Last week, I traded maple syrup for mold.
What, what, what?
Yep. You see, around these parts, it’s maple syrup season. I wrote about the details of this rural Canadian pastime last year. Basically, it means a whole lotta:
- gathering of sap
- obsessively clicking The Weather Network’s website to see if the conditions will be right for sap flow
- collecting sap into barrels and piling snow from around the yard against them so the sap won’t spoil
- obsessively clicking The Weather Network’s website to see if the conditions will be right for sap boiling
- spending from early morning until evening standing over a giant, homemade, sap-boiling extravaganza while sticky steam gives you a sort of reverse facial and, if you’re me, you somehow get a sunburn on your legs, even though you’re not really an outdoor girl and you probably only helped for a grand total of 15 minutes AND you were wearing two layers of clothing
- skimming and scooping and skimming and scooping and thwacking the thing that you used for skimming to get the sludge off and then some more skimming and scooping
- and so on and so on…for about 4-6 weeks
Practical Man l-o-o-oves this time of year. He is in his element. That is, out in The Nature, that I love not quite so much, and making something out of mostly nothing.
What could be better?
He looks cute in his lumberjack shirt and he smells of yummy wood smoke after a day of boiling sap, so I go along with it.
What can I say? I am weak for wood smoke and plaid clothing.
Anyway, the whole maple syrup thing, while quaint and stereotypical for some of us rural Canucks, is a LOT of work. There are many more bullet points I left out of my list above, because I thought you’d get tired of reading them (and I know I get tired just writing them) and I definitely get tired doing more than a few of them, so I am pretty much only a sporadic cheerleader, inept and inconsistent skimmer, lunch runner and such.
I’m basically maple syrup middle management.
Luckily, Practical Man is not a complainer by nature. Even though he’s married to a person who is a complainer about The Nature.
During one of the sap boils this season, I realized I had a bonafide excuse for getting out of maple syrup work and I gleefully embarked on it.
Dressed to kill, as you can see:
We have recently met some new Boler Buddies–people who are in love with the cute, vintage, marshmallow-shaped trailers known as Bolers in Canada and Scamps in the US–and we have offered to fix up their trailer a little, so they could try camping in it this summer.
Having two Bolers on our property made me as giddy as a Practical Man, boiling sap.
So giddy, that I didn’t mind at all the first job involved with the little jewel: scraping the un-adhered interior paint, applied by a previous owner, where it had been disguising some fairly extensive surface mold.
And you thought my breathing apparatus getup was just for fun.
I was scraping with a cool, rounded scraper thingy that only a Practical Man would own. It didn’t damage any of the interior insulation (called Ensolite) but it niftily scraped off the loose paint.
From outside the little Boler, it sounded as if a very large rodent was trying to claw its way out. But really, it was just a very large rodent who was not helping with the sap boil, whatsoever.
Inside the Boler, there was lots of flaking paint. Lots of surface mold. But, the definite bonus was that I could pretend I was Darth Vader with a sunburn.
I do recall he was pasty like me, when they took his mask off.
Anyway, my arms jiggly from the scraping (yep, that’s why they’re jiggly), I then got to use one of my favourite tools: the shop vac.
Wee-whoo! I love me a shop vac.
Lady Gaga and I shop vac’d the flaking paint up a storm (and chipmunk droppings accumulated during the Boler’s 14 years bravely surviving The Nature). There may have been some gyrating hips, I do confess.
What happens in the Boler, stays in the Boler.
We were camping last weekend in the Boler.
It needs a paint job on the outside but we re-did the inside a few years ago.
The owner of the mega-apartment-building-sized, it’s got walk-in-closets-kind-of-slide-outs trailer parked next to us last weekend came over for a little chat. He was all “oh, isn’t that just too cute” and “you don’t see many of these anymore”.
In other words, J-E-A-L-OUS.
Even though he has a walk-in closet and on board shower and a/c facilities.
The Boler has that effect on people.
I fall hard for the Boler every time I see it, too.
I love the wind-out windows that you can keep fully open during a hot night’s rain.
Pitter patter, pitter patter.
I love the original avocado green stove.
And range hood.
Very vintage, 70s – tra, la, la!
Practical Man and my dad made the doors from ash trees on our property.
They added the flowers with a minimal amount of sighing.
Before I go to sleep in the Boler, I like to wiggle my toes while lying on the dinette/bed and stare in wonderment around the little marshmallow-shaped interior.
Y’know, just for maybe an hour or so.
