Pokémon : Toronto vs. Elmvale

In an attempt to embrace our latent millenialism and maintain the illusion that we’re closer to 20 than 40, JF and I are avid Pokémon Go players. Yes, it’s just as embarrassing as it sounds. But we can’t seem to stop!

When I reached Level 21

The celebratory screen shoot I took after reaching Level 21 before JF

Part of the appeal might be that it has become a competition. Mikaela vs. JF. Husband vs. Wife. Men vs. Women.

We’re (literally) running around to see who can get to level 22 first. I’m edging ahead but my recent lack of pokeballs has put me at a serious disadvantage – unable to capitalize on any creatures that appear on my screen.

Two days ago, I almost spent real actual money from the bank on virtual (e.g. make believe) pokeballs to catch a level 700 Staryu (level 700! Staryu!). I didn’t waste my wages, but I may have shouted « Noooooooooooooo! » on a busy Elmvale road.

Why did I run out of pokeballs, you ask? OK you didn’t ask but I’ll tell you anyway. It’s because Elmvale only has four pokestops – the source of pokeballs. And when you’re a grown up with actual things to do, you simply don’t have time go by those pokestops again and again.

Which brings me to today’s thesis : people in less populated are at a serious disadvantage in the game Pokemon Go.

In Toronto, there is a pokestop or gym at every corner. Our friends Mireille and Patrick took us to High Park, where we filled our virtual pokebackpacks to the brim with pokeloot and caught all sorts of rare beasts. Sometimes, I dream of going back there without JF to gain a serious lead in our pokebattle.

screen shots from the game

Left: downtown Elmvale. Right: downtown Toronto. Unfair!

Last weekend we walked through Allan Gardens and caught a Bulbasaur, Clefairy and Gloom in the span of 20 minutes. That same amount of time in Elmvale might yield a Rattata (rat), Weedle (weevil) and Pidgey (pidgeon). So basically, Elmvale gets rodents and pests. Toronto gets fairies and dinosaurs. I call no fair!

I’ve just re-read the words I (a 32-year-old woman) typed above. I feel deep shame but also a deep sense of injustice. Equality for the boonies! Equality for the boonies!

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.

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.

Toronto: an honest and updated pros and cons list

I spent the last few weekends in Toronto. Highlights included martinis at Pravda with my dear friends Mireille and Patrick; Indian food with some of my favourite former colleagues; an outdoor Back to the Future screening in Liberty Village with Humber PR gals; and decadent high tea with my old roommie Steph at the Royal York.

Whenever I’m in the city, I can’t help weighing life there against life in Elmvale. Some things about Toronto are just amazing. Some things, erm, less. As JF and I drove up the 400 yesterday afternoon, we discussed both.

When we got home, we decided to clear our heads with a walk through Tiny Marsh before tackling our long list of chores.

Tiny Marsh is starting to show its fall colours.

Tiny Marsh is starting to show its fall colours.

While quietly plodding (so as not to upset the birds) I remembered this blog post from a year ago. Not surprisingly, most of the list is still accurate. But I feel differently about a few things. So here it is, revisited — original thoughts in italics, new thoughts indented.

Things I miss about Toronto (revised)

  • People — friends, colleagues, Cantores choristers, and the Rebelo family
    • This is still the toughest part of being in Elmvale.
  • Matt Galloway
    • Sorry, Wei Chen.
  • Good sushi
    • Barrie’s good sushi offers a view of the highway. But at least it exists!
  • Any Indian food
    • It’s expensive, but again, available!
  • The plethora of job postings with decent wages
    • Surprisingly, we’re both gainfully employed. So I don’t miss this anymore.
  • Diversity
  • Solomon’s seal tea
    • Yishey gave me a big, giant box so I’m set for at least a few more months. Thanks Yish!
  • The Toronto Blue Jays
    • Don’t know why I put this on the list in the first place.
  • The St. Lawrence Market
    • NOTE: We have excellent local farmer’s markets that are cheaper. If only they sold cheese and bagels and eggplant parmesan.
  • Pride
    • As in LGBTQ — there isn’t enough of that here.
  • Regularly discovering new corners and nooks
    • There are tons of corners and nooks in our new neighbourhood, they’re just plant-filled instead of building-filled.
  • Driving through yellow lights
    • I must truly be a country bumpkin because I don’t have the urge to do this anymore.
  • The Grid
    • R.I.P.
  • Anonymity
  • Properly stocked LCBOs
  • Social media that actually keeps up with local news
    • At first, I thought our local media outlets were slow. Now I realize they just don’t have as much news to report.
  • Concerts
  • Starbucks
    • I don’t find I need pumpkin spice lattes anymore — weird!
  • I’m adding a new one: the wide variety of amazing restaurants and shops. Barrie just doesn’t come close.
  • Another new one: cool stuff happening everywhere. Like the oddly appealing Tweed Ride — in which historically-attired hipsters ride their vintage bicycles through town.

