on welcome

welcome1 These days I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be “welcoming”.

It’s a touchy subject. We all as humans want to be welcome, we all want to be part of the group, to be heard and loved and seen, and feel happy, whether in school, or work, or community. I know this feeling acutely: I was not welcome when I was a Junior High student. I know the sting of sitting on the outside of the other kids, of having people not value me for whatever reason they deemed right. I know how angry it made me feel, and how I saw those people as “snobs,” not knowing much about them beyond that. (If you’re curious, here is a video of a talk I gave last year called “Insider/Outsider” at a lecture series on compassion and cruelty.)

So the conversation about Cape Breton and whether or not it is welcoming, well, I think it strikes a deep, deep nerve. It’s touchy. I’m hesitant even to wade into it, since I hate conflict, but at the same time, it’s become obvious to me that it’s something we all need to be thinking about, because it affects the economic future of our home.


I love my home. By this I first mean the actual house I live in, which keeps me warm and safe, where I share my love with my family and my partner, and where I love to have people over for tea and a visit.

I also love my home community. North Sydney isn’t where I grew up but it is where I live now, and it may have its downtrodden parts but I love it all: the old buildings on Commercial Street, the fields around the town, the Marine Atlantic terminal always busy. I love Baddeck, too, the village where I grew up, with its pretty, lakeside beauty, its cast of characters, it’s flux and flow of tourism and the winter season.

And I love the whole island, the woods, the fields, the sea, the towns, the history. (You may have guessed that love from the bumper stickers and postcards I make!)

Because I love my home, I’m so proud to share it with people, to welcome them to it. Come, see this place, make it your home too! Share your stories, and hear mine.

I think a lot of people feel that way, who live here. We love it, and we love to share it.

However, last month I was talking to someone who moved to Cape Breton a few years ago. They were feeling discouraged. They felt like they weren’t welcome in the rural area they had moved to, that their new business wasn’t being supported. They could see that some people welcomed them but overall they felt disappointed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these feelings, from folks who move here from away.

Last year an International student at CBU said that he felt the community here could be more welcoming to the students from around the world who come to the university in Sydney. And in the One Nova Scotia, or “Ivany” Report, Nova Scotia is encouraged to diversify and welcome newcomers: “But too many [immigrants] who come to Nova Scotia do not stay because their professional or trade credentials are not recognized or they do not find our employers and communities very welcoming. It will take a concerted effort to overcome these obstacles.” (Page 70, italics mine.)

Yesterday I was on the Information Morning Issue Panel with Steve Sutherland and Amanda McDougall. You can hear the whole 16-minute discussion here. We talked about newcomers for part of the time. One of the things I brought up is how some communities are more welcoming than others, and some individuals within communities are more welcoming than others. So when we hear or say that ‘our communities are not very welcoming,’ the reality is that it’s not a blanket statement of ‘all Cape Bretoners are alike’ when it comes to being welcoming. Some people are already doing amazing things to be welcoming!

Anyway, the whole thing has got me thinking, that if we’re going to change this, and be more welcoming, we need to see the problem first, and talk about it, openly. What does ‘welcome’ look like, anyway? What is the expectation, and why are we falling short? Is there obvious discrimination, or is it a general feeling of “not being included”?

And, I don’t think it’s not going to be enough to say “Well, other people may be unwelcoming, but I’m not.” That’s finger-pointing, and it rarely leads to change. People don’t generally like to be told what they’re doing wrong. The only way to make lasting change is to change ourselves as individuals, and show by example.

Whew. That was a lot of talk about the word “welcome”. I’m ready for some tea. Would you like some?

Posted in Leah's thoughts, Newcomers, Towns + communities | Tagged , | 4 Comments

on taking a break from Facebook


Bougainvillea photo from here.

So two weeks ago I put up a graphic as my profile pic on my Facebook page that said “Out of Office”(below). I set a three-week period where I would not be available on the popular social media site. The truth was that I was fed up with Facebook, and burnt out on it.


The graphic I made to be my profile pic while I took a three-week holiday from Facebook.

For some context, at that point I was checking Facebook about every ten to fifteen minutes, starting when I woke up in the morning and often ending just before bed at night. I had it on my mobile phone, and although I had notifications turned off (so I didn’t get a “push notification” on my main screen whenever something happened), I could just tap the little blue “f” icon and immediately see the news feed, the number of messages I had, and the number of Likes or mentions. I also had it on my laptop computer, and was never signed out. I could open a browser window, click on Facebook and be right there.

