to ask me to come and help out for a couple of hours!  Quite an honour!  So yesterday afternoon, after a chilly visit to The Sands, I went and helped out at Pat Fairhead’s studio, followed by gin & tonic with two fascinating Muskoka artists.  

I even bought an original Fairhead!

A very nice way to spend a couple of hours on a fall afternoon.

Purple Haze

B.C. plus 2

Nothing much seems to be happening so far, other than I finally caught the cold that’s been chasing me all week. Not sure if no obvious change is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a thing.

My left thumb might not be as painful as it has been – or is it just that I haven’t banged it, over-used it, picked up anything too heavy for – just not sure. Although, you would think it might be somewhat painful after doing minutes of a condo meeting and a meeting I do regularly as The Virtual Alternative, in two days.

Still …early days.

Day 1 after B.C. by Liz Saunders

The journey starts here.  It’s day 1.

I watched the sky lighten this morning, just before dawn, looking for what I thought might be the right moment …and at 6:20 a.m., I decided…this is it.

After a very late night last night (what the heck did I think I was doing when I volunteered to be on our condo board?) I’m exhausted.  When I picked up the B.C. on Wednesday, I was warned that it might make me drowsy – which is not a good thing when you’re exhausted to start with and you have to do minutes of a meeting in the afternoon.

Or, she said, it might not!

I literally have no idea what to expect or whether even to expect anything.

As instructed, I’ve kept the B.C. away from light, heat, electronics and odours (I hope) and it is currently nesteled in my Taboo velvet golf pouch on the top shelf of the pantry, above the wine.  I hope it will enjoy it’s home there.   Now I’m waiting to hear whether Witchy Woman wants me back in 12 days or 19.

While I wait for something to happen, I am reminded that I forgot to tell you about the lovely tincture that I had to take – about a month ago – Tincture of Avena Sativa 100 m. (1:4), Withania Somnifera 50 ml (2:1) and Urtica Dioica 100 ml (1:4).  (How’s that for a mouthful?  Glad I only need to take 5 ml – 3 times a day).   Witchy warned me, right in front of her supervisor that it would taste bad and she wasn’t just Whistlin’ Dixie.  It was gross…but I think it helped me sleep a bit.

So, here it is, about 12 hours after ingesting B.C. and so far, I’m awake (which surprises me, it was a boring meeting this afternoon) and have a vague tingling in my left ankle and lower shin.

As a virtual assistant, I live my daily life not knowing what to expect or even if I should expect anything.  Each and every day is a different experience, a different journey.  Some days are longer than others and some days are filled with more challenges.  So the next few days, I shall wake up each day as I usually do, anticipating but not expecting, just experiencing.

Naturopath or Witchy Woman? by Liz Saunders

My journey continues with the CCNM but now I’m not sure whether I’m dealing with the Witchy Woman that the Eagles sang about all those years ago or not.  She definitely has black hair and today makes me wonder.

But let me digress.  I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn’t sure why I was doing the contrast showers.  Turns out that, for some reason, the contrasting temperatures act as a gentle detox – just like the castor oil packs – and my massage therapist, the wonderful Natalie, confirmed this.  I’m sort of used to them, although I missed it one day – just couldn’t face the cold water.  Nat tells me I don’t have to do really cold because it’s the contrast that counts.  I forgot to check with Witchy Woman to see if that’s true…perhaps she’ll post a comment here.

So, I’ve been going along with contrast showers, my castor oil, chia seeds, more fish oil, no strawberries and whatever else Keila has thrown at me.  The Calcarea phosphorica homeopathic has helped with the pain in my hands, somewhat, although the pain at times has been excruciating, so much so that I’ve made an appointment with the hand surgeon as a backup. 

Today just before my appointment, I heard Keila tell the patient immediately before me that if he didn’t follow her instructions, she would hound and haunt him.  At my appointment, Keila announced that it was an exciting day as she had a potential solution for me …but I’m not going to tell you what it is.  Suffice to say, it’s the name of a “beautiful colour” so I’m going to call it B.C.  The reason I won’t tell you the name, at this point, is that Keila wouldn’t tell me the whys and wherefores of choosing it, in order not to jeopardize B.C.’s efficacy (apparently, if I think I know what to expect it might affect how the B.C. works).   Keila referred to B.C. as a “deep” remedy and tells me that B.C. could have physical effects and/or mental/emotional effects…or not.

