keep calm and graduate

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can

keep calm and graduate

Seven more months…

(PS When you type “I think I can” three times in a row at 2:00 am, it looks quite silly).

 

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The Hunt for Red, October

tomatoes in bowl

No, not that Red October. Forgive me for bringing Tom Clancy into this.

I am indeed hunting for red things in October, though. The red things? Tomatoes.

Yes, I am still picking tomatoes in October. You haven’t seen my tomatoes yet, because, well, I haven’t been blogging regularly for months. I’ll get to that later, or maybe in another post. For those that haven’t been following me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I put twelve tomato plants in the back yard of the house that John and I are renting in London. Go figure: I move to the city and finally have a spot for a garden.

Of those twelve tomato plants, which I put into a raised bed about two and a half to three feet deep along one side of our property, four are cherry tomatoes, and the other eight are regular-sized tomatoes, two different kinds. While the regular-sized tomatoes produced a regular amount of tomatoes (I still feel like I’m waiting for an overwhelming harvest of tomatoes that may never actually materialize), the cherry tomatoes are out of control. I have come to call that corner of my garden “tomato jungle.” Because it is: vines that overlap each other and hide what’s behind them, blinding you to the red, ripe fruit under layers and layers of leaves.

tomatoes on vine

To pick the cherry tomatoes, I literally (no, really) had to bend over double or lay on the patio and lift up and move every branch and every other leaf, poring over each conceivable angle of each plant, searching for treasure: ripening tomatoes. This is not gardening for the faint of heart, or for anyone who does not adore either gardening or tomatoes, or both.

tomato jungle

Time and again, I have spent looooong minutes bent over, using the sturdy 2” square sharpened spruce stakes (thanks again, Rona!) to hold me up. I distribute my weight between one foot and one hand on a stake and lean over between the plants and the fence, looking under leaves and branches for a glimpse of red, ripe tomatoes. I pluck as many as I can while precariously balanced, then drop them in a bowl and go back for more.

tomatoes on table

Wash, rinse, repeat until I am either so tired of this exercise or I am pretty convinced there are no more red globes hiding from me.

I’m glad it’s October and these adventures are mostly behind me, but at the same time, I’m so proud of the bounty that I grew in my own little garden!

And now I have frozen tomatoes, regular and cherry, sundried (dehydrated) cherry tomatoes in olive oil, and tomato sauce: the tomato jungle keeps on giving!

~~

(PS: I wrote most of the text of this post at the very beginning of October, before the frost made my tomato plants droop and turn brown. I picked the last of my tomatoes on Sunday, and began to pull them out of the ground. Good-bye, mis tomates: you served me well.)

Hindsight tattoo

Hindsight Lives On: Happy Birthday, Mama!

Today would have been my mom’s 58th birthday; she died of breast cancer four and a half years ago.

Recently, a new friend asked what it is like: do I miss her every day? What kinds of things do I miss about her? What things do I remember?

I don’t miss her every day, but I do miss her often.

I miss her most when I’m gardening or cooking, because those were two of the things she loved to do most. I plant petunias and impatiens and begonias because she did. I make potato salad her way. I remember her words about how to wash a turkey or not to roast tomatoes in a metal pan.

On our birthdays, Mom would always ask us what we wanted for dinner and what kind of cake we wanted. Yes, she always gave us gifts, too, but the cake and dinner is what I remember and miss the most.

Today it is her birthday. She probably would have wanted coffee-flavoured cake with hazelnut icing. Or just some sour cream glazed donuts from Tim Horton’s, accompanied by coffee, of course.

(Have I mentioned that I started drinking coffee at 16 because my mom did? Little did she know the monster she created…)

Like I said, hindsight lives on.

Hindsight is always 10%

"Oops" by Ali Cavanaugh

Learning how to say “I f***ed up”

"Oops" by Ali Cavanaugh
“Oops” by Ali Cavanaugh

A wise man once told me his most important rule was that his employees recognize when they made a mistake and come clean with a good old “I f***ed up,” so that the issue could be dealt with and moved past.

I was one of his employees, and that rule has been liberating.

It doesn’t mean that I feel liberated in the moment of screwing up, though!

Last night was not my night. All was going well on an average summer Thursday evening at the restaurant I serve at, until I communicated poorly with a fellow server and his customer ended up having to wait an extra 10 minutes for their meal.

In an attempt to repair the damage, I waited in the kitchen for the new meal to be ready, eager to get it to the waiting customer ASAP. In my excitement at seeing a pizza put in front of me, I foolishly took the pizza without double-checking that it was indeed the one I had been waiting for.

