Tuesday, July 29, 2014

story 50: the obituary

it's all about quality, not quantity when it comes to your writing. when it comes to stories in your personal archive.

i get it.

but i still peek at the numbers and yesterday, i'd hit story 49. that's 49 stories in the six weeks i've been at the paper and that meant that today, i would write story 50.

i walked into work knowing what story 50 would be, but i was wrong.

story 50 turned out to be an obituary.

i've never written an obituary before.

i've written about quilting bees, eagle scouts, domesticated reindeer, pool tournaments where the age requirement was 80 years or older, and wheelchair rugby.

but never an obit.

i suddenly felt like i held someone's memory in my trembling, unlearned hands.

 sure, loved ones had their own memories, but the average reader who thumbed through each page of the newspaper over coffee? what memories would i leave with the reader who had never met the deceased but was suddenly sharing breakfast with a memory in newsprint?

suddenly it seemed the task was a tiger in the corner, coiled and ready to strike if i wrote a wrong word or bungled a detail. it would be a broken heart if i failed to capture this man's essence.

i was scared to make phone calls and talk to the people who loved him. the people who'd known him most of his 94 years.

but i made a few calls.

and it turns out, the people i called really wanted to talk about him.

they wanted to talk about his love of the mennonite church. his love of amateur radio and of reporting the weather. his love of his wife and children. of his community. of the three generations of people he'd inspired.

and suddenly, sitting at my computer with pages of notes and dates and milestones, the story just sort of wrote itself. the journey he took. his years as a conscientious objector during the second world war. his years as an early weatherman before the national weather service had its act together.

his years pastoring his many flocks.

suddenly this man's life was vivid and full of color in front of me and i couldn't type fast enough. suddenly i wished i had an infinite number of newspaper pages to fill with his fulfilled dreams and passions.

suddenly story 50 became my favorite story and suddenly, when the fear and the anxiety had gone, it was hard to say goodbye to the man behind story 50.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

he does your hair (a letter to my girls)

dear ken and roo,

there's something i think you should know.

every day when i come home from work, i find your hair in lop-sided, uneven ponytails--sometimes using kid-sized elastics and sometimes using the huge ponytail elastics meant for my big ol' head. (those are funny days.)

you know what that means, don't you?

that means that every day, when the humidity sets in and your milk-and-sweat-soaked hair starts to plaster to your face, your daddy stands you between his knees with a tiny, fragile rubber band poised precariously between his enormous thumb and forefinger and he does your hair.

every single day--he performs this awkward ritual with a sense of  love and wonder and accomplishment and almost always with mixed, comical results.

your daddy does your hair for you.

i just thought you should know.

love you always,


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

major dental work (a letter about boy wonder's trip to the dentist tomorrow)

(no, this is not a REAL letter to my darling baby boy. i honestly did tell him he'd be fine because he will. this is more a letter to my younger self. like the me who had two root canals at 31. she could have used this advice.)

dear boy wonder,

i know you're nervous about getting a couple teeth pulled tomorrow, but whatever you do, don't worry.

you're going to be just fine! 

how do i know?

well, i don't, but that's just what you tell people before they go to the dentist.

you'll be fine!

truth be told, i always found that the people who say "you'll be fine" when you mention the need to have major dental work never had major dental work...because people who have had major dental work tend to make the sign of the cross and dart across the street in case your impacted wisdom teeth are contagious.

(in your case, you have a couple bullied baby molars that can't get past the mean, grown-up adult molars, so really, YOU'LL BE FINE!)

i promise.

i do have a couple tips for you, though.


1. don't sing along to the music in your ipod.

it complicates things. a lot. i know the laughing gas they give you grants instant madonna-like singing abilities, but this isn't madison square garden and you don't have giant, cone boobies. you're just making it worse by singing the chorus of "vogue" while the dentist is untangling that molar root from your jawbone.

2. try not to swallow. at all. ever.

whatever you do, don't accidentally try to swallow the little spit-sucking vacuum. it all goes to hell if you do and they might never get your cheek out of the hose.

 i'm kidding. but seriously, try not to swallow the vacuum.