So, despite the most intense desire to Google B.C., I have not and will not.

B.C. has been ordered from Riverdale Homeopathic Clinic and will arrive tomorrow.  I must keep it away from odours, electronics, sunlight and heat until I have the opportunity to take it (if this sounds familiar – don’t tell me!!!).  This is where the Witchy Woman thing comes in:  I have to take it at twilight or early in the morning.  Seriously?  Cue Twilight Zone theme.

As a Virtual Assistant I have been asked to do some strange things:  baby-sit some legal documents in a basement, pick up and deliver a certified cheque (a courier would have been cheaper) but this twilight thing is just weird.  However, where in my business the client is always right – it is a service industry after all – in the case of Witchy Woman, I have to assume that she’s right and trust her to know what she’s doing.

Next step:  record anything that is “out of the ordinary” for me, whether by thought, word or deed.  In order to do that, I need any of you who know me, if you notice anything different, please tell me.  Then I might as well record the changes here so you can all enjoy my discomfiture.

Can Political Correctness Actually be Dangerous?

A client of mine was recently approached, through her ticket desk (me), to speak at an event at St. Paul’s Church in Jarrow, UK.  The request allegedly came from Bishop Mark Jarrow.  I thought it odd so I did some research on the internet.  There is a St. Paul’s Church in Jarrow, UK (in fact, it’s the home of the Venerable Bede) and the local Bishop’s name is Mark Bryant aka Mark Jarrow.

This is where the political correctness comes in:  the language in the ticket and in subsequent emails wasn’t that of a native, English/British speaker.  My first reaction was scepticism but then I told myself, wait, maybe you’re being unnecessarily snobbish or prejudiced.  Britain is well known as a melting pot of many cultures – not all of whom speak English the way you or I do.  I remembered that at my Uncle’s funeral in a small town in northern Central Ontario, the Catholic priest was very Spanish.  Would he have been able to write an email in English that was completely grammatically correct?  Ditto a Catholic priest in a church in the Beaches area of Toronto a few years ago.   So, on with my political correctness hat and I let my client know about the ticket.

However, something never quite seemed right.  They sent a contract, which my client signed and returned (now they had her signature).  They needed her passport info, d.o.b. and full name to book her flight.  Then came the bombshell that she would need a work permit and would have to pay for it herself.

We both tried contacting the British Consulate here…they want $3.20 a minute to talk to a live human being.  After a tortuous search of the website we agreed to have the permit pulled in the UK – despite the fact that the British Consulate’s website said a Tier 5 permit would be 190GBP and the contact in Jarrow said it would be 430GBP.  I suggested they use part of the deposit they were going to send my client, but no…that was coming from a sponsor and not immediately available.  In any event, they said they were going to reimburse the cost so we were going to go ahead.

Still, something didn’t feel right at this point and when they asked me for the second time, when my client would like to travel, something clicked in me and, on my own time, I started really digging.  First I compared phone numbers and postal codes on the contract and the website (they were different).  Then I emailed the rector listed on the website and was put in touch with the real Bishop’s PA (who writes impeccable English).   Turns out it’s a scam that the local constabulary are well aware of but interestingly enough, the Toronto cops couldn’t care less about.

Thank goodness we figured out it was a scam before my client actually wired any money to them.  Oh, and for the record, my client looked up the IP addresses and they are in Nigeria.

So, when does political correctness become dangerous:  the minute we stop relying on our instinctive reactions and mask them with political correctness and the desire not to offend.

Can you have too many friends? by Liz Saunders

In a recent blog I mentioned that we were late leaving for the cottage one weekend because of family.  Well, there was an interesting story that came out of that family incident.

We were expecting out-laws to come in for a wedding and stay with us overnight.  When I hadn’t heard from Jeff an hour and a half after their plane should have landed, I texted him saying “how was your flight?”  The response was “I think you might have the wrong number”.   And continued:

Me:  ?

Jeff:  who were you looking for?

Me:  you, of course…this is Liz…isn’t this Jeff?