Wiggle, wiggle. Giggle, giggle.
Ditto for the mornings.
Wiggle, wiggle. Giggle, giggle.
Practical Man just smiles (and sometimes rolls his eyes the teeniest bit) while I’m doing this.
But, he loves the Boler, too.
I can tell by the way he doesn’t really complain about the (optimistically-named) “double” bed being slightly squishy even though he has to share it with someone who tends towards active dreaming (about buying more Bolers) and snoring and stealing the covers.
I can tell by the way he keeps a running list of “stuff the Boler needs”.
I can tell by the way he agrees to pay for camping, even though he’s a northern Ontario boy who defines camping as “parking on Crown land because why oh why would you ever pay for camping?”
And then, when I twirl happily to the creek side on our (NOT free) campsite, wearing my snazzy new trailer/Boler pants (check out the ankle ruffles!) that my aunt, Heather-the-Feather, gave me:
Okay, there might be a little more eye rolling but that quickly turns into twinkles.
Twinkles are the universal sign for “I love you, even though you’re fairly kooky”.
This is a post about a retro food joint. But, it is not a post for foodies.
There are no whole foods or cheffy types here. Can you smell the frying onions? Can you hear the creaky floors? You’re almost there, then:
The Harmony Lunch in Waterloo, Ontario.
Sounds like an old-school country song, doesn’t it? I’d like to write one.
Never you mind the peeling paint because Harmony Lunch is proudly old-school and tatty around the edges.
This is not a place that LOOKS vintage.
This is a place that actually IS vintage.
Show some respect.
Harmony Lunch started in 1930 and is still running, not to mention something of an institution on my dad’s side of the family. My Great-Uncle Fred (Grandpa Lou’s brother) was the die-hard regular: he used to go there for lunch every Saturday. When he and my Grandpa Lou opened the door, this is what they saw. This is also what I saw last November, when I had lunch there with my aunt H:
I bet you’re wishing you’d worn your cufflinks aren’t you?
I don’t blame you.
The very first thing you must do, upon entering, is line up some tunes on the jukebox in the corner.
A-wimoweh, A-wimoweh, A-wimoweh, A-wimoweh, The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Love Me Tender, what a jukebox, it is!
Then, you absolutely have to head quietly into the retro phone booth.
Sure, you have a cell phone but that won’t help you slip into your superhero costume, now, will it?
Then, have a little wander into the vintage washrooms (it’s a cultural experience):
They’re located right next to the jukebox.
(There might have been a little dancing in the toilet stalls.)
Then, finally, finally, settle yourself on one of these authentic vintage diner stools. Just ignore the modern-day ATM machine over there and focus on the way your feet come gently to rest on the bar at the base of the counter.
Aaaaaaah. Now you’re feeling it.
Since we’re sitting comfortably, let me ask:
When was the last time you had a real-for-true, made-with-full-fat-actual-ice-cream, milkshake? Not one of those edible oil products you get at the fast food joints.
Behold the chest of ice-cream-lovers’ dreams (complete with handy bottle cap opener on the front):
And, when was the last time you had a real-for-true, made-on-an-old-fashioned-milkshake-machine milkshake?
The kind where they scoop the ice cream from the–I say it again–chest of ice-cream-lovers’ dreams into a metal milkshake container thingy (I’m pretty sure that’s its official name), add milk and real chocolate sauce and then whip it into a chocolatey, bubbly, ice-creamy frenzy of joy?
P.S. I also love, love, love the colour of the machine.
Feel free to swoon over it, as you should. I’ll just be over here reminiscing about my lovely milkshake and super fun day with my aunt H.
Now, seated on the vintage lunch counter stool, sipping your milkshake from heaven, you survey the menu, in all its plastic-y glory and humble words:
The hamburgers, dear readers, are not made from grass-fed beef, nor do they come with chevre, foie gras or any other kind of french-ified condiment. These are made with plain old pork. They are also flat, flat, flat, having been squished on the flattop that stands out in the open where those at the lunch counter can watch everything being made.
THE HARMONY LUNCH LEGEND
When I was a child and my father and grandfather took us to Harmony Lunch when we were in Waterloo visiting our grandparents, there was an old, old man who staffed the grill and kept the fried onions cooking on Saturdays. My dad told us, in a hushed voice, that the same man had been staffing the grill since he was a boy. My grandfather then told us, in a gravelly, hushed voice, that the same man had been staffing the grill since HE was a boy. The old man at the grill and the fried onions were the stuff of Harmony Lunch legend.
