Brenna MacNeil: Graphic Design and I Love Cape Breton



What do you do if you find out that someone else is doing a similar-but-different product as you, on the other side of the island, and not only that, but that they’ve actually been doing it longer?

Well, you support them, of course!

I’ll admit that when I first heard about Brenna MacNeil’s “I Love Cape Breton” project, last month, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. (She’s been doing it since 2010.) First I worried that she would think I had copied her. Then I felt competitive, and wondered if she had copied me, which, it turned out, wasn’t even remotely true.

Then I took a deep breath, put on my big-girl panties, stopped over-thinking, remembered my manners, and wrote to her. I told her I had just seen her work, that it was great, and that I wanted to order some.


There is one sticker missing off this sheet already — couldn’t resist! I love stickers.

Then I realized: Hey! The folks that already know about and have purchased my “I Heart Cape Breton” products would probably also love Brenna’s products! She’s got slightly different products from what I make, and as I’ve said before (about blogging), the more Cape Breton love that’s out there, the better. A rising tide raises all ships; in other words, I hope we all make it.

So, let me introduce you to a fellow graphic designer and adorer of Cape Breton: Brenna MacNeil!

Brenna-Lucinda at Highland Village

She’s a momma to Lucinda (above) and wife to Brandon (below).

Brenna-Brandon at the beach

She’s a superb graphic designer with lots of great ideas.


tshirt arrival

lumiere-brenna And she’s a born-and-bred Cape Breton gal: Brenna grew up in Inverness. She lives now in Halifax, but comes back to Cape Breton often. She sold at the Mabou Farmers Market several times this summer, and her work is available on her website, at the Inverness County Centre of the Arts, at the Inverness Bearpaw, and at the Cabot Links gift shop.

Miss Brenna’s website is here. And her online shop is here. (You can also get to the shop from the website.)

Her stuff is great! Go check it out. I ordered one of the custom prints with my two hometowns (Baddeck and North Sydney — that picture is at the top of the post), and a calendar. I really love the quality of the work, it’s beautiful.

Oh and have an awesome Thursday!

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hack it!


Morgan Currie, Marcato’s Chief Technology Officer and Eric Lortie, Marcato’s Development Team Manager, the organizers of the event.

I’m going to Build Something Awesome!

At least, I’m going to try.

I’m absolutely not a developer, but I am a designer, and I’ve been dipping my toes in the development “pool” lately, at work, learning some PHP for a database project. So, I was excited to hear about an upcoming event right here on Cape Breton Island called a Hackathon, taking place over one weekend, where I would get to stretch my creative muscles, meet a bunch of new people, eat free food, and learn cool stuff too. Oh, and maybe even win $3000.

(Also, and this is not the least of my reasons, I’ll admit: I get to see Eric Lortie’s rad long ginger beard in person! I hope it’s as glorious as it looks in photos.)

(Oh, that’s not the reason you attend events? To see gloriously-long beards? Hmm.. this is awkward.)

Anyway, what the heck is a Hackathon? From Marcato’s press release: “Hackathons are popular, community-based computer programming events that take place all over the world, in which software developers come together to collaborate and compete against each other, either in teams or individually, to create new software in a limited amount of time. Popularized by tech giants like Facebook and Google, Hackathons have become a unique aspect of the modern tech culture.”

Aforementioned owner of a rad ginger beard, and Development Team Manager at Marcato, Eric Lortie, says: “Every industry could benefit from events like hackathons. How great is it to see so many different people come together with their peers, in some friendly competition, in order to build something awesome? Amazing products that will hopefully contribute to amazing communities! We’re very fortunate to work in an industry where it’s so easy to see these events come to fruition. Things like hackathons are already a prominent part of the tech culture and they help make it better for everyone; from new developers just starting out and looking for experience, all the way to the most experienced folks.”

Since I’m really new to the idea of hackathons, I asked Ethan Fenton, Marcato’s Marketing Manager, about what sorts of things people actually build at these events. He said,

“The hackathon theme this year is #BuildSomethingAwesome, so it’s broad, but we think for our first year we didn’t want to limit any amazing ideas. Here are some ideas: A browser plugin for saving and customizing recipes, a web-app for building stage plots for music festivals, or an app for finding and securing produce at the Farmers Market. Apps can be built in any language/framework, and to be clear, nobody is expecting a complete piece of software to be written in 2 days — the best proof-of-concept or most original idea can still win over a complete, working app!”