3. if you're dentist is a chatty, you have my permission to ignore him. 

that never made sense to me. how am i supposed to answer how my summer's going if there's half a yard of rubber sheeting bound to my gums with a thin hair elastic?

on top of that, you've just instructed me to be perfectly still for the next 90 minutes and in the next breath you're asking me if i'd read the latest shades of grey spinoff. NO!

and finally,

4. when it's over, smile. (but not too soon after surgery.) 

the bloody cottonwads might fall out and that's just gross.

i'm kidding, but i'm sort of not.

nobody likes to see big, gaping bloody pits of ooze and sometimes if you try to smile or talk too soon after major dental work, you spray bits of gum and blood everywhere and it's hard to concentrate and stay supportive when i really want to puke. so keep your gummy bits in your mouth and you'll have all the jell-o you can handle in no time at all.

if you find that you're being really, super funny, make sure your dad busts out the ol' camera phone and puts that on the youtubes. those videos of kids talking like space aliens on mushrooms are the best ever. right up there with the skateboarders who smash their nads on staircase railings.

remember what i said earlier? you'll be fine!

be brave and don't swallow the vacuum hose.

love you always,

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the week i turn another corner

i'm pretty sure you can say you're 35 and people will consider you "mid-30s" and that's not so old.

but when you say 36, at least in my mind, you're basically a sneeze away from 40 and unless you're penelope cruz, 40's gonna look and feel no longer in my 30s.

but i'm okay with 36. honestly.

i'm fairly certain that my birthday will come and go this sunday with a wreck-it-ralph cake, hopefully a subscription to paula deen's new super looking cooking membership-based website (check it out! remember how paula deen is on my bucket list? i loves her so.), and maybe an i.o.u. for a new camera (any picture taking technology in my life broke within the last week and a half and while we don't have the finances for a replacement, at least i'd like the PROMISE of one in the next fifty years. *wink!*)

i had a freakish meltdown a few weeks before 35 last year when i found a few gray hairs lurking. holy moly did that throw me...

but this year? meh....i'm not so scared.

i've spent the past week thinking about THINGS. things in all caps are serious THINGS. things like what i've liked about the past 35 years of my life and what i want moving forward. recipes i might want to try. people i might want to be. bright orange jeeps i might want to drive from now on (there's one on the way to elkton i want SO bad.)

and at the end of all the THING thinking, i decided that i wanted to be notorious for something really soon.

only i'm not sure what i want to be notorious for yet.

my ability to down 8 gallons of coffee a day?
my impeccable folk art collection from local flea markets?
my cow whispering abilities?
being super loud at inappropriate moments?

they're all possibilities and i don't really see any rule anywhere that says i have to have my answer submitted before my birthday on sunday. just know i'm planning on some notoriety sometime soon.

i've also spent the week on another really exciting project.

after soul searching and hemming and hawing about what i wanted to be when i grew up and how i wanted to go about publishing this series of books i've written that i love so much...i decided that my calling is to go the independent route.

i have lots of reasons for that--mostly centered around the fact that i don't think having a copy of a book on a barnes and noble shelf in suburban minnesota is my definition of success. waiting 18 months between books (assuming the volatile nature of publishing will love you that long) isn't something i care to hedge on, either.

on this indie journey i'll embark on (starting monday), i'm wading in the waters of taking control of your own finances and future and success and making decisions for yourself. i'm not deluded and i know i won't make millions like other self-pub darlings, but that's not what i'm setting out to do.

i want to support my family and make a career of writing books i love that people will read. i want readers, not tons of dollars (though some dollars would be great).

anyway, stick around. on monday my life gets pretty interesting and, i hope, more exciting.

on a side note, i had planned on spending july writing this micro-memoirs about all my exciting years but the plans sort of fell apart when the 9 to 5 got busy. i'll fill the holes in, though. don't you worry. just not right away.

i hope you're having a great summer in your neck of the woods.

...happy happy happy...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

...leap for the adventure...

