Youth Social Enterprise Boot Camp – My Speech

Major issues in Cape Breton, as identified by youth aged 17-34 at the Social Enterprise Boot Camp.

I stopped by the side of the road and took this shot, on my way home Sunday afternoon. Yes, I drew in the dust on my car. Yup. I know. Big dork. Right here.

This is me giving my speech on Friday night. Thanks Christy for taking the pic with my camera!

I spent this past weekend at an event called the “Youth Social Enterprise Boot Camp”. It was at Cape Breton University, and sponsored by other community organizations (which I’ll list in tomorrow’s post). I was a keynote speaker, but I also participated in the weekend. It was – amazing. Huge, actually. I think it might have changed my life! I’m not sure yet – it’s too soon – but, I just know that I felt so amazed and energized and downright HAPPY the entire time.

I’ll post more about the event tomorrow, once I’ve had more time to gather my thoughts (and get some rest!).

Here, though, is the text of the speech I gave. These are the notes that I took up to the podium with me (printed in 16 pt font, 1.5 line spaced). The actual speech was slightly different, but only in the tiniest of ways (some different adjectives, etc):

“Thank you [to introducer]! And hello everyone. First of all, I just want to say how excited I am to be here tonight. This is a great event, and a real opportunity for all of us nurture our dreams.

This event wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of Tim Damon and the other folks who put this together. Let’s give them a round of applause!

My name is Leah Noble and I’m a writer. I grew up in Baddeck, and live there now, and I write a blog called Dream Big Cape Breton. Tonight I’m going to tell you a bit about my story, about the blog, and what it’s teaching me about Cape Breton and the future here.

I didn’t always call myself a writer. I’m 27, and for most of my life, if people asked me what I did, for a living, I would say whatever job I was doing at the time. I would say, “Oh I’m a waitress, or I’m a potter’s assistant, or I’m a student.” And then I might say, “Yeah, but also, I really like to write, and someday I want to be a writer.”

And the thing is, with writing, is that no-one ever comes up to you and says “Here’s your certificate, you are a writer. You can now go out in the world and say that you are a writer.” There’s no test to pass. I suppose the goal is to publish a book, but I didn’t have a book. I had… some short stories, some poems, and a personal, small blog that I wrote for friends.

Then, in 2007, in my third year of studying for a BA, in New Brunswick, I started suffering from really bad anxiety and ended up falling into a depression.

It made me rethink everything in my life. It made me reconsider what it was that I needed to be happy.

I realized that one of the things I needed was to be home, in Cape Breton. The wilderness here is my church, my sacred space. There is a ruggedness and a beauty here, that goes beyond words. Cape Breton is the love of my life.

So I moved home. I thought, “Yeah, this was a bright move! Come back to Cape Breton in mid-March.” All of the young people I used to know were gone, had moved away. My town is a tourist town, and in the winter it’s pretty quiet.

So I thought “Geez, you know, I’m going to end up more depressed than ever!”

But it ended up being OK. And looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

I started out by hanging out with seniors. They were the only ones I knew anymore. But that was good, I drank lots of tea, played a lot of crib. I got really good at counting hands – 15-2, 15-4, 15-6, pair is 8..

One thing the seniors taught me was the sense of history. They would tell me stories about the fifties and sixties, and I got a real sense of what Cape Breton was like, and of what life was like then. And of how fast things can change. The landscape stays the same, but the society can really change.

I started to get better – I think it was all the tea – and I started volunteering in the community, and then I started back to work. I got short-term jobs – a grant paid me to teach computers to seniors, so I called on my crib buddies to sign up for the class – and then a part-time job, and then full-time, seasonal work.

But of course I’d always be thinking about my future – can I live on minimum wage, or even 12$ an hour, and can I live with my Mum forever? (You know, because that’s what allows me to do things like own a car, or buy new clothes.)

I was asking myself, what are my dreams? What do I want out of life? My dream was I wanted a little house, I wanted to be able to have a garden, support local farmers, and work a year-round job that I really loved. It’s not a crazy dream, but the way our economy is right now, I doubted whether I could make that dream come true.

And I know I’m not the only one. All over the island, young people that I meet – We’re all trying to figure out if there is a future here for us. Can we make a life here? Can we have enough food to eat? Can we make enough money? Can we live our dreams here? These are very valid questions! These are not just theoretical, this is real life.

