A cottager’s guide to blending in with country folk

It’s cottage season again and that generally means three things for us residents of north Simcoe County.

  • MONEY: Cottagers spend a lot of their hard-earned cash in our little towns. Conscientious ones support small businesses like Elmvale’s amazing bakery and antique store.
  • BUSY-NESS: Travelling from Elmvale to Barrie on a Sunday now feels like crawling painfully to the ends of the earth. And local grocery stores now have actual lineups. Whoa.
  • NOISE: Everyday, at least one thumping Mercedes filled with teenagers in stringy bathing suits screeches by our house on its way to Wasaga Beach.
They're ba-ack!

They’re ba-ack!

Bullets two and three are the reasons most locals (who don’t own businesses) are irritated by the influx of people from the GTA. I can’t personally be vexed because, two years ago, I barely survived July in an air-conditionerless Toronto apartment. What I can do is help bring permanent residents and summer visitors closer together.

You see, when I worked at a boutique in Midland as a teenager, I knew spenders cottagers as soon as they walked in the door. I lost that superpower after a few years in the city. But now, as a citry girl, it’s back and triple its original strength. So, here’s my advice to Torontonians trying to blend in with small towners:

  1. MAKE EYE CONTACT: Smile and look directly at everyone you walk by —just for a second or two. Better yet, say hello. Yes, it does feels unnatural at first.
  2. MAKE SMALL TALK: Chat with waitresses, checkout persons, store clerks and bank tellers. Easy topics include: traffic, weather, local attractions and (if you feel like really getting personal) their plans for the weekend.
  3. DRIVE BIG AUTOMOBILES: If you’re renting a car, skip the Japanese or German hatchbacks, sedans and crossovers. Instead, opt for a large truck or SUV made by a North-American-sounding company like Dodge or Ford. Avoid luxury cars like the plague.
  4. WEAR CASUAL CLOTHES: For men, you’re kind of stuck with baggy jeans or khakis and a t-shirt or polo. For women, look less put together and more thrown together. Actually, you should just wear jeans and t-shirts too.
  5. WEAR BLAND SHOES: Women, don’t wear heels. Men, don’t wear pointy-toed shoes — ever. Sneakers and Crocs are good alternatives.
  6. CARRY CHEAP ACCESSORIES: Ditch your designer purses and sunglasses. Get your replacements at Wal-mart or, if you want to get fancy, Winners.
  7. AVOID LULULEMON AND STARBUCKS: Those things don’t exist here, so don’t sport your $20 headbands and grande americanos north of Midhurst. And don’t whine about the lack of either franchise – we’re sad too.
  8. SUCK IT UP: If your food is late, coffee is cold, or you don’t like the service, don’t complain loudly or ask for a discount. Mutter quietly about it to your friends. And offer a good tip anyway.
  9. LISTEN TO MAINSTREAM MUSIC: Your obscure indie jams don’t offer much social capital here, so crank the Sweet Home Alabama, Thunderstruck, and Copperhead Road. If you don’t have those on your playlist, just tune into Rock 95. They play those three songs on repeat.
  10. RELAX: Slow down, don’t hurry. Wait patiently, even if the checkout person is doing his best snail impression. You’re the same amount of important as everyone else. Besides, you’re on vacation!

And now, an obscure indie jam:

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I believe in little things

Prairie Dawn (yes, the one from Sesame Street) sings a song I’ve always loved about her belief in the power of little things. Her examples are honeycomb, spiderwebs, and starfish.

The pace of our lives remains blistering. It’s JF’s busy time at work and he’s exhausted from travelling to head office in Toronto and back. I’m trying to get used to this whole nine to five thing. And we can’t seem to keep ourselves from chipping away at house renos every night.

But, optimist that I am, I continue to find heaps of joy in things like perfect donuts from the Elmvale bakery, clean sheets out of the dryer, and colourful tea towels.

One of the best compliments I ever got was from my childhood taxi driver, Carol. She drove my sister Alicia and I to elementary school every day. Not because we had money (I wore hand-me-downs from my cousin Anne-Marie until I was 14) but because we lived so far in the boonies there was no reason to send a bus.

Anyway, Carol was obese, wrinkly, and had platinum blonde hair of dubious authenticity in with neon pink curly ribbons coming out of it. She was also, I thought, one of the kindest people in the universe. When I was 11, she told me I had the greatest capacity for seeing beauty of anyone she had ever met. I guess that’s kind of questionable coming from a woman with plastic hair, but I felt pretty special.

At that age, I collected purple rocks, walked through woods alone to admire fall colours, and sighed with pleasure at the sight of an open peony. I also did dumb things like keep dead leaves I’d seen twirling in the wind and practice making perfect impressions of lipstick on Kleenex. I was pretty cool.

Things haven't changed much. I picked these around Elise and Roger's house a few weeks ago.

Things haven’t changed much. I picked these around Elise & Roger’s house a few weeks ago.

I have been using all my powers for admiring loveliness lately. I’ve needed them to spot the potential in my patchy bathroom walls and see through the stained carpet on my 2nd floor.  I’ve also used them to remember and appreciate the many small blessings in my life.

Sunflowers + fresh picked apples + sunrises over canola fields = happiness.

My new friend Nytol

We recently gave our notice to our landlord. We must and will be out of our Toronto apartment for September 1, 2013. Which means we must and will either buy a house or rent a place in Simcoe County sometime this summer. Blimey. This is really happening.

Or is it?

A few months ago, thinking about houses at bedtime (silk curtains, granite countertops and hardwood floors… mmmmmm) would send me first into a pleasant haze, then straight to sleep. Now, thinking about houses at bedtime induces me to take Nytol — an effective drug recently added to my pharmaceutical lexicon.

We just can’t seem to agree on what house to buy. What I love, he doesn’t. What he loves is ugly. And after ten years of renting, we just don’t want to rent anymore.

Which is why I’m moving (temporarily, I hope) into my teenhood bedroom at my mom’s Midland house in a week. From that tiny “terracotta”-painted (i.e. poo brown) shrine to my youth, I can help with my sister Alicia’s engagement party, volunteer, job hunt, go to the beach, hang out with my avó, and drive around like a crazy person in search of “for rent” and “for sale by owner” signs. My amazing mother will feed me and do my laundry.

This is my mom's house. Beautiful, but can it hold three grown women?

This is my mom’s house. Beautiful, but can it hold three grown women?

Mom, I love you. Thank you for being a regular reader of this blog. But I’m a bit scared of living with you and Geneviève. Three women, one bathroom. Plus it’s been ten years since I lived with a parent.

I started packing today and it’s harder than I thought. Just how many bags does one need for an indefinite stay in a small, storagely-challenged room?

I say indefinite stay, but there is a ray of hope in the vast gloom of this house hunt. JF and I recently set a drop dead date. On July 22, we will either make an offer on this house in Coldwater (which we both love — we would just prefer Elmvale) or choose a house to rent.

House in Coldwater that we both love. If only it was in Elmvale.

House in Coldwater that we both love. If only it was in Elmvale.

We’ve committed. Crossed our hearts. Pinky swore. But whether we will actually be able to make a decision on July 22 remains to be seen.

What I know for sure is that for the next few months, I will have a foot in both worlds. JF will be working away in Toronto while I try to start building our new life in Simcoe County.