"Go ahead into life, full-blooded, courageous and leap for the adventure. But you must do it soon—before the summer of your youth has cooled off into caution. You are magnificently charming—and you come like a torrent. But you will be spent on the futility of little things. You are not a watercolor. You are carved out of life—and there can be no petty hesitancies about you.” 
Ruth Reichl

Road to Singers Glen

a few weeks back, i met someone who told me that when i'm looking to settle into one spot and buy a house, i needed to move to singers glen. he's a longtime virginian and knows his stuff, but i'd never heard of, been near, or knew a thing about any ol' singers glen, virginia.

fast forward a few weeks.

a wonderful woman comes in to talk to me about her small town's post office being up on the chopping block. they don't want it closed. it's an integral part of their gorgeous small town. a historic gem of a place called...wait for it...singers glen.

i drove out there today to get a shot of the post office for a story i'm doing.

turns out my friend was right. singers glen IS where we need to move. has to be the most beautiful surprise i've had in a while.

(of course, the post office in question. they meet with the town next week to decide its fate. it's been around since 1860 when the son of the town's founder became the first post master.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

meet the (creepy) photog (day 6)

i've never encountered a newsroom with boring photographers.


there's something about them that's hard to put into words. a lot of times, they're sort of like hyped up, red bull addicted picasso's--very temperamental, near genius, and easy to piss off.

you don't get photo requests incorrect and it's a must to learn their individual system early if you want to have any sort of art to go with your stories.

honest to god, i had a photog refuse an assignment i'd put together once because i didn't capitalize every thing correctly. (actually, i'm pretty sure i capitalized nothing during one of those phases i went through. sometimes when i have to write everything as near perfectly as possible professionally, i like to f$&# off with the rules on every other sort of document.)

somewhere along the road at the a&m battalion, the editors had brought back a photographer they'd fired the semester before without really saying why he was back or why he'd been fired. i'm pretty sure his name was josh. he had a double chin and a hairy nostril. just one. yep. strange.

josh and i got paired together a few times one particular month and as he was shooting our story, he'd always shoot a few of me, too. it was a little weird, but he always gave me copies and my ego loves looking at pictures of myself for some reason. especially back before four kids. you know, back before the laws of gravity became little assholes, yanking on everything in every direction, all at once.

josh wasn't exactly charming. he lacked a little in the personal skills and he sort of stunk. he picked his nose, but i tolerated him because he was building my teen model portfolio one news assignment at a time.

after a couple weeks of this, josh finally made clear why he was being so nice.

"i'm putting together a portfolio for grad school," he said one day, offering to take pictures of me for free for his portfolio.

i said i'd think about it.

"one condition, though," he said as he pulled up beside my work station in the bowels of the journalism building. i was late on a deadline and sort of tired of pretending to be nice. "they need to be nudes. i need nude photos."

i'll just bet you do, dude...

all of a sudden, the reasons were clear why josh got fired and even more unclear why he'd been rehired.

i didn't see him after that, honestly.  i meant to say something to my editor, but another reporter had complained that he was taking too many shots of her on assignment and not of the subject.

she never said anything about the nakey picture offer and i wasn't sure if i should have felt honored or a little dirty.

last i heard, he'd found a job shooting for a university somewhere as part of their sports public relations staff. shooting women's sports. go figure...

This is part of a 31-day micro-memoir writing challenge where I talk about my amusing career writing about reindeers, MMA, and snooker tournaments. View more here.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

down in flames (day 3)

every now and then, i fight a losing battle against laziness. it's my very own, splinter-infested cross.

after about a month at the battalion, i'd gotten a little too big for my britches. the city editor, a nice gal named jenn. (or deb. maybe allison? ) pulled me aside as i was wrapping up some piece about the mascot or aliens landing or something majorly big on campus i've since forgotten.

she'd assigned me some spirit rally that was happening that night at around 7 p.m.

damn it.

i hated evening stories and to this day, i still do.

i flinch. i pout. i try to come with any excuse NOT to have to venture out to cover something that would require me to come BACK to the newsroom and write it up ex post facto.