And all this time, I’m writing my little personal blog, and sharing photos and stories, and friends who live away are reading it, and saying, “Geez you know, your pictures and stories would make a great campaign about life in Cape Breton!”

So last year, I started dreaming about writing something other than poems that no-one would publish, or a personal blog. I started dreaming a little bigger, and getting really excited about the idea of interviewing people about their lives and their experiences here in Cape Breton and tell our truth, our generation’s truth.

I wanted to look beyond the image of Cape Breton that gets sold to tourists and I wanted to talk about what it’s really like to live here. Year-round. Trying to make a living. Dreaming about the future and trying to make those dreams reality.

So I started a Facebook group that was meant to be sort of a mailing list, to link people together that I would interview, but it took on a life of its own. People in the group started to post things to the wall… links to events, and information about neat, alternative sort of things that were happening.

And this group really got me thinking! “There’s something to this, people our age are hungry for a space to share, and talk, and learn.”

The overlying narrative of Cape Breton right now is of death and failure, that we’re all moving away, that this place has nothing, no future, and there’s nothing exciting here. It’s a tourist playground and that’s about it.

Yet our reality, our truth, is more complex than that. We’re young, energetic, we’re excited!

So I jumped in and started doing interviews, and started my blog. Doing that forced me to say “I’m a writer” when I meet people. That’s scary, because it takes confidence that I don’t always feel. But, it showed me that I can do that – that I can decide for myself what I am. I determine my own future.

Starting the blog was only two months ago and I’m having such a good time. I’ve spoken to a couple who is starting an organic microbrewery near Baddeck. I’ve spoken to other couples who have moved here from elsewhere in Canada, from the US, from the UK, to make their life here. I’ve spoken to musicians and people employed by government. I’ve got three contributors now and I’m hoping for more. I honestly wish I could be writing this blog 24 hours a day, seven days a week because there is so much material here!

When you really start to look, there are people all over this island who are doing amazing things. Whose lives – even if they think their lives are small – by simply being here, they’re resisting that overlying, negative narrative.

All of this activity, to me, in my head, I see it as – the island, Cape Breton Island. If you could put little dots all over it, and each of those dots is a person, who’s living here, who is making their way, who is either from here originally, or a newcomer, or whatever they are, they’re all there. And by ourselves, we can feel isolated, we can feel like no-one else cares and that no-one else is doing anything positive.

But, through social media, through my blog, through other means like this weekend, we connect outward from our communities, connect with each other, and it’s like those dots light up. We’re starting to light up the island with our energy and our power. That helps us to see ourselves in a more positive light. That helps us to realize that we can define ourselves. We aren’t waiting for someone else to do it. We’re doing it ourselves. And it’s so exciting. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Thank you very much.”

Posted in Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frugal Friday with Erika Shea – March’s comments

Erika Shea and her daughter Frances

The tips, comments and thoughts shared in just three short weeks of Frugal Fridays have been so much fun (and so insightful) to read through. It’s amazing to see how quickly and wholly this feature has been embraced, the conversations it has sparked and the incredible knowledge it has already unearthed. Rather than have these comments sit buried at the end of posts, we thought we would repost them at the end of each month so that everyone can share in what’s been shared!

Thanks to everyone who posted a comment! My comments follow each comment in italics.

From Sherry: My mother was telling me the other day about a woman she read about, who picks up sweaters in decent condition at Value Village and other thrift stores, then unravels them to re-use the yarn in other projects. Of course it would have to be the right kind of sweater to start with, but goodness knows knitting unravels fast enough when you drop stitches and don’t want it to. I’m sure you could pull apart a sweater and rewind the wool in the time it takes to watch a half-hour program on television. Besides the money-saving implications, it’s a nice way to upcycle used items.

Erika: Thanks Sherry! I’ve been hoping to try thrifted wool products to make new felted items out of too – mitts, and socks and hats. Just wash in hot water, dry, cut and sew – someday soon! I’ve heard that felted wool sweaters are pretty easy to work with.

From Kelly: Here’s a breakdown of some of my biggest money savers:

I make it a rule not to eat out often. You can eat like a king on the money you would spend at a restaurant if you put it toward groceries instead. When I do eat out, I make sure it’s not a chain (so at least it’s benefiting the local economy) and to order things that would be difficult for me to make at home. Also, when grocery shopping, I try to be aware that sometimes things that seem like they’re saving you money actually aren’t (e.g. buying in bulk at the bulk barn isn’t always cheaper and buying a case of things you don’t really use just because they’re on sale isn’t saving money either).

