travel

Sharing universal challenges and successes in journalism

As a digital reporter in a daily newsroom, time is often a luxury. Gone are the days of writing for a print deadline – readers today want their news on tablets, on smartphones, on computers and they want it now.

But because our news cycles move so quickly, it’s that much more important to invest time in professional development and to continually fine-tune our craft when the opportunity arises. I’m grateful to the Jack Webster Foundation for awarding me a 2019 Poynter Fellowship, which allowed me to visit the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. in April 2019 for the Summit for Reporters and Editors in Multi-platform Newsrooms.

Since my daily duties and priorities are focused on the digital aspects of our news coverage, my main goal in attending Poynter was to learn new strategies and digital tools for engaging with audiences and building loyal online readers. What I experienced was so much more.

A large focus of the six-day summit was to revisit the process of storytelling: from crafting a story pitch to editing. Jacqui Banaszynski led several workshops that reminded me just how much of journalism happens long before a reporter sits down to write. She detailed how beat maps can help a reporter understand and establish a beat, and how reader wheels and stakeholder wheels can help us look at a story from new angles. Jacqui also took us through the step-by-step process of breaking down large concepts into manageable stories and how single events can be blown up into big ideas.

Ren LaForme introduced us to a number of digital tools for both increasing productivity in the workplace and for use in telling stories digitally. It was encouraging to hear how much digital tools do matter and propel other newsrooms, and to see very clear examples of how my role as a digital reporter can support and impact the wider newsroom and its goals. I am currently testing a number of tools Ren suggested and plan to propose trial implementation for several in the coming months.

Editing and publishing my own reporting is a daily occurrence on the digital desk. Maria Carrillo’s workshop about editing on deadline was a great reminder of how important it is to make time to edit, even when there seems to be no time. She took us through a practical checklist of things to watch for while editing and reminded me of how important it is to “just let go” when editing a story. “Be passionate in pursuit of the story but be dispassionate as you edit” is something I will carry with me into all my future editing.

Beyond the workshops each day, my time at Poynter introduced me to journalists from across a range of backgrounds and newsrooms. It was encouraging to see that our challenges are universal but that our successes can be shared. I was both impressed and inspired by each person’s motivation to report, their eagerness to improve and the desire to better their newsrooms.

The experience I had at Poynter is something I would encourage every journalist I know to pursue. It was a humbling experience that pushed me to examine my weaknesses but also allowed me to see how those weaknesses could be improved. Even as I returned to work, the encouragement I found at Poynter has continued to influence the way I approach my role in the newsroom and I believe has changed my reporting for years to come.

Arvin Joaquin is the associate editor at Daily Xtra in Toronto but is originally from Vancouver. Yay for finding B.C. friends all the way in Florida!

Advertisements

VIFF 2017: A meditation on Asian moms

Meditation Park (2017)
Written and Directed by Mina Shum
Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma, Sandra Oh

•••

Growing up, there was a certain stoicism to my family that I didn’t see in the households of my non-Asian friends. It’s why as an adult I enjoy seeing a different side of my mom when we joke around or share experiences that, while growing up, we maybe didn’t pursue as frequently as, say, Westerners.

Seeing a movie at the theatre is one of those experiences because, for one, while my parents may enjoy the outing, they don’t easily relate to anything you might find at your local Cineplex. So when I was checking out films for the Vancouver International Film Festival and read the synopsis for the locally filmed Meditation Park, I knew it was a movie my mom needed to see.

Written and directed by Mina Shum and starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma and Sandra Oh, the film follows the journey of Maria, a long-settled immigrant who discovers her husband of many decades, the man she has been dutifully caring for and with which she has raised two adult children, has been having an affair.

What follows is Maria’s rediscovery of self and her pursuit of freedom. Slowly, her world opens up and she begins to see the many paths that lead to independence, whether it’s learning how to sell parking near the Pacific National Exhibition or making an unlikely friend.

