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:

Advertisements

Tailspin

My life in Toronto was hectic. Between my beautiful friends, my busy job, and my volunteer adventures I was lucky if JF and I spent even two hours a week together on the couch. Weekends were filled with late nights that contributed to my sleep deficit with regularity.

The constant frenzy was part of why I moved. I thought maybe the city, with its americanos and office towers, was the root of the problem. I remembered – and yearned for – the slow and easy pace of my youth in Perkinsfield.

Toronto skyline from the ferry

Okay Toronto, I guess it really wasn’t you, it was me.

For awhile there, it looked it really had all been Toronto’s fault. Minus a month or two of frantic spackling and painting, I spent our early days in Simcoe County reveling in the luxury of an relatively empty calendar. “Aha!” I thought to myself as I watched home decorating shows, “country life IS slower!”

Then I joined a committee or two. Started singing in a choir. Signed up to help with Georgian’s variety show. Made new and awesome local friends. Took on some big projects at work. Began planning my wedding. Got a dog.

You get the picture. We’re back to the old non-routine. My weekends are booked into October. I’m rarely home, and when I’m in Elmvale I’m either:

  1. walking my dog
  2. cleaning stuff (because it’s usually been awhile)
  3. sitting at my laptop volunteering/blogging
  4. sleeping

Oh how I long for uninterrupted couch zombie time!

JF – the master of taking as much time as he needs – has always said that I made myself this way. That I choose to live in a tailspin. That I can opt out any time. That this probably isn’t healthy.

Why is he always right?

Why is he always right?

It’s time for me to admit that he’s right. My life, as it is, isn’t sustainable. I must slow down. I must choose to do less. I must learn to say no.

Confession: balance has eluded me since I was about 16 years old. For years, my M.O. has been run run yay run run busy run run run ok run CRASH OW BURN… cough… sputter…splat. And lately, the splats have been deeper and heavier.

I’d say I’m in a solid sputter phase right now. All my brain and body seem to want is sleep, snuggles and Star Trek – life’s trifecta of laziness. I’m functioning, but I’m exhausted. I can’t even be bothered to edit this unfiltered blog post. Looking down at my life from above, it’s pretty great. I know that. But when I’m like this, everything feels like a burden.

This is the face of a tired and whiny woman

This is the face of a tired and whiny woman

So friends, don’t be surprised if I can’t come to that volunteer meeting. Can’t hang out this weekend. Can’t commit to that cool project. It’s not because I don’t love you – I do! – it’s because I’m trying remember the grouch anthem, right this tubby old sinking ship, and bail myself out… again.

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:

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

 

Black thumb

Our backyard, 85% snow free!

Our backyard, 85% snow free!

The trees in our front yard are covered in little nubblies that will soon explode into big chlorophyll-sucking leaves. Two crocuses are getting ready to show their shy little faces in the back yard. Tiny little green blades of grass are trying to poke their way through our mangled brown “lawn.”

I am delighted to watch litres of liquefied snow trickle down Elmvale’s street grates. I really am.

Front yard, 80% snowplough sand!

Front yard, 80% snowplough sand!

But I must admit to being utterly terrified by what is being exposed to the world. And by the world, I mean my neighbours.

Why? Because I have the opposite of a green thumb. My thumbs are both black as the squirrels that keep eating our birdseed and suet.

About a month ago, a dear friend gave me a little self-sustaining plant. It only needed water every few weeks. Here is what it looks like today:

I'm sorry, Cynthia. I tried!

I’m sorry, Cynthia. I tried!

All of that said, I think most gardeners would be frightened at the prospect of rescuing our yard. Its list of challenges is truly epic. Here are my top 10:

  • no fence = no dog
  • uneven, lumpy ground throughout
  • weeds and mud instead of lawn
  • no defined garden beds the back yard
  • random weeds everywhere
  • patchy mulching in the front garden
  • sad, brown bushes that need trimming
  • hostas that need splitting
  • decks that need replacing
  • broken paving stones

Basically, I need one of those HGTV shows that will take two days to raze what’s there, then magically replace it all with a lush, low maintenance retreat.