Rediscovering cheap entertainment: spending time with friends, board/card game nights, free public talks, hiking, potlucks, etc. – these things are almost always more genuinely fun and interesting than going to a bar. When I do go to bars, I make sure it’s to see a band I really enjoy rather than just a fallback thing to do on the weekend.

I have a thing for clothes shopping, so I’ve made the switch to shopping almost entirely at thrift stores (baring some undie necessities). Hand-in-hand with thrifting is learning to make basic alternations, dye clothes, and make clothes from recycling other clothes. There’s such a high turn-over rate in my closet that my friends and I also usually have a clothing swap at the end of each season. If there are summer clothes in my closet that I haven’t worn all summer, someone else could probably get more use out of them than me.

There’s a good link/info posting site with many contributors called Reddit that has a special section for frugality that you might want to check out: . The posts you see first are the most recently posted ones that got a large number of votes, but you can also sort posts by those that have been highly rated (the “top” tab near the top of the page) and then select “links from _____” (at the top of the list) to see top posts from this week, month, or year, etc..

Erika: Wow! Thanks Kelly! You’ve touched on so much here – groceries, entertainment, eating out and clothes shopping. I love the idea of a clothing swap. Lately, I find it so satisfying to get rid of things and to know that I’m keeping only what I’m really using and a clothing swap offers one more point of sharing and reuse before making a trip to the thrift store to drop things off. I also love the idea of only ordering things I can’t make at home when I eat out. I’m going to remember that – I think it will encourage me to eat out less (if it is with intention), to try to innovate in the kitchen more (because I probably can make much of what I would eat when I’m out) and then to really appreciate and savour the times and places that I do get to head somewhere new for a meal.

From Jay Mac: I think the biggest challenge with being frugal is to realise it takes time. It is a learned skill set and the decisions about how to spend money are emotionally charged for many of us. That’s why I think it is a good idea to keep a list of how you might save money and to challenge yourself to gradually work away at it. Don’t expect too much from yourself at once, try one new frugal thing a week if you have the time to work up to it. If you don’t, and it is an emergency situation, I’d suggest re-evaluating your bills. Many of us pay too many additional fees for cell phones, cable, banks, for services we don’t use. Getting rid of services you don’t use, and watching your grocery bill would be my two biggest tips. Also, some banks like BMO have a free Moneylogic service where you can see what you have spent money on… it is a great analysis tool.

Erika: Thanks Jay. You make a very good point about the emotions attached with spending our money. I think this (our emotionally-laden purchases) is a big factor in the success of consumer goods companies whose goods are priced ridiculously beyond what it cost to make them (especially when the labourers paid to do the actual making were hardly paid at all). Entire industries have come to depend on the fact that we will set aside logic and buy with our (sometimes misguided) hearts.

I’ve found it can be helpful to make a note of the little things that I see and would like to have and make myself wait a month (or at least two to three weeks) before buying them. Almost every time, with the passing of time, I find I want them less and come to the realization that I don’t need them at all.

And you’re so right about how quickly the services we pay for can eat up our income. I hope to post on banks and credit cards next month and ways we can get around for paying for some of the costly service fees they continuously add to our services.

From Wilson Eavis: Frugal Friday, what a great thought. No one better to contribute than Erika, and what an awesome sailor-lady she is!!!

For (most of) us here in Canada we take for granted the task of running to the grocery store to “choose” what we’ll have for supper.

After recently returning from some Bahamian and Caribbean southern islands, food is not as plentiful or cheap. Nor is gasoline. A large bag of Lay’s potato chips =$8.99, a loaf of bread = $6.00, etc. But they all smile!

My point… we have it made here, especially here in Cape Breton. Sure there are plenty of less fortunate people than we are, and as bad as we think our Government might be, we’re not living in a Dictatorship or Communist life style. God love our freedom!

So we should all smile too! Just like Erika and Leah.

Erika: Thanks so much Wilson. I cannot wait for the weather to warm up enough to get our little boat into the water.

