Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Week in Review

Comics Screw-up

Let's start this week's review with something that happened the week before. I get my comics via mail order from DCBS, since there are no comic shops within an easy drive from here. As with any mail order service that a person uses monthly for going on seven years, there are small problems here and there. The company has always done its best to solve them quickly. With one exception. That's the Halloween fiasco. That was a combination of truly bad luck mixed with misunderstanding and lack of communication that resulted in me being short of mini-comics for Halloween.

Unfortunately, not all the stuff from that was settled, as I learned last week... apparently a note had been left in my account to ship my comics via USPS flat rate boxes at a higher price. I did not request it... it was part of the mess to try get the Halloween comics to me in time. The note should have been erased after the Halloween comics were sent, but wasn't. Oops. This meant I was getting my comics faster, but I didn't know why. I have checked the shipping costs, and apparently they haven't actually been charging me extra. I just assumed the change had something to do with the company moving, which was the main excuse/explanation I got for the Halloween fiasco.

I learned that this wasn't the case when I got a note telling me my order wouldn't fit in a flat rate box and they were going to charge me $x more for a larger box at the same speed. That got my attention, I asked what was going on, and they sorted it out on their end. Whew. Very strange. But not the end. No. I got a my comics just fine as usual, then I got a second box. It was clearly addressed to me, the label had my name and everything. But when I opened it, there was another person's name on the packing list. I quickly notified DCBS, who had me check and make sure none of the order was mine (no, I'm pretty sure it wasn't) and then emailed a label to send the box to the right person.

Unfortunately, the local mailing place couldn't print out the label from the barcode in the email (like the email claimed they could), so I had to find a printer to get it printed (my computer isn't hooked up to a printer), which meant it took me an extra day to send it due to timing issues. I got it sent as quickly as possible, but I still feel bad for the guy who was waiting for his comics because they accidentally got sent to someone else. To that guy, I'm sorry it took me an extra day. I know how annoying it can be to wait for comics.

Relay for Life Weekend

Last weekend was the Relay for Life here in the Lower Valley. Eric and I made an appearance, but didn't spend much time there because Eric was coming down with a cold and I didn't want to make him more sick. In addition, my attempt to walk was foiled as I tired far too quickly. I need to get out and exercise, but I need some proper motivation... a destination for walking. I need to think about this. There must be some way to fit it in. I can't allow myself to get sick after two laps.

I slept in on Sunday and thought Eric had too. I later learned he got up and insomnia'd for a bit before going back to bed before I woke up. Poor guy. He definitely was feeling sick. When I got up I played with Inky, who had been shut out of the bedroom for most of the morning. He finally got enough of me that he was no longer upset at being locked out from his humans. Then I got online and tried to utterly blank myself from reality for a few hours.

Weekday Blues

Monday was tough. Not as bad as Friday, oddly enough, but still difficult. We're all having trouble adjusting to the new schedule. My work wasn't hard: the coach came through with detailed notes (thank you Scott!) and my other assignments were minor. I attempted to salvage the dairy section story I'd written with much distraction on Friday, but it was pathetic. I decided to sleep on it because it was so bad I couldn't bear to face it. Instead, I worked on other assignments, getting things done. There were some last-minute assignment changes due to Julia's new status as a council woman designate, although she won't take office until January 1st. The editor is still working out how to deal with the situation. Yay.

It was strange heading home at 3:30pm instead of later. Poor Eric was fast asleep on the couch, having succumbed to his cold. I let him sleep and played with Inkwell, who wasn't sure whether or not to play "Dr. Inkwell" with Eric. We had a quiet night, although it was WAY too hot in the house. I left windows open to try to get some air flow, and it helped. It cooled down a lot overnight as the predicted storm finally started to move into the area.

As an aside, I had a problem with my emotions Monday morning. I was absolutely furious. Raging angry. At nothing. There was no cause, no reason, nothing that the anger was aimed at. It was just pure rage and really hard to hide and subdue, but I managed, and it slowly subsided.

Tuesday felt like I had no time to get ready, despite having gotten up at the same time as the last week. I guess I was just moving more slowly. Once at work I couldn't do my police logs due to lack of information, so I worked on the dairy story. It was much improved after a complete rewrite, although it still was very weak. At least it was improved enough I wasn't ashamed to turn it in.

Breaking News!

Just before deadline, one of the production crew alerted me to a development in the recreational marijuana issue... the city is getting sued. I duly informed the editor and then started to track down the people necessary to find out more. I really really wanted to talk to the lawyer for the plaintiff, because I knew the owner of the marijuana shop would be smart enough to not say anything. Sure enough, when I called him he was willing to confirm that claim against the city had been filed, but nothing else. He also didn't give me the lawyer's name. Grr. Well, it's a public filing, and the public is allowed to ask about such things, so I called the court and asked. An incredibly nice and helpful clerk with a bad cold not only got the lawyer's name, she also gave me the phone number provided on the documents. Now I was cooking with gas! I called the lawyer up and left a message for her, then called the city to find out if they knew they were being sued yet (no, they didn't).

A few brief minutes later the lawyer called, and I got a lesson in legal terms and legal reasoning. I asked a number of clarifying questions, because this is one subject I don't already have a good knowledge of and I don't want to get it wrong. At the end of the call, I felt pretty confident I understood the position the lawyer is taking. I promptly wrote the story up, and we posted it as breaking news on the website. I debated posting it to Facebook, but since that's where the story started... well, we did. Within five minutes we got a comment from the store owner on FB. I believe we not only scooped the other major media in the area, I'm pretty sure we got the story up before the city got served.

The rest of the day wasn't nearly as pleasant, although I managed to get out of the office earlier than I'd planned so I could get a photo. There was a meeting in the afternoon that I attended that was also attended by the mayor and city manager, so I was able to chat with both of them about the lawsuit. Neither was willing to go on the record because they hadn't had time to review the suit yet. That meant we could run the story on Wednesday as it ran on the website. A first for us, to have the print copy out more than 24 hours after we broke the news online.

Black Marks on my Record

Everything sort of fell apart for me on Wednesday. I had bad luck with a couple of sources who didn't provide me with photos in time for my deadlines for Thursday. Since we haven't gone "live" yet with the new schedule (we're technically still testing it out) we're getting "graded" on whether or not we make our deadlines. I got a couple of big black marks. And it kind of hurts, because it was me relying too heavily on someone else and not making back-up plans. Lesson learned. Painfully.

It was muggy-hot on Wednesday afternoon. I walked to city hall for a meeting because I could and because I needed to let off some steam from missed deadlines and other office stress. I still had a vain hope that people would get back to me in time to get stuff in Thursday's paper... didn't happen.

I was probably more grumpy Wednesday night than I needed to be. It was still too hot in the house with no AC and I was depressed (with a small "d") about missing the deadlines. To make matters more annoying, our internet was at a crawl. I restarted my computers and the router, but it was clearly further down the line. I gave up troubleshooting, it just wasn't worth it. But it added to an already grumpy night.

Poor Inky wanted us to turn down the heat. And feed him. Mostly just feed him, but hey, if we could turn down the heat, that would be good too. He was terribly grumpy too, making it two of us. Eric still had his cold, but he managed to hold it together better than Inky or me. I left some of the windows open overnight, and that helped a bit, but it was still very warm and stuffy in the house in the morning.

Because of the missed deadlines, I was at work early on Thursday, hoping to make up for some of my screw-ups. I did my level best, but it wasn't really enough. I was still firmly in the doghouse as of Thursday afternoon. I did figure out that the back of my chair can double as a punching bag in a pinch. I used it quite a bit that day, actually.

My editor took a strange call about wild horses being sent for slaughter, and had me head out to see if I could find said horses. I went to the location indicated and, unless the horses were cleverly disguised as a herd of cows, saw nothing of note. It is a distinct possibility that the horses are kept elsewhere, but there was no simple way to quickly verify the story from the places I am allowed to go. In short, I got sent on a wild horse chase.

In the meantime, a co-worker was frantically trying to get a scoop on another area story. We'd been sitting on the information for some time, knowing something was going to happen, but not knowing exactly what. When it went down, we were alerted, but the people who had promised us information suddenly became unavailable. The reasons for the unavailability seem legit to me, but it doesn't make the timing any better. She eventually got the story online, our second breaking news story in a week.

Lunch on Thursday was at Cactus Juice because the special was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup and I desperately needed to have a whine session with my co-worker and comfort food sounded like a good way to do it. I was getting near the end of my rope on certain issues, including an unsigned editorial in the paper on Wednesday that I found offensive and, to a degree, petty. It was going to get much worse, but I didn't find that out until Friday morning.

Keeping Cool (and failing)

Thursday afternoon the local AC specialist came and did the necessary cleaning and check of our AC... and we turned it on. Inkwell was delighted. Oh goodness, was he delighted. He found a vent right away and spread out on it to get the best of the cool, dry air. Once the technician was finished and the air spread throughout the house, Inkwell started to bounce around like he hasn't for a couple of weeks. Yeah, it really does make a difference, although the difference in temperature is really only a few degrees. I had my first really good night of sleep in a week Thursday night. Which is good, because I needed it to face Friday.

I'm tempted to say that Friday didn't happen. Parts of it I certainly want to erase from my memory. Oh, deadline wasn't tough... my coach got to me in good time and I got the track story written nicely. And even the police logs were fine. I strongly objected to an editorial column we were running and let the editor know I objected. We had a long and somewhat difficult discussion about the ethics of journalism, the professionalism of criticizing co-workers and the necessity of protecting free speech. We ended up having to agree to disagree, but I feel very strongly that running that column was a bad choice for the newspaper. Because I was still on deadline, I didn't have time to confront the publisher about it, which was probably a good thing in retrospect. After reading the column, before I confronted the editor, I used my chair as a punching bag for a bit again. It was just too much to handle. I hope the chair can hold up.

Learning About Irrigation

Right after deadline I went to my first ever irrigation district meeting.

Ok, if you already live in an irrigated area, you probably have a decent grasp of how the irrigation systems work. Water goes into a canal, usually fed by reservoirs or the snowpack or the combination... and the water goes from the large canals to smaller canals to the fields of agriculture where farmers grow plants to feed humans and the other things, like cows and pigs, that go to feed humans.

So far so simple, right? Water in, plants out. Seems clear. But we're talking about an irrigation system that runs practically from the mountains through a couple of counties. Miles and miles of canals. Acres and acres of fields. And there's a water shortage this year. This particular irrigation district has shut off the water to all its farmers for two weeks. The meeting was to decide when to turn the water back on.

I went into the meeting with only the slightest understanding of how the system works beyond the fact that it gets water to farmers. Lucky for me, one of the port commissioners was in the room when I arrived... always good to see a familiar face. After he introduced me to a guy that I'm going to mention further in a moment, Arnold sat next to me and I got "irrigation 101" from him. He was willing to talk freely as long as I didn't quote him in the paper, which made me happy because I really needed to catch up on the subject if I'm going to report on it. My feeling is that my reporting is only ever going to be as good as my understanding of a subject. If I can't comprehend what I'm reporting on, then I can't explain it to other people.

So Arnold and I looked at the handout, which had a table that gave the estimated end date of the watering season depending on when they turned the water back on. What I couldn't understand was why the farmers want the water late in the season instead of early on. The water is needed to get crops started, right? So why was the emphasis on making sure the farmers have water in September?

Arnold, who is a mint farmer, explained that the vast majority of farms in the district have crops that are "permanent" and need to be strengthened at the end of the summer so they have the roots to survive the winter. Mint, hops, and most orchard trees all need water in September or there's a chance the growers will lose the plants... which, because they last more than one year, means they will lose a significant investment. The choice was between a bad harvest this year and losing all their plants. That's not a choice.

Other farmers in the district without permanent plants have decided not to plant this year and are instead leasing their land, and more importantly the water rights that go with the land, to other growers. This means that a farmer who specializes in corn and has to plant new each year might have decided, due to the predicted drought, to not plant. Any choice has risks, but with water in the district being predicted at less than half of normal, not planting actually made more sense for some farmers. Leasing the land means they break even on it instead of potentially losing their crop and taking a major hit.

The result is that every single farmer has had to make tough decisions, but the majority of them want to have water as late in the season as possible, because September tends to be dry and they need the water to keep the plants alive. So when it became clear the drought was going to be nasty, the irrigation district decided to shut off the water early in the season instead of late.

Luckily for the farmers, it started raining as soon as the district turned off the water. The rain helped, a lot. So even the cherry farmers, who were the most worried about the water shut-off, survived. The meeting was to determine if the water would flow again on Monday, or if it would be better to keep the water shut off a little longer.

Now, as an aside, the fellow that Arnold introduced me to when I entered the meeting room was a reporter from the New York Times. Yes, the freakin' New York Times. I thought Arnold was joking. Why would anyone from the Times be interested in Sunnyside? Well, for a lot of reasons. The irrigation district is way bigger than just my town. The drought is a huge concern to people all over. And this decision is emblematic of the problems that the nation is facing due to the drought. I didn't talk with him much, but we exchanged business cards, which I found cool.

Moving back to the meeting, when the board came in I recognized two other people on it, so I felt a little more comfortable. Then they reviewed the problems with starting up the water again along with keeping it shut. The biggest problem with keeping the water off is that the canals are "used to having water" and their panels have started to heave and buckle with the heat due to the lack of water flow. The ditch riders have been frantically running around repairing them, which costs the district more money.

Due to that problem, the board basically said that once the water was back on, turning it off again would be an absolute last resort. They just couldn't afford to do it again.

In addition, the length of the closure is effectively the only control over the length of the season that the district has. They've already reduced the flow of water as far as they can to prevent diminishing returns. The loss of water to evaporation will soon outpace the value of reducing water further. So they've got the absolute minimum flow already... so when the district runs out of water depends on how long they keep the water off. They did point out that if we get "significant rain events" the flow can be reduced, but that's entirely up to Mother Nature.

Add in the variables... the Bureau of Reclamation's most positive estimate for the amount of water the district will get is 44 percent of normal. That's down from 47 percent of normal in the last estimates. And that's the BEST scenario. The low scenario is 40 percent of normal, and that's kind of the one they were paying the most attention to. Luckily, that estimate went up from 38 percent. The worst-case scenario also went up, but a lot of the growers were inclined to look at those numbers and be pessimistic. Better to have more water unexpectedly than to not have enough, I guess.

The cherry farmers, whose were already getting fruit when the water was shut off due to the unseasonably warm spring, were most desperate to get water back. But even they acknowledged that water at the end of the season is more important. At least one farmer said he's basically not going to have a crop at all if the shut-off goes into the first week of June. But at least the rain we've had has really helped.

So they decided to delay the opening, but that's for reading about in my story when it's published. One amusing note is that it was raining heavily when we left the building after the meeting, which I can only take as a good omen for the growers. Pray for rain in the Yakima Valley, people. They really need it.

The End of the Week

After the meeting I headed back to work to write it up and get started on my stories for next Tuesday... yes, I get Monday off. I ran home for lunch, fed the cat, got back to work and got my stories written... then started to work on my last Dairy story, which I had been informed MUST be turned in on Friday. The editor told me my deadline had changed and sent me home at 3 p.m. I almost cried because it's really been a long difficult week.

Once home, Eric said we needed to do shopping. If he'd asked me to come along, I would have objected... but he didn't and I ended up going. It was crowded in the store on a Friday afternoon, and I got slightly stressed from it, but we got what we needed and some chocolate to make up for my week. We even got a pizza for dinner. And then we went home and relaxed, and I even slept for a bit.

This morning I have done nothing of note. I don't want to do anything. I have a very rare three-day weekend and no plans, so I'm just going to rest and let myself recover mentally. I have no idea how bad next week is likely to be, so I want to be as strong as possible for Tuesday morning.