Back To School at 28: So far, so good!

I’ve been in school a week now and so far, so good!

I love that I’m in school to learn about things like typography, art, design, the history of design. These are all things that had been secret and not-so-secret passions of mine for years, but which had always had to take a backseat to other, more immediate things like earning a living. So to sit in a classroom and talk about these things feels so… legitimate. Like: “Holy crap, I’m actually doing this!”

It also feels a bit surreal. Typing on a MacBook (which I’d also wanted for years), learning Photoshop, chatting in class about leading and the history of the serif… is it a dream?!?

The people in my class all seem quite lovely as well. One of them is also a blogger! I found that out when I was sitting behind a girl one day and noticed she was looking at Elise Blaha’s blog, which, you may already know, is one of my daily morning reads and very favourite blogs.

I’m not really very shy (you might have guessed that, haha) so I started a conversation with her about blogs, our favourites, and about blogging itself, and we shared blog links. She’s quite lovely – do check her out! Her name is Katie and she writes the blog Polka Dot Soup.

The first week hasn’t been without mix-ups, however. Some sort of technical glitch in a database that’s shared between Employment Nova Scotia (the body of government that takes care of Employment Insurance, and that is sponsoring me to go back to school by paying most of my tuition and some of my costs) and Nova Scotia Community College, has meant that while ENS put in my paperwork in June, NSCC still doesn’t see that I’m sponsored. Hence, I’m not yet enrolled in my course, can’t use my Student ID, and can’t yet use the Adobe Creative Suite even though I’ve paid for it.

But it’s not that big of a deal. They haven’t given away my seat in the class or anything, and I’ve gotten a temporary password to access the Internet while on campus, as well as downloaded the trial version of the Adobe software. Solving this little mix-up is mainly a matter of waiting until the right people to talk to each other, and figure out the issue, and this time of year, that takes a bit of extra time, since all the administrative offices are so busy with new students’ concerns.

As well, one of my instructors unfortunately had a death in the family just before school started, so her classes have all been cancelled this week while she is away. (We only have three instructors, so that’s made a real difference in the week.)

But, it’s only the beginning of the year, and I have a feeling it’s just the way things go at the start of the school year (well, minus the death). It takes some time for everything and everyone to get into the routine of it.

So yeah – mostly I feel pretty good! The people are lovely, the course subjects are so interested.

However, Photoshop and Illustrator and all of that software, is all brand-new to me (I was using Corel Draw before, to make images for the blog), and there are times when I feel overwhelmed and like “Holy crap there is so much to learn!”

And between school, and moving, there are times when I feel overwhelmed or nervous, but I can talk myself through the anxieties and do things like go for a walk or write about it in my journal, to keep the worries from becoming a full-blown panic attack.

In that way I feel so far ahead of where I was as a university student at 22, 23 and 24. That’s when I first started feeling anxiety and getting panic attacks, and when I first started seeing a counsellor. I’ve learned so much in the time between then and now, about just how bad it can get, and about how to deal with it, and feel much calmer and more relaxed about school, and about life in general. So that’s good!

I’ll keep you all posted! In the meantime, I always love to hear your memories of going back to school as a mature student. It’s inspiring!

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10 Beaches/2012: Point Michaud

Point Michaud. Oh, Point Michaud.

For years it was my family’s getaway spot, thanks to a dear friend who lives practically right on the beach.

Then some awesome women started teaching surf lessons there and Point Michaud got better known – with good reason. It’s a stunning beach. The supermodel of Cape Breton beaches. A mile long and with gorgeous, surf-able waves, it’s the perfect spot to “get away”.

It’s still a place to get away from it all, for me. So at the end of August in a little sweet week after I’d been laid off from work, and before school started, I got away for a day and a half to my friend Del’s rad beach house.

This is on the drive there, through Cleveland.

I’d been to the salon and had my hair done, and straightened. This is the only time you’ll see my hair straight, pretty much – when I’ve paid someone to put the time in to straighten it. And, just for fun and to mix it up for Fall, we put some red in it, as well.

At one point I had to stop to text my friend Tanya, who was coming to Point Michaud from the other direction, from Sydney. I pulled over by this old service station. I love the textures and colours in old things and places.

