Recent Reads

A few books I’ve read since moving here two months ago:

1) Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden –

Oftentimes I will read a book and get really, really into the specific time period, culture or geographic location in which the book takes place. I’ll research the heck out of it, spend all my time thinking about it, talking to people about it, reading reviews, watching movies, etc. This happened with Memoirs – I suddenly became fascinated with pre-WWII Japan, the geisha culture, old Kyoto…this book really pulls you into that world. I realized I had a rather hazy notion of what a geisha was, so this very detailed look into the life of one particular geisha, named Sayuri, was both illuminating and compelling.

That’s what I loved about this book – the broader strokes it made on my consciousness, the way it has inspired me to learn more about a period of history I haven’t studied. The actual specific story though didn’t really hook me. I couldn’t understand Sayuri’s motivations for her actions. She fell in love with the Chairman as a child, yet her childish love for him never matured, was never questioned nor given room to develop. I never really got why she loved him. Other characters seemed more like screeching caricatures, like Hatsumomo and Mother. And lastly, the author’s writing style – which originally struck me as graceful with these beautiful nature similes and metaphors – became very, very grating. There is such a thing as TOO many nature similes. In other reviews of this book, Golden has been both criticized and lauded for “writing Japanese”, whatever that means. I found it came across as such an ardent attempt at sincerity and authenticity that it felt…insincere and inauthentic. Like I was being hit over the head with constant water! zen! kimono! rocks! nature! JAPAN!

2) American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld

LOVED this. A fictional account of a presidential First Lady who just so happens to share many similarities with Laura Bush. Instead of Texas, it’s set in Wisconsin and follows the life of Alice Lindgren from her childhood to a messy, tragic adolescence to finding her passion as a school librarian. It’s at a backyard BBQ where Alice meets an up-and-coming scion of a political family, Charlie Blackwell (aka George Bush). He’s charming, brash, boisterous, a little rascally, desperate to escape from his family name and make a mark on the world somehow…and I fell completely for him (who would have thought I’d ever say that about Dubya?). But it’s true – Sittenfeld does a terrific job of making you care about these characters and the path the lives of quiet, composed, steely Alice and rambunctious, boyish Charlie take on the way to the White House. Since it IS fiction, you wonder throughout the book, “did this really happen?” Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but it’s delightful to wonder. The role of the First Lady is a tenuous, ever-shifting one and this book prompts you to look back on historic first ladies and see how they’ve individually left their legacies on the U.S. presidency. It also raises the old “the personal IS political” catchphrase. When you’re married to the leader of the free world, so to speak, do your politics take a back seat to his? Do you just shut up and smile and vote for him, even if your values belongs to the other party? How much of an influence do you really have? What do you talk about in bed? Sittenfeld delves into these questions with enthusiasm and creativity and above all, a startling sense of realism.

3) The Orenda, Joseph Boyden

Chosen as one of the Canada Reads 2014 nominations, The Orenda is crowning “Best of” lists across the board in Canadian literature this year. I completely understand why. I couldn’t put down this gripping account of three people whose lives are inextricably linked together: a Huron warrior and statesman Bird; a young Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, whom he adopts after killing her family; and Christophe, a charismatic, ascetic and devoted Jesuit missionary. The story takes place in the formative and brutal years of our nation when Europeans first arrived in the “New World” and the clashes between cultures began. Quite simply, this is a book every Canadian should read.