I think they were also what made our mom usually wrinkle up her nose and decline our lunch invitation.
And, even though there was an old man my aunt H and I could see “in the back” but not at the grill this time, I’m pretty sure that the same old man is still responsible for the quintessential Harmony Lunch experience. Because, after all, it was Saturday, our family Harmony Lunch day, the day of memories and legends! And, you haven’t really been to the Harmony Lunch until you and your clothes and hair and coat and earlobes SMELL like the Harmony Lunch; that is, like the old man’s frying onions.
And no, we’re not talking fancy, modern, caramelized onions with a touch of balsamic. These are plain old fried onions.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can sneak over to the Harmony Lunch for some plain old fried onions on a burger and come home to your resident foodie, all innocent-like.
That smell lasts for days, trust me.
For the true Harmony Lunch experience, aunt H had the flat, flat hamburger (with fried onions, of course!) and a side of french fries with gravy (for sharing).
It’s also important when you’re eating at the Harmony Lunch to sample and share the onion rings.
Well, okay then.
And, check out that shiny Arborite counter!
For dessert, you could choose a slice of classic diner pie (probably coconut cream) and/or opt for one of the vintage candy treasures to be found by the cash register.
Popeye’s (candy) cigarettes!
And, of course, that not retro but quite necessary after-lunch-at-the-Harmony-Lunch favourite: TUMS.
Let’s face it. Not everyone is brave enough or will deign to eat at the classic landmark that is the Harmony Lunch.
But, those of us who do, get the pleasure of visiting a by-gone era, not to mention by-gone and current loved ones like:
Uncle Fred and Grandpa Lou
Aunt H and my dad,
and of course,
that old man who has been there since I was a kid, frying the onions.
It’s December in Canada, so of course I am dreaming about a vintage summer cottage.
Just to be clear, there are no sisters in these dreams, thank you very much.
When I was growing up, Summer wasn’t Summer unless it included a week at my grandparents’ cottage.
That is to say, my little sister had her week and I had mine. No sharing of the grandparents, no siree. Just full on, 24-7 attention and affection a la Celine Dion and Brigitte Jones:
All. By. Myself.
Needless to say, it was glorious. My Grandma Helen would open the cereal boxes upside down so I could get the prize at the “bottom” right away and we would watch Woody Woodpecker while we drank Freshie and ate “schnibbles” of summer sausage and old cheese and “crinkly” carrots at lunch.
My Grandpa Lou, resplendent in his Coca-Cola hat, would drive down the cottage lane on his lawn tractor, pulling a wagon behind, with me and half the neighbour’s kids piled in. In the mornings, he’d wake early and smoke at the kitchen table with a large, hardcover book in front of him. I remember him using an ashtray that had a metal top and sort of a plaid beanbag pillow for the bottom. I don’t think he ever used these jazzy ashtrays.
They seemed to be for company and Frank Sinatra music.
My Grandpa built a gigantic swing and teeter totter in the yard and I loved to swing, overlooking the lake. My Grandma baked Great Aunt Batche’s coffee cake recipe on special mornings and rice krispie squares with chocolate “ants” (you had to be there). My Grandpa loved to re-design his food and taught me to eat tomato soup with Kraft dinner in it.
Maybe my grandparents did these wonderful, comforting things when my sister was around too.
But, I doubt it.
My grandparents’ cottage was built in the late 60s and when I was spending time there in the late 70s, 80s and 90s, it had a lovely vintage vibe to it. A certain musty, home-y smell and barkcloth curtains in the bedrooms:
There was a room with a double bunk bed (on top AND bottom!) and witty signs dotted around the walls and especially, in the bathroom.
That is, treasures collected by my grandpa and I think, permitted with grace by my Grandma:
There was always candy in Grandma’s candy jar on the hutch and I liked to play with the cast iron Mennonite figurines.
That is, treasures collected by my Grandma and I think, permitted with grace by my Grandpa:
In the evenings, we played games, like Flea, Parcheesi, Sorry, Yatzee, Crazy Eights and later, Upwords. My Grandma Helen was a great adult, because she never let you win. You had to earn it. Sometimes, we bet with pennies or potato chips and while Grandpa was the risk taker, Grandma was often the winner.
Of course, every game needs a snack. Often, it was cheesies. Day-glow orange and crispy, dissolve-in-your-mouth artificiality. So delicious. Especially when served in vintage melamine bowls like these beauties, found at the cottage:
Today would have been my Grandma’s 90th birthday. We remember her each year on her birthday with Chinese food (one of her favourites) and games, of course.
