Sometimes I feel like Dorothy. Yesterday, I learned that Flynn’s Irish Pub in Penetanguishene becomes Uncle Flynn’s Daycare during business hours.


When I hear about stuff like that, I can help but think “Mikaela, you’re not in Toronto anymore.” I’m actually in Kansas. Or what most Torontonians think of as the equivalent of Kansas: Ontario farm country.

Here are two other examples.

1) The other day I asked a colleague from Elmvale where I could drop off my dry cleaning in town. The answer surprised me.

“The gun shop,” she said.

“!??,” I said with my face.

A quick call to her husband, a local tradesman, confirmed it. Watson’s Sports is where you go to get your clothes dry cleaned in my town. While you’re dropping off your silk shirts, you can also pick up a new Ruger and some Hula Poppers. Amazing.

That night I – the pacifist vegetarian – stood in front of the gun shop on Queen Street East with an armload of dirty officewear, looking for some sign that they cleaned clothes.

My eyes found a barely legible, tucked away old placard that either said “French cry leaners” or “French’s dry cleaners.”  I hoped it was the latter and went in.

A man stared me down as I dumped my blouses and trousers on the glass counter – right on top of the ammo. He didn’t offer to help me. Didn’t even bat an eye.

“Do you take dry cleaning?” I asked.

“Yes we do,” he volunteered.

“…?” I said with my face. “I’d like to get these cleaned. How long will it take?”

“Two weeks,” he replied as he slowly moved to fill out a receipt.

I tried not to look shocked (two weeks!?) and walked around the store. I’m pretty sure there was a mounted stuffed dear head behind a rack of camouflage coats. Pray for my favourite blazer.

2) This past weekend was the Elmvale Fall Fair, in all its carnivalesque glory. There are so many reasons to love this event.

For starters, all of the moms and dads with kids at local schools take a day off work to watch their children march in the Friday afternoon parade. Apparently it lasts all of 15 minutes. That, friends, is community.

Then there’s the Saturday afternoon parade, which features pretty much all non-school-aged Elmvalers – everyone from grannies on scooters to farmers on tractors.

Also worth seeing at the fair: the tractor pull, oddest-shaped vegetable, best barley, most beautifully decorated pancake, and of course, the top cow.

This year, my old roomie Steph and I watched a handful of (we thought identical) three-year-old jersey cows walk around in circles and compete for a shiny red ribbon. A dairy farmer sitting next to us explained that judges look for cows with veiny udders and great “angularity” – that means bony.

But what I love most about the fair is that basically every living person originally from Elmvale comes to town, plus several extras like me. We could probably have sold parking spots in our driveway.

This really is a whole other world. My personal Oz.

The eighth oddest shaped vegetable in Elmvale

These cows are for eating, but at the fall fair, they are treated like queens.

These cows are for eating, but at the fall fair, they are treated like queens.

Off her rocker.

Off her rocker.

Mini princesses at the parade.

Mini princesses at the parade.

Elmvale is...

Rural Elmvale is… where we come back

Rural life.

Rural life.

Steph at the top of the ferris wheel

Steph at the top of the ferris wheel

Adventures in Antiquing

I generally believe that old things are much better than new ones. Old music, old recipes, old houses — they are simply more remarkable than their modern counterparts. And few activities get my heart pumping like shopping for vintage furniture.

This chair is on for $55 at Country Connection in Elmvale

This chair is on for $55 at Country Connection in Elmvale

To me, antiques are, by virtue of their age, special. They have stories to tell. Their dents and scratches are like Girl Guide badges: proof that they’ve been there and done that. They make spaces totally inimitable, are often better constructed, and are good for the planet.

But here’s the best part about antiques: they can save you money. They can even be cheaper than IKEA, if you know where to look.

This chandelier was on for $50 at the north Toronto Re-Store

This chandelier was on for $50 at the north Toronto Re-Store

After years of hanging out with my mom (who taught me the value of a lick of paint and new hardware), I feel like I know how to shop for nifty and thrifty old stuff. Here’s my best advice:

1)   Always go with specific items in mind. If you shop aimlessly, you will end up with VHS tapes, santa claus cake molds, and shot glass collections.

2)   Start with the classics. Value Village, the Salvation Army and Goodwill are well organized and cheap. Try asking when they pull out new arrivals, so that you’re looking at a fresh batch when you go.

3)   Move on to garage sales. When garage saleing, start at 7 a.m. and bring caffeine. Come prepared with lots of change, the latest local classifieds and a GPS. Always stop at unadvertised sales for better odds of finding good pieces.

4)   Then check out consignment, estate sales and auctions. I have to be honest, I’ve never been to an auction. But if they’re like estate sales (which are usually advertised in the paper) they are fantastic. Of Things Past and Around the Block, both in north Toronto, are great consignment stores.

5)   Try the Re-Store. Support Habitat for Humanity AND find cheap sinks, light fixtures, and wallpaper.

6)   Next stop, antique stores. When you go to antique stores, you’re buying from people who have scoured sources 2 through 5 as well as hockshops and curbside garbage piles. You pay a bit more for those efforts, but there are some gems out there:

7)   Finally, flea markets. I have better luck buying food than antiques at flea markets, but the 400 market isn’t bad and the Elmvale market surprises me sometimes.

These benches were $40 and $60 at Dead People's Stuff in Bloomfield, PEC

These benches were $40 and $60 at Dead People’s Stuff in Bloomfield, PEC

Because I’ve basically been antiquing since birth, I already have a lot of old stuff. In fact, I probably have enough teak credenzas, rustic wardrobes and musty wicker baskets to fully furnish our new house. That said, I’m still pretty darn excited at the prospect of a few new little nooks to fill.

I’ve already dragged friends to antique stores in Toronto and Prince Edward County (side note: MacCool’s Reuse is a PEC mid-century mecca!) and look forward to more adventuring over the next few months.  Bring on the cracked tables and blue mountain pottery.

My mom scored two of these lamps (sans shades) at a Midland garage sale for $5

My mom scored two of these lamps (sans shades) at a Midland garage sale for $5