Maria often hides her opinions and feelings from her husband, not out of fear but as a form of respect because that is what Chinese families do: we respect and we defer to the patriarch, no matter how frustrating it can be at times. Wives grin and bear it while their husbands fume; children clench their fists but remain quiet while their fathers lecture.

It may seem absurd to outsiders, but in Chinese culture, putting up with it is almost a form of respect and obedience. The challenge, as an immigrant in a new world, is learning to mesh your cultural values with the freedoms offered by your adopted Western home. Meditation Park highlights that experience beautifully through the eyes of someone who is beginning to realize there may be another way to “save face” but still stand up for oneself.

My mom and I went to see the film on opening night of the festival. Tickets were sold out but I told her we could take a chance in the standby line.

“There’s no guarantee we’ll get tickets, you’re OK that?”

“I’m fine with it,” she said, nodding her head and pulling up her posture, as if to prove she was fit for the job. Thankfully, a pair of strangers decided they didn’t need their tickets and were happy to share them with us.

With my mom on my 1st birthday, 1988.

When the credits rolled, I asked my mom what she thought and how she felt about the film. There are qualities in the character of Maria that I recognized in my mom, among them, the longing to be independent, to focus on herself without guilt.

My mom said she admired Maria’s bravery and boldness, and that she wished she could do the same. She remarked that, having lived in Canada for decades, Meditation Park was the first film she had seen that so clearly depicted life as a long-time Chinese immigrant in Canada. She has seen plenty of Chinese films (she was very excited to recognize Cheng Pei Pei and Tzi Ma) and has seen her share of English-language films, but Meditation Park was the first film to speak to her in a way she understood.

After the film, she wanted to meet the director and so, as a good daughter trying not to be embarrassed that my mom was so starstruck, I took her down to the theatre’s main floor to meet Ms. Shum.

Mina Shum, the writer and director of Meditation Park, is pictured on set in this handout photo.

Tapping Ms. Shum on the shoulder, I apologized for interrupting and thanked her for making the film and introduced my mom. She asked my mom what she thought and I immediately recognized the all too familiar look in my mom’s eyes.

Overwhelmed and emotional, she asked Ms. Shum if she spoke Cantonese and when Ms. Shum responded with a yes, my mom told her, in Cantonese, that the film was “very good, very enjoyable” and squeezed her clasped hands. I chimed in to say I didn’t think my mom had ever seen a movie she related with so well before.

“Our stories don’t get told very well,” said Ms. Shum empathetically.

And what a loss it is that our stories aren’t told very well or very frequently. In the case of my mom, she recognized in Maria a kindred spirit and as a result, the film validated some of the feelings I suspect she grapples with.

This is why representation in film matters, most of all. It’s so that people like my mom, whose stories are often considered “niche” and sidelined by Hollywood, can be affirmed in the spotlight, encouraged and told that they matter too.

You can see Meditation Park as a part of VIFF on Sept. 30 and Oct. 11, though both remaining screenings are currently sold out. The film opens in theatres March 9, 2018.

•••

General Notes

  • The dialogue is a mix of Chinese and English, with subtitles, and for anyone who is nervous about a subtitled film, don’t be. This is literally how my brain functions when I am home and visiting family: I speak to my parents in English, they respond in a garbled mix of Chinese and English. It’s a thing.
  • Maria’s confusion, anger and sadness is communicated throughout the film with a thunderous rumbling, reminiscent of the drums you might hear during a Chinese lion dance. Listen for it, it’s used so well.
  • In press materials, Sandra Oh is quoted as saying: “After I read the script for the first time I was struck by how beautiful, subtle and deep it was. Really, I feel like Mina wrote a love letter to Asian immigrant moms and I really wanted to be a part of it.”
  • There wasn’t a lot of time spent exploring the relationship between Sandra Oh and Zak Santiago’s Ava and Jonathan but the few moments they had in the film speak so loudly when contrasted with the relationship between Maria and her husband Bing (Tzi Ma).