Things I don’t miss a mite (revised)

  • Looking nice all the time
    • The number of perfectly-groomed people per square kilometre in Toronto is so indimidating to me.
  • Congestion
  • The TTC
    • I won’t cross this off, but I will say I miss not driving on a Saturday night.
  • Noise
  • Warmer temperatures, with sticky air and half-assed breezes
    • In the summer, this is true. In the winter, it is not. So I’m half crossing it off.
  • The smell of garbage day
  • The pace of everything (but driving and social media)
  • Crowds
  • Feeling totally disconnected from the people around me
    • After months of tight-knit Elmvale, this was kind of nice for a weekend. But I wouldn’t want to live in it forever.
  • Biking accidents
  • Yorkdale mall
    • I finally understand why hordes of people descend on Yorkdale every weekend: Anthropologie, J. Crew and Tory Burch.
  • House prices
  • Eating at restaurants almost daily
    • Truth: for all my diatribes against eating out, sometimes I kinda miss this.
  • Rob Ford
    • Surprisingly, I missed his antics after awhile. Springwater politics are dull. Wishing him and his family strength.
  • Parking downtown
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs
    • There are probably more fans per capita in Elmvale than in Toronto. Ugh.
  • Crazy rent prices
  • Getting lost in the PATH
    • Not sure why this was on my list in the first place. I rarely used the PATH.
  • The cost of food at farmer’s markets

It’s good for me to think about these things from time to time. To enjoy my Toronto time, while I’m there, and appreciate Elmvale’s Elmvaleness.

Early in the morning

Every career blog ever (and Wikipedia) has claimed early risers are more successful. These paragons of healthy living levitate out of bed, meditate for an hour, eat chia seeds, cure cancer, wash behind their ears, iron their shirts and still make it to work an hour early.

I must be doomed to failure because for as long as I can remember my morning “routine” has consisted of 33 hits on the snooze button, five-second showers, and yanking on mismatched clothes on my way out the door.

In Toronto, I would then run to the TTC, sweatily wiggle my way into a packed train, then hold an unnaturally stretched pose for an hour while someone’s muffled (and usually horrid) music rang in my ears. An evil cosmic law ensured I always got stuck standing next to unsanitary sneezers, large backpack wearers and loud talkers.

These days, my mornings continue thus: after running out the door, I hop into Tobias, drive on empty roads through lovely scenery for 25 minutes, park, walk 40 steps to my desk and start work.

This is probably the least talked about, but most life-altering perk to residing outside the GTA. The best parts of my traffic-free, insular and incident-free commute are:

  • Cranking my music
  • Singing harmony as loud as I can
  • Listening to Vague FM
  • Driving by the Elmvale Zoo and saluting the zebras
  • Taking my foot off the gas on the Horseshoe Valley hill
  • Admiring fields and trees – especially as they turn crimson
  • Planning my day
  • Making mental grocery lists

I’m still perpetually late. I’m still decidedly not zen. I will never be Benjamin Franklin. But I can honestly say the whole thing has made me a better employee and colleague. Thanks, low population density!

There are few photos of my commute because I'm, well, driving. But here's one of the zoo from a time when JF chauffeured me. Can you see the zebras?

There are few photos of my commute because I’m, well, driving. But here’s one of the zoo from a time when JF chauffeured me. Can you see the zebras?

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:

A year ago

367 days ago at this time, I was hugging my beautiful Toronto work friends goodbye. I remember feeling a happy fluttering in my belly, along with a strong urge to throw up. Walking away from my downtown office is when I actually internalized the fact that, for better or worse, I was finishing and beginning an adventure.

Screen shot that says "you registered on WordPress.com 1 year ago! Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!"

This popped up on my phone on May 31, 2014. Thanks WordPress!

The night before, I had spent an hour hammering out my first blog post. Reading it brings so many feelings back into my head and heart. It was exhilarating to know we were finally going to give our dream lifestyle a shot. And horrifying to think we were leaving stability behind.

In the days that followed, I called our wonderful landlords (how I now admire their impeccable yard skills!) to tell them we were moving. I picked up dozens of regrettably empty boxes from the LCBO. And we ordered last suppers from our favourite delivery places — I miss you, Banjara Indian Cuisine.

Fast forward to now, when I’m often asked if the whole thing was worth it. It’s a tough question to answer.

Most days, I say yes. In this new life, I cook more, see JF more, read more, spend more time living en francais, see family more, and give back to causes that mean more to me. I also love working on our house, in our garden, in our little town.

But is our new life everything we expected? Of course not. I still overload my schedule. I haven’t properly broken in my new purple sneakers. My job is great, but short-term. Our red brick beast/house adds a whole new layer of busy. The hammock we pictured ourselves regularly lying in hasn’t even been installed. And there are Toronto people and things I miss ferociously.

After weighing both then and now, I’ve concluded that I’m closer to who and where I want to be than I was a year ago. I’ve also decided it’s important to have those someday dreams. But it’s equally important that I remember to enjoy the lumpy, potholed (or these days, mosquito-ridden) road I’m on. At the very least, I think I’m headed in the right direction.