Friday, March 30, 2012

It's Nice Just To Be Nominated!

I've written six articles for Saltscapes magazine over the past few years (under my original name of Sara Jewell) and twice, the editor, Heather White, selected one of my articles to submit to the Atlantic Journalism Awards. This year, my Fall 2011 story about our experience with the ospreys who nest very close to our home ("The Circle of Life") is a finalist in the category of Atlantic Magazine Article.
When I first saw the published piece, I was so impressed with the photos by Perry Jackson (who also did the photos for my other submitted piece back in 2008) and with Shawn Dalton's layout of those photos.Always a team effort when you work with Saltscapes, and I'm just the word girl.
Thanks to Perry, Shawn and Heather at Saltscapes for making those words look so good.

(I can't wait for the osprey to return so I can tell them the good news.) 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Conversation With...Dean Dormiedy

First published in The Oxford Journal on March 14, by Sara Mattinson

Born and raised in Collingwood, living part of his 18 years in the house in which his mother was born and raised, Dean Dormiedy has taken himself off to London to pursue his dream in music. 
Now, that’s setting the scene a bit rich: Dean is not a budding rock star and he’s not in England rubbing shoulders with Chris Martin. But what this young man is pursuing is even bigger than anything he could have imagined during his four years at Oxford Regional Education Centre. 
“I’m at the Ontario Institute for Audio Recording Technology,” Dean explains while home on spring break two weeks ago. “I’m a hometown kind of person but it was the best school I could find for the kind of thing I want to get into so I had to sacrifice staying home for the better education.”
He compares London, Ontario, to Halifax and Truro but is surprised by how nice people in his new city of 350,000 turned out to be.
“That wasn’t something I was expecting,” he  admits. “How friendly everyone is. I thought they’d be angry, you know, in the city.” 
Making the transition from rural Nova Scotia had its challenges.
“There was a lot of adapting I had to do to get used to living in a place like that. Like having a sidewalk right out front and looking out the window with hardly a foot between houses,” Dean says. “It’s really fast-paced in the city so it’s nice to be back here. Especially driving around here where it’s not as pressured. I have my car up there but I bought a bike because it’s just as fast for me to bike anywhere as it is to drive.”
The sacrifices are worth it. Only 64 students are accepted at OIART a year, resulting in two small classes of 32.  Not only that, it’s an intensive 11-month program that runs six days a week. Dean often works in the music lab until midnight. 
“They do a three-year plan in 11 months,” Dean explains. “It’s pretty intense. It’s sort of an audio immersion program. You really have to be sold to it. They give you 11 courses right off the bat and that was a big wake-up, going from high school with four courses but it’s all related and interconnected. What we learn in the morning, we use later in the day. For example, we’d learn about an effect that can be used for recording a band then another teacher would put that into pictures and how you would involve that effect in a movie, like for sound design in animation. There’s a lot of things to pay attention to.”
Dean is a self-taught musician, playing mostly guitar and a bit of keyboard and drums. 
“My first musical experience was with Matthew Cotton. He lived across the road, and I used to go across and listen to him play the guitar for hours.” 
He was seven years old then so early on, some part of him recognized this calling (he doesn’t come from a particularly musical family) because Dean set about learning the skills that his formal education could not provide.
“I took guitar lessons for years and that helps out with the musical aspect of [the program], to know music itself because you need to be able to talk to musicians in the language they speak. The [Grade 10 music] course I took was helpful, too. But what started this whole thing for me was participating in the Tantramar Youth Music Program.   We ended up going to a studio in Halifax and recording an album there. That was huge, a really awesome experience. That’s what really sold me to go do it.”
So much so, he only applied to three schools that offered the kind of program he wanted (his back-up plan is to become a mechanic, like his father, since he likes working with his hands).
“I went up there with the mindset I was going to record bands and work in a recording studio but after we did our first production project, where we had to get a guy in and record his song, I realized how intense it is to work in a studio and talking to people who are living that life, it’s not something I want to do.”
“I’m kind of being sold on the acoustic aspect of it,” Dean admits. “We have a course about the propagation of sound in a room and how to predict it. It’s about building diffusers to try and control problem frequencies in a room as well as how to test rooms to see if there are any problems in it. It involves math and calculations which is something I’ve always been big on, and building and working with things hands on which is also something I like to do. It seems to be the thing I’m falling for the most right now.”
Speaking of which, part of the sacrifice for this new passion meant enduring a breakup with a longtime girlfriend as their lives and plans diverged. There’s  no time for a social life in London, either. Dean is completely immersed in the world of audio but at the moment, he’s not concerned about his heart.
“I’m more cautious about my hearing now.”
At the halfway point of the course, Dean isn’t sure where he’s going to be this time next year but with a 95 per cent employment rate for OIRAT graduates, one thing is sure: He won’t be coming home to Collingwood. 
“With this course alone, I could go into an acoustics firm but if I really wanted to get serious about it, I’ll have to take an acoustics architectural design course.”
The opportunities opening up to Dean are more exciting than he ever imagined as a seven-year-old discovering a love for music. All because he was brave enough to follow his heart to the distant sounds of the big city.

Photo: Dean in the basement of his parents' house in Collingwood with his first sound board. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Meet Our Co-op Student

We are fortunate to have a co-op student with us this spring, from Oxford Regional Education Centre. Emily Truesdale is in Grade 11 and already knows she wants to be a journalist. So her first job, right off the top, is to produce an article each week about what's going on at the high school. The Journal is always interested in printing those types of articles but they can be hard to rustle up; they need to be well-written and they need to arrive consistently (as in, by Tuesday morning every week).
From my point of view, it's going to be fun to mentor a young, budding writer, help her create a portfolio for when she begins to apply to journalism school. Just so happens, I picked up a magazine while travelling through the Orlando airport a couple of weeks ago - it's the American version of our "More" magazine - and in it is a great profile of the new editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramsom. She is the first woman to head the well-established newspaper. Since the profile goes into detail about her career and the challenges she has faced, it's a good piece to share with Emily. I have an office full of papers I've collected, many of them stories about the success of other writers. It's all about inspiration and motivation.

About her choice of co-op placement, Emily told me, "I think the best place to learn how to do something is where it happens so the best place to learn to write for a paper is at a newspaper."
Even though she's only 16, Emily has a pretty firm grip on her interests.
"At first, I thought I wanted to be novelist but then I realized how much I like reading newspaper. I love the way they are written. I like the way each story is written, they are different depending on the writer. My family has always been a newspaper family, my father would read articles out loud."
She's enthusiastic about the profession - and isn't that nice to hear in an age when newspapers, books, magazines are in danger of becoming extinct?
"Newspapers are out every day and I want to be a part of that," Emily said.
I'm looking forward to working with Emily every Tuesday until June.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

First Day At The Beach

It was a big day for two people on Thursday afternoon.
When I phoned my friend Jane to see if Abby and I could join her and Sam for their after-work walk in town, she said,"I have a better idea. Why don't I pick you up and we go for a walk on the beach?"
I wasn't about to say no to that; I would have said yes if it had been snowing hard all day. For years, I haven't been able to walk with my dog at the beach because she is dog-aggressive and a failure at recall (when I call, she takes a messageand gets back to me later). Abby is a different dog and the beginning of a new kind of freedom for me. I might even make some friends now.
So this was my five-month-old puppy's first time ever at the beach. She and Sam had their usual good time chasing each other around but it only got better when we found a "lost" floater Kong with a rope on it bobbing by the shore. Abby is not afraid of the water at all so she tasted salty whenever I kissed her the rest of the evening.
While we were there, a woman charged down the sand towards the water, stripping off clothes as she went until she wading into the water wearing only a bathing suit. A friend took her picture then she ran back to shore, hooting. I know what she wanted: to be able to say she went swimming on March 22 when it was sunny and 25 degrees.
I said to my friend Jane that I should take a picture for the newspaper then realized I didn't have a pen and paper on which to record her name and the names of her friends.Oops. Too excited about going to the beach for the first time to remember the essentials. Jane has her Beach Survival Kit (towel, water, extra clothes) so I need mine: notebook, pens, camera, book, snacks, a bottle of wine.
What? It's how I do the beach. Actually, that's the survival kit I pack for anything. Yeah, you want to be stuck in a snowstorm on the Cobequid Pass with me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dog Training the Human

First published in The Oxford Journal on February 29, 2012, by Sara Mattinson

When I told my husband that I was going to enrol the puppy in an obedience class, he looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted another head. 
“Why would you want to spend money on obedience classes?” he asked.
And that’s when the city girl and the country boy locked horns. To him, training a puppy means putting her outside to figure things out as she goes then correcting whatever she’s done wrong. For me, a dog must understand half a dozen basic commands or cues in order to be a properly trained dog: Sit, Wait, Stay, Watch, Off, and Come. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about dogs (but it applies to so many other aspects of life) is “Start as you mean to go on” so obedience classes are a proactive way to prevent unwanted behaviour from developing in the first place. 
When I asked my friend Jane for her opinion, she wanted to know if the classes were about training or socialization. 
“Both,” I answered but after thinking about it for a bit, I amended. “Training for me and socialization for her.”
When it comes to training, I’m the one who needs the classes. Jane also has a puppy and watching my friend interact with both dogs during our walks together, I recognized immediately who Jane is: she is the alpha dog. Jane gives off that unmistakable energy of “I’m in charge. Aren’t you just the cutest? Don’t mess with me,” that dogs not only respond to but respect. 
The only reason I get respect is because of a pocket full of peanut butter flavoured treats. My energy needs a boost of confidence and I get that from hanging out with people who have a natural affinity for working with dogs. They remind me that every moment with a dog is a training moment; Jane says walking through the woods is the most important time for a dog to have perfect recall, meaning I can’t be thinking about columns when we’re walking, I have to pay attention to the pup.
At the same time, though, it’s essential that my puppy be exposed to as many dogs and people and places as possible in order to make her confident and calm in the world. It’s one thing to teach her to be a country dog (ride on a four-wheeler, not chase the chickens, know the boundaries of our two-acre yard) but it’s another thing to take her into town or to the vet or on a trip and have her comfortable with vastly different boundaries. 
Living in the country limits opportunities to socialize a dog, and that’s where obedience classes come in handy. Teach me how to make my dog to be fully prepared to participate in the world beyond our homestead. Socialize her so that she can go on trips, in a walk-a-thon, to a nursing home or hospital and be relaxed and good mannered. 
A well-behaved dog is a welcomed dog.
Good manners are never more important then when a truck pulls into the driveway. A dog must  know it can never, ever jump up on the side of a vehicle because several long, deep toenail scratches down the driver’s door of a brand new  truck is the kind of bad behaviour that can put a friendship in the dog house. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Sure Sign of Spring

Sure, it's well-known that Spring 2012 arrived around 2 a.m. this morning but in our neck of the woods,  the way to be sure spring has arrived -- and by that I mean, real spring, not a vernal equinox that doesn't account for the annual Easter snow storm -- is the changing of the flag.
After a year of Nova Scotia weather:

Fresh and ready to flap:

My father, who taught me how to hang a flag and whose ashes are buried a short distance away from the flag pole, is restly quietly again. Dirty cars and tattered flags were the two things he could not, would not abide!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Planting The Seed

Apparently, it's time to start planting seeds if you have a greenhouse. Well, we do, thanks to a third building project for my husband, following the chicken coop in 2008 and the garden shed in 2009. Which is why he has declared the summer of 2011 a No Building Summer. He thinks he's going to golf and fish but there are just a few little things that need to be done around this big yard of ours...
"It's time to start seeds in the greenhouse," I said to my husband the other night.
"Funny, I was just thinking that the other day," he replied, which tends to be his standard reply, if you want any insight into how well-matched we are. I am the ideas person in this relationship - Wouldn't it be nice to have a greenhouse? - and he makes those ideas, if plausible, a reality - Look what I built for you, honey.
With all the snow we had last winter, we couldn't get to the greenhouse in time to start seeds in April; then the rains in May and June kind of took the planting wind out of everyone's garden sails. So this year, we are planning to make proper use of our sturdy little greenhouse.

I love spending time out there; it's so quiet and peaceful. Wasps built a nest in it last summer and I wouldn't let my husband destroy it; it was rather soothing to be inside, tending to tomato and lettuce plants, and my clematis (gone "into storage" for the summer because of the renovation) while the bees buzzed. Since we spent most of last summer living at my mother's summer home, I'm looking forward to more days and longer periods in the greenhouse from now on, and to inspiration for writing to strike me as it often does when I'm concentrating on a task, like washing dishes or shaving my legs or digging in the gardens (it's only in the bathtub that I have trouble writing the thoughts down). Not that I need an excuse to buy a notebook but it's time to find the perfect greenhouse journal.
I'm not sure, though, what seeds to plant. My husband is the vegetable man, I'm in charge of flowers. Perhaps another clematis, some phlox because I need more of those, and the wild and delicate cosmos that being me such joy every summer. Perhaps I'll just rely on the usual method: stand in front of the seed packets and grab every one that says "You need me!".

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In Conversation With...Elaine King

First published in The Oxford Journal on February 15, by Sara Mattinson

For some of us, there are not enough hours in the day for reading. Too many good books, too little time. Yet for much of her long life, Elaine King of Pugwash has managed to read a book a day. 
“A certain party who shall remain nameless gave me 28 hardcover books for Christmas,” Elaine announces as soon as the interview begins in the house she shares with her husband of more than twenty years. A sidelong glance at George’s cherubic face confirms he is the nameless party. “And each one of them was wrapped individually.” 
That’s how a man who falls asleep before he finishes the first chapter of any book lives with a woman who reads a book a day: He shops for her. The entire middle row of the bookcase in their living is filled with those Christmas gifts. And by now, Elaine has read them all. 
“I started reading when I was eight years old,” the 81-year-old former Canada Post employee says. “I had diphtheria and my teacher was reading a chapter a day of a book. I was out for about three weeks and by the time I went back, she had finished the book. She loaned it to me and I took it home and that’s when I really started to read.”
The daughter of parents originally from England, she also read British newspapers, magazines and books sent to her by her cousins. (She also is a 45-year devotee of the television show, Coronation Street, which drives the jovial George out of the living room because he can’t understand a word the actors say.)
Elaine grew up in Springhill where her father worked at the mines. 
 “My father was a prodigious reader,” Elaine remembers. “He didn’t have access to the books I do, nor the money to spend on them, but when the mines closed and the library opened, he walked uptown every day, from Monument Hill, to take out a book a day.”
Marriage and four children did not quell Elaine’s love of reading. 
“It was a family joke: The dishes go under the sink and Mama is sitting in the rocking chair with a bag of peppermints and a book. That’s what my kids say they remember when they were little.”
To fuel her book-a-day habit, her tastes must be, by necessity, wide-ranging. 
“Sometimes it’s trash, like this stuff,” she says, smacking a paperback romance lying on the table next to her blue recliner, “and sometimes it’s heavy stuff. There is one thing I won’t read, though,” Elaine is adamant. “I won’t read westerns. I just don’t like cowboy stories! I love a good mystery, I love a good medical story. And romance.”
Elaine says she reads every biography she can get her hands on so she’s read the life stories of both  Maureen McTeer and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as anything about the Royal Family. 
“I like books about people and their lives. You’re learning another person’s view of the world.” 
What were her favourite books as a child? 
“The L.M. Montgomery books,” Elaine answers without hesitation. “I think I read them all before I was ten years old. I was in my teens when I got into the later ones, the Ingleside books. I really liked those.”
Elaine lost both her father and her first husband in 1980, and ten years would pass before she would meet George on a blind date. 
“It’s worked out very well,” Elaine chortles. 
It’s a perfect match. George likes watching television, and doing crosswords and puzzles. Elaine can read with the television on without being distracted from her book. Surprisingly, their  one-bedroom apartment in Pugwash isn’t dominated by bookshelves. There are only two, actually, in the bedroom and the living room. Given that Elaine reads more than 300 books a year, there would be no room for the two of them, and their 14-year-old cat Alfie, if Elaine kept every book George brought home (for it is George who buys most of Elaine’s books now that she can’t get around very well). Elaine’s favourites take up the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the living room. Every book by Diana Gabaldon is there as well as early books by Ken Follett. She also enjoys the Prey series by John Sandford. 
“The hardest thing is getting them moved after I’ve read them,” Elaine admits. “I get so full then I put them in boxes and take them down to my daughter’s. We have a yard sale every summer.” 
 “I do a pretty good job of remembering which books Elaine has read,” says George, the chief book buyer.
George’s latest purchases, including Margaret Atwood, are stacked up on the coffee table. On the side table next to Elaine’s chair are two very thick books, the latest Tom Clancy and Elizabeth George novels which are over 600 pages each.
“The bigger, the better,” says Elaine. “Those will take me two or three days to read.” 
Would Elaine consider using an e-reader?
“No. I don’t like the idea. I get pleasure out of holding a book,” she says, grabbing the half-read paperback next to her and ruffling the pages between her fingers. “I want the feel and the weight of the book.”
Readers need hours but we also need snacks. Elaine has already shared her peppermint habit but when she’s asked about her favourite reading snacks these days, George starts to laugh. He laughs and laughs, loudly, as Elaine gets out of her chair and goes into the bedroom. She returns lugging a huge Christmas gift bag.
Also from George, it’s full of chocolates. Well, half-full; after all, it’s been 52 reading days since Christmas.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

We Thought She Was A Goner

I was going to write about the heartache, the life and death reality, of living in the country. I was going to write about how we would always associate our trip to Disney with the disappearance of our cat. I was going to write about how I'd hardened by heart to her once she became an indoor/outdoor cat because of the deadly twin certainties of the fox and the road.
But the cat didn't get mad at us for going away for a week and stay out all night in minus 12 temperatures and miss not only breakfast but supper nor was she eaten eaten by the fox.
She was locked in the garage for more than 48 hours.
Given the freezing rain that is forecasted, my husband ordered in tonnes of salt to fill up the dome at the local DOT garage so he wasn't home when I let the two dogs out early this morning. The pup returned to the door but the old girl didn't. When I called her and listened for the sounds of her trotting back, I heard instead, "Mew."
I called again then listened. Heard another mew, then the rooster crowing. Who said the country was quiet? Grabbing my keys, I headed to the garage and opened the door. No one was there but after I called out, "Hello?", Fern appeared, assured herself it was me then ran to the house.
Her first stop inside was at the dogs' water dish.
I called my husband at work. "Did you go into the garage on Saturday night?"
"Yeah, I wanted to make sure no one had been in it while we were away."
After a can of salmon dinner, Fern seemed less skittish but her green eyes remained as round as saucers. As if, just like us, she had seen the biggest mouse ever.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Country Girl and Her Cowboy

I was quite determined to have my picture taken with Woody from the Toy Story movies, and when I said, "My cowboy fantasy coming true!", he pointed to his cheek:

Saturday, March 03, 2012

On Vacay

Away for a week. Family trip to Florida. Where else do you go with four kids under the age of 8 but Disney? Looking forward to spending time with my sister and her family.