You bring such a great perspective to this conversation. I can’t help but wonder what role the global economy may have played in those exorbitant prices. Naturally, things like Lays have to be imported and bread too probably if it’s of the Wonder or Uncle Ben’s variety, but I wonder if cash crops (coffee, cocoa, sugar, etc.) – the things that we can’t get enough of in the West – have contributed to the erosion of smaller farms or family farms on these islands (farms that could produce a variety of crops so that much less would need to be imported). I’m not sure of the answer, but I bet you get to meet the most resourceful people on trips like these!

From Nona MacDonald-Dyke: A friend once told me the hardest thing to teach a child is ‘credit’ because they see us whip out a card instead of money and believe that that card is the key to money and everything in the world he/she could ever want. I wished he’d told me how to teach children about credit while my children were growing up. He said to teach it with a little black book. Start giving your child an allowance, and he/she records it in the little black book. That allowance is their money to do with (within reason) as he/she wishes. But, there’ll come a day when there’s a dream of a new toy etc. that the allowance doesn’t cover at once, instead offer to loan the money to the child, interest free, and the child agrees to pay back so much from her allowance for the new item, and she record’s it each time in the little black book until the debt is repaid. What this does is teach them about credit, record keeping, honesty, and to ask themselves if the new item they want to buy on credit is worth having. Hope this helps someone.

Erika: Hi Nona. Thanks for this great suggestion. This makes so much sense – especially what you’ve noted about what children learn when they see us rely on credit (but tell them to spend and save wisely). I really love the idea of the little black book and this is something we’ll use as soon as our daughter is of the allowance-earning age. I think teaching children about credit in this way is especially important at a time when student loans (huge sums of somebody else’s money) are the reality for almost all 17, 18 and 19 year olds who chose to pursue studies beyond high school. It is a lot of financial responsibility to hand someone (and a lot of money to repay over what can be decades) if they don’t understand all the implications of credit or borrowed money. I heard just this week as well that the average Canadian consumer debt now exceeds $25,000. We definitely have a lot to teach and to learn.

From Mary-Beth Thompson: Along the idea of grocery costs, when my sister and I were growing up money was tight, but we never realized it because, among other things, there was always plenty of food. As I began buying my own groceries on limited income I asked my mom how she did it. A few of her tips were as follows:

Buy the three cheapest fruits and vegetables and learn different ways to prepare them. As the seasons change so will the produce so you won’t get bored of them (bonus: it will likely result in more local produce).

Use the tricks (and recipes) from the depression- the economy has changed (and changed again) but the logic remains. For example, by pouring boiling water over rhubarb you can get away with using half the sugar!

Speak with the produce manager about what’s in the back. Often there are apples that aren’t good enough to sell… but perfect for making applesauce!

Don’t be shy to cruise the 50% rack. If you’re using the product in a reasonable time frame paying full price is just silly.

Know the prices of staple products – than you can spot a deal.

If you freeze the odds and ends of veggies you can use them to make a veggie soup stock when you’ve gathered enough.

Erika: Thanks Mary Beth. These are some wonderful money-saving grocery tips. I’ve been trying to keep better track of the non-sale price of items and have been so surprised by how often grocery stores will try to pass off regular price (or five cents below regular price) as a great deal just by making a sign bigger or sticking the item in a flyer. And the 50% off rack! It is a great source for deals, especially the reduced fruits and veggies rack – a super place to find smoothie and soup ingredients!

From Alicia Lake: The frugality issue surrounding food is one that I have been looking at over the years because I choose to eat mostly local food but cannot spend a fortune feeding my family. We have come to realize the importance of food value and also the necessity of putting thought into meal planning. One example of this is that we only buy free range chicken from a local farm, but we generally buy their whole chickens at 3.99 lb. and with proper planning we get 3 dinners and several lunches for 4 people out of one chicken. We also have developed relationships with local farmers who will sometimes sell slightly less than perfect produce for a reduced cost especially if we are buying a big order like 100 pounds of potatoes to last the winter. Another important thing we do is to think about what we spend and make choices based on our values. We prioritize good quality food and supporting local producers, we do not value supporting multi-national fast-food joints, therefore our kids probably only get burgers once a year or so – which no doubt reduces our budget.

Frugality is a complex issue I realize. We all look to find ways to afford to feed ourselves and buy the things that we need, but so often when we see a cheap price it means that something has been compromised to make that item cheap. It could be the environment, it could be health or safety, it could be wages of foreign workers or it could be our neighbours livelihood that was compromised, but cheap prices generally require compromise.