VANCOUVER COLLECTIVE HOUSING DOCUMENTARY RELEASED THIS MONTH

collectivehousing_coverLast fall, I wrote a story about a locally filmed documentary called Better Together, which looks at collective living as a solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

As most of us are aware, housing in Vancouver is not easy to come by – unless you’ve got cash to burn, don’t mind living in less-than-ideal rentals, or have all the time in the world to spend hunting down an available apartment. And if you have a pet? Good luck.

That’s where collective living comes in. Collective living is a return to community living, where people choose to live in a family setting and commit to spending quality time together. It’s not just your average roommate situation.

The documentary was pitched by local video journalist Jen Muranetz as an introduction to collective living and how it might be a viable alternative for the many folks in Vancouver searching for a home. The documentary was entered into the Storyhive competition and ended up being one of 30 finalists selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant.

The documentary was released earlier this month and you can watch it below. Congrats to Jen and everyone else attached to the project!

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

VIFF 2016: Introverts, conspiracy theories, and love stories

Today’s the last day of the Vancouver International Film Festival, and I can happily say I am done for the year. I’ve previously only seen up to three films in a single year, but I managed to fit in five in 2016. It felt incredibly ambitious but I’m glad I did it.

Here’s a quick run-down of the films I was able to see this year.

•••

The Lockpicker
Directed by Randall Okita; Starring Kelgian Umi Tang

I fall somewhere in the middle on the introvert-extrovert scale, but admittedly lean closer to the extroverted end. So it can be hard for me to understand introverts though I do put effort into accommodating the introverts in my life.

The Lockpicker paints a beautiful image of what it’s like living in one’s mind, wanting or needing to retreat internally, but also desiring to engage with the world outside. Newcomer Kelgian Umi Tang stars as Hashi, who is stunned by the suicide of a close friends and as a result, is forced against his nature to explore ways to escape – and even survive – his own circumstances, beyond what he’s usually comfortable treading.

The film is dark and can be heavy, but is also filled with glimpses of light and hope when Hashi begins to see a possible way out. The Lockpicker very much locks the audience in Hashi’s mind and doesn’t let us leave until Hashi himself finds a way out.

•••

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
Directed by Daniel Raim; Starring Harold and Lillian Michelson

Harold and Lillian is most certainly “a Hollywood love story” but in many ways, it is so much more than that. The documentary follows the relationship between storyboard artist Harold and film librarian Lillian Michelson, but also takes detours (that don’t seem like detours) into each of Harold and Lillian’s own career paths.

If anything, the documentary illustrated what it looks like when two people are truly rooting for each other and back each other up. Through animated frames of milestones in their life together and greeting cards Harold has written Lillian over the years, viewers get the sense that yes, Harold and Lillian are a team, always have been, and always will be.

And Hollywood isn’t just a backdrop for Harold and Lillian’s love story; there’s the impression that it was their love that made Hollywood a little more gentle, kind, and easy to tackle in those early years. In a way, the couple’s love for each other was only matched by their love for their work and for Hollywood.

•••

Gimme Danger
Directed by Jim Jarmusch; Starring Jim Osterberg

Gimme Danger is helmed by Jim Jarmusch and dives into the early days of iconic rock group Iggy and the Stooges. Knowing the space that Iggy Pop (Jim Osterberg) and the Stooges now inhabit in the annals of rock, it’s fascinating to meet them as misfit, abusive teenagers, pushing themselves and each other on stage, and to fully realize that they weren’t always the revered rock pioneers they are today.

Even more jarring is to strip away what we know of them now, and to see Osterberg, not yet aged by drug use and rock and roll, as a nearly clean-cut drummer for local high school bands. To think that this well-suited, tie-wearing drummer would later bleed and writhe on stage for no reason other than to spur on his band mates’ performance can only elicit one appropriate, seemingly obvious response: “Of course. OF COURSE.”

