long weekend

That one white cloud. It kills me.

Sunset on Canada Day.

“It looks like Canada Day, as a cake!”

Instagram shot of the buffet table. Deep-fried turkey, salads.

Chips and dips.

Instagram shot of the water and the sky.

My happy place.

We went away for the long weekend. Down to Eastern Passage, just outside of Halifax. It was so good to get away.

Not that life here isn’t good, or is super stressful. It IS good, and it isn’t overly stressful. (I mean, there is the normal amount of stress that most people have. It’s not like living in Cape Breton magically gets rid of stress. But, you know. I’m not complaining.)

Anyway, getting from “it all” – your regular routine, your job, your house, your usual haunts – is really good for the head. Hitting the road, leaving town, seeing new places. So good.

We were blessed with lovely weather, delicious food, and friendly and fun company. We practiced the art of doing very little, moving from the deck (sitting) to the yard (washer toss) to the kitchen (making food), and back again. I took a few walks just across the road to the beach, and stood with my feet in the water. Feeling the sand and the cool waves made me excited to start on my “10 Beaches” project!

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Happy 145th Birthday Canada!

I’m off to the Mainland for the long weekend. I’ll be back with regular programming on Tuesday.

You know, it’s funny, when I was a kid, Canada Day was all about the parade – candy being tossed to us kids on the sidelines, getting my face painted by the waterfront, and of course staying in town late to watch the fireworks. I remember the annual bumper-to-bumper slow-moving traffic on Baddeck’s main street when the fireworks were over, and the balmy evening, and getting an ice cream cone at Needs on the corner, and how that made it seem super festive.

Then in my early twenties it was all about going to the Fire Hall Dance (certain friends, you know who you are), where we’d get, well, drunk, and foolish. “The Mull… river… shuffffffle…”

Now in my late twenties I don’t really want anything to do with crowds. The idea of stealing away to my boyfriend’s cousin’s deck, and sitting around a fire pit, with some beers and someone playing a guitar, sounds just about perfect. (Although, fireworks would still be nice.)

In the spirit of the holiday, here’s some gratuitous Canadiana for you.

(Canada Geese near Dingwall, July 2009.)

And then there are these images, which are from a little paperback my mother found in a thrift store once and bought for me. As I’m a fan of collage, political satire, and Pierre Trudeau, she was right on the money.

Go out and cut a rug this Canada Day! Or do whatever your preferred Canada Day activity is.

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Growing hops in Nyanza: The Kilted Moose

Do you remember my first interview, all the way back in February?

It was with Jeremy and Melanie White, who had moved here from Vancouver and Montreal (via Nicaragua), bought an old farmhouse and farm property, and were working on starting a microbrewery.

(You might also remember the post I did in March where I taste-tested some of their homebrew. Conclusion: delicious!)

Well, last week I went out to their place in Nyanza and had a visit. Jeremy showed me around, from the hops field to the site of the future brewery, and then Melanie cooked us up some supper.

The Kilted Moose Farmhouse Brewery – the name they have chosen – is slated for a “soft opening” this winter with a limited production for some local pubs and customers. The building design is still to be approved, but ECBC has committed a significant portion of the funding. As well, the Whites have had the brewery’s road and culvert approved by the Department of Transportation, and they are hoping to have the building completed by October 2012.

Getting closer all the time!

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A North Sydney High School Reunion

Last week I wrote a letter to the 2012 high school graduating class, inspired by the fact that it’s been ten years since I graduated from high school myself.

To mark those ten years, some others from my own graduating class and I got together this past weekend at Rollie’s Wharf, a bar and restaurant in North Sydney, for a small reunion.

(I had originally created the event on Facebook, and about 37 people clicked “yes, I’ll be there”. In actual fact, about 10 showed up. Lesson learned – do not trust Facebook event counts!)

But, it was small and intimate, and really good. A few of the people there I had seen in the years since 2002, but most I hadn’t.

There was one woman I didn’t even remember ever seeing back in school, but then with a class of over 300 people, I guess that’s normal!

And there were a few whose faces I definitely remembered, but who I didn’t ever really talk to back then. That was cool, too, to chat with them and get to know them as an adult, and to realize that hey, just because I always used to see this girl with this or that particular crowd, it doesn’t mean I actually know anything about her! Oh, assumptions. Ever present, and usually false.