4) The Girl You Left Behind, Jo Jo Moyes

I had such high expectations for this book! I read the author’s “Me Before You” this summer, a book that left me absolutely destroyed (think: crumpled up on the ground doing an ugly cry – yes, seriously). I LOVED “Me Before You” for the very reason of the emotional response it drew from me. But The Girl You Left Behind was disappointing. Where I loved the characters in MBY and all their little quirks and idiosyncrasies, I didn’t love the characters here. They came off as flat, lifeless, selfish (but not for a justifiable reason like in MBY) and I just couldn’t root for them. There were a few jarring notes of unrealistic, erratic behaviour or language (for example, the male love interest is supposed to be an American expat but he spoke in flawless Brit-speak, dropping little bon-mots and British-cisms that I just couldn’t buy as authentic. Also, the female modern-day protagonist is supposed to be wrecked by her husband’s death, but she certainly jumps in and out of bed and love with the American faster than I deemed realistic for an allegedly distraught widow). Although the part of the story that is set in WWI France was the more interesting section of the novel (compared to present-day London), it read more like middling historical fiction (Philippa Gregory, maybe?) than say, Sandra Gulland. And I’m so tired of the “quirky best friend” trope in fiction and movies! You know, the wacky girl who exists just to underscore how normal the heroine is, and of course to offer some startling wise piece of advice right before the climax. Groan. I get the difficulty for authors in juggling too many characters – you just don’t have the time and space to give each character a back story, hobbies, a plot of their own. But it still feels stale. Moyes does do a fine job of taking an ethically ambiguous issue and revealing just how there really are no clear answers. She forces you to think about where you might stand on a topic, and then think again and maybe reconsider. It’s never black or white in either MBY (which looked at the ethics surrounding euthanasia) or The Girl You Left Behind (restoring stolen art to original owners…sounds like a snoozefest but it really is exciting and provocative!) and I appreciate Moyes’ challenge to readers.

Bottom line? I’d take this book to the beach if you want a slightly smarter “beach read” than the usual.

5) Big Brother, Lionel Shriver

I’m on a Lionel Shriver kick right now because I can’t get enough of this author’s caustic wit. Her characters are refreshing in their originality and honesty. You don’t ever truly LIKE a Shriver character, probably because she’s brutal in pulling back the curtain on the secret little nastiness every human harbours inside him or herself – the uncharitable thoughts, the compulsions, the selfishness. It can be uncomfortable, because if you’re being completely honest with yourself you can see some of your own thoughts and actions reflected in those characters. But there’s also a sense of, “ah. I’ve been seen. I’m understood” that I get when I’m reading Shriver, and I love that.

Big Brother is ostensibly about a woman, Pandora, whose big brother, her idol, comes to visit her – and she doesn’t recognize him. He’s morbidly obese, wheeled off the airplane to greet her after she overhears passengers complaining about the fat guy who took up extra space and still got to pay the same price for the ticket. Pandora is shocked, sickened, disgusted and dismayed. But does she have what it takes – and what DOES it take? – to help her brother regain his life?

This is not an uplifting “man loses weight and lives happily ever after” story. Instead, it’s a dark, twisted and compelling look at family relationships, responsibility, North American society’s obsession with two extremes (you’re either obese or starving) and the lies we tell ourselves and each other. It poses the biblical question that carried such weight with Cain and Abel: Am I my brother’s keeper?

And Shriver’s answer is not what you’d expect.

6) So Much For That, Lionel Shriver

Told you I was on a kick (I’m currently engrossed in The Post Birthday World, also by Shriver). Shep Knacker has spent his entire adult life dreaming of the moment when he’ll have enough money saved up for what he calls “The Afterlife” – when he can move to a country where the exchange rate with the US dollar means he’ll live in comfortable wealth for the rest of his life. Shep’s got his heart set on Pemba, off the east coast of Africa. He finally accrues enough money in his Merrill-Lynch account (nearly every chapter opens with his bank statement) and buys three one-way tickets to Pemba for himself, his acidic wife Glynis and their son Zach who acts like he had a lobotomy but is most likely just a very apathetic adolescent.

But then Glynis drops the bomb: “You can’t go to Pemba. You can’t quit your job, because I’m going to need your health insurance. I have cancer.”

So much for that.

This novel is a searing, critical, impassioned screed against the US healthcare system. It’s been compared to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a book written in 1906 that exposed the horrific practices of the US meatpacking industry and the lives of the immigrant workers chained to the industry. The Jungle has been called “The Uncle Tom’s Cabin of wage slavery.” I think we can call So Much For That “The Uncle Tom’s Cabin of healthcare slavery.” Shriver is blistering in her attack yet equally ruthless when it comes to her characters. Glynis isn’t your stereotypical cancer patient, lying meekly in bed and smiling at visitors, calm, pacified, with a quiet determination. No. She’s furious. She takes pleasure in Hurricane Katrina because it means other people are suffering too, just like she is. Other characters in the novel also challenge our perceptions of “sick people”. Flicka is a teenager with familial dysautonomia, and she’s mouthy, occasionally bratty, whip-smart and highly critical and observant. Both her and Glynis refuse to go gently into that good night. No, they’re going to put up a fight, and they’re going to make other people’s lives hell while they rage against the unfairness of ill health, this lottery they never wanted to play but lost anyway.

