taking the next steps…moving the ball forward

The title should either make the co-workers at my day job who follow me smile or cringe mightily…sorry folks, I’m in a playful mood despite all the shoegazing and introspection I will be doing in this post.

Given recent events in my life, I have been writing and journaling furiously.  This is partially due to the therapy I have been undergoing as part of my weight loss journey and as part of my healing and recovery process as I am growing to understand who I am and what I truly want from life.  It is also partially due to my need to express myself in a constructive and healthy manner as I have been known to be rather self-destructive and self-defeating with past conduits of expression <sheepish grin>.

Let’s just say the only chemical stimulant that has fuelled this batch of song writing is caffeine!

I now have an album’s worth of songs worthy of recording.  These songs are more personal and harrowing than any other songs I have written.  I doubt this will be anything of the sort of the masterpiece “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” but it is a fair expression of my past few years’ journey.

To my friends and family (particularly DH, DB and The Parental Units) who have braved the past two years’ plus emotional and spiritual roller coaster ride, I thank you for your patience, support and love!

I will soon be performing these songs live as a suite, in order to prepare them for recording.  I am working out the logistics of what these songs have become and am getting used to actually expressing these thoughts and feelings out loud.  I will soon have to get used to expressing them in public!

I have asked a local coffee house to host some of my initial forays into public performance of this material, which I will slowly integrate into my usual shows until I have everything 100% together.  They have obliged me with being open minded and willing to work with me.  More on this later and I will definitely update here once I have started.

And now here comes the serious part:  as I am focusing more on my career as a musician and songwriter, I have had to assess my strengths and weaknesses as a business and sales person.  I am incredible at planning things but incredibly weak on the follow through.  So I’m in the process of setting out a plan that will give me identifiable check points and goals to meet so as to ensure that I am able to have something to show at the end of it all.

At the same time, I am becoming increasingly focused on the visual presentation of my ideas as I know I am not the most vibrant of performers on stage.  I am therefore working on my photography as an adjunct to my music and trying to create a visual representation of the images I portray in my songs and music.  How this will be manifested is currently unknown, however a number of concerts I have attended recently have had a strong visual conceptual presence that fit the music being performed.

My work with and continued interest in Lomography has provided me with an interesting outlet for my visual ideas and also is allowing me to delve into moving images using their latest invention:  a 35 mm film kinescope.  The primitive nature of the Lomographic cameras have informed my photographic and visual style strongly and are reflective of my ideas.  More on this as my ideas develop <sorry, I couldn’t resist>!

The work I have done on the bloodwood. project has somewhat been co-opted into this as some of the songs I was writing under that project are very personal.  Some of the images from the bloodwood. project also fit the aesthetic of my music as well.  Whether this means a shift in the overall aim of the bloodwood. project or if it’s just going on the back burner at this point, I do not know.  I am currently in discussions with a local branding and marketing studio to determine what this means for all three projects on the go at this point.

So to sum things up: 

  • therapy good,
  • writing good,
  • compelling live performance of very personal material hard,
  • photography good,
  • recording to come in the future
  • Myke is honestly okay and improving!

 

a life lived online and in the city

Recently I’ve realized that I am very thankful for the opportunities that the combination of moving to Hamilton and my online presence has afforded me.  Many times I have looked back on the past ten years and remarked on how my life has changed for the positive because of these two factors:

