Great Lakes Living

Living all that the Great Lakes surround, approach, command, impress.

A Little Agrarian Luxury

I started to wonder if I had mixed up Prince Edward County with Prince Edward Island.

The last 32 minutes of our 10-hour trip were quiet and slightly tense, all hopes pulsating toward our newborn not waking up as my parent’s Dodge Caravan followed the twists and turns of the dark and slick back county roads outside of Wellington, Ontario. If he woke, it would mean instantaneous recognition that his belly was empty and top-of-his-lungs tears would ensue.

But, at 7:57 p.m. I heard Dad say, “Ah, Twin Birch” and in the deep, dark of the night we pulled into the noiseless driveway. Suddenly, something about the nighttime, the rain, and being very far away from home became exciting. Travel and the possibilities of new experience were ahead. We slowly crawled toward our dimly lit cabin, ready to tuck in.

The Twin Birch Cottages sit along West Lake, a calm, triangular-shaped lake off of Wellington Bay, surrounded by land. We didn’t have time – nor as New Mom did I have the energy to – but stand up paddle boarding would be wonderful in this lake. Smooth water, plenty of shoreline. This is also a hot spot for fishing, with a wide variety of species swimming around including bass, pike, walleye and perch. The vibe is decidedly calm. When we awoke in the morning to find our entire view from the kitchen and lower bedroom/TV room was of the water, we were smitten.

Coffee was a necessity to round out the experience of vacation-morning-on-the-water (oh, I suppose it’s always a necessity) so my Dad and I hopped in the van at 7:00 a.m. and ambled into town to the Tall Poppy Café. Exactly what I was hoping for. A delicious selection of breakfast and lunch fare all prepared with goodies from the café owner’s own farm as well as from other local growers is written across a daily chalkboard. We decided on a take-out container brimming with that day’s fresh baked goods – a gorgeous German chocolate brownie and velvety butter tart among them.

Once we were fortified and after perusing the local winery trail map, we set out to visit a handful of vineyards and do a little sampling. (Nursing every two hours didn’t exactly put me in the sampling-a-lot-of-wine camp but the scenery as we explored proved rewarding.)

By Chadsey’s Cairns’ three vineyards sweep across 14 acres of the estate winery’s property, a 200-year old farm that is home to apple and pear orchards, a quiet creek, and four barns. Historic relics remain – a pioneer cemetery viewed along the winding gravel driveway that leads visitors to the tasting room, and the namesake cairns, large mounds of stones the property’s original owner used to build a formidable fence on the farm in the late 1800s.

Our foursome sampled a variety of wines but settled on bringing a bottle of the Roxey Rosé home with us – a soft blush colored wine with a juicy berry flavor and plenty of crisp acidity. Soft blush colour, juicy berry flavour and plenty of crisp acidity.

We stopped in at Sandbanks Estate Winery – numerous cars crowding the parking lot had caught our attention. It turned out to be a harvest celebration day during which volunteers were out to help pick grapes and in return were favored with lunch and live tunes. We popped into the tasting room to scoop up a bottle of Baco Noir, a favorite Southwestern Ontario varietal of my mother’s.

We ended our vino tour at Karlo Estates, vegan-certified wines that are wild fermented. When I had read this bit of information about the wild fermentation in our Wine Route Planner I knew this would be necessary visit. And a necessary taste. Karlo Estate’s tasting room is housed within a warming, rustic barn structure. We tucked in as a busload of tourists were finishing up – Zach had been carrying our son Radley zipped up in his fleece vest to keep him warm and cozy but as we walked into the propane heater-filled barn he pulled him out and every single person went gooey-eyed. My tired eyes brightened as we introduced our little nugget to passersby.

We settled in at the bar once the room had emptied out and started chatting with the server. I let him know that this nursing mamma couldn’t have much but that I would love to try a little of one thing. Quintus is what he poured. The winery’s blend of five Old World varietals, Quintus is described as floral, dark fruit, cassis, tobacco, earth and a hint of dark chocolate. The finish was a deepness that I had been craving and I was instantly eased. I acquiesced to a sample of The 5th Element as well, a Petit Verdot which is a varietal not often seen on its own. The peppery finish offered a nice zest. I was slowly (but never fully) waking from a deep, month-long fog.

As we drove back through town, Quintas, Roxey, Baco Noir and a Karlo Estates Port packed in the back of the van, hunger peaked. We stopped back through at Poppy Café for sandwiches and checked into The Drake.