Once again, it’s the characters that are unforgettable in this Shriver novel, and not just the protagonists but all the secondary and tertiary characters too who come to life on the page. There’s a subplot that I think could have garnered its own novel, and a revenge ending that’s just fabulous if slightly unrealistic (but of the type where we’d all say admiringly, “if only I could do that!”). Reading this book, I was truly terrified of cancer for the first time in my life. I’ve been so, so lucky to have a very removed notion of the horror that is cancer, but this book really drives it home for you. I admit that my previous “understanding” (if I can use that word, and I don’t really think I can) of cancer and chemotherapy was that it made you tired and gaunt, but in Shriver’s novel you truly see how devastating the disease – and it’s “treatment” of chemotherapy – really is. It just rips you apart.

As we watch the numbers in Shep’s bank account dwindle with startling speed, Shriver shows all the costs of cancer – the emotional ones and yes, as tacky and heartless as it seems (and her characters admit), the financial costs. What’s the worth of a human life, in dollars? If you know you’re going to die, do you keep fighting it? Do you keep funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into treatments that won’t work, throwing money away that means your family will have to declare bankruptcy after your inevitable death? What is the role and responsibility of the government in all this? Tough, tough questions.

7) Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling

I listened to the audio version of this book and liked it much more than I think I would have enjoyed reading it. Sure, it might make a decent beach/poolside read, but I don’t think it would have held my attention much longer than 10 minutes. As an audio book, though, it works. Maybe it’s because Mindy Kaling actually reads it herself, so the voice sounds authentic and real, or maybe it’s because the tone of the book itself is so chatty and convivial that it lends itself to an audio version.

Whatever the reason, I enjoyed listening to her prattle on (yes, she does prattle, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way…she’s like a talkative best friend who never shuts up but is somehow endearing and entertaining, if a little self-absorbed) about her childhood, her random observations, her early 20s in New York and then L.A., and some pop-culture opinions.

It’s about 4 hours long, so it made 2 hour-long drives pleasant. I also listened to it while cooking dinner and cleaning up, which was nice because this isn’t exactly War and Peace. You can listen to it with one ear while washing dishes or in your car while keeping your eyes on the road.

Occasionally, I laughed out loud. But I didn’t find the book uproariously funny. It’s more than a little self-indulgent and self-congratulatory. Kaling seems to have led a largely blessed life, and that’s great for her, but let’s be honest – being happy and successful for pretty much your whole life doesn’t make the most interesting narrative when it comes to a book or memoir. I would have liked to hear more about her writing, how she creates characters and sketches, what the collaboration process is like when working with other writers, and how she pushed for her character Kelly Kapoor to take on a bigger role in The Office. That, to me, would have been more interesting than the frequent chapters on her body, weight and exercise routine. It surprised me that she dwelt on that tedious topic of female bodies in Hollywood, being “chubby” and defining “chubster” and “fatso”, etc. etc. At the end of the book she says she doesn’t address the “can women be funny?” question because to even bring it up would be admitting it’s a valid issue to discuss. Well, I feel the same way about the topic of weight and the female body and expectations in Hollywood. But maybe that’s just me?

Any book recommendations? I’m excited to be starting a book club in January, but I’ll need something to tide me over between The Post Birthday World (almost done) and then. Help!

Lululemon – we are never, ever, ever getting back together

I’m officially breaking up with Lululemon.

Our torrid relationship started in the winter of 2008 when I could no longer resist the siren call of the store’s distinctive loopy entrance. I ducked inside; I emerged 15 minutes later and $80 poorer with a buttery-soft metallic yoga bag that was on clearance (so I could justify the purchase).

When my boyfriend at the time saw it, he scrutinized the logo suspiciously. “Wait…isn’t that the brand that all those girls are obsessed with on campus?” The boyfriend – an English major, and a pretentious one at that – started referring to the bag as Grendel, one of the monsters in Beowulf.

Grendel was my gateway drug to the world of Lululemon, and I was hooked.