We need to be mindful to ensure that we save money while living lightly. Thank you for creating this space for discussions Leah and Erica!

Erika: Alicia, this is incredible. I’ve only rarely purchased whole chickens and haven’t thought of buying potatoes to last the winter, but these are now top of my food to-do list. Thank you for these very thoughtful and practical suggestions. And thank you for your powerful and succinct wisdom “when we see a cheap price it means that something has been compromised to make that item cheap.” This is such an important lens for all of us to keep with us and use to assess the “deals” we see everyday.

From Jay Mac: One frugal tip for groceries is to sign up for coupons, especially from online sites such as; sign up for all of them and then trade with friends. For the cost of a stamp you can also have “coupon trains” (with friends or through sites) where you send your unused coupons on and people select the ones they want and send ones they can’t use on to you.

I agree with the person who said to get the three fruits. We do buy single apples and fill a bag, but we look for the ones that are lowest price that week. We always get bananas because they are so cheap… and usually another fruit that is on sale. Don’t pass up frozen veg and frozen fruit (use in oatmeal or smoothies) as you can often get better prices than for fresh stuff.

Erika: Thanks Jay. We love our frozen fruit. It offers a nice bit of variety in the deep dark days of winter. Have you ever tried to freeze your own? Any tips? I’m thinking of giving it a try this summer.

From Mark Sparrow: Mmm….sushi. Great post, I love making sushi at home and the new Sobey’s, as you mentioned, has a ton of sushi ingredients (and a pretty amazing international foods isle as well). It’s also a good idea to buy your salmon fresh and then freeze it for 24-48 hours before defrosting it in the fridge to use in your sushi. This kills any potential undesirable parasites and is a common practice of sushi restaurants (as far as I know!).

Erika: Great tip Mark! We didn’t freeze our salmon last time but we definitely will next time!

From Wilson Eavis: Great DIY article, Erika. Have become a fan of making sushi at home too. Getting better each time, I must say. Learning techniques are simply that…learning. That’s the fun part. My sushi rolls that started out egg shaped are now looking more round all the time.

I did find the nori sheets at Oka Maki are far better tasting than “others”. Love to have a hint of Wasabi on the side too, certainly brightening each bite, but be careful, it’s killer!
My only add to this great article … a really super sharp knife is a must to cut the sushi rolls, and I dip the knife each time in cold water to avoid sticking. Surely Rob keeps a good sharp boat-knife in the kitchen!

Can’t wait till next Frugal Friday and my next sushi attempt too.

Erika: Wilson, you are so right! I forgot entirely about the knife which was just as important as the nori and the bamboo rollers! The first knife I picked up in the Superstore (and quickly put back) was $38. Yikes! The second one I picked up was $7 and incredibly sharp. It’s been great for so many other things around the kitchen too and we wouldn’t have been able to make our sushi without it.

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 first two Frugal Friday columns here and here!

Posted in Food + agriculture, Guest posts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Erin the Librarian: Five Ways to Access your Library From Your Desk

Erin Phillips

If you don’t use your local public library yet, here are 5 steps to start using it right now without even leaving your chair.

1. Apply Online for a Library Card

Both regional libraries in Cape Breton offer online card applications which are quick and easy to complete.

If you have previously had a library card before at any branch call the library first before filling out an application. They may be able to retrieve your card information and renew your membership over the phone.

If you live in Richmond or Inverness county you’ll be registering for Eastern Counties Regional Library here:

If you live in Cape Breton or Victoria County you’ll be registering for Cape Breton Regional Library here:

Your new library card will arrive through old fashioned snail mail in a couple of days.

2. Search the Catalogue.
While you wait for the card to arrive you can see what the library has to offer. Whatever your interests are the library is sure to have something for you!

Here’s a tip. Use the Power Search option to refine your search. You may, for example, want to limit your selection to children’s books available in Ingonish. Or DVDs on farming. Spend a few minutes experimenting with the Power Search feature and see what you can find.



3. Placing Holds
Has your library card arrived yet? Good. Now it’s time to place holds. What is a hold? “Hold” is library lingo for putting your name on a waiting list to get a book. You can use holds to request books that are currently checked out, or to request books from a distant branch and have them sent to your neighborhood branch. Even if a book is on the shelf at your branch put a hold on it. This saves you from having to find it on the shelf.

