Week 13–A turning point

I have to admit that I am a little superstitious, though I know people who are worse. I don’t panic when a black cat walks in front of me, and I don’t walk under ladders, just because I don’t want anything to fall on me.

I am aware of the number 13, but I think it’s because so many others make such a  big deal out of it. All my life I have been warned to watch out for the number 13 or take extra care on Friday the 13th. I guess my turning point came when nothing bad ever happened on that day, nothing out of the ordinary, anyway. I concluded that bad things could happen anytime, not just on a particular day or because of a particular thing I did or didn’t do. But that’s another story…

Another turning point happened this past week. Week 13 of the preparation for the Hiawatha Advocate’s launch date finds me a bit confused and perplexed at how fast things are changing. I consciously knew they would, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would have on me.

I am returning to college for my last term and though I am still on Mount Mercy’s newspaper staff, I am no longer the editor. I was a bit sad and tried to put on a brave face. I tried to put it in a different perspective; yes, I am no longer the chief but I can still contribute to the success of the paper.

Yeah, that just didn’t cut it in my mind. The fact is, I liked being the editor in chief. And stepping aside to let someone have the  opportunity to grow as an editor really was the right thing to do. But I had a good experience and it was tough to let go.

I began letting go last year when Ryan was named the editor, but I didn’t realize that there was more to it than that; I had a transition to make, a transition from being editor in chief to web editor. It wasn’t just a change in name but a change in my role, and it was hard to do.

It really only took a few days to see that Ryan was going to be a great editor and I was going to be a great web editor. But this whole experience made me see that I am going to go through many, many changes in my quest to reach my goal, and I don’t think I can be prepared, no matter what I do. I hadn’t seen this reaction coming and maybe if I’d realized that it was a natural process, I wouldn’t have fought it so much.

Instead of fighting them, I should try to figure out a way to use it to my advantage. Change is inevitable, but I am understanding how change can also be a good thing, a sign that I have exited one chapter and entering a new one.

I’m not a superstitious person, nor am I am unlucky. Actually, I really don’t believe in luck in all. I believe life is what you make it. And a positive attutude goes a long way.

The Hiawatha Advocate

Work is a 4-letter word

This the last night at the umpteenth job I’ve had over the years. I’m  saying goodbye to yet another job and it has caused me to pause and contemplate what it all mean.

I have been working for most 35 years of my life and in that time, there are only a few that I can say that I really enjoyed. I have been a secretary, cashier, kennel worker, pie server, bookkeeper, cook, baker and a waitress. As funny as it sounds, I think I enjoyed being a waitress the most (Somewhere along the way it became politically correct to call us servers, but I can’t get used to it.)

What I liked most about being a waitress was the fact that it was different every day. I never got bored. I enjoyed the people, too, though some of them could really be jerks. Some people don’t tip, as a personal rule; some take their bad day out on you, and some are just plain mean. And people thought we got regular pay plus tips. When I told them that I made $1.96 an hour at my first waitress job in 1980, they couldn’t believe it. I relied pretty much on my tips to pay my bills. When my tips started getting smaller and smaller, I decided I couldn’t do it and switched careers…as a cashier.

I didn’t like it as much. I had to stand in one place all day and count money. I still got to work with people, but it wasn’t the same. I went back to serving for a while before getting a job with REM Iowa, working with mentally challenged adults. The pay wasn’t much, but I enjoyed helping my clients learn how to live independently. It also helped me learn how to better relate to my son, who is also mentally challenged. But it too became monotonous and I began to look at what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Once I started back to college, the choice was clear; I wanted to be the publisher of my own paper. Where else could I be busy all the time, do something different every day, and work with people? (besides being a waitress, I mean) Sounds perfect to me.

So here I sit, a few minutes left of my shift. I enjoyed my summer job editing web pages, but it too became tedious. Sitting for eight hours looking at the computer screen not only strained my eyes, but my back, as well. I need to keep moving. I think I said it before but I will say it again; work doesn’t have to feel like work if you really enjoy what you’re doing. Work doesn’t have to be a four-letter word.

The challenges of living in a different world

My 80-year-old mother can’t understand texting, or Facebook, and wants to know what googling means.

She said that she sometimes gets overwhelmed trying to understand it all. “I’m living in a different world.”