Jeff:  This is Brian

This is Brian!

????  What?  Where’s Jeff?

Needless to say, I was very confused.  I know I had the right number but clearly it was no longer Jeff’s.

Eventually Jeff and Tina turned up and it turned out both had new cell numbers that I was unaware of.    So much for staying up to date!

But my conversations with Brian continued.   On the Saturday (the day we ended up in that terrible restaurant, Rombo’s) as we were driving north, I was thoroughly entertained texting with Brian and learning bits about him.  I discovered that he is a student at MUN, he likes Black Sabbath (I texted my daughter to get her to Google Black Sabbath for me which didn’t help.  When I finally Googled them and found that they had done War Pigs, I had an idea what we were talking about – who knew it was Ozzy?!), plays the bass, had a good summer job and is a fairly active individual.  I found out all of this while managing not to tell him that I am old enough to be his mother!

I admit to a certain amount of guilt at not telling him more about me but I was having such a good time, it was really stretching me to carry on this conversation and frankly, I was afraid he would run a mile.

Eventually, I did come clean about the fact that I am old enough to be his mother (a good thing that he knows, as I know he will read this story) and fully expected not to hear from him again.  But to my delight, not only did we continue to text, we are now also Facebook friends.

Didn’t you prefer it when you could talk to me directly?

There is so much talk about technology actually reducing the amount of time we interact with each other in a real time way but I feel that I’ve made a new friend in St. John’s and look forward to texting with him.  And in fact, the other day, I was messaging with Brian and a client needed to know something about the HST in Newfoundland.  I was able to tell him in an instant – faster than he was able to Google it; who knows, there could be more incidents like that in the future,  now I have a foot on the ground, so to speak

In the meantime, I have a new friend, can anyone have too many friends?  Now, should I tell him I’m a grandmother?

Going the Naturopath Route when conventional medicine doesn’t seem to help

Many years ago, a nutritionist, Louisa,  said to me “I can help you with your arthritis”.  Sure enough, she changed my diet (for life) and I went from incapable of walking to the corner store, to running the Toronto Marathon – supplement, anti-inflammatory and pain killer free – the change taking less than eight months.  Later, a homeopath helped me get my Restless Leg Syndrome under control (check the blog archives for that adventure).

Recently (a few years ago), I developed an itchy and painful scalp.  “So what” you might think.  But being a business owner (The Virtual Alternative), it’s not very attractive to be out at a networking event when you can’t stop scratching.  On one very embarrassing occasion I realized that my black shirt collar was completely white with flakes…extremely unattractive.

So, after visits with five or  six different dermatologists who couldn’t help me and the purchase of some extremely expensive shampoos from Arbonne and The Big Carrot (all great products but not the right ones), it was suggested to me by Martha at Muskoka Natural Foods that I try going to the Robert Schad clinic at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.  Well, what the heck, I thought.  If a change of diet can help me walk, maybe the CCNM can help me stop scratching…nothing else was working.

I’ve had 3 appointments so far and although we haven’t specifically done anything for my scalp other than some gentle detoxing, in the immediate Keila has been able to help with my arthritis (at least as far as pain control), which continues to get worse despite my diet.  But back to my head because that’s why we’re here, Keila has me doing some interesting things.

First, I’ve increased my fish oil consumption – that was fairly easy.

Second, I had to switch from oat bran to chia seeds and stop eating my strawberries for breakfast.  Lack of strawberries has had an effect on my head – it’s slightly better.  Apparently lots of people have a  intolerance and don’t know it and it can cause itchiness.

Third, I no longer drink liquids with meals – not sure what that’s doing for me but I’m trying (except at dinner – dinner without wine …what’s the point?).  This has been way more difficult for me than it sounds.  

And the latest?   Every day I have to spend an hour with 2 castor oil poultices on my belly…one over the descending colon and one over my liver.  Apparently castor oil can leach out impurities and also stimulate circulation and the liver might be causing the itchy scalp.

Also, every day I have contrast showers:  at the end of my shower I have to turn off the hot water for 30 seconds then back on for 60, off for 30, on for 60 – minimum 3 cycles, best case 5 cycles.  Well, that sounded like something torturous out of Fifty Shades of Grey to me so I stopped listening to why I needed to do it, so I can’t tell you.  Frankly, it is just as awful as I expected.