When you visit the library catalogue you will see a spot in the upper right hand corner of the page to log-in to your account. Use your library card number and PIN (usually the last four digits of your phone number) to log-in here. When you find an item you want click on Place Hold. You may need to first click on the Details button to bring you into a detailed view of the item before the Place Hold button appears.

Here’s another helpful link on how to place holds:

The library will phone you when your hold is available to pick at the branch you selected. While you wait for the phone call, you can…

4. Search for Digital Downloads
The library has access to thousands of ebooks and audiobooks for you to download and enjoy right on your computer or on the go with your mobile device.

Ebooks can be enjoyed on popular E-Readers such as Kobo and Sony eReader, on tablets such as iPads and Playbook, or on your Mac or PC.

Audiobooks are great for listening to on your mp3 player, smart phone, or burning to a CD. will take you to the catalogue for these downloads.

You can search for a specific book or author, or you can browse through books based on genre and subject.

Tip: Right underneath the search box there’s a checkbox for “only show titles with available copies”. Check this to find titles you can download instantly. Similar to physical books you will have to place holds on titles which are already check-out by other patrons.

If you find a few books you want to borrow you can select add to digital bookbag, log-in to your account and check out the books. Before you download them, though, you will have to…

5.Download Software for viewing/listening to audiobooks and ebooks
You do not have to leave your chair for this activity but you may need your reading glasses. Depending on your computer knowledge it may take a few minutes and some reading of help pages to figure out how to download the software and use it to transfer books to your reading/listening device.

CBRL has developed some nice help pages to get you started

OK! By now you should have a whole list of books, DVDs, audiobook, and ebooks to check-out. I hope you found some great stuff!

Remember to call or e-mail your library with any questions you may have. Library staff are usually quite friendly and helpful.

About Erin the Librarian: Erin Phillips has been interviewed on Dream Big Cape Breton, along with her partner Brian Dean, a luthier. She is a Whitney Pier resident and currently on maternity leave from her position as Victoria County Libraries Supervisor for the Cape Breton Regional Library. (Note: her views and opinions as expressed in the blog do not represent the views of CBRL.) You can read the first two “Erin the Librarian” columns here.

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Our Man in Judique – Dwayne MacEachern

Dwayne MacEachern on the right side of the causeway.

Hi folks, I’m Dwayne MacEachern from Judique and I’ll be contributing now and then to Dream Big Cape Breton. But first, a little bit about who I am and how I got here: Back in 1996 I finished high school at Judique-Creignish Consolidated and had no idea what to do with myself. All I knew was that Cape Breton was no place for young people and I had to get out of here, so I packed up and moved west. I spent almost four years in Antigonish, living a university student lifestyle without ever being enrolled at St. Francis Xavier, or St. FX, which was good because looking back if I had been a student I would not have been a very good one.

In 1999 I set my sights on a new horizon and headed to Ottawa where I embroiled myself in the high-tech sector. For two years I worked and lived with a friend of mine from Mabou, and we talked about two things that whole time: fibre-optics and Cape Breton. When the bottom fell out of the industry it presented an opportunity to move back home, so I stuffed my trusty blue Subaru to the gills and said goodbye to Upper Canada.

Home again, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for in terms of something I was passionate about. I was in the automotive service sector once more, and while I truly love working on cars and have the greatest respect for good mechanics – that tends to happen when your father is one – I still had no idea how to go about affecting change in the community in ways that would prevent kids from graduating high school and feeling like they had to leave, as I did. So, I started to think about how I could learn these things.

That September, I started at St. FX, this time ready for the challenges of university life. That same month I learned of a meeting in Judique for something called the Judique & Area Development Association. What? A community development group? This was the same sort of thing my friend and I talked about in Ontario: the ability to make things happen back home! I went to the meeting and the rest of the story has been nothing short of the most wonderful, frustrating and altogether rewarding groups of experiences I could have ever imagined.

From my involvement at home and at school, I have learned a new appreciation for where I am from and that there is indeed a place for anyone who wants to be here. It doesn’t seem like it sometimes, but I believe it to be true above all else, and the reasons for that belief will be the kinds of things I’ll be writing about in my upcoming contributions to this site. My passion is community development, and I hope to convey that in my writing by using less of ‘I’ and more of ‘We’.