It started off innocently enough – I bought a pair of shorts and one of their tank tops. But what I’m ashamed to admit is how quickly the clothing became a status symbol for me. Working out at the gym in my lulu made me feel prettier. It didn’t make me faster or stronger, but I felt like I finally belonged. I walked around the gym with confidence now that I looked like…well, 99% of the other girls there, just less tan and blonde.

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Fully decked out in my first Lululemon outfit (left)

I was aware at the time how awful it was to have my self-worth completely tied up in a $100 work-out outfit, but it made me so happy I didn’t care.

I also told myself it was the quality of the clothes that made them worth it for me. As a runner, I needed sweat-wicking fabrics and supportive sports bras, right? Well, yes, but Lululemon isn’t the only company to make those things. Let’s be honest: it was the little double-L symbol that did it for me. I bought into the Lululemon lifestyle promise and started thinking I couldn’t possibly go to a hot yoga class without my No Limits Tank or run in the winter without my special running jacket. I watched myself do these activities through the gaze of the consumer and I liked how I looked, like some Perfect Commercial Girl.

But again – looking like a Perfect Commercial Girl didn’t make my life perfect. Lululemon isn’t what got me my qualifying time for Boston. It didn’t even get me that much male attention at the gym because let’s face it, EVERY girl is wearing Lulu there.

All of this is to remind myself that Lululemon isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not magical. Its quality has been steadily declining over the years while its prices are still obscene.

And what’s more? According to Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon and the 10th richest man in Canada, it’s our fault the quality of the clothes isn’t there anymore. Remember Sheer-gate, when pants had to be yanked from Lulu stores across North America because the fabric was too see-through?

Well, Chip Wilson recently told Bloomberg TV that “quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for [Lululemon’s pants].”

He went on to bury himself into a deeper hole: “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it,” Wilson said.

So it’s not enough that Lululemon only carries pants up to a size 12, when the average North American woman wears between a 12 and a 14. No, now their sheer pants are our problem because of our pesky thighs rubbing together! Well, of course! Silly us. It’s not, say, the fact that they use crap material (but there’s seaweed in it! Magical luon healing properties!). Please. No wonder “thigh gap” has become a thing now.

It was the exclusivity of Lululemon that got me hooked in the first place, but it’s that very exclusivity that’s turning me off now. Women’s bodies shouldn’t have to “work” for a company. The company should work for them.

Also, I would like to see Chip Wilson’s thighs (actually, no I wouldn’t). But why are women’s bodies always the topic of conversation, always presented in opposition to something, while men’s bodies rarely are?

Watching this interview disgusted me, but it also made me feel ashamed. Because…I still love my Lululemon clothes. They’re pretty and they still make me feel pretty, no matter how much I want to deny that. And I’m still going to wear the ones I already own.

But I’m no longer going to shop there. They’ve gotten my money (more than I care to add up!) but they won’t get any more.

Is it hypocritical of me to continue wearing Lulu, even if its their older stuff I bought a couple years ago? I don’t think so, but I’m still wrestling with it. Maybe it’s like holding onto an ex-boyfriend’s old shirt – it’s time to give it up?

What do you think? Should there be a boycott of Lululemon because of Chip Wilson’s remarks? Do most mainstream retailers who try to market a certain exclusivity think this way (ie. Abercrombie and Fitch), so if we were to boycott one, we should be boycotting all? And does anyone else feel prettier in certain work-out clothes, and how can we (or should we?) change that perception?

A settling in kind of Sunday

After having one of the most peaceful sleeps of my life last night thanks to no longer having to make 2 a.m. 911 calls (yep, that was one of the things I had blocked out about the drug house when I was writing yesterday), I woke up recharged and ready to settle in at my new apartment. I haven’t really taken a lot of time off work since starting, mostly because we’re a new paper so there’s a lot to do, and also simply because of the nature of the job. It’s called the news, not the olds, right? Gotta stay on top of things.

But after yesterday’s big move, I wanted to spend today settling in and looking ahead to the upcoming week. Doing the kinds of things I haven’t had a lot of time or mental energy to do in the last month. I prepped healthy lunches and snacks for the week, all while listening to one of my favourite podcasts – Q with Jian Ghomeshi – and reveling in the fact that I can play music, podcasts, etc. now without worrying about my neighbour downstairs waking up during the day and overhearing everything! It’s wonderful!