As far as rock documentaries go, Gimme Danger offers the exact kind of nuggets fans hope for, such as Osterberg discussing how he took a hit of Mescaline and headed off with a shovel to try and squat in an abandoned house that would later become home to the Stooges’ early days. Of course. OF COURSE.

•••

Operation Avalanche
Directed by Matt Johnson; Starring Matt Johnson and Owen Williams

Movies about making movies hold a strange, special place between reality and fiction. Operation Avalanche, much like Matt Johnson’s previous film The Dirties, is no exception.

In 2013’s The Dirties, Johnson and Owen Williams play a pair of high school students making a film about high-school bullies. The line between what’s part of the story and what’s part of their actual filmmaking process begins to blur, and it’s at that point where audiences stop laughing and start becoming concerned for – well, we’re not sure who to be concerned for because we’re not sure if the movie in the movie has slowly become real life (in the movie).

Operation Avalanche follows the CIA’s crack audio-visual team, which has been embedded at NASA in the 1960s and tasked with staging the moon landing when it’s discovered NASA can’t do it themselves. It’s presented in much the same way The Dirties was structured; the characters don’t break the fourth wall, but more so step in and out of it fluidly. When Johnson reveals to his CIA supervisor that he’s being filmed unknowingly through a one-way window by a member of the A/V team, the audience feels like it should wave back as well.

It’s interesting to see how Johnson and his team have matured and changed in the last three years since The Dirties was released. In Operation Avalanche, Johnson is much more assured about absorbing the audience itself into the story. The film is a hell of a good time, an intelligent conspiracy theory suspense-comedy-thriller that makes you wonder what Johnson will cook up next.

•••

Harry Benson: Shoot First
Directed by Justin Bare and Matthew Miele; Starring Harry Benson

They teach you in journalism school not to become part of the story, in order to avoid any semblance of bias or influence. But what a joy that noted photojournalist Harry Benson is the story.

Harry Benson: Shoot First documents Benson’s many years in photography and goes into detail sharing the story behind some of the Scotsman’s most recognizable and iconic photos. The stories of his many interactions with celebrities are a joy to listen to, such as how legendary pop star Michael Jackson would often compliment Benson’s jackets and end up adopting them for his own wardrobe. Or perhaps how Benson managed to elbow out competing photographers through wit, charm, and cheekiness. (He’d hear from a subject that they hated cursing and so he’d go around telling other photographers that the subject loved cursing.)

It’s also one of the most beautifully shot documentaries I’ve seen, with camera angles many would never think to stage for a simple sit-down interview. Slideshows of Benson’s photographs paired with scene-setting music pulls the audience deeper into each image, as if we were there too when the photo was taken.

As a journalist myself, the documentary lights a fire in me, and reiterates the importance of being there, being present, and being absorbed by a story or a subject. Benson offered his subjects something more than just a camera lens, he offered himself and it’s because of those relationships and that trust that Benson has been allowed – and even invited – to document some of the world’s most famous faces and scenes.

Vancouver collective housing documentary wins Storyhive grant

It’s always nice to hear updates from people I’ve written stories about and to learn that things are going well.

I Interviewed Jen Muranetz last month about collective living. She’s a video journalist and had pitched a short documentary on collective housing to the Storyhive competition. She’s hoping the documentary will explain what co-housing is and how it might be a viable solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

Those who are skeptical would do well to hear her out. After spending a couple of hours interviewing Jen and her housemates at their home – affectionately called the Lounge – I was starting to think maybe I’d be ready to move in too. Even if it’s not for you, it’s a very interesting lifestyle and one that was fascinating to learn about.

Anyway. I received an email from Jen today, letting me know her project, titled Better Together, was one of 30 finalists who had been selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant. Congratulations and I look forward to checking out the documentary when it’s completed.

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

Getting answers about short films

What if… Just what if you could have the answer to any question that has ever crossed your mind? Would you ask?