After I cross the canal and then turn off onto the road to Point Michaud, it’s my own personal rule that I have to listen to this band:

If you don’t know who they are, and you like dub sounds, look them up. So sweet and chill. This is their website. They’re from New Zealand and I stumbled across them, seeing them live in 2004 before I had ever heard of them, at a free outdoor concert in Wellington when I was travelling there. Since then they have become one of my favourite groups. My favourite song is “Wandering Eye” – and also “Roady“. The sound is so perfect for a beach day!

Arriving at the beach house… words and photos really do not do this place justice. The reality of being there is so relaxing, so wide-open and beautiful. I can breathe so easy here.

It helps that there is no cell service.

My friend Del is a weaver. It’s her studio, on the ground floor of the beach house, that I sleep in when I stay there.

That colour is how it looks, people. Oh my.

We did find some cell service – all of a sudden Tanya’s phone started going “bring! bring! bring!”, receiving text messages. Tanya marked the spot in the sand in case we needed to come back and find it.

The water was too cold to swim in, unfortunately! And the lesson/rental people were no longer there with their wetsuit rentals. I guess the water temperature changes quite often, so don’t be discouraged – it could easily be nice and warm when you go. And if you’re there in July and August, you can rent a wetsuit and a surfboard!

To get there: Point Michaud is pretty easy to find. You take Route 247 from just outside St. Peter’s. The beach is right alongside the road, and is marked by Provincial Park signs. There is a large parking lot, as well.

Curious about my 10 Beaches/2012 project? Basically, this summer, I’m challenging myself to make it to ten separate beaches on Cape Breton Island. So far: Initial post, Point Aconi, Chimney Corner & Inverness, Gabarus & Fourchu, Kennington Cove, Florence, Dominion and now Point Michaud.

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Adventures in food sourcing: Alicia Lake

Alicia indulging in red wine and chocolate cake before her month of Cape Breton-only food begins.

Last September, Alicia Lake ate only Cape Breton-grown food for one month. She wrote about it on her blog, and raised a lot of folks’ consciousness about just what is available here. (Coffee is definitely not, and she missed that terribly.)

This year, she’s doing it again, and again writing about it on her blog, “Cape Breton Local Food Adventure”. Every day she checks in with what she ate that day, where it came from, and roughly how much her meal cost. (It’s usually a lot less than you would think – a couple of dollars!)

It makes for tasty reading, and what I note as I read it is just how much there is available right here on the island – a bounty of vegetables and fruits, and meats. And for the foods you can’t get on the island, she tackles some of those, too: Alicia and her husband made their own salt by collecting ocean water and boiling it down (read about it here), and their own ketchup from chicken fat, tomatoes, hot peppers, and garlic powder made by a local farm.

As I read it, I’m impressed by Alicia’s “get ‘er done” attitude and aplomb, and I feel like, “Why can’t I eat as local as this?!” (Answer: I get lazy. That’s the long and short of it, and no, I’m not proud of it.)

Do you eat local? How much of your diet is local, would you say? Is it hard to do, or easy? What are the stumbling blocks? I’d love to hear from everyone on this topic.

And don’t forget that I’ve got a page on this very blog of eating local resources – links to farmer’s markets, farms, and the blogs of some producers. If there is something missing, do let me know!

Cattails that they picked earlier in the year to try and make flour from. (Post yet to come!)

The sea salt they made.

Some food is free for the picking!

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Frugal Friday: Impulses

Impulse buying is, by and large, what ruins my attempts to be frugal.

It feels like I just can’t help it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Thinking about something is how I figure it out and make my way forward (at least, most of the time). And I know that this Fall, with going back to school and having a lower income, it’s going to be important that I not give in to impulses as much.

But what I’ve realized about giving in to impulses is that it’s not just about money, it’s actually part of my larger personality. Actually, it’s part of everyone’s personality. It’s called “living” – things come up, and we react to them.

Will I go to this party, or stay home and do my homework? Will I have dessert, or stop eating now? Will I start talking to this new person, or not? Will I decide to study this subject, or that subject?

The way we make a decision is what it all boils down to. I tend to go with my gut and make snap decisions.

Or, I make a snap decision, and then I second- and third-guess it. This is why I’m bad at menus. “Oh, I dunno, it all looks so good!”

And you know, sometimes, snap decisions are good! How much fun have I had doing stuff that at the time I thought “What the heck am I doing, deciding to do this?” And it all worked out and became a happy memory.

