Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Watch where you walk

published in the South Shore Breaker - October 19, 2016
We all know by now that walking is good for us, but where we walk matters too. According to an online article I read recently, students who strolled through an arboretum improved their performance on a memory test more than students who walked along city streets. 

So how does walking in nature affect aging brains? Do our memories improve as well? I certainly hope so! 

Thanks to two of my friends, I seem to have added hiking on trails to my walking excursions. Nothing strenuous, mind you. I consider my hiking the same as walking, but in a beautiful environment. I'd like to tell you about two of my recent trail adventures, both quite different in location and accessibility, but each beautiful in their own way.

In mid September, my husband and I took a  drive to Kejimkujik National Park on Highway 8 in central Nova Scotia. On our way to the Park, we stopped in Caledonia at the Hollow Log CafĂ© for a late lunch. Perhaps eating a bowl full of chili and more than my share of a piece of peanut butter pie wasn't the wisest move before attempting a long hike, but it sure tasted good. 

A short drive from the restaurant, and we arrived at our destination. Admission cost the two of us less than twelve dollars, and the trail we were after was just a few kilometres into the Park. Most of the drive was on a well paved road but the last couple of kilometres was on a very narrow gravel road, just wide enough for one vehicle. The roads are not maintained after the Park closes in mid October, so your walk could be a lot longer during the winter months if you are without four wheel drive.
The Hemlocks and Hardwoods trail is made up of a well groomed trail and a long boardwalk. Visitors are asked to keep on the boardwalk to protect the fragile roots of the hemlock trees.
Hemlocks and Hardwoods is a very well maintained trail, and easy walking. The trail is five kilometres long, but after a heavy lunch it seemed a lot longer. Hiking time is listed as one hour, but if you're like me and carry a camera that one hour walk can easily turn into double the time. Much of the trail is on boardwalk to keep people from damaging the forest floor and sensitive roots of the hemlock trees and makes walking easy peasy for people who are not hardy hikers. Informative signs along the way explain the different stages of the forest, which I'm sure are especially appreciated by city and town folks like me.
This eastern hemlock is estimated to be 400 years old, with nearby trees at least 275 years old.  Trees like this are becoming increasingly rare in Nova Scotia, but are protected in Kejimkujik National Park.
According to one of those signs, an eastern hemlock in the old growth forest is the largest tree in the stand and is estimated to be 400 years old. Six nearby hemlocks are at least 275 years old. We sat on the nearby bench for a while just listening to the silence in wonderment at the specimens. It makes my heart ache to think how scarce old growth forests have become.
This hemlock started growing in a thin cover of moss on top of the boulder. Its roots reached over the edge and into the ground.  The tree clings to life because people have damaged the roots by climbing on the rock.
We left the Park wondering why it had taken us eight years to visit. It is truly a gem that more people should experience.

My latest hiking adventure was just as magical, but much different. Two friends and I headed to Micou's Island, a 22 acre tidal island located on Indian Point, just a short distance from our famous Peggy's Cove. 

Food is always an important consideration for me, and the three of us met at the White Sails Bakery and Deli to stock up with goodies to take with us to the trails. It was a little surprising to me that the bakery staff hadn't heard of where we were headed, literally just minutes down the road. Just an example of how our province needs to work better at promoting our natural resources. 
Micou's Island is on Indian Point, just a short distance from our famous Peggy's Cove. It is a tidal island, which requires planning to arrive within a couple hours before low tide to ensure your feet don't get wet while crossing.
The Micou family purchased the island in the 1930's, hence the name. In 2007, the property was bought after a community fundraising campaign and is managed jointly by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and the St. Margaret's Bay Stewardship Association. There is a restored cottage on the island, as well as a beach and two trails that are not actively maintained. It's important to watch your feet for rocks and roots along the ground as well as your head for fallen trees that are across the narrow paths. The trails aren't well marked and we found ourselves wandering a couple of times, so turned back to walk along the island's coast.
The Sandy Beach Trail on Micou's Island meanders around the coast and through the edge of the woods of the 22 acre island.
We found some large rocks by the shore, and ate our bakery sandwiches and carrot cake by the water listening to the shore birds and waves. Could life get better than this? 