I recently wrote about the Crazy 8s Film Festival, taking place here in Vancouver. (You can read that story here.) The assignment opened my eyes to the possibilities and challenges of short films. Similar to what I do as a tabloid reporter, short films force filmmakers to tell their story without frills, without the luxury of length and time. You’re really tasked with picking out the most important aspects of what it is you want to communicate.

Back to my introduction. While discussing the Crazy 8s Film Festival recently, I was introduced to The Answers, a short film starring Daniel Lissing and Rose McIvor, and directed by Michael Goode. It explores that idea of what we’d do and how we’d respond if we had definitive answers for all of life’s most pressing questions. What would you ask? Would you want to know? It’s interesting to note what questions get asked in the film’s eight-minute duration. I suspect it’s not too far off from what most of us would wonder.

Watch the film below.

the coolest app i’ve seen all week

World Lens is a smartphone app that translates different languages in real-time using your phone’s built-in camera. It doesn’t work on text that is too small or highly stylized text but hey! If you’re a world traveller, it’s a handy app to have around.

Courtesy: Quest Visual

Credit: Quest Visual

Google’s just bought up the app and is offering it for free so I suggest you get on that. There’s usually a charge for each of the in-app language packs, but they’re all free to download right now so why not?

I just tested this on a sign that said “four pigs in a blanket” – don’t ask, long story – and it accurately translated it into French. Awesome, right?

You can read more about the app on TechRepublic over here. iPhone users can download World Lens in the App Store, and Android users can download it in the Google Play Store.

#Lifehacks: Disney Edition

We're here!Anyone who’s ever traveled with me knows I like to do my research. But when you plan for a trip to Disneyland, there are some hilarious things you’ll end up learning! Here are some of the things I discovered during the planning process, as well as some other tips I picked up while actually on the trip.

Not all of this will be relevant to every Disney trip, but they’re some of the things my friend and I encountered. Maybe someone out there will find this useful! I’m no Disney expert, but please leave a comment if you have any questions!

Destination: Disneyland and California Adventure parks in Anaheim, Calif.
Ticket: Three-day Park Hopper pass.
Travel Dates: May 1 – 6, 2014
Hotel:
 Quality Inn & Suites (1441 South Manchester)
*You can read my review of the hotel on Trip Advisor here.

Mailing Postcards

There are no stamps sold anywhere in Disneyland or California Adventure, despite the many, many mailboxes that are located within both parks. Mail that is put into those boxes are taken to a local post office, where the postmark will show up as “Anaheim.”

But if you leave the park and visit the Grand Californian Hotel, the Disney resort hotel adjacent to California Adventure and Downtown Disney, you can ask a front desk staffer to send the postcard for you. Even though I didn’t have a stamp and wasn’t a guest at the hotel, a hotel staff member happily accepted my postcard with a promise to put it in the mail.

Photos with Anna and Elsa of Frozen

One of the village houses in Disneyland’s Fantasyland was recently refurbished to look like a winter lodge and is the only place, as far as I know, where Frozen‘s Anna and Elsa can be found. But be warned – the lineup to get photos with them ranges anywhere from two hours to five hours long. (Note: A cast member coordinating the lineup said two hours is considered a short wait time. He said families have also tried to bribe him with cash in order to skip the line, or have even successfully bribed other families to trade places in the line.)

With certain Park Hopper tickets, you receive one Magic Morning entry that allows you entry to the park one hour before general opening. A lot of people use this Magic Morning entry to get into the lineup for Frozen. It’s recommended that you’re ready and waiting at the park gates 30 minutes before the Magic Morning opening time. Once the gates open, people run – I’m not kidding – down Main Street, past the Walt Disney statue, through the Sleeping Beauty castle, and into Fantasyland to get in the line-up. Even then, you’ll still have to wait another hour since Anna and Elsa – and be aware that you’re not always guaranteed both sisters – don’t make their appearance until general park opening.