So it’s not so much going with impulses that’s the problem. It’s feeling like I have no choice over my impulses, and berating myself for following some impulses, that makes me feel out of control.

So I guess what I need to do is realize and remember and put into practice that I have control over my impulses and that I can choose not to follow them.

What about you? Do you feel like your impulses are beyond your control, or do you have pretty good control over them?

The other Frugal Friday posts on this blog:

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Q+A with Dawn and Margie Beaton

The sisters performing at the Broad Cove Concert. Robbie Fraser is playing keyboard.

1. What’s your age?

Margie and I are in our latter 20s….two old cailleachs!

2. CB born and raised? Or recent transplant? (Plus whatever biographical details you feel like giving).

Cape Breton born, raised and rooted, all the way. We’re from South West Mabou. Our folks are still in the house we grew up in and we go home as often as we can to see how they’re doing, visit the relatives, head to the Red Shoe or West Mabou for a gig, and see how the village is doing! We miss it terribly and there’s no better place to be in the summer!

3. “What are you up to these days?” I.e. what do you do for a living, what are you working on, are you a student, in the workforce, writing songs, etc?

I (Dawn) work for Celtic Colours International Festival. I am the Assistant Artistic Director there. I started about 2 weeks before the 2009 festival and have been there ever since. I work with (and learn from) Joella Foulds on the programming of the entire 45-46 shows we feature each year. I am very fortunate to find employment here on the island doing something I feel is important and that gives me great work satisfaction.

Margie worked with Vibe Creative Group in Sydney and now works as Creative Design/Marketer for the Colaisde na Gaidhlig/Gaelic College in St. Ann’s. Margie and I both attended the Gaelic College in the early nineties as part of our varied instruction on fiddle, dance and Gaelic so we think fondly of the College and its place in our childhood.

4. What are your favourite Cape Breton eateries?

We grew up eating at The Mull right in Mabou. Excellent food, service and memories! You can’t beat Mary Lorette (Beaton), a local caterer in Mabou for her amazing meals at any community or wedding supper at home. Margie and I really enjoy eating at Flavor and Trio in Sydney. There are some fabulous restaurants all over the island. Great to support local!

5. What are your favourite things to do out of doors, on Cape Breton?

If you look at the very back picture on our CD, “Taste of Gaelic” you’ll notice a picture of the “track”, the old railway bed that runs up Inverness County. I grew up going for walks there in summer and winter. I would go swimming with my cousins just up the way from there in the meadow and have gone kayaking just up from that on the Mabou River, towards town. I also love biking and try to bike to work when I can…and when the weather cooperates! I’ve always tried to do that, whether it be in Mabou, Sydney or when I lived and worked in downtown Halifax.

There’s also the Sight Point trail down past the Mabou Coal Mines which is just breathtaking and a must-see for any nature enthusiast!

6. Favourite CB music venues, past and present?

Now there’s a question!! Again, I think our very first performance was dancing at the Mabou Ceilidh. In the late 80s when that happened, their main concert was on a stage alongside the Mabou Athletic Centre (i.e. the Rink) just down the Harbour road. Lots of memories of it pouring rain in early July and the applause for a performance was car horns honking!! You don’t see/hear that anymore!

St. Mary’s Parish and the Mabou Hall also put on concerts in May and October and we grew up performing in the Mabou Hall as a result. Quite a heritage of performances that have happened there and the gifted musicians that graced that stage over the last 40+ years. A real history!

Then Strathspey Place was born and there have been some great events there in its 11-year history to date. We love the West Mabou Hall, Glencoe Hall and relatives and friends’ kitchens for some other great “venues” to play and share tunes. And of course the Red Shoe Pub has always been good to us. We played the opening night of the Shoe way back in 1997 I believe…us then underage. But it was a momentous occasion as our aunt Mary Janet MacDonald had her debut instructional step dancing video release.

7. Tell us a bit about your creative process.

Funny you should ask! It’s varied. For the groups that Margie and I perform, that’s a process that has evolved over time. When we were little, Dad was always helpful in tune suggestions and both Mom and him were very supportive in letting us put together groups of tunes as we saw fit.

We had some unique inspiration. For ECMA 2009 in Cornerbrook, Nfld, we stayed in a beautiful, beautiful home but at that time, it was in the process of being sold (a network of house/resorts), it was about 20 min outside of Cornerbrook, and we were literally in the woods with little to no transportation into town.