My classmates in Graphic Design, and my teachers, have a secret group on Facebook that we use to share information and communicate about our classes and activities. We all have email, but often, since we’re all Facebook users, it’s been easier to use the Facebook group to send a message to everyone in the class, quickly, like “I’m going to be late,” or “Tomorrow’s class plan has changed, now we’re covering X instead of Y,” or, “Here are the tasks for the group project we’re doing,” and tag everyone in the message. So since I like to be “on the ball” and “up to the minute” with what’s going on with school, I felt like I had to be checking Facebook as often as possible.

I also use the social media site to run a group that’s associated with this blog. A good portion of my blog traffic comes from people clicking the links I post whenever I write a new blog post. I also try to promote some local events and neat stuff. I felt like Facebook was essential to being heard in my community, to being in touch with friends and family, and to being considered relevant and “in the loop”.


This graphic shows a chart from the analytics for this blog, and shows the decrease of traffic during my Facebook “break”.

And, Facebook is good for those things: keeping in touch, staying in the loop, sharing information. There are very good reasons to use it. But I was getting increasingly cranky and stressed out. I had a lot of schoolwork to do and was constantly distracting myself by going on Facebook. I suppose some folks could have just cut back their use, but I felt like I needed a total cleanse of it.

So that’s what I did. Here is the post from my first day off it, and here is the post from the week after that, talking about how it felt to be without Facebook.

Then, earlier this week, (my second week off Facebook) I needed to contact someone who I only have on my Facebook, I don’t have his email address or phone number. So I logged in, sent him a message, read through some messages and notifications, and then logged back out again. I didn’t get sucked in like I’d worried I would, scrolling and scrolling through people’s updates.

Then, the next day, I was visiting my Mom and we like to watch videos of a friend’s new baby daughter, to catch up on what they’re up to. Mom doesn’t use Facebook so she relies on me to log in and show the videos to her. So I did that. I was definitely “cheating” on my “diet”, but oh well. When we were done catching up on little Madison in Newfoundland, I logged out, focussed on our visit, and that was that.

It was after that that I decided I didn’t need to wait another week and a half, I was ready to go back to using it then. I think that once I had logged in a few times “in secret” and realized (a) everyone just carried on without me and (b) some people didn’t even realize I was gone, and had messaged me anyway, I realized that I didn’t need to be checking it as often as I had been. I had felt like I needed to be available at all times, responding quickly to notes and comments. I realized that no, I don’t. And by taking a total break from it, I learned how to set that boundary, for myself.

How do you feel about Facebook? How do you protect your creative and productive energy?

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a visit to Big Hill Pottery

When I was a kid, my family was close friends with another ‘come from away’ family in the area, the Hendersons. Over my childhood and teenage years I spent a lot of time at Big Hill, with one of their kids, Jessica, who was one of my best friends. Big Hill is just outside of Baddeck and at the end of a long dirt road that goes up and over a, well, big hill. It’s definitely in the woods and you feel like you’re in the back of beyond when you’re there. We loved roaming the woods, taking walks, and being goofy teenagers there.

The years passed and Jessica moved away, then I did. My Dad and brother are still close to the folks living at Big Hill, but I hadn’t been up there in several years. So, this past Monday, having the day off from school because of March Break, I decided to go up and pay them a visit.

The main reason for this was that last week at the Women in Business dinner for International Women’s Day, I saw my friend Linda, and thought, “Geez, every time I see Linda it’s at an event or a market, and I always want to talk to her for longer! Maybe I’ll go actually visit her.” Linda, originally from Scotland, via Ontario, came to live at Big Hill five years ago, as Terry Henderson’s partner. She, like Terry, the original homesteader there, is a Buddhist and together they run the Big Hill Retreat cabins.

Linda has also been a potter for twenty-five years. When she came to Cape Breton she and Terry turned an old goat barn on the property into a studio for her, and she opened Big Hill Pottery in 2009. (Her blog is here.)

So, with all of that history, here are the photos I took on Monday when I visited Linda at her studio and home.


A wee flower I had bought at Superstore to bring to my mom (who I was also going to see that day), in the cupholder of my Yaris, snapped while I was stopped at the lights in Bras d’Or.