So, scalp is still itchy but mostly it’s not painful anymore.   That’s progress.

One of the things I like about the naturopathic approach is that it treats the whole system as related.  A naturopath doesn’t just look at the scalp for obvious signs of irritation or disease, a naturopath looks for what might be causing the problem systemically and then look to cure that.  Do you know, that during the years of dealing with this issue through the medical community, at no time was it suggested that allergies could be involved – to strawberries or shampoo.  You’d think that might be an obvious starting place, wouldn’t you?

I like to think that I do a similar thing for my clients.  They may hire me to answer the phone while away on vacation, but it’s not enough as far as I’m concerned just to take messages.   Here’s a recent example of something that happened.   A new client hired me to answer the phone and then left the country.  I received a call about a missing prop (she directs plays on the side).  Thinking that to leave this for the 2 weeks she was gone might mean the elusive prop would never again be seen and wanting to do whatever I could to protect her reputation with her prop supplier, I went on line to see if I could find a phone number for the theatre.  Best I could do was the box office but I kept pursuing the matter and letting Marty Millionaire know I was doing everything I could to find that prop.  Don’t know whether the prop was ever found, but at least Marty knew that in my client’s absence I was working on it.  The client was very pleased.  It’s about looking at the whole system, not just the presenting issue.

Whether it’s naturopathy or virtual assistance, you have to look at the whole, in order to give effective service.

The worst restaurant in the world or just a bad day: Is customer service really that hard?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I got a slow start to the cottage.  Normally we leave on Friday afternoon, but this particular weekend because of family we didn’t get started until about 11 a.m. Saturday.  Having arranged to meet friends in Gravenhurst to attend the Dockside Festival, we arrived first and it was definitely lunchtime.  Went into Mike’s Bar and Grill Image

and were offered a coffee …hmmm… didn’t really want coffee.  We were told that if we wanted a beer with lunch we needed to go to Rombo’s.


At Rombo’s there was sign outside saying “let us know if you’re sitting on the patio” so I dutifully went inside to let the staff know we were there, and, thinking to speed the process up, to order a couple of Canadian’s to be delivered with the menus.  Nope, I was “shoo’d away” by Debbie, our waitress with “I’ll be out there in a minute” and a wave of her hand.   15 minutes later, my husband went in and he was at least able to order the beer and grab some menus but he also got an abrupt “I’m serving outside when I can get out there”.


When she arrived with the beer and menus, she was surprised that we had menus and annoyed that I wasn’t ready to order immediately.

When she came back…eventually…I ordered the “gyros special” which was on the sandwich board on the street (I’m so naïve about gyros, having never had one, I pronounced the “g” – who knew it sounded like “yearos”?).  Well, that really started her attitude.   “Did you want the fries or the rings with that”, she said.   Surprised, I replied, “the rings”.   To my further surprise, when the bill arrived, the rings had cost an additional $3.95 plus tax.    Well, after lousy service and frankly not enjoying the gyros – no matter how you pronounce it – I went in to challenge the bill.

Wow, that led to an argument and the entire restaurant knew how I felt.

Being I’m in a service industry myself, and knowing that the customer is ALWAYS right, I was astonished at Debbie’s attitude.  She actually shouted at me in front of her manager that I was lying!  Double wow!

But the entire incident brought home to me how important it is to be forthcoming about issues that might arise:  “I’m sorry we’re understaffed and really busy”, “oh, shoot, I forgot your…”,  “oh, dear, that was yesterday’s special, today’s is…but if you’re really set on the gyros, I will ask the manager”, “my apologies that you felt that you were underserviced”.

I thought, If I talked to my clients or their customers the way Debbie talked to me I would have been out of business years ago.

Debbie did herself a major disservice by shouting at me in front of her management and other customers…who knows, she may even have lost her job.  She certainly didn’t get a tip.

The customer is always right, the customer is always right, the customer is always right – and service with a smile isn’t that difficult.

Should have stayed at Mike’s Bar and Grill – beer or not.

