A biased introduction to the towns of Simcoe County

Many of my Toronto friends remain confused about Elmvale’s location. I routinely get asked if it’s near Blue Moutain or Huntsville. The answer is well, kinda. It’s somewhere in between.

Here's a map with Toronto, Blue Mountains, Elmvale and Huntsville, for context

Here’s a map with Toronto, Blue Mountains, Elmvale (in green) and Huntsville, for context

I think of Elmvale as the centre of Simcoe County. Not the cultural or economic centre (that’ll be the day!) but the actual geographical centre. We live 20 to 30 minutes from the following places: Midland, Orillia, Barrie and Wasaga Beach. Here’s my uninformed, totally biased opinion on those four hubs.

BARRIE (south of Elmvale)

SpiritCatcher_1024x768

Spirit Catcher

  • Claim to fame: nearish to Toronto. Also, where I work.
  • Populationish: tough to say because it grows by 1,000 every time someone sneezes. Maybe 150,000?
  • Cool stuff: surprising number of decent restaurants, Sir Games-a-lot, waterfront park, great Mayor, Georgian College
  • Less cool stuff: sprawl, unreliable transit

MIDLAND  (north of Elmvale)

Midland, retro edition

Midland, retro edition

  • Claim to fame: Martyr’s Shrine and Ste. Marie Among the Hurons. Also, where I lived in my teens
  • Populationish: probably about 15,000 most of the time, but 100,000 in July and August
  • Cool stuff: lovely downtown, random murals, cheap real estate, Midland Cultural Centre, awesome bowling alley, proximity to Penetanguishene (another cool town)
  • Less cool stuff: Lots of poverty. Also the waterfront could be nice if it didn’t have the grain elevator, lumber yard, giant mineral pile, busy road, graffiti and drugs

ORILLIA (east of Elmvale)

Opera House

Opera House

  • Claim to fame: Casino Rama. On the way to Muskoka
  • Populationish: guessing 30,000ish?
  • Cool stuff: great downtown, Mariposa Market, Mariposa Folk Festival, Stephen Leacock museum, OPP headquarters, opera house
  • Less cool stuff: keeps trying (unsuccessfully) to compete with Barrie – do your own thing, Orillia!

WASAGA BEACH (west of Elmvale)

The beach

The beach

  • Claim to fame: duh
  • Populationish: maybe 10,000 in the winter a zillion in the summer?
  • Cool stuff: the beach, the kitschy stores around the beach, proximity to Collingwood (which is lovely), paintball, go carts and mermaid hotel sign
  • Less cool stuff: driving through sucks. Also, noisy motorcycles zoom past my house all summer to get there.

In conclusion, if you’re planning to visit me OR Simcoe County (which you should!) there’s plenty to do. I suggest you go to all of the towns listed above, but also:

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Mother’s Day

This is my mom, cooking as usual.

My mom, cooking as usual

My mom houses me when I’m homeless, points the way when I need direction, and cares for me when I’m sick. Last week, when I was feeling overwhelmed by the weeds in my garden, she and my avo spent an afternoon cleaning my yard.

Maman is one of those unsung heroes of the world. She quietly, but efficiently, fundraises for charity, volunteers at community events, and excels in her work — all while keeping a meticulous house, exercising regularly, making deliciously elaborate meals, socializing with her Manhattan-sized network of friends, and beautifying the universe with her impeccable taste.

Sometimes it rankles to know that my mother is, and always will be, infinitely cooler than I am. When I was in high school handsome young men I liked would tell me they had a crush on her. Talk about your classic chopped liver.

Mom and me, circa 1985

Classic Mikaela and mom, circa 1985

But mostly, I’m just grateful that some miracle resulted in her giving birth to me.

One of my goals in moving from Toronto to Simcoe County was to spend more time with family. And when I picture my family, my mom is always at the centre.

Just a year ago, a weekend in Midland meant slogging through cottage country traffic, cramming in visits with friends, eating mom’s food, then schlepping back to the city to crash. Last night, a Tuesday, I had her and some friends over for a casual and decidedly unhurried dinner. Radical.

