Toronto Part Deux

The last half of my Toronto trip last week was spent lazily vacationing with my boyfriend Adam. We’re pretty relaxed travelers, in that we like to just check a few things out, take our time, eat good food, and enjoy our hotel room. That’s it. No schedules, no real plan.

I might make us sound more chill than we really are; we are human, after all, and we do get annoyed with each other or stressed out because we wanted to see an attraction and we have to plan how best to do that.

But, overall, our vacations sound pretty boring to anyone else. “So what did you do in Toronto?” People ask me this now that I’m back.

“Umm, mostly lay in bed! And went out to eat.”

“Oh, anywhere fancy?”

“No, mostly cheap street food. Burritos, hotdogs.”

“Oh…” (Awkward silence.)

I spotted this headline and for a second I honestly thought it was referring to the water filter company, Brita.

Those burritos I mentioned.

Yonge-Dundas Square, which was a minute’s walk from our hotel.

The Winter Garden/Elgin Theatre, where we saw Ani Difranco play.

Ani! Oh my, she is lovely and spirited.

Hot child in the city! (Ha..)

There was “Kony” stuff everywhere. I still don’t totally get what it’s all about. But I don’t care enough to find out.

Le subway.

Birthday bellini.

My reflection in Adam’s sunglasses.

I like bright neon lights.

I also like apartment buildings at night.


Where we stayed.

Outside the Royal Ontario Museum.

Punch that horse!

Pretty fish with orange background. Colour love.

This guy is the Lord of Hell. I can believe it!

In the gems and minerals exhibit.


I need trips away from home every so often, for lots of reasons, but most importantly: to keep me feeling inspired by new scenes, and also to remind me that the rest of the world exists. That sounds silly, right? But honestly – holed up in rural Cape Breton, and hearing the news, you can easily forget or at least ignore that there are millions of people in cities around the world, and what life is like for them. So it’s good to get out of my routine and see other places. Yep!

Posted in Leah's thoughts | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Sydney Poet Jesse Ferguson – “Ovation”

Photo courtesy of Jesse Ferguson.

April is National Poetry Month. You can read more about it here at the website of The Academy of American Poets, but what you need to know, basically, is that it is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets, and it’s been around since 1996.

Their description: “The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”

Jesse Patrick Ferguson is a poet who currently resides in Sydney, Cape Breton, where he also performs folk music on various instruments. In fall 2009 Freehand Books published his first full-length book, Harmonics. His second book, Dirty Semiotics, which consists entirely of visual poetry, was released in November 2011 by Broken Jaw Press.

He’s kindly sharing one of his poems with us. Enjoy it – and leave a comment if you wish! You can contact Jesse at . He will also be teaching a poetry class and a fiction-writing class at CBU this June and July – contact him for more info!(I was lucky enough to take a one-day poetry workshop taught by Jesse and came away from it super inspired, so if I were you, I’d look into these classes.)



Our politician is thumping

his staunch fist. Now he pummels the air

to prove his determination.

The time for vacillation is past,

he booms. We must act now to stop

the warming of our planet.


The destruction of our planet,

he expounds, ignoring the thumping

blue vein at his temple, must stop.

We must save our lucrative air;

we must mobilize before it’s past

saving. This party’s determination


is to draft a determination

somehow regarding our planet

and its costly plight. In the past,

there’s been much futile tub-thumping,

politic cud chewing and hot air

expelled in the attempt to stop


pollution, but it didn’t stop.

No, friends, past determinations

weren’t determined enough. That’s why our air

cancers the skin of the planet;

that’s why ancient trees are thumping

the rainforest floor in numbers past


sustainability. In the past,

your corrupt leaders refused to stop

stuffing their pockets, to stop thumping

their pinstriped backs. A determination

to determine the fate of a planet

won’t just appear out of thin air—


especially since they don’t make thin air

anymore. We must boldly blaze past

the infighting that has placed our planet

in jeopardy; today we must stop

it all with determinations

both quick and cheap. At this, his thumping


fist receives a thumping answer, the air

churned with a determination past

belief: non-stop clapping for the planet.