Several minutes later, after the majority of the pizza I served had been inhaled by the hungry guest, questions started surfacing about a missing pizza. When asked directly, I said I did not know anything about it. To my mind, which had been solidly in must-fix-problem-now mode, the chef had placed the pizza he knew I had been waiting around for right in front of me, so I clearly was supposed to take it, so I did.

When I walked through the kitchen for another reason a few minutes after being asked about the missing pizza, I was met with the chef’s frustration: I had, indeed, taken the wrong pizza. I was meant to serve a sausage margherita pizza. The one I stole was a bechamel pizza and had no sausage on it.

Even worse, the kitchen was temporarily out of pizza dough and bechamel sauce and the rightful owner of the bechamel pizza had been waiting for some time.

The new girl strikes again.

Oops.

What can you do in such a situation but put on your humble face, throw up your hands, and say: “I f***ed up and I’m sorry!”

(Photo source)

handshake

{Locality}: It sometimes appears when you least expect it

handshake

When my home branch of the RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) called last week to set up my annual review, I made a spur-of-the-moment request to have the appointment in London rather than Goderich.

I was probably feeling lazy at the time and wanted to avoid having to make a special trip.

That and I don’t think my home branch account manager likes me very much. In all fairness, it’s probably just a personality difference, but I have never been eager to meet with her.

Whatever the reason, I asked to be moved to London, and the switch was surprisingly very easy. Someone called me the next day to set up an appointment.

I was apprehensive. I cancelled the first meeting in favour of taking an extra shift at work. Yes it was for a good reason, but I was somehow relieved.

I considered rescheduling yesterday’s appointment, too, but decided to man up (woman up?) and just get it over with. Perhaps I could even tell them I’d changed my mind and wanted to be re-assigned to Goderich. I could use more legitimate excuses to see friend and family and stop in at my favorite places.

The woman who greeted me at the Dundas East branch was friendly. She handed me a folder and told me that Darren had prepared some information for me. I glanced through it cursorily, but still planned to use my fall-back escape: changing my mind.

I could only take a few sips of my cup of water before a man’s voice behind me said “Sarah!”. I stood up and shook Darren’s hand, the cool polite smile on my lips not quite reaching my eyes.

Did I mention I was apprehensive? This is normal for me in new situations, new places, and with new people.

My chilly hesitance lasted all of a few minutes. Darren started asking me warm, friendly questions about why I had moved to London, my degree, my work, etc. We talked about serving (he has 10 years of experience), about my internship, about my social media experience. He told me about a good place to look for job opportunities. We talked about vintage cars and car shows, his decision to stay in London rather than go back to the Toronto area, the difference between his high school and mine…

…and soon enough, I felt like I had made a new friend, and was completely relaxed.

When a city banker makes you feel like a friend in 30 minutes flat, he has a gift. A very Ruralist-esque gift, actually.

Well done, Darren Livingstone. I have yet to see how good of an account manager you are, but so far, I trust you and I am actually kind of looking forward to next year’s annual review!

omelette

Real Food: Life after the Whole30

omelette

Many of you have read all about my recent adventures with food, or, more accurately, lack of many “normal” foods. Towards the end of February, I started what ended up being 54 days of the Whole30 diet, as proscribed by the Whole9 Life founders Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Yes, that “30” in there refers to 30 days, but I decided to go hard-core and do 60 54.

You will probably also be able to tell from the plethora of posts about the Whole30 that I enjoyed it. It was difficult at times, but it forced me to learn about good food. Real food. I had to start making my own salad dressings and using better oils. I began to use all those dried spices that had been taking up space in my cupboard. I started reading labels and growing increasingly disgusted with the food and beverage industry.

For 54 days (not including a “cheat weekend” after the first 30 days), I avoided all dairy, all grains and grain products (including corn and all of its derivatives), all sugars and sweeteners (including honey and maple syrup), all legumes (peanuts, soy, etc.), and most preservatives and additives.

After the first few days, I started to feel consistently great. I had a predictable and steady amount of energy from morning til night, and got great sleep. I was motivated to start running and do ab workouts.

I ate a lot, learned a lot, went through vegetables and eggs like nobody’s business, spent a lot of money on groceries (and I didn’t even get the ideal grass-fed organic meats I was supposed to), and ultimately lost at least 15 pounds (I haven’t done a final weigh-in since losing more weight after the diet was completed). I was getting “wholly healthy,” as I called it.