The hike around the 22 acre island was beautiful. Along the shore, through the trees, there was lots to look at and enjoy. We started our venture about 2 hours before low tide to ensure we could walk across to the island without getting our feet wet, and we had lots of time to explore as well as sit and relax and just take in the views. 

Did you know you can be trendy just by taking a walk in the woods? A Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku has become popular world wide. By "forest bathing" you can become more healthy, both physically and mentally. And that's something good to focus on.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Fabulous Fall

published in the Chronicle Herald - October 10, 2016
There s something about the smell of the air in the fall that sets it apart from the other seasons. There is an underlying coolness, a crispness in the evenings that is a welcome respite after the summer heat. 
This summer was especially difficult for our gardens and for people living with wells. I know quite a few people who are still struggling with a lack of water, and it makes me thankful yet again for our decision to move from our country property into town.

But one thing our town property doesnt have is apple trees. Our former property was blessed with lots of trees. According to our neighbours, some of the trees were well over 100 years old. Over the years we lived there, we discovered that some of the apples were better than others. The deer and the porcupines weren't choosy, though, and cleaned up all of the drop apples for us.
four of the apple varieties from the trees on our former property
The trees werent like the orchard trees that are planted now. They reached quite a height, and I would have needed a very tall ladder to reach the apples at the top of the trees. I was content with picking what I could reach, and leaving the rest for the deer and other wildlife.
the apple peeler from Lee Valley Tools made peeling a bucket of apples a lot easier
We purchased a hand crank apple peeler with adjustable blades from Lee Valley Tools, a handy gadget that made peeling hundreds of apples a much easier task. I froze many bags of apples to use for apple crisps over the winter months. Mmmm...the scent of apples and cinnamon and nutmeg baking are some of the scents I associate with the colder months. I never did learn to make pie crusts. My moms home made pies are one of the things I really miss from my childhood. She died when I was quite young, taking her baking secrets with her.

One year, I decided to try making batches of apple sauce. A novice, I added too much water and the sauce ended up being somewhere between a thick cider or a very thin sauce. Not my best homesteading experiment. I shared a jar with our neighbours, which Im sure gave them a few chuckles about the city folk next door.
my first batch of apple sauce from our own apples - a little bit runny!
My dreams about bountiful vegetable gardens and a full root cellar never came to fruition. I was thankful for farmers markets and food stands at the fall craft markets to obtain wonderful jams, pickles and relishes. Home made goodness captured in jars.

We always had a supply of squash. Never planted, but grown from seeds in our compost pile. Im happy to say that tradition has followed us to our home in town. Spreading our compost on our gardens this spring resulted in several acorn squash vines growing, and as I write this we have at least seven squash waiting to be picked. A meager result by some standards, but enough to keep this gardeners heart happy. Split in half and roasted with a dab of butter and maple syrup, squash is one of my favourite vegetables.

Another thing Ill miss this fall about our home in the country is the wood burning stove. I do enjoy our new propane fireplace, but turning on a switch to light the fire isnt quite the same. The smell of the burning wood, and the crackling of the fire gives me such a feeling of comfort. It brings me back to my childhood home, reading in front of the fireplace on the weekends. My husband always grumbled about hauling the wood and cleaning the ashes but I felt it was a small price to pay, especially since he was the one doing it. I learned to be an expert at building and lighting the fires, which was a far cry from the first fires we built. Our first fire ended up in opened windows and the smell of smoke that we couldn't get rid of for days. Our next attempts had the fire burning so hot it was an understatement to call them roaring. But we learned over time and enjoyed many years of a softly glowing fire, a welcoming sight and smell.