The Drake Devonshire Inn. This was the initial destination. The reason I had booked this wild trip in the first place. After reading in the Globe and Mail a few years back about the potential of a waterfront hotel opening up in Prince Edward County’s wine country I’d kept my curious senses tuned. I would peruse The Drake’s website, seeing if there were updates. Finally, there were. And there was a sign-up list to be one of the first to stay during its fall 2014 opening. I hurriedly typed in my e-mail address.

I’d imagined all the wineries I would test, the water I would gaze upon, the meals I would eat.

But now, I was tired. I wasn’t sure if we should or should not have driven all this way. I wanted a glass of wine. But I couldn’t have one. I wanted to eat with sugary and fatty abandon with everyone. But I was a little person’s source of nutrition. I wanted to sleep. But it would be short lived. Yet, then we checked in. And The Drake lightened all of those “buts.” At once the hotel’s vintage playfulness sumptuously wrapped in glamorous design made me feel luxurious.

I have not slept on a more comfortable mattress. I have not eaten a better steak for dinner. I have not experienced a more invigoratingly rustic and refreshing view from the back porch of a hotel.

We spent three hours prior to dinner sunk into our guest room’s cushy mattress, our baby and us swaddled within the bed’s snuggly comforter. Each room’s eclectic collection of original artwork and trinkets gives spirit and life to the rooms, making them wonderfully unique. Even if the distinctive pieces aren’t on your walls at home, they still make this feel like home. Artisan-made dolls make quirky bedside table companions in each of the Drake’s rooms, while Canadian-made MacAusland’s virgin wool throws blend perfectly with the hotel’s rustic charm.

The Drake’s dining room is adorned with a wall of tall windows, offering an alluring view out onto Lake Ontario. The sun had nearly set and the mauve glow across the blue-gray water was stunning. Equally stunning was a tomahawk steak dinner the four of us shared. Served with green beans and potatoes – (and what else?) fixings right for a family dinner. The bone from this behemoth cut of steak could last your dog a year. We finished the meat in a good 20 minutes, down to the last lick of juice.

The piece de resistance though was our walk out onto the beach after dinner. Mom and Dad took Radley upstairs and Zach took my hand as we hurried down to the water. It felt like summer camp, every birthday party ever and the day I met my husband, all rolled into one.

Prince Edward County’s rural character was marrying into the Drake’s richness as we stood, blown off balance by chilly winds gusting in across the lake, looking back on the glowing candlelight on diners tables through the cool, clear glass of the hotel’s dining room. I wanted to build a fire, put on another two sweaters, slouch down into an Adirondack chair, and stay on that beach all evening long.

It is a rarity to be satiated with the amount of time one is able to spend on a vacation. But, that statement is an understatement in regards to this trip. We were in and then gone before our newborn could grow another day old. As we were checking out, I couldn’t resist rushing from room to room, frantically snapping photos of the rooms and atmosphere that I hadn’t had a chance to enjoy. I wanted to experience the nostalgia of the Glass Box rec room with its ping pong tables and board games selection, take in the permanent and rotating art collections inside and out of the inn, listen to the stream trickle down the creek just outside of my parents’ balcony.

Back in the van we steadily started our route back to Ohio, back 10 hours from where we came, dreaming, I knew, of my necessary return, unable to wait again to spend days on end in Prince Edward County’s countrified opulence.

Twin Birch Cottages | Cottage #1 | Harbour View



















Refreshment Stop in Toledo

Z and I have been driving along I-90 from Windsor, Ontario to Cleveland, Ohio for four years now. Everything used to be so fast-paced and intense that we barely allowed ourselves a stop on the turnpike to pee, let alone find somewhere to have a decent cup of coffee and some tasty, worthy food.

Things are still fast-paced – we’re 30-somethings in 2014 – but each week that goes by we seem to eek out a touch more normalcy, stability and extra time. Now when we travel, we stop to pee, we fill up on gas, and most recently we actually get off the highway in Toledo to head to a new favorite of ours, Plate 21. A coffee shop offering tasty baked goods like pistachio muffins (they are green!) and Turtle biscotti, alongside lunch favorites such as edamame and kale salads and gooey grilled cheeses, the real treat we’re willing to detour for, no matter what time we told friends and family we would be arriving in town, is for the matcha frappes. Z used to love Green Tea Frappucinos from Starbucks, and I suppose still does, but nothing compares to Plate 21’s smooth, milk-shake like consistency bursting with sweetly balanced matcha green tea flavor.