Dwayne MacEachern


Posted in Towns + communities | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On Intuition, Creativity and Following a Hunch

Seal Island Bridge. I stopped there to take pictures on Monday, March 26th. For some reason this bridge fascinates me, and I often have dreams about it - like, the kind when you're sleeping, at night.

I’m constantly amazed at the creative process.

At how you have to let go (of expectations, of your own plans) in order to let the universe (or God or whatever you call the forces beyond humans) do its part.

Because, you can’t control everything. I know, that’s such a huge brainwave, right? Haha. I mean, we all rationally know this. I don’t control Tokyo’s markets, or the weather, or even my friends’ behavior. (Especially my friends’ behavior!) But deep down I think we all believe we can control our lives. We believe that we can plan them out, and if we plan them well enough, the plan will come to pass and bingo! we will be happy for the rest of our days.

Except, the plan doesn’t come to pass exactly as we’d hoped, and we get frustrated or disappointed. But, if we flipped that around, and saw those changes instead as the universe interacting with our plan, playing with it, dancing with it, even, and that this is how it’s meant to be, then we could relax and enjoy the ride.

I wasn't right on the edge of a precipice or anything. And there were stairs.

For example: this blog and how it came to be. This time last year, before Dream Big Cape Breton existed, I read an editorial in The Victoria Standard. Jim Morrow was talking about young people and how all the young people are leaving, and asking “what does that mean for our communities?”

I thought, I’ll write a letter to the editor with my opinion.

Then another thought popped into my head: why don’t you write a column for the paper, about your day to day life and your thoughts as a young person, and the thoughts of other young people? I got really excited and my brain started storming up with ideas about what I could write about, and how cool it could be.

So I went and talked to Jim about it. He liked the idea. We decided I’d do some research and then present him with a few written articles later that fall. So all that summer (last year, 2011) I would chat about it with young people I met. “Would you let me interview you?” I’d ask. “Would you tell me your story? It’s for a project I’m doing.”And nearly everyone I spoke to said they would like to. (Interesting fact: most people said, “Why would you be interested in my story? It’s just my boring life.”)

In the fall I drafted a first article for Jim. It told a bit about my story and the “journey” I’d be going on, physically around the island and emotionally as I tried to figure out what the future was here. Jim read it and returned it with a comment that it should probably be less about me personally and more just facts, a reporter-style account of the different people around. I said OK, and we agreed I’d spend the winter (after I got laid off from the marina where I work) doing research and interviews.

It was around this time that the name “Dream Big Cape Breton” popped into my head. I don’t remember exactly when. It could have been on a walk, or at some other random time like doing the dishes. (I get pretty much all of my ideas while walking or doing the dishes, or driving somewhere. Then I have to write them down quickly before I forget them. Sitting at the computer, writing, is a different kind of creative time.)

And I started the Facebook group, in order to connect with people around the island that I might not otherwise know, to go interview them. I called it “Dream Big – Cape Breton.”

And the Facebook group took on a life of its own, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster. People started posting things to the wall, like events and other groups they were in that they wanted to promote. Then others would comment on it. People connected with each other, found out about things they might not have known about. They had a place to speak about issues that were bothering them.

With the Facebook group "Dream Big Cape Breton", you no longer have to voice your concerns on public property!

Then I followed my hunch. I’ve been a blogger for nine years already, with a personal blog called “huminbean“. I love blogging, it’s a form that really works for me. I read my favorite blogs every day. I love reading people’s personal stories and feeling like I connect with other people through their writing and photos. I thought, “Why not start a new blog, where I could share these interviews, and my personal story?” So, in January of this year, I did just that.

And the new blog, as you can see, is alive and well. Dream Big Cape Breton grows more every day, and I’ve been asked to do two speaking engagements on the basis of it. I’ll probably still do some writing for the local paper, but this blog, where I’m able to have creative control and follow my hunches, is where I’m focusing my energy.

So none of this was really planned. Or, it was, but only in small bits. One idea leads to another. From that next idea, you get ideas and plans for the next little while. And call it cliched, but it really is a journey. You really do have to figure it out as you go along. And that’s exhilarating, and it’s constantly amazing.

My little Ford Escort always patiently waits for me where I've parked her.

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Q+A with Laura MacFarlane

Laura MacFarlane and her husband Derek on a kid-free vacation in Punta Cana last year.