At the end of my 54 days, I needed a change of pace. Even the Hartwigs admit that the Whole30 is a bit too extreme for anyone to keep up for any extended length of time. The Whole30 is actually a stricter version of the Paleo (Paleolithic, Stone Age, Caveman, etc…) diet, and only meant to be undergone for 30 days here and there.

Having done such an intense diet for two months and then needing to break free, then finding myself in exams, then packing, then moving (to a city and in with my boyfriend=major transition), then looking for a job, and on and on, I fell off the good-food wagon. I guess I’m “lucky” to be one of those people who wasn’t wracked by cramps after every bite of “normal” food after so long an abstinence, but it was altogether too easy to fall back onto more convenient foods.

Convenience and frugality warred against my new good-food habits, and cooking for a non-vegetable-or-healthy-food lover further compounded my dilemma.

I still haven’t fully made peace between the warring factions. Farmer’s Markets have made it easier to justify the purchase of good-quality vegetables and meats, and I am attempting to home-make bread, dressings, sauces, burgers, chicken fingers, and other favourites and staples.

My plan of action is to real-food-ify my kitchen as much as possible. By “real food” I mean non-processed, non-preserved, organic ingredients wherever possible. I will use honey instead of sugar, olive oil instead of vegetable oils, organic flour and vinegar, make my own spice mixes (like seasoning salt), and generally go back to buying items without preservatives and additives.

The trick will be bringing Johnathan along with me, but I accept it as a personal challenge!

Two amazing bloggers help our real food revolution on an almost daily basis: Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food, and Heather of A Real Food Lover. These ladies have made the spices and the sauces, the breads and the pastas, and have real food solutions for almost any “normal” junk-filled dish.

The bread recipe I have been making lately is from 100 Days of Real Food. It has turned out differently every time I’ve made it (I think I’ve been making it with 4 1/2 cups of flour instead of 4 1/4. Oops), but it’s infallibly delicious!

Honey Whole Wheat Bread recipe

What are your go-to real food solutions? How have you managed to wean your household off of additives and preservatives? I’d love to hear your stories!

31

Thirty-One Times Grateful

My birthday was last week, and, as ever, I greeted the day with excitement and joy, and not a little gratitude. I am sometimes sarcastic and sometimes philosophical, but this occasion called for a simple stock-taking of all the reasons having another birthday is a great thing. 1. I live in a free country (no, […]

{Locality} Music at the Barn: Talented Ontario singer/songwriters grace Bayfield’s Main Street

Music at the Barn presents

Danielle Durand, born and raised in the Bayfield area, has music flowing in her bloodstream. Many of her relatives are accomplished singers, songwriters, and musicians, and the gift did not miss Danielle.

It was a combined love of music, of summers in Bayfield, and the desire to share her favourite things with other, along with a “something clicked” moment that inspired Danielle to plan a new summer concert series called Music at the Barn.

Kryart barn

The barn in question is the psychedelically-painted old barn that was adopted a few years ago by artist Kristyn Watterworth as her studio, gallery, and shop. Kristyn has sold art supplies, given lessons, and provided studio space out of the Kryart barn, not to mention produced many gorgeous art pieces.

Kristyn’s work will be on display at each Music at the Barn concert, and she will be doing demonstrations during the intermission at each show.

Industrial Surf Patterns by Kristyn Watterworth
Industrial Surf Patterns by Kristyn Watterworth (30″ x 24″ oil on canvas)

The intimate venue holds about 60 people, practically the perfect amount of people to share a live music event with.

The artists that are lucky enough to be appearing at the Music at the Barn events were chosen by Danielle based on what she finds “fascinating”:

“I enjoy folk music for its purity and musicianship…there are some incredible guitarists and banjoists in the world, coupled with incredible vocal harmonies and lyrics – and this is the type of talent that I want to showcase. There [will be] an eclectic mix of instrumentation from guitars, banjos, and drums, to the obscure, including kazoos and omnichords….”

Artists from surrounding towns such as Goderich, Grand Bend, and Bayfield too, and artists from as far away as London, Waterloo, Guelph, and Toronto will be gracing the barn’s stage. Expect to see Kim Régimbal and Adrian Jones of the Kitchener area, The Marrieds (Jane Carmichael and Kevin Kennedy of London), Alanna Gurr from Guelph, Graham Nicholas of London,  Jenny Omnichord (Jenny Mitchell of Guelph), Josh Geddis of Bayfield, and Danielle Durand herself, among others.