This is still a lot of waiting just to get a photo with actors dressed as characters from an animated film, but getting it done early in the morning beats a three-hour lineup in the middle of the day when the park is much more crowded. Alternatively, a lot of families seem to send a runner to hold their place in line, while someone else takes the kids on rides during that first hour of park opening. So if you’re a parent whose child is obsessed with Frozen, you’d better start stretching for that run and make sure you’ve got a game plan.

Buttons

If you’ve never been to Disneyland, you might be wondering why people are wearing 3″ buttons everywhere. The answer is because those buttons are free and they’re awesome. There are buttons for birthdays, first-time visits, generic celebrations, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, etc. Did I mention they’re free?

In Disneyland, you can head to City Hall on Main Street, just to your left after entering the park, to get the buttons from guest services. In California Adventure, the buttons are available at the Chamber of Commerce, also on the left side after entering. You can also ask counter staff in the Main Street gift shops; many of the shops will have a box of buttons under their counter.

Just kindly ask the guest services staff at the counter what kind of buttons they have, if you don’t have a specific one in mind.

Radiator Springs Racers

One of the newer attractions at Disney’s California Adventure is Cars Land, completely re-designed to look like Radiator Springs from the movie Cars. It’s super cute and really fun to check out. Cars Land’s main attraction, however, is Radiator Springs Racers, a combination story ride-through and thrill ride. The ride regularly sees lineups up to three hours long.

The best way to get on the ride without having to wait for hours is to grab a FastPass. (If you’re not familiar with Disney’s FastPass system, read up on it here.) But note: FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers often run out within the first hour of the park’s opening so make sure you get there early. Alternately, we heard from some other park guests that the lineup can be as short as 30 minutes if you’re willing to split up your group and go through the single-rider line.

World of Colour

World of Colour is a new show that happens in California Adventure’s Paradise Pier. The show combines water fountains, pyrotechnics, projections, lasers, and lighting to create an amazing multi-layered show that takes you through all the Disney canon classics, as well as some of their newer films.

You can see the show from a number of different spots but I would suggest getting a World of Colour FastPass that allows you into a sectioned-off viewing area. It’s still crowded, but if you arrive about 40 to 30 minutes before your FastPass listed time, you should be able to stake out a pretty decent spot to enjoy the show. (Note: Usually, you’re only allowed to hold one valid FastPass at a time. World of Colour FastPasses are among the exception. You can grab one for the show, and still get another FastPass for another ride or attraction.)

Ariel’s Grotto

Ariel’s Grotto is a restaurant located near Paradise Pier that offers character dining. We were seated out on the patio, which was really nice because the view was great, and it wasn’t as loud or crowded as it was inside the dining room. Note that the patio is also where they seat larger group reservations, so you may still end up with a longer table next to you, and some kids running around nearby.

Since it’s Ariel’s Grotto, Ariel poses for photos with every guest that enters the dining room. A professional photographer will take your photo and later, a cast member will come to your table with printed copies of your photos in a decorative folder. You are not required to buy the photo package, but they’re hoping you’re more inclined to do so if you see it in its fancy framed folder. The package is about $35 and includes one 8×10″ print overlayed with Ariel’s signature, and three 4×6″ prints.

Other princesses that made their way through the dining room included Belle, Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella. The princesses stop at each table to pose for photos, but won’t stay for long. If you’ve got kids who just want to meet them and take a photo, this is a good way to check off several princesses at once without having to look for them all over the parks.

As a side note, the food was actually delicious. I don’t always expect the best at theme park restaurants since it’s clearly designed with tourists in mind, but I enjoyed my meal and the service was great. (Well, as great as it can be with so many kids running circles around the staff.) The drink menu wasn’t bad either! I would highly recommend making a reservation well in advance.