Jesse Patrick Ferguson,

Posted in Art | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

back home – “God’s country”

We spent today in airports and airplanes. In some ways, it’s enjoyable – people watching, and good food, and the crazy miracle that is airplane travel. (I get such a rush at take-off, and landing. Like – “WOW! Here we go, up in the air! Up in this big heavy machine, we’re now – flying! Crazy!”)

In other ways, it drives me nuts and makes me want to murder everyone around me. I don’t know why! But, I think it’s getting worse the older I get. When traveling by air, I’m just tired and short of patience, and I hate sitting all crammed in with other people. And no-one really *wants* to be there, and we’re all thinking that everyone else is a bonehead who packed way too much carry-on luggage.

Oh, well. This morning I woke up in Toronto, and as of 6 pm, I am back home in Cape Breton.

I especially like flying in to the Sydney airport, and looking out the window of the tiny Air Canada Jazz aircraft, down over this beautiful island. And it’s good to smell salt air and to have to walk across the tarmac to get inside the terminal. I like the smallness. I like the home-ness.

It’s good to be back.

(Photos and a bit more Toronto time to come soon, hopefully tomorrow, and then back to ‘regular programming’ with Q+As, guest posts, etc.)

Posted in Leah's thoughts | Tagged , | 2 Comments

the planet and the girl

I no longer doubt that I’m a writer.

Not one bit. I’ve been in Toronto now for three days. All I want to do is write. And take photos. And walk around, soaking up inspiration. And then write more. It keeps me up at night. It fills my notebooks. It convinces me, this is what I do, this is who I am. Take it, world!

So first up – those kids above? They’re my cousins Mina and David. And I’m so glad they exist. I’m so glad that other kids like them exist. Kids are able to be amazed at rivers, and they’ll quite willingly throw rocks in so I can photograph the splash, over and over. “What about THIS one? Ooh, or this one?” Kids remind me how to be joyful, and how to express it. And not to be afraid of that expression.

Their joyfulness is why I have hope.

This is why I think Earth Day is more than a ploy.

Here is Toronto, as experienced by me, over the last couple of days. I quite like these photos. I feel just so damn inspired here. The weather’s been great, but even today when it’s cold and windy I feel fantastic.

Burgers with Haya Finan, a longtime blog reader who I finally got to meet.

A funky bike riding guy somewhere on Bloor Street, and my fantastic bedhead.

Gill finds a new friend! And, I wanted to buy ALL these books. And so many more. OH god. I can’t wait for school to start this September.

Thanks to Shannon Ezzat for the suggestion to eat at Nazareth – Ethiopian food. This giant plate of food was 10$. That plus drinks was $16. Tip brought it to $20. What!!

At the Royal Ontario Museum – there is a hallway to nowhere! This is me going “Where does it go?” and being generally silly. And who doesn’t love feet shots?

That library is brutal, b’ye. (BAHAH that’s an architecture pun.)

So besides being some day celebrating, I dunno, the planet we live on, April 22 is my birthday. I will be turning twenty-eight. Tonight we’re going out to see Ani Difranco play! I am SO pumped for this. I saw her in Australia when I lived there, but her new album kicks serious butt. Here is a great song you oughta take some time to listen to. Go on.

I just wanna say, I’m so very grateful for:

  • The boyfriend who waits for me to finish my blog post before we go on exploring the city. (Well, he was taking a nap, which he likes to do. He’s the chillest person I’ve ever met. It’s like he one day just decided stress was stupid, and kicked it out of the room.) He’s the guy I never thought I would ever be lucky enough to meet, so it continually blows my mind that he’s here in my life. (When I tell him things like this he says, “Oh god, don’t be getting all mushy!” But, whatever. I’ll get mushy if I wanna!) And he’s the guy who buys me a Lindt chocolate bunny that I don’t even notice him doing, even though I’m just one register over at the Shoppers Drug Mart.
  • Other friends I’ve been able to spend time with here – Haya, Gill, Todd, Marlo. And the other millions of friendly spirits all around in this city, on street corners, on sidewalks, in parks. There is also a huge LGBT community here, and I love it. I love the rainbow of people all around – all the colours, all the languages, all the clothes. And I love the palpable feeling that power is building in the community of love and tolerance. There is a feeling that we will not be ignored.
  • You the reader. I love what I’m doing with Dream Big Cape Breton – it excites me every single day! I’ve got notebooks FILLED with ideas. Partnerships coming up. More and more interviews and features being created all the time. And YOU are what makes it all possible. Thank you, thank you.

This trip to Toronto makes me feel like – I could live anywhere in the world. But I choose Cape Breton.

So watch out. Because that’s a pretty empowering feeling. And when a person gets empowered? They rock it.

Posted in Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

5 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Neighbourhood

My friend Brian is notorious for cleaning up the neighbourhood where he lives – he takes truckloads of garbage bags to the dump every couple of months – so a month ago I asked if he would write a post for Earth Day about cleaning up litter.

“I’m not sure I’m the best one to write it,” he wrote back. “It’s hard for me to take the gentler approach. Sometimes people think I’m too hardcore.”

But, he gave it a shot. And I love what he wrote! Sometimes the gentler approach is good, but sometimes you need a good rant and a realistic, yet optimistic, list of ideas and thoughts. (If that’s hardcore, sign me up.)

All photos are mine except the first one of the truck (courtesy Brian Dean) and the one of the tire planter (courtesy A Beautiful Mess).

Brian Dean’s 5 Tips For Cleaning Up the Neighbourhood

1. Log off of your computer.

Then put aside any hopes of glamour, and get out a pair of gardening gloves – you’re about to get dirty. Cleaning up your neighbourhood from the trash that blows around with Cape Breton’s windstorms is not a fun business. But it doesn’t have to be dull.

There are feelings of anger that can and will arise – and who doesn’t like a good, angry Metallica song every once in a while? We all love getting angry, it’s what passion is made of – anger added to love. You’re pissed off that people can’t deal with the garbage they create, and you love the land which they’ve polluted with it. You want revenge. This is the reality, and there’s no sense glossing it over with spiritual glory or anything else.

Think of it like John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” – you get back right now, what you put into this: a clean place to take evening walks with your family dog.

2. Don’t spread yourself thin.

Don’t get over-optimistic and start cleaning up properties that you don’t visit on a regular basis – you’re going to want to have some sort of feeling of accomplishment, it’s not something you’re going to want to spend every weekend doing. Me, I do it about once every 6 months, with random small-bag (grocery store size) every week or so on walks with the dogs. I think of those walks as maintenance.

So, you’re ready to stop looking at trash. Good start! We should all be so proud to respect our surroundings, our land. God knows the people who can’t manage to put things in garbage bags and put them out on the right day (I know, it’s rocket science!) could use some of your “Oomph”. I like to think of garbage collecting day as a day to recollect myself. I start out happy – happy it’s a randomly warm day in February, or an especially cool Summer day, that I can go out into Nature and redeem it from the Mongol horde. And make no mistake about it – the frogs will thank you. Everyone else will just think you’re crazy.

So embrace it. You’re weird. And you’re about to go pick up other people’s crap.

I average about two large bags of garbage every hour. The majority of it is coffee cups and chip bags. The adults throw their coffee cups out their car windows, and the kids walking to school throw their (AHEM) “breakfast” wrappers on the ground… or rather just plainly drop is a better phrase. I’ve seen it all with my own eyes. It makes you wonder if these people ever wash themselves. You can’t want to love someone who doesn’t know how to “keep it clean”, if you know what I mean!

You won’t run into many dangerous things, unless you’re in a particularly suspect area. I never have, and I stick to open fields, you know, the kind of place where when you’re done with the fast food lunch sitting in your car, it’s such a tempting place to chuck your brown bag (ahhh, our grandmother would be so proud).

