Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Week in Review

Slow Start

After a relatively relaxing Saturday with Inkwell, I had a mostly pleasant Sunday. Inkwell surprised me by not waking me up until his feeding time on Sunday, which was nice. He slept on the bed with me since I closed the door to the guest room while I cleaned the sheets on the bed. He was rather irritated by that move on my part, but since Eric wasn't home, he just spread out on Eric's side of the bed.

I needed to do some baking on Sunday, but I didn't do it for whatever reason. In fact, I was pretty darn lazy all day on Sunday, which probably didn't put Eric into a good mood when he got back from the wetside and wanted to accomplish stuff.

Since I hadn't finished making the bed in the guest room, Inkwell once again slept on our bed, mostly around my legs. He was mightily annoyed any time I moved.

I was almost late to work again on Monday because Eric got into the shower later than I expected... but I realized what I was doing and managed to get to work in time after all! Huzzah!

On Monday I had Noon Rotary and City Council. For kicks, the editor threw in a finance meeting before the council meeting as well. It turned out to be a good thing he did, as the council meeting itself was short on substantial information, while the finance meeting had an interesting budget update to report on.

Crappy Presentation

Rotary was all about cow manure, which is why the guest speaker said, "I'm glad you all finished lunch before I started talking." The presentation was about a new way to process liquid cow manure, which is one of, say, three major things to come out of a cow.

LECTURE MODE ON: The average dairy cow produces maybe 75 pounds of milk in a day, and 25 pounds of solid manure. Another 100 pounds is liquid that isn't milk. Unfortunately, the waste from cows is a problem because it has a lot of nitrates in it. While nitrates make great fertilizer, a lot of dairies for a great many years had no clue that the wastewater their cows produced could leech into the ground and contaminate the groundwater. The groundwater group I've been covering (the nightmare meetings that everyone wishes they don't get assigned) is trying to solve the nitrate problem. Nitrates don't come just from cows... but while the exact cause of nitrates in groundwater is not certain, what is certain is that responsible dairymen want to reduce or eliminate nitrates in their waste. LECTURE MODE OFF.

So this guest speaker was talking about a really simple method for reducing the nitrates in liquid dairy waste. It's basically a giant compost bin (bunker) with worms that have been acclimated (trained worms!) to deal with the waste. The results in a test of the method in Royal City, north of us, have been impressive. They were hoping for a 70% reduction in nitrates: they've been getting more than 80%. This is good news and of great interest to everyone in the area, because it may result in significant changes in the local dairies, which are a vital piece of the economy.

As a result, although it was a "crappy" meeting, it was extremely interesting and actually a little fun to write about.

Lots of Meetings

After getting through as much of the next day's work as possible, I headed out of the office a little early due to the evening meetings. I had a quick dinner with Eric before going to the finance meeting. I had a little trouble getting out of my housing development. There seemed to be an awful lot of traffic on the side road, far more than usual. I considered investigating, but I didn't think I'd have enough time. I intended to stop at the credit union and get some cash, but there was a huge crowd there, and the line was practically out the door. I took one long look and just walked out. I still didn't have quite enough time to go investigate the traffic mystery, though. Thus, I got to the finance meeting a little early.

The new finance director for the city has been crazy busy trying to settle into her role. She was previously the financial analyst, but with the new job, she's actually been doing both roles while trying to get the 2016 city budget ready and clean-up past financial problems in the city's books. While I think she's got it mostly under control, I also think she's a bit overworked at the moment. In any case, she had a budget amendment for the council to make, and in the finance meeting she presented the case for it nicely.

The main meeting was... well, I can't say it was quick exactly. Instead, it covered a lot of ground rapidly then halted depressingly on a subject that had been discussed extensively at the last meeting. The problem was that three of the seven council members were missing at the last meeting. All three were at this last meeting, and all three wanted to hear more about the subject. So the entire thing was rehashed in detail while I sat there wishing I hand a handy video game to play while I waited for them to catch each other up.

As a result, I wrote a bunch of brief stories on the council meeting, a long story on the finance meeting a had a couple of photos and that was that.

Inkwell again slept on the bed with us. I really needed to make that bed in the guest room!

Police Tales

One of my co-workers was on vacation this past week, and on Monday I forgot to do her police log. So Tuesday morning one of my main duties was getting that all caught up. I talked with the officer in charge of that, and he had some fun stories for me, including a tale of a very intoxicated gang member who apparently managed to shoot himself in the leg. I also got an answer to the traffic mystery from Monday night: a semi-truck had stalled/broken in a major intersection, blocking it off and diverting traffic into my neighborhood.

The rest of Tuesday deadline wasn't particularly wonderful, but we somehow got it done. Then I had more stuff to work on for Wednesday, including another attempt to get an interview. I left early again because of a council meeting the next town south, Tuesday night.

Crowded Council

The meeting was a bit different from usual. First off, there were extra people there. It turned out that Heritage University, a local school that a lot of local kids go to after high school, has a class on social services. And the entire class was asked to attend a local council meeting. So almost a dozen students from the class crammed themselves into the tiny council chambers of the town. Normally, when I go to council meetings at this town, I'm one of the only a couple of people in the audience, which is usually set up with between 12 and 15 mismatched chairs. The other people in the audience are generally either staff members who don't have seats at the "council table" (which only has five seats that aren't reserved for the council and mayor) or people giving a presentation to the council, or family members of the council.

Tuesday night, the mayor's family was at the meeting, taking up three chairs. In addition the staff seats were all taken, so that's city's new finance director was also sitting in the audience. Only 12 chairs had been set up, so with a dozen "newbies" coming in, the staff ran over to grab more chairs... many of which were literally covered in dust. The police chief ran to get some dusting cloths so people didn't have to sit down in the dust, although one gentleman defiantly proved he didn't care about dust and sat down in one of the dusty chairs and wiggled a bit with a big smile at the staff with dusting cloths. In addition to the 11 students, three-and-a-half family members, finance director and me, the family of the police officer being sworn in that night was also visiting from Spokane. There were five of them plus the officer herself. It was standing-room-only until the officer was sworn in and she and her family left.

The meeting itself was something fairly boring but quick, which is how I like 'em if they are boring. The main meeting lasted less than a half hour. I also arrived early for the study session and learned that the city is finally working on its 2016 budget. That became my main story, with several photos and a brief about the new employees, including the police officer. I tried to get an interview with the new finance director, who sounds like a fascinating person, but she was starting on the city's budget while learning the city's system and begged for three weeks. I wrote it down in my to-do list in Evernote call her back then.

Extra Volleyball Photos

One of the council members was absent due to a volleyball game at the high school (two blocks away) that his daughter was playing in. I had a notion that if the meeting ended quickly enough, I'd run over to the high school and get a few photos of the game along with stats directly from the coach so he wouldn't have to call me later. I expected the volleyball game to start at 6 p.m., so when I got there at 7:30 and the first set was just starting, I was a little surprised. But happy... I got my photos and stats, staying the duration of the game. Turns out the JV match went long, and it was senior night as well, so there was a celebration before the game. I arrived at just the right time to avoid the nonsense.

I headed home after the game, feeling pretty good about getting extra photos and already done with my stats. The rest of the night went quickly enough, although Inkwell slept on my legs again. Sometime in the morning I rolled over and partially squished him before realizing he was there, and after that he wasn't on the bed anymore.

Wednesday morning I was feeling a bit distressed from having a couple of outstanding stories that needed to be done NOW but I didn't have quite all the information. I did what I could and punted on the rest. I planned on getting a lot of work done after lunch... but then I got a call to go take a Student of the Month photo at one of the local elementary schools, and my afternoon vanished. Normally I like taking the photos, which are at local schools so I get to see and chat with local kids, but with so much to do, I was stressed.

I didn't finish my stories, and I had to go home to help Eric drop off his car at the shop, so I decided to try to write them at home Wednesday night. I was totally fooling myself. I didn't get either of the two most crucial done. Thursday morning I scrambled in the morning and got one of them done before I even headed to work, but the other one was a complete failure. I didn't finish it until Friday morning.

Inkwell gave up on sleeping on the bed with us as of Wednesday night. I'm not sure if it was due to being squished slightly the night before or for some other reason. Instead, he figured out that my chair upstairs is a fairly safe place to cuddle. I moved my computer downstairs to try to get stories done, so I haven't been sitting in it. I guess he found that reassuring.

Difficult Thursday

As I finished my story Thursday morning, I checked my email and discovered that I was scheduled for a press conference at 4 p.m. that had just been announced. It meant that Eric and I weren't likely to get out to pick up his car, and so I was even more stressed than usual. Eric assured me we would work with it, but I was still slightly angry and feeling put out about it.

Then I got in my car to head to work and got even more stressed, because the town was socked in with a very heavy fog. The drive to work was slightly hairy, with several drivers being incredibly stupid (c'mon people, no brights in fog!). Once at my desk listening to the police scanner, it became evident that scary drivers were all over the valley. The worst one was up northwest of town, a little too far to go in the foggy dark for what might not be a good photo. The accident was car vs tractor, and the radio chatter suggested the tractor was upside-down. The next day, when I chatted with the sheriff's office with it, the incident was apparently a mix of the car driver going too fast for conditions (although the official I talked with said they were probably going the speed limit or under) and the tractor not having hazard lights on or effective reflective stickers (covered in dirt and worn out).

I got through deadline without killing anyone, and after lunch at home with Inkwell I drove out to the next town over to take photos of a balloon release. It was actually a nice break from the office, and much-needed. I headed back to get some work done before the press conference and got to see my publisher dressed as a pirate, complete with a real sword. I even took a nice photo for the company newsletter. The city "Trunk-or-Treat" was Thursday night, and our office had a pirate theme.

In the meantime, a little bit of detective work had resulted in us knowing what the press conference was about. I was told to go out and get a photo of the area the new hospital was to be built on. While I was out, I also got an advertising photo, which is something editorial is generally not requested to do. The publisher asked me, so I didn't hesitate. It was explained to me later by another person in the editorial department that it has caused problems in the office in the past when advertising asks editorial to take photos. I was unaware of the history and I'm sure the publisher is/was unaware as well. I'll have to see if anything develops from it.

Hospital Hijinks

The soon-to-be interim editor and publisher wrote up a scoop on the hospital and as soon as I got back with my photo they posted it online. The only name on the story online was my photo credit.

A couple of hours later I was at the hospital where the media was gathering along many city leaders, some of whom knew what was going on and some of whom did not. The school superintendent chatted to me and flattered me with the notion that I would have qualified to be the school's PR person, a role which I would not seek and don't think I'm even slightly qualified for. He knew what the announcement was, and as I was standing there with him the PR person for the hospital came up, very angry, and asked if I had written the story we posted online. She had it on her phone, and my name was in the photo credit, so she asked me. I truthfully said I had nothing to do with the story, that I'd only taken the photo. She was slightly mollified, but I felt very uncomfortable due to how angry she was. My co-worker who was supposed to cover the presser with me arrived... as did the publisher. Still dressed in his pirate outfit.

The press conference went as expected, with lots of information about the new hospital which is being built on some property that, when it was sold, raised a lot of speculation about what was going to go there. It was a dairy, and the location is pretty much ideal for lots of things due to it being really near the freeway on one of the city's two big exits. I heard everything: truck stop, outlet mall, retirement home, shopping center, grocery store, and, of course, hospital.

Failing Grade

The publisher came up beside me and asked me if I had any questions to ask. I couldn't think of any. I realized a moment later that it was a test... he asked several very good questions that I had not thought of but wish I had. I'm still just a writer, I do not have the reporter instinct and I'm not entirely sure I can develop it. Four years I've been doing this job, and I still haven't figured out how to ask the right questions. For me that's worse than being a slow learner, that feels like not learning at all. It's enough to make me feel terrified about my future.

I will note that my publisher asked those questions while dressed as a pirate. I'm not entirely sure I could have pulled that off. Ever.

While my publisher was still standing next to me after the main business was done, the PR gal came up to my publisher and ripped into him about the early story, saying it was inaccurate. He took the abuse, and said we would fix it. He also said my co-worker had tried to reach her about it, but she hadn't responded to confirm what our sources had given us. Apparently there was a VIP tour earlier in the day, and my co-worker talked with at least two of the VIPs, both of whom gave us the information that the PR person said was inaccurate. My publisher calmly told her this while I stood rigid next to him listening and not looking. I was still feeling dumb about not having thought of those excellent questions, so I was a little shell-shocked. In fact, the entire event was incredibly demoralizing for me.

I stuck around to talk with some folks, including the hospital CEO, who jokingly claimed to have started some of the rumors about what the property was going to be used for himself. I was trying to get more information in my own way, but I didn't get much more than an earful about the publisher and how people weren't sure how he's going to fit in here in this town. The other thing I picked up was how happy people were to not have to hide what they knew about the property any more. I had hoped for some positives, but I just got more negatives and more demoralizing.

Thursday evening was really not pleasant. I was doing serious soul-searching about whether or not I'm really cut out to be a reporter. I had originally considered going out to the city's Trunk-or-Treat, but by the time I got home after the press conference all I wanted to do was find a dark place to curl up and cry.

Editor's Last Day

Friday was my editor's last day. We worked our way through deadline, getting things done, but ... frankly, the editor has been the soul of the office for quite some time. He was joyful and looking forward to his break, but I was feeling stages of grief. I got a call at the end of deadline from the local beauty school asking if I wanted to get a photo of them all dressed up as characters from The Wizard of Oz. I headed down there and got two good shots, one of which we Tweeted and the other will likely go in Monday's paper. I took another photo with my cell phone, and gave it to my husband for his blog.

We had a surprise lunch for the editor, and we did manage to surprise him, for the most part. Several people came to say farewell, and we ate and I ran home to feed Inky and get some purr therapy. I went back and said farewell to the editor and left just a bit early because I was going to the football game at the local high school later Friday night. I also had the notion that I could go to the school hubby-Eric was teaching at and possibly get some photos of kids in costumes for the Monday photo spread of Halloween fun. He was teaching at one of the two middle schools in the district, which happens to be right next to the all-kinder school, so I started at the all-kindergarten school and got a couple of fun photos, then went over to the middle school to pick up Eric and get a couple of other photos. It was fun.

Snip Snip Here, Snip Snip There...

Eric and I then headed out to get his car. Once home I told him about the beauty school costumes, and we decided, since it was early enough, to go get haircuts. Huzzah! Eric got his hair cut by the Wicked Witch while I got my hair cut by the Cowardly Lion.

Hubby-Eric gets his hair cut by the Wicked Witch of the West.

I was lucky to get a good spot that night at the stadium, and I enjoyed the game. The local team has been doing much better this year than in the past, and it's fun to watch them play. I hope I got some good shots... I wasn't really sure. I stayed the whole first half and took some other photos, too, including a band member dressed as a shark. Right before halftime I was in the far endzone area trying to get a shot or two of the players headed my way, the area started to fill up with cheerleaders for the halftime show... zombie cheerleaders from the local Grid Kids program. I decided at that point to make a hasty exit before they attacked.


Eric and I had a restful morning on Saturday. I did a little Halloween decorating and finally got the bed in the guest room ready for my folks. We had a LOT of candy for Halloween, about 1,000 pieces donated by friends in Seattle. Eric ran out and got more and my parents brought some as well. We had more than 1,500 pieces, ready for a Saturday night Halloween.

Eric got a couple of pizzas from Papa Murphy's and my parents arrived in the afternoon. We were all set early in the afternoon for a pile of kids. Eventually they started to show up, although the first kids by asked if they could go in our back yard to recover a lost ball. We let them.

The flow of trick-or-treaters was steady, but not as extreme as last year. In fact, it was about the calmest Halloween we've had since we moved here, I think. Maybe the prime Halloween years are over. In any case, I'd guessimate between 700 and 800 kids, and we left the lights on until about 9:30 p.m. Definitely a much easier night than last year. Eric and I spent some time on the porch giving out candy, because it was a warm night despite a little bit of rain. I let Inkwell out of the upstairs room while we were still handing out candy because we were outside so much of the time.

Some child left a part of his ninja turtle costume on our porch. I left it out under the light in the hopes that someone would come back and get it. If it's still there on Monday, I might save it to put out next year as "all that's left of the child the monster under the house ate last year..."


My folks left this morning. The pass was very rainy yesterday, according to my parents. The driving rain was bad enough to make visibility difficult.

I didn't get any reviews written for today. Sorry. Eric and I did watch Doctor Who early this morning, and we also saw The Flash and Gotham earlier in the week. But I haven't read any comics or short stories. So I'll double-up the reviews next week.