On weekends, as a quarter-way or three-quarter-way stop, we scoot down tiny Rugby Drive side road, happily guzzle down our drinks, then continue on our way, tracing alongside Lake Erie, to wherever it is we are headed.


A Hotel: The Public

A chilly evening in Chicago was the perfect backdrop for our second anniversary. My husband and I spent the night at The Public hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood – and we never left through the lobby doors the entire 24 hours.

Usually on a trip, whether to a new city or a city we love and know, I spend a good portion frantically Yelping and Googling to make sure we fit in as many feast-worthy restaurants, can’t-miss bands and enlightening gallery exhibits, with perhaps a small collection of boutique shopping, as possible in our time frame.

But, the lobby of The Public is grand, with striking white, arching walls, large mirrors, and inviting furniture. Hefty coffee table books on subjects of jazz and modern art are laid-out for perusing and the moment I plopped down on a couch with my bags as Zach parked the car (we are our own valets) an overwhelming sense of settlement came over me. I did not want anything more than my husband, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, a comfy-couch-filled screening room within which to watch that evening’s Oscar’s (aptly called The Screening Room) and hotelier Ian Schrager’s artfully appointed space.

The Pump Room restaurant, Vongerichten’s collection of simple and straightforward dishes based in the now-common in-season ingredients ethos, in a fashionable spot for dinner. We love pizza too much, so we did start with a Margherita as an appetizer and a month later we still have not stopped talking about it with people. Chewy, soft dough with a light hand of ingredients including handmade mozzarella was incredibly satisfying. We ate it so fast, well, it was like a bread bowl when you get to a restaurant and you’re starving – yet we weren’t mindlessly eating to fill up, it was just that good. And these are listed as “Whole Wheat Flatbreads” –  Zach, this man who makes pizza every day, can’t get over how whole wheat flour might have been used and is set on recreating it. As for bread bowls, since I brought it up, was homemade loaves with oil and salt on the side for dipping. I mention this because save that flaky salt to put on your pizza and then anything else you order. My kale salad was zesty with a hint of mint added to the lemony dressing. Zach’s fried chicken was something immediately served for dinner at our home two weeks later. Lightly breaded with something similar to panko, with a hot butter sauce drizzled around the sautéed greens and meat – creamy butter, melted down, mixed to an easy temperature with a zingy vinegary hot sauce. A ‘best meal’ that has been added to our gastronomic list.

We then ordered some yogurt cheesecake and headed over to The Screening Room  – this is on the opposite side of the lobby from the restaurant and is tucked behind what the hotel calls The Library – a little bar area that becomes a coffee area in the a.m. The Screening Room showcases much-loved and independent films as well as art and musical performances throughout the week and weekends – even early morning cartoons on Saturdays – but this Sunday night the Oscars were showing. Ah, we thought, let’s tuck in here with our dessert, sink into a comfy couch and watch some musical performances and actor speeches on this big screen instead of heading out to a venue. Another brilliant idea. It was so relaxing snuggled in front of the huge screen. Plenty of great evenings could be spent watching memorable and unique films and listening to intimate acoustic acts in this intimate space.

In the a.m., soothed by the delicately decorated room, I was able to finish off quite a bit of work. The airy white walls and handful of small, humorous prints of cows along with a set of streamlined furniture made for a mind-freeing work environment. And then we headed down to The Library for a late-morning of coffees, warming up by the fireplace on fur-lined armchairs. This lasted for quite a few hours actually – ordering two more pizzas from the restaurant for lunch – and we enjoyed our simple afternoon sitting inside the hotel lobby rather than heading into the city for a swing through the art gallery. We ended up late on the road, in fact, after having soaked up every last ounce of this perfect space.


Nearby Notes:

The water of Lake Michigan peaks over the end of the road if you turn out left from the hotel’s lobby doors and right on the first corner of this street (East Goethe) is a fantastic playground for kids.

If your stay is a touch longer than ours and you do want to pop out for another dinner elsewhere, try the highly-rated Bistrot Zinc – casual French fare including croque-monsieurs, lamb sandwiches and slices of quiche. An oozing, Nutella crepe for dessert is never a bad idea.


The countryside in Essex County is so flat the winter wind can whip across or against anything and freeze it on contact. We had great frozen ponds to skate on when we were kids – I would follow my brother down to the pond at the end of our street. Our neighbor, Bob McCarthy would ride over the ice with his tractor to make certain it had frozen thick enough for us kids to safely play hockey and skate around in circles on.

