A few of my favourite things

Snowdrops in spring - Okanagan Valley

Springtime in the Okanagan is exciting with everything waking up after a long cool winter’s sleep.

Soon the countryside will be beautiful again with the blossoms starting to come out – everything from apple and cherry to apricot trees. Then the bees come to participate in the spring rituals and the red wing blackbirds can already be heard down by the marshes with their lovely song.

There are owls all night long, making their owly sounds and by day the flicker can be heard hammering his head on anything metal.  My chimney is a favourite which about 6 times today got a beating from an amorous flicker trying to attract a mate (loudest one wins.)

The lawn next door got raked today. Everything being readied for the summer and the regular hum of the lawn mowers. This evening I could smell a barbecue and a big sense of relief washed over me – like the barbecue was confirmation that winter was actually over.

I didn’t think winter was that bad this year but spring and summer are so amazing in Summerland and the South Okanagan that you always look forward to it. Everything seems to be about growth – the little snowdrops are so beautiful and delicate – and you wonder how they survived the last snowfall which happened just last week. But now they look right as rain and stand strong in the spring’s steady breeze.

This past week for the first time since last year, when I took the dogs out at night, the lawn was almost alive with worms everywhere. It’s like they get sucked back into the earth as soon as your flashlight hits them – they’re very shy which is a good thing… these little rototillers of the earth.

The vineyards with their newly pruned vines start to turn green and looks like it will be an early year for the fruit stands as according to the locals in the know, (thanks Mel) the blossoms will be early this year probably starting in two or three weeks. It’s always a happy day when we get to see the fruit stand proprietors who have been hibernating a lot like the bears up behind the research station.

The sun on my head today felt really pleasant and it was the first opportunity for frisbee with the dogs. It had been five long months for them, but today their enthusiasm and the warm weather was affirmation that we are rushing headlong into a new and more amicable season.

Illustration/photo /article by Stephanie Seaton

The Eastbourne identity and the meaning of Christmas

Summerland's Best Christmas card - story re a request from the UK for a card

Last week I had a Facebook request from a Graham and Andrea Horsnell to send them a Summerland’s Best Christmas card. I don’t know Graham and Andrea and assume they are friends of a Facebook friend and that’s how they found us. In any event it doesn’t matter and I’m happy to oblige.

I took my addressed card with a personal note and best wishes for a Merry Christmas, to the Beanery so that I could mail it after coffee. My friend Steve and I decided to look up the Horsnell’s address on Google street view. They live in a town called Eastbourne in the south of England. The weather report said it would be cloudy that day and sunny the next.

Apart from the weather, we also determined that they were a short walk from the Sovereign Harbour near Santos Wharf.  Did the Queen visit at some point? Lucky you living so close to the ocean. And is that your black Audi TT V6 in the driveway? Nice.

That is the wonder of technology and there is joy in that. And later when I told my Mum about the card she said, “Oh Eastbourne, that’s down near Seaford” which is a place she spent a good deal of time in her youth.

The meaning behind Christmas cards

Not to get too caught up in the technology… a Christmas card in a micro way encapsulates the meaning of Christmas. It’s personal and your handwriting itself conveys a message and is an expression of who you are, to the recipient. ‘Recipient’; that in itself implies someone is about to receive something. You don’t feel that way about an email. It’s more like a great big boring chore than a means of connection to someone. It’s too easy to bang off an email with the photocopied too-many-times Christmas letter – it de-personalizes the Christmas experience.

Fast forward to having mailed it – Graham and Andrew Horsnell will now be looking for that card in their mail and there will be a level of excitement in receiving it. And for me, I will be looking forward to hearing about them receiving it. Another dimension has been added since this is international – that in itself makes it more exciting. Like when you were young and the phone rang and someone would shout – “It’s a call from overseas.” It doesn’t mean much now with globalization but it sure used to and easily fired the imagination.

One of the nicest things about Christmas in my youth, was the string of so many cards on the walls at my parents’ home. It conveyed the notion that they were well thought of and loved by many. A warm and cosy Christmassy feeling.