I finished up my laundry and made up my bed, and I’m lamely super excited to go to sleep tonight. Climbing into fresh sheets has to be one of the best feelings ever, right?

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My new bedroom!

I went swimming at the Annaleise Carr Aquatic Centre, named in honour of the aforementioned Miss Carr who swam 52 kilometers from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto (the same route 16-year-old Marilyn Bell took) in August 2012, becoming the youngest person ever to swim that distance, at the age of 13. She seems like a sweet kid from the posters of her hanging up in the pool, and it’s cool how she’s such a hometown hero here. That being said, it’s a little disheartening to pull yourself out of the pool after swimming 2.5 kilometers and feeling pretty good about it, and then being greeted with a huge sign over the changerooms letting you know that a 13-year-old outswam you by 50 kilometers – and in open water too, which is a whole new ball game. 50!!!! How did she do it?!? 2.5 is my absolute max and I only attempt it when I’ve got something really interesting to think about to keep me going, or otherwise I’d die. Anyway, I’m hoping to swim twice a week at the centre, and I really hope to run into the famous Annaleise at some point. I’d love to watch her stroke technique and just gape in awe at her endurance.

Now I’m going to enjoy my first smoothie made in my new Ninja blender (no photo here, because it’s one of those smoothies that make swamp water look more appetizing – ingredients are frozen banana, kale, Vega protein powder, hemp seeds, grated ginger, pureed pumpkin, and a bit of almond milk to get everything going – I swear it’s delicious and very autumnal and pumpkin-spicey for those PSL addicts out there!) and I’m going to FINALLY paint my toenails. I picked up a new colour – For the Twill of It – and can’t wait to finally have pretty toenails again. Although pretty may be an optimistic word choice. Any other runners out there who know what I’m talking about?

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Have a great, relaxing Sunday!

Home, sweet crackhouse

I’ve lived in some sketchy places in the past.

– Moscow, for one. In an apartment owned by a Czech named Genghis who kept a gun on the premises, and then later on in an apartment with a chain-smoking Brit and his Russian girlfriend, who had a very, shall we say, tempestuous relationship.

– The Russian wilderness, when I taught at a former Soviet pioneer camp for a month.

– A stereotypical university house with five other girls (the drama!), that was broken into twice and had raging parties complete with people falling out of windows.

So I kinda felt I had paid my dues, so to speak. I’m 25 now, with two degrees and some life experience under my belt, and I own useful adult things like a matching plate set and a kitchen island. I have a job that isn’t an internship, and it even comes with health benefits (“with health benefits” is probably the most beautiful phrase in the English language to 20somethings who have gone a few years without any dental work).

I’m starting to get settled, I suppose, so you have to forgive me for thinking my days of living in squalor were over.

And then I tried to find somewhere to live in Simcoe.

There was nothing. I couldn’t understand it. Why wasn’t there a demand for nice, airy, affordable one-bedroom apartments with plenty of charm and within walking distance of my newsroom? Well, maybe because it’s Simcoe, and young professionals aren’t exactly rushing in from the city to move here. But surely there had to be something.

And then a place came up for rent on Kijiji. It sounded promising – prime location (downtown, roughly 300 meters from work), in an old building with plenty of character, decent price, two bedrooms, big windows and lots of light…

I made an appointment with the landlord (let’s call him…Melvin) and my mom and I drove down there on a brilliantly sunny day. I’m blaming the sun for our lack of judgement in what follows, because we were dazzled by how gorgeous everything seemed in that blinding light. Melvin was industriously scrubbing away at the apartment, the smell of cleaning products was in the air, the big windows were wide open and letting in the warm sun and it all just seemed too good to be true.

It was.

Flash forward to move-in day. There were a few things that had seemed a little off on that first viewing, and Melvin had promised to have everything fixed by the time I moved in.

But wait…where was the security code to get into the building? Actually, while we’re at it, where was the DOOR KNOB?!? There was none. Just a cheap door with a hole where the door knob should have been, hanging open like an invitation to any ne’er-do-well to come into the building and wait for, say, a reporter new to town to walk up the stairs to accost.

