Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Week in Review

Busy Saturday

So I started out Saturday with some energy. Not nearly enough, but at least when I headed out to the first event, I wasn't simply trying to stay awake and alert. The first event was a bike rodeo at a local church. The first time they've tried it. While I was there only one family showed, but I got a handful of photos and talked with the pastor and the officer helping out. It was pleasant enough.

After that, I headed up to the north side of town to see if I could get any photos at a carnival a local church was putting on. There was a lot of action, but not a lot of opportunities for photos. Since I hadn't actually been assigned to go to that event, I took what I could and headed off to my second actual assignment of the day, a health fair. Lots of booths, plenty of people to talk with, and some freebies (I always grab a ton of pens since I tend to loan them out and never get them back). I got a very cute photo of a toddler "fishing" for rubber ducks and another photo of somebody spinning a prize wheel. Yay.

Since at that point I'd been working for more than two hours, I headed home for lunch. Thank goodness the weather wasn't as bad as it's been, I was only sweating mildly, not drenched in it. I took a leisurely lunch to cool off, then got directions to my next assignment, which is two towns over at a place I've never been to before. Sadly, I didn't pay quite enough attention to the directions. Getting to the town was easy, then I got lost on a bunch of streets that all looked the same to me. Fortunately, I remembered the actual street name, so when I happened across it I turned... luckily in the correct direction. So I got to the alpaca farm with plenty of time to get photos.

That was by far the most pleasant of my jobs on Saturday. I got to sit in the shade with a bunch of nice ladies spinning yarn out of alpaca wool, chatting about my mom's sewing prowess and her long-arm quilting machine. I always enjoy telling people about my wedding dress, and these ladies truly appreciated the effort my mother went to in order to make it. I got oohs and ahs at the description of the smocked front and handmade lace. And appreciative chuckles about how she was keeping it because it was a completed project.

Oh yeah, and I got to take photos of alpacas, who are essentially giant cats without claws. They are sweet animals and they almost purr when they are happy. I got some good close-up photos when the owner of the farm took me into a paddock, then as I was about to leave, a senior citizen group from my town showed up for a lecture. Great! I was able to get photos of people who live a mile from the newspaper office enjoying the alpacas. Perfect.

My next job wasn't for a few more hours, so I went home to have dinner. I must say, it's hard to leave the house three times to go to work, but it's a problem with my job description. My editor usually tries to minimize the number of times we have to go out, clustering assignments whenever possible. But we had a substitute editor who gave out these assignments.

After a quick dinner with hubby I was back on the road to the next town over to take a couple of photos at a fundraiser for a couple of girls with medical issues. It was a nice enough event, and actually inside, unlike all the rest, but it was still tiring and difficult after an already full day. I got my shots, made sure I had some good info to work with, then went home.

Mud and Plums

I took a little time to plant some more catgrass for Inkwell on Saturday. I've worked out that if I plant two mugs of catgrass every weekend, throwing the old dying ones out as they die, I can keep him in catgrass steadily. He loves it, it makes me do planting, and generally just works out. So I took out some old dying grass to dump in the backyard where it'll annoy the neighbor's chihuahuas. While I was doing that, I remembered that Eric told me our irrigation valve was completely filled with mud, making it impossible to water our yard. So I went over to look at the problem. I appeared to me that it might just be a shell of dirt, so I went into the house and got some plastic gloves to see how hard it would be to dig it out.

Ha. I was completely wrong about it being a shell. The entire box that holds the valve was completely filled with dirt. I can't quite figure out where it came from, since the box has solid sides. Maybe it was pushed up from below? I don't know. What I do know is that it took some effort to dig it all out with my hands, but I cleared out enough that we can use the valve. I want to water the plum stick a bit at the end of the season so it stands a chance to survive the winter.

Once the valve was clear, I helped Eric hook up the hose for the sprinkler, then went inside to rest. It became immediately obvious that I'd overdone it. My fibro pain flared up big time and I could barely sit up in my chair, much less do anything. I couldn't read, because I would go over a sentence and I would immediately forget what it said. After reading a paragraph six or seven times and having it make no sense, I stopped trying.

I went to bed as early as I could and slept soundly until about 6 a.m. Then I slept less soundly for another three hours. I wanted to get up earlier to help Eric, but wasn't able to. Sunday was fairly lazy. While the temporary editor wanted me to drop off my photos ahead of time, aka on Sunday, so the production department could get a jump on them, I recognized that I would be in at the same time or slightly sooner than the production person who has just moved into the position of "photo editor" since the other photo guy left the newspaper (again). Instead of trying to get my photos in early, I just used my home computer to check them and picked out my favorites. I listed them in Evernote so I could quickly access them and give the new photo gal the list as soon as she came in on Monday.

Other than that, I really didn't accomplish anything on Sunday except whining about how much I hurt. I went to bed early Sunday night and slept fairly well.

Monday Education

It was difficult to get up on Monday, as it often is. I pushed through the fatigue and aches and got to work on time. I quickly wrote up my photo requests and *almost* had them on her desk before she arrived. She beat me by a couple of minutes. Still, since I only had three of the five events to get photos from, it wasn't too bad. For her. I struggled to get my brain in gear enough to write my stories and cutlines (captions) but somehow pulled it together in time for deadline. It was very nice to have the regular editor back again. You always appreciate someone more when they are gone.

After deadline I headed down to a class for ag teachers two towns away that was going to get a visit from our U.S. Representative. I found the school easily enough, but had to get a little help finding the classroom. Then, as I walked up, the executive director of the Washington State FFA Foundation arrived and he started answering my questions before the rep arrived. It was great. See, I'd done a story about how a local school district had to shuffle teachers due to their ag teacher leaving, and while writing that story I learned there was a shortage. The FFA guy confirmed there is an ag teacher shortage, which I found fascinating. That led me to find out that vocational training (aka CTE - Career Technical Education) is kind of suffering since STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) became a push in the standards. Although CTE is STEM in action, for some reason most districts don't consider it as part of the STEM standards and kids aren't being encouraged to try CTE. It's pretty sad. Anyway, I could probably write a lot on the subject, but since I still need to figure out if I've got all my facts straight, I ought not to expound on it too much.

In any case, I loved the topic the teachers were covering when I got into the room. They were talking about animal products and by-products and what they are used in, and talked about how to bring up the topic in the classroom. One of the teachers laughed and said he had a girl who stopped wearing make-up when she learned that animal products are involved in making them. It was intriguing to hear ag teachers talking about the subject. It was also slightly frightening to hear how many everyday things require animal products.

The rep arrived slightly late, which is absolutely normal. It's hard to be punctual when everyone wants your attention. He gave a short speech, then started a discussion with the teachers that was just great. I got a few pictures, some good, some not-so good. As he is a staunch Republican, I resisted the urge to get a photo of him in front of the FFA poster of a donkey. Despite his politics not aligning closely with mine, I like the guy and appreciate his honesty. The teachers let him have it with all barrels, educating him on where the CTE/ag money comes from and how it ends up being played with on the national stage. They talked about the teacher shortage, which he had been unaware of, and recommended some ways to help. They also asked him what they could do to make his job easier... he told them to be engaged in politics and write letters informing their elected officials of things like the funding that he hadn't known about and the teacher shortage and such. It was productive. I don't know how much one man can do, he's a cog in a very large and obnoxious machine, but I trust him to do what he can. Short of complete political reform in the U.S., that's all I can hope for.

Once that was done I headed home to lunch before going back to the office. I rested ok, but it was very hard to get back up again and go to work. I had too much to do to not go back, though. Back at the office, people were odd. Perhaps I was just odd. Either way, it took me far longer than it should have to get into writing my pieces. But once I was writing, wow, it pulled together nicely. I finished everything I thought I had to do for Tuesday with about a half-hour left in the day. Just enough time to head over to city hall to talk with the city manager and set up an appointment for my big happy feature story on him.

To my relief, he was in the office when I got to city hall. We chatted for a bit, set up an appointment for Wednesday morning, then discussed the city hall renovation story I was writing for Wednesday's paper. It was pleasant, because city hall is a pretty cool place right now. The right leadership seems to make a big difference. I got my information, and then headed home to really rest for the evening.

I got some reading done, and a little on-line stuff. I played around with the Aquaman wiki for awhile, which was nice and relaxing. It's been needing some TLC. Then I went to bed early. I woke up when Eric came to bed and decided to read, turning on a light that was aimed directly at my face. I wish there was a way to block his light from my side of the bed at night. Despite that, I feel asleep again quickly enough and woke up before my alarm feeling fairly refreshed. In fact, almost hyper.

Hyper Tuesday

I had three corrected stories on my desk for Tuesday in the morning, but my little tally sheet said I should have four. I realized that I'd forgotten a cut n paste of a press release, but that was easy to pull together. The rest was minor corrections, then I was mostly done with deadline. I only had to wait a bit for the county sheriff's report.

I was definitely feeling good Tuesday morning, bouncing around the office getting stuff done quickly and efficiently. I wish I felt like that more often. I could get so much more done if I did. I felt like I was almost caught up with everything I needed to do by the end of deadline, which was nice. After being sick for so long, it was good to feel good.

The day went by pretty fast, and the hyperactivity lost its edge toward the afternoon, but I still felt good. I had an evening assignment at the pool, covering the local meet. I got a lot of photos and spent about an hour there. The teams competing are two of the largest in the area, so the events took awhile, even though they were well-run. I learned later that the meet lasted well into the night and wasn't finished until about 11 p.m. Yikes.

I was greeted by a lot of different people at the meet. Apparently I know a lot of folks in town now. I don't know what they think of me, but I think we have a pretty good bunch overall. I was just surprised at how many people I actually know by name.

The kids from the other team were writing stuff on their arms, legs and backs. One girl with an open-backed swimsuit had "eat my bubbles" written on her back. I was mildly amused. The temperature was very nice for people not in the pool, warm but not hot and sticky. The kids, on the other hand, looked all shivery between their swims.

After getting home, I did more personal stuff... I even read comic books for enjoyment and not because I "had" to read them to get reviews written. And I played with the wiki and websites more. It was really nice.

Busy Morning

Wednesday morning I faced a tough schedule, with a Rotary meeting at 7, during deadline, and the story to be written by 9 a.m. Then I had my appointment with the city manager at 10 a.m.

Well, I took off for the Rotary meeting just a few minutes before 7 because I was trying to get as much other stuff done as possible before I left. I walked in and almost immediately they started the meeting. There was the usual fun, including a story from one of the guys that his truck had been squeaking, and he took it to a local shop (run by the former mayor) who sprayed Lemon Pledge on the squeaking plastic bits. It worked. The truck stopped squeaking. I want to try it on Eric's car.

The talk was from a local insurance agent who is also an old hand at rodeo and has been raising cutting horses. Those are horses trained to cut a cow from a herd and keep it away for a bit. The technique was useful in the cowboy days for taking care of individual animals... probably still is used in many places. In any case, he talked about competitive cow cutting. When I got back, I had less than an hour to write the story, and I couldn't fit in some of the funnier stories he told because they really didn't fit the topic. So I'll mention them here.

Sweet Revenge

The first was a tale about a friend he had growing up, call him Sam. The guy used to keep two pocket knives in his jeans, one in each pocket. The speaker said Sam would ask to trade knives with you. But you'd always end up with a broken knife in return for your nice pocket knife. So Sam's friends learned to keep two knives of their own so they could trade crappy knives with crappy. Sam also would lead people down trails while they were trail riding and yell back, "watch out for that branch!" when there was no branch, making all the guys behind him duck and check. In short, he was a prankster and all the fellows burned to get back at him.

The speaker got his chance many years later while working on the chuckwagon at a rodeo. He spotted Sam drive up and get out of his car, leaving the keys in the seat. The speaker sauntered over and removed the keys, then blended back into the crowd with the remote lock and starter in his hands. When Sam got back to his car a few minutes later and reached for the door, the speaker clicked the lock, so Sam couldn't get in. As Sam started to walk away to get help, he unlocked the door and Sam turned around to try to get back in... but the door locked again. Sam looked around but couldn't see anyone he knew, so he tried to break in. The speaker set off the car alarm. Then turned it off. Then walked out to Sam and said, "looks like you're having some car trouble." At which point the two had a reunion, as they hadn't seen each other in 25 years. Ha.

Buffalo Guys

The other story came after a question about someone seeing buffalo on the property the speaker owns. He laughed and said, yes, they sometimes have buffalo to practice cutting with. After the cows have been in the practice ring for awhile, they get "sour" and either refuse to move when separated or run back and forth so fast they are impossible to work with. Buffalo, on the other hand, think of cutting as a game and like to tease the horses. He described the buffalo as "prancing away" if they manage to fool the horse.

He also said buffalo are pretty smart and can be very difficult to wrangle if they escape. Then he told about a friend whose buffalo escaped into a yard next door and asked him for help. As it was late in the afternoon, the speaker told his friend they had to wait until the next day because there wasn't enough time left to wrangle them. Sure enough, they were able to get one of the two escapees captured easily enough, but the other one watched the first capture and "she decided she wanted no part in it!" It took several hours to get the second one safely captured and returned home.

In any case, the speaker said he didn't use buffalo anymore because a local feedlot lends them cows to chase, so they when they sour they just go home. And he said buffalo will charge a horse and attack, and getting rid of the large buffalo can be a challenge, since they will take down a horse.

The speech was great, even if I couldn't use it all, but my story was not nearly as good. I was not satisfied with it, but turned it in to the editor anyway because it was deadline. He ok'ed it, which disturbed me. After deadline I got to work on Thursday stuff and actually got quite a bit done before heading off to my appointment at city hall.

Storming City Hall

Driving to city hall I noticed a military vehicle, looked like a Hummer, driving up the street. It looked like they didn't know where they were going. I parked at city hall and they drove up practically behind me and parked as well. I headed in, trying not to glance at the four guys getting out of the truck. Once inside, I told the clerks I was there to see the city manager and waited for him to come out. Then the four guys from the Hummer came in and announced they were there to see the city manager. Um, oops?

The HR person took them back to the conference room and the city manager came out to see me. He said their appointment had been at nine, could I wait? Sure, I have no problem waiting. I have books on my smart phone for instances like this. It wasn't really worth the effort to go back to work, so I talked with the clerks for a little bit, warning the new girl that she would be in the paper soon (new city employees always seem to get an introductory article in the paper). While I was sitting there waiting, she got the call from my co-worker. Ha!

I read a little more of "Go Set A Watchman" and listened to the business of city hall. Sometimes just listening you can pick up something that may turn into a story later. Thus I was listening when one of the clerks moaned that a particular citizen was approaching. The citizen had some complaints and apparently is one of those people that is difficult to deal with at the best of times. So the clerks made the new girl handle her. Ouch. While she was still at the counter, the four military guys came out and left the building. I debated whether to go hunt for the city manager or wait for him... I decided to wait. A minute or two later he poked his head around the doorway and waved me to the back offices. The difficult woman was still making angry noises when I went back to the city manager's office.

My interview went well. I learned that the military guys were there on some sort of research thing where they are talking with local small governments about how they handle governing cities and dealing with emergencies. The goal, and I'm hearing this second-hand through the city manager, is to help soldiers provide practical advice to local leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems to me that it's more than a decade too late to start that sort of training, but I applaud the military for thinking of it, if that's really what was going on. Maybe they've been doing it for years and this is just a crew getting field experience in talking to local leaders.

Wednesday afternoon didn't go nearly as well, although I got my work done and got started on other work. It was just a slog all the way through. I started more stories, but had more problems as I went. It was an afternoon of heavy rewriting. Eventually I went home and ended up rewriting some of the work I'd put into Evernote because it just needed another round of editing. I was able to relax most of Wednesday evening again. Relaxing without being sick! It's amazing how much more restful it is.

Slowing Down at the End of the Week

Thursday morning was one of those "there is nothing to do until I get the police logs" days, so I wrote my stories for the special sections. I got a ton done, nearly finishing one story before the first police log arrived. I finished that one after deadline, then pulled together several other pieces and stories over the course of the morning. Lunch was quick, then to the doctor for an appointment that I scheduled ages ago and didn't remember why. Then back to work. I finished another special section story and made progress on other stuff. Then it was time to head home.

Once at home I crashed. I thought, "I'll just lay down on the bed for a moment" and the next thing I knew Eric was waking me up for dinner several hours later. I tried to enjoy myself and relax, but in the end I was back in bed at my usual time and slept soundly. Apparently being well requires more sleep for me. *sigh*

I was slow getting up on Friday, so missed out on some of my online time. I actually got to work a minute or two before my coworkers, which surprised me. I thought I was moving slower than I was, but cutting my online time caught me up, I guess. My concern that my writing has been a little weak was confirmed by one of the corrected assignments on my desk... I had to do significant rewrites to make it work. I need to read some really good prose soon to get my writing back in gear (writers tend to subconsciously ape the style of their most recent readings, so it's important to read intelligently written stuff whenever possible. It's one reason I usually start out the morning re-reading the previous day's work, so I'm in "newswriter" mode when I start tapping on the keyboard.).

Deadline was normal, then I started working ahead so I had less to worry about next week when my vacation starts. Again, the afternoon was a slog when I was writing. I went out to get some interviews, which I apparently do better in the afternoons than the mornings. I should really arrange my schedule so I write in the morning and do interviews and photos in the afternoon. Again, once I got home I decided to take a quick nap and... yeah, several hours later Eric woke me up for dinner. I still feel that I'm much healthier than I've been, but clearly I still need more sleep than I've been getting.

So, today I have a couple of assignments that should be easy enough to do. I'm headed to a cribbage tournament in about an hour, then a Farmers Market after I'm done with that. Next week I may not post. It depends on what I'm doing at the convention.