Lighten up

photo-6 IMG_5249 IMG_5250 IMG_5255 Lately in some of my classes we’ve been working with shadows. The top photo is of an India Ink illustration we had to do. The specs were: an object in silhouette, with a shadow that is of something different. 8″ x 8″.

The other photos are for my Photography class. We had to take pictures of shadows. That was fun: I like being given a parameter and having to work within it. “Just shadows” makes you see shadows differently. Makes you consider all the different things you can do with just shadows.

I know it’s been a bit heavy around here lately, what with my last post about climate change (a really fun topic to talk about!!! yeah!!!) and the one before that about winter gardens and quietness, going inward, etc. In spite of all that, I’m actually in a pretty great mood much of the time, in general. I have impromptu dance parties in my kitchen, I laugh a lot with friends, and I try and keep a positive outlook on things.

Despite the crappiness in life (that has always been, that will always be, no matter the era), it is still a good life.

And besides that, it’s Friday! Wooooooo!

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Can we talk about this?


I want to talk about climate change.

Not all the time, not ad nauseum. I don’t want to focus on it manic-style, unable to do anything else but read the terrifying facts and guesses. I also want to fold my laundry, make my supper, take my walks, live my life.

But I can’t do these things, while thinking about the solid fact of climate change, and not talk about it, anymore. Not go public with my feelings.

Grandmother analogy

Here’s my analogy: several years ago, my father’s mother was dying of emphysema. She lived in New Jersey and I lived in Nova Scotia. I was also ill: I had depression and my energy levels were absolutely shot. The thought of going to my local grocery store was overwhelming, much less getting on a plane and going to see her as she was dying, so I stayed where I was.

Over the months that my grandmother, Isabel, was lying in the hospital bed, I was in touch with my aunt and various cousins who lived near her, or relatives who could go see her, and they would keep me updated on how she was doing. One day she might have energy, another day she would have very little. She might have to breathe through a tube one day, and another day she could breathe on her own. But the overall trend was toward death, there was no question about that. And after a while, she could only breathe through the tube in her throat.

All around me in Cape Breton, people were getting on with things. As normal. No-one outside of my immediate, small family even knew who my grandmother was. Yet all the normal day-to-day stuff my neighbours did just made me think of what wasn’t normal, that my grandmother was dying. That everything would change in my life after she had died, but I had no idea how. I just knew that I was afraid, that I would grieve her loss, and that with all of my being I didn’t want it to happen. Yet it was happening.

And sometimes I could think about it, and focus on it, and other times I had to just get on with the normal business of living. In order to do that normal business of living, I had to just not think about Isabel in the hospital bed in New Jersey, a thousand miles away.

Likewise, climate change is happening, but so far, other than mild winters and weird, wacky weather, it’s still happening somewhere else. So all around me, it seems, like as in a bizarre, parallel universe, life goes on. It has to. We drive to the supermarket. We put groceries in the cart, wait in line, read headlines, buy gum on impulse, and then drive home. We talk about normal things: when children will be born, when meetings will take place, when graduation will happen. We have to, it’s what keeps us sane.

Climate change is the bad news: “Your grandmother is dying.” We’ve been given the news, and we each deal with it individually in our own way. For some the keening and grieving starts immediately. For others it is shelved mentally, to be dealt with a piece at a time, as the mind is able to handle it.

Recently I read “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver, which was published just this past year. It’s a novel, about a woman who lives on a farm in Tennessee, whose life is changed when a great number of monarch butterflies land in the woods nearby instead of wintering in Mexico as they have for thousands of years. A scientist comes to study them and basically monitor their extinction, as they may or may not make it through the cold winter, and she goes to work for him as his assistant. Climate change is central to this book. It’s not a maybe, it’s not a possibly. It’s real.

And while reading this book I realized: I need to stop pretending. I need to admit and talk about the fact that climate change fills me with a despair and a fear so big I can barely face it. That I don’t think the little things (recycling, driving a hybrid car, etc) will make a difference now, besides keeping us comfortable for a bit longer, comfortable in the belief that nothing will change.

The grandmother has died. And I can deny that to myself, or I can face it and grieve.

Grieving her means talking to others who are also grieving. It means sitting with the grief and feeling it. It means getting used to life without her, even though we have no idea yet what that looks like.

Let’s talk, OK?


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Winter garden


“The best laid plans” – how does that saying go? Of mice and men, or something? The plans go astray, anyway. No matter how well-laid out.