My grandparents have both been gone for a few years and their cottage is now for sale. But, I can still go there any old cold, Canadian December I want because of my memories and the treasures I’ve shared in these pictures.
That is, treasures collected by my aunt for me and I think, permitted with grace by Practical Man.
We went to see a really cool, vintage building this week.
The experience reminded me of Star Trek, only with less spandex and more dust.
First of all, there was the much-hallowed Enterprise:
Such good omens to own a building project in such a vintage-geek-chic place.
Enterprise is a teeny, tiny village (more of a hamlet, really) about 40 kilometres from any neighbouring town. There’s no body of water nearby (a rarity in these parts) and although I’ve never seen one, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tumbleweed roll down the main street. Enterprise is kind of in the middle of nowhere.
The middle of nowhere is nicely in our price range.
So, we went to have a Tuesday afternoon gander. To boldly go where no one has gone before, as they say.
Picture it: a partly cloudy end-of-summer day and a lovely drive in our little Fiat with the sweet sounds of Practical Man muttering under his breath, as he likes to do in these kinds of situations.
I think the muttering is so that his head won’t explode.
But, we were having a gander so Practical Man gandered along with me, good sport that he is. Plus, he loves a challenge. Why else would he have married me?
Sometimes I give inanimate objects personalities. Y’know: cars, vintage trailers, old buildings…those sorts of things. I named this building Betsy and now we are bonded forever in a way that only weird people would understand.
You’re weird, aren’t you? I hope so. Weird is such a great thing to be.
Anyway, we gandered at Betsy’s amazing 127 foot ceilings covered with original tin and beautiful display bay windows in the LARGE storefront.
I was picturing: cafe, piano/music studio, artists’ collective, vintage store (naturally), cupcake shop, speakeasy, vintage trailer design shop, children’s bookstore, or one of the many little businesses I’m always making up in my head (and designing logos and menus and marketing for…)
Yes, I am incorrigible, thank you very much.
It was hard to concentrate on practical things like what we would use the space for though, because I was very busy being completely in l-o-o-o-ve with the tin ceilings. Acres of them. Right from the front of the building, past the end of the storefront, through the kitchen and hallway and all the way back to the way-in-the-back.
I caught myself batting my eyelashes at them several times. I’m kind of fast and loose when it comes to tin ceilings. I just can’t seem to play hard-to-get.
Behind the storefront, Betsy had a kitchen (massive) with an amazing wide, wide, very unusually wide-for-this-vintage-building staircase. I pictured a mercantile or a hardware store back in the day.
Modestly grand. Perfect for me to sweep down with lots of tra-la-la, don’t you think?
Upstairs and in all directions, there were apartments. I have no sense of direction and we were going in back doors and sneaking through secret passageways that were normally locked so it is all a bit hazy to me. I believe there were two apartments above the store. Plus another one in the addition behind the store. Plus one on the street level beside the store.
So, around 34 investment-potential apartments. All with very groovy original baseboards and trim.
And, income potential.
In the middle of nowhere.
Practical Man is sweating a little.
Don’t let this benign picture fool you. This was the most civilized bit, all tarted up and innocent looking.
But, I want you to love my cool, vintage building so I am helping you by showing off its best features. It’s not the building’s fault that its owner for the past 27 years neglected it very badly and didn’t care for it the way it deserved.
All the bathrooms and kitchens were very moldy and falling down (albeit with fun, vintage tubs, sinks and toilets in pastel colours). Any carpeting was very, very, very, very (do you get the idea?) smelly with water damage from a formerly leaky roof and other things I don’t like to think about.
It reminded me of a few places I inhabited in my 20s. Places where I always kept my shoes on, even with my pajamas.
I found this fun, vintage, enamel sink in one of the apartments.
In my 20s, when I inhabited these kind of places, I could fixate on how much I loved that sink all day. It helped me ignore the fact that I was living in what my mother called “another fire trap”.
As well as the giant brick building, there was also a two-storey addition on the back (with really amazing workshop/summer kitchen on ground floor with what looked like some fixable “sinking” in one corner that seemed to have resulted from a leaky roof and inadequately supported floor joists. We went upstairs to a half-built apartment above and traipsed around all the rooms, looking out windows and ripping down all the moldy drywall in our heads.
Back on the ground, we turned a corner to the side of the addition we hadn’t yet viewed and realized that the whole side of the two-storey building we had just walked around in was held up by exactly zero foundation and approximately 1 medium-sized rock.