A fair bit happens in ten years. Kids are born. You get married, or meet partners, or break up with partners. Get educated. Get jobs, or not, depending on the economy. It was really neat to hear about where people’s lives had taken them, and what they had been up to in those ten years. And to see their faces, and see a bit of age on them, but see ultimately the same faces. The same eyes, just a bit wiser now.

We had a few beers, ordered food, and looked at the yearbook that one of us had brought.

“Oh man, where did he end up?”

“Oh god, don’t look at my picture!”

“I wasn’t there the day they were taking pictures, I was probably skipping!”

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Q+A with the editors of Third Person Press

Third Person Press editors Julie Serroul, Sherry D. Ramsey, and Nancy Waldman.

Third Person Press‘s newest anthology of short stories launches June 30th, from 3-5 in the afternoon, at the McConnell Library in Sydney. The launch is free, and open to the public.

1. How did you three editors come to know each other? How did Third Person press get born?

Sherry and Julie met long ago (in the 80’s!), when we worked together in a local law office, and quickly became fast friends, in no small part because of our shared interest in writing. When Nancy moved to Cape Breton in 2001, she immediately began looking for a writing group and was delighted to find one at the library five minutes from her house. This just happened to be The Story Forge, the writing group Sherry and Julie had started on the Northside some years before. So we’ve been friends, and writing friends, for quite some time.

Third Person Press was born out of a conversation that happened when the three of us were carpooling to a writing workshop. We were talking about how Cape Breton music had managed to grow beyond the stereotype of “everyone here plays Celtic music,” but how Cape Breton writing and writers still seemed to be pigeonholed.

And yet, here were the three of us, who were writing outside the stereotype. Could there be more writers like us? Could we find them? “Maybe we should publish our own anthology,” someone joked. Then suddenly it wasn’t a joke, it was something maybe we could actually do; as if saying the words had opened up the possibility. We had no idea what we were doing or how to do it! But we decided to find out.

In 2008, when we put the first book, Undercurrents, together, we had no plan to do a series; we chose the title and theme because we liked a watery feel for an island book, and we thought that’s what we were doing: one book. An experiment.

Then, when the first one went so well and we thought we might do another, staying with an elemental theme seemed natural. The Speculative Elements series came to be. Volume 2: Airborne was released in 2011. After that, we progressed to Unearthed, the current release. We plan to open submissions for Volume 4, the tentatively-titled Flashpoint, soon.

Incidentally, we have released another book outside the Speculative Elements series. To Unimagined Shores, Collected Stories of Sherry D. Ramsey came out in 2011. All of the stories in this collection, except one bonus story, were previously published in an impressive array of Canadian and international magazines, journals and anthologies. Sherry’s not one to toot her own horn, but anyone who’s sent their work off to publishers knows that this is no small feat.

In addition, we have plans to publish an anthology of ghost stories, coming out late in 2012 or early 2013. This yet-to-be-named anthology came about because we strive to give readers a variety of types of speculative fiction in our anthologies and so, haven’t been able to include all the good ghost stories we’ve received.

We know that ghost stories are popular here in Cape Breton and this seemed like a great way to share what we’ve enjoyed receiving from Cape Breton writers.

2. What have you learned about Cape Breton’s writing talent since starting the press?

We’ve learned that we were right about one thing—there are LOTS of writers here writing all sorts of things. And that there are also many CB writers who are willing to step outside their comfort zones and try their hand at something different, even if this is not what they usually write. They’ve interpreted the themes for each anthology—water, air, and earth so far—in so many unique and fascinating ways! The quality of the stories we’ve received is really impressive, and we’ve had submissions from a wide age spectrum, from university students to retirees. One of the great things about the whole adventure has been meeting and working with so many wonderful writers.

We should say here that we aren’t like many publishers in that we do try to give less experienced writers a chance. While we always strive to make our finished product a work of the highest quality in terms of writing and editing, we are ready and willing to work with writers in the revision process of making their story the best it can be. This doesn’t mean that we publish every story that is sent to us–far from it. We have had to reject dozens of stories for dozens of reasons over the last 6 years–not our favourite part of this job. So, nurturing less experienced writers doesn’t mean anything goes.