Innovations: Captain America and Thor

Inside Disneyland’s Tomorrowland area is the Innovations attraction. It’s indoors, it’s shaded, it’s a nice break from the sun. Other than that, it’s mostly just video game displays and photo ops with Iron Man suits, Thor and Captain America.

The Thor attraction includes a number of artefact displays which are actually pretty cool, and can be viewed while in the line-up. Later, they usher in a group of about 20 people at a time, and there are some special effects before you’re taken into the throne room where Thor appears. There’s a neat trick they do with Thor’s hammer, where they ask someone to try to pick it up but of course, it’s ‘too heavy’. Thor then goes down the line and poses for photos with everyone before the group is ushered outside.

The line-up for Captain America is a little bit longer since they bring in guests one at a time, instead of in a large group. Captain America will take time to chat with you for a couple of minutes before posing for photos. The difference between the two is that Thor was a bit more of a show, whereas Captain America was more of a character encounter.

Other Tips

Line-ups: A lot of people around us who were attending Disneyland with a small group or family used their smartphones to play Charades or a variation of Headbands while waiting in line-ups. It’s a nice way to pass the time and definitely keeps kids entertained in what might otherwise be a land mine for whining and temper tantrums. You can find the app Heads Up! in the Apple Store.

Autograph Books, Pin Trading and Penny Presses: For parents traveling with younger kids, autograph books seem like a great way to have them engage with the park. For older kids and pre-teens, pin trading might be a better option. A lot of folks suggest ordering a starter pin set off EBay, instead of buying in the parks, since it’s much cheaper that way. Personally, I went with the penny press! The machines are located all over the park in gift shops, and it’ll only cost 50 cents and one shiny penny.

FastPass Lanyards: If your kids are old enough to hang on to their own park passes (for the purposes of collecting FastPasses) and not lose them, perhaps consider a park pass lanyard. Goodness knows I could’ve used one! Alternately, make sure you have a backpack or purse with an easy-to-access pocket where you can quickly slip your FastPasses.

Dining: Pack snacks! Eating in the parks can get expensive very quickly so definitely pack in juice boxes, granola bars, or yogurt cups if you can. We ended up packing snacks from the breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning, and stopped only for lunch and dinner. We usually just grabbed snacks for lunch, and then splurged a bit on dinner.

Getting Soaked: Hit up Splash Mountain or Grizzly River Run during the day since you WILL get soaked and you’ll want to dry off in the sun. However, if you’re willing to brave those rides in the evening, the line-ups are much shorter. But hey – it’s California. Even in the evening, you’ll dry off pretty quickly.

Closed Rides: Check the day-of entertainment schedules on disneyland.com. It’ll list what rides are closed for refurbishment on any given day you’re visiting. This will prevent disappointment, especially if there’s a specific ride you’re looking forward to.

Shows and Parades: If you’re on a multi-day Park Hopper pass, perhaps plan to watch the parades on one day, and all the shows on another. It gets pretty hectic trying to catch all the entertainment but if you know you’re only aiming for one or two scheduled events each day, it makes it much easier to enjoy the parks without rushing around too much.

Merchandise: A quick note about Frozen merchandise: There is very, very little being offered in the parks that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere or back home. There’s a very coveted Olaf stuffie that is often sold out, so if you happen to see it and you want it, buy it!

Come back, baby.

If you’re a musician or a fan of music at all, you know one of the worst things ever is having your gear stolen. Not only is music gear expensive to replace but a lot of musicians develop a special bond with their gear, finetuning it to no end to get that perfect sound.

My friend Graham Madden (of Vancouver, B.C. band Tough Lovers) is missing his pedalboard. It was last seen after their most recent show Nov. 17 at the Media Club. The band took a two-week break before their next practice and that was when they discovered the pedalboard was missing. It had been loaded into the car following the show but seems like it never made it back to the band’s apartment where the rest of the gear was unloaded. It’s uncertain where or when it would’ve been lost in the mix or if it was lifted from the car during load-out.