It’s sad that we only carve out one day of the year’s 365 (or 0.3%) to express gratitude to moms — so often the most amazing people, and the most taken for granted.

So here’s to mothers everywhere. But let’s face it, mine’s the best.

Mom and I, sometime last year

Mom and I, last year

 

Small Town Living

Living at mom’s isn’t half bad. As expected, she makes delicious food, folds my socks, and puts little pots of fresh lavender on my bedside table. The way she constantly keeps tabs on me is weird, but I’d forgotten how nice her house — with its comfy couches and vibrant art — is to be in.

I just had lunch on my mom's front porch. Lovely.

I just had lunch on my mom’s front porch. Lovely.

Beyond enjoying my mother’s slave labour, home, and company, living in Midland again is pretty great. My calendar is clearing up, my to do lists are shrinking, and I’ve spent a lot of time with family.

This morning, maman and I walked to Little Lake Park for a drop-in yoga class only to find the gazebo that usually houses Friday yoga totally devoid of activity. Google told me class had been moved to the Yoga House in Penetanguishene.

Little Lake Park, one of Midland's hubs.

Little Lake Park, one of Midland’s hubs.

We were about to walk home grumpy, when another misinformed yogi tapped us on the shoulder and asked if we knew whether class was cancelled. When we said it was moved she (a total stranger!) offered us a ride to the studio. And my mom (I repeat, total stranger!) said “sure” and hopped into the nice lady’s SUV. What could I do but follow?

The Toronto in me thought we might be driven down some dirt road, bound, gagged, and diced into fleshy bits, but it turns out our fellow lululemon-wearer was a friend of a friend. Of course.

When we got to class late, I was astounded when instead of scowling at us, people made room for us. And 90% of attendees looked at least vaguely familiar. The woman behind me was a former colleague at Discovery Harbour. The woman to my right was mom’s best friend. The woman two mats ahead of me had often shopped at Rub of the Green, the eccentric little boutique I worked in through high school.

A billion downward dogs later (ow!) I nabbed my old friend’s number then went out for coffee with mom and her buddies. At Grounded, we bumped into three more acquaintances. I smiled so much I think my dimples are now permanently etched into my cheeks.

It’s nice slash strange to feel so connected to the people and places around me again. That’s small town living for you.

House Hunting — Not for the Faint of Heart

Holy. Choosing a house is hard.

Our quest for the perfect home has now spanned four weeks, bazillions of google street view searches, and at least 25 in-person showings across about a dozen towns. Tobias has been earning his keep.

With guidance from our trusty real estate agent, we have bravely picked through yards strewn with debris, held our breath through homes that reek of cat pee, ducked into dark crawlspaces, and faced angry barking dogs.

Lately I’ve been spending more time with my new friend realtor.ca than with any of my human friends. Or JF, for that matter.

Remember our tale of two houses? Well, multiply that by three. We have:

–       The pretty house in Elmvale that’s too expensive (my Elmvale house from post 2)

–       The four floor, six bedroom mansion in Midland that’s too big

–       The lovely home in Coldwater that’s too far

–       The run-down house in Elmvale that has potential (JF’s Elmvale house from post 2)

–       The farmhouse in Hillsdale that doesn’t have a working kitchen or insulation

–       The expensive Midland house with good resale value, but only two bedrooms

This house has six bedrooms, four floors, and a butler's staircase. Crazytown.

This house has six bedrooms, four floors, and a butler’s staircase. Crazytown.

None of these houses are perfect. Not a single one.  And we have come within inches of making offers on them all.

This whole thing is rather complicated because much as JF and I have a similar vision for our future lifestyle, we can’t seem to agree on two important things: location and house style. I favour Midland and red brick victorians. He wants Horseshoe Valley Road and a “well maintained old person’s house” (his words). We may as well want different continents.

Woe is me.

What I’m trying to focus on tonight is this: whatever house we choose, we will make it a great home. We will love it, live in it, beautify it, host dinner parties in it, and be happy. Because that’s just our M.O.

But golly, do I ever wish we would get to the finish line, already.