Thank you Graham and Andrea

Selecting a card is a pleasure and so personal “that would be a good card for so and so”, but you don’t say “that would be a good email for so and so”. With an email you don’t care and you can’t hang it on the wall.

Giving and receiving a Christmas card is an experience wrapped in warmth, depth, and with substance. Thank you Graham and Andrea Horsnell for focusing my thoughts on this. I learned something about a lot of things due to your request. In our electronic age, the giving of a Christmas card is one ritual I’d like to hang on to. Wishing you both a Merry, Merry Christmas  – to my new best friends in the south of England.

‘Summerland’s Best’ coming to Summerland

Summerland's Best

First of the Summerland’s Best products launching November 21, 2013. Look for these Christmas cards in Nesters, at the Beanery and at Summerland Sweets. Updates for further product will be announced!


The longtable dining experience

Longtable dining experience at the edge of the Okanagan Lake in Summerland

One of the best things about living the Okanagan country life is that it is conducive to creating community. Here, you can easily get to know your neighbour, your grocer, your breadmaker, and in general pretty much everyone in town will come to know your name in no time after you move here.

Summerland, like most towns in the Okanagan is in the heart of the wine community. Even without wine there is a basis for forming a link to others, but when you add wine to the mix, it puts things in a whole new light. Over dinner you suddenly find yourself exclaiming heartily and joyously to the neighbour sitting next to you, “Isn’t this fun!” or “I’m really glad we’re getting an opportunity to socialize.” The wine helps.

It seems un-coincidental that with the ironical downside of ‘social’ media being that it can cause feelings of separateness from our fellow being, there will be more and more ‘communal dinners’ such as the ones we, at SummerLand Online Magazine began having back in February. (Read about them under Food + Wine.) Or events such as the God’s Mountain dinners put on by Dana and Cameron Ewart of Joy Road Catering.

One of the strongest urges in humans, and dare I say, apes and other animals, is to connect with each other and when our busy lives disrupt those connections we still are drawn to finding ways of making it happen. The Europeans and especially the Italians and French have for centuries been having communal dinners under the pergola or in the vines.

Another example of the communal dining experience, is the roving outdoor dinner series from California, ‘Outstanding in the Field’ also written about on this magazine – which is successful not only by design but also because this type of connection is necessary for the well-being of each of us. They state their mission as being; “to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” But the other positive aspect of such a coming together, is that connection that is formed that happily allows one to feel part of one’s community .

‘Slow Food’ and the slow life

The Okanagan is the perfect place in Canada to further the business of ‘haute gastronomie’ – it is not by accident that there are only two towns in Canada with ‘Slow Food’ or ‘Cittaslow’ accreditation and one of them is right across the lake from us in Summerland; the town of Naramata. People from the city who are yearning for a simplified, less hurried and more easily appreciated lifestyle, soon find themselves looking at places like the somewhat soporific Okanagan with its vineyards, gorgeous skies and miles-long lake.

Our Summerland Online wine tasting dinners have been an adventure in furthering not only wine appreciation but also have inadvertently proven to be about people appreciation as well. It is a style of socializing whose time has definitely come and it would be no surprise to see more of these types of events taking place and would be a welcome addition to any community. Like the couple who appealed to Kim Stansfield and John Gordon, owners of Summerland’s Valentine Farm and Vinegar Works, to let them hold their wedding at the farm. The result was a series of long tables among the vines – adorned with white tablecloths – it was a thing of beauty that they will never forget. Valentine Farm – how apt a name is that?

Anyway let’s have more community events and long table dinners and welcome one and all. And Nadine from Vancouver, who wants to spend more time up here and possibly even move here – you would be welcome with open arms. Cheers!

Not from around these parts, huh?


When I saw the title of the Guardian article, ‘Making money from your vegetable patch’, I thought, well isn’t that a coincidence, shopping locally was at the top of my mind. I had just stopped at a local fruit stand, where last year I had often purchased their vegetable samosas. They were delivered on a regular basis by a Penticton Indian restaurant and were excellent as was their chutney.

The fruit stand is now under new ownership and as I drove into their parking lot this morning, it occurred to me that they may not have the same samosas – which in fact turned out to be the case. I was told no, these were not from the Indian restaurant in Penticton, but when I asked where they came from the answer was “out of town”.

Funny how “out of town” means something different now than what it used to mean. As I’m standing at the counter looking at the samosas which themselves had suddenly become rather sinister looking, the first thing that ran through my mind was the horse meat scandal in the UK. Instead of verbalizing that thought, I instead asked “Sysco?” which was a possibly mildly inoffensive alternative to “out of town”, since they purport to be somewhat local, but the fellow said, “sorry, can’t say”. Well of course I respect his right to keep quiet about his suppliers for obvious reasons, but in terms of it giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling about its origins, I have too much of an imagination for that. You can no longer proudly say “this product comes from out of town”. Unless it’s an Italian handbag, Parisian lingerie, or Quebec maple syrup, then “out of town,” is a dirty word. (Or a bunch of dirty words.)

“Out of town” also means you’re merely a consumer to which ‘they’ sell things. They don’t care about you or your family, or your family pets, they just care about making a sale, because after all, it’s all about the sale – it’s not about community or being part of something meaningful. Oh and by the way, if you don’t like that attitude, as a customer, you are also replaceable with other customers and as long as they have growth in other areas, they really don’t give two hoots about what you think.

“Do they still come with chutney?” I ask. “Nope, sorry.” Well, I’m sorry too because it will be a while before I walk through that door again. Unless of course they get the message or the place changes ownership, and one can always hope someone more aligned to one’s own thinking will take over and become the next purveyor of fine, truly local products.

I guess the bottom line of that push-pull scenario was that if you as a retailer don’t feel comfortable telling me where it comes from, then I as a customer don’t feel comfortable buying it.

article/ illustration by Stephanie Seaton

In the summertime

watercolor of Prince Edward Island Cavendish Beach

I love summer. The thought that it is approaching rather than just leaving, makes me really happy.  More than anything, except maybe going to Italy, summer is what I look forward to most in any given year.

Memories of summers from my youth are some of my strongest. One of the first I can recollect is walking down a sandy road towards Cavendish Beach on PEI.  I must have been only six at the time, but it has stayed with me always. It was a hot day and there was a beautiful garden shaded by trees and a rabbit hopped around the carrots amongst long columns of dusty sunlight.

Part of the joy of that memory was that I could hear the surf pounding on the beach down the lane – there was an awesomeness and power in that and the promise of a sweepingly wide and unbroken vista of the ocean that for eons had taken people on adventures to far-flung shores.

Another memory from around the same age, is of a visit to Oak Island, where it was said that Captain Kidd’s treasure was buried. I remember peering into a big bottomless pit in the ground, and thinking excitedly that somewhere down in the depths of the water and muck and old planks that smelled centuries old, was the buried treasure of a real life pirate.

Another summer memory was of a stay at a campground on Vancouver Island. The main attraction of that particular holiday, was of the rope and pulley system that was strung up high in the trees, where you would walk onto a landing area and then grab onto the rope and handle and go flying down the line, letting go just as you hit the surface of the water.

When I lived in Vancouver, I was reminded of that experience often because of the lush smells of the rainforest at Lighthouse Park and places like it. The campground had that same wonderful, earthy smell. It is smells that can throw you back instantly to your childhood, always an unexpected an interesting experience when it happens.

There are other memories from being a bit older, more like ten, where in the summer we were told to go out and play and don’t bother coming back until dark. I don’t remember what we got up to but I do remember learning how to whistle in a really loud and piercing way, which has come in handy as an adult. Maybe that’s what childhood is for… learning street skills.

My first summer job ever was exercising polo ponies at the club near where we lived outside of Calgary. At 13 you begin yearning for something; you don’t know what, although you’re pretty sure it has something to do with the opposite sex. And it didn’t help that my boss was pretty good looking and a fearless rider. The little radio that sat on top of the tack room blaring out the songs of the day – a lot by Karen Carpenter it seems, songs about ‘bands of gold’, about being ‘close to you’… wow, powerful stuff at that age with so much promise of things to come.

For me that was summer in Alberta. A dangerous time with hormones raging yet largely managing to keep out of trouble. I strongly remember the scent of one of the polo playing hotties. With his thick buckskin jacket and the adult smell of alcohol on his breath, yet it was all innocent and like most things in life the fantasy was a lot more alluring than the reality.

So now that I’m an adult – it’s mostly songs from that youthful era that catapult me back into those summer memories. Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’ from the early 70′s is a big one. Considering it has more than 6 million hits on YouTube, I’m not the only one feeling nostalgic.

Like the movie Enchanted April, where at the beginning in London, everything was dark and depressing, and the main characters were women with unfulfilling relationships who decide to go off to Italy for the month of April. The morning after arriving, they fling open the villa windows and the sun streams in and they are greeted with a view of a spectacular lake and gardens filled with wisteria and flowering fruit trees. Freedom from the drudgery of daily living.

Memories of what are to each of us – big events, can be a bit like watching your favourite movie over and over again, You know how the story goes but to re-experience it is still a pleasure.

This walk down nostalgia lane started with wondering what it would be like for kids coming to the Okanagan for their summer holidays. Would they later cherish their childhood summer experiences as much as I do mine? Will they appreciate that it is as much about innocence as it is about adventure? Hopefully that feeling never gets snuffed out – it’s an important part of what keeps one young and imaginative.

article/graphic by Stephanie Seaton

From Summerland to Winterland

The Spirit of Community

Lights on vines in SummerlandThere’s no getting around it… summer is long gone, but although each year I dread the advent of fall because winter follows too quickly, I have to admit that this year, winter doesn’t seem so bad.

At least in Summerland that is. It’s colder than normal, it seems, but maybe it’s just the process of maturing that tells me sensibly, that if you dress for the weather, then you won’t mind it at all.

So this year I’ve enjoyed fall, having dressed mostly sensibly, and instead of pining for summer, began to notice what was going on around me. The leaves and their vivid colors which are still outside my front door as I’m too lazy to sweep them up, are left there in part because they are so pretty. I like they way they crunch underfoot – there’s something comforting about that, like it’s proof that you do actually connect with the earth somehow.

So fall drifts into winter and it’s now snowed a couple of times, which is also ok because everything becomes quiet.

It always seemed in retrospect that in winter not much went on. But this year that’s changed. Maybe it’s all the work to be done, but more than that, it seems that people in Summerland might be moving towards being more involved in making this town a little sparklier. Events are planned, there are the Philosophers’ Cafés which are always thought provoking, there are movie nights courtesy of Frank Martens, and the chili nights and tea parties thanks to Sharon Stone whose passion was to get the mural completed and funded for the IOOF Hall, and who delights in finding the type of tenants for functions who really appreciate what that funny old hall means to her. The stories and goings on about town are all a reflection of the spirit of community and that is what keeps us connected.

Speaking of community, this last weekend’s event of Light up the Vines was an extension of that same spirit. Like the subtitle of the story I wrote about it, being a part of it, did bring new meaning to the words “Christmas cheer”. Everyone seemed cheery and although I missed it this year, I’m pretty sure the Light Up event on Friday night was pretty much in the same spirit.

It was the same feeling at the Artisan Market  – more people, in fact, a lot more people seem to have awakened to the realization/ fact that shopping at big box stores and not supporting local businesses, has a detrimental affect on not just them, but also has far-reaching consequences around the globe.

It reminds me of when recycling was first introduced, and it all seemed awkward and annoying and more work at first, but gradually there is a shift in consciousness and you find yourself being part of it, and not begrudgingly either. It’s swinging that way with the shop locally movement both in large cities and small towns, but especially in a town like Summerland where there is so much we can buy or make or create right here.

The Light up the Vines event was in some ways a celebration of that – it’s local wine, produced by people who either already were, or are now also locals, who have planted the vines and watched them grow until they are mature enough to produce the grapes that they later turn into so many different types of wine. It’s not something I take for granted as it’s such hard work. But so rewarding and the best part to me is that it’s all made right here in and around this funny little town of Summerland. And judging by the offerings on Saturday night, it’s incredibly good and worthy of the pride we felt in sharing that experience with others from the valley and out of town.

Maybe it’s all the events going on, and meetings with interesting people also looking to create something unique in Summerland but to me the Christmas lights seem prettier this year than in the past. So before I roll up my sleeves for the work to be done in the new year, I’m going to make an effort to get out to see those lights and celebrate what Christmas means, and the importance of community within that context.

Let me be the first to wish everyone a very happy Christmas, Hannukah, Rohatsu, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Yule… or whatever makes you happy. I celebrate that too.

– Stephanie Seaton –

The Summerland

What’s in a name?

Did you know that the word ‘Summerland’ is taken from Neopaganism and is said to represent a place for souls to rest in between their earthly incarnations?

And that the Gods of the Neopagan times would reportedly allow humans to stay in ‘the Summerland’ forever if they had gained the higher level of awareness that was meant to be the reason they came to earth in the first place?  And that it is a place of self evaluation for all matters spiritual where in reviewing ones’ life one would gain an understanding of the impact its actions had on the world and that physical human life takes on many incarnations but when they return to the mortal place (Earth) they have no recollection of the Summerland?

Andrew Jackson Davis wrote in The Great Harmonia which was published in six volumes between 1850–1861 that the Summerland is the pinnacle of human spiritual achievement in the afterlife; that is, it is the highest level, or ‘sphere’, of the afterlife we can hope to enter. Davis who had a reputation for being clairvoyant, was an inspiration to both Edgar Cayce and Edgar Allan Poe for his ability to communicate with spirits on other planes. He was so taken with the idea of the Summerland that he wrote about it again seven years after the publication of The Great Harmonia, in a book titled A Stellar Key to the Summer Land.

Personally I’m not particularly clairvoyant nor do I possess any special powers of communicating with people six feet under, however I do know about the Summerland because it is where I now live. As the name (and Wikipedia) suggests, it is a place of beauty and peace, where everything people hold close to their hearts is preserved in its fullest beauty for eternity. It is envisioned as containing wide and possibly eternal fields of rolling green hills and lush grass. Well maybe our hills are a little more yellow with dried rather than lush grass but they are nonetheless beautiful.

Our Summerland also has wineries that produce something akin to the nectar of the Gods, which has not gone unnoticed in international wine competitions. Summerland also has a very long and lovely lake that is said to be host to ancient mythological creatures. It has beauty in abundance, a steam train built in 1912 that still runs, peaceful beaches that are never overcrowded, and it also has some very good food. Summerland is a destination that when one reaches it, it feels like a reward for having been very good up until that point… at least on this earthly plane in this particular incarnation.

It is said that the only spiritual plane higher than the Summerland, is Nirvana. Personally I’m content to stay put for the moment, have a glass of local wine, enjoy the tapas at the local bistros and just contemplate what it means to be living in the Summerland.

Yes, there are other charming towns nearby but I couldn’t find any reason for Peachland being so named other than the fact that they grow peaches. And Penticton… well it’s a ‘place to stay forever’  but I’m not sure I would want to make that kind of commitment. Nothing too mystical about that and it does seem that Summerland has something a little bit extra. Whether or not this has anything to do with extraterrestrials or communicating with the dead or the Gods is irrelevant to me. I do know that it is a special place, in part because you won’t find a Walmart, nor a Costco nor a Minute Lube. And it is a place where crickets sing in the hedges on warm summer’s nights and often I’m lulled to sleep by coyotes baying at the moon in the valley below the train trestle.

I love Summerland. It’s has a full blown (previously blown) volcano right in the middle of town that is host to one of the best events I’ve attended and that’s the Giant’s Head longboard free-ride in July. You can hear the whoops of laughter and joy echo from the top to the bottom of the mountain and the whole adventure is summed up perfectly when you overhear some kid from L.A. who drove all the way to the Summerland for one wild and crazy weekend, to exclaim that this is the ‘best place ever!’ True enough, kid from L.A.

– Stephanie Seaton –