I came through the holiday with the thought, “Once 2013 rolls around I’m going to get back into blogging, big time! I’ll go do interviews in my down time, I’ll edit old interviews, I’ll be so damn productive I’ll amaze myself!”

This wasn’t even a well-laid plan, actually. This was just a sketchy plan; a wish, really.

Well, I’m back to school and it seems there is more work this semester than there was in the last. We have two more courses than before, which isn’t up to the students at all but up to the faculty. They took out the two study periods we had, and put in two extra classes. Thumbs up! Awesome!

(I’m not actually bitter. It just seems a little odd, that’s all.)

Long story short: I will not have time in the next four months to blog like I was blogging this time last year. Between class time and homework, plus the ordinary home tasks like making food to eat and keeping the house tidy, and the necessary little bits of down-time, the time just is not there. With money you can go into overdraft; with time, you can’t.

(Well, I guess you sort of could, if you went without sleep, but that’s a debt with a seriously steep interest rate. And it’s a bitch to repay.)

I’m kind of disappointed. I miss this project, I miss having fun new content on the blog. It’s a lot of fun for me to write content, edit other people’s writing, take photographs, go around meeting people and experiencing the island. Doing this sort of thing full-time, for money, is still a dream of mine.

But at the same time, I know it’s important to focus on the Main Thing and make sure that it’s a success, before worrying about anything else. And school is definitely the Main Thing right now.

I’ll be writing blog posts when (a) the mood strikes AND (b) I have time and energy, but those two circumstances may not coincide often.

This is reality, I suppose! The reality of being a young person, living on Cape Breton, working to make her dreams come true.


So, yeah: back to the title of this post, the Winter Garden. Where that comes in, is that I went out the other day and took some shots of the garden around our home, now, as it is in winter-time.

I remember reading a newspaper article a couple of years ago that was about planning your garden so that it’s interesting even in winter. It talked about looking at the textures and shapes, at the way plants look when they’re dead, basically. It stuck with me, and now I think about that when looking at plants to add to our gardens. Will it make a neat seedpod that will rot in a beautiful way? Will it have berries that last all winter, adding a burst of crimson to the whiteness of the garden in February?

Right now I’m feeling like the winter garden. Productive under the surface. To people outside of my classmates or my boyfriend, it may look like I’m not doing much. The blog is quiet. My other voluntary activities are cut back. It’s just me, my computer and sketchbook, and the office, for hours and hours and hours to come.

I really liked this post on Elise Blaha Cripe’s blog “Enjoy It”, about goals and to-do lists, and how she is so very productive, and creative.

She writes, “If you don’t break big goals up into actionable items they serve as nothing more than wishes and will not be accomplished. It all comes down to scheduling and then following through.”

Sometimes dreams have a waiting part to them. No, scratch that, I think all the time, dreams have a waiting part to them.




Thoughts, as always, are so very welcome.


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2012: My Fave 10 Posts, and What’s Coming Up in 2013

oldyearnewyear Holy cats, a whole year has gone by already!

They go by so fast. When you’re a kid you think adults are nuts, the way they say that all the time. But, getting up into my twenties myself, I realize it’s totally true.

Anyway, 2012. It’s been a really good year. I took some risks that have added a lot of fun and creativity to my life: starting and writing this blog is one, and also enrolling in the Graphic Design course. I moved in with my fella, too, and all of these things combined, plus probably some other things, make this year feel like the one where I completely grew up.

I love all those “end of the year countdowns and top 10” lists, so I went through and picked out my favourite ten posts of the year.

  1. Here We Go – the first post of the blog. I go back and read it from time to time when I find myself wondering what the heck I’m doing, or if something is worth posting, or whatever.
  2. On Intuition, Creativity, and Following a Hunch – I re-read this one when I feel lost at sea, or beating myself up for not having a long-term, itemized plan, to remind myself that most of the magic comes from outside me, from the world around me, and is beyond my control.
  3. Sydney Poet Jesse Ferguson – “Ovation” – I re-read this one when I want to look at a handsome man read a really great poem, and feel re-energized that there are great young people moving here, living here, writing here.
  4. What I’ve Learned in Four Months – I re-read this one when I’m feeling bad or when I forget that action trumps perfection every time.
  5. Dear 2012 High School Graduates… – I re-read this one for more encouragement. Geez, it seems like I need a lot of encouragement!
  6. Going back to school at 28 – Sharing the story of why I came home to Cape Breton, the highs and lows, and why I decided to go back to school to study design.
  7. 10 Beaches/2012: Point Michaud – All of the 10 Beaches posts are my faves, really, because I love beaches. But this is my favourite of them all, because Point Michaud is heaven. on. earth.
  8. The kitten video – This one surprised me by being one of my highest-viewed posts! Proving that it’s not all about serious, problem-solving interviews and shite. Sometimes it really is about kittens.
  9. Reflecting – A puddle on a street and some reflective months.
  10. A year, more or less – Sitting and looking out the window of my office on a December morning, and thinking about where I’ve come in the last year.