She is. And so are millions of other people. Things are changing so fast it’s hard to keep up.

“Why do kids need to text when they’re standing right next to each other? Why don’t they just use their phone to call? What’s an ‘App’? Why do so many people want to “friend” me? Why do my grandkids tell me that they have to ‘google’ it when I ask them a simple question?”

My mother has seen a lot of life. She remembers the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor because, she said, she was walking home from the Paramount Theater downtown and was crossing Green Square when someone started yelling.

“They were yelling ‘Extra! Extra!’ like you see in the movies,” she said. “That’s what they did back then. All we had were newspapers and the radio to find out what was happening in the world. Sometimes it took days and even weeks. Now we know everything in a matter of minutes.”

She said their first TV was not very good but they were in awe of it.

“We thought  it was the greatest thing in the world! But then I thought that about cable TV, too,” she said with a laugh. “Now I go to watch TV and there’s nothing on I want to watch!”

She admits that she is kind of leery of the computer. “I’m afraid I’m going to do something to make it crash,” she said. “I’m thinking about getting a laptop, though. But then I think, would I use it?”

My mother retired from Rockwell as an editor and said their computer took up an entire room. “We had to cut and paste our manuals, so we couldn’t make any mistakes,” she said, after I explained to her that we do all our layout for the newspaper on the computer now. “We’d get them done and see an error after they were printed. My boss didn’t like that,” she said with a chuckle.

“I had to input codes into the computer to get it to do anything,” she said. “One wrong code and it wouldn’t work.”

It’s almost too easy nowadays.

She said the only time she uses a computer now is to order things online and for e-mails.

“Does anyone use the postal service anymore?” she asked. And then added, “Probably why so many are closing their doors.”

It must be hard for her to watch so many things changing in the world. She uses a walker and has a difficult time getting  around. She just sits at home with her dog and watches the world from her chair. She has a lot of visitors, who fill her in on other changes in the world.

She confides to me that she has a hard time understanding her grandchildren and sometimes I have to translate, but then she laughs about it.

“I remember when…” is usually followed by a quick story of simpler times.

I often wonder what the world will be like when I’m 80. More than likely, I will be asking pretty much the same questions, “What’s this?” and  “When did everything change?”

Hard work pays off-Week 12

My parents taught me at a very young age that you have to work for what you want in life, it isn’t just handed to you.

The Hiawatha Advocate

I’ve watched other people go through life with no problems, and good things just naturally happened to them. Why them? Why do I have to work my tail off to get what I want, while they do absolutely nothing and still get what they want?

My dad once tried to explain his philosophy to me, that those people who get things handed to them aren’t learning anything and we should feel sorry for them. But it was tough for a 10-year old to understand this, but I think he was trying to prepare me for the “real world,” and that life wasn’t easy.

I began delivering the Penny Saver every week when I was 11 and made $13 a month. Not a lot, but it gave me some spending money.

I graduated to taking over my brother’s Cedar Rapids Gazette route when I was 13, and while it was pretty hard work, it didn’t pay much either. But I liked the fact that I was doing something to be proud of; I was bringing people their newspaper, something I know they relied on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was developing a work ethic that would follow me the rest of my life.

I was eager to start a real job and applied for a cashier position at McDonald’s when I was 15, telling them that I was 16. (It was before they required proof of age to begin employment) I planned on getting a work permit, but the hassle of the entire process took forever, and by the time I got it, I had already turned 16.

I started working at Bishop’s Buffet in downtown Cedar Rapids soon after I quit McDonald’s, and became pie girl-silverware roller-tray carrier.  I made enough money to buy my first car, a 1972 Mercury Marquis. It was a boat and ate gas like crazy, but it was mine.

My father was right. When we’re handed things in life, we tend to take them for granted. When we work for it, we own it, we can say it is our ours. We can say, “I did that.” While all my friend’s parents bought their cars for them, I could say that I did it myself.

Most things in life are not easy, but the rewards greatly outweigh the struggles.  And if you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work.

Week 12 of starting a newspaper finds me in a very good position. I have four months until I am done with classes and six months before I put my first issue out, and I am still right on schedule. Pretty amazing for something that started with the dream of a little girl and an old manual typewriter.

Pretty amazing indeed.


The Hiawatha Advocate website


Making mountains out of mole hills

I now understand why moles have become the mortal enemies of groundskeepers and gardeners. In a few short weeks, they can turn a lawn into a vast wasteland and leave rumble in their wake.

Mole (wdfw.wa.gov)

Yes, the fun game of whacking moles was no coincidence. Whoever thought of the idea knew what they were talking about.

I always thought moles were these cute-but-ugly things that kept to themselves way underground and never came to the Earth’s surface except for an occasion search for water, and I would never have to deal with them. I have moles, lots of them, and I’m not sure how to get rid of them.

My lawn (if you want to call it that) is covered with good-size mole hills. These little critters have reconstructed my backyard into their own networking system. Mounds of dirt have sprung up all over, causing my grandchildren and I to invent a new game; stomping mole hills.

I have spent the entire summer trying to make my yard look pretty, planting flowers, weeding, watering the lawn and plants when they need it, even raising morning glories from seeds.

Last month the woman who owns the house behind us warned me that she was having a professional come in to get rid of the moles and we’d better do the same. Now I wish I would have listened. A whole family of moles moved in and have made themselves comfortable in our backyard. So how do I get rid of them?

A few people have given me tips on how to get rid of them, but many of them involved poison. Instead of taking their advice, I decided to whip out my trusty laptop and google it for myself.

The first thing I found out was that I needed to identify which invader it actually was; moles, vole, or gophers. I came upon a map at http://www.volecontrol.com/pic_regional_pests.html that showed that moles were native to Iowa. I clicked on a link on the site’s sidebar that took me to another page that showed what kind of hill it was making, confirming that it was, indeed, moles.

I returned to my googling and found a site (http://www.mahalo.com/how-to-get-rid-of-moles)  with a lot of useful information. For instance:

  • Moles are more of a nuisance than anything else. Moles are not dangerous.
  • Moles do not eat roots, flower bulbs, or other vegetation.
  • Moles feed on pest insects which is highly beneficial to your yard and garden.
  • The digging that moles do can be beneficial to the soil, even if it creates immediate inconveniences such as yellowed grass and mole hills.

They are a pain in the butt for many people because:

  • The ridges of their shallow tunnels and the mole hills they create are unsightly and make mowing the lawn difficult.
  • The moles’ tunneling activity as they search for food may turn the grass brown and disturb other plants.
  • The tunnels they dig can cause the ground to sink when you walk on it.
  • Moles are extremely fast and strong: One or two active moles can quickly destroy a nicely landscaped yard, causing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of damage.

And here are a few suggestions the site gave me to try:

  • Over-watering your lawn will bring earthworms and the moles who eat them closer to the surface. Try reducing the amount of water you give your lawn.
  • Consider changing your lawn completely.  Converting your yard to gardens or a low-water landscape will save you money, provide a habitat for birds, and discourage moles from choosing to settle there.
  • Block the moles out of your yard or garden. Building a barrier might not be the best way to keep moles out of large area, but it can work for small gardens. Use fencing with a small mesh, and bury it at least two feet below the ground’s surface.

Other options they suggested:

  • There are several types of chemicals used to reduce moles, but some of them are illegal to use and others are ineffective.
  • Human hair, Castor Oil, moth balls, commercial mole repellents and other smelly items will initially scare off moles, but moles adapt quickly, and they will most likely return in short order.
  • Soil vibrating and ultra-sonic devices have the same initial effect as the less-expensive smelly repellents, with the same result: The moles will come back for all that yummy food that is found in the soil under your yard!
  • Some dogs can smell moles and may try to dig them up, but moles are fast: They can travel about 80 feet per minute through existing tunnels.  Besides this fact, the mess the dog will make trying to dig up the mole will rival that of the mole itself!
  • A common recommendation when attempting to eliminate moles from your yard is to kill off their food supply. Controlling beetle grubs is something you can try, but chances are there is enough other food in your yard, such as earthworms, to keep the moles well-fed.
  • Another common thing to try is using a hose to flood the moles out of their tunnels. This also does not work well, however, as most moles have an extensive network of tunnels, and the water may not reach all of them. Even if you do manage to flush out the moles, they will only return later, unless you manage to trap and relocate them.

The authors of the site said that some people trap and kill the moles themselves, but they suggested trying the other ways first because killing moles is illegal in some states.

So, as I see it, I have many different options that might assist me in getting rid of the pests, but time will tell. At least next year I will be more aware of them and I can start a little earlier in getting rid of them. Either that, or just throw in the towel and surrender to the hilly landscape that is now my backyard.

Week 11–the heart of a journalist

I had a busy week, mostly taking pictures and making videos. I’m starting to get into the back-to-school mode and trying to tie up loose ends before I make the plunge back into homework and deadlines.

One thing I have noticed in the past few years since deciding on a career in journalism; I see everything as a potential story… everything. It has taken me practice and know-how to determine exactly what kind of story it will be, but a story, nonetheless.

I walked into the Mount Mercy University bookstore today to say hello to a friend and ended up leaving with information about a jewelry display on their counter. I never noticed it before and I asked Janie Mills, the manager of the bookstore, if it was new. She told me no, but it had been in a basket at the end of the counter, and they just decided to display it better. The jewelry sales, she continued, is raising money for cancer research, and was started by a local girl whose mother was dying of cancer. She was 12 years old when she started, and Janie said didn’t know much more about it, but said the bookstore is selling the jewelry to help them out.

That’s all I needed to know. It was the start of a story. I’m still not sure what I will do with it, but I’m sure something will come of it.

That’s what I mean. I just have it in my blood, I guess. I find so many things interesting that sometimes it gets me into trouble and I end up with so many things on my plate. I have to learn to decide what things are more important.

This weekend my grandson had his Su Kwan, a Buddhist blessing, which I blogged about earlier. I saw a story there, too. I really did try to just enjoy the celebration, as any grandparent would, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to get just the right angle for pictures, just the right spot for the video. I just kept thinking to myself, they’ll thank me some day. And I did enjoy it, just not leisurely. I think everyone is getting used to seeing me carry a camera around everywhere I go, snapping pictures, looking for the perfect photo opportunity.

My 5-year-old granddaughter spent the night with me last night and she started telling me about her day at a rinky-dink zoo in Manchester, Iowa, which was at a lady’s house. She was so funny that I had to stop her and go get my camera to record her. “OK, now tell me again about the animals you saw,” I told her. I didn’t have to encourage her too much; she’s a natural!

I used to think it was strange of me to see a story in most everything I heard and saw, but now I don’t think it’s so out of the ordinary–not for a journalist, anyway.

Su Kwan Video

Zoo Video

The Hiawatha Advocate

Su kwan and birthdays–where cultures merge

My grandson, Lennox, turns 1 on Aug. 17. His mother, Lori,  (my daughter) is caucasian and his father, Johnny, is Laotian. His parents came to America in the ’70s in search of a better life for their family.

Lennox’s Su Kwan offerings

Johnny was born in the U.S., but his three older brothers were born in Laos. One unique thing about Johnny–he doesn’t have a middle name. When I asked Lori why, she said that no one really knows.

Though Johnny’s brothers, Andrew, Sam, and Jerry were born with Laotian names, they were given new names when they arrived in the states.

Lori and Johnny have two children; Lily and Lennox. Lily will be 4 in December. Lori and Johnny are not legally married, but they were blessed by a monk when Lily had her “Su Kwan,” (a Buddhist ceremony similar to a baptism) making them married in the religious aspect.

Lily has light brown curly hair and hazel eyes. Her Asian culture is apparent through her beautiful almond-shaped eyes. Lennox is the spitting image of his father; dark hair, dark eyes, dark complexion.

When I first met Johnny’s family, I was a little bewildered by their traditions. They like to celebrate, and every celebration was a reason to eat and drink. They invite family, friends, co-workers; anyone who is a part of their lives. They really enjoy life and having fun.

Lennox Angsouvan

The family has incorporated many American traditions into their lives since they came to the U.S. But however Americanized the family is, their culture is still apparent in many things they do. Foods that we would think twice about eating, such as bean curds and chicken feet, are common-place in their household, and rice is fixed with every meal.

They speak Laotian fluently in their household and are teaching the younger generation about their culture and language. Lori has done her best to learn their culture, as well, picking up bits and pieces of the language and fixing Laotian foods Johnny likes. Johnny’s parents visit Laos every chance they get and bring back gifts that symbolize their culture.

And they celebrate; Laotian-style.

I attended Lennox’s Su Kwan Aug. 13, which also doubled as his 1st birthday party. Being 1, he really had no concept of what was going on and was just happy to have the attention he was getting.

The large house was filled to capacity with diverse cultures and everyone had a great time laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The monk conducted the short ceremony in the middle of the living room floor, while those who had never been to a Su Kwan were fascinated by the food and treats that were laid out in offering. Little yarn bracelets hung from the centerpiece, from which long pieces of strings were attached. The monk gave a blessing, and everyone tied the bracelets to each others’ wrists, saying a blessing to them, as well.

Lily in a traditional Laotian dress

Lennox cried, which seems to be typical of most babies in that situation. But when the cake and presents came,he forgot all about his foul mood and had a great time.

Though Lori and Johnny have been together for quite a while, I still am amazed in the difference of our cultures….but inside we’re all still pretty much the same.

Journalism is not dead

I was a little miffed when I saw the comment, “Journalism is dead,” on a message board regarding Michele Bachmann’s infamous debut on the cover of Newsweek. The comment came in retaliation of the presidential candidate posing for the camera under the headline, “Queen of Rage.”


It’s sad that so many people agreed with this statement. Comments such as, “Journalists only want to sell stories,” and “They don’t really care about the real news,” made my skin crawl.

As a journalist, I take those comments personally. People are entitled to their opinions, but too many people tend to see all journalists that way. They accuse us of caring more about selling papers than getting the real story.
When I decided to become a journalist, it was because I wanted people to know the truth. And if the truth hurts, well,  that’s just the way it is.
Many writers call themselves journalists without giving much thought to what a true journalist is. Bloggers  jot down their opinions of the days’ events and consider themselves journalists. But there is more to being a journalist than just writing.
Journalism not only consists of reporting the news and getting the facts straight, it also involves dedication, compassion, perseverance, and integrity on the part of the journalist.
While Newsweek may have misled the public with its flamboyant cover, the outrage that the cover was sexist was unfounded. According to Roland Martin, contributor for CNN, if anything, the magazine, “should be ripped to shreds because the photo doesn’t even go with the headline, ‘Queen of Rage.'” Martin went on to say that he also wondered if this news was more important than the looming financial crisis.
Sometimes we journalists make choices that aren’t consistent with the appeal of the masses, but we shouldn’t be condemned for it. It’s tough trying to make everyone happy. It’s silly to think we can.
And besides; controversy is good. It gets people talking.
Journalism is not dead. Sometimes it’s just in a coma.

A dry run-Week 10

This week I was given a challenge–to see if I could produce a newspaper in a week. Well, I have done that before, but that’s when I had a staff of 9. But you know me; I love a challenge, so I took it.

What resulted wasn’t half-bad. Actually, I’m pretty proud of myself. I made the deadline, which, in itself is a major feat, considering I had a full-time job and other things to contend with.

Knowing that I couldn’t do all the work myself in a week, I enlisted the help of a couple of my friends. They were happy to oblige and that gave me four articles to use. I also knew I couldn’t put together a 16-page paper and make all the ads and write all the stories myself in a week and so I used fillers, just to see how it would look in the end.

Since this issue will not be sold or even really looked at by too many people, I used a few of my old blog articles and a few of my current web articles. I laid it all out so I could see what I had to work with and get some ideas for when my real first issue comes out in February.

But I didn’t only have to worry about content, I had to make the ads myself. That wasn’t so bad. My summer job as a web ad editor really came in handy. I was able to slap together some fairly decent ads in no time.

Everything I have learned up to this point was put into play. I made a story list, page dummies, handed out the assignments and laid my pages out. I printed the pages out, edited them, and took them to the printer.

As I sat down to my computer, something came over me, and I knew that this is what I am meant to do. It was awesome to see everything I have worked for coming together in one 16-page paper.

I will have challenges; that’s a given. But I still have a few months to smooth the rough edges and come up with a workable template. If I had to put a newspaper out next week, I could.

That’s all I needed to know. Now I can move onto other areas of the newspaper business; getting out and meeting people and businesses in the community. Oh, yeah, and school will be starting soon.

Things are moving along as scheduled and I’m learning a lot. My dad often told me to have patience and  that, “good things come to those who wait.” Maybe this is what he meant.