If you happen to hear of anything or come across something that sounds similar to this on Craigslist or from other folks, please contact him on Twitter at @g_madden or by email. You can also leave a comment on this post. Thanks.

Here’s his message that was posted to Facebook:
“Musician friends: My pedalboard was stolen.
If you have any info on the contents, please let me know ASAP.
The pedals from right to left are:

-Boss TU-2 Tuner
-Jetter Dual Overdrive
-Boss OS-2 Overdrive/Distortion
-Boss DD-3 Delay
-Boss FL-3 Flanger
The pedal board was covered in recognizable burgundy fabric surrounding the pedals.
If you see it anywhere, please let me know.”

Tough Lovers – “Colours”
Exits EP; Released Feb. 4, 2011.

First Listen: Modern Romantics

Adaline's 'Modern Romantics' is due Nov. 1, 2011 on Light Organ Records. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

The first time I heard Shawna Beesley — known to most as Adaline — play “That’s What You Do Best” was at a piano recital at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. The stage was covered in candles and in the center, a baby grand piano and a girl who just loved those black and white keys.

At that point, the song was a sultry, simple, flirtatious theme. I remember the way she introduced the song, laughing into the microphone, bantering playfully with her friends and audience. The song was bare and basic, living only on her deep, throaty vocals, accompanied by the classical twirl of its Spanish melody.

That’s What You Do Best

Now, it’s the lead off Adaline’s sophomore album, Modern Romantics. “That’s What You Do Best” is no longer the simple tune it once was — it’s been worked up to a multi-layered, driving, insane theme of passion, full of chaos and disorder, thrown about by the battered arms of lovers. Like the other songs on the album, there’s the same characteristic voice but it’s now surrounded by the textured and varied layers of skilled production and electronic elements — a sign of Adaline’s audio evoution.

Modern Romantics

The album due on Nov. 1 has been a long time coming since Adaline’s debut album, Famous For Fire, was released in 2008. Graduating from sweeping ballads to electrifying pop haunts, there’s almost a seasoned playfulness on Adaline’s latest effort that somehow wasn’t there before. But while the songs veer into a strange, unfamiliar, yet comfortable direction, Adaline’s lyrics are still very much the same voice listeners have grown to love.

“That’s what I think I was attracted to from the get-go: Somebody who can write a lyric – which again, I can’t stress enough — is just not common, y’know? People who have an elegance with language,” said Canadian quirk-rock artist Hawksley Workman who, along with Marten Tromm and Tino Zolfo, produced Modern Romantics in Toronto, Canada.

Adaline on the set of her new music video for "The Noise," directed by JP Poliquin at Pinewood Toronto Studios. (VANESSA HEINS PHOTO)

Sparks

While Adaline’s last album was very much a journey of sorts, her second album is broken down into different pieces of the same puzzle. Famous For Fire, as gorgeous as it was, couldn’t be fully appreciated in just one song. The 2008 release required a full end-to-end listening before the beauty in every detail shone through.

Modern Romantics, however, boasts more immediate satisfaction with each song carrying its own weight. The album definitely lends itself more easily to radio play and while some may critique that quality, it’s something highly sought after in a world full of disposible pop songs. With this latest offering, Adaline’s proven that she’s not just raw talent but that she can also harness that skill into mastering even the trickiest of pop formulas.

For a preview of Adaline’s Modern Romantics, visit her website at www.adalinemusic.com. Be sure to catch Adaline on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at the Biltmore where she’ll be hosting her Vancouver album release party for Modern Romantics. Tickets are $14.74 (includes service fees) and are available on Ticket Web. Trust me. You won’t want to miss this one.

Featured photo by Vanessa Heins; graphic design by Justin Broadbent.

Full Disclosure: I worked as an intern with Adaline for a brief time in 2009. Take this review with a grain of salt — I’m a bit biased since she’s one of my favourite Vancouver (now Toronto) artists.