Then there were the windows in the actual apartment. Upon closer inspection, my parents and I realized that pieces of animal hide would have been more effective at keeping the warmth in and the flies out (oh, the flies! It was like The Amityville Horror). There was a good two-inch gap between the bottom of the window and the sill. Great, I thought. I’ll be able to make snowballs from my living room once winter arrives.

Melvin shrugged off our concerns with more promises. “Yeah, I’ll get new windows installed before it gets cold,” he said. “And I’m fixing the door downstairs tomorrow, so it will have a door knob and a security code to get in.”

By “tomorrow”, he meant “never”.

He also assured me that the oil radiator that looked like it had been last used in 1936 would have no problem keeping the apartment toasty. The possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning was just a fun bonus!

Things weren’t exactly looking great. But who wants to act like a spoiled princess on their first day in a new place? I decided to stay positive.

And then my parents left, and the sun sank behind the trees, and the drunks came out, and the bar brawls started, and then the sirens and the “F you!”s added to the cacophony that was occurring directly underneath my window.

I didn’t sleep at all that first night between whatever was going on across the street at the bar/strip club and the events happening in my own building (question: what would you say is worse – listening to your neighbours downstairs have a domestic disturbance where every other word starts with the letter F, or listening to your neighbours downstairs very loudly, very graphically, making up – euphemism – after their fight? I vote for the latter, but I did have several hours lying in bed to debate this issue while holding a pillow over my ears and trying not to weep).

I didn’t think it could get worse after that first night. But the next day one of my downstairs neighbours came to say hello, ask me prying questions about my finances and then warn me about the shadiness of Melvin. Oh, and she also shared her own life story with me, from the fact that she and her boyfriend like to smoke a lot of pot (“it helps with my mental illness”) to how Children’s Aid took her kids away from her and put them up for adoption. She told me she and her boyfriend sleep during the day and are awake at night, because Melvin keeps the building so cold (I told my sister this and she said, “Katie. They sleep during the day and are awake at night because they are crackheads“) and that they can hear every single thing I do upstairs. She knew exactly what music I was listening to and what YouTube video I had watched. She then wanted to know which room I was sleeping in, who bought my kitchen island (she had gone through the garbage outside and saw my cardboard boxes, she said, and Melvin better not have been the one to buy it for me!) She asked me about my car and hinted that she’d love a ride because she has to walk everywhere. Then she ended her monologue (the whole time I was just standing there, thinking ohgodohgodohgodwhathaveigottenmyselfinto?) by reiterating the fact that Melvin was the worst landlord of all time and that she wanted to buy bagels but she only had $2 until her government cheque came the next day so she’d have to do without.

I didn’t know what to do. Do I take this woman at her word? Was she a reliable witness? Hell no. The whole time she was talking to me she was physically shaking and looking around shiftily, her feet and hands jittery. I am perhaps the least drug-savvy person in the world, so I have no idea if she was on something but I was fairly certain she was doing something stronger than pot.

I met another one of my neighbours last weekend, when I walked into my building and up the stairs (still no doorknob on the door) and stumbled onto three police officers standing in the hallway while my neighbour vehemently shouted, “I would NEVER hit a woman!” He saw me and gave me one of those “boy nods” (you know the type, when a man – well, usually a high school-age boy – sees you and is too cool to say hello, but will give you that head tilt upwards, like, ‘sup?’) and said, “hey, what’s up?”

Umm, not much? What’s up with you – getting arrested? Okay, where else is this conversation going to go beyond that?

I squeezed past the officers, ran up the last flight of stairs to my apartment and barricaded myself in there. When I ventured out again because I had to cover a story, there was a random strange man sitting on the stairwell reading a newspaper in the dark.

There are many, many other things about this apartment that I could horrify you with, but I think I’ve mentally blocked out as much as possible. The neighbours. The clientele across the street. The methadone clinic that’s going up just around the corner. Melvin, the man of many promises but no follow-through. The paper-thin insulation and the freezing, biting cold until I finally asked Melvin to fire up the radiator, carbon monoxide poisoning be damned.

I lasted a month. Today, I moved to my new apartment and I’m writing this now in warmth, silence and safety. When the movers came this morning to help my parents and I pack up, they threw horrified looks around the building. “We call this the drug house,” they informed us.