When I read the agent’s listing later, it turned out that the addition bit of the property has been condemned and was “not to be entered during viewings as it is derelict“.
Apparently we had boldly gone where no one (sane) had gone before.
So, feeling like we’d been born again, we moved on to the character-filled two-storey barn.
Lots of room to store someone’s present and future vintage vehicle collection AND someone else’s practical stuff. And, when we’re poverty stricken and living in the barn after renovating the building, there will be no vacuuming required because the barn has a dirt floor.
Score. I hate vacuuming.
Practical Man was still not a fan until at last, we reached the piece de resistance, the best place, hands-down on the property (at least according to him).
That would be the basement.
High, dry, strong, with great, thick rock walls and straight as an arrow. I got cheeky and looked up its skirt to the main floor. Even Betsy’s underwear are pretty:
We are not scaredy-cat property purchasers. Betsy is the kind of building that is par for the course for us.
That is, in the middle of nowhere and a hovel.
In fact, our current house, being in our price range, is just south of the middle of nowhere and was a hovel when we bought it. Practical Man is very, very handy.
He’s the Scotty to our Enterprise.
But, let me be clear: we are not buying this Miss Havisham of a building.
Even though I love Betsy and I want to save her from further ruin, she’s way too big.
Also, she scares the living bejeebees out of me.
So, that’s the end of my Star Trek tale.
Beam me up, Scotty.
When I was 8, I thought it would be…um…cool (sorry) to live in an igloo. We did a project on them at school with the requisite stale sugar cubes and I found out how efficient they were to heat, how bright they were inside and they just looked like a really unique place to live!
Never mind that the climate in my southern Canadian locale would only support a melt-y house for about 2 months a year.
Even after abandoning the igloo idea (not before trying to construct many overly-ambitious and unsuccessful prototypes in the back yard in January), I continued to dream of someday living in a unique, vintage abode. I don’t say “house” because when I picture said wistful mirage, it’s not usually a house that comes to mind, but rather a tugboat, Italian trulli, treehouse, factory, library or water tower. Less home-sweet home: more home-vintage-home.
If you’ve ever enjoyed programs like Extreme Homes or You Live in What? then you might understand my leanings to the non-traditional roof over one’s head. My vintage summer camping abode fits the bill perfectly in the form of our 1974 Boler travel trailer. I am so vintage geeky that I sometimes spend an hour when I wake up in the mornings, still under the covers of the kitchen table/bed, looking around and giggling happily to myself. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.
For year-round options, it’s challenging to find tugboats or vacant water towers in these parts…but I do come across the occasional converted church, like one I dragged my husband to not so long ago. He is ever so handy and practical so while I’m busy sighing and swooning over vintage details like original leaded glass windows and doors, creaky floors, and slope-y ceilings, he is wandering beside me muttering things like “very drafty in winter until all 12 exterior doors are replaced”, “joists need supporting from underneath”, and “likely no insulation in the ceilings”.
That particular reasonably-priced, beautiful, full-of-potential-pie-in-the-sky space was going to need more than $150,000 in immediate deferred maintenance, according to my feet-very-firmly-on-the-ground husband.
Since I am a bargain vintage lover on a budget, some of my vintage dreams just don’t make practical sense.
It’s like the igloo all over again.
But, I keep looking. After all, that’s half the fun.
The plan was to drive over hill and dale (and try not to eat everything we’d purchased at a wonderful/alarming place called The Cheese Barn before we got to our destination) to see the magnificent rhododendrons in bloom in the Smoky Mountains.
Instead, I fell in love with a Texaco.
I didn’t expect it, but we stumbled upon it in a little town called Lebanon, OH. If you haven’t been there, I recommend their historic downtown. Very vintage-y vibe with lots of place to spend any cash that happens to be burning in your pocket (see how vintage I am? I still use real money!)
But, I was too busy swooning to spend much cash. Like, a Harry Connick sort of vintage-y swoon. Yep, busy, swooning over my Texaco.
It was beautiful, with its white brick facade and original porcelain red lettering. It was a perfect match for the fleet of vintage vehicles bouncing around inside my head.
And did I mention, it was available? Currently a swingin’ single building, just waiting for me to sweep it off its feet!
Be still my beating heart. I’ve always dreamed of living in a place called Lebanon in a Texaco station.
Okay, maybe not. But it seemed like a great idea that day.
All it needed was a vintage soda shop next door and I would have been all set.