So that’s that!

oldyearnewyear2 For 2013, my idea is something I’m calling “52 Weeks of Cape Breton.” It’s inspired by Elise Blaha’s “Project Life” album, for which she did a layout once a week. I’m thinking it will be a documentation, a chronicle of the 52 weeks of 2013, of my life, on Cape Breton. I’m thinking creative, quick, intuitive, and fun – I don’t want to stress about it. I want something hand-made, something not digital, something in a binder that will build over time.

I also want to challenge myself a little, too – I want to learn something new about Cape Breton each week. I want to visit somewhere new, go to new places on the island.

I’ll come up with a plan of some kind, before I get started. Maybe ten things I want to encompass in the project? Something like that. If you have any ideas, do leave them!

In the meantime, I wish you a safe New Year’s Eve and hope that you have some special folks to celebrate the change of the year with, or else that you’re doing something fun that you love, whether that’s dancing the night away, or curling up on the couch in your PJs watching movies. I’ve done both and honestly, both are great ways to ring in the new year.

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Nollaig Chridheil!


Pronounced: “Nollag creel, agus bleana va oor.”

Means: “Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!” in Gaelic. (Learn more about Gaelic in Nova Scotia here.)

Here is an interview from earlier this year, on this blog, with Dawn and Margie Beaton, young women who play Celtic music. And here is one with Kelly MacArthur, the owner of a dance school who talks about The Celtic Department, a new series of workshops to teach the Celtic arts.

Just a bit of hand lettering by me, because I am really loving hand lettering these days. And because, although I don’t speak Gaelic, I really love that phrase.

Edit: I had to make a change to the original, adding an “h” to “Chridheil.” Thanks to a keen-eyed reader who pointed it out!

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Christmas cards + ten years

stamps2 stamps1 I love sending handwritten mail. I just do. Ever since I was a little girl, way back in the days before email, when my parents encouraged me to seek a pen pal by placing an ad in “Rural Delivery” magazine, (an ad which read something like, “Hi, I’m Leah, I’m 8 years old, I like to draw and I hate my brother,”) and I got responses from other little girls across the country, I’ve loved everything about it.

I love: the actual writing on paper of thoughts and conversation, the writing of the recipient’s address on the envelope (copying it from my address book to be sure I get it right), licking or sticking on the stamp, sealing the envelope, putting it in the mailbox (the finality of it shutting closed, especially the big heavy one at the Post Office, is so much better than just clicking “Send”), then waiting, for weeks, and checking my own mailbox, every day hoping, until a return letter arrives.

Then of course there are the joys of receiving mail: I love seeing my friend’s handwriting, seeing whether or not they decorated the envelope, the stamp (is it interesting? I love an interesting stamp), and then opening it up, sitting down, reading the letter right away. A handwritten letter is like an actual conversation between friends over tea, it just takes longer and is more thoughtful.

Growing up, I liked when my family got Christmas cards, but knew that sending them out to other families was a task for grown-ups. Then when I moved back to Cape Breton in 2007, at age 23, I decided it was time that I sent some Christmas cards of my own. And since then, for the past five years, I have.

The first few years I ordered my cards from the Syracuse Cultural Workers, who are definitely worth supporting, as they use unionized labor, and sustainably-sourced paper and inks. (This was the first design I chose – I loved its simplicity, and the greeting on it: “May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.”) The last couple of years shipping from the US has felt prohibitive, so I’ve gotten my cards locally (although not sustainably – usually they’re Hallmark on sale). (I’ve thought about making my own cards, but my list runs to about 45 people.)

I like making a long list of everyone I want to send to, in November. I like emailing them to get their up-to-date mailing addresses. (Which is kind of funny, when you think about it.) I like checking the Canada Post website to find out the deadlines to send the cards by, to make sure they get to the respective countries on time. I like writing little personal greetings, and wishing people health, happiness, peace and joy in the New Year. And I like holding a hefty stack of cards about to be sent off, sorted by Canada Post workers, and delivered to my favourite folks.