  • I have become better connected to my creative energies and outlets due to being able to focus more on “me”, my loved ones and my city.  This is partially due to my:
    • Health improving as I am far more mobile and willing to explore my environment as I am not leaving home at 5:30 in the morning and returning at 7:00pm at night.
    • Moving from the head office (Downtown Toronto) environment of my day job to the local Hamilton office reduced the length of my workday by 4 hours due to the commute and has enabled me to become more connected and engaged in my local community as I am working right downtown and can explore the city during my lunch hours and breaks.
    • Focusing on my physical, mental and emotional health once DH was able to get his health issues straightened away.  Hamilton has a wonderful medical system, despite the grumblings about it and my initial difficulties in finding a family doctor.
    • Reconnecting with old friends from Hamilton (such as DM2) who are both spiritually and emotionally supportive of my endeavours both in business and life.
    • Meeting new people who have become good friends who are both spiritually and emotionally supportive of my endeavours both in business and life.
    • Meeting a vibrant community of people, both online and in real life, committed to making the City of Hamilton a creative and safe environment in which to live and work.  It is incredible how connected and diverse the Hamilton community has become and that people of all ages and backgrounds are gathering together to make the city a place that everyone can be proud of.  Diverse communities such as James St. North, Locke St., Ottawa St. as well as the Stinson, Corktown and Stipley neighbourhoods are focusing on carving a liveable environment that encourages creativity.  This continues to spread throughout the city and you can see people beginning to care about their local communities:
      • Adjusting my philosophies to focus on small local business people and, when possible, working directly with individual craftspersons and artisans.  In my direct support of other craftspersons, I have gained an appreciation for the creative process and gained a healthy respect for items which are as unique and individualistic as they are, plus my money stays in the local community for the most part, instead of being shipped overseas.
        • In supporting local businesses, I have been able to find and clarify my voice both as a musician due to finding a local craftsman who has made my main guitar and as a photographer, courtesy of finding a camera at a local retailer that allows me to express my visual aesthetic.  I am grateful for these chance opportunities leading to my improved ability to express myself!
  • Finding, exploring and supporting locally-owned businesses as unique as their owners.  This past Christmas season, aside from two gifts (DH’s True Blood DVD boxed sets and the Wii drawing pad for my nieces), all of my presents were purchased directly from local independent retailers or direct from the artisans themselves!
  • Knowledge that I am improving my health and the health of the local community by supporting local organic farmers, food providers and restaurants.
  • I have had the opportunity to meet, engage and have some level of direct personal, professional (and meaningful) interaction with a number of my musical “heroes”:  MK, Tom Wilson, Bif Naked.  All of whom have staked out careers that are wildly different, but also representative of their creative needs and personal outlets.  I deeply respect these people and am honoured by the attention they have given me and interactions I have had with them.  This has also enabled me to meet new people who have become musical “heroes” to me:  Oceanship, Aaron Wrixon, and has granted me the opportunity to meet with them in person to discuss and share ideas and insights with them.  These opportunities I will never take for granted as a musician.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly engaged as a citizen of Hamilton and as a musician.  By doing this, I have I have grown as a person and found my voice as an artist.  I am a lucky person and I am thankful for all the opportunities living in Hamilton and growing my online presence has given me.

Kale Crisps

  • 2 bunches of kale (Dino or Curly)
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 1/2 a lemon
  1. Wash and dry your kale.  Get a large mixing bowl ready.
  2. Chop or tear your Kale into bite-sized pieces. If you’re feeding kale crisps to kids for the first time it may be worth it to de-stem the kale. 
  3. Throw your chopped kale into your mixing bowl add the olive oil and toss to coat.
  4. Take 1 teapoon of salt and throw it over the kale. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon over the kale too. Massage the salt, olive oil and lemon into the kale.
  5. Spread the kale evenly over your dehydrator trays. Two bunches of kale will probably take up 2 dehydrator trays. Close up the dehydrator and flip the on switch.  Dehydrate at 145 degrees F for the first 2 hours and then be brought down to 115 degree F for 6 more hours to dry – this does not harm the enzymes.

I treat Kale Crisps as a snack. I don’t really rely on them for my daily intake of greens. They are just a fun salty treat.

Creamy Chicken and Sweet Potato Soup

  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 orange sweet      potatoes (kumara), peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large red onion, halved,      chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, quartered
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 small (about 1lb total) single      chicken breast fillets
  • 1 bunch fresh continental parsley
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 slices multigrain bread, to      serve
  1. Bring the chicken      stock to the boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the sweet      potato, onion, garlic, thyme and oregano. Season with pepper and bring to      the boil. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes or until the sweet potato is      tender. Remove from heat. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool.
  2. While soup      is cooking, cut chicken into 1cm pieces. Coarsely chop parsley to make 1/4      cup, loosely packed. Set aside. Place one-quarter of soup in the jug of a      blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a clean saucepan. Repeat with remaining      soup in three more batches.
  3. Bring soup      to the boil over medium heat. Add chicken and parsley and cook for 3      minutes or until chicken is cooked. Remove from heat. Stir in milk and      season with pepper. Serve with bread.

Peanut Soup

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch greens (kale, chard, collards, spinach)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • dash cayenne
  • to taste, salt
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter (JUST peanuts)
  1. Sautee onion, garlic and ginger (and stems of the greens if they’re edible) until soft and fragrant
  2. Add tomatoes, greens, cumin, cayenne and salt, stir to coat.
  3. Add stock and simmer 15 minutes
  4. Stir in peanut butter and stir until melted.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Optional: add 1 can of rinsed beans or sweet potato chunks prior to simmering and cook until either are soft.

Leek Soup

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 leeks, halved, rinsed and sliced thinly
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp fresh or 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1 large potato grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a 6 quart pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, shallots and leeks, cook, stirring for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in stock and thyme, cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Add potato, salt and pepper, stir well and cook 20 minutes.
  5. Puree soup with an immersion blender or in food processor.
  6. Tasde and adjust seasoning, if needed.

a cross-border study in contrasts of customer service styles

In the past week, I’ve had interesting transactions with two companies due to customer service issues with wildly different results.

The first was with Canadian bookstore giant Chapters Indigo.  The second with American musical instrument Manufacturer NS Designs.

As many people know, I am a voracious reader and buy a lot of books.  As a result, one of the best gifts I can get is a gift card for Chapters Indigo bookstores as I have an ongoing wish list that I’m constantly adding to.  This past Christmas, I received a number of gift cards and placed an order on Boxing Day.  On this order were two books, one scheduled for immediate delivery – in fact I had it before New Year’s Day – and one scheduled for delivery in 1-2 weeks’ time. 

Last week, I received an email from Chapters Indigo’s customer service which read:

We would like to provide you with an update on your chapters.indigo.ca order.  Unfortunately, the following item(s) is temporarily out of stock and has been reordered for you. We expect to receive the item(s) shortly, and it should ship to you within two weeks.

Please note: if we are unable to ship your item(s) within a reasonable timeframe, we will cancel this item(s) from your order. Please rest assured; any remaining item(s) in your order will not be affected.

I reviewed the item in question on their website and noted that in no less than seven stores within an hour’s commute of my home, there were over thirty copies available.

The next day, I received another email:

At Chapters Indigo Online, we strive to ensure that you receive your shipment as quickly as possible. We realize you’re experiencing a delay with [title deleted], and we apologize for the inconvenience.

In an effort to rectify this situation, we are in contact with our distribution centre to confirm this item’s availability to ship. We will contact you via email as soon as we’ve determined the availability and shipping status of this item, typically in up to 2 business days.

I contacted Chapters Indigo customer service via telephone and asked about the possibility of picking the book up at one of the retail locations and was told that this would be impossible due to warehousing differences and the fact that the book was $32.00 in the store and only $21.06 online.  I noted that they have had my money tied up in this book for over two weeks at this point and confirmed that I understood the difference between costs of online fulfillment versus the overhead costs of a brick and mortar store, however noted that I would wait until further notice regarding shipping occurred.

The next day, the following message arrived in my inbox:

Upon researching the status of your order I have found the following:

The item has been on order with our vendor for some time but regretfully we have not yet received this item from them. I have contacted our vendors to find out what is happening with the item. Unfortunately, the item is on back order with our vendors with no due date.

Please be sure that as soon as our vendor receives stock, they will send the item to us and we will then ship it to you. If you feel this will still be too much of a lengthy wait, you can choose to cancel the order, please let me know and I can do so on your behalf.

We apologize about the delay in sourcing your order and we appreciate your patience. Please know that we are doing our best to source your order for you.

In essence, we don’t have it in our warehouse, the publisher does not have it and we don’t know when it will arrive again.  So your options are to wait or cancel your order.

A quick check online showed that this book was “in stock” and would ship within 1-2 weeks.  I called customer service and once again floated the idea of picking up my purchase at a local store and was shot down.  At this point, they offered to cancel my order, refund my money and I could go buy the book (at full price) at the store.  I asked to speak to a manager, however was informed that there was no manager or supervisor available.

I called again the next day and was informed that a manager was not available again, however in addition to cancelling my order and refunding my money, they would give me another refund of $15.00 to my online account.  What I would then have to do is drive to a brick and mortar store, pick up an empty gift card, come home, transfer my online balance to the card and then drive back to the store and buy the book, at full price.

HUH?  They have had my money for weeks at this point.  I just want my book to read!

So I check the website, see that the book still shows “in stock” and shipping in “1-2 weeks” and send the following email:

I find it interesting that this item still shows as of 1:13pm today as shipping within 1-2 weeks on your website, despite the most recent email stating that it is out of stock and replenishment of this stock is still unknown.

Even more interesting that there are well over 30 copies in stock in various stores around me, I cannot go and pick up a copy despite they’re being locations of your company.  I understand the difference in online stock versus brick and mortar stock, however in rare cases such as this, I believe that an accommodation could be made for me to pick up one of the many copies available in a location close to me.  This is a brand new book that has been written up in various newspapers and magazines and obviously of some note to warrant copies of this book being available in stores.