(for what it's worth, i cover small towns who meeting monthly at 7:30 p.m. for about two hours. and i have to come back to the newsroom. and write it up. and then drive the hour drive home. penance.)

there was no swaying her, so i grabbed my sorority sister (we had plans for a party later) and dragged her out with me.

it wasn't hard to find the fifty people gathered outside the memorial student center (those hallowed aggie grounds where you don't wear hats indoors and you don't step on the grass. holy ground!). i walked up to one person and asked if they would tell me what was going on. i had my notebook and a pen. i was making an effort.

they didn't want to talk. the second person said i needed to find the organizer, the gal up on the microphone currently speaking.

she looked like she had lots to say and i had plans for the evening.

i grabbed the nearest payphone (i didn't own a cellphone in college...paying for them in those days was similar to mortgaging an rv or a speed boat. not too expensive, but still out of my price range) and i called jenn/deb/allison back at the paper.

the gods were on my side when i went to her voicemail and left her a rattled, sorry sounding message about there really not being a story out here afterall and i'd just see her next week.

i went on with my night. next morning, on the front page was a stand-alone, active looking picture of the rally. turns out the photographer found a story afterall.

i had a warning pinned to my computer when i got back to work. strike one...

honestly, i was lucky i didn't get fired and the stupid party was a bust anyway.

i'd love to say lesson learned, but you know, b-league gigs that followed and all...

...lazy lazy lazy...

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

me and dubya (day 2)

mostly, it was because the self-appointed "politics" reporter (a senior philosophy major with a thing for big red and slim jims) called in sick that day.

i like to think it was because of my stellar reporting skills which had thus far covered a cloned sheep named dolly and a pat green concert. it was my second week and i was on my way to cover an event where then-governor of texas george w. bush was supposed to speak.

people in the newsroom said something about everyone in the country waiting for dubya to announce a presidential bid for the fall. i heard "birthday party for a state senator" and i thought about the cake.

it was a birthday party at a popular dancehall. balloons. confetti. the senator's doting wife and bored kids were there, but really, the only reason anybody showed up at all was the hope that the governor was going to show up.

the media, which included myself, our photographer brandon, and two news crews were herded into a closet-like office and told to wait. security officers milled around the outside of the door and once we were in, we weren't allowed to leave until dubya came and went.

twenty minutes later, and twenty minutes late, he arrived. my first thought was something like: "this guy is SHORT." we were eye-to-eye and in all my poli sci classes, i was sure there was some written law that would-be presidents had to be taller than the average fifth grader.

he greeted us, "the press," (i snickered and beamed a little at being called the "press" so early in my career). the houston chronicle reporter was there, along with a camera crew and reporter from "inside edition." i was floored. i loved inside edition. they went first, naturally, because i was scared shitless all of a sudden.

houston chronicle asked about him running. he shot them down. inside edition went next, prodding him to give the public hints about his plans. he got mad and told them "i'm not talking about THAT right now, we're here to celebrate ol' senator "what's-his-name's" birthday, dagummit."

and swear to gosh, he even did that famous creepy laugh of his, even back then. like beavis and butthead meet a lawnmower.

he was frothy by the time he turned toward me and when his uptight little assistant poked at me with a "do you have a question?" eyebrow wiggle, i panicked.

i stammered. i considered shaking my head no, but knew i'd be toast if i went back to the paper with NOTHING, so i winged it.

"do you like barbecue? have you tried frank's country store yet?"

it was the best i could do, ya'll. i'd just eaten a pulled pork sandwich on the way over, i probably had barbecue sauce on my face. it's what i was working with.

poor dubya looked almost as confused as i did and then he smiled. he SMILED!

he dubya-laughed a good few seconds and then he gave us a 10-minute sound bite about how much he loved bryan/college station, how much he loved the aggies, and how proud his family was of his dad's presidential library that was currently under construction out by the political science buildings (my homies.)

dubya liked barbecue and dubya was eventually elected. twice.

as i grew older, graduated and moved on, i had my disagreements with some of dubya's politics, but i never forgot the day he did me a solid and saved me from one of the worst questions of all times.

and to this day, barbecue sandwiches
are still my good luck totem...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

it began with a firing (day 1)


Kind of like my news writing career as a whole, my beginnings in the industry were a little less exciting than embarrassing.

