life lately // may 2014


Loving the light.

Driving over Kelly’s Mountain Monday through Friday twice a day.

Passing lots of trucks on their way up that mountain. Being a little scared; have you seen the size of my car?

Working on: a logo for a small fashion line to be sold at the Gaelic College, little cards to have artist write-ups on them for the Craft Shop, interviews with people involved in KitchenFest!, powerpoint presentations, and whatever else Margie throws my way.

Leaving the dishes to be done another day.

Working in my spare time on: materials for a new friend’s lumber mill and forge (business cards, posters, signs, Facebook), another friend’s website copywriting, and this blog.

Dreaming up ideas that I can’t execute on just now, and writing them down so I don’t forget.

Wondering where the time goes. (I’m three weeks in to my work term at the moment!)

Laughing a lot with the people I’m working with. Which makes me laugh more at home too!

Spending time relaxing with Adam, too, not as much as I’d like but enough that we both feel like life is semi-balanced. (Is it ever totally balanced?)

Craving some nature time, which I will carve out this weekend.

Learning by doing about “gettin ‘er done” and cranking out the work. (Key for me is logging out of Facebook for an hour at a time — you all know how much I love Facebook.)

Poking around in my garden and admiring the new shoots and growth.

Hearing about jobs and applying for them, and having options! Something I never really thought would happen here. I might have hoped for it, but to actually live it is weird! And good.

Remembering to breathe.

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So you want to write a blog about Cape Breton…


…Fantastic! I think that’s awesome. Do it!

The reason I’m writing this post is that I had someone reach out to me last week after the article in the Herald, with an idea they had for a blog sort-of-thing. They wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be stepping on my toes if they did it, and they were also wondering if there were opportunities for us to collaborate.

My answer? No, they’re not stepping on my toes at all, and yes, absolutely we can collaborate!

I’ve been asked a few times over the past two years by people wanting to do similar projects as me, if I minded if they did that. And each time, I told them they were doing rad things, and encouraged them. And I’ll say it again any time I’m asked, but just for future reference, I’ll say this: I don’t really believe there is such a thing as competition, when it comes to telling the stories of our beautiful home.

I mean, sure, I have an ego like everyone else, and it rears its head sometimes, and preens or gets bitchy, up there inside my brain. But overall, I really do think that the more Cape Breton stories and lives that are out there, the better. And, when it comes to blogging, a medium which is so personal and unique to the person writing the blog, the only person you’re really competing against is yourself.

So, if you’ve had the thought that you’d like to try your hand at blogging about your life on Cape Breton Island, by all means, do! I’d love to help any way I can, whether that’s giving advice on the various elements of putting a blog together, from writing to photos to hosting, or by adding your blog to my list of Cape Breton blogs, or by just checking out your stuff and supporting you that way. Do get in touch!

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Colin’s painting


Colin Elliott, my boyfriend’s dad, worked as a mechanical engineer his whole working life, starting in England and then coming over to Canada, and then working as a salesperson in machinery. He’s also a talented carpenter, and in his retirement years he’s gotten really into woodworking and tole painting, and makes neat wooden whirligigs and toys.

When I saw Colin at Easter dinner, last month, he started telling me about how this past winter he had made a painting, stepping out of his comfort zone a bit! He had painted plenty of whirligigs, but never done a painting on canvas before. What got him inspired to paint was that it was winter, and he was spending time in his woodworking shop as usual, but he found himself getting frustrated with the news about the Veterans’ Office in Sydney closing, as well as the news about the Mother Canada Memorial for the Park (which he supports and sees as a gift to the community) meeting a mixed reception, with some people not wanting it, or wanting it in a different location.

Colin told me about how he made up a frame from 2X4 wood and a canvas that had been used for covering floors when painting the whirligigs and toys. He began to experiment with the tole paints he uses for his wood crafts, and he began to sketch out his memories and emotions around the issues of the Veterans’ Office and the Mother Canada Memorial. What resulted was a 6′ by 3′ painting which he has since donated to the Sydney Mines Legion.

I thought it was really well done and said I’d like to share it here on the blog. While I may not agree with Colin on every point to do with the Mother Canada memorial, I love that he used creativity and painting to work through his frustration, and that he tried something new and pushed himself out of his comfort zone. I also loved that he’s voicing his opinion on a community matter in a new and creative way. I love and respect Colin very much, and I’m willing to listen to his point of view, even if at first I may not agree.

When I asked him where the words came from, (“That young man is long gone and I’m too tired to fight again”) he said, “Oh, I just made that up!” Something else I love about this painting: that you just never know how your loved ones will surprise you with their creativity!




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project process // hand-lettering part 2

01. Letter-warmup

Back in February of this year I started on an independent project for school, learning some hand-lettering. I’m a huge fan of Mary Kate McDevitt’s work and wanted to learn some of the techniques of the beautiful art of letters, so I signed up for her Skillshare class for $20 and got started. This post you’re reading is part 2, so if you want to catch up and see how I started my lettering project, check out part 1 first.