There is a large oval patch of grass in between my Grandmother’s house and my parents’ home and for a handful of winters it froze over, allowing me a personal ice rink for late-night skates after dinner. My parents would shine a spotlight on it; I felt magical, important and beautiful.

But, I haven’t skated in years.

I found out the other day that in Cleveland the public park named Wade Oval, which is located in University Circle, has a skating rink in the wintertime. The Rink at Wade Oval is open from now through March 9th and with skate rentals at $3.00 and skating itself free, I’m thrilled for the chance to head out into the cold over the next three months, bundled and recapturing my winter youth.

Yet, there is more to The Rink than just the ice. There is live music on Wednesday evenings in December, two movie nights December 28th and January 25th with showings of Happy Feet and Miracle (yes, I am picturing tangled legs and arms and blades close to nicking skin as too many folks look up at the screen and not ahead) and for Valentine’s Day the rink will be painted pink – ooh, la, la.

Outdoor skating is a cold region winter activity no doubt. Us who live in the snowy provinces and states rely on recreation like this to make the fiercely cold days fun. Concordia University in Montreal, Québec, published a report in 2012 that shows “the outdoor skating season (OSS) in Canada has significantly shortened in many regions of the country as a result of changing climate conditions.” Studying the winter seasons from 1951 to 2005 resulted in a finding that “future global warming has the potential to significantly compromise the viability of outdoor skating in Canada.”

I treasure the four seasons that we experience in our Great Lakes region. Some folks are used to and enjoy one to two seasons of minimal change but my body is thrilled with the new sensory experiences every few months. I would be saddened if soon enough there was only the chance for indoor skating. It is a mesmerizing feeling, the falling snow; cheeks pink and chilled from the cold, breath fogging against the thin air, the hush of skates up into the sky.

A little something to warm up with after skating.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Make two mugs

2 cups of milk

1 tbsp. sugar

1 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped

1/8  tsp peppermint extract

Whipped cream

Crushed candy cane or peppermint candy

Heat milk and sugar slowly over low heat – don’t let it boil. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate to melt, then add peppermint extract. Pour into two mugs. Top with whipped cream and crushed peppermint candy.

I look forward to reading about your favourite rinks to skate around on in your chilly neck of the woods.

SnowDec2013M&D                           (Great spot to build an outdoor rink. Maidstone, Ontario)

Enjoying Great Lakes Coffee

National Coffee Day was Sunday, September 29th. My favourite coffee moment happens when I am back at my parents’ home in Maidstone – I get up really early with my Dad, and while I quietly turn the pages of my magazines and he delicately swipes the screen of his iPad, we sip on coffee. In the winter, he warms the mugs on the fireplace first, and in the summer we are fine to let it cool as we sit outside on the front porch. Around 8:30 a.m. my Dad presses play on Natalie Cole’s “Coffee Time,” and slowly peeks around the bedroom door to where Mom is still tucked in bed. Then the three of us are quietly reading while casually waking up.

I am now settled into a home in Cleveland, but before that I have lived in two other apartments, in two different towns. Each time my parents have visited over the years, on weekend mornings my Dad has enjoyed going for a walk to get coffees. I do have a French press and a Bialetti, and keep fresh beans on hand, but my Dad enjoys the stroll, the discovery, and the potential conversation with the owner of a local coffee shop.

In Ann Arbor one of the first strolls my Dad and I took was over to Washtenaw Dairy, where my friend and neighbor Elnian told us we could get delicious donuts. Actually, everyone in Ann Arbor will tell you to eat the donuts here. Glazed, powdered, sprinkled or sugared, they are still warm in the early morning. We walked to get a bag full, and three tall, simple drip coffees in large Styrofoam cups. Perhaps it can go without saying, but we have enjoyed Zingerman’s coffee at the Deli’s Next Door Coffeehouse, and at the Coffee Company’s Coffee Bar, at Downtown Home & Garden and at Zingerman’s Roadhouse during brunch. It is good, and there is never a disappointment. Comet Coffee is a little place that took us a while to discover, although it is a destination that many Ann Arborites are devoted to it. The best whole beans I have purchased to date are from this café, and we loved sitting at the high-bar window, looking out at passersby in the alleyway. My most recent go-to in Ann Arbor is RoosRoast and its new café spot, RoosRoast Coffee Works. Here there are hand-pulled espresso drinks, locally roasted beans to-go, and a gorgeous collection of hand crafted ceramic mugs, a part of RoosRoast’s Perfect Mug Series, which I now covet. And, the best place to drink coffee while waiting outside for a table at breakfast? Northside Grill. I don’t remember what the coffee tasted like, but I know we were thrilled that a carafe was sitting out next to paper cups, there in the crisp autumn air.