My top five favourite things about Christmas, in no particular order:

  1. Christmas cards, giving and receiving
  2. Christmas music (though not ad nauseum)
  3. Spiced apple cider with a cinnamon stick
  4. Presents! (I mean, who are we kidding?)
  5. Reading quietly in a warm living room next to a lit-up Christmas tree, preferably while it snows outside

Also, a side note: yesterday, the 18th, marked ten years since I started blogging. I remember it well: I was sitting in Laurie Cooper’s basement office in Whistler, BC, using her laptop. (I was her children’s nanny.) If you’re interested, you can read the first few posts I made on my first blog, “huminbean”, here. It’s the ramblings of an 18-year-old non-skier or snowboarder living in a town where everyone skis and snowboards, and legal drinking age is 19. Oh, and I was definitely not cool enough to have fake ID. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have done so much writing! Is that a good thing? I like to think so.

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A year, more or less


It’s mid-December, and I’m up and ready to get to some housework at 7 am. I rose when my partner did, and made him breakfast and for myself also. I saw him off at the door. Thank goodness for his steady employment. In the backs of our minds, we know that it might not last, and that he may have to go out West, but for now, he’s got work here.

Now I’m nursing my morning cup of green tea, and looking out the window at the moody sky. There is a long low line of pink on the horizon, and above that, watercolour grey clouds, fading from lights to darks. Seagulls and crows occasionally fly across the span of my window, on a mission known just to them. The trees are silhouettes still, but will turn over the next hour into their three-dimensional selves. I like the quiet hour between when Adam leaves and when the day is officially here, when I have the house to myself. (Mind you, I’ll have it to myself all day, but there is something special about this hour.)

School is done for the term. I’ve passed in all my assignments and am welcoming the break from travelling to class and studying. This being the Christmas season, though, it seems there is still much to do, much to fill the day’s hours with. Presents to be bought and wrapped, decorations to put up around the house and yard, friends to see that I didn’t have time to see while I was in school.

I’m thinking back over the past year of this blog and attempting to put together my thoughts on it.

I guess the big one is that I feel I haven’t fulfilled my own expectations of it. I had hoped, when I launched it last January, that I would be able to drive all around the island, following stories, jotting notes, interviewing lots of people. That this blog would somehow express the feeling of excitement I get by nearly everything and everyone I experience here.

(Many of my hopes are frequently unchecked by reality. Gas is expensive.)

I revised this dream to doing mostly email interviews, but still, I worried that the enormity of the island, and the people who live here, and the stories tied to this place, was not expressed. In other words, it’s a big friggin’ island! I’m just one woman!

I guess I also felt inferior – like, who am I, little old me, to stand up and say, “I speak for Cape Breton!”? Isn’t someone going to say, “Hey, who does that girl think she is?” And, how much should I balance “regular personal blogging”, i.e. my own photos, thoughts and experiences, with interviews and features on other people and events? Sometimes when I’m busy, the regular, personal blogging is all I’ve got.

And then there are times when I’m just damn tired of the Internet. Of comments, and writing, and posting, and “keeping up” with what everyone is up to. And I just want to shut it all down, throw the “smart” phone away, and go walk for hours and hours along a beach. Thank goodness I live on Cape Breton and beaches aren’t hard to find.

But those are just my worries. I suppose every writer has them. And everyone who’s ever gone on a hunch, and figured out a project as they went, has them too.

Then there is the reality of what this blog has meant over the past year, to me and to other people. There are the emails I’ve gotten from dozens of people saying they keep up with it, that they love to read about the island. There are the offers to give talks about youth and positivity and Cape Breton, and the ability to promote events, and connect people to each other, through the Facebook group. These all point to: “don’t give up, Leah.”

I guess what it boils down to is that I’m impatient. It’s one of my (many) character flaws, I guess. I start something and when it doesn’t create change right away, I get annoyed. “What, you mean I started a blog about Cape Breton’s issues, and they didn’t all go away immediately!? Well, Jesus!”

The lesson here is that the problems run far deeper than I thought. But then, so does the strength of the people.

And I’m still writing, still filling my notebook with ideas. I’ve got interviews socked away that just need a little editing and they’re ready to go. I’m thinking that in the New Year I’ll aim to post once a week, and more often if I feel up to it, and see how that goes. With school, it’s just not realistic to think I’ll post every day. However, I don’t just want to give it up completely, because I think that most of the time, I overthink things, and it’s best just to do it. (As good old Nike used to say.)

Bottom line? Thank you, thank you, thank you. For reading. For sharing your thoughts, your experiences. I’m ever-so-grateful.

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