Q+A is a regular feature now on Dream Big Cape Breton. These are interviews done over the Internet, via email or Facebook. I send someone 10 questions, then they write back their responses! It’s quicker than an in-person interview, and saves precious time and fuel. The questions vary from person to person but you’ll see a lot of similar questions being asked, especially the first three.

If you would be interested in being a Q+A participant, just contact me. I’m interested in everyone’s story.

Today’s Q+A is with Laura MacFarlane, a Big Baddeck resident and mother of two. Her husband Derek works in Fort McMurray for an independent trucking company and is home for a few weeks every other month.

1. What’s your age?

I’m 43 (for a few more months).

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

I was born in Toronto to Cape Breton parents, and then they moved back home when I was 3 months old. They didn’t want to raise a family in the city. Within seven years they had four children, must be that good Cape Breton air!

3. Your husband goes out west to work. How did that come about?

Opportunity was the main motivation. While he enjoyed his job here it was never going to grow into anything more. Frankly, he works away so that we can afford to stay here. Everything has doubled or even tripled in price. Twelve years ago we could fill our oil tank for 400$, today it costs 1200$!

4. Do you have kids? How old are they, and what do they like to do for fun?

We have two children. Paige is 13, and she loves horses, art, music and is very crafty. She’s a great artist and an all-around great kid! Kenzie, our son, is 10, and he’s all about hockey. He’s the goaltender for the Atom B team. They had a great year! We put eight thousand kilometers on the vehicle this winter just traveling for games. Almost every team is an hour away. We are really feeling the decline in population! However, it is worth the time and money to keep him busy and happy. He also plays the clarinet and the tin whistle. They are great kids and have adjusted well to our situation.

5. What is a typical “day in the life” for you?

I run around a lot with the kids, to the rink, the barn, 4H, etc. I try to keep them busy! We also love to ski and swim. We are lucky to have two sets of grandparents living here, and a great-grandfather! Family is very important to us.

6. Who are your favourite Cape Breton musicians?

I love Rosie & Jonny! [Rosie MacKenzie and Jonny Muise] Kate Oland is one of my favorites, she gave me a CD a few years ago and I treasure it. My husband Derek also plays & sings. Larry, Tracey, Michael are favorites too. [Local guys who play a lot at the Legion, local pubs, etc.] Gordie Sampson is also great.

7. Do you think you’ll stay in CB down the road, or have you thought about moving?

We talk about it every once and a while but doubt we ever will. The kids are happy and safe here. They have great friends and lots of family. And Derek is going on a month-on, month-off rotation! That will be a walk in the park after having him away 8-12 weeks at a time.

8. Swimming – ocean or river?

The river for sure, but I like the ocean too, in August!

9. Summer or winter in CB?

Winter! I work all summer at our family restaurant so I don’t get to do much during the summer months.

10. What excites you about where you live? (This could be community stuff, or it could be stuff you love about the natural world, or whatever!)

I love how vast and wild it is here. So untouched. My friends who come to visit and unwind say they love the quiet, laidback feeling that they only get here. I see the future of Cape Breton as positive. More and more people are needing peace, balance and calm, and we can provide that!

To read more interviews on the Dream Big blog, click here!

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The weekend

Like I’ve said before, my weekends are sacred resting time. As much as possible, anyway. I thank my boyfriend for this – he’s a tradesman and works hard during the week. On weekends he likes to rest. When I first met him I thought this was laziness and lack of interest in hobbies or hikes. It took me some time and some adjusting to realize that it wasn’t, that it was just that he’s really good at knowing how to balance himself. And that he knows that the world isn’t going to end, just because he spends two days vegging out and relaxing.

It’s a refreshing attitude, especially for me, because I tend towards panic and doing too much. It’s really good to practice letting go, on a regular basis. For some people, meditation works. For us, it’s stretchy pants, TV and snacks, and a box of wine.

Here are some pictures from the weekend. The first bunch are my drive from Baddeck, over Kelly’s Mountain, and over Boularderie to George’s River and my boyfriend’s house. The last twenty or so are from my “church” – my Sunday morning walk along the roadside. I don’t attend church in the literal sense, but for me taking a walk along the road by myself is a way for me to show devotion to my God. (Whoever that is – that’s a topic for a whole other post, I’m sure!)

Stay tuned this week for more awesome posts! I’ve got a couple of Q+As coming down the pipe, as well as some other fun things.

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