So, the next step was to pick a word from my phrase, and draw it in a variety of styles. That’s what the picture at the top of this post is showing. From the top, the styles are: sans-serif, blackletter, representational, drop shadow, serif, script and I think the last one was whatever style you wanted.

02. Thumbnail Then I drew thumbnail sketches of how the whole layout might look. You do lots of thumbnails so that you can really work out different ideas and compare them to one another, and get a sense quickly of how the words will fit on the page.

03. handlettering1 This picture shows my desk and what all was on it, while I was working away. You can see my moodboards printed off, as well as a sheet of paper with the word “Island” in a bunch of different fonts. My computer is under my sketchbook and the piece of paper with the Cape Breton outline on it.

03.roughsketch_island So then I spent several hours making my first draft. For this first layout idea, I wanted the letters to all be touching, like in the “Someday I’ll wish upon a star” example from my moodboard.

I sent this draft both to my instructor at NSCC, Brian Geary, and to Mary Kate, the Skillshare teacher, and asked them for feedback.
04. Briansfeedback

This image above was Brian’s feedback that he emailed back to me: he used Photoshop to take my image and move a few things around, showing me how better to place my words in the top portion of the island.

And this was Mary Kate’s comment on my work:

05. feedback from Mary Kate

(Of course I was a bit starstruck even getting feedback from her at all! Did I mention she’s amazing?)

06. handlettering21

So with all of that in mind, I started again to draw, likely a few days later. I decided to lay out the piece a bit differently, still in the island shape, but with the words not touching like they were before.

07. handlettering22 08. handlettering23

It’s a long process. A lot of drawing, erasing, drawing again. Making it as close to perfect as you can. If your pencil drawing (and final inked version, which comes from it) is really good before you scan and vectorize it, then you spend less time on the computer later.

09handlettering Eventually I got to this stage above. Then I decided I wanted the banner around “A Rock” to be squared off.

10handlettering In this shot, the letters “N” and “D” on “Island” needed more work, so I erased them and did them again.

11. handlettering51

Eventually, after several hours, I was happy with how it looked, as well as feeling like I wanted to move forward, so if there was any part that still needed work, well, oh well. It’s easy to just beat myself up mentally, comparing my work with someone like Mary Kate who has been at it a long time, and try to make it perfect. But, at some point you’ve just got to move forward and finish a project. Doing it from start to finish is how you learn, and get better for the next time.

13. handlettering-trace1

I took the drawing to school and used a lightbox there to trace over my pencil drawing with a Sharpie fine-tip marker, onto a new piece of paper.

14. handlettering-trace11 15. inkedversion And then I had this! The final inked version. In the third and last part of this process, which I’ll post on here in the next few weeks sometime, I’ll share the vectorization process, and what I did with it once it was on the computer, and what colours I used to bring it to life.

(Edit as of June 25th: Part Three is now up on the blog and you can read it here.)

A note on copyright: the lyrics I’m using here are by Kenzie MacNeil, from the song “The Island.” I reached out to Kenzie to ask his permission to use the lyric, and after we spoke on the phone, he hasn’t had a chance to respond to my follow-up email, so I’m not sure where we stand with that. However, I am not selling this product, only using it for educational purposes, so technically I’m within my rights to use these lyrics, but of course I want to clear it with Kenzie as well, and also look into getting permission so that I may sell the prints someday.
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links loved / may 10


Chives in my garden, photographed earlier this week.

You guys! Oh man. This weekend just feels so good, I’m so pumped for it.

This past week at my Work Term has been awesome! (This post is from back in February when I announced that I’d be at the Gaelic College, and it explains a bit about the whole unpaid-internship-thing and why I’m there.) This past week, my second there, what made a big difference for me was that Margie, Colin and Joyce were back (the week previous they’d been over in Mabou at the Nova Scotia Gaels Jam), so the office was very lively.

Margie is the gal I’m working with, and Colin and Joyce are both fluent in Gaelic and around my age, and friends with Margie. When we go into town for lunch once a week, it’s those three I’m going with. They’re really fun and they all make me laugh constantly. In fact, I was quite proud when Colin said in one of his funny voices, “Now that I know you better, I’m going to make fun of your laugh!”

So, yeah. This weekend feels so good. There is a bit of room and time to stretch and relax, and there are good things to celebrate. Tonight we’re going to visit one of Adam’s cousins who just bought a little house in Florence. I’m excited for that! And tomorrow, Sunday, is another Farmer’s Market in North Sydney, as well as some hangout time with my dear Mom.

Anyway, on to Links Loved! Inspired as always by Elise and her great “weekend links” feature, here are some rad things I saw around the Internet this week:

These flower faces by Justina Blakeney are dainty and exquisite.

Mo Kenney singing at The Living Wall at CBU.

Kids saying what they like best about the Gaelic College. They are so adorable!! Mark MacDonald at 4:38 kills me.

I don’t usually go crazy about home-decor or home-design posts but this one makes me want to pack up all my things and go to there. It’s a treehouse! All my girlhood dreams come true!

Amy Schumer’s Ms. Gala speech is a bit PG-rated but so brave and bold.