The Hackathon is on October 18th and 19th, in Sydney. It’s being sponsored in part by multiple community organizations, including The Verschuren Centre, CBU’s #StartUpCapeBreton, NSBI, Innovacorp, Cape Breton Partnership, Island Sandbox, Vibe Creative Group, Collide Halifax Creative Technology Conference, & Doktor Luke’s Coffee Shop.

Find out more and sign the heck up here! And I’ll see you there!

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Maurice “Scoggie” Watson was 27 when Cynthia Scott made a film about him. It was 1975. (Film runs about 25 minutes.)

scoggie5 scoggie9

This film is almost 40 years old. Yet, the stories in it, and the truths they reveal, still ring stingingly true. If you live here, you get it. You get Scoggie’s devotion to a lake. You get why happiness and simplicity trumps leaving. You get, also, what he says about his peers and why they have to leave: that’s still true too.


“You have to be just be determined to stay here and stick it out, and maybe …work a little harder than you would …if you went to a big city where you get in softer jobs.”


“Calm and ordinary, hard-working people, that’s my kind of people. Down to earth people.”


“Sometimes, you meet a girl, that you think a lot of, and she can’t stay in Cape Breton because she can’t get work, in her field, and you get to think a lot of her and she has to leave here. That’s happened quite a few times. Where they find they just can’t, they just can’t stay around here and they have to leave. And sometimes go back to the big city or something like this. That’s one disadvantage of Cape Breton.”


“A lot of the kids growing up, they get pushed into college whether they want to go or not, and they’ll go to college and they’ll specialize in something. They get this specialized field and a bunch of letters after their name, and they have to go somewheres else to get a job, where they specialize in a certain field. Around Cape Breton, you don’t get that many jobs. So they have to, they have no choice. They have to leave Cape Breton to get the right work, that they’ve been studying for for years. They’re not trained to do anything else. They couldn’t stay around Cape Breton and start a farm, or start a maple syrup industry, or something like this. They studied all their life on kangaroos in Australia, and that’s where they have to go. Opposite of them, I didn’t have to specialize in anything, I just tackle anything, and take what would come along, and love Cape Breton enough so that I could stay. I don’t see any reason to leave, long as I can get a bite to eat every now and then.”


Gordon MacRae: “I think you find that, in the country, you know, you have to, if you want something, you have to do it yourself. Because there aren’t that many experts in all the different fields to call on. Very often it’s a matter of, you have to do it yourself, or you just don’t get it done.”


Scoggie passed away last month. I knew him a little bit; he once fixed a headboard of a sleigh bed I bought off Kijiji, with a piece of cherry wood that he had. Getting to go to his workshop, and shoot the shit, meeting the other fellows who dropped by, is a memory I’ll treasure. Scoggie’s cadence of speech and his wry wit always made me laugh, when he would come into the marina where I worked for four years.

After he passed, his daughter, who was a schoolmate of mine in Baddeck, sent me the link to the movie, which I had actually never seen. So, I watched it, and was totally blown away by it. You can watch it here.

I’m so glad we have this film to remember Scoggie with. His plain and simple, yet profound love for Cape Breton inspires me to keep on loving what I love. I’ll miss chatting with him and sharing banter, absolutely. But the way he lived his life was not for nothing.

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what you didn’t plan (or plant)


Last year in this bed, I grew tomatoes on purpose. The growing season ended, I pulled out the plants, and called it a day. (Or a season, I guess.)

This year, I didn’t grow tomatoes on purpose in this bed. But a seed from last year’s plant grew anyway. My mom calls that a “volunteer.” As you can see, I just let it “do it’s thing,” I didn’t put a cage around it or anything. And do it’s thing, it did: it grew and grew and grew, sprawling over the concrete steps at the back of the house.


I was in my garden yesterday (despite attempting to be lazy all Sunday, I just couldn’t help myself, and had to go out and poke around in the dirt a bit), and I looked at my volunteer tomato, and I thought about the metaphor it brought me, along with the fruit. And that is, that sometimes the things you didn’t plan for, come along in your garden bed anyway. Be grateful for them. Eat the tomatoes, and smile that you have them, even though you didn’t think you would.

For the ways of seeds, both literal and figurative, are mysterious and beautiful, and life is good.

Happy Monday, friends.

Posted in Day to Day Life, Food + agriculture, Leah's thoughts, Outdoors | Tagged , | 5 Comments

on making adjustments as you go


I’m taking a break from posting Links Loved — and anything else — on the weekend. The thought came to me as I was taking a walk this morning, down in Munro Park, along the shore of North Sydney Harbour.