If I ordered a book on line to be shipped to a retail location that had several copies of the same in stock, would you seriously ship a new copy to the location in question?  How does that make sense?

Even more interesting that on a Tuesday at 3pm and a Wednesday at 1pm when I call the customer service line, I am unable to talk to a manager as there apparently isn’t one on staff.  Would it be possible to have a manager contact me directly regarding this situation as opposed to calling and finding out the front line customer service staff is unable to help me resolve this

I’m trying to support a Canadian company here, but this is hard for me as a person who works in customer service to understand.  I have had no problems with my orders in the past, and have done a fair amount of ordering from you as well as frequenting your brick and mortar locations as I am a voracious reader.

The emailed reply was:

I contacted the vendor this morning as they only show 2 copies available however we have open orders that exceed the 2 copies and they do not have stock at this time to fill our open orders.

The Coles in Limeridge Mall is holding one copy for you and the address is 999 Upper Wentworth Street. Is this location close to you?

The issue that we are running into is that online has the item for $21.06 retail.  Store price is $32.00 and irewards $28.80. What I am able to do is credit your online account $15.00 and should you cancel this online order your account will be credited $21.06.

So again, I have to wait for my refunds, go to a store and get an “empty” gift card, transfer the balance and then go back to the store to buy the book.  They have my money already, it’s the same company – how does this make sense?

However this email gives me a direct dial number that is not the toll-free number – I call it and immediately request a customer service supervisor.  After the front-line staff reviews my order history, he agrees to transfer me.  The supervisor noted that this is an unusual circumstance, however does occur and yes they can arrange to have me pick up my book at the mall due to the unusual delay in shipping the product.

She noted that while front line staff are persuaded to avoid store pickups due to obvious reasons (the overhead costs of brick and mortar retail, versus online shipping) in occasions where items are indefinitely backordered with stock in store, a manager can authorize a pickup.  She arranges for it and asks me to go to the store the next day.  I did and the book was waiting for me with a sales receipt indicating it was fully paid for.

Thanks to that manager after over a week of dancing with customer service bureaucracy!  I am currently enjoying the book and loving the story.

My second customer service story is with NS Designs, who makes electric upright basses and other violin family instruments. 

I have one of their mid-level upright basses, which is no longer in production.  I went to set it up for a gig and the stand which it mounts on broke, sending my instrument (and my heart) crashing to the floor.  I take a picture of the broken stand and send them an email which read:

I was getting ready to gig with my WAV this evening when the stand snapped (see attached picture). I guess I’ll be playing my fretless p-bass tonight… Can I purchase an end pin for it, instead of a stand?  What dealers are there in Toronto Canada – to order such a beast?

Their reply:

As the product manager for the Canadian distribution of NS Design instruments, I received your email this morning concerning your tripod stand.  It is possible to purchase an end pin for your bass but unfortunately we are only going to be receiving those into stock in February.  We would, however, be happy to provide you with a free replacement for your broken tripod stand (that is actually the updated design of this stand which has had many fewer issues among customers).

I provided him with the name of my local dealer and received this response:

I just wanted to let you know that [local dealer] has been made fully aware of your situation.  The replacement tripod stand has been sent to them for you (at no charge) and they are now fully informed on the end pin.  If you indeed would like to have this reserved for you when stock arrives in Canada, just place your order with them and we will make sure to get it arranged here on our end.

The same day, I receive an email from the local dealer:

I understand you are having an issue with your tripod stand.   The rep is sending us a replacement and I will contact you when it arrives. He also mentioned you were looking for the end pin stand.  We sell the for $145 and ordering one should be around 1.5 weeks.

Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise I will contact you again when the tripod replacement arrives.

I provide him with my phone number and two days later, I am contacted to tell me the replacement stand has arrived, to bring in the broken stand and make the exchange.  Reminder, this is a product that is over 3 years old, no longer under warranty and not in production any more.  I went to the store the same day and got my new stand, which is stronger than the original because it was made for NS Designs’ newer product.

I have since sent an email to NS Designs thanking them for their commitment to customer service and also linked a copy of this blog to them.  I am also extolling the virtues of their customer service to fellow musicians everywhere.

Too bad I can’t do the same for Chapters Indigo.  However I have found this attitude with a number of Canadian companies, particularly those in a monopoly-type situation.  I challenge all large Canadian corporations to compare their customer service strategies to what is happening south of the border and ask why they cannot provide the same level and quality of service their American counterparts do?