The Music at the Barn concert series is sponsored by the ArtSee Cafe & Bistro, Main Street Optometric, Kryart Studio, Virtual High School, Pianovations, Brian Coombs – Remax, The Bayfield General Store, 104.9 The Beach, and Ernie King Music.

Concerts are the following Sundays at 2 pm: June 24th, July 15th & 29th, August 29th and September 16th, 2012.

For more concert details, “Like” the Music at the Barn Series Facebook page, email Danielle at dnmdurand (at) yahoo (dot) com or call 519-993-3154.

Andy Kim

Andy Kim: Grounded and Grateful

Andy Kim

You would think a musician whose career includes more album sales than Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or J. Lo* would be at least slightly affected by his massive success. You would think that someone who has had his songs covered by the likes of Bob Marley and Ike and Tina Turner might be sick of hearing his decades-old hits played over and over.

to analyze is to paralyze

But you would be mistaken in the case of Andy Kim. Fame and fortune has not changed his friendly, down-to-earth outlook on life.

The Montreal-born singer/songwriter remains solidly grounded, thanks to a stability that comes from being the third of four brothers: “I understand the pecking order.” Andy graciously assured me that being the oldest of six did not translate into a lack of groundedness: “You have your own way of understanding the hierarchy of where you are.”

“I try not to analyze. I read a quote that I think was by Martin Luther King, ‘To analyze is to paralyze,’ so sometimes I just don’t think. I just kinda live each moment as best I can, knowing the values that my mom and dad had given us and represent them at every turn.”

This man has never forgotten and will never forget that he is the third of four brothers. He understands hierarchy, and knows that he will gain very little by getting puffed up about his fame and fortune.

Does he enjoy them? Certainly.

One of Andy’s most famous songs, “Rock me Gently,” was recorded and produced independently, making Andy an indie performer. This song, written in 1974, sealed Andy’s place in music history. He was established for life. Later, to Andy’s delight, the song was featured in a Jeep Liberty commercial in 2007. It was “a gift,” says Andy emphatically about both the song and the commercial. “It’s been able to give me a phenomenally wonderful lifestyle!”

live the moment

A wonderful lifestyle that allows him to have fun and live in the moment like he does best. He told me the story of running into a fan who was so excited to have met him and who asked Andy to play at his sister’s birthday. Andy fondly remembers the experience: “There’s a reason why… it’s a reminder that I’ve been really lucky!”

Andy Kim was born into a warm and friendly family of Lebanese heritage living in an apartment building in Montreal in the early fifties. In 1969, when he was still a teenager, Andy co-wrote the very popular “Sugar Sugar”, performed by the Archies and originally presented in an animated clip featuring the characters of the Archie comics. Andy went on to cram eight other top 40 Billboard hits under his belt, including his first, “How’d we Ever Get This Way? and “Baby I Love You.”

Later in his career, Andy was named to the Billboard Hits Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and awarded two JUNO awards, one for Outstanding Achievement in the Recording Industry, and an “Indie Award” for Favourite Solo Artist.

After “Rock me Gently”, Andy’s career slowed down significantly. He had no more billboard hits after that, though he did produce some tunes under the pseudonym Baron Longfellow. For more than twenty years, the world heard very little from Andy Kim.

Then, in the late nineties, things came together once again for Andy, thanks in part to Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. BNL were big fans of Andy’s, and becoming a Canadian institution in their own right. Andy, Ed, and Stephen Page, formerly of BNL, successfully performed a song together for an Ontario music festival. Ed was instrumental in convincing Andy that he should get in the studio again. Andy was on his way to a new place in the consciousness of music fans.

you can't take canada out of the boy

In 2010, more than forty years after his first hits, Andy released Happen Again, a collection of ten songs written throughout his lifetime but never heard by the public.

“It has taken a different shape,” Andy says of the experience of recording this latest album. The world is different, the industry is different, the scene is different. And Andy is no longer a teenager.

Regardless of his age, Andy will always be Canadian, through and through. He will always be proud of his Montreal roots and all of the culture that came with his upbringing: “No matter where I went around the world, even at the beginning, I really represented my mom and dad and my brothers and then my country.”

Andy lives between LA and Toronto, and feels like he has the best of both worlds. He gets to escape Montreal winters while enjoying the warmth of southern California. But in Canada, he says, nine out of ten people will not only give you directions but take you to show you where you need to go: “It’s part of us.”

Bayfield, Ontario, where Andy will be performing on June 16th as part of the Bayfield Concert Series, is one of the places in Canada where Andy felt at home on his first visit. Ron Sexsmith, a favourite of the Bayfield Town Hall stage, invited Andy to join him in Bayfield last summer, and Andy was captivated:

Bayfield

And of course, you know I agree!