Jim Pagiamtzis asked me 2 questions…

Not long ago, Jim Pagiamtzis asked me to think about two questions:

  1. What got me involved in the VA industry? and
  2. How can a VA benefit different businesses?

Well, the first is easy.  I got fired; I got fired by a church.  Fortunately for me (not for them), it was wrongful dismissal and I walked away with a mitt full of money.   Now a friend of mine had, years before, done a program through the government called the Self Employment Assistance Program and I before that, I had tried to start my own secretarial service.  The two sounded like they might connect so I decided to check it out.

Horror of horrors, one of the things I had to do to qualify for the program was stand in front of a room full of other hopefuls and explain what my idea was and why I was ideally suited to start a VA business.  Like most people, I would rather have walked down the street naked – okay, well maybe not naked – than talk to a room full of people.  On top of that, one of the other hopefuls told me my idea was “stupid” – in a heavy Russian accent.  I have no idea how I got through that day, but I was accepted into the program in 2003 (and so was the Russian guy) and I have never looked back.

The trickier question is how can a VA benefit various businesses; tricky because there are so many answers to that question.  As Michael Gerber states in The E-Myth Revisited, most new start ups fail in the first 5 years because they try to do everything themselves, not just whatever it was that got them into business in the first place.

One of the ways a VA can assist almost any entrepreneur is by doing customer service:  this happens to be what I enjoy the most.  This can take the form of answering the phone (receptionist), booking appointments/calendar management (admin assistant) and trouble shooting (tickets or customer service desk).

There are numerous other tasks that a VA can do including research, project management, presentation preparation, invoicing, collecting on outstanding invoices (some do the entire bookkeeping gig).  I have prepared documents, edited/proof read web pages, manuscripts, documents, Powerpoint presentations; called client’s customers and elicited testimonials for the client and then written the testimonial for the customer to sign; mass mailings, mass e-mailings and acted as gatekeeper.  One of the strangest things I’ve ever done was babysit some documents in the basement of a law office…for 3 days!

The real benefit of using a VA for any of the above tasks or others, limited only by your imagination, is that the VA can do one, two or many of the tasks.  A VA can be hired for a specific task, for a specific period (May), or a block of time (5 hours).

The only limit is your imagination.

Life at 38,000 feet

The baby in the row behind me and on the other side of the aisle has been grizzly since we took off (but I can’t really blame him because my ears are popping too);  the guy in the seat behind me is too tall for an economy seat so he’s been bumping my chair every few minutes for the last 2 plus hours – very annoying; and the gal in front of me is reclined as far as one can recline.  But it’s -43 degrees Celsius outside so it could be worse…the window could be open.

One of the first things that happened on board was the offer of food…not a great thing for me.  The menu included all kinds of food I couldn’t eat:

So I had to settle for snacks, which I could eat:

I’m returning home after what, I would have to say, was a very successful trip to visit our rental properties on Conception Bay, Nfld.  I have figured out how to get rid of one tenant who is filthy (thanks to mein host at The Spaniard’s Room – a great B&B in Spaniard’s Bay.  This was my second visit to The Spaniard’s Room because we had such an amazing experience last year when we stayed for a week) which my property manager will carry out AFTER collecting his rent on August 1st.   Unfortunately she tells me that we are going to have to send a professional cleaning crew in to fumigate the apartment – enough said.   Definitely time for him to go.

On a positive note, I met with our new tenant, who seems very nice and reconnected with 2 of our long-standing tenants who are terrific.

Had a great dinner last night including my first ever taste of moose!  Still haven’t seen a moose in the flesh – which is probably just as well when hurtling down the highway at 120 because I had a plane to catch and I left late (I’m sure my husband will be astonished to read that) – but now at least I’ve tasted one.  Last year it was cod steak, which was to die for.

Got to the airport and I had gone $100 worth over my kilometre allowance.  Thanks to the staff at Thrifty who couldn’t help me with it this year, but told me how to handle that next year to avoid extra charges.

All in all, I had a great time and thoroughly look forward to my annual visits to The Rock and am so grateful that I own property there, which gives me the excuse I need to visit.   Thank you Yvonne, Greg, Lorraine, Wilf and Betty for once again, making my visit memorable.