Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Best Photo (I have taken yet)

Before I arrived here in Maine I bought myself my first real camera: a little Canon Powershot with 10X Optical zoom (I only pretend I know everything it does). It has been the little-camera-that-could, which has supplied the visual stimulation for this blog.

I thought I would just share with you an awesome picture of an awesome kid. His name is Harry and he is the most acrobatic, high-flying, SpongeBob Squarepants I have ever met. With enough enthusiasm to float a boat (if boats floated on enthusiasm).

* Shout out to Andy (on the left) ... who jumped ALMOST as high

Thank your lucky stars

I would like to preface by saying that I am not naive enough to think that our health care system in Canada is pristine, but I will say that we seem a lot better off than the US at this point in time.

Last night I attended a public hearing with my new friend Bob (fiery, wheelchair bound and the "best liberal you will ever meet"). The hearing was before the insurance board ombudswoman of sorts. In short, without getting into any specific detail or complicated pie charts, the largest insurance provider in Maine is called Anthem(Blue Cross Blue Shield). Anthem is required by the state of Maine to provide a certain amount of residents with he lowest rung of health insurance. This, I assume, is to ensure that most people can afford at least some kind of health care, even if it is only catastrophic. However, in recent years Anthem has been losing money by providing this mandatory coverage to a little under 12,000 Maine residents. So, in an attempt to boost profit, they asked the State of Maine to allow them to raise rates by 18%. Maine, short and skinny, told them plainly that they are not in the business of ensuring that businesses make a profit and therefore settled to only allow an increase of 10.9% in order for Anthem to break even. Anthem, in return is suing the state or the ability to raise rates by 22.9%. So the insurance superintendent Mila Kofman is holding public comment sessions around the state in order to take into account the testimonials of "Maineahs".

So... that is what gets me here, blogging about the testimonials. To say that it wasn't affecting would be an understatement. The bravery people exuded by getting up and telling their often very difficult stories about not being able to afford the care they need to get by was mind boggling. I can not say for sure that I understand the whole issue, or that I side with a specific argument, but I can say for certain I felt real lucky that I come from a place where I don't have to sit at home suffering from a painful and feverish allergic reaction because I know that I cannot afford to go to the emergency room... again. Or lucky that at the age of 77 I don't have to support two disabled adult children, of which I have to choose which one I can afford to buy insurance for and which one goes without. Real world Sophie's Choice.

I can only say that after listening to almost 3 hours of personal testimonial I feel absolutely spoiled that I have never had to worry about any of these things. One woman, very humorously and very succinctly phrased her comparison of Canada and America, she said she saw a parallel between the health care and the Olympics. In America the coverage of the Olympics is dismal, you can watch a hour or two a night and all you get is a 20 minute recap in the morning. Not only, she said, would you get 24 hour coverage of the Olympics in Canada, but you would also have health care coverage. I didn't word that quite as humourously as she did... but you get the point.

Tie Olympics and health care together though, and all I have left to say at the end of the day is, "Oh, Canada!"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ice Fishing UPDATE!

I just thought y'all would like to see the only fish I saw while ice fishing.

Now, don't let my tricky camera skills fool you. This fish is about the size of my thumb. Great catch right? I can't take the credit for this catch though. The poor soul was left on ice until the eagles were ready for lunch. Yummy!

I've named him Herbie.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Maine Adventure!

I know that it is now Wednesday and I am about to talk about what I did on Saturday. I guess this is the nature of blogging when you're busy!

In any case, our first assignment for Salt was called a "Mini-Ethnography" multimedia project. We were put into groups (one photographer, one writer, one radio producer) and sent out into a drawn out bubble on a map of Maine. Our professors decided where we could find stories and we decided what our stories would be.

We found ourselves driving through Bridgton, Maine early Saturday morning... tired and groggy unsure of what the day would bring. We drove through town for a while and finally found ourselves at the end of a dirt road staring out at this:

It was a beautiful, clear-sky day, not too chilly and purrrrrrfect for ice fishing (which seems to me to be less about catching fish and more about what you do while waiting for fish!) So we spent some time waiting for the elusive "big catch" with 5 local boys who seemed glad to have the company. They answered all our questions and gritted their teeth through all the photos. We had lots of fun chatting with them too. One guy, named Adam, seemed to love pointing out every time I said "eh". At least someone gets a kick out of it.

The scariest part of ice fishing in the sun is the cracking sound in the ice. We were standing about 20 feet from open water which made the deep cracking sound even more disconcerting. But as one of the guys said "That's not the ice breaking, that's the ice making." Yet, I'm not sure I believe that. I did however add to the cracking myself with some old-school ice fishing action by chipping a new hole into the 15 inch ice.

Gotta love the action shots. What did I learn form this experience? ... The best way to warm up on the ice is to chip a hole through it.

Once we were too cold to report any longer we switched to the polar opposite (sorry... bad joke) of ice fishing...


Before we begin here I would just like to say for the record, surprisingly I am a really good ping pong player! Yeah, I'll take you on!

We found the world's friendliest group of ping pong players in the Bridgton community centre. I think I am good at ping pong? Well, these guys are great! One of the players was even the state champion for over 65! And what a nice guy! Nicest of all was Bill, who answered every single question I had and THEN taught me some invaluable lessons about ping pong. It is easy to think you are good when someone keeps telling you so. He wanted me to come back this week... but Bridgton is about 40 miles from Portland... and that's a long walk!

Here I am in action!

Fierce right?

So I guess I can add ice fisherwoman and pingponger to my resume. Do you think that will get me a radio job?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Sneaky Little Valentine.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

I would like to share with you a little piece of my day of love here in Portland. Every Valentine's morning for over 25 years a strange thing happens. Every storefront, window and doorway in downtown Portland has a bright red heart taped to it. A sneaky character, or band of characters, attacks the city sometime in the night with their little signs of love. No one seems to know who the caper is, and no one seems especially determined to find out. He/she/it is lovingly referred to as "The Valentine Phantom", or "The Valentine Bandit" according to the Portland TV News team. Here are a few pictures I took this morning... the only thing you can't see are the smiling faces of each and every Portland resident.

This was the first heart I saw, stepping out my front door... it was across the street and I ran back to get my camera... and thank goodness I did!

There were also many hearts drawn in chalk around the town, I can only assume that this as well is the work of the Phantom.

The Phantom also saved a spot in his heart for Salt! What he doesn't know is that inside this building there is more heart than any other storefront in town! And he must have known what he was doing because he also put a little bit of love right about 'DOCUMENTARY'! Just like all of us Saltines (Salt students... sometimes "Salties" is more appropriate, but I would rather sound like a snack!)

These little white paper hearts also fluttered down Congress Street. Some might say it is littering, but I say it was beautiful, especially on a lightly windy day.

However, most exciting and mysterious is the Phantom's pièce de résistance two storey high huge heart banners on the Portland Museum of Art and new this year, the Portland Public Library. No one knows how they get there, or how he or she gets onto the roofs, but here they stands...

The Valentine Phantom has made this year's celebration one I won't soon forget. What a wonderful tradition (est. 1976)!

The best part is, it seems that this is not a caper that needs to be caught!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Fish and Some History Dish

I spent my first full day at school today. And not even in class! We had an assignment to blog for the school's website for tomorrow. So, for the first time I got to sit down at my own personal iMac and OFFICIALLY represent Salt. (I realize it is a silly concept to give a link on my blog to yet another blog I write for... but no matter... click here for the Salt blog)
After I sat down at the shiny wide screen I basically spent the whole day searching for ever more story ideas, and I was actually a lot more productive than I have been from home. However, Salt can also be very distracting. There are so many people to talk to, so many unique brains to pick, stories to hear, and friends to make. The act of simply going to the kitchen to get an apple out of the fridge could lead to a 45 minute-long discussion of interview tactics learned in Sudan or long distance relationships through the ages (LDR's I am told they are called) or that one joke that always sticks with you, that you can never forget. A guy named Tom shared this as his joke of choice: What is a seamonster's favourite meal? ... Fish and Ships!

Here is a short audio clip of my 90-year-old grandmother's favourite joke... always a crowd pleaser!

(I apologize for the poor audio quality... I know what you're thinking, "She is studying radio and she can't even record properly!"... but alas, I was recording on my iPhone, so you take what you can get!)

Short note on Portland history:

For all you history nuts who I am sure having been waiting with bated breath for the valiant story of George Cleeve (aforementioned here) , I have done a little research!

George Cleeve (1586 - sometime after 1666) was the "Founder of Portland, Maine". He came across the pond and settled the now Portland in 1633. In fact, he landed on Richmond Island where John Winter, an agent for merchants in Plymouth (as in the Rock) had set himself up with a pretty sweet deal trading fish and fur with the Native Americans. So when Cleeve tried to move to Richmond Island Winter immediately set him northward, to the thick forests of the mid coast. Cleeve built a house on the land and declared the settlement "Falmouth" (which still exists as a northern suburb) later to be called "Portland".

No word yet on how exactly he relied on the persuasion of words...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

From: My Mind, To: Reality (A mash up of story ideas)

Surprisingly, one of the most difficult parts of journalism is actually coming up with story ideas... not just any story idea, but stories that you actually care about. I can spend days, literally FULL days, consecutively, looking for story ideas. I look on the internet, on poster boards, in stores, on the streets, I look everywhere! In a way, sometimes... in that tick, tick, tick moment a journalist's brain has (that one when you are straight set on finding something good) you can lose a little sense of reality. You become so focused on whether every part of life around you could work as a story that you forget you are, in fact, part of real life.

My story idea secret (I guess it won't be secret anymore) is to look at blogs. Over the years I have sifted through hundreds and hundreds of blogs looking for that interesting character that has a story to tell. And, I have been doing just that in Maine. I think I have bookmarked over 25 Maine-based blogs. Actually, a bunch of them would make really good stories. I'll run them by you: A woman in Northern Maine who speaks to and does the work of angels, a German woman who lives in Maine and teaches West African drumming, and a Maine girl who blogs about her paranormal investigations. The way I see it is, if there is a person out there who has a really interesting story they want to tell... they will blog about it. Some people really just lay everything on the line, or online I guess.

I had a moment today, that I must admit I am not proud of, but in the interest of full story-finding disclosure, I will share. About 45 blogs in I came across a blog entry by a woman in rural Maine informing her followers that she just lost her husband of 45 years, in her own arms... and for a brief second, in my story-ideas-are-most-important mindset, I thought, "I wonder if I could make a story out of that?" For a brief shameful second, I had lost my touch with real life, blogger after blogger become faceless writings by imaginary people. Until you have that moment, where you snap back into reality and see a real person. I think it is a lesson for every journalist to learn at some point: stories may be the goal, but in every story idea you are seeing into the lives of real people. Sometimes you lose the real people in the story. You have deadlines, meetings, expectations and you forget about the faces, the people. Journalism is able to do something that a lot of professions can't; we get to experience brief yet intimate moments in people's lives, and then we get to share those moments with other people... all with the hope that we can come to understand each other better.

So, I have made a promise to myself. From now on, for every blog I read I will take time to see the person, the face behind the words... to understand.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What It Really Looks Like...

I realize that I have yet to post any pictures of me in Maine. So I thought I would leave it up to a drawing I received from a wonderful friend.

For the record, let me just say that this is exactly what it looks like... minus the uni-brow!
(artwork attributed to Wanda O'Brien)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Things Are Looking UP

I love when graffiti is actually uplifting. Especially when it is printed above an L.L. Bean outlet.

I had a pretty amazing (ly long) day in Portland. The point of my adventure was to get to the Portland Observatory. It is a light-house shaped tower, that I am told, was built so that wives of sailors could climb up to the top to see if their husband's ships were coming in. Now, I do not have a sailor husband, and it is probably for the best because it was closed. I guess they don't see the value in winter sightseeing! But, once I got there I was only two blocks from Fort Allen Park, the tip of Portland that offers the best view of the islands. There is a beautiful hill for picnics, but in winter all you can do is stand, and freeze and enjoy the view. It seems like a lot of people drive down on their lunch break to eat and enjoy the view from their car... I guess that is part of the draw of the East Coast: car picnics with a view.

I spent some time down on the shore trail (which must be absolutely gorgeous in the summer) and right on the water there I saw a boat I was hoping I would be able to find in Portland. It's call Rawfaith and was built to be Maine's only wheelchair accessible tall ship. The gentleman who built it, has a disabled daughter and his hope when he began building it was to give other families with children in wheelchairs the chance to see the sea. He has given everything he has for his boat, and now it seems, the Portland port authority wants him out. But, Rawfaith really is a sight to see. I looks like a three mast pirate ship in the middle of the harbour. It stands right behind a statue of George Cleeve (who I know absolutely nothing about, except that the statue reads "He relied on persuasion by words not the sword" which sounds pretty valiant to me. If only everyone relied on persuasion by words rather than with guns, fists, and I guess... swords).

I'll have to do some research on this Cleeve character. He must not be that important considering they placed his courageous-looking monument behind a chain-link fence, next to a shipping trailer.

On the way from George Cleeve to the harbourfront I met a guy named Mike. He was on a walk to clear his head, taking a break from building an original Greendland-style kayak in his basement (his second home-made boat). He also introduced me to Standard Bakery by the pier and suggested some sort of crusty Asiago bun that was really quite delicious (and welcome after two hours of walking with a computer and a bag full of books on my back).

After roaming aimlessly all day I was lucky enough to come across the Museum of African Culture just 20 minutes before closing. It is just a small little museum, but had so much to offer. I was planning on getting there yesterday, but got held up. The museum's owner, Chief Oscar Mokeme, is such a charming and fascinating man. He answered all my questions about Igbo masks and carvings, and then I answered all of his about radio documentary. And, somehow, with his gentle charm he convinced me to help him set up a podcast about the museum to let people explore from home. I have the equipment, I have the knowledge, I have the interest, all I will need is a little bit of time. I left the museum for home and by the time I got here he had already sent me an e-mail thanking me for coming to Portland and that he is grateful to have met me. How could anyone not do their best to help out a man as wonderful as that? At my request, he also sent along a blurb he wrote and posted on the wall in the museum. It explains a West African (Nigerian, he says) way of seeing everything as spirit-related. It is a rather refreshing way to think of things. I thought I would share it with all of you (either that or I am gunning for the title of world's longest blog post!). It is called 'The Spirit of Dryness':

The Harvest Spirit of Dryness

The Spirit of dryness exhibit will highlight artifacts from the Sub-Saharan African cultures that focus of dry session, fall session, autumn and economic stagnation, the end of planting session and how this is related to the currents world’s economic melt down.

It is believed that every problem in African’s worldview is spirit related; therefore the current world financial economic melt down is also spiritual related.

The world have got off its guard and wander through ego among externals in search of happiness and materialism, and have sunk into dissipation and have committed crimes against the nature, our maker through war, through abuse of natural resources, and have refused to turn inward for refinement for having departed from the spirit of Chineke-creator; for this purpose the creator will begin to purify us and try our faith in order to draw us nearer to himself, so now he leads us through the paths of dryness and desertion.

So for this reason, as we try to fix our minds in pumping money into the economy and not in silence to feel God again, and we will not experience the comfort and refreshment that we had expected we will feel fear, trouble and loneliness as we have been trying to do it on our own human but not in the divine order, then, as we labor to no purpose and all the efforts to fix the world’s economy seem in vain and our imagination is so ungovernable by the use of monetary power and our minds so void of good.

But the state of dryness is very profitable if we use it to surrender to God, if we when we recognize it and suffer it with patience. This spirit uses this veil of dryness that we may not know what it is working in us and it is only to seduce us to seek God and repent from our old ways and welcome change through humility.

The spirit of dryness reminds us about the turn over, the death of the season, the necessity of deadness for rebirth and renewal, it brings peace to what is left behind, the husk of the fruitful season; returning the relics back to the earth and bridging from the dead towards eventual rebirth for the greatest good of all.

In this exhibit we will witness the power of death, fear and hope and experience the power of connecting back to the source that created us in order to regain our lives and our economic vitality and power.

All over the world, this is the season of dryness, the spirit of fall, harmmatan, autumn and the hope of what is to come when we completely surrender.

I guess if you think of deadness as necessary for rebirth and renewal, it doesn't seem so bad does it? Or, have I gone TOO spiritual on you?

Well, I have walked far, found some friends, and I feel fulfilled for the day. But, my highlight of the day so far was eating a banana by the sea!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Something About a Feeling

I read this series of articles a couple weeks ago, but I can't stop thinking about it. These are articles written about what happens at home when an American soldier is killed abroad. This series is so beautifully written, and although it was published a whole five years ago, it is so timeless and heartfelt that it is still so relevant. In fact, in 2005 Jim Sheeler won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, and I say, well deserved. It takes a while to read, it comes in twelve parts, but I promise it is worth your time, if you have any. And if you don't, just read the first one. (But, I can't promise you won't want to read all twelve)


I think a story like this is relevant especially on a day like today when three more soldiers have died in Pakistan. That is really what got me thinking about it today. You hear all the time about countries losing soldiers, and besides a shallow feeling of sympathy for their families, rarely do you think of the long term effects of losing each person.

Mostly, this story is so important to me because it truly exemplifies what true journalism really should do. It is not necessarily just to inform, but to make you feel... feel something, anything for what is happening in your world. Whether you are angry, or sad, or elated, journalism should hit something inside you, and make you feel something for other people, in other situations. See things in a different way. This is what Jim Sheeler has done for me, weeks after reading his articles: I read the story about these soldiers dead in Pakistan and I really and truly thought about what affect that news has. Instead of just skimming over that same story that comes by every month (about losing soldiers overseas), I really read it, and thought about the lasting affect of those deaths. He has made me see, at least this piece of news, with a refreshed reality. He made me think and feel in a human way for a news story that is written to be skimmed. He has made it real. And that, is what every journalist should aspire to: true, human, emotional reality.

If I could write like Jim Sheeler... well, I guess I would have a Pulitzer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Pine Tree State!

Yesterday was my first P.D. day (let's call it personal discovery, I don't remember what it stood for in elementary school) in Portland. I certainly took advantage of it. I walked around the city for about 5 hours. My goal yesterday was to find as many consignment or thrift shops as I could. From the very first consignment store I went into (Material Objects on Congress) I had this idea that maybe this really is the city for me. Nothing says home like consignment shopping, in fact, half the clothing I own was once owned by a stranger. But, I repressed the little voice in my head that tells me to buy whatever fits me, and I saved my wallet from an insta-shrink. All I ended up buying was six 5 cent coat hangers and a teacup with a lobster reading a book on it. I think it must be a crest for something, but it struck me as a little piece of Maine on a cup. An intellectual lobster? What more could you ask for? The one thing I really had set out to buy though was a toaster oven, or a hot plate for that matter... or anything that can heat food without blowing a fuse every time. It seems that the microwave here is on a circuit that covers a fairly large portion of my apartment so, I have learned that in order to use the microwave without that fuse-blowing POP sound, I have to stand in virtual darkness, and turn the heater off. But, I end up with a hot bowl of soup! Toaster oven is still on my list, and I actually found one... but it looked like it had been sitting on the shelf at the back of this hole-in-the-wall grocery store since hair scrunchies and plastic hoop earrings were in. (I do apologize if you are still into hair scrunchies and plastic hoop earrings... they can look cool! I guess...)

I main(e)ly stuck to the streets yesterday, rather than exploring the ocean and port. I have never lived near the ocean, perhaps it is a little daunting, so I will work my up to shoreline discovery. It is funny to have a whole new city to circumnavigate. Even when I moved to Ottawa, I feel like I already had seen everything there was to see. But here, I have no idea where I am. When I walked out the door the first day arrived I started walking the wrong way towards the school, and was quickly corrected. I am all turned around and upside-downed. At least, I have a week to figure it all out before I am expected to capture the essence of Maine on radio. So the adventure continues, day two of my Portland adventure can begin. I think I will head over to Salt and listen to the radio docs the Fall semester students just finished... see what is expected of me.

Here are the best of the photos I took yesterday:

This is a old building just a block down from my house. I just thought it looked like the branches are reaching towards the house in a very sinister way. Like they might wrap themselves around it and rip it off its foundation. Oh, what those deciduous trees will do to get attention in the "Pine Tree State".

These American's really are crazy about their eagles. I keep seeing them everywhere. This one was a pretty large and daunting sculpture on the roof of a factory building.

To be fair though, I guess we do have large, colourful, life sized moose on display all over Toronto!

This little shack in the middle of a wading pool just made me miss my older sister. She knows why.

I don't think this photo really translates how beautiful this church is. It looks as though it has been recently upgraded. I really wanted to go inside because it had some purple stained glass windows that I thought would look spectacular from the inside... but the doors were locked. I believe it is the Catholic cathedral (Immaculate Conception)

One more...

I promise...

We'll call this guy "The Pigeon Whisperer"