Stratford, Ontario is currently my favourite cute little town. I loved living there, and moved there because I was smitten by it. Working at Your Local Market Co-Op allowed me the chance to discover many local roasters (we carried quite a variety), and while I most often drank a decent self-made latte each morning, since I was practicing the espresso machine, when Mom and Dad would come into town, we would pick up coffees most often at Balzac’s Coffee Roasters (my Dad’s early morning walks.) If Zach and I wanted some time to relax with a coffee we would spend time at Revel Caffé. Balzac’s is a busy café, with an outdoor patio in front and one out back (I used to busk in the early mornings next to the front patio and play French tunes for people as they sipped their cappuccinos) and as you wait in line for your latte made with Ontario organic milk, there is a row of glass cake stands showcasing an array of plump, gooey, chocolatey and fruit-filled breakfast goods. Revel recently changed locations, and the new space is open, and calm, and light-filled. There is a spot for each scene – whether you want a quiet chat with a friend or want to meet with a large group for knitting or book discussions. Revel sells KeepCup’s great line of reusable cups, and the baked goods are phenomenal – cookies, croissants, biscotti, pain au chocolat. Recently, a new shop has garnered my coffee allegiance. The owners of Your Local Market Co-op opened a new cafe called Slave to the Grind, and with some renovations they cleared out the back space turning it into a cozy room with a wide window view of York St. and the Avon river. Warming up between sets while playing at this past year’s outdoor Savour Stratford, I felt cuddled up and intimate. I enjoyed knowing that Katelyn Veer’s baked goods from Your Local Market Co-op, such as the bestselling Bakewell Tart, were merely steps away, and a hand-pulled latte from coffee connoisseur Heather Walker, was within reach.

And, here I am now in Cleveland. There is so much positive energy in this city. Cleveland is burgeoning and changing and it’s not a facelift, it’s not an overhaul, it’s a renewal and rediscovery. So many Clevelanders are taking part in small-business ventures, and without a doubt, cafés and local coffee roasters are flourishing. There are many cafés and roasters I have not yet found or experienced, but in the few months that I have been here, here is my list of recent discoveries. Let’s start with my Dad’s morning walk down our main street in Euclid to Lake Shore Coffee House. It is similar to the Styrofoam-cup light roasts at Washtenaw Dairy, but with gluten-free muffins in lieu of donuts. This local coffee shop is a gem for us, with “Coffee with a Cop” nights, art get-togethers and open mics. Rising Star Coffee Roasters made the best Vietnamese coffee I’ve had yet, and the variety of pours and coffee servings is an absolute science. This coffee stop-through and roasting facility consistently has five star reviews because their coffee and processes are concentrated on and perfected. I stopped in Gordon Square the other week to pass some time before a dance class, and I spent the time at Gypsy Beans & Baking Co. Sitting at the long stretch of wooden bar, I felt comfortable for hours. There are sandwiches, sweets, soups and salads on the menu, like chocolate tartlets and cheesy flatbreads. Zach and I have a weekly routine that involves Phoenix Coffee. This is the coffee we served at our wedding, and it is also the roaster whose beans we keep in stock in our pantry. We have a Phoenix Coffee tin can, which we refill every Wednesday. And, on Wednesdays, I fill up our KeepCup reusable mugs with a daily dark roast for myself, and an iced coffee with caramel for Zach; a mid-week treat.

I heard a woman at work this morning saying to a co-worker, “Ok, sounds good. But, let me just go get my morning coffee.” Coffee is a ritual many of us take part in, and take comfort it. While often people feel they need it to get through their mornings or afternoons, I do like to think that we can also enjoy the relaxation that comes with the routine of talking over coffee, making a coffee, ordering a coffee, sitting and reading with a coffee, or letting our minds wander while enjoying a coffee by ourselves or alongside a coffee-drinking companion.

I hope you share your favourite coffee shops below, so we too can visit those as we travel around.

Camping With The Kids

I have good memories of camping as a kid. The first memories are of a trip with my Mom, and my brother Kyle. Mom took us (Dad doesn’t camp) to Wheatley Provincial Park in Ontario, which is not too far from our family home in Maidstone, Ontario.