Said Yaris parked at the bottom of Big Hill Road, right where it meets the Trans Canada Highway.


Partway up the Big Hill Road.


From inside Linda’s studio: a paper garland she made once, with words by Rumi.


I really love being in people’s studios and checking out all the things they collect to keep in their creative space.


Some of Linda’s beautiful pots.


Some pots that didn’t make it.


Woodstove area.


The view from upstairs. Woods, sunshine, snow.


More lovely pottery.


Sink area.


Some of Terry’s fine carpentry: the spiral staircase.


Hardened clay scraps by the window.


A vessel by the window.


Linda’s wheel.


Glaze ingredients.


Glaze mixing area.


These go in the kiln to support the shelves, and I forget what they’re called.


Linda throwing mugs, and Zoe on the floor by the fire.


Outside of the studio.


Then we had lunch! What’s better than lunch, seriously. This was delicious: Borscht with sour cream, and an olive and onion bread, and some cheese.


After our visit I went to Baddeck, and after that, I headed back home. This is in South Haven.


And then I went straight to yoga at Escape Outdoors! This is North Sydney’s main street.

Posted in Active living, Community, Day to Day Life, Newcomers, Outdoors, Women + kids, Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

on choosing to see the good stuff

mychurch1 mychurch2 mychurch3 mychurch4 Last week at the talk by Jacqueline Scott, she mentioned that successful women leaders more often frame things positively. I admit that sometimes I have a hard time doing that, and my first, internal reaction to a problem is usually anger, or defeat, or blaming. (It’s hard to admit that, because I sort of pride myself on coming across as positive, capable, and grounded.) Her words last week were a good spark for me, to remind me of the vital importance of focussing on the good stuff.

I might write the words “real or fake?” and post them above my desk. Along with all the other post-its that are there, ha!

Do you struggle sometimes with positive framing? Please tell me I’m not alone! 🙂

(These photos were taken in Munro Park on Sunday. You can see more shots of Munro Park in this post from September of last year.)



Posted in Active living, Community, Day to Day Life, Leah's thoughts | Tagged , | 1 Comment

book report / 3


Choosing to write about the books I’m reading, on my blog after I’ve read them, has forced me to think about why I read, and what’s important to me in a book. Basically, if a book grabs me, then it’s not an issue at all to get it read. I want to read it, and can’t wait to sit down with it at any point in the day. But if a book doesn’t grab me, then reading it becomes a chore. And while I feel somewhat guilty about that, at the end of the day reading time is pleasure time, for me. If a book isn’t cutting it, I stop reading it.

(Are you a “have to finish it even if I don’t like it” kind of person? Or will you drop a book partway through?)

This first book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, was the former kind, it totally grabbed me. It was fantastic. Chock-full of quotable bits, which I wrote down in my journal, all about having a positive attitude, working well with others, and how the thrills of space life relate to life on earth. One of the many great quotes I jotted down: “Fundamentally, life off Earth is in two important respects not all unworldly: you can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you can choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moments, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy.”

The book was told in a friendly tone, yet knowledgeable and authoritative. And every time I sat down with it, it kind of blew my mind: here I am, doing ordinary, day-to-day things, yet all this time there are people out there like Chris Hadfield, going into frigging space. Space!


The next book I read was another gripping one: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown. This one, however, was even more densely-packed with goodness, thoughts that I wanted to read and then savour, thinking about and rolling around in my mind. So, it took me a little bit longer to get through it.


Again, I folded a lot of corners while I was reading this book, preparing for when I was finished it, to write down quotes.


The whole way through I was going “Yes! Yes!” and wanting to run around telling people about the nuggets of truth in this book.


After Daring Greatly I was feeling a bit cocky and I picked out a book published in 1838. I’ve never read any Dickens and felt like I should. So I picked out Oliver Twist.


However, it quickly become a slog. It was all about the wretched living conditions for orphans in Victorian England, and all the awful sorts of people that this one orphan, the title character, encountered. I got about a quarter of the way through before admitting to myself, this was not pleasure reading, not for me.


So then I moved on to Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. All the reviews were going on about it, and at first I didn’t get why, as it seemed a pretty straightforward story about a young woman down on her luck in England. But then she gets hired as a caregiver for a quadriplegic man, and the story picks up emotional speed. By the end I wasn’t wanting to stop reading!

bookreport-jojomoyes1 All the books this time around were borrowed from the Cape Breton Regional Library. My two previous book report posts are here and here. My blog inspiration Elise writes book reports too, and one of them is here.