When I was 20, I was hovering above flunking out of Texas A&M and I'd just been fired from my work study gig as a reading tutor at a local elementary school.

I was an awful tutor.

I'm pretty sure I missed every fourth day and when I did show up, I probably reeked of last night's Dixie Chicken adventure.

But the nail in the coffin had to be the moment I promised a fifth grader I'd be right with him, just as soon as I was done reading the morning paper I found on the teacher's desk. She'd been mad as hell and called the work study office to un-invite me back.

I think it was my second week.

I had a choice--go back to the dungeons of work study drudgery and take my old job at the library (filing 1,200 government leaflets every day and where I'd slip stacks of paper willy nilly in the shelves when I got tired of filing) or find something new.

The student newspaper, The Battalion, had a classified section and it turns out they were looking for news writers.

Someone once told me that people who worked at newspapers got buttloads of free stuff like CDs and concert tickets. And if there's anything college students need more of in their lives, it's free stuff.

I lied about some high school newspaper stint (I'd spent nine days on the yearbook committee before dropping out) and I even fudged my major. I'd never seen the journalism building, let alone ranked among their majors. I was a scrub from the political science program who didn't know an amendment from a bicameral government.

But somehow, by the grace of Reveille and all that was Aggie and holy, I was hired. It had begun...a colorful career at irreverent, B-league newspapers.

My future had been written...

This is part of a 31-day micro-memoir writing challenge where I talk about my amusing career writing about reindeers, MMA, and snooker tournaments. View more here.

micro-memoir challenge: 31 days of bite-sized life

I had the opportunity to listen to two fantastic memoirists speak yesterday and absorbed so much inspiration that it ought to be illegal the talk was free. I won't rehash too much of what they said, but you should visit Shirley and Angela when you get a chance.

The bottom line was this: we are all memoirists, especially bloggers. Part of the problem is that we feel we need some sweeping, drastic events to happen before we should be allowed to tell our stories. Notice the word "allowed" that I used...like there is some gatekeeper to creativity who deems the Angies and Shirlies of the world as worthy of memoir writing and the rest of us as "not ready yet." That's bunk and they'll tell you so.

I struggled with what stories I could share. I'm not really funny when it comes to parenting blogs. Honestly. My kids are too cute for me to be snarky. Not much of a food blogger because HOLY CRAP, the honest to God truth is that I'm a crap cook. What's interesting about me? What stories do I tell people that they actually respond to? That are different from the 8 million other stories floating around out there?

And it hit me sitting in that library conference room. My days as a B-league, underpaid reporter (both now and in the past) are GOLD. I've been paraded with a real live reindeer, my mother, and a toddler through downtown Anchorage. I've gotten lost and driven over the West Virginia line in search of a less-than-spectacular Hops farm and gotten caught peeing on the side of the road because I was so lost. (Last week, folks.)

These are the stories I'm going to tell and I'm going to write a memoir that speaks to people who aren't the Anderson Coopers or Diane Sawyers of the world. (OR whoever the big leaguers are in your business or life). Some of us are living tiny, hilarious lives and they're worth capturing.

That's the idea, anyway.

I have a really nice mentor helping me with an honest-to-goodness book proposal because he thinks there's a chance in hell someone else might think this is funny stuff. But those things take forever, so in the meantime to help me prepare for TWO classes I was chosen to host in the fall on memoir writing (for seniors in a retirement community...awww!) and journaling to unlock creativity (at a local rec center, yay!), I put together a mini challenge for myself.

31 Days of Micro Memoirs. 

No more than 500 words. Capture a scene. A memory. A glimpse into a moment in life and write it down. These will eventually get bigger and become chapters (or parts of chapters), but for now, micro is just fine for me.

This is completely an invention I came up with, like, this morning on the way to work. SO there's no fancy button yet. No blinky. No linky. But if you're bored this month and you want to practice writing tiny little memoirs, please please please join me.

Challenge Recap:

Day 1: It Began With a Firing 
Day 2: Me and Dubya
Day 3: Down in Flames

...happy happy happy...