We would suggest that any writers interested in being published by us read and follow our guidelines and resist the urge to send their first draft no matter how wonderful they believe it to be. They should revise their stories as thoroughly as possible, have them read and critiqued by their own first readers, revise again and then, proofread for accuracy in all things. This increases the chances that they will get published. Having said that, we will read and consider stories that aren’t perfect. More often than not, our contributors are asked to do rewrites based on detailed critiques. And here’s where we are really different from most other publishers: if you are rejected, you will know why. We’ve actually gotten Thank You notes based on our rejection critiques.

3. Tell us some of the highlights of Unearthed, the book being launched this month. Where are some of the places readers will go?

Unearthed is our largest collection to date, containing twenty-one new stories, all in the speculative genres—science fiction, fantasy, supernatural and horror. On the whole, this is probably the “darkest” of the anthologies so far, although there are light and humorous exceptions to that trend. It certainly offers a wide-ranging mix of stories, just as in all the anthologies. The back-of-the-book blurb encapsulates what readers can expect:

“Imagine what might arise from and disappear into the soil…what grows, what is buried, what teems unseen. This collection, exploring the ends of the Earth and beyond, offers tales from the depths of darkness: zombies, vampires, murky unknowable worlds, underground prisons, malevolent spirits—to the lightest heights: earthen magic, little people, buried treasure and fantastical creatures!”

As in the previous books, there’s a mix of writers with stories in Unearthed—some have appeared in other volumes in the series, some are new to us, and for some, this will be their first short story publication. We really think there’s something for everyone here!

We’d also love to encourage everyone to come out on June 30th at the McConnell Library, from 3-5, to attend the official launch of Unearthed.

Check out the Third Person Press blog, where you can read interviews with the authors of the newest anthology, Unearthed.

Read more Q+As with people from Cape Breton on this blog, here!

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“elemental light of sun and moon cycles” – art, food and creativity

Earlier this month I let you all know about the opening of an art show in Inverness by my friend George Smith.

After the opening, George’s wife Cora-Lee sent along some pictures of the opening night, so I thought I’d share them with you.

George and Cora-Lee have become dear friends of mine and have greatly inspired me in my own creative life, by following their own path and not being afraid to be exactly who they are. I love that kind of open expression and if I’m ever questioning whether or not I should do something a little daring or different, I try and channel the Smiths’ originality, verve, and sense of fun.

As I mentioned before, George and Cora-Lee also host monthly dinner parties, and you can email Cora-Lee at ceisses@ns.sympatico.ca to get on the mailing list. Some photos of the last dinner party I attended there follow the ones of the art show.

From Cora-Lee’s email to her mailing list:

We have returned from our opening night art extravagance and have pictures to help tell the tale. Thank you to Claire and Mat for gliding about the gallery, providing excellent food and beverage service, and to all those who joined us in celebrating the artistic talents of our belovedly rambling chef, applied to plaster, canvas, and wood.

From the program:

“George Smith was born in Liverpool, England, where he took his Fine Arts degree in painting and sculpture at the Liverpool College of Art. He worked with renowned sculptors David Nash and Sean Rice in the media of wood and bronze, and has had many solo and group exhibits throughout England. He was also a member of the Arcade artists’ group in Norwich. This is his first solo exhibit since moving to Canada.

“The tactile qualities of materials such as wood or plaster when combined suggest moments of strength, conflict, and energy. Colour and line define and describe shape and thus a story evolves. The need for statement and understatement are as important as both positive and negative space when I am working. I am always conscious of a truth to the materials I choose and deliberately accentuate the processes and means of construction within my art. Thus out of these concepts a vocabulary evolves that I use to tell the story.”

Rebirth of the Dryads Beneath the Sun is a multimedia exploration in sculpture, painting and sketch of the conception of trees and the rebirth of their spirits in recycled wood and the feminine form. The elemental light of sun and moon cycles required for the birth and transformation of living things traces patterns through the evolutionary process.

The show is on until July 2nd at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts. Get there if you can!

And here are some photos I took at the last feast I attended at the Smiths’ dining room (I use that term instead of restaurant because it is not set up like a conventional restaurant with separate tables, although in every other way it is a licensed and inspected restaurant). The feast’s themes are taken from books or long poems; this one was inspired by Memoirs of a Geisha. The chalkboard art is done by George, as is the food art.

Email Cora-Lee Eisses-Smith at ceisses@ns.sympatico.ca, to get on the mailing list for this wonderful, quirky and inspiring monthly dinner party adventure. And, look for a future Q+A with George and Cora-Lee about their move to Cape Breton and the farmhouse they’re renovating.

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Frugal Friday with Erika Shea: Banking

Erika Shea and her daughter Frances.

Hi Dream Big readers! Goodness, it’s been awhile.

Today I want to share one of my favourite thrifty discoveries. First, the back story: I’ve never had a whole lot of patience for banks. I’ve had a bank account since I was twelve and since I was twelve, banks have been charging me each month to take my money and lend it out to others. We’re not talking millions of dollars here, but still, my money makes them money and for that I pay a fee.

I’ve tried almost all of the major banks and depending on the type of account I had and how often I used it, I’ve paid somewhere between $10 and $20 a month for banking services – services like tellers and investment advisors and mortgage brokers. Here’s the thing though, ATMs have been around since I opened my first account (and online banking shortly thereafter) and for almost all of my banking life I’ve had no need for investment advice or mortgages. In the end, I often couldn’t figure out what it was I was paying for.

Then I found President’s Choice Financial and their no fees banking claims. It seemed too good to be true, but six years later I am still a customer and still haven’t paid a fee. I don’t pay a monthly service or banking fee (no really, none at all). I don’t pay for cheques. I don’t pay to pay bills. I don’t pay to use my debit card at stores or at PC or CIBC banking machines. I just don’t pay. Yet, they still pay me. I’m paid a decent interest rate on my savings account and a smaller interest rate on my chequing account (I think with this one it’s more of the thought that counts).

A few months in, thinking about my newfound savings, I realized that if I was paying, on average, $15 a month to bank at other institutions that meant $180 a year and one of two things: a very nice dinner out for my family or a very nice dinner out for the family of TD’s CEO. I pick us.

President’s Choice Financial doesn’t have “banks” – this is probably how they’re able to offer fee-free banking. They have offices in the Loblaw’s chain of grocery stores that are staffed by customer service representatives who can help you to open an account, change your address or replace a lost card.

For the most part, we’ve found PC’s telephone banking staff to be a little more helpful than the kiosk staff and so try to get whatever it is we need that way. Over the years we’ve needed very little. I think we’ve called them three times. Maybe this is just us, or maybe it’s a small part of an ongoing shift as more and more of our lives are lived online and in a self-serve kind of way.

The drawbacks? Well, there is one. Since PC doesn’t have banks you can’t just go in and withdraw all of your money. You have to call ahead and have them issue you a money order to your nearest CIBC (PC is actually a subsidiary of CIBC which is why you can use CIBC ATMs at no charge). We learned this the hard way a few days before we needed to hand over the down payment for our first home. Um, what do you mean I can’t just take all the money out of my savings account at an ATM? It worked out fine in the end and now we know to add this step into any major cash purchases that we’re considering. To me, a little extra planning here and there is definitely worth $180.

* PC doesn’t pay me to write this stuff, probably because they don’t earn enough with them not charging banking fees and all.

** I had a quick look at the interest rates on the PC Master Card and they’re not that great. Sure can collect points towards groceries, but you pay close to 20% which is absurd. It seems that just their daily banking is the steal.

*** None of my banking experiences before moving to Cape Breton were with credit unions. We have our mortgage at a credit union now and couldn’t be happier, not only with the annual dividend cheque but with the values they espouse and their incredible involvement in and support of the community.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter: What do you think of bank fees? Of the banking system? Does it or can it benefit consumers? Have your experiences with banks and banking fees been good or bad? Or is it all a necessary evil?

About Erika Shea: Erika lives in the historic Northend of Sydney with her handsome partner Rob and beautiful, but increasingly mischievous toddler, Frances. When she dreams about having free time, it is filled with sailing, knitting and gardening. Since it is a dream and in no way tied to her actual track record, the garden is thriving.

You can read her other Frugal Friday columns here, here and here!

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