A fun idea for what to do with old tires (once they're cleaned up, of course!) This photo is from A Beautiful Mess. This post:

3. Put the stuff in clear bags because when you take it to the dump, that’s what they’ll want to see.

They won’t give a damn if it’s got recyclables in it or not – the guys at the dump probably don’t recycle more than they have to, themselves. They’re just cool dudes, and they don’t want any trouble in life.

That goes for you too. Which means that you also can’t bring them any old tires you pull out of the swamp. Important point – you pay for tire disposal whenever you buy new tires, regardless of whether you dispose of old tires or not. The reason is that ALL TIRES can be brought to ANY TIRE OUTLET for disposal, without question. That is the reason for the fee, it is required by law that the outlet take the tires back. They do not go to the landfill. If only the people who dumped them in the swamp knew this in the first place, they would have put them in their trunk and taken the easy route – not walking them out to the middle of a swamp and accidentally done some exercise.

But such is the way of our complicated modern society – there’s just too much to know about too many things sometimes. It’s a fact of modern life we have to live with, and so are old tires in empty fields and swamps. Which brings me to a very obvious point…

4. You’ll want mud boots, or waterproof hiking boots at the very least.

Personally I don’t recommend getting in “too deep a water”, but I do enjoy the challenge of that “just out of reach” piece of refuse. Last week I pulled half an old plastic bumper out of a wetland – the smell of the bog it brought to the surface was not attractive, but was the taste of chucking it into the back of my truck ever sweet. It’s a lot like pinching pimples – that instinctual urge to get rid of the bad stuff, perhaps why “Asteroids” is such an addicting video game!

You can think of this as Asteroids. I think of it as vengeance. I will win. I will win against the idiots who do this to our landscape. Every piece I pick up, I feel like Godzilla climbing higher up that building. It’s perhaps unhealthy to have these kinds of visions while picking up garbage. It may be the swamp gas. But it feels great, and I go home and I sleep better that night than I have all the previous nights that month. Because I won. You could eat off that piece of land after I’m done.

5. Don’t expect glory.

Garbage cleanup really ain’t much more than that. I hate to say it, but you’re not going to get a lot of glory out of it. And don’t expect any, but if you get it, let the glory roll off your shoulders. Next week you’ll see a plastic bag waving in the wind, hanging off that tree you just stooped under for 15 minutes digging out 10 year old garbage from. You can’t let it get to you.

Remember the world ain’t perfect, you’re just doing what feels right. Better than that, you’re doing something. You’re not just writing about doing it, you’re not threatening city council that you’re going to do it. Your knees are dirty and you’re winning the battle.

You’re winning, because other people will see you on your knees, picking up their son’s and their daughter’s and their neighbour’s garbage. And it’ll make them think twice when they see their son or their daughter or their neighbour throw crap that doesn’t belong in nature, into nature. You will make that difference. It is a slow change, but where you change the thinking of ten people, you change the thinking of hundreds of thousands of people. Great ideas are contagious, and so is wanting to live in a beautiful place.

People may not respect their surroundings all the time, but everyone gets down about things. They see a dirty field, they think “well who cares, why should I?” But lo, here is someone who cares, and perhaps then they think, “I won’t throw my chip bag out there, maybe it’s now become uncool to do. Maybe it’s socially unacceptable: here is the clean, open field to prove it.”

“I am the outsider”, they may begin to think when they drop that bag – their’s is now the only one. Maybe now they’re the weird ones!

But I’ll say this, and this is the final point because I hope it is the most remembered. At no point in your cleanup should you get the idea that you should show that you are higher or mightier than others. I highly recommend being as humble as you can be about this venture, and not making a fakey smiley show of how you’re Miss Fancy Pants and how you’re going to save the world.

People are secretly disgusted with their own messes. It makes them unable to be proud of who they are. Simple, quiet work is what you must undertake. Think of the Amish. I like to. They are hard-working people who don’t make a show of it.

