Monthly Archives: November 2009

Boston Globe’s story on Amish living in Unity

The Boston Globe over the weekend had a nice feature story on the Amish living in Unity, Maine. Here’s a link to that story.

A Maine Soldier Talks About Spending Thanksgiving in Iraq


A Maine Soldier Talks About Spending Thanksgiving in Iraq. | Dig it: Taking clams from mud is back-breaking work

I’ve done this to get clams for dinner, but it is back-breaking work and could never do it commercially like these guys do. | Dig it: Taking clams from mud is back-breaking work.

Feds should back rural high-speed Internet | Portland Press Herald

Rural Maine deserves to get the grants and the jobs and other economic benefits that come with high-speed Internet.

Feds should back rural high-speed Internet | Portland Press Herald.

On PBS: ‘Star Trek: Science Fact?’

LeVar Burton is hosting a show on whether “Star Trek” had or is having an influence on the world of science. It might be interesting. It is being broadcast on KVIE, too, for those of you in Northern California.

Star Trek: Science Fact?.

Is that the senior discount for you, today?

I know I should not let this bother me, but I keep going back to it in my mind.

I was at the Trader Joe’s in Stockton for a couple of items this weekend and, after gathering those items, made my way to the checkout where the clerk called me “young man” three times during the course of our relationship. My definition of “relationship” in this case is the period from the moment I placed my basket on the shelf at the checkout stand to the point I grabbed my receipt and ran screaming from the store.

Firstly, I am not a “young man.” My graying beard is a clue on that. But most certainly I am not an OLD man, either. Secondly, the phrase “young man” is usually used when speaking to males who are obviously young men. Or used when speaking to obviously older men when someone – say a checkout clerk – wants to flatter them and put them in a good mood. After all, we do not want any trouble in the checkout line, do we.

The thing is – besides the fact that I am not “young,” nor am I “old” – the clerk was perhaps within five years of my age, so she should have recognized that I was neither a young “young man” nor an old “young man.” Really, the difference makes sense to me in my head.

I suppose I should not take it too seriously. I am sure she was just trying to do her job and make me feel more comfortable, more at ease, flattered. But I do not need anyone – most certainly not a complete stranger I may never see or speak with ever again in my life – pointing out to me anything that has to do with age or any other personal information not needed for the transaction at hand. I know how old I am. And people who need to know how old I am know how old I am. But the clerk at my grocery store does not have to make any – none, nuda – comment about my age whatsoever.

Seriously, I am not the type of person who minds how old he is – I was born June, 21, 1962, in Fort Kent, Maine, so you do the math – and I even mentioned in an earlier blog entry that a few gray hairs have sprouted. But that is me. It is not the same when someone – especially someone I do not know – implies that I am older than I am. And I suppose that is what I took her “young man” comment to imply.

Granted, since my most recent birthday I have noticed that I need to bring tiny print in much closer in order to read it clearly. Or hold it at arm’s length. I am sure there is a scientific, medical reason for that, but it is still a bit irritating. But I am not at all ready to join AARP. I am not at all ready to be fitted for a truce or walker. I am not at all ready to have all my food come to me in creamed form … unless it is supposed to be creamed, that is.

It is funny, a former colleague not long ago learned how old I was and was surprised. She is five years younger and thought I was her age. She said that I had “aged well.” She is a bit of a flirt, so it is not surprising that she would say something complementary. But it did make me feel good.

Then there was an incident years ago when my friend Rick and I were at a Carson City, Nev., casino and had just finished lunch at the casino diner. The hostess must have been in her 70s, perhaps in her 80s. Each of us were perhaps the age of her children. She did not look up at us, but asked, “Senior discount?”

Rick and I, both in our very early 40s at the time, looked at each other, shrugged and said, “Uh …”

After all, what do you say when someone asks you if you want the senior discount when you are in your early 40s.

She then looked up and realized that we did not quite qualify for the senior discount – yet.

We paid our tab and walked away, shaking our heads and muttering to ourselves, “Senior discount? … Senior discount?!”

To this day, if one of us is squinting a bit to read small print or having a more difficult time than normal moving around, one of us just might comment that the other needs a “senior discount.” But we have been buddies for about 20 years so we can say that to each other.

I do not desire or am I eligible for a senior discount and I do not wish to be called “young man” when I am clearly NOT a young man, but also not an old man. There is nothing wrong with that. … I sure could use a nap just about now.

Thanksgiving Day blood drive exceeds Red Cross’s goal – Bangor Daily News

Thanksgiving Day blood drive exceeds Red Cross’s goal – Bangor Daily News.

Demand at area food pantries up dramatically – Bangor Daily News

Here are the Bangor Daily News story and photos on the strain this year on food pantries.

Demand at area food pantries up dramatically – Bangor Daily News.

Photos: Giving others a hand | Portland Press Herald

Here are a few links to various Thanksgiving day photo pages from Maine newspapers.

Photos: Giving others a hand | Portland Press Herald.

What in the world do I have to be thankful about?

It might be easy to be other than thankful this year. After all, I have not had a real paycheck since I was laid off from work in March. It is very nearly impossible to feel great about going into the holidays without an income.

And …

My graying hair is thinning – except in my ears and on my back.

My eyesight is failing – except when I bring in the text really, really close.

My hearing is fading – except when those darn kids play that crazy music they play.

My six-pack abs look more like the carton of a 12-pack – or medium-sized kitchen appliance.

My knees ache when the weather changes – and when it doesn’t.

My arches are falling – and my butt is chasing ’em.

So, if I were to wallow just a tiny bit this holiday season, I might get a pass from most of those who know me.

But I recognize that it was not my fault that I was laid off. It was one of the effects of a changing economy. I was doing things to contribute at work and at least a few people valued that contribution. And I will contribute wherever I land on my feet.

I also recognize that I am not alone – unfortunately, there are nearly 16 million Americans out of work, not counting those who have completely given up on finding a job. Misery loves company, goes the saying, and I certainly have a lot of company.

I recognize that whatever situation I am in, I know that it just seems worse than it actually is and that it will be better.

And I recognize that there are far more people who are far worse off than me; in many ways, I am fortunate.

And  – this may surprise me more than anyone else – I have been relatively positive since being laid off. I knew from the start that I would find a job eventually. I knew I would survive and later thrive. I knew that the job hunt would take longer than I wanted and I was prepared for that. I did not expect it to take as long as it has taken, but I was prepared mentally for the long haul, so I can endure this.

So, what am I thankful for?

I am thankful for my Mom and sister, one living in The County in the Deep Dark North Woods of Maine and the other living in southern Maine with her family. Both are relatively healthy and have been as helpful as they could be during my time of unemployment. They have offered to take me in – as families should under such circumstances – and offered me advice. Sometimes repeatedly.

I am thankful for my nephew and niece.

I am thankful for my friends, new and old.

I am thankful for my health. I am still standing upright and that is a good sign.

I am thankful for Facebook. Yes, a person can be thankful for something as silly – and somewhat cult-like – as Facebook. I joined Facebook a few months after being laid off and it gave me at least a slim opportunity to socialize.  It is amazing how much a person misses talking to other people, even co-workers. Employers may not see this as a priority, but socializing is pretty big deal for the people working for them. It helps provide a very basic, very human element to their lives.

Facebook also has given me a chance to reconnect with people I have known all my life, but have not spoken with in years. I have reconnected with high school and college buddies and former colleagues. It has been great being able to look forward to reading updates from people I went to high school with decades ago or learn of the latest achievement of a college buddy or former colleague.

And increasingly I am thankful for the men and women in uniform who serve this nation. War always must be the last resort. All other means of dealing with conflict must be used before there is even thought of war. But when there is no other choice, no other option, no other means for avoiding the enviable, then there must be men and women willing to defend this country, here and abroad. And for that and for them I am thankful.

I am thankful for things American. I am thankful for hot dogs, football, apple pie and Chevrolet. I am thankful for 50-cent coffee refills. I am thankful for baseball. I am thankful for Boston baked beans, Philly cheese steak, Chicago pizza, New Orleans jambalaya, Texas barbecue, New Mexico chili, California wines and Washington state apples.

I am thankful for Acadia National Park, Portland Head Light, Ironsides, the Liberty Bell, the St. Louis Arch, the Mississippi River, the Grand Canyon, the Appalachian Mountains, Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, California redwoods, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I am thankful that in this country we have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhist, agnostics and atheists, and more working to make this country strong.

I am thankful that we are a nation of many and varied political views. But more I am thankful that despite that – maybe because of that – we continue be a united nation. In the past decade we as a national have endured so many things – a disputed presidential election, terrorist attacks on our shores and in our skies, two subsequent wars, devastating economic recession that has left some homeless, others jobless – that would have ripped apart any lesser nation. I am thankful we are better than to succumb to that.

I am thankful for plenty and have plenty for which to be thankful.

12 scams during the holiday season

Watch out for these scams that typically crop up during the holidays.

Thanksgiving Easier on Family Budgets This Year

Here’s a little something from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, a little good news for a change. The cost for a Thanksgiving dinner — and probably all food — is lower than it was last year. Here’s a link to the story on the MPBN website.

Thanksgiving Easier on Family Budgets This Year.

The Takeaway: Going green isn’t easy money

Here’s a link to a blog entry about greening business. It is hard work being green, but well worth it. | The Takeaway: Going green isn’t easy money.

What’s in a name, anyway?

I had always heard that the name of the state of Maine came from a French province called Maine. But that may not be the case, according to an entry on the Maine State Library website.

 Librarians noted several “interesting” bits of information in connection to the state’s name. I know librarians. Some of my best friends are librarians. (Well, maybe not best friends.) And what librarians find interesting could cause a meth addict to snooze. (I’m just kidding.)

Anyway, here’s the link to the website for those interested in those “interesting” bits of information about Maine’s name.

Portland schools, students benefit from multilingual program

I have always regretted not learning a second language. That has been especially true in the past decade or so as it became much clearer to me that knowing Spanish or another language besides English would have greatly enhanced my life and journalism career.

It is particularly ironic then that I had plenty of opportunity to learn French. I was born into a French-Acadian family where French was spoken at family gatherings far more often than English. A family story tells that the first words I spoke as a child were French. And I took several years of high school French, of which I retained little more than how to ask for the time – “Quelle heure est-il?”

Of course, I did not retain time references so I would not know if a French language speaker was giving me the time of day or giving me the business. Or both.

But as I grew older and school drew closer, English was the language spoken in the household. Unless, of course, my parents wanted to say something to each other that they did not want my sister or me comprehending.

Sadly for me, learning a second or third language at the time I was growing up was not nearly as high a priority as it must be now. Being bilingual or multilingual is essential today in order to compete on an international playing field, visit foreign lands or to converse with those who come to our shores for whatever reason – to build a better life for themselves and their families, escape persecution or whatever. The reasons are wide and varied, but they resemble the reasons this nation’s forefathers had for coming here.

There are far too many of us who conveniently forget that we are a nation of immigrants, immigrants who brought with them their language, culture, foods, songs and more. And it has made this nation – this mosaic tapestry made up of people and cultures from around the globe – what it is.

Yes, having some control of the border and what and who comes into the country is essential. But building a wall on our borders is not the answer. Separating parents from their children because of immigration issues is not the answer. There has to be a way to embrace varied people speaking varied languages and bringing with them varied and rich cultures.

The Portland (Maine) school district, the largest in the state with well more than 7,100 students, seems to embrace the children of refugee and immigrant families. According to a Portland Press Herald story today, the district has enrolled 1,864 multilingual students so far this year, up from 1,795 last year. About 1,600 of those students enrolled this year are learning to speak English, up from 1,474 last year. Some of the increase comes as Catholic Charities Maine has amped up its efforts to find homes in Maine for refugees.

These students and their families come from some of the toughest places on Earth right now, places I am guessing no Mainer would want to raise their children – Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places. Yes, things are tough here economically – sluggish or no growth, sluggish or no recovery, 16 million Americans unemployed. It is tough just now, there is no doubt about it.

But it is far, far more difficult to raise a child in Sudan or Somalia or Afghanistan to adulthood than it is in Portland or Lewiston or Bangor. It is far, far more difficult to feed a family, remain free of disease, thrive and live a long life in Iraq, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo than it is in Saco, Augusta or Presque Isle. [I was in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, very briefly in 1994 during tribal upheaval in neighboring Rwanda and a mass movement of refugees across the border. That experience and another a month or so later visiting Haiti, the only Fourth World nation in the Western Hemisphere, leads me to believe that we must continue humanitarian aid to such nations when at all possible. And we must offer a safe haven for people who cannot survive in those nations. – KM]

It is vital to immerse the students in English language skills, find ways to keep their parents connected and involved with their children’s education, and include the students and their families as part of the mosaic that is this nation. While the Press Herald seemed to be lacking the voices of some of the stakeholders and critics, it seems the Portland school district is doing what it can to education and include these refugees and immigrants.

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Pass me the drumstick, please

It has been years – maybe 20 or more – since I have been back to Maine during the holidays. The 8 degrees below zero temperatures that year may have – just may have – played a part in why I have not returned since during the winter months.

But I also recall that while the weather outside was very cold, the holidays in Maine were pretty warm and toasty. Our family for years went to Fort Kent for at least part of the holidays. It was where my grandmother lived with my Uncle Clayton and his sons, Rick and Mark. I have some recollection of wearing a New York Giants football helmet and being run over by my older cousins. That shows me for wearing a Giants helmet and not a New England Patriots helmet. Although I believe I was wearing the only helmet available at the time, so it was not all bad.

I also have a recollection of sitting at the kitchen table of that home and my grandmother making ployes, the French-Acadian buckwheat pancakes, and loving them. A 1-pound brick of rich butter that sat on the table – not in the “icebox” – was soft and used to cover the ployes, which were rolled and eaten with pleasure.

Later, after my grandmother died, I seem to recall spending holidays at my Uncle Richard and Aunt Gloria’s home in Fort Kent and then in Eagle Lake, Maine. The place in Eagle Lake had started out as a vacation home with the idea that it later would be a more permanent residence, which is the way things turned out. It was on the eastern shore of the lake – beyond the town of Eagle Lake, beyond the picnicking area on the hill above the road, beyond the housing complex overlooking the lake and a lookout turnout, beyond old farm houses and new homes. There, across the road from the home perched on a steep hillside, was a dirt road that crossed the railroad tracks and went down to the lake to a collection of vacation and permanent homes on a point.

Aunt Gloria, my mother’s older sister, always greeted us with a kiss and a tight hug. By this time, her sons were getting older and spending more time away; having my sister and me there gave her an excuse to spoil a couple of young children.

In the summer months, only the brave ventured into the lake to swim. I recall that Eagle Lake was very cold, even compared to other Northern Maine lakes. My sister and I instead would skip rocks on the water, play with their pet dog, Penny, or simply run around the point.

The winter was different, of course. Eagle Lake is a rather long lake and there is plenty of open space for a very, very cold wind to pick up force and a cutting edge. My sister and I would hunker down in front of the television – it was a color TV, I seem to recall, and was such a step up from our black-and-white Zenith – especially during the holidays with a large Christmas tree in front of the large windows facing the ice-covered lake.

My Aunt Gloria always made sure we had plenty to eat and seconds were the rule; no one was allowed to leave the table unless they had eaten enough to require belt loosening. And that usually was before the main course was served.

Then there came the mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, ham and, of course, a turkey. I always asked for the turkey leg. Not sure why, just did. I suppose I liked the smokier flavor of the dark meat. And the turkey leg is sort of like meat-on-a-stick. With a turkey leg there is little concern for a plate; simply grab hold of the leg and dig in. With sliced turkey and other holiday foods, there is a need for plates and utensils. What growing boy or girl wants to be weighted down by plates and utensils? An amateur turkey-mealer, perhaps, but not me.

Even later, when we stayed closer to home for the holidays, most knew not to get between me and the drumstick. It just was not a good idea for anyone to do that. Now, I still enjoy the occasional turkey drumstick, although I also enjoy white meat as well.

I won’t be having turkey – leg or white meat – this year for Thanksgiving. I am living a bit far to drop in to visit my Mom or Aunt Gloria for a homemade turkey dinner. Instead, I will be digging into a couple of Cornish game hens. The drumsticks are a bit small, but will be plenty big enough to remind me of those Thanksgiving meals of my childhood.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Ranting about joblessness and the frustration

Recent unemployment numbers only add to the frustration for those willing and able to work, but unable to find a job.

That includes me.

I worked in the newspaper industry in Northern California for 22 years before being laid off back in March. I have worked as a reporter, copy editor, columnist, assistant news editor in charge of special sections, an assistant city editor and as a staff writer for a newspaper website, but the skills I honed in those jobs have not helped me so far in finding a job in newspapers or in any other field, for that matter.

And I have looked. Typically, I look at quite a few job websites every single day – a dozen or so journalism job sites, a handful more each in government, nonprofit and green industries, a handful more for general employment sites, and another 20 more websites for various organizations in other fields, such as universities or businesses looking to add a writer/editor to a marketing or communications team. No luck so far.

Frankly, I continue to seek a job in journalism because that is where my training lies, but with newspapers continuing to lay off workers or simply shutting down, it does not look bright. And what jobs there are being offered in newspapers require training and experience in multimedia or website construction and maintenance. I have limited skills in both areas, but not enough to land a job.

I am a newsasaur, plain and simple.

I noticed a story yesterday on – of all places – the website of the newspaper that laid me off in March. It was about bleak unemployment numbers. The story by Record staff writer Reed Fujii related that unemployment in San Joaquin County where I live rose to 16.1 percent in October, above the state rate of 12.5 percent and well above the national rate of 9.5 percent for October. [Maine’s unemployment for October was at about 8.5 percent, according to a story earlier this month. I blogged about it then.]

Adding to the apprehension is that a local economist is quoted in the story as saying unemployment in San Joaquin County could reach 20 percent early in 2010. Ugh!

I continue to remain optimistic that I will find a job … eventually. But the stress and frustration of joblessness is weighty.

Please do not take this to be whining. Ranting, perhaps, but not whining.

More than just green in the trees of Maine

Mainers for all time have been closely tied to the environment. Wilderness survival skills were essential for explorers and early settlers if they were to make it in the harsh environment. They trusted in themselves and their skills – and little else.

Later, those skills were used for profit as woodsmen utilized their knowledge to find timber for sawmills and ship masts or guided hunters and fishermen to the bounty of the wilderness.

And later still recreational outdoorsmen and women went into the woods for the sheer enjoyment of being in the outdoors with little or no desire to take from it anything other than the experience and perhaps a few trout.

This closeness continues today in the stewardship of what remains wild in Maine.

But much damage was done in the past to the planet’s environment. It does not take a Bowdoin graduate to know things are not going to add up in the long run if we do not work to fix some of the past damage to ease current and future concerns for the planet’s survival.

It is encouraging, then, that Maine seems to be stepping forward in overall efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to increase the use of alternative energy sources to replace power generated from the burning of petroleum products. Wind farms are beginning to dot the Maine landscape and harnessing ocean waves is likely to be a large component in Maine’s future energy picture, as will be the increased use of solar power.

These three energy sources will be especially important as oil companies turn away from producing home heating oil in order to produce other fuels. [I recall as a child when the delivery truck from the local oil distributor would pull over to the side of the road near our home on the hill overlooking Portage Lake, Maine, and drag a nozzle and hose to the side of the house to pump oil into a pipe that led to a holding tank in our cellar. There were times during the winter that the driver would be forced to climb over towering snow banks and through thigh-high snow while towing behind him the heavy nozzle and hose. Home heating oil fueled the heater and warmed the home in winter, but it did not smell particularly good – which may have been a clue as to just how unhealthy it was to be around the stuff.]

A fossil fuel expert earlier this week said that Maine’s midcoast may be at the center of harnessing wave energy. Matthew Simmons is the co-founder of the Ocean Energy Institute, which plans to open an office in Rockland, Maine, in the next few months, and was one of the keynote speakers at the 2009 Sustainable Island Living Conference there last weekend, according to a Herald Gazette story.

He said that oil, natural gas and coal all had passed their peak production and that there were no plans for what would fill the energy void. Ocean Energy Institute is working with the state, the University of Maine and the U.S. Department of Energy on floating windmill pilot projects off Maine’s coast.

We must move away from fossil fuels and continue the development of sustainable sources such as solar, wind and wave. In the meantime, it is important to do what can be done now to help, including visiting the Efficiency Maine website for tips and other information.

Maine is moving in the right direction.

Just say cheese … photos are welcome!

If you have a photo that was taken in Maine, New England or is related in some way to Maine or New England, please feel free to e-mail to me an electronic version and I will post it here. That includes photos of Mainers visiting those of us “from away” or those of use “from away” visiting home.

WordPress allows images in jpg, jpeg, png, gif, pdf, doc, ppt, odt, pptx and docx, although I am most comfortable dealing with jpgs and jpeg.

Be sure to send information about the photo such as when and where it was taken, who or what is in the image, a story about how and why the photo was taken … that sort of thing. I will most likely include the story, and if I know people or places in the photo or something about the location, I may add a comment, too.

And above all, only send photos to which you have a right – as in copyright – and/or permission to use. Do NOT send along photos that are copyrighted or to which you do not have permission to use. Do NOT send along photos copied from the Internet, because many of those are copyrighted.

With a little luck, I hope to post a few photos a week to add a little eye-candy.

Shake, rattle and roll in western Maine

California and other Pacific Rim areas usually are the first to come to mind when talking about earthquakes, not Maine or the rest of New England.

The Weston Observatory and the New England Seismic Network say there was a 2.5 magnitude quake about 2 a.m. (EST) near Andover about 7 miles northwest of downtown Rumford, Maine, according to the Associated Press story on the Lewiston Sun Journal website. (The NESN should not be confused with the New England Sports Network, which also goes by the acronym NESN.)

I have been through several earthquakes since moving to California in 1983, including the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta quake in 1989, but the very first temblor I felt was as a child living in Maine. It did not shake me out of bed, but it did wake me suddenly. I seem to recall that the quake’s epicenter was along a fault under the St. Lawrence Seaway.

At 2.5 magnitude, there was no damage and most people seemed to have slept right through it.

There is some interesting information about earthquakes on the East Coast on both the U.S. Geological Survey and Maine Geological Survey websites, including general history and a timeline of major temblors.