What are you reading? Have any recommendations for what I should read next?

Posted in For Fun, Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

links loved / mar 8

linksloved1 A bit random, this photo was taken in Balls Creek when I was walking around last week, waiting for a part to be put into my car by the mechanics at Jed’s.

Here are some things I’ve seen lately that I thought I’d share. My #1 blogging inspiration, Elise is doing them once a week now and it’s inspiring me to do the same.

I listened to CBC’s DNTO (Definitely Not The Opera) today and the episode was all about saying “no”. I loved it! Especially the interview early on (at 5:13) with Beth Wareham. “You need no to live an honest life. I can’t live my life without the word no.”

I finally bought a new pair of jeans and feel like a million bucks in them. I also love that I can walk into Reitmans and walk back out with great-fitting, decently-priced jeans for my size (which is size 15), every time. I’m a big fan of that.

The steps of Mom-relationships.

The importance of sketchbooks.

My friend Krista talks about her favourite poem “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in” and compassion.

Elise’s notes and tips on being a productive work-from-home creative mom. “I love my family. I love my job. I make no apologies for either. Without my family I’ve got nothing. Without my job I don’t feel like me. So my never-ending goal is to live a happy life that incorporates both.”

Great new music (new to me anyway): Hurray for the Riff Raff.

Beautiful books to gaze upon by Basma Kavanagh.

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gold + honey: international women’s day

womensday1 Yesterday I stayed at school until 5, then went across the road to Flavor 19, where the Cape Breton Small Business Development Centre was hosting a Women in Business dinner and trade show, for International Women’s Day.

As part of my four goals for 2014, I’m doing research and taking action towards “the next step,” or what I’ll do after I graduate from my program in June. So part of that has been becoming a client of the Small Business Development Centre to learn new skills and learn about how to open and run a business. (I’ll write more about that in a future post.)

It was an incredible event. I didn’t take any pictures during it because it was one of those gatherings of people where I just wanted to be there, just wanted to listen to others, talk to others, be there in real time. (Plus, I just had my iPhone and I know from experience that photos in a low-lit room end up blurry — so, not worth the bother of taking the shot.)

The guest speaker was CBU business professor and highly-involved woman-of-letters, Dr. Jacqueline Scott, who spoke about the history of International Woman’s Day, as well as why we need women leaders. In her talk she explained the “Centred leadership” model, developed by McKinsey & Company, which made a lot of sense to me: it describes what sustains successful female leaders. And Dr. Scott herself was an inspiration, proving that when hard work and intelligence come together in a woman who doesn’t give up, she can accomplish amazing things.


Along the side of the room were tables where several woman-owned small businesses had set up their wares. I bought a little beeswax candle from a company called Bee Happy. When I got home I lit it, pulled out my Canon DSLR camera, and snapped a few shots of it. I smelled the sweet fragrance of the wax, and watched the steady flame. I thought about the evening I had just come from, and realized that in a way, the gathering of women there was like bees in a hive.

We came together, and showed one another where the pollen is. Those women who run businesses already, who know what success in business is and can be, demonstrated it for the others, by sharing their wisdom and stories, just like the bees do their little dances to show the other bees where the pollen is. Then at the end of the evening, we all went out into the cold night, back to our parked cars, and “flew” back into the community to collect the pollen for ourselves.

womensday3 As a storyteller and collector of stories, I also felt like the room was a gold mine. Every woman I met had an interesting and unique story of overcoming challenges, following her heart and her dreams, and making a solid business work here in Cape Breton. I wanted to sit down with every single woman and do an interview for the blog!

So the words I come away with are “gold” and “honey”. Women are like gold and honey It sounds like that should be an old saying, with a clever ending, but I can’t think of what it might be. Can you?


Also, here is a post from two years ago about an event I organized in Baddeck for International Women’s Day. The event was run the following year by the intrepid Anna MacDonald, and she organized it again this year. Go Anna! And go all women, all of you reading. We are so incredible, and we can change the world. We just need to believe it, and keep on working, and we can do it.

Posted in Community, Day to Day Life, Towns + communities, Women + kids, Work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment