Oct 15, 2014

Experiences, not things

I've been trying hard to get outside more often. I think it's good for my headspace. On Thanksgiving Monday, the young man and I went to the valley to have lunch in Pete Luckett's vineyard and to hike Cape Split. Here's the view at the end of the hike. The sun was setting on a day filled with glad things.

And today I went on another hike with my friend S. We walked up into the backlands to look down over the south shore coastline. We've started doing more together on Wednesdays, when most other people are at work. It's restful. We always end up doing something new. Today after the hike we visited a blacksmith she knows, who invited us back to make hooks in the forge someday. Later, we climbed up on her roof and looked out at the bay. I always feel happy when we're out doing things together. I think that's because I'm not thinking of anything except what is happening at the moment.

The Atlantic published an article last week about buying experiences, not things. "When you can't live in a moment, they say, it's best to live in anticipation of an experience," author James Hamblin writes.

On the roof in the sunshine I was just happy to be there, with maybe a touch of pleasant anticipation for the next time we do something. It's a good place to be.

Sep 11, 2014

Summer Vacation

September already? The summer was too short, as always. Got to wonder where it goes. 

I spent most of it working. Some of the stories that stick in my mind include two parents searching for their missing daughter, concerns about a new policy for ESL teachers, and pro wrestling (which included a crash course in arm locks). This August I took a crash course in sailing as well. I sailed many summers in my teens. It was wonderful to get back on the water at Bedford Basin Yacht Club. I kept running all summer and explored some new trails around Halifax. I'll be doing another 5k in the MEC Race 4 at the end of this month. Also, I finally started working on how to throw a baseball properly. I mentioned this goal that I'd been procrastinating about to my friend A, who went and got me a baseball and also told me to look up Mo'ne Davis, the 13-year-old star Little League pitcher. Now that's throwing like a girl. 

For the Labour Day weekend I went up to northern Nova Scotia. My friend F told me long ago to get up to Cape D'Or. There is a cottage there that used to belong to the lighthouse keeper. Now it is a guesthouse. 

I kept the window open at night to hear the ocean on the rocks below the cliff. Sometimes you can hear it, and sometimes you can't. 

Two conflicting streams of tide come together at Cape D'Or. They call it the Dory Rips, and it was roaring away when I first arrived. I've never seen the ocean act like that anywhere else. The Dory Rips crashes especially when the tide is turning and you can see the waves churning just beyond the lighthouse point and the rocks. But sometimes - I think when the tide is fully in or out - it is silent at Cape D'Or. The "lighthouse keeper" and owner of the guesthouse is Darcy. 

We stood out after dinner and listened and it was absolutely quiet in the dark. He said sometimes he turns off the fridge and all the lights just so he can hear the silence better. That's how quiet it is; you can hear the refrigerator going when you're standing at the cliff. 

And on one day of the year, if the conditions are exactly right, you can look east across the Bay of Fundy and the sun comes up and sends a beam of light right through the split in Cape Split across to Cape D'Or. It only lasts for a minute, and you can only see it if there's no haze or fog. In 15 years at the lighthouse Darcy has only seen it twice. The day is around August 29 or so. I missed it by two days, though with the fog I wouldn't have seen it anyway. But it was charming and quiet and lovely, and I'm glad I made it up there at last. 

Jul 21, 2014

The Laughing Heart

Last week I threw a party. It was a no-reason party, a let's-celebrate-because-we-can party. A dozen people came. We ate off mismatched plates and drank the wine from mason jars and used every last spoon in the drawer. Everyone had a good time.

My friend E stopped to look at my fridge. Many people look at my fridge for entertainment when they come over. This is my fridge.

E found a poem tacked to the fridge and got rather excited and came over and said, "I used to have that poem written down in the front of a book, but I lost it and I never knew its name or the author, and here it is on your fridge!" This is the poem.

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life 
don't let it be clubbed into dank submission. 
be on the watch. 
there are ways out. 
there is a light somewhere. 
it may not be much light but 
it beats the darkness. 
be on the watch. 
the gods will offer you chances. 
know them. 
take them. 
you can't beat death but 
you can beat death in life, sometimes. 
and the more often you learn to do it, 
the more light there will be. 
your life is your life. 
know it while you have it. 
you are marvelous 
the gods wait to delight 
in you.

Charles Bukowski

I asked E how she came to lose the book. She said, "I had a friend who was going through a rough time, and she seemed to need it more than me. So I gave it to her." I said things we love tend to come back around. Maybe that didn't make sense. Maybe it wasn't, in the strictest sense, true. But we were happy and it felt true at the time. 

So anyway, here it is. I'm posting it for someone who needs it more than I do. Be on the watch. 

Jun 25, 2014

First 5k complete

A couple of months ago I told you that I was training for my first five kilometre race ever. Well, I ran it on Sunday and I'm very pleased to say I hit all my goals. It was the MEC Halifax Race 3, along the Salt Marsh Trail and Cole Harbour Heritage Park. A beautiful run through a forested area - but damn those hills!

I ran with a friend, which made the time seem shorter. I finished in 34 minutes exactly, which isn't going to win me many prizes, but I was satisfied. I thought my time would be between 35 and 37 minutes. Also, the more important goal: I didn't stop to walk once. It was awfully hard on the last hill, but I kept thinking about something that happened to me during training:

A few weeks back I was struggling to get over the 20-25 minute mark. I run with my phone, which has an app that counts down several different markers. I try not to watch the clock, but during one particularly tough run I glanced at the timer, thinking, "It's got to be time to stop."

There were six more minutes left on the clock. I gritted my teeth and settled in for six more minutes of pain, when suddenly the bell rang to end the run. I'd mis-read the timer. Instead of six more minutes, there were 60 more seconds to go. But I'd been mentally prepared to go farther, which made all the difference. 

May 27, 2014

The World Cup

It's almost time for the World Cup again. Hard to believe four years have passed. Sadly, I can't take a road trip like I did last time, but I will watch when I can. Normally I'm not huge on football but I can see there's an elegance to it, this beautiful game. I like the energy and the feeling of being united with other people around the world. 

My friend O, for example, took this picture of people celebrating on College Street in Toronto after the Spanish win in 2010. She told me it was incredible. She wanted me to be there with her on top of the streetcar, but I know at that very moment I was in the orange Netherlands camp in Halifax, and we were all a little let down because we'd just lost, but it was okay because it's just football and we were all there together. 

I'll be with you in spirit!

May 14, 2014

25 minutes and counting

I cracked 25 minutes of straight running yesterday. It's still tough for me, but two months ago I would never have said that was possible. 

I also worked out my run time. It's somewhere between 6.1 and 6.6 minutes to a kilometre. I'm told this is on the slow side of perfectly respectable, though it doesn't really matter in the end. My goal is not to come first, second, or in the top percentiles of the race. It's simply to finish. I said that I would run five kilometres. That's it. No stopping, no walking. I'll run slowly if I have to, and however long it takes me I will keep running. 

I didn't start this project to lose weight, or even to get in shape (though I've undeniably been feeling the benefits). In fact, looking back I don't think I did it for bodily exercise at all. It's more of an exercise for the will. 

All my life I've avoided physically tough things. The handful of times someone got me to try running in the past, I've always stopped too early. Say I'd be running along the sidewalk, trying to get to the next corner before slowing to walk. Almost every time I'd give up before getting to the corner, right about when my lungs started to burn. 

The problem was, I had more in me but I wasn't used to pushing myself. It was easier to walk away. Oh sure, I could push myself academically, but not physically. I wasn't an athlete, never even played sports at school. I simply didn't know how to dig deep, how to "just do it." It never occurred to me until now that physical courage and grit can be cultivated. I just thought there are some people who are naturals at this stuff and some people who aren't. 

Some of my friends (rock climbers, marathon runners, triathletes) have the ability to push themselves too hard. They'll force on until they vomit or collapse or cut their hands open on sharp rock. That isn't good, but there's certainly nothing wrong with their force of will. Given enough exercise, mine might measure up someday. 

May 13, 2014

How to find stories

I originally started "How to find stories" because I needed a place to keep my links. Since then it has been circulated in the newsroom, and it's even being used in the journalism schools. I'm surprised but pleased that it's helping other people. I want it to stay useful, so I've cleaned up the links and I'll keep adding to it. 

Bookmark this page, or access it in a link from a sidebar on the blog. Please keep emailing or tweeting me suggestions and I'll update the list again in time. 

-Go to neighbourhood meetings and talk to people. This should be the best way to get good stories, but it's time-consuming and probably the most ignored. When I'm feeling civic-minded I'll go to a meeting in the evening. Sometimes people there say something gold...sometimes I doodle for two straight hours. 

-Go to places where people gather: coffee shops, public meetings, protests, open houses, community centres, the local convenience store, libraries, the medical clinic. Talk to people there. Look at the notices in the windows. 

-Read constantly. Read the newsletters that come in your mailbox from local businesses. Read your municipal councillor's message to the community. Read bulletin boards. Read everything with words on it. 

-Check Facebook. What are your friends saying, protesting about, attending, getting angry about? 

-Check Twitter. What's the buzz? Location-based tweets are getting more and more specific. What's trending in your area? Try checking lists other than your own home page. Many people curate public lists based on region or interest ("Fab from Nova Scotia" or "Local writers"). Engage and ask questions. Reply to comments. Online Twitter activity can be mapped at www.xefer.com/twitter

-Check blogs. You can find blog directories listed by region on Blogger and Wordpress, or (since like-minded bloggers tend to link themselves together) you can just go where the related links take you. Everyone from neighbourhood associations to business groups are starting blogs and posting their issues online. 

-Keep an eye on media outlets: CBC, the Herald, the Globe, Metro, CTV, Global, Rogers 95.7, The Coast, allnovascotia.com. Make sure to include the small town papers and the even smaller neighbourhood newspapers (like the Chebucto News, the Trident, the Masthead, the North Dartmouth Echo). You can even try the gossip papers. I've never found many ideas I could use from the international media, but they're worth a skim if only for a good read. 

-When you're in a coffee shop, have a skim through alternative media like student newspapers and homeless papers. Tune the car to community radio stations like CKDU 88.1 once in a while. 

-Say 'yes' to being put on mailing lists and let people know that they should feel free to email you upcoming events. Don't say yes to all of them because that can be overwhelming, but it's not bad to be on a few lists if you've found them useful in the past. 

-Look at the listings of federalprovincial, and municipal tenders. Try neighbouring provinces as well. -If you have access to newswires such as the Canadian Press, check them. 

-Government grants can make for good stories, like the federal government's disclosure of ACOA grants 

-Check the Utility and Review board's new decisions. Check out both what's recently been decided, and what's coming up for a hearing. 

-The Nova Scotia courts have a searchable decisions database online. Be aware there's sometimes a delay between the release of a decision and when it appears online. 

-The provincal government puts out the Royal Gazette of its activities in two parts. Part I is the Province's official weekly government record of proclamations and other statutory notices. Part II is all regulations filed with the Registry of Regulations. 

-The city of Halifax has a planning website that breaks down building proposals and developments. Also on the city website, you can find the past and upcoming agendas and minutes from council. Council is further broken down into six community councils, which also have their own agendas and minutes pages. A huge help is the HRM Event Calendar (on the left hand column on the main website). 

-Events listings such as those on Kijiji's community page are broken down by activities, groups, events, etc. SNAP Halifax also has an Event CalendarIt's a long shot but never say never. It worked for me once. 

-All registered charities are required to submit their financial information to the federal government. They're visible here.

-Set a timer. When something significant happens, run to your smartphone and make a calendar reminder to check back on it. Maybe a report on the cause of the accident will be released in two months. Maybe the 20th anniversary of Westray is coming up next year.

-Check today's CRTC decisions. 

-Industry news sites like the Seafood News

-The Halifax Regional School Board meets approximately once a month. Agendas are posted here. Also check the minutes from the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, the Strait Regional School Board, the South Shore Regional School Board, the Tri-County Regional School Board, and if you read French better than I do, the CSAP.  

-Go look at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court listings. I used to muck around in there every day when working for allnovascotia.com. If you go down to the Supreme Court, there's an office on the main level. In the office there's a binder that anyone can look at where the staff put a list of court cases that were freshly filed yesterday. There's a binder for civil cases and a binder for probate cases. You will only see the names of both parties in the case; if you want to look at the actual documents, you have to pay a fee to get the file. It's a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack, but if you are good at recognizing names and companies you might be able to find something significant. 

-Building on court stuff, the Tax Court of Canada is exactly what it sounds like. According to its website, most appeals deal with "income tax, goods and services tax, and employment insurance."

-CNW Newswire and Marketwire contain press releases. Mostly company product announcements but sometimes other things too. 

-The Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System or CADORS national report is the federally-run database of incidents involving Canadian aircraft or airspace across the country. You occasionally see things like a runway closed because a plane hit a bald eagle. Update: I just learned that the CADORS report is actually updated if an investigation leads to more information. So you could check back on past incidents. 

-Speaking of aviation, check the Transportation and Safety Board of Canada's news releases.

-Read message boards like reddit.com (try searching keywords like Halifax, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). -This tip via Alison Delorey (@aldelory on Twitter): "I'd also suggest that if you write for a lot of trade or b2b publications that you stay on top of industry news and events like regional or national meetings or AGMs. Also think about "honoured" days both obvious (Earth Day) and lesser known (World School Milk Day) and think about connecting story pitches to those events."

-From Jon Tattrie (@jontattrie): "I often check sites like Dal News for stories. They do them as the official voice of the organization, of course, but often there is something that can be re-spun into a story or a feature."

-For more university news, try Unews.ca and the University of King's College Journalism publications. 

-A good resource is the environmental assessments filed with the province. You can see all projects, projects under review, and completed reviews. You can also sign up for email updates on new projects and ministerial decisions. See also the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry, a searchable database of environmental assessments that pertain to federal departments or federal legislation. The explanations on the CEAR are very detailed and helpful. 

-The Canadian Legal Information Institute is great for finding legal decisions. It has a wider scope than the Courts of Nova Scotia website because in addition to the courts decisions, it includes legislation (statutes and regulations), and decisions from boards (labour, privacy, human rights, discipline, and securities) for all provinces and territories. This is useful for labour arbitration decisions, human rights rulings, etc. 

-SEDAR is the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval. This is the place where you can find a lot of Canadian securities information, such as the financial statements of publicly traded companiesEDGAR is the equivalent American resource. I first learned how to use SEDAR while working at RBC Dominion Securities one summer, and I'm ridiculously pleased it still comes in handy. 

-The Notice to Mariners is put out every month by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, together with the Coast Guard. It has updated nautical chart corrections and safety announcements. In a coastal province like Nova Scotia this can be important. 

-Other resources for marine stories include Canada's Vessel Registration System, and MarineTraffic.com, which shows some (but not all) ships in the area. 

-The RCMP and Halifax Regional Police put news releases on their websites. There is also the daily police report from the HRP. 

-Online Property Assessment Information is a database run by the body that assesses property values in Nova Scotia. That value is used by municipalities in calculating taxes. It has maps of the property lines and assessed values dating back ten years. 

-Property Online is a very useful subscriber-based website from Service Nova Scotia, showing who owns what land in the province. See maps, surveyors descriptions, names and addresses of property owners and the dates the land changed ownership, and even scanned copies of the deed. There is a fee to use the service, and it is not cheap. You must sign a user agreement that takes 10 days to process in order to use at home, but I've been told if you're in a hurry you can go to one of the office locations and pay a per-search fee (not sure if that's still correct, though). In a similar vein, you can pay to use the NS Lien Check on property such as motor vehicle, trailer, mobile home, airplane, boat, or outboard motor.

-If you're into health and science topics and looking for public meetings, check the Canadian Institute of Health Research's list of "cafes," which are public panel discussions on various topics. 

-The Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks is a great place to find out more about any registered business in the province.

-Nova Scotia's Vital Signs is a site that wants to show "how communities in Nova Scotia compare to the national average." Statistics are compiled from StatsCan, the OECD, and the Canadian Medical Association. The site is funded by the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia, which is funded by donors and corporate sponsors listed on its main page.

-Here's a link to an excellent web page chock-full of tips on reporting methods from a Carleton University journalism graduate class by CP's Jim Bronskill and CBC's David McKie.

-Check your MP, councillor or MLA's website or Facebook group. They may have meetings. 

-If you need an old version of a website or something that has been taken off the Internet, you could try Cached Pages or the Wayback Machine

-If you're really bored, try different versions of Google searches. Google offers a news search, and a blog search. You could also try typing in the names of smaller towns such as "Lunenburg," "Bridgewater," etc. and do a search by date. Maybe someone is talking about them recently online. 

-Nova Scotia's human rights commission board of inquiry decisions are listed here.  

-We recently did a whole CBC story on the department of agriculture's food inspection reports.

-For crime reporting, consider the Parole Board of Canada

Here are some tips from a CBC research course I took: 

-Genealogy sites such as ancestry.com or rootsweb.org have valuable searchable databases for establishing family relationships. Rootsweb is free and has an obituary index with good coverage of Canada.

-Full digital versions of newspaper databases are valuable in searching for births, deaths, weddings, and other announcements that help establish family relationships. 

-You can check any personal or corporate bankruptcy going back to 1978, and all receiverships going back to 1993, at Industry Canada's site. There is a fee of $8 per search but they generally give journalists free access. You'll have to register for an account. 

-U.S. jail records: you can find the location of an inmate or former inmate in a federal prison from 1982 to the present at www.bop.gov on the Inmate Locator tab. 

-For MPs, federal political parties or party leadership candidates, the best place to look for contributions and expenses is www.elections.ca

-A gateway to public record databases in the U.S. is www.searchsystems.net this also provides good gateways to Canadian provinces and other countries around the world (I hope you will recognize some links from my list!)

-Aircraft can be searched at Transport Canada's Canadian Civil Aircraft Register

-Car histories are available for a fee at www.carfax.com (US) or www.carproof.com (Canada)

-Information on federally-incorporated companies such as address and directors (must be requested) can be found at Corporations Canada

-LinkedIn can be a valuable resource, and journalists who do a half-hour orientation session can be upgraded to a premium account for free for one year. Yumi Wilson conducts regular training sessions on how to use the service for journalists. She was very accommodating about my schedule, too. I did this last year and found it was moderately helpful in finding people and learning about their job history. 

-Most importantly...keep your eyes and ears open.