So we missed meals, planned our trips into town for performances, etc. It meant we had lots of time in the mornings and afternoons to do work, work on tunes, etc. So a group that is up on youtube was born out of that very situation and it began some of the more choreographed groups that Margie and I do with our boys in the band.

When it comes to tune composition too, that’s a very personal project and it varies per tune but for the most part, it is through inspiration and in-the-moment ideas, moreso than a planned approach and sitting down with the purpose of creating a tune, that yields the better results.

If you look up any interviews with Dan R. MacDonald, John MacDougall or other local fiddlers of the area, they’ll say the same thing – that inspiration brought forward the tune into their head. I had one such instance and personally, I think I’ve burnt out my allotment for compositions as such! Here’s the story:

My cousin Brad MacIsaac was in a motorcycle accident in 1996 and succumbed to his injuries. He was only 19. It was a traumatic and sad time for our family. He was from Troy but the funeral parlor was in town, in Port Hawkesbury.

It was a long, slow drive to Troy with the number of cars making the journey. In that time, the first part of a slow air came to me. I think I wrote it out on a Kleenex box in the back seat of the car. I finished the first part just as we arrived at the church in Creignish and drove up the steep hill.

For years and years after, I couldn’t conceive of a second part for it and it bothered me. Nothing fit. By 2000, I had graduated from Mabou Consolidated and was on to my first year at St. FX so it was a welcome time to be home on Christmas break that first year.

A few days into it, one evening, I was playing the fiddle in the kitchen (probably my most favorite place to play in the world) and instantly I had a second part for Brad’s tune. Not sure what channel was open or what frequency I was connected to, but I was dialed in. It was about 8 pm that evening.

After that, the first part of another tune would come and I’d quickly write it down. Then within the half hour, without even playing the fiddle, the second part would jump into my head. This went on for hours. By about midnight, I had moved upstairs to go to bed, and the tunes just kept coming. I’d run downstairs in the dark, write the first part and think I was done, go back upstairs and lay down. And then within the half hour, I’d hear the second part whirling in my head and the light would go on and I’d run downstairs. Good exercise!

At this point, Mom, Dad and Margie were asleep so I’m sure they were wondering what all the racket was. I woke up the next morning and had probably another 3 or 4 tunes finished within the first half of the day. So all in all, maybe about 10-15 tunes. Now-a-days, I’m lucky if I write one a year. Maybe I was just relieved of the pressure of the first round of university exams, or maybe Brad helped me out, but it was a unique experience…one I’d love to have occur again.

8. Are you planning on sticking around in Cape Breton? Why, or why not?

That’s the plan! I’ve lived in Halifax for employment purposes and Antigonish for education. I loved both places and was content there. But even living in a city as close as Halifax, I felt I missed out on family events, friends’ weddings back here in Cape Breton….one time events that I can’t ever get back and that bothers me.

I also worry about our seniors here, and what’s in store for the next generation. Margie and I both like to stay rooted in what we know and where we’re from. We’ve felt very privileged to have grown up in the community of Mabou, and all of the people there and in Cape Breton, that have shaped our lives and our outlook on life. We need to pay homage to that and do our part for the area, and that’s something I think about every day.

I find when you’re away from an area, you lose touch with the every day ‘goings on’. Growing up it was important to show respect and attend wakes and funerals and not being present at home for such events, it does affect your awareness of who is still back home. So God willing there is enjoyable, profitable and continued work to allow us to stay in Cape Breton, we both will do our very best to return all that we can to the place we call home.

9. Finish this sentence: Cape Breton needs…

….continued support (in all its varied forms) from its citizens, from big and small business, from government and beyond.

10. Finish this sentence: Being from Cape Breton, to me/us, means…

…our identity.

At the Normaway Inn with THE Buddy MacMaster and Maybelle Chisholm McQueen on keyboard.

Check out more of Dawn and Margie on the following media platforms:

More “Dream Big Cape Breton” interviews with local young people can be found here.

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“Bring ridesharing to another level”

The Trans Canada through Boularderie. Snapped on one of my many drives from Baddeck to North Sydney.

We all have to get around. It’s a fact of life.

Especially in this day and age, when so many families are spread out all over the country, getting around is a big part of our lives. We fly, drive, ride the bus or train – however we get around, we as humans like and need to get from Point A to Point B.

In the Maritimes, the way we do that is going to change. VIA Rail is reducing their already-reduced run of trains. And more recently, we found out that Acadian Lines Bus Services will no longer be running in the Maritimes, as of November. Acadian Lines provides passenger travel, as well as small package shipping. This is going to affect a fair number of folks, and my guess is they’ll mostly be low-income people.

Luckily, there are some folks exemplifying typical Maritimes “get er done”-ness (is that a word? I’m going to say yes) and using this situation to champion a better way to get around.

Maritime Rideshare is the website. They’re asking, “What if?” What if people could rideshare on a grand scale? Instead of just asking your friends if they’re going to Halifax this weekend, and whether or not you can bum a ride, on Maritime Rideshare you have access to all kinds of rides, and can offer your own, as well. You can set your price. It’s well designed and easy to use.

And now that website is looking for a few dollars to make some upgrades which would make them even more awesome, like the ability to rate drivers and make comments on drivers that would help other users find the best rides. This video is the two cute designers/creators of the Rideshare website explaining (3 minutes):

So if you’ve got a few spare $$$ to donate, you’ll want to go to the Maritime Rideshare page on Indiegogo (a website that helps people fundraise for pretty much anything). You’ll get a sweet perk for whichever dollar amount you choose. I like posters so I went with the $40 dollar option.

See you on the road!

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10 Beaches/2012: Dominion

You guys, I am so glad I decided to “challenge” myself this summer. (I know, it’s not much of a challenge to sit on a beach. But the challenge is in making the time to go somewhere new, instead of just staying home and going “Man, it’s hot out,” and turning the fan so it points directly at me.)

Because of the 10 Beaches/2012 project, I’ve gotten to check out some neat places and of course, spend time next to the ocean. In doing so, I’ve realized just how happy it makes me, and how essential it is for me to continue to be happy.

Even when I have my iPhone with me, as I did this particular day in Dominion, and can text people and still be contacted by people, it is so relaxing. To hear the wind, and feel it on my skin. To swim, and be totally immersed in the rocking, moving, cool ocean. To walk in my bare feet in the sand, feeling that texture. And to lay down on a towel and let the sun warm me to sleep.

I visited Dominion beach a couple of weeks ago, on August 24th. I had the day off. The weather was superb! I guess it really couldn’t rain on my day off, forever.

I drove out there and went to the Needs store for tortilla chips and a magazine.

I saw these ads tacked to the bulletin board as I was leaving and thought of Pamela Johnson’s “Urban Food Propagandist” group – people giving or selling produce in small amounts, locally.

The handwriting reminds me of that of my landlord in Fredericton, Neil, who was in his nineties, and still gardened. I like to imagine that these ads were put up by a Cape Breton version of him, a thrifty, elderly, yet still full-of-life man who gardens and sells his produce by putting ads up in the local convenience store.

I suppose I could call the number and find out, but sometimes it’s nice to just let the mystery be.

This is a close-up of the Nova Scotia Atlas. It’s the best atlas, ever. Have I said that before? Oh, I have? Oh…

You know my beach habits by now, surely: gotta draw something in the sand! This time it was a freehand version of our island.

There were a few other people there when I got there at 10 am, and more came over the next few hours. I love sitting and watching people at the beach. (Not creepily, of course. Just casually.) Hearing them laugh and talk together – “Oh these waves! Oh my god, I’m gonna DIE!” (That was one kid. He didn’t die.)

I love feeling my hair dry up with salt and get really wavy.

Then I had my typical beach lunch – salsa, tortilla chips, and cheese. This is my Mum’s typical beach lunch, she taught me to do this, and it’s super easy to pack. A bowl, a spoon, your ingredients and you’re set. You can wash the bowl and spoon in the ocean when you’re done.

To get there: Dominion beach is not hard to find at all. Just get yourself to Dominion and head for the water. On Seaside Drive, take Lower Mitchell Avenue and park.

Curious about my 10 Beaches/2012 project? Basically, this summer, I’m challenging myself to make it to ten separate beaches on Cape Breton Island. So far: Initial post, Point Aconi, Chimney Corner & Inverness, Gabarus & Fourchu, Kennington Cove, Florence, and now Dominion.

Posted in 10 Beaches/2012, Active living, Leah's thoughts, Outdoors | Tagged , | 1 Comment