We spent two nights in Wheatley, and my memories of it are warm and exciting. My brother was chased by a swarm of wasps when he opened up the electrical hook-up. We drove through a blustering wind and rainstorm on our last day searching for my life preserver vest, which had flown off the top of the car. The first evening I learned that raccoons have deft little paws with perfect little claws that would unlatch an old-school cooler to get to the chocolatey-marshmallow bars Grandma had sent along. And I remember feeling so safe in this wild wilderness, so close to my Mom. Sleeping under the stars, protected by our tent.

This past summer Zach and I took our friends’ children for their first camping adventure. Liam is 7 and Vivienne is 4. They ate marshmallows burned over a fired, tucked in next to each other under a tent waking up sweat-drenched in their sleeping bags, and curbed around forest trails while I incessantly worried them with “Poison ivy!” But, they had no bothers rather they seemed in a constant state of curiosity. Laughing, discovering. Throughout the trip I thought often of my mind forming memories when I was so little, and I knew their minds were in this same place of culling together and conserving experiences – a wild world of wonder, with safety as close as a hand held walking to the beach or a kiss goodnight.

Site 945 at the Pinery in Grand Bend was our choice for this trip, and it was the perfect choice. I learned from my brother that you can look up campsites on each provincial park’s website, assess the photos of each site, and cross-compare your needs to the site’s offerings. I hadn’t realized in the past that price was a factor – I used to think it was simply luck if you ended up shaded and cool, or sweltering under direct sunlight. We were tucked under trees, with pleasant privacy from our neighbors, and plenty of space to set up camp.

With the beach only a short walk up and over the nearby sand dunes, we spent the larger part of our mornings and afternoons floating on Lake Huron. Breakfast was cereal, and we would graze on granola bars, berries, and tortillas with salsa at the beach.

The first evening Z cooked up his famous campfire pizzas, and the next evening the kids ate hot dogs sent up by my parents, alongside grilled veggies picked up en route at Juicy Fruit Orchards.

Late evenings we popped popcorn in our new campfire popcorn maker, a wedding gift.

Fishing was a huge highlight for the kids. We had bought Liam a fishing rod for his birthday this year, while Viv’s dad picked her up a glow-in-the-dark superhero rod shortly before the trip. We would spend the hours after dinner until the sun went down settled into our own little clearing between trees on the riverbank. We caught two. (“Yey Vivi!”) Liam has a surgical eye when removing fish from hooks, and Viv carried the persistence that seems only reserved for small children who can cast and reel, cast and reel with the possibility of a catch far from sight.

The feeling of the sun setting, the crackling of a fire, midnight runs to go pee in the trees!, bellies aching from marshmallow sugar, ears perking up at the sounds of paws crunching through the forest bed, and the low hum of crickets and cicadas. Camping. Waking up and knowing there really isn’t anything of importance that you have to do that day, and each hour can endlessly, seamlessly and comfortably flow into the next.

Vivienne and Liam’s older sister Esme is looking forward to glamping some year soon – she isn’t necessarily convinced by what she describes as “Doing what you would do at home, but just in an uncomfortable setting.” I understand her scrutiny, so I will take her someday to share a king size bed, under a strong and structured canopy tent, because I still want her to feel what I have felt – a connection to the sound of the wind, the brightness of the stars, and the smell of the earth that you sit and sleep on through the day and throughout the night. We experience nature differently when we are camping than we do when we are at home – it slows us down. And if we are ready for our minds to be quieted a bit, camping will do that for us.

With the possibility of rain, as dark clouds began to roll in on departure day, Z and I dismantled the tents while Liam and Viv stayed tucked under shelter playing cards, eating cereal and drinking juice. Packed into the Caravan, smelling, sure, we made our way to the highway home. The kids slept nearly the whole ride back, their little minds surely dreaming of those memories made.









The Summer I Was A Bicycle Delivery Girl

Last April, three days after Zach and I had finally tucked into our new Stratford apartment, I had begun writing about what I thought the summer would play out as. I thought perhaps the summer might be known as The Summer We Opened Canned Goods With A Screwdriver. The Summer We Slept In The Toddler Bed. It might be known as The Summer Zach Drove 5 ½ Hours Each Sunday To Visit For 48 Hours. (To explain all this, we were newlyweds, with this being our first place together, and a looming year of immigration processes ahead of us.) The summer might create fond memories as The Summer I Ate Only Carrots and Granola, and The Summer We Credited A Bag of Coffee And Subsequently A Coffee Grinder With All Our Pennies In Rent.