Fall brings comfort foods back on our menus. Home made stews, soups and chili, hearty pastas, fresh baked bread and biscuits. As winter wears on I'll be longing for our days of summer barbecues, but for now I am looking forward to the change in menu as well as the change in season. A new season always brings something good to focus on.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Personal Story About Cancer

published in the Chronicle Herald - Oct 3, 2016 and South Shore Breaker - Oct 5, 2016

Imagine your worst personal nightmare. Now imagine it came true. How would you react and what would you do? The answers may surprise you.
When I was a young and naive eighteen year old, I attended a one week training assignment with a bank in Toronto. While I was away from home, I received a phone call from my dad telling me that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and would be undergoing surgery the next day. The following day I was feeling quite ill while I was on my training course, and was sent to a doctor. It turned out that I had chicken pox and was sent home on a two hour taxi ride because I was contagious and couldnt travel on public transit.
Because of my chicken pox, I wasnt able to visit my mom in the hospital and had to stay away from her for a short time after she returned home. Looking back, I think we were forced to stay away from each other at a time when we probably needed each other the most. Treatments werent as good thirty five years ago, and my mom died just three years later, when I was 21.
Losing my mother at a young age impacted me in ways I never gave myself time to deal with. She was a fantastic cook and baker, but I didnt get a chance to spend time in the kitchen with her and learn how to make her specialties. It has been almost 40 years since I tasted pie as good as she used to make.
I never got a chance to talk with her about life, woman to woman. She wasnt there to give me advice when my son was born, or when my marriage fell apart. She wasnt there to celebrate with me when I found my true partner and got married quietly at home. I wasnt able to talk with her about the challenges of aging. There is a huge hole in my heart that never got filled.

Then my biggest nightmare came true. When I was 49, a spot was found on my mammogram. Surgery was required, and I found myself sitting in the surgeons office a couple of weeks later hearing the results. I had breast cancer. Numbly, I asked the doctor if we could call my husband into the room. We heard the details together and, not knowing what else to do once we left the doctors office, kept our plans to go grocery shopping and walked around the store in a daze.
After diagnosis, everyone's personal journey is different. My experience was not a fight or a battle, but a quiet acceptance and determination to do everything I could to help myself.
Being diagnosed with cancer is a scary thing and everyones personal journey is different. Emotional stages can include denial or shock, anger, stress or depression, fear, acceptance, and fight and hope. Friends and family may surprise you. Some people who you expect to be solid support are no help at all. And some people who you barely know might turn out to be the best support system you have.

Since my mother died of breast cancer when I was young, and my maternal grandmother also died of breast cancer years before I was born, the doctors were dedicated in screening me from an early age. We thought we may have to face my worst nightmare and we prepared ourselves. For this reason, someone close to me told me that I had brought the cancer on myself by thinking about it. What a devastating comment to make. I will never forget that conversation, and I try to choose my words very carefully when someone tells me about an illness they are facing.

Conversely, someone I had only met briefly contacted me and offered to meet with me. She invited me into her home and told me her personal story. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and passed along her experiences and advice to me, something she had no obligation to do. Her kindness and information helped me prepare for the unknown. We all have different experiences, but talking to someone who has gone through something similar is very helpful.

Lots of people don
t visit the doctor when something changes or seems wrong. Many women dont have mammograms because they think it will hurt, or they dont have time, or for a variety of other reasons. My advice is to suck it up and be brave. A few moments of discomfort just might save your life.
After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt it was important to stay positive. I used my photography and writing skills to put together inspirational images.
I faced my worst fear and the world didnt end. I couldnt control the disease, but I could control my reaction to it. My experience wasnt a fight or a battle, it was an acceptance and determination to do everything I could to help myself. I had the support of family and friends. I faced surgery, radiation treatments, and went through five years of drug therapy.  I try to believe in the positive and treasure each day. That is truly something good to focus on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Help Shape Your Future (Bridgewater)

Published September 28, 2016
Home is where you hang your hat. Some of us are forced to live where we can find work, but some of us are lucky enough to choose where we want to live. When I tell someone I live in Bridgewater, I often have to listen to their comments about everything thats wrong with the town. Is the glass half empty or half full? I lean towards the half full point of view. My interpretation is that things are good, and they are trending in the right direction.

Yes, the glass half empty people will say the downtown street is torn up right now and its a challenge to maneuver through the construction either on foot or in the car. Yes, the South Parkade is gone and we might have to walk a block to get to a store. But the glass half full people are thankful that the ugly parkade is gone and are looking forward to the day when we can sit on the boardwalk in Pijinuiskaq Park on the edge of the LaHave River. 
Aging infrastructure is being replaced. Thats not a fun thing to spend money on, but it has to be done. Its sort of like having to buy a new roof to protect your home. It would be a lot more pleasant to spend our hard earned money to buy some new art or electronics, but without a functioning roof there would be no home to enjoy.

Two women enjoy the ambiance of the King Street Court
Looking for a place to eat? Bridgewater has lots of choices that dont involve big chain restaurants. We have a Thai restaurant that is so good people travel from Halifax to eat there. We have a kid friendly coffee shop on King Street that serves delicious organic coffee, pastries, breakfast and lunch. We have a river front restaurant where you can sit on the deck and relax with food and drink and watch the river fountain. Thanks to relatively new by-laws, we have a couple of food trucks around the town where we can pick up a quick bite to eat that doesnt come from a chain. I could go on, but Im getting hungry and I need to finish this column.

Yes, the glass half empty people will tell you that the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre (LCLC) is a drain on our tax dollars and we need to figure out how to generate more operating income. But glass half full says its a state of the art complex and a hub for exercise and social well being. Our library is being utilized much more since moving to this location. As I take my twice a week swim, I marvel at how lucky I am to have access to such wonderful facilities at such a reasonable fee.
The Bridgewater Marina is a lovely place even if you don't own a boat
If you prefer to walk or ride a bicycle, the trails and parks in Bridgewater are second to none. I have access to an eight kilometer multi use trail just half a block from where I live. The trail loops through forests and parks and around the town. Another option for our daily walk with our two dogs is through the marina. We take a walk down to the marina and by the boats, and then take a break at one of the landscaped seating areas before we head down the road and onto the Centennial Trail. And, sometime in the next year or so, there will even be a dog park for lovers of our four legged companions to enjoy.
The Centennial Trail is enjoyed by dogs as well as humans
I have to be honest, and admit that I slip into the glass half empty mode when it comes to arts and culture. However, lets think about Art Happening, the Growing Green Festival, and the Afterglow Festival, to name just a few. Glass half full me would like to see this trend continue. One can dream of a theatre space, perhaps combined with dedicated space for a year round farmers market.

No matter where you live in Nova Scotia, you have the opportunity to vote for your municipal council in the next couple of weeks. The people running for office are willing to dedicate their time to help shape the future of the place you live. Do they have the same vision as you? Do you like the way things are, or would you like to see changes? Please take some time and find out about the people who are willing to become the leaders of the town or municipality where you live. Come out and talk to them at local debates or meet and greets. Ask them for their vision, and then place your vote on election day. Our future is something we all need to focus on.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Photographing furry friends

Chronicle Herald - Sept 19, 2016

When you spend 17 years of your career in financial services and your job disappears, you are faced with a decision. Do you buckle down, and head out, and try to find yourself another job in the same field? Or do you step outside the corporate box and try something new? 
I faced that decision 18 years ago. I could say it was a tough decision, but it wasnt. The decision to try something new wasn't tough. But becoming the master of my own destiny was totally different from the white collar background I was raised in.

To the disbelief of many people who knew me at the time, I decided to start my own business. Not only my own business, but a dog biscuit business. Its fairly common now to see dog biscuits packaged by small companies, but 18 years ago it was not. I grew the business for ten years and then it was time for a new dream. We sold the company and decided to move to Nova Scotia.

I left the dog biscuit business behind, but I wanted to continue working with my love for animals. I created the Paws For Charity Art Book Project and for six years I compiled fund raising coffee table books using donated art and photography from artists around the world. I learned a lot about animal photography while working together with those generous people.  
Animals are very special to many of us. As we get older, some of us spend more time with our pets than we do with our kids. Similar to people portraits, animal portraits are best taken without a distracting background. Make sure you have a plain backdrop, or that you blur the background to keep only your pet in focus. If you cant keep the whole face in focus, make sure you keep the eyes sharp. Similar to the "candid versus posed" article I wrote a couple of months ago, its up to you to decide whether to pose your pet for a portrait or whether youd like a candid action shot.
Phantom and his shadow were perfectly framed by the shadow of our screen door
One of my favourite photos of our pets was totally unplanned. Our 18 year old cat Phantom was sitting in our screened in porch. Both he and his shadow was framed by the shadow of the screen door. I ran to get my camera and took the photo without him noticing.

After his death, we were without a cat for a couple of years, but finally it was time for a new feline and we headed to SHAID, our local animal shelter. Myrtle joined our family just after Christmas in 2012. Oddly enough, my favourite Myrtle photo was taken in the same screened in porch. Although I dont know a way to pose a cat, sometimes you can capture them in a pose of their own choosing. This example has a blurred background and Myrtle looking directly into the camera.
Myrtle strikes a pose
Dogs are much more obliging and are happy to work for praise or treats. Try to get down on their level. You will miss some great body language and expressions by requiring them to look up at you. Remember, although we often think it, dogs are not human. We cant tell them what to do. You need to be patient and creative. If you are trying to photograph a dog with a person, try dabbing a bit of peanut butter on the persons cheek (with their permission of course!) or have the person hold a treat to capture the dogs attention. Making strange sounds can also grab their interest, and supply some funny expressions.

When we are taking pictures of our own pets, its important to remember that we are capturing memories and our love for our animals. The image doesnt have to be perfect, it just has to mean something to us.

If you arent happy with your own pet photography results, or even if you are, there are local charities that photograph pets to fund raise for their cause. Supporting their events are a win-win situation. You end up with a great gift for yourself or a family member. The charity ends up with some much needed funds for their programs. And thats something good to focus on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Open Your Eyes

Published in the South Shore Breaker - September 14, 2016
I was listening to the radio the other day and heard someone from Newfoundland being interviewed. He said something that caught my attention. He never appreciated the beauty of his province until people from away started to visit and tell him how spectacular the scenery was.

I got to thinking. Maybe that applies to people in other places as well. I live in Nova Scotia, but I wasn't born here. I haven't yet got to the point where I take the beauty of Nova Scotia for granted. I don't need someone to visit me and tell me how spectacular it is here. I know.
Does that apply to everyone who lives here? Do our politicians understand what people love about our province?

I suspect that people who add Nova Scotia to their vacation list of places to see, or people who choose to make this province their new home, appreciate the peace and tranquility that come from the natural beauty of the area. The longer I live here, the stronger I believe that the people in charge don't get it. Maybe they haven't been visited by friends from away who tell them how beautiful our resources are. Maybe they have lived here all their lives and they just don't see anymore. 

I can drive down the road with a friend, glance out the car window, and spot a functioning fishing shed in the bay with red rowboat floating nearby. In the background sails a tall ship filled with tourists. Seeing something like that usually ends up with pulling the car over, grabbing the camera, and capturing the moment.

I can also drive down the road and see a seemingly endless stretch of land that has been stripped of it's trees, a waste land denuded of all living things. Whole forests taken down on crown land because the machines that harvest the trees are too big to be selective. Private land desecrated because it's better to get the cash now than leave it for someone else. Agencies that don't enforce laws. Government that abandons the commitment to reduce clearcutting. Biomass power generation that is inefficient and anything but "green". 

My heart aches.

But I can walk the beaches and trails and see skies so blue and so large that it's impossible for my camera to duplicate. 

My spirits soar.

Then I can visit towns where the sky is filled with emissions instead of clouds. The smell in the air is so bad that eating a summer lunch on an outside deck becomes a chore, not a pleasure. Songwriters can sing about the issue. Photography exhibits can illustrate the problems without saying a word. But our government does not enforce the regulations already in place.

Still, my love of this place cannot be broken. 

I can spend a couple of hours in a friend's boat touring the waters around some islands and see seals basking on the rocks. I can hear their strange calls, and glory in the wonders of nature.

Conversely, I can read about hundreds of homes along the rivers and ocean that pump their waste straight into the water. A young student can get thousands of people to rally behind her to press our local government to make token changes. But our provincial government does not enforce the existing environmental laws to eliminate the problem. According to our local MLA, there are not enough resources to do the job that needs to be done. Apparently there is also not enough will.

Our government allocates our resources to give hundreds of millions of dollars to large corporations, companies that often fold up and leave the province without fulfilling their promises.

But we don't have the resources to protect the very thing that brings our tourists. Our environment is beautiful enough to convince people to leave the places they live and move here instead, but not special enough for our government to protect.

And now our politicians have given their okay to spray over 1300 hectares of woodland with glyphosate, a poison that the World Health Organization deemed a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

It's enough to bring the most positive thinker down. 

What will it take for our politicians to open their eyes and see? How much more will it take for our politicians to look into their hearts and do what is right and protect our most valuable resources? For truly, that is what we all need to focus on.
Wounded by Sara Harley

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hiking the High Head Trail

Published in the South Shore Breaker - Sept 7, 2016
One of the things to be thankful for is friendships that lead you to new adventures and discoveries. All of us know about Peggys Cove and the spectacular granite rocks. I was recently introduced to an amazing place that rivals the scenery around that famous cove, but lacks the droves of tourists. A couple of weeks ago I went hiking on the High Head Trail in Prospect with a couple of friends.

Just a 30 minute drive from downtown Halifax, it took us about one and a half hours from the South Shore to arrive at the small parking area. The trail is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and is part of the Dr. Bill Freedman Nature Reserve, a 372 acre area of protected coastal barrens and forest. There are no facilities, and no signage. The four kilometre trail is quite easy to follow and I would rate the difficulty as moderate, but I
m not a hiker. There are lots of rocks on the well trodden paths, which meant a lot of looking down for me as I was walking. My bursitis filled hip was talking to me by the end of the afternoon, but the scenery was spectacular and a sore body was a small price to pay.

hikers on the ridge show the proportion of the landscape
It constantly surprises me how often I think to myself that I am so very lucky to live in Nova Scotia.

Oh my. The beauty of the area is amazing. There are two approaches to the trail and we parked at the end near Prospect Village. We hiked up the hill covered in rocks at the beginning of the trail and quickly came to a beautiful ocean view. The constant breeze was a blessing on the hot summer day that we were there. The wind swept barrens were abundant with low growing plants, most of which I didn
t know. There were boggy areas with cranberries that will be ripe for the picking in the fall. Wild irises were everywhere, and I made a note to myself to come back early next summer to see them in bloom.

It seems every time I hike with my friend, I learn something about nature. This trip introduced me to pitcher plants, which I had never seen growing wild before. Carnivorous plants with a single dull reddish flower rising on a leafless stalk, the pitcher holds water to trap insects. We carefully walked over the spongy ground to take a close look at them.

Reading about the area after I returned from our hike, I learned that the granite barrens purify the ground water prior to its entry into the ocean. Regardless of their role in nature, the rocks are stunning and a joy to climb on, or simply just stand on and take in the endless beauty of the area.

a sailboat in the distance enjoys the area in a different way

They also make good resting spots to stop and eat. If you want nourishment along the way, you have to pack it in and you just couldnt ask for a more beautiful location for dining. We watched a colony of cormorants and a few seagulls while we relaxed. A couple of fishing boats went by, and we saw several sailboats in the distance. A while later we snacked on some wild beach peas, similar to the garden variety but smaller. Theres nothing like freshly picked peas.
scavenged beach peas make a great snack
A small fork in the trail led us between two boulders, one of which was painted with the words "HMS Fantome 18 gun rig sank in storm off this shore Nov 24, 1814". Another internet search when I got home revealed that the ship was originally a French privateer which the British captured and commissioned into service in 1810. The ship saw extensive action in the War of 1812 and was shipwrecked at Prospect in 1814. Not many hikes can provide a history lesson as well as a nature lesson!

We hiked for over four hours and probably didn
t see more than twenty people the whole time. Our hiking included a lot of stopping to gawk and a lot of photography. Not many walked as far as we did, and many people had dogs with them.
lots of photo opportunities, and a great area for dogs
We just couldnt have asked for a better day. Sunshine. Cool breeze. Ocean air. Spectacular scenery.

I hadn
t even finished walking the trail, and my mind was busy thinking about all the times Id like to return to take photographs. Late in the day with the setting sun. Fall for the crimson cranberries. Winter for photographing the area under much different circumstances. And late spring to capture the irises in bloom.

Or maybe I
ll just return with my walking shoes. Ill relax and enjoy. Ill focus on the sights with my eyes, not my camera. And Ill fill my heart. And my soul.