I’ve taken to what I call aspirational gardening. I stand on our back deck, close my eyes, and imagine everything my yard could be. It’s really pretty in my head! Then I go into the house before opening my eyes so that I don’t slapped in the face by reality.

While I’ve got your attention, any great gardeners out there? Can you help me puzzle through the following basic gardening problems?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At least I have David, JF, and Elmvale Bakery doughnuts.

It’s a small county after all

You know how I’ve been sorting through old stuff lately? Well, I recently found this journal my mom bought me several years ago.

Winnie the Pooh children's book cover

Here’s the front cover

Thinking I’d get to re-visit angst-ridden teenage poetry, I flipped open the first page.

Instead of a journal entry, guess what I found? A biography about Heather Smeding, our house’s former owner.

Here's Heather's bio, with our attic mentioned right in the first paragraph

Here’s Heather’s bio, with our attic mentioned right in the first paragraph

My mind was boggled. I suddenly had this feeling that the cosmos has big plans for me,  that everyone is connected and that someday, I’d find my favourite socks.

Then I remembered : Simcoe County only has 446,000 people living in it. The chances of someone from Perkinsfield meeting someone from Elmvale (15 minutes away) are pretty good.

Damn. I guess those socks really are lost.

Even though the whole thing wasn’t destiny, it was a nice reminder that like-minded people find ways to connect.

When I met Heather, I liked her instantly. She had amazing art, talked straight, and had a subtle (but sharp) sense of humour. She was part of the reason this house appealed to me.

My favourite part of the journal is the last page, where Heather tucked a little list of journal entry prompts.

These prompts came in a sweet little recycled pouch

These prompts came in a sweet little recycled pouch

I thought I’d share some of my responses:

  • Dear past me : Your poetry isn’t good
  • If I could change one thing : I’d find my favourite socks
  • Three good things : BBQ chips, snuggling and puppies
  • Things I always did with my mom: read Winnie the Pooh
  • Three things I would grab if my house was on fire : a photo album, the blanket my avò made me, and my purse
  • If I knew I couldn’t fail, I would : be a painter
  • Thing I’ve done that I didn’t think I could : sing for a crowd

I think I might use this journal to keep track of the many things I’m grateful for, starting with my mom, good food, friendly people, and happy coincidences.

One of my journal's inside pages

One of my journal’s inside pages

The Elmvale 15

Over the last two weeks I’ve ingested a Toblerone, two bags of Kernels popcorn, three bags of chips, several handfuls of jujubes and at least three cups of red and green m&ms.

My pants don’t fit me, my belly jollily jiggles like Santa’s, and worst of all, I feel like a (vaguely) human-shaped lump of butter. I’m calling the weight I’ve gained the Elmvale 15.

These days, I blame holiday baking. I must have eaten a solid dozen cookies yesterday. And today I had two chocolate-covered, tree-shaped sugar cookies for breakfast.

Evil Christmas cookies.

Evil Christmas cookies.

Other malefactors include: wine, the Elmvale bakery’s boston cream doughnuts, the cafeteria at work, my enabler partner JF, and Tobias.

Who knew my little blue Honda would keep me off my feet so constantly? The other day I drove from our house to the post office – just over 200 meters. Brutal.

I guess there was an advantage to the TTC’s suckiness after all; it forced me to get off my ass and walk.

Which brings me to the real culprit: slothfulness. Remember when I pledged to exercise regularly in July? Well, the closest I came to a fitness routine was the occasional leisurely stroll through Tiny Marsh, back when Simcoe County wasn’t coated in ice.

I often say I don’t have time, but the truth is that JF and I have somehow managed to watch two full seasons of the original Star Trek since October. Imagine how healthy I would be if I had spent those 50 or so hours running, lifting weights and eating kale – I’d look like 80s Cindy Crawford!

All of this to say I’ve become the dreaded Flabby Lefaive. And after my usual mulled-wine-and-sugar-induced January hangover, I’m going to do something about it. For real. Starting with a cleanse.

I would, after all, like to live long and prosper.