We had spent our first days touring around Stratford, Ontario, exploring and settling into our new town, and our new space. We were smitten. Zach and I knew how gorgeous our new place was, and how fortunate we were to have found it. “Big, wooden,” I had thought that day as I stared at the baseboards and window frames, while contemplating the curtains I would soon take down to open up the space even more. “It has the personality of a summer cottage,” I had written. And with the curtainless windows, a soothing breeze passed through from the quiet street to our kitchen, all summer long.

I had been dropping off resumes – so many carefully penned and purposeful resumes – to various businesses around town, in the hopes that I would find something to balance out my new musical ventures (my artistic career could go well, and could not go well.) I was overly persistent at the local craft pizza restaurant, unacknowledged in the theatre crowd, and even more ashamed by my destructive clumsiness at Your Local Market Co-Op, where I knocked over all of the bottles of dish soap as I reached across the free-standing shelving unit for some hand soap. To solidify my presence in this grocery store, we then had to run back around the shop returning our groceries since we were still using that ridiculous credit card, and we needed either debit or cash. I was a little embarrassed. On our way out, noticing a Help Wanted sign, I said “You’re hiring?” to which the young cashier replied, “Yes, for a grocery delivery bike rider” and it was decided that I would drop off my resume the next day. I departed with a “Maybe if I get a job delivering groceries, I’ll be able to afford to buy some of my own!”

And, That Summer Groceries We Did Afford.

Your Local Market Co-Op in Stratford, Ontario opened up to offer local goods in June of 2011. One year later, when I joined the crew, I was welcomed into a store flourishing with plump, colourful, fresh produce from Ontario farms, and most often, Perth County farms. Laurie Neubrand would carry in bushels of apples, bags of crisp lettuce heads, squash that cooked up so creamy, onions, potatoes, spinach, garlic, cabbage, kale, and any other fruit or vegetable that grew healthy and plentiful as the seasons changed. Ryan from Loco Fields would bundle up a balanced and varied array of field greens for salads. Silky eggplants and spicy peppers were grown on Soiled Reputation’s farm. And a man in town named Peter Blush, would forage for mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns. Thick and creamy, tart and biting cheeses came from Montforte Dairy, with Wednesdays quickly turning into my favourite day because of a morning delivery from Bright’s Cheese of spicy chili-flecked havarti, cheese curds for homemade poutine, and possibly the most popular cheese in all of the shop – Bright’s extra-old cheddar. We even carried locally produced paneer and queso fresco cheeses from Your Local Dairy in Ingersoll, Ontario. Pizza sauces, crushed tomatoes with basil, and tomato pastes all canned in my hometown of Maidstone filled our middle shelves. Addictive tortilla chips from Barrie’s Asparagus, which offers a whole line of groceries containing asparagus as the main ingredient, filled so many of our countertops and shelves, because they were often sold-out. The water buffalo hamburgers and sausages, the pork chops, the breakfast links, the rainbow trout, kept our freezers full. Our dairy coolers were stocked with milks ranging from goat to sweet Guernsey, and all of the butterfats in between. And the fresh baked bread. Waking up early to open up a shop and walking into that store which already smells of baking bread, is what  many people possibly long for. I know I felt advantageous. Each day simple white and whole wheat loaves and baguettes were baked, with other flavours lining the shelves depending on the weekday – herb and cheese on Mondays, red fife on Fridays – with the grains and most ingredients originating in Ontario too. The goal for the co-op has been that everything sold is produced from as close to Stratford as possible, but always from within Ontario. A model for economic and environmental sustainability.

Reducing waste was part of that sustainability. We all monitored produce and dairy, and any groceries that were coming close to their shelf life, and also if there was too much of a particular item (sometimes there are just TOO MANY TOMATOES), these ingredients would all be whipped together into a wrap, a soup, or a specialty meal that would be served at the take-out counter at the back of our store.

And Saturday mornings was my bike day. I would pack up boxes small or large, brimming with a variety of produce, and sometimes a loaf of bread, and deliver the goodies around town by bicycle and trailer.

This little market covered it all.

A grocery store for locals, for tour groups, for seasonal actors and theatre crew-members, Your Local Market Co-Op was started up by four food-loving Stratford locals.  Katelyn Veere, Heather and Chris Walker, and Drea Kerr, chose a co-op business model, based on member ownership, so that the co-op could continue to be run in the community even if the four of them ventured into other projects and pursuits in the future. Chris Walker initially started selling the bread that he now bakes for the co-op at Stratford’s weekend farmer’s market, to raise funds for a gardening initiative his wife and him were creating. The bread was so desired, so sought-after, that after ideas were passed around and recruitment work was done, the four founding members opened up shop.

The co-op is a community staple. Throughout the weekdays I would be greeting Stratford locals who were off to work for the morning, and who were stopping in to grab an espresso at the back, with maybe a yogurt parfait or bacon grilled cheese for breakfast. At lunch I would be greeting actors on break from rehearsal, satiating their hunger and achieving energy in a mushroom and kale wrap for lunch, with zingy kombucha to quench their thirst. The weekends brought in a bounty of tourists, who coveted the baked goods, the fresh bread and the Ontario berries. Visitors from Michigan and Ohio always stocked up on raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and if they were lucky and timed it right, concord grapes at their most bright and juicy. Topped off with a house-baked brownie, a huge cookie, or a butter tart from Madelyn’s Diner (butter tarts drive people to guilt, greed, and astonishment, which we can talk about at length another time), visitors would have had a very pleasant, and all-encompassing, Southern Ontario experience.

I find myself these days missing all of this. I miss the town and the fresh baked bread. I miss my neighbors, my delivery bike, and being a market girl. I miss putting the days’ specials outside on the chalkboard, letting people know that “Rhubarb is IN!” and sweeping the front sidewalk, with a chance to say “Good Morning” to passersby.

For you, if you can make this The Summer We Visited Stratford, Ontario, know that if you spend a night or two in Lofts 99, maybe catch a play, rest down by the river with the swans and paddleboats, eat a great dinner at Pazzo, Foster’s or Mercer Hall, and at some point grab early morning coffee and lunch goodies at Your Local Market Co-Op (with berries for your travel home), you will have glimpsed, and hopefully felt, this wonderful calm and charm that I was so lucky to be a part of.







Your Local Market Co-Op

These Are The Great Lakes

The first time someone brought to my attention the Great Lakes viewed from orbit, I thought to myself, “Our little Great Lakes are perfectly distinguishable from that far away?” And now they certainly hold prominence each time I look at a globe, a world map, and most remarkably, that view from outer space. And they are no longer little to me, rather tremendous and determining, in addition to how I’ve always thought them to be, quite beautiful. Up close, blue water casually lapping sand or stone, and in that distant view, characteristic blue outlines that link our masses of land, Canada and America.

Quiet water. That’s what I grew up near. I would feel waves the most in the summers when I learned how to wakeboard and we were further out off the shore. Or when I have taken the Jiiman to Pelee Island, and the boat sways in rhythm with the lake. But for the most part, it’s been quiet water lapping at my feet at the Pinery in Grand Bend, Ontario, or lying still enough for my brother and I to skip rocks across it’s surface at our Grandparents’ summer campground, overlooking Lake Erie. Quiet water while we sat patiently in a boat with our fishing lines settled deep into the water’s depths on all sorts of outdoor trips.

It is cool water too. Each Summer’s inaugural camping and cottaging experiences were met with an unexpected chill on that pioneering jump off of the dock. Or when someone inevitably tipped over the canoe. The waters I’ve always known, taking many weeks under the hot sun before becoming balmy, if they ever do.

And so many shades of blue these lakes take on. Cerulean. I’ve looked out over Lake Erie most often from a common cliff that runs along the water from Essex County, upwards. It’s a dark blue viewed from up there. If you’re on the Ambassador Bridge, or standing on either side of the Detroit River, it is shockingly turquoise, much like the colour of the bridge itself. And then light and luminous as it has lapped up over my toes while standing on so many of our sandy beaches, like in Port Stanley or Kincardine. So many sandy beaches I have yet to sink my toes into.

I am from Essex County in Ontario. Born here and raised here. This is the base of most of my experience with the Great Lakes, in addition to travels between the two countries, but so much of the Great Lakes and what they surround I have not yet seen. I look forward to my future ventures. I also look forward to hearing from others about their communities, adventures, and memories, since it just is impossible to touch and see it all. Follow along if you can, as I write, and as my family writes, about everything that surrounds us. And I hope you too will join in to share your travels and happenings, and to share how these Great Lakes surround you.