The view from here

I’ve struggled to write lately, because there’s at once so much and so little to say. Life – full of to dos, visits and meetings – is blasting by at warp nine. Yet, it all feels rather pleasantly humdrum.

But instead of letting you believe I’ve been eaten by Odie, my blog left to wither tragically, I thought I may as well share some updates from Elmvale.

1. The Lefaive girls are back in business

Gen has returned from the distant land of Guelph to eat mom’s food and work at ye olde Disco Harbour. It’s been great to see her more regularly.

10152461_10152418133966177_3664109521090512833_n

2. Odie is a sweet terror

He playfully flattens all children. JF says his wagging tail feels like a bludger to the crotch. He also accidentally crushes your toes when accosting you for affection. On the upside, he now knows how to sit AND walk on a leash (little victories!).

IMG_5995

3. Wedding plans are progressing

We have a location, a tent, a caterer, flowers, a dress and an officiant. Plus a lovely friend has offered to make 100 invitations by hand. Please make note of their loveliness when you get yours.

4. We’re regularly visiting the sands of our youth

We splurged and bought a Tiny Township beach pass for Tobias. I’m pissed at the cottagers who erect barriers (physical and metaphysical) to keep locals out – my family has been using these beaches a century longer than yours! – but glad this option for pseudo access still exists. Here’s to the smell of coppertone.

3183_10151304130796177_1713857898_n5. I joined another board

Yes I know, I was just whining about how busy I am. But I couldn’t say no. It’s with La Clé – an organization that’s vital to the health and well-being of the local francophone community. I’m delighted to represent both my hometown and my age bracket.

6. My garden has expanded

Helena and Owen devoted a whole day to helping me create a new garden bed in the yard. It’s looking a little sparse, but (finally!) intentional.

7. My choir did another concert

Minus a few terrifying bars, it was quite good. We were mostly on key and everything. And I always feel good after singing with friends.

8. The 2015 Humber High reunion took place

The gals from PR school do an annual general meeting. It always includes food and shenanigans. This time, we had a big breakfast then went to Body Blitz, sat around in warm water all day, and talked. It rocked.

No one likes a bathing suit photo poster, so here's last year's AGM

No one likes a bathing suit photo poster, so here’s last year’s AGM

9. I painted a wolf

Or rather, a wolf cutout, at Quest Art. Several acrylic-splattered howlers, including mine, will be available at le Festival du Loup through a silent auction benefiting both the gallery and local francophone musicians. Win win!

IMG_6006

10. We bought a Roomba

This shouldn’t be news, but this little round robot is so beautiful to me. He whirls around, bumping into furniture, happily beeping and sucking up dirt. We’ve named him Rambo and I dedicate this song to him.

I think that’s kind of it, folks! I figure since I’m getting as granular as dirt on my floor, it’s probably time to stop. The road goes ever ever on (how many nerd references can I fit into one blog post?).

Advertisements

Homelessness in Elmvale

It’s the coldest night so far this year, and I can’t stop thinking about the young homeless man who lives in Elmvale. He used to sleep in the post office at night. Then we got this letter.

FullSizeRenderTonight, I chatted with him in the lobby of TD Bank. He looked pretty comfortable lying by the ATM, bundled up in his worn sleeping bag and parka, but I doubt he’ll be there long because the building has cameras.

Every time I see him, I think about how desensitized I was to extreme poverty while living in Toronto. Would I have noticed him, young as he is, if he’d been tucked into some archway at Yonge and Dundas? Probably not.

I also think about the invisibility of poverty in places like Elmvale.

Friends who work in social assistance say north Simcoe County has more than its fair share of challenges — addiction, violence, teen pregnancy and hunger. My mom, a former teacher, would come home with stories of students struggling and failing to break the cycle of poverty.

As I type in my pyjamas — with my partner, my dog/furnace, and my sleepytime tea — I am so grateful for the people and things I have. We are fortunate ones.

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:

Flexitarian

Since moving back to Simcoe County, I’ve spent a lot more time in the kitchen. Bring on the crockpot lentils stews. Why? Because cooking is cheaper and healthier than eating out. Also because I can count Elmvale’s dining options on two hands. They include:

  • Steelers Pub: specializing in wings and beer
  • Alma’s Café: classic greasy spoon
  • Pieces of Olde: soup and sandwiches prepared by little old ladies
  • Cheezers Pizza: famous
  • Life’s a Slice: not famous, but still quite good
  • A’s Fish and Chips: self-explanatory
  • New Golden City Chinese Food: chicken balls and fried rice
  • Kozy Kitchen: full breakfast for $3

steelers-elmvaleThere are also a few chain joints (Elmvale has the only Coffee Time I’ve ever frequented that isn’t filled with drug addicts and undercover cops), but those don’t count.

Elmvale’s restaurants are surprisingly good, but they don’t exactly offer the plethora of cuisines I’m used to. In Toronto, we had Indian, Japanese and Thai food delivered to our door regularly. New Golden’s wontons just can’t compete.

Also, when I go to most of these restaurants and say I’m vegetarian, I pretty much get the classic response from My Big Fat Greek Wedding:

But sometimes, I just can’t be bothered to cook. And when I go out for food, I find myself eating the occasional fillet of halibut with fries. It’s either that or pick the bacon off an overdressed Caesar salad.

Classic fish and chips. So hard to resist.

Classic fish and chips. So hard to resist.

My new, flexitarian diet feels really strange. After nine years of skipping finned creatures, popping fish back into my diet doesn’t seem natural. As I ingest flakes of trout, I think guiltily about giant nets scraping along ocean floors and chemicals being poured into vats full of squirming, farmed fish.

Still, that golden, battered, deep fried fish is crispy. And it disappears as quickly as my morals, apparently.

Friends ask if I’m going to start eating chicken or beef and to that I say no – or at least, not now. I’m encouraging JF to purchase some of the amazing local organic meat we have in the neighbourhood (check out my colleague Mark’s farm!) but I’m not ready to go there myself. This flexitarian will only flex so far.

It's okay guys, you're safe.

It’s okay guys, you’re safe.

Unlearning what I have learned

Tonight, mom and I went to Hope Lives Here, a fundraiser for the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre. The big room was filled with people celebrating cancer patients and survivors – bound together by shared experience.

I was moved by stories of courage, loss and, most of all, hope. I was also a bit overwhelmed by faces from my past.

If you aren’t from a small town, here’s what it’s like: there’s no use hiding in the bathroom when you’re guaranteed to know the woman peeing next to you.

If you were a total misfit and weirdo most of your youth (ahem), this lack of anonymity can be trying. But most of the time, it’s nice to feel connected to those around you. I think that’s what most mean when they use the word community: people who share a common story.

When I first moved to Toronto, I made eye contact with everyone I passed on the sidewalk, talked to anyone I rode more than two floors with in an elevator, and always made friends with seatmates on the subway, whether they smelled like garbage or not.

Fast-forward to now. The chatty salesperson trying to recommend a product makes me want to claw my eyes out. The old lady asking me where I got my coat gives me tappy-foot syndrome.  The waitress who can’t stop talking about the weather is deeply irritating.

My ability to remain disconnected from (or inability to connect with?) people I bump into every day is sad. In the words of Yoda, I must unlearn what I have learned.

This event was a good start. A reminder of the importance of community – in helping people heal, giving us purpose, and bringing our days meaning. I’m going to carry that lesson in my back pocket these next few weeks and see where it takes me.

 

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.