As I was power-walking along the wooden boardwalk, music in my earbuds, I was thinking about how my life feels a little too full right now. While I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the abundance of all the things (work, love, friends, blog, freelance work, home, garden), I also want and need to acknowledge my own feelings, as I work towards my dream life.

The great thing about living your dream is, it’s not “happily-ever-after”, it’s actually day-by-day, and you get to make adjustments as you go.

But the hard thing about living your dream is, it’s not “happily-ever-after”, it’s day-by-day, and you have to make adjustments as you go. Fear is always there, in the back of my mind and likely yours too: that little voice saying “But what if? What if?” What if I disappoint people? What if they don’t like me anymore? What if I fail?

Anyway, I guess I’m telling you these weekend thoughts of mine, because I believe strongly in being honest and transparent, and that if I’m going to work to inspire people to follow their dreams too, then I want to be honest about the fact that following one’s dream and one’s heart is not all sunshine, rainbows and kittens. Or, in other words, excited Instagram photos, parties, and radio shows.

Sometimes it’s introspection, making choices on what not to do, and walks by the beach.

(And that’s not too bad, either.)

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Friday-1 Friday-2 Friday-3 Friday-4 Friday-5 Friday-6 Friday-7 Yesterday I went out to Big Baddeck after work, with Mary Jane (my boyfriend’s mum, who, despite the fact that I’m not actually married to her son, I call my mother-in-law), and met my own mum, for a meal at The Bite House. (Here is the meal I had there in August.)

The flavours were so expertly blended and matched. The conversation was witty, hearty and connecting. The wine, well, the wine was simply divine.

I love Fall. The textures, the coziness, the cool air, the colours!

Also, I love playing with photos in Illustrator. Here is the photo just above, taken into Illustrator and vectorized, and then messed with a little bit:



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love what you love


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this phrase: “Love what you love.”

I’ve been thinking about how it’s something I’ve really learned as a result of putting myself out there, both in writing this blog, and in following my dream to be a graphic designer. Both of these acts are me loving what I love, unabashedly, and with purpose, and I’ll tell you, really good things have come of it.

(And by “I’ve learned this,” what I really mean is that like all of you, like all of us humans, I come to realize the truth of it, and then put it into practice in my daily life, and then sort of forget it, and then realize it again. Sometimes that cycle takes a month. Sometimes just a day.)


So yeah, good things come of it, of publicly following our loves, whether that be a passion for cribbage, for snowmobiling, for drawing, for web development, or whatever, but I think quite often, we talk ourselves away from loving what we love, especially if it’s not what we think we’re “supposed” to love.

(And just as a disclaimer here, I’m not talking about loving things like hurting other people, or being addicted to harmful behaviours.)

We do this because “loving what you love” means being vulnerable. It means admitting to yourself what you really want out of life, and then not settling for less, not settling for just doing the stuff that doesn’t fill you with joy. It’s hard to not-settle. It’s scary stuff to bet on your own passion and trust that it will carry you through the tough times, the doubting times.

But at the same time, it also feels freaking amazing to “love what you love,” and to let that beautiful stuff be in your daily life.


Here is why I think that you, and I, and your cousin Joe, and your aunt Francine, should all love what we love:

1. Because love is good. It’s good stuff! It feels good, it makes us happy, it’s what we’re made of and made for.

2. Because whatever it is you’re passionate about, is who you are and there’s no point in denying it. Even though Adam thinks I’m a huge nerd, I still take great joy (and demonstrate that I do) in reading parts of the dictionary when I eat breakfast. It thrills me to learn about word origins.

3. Because it’s the spice that makes work go by easier. I don’t happen to think it’s true that “if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work.” I think that’s BS. Work is still work — if it wasn’t, we’d all somehow make a living from lying on the beach. But, work does goes by faster and it’s more fun, if you love what you do.

4. Because when you show that you love it, other people who love it too will see your passion for it, like a light shining, and will gravitate toward it. This is the magic part. This is how you find other people who love the same things as you. This is how people know to ask me about things like custom designs of poems for their families, or logos for their farms, because I’ve said publicly that I love design, families, nature, food. And then I get to do fun work!



What do you LOVE? Tell me! Get it out in the open. Love it!

Posted in Day to Day Life, Design, Leah's thoughts, Love, Motivation | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments