Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two dozen running, and the first big test is ahead | Bangor Daily News

Two dozen running, and the first big test is ahead - Bangor Daily News

Super Bowl of oil-spill drills coming here | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Super Bowl of oil-spill drills coming here The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Power restoration efforts continue; nearly 70,000 still out | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Power restoration efforts continue; nearly 70,000 still out The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Sometimes you just have to whack it

This is not porn, so get you heads out of the gutter. This isn’t about whacking that “it.”
Readers – from Maine to California and back again – know I’ve been out of work for the past year. So, cable and satellite TV both have been well out of reach financially.

And, frankly, the cost of both even before I was laid off on March 5, 2009, from a newspaper job after 22 years of experience in the industry kept me from paying for either just on principle alone. The cost was and is unreasonable.

So I went with a digital TV converter and rabbit ears antenna. Rabbit ears were good enough for generations of TV-watchers, it was good enough – sort of – for me. It was not nearly acceptable for someone who loves to watch sports, movies and the assorted nature programming, but I had to make due.

When “broadcast” TV went digital, I requested and received a government coupon and then purchased an APEX DT250A TV Converter.

As such electronics go, it was inexpensive and cheaply made. Cheaply. And when I use “cheaply,” I mean the box the size of a hardcover book was a truckload of yak dung.

It worked well enough – as long as the rabbit ears were just so – for a couple months.

But Thursday night the box failed right in the middle of the “NCIS” rerun I was watching. Know this: No one comes between me and “NCIS,” not even NCIS Special Agent Jethro Leroy Gibbs. OK, maybe Gibbs might do it, especially after one of his trademark slaps to the back of the cranium, but you get the point.

But on Thursday evening the TV screen went snowy. Not just a flurry, but a storm the likes of those that have hit the East Coast this winter.

I did not have a remote in my hand – no, really, I didn’t have a remote in my hands – so I figured I had not mistakenly hit a button that might have caused the snowstorm. I checked the cable connections, the antenna connection, the power source, and then rechecked them twice. I was resigned to give up for the evening – it was late enough that going to sleep was a better option than obsessing over it any longer.

The next morning I took off early enough that I did not watch TV. I was off to the Empresso coffeehouse on Pacific Avenue in Stockton to continue the job search and blogging efforts. I have two versions of “Letters From Away,” one on WordPress and one on Blogger, and another about what I see at various coffeehouses I patronize, especially Empresso and Exotic Java, that I named “Coffeehouse Observer.”

After going through job and news websites, blogging a bit, and getting a few other online tasks done, I returned to the apartment in the early evening. I was in the middle of some mundane tasks – as if watching TV isn’t mundane enough – when I remembered that I would not be able to unwind watching TV.

I also remembered that there was one thing that I had not done the previous evening – whack it.

I turned on the TV and the APEX box, picked up the box, and gave it a couple of good whacks.

It worked.

I am watching an episode of “Criminal Minds” on the ION network as I’m writing this blog.

There you have it. Sometimes it simply pays to whack it.

Comfort food helps ease the sting of rejection

I’m feeling a little piled on lately when it comes to rejection. I batted 1.000 at the end of this week – a rejection notice each on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

I’m not sure if it would have been any better if they had all arrived on the same day or if they had come on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or if one of the notices had arrived today, Saturday.

I might have taken it hard – at least, harder than I am anyway – if I had not already moved all three of those jobs into my “REJECTION” folder on my laptop. I give jobs – or, rather, the agencies, organizations or businesses posting a job opening – about one month or so after applying for the job before pretty much giving up on that job. If I don’t hear back from them, I then move the job from “PENDING” to “REJECTION.” It had been a month or longer for all three without hearing anything. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Bubkes.

Note to human resources officials: Let job seekers know if you receive applications and resume packets, and give them a reasonable timeframe in which the hiring process will be carried out. That is especially true when the economy and jobs outlook is so tenuous, as it is now. It borders on cruel and unusual behavior to not contact people who are so very desperate.

I know, I know, I know, some openings draw many applicants. One of the rejection notices I received this week noted that the agency had received about 400 resumes for one opening. But some online or email application processes include an automatic reply that applications or resumes have been received. Including a mention in the email of a hiring process timeframe seems a reasonable request.

To be fair to the three organizations that rejected me last week, others did not even bother to acknowledge receipt of applications and resume packets. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Bubkes.

Listen, we jobseekers knows that you receive hundreds of applications and resume packets – we know, because we are the ones sending out hundreds of resume packets. We’re not asking for false hope, we’re just asking to be given word within a reasonable time whether we can expect to hear about our chances.

Note to human resources officials: I know there must be a reason – low-balling applicants seems the only reason, but there may be real reasons – for not including the salary range on job notices. But including such information helps a jobseeker sort through the openings he or she plans to apply for, thus eliminating for some potential employers a bit of the flood of applications and resumes for certain jobs.

Jobseekers’ time is valuable, too. It is incredibly demoralizing to go through the process of writing a cover letter, individualizing resumes and arranging references for a job opening only to find out midway or later in the process that the salary range cannot support a jobseekers’ cost of living.

I’m not talking extras, just the cost of living. In the past year I have applied for several jobs for which I later learned the accompanying salary would not or would barely cover just basic expenses, let alone health insurance or investment in retirement accounts.

OK, enough of the mini-rant on the job search. I remain optimistic that I will find a job, but not as optimistic as I once was. I am concerned before I find a job I will be forced into to find training for a career change. Which might not be a bad thing.

Oh, how did I handle the rejection? I made myself a very nice, hearty meal that turned around my attitude so I felt considerably – quite considerably – less rejected.

Here’s a tip, if you’re feeling a touch low, sauté some turkey sausage and onions and throw in some legumes, rice, spinach, carrots, garlic and chicken broth. Let it simmer so the aroma fills the home and then serve yourself a large bowl. Top with croutons and Asiago and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Comfort food is there to comfort, so let it do its work.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Coffeehouse observation No. 66

It’s raining outside the coffeehouse and I’m on foot. It looks like a walk in the rain … whether I want to walk in the rain or not. :( It is good that I am fortified with caffeine.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Coffeehouse observation No. 65

I’m not sure what is worse, the woman who was sitting nearby earlier and clearing her throat every 15 to 30 seconds (Take a drink of water or something, for crying out loud!), the guy who has the every-other-word phone plan who replaced her (Dude, really? How many times to you have to say “Hello? … Hello?” to figure out your phone dropped the call?), or the loud, obnoxious woman who is starting to move tables around the coffeehouse. And she doesn’t even work here (She is just plain too loud and her being here may cause me to leave for the day).
Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Acadia Park slows down marine proposal - Bangor Daily News

Acadia Park slows down marine proposal - Bangor Daily News

Coffeehouse observation No. 64

There is a rather thin woman – I’m guessing she’s a college student – sitting at a nearby table. She very probably does not weigh 100 pounds. But her voice has a certain raspy quality that makes her sound much larger and older and a career smoker. She has on a hat similar to a Greek fisherman’s cap and ass-kickin’ boots. Oh, and a dark top and blue jeans, but the hat and boots very much go with the voice.
Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Study cites Maine’s progress on income, insurance coverage | Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA, Maine – The state needs more college-educated workers, lower energy and health care costs, and more investment in research and development, according to a report to lawmakers.
The Maine Economic Growth Council, a 19-member panel with business, labor, education and legislative representatives, released its 2010 Measures of Growth report to legislative leaders released Thursday.

The report examines the state’s progress on 24 indicators, awarding gold stars for progress and red flags for areas that need attention. It’s designed to help lawmakers and the governor's office consider long-term implications as they make decisions on legislation, said Laurie Lachance, president of the Maine Development Foundation.

“No single indicator tells the whole story of Maine,” she said. “This report looks at long-term, more structural issues. It’s not meant to be a judgment of what's happening today.”
Click on the link for the rest of today’s story by Susan Cover in the Kennebec Journal.

Yes on 1 funder loses bid | The Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME

Yes on 1 funder loses bid The Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME

Two snowmobilers go through open water on Moosehead Lake | The Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME

Two snowmobilers go through open water on Moosehead Lake The Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME

The Maine Warden Service offers these tips for ice safety:

• Never guess the thickness of the ice. Check it in several different places by making a test hole, starting at the shore and continuing as you go out.

• Check the ice with a partner. If alone, wear a lifejacket.

• If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.

Students collecting 1 million vitamins for Haiti | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Students collecting 1 million vitamins for Haiti The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Wind-whipped storm wreaks havoc in Maine | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Wind-whipped storm wreaks havoc in Maine The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Crews working to restore power throughout Maine | Kennebec Journal

Maine tussles with mix of wind, rain and snow | Bangor Daily News

From the Bangor Daily News, Mainers are reminded to:

• Monitor weather forecasts closely for expected conditions in your area.

• Stay clear of flooded roadways. Respect all barricades, and report flooded areas to local officials.

• Use extreme care driving in wintry conditions. Stay off the roads if possible.

• If power goes out, use generators and alternate heat sources safely. Never run a generator in a basement or attached garage. Carbon monoxide poisoning may result.

• Continue to keep roofs clear of snow. Snowfall may be heavy and wet. Make sure heating system vents are clear to prevent carbon monoxide from backing up in the home.

• Protect outside oil tanks from snow and ice falling from the roof. Serious oil spills can result.

• Check on neighbors, family and friends who may need special assistance to clear snow and to weather the storm.

Sea Hunter awaits OK to dock in Haiti | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Sea Hunter awaits OK to dock in Haiti The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wind Ban Wrong | Bangor Daily News

Wind Ban Wrong - Bangor Daily News

Local missionaries heading to Haiti to help children

PERU, Maine – Marilee Colpitts and Jamie Dennett had planned a missionary trip to Haiti long before the devastating earthquake on that island nation in January.

Their trip now will include their original goals, as well as helping some of the many children who have fled the capital of Port-au-Prince for Terrier Rouge, a city in the northwestern section of the country.

“We want to bring money for food and other things for the people who are fleeing Port-au-Prince," said Dennett, who is making her fourth trip to Haiti. "Here, in this country, people go to the state. There, they go to the pastors.”

She and Colpitts, who is making her second trip, are among 14 people, mostly from Maine, who are representing His Hands for Haiti, a nonprofit Christian group based in New Vineyard that finds sponsors for some of the thousands of children who do not have enough food or cannot go to school.

Click on the link to the rest of today’s story by Eileen M. Adams of the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Hannibal Hamlin in Paris … South Paris, that is

I went to the University of Southern Maine with a guy named Dean Lachance. That has nothing to do with the trivia question today, except that he came from South Paris. Or, at least he came from one of the towns with Paris in the name.

Either way, it did not help me in answering the trivia question. Here it is:

Who is South Paris famous for?


The western Maine town was the birthplace and early residence of the Honorable Hannibal Hamlin, governor of Maine, United States senator, and vice president under Abraham Lincoln.

Mainers protest Anthem rate hike | Bangor Daily News

BANGOR, Maine — From Presque Isle, Deer Isle, Camden and Mapleton, Mainers traveled to Bangor Wednesday afternoon to protest the latest health insurance cost increase requested by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine.
“The hogs have come to the trough to feed again at the expense of those who use the coverage the least,” said lobsterman Leroy Bridges of Deer Isle, who purchases individual coverage for himself and his wife, with a $15,000 annual deductible each. “If they’re allowed a rate increase even close to what they’re asking, we’ll have to let it go; we got no choice.”

Bridges did not say how much his high-deductible coverage costs, but others at the meeting said similar policies cost close to $500 a month.

Anthem says the 23 percent average increase in the cost of its HealthChoice and Lumenos plans — for people who purchase health coverage individually instead of through an employer or other group — is needed to offset the growing cost and use of health care services and the unique challenges of the insurance market in Maine.

About 11,000 Anthem policyholders would be affected by the increase, which would take effect July 1 if approved.

Click on the link for the rest of today’s story by Meg Haskell in the Bangor Daily News.

Blooming on the horizon?: Early signs point to an algae threat that could rival the '05 season | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Blooming on the horizon? The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Coffeehouse observation No. 63

I returned the next day and spotted a new barista and she was wearing the very same hot pink hair. No Daisy Dukes, though.
Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nah, the Allagash has to be longer than that … doesn’t it?

When I was a kid – I don’t remember how old exactly – my family and my Uncle Wally’s family loaded up canoes on various mode of land vehicle and we drove to north central Maine and camped near the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, of which the Allagash is the central component. The next day, we put in canoes and we paddled out way north – the Allagash flows northward – for nearly a week of paddling along the waterway. today had a trivia question about the length of the waterway and I was surprised at the answer. It seemed a little short, from what I remember of that trip. But then again, I was a youngster sitting in the back of a canoe. It was a pretty sweet adventure.

As I recall, we had to pick up the pace a bit about midway. A Maine game warden caught up with us to tell us that a relative of my father had died. He wanted to make the funeral services so we paddled double-time after we got the word.

Here’s the question and answer.

How long is the Allagash Wilderness Waterway?


Ninety-two miles in northern Piscataquis and western Aroostook counties.

Trust me, it felt much longer than 92 miles.

Cannery workers tell Baldaccibr they are ‘angry and frustrated’ - Bangor Daily News

Cannery workers tell Baldaccibr they are ‘angry and frustrated’ - Bangor Daily News

Maine towns receive energy grants | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Maine towns receive energy grants The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Revenue increase may ease cutbacks | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Revenue increase may ease cutbacks The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Boiling it up a-sap | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Boiling it up a-sap The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning a few things about being unemployed

First – and probably always – do as I say, not as I do.

My parents used that – “do as I say, not as I do” – on my sister and me while we were growing up in Maine. We didn’t always get the context, but we got the idea.

And I use it now because I’ve learned a few things in the past nearly year that I’ve been unemployed, some of the lessons have come from failures rather than successes.

I was laid off on March 5, 2009, from a job in the newspaper industry. I had been in the industry working as a staff writer, copyeditor, columnist, assistant news editor, opinion page editor, assistant metro editor, and as a staff writer for a newspaper website. I have some pretty varied skills and broad experiences.

Unfortunately, while I was working and achieving results for various small- to medium-sized newspapers in Northern California, I was centered on those tasks and results and not looking far enough ahead in updating skills for the future. I’m paying for that now, but I accept (nearly) full responsibility for that. The rest of the responsibility – and full and complete responsibility for the current crisis in the newspaper industry – falls squarely on the shoulders of publishers, media industry officials, and media stockholders.

I started off with the old “do as I say, not as I do,” simply because I’ve learned what I’ve learned more out of trial and error rather than trial and success. At least, not yet.

Here are a few of those things that I have learned after having been laid off:

1) Do not act rashly. It is demoralizing to be laid off, to be told that your services no longer will be required. There is a practice in human resources that says a firm should carry out firings and lay-off notices on Friday. That gives the person fired or laid off the weekend to cool off and it is supposed to cut the chances of violent retaliation. I think it may be more important for the person fired or laid off to consciously take advantage of that sort of cooling off period to consider what you want to do and what you can do. Take a couple of days to consider your options before moving toward finding a new job, shifting to a new career, or moving to gain the training and skills needed for that new career. But for goodness sake, don’t retaliate; layoffs are, unfortunately, a part of business.

2) Cut spending immediately, as in NOW, and assess your personal financial situation. Know what resources you have in savings. Know what severance you have. Know what other accounts you can access in a real pinch. That said, stay away from dipping into the 401(k) and other retirement accounts for as long as possible. Such withdrawals typically are subject to steep penalty and may not worth the short-term gain and long-term detriment.

3) Apply for unemployment insurance as soon as you are eligible. The eligibility differs slightly from state to state, but typically it is a week or two after being laid off. The application can be done online. It takes some time to fill out the application and you will need financial information, such as salary, severance, and other asset information.

4) Exercise the body. Being laid off is demoralizing. It is depressing. Physical exercise does several beneficial things, including fending off depression. It reduces stress. It makes you feel better because you are healthier. Unless you have health issues that prevent you from physical exercise, get out and walk, hike, ride a bike, take the stairs instead of an elevator. Do something.

5) Exercise the mind. Trust me, the mental stimulation resulting from working everyday and interacting with co-workers and others does a world of good to keep the brain working the way it should. Read, take tutorials for things you think you might need for the future, do puzzles. Do something. I already know that despite doing what I can to stimulate my mind every waking hour, I do not feel as sharp as I did when I was working and regularly interacting with co-workers and others. The situation would be much worse if I did not read and write everyday.

6) Eat right. This is vital to keeping your energy level high enough to do the things you need to do to get your life back on track. Empty calories should be avoided. Eat fruit and veggies. Whole grains. Take the time immediately after being laid off to get your eating habits back in line to help jumpstart your career.

7) Cut the booze. Do not crawl into a bottle. It will reduce quality sleep. It will jeopardize physical and mental wellbeing. It will make you mentally sluggish.

8 ) Remain as positive and optimistic as possible when possible. This is difficult. Hope always should be at a person’s core, but being laid off can be extremely demoralizing and stressful. And the feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming. But remembering a mantra such as “everyday a step forward” or “something good will happen soon” can help keep you moving toward recovery after being laid off.

9) Be grateful and thankful. Be gracious and supportive. What do you have to be grateful for? Thankful? Gracious, why? And supportive? You may think that there is nothing for which to be grateful, thankful, gracious? And support, you probably feel you are the one who needs the support. But there is plenty for which to be grateful, thankful and gracious. You are alive and living in a great – albeit flawed – nation with a system in place to help people like you and the others among the 15.3 million unemployed in this nation. People understand that times are tough and there seems to be less “well, he’d have a job if he tried hard enough” or “she’d be back at work if she wasn’t sucking up the unemployment insurance.” Very few people want to be unemployed. It just doesn’t make sense to willingly be unemployed. So be grateful and thankful for that system and the support system you have in place, family and friends. Be gracious to those who were laid off at the same time as you, but who are back to work before you. They deserve to be back at work. Not more than you deserve it, but sometimes that is just the luck of the draw. Understand that. Be supportive of those who have been laid off and supportive of those who are in more dire situations than you. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or kitchen. Volunteer to help disabled veterans or the elderly. Do something with the skills you have to better someone else’s life while you have a little more free time. Do something.

10) Negative feelings are not always completely negative. There will be times when you will not be able to bring yourself to be positive or optimistic. That is OK. No one has the strength to be positive and optimistic 100 percent of the time. It is OK to take a break from being positive and optimistic. As long as you learn from the down time and the down time does not last too long. You can use what you’ve learned from the negative feelings to make the positive and optimistic times last longer. While it can be healthy to vent from time to time about your own situation, remember that there is a limit to how much your family and friends should be subjected to negative statements. Sometimes you are going to have to live with your own negative feelings and ride them out until you can feel more positive and optimistic. The negative feelings will pass. And then use them to motivate you for positive action.

11) Reconnect and stay connected. You are not alone. There are 15.3 million Americans out of work. That is a lot. And most people who are laid off are not at fault. It was not my fault I was laid off from my job. It was the result of an industry in convulsions. So it is important that people who are laid off to remember that they are not alone and that it is not our fault. It is very important that a laid off person does not cut themselves off from family and friends. Stay connected. I joined the social networks Facebook and LinkedIn and started blogging, all to reconnect and stay connected with family, friends and former co-workers. I have even reconnected with high school and college classmates. Staying connected does wonders for maintaining mental wellbeing.

OK, those are 11 things that I have learned in the past year or so. I started off saying “do what I say, not what I do.” I won’t reveal exactly which of these I learned through my own personal failure, just accept that some of these were learned through painful experience rather than painless epiphany.

Landfill gas would heat UM - Bangor Daily News

Landfill gas would heat UM - Bangor Daily News

‘Loggers’ family restaurant nears opening - Bangor Daily News

‘Loggers’ family restaurant nears opening - Bangor Daily News

Harp seal draws crowd during stopover in Portland | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Harp seal draws crowd during stopover in Portland The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

'Here we go, boys. We're going to Haiti!' | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

"Here we go, boys. We're going to Haiti!" The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Monday, February 22, 2010

Coffeehouse observation No. 62

Tried a different coffeehouse today. It’s located next to a tattoo parlor and near the library branch I patronize. Had the “Red Eye” – regular coffee with two shots of espresso. It should be called “Wide Eyed” because that’s what I needed and that’s what it made me. Mural on one of the walls includes the image of woman in Daisy Dukes and hot pink hair. … I think I’ll be back to Exotic Java.
Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Looking for the next island teacher, Part One

Below is a link to a blog post by Eva Murray, a Maine island-dweller and regular contributor to the blogs. This one apparently is the first part in a series about finding a teacher to guide the children on Matinicus. The post is fun, especially since she ended up on the island answering an ad for, you guessed it, teacher. Now she’s on the school board. Ms. Murray “writes of all-things Matinicus, including wrenches, whoopie pies, and wayward reporters in search of quaint Maine,” according to her blog. – KM

Looking for the next island teacher, Part One

Bills to address Canadians working in Maine woods - Bangor Daily News

Bills to address Canadians working in Maine woods - Bangor Daily News

Maine shipmaster says aye to Sea Hunter mission | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Maine shipmaster says aye to Sea Hunter mission The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Updated NREL figures show much greater U.S. wind power potential

Updated NREL Figures Show Much Greater US Wind Power Potential

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Baldacci seeks wind power cooperation - Bangor Daily News

Baldacci seeks wind power cooperation - Bangor Daily News

Presque Isle, Houlton benefit from energy conversion grant - Bangor Daily News

Presque Isle, Houlton benefit from energy conversion grant - Bangor Daily News

Fishing derby halted after people, vehicles go through ice at Sebago - Bangor Daily News

Fishing derby halted after people, vehicles go through ice at Sebago - Bangor Daily News

Hundreds 'take it outside' at Aroostook State Park - Bangor Daily News

Hundreds 'take it outside' at Aroostook State Park - Bangor Daily News

Finalists for top job to visit Fort Kent campus | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Finalists for top job to visit Fort Kent campus The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Cannery closure end of the line for a way of life | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Cannery closure end of the line for a way of life The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Cannery closure end of the line for a way of life | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Cannery closure end of the line for a way of life The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Tide effects: A lot of hopes are riding on the final demonstration of a turbine designed to tap the powerful tides off Eastport

Tide effects The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Where 'one job means so much' | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Where 'one job means so much' The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Letters From Away moves to a new home, while keeping the old

Letters From Away, my blog about what happens in Maine and to Mainers, has a new home. But I’m not nearly ready to get rid of the old home. I like it too much.

I plan to keep Letters From Away on, but now I’m going to have a (nearly) identical version on Blogger, too. It’s called the same thing – Letters From Away – but has a slightly different URL. It is There is a link on the version to the Blogger version and a link from the Blogger version to the version.


Well, I started the original version – the version – because I wanted to keep writing during my unemployment, reach out with information about my (limited) online portfolio and my LinkedIn profile, and keep idle hands from being so idle.

Frankly, it has been a bit more time-consuming than I first expected and I’m not getting the number of visits I would like, but I do realize blogging is a bit new for me and that it takes time to generate a following. And I rarely have a chance to promote Letters From Away – or another blog I write, Coffeehouse Observer – and when I do promote it, it usually is to my Facebook friends. But I’m hoping things will pick up.

And I think this is something that I can keep up once I have a new job.

And it should be something I can do should I return to Maine. The “from away” part in the title of the blogs refers to a Mainer phrase to mean anything or any person that is from outside of Maine. It is a phrase usually spoken by a Mainer with a bit disgust. Well, quite a bit of disgust.

So, if I do return to Maine, I can simply change the name of the blogs to Back From Away and just keep on going. Or I can create new blogs and link back to the older blogs to give readers context.

To make a short answer longer, the “why” in adding the Blogger version is to spread out a bit more, to give my writing, portfolio and hunger to get back to work a wider audience.

I hope you visit either version of Letters From Away. They are on slightly different templates and the Blogger version has a news feed feature for news from Maine and the rest of New England. For that reason, I may limit the links to news stories from Maine newspapers on the Blogger version. I’ll figure out all that later.

Well, enjoy! Or not. It’s your choice.

And as always, please feel free to contact me via the blogs or email me at to report bad links, copyediting errors or whatever. Thanks!

Coffeehouse observation No. 51-61: Observations about coffee dates

A coffeehouse is a great place for a first date. It is more casual than, say, a dinner date or movie date or dinner and movie date. It is more casual than a luncheon date, even. It is a chance to be more at ease during what could be the first and only real chance to impress a woman or man.

And there are chances to bail out of the date with grace because it is such a casual date.

But there are some things that coffeehouse daters need to keep in mind. Below are a couple of observations made over the years that could help in getting to a second date.

1) Don’t be late. If you were impressed by the person enough to ask them out on a date – even a coffeehouse first date – respect them enough to be on time. Being fashionably late is not cool for a coffeehouse first date. It’s not cool for any date.

2) Dress nicely. First impressions are important. Being nicely and neatly dressed might be better than being fashionably dressed. But it is a coffeehouse date, so don’t dress up too much. Take fashion into account, but don’t go Lady Gaga.

3) Don’t spill on yourself. First impressions are important. Heard that before. Well, spilling a coffee beverage – and that’s what you’re most likely going to have in a coffeehouse on a coffeehouse first date – is not cool. It will make you look clumsy, leave a visible spot for your coffeehouse date to stare at throughout the date, and stain your clothes long after he or she has walked out on the coffeehouse date.

4) Don’t spill on your date. Do I really have to go into why this is a bad thing? Really?

5) Don’t spill on anyone else at the coffeehouse. First impressions are important. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it before. But spilling on someone at a neighboring table will make you clumsy – yeah, you’ve heard that before, too – and make you appear inconsiderate. After all, would a considerate person spill something on someone, anyone? No. And people on first dates are looking for people who are not clumsy and are considerate.

6) Don’t flirt with someone else at the coffeehouse. This also means not asking another coffeehouse patron – someone other than your coffeehouse date – for their phone number or starting a conversation with a person at another table. Just don’t do it.

7) For God’s sake, break up that muffin into bite-size bits before shoving it into your mouth. It is not impressive to spit muffin bits at your coffeehouse first date. Or to regale him or her with conversation with your mouth full of bran muffin. Chew your food! Swallow! Then talk!

8) Put the cellphone on vibrate or, better yet, silent mode. Saying you “have to take this call” and then answering it with “Hey, Baby, I can’t wait to see you tonght!” is not cool on a coffeehouse first date. Actually, it’s not cool on any date. Unless it is an emergency, every call, every voicemail message can be returned after the coffeehouse first date.

9) Don’t be judgmental, loud or obnoxious. Truly judgmental people are unacceptable. Loud people are rude people and do not merit the time of day. That’s not being judgmental. Obnoxious people are, well, just obnoxious.

10) Be polite and honest. Being polite doesn’t cost anything and it is much, much more impressive than being rude. And being honest should be a much more valued trait than physical appearance, income or the type of vehicle or home a person owns. If the coffeehouse first date is not going to lead to a second date, do not say “I’ll give you a call.” But be kind. There is no need to be impolite, dishonest and unkind, even if you plan never to see the coffeehouse first date ever again.

There, I hope that clears up for people planning a coffeehouse first date. I’m sure there are other tips, but you are just going to figure out those on your own. Good luck!

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Coffeehouse Observation No. 50

A lovely young woman in a green sweater and jeans was at the coffeehouse yesterday before I arrived and was still there when I left about six hours later. And she was reading … a book. Not an ebook, not a website, not a blog, not the back of a ceral box. A book. Granted, I believe it was a romance novel, but it was a book. A book! Go figure! She’s back today. And as she did yesterday, she shed her shoes and put her bare feet up on a vacant chair.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This fits me: ‘Born in Maine, living in exile’

(This was originally posted October 2009 on the original “Letters From Away” blog on – KM)

There is a subtle bite to the humor in New England and Maine especially. It comes from working hard and living in a fairly harsh climate.

And Mainers suffer no fools, as you might imagine. Why should they?

There are even times when the humor is served up with such skill that a person does not realize he has been made the center of a joke until he has walked away from the Mainer who administer the dig and replayed the experience from start to finish.

Being from away, I appreciate the products found on the Maine Exile Products website, including T-shirts, mugs and alike with the message: “Born in Maine. Living in exile.”

The website home page also has a tongue-in-cheek quote from New England writer Louise Dickinson Rich that pretty much sums up the feelings of a Mainer “from away”:

“Mainiacs away from Maine are truly displaced persons, only half alive, only half aware of their immediate surroundings. Their inner attention is always preoccupied and pre-empted by the tiny pinpoint on the face of the globe called Down East. They try to live not in such a manner that they will eventually be welcomed into Paradise, but only so that someday they can go home to Maine.” – Louise Dickinson Rich. (By the way, the term "Mainiacs" is a little something Mainers call themselves.)

More Maine fun to come.

Letters from away – no postage due

(Originally posted October 2009 on the original “Letters From Away” blog on blog. Both are written by the same author. – KM)

I have lived in California the past quarter century, but a day does not go by that I do not think about Maine where I was born and raised. I recall the smell of it, the taste of it, the sight of it, the sound of it, the touch of it, the people of it. It is likely that I would bleed pine sap if I were to be cut deeply enough.

Why do I not live there, then? Why do I continue – at least for now – to live on the Left Coast?

Good question. I have asked the same one a million times since 1983 when I moved to Northern California to attend California State University, Chico. I went there as part of the National Student Exchange program. I had been attending the University of Southern Maine for a couple of years, but had an itch to see other places and do other things. At the time that meant moving to California.

Once at Chico State – yes, the same Chico State regularly named as a top party school – I eventually picked journalism as a career choice and for two semesters was editor of the campus newspaper, The Orion. I also was a wildland firefighter during my college days, which was a wonderful experience. For another time and blog entry, though.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in social work, and then began a career working at small and medium-size newspapers. During the past 22 years, I have worked as a newspaper reporter, copy editor, columnist, assistant news editor, opinion page editor, assistant city editor, and Web site reporter. I have covered crime and baby derbies; horrific vehicle crashes and chili-eating contests; presidential campaign stops and beauty pageants; the Blue Angels and flew on the last flying B-24 left in the world. I have been to Africa, Germany and Haiti while working as a reporter.

And then there were the people, some famous, some not-so-famous, some infamous, and some just plain characters. That may be the very best part of journalism, meeting and writing about the type of people who make up our world.

That was part of the draw of staying in California, I suppose. I was doing things and seeing things and writing about things I was not sure I would be doing, seeing and writing about if I was back in Maine. That very probably is not true because I think this country has a very rich mix of people of all types, shapes, sizes … well, you get the idea.

So, for those reasons I have been “from away” to do things, see things, write things and meet people. And in a flash, it has been 26 years. I have lived “away” longer than I lived in Maine.

But for all that time, I have been a Mainer to the core. I am ardent in my love for Maine.

Please come back often to this blog to read about a Mainer “from away” and what he thinks about the native land that he still loves very, very much.

Should we really care about Tiger Woods and his apology?

I have been enthralled by the game of golf since I was a kid. There is a 9-hole golf course on the hill north of my hometown of Portage, Maine. It is fairly challenging for a 9-hole muni-course – lots of hills, trees and deep roughs – and it was a great place for young golfers to learn the game. I spend many great hours running up and down those hills chasing a tiny, white ball.

I grew up watching some of the best – Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and more – on weekend TV coverage. I recall watching the coverage on a black-and-white television. It was great to step up to a color TV – the grass was greenish, not gray.

It was still a time of cardigan sweaters and polite rounds of golf. The wildest things in golf were the plaid polyester pants.

Professional golfers such as John Daly and others in recent years have added a certain, um, irreverent quality to the quiet, polite game. Wild is in.

And I’m not just talking about the pants, although there is a phrase about keeping things in the pants that seems to be appropriate today.

I watched today’s apology by Tiger Woods and wondered why.

Why did he wait so long to say what he said today? Why did hide out for so long?

Why did he not speak with the Florida authorities after the crash?

Why did the golf writers’ association boycott today’s event when they could have been there and then walked out? That might have been a stronger statement.

Why did he not allow at least a few questions from the press?

Why did he say on one hand that he should not be treated differently than other people, but then demanded that be treated differently than other people of his ilk by refusing the answer questions?

Why did he fail to recognize that he is a public figure that transcends golf?

Why did he succumb to infidelity in the first place? He has so much and, therefore, so much to lose by failing to keep it in his pants.

And why was I watching it?

He is going to be back in the game of golf – the game needs it to be so, he needs it to be so, fans need it to be so, the people he helps through his foundation need it to be so.

The American fascination with Tiger Woods is perfectly understandable. He is handsome, strong, charismatic and simply the greatest ever. You can argue that if Nicklaus and Watson had the same technologically superior golf equipment and advances in nutrition and fitness, they all would be on the same level. Such comparisons are a waste of time. Each of the greats must be considered in the context of his time.

But Tiger Woods is the greatest ever.

And Americans love winners.

We also love it when the greats fall. It gives them an opportunity to be loved as underdogs striving for redemption. And Woods will be striving for redemption, if his words today are to be believed.

And I believe those words.

I believe Woods did terrible things that effected many other people – his wife and children, his mother, his family, his friends, his partners, his clients, his sponsors, and his fellow professional golfers. It takes an arrogant, selfish person to hurt that many people and keep on doing it until they are caught.

I believe he is sorry for what he did. And maybe for being caught. I believe he might have shown even more contrition today, but perhaps some of that contrition can be left for his private ongoing apologies. And for on the golf courses as he interacts with fans and fellow golfers.

I believe he has a problem between the ears that led him to do the hurtful things, but that the ongoing counseling has help so far and likely will help in the future if he continues it. He must continue it; he will never ever be completely “cured.”

I believe he was wrong to lash out at “the media” quite as hard as he did. He is a public figure that transcends golf and Elin Woods is a former model married to a public figure that transcends golf. If they are going to accept the treasures – huge tournament purses and prizes, endorsement deals, fan worship, and more – they also much accept the bad – media scrutiny and questions from the press.

Granted, TMZ-style coverage is not true, legitimate media coverage, and there should be a clearer separation between those “news” agencies that get it right once and a while and those legitimate media outlets that strive for accuracy, fairness and balance at every turn.

I believe David Feherty, a contributing columnist for Golf Magazine and a TV commentator, succumb to the allure of hyperbole when he bemoaned the media coverage of Tiger Woods as being excessive, even comparing it to Bill Clinton and others who have “fallen from grace” (“Tiger’s just another meal for the media monster”). Woods has been under the media microscope because of his infidelity for three months – just 90 days or so – while Clinton was brought up for impeachment and to this day Clinton continues to undergo the slings and arrows of a clique of conservative zealots. There’s a significant difference and Feherty, the funniest thing in golf except for my game, should know it.

Also, Feherty was wrong when he said on national broadcast television after Woods’ statement that the public does not pay Woods.

In fact, the public has paid for everything that Woods has earned and acquired. The purses and prizes for golf tournaments come from sponsors who expect consumers to remember their company name and purchase their products and services. Just because there is a middleman – the sponsor – does not mean that the public/consumers does not pay what Woods earns.

The endorsements Woods has and has lost, but will regain, also are consumer based. Buick endorsed him because Buick expected consumers to purchase Buick vehicles based on the automaker’s association with Tiger Woods. In return, he was compensated.

As a golf course architect, Woods depends on the demand by golfers who want to play on a Tiger Woods-designed golf course. If there is no demand from golfers/consumers, there is no client to partner with Woods to warrant building a course.

If there are no golf fans, no public, to buy the products endorsed by Woods, why pay him? The public does in fact pay Tiger Woods.

There will be so many views of Woods’ mea culpa. There will be those who will say that he did not go far enough, that he went too far. There are those – me included – that believe he should have come forward much sooner. There are those who might even argue that Woods owed no one except his wife, children and family an apology and explanation.

Woods will come back from this, I have no doubt. And people will cheer him onto victory. But forever, they will remember that he did grave wrongs against so many people close to him. He has a lot of making up to do.

Should we care about his apology? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Perhaps we should care less about the sordid details of his fall and much more about his recovery and redemption. We Americans love that sort of thing.

Today was just one step in that recovery, that redemption, for Woods.

Transcript of Tiger Woods’ apology:

Good morning. And thank you for joining me.

Many of you in the room are my friends. Many of you in this room know me. Many of you have cheered for me, or worked with me, or supported me, and now, every one of you has good reason to be critical of me.

I want to say to each of you, simply, and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

I know people want to find out how I could be so selfish and so foolish. People want to know how I could have done these things to my wife, Elin, and to my children. And while I have always tried to be a private person, there are some things I want to say.

Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior. As she pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words. It will come from my behavior over time. We have a lot to discuss. However, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us.

I am also aware of the pain my behavior has caused to those of you in this room. I have let you down. I have let down my fans. For many of you, especially my friends, my behavior has been a personal disappointment. To those of you who work for me, I have let you down, personally and professionally. My behavior has caused considerable worry to my business partners.

To everyone involved in my foundation, including my staff, board of directors, sponsors, and most importantly, the young students we reach, our work is more important than ever. Thirteen years ago, my dad and I envisioned helping young people achieve their dreams through education. This work remains unchanged and will continue to grow. From the Learning Center students in Southern California, to the Earl Woods Scholars in Washington, D.C., millions of kids have changed their lives, and I am dedicated to making sure that continues.

But, still, I know I have severely disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I have done the things I did. I am embarrassed that I have put you in this position. For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for.

But there is one issue I really want to discuss. Some people have speculated that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night. It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. She never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage. Ever.

Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame. The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable. And I am the only person to blame. I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in.

I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have far – didn’t have to go far to find them.

I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I have done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It is now up to me to make amends. And that starts by never repeating the mistakes I have made. It is up to me to start living a life of integrity.

I once heard – and I believe it is true – it’s not what you achieve in life that matters, it is what you overcome. Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example. Character and decency are what really count. Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all of those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.

It is hard to admit that I need help. But I do. For 45 days, from the end of December to early February, I was in inpatient therapy, receiving guidance for the issues I'm facing. I have a long way to go. But I've taken my first steps in the right direction.

As I proceed, I understand people have questions. I understand the press wants me to – to ask me for the details of the times I was unfaithful. I understand people want to know whether Elin and I will remain together. Please know that as far as I'm concerned, every one of these questions and answers is a matter between Elin and me. These are issues between a husband and a wife.

Some people have made up things that never happened. They said I used performance-enhancing drugs. This is completely and utterly false.

Some have written things about my family. Despite the damage I have done, I still believe it is right to shield my family from the public spotlight. They did not do these things. I did. I have always tried to maintain a private space for my wife and children. They have been kept separate from my sponsors, my commercial endorsements, when my children were born, we only released photographs so they ... so that the paparazzi could not chase them.

However, my behavior doesn’t make it right for the media to follow my 2½-year-old daughter to school and report the school’s location. They staked out my wife and pursued my mom. Whatever my wrongdoings, for the sake of my family, please leave my wife and kids alone.

I recognize I have brought this on myself. And I know above all I am the one who needs to change. I owe it to my family to become a better person. I owe it to those closest to me to become a better man. That is where my focus will be. I have a lot of work to do. And I intend to dedicate myself to doing it.

Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.

As I move forward, I will continue to receive help because I have learned that is how people really do change. Starting tomorrow, I will leave for more treatment and more therapy.

I would like to thank my friends at Accenture and the players in the field this week for understanding why I am making this – these remarks today. In therapy, I have learned that looking at – the importance of looking at my spiritual life and keeping in balance with my professional life. I need to regain my balance and be centered so I can save the things that are most important to me: my marriage and my children.

That also means relying on others for help. I have learned to seek support from my peers in therapy, and I hope someday to return that support to others who are seeking help.

I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don’t know when that day will be. I don’t rule out that it will be this year. When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.

In recent weeks, I have received many thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls from people expressing good wishes. To everyone who has reached out to me and my family, thank you. Your encouragement means the world to Elin and me. I want to thank the PGA Tour, Commissioner [Tim] Finchem and the players for their patience and understanding while I work on my private life. I look forward to seeing my fellow players on the course.

Finally, there are many people in this room and there are many people at home who believed in me. Today, I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your hearts to one day believe in me again. Thank you.