Enjoy both Bayfield and Andy Kim on June 16th. For more information, visit the Bayfield Concert Series website, or simply book your tickets at Ticketscene.ca. Tickets are also available at Ernie King Music in Goderich and The Black Dog Village Pub in Bayfield.

The last word I will leave for Andy:

“Being an icon? That’s for others to decide. I just see myself as living out this wonderful dream.”

*Don’t quote me on this. A website told me so. I chose to believe it.

front door

Open the {Virtual} Front Door!

front door

Yesterday, I came across an article admonishing independent restaurants to get a web presence, and I thought the point was a good one and worthy of being re-posted.

As someone who often works with small businesses, and specifically in the areas of social media and networking, I have been known to say that if you have no web presence, you don’t exist. Sounds harsh, sure, but the article I’m referencing explains it well:

Imagine spending the whole day preparing food to serve in your restaurant that night, but never unlocking the door. Imagine your customers’ confusion as there is not a sign in the window or any communication from you; eventually they wander off to dine down the street. An absurd scenario, yes, but one that illustrates that having a physical front door that is inexplicably closed is akin to not having a website in today’s digital marketplace. You are, in fact, closing your virtual front door — the door to your online customers.

Yes. Yes! THIS is what a lack of web presence does to your business.

I’ve done it. You’ve done it (okay, well, maybe not you). Every smart phone user has done it: you are in a different area of the city, or visiting a new city, and you wonder what’s good where you are, or you see an attractive sign and wonder what kind of place goes with it.

The first resource for such a person? Google! But even Google can’t find a business without a web presence.

Take it from a person who has spent significant amounts of time looking for websites to link to from other tourism and commercial sites (with the purpose of benefiting local business and the area in general) that too many small businesses have no web presence.

What do I mean by web presence? I mean at the very least a page on the web where people can see a) your business name (and what type of business it is); b) your location; and c) at least two ways of contacting you (phone and email are preferred).

A Facebook page is great. I would go so far as to say it’s a must-have, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it replaces a website itself, because…:

…search engines such as Google and Bing have limited ability to display the content that your restaurant posts on Facebook. Without a website, the ability to attract consumers searching online for a venue is limited. Many online sites, such as menu aggregators, use websites to gather and pass along information they find. Restaurants without a Web presence can’t benefit from this online amplification.

Again with the closed door. I apologize if this post veers too closely to the point of ranting, but I sometimes feel like taking small business owners firmly by the hand, forcing them to look me solidly in the eyes, and repeating emphatically over and over: “Help me help you. Help me! Help you! Help me help YOU!”

It really is all about you, or your business, for me. As is a web presence.

And why the heck not?! My site costs me about $12/year. I kid you not. If your business cannot handle $12/year, I hate to break it to you, but your business is dead.

Sample Wix site
Sample Wix site

Where to start:

  • A domain name. I would go with GoDaddy or whatever your friends with websites recommend. Go to the site, search to see if the domain name you want is available, and if it is, buy a year or two of rights to it. Every year or two, you have to renew your rights. Easy enough, right?
  • A FREE website. Yes. FREE!! (Why haven’t you done this before, again?!) If you want to have an online shop, go with something like Shopify. Or, if you want to just have a page with your info on it, you can go with a free template from sites like Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com. Again, ask around and go with what someone you know has used before (so you can call them if you get stuck, of course). All of these sites are customizable and re-customizable, so you can start small and build your site as you gain knowledge.
  • Ask your friend (or hire me) to help you hook your domain name up with your new site.
  • Verify your site with search engines. This sounds complicated, and it’s perhaps a little more complicated than the other stuff you’ve already done, but trust me: it’s worth it! If your site is verified with, say, Google, then Google knows you’re not spam, and therefore will recommend you to people and bump you to the top of the virtual pile. Yay, right? Virtual door wide open!!
Sample Weebly site
Sample Weebly site

I really am available for hire to help you set up your website and your Facebook page, as well as other social media outlets, email marketing and newsletters, and more. Email me at sarahekoopmans (at) gmail (dot) com, message me, or tweet me.

Even establishing a one-page website is a great start to leveraging your restaurant’s online search presence. Open your virtual front door and capture customers who are looking to discover and learn about your restaurant, and ultimately lead them to your physical front door.

Now please. Please! Open your virtual front door!

(Oh, and sorry for the accidental publish last night… a technological oops!)