You know, in your art, you may show off your achievements and be proud of those rare achievements in your personal life. Show off and proud of those things!God knows there are enough martyrs out there. But, don’t be a martyr when you’re cleaning up the neighbourhood, you’ll only rub people’s noses in their mess. Do it for the pure, unadulterated selfishness of the act. You’ll feel awesome about it, that you’ve done a secret, quiet something for you. And, your neighbours will gather a secret admiration for your work.


Some links to more info about recycling in your area:

Posted in Environment, Guest posts | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

vive le quebec!

This post is a doozy! Forty-five photos, so be warned.

Getting out of Dodge – just like in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which, yes, is one of my favorite movies – sometimes a person needs to just get away. Enough of the mundane, everyday stuff, no matter how exciting it might be at other times. So just like Frances in that movie, when she boards a bus for Rome to get away from the renovations at the villa, I just had to pack some bags, board a train, and get the heck outta here!

I’m a big sook, though, so travelling is always a double-edged sword. I love to get away, but I hate being lonesome. My thoughts are the quick-growing kind – fears take over fast.

Luckily, I can kick fear’s ass. Tell it where to go. And go, myself, anyway.

I spent some great solid hours on the train in my seat, reading back through my notebooks, writing, and then organizing the photos I took over the last couple of months. That felt super good to do. Prepare for the months ahead. Think about content, and the blog’s direction, and what excites me these days.

This is what I love about trains: the movement, the clickety-clack. Bumping from side to side, ever so subtly, all the time, as the train moves forward along the track. I love staring out the window at woods and swamps passing by. I love eating by myself in the dining car, sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio, watching the last hour of sunlight lighting up spruce trees and old, unused telegraph wires. I love that no-one in the dining car knows me, and that the waiter speaks French to me and I can manage to speak some back. And maybe it even sounds natural to him!

I love listening to the waiters as they sing to themselves and chat in the tiny kitchen. I overheard one waiter telling a waitress about how he and his wife watched “We Bought a Zoo”, and how it surprised him by being a good film. “Matt Damon is in it, and you know, I’m used to him in those action movies, killing people, and in this one he’s, you know, he’s chubby and has longer hair.”

I arrived in Charny the next morning at 5:25 am, after a cramped but sufficient sleep in Economy class. Charny is across the river from Ste-Foy and Quebec City, where my family lives. Uncle Mike picked me up and took me to his home.

It was a Sunday, and it turned out to be HOT. Like, 25 degrees hot. My little cousin Mina, who is ten, is a lot like me. We both like traipsing around in the woods, inspecting bugs, and sitting with our feet in the water. We went to a nearby park where she showed me her favorite “beach”. We agreed that the water was very cold! But that it felt nice.

“I like being with you, Leah,” she said in her adorable French accent. (Both she and her brother speak English very well, but there is still a tinge of French to their accents. When I am here, my accent slants that way as well. I can’t help it.)

“I like being with you, too, Mina!” I said. “I like walking in the woods.”

“And I like painting,” she said.

“Me too!” I said.

When I’m travelling, I get overwhelmed with wanting to take pictures of everything. All the little details that I see, and which are all new to me! Like, kids’ drawings, books in French, a soft kitten’s belly. And all the people I get to spend time with, that I am not normally near.

My grandmaman’s houseplants. She loves cactuses.

Some of these pictures were shot out of the window of Grandpapa’s car, as we drove around Quebec City yesterday. He gave me and my aunt Claude a mini-tour, showing us places where he grew up, where he went to school, and where he used to do mischievous things like swim in the Fleuve or ride down a very steep hill on the handlebars of a bicycle.

April 16th is both Aunt Claude’s birthday, and my grandmaman’s birthday. Grandmaman is in the hospital right now, recuperating from a small operation (that went well). Claude wasn’t actually going to be here while I was, but then Grandmaman suddenly had to go into the hospital, so Claude came up from Peterborough.

Aunt Nathalie: “I wasn’t sure what your favorite kind of cake was, Claude, so I went with a classic – hazelnut chocolate.”