Lovely. Why couldn’t someone have told me this before I gave Melvin first and last month’s rent? (thankfully he didn’t have me sign a lease, something I’m eternally grateful for).

So that is my story of how I came to live in a crackhouse for a month.

Lesson learned: don’t be in a rush to move in somewhere before your job starts. Use the extra time to put your investigative journalism skills to use and find out if your future abode does, in fact, have a reputation as “the drug house”.

Also: Russia is way, way less scary than Simcoe.

Writer’s block

It’s been a busy month since my last post, and I’ve been doing so much writing for my job that the last thing I feel like doing when I get home at night is write a blog post. I’m usually thinking FOOD, followed by getting sucked into an Internet hole of celebrity gossip and random articles on national/international news, since my days are mostly filled with local goings-on and I need to get my Senate scandal fix at some point.

But I’m determined to make blogging more of a habit. I love writing, and blogging is such an unstructured and free way of writing that it’s nice to switch it up from reporting, with its focus on leads, tight, snappy writing and word count. Sure, I’m not giving myself carte blanche to ramble on with boring, sprawling posts that are all over the place (at least, I hope not), but I’m looking forward to having a little more freedom and a little less pressure (no deadlines! whew!).

On the road

Monday morning dawned crisp and clear. Blue sky, warm sun, burnished leaves in golds and crimsons. Perfect autumn weather in rural Ontario.

I met J.P. and Darryl in the Brantford newsroom, and after we touched base on the progress of our stories, we decided to use the day for a road trip around Norfolk County. Darryl grew up in Waterford and to say he knows the area well is an understatement. “If I don’t know someone in Norfolk, my mother does,” he said. So he was the ideal guy to give J.P. (an Ottawa transplant) and I a tour of the place we’ll be calling home now.

We had a great time driving around the sprawling area proudly known as “Ontario’s Garden”, and I started getting really excited about moving here. I have to be honest – my very first impression of Simcoe a few weeks ago wasn’t the best. After accepting the job offer to help start a new newspaper in Simcoe that would cover Norfolk County, I drove there with my parents on a rainy, sullen Saturday to check it out. Note to others contemplating a move: never tour a potential new home for the first time in the rain. Maybe there are some cities whose romance and charm can withstand the rain – I’m thinking Paris perhaps, and London definitely because then you can walk wistfully around some charming garden in wellingtons (love that word) while twirling a Burberry umbrella and feeling very British.

But driving down Simcoe’s main street as raindrops trickled down my window made it all the more glaringly obvious to me that Simcoe was not, in fact, Paris or London. And you know, that’s okay. It’s got its own thing going on, and I’m excited to explore it. At the time though, I was feeling pretty miserable.

Monday was a different story. That was when I could really start seeing myself living here, calling this place home. We stopped at a couple different beaches in Long Point, Turkey Point and Port Dover, and I realized with a thrill that come summertime, I’ll be just a few kilometres from warm sand and cool blue water. As a former Huron County girl who basically grew up with sand between my toes and wave-whipped hair, the chance to be close to a beach again is something to revel in.

"So how about we just make this our newsroom, okay?"

“So how about we just make this our newsroom, okay?”

Darryl filled J.P. and I in on some of the issues, people, places and stories in the area as we hastily scribbled away in our notebooks, trying to soak everything in. It looks like there’s going to be a lot to write about here, and what’s more, it looks like Norfolk County will be a great place to live. The restaurants, cafes, and theatres Darryl pointed out, the awesome Rail Trail he showed us that looks perfect for running and biking, the farmer’s stands and markets dotted around the county, the stretches of beach and forest…I fell more and more in love as the day went on.

We’re getting ready for our inaugural issue that’s out in a week (!) so things are really starting to pick up for our three-person team of reporters. We’ve got a host of stories we’re chasing now, and on top of that we’re waiting to move into our newsroom, get our website and social media accounts up and running, and set up our new computers and cameras (Christmas is coming early…the three of us are getting new Mac books and SLR cameras). I’ve never helped build a newspaper from the ground up, so this is really exciting. I feel so lucky to be getting this experience, and I can’t wait for our first issue to hit the doorsteps around Norfolk County.

What road trip would be complete without an ice cream stop?

What road trip would be complete without an ice cream stop?