Because I am basically in love with Elise, I had to grab some of these fun cards she’s selling in a pop-up shop this weekend only. Also because bright colours + hashtags are my jam. #jam

I really really really want to make some typographic art like this for my own home.

And this piece about random acts of chalkboard art blew me away with the quality of the work and the devotion to the adventure.

Have a great weekend!!

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a walk behind the gaelic college, in springtime

stannswalk1 This first picture, above, was taken last week on the MacKillop Road right behind the Gaelic College.

Below is the same spot, yesterday:

stannswalkies01 So it’s really great to be able to walk here on my lunch breaks! As you know if you’ve been reading a while, I love to walk. It’s how I get exercise mainly, and how I also take a break in the day and get some thinking time in.

stannswalkies02 There is still some snow! In patches under trees, mainly.

stannswalkies03 This is not in focus but I think the cheeriness of the willow stalks shine through.

stannswalkies04 Blue sky! Ahhh!

stannswalkies05 Sun flare selfie.

stannswalkies06 stannswalkies07 stannswalkies08 stannswalkies09

Walking in the woods in springtime is just the best. I love the crunch and crackle of things underfoot.


And the springiness of the moss, warmed by the strengthening sun.

stannswalkies11 stannswalkies12 stannswalkies13 stannswalkies14 stannswalkies15 stannswalkies16 Can you see the deer print in the photo above?

stannswalkies17 stannswalkies18 The sunny weather makes such a difference in my mood!

Have a great Friday, folks.


Posted in Day to Day Life, Environment, Health, Leah's thoughts, Outdoors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

on abundance

abundance So yesterday was a pretty darn abundant day!

The main thing was that I was on the front of the Chronicle Herald! This is the provincial paper in Nova Scotia, which has recently started a Cape Breton Edition, which is the edition I was on. (Here is the article in case you haven’t read it yet.)

And this image will give you a sense of how that article spiked the number of people looking at this blog:


That screenshot was taken in the morning, too, and the numbers continued to climb throughout the day! My Twitter mentions spiked too, as did the number of shares of the article on Facebook.

I have to say, it really blew my mind! You see, blogging is done mostly at home, from behind a computer, by yourself. I might chat with people a bit here and there, either in preparing a piece, or when I’m out and about and I happen to run into a blog reader, but for the most part, this whole “Dream Big Cape Breton” show is really just me talking to myself or thinking to myself, about ideas and drafts, and also thinking, “What the heck am I doing, anyway?”

I think that a lot, I must admit. Blogging is still so young as an industry, and I still feel a bit odd saying “I’m a blogger,” like that’s a legitimate thing or something! I often wonder if it’s real people that create the numbers of my reader stats, or just spam bots crawling around the Internet. So to have a provincial paper write about me and put my picture on the front of the paper across the island, and say, “Hey! That random personal-sort-of blog you write is actually an island ambassador,” well, it’s a mind blower! And a really amazing, abundant feeling.

Along with the incredible boost of being in the paper, there were a number of other things about yesterday that all together add up to this feeling of abundance:

  1. Beautiful sunny weather after several days of cold and drizzle and snow. (Yup, snow.)
  2. A gorgeous album of music to listen to in my car and at work, in a language that is still quite new to my ears.
  3. Laughing til I cried with my co-workers at the Gaelic College, who are super hilarious and fun!
  4. Going into Baddeck for our lunch and seeing people I knew, and chatting. I love having that village as my background and stomping grounds.
  5. My little Yaris is fixed and I picked her up in Sydney!
  6. Thinking about blog content and getting all fired up with new ideas.
  7. A new client with some fun materials to make.

Abundance like this makes me simultaneously really happy AND really overwhelmed, which I think is a big part of why I’m afraid to take risks or make changes in my life, and I would guess that’s the same for a lot of people. It’s like I’m as afraid of doing really well, as I am of failing. Isn’t that weird?

But I think it’s like when I was learning to drive 15 years ago. When the car is stopped, I’m safe. I don’t know how to drive, but I’m safe, ha. Once it’s moving, I’ll need to learn new things, like how to steer it and how to control its speed. Crappy things could happen! Hence, the fear. But, I also want to learn to drive! And be able to go places, and see people, and be independent. So I take that risk, and put the car in drive, and try it out.

I’ll leave that metaphor there for now (I could talk in metaphors all day) but it’s just funny to be aware of that about myself, about how I’m actually afraid of success in some ways. And it’s good I guess, to recognize that, and then think, “OK, I might be afraid of what will happen once I step into the unknown area of abundant success, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go for it anyway.” Because that’s the good stuff. That’s the stuff we want.


I got home from my abundant day and felt like there were five different awesome directions I could go in, and I couldn’t choose which one. I was practically paralyzed with excitement. To shower and get ready to go out to eat dinner, to celebrate the article in the paper? To do the dishes and make dinner? (Which is honestly its own kind of joy when I’m busy and on the road a lot, just to relax at home and putter.) To write a post or two? To work on my new client’s stuff? To just relax on the couch with Adam and nap?

And in the end, I decided to write this post. Then to go out to dinner. Life is short: celebrate the abundance. Live the joy. Move forward.


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