Claude: “Oh, that IS my favorite!”

This morning: I don’t know why breakfast feels more decadent in French, even though I could easily eat these same things in Cape Breton (Kraft peanut butter, Nutella, an orange).

The owl painting is by Aunt Nathalie, who does oil paintings. She was kind enough to give me a couple of paintings to take back with me, older ones that were more exercises than finished works. A vase of flowers all in green and white, and a study of vegetables. I’m excited to hang them in my new home this summer.

I have the day to myself today. It feels good; yesterday was hot and I felt sticky, busy, and somewhat stressed. We spent a lot of time driving around on busy highways, and I was worried about my grandmaman.

But today is cooler, and she is doing well, and I am spending time alone. Which, I have realized, is as necessary to me as water or air. I do love people, and I love my family. But time alone is not just a luxury. I need it to rest and straighten out my head.

And Rue Paul just makes me giggle. 🙂

Posted in Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Victoria County Plans Community Garden for Baddeck

This is so exciting! Behind the courthouse in Baddeck, the County is creating a community garden. Beds are only ten bucks!

Here is both a short Q+A with Lyn Duchesney of Morgan’s Brook Landscaping, and the article that the local paper published about the garden, last month.

You can also contact Sandy by phone or email if you have any questions. But be sure to mail your letter to him if you want a bed – for some reason that’s the only way they’re accepting applications.

Q+A: Lyn Duchesney

1. Are you excited about working on the community garden? Why or why not?

I know this garden is going to be a welcome addition to the landscape of our village. It is exciting to see beauty and practicality combined …always. The individual gardens will be 4’ x 10’ and 2’ high. One can produce a lot of food in a garden of that size.

2. What are the challenges of planning out the community garden?

Good design is finding a solution to a list of needs and limitations. A budget adds extra constraints but working with the committee we prioritize and try to come up with a pleasing solution.

3. Who are the others you’re working with on this project?

The county is spearheading the project and we have a committee of five who have volunteered their valuable time. We have met several times over the winter. The committee consists of Sandy Hudson, Erin Bradley, Bucky Carmichael, Don Nicholson and myself.

4. When will Morgans Brook get started on creating the garden?

ASAP. Weather permitting. Weight restrictions are still in effect on secondary roads so that limits getting some materials delivered to the site.

Victoria Standard article

Originally published in the Victoria Standard, last month:

“As part of Victoria County’s Go Green initiative, a community garden committee has been formed. The committee is made up of Bucky Carmichael, County Gardener; Lyn Duchesney, Morgan’s Brook Landscaping; Don Nicholson, Brookside Gardens; and Sandy Hudson, CAO Victoria County.

The planned development of at least 14 individual garden beds on the “Old Hart” property at the rear of the Court House will be available on a first come, first use basis, to County residents. One of the beds has been reserved for the local 4-H Club.

With the support and encouragement of our Active Living program and making use of the County’s recycling program, each individual bed will, weather cooperating, be ready for planting by mid-May. In keeping with our active community program and age friendly programming, each bed will be a raised wooden bed, with barrier free access, complete with certified, tested compost from the County’s recycling program. Watering facilities are on site and planting soil will be provided.

As part of Healthy Living programs, good food, exercise, fresh air and social interaction are all vital to healthy communities. We encourage our residents to participate in growing some of their own food this season.

The committee will accept applications by letter, and not by phone or word of mouth. Once notified of their garden bed, successful applicants will be asked to contribute ten dollars ($10) that will be contributed to the various food banks in our County.

Depending on the response of the community, and available resources, additional beds may be developed. The committee would also welcome support and contributions to the project. Interested individuals are encouraged to submit their application as soon as possible and participate in this fun and exciting opportunity to grow their own food. Gardening experience is not necessary and everyone is welcome to apply.

Applications should be addressed to:
Victoria County Community Garden Project

PO Box 370, Baddeck, NS

B0E 1B0.”


Posted in Food + agriculture, Towns + communities | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment