Even workaholics need a vacation–Week 17

I went on vacation last week…well, sort of.

Grand Mesa

We had a great time, visited with family, saw a few of the sights, but I could never quite get away from work. I guess it’s difficult when my work is also my fun.

The drive over the Rocky Mountains included a lengthy discussion of my marketing and business plan for my newspaper. The trip to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Garden of the Gods had me taking over 200 pictures because I wanted to get “just the right shot.” But I loved every minute of it.

Meerkat at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

I also learned that an astounding number of trees in Colorado are dying because of a beetle infestation and saw first-hand the devastation it’s causing. As we drove through the mountainous terrain, every other tree was stripped of its pine needles and all that was left was a gray skeleton of a once-healthy pine tree.

Though I’ve been to Colorado a few times in my life, it seems as though there is always more to see. We went to Grand Mesa, where I learned that there are free-range cows that roam around, and the population of the deer in the little town of Cedaredge is almost as much as the number of residents. I also saw my first long-haired Scottish longhorn.

Grizzly Bear, I think his name was Emmett

It was fun, it was short, but it was just right. I have a feeling that once I get busy with running my own paper, vacations will come few and far between.  I guess I will just have to enjoy them that much more.

To visit the Hiawatha Adocate website, click here:

How to write headlines and leads-Week 16

“Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader.”

Headline of the War of the Worlds broadcast (volcanoseven.com)

This is a fairly accurate summary (courtesy of copyblogger.com) of why we use headlines to  attract our reader’s attention. It’s also something that I have always had to work at.  It’s not that I’m bad at it; I’m just not as good as I could be. I was told that practice makes perfect, but believe me, I have practiced…a lot.

They say that a good writer is not born, they are made.  But I beg to differ. I think it’s a combination of the two. I think it takes both talent and good writing skills to make a story come to life, which includes having an awesome headline, a great lead, and an interesting story. You can be a talented writer, but without the necessary skills, readers wouldn’t be able to follow it very well. And you can have good writing skills, but without the talent, it could possibly be dull and lifeless.

But unfortunately, headlines are not my only downfall; I am also lacking in the mastery of lead writing. But I am getting better at it. I understand the concept of good lead writing, but for some reason, my right brain and left brain seem to get confused with the logical and creative attributes that should be balancing itself in my writing. In one story a lead will come to me right away. In another story, it may take a while.

Why? I’m not exactly sure. You would think I would have a set pattern to follow, but I don’t. I think about what I want to write, think about what audience I’m targeting, and think about how I can catch their attention. Then my fingers have a mind of their own. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but usually my lead has all the needed elements, even if it isn’t very catchy.

The headline and the lead are the most important parts of a news story.  I know that if I want to get people to read my stories I have to become better at it.
Week 16 has me thinking a lot about what I need to do to become a better writer. All the pieces of my puzzle will come together very soon and I have to be ready. But I don’t think it’s just practice that will help me be a better headline and lead writer. Opening up my creativity a little more will also help. Now I just have to figre out how to do that.
I’m taking a few days off and travel to Colorado to enjoy the mountains and fresh air. I have a feeling this will be my last vacation for quite a while, but that’s OK. What I am doing is not like work to me. I guess that means I’m on the right track.

Hiawatha Advocate

Morning Glorious

Summer is winding down. The mornings and evenings are getting cooler. Soon the leaves will begin to change color and drop from the trees in droves.

Morning Glories-the beginning

I like the changing seasons. The smell of burning leaves, the crisp, cool air, the fierce excitement of football games and tailgates; these are all reminders that another season has passed. And so, it’s time to say goodbye to summer.

I had a great summer. I worked a lot of it, but I still found time to enjoy it.  One time I did this summer was to learn how to grow Morning Glories, a challenge that taught me that there is more to it than just putting seeds in some soil.

I did start with a packet of seeds, a small container, and potting soil.  but then I had to wait. And wait and wait…a long time.

It was almost a month before the first green stem began to nudge its way through the soil. Of course I was thrilled! I was actually capable of making something grow!

A little bit more

But  I knew this was just the beginning. I had to care for them so they would thrive. So I watered them when they needed it, gave them plenty of sunshine, and lots of TLC. But as much as I tried, they didn’t grow very fast. A month had passed and still they were only an inch high. Out of the 30 or so seeds that I planted, only five actually made it that far. I decided that I would transplant them into a larger container.  And so they grew a little more.

When they had matured to a few more inches, it was apparent that they needed to be set free. After researching Morning Glories, I found out that they are a viney sort of flower that blossoms in the morning (duh) and like a lot of sun. I planted them at the base of a trellis set up against the garage, in full view of the morning sun.

Every day I checked on their progress. They were a little slow at first, but then something amazing happened. They began to grow. Rapidly. They began to grow so fast I couldn’t keep up with them. They took on a life of their own and wrapped around the trellis…twice. But still, there were no flowers.

Two months later

After a few weeks of strictly leafy blossoms, I began to accept the fact that it just wasn’t meant to be, that my plant would be blossomless. But then it happened. I was walking around the yard one day and I saw it. I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and I had to look twice to make myself believe it. But there it was; a pretty little pink flower that had made its home on my vine.

I was so excited, I just had to share it with everyone I knew, who were just as excited because they know my track record with pants. So, I have broken my curse with plants…but still not with moles. This accomplishment kind of makes up for the mess they made of my yard. Almost.

Morning Glorious

nobody’s purfekt

Perfection comes in many forms.

A Cedar Rapids Sunset

There’s the ever-awesome perfect sunset. The pristine perfect rose. The perfect day. The perfect kiss.

The one thing all these have in common? They are one person’s perception of what perfect is. What is perfect to one, may not be to another. But it’s perfect, just the same.

I have heard it said that the only perfect person died on the cross. But in my opinion, we are all created in God’s image, perfect just the way He is, and so, we are.

What if you never did anything wrong or if you already knew everything there was to know? What if you never made a mistake?  You would never fail, you would never learn, you would never be sad, you would never be angry; you would never be able to experience the full spectrum of emotions that life has to offer.

It’s not about how others see you that matters most, but how you see yourself. Being perfect doesn’t mean that you never do anything wrong; it means that no matter what you do, you can be happy with who you are.

Week 15–expecting the unexpected

Out of all the things I have learned up to this point, one thing stands out among the rest; expect the unexpected.

I have been working for months on business plans and marketing strategies and newspaper templates. But there is something that has been weighing heavy on my mind. Though I have the experience of being the editor of a paper, I have never actually owned a newspaper. I’ve never even owned a business. Do I have what it takes?

Hiawatha Advocate

I’m taking an entrepreneur class and a marketing class, but I wonder if that will be enough.  My dream of publishing a newspaper never included being a business owner, but it kind of has to. The two have to somehow come together in order for the whole thing to work. The idea of having to sell advertising and make important business decisions is something that I know I’ll have to work at, but I know it’s possible.

I took an entrepreneur assessment test last week and found out that I am highly developed in many business skills, including problem-solving and remaining calm in a crisis. It also said that I am lacking in team-playing and balance. That explains a lot.

Knowing that I have many business skills already does ease my fears a bit, but I can’t help but wonder what obstacles are still ahead for me. I guess I will just have to expect that the unexpected could arise at any time, and I have to be ready to deal with those issues, the same way I have dealt with them before; head-on.

Week 15 has been finalizing my advertising brochure and flyers, and getting ready to talk to local businesses. The obstacles are minimal at this point and helping me to see those things I need to work on. All I can do is just keep taking the next step and continue in the right direction.

The Hiawatha Advocate

We can’t not remember

Stories began last week, memories of, “Where were you when the Twin Towers were hit?” No other explanation was needed; the images were instantly relived signifying that tragic day.


It was unreal; horrifying, devastating, and terrifying, all at once. I was working as a server at Village Inn when reports started to come in on the radio in the kitchen. I couldn’t stop working, but the mood was noticeably changed. The uncertainty of what was going on had everyone on edge.

As the towers fell and it was announced that other forms of terrorism were simultaneously being played out, my mind raced with the possibility that we were being invaded by another country. (Terrorism had not yet become a household word in our country.)

As the days unfolded after 9/11, it became apparent that all of our lives had changed because of what had happened; not just because of how many lives were lost, but because we no longer felt safe. We no longer felt secure. Our homeland was no longer invincible.

As I sit and watch the replaying of the tapes of 9/11, I am reminded what I was thinking that day; that we would never be the same.

Watching the towers being hit by the planes and engulfed in flames, seeing people jump to their deaths,  and the towers collapsing; these images are too gruesome to witness again, and again, and again…but we have to.

We can’t not remember how and why we changed from being a naive country thinking that we couldn’t fall victim to acts of terrorism, to being constantly on our guard, looking around corners and being suspicious of others, even in our own country. It has made us reluctant to trust others and their motives. We no longer know who our friends are.

We are no longer “Land of the Free”. Sept. 11, 2001 changed all that. We are captives of distrust.

Game Day-A House Divided

Every year the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones meet to hash it out on the football field. And every year someone has to go home the loser. This year it was the Hawkeyes who lost…in triple overtime.


I didn’t see the game. Instead, I was helping host a baby shower for my daughter, who is expecting twins in October. The shower was a co-ed shower and we had a TV downstairs for the guys to watch while we played games like, “Guess the size of Mama’s belly,” and “How many songs can you name with the word Baby?”

We ended up turning on the TV upstairs for the die-hard football fans attending the shower, but unfortunately, the cable didn’t cooperate and we had to learn play-by-plays via smartphones.

Half of the people at the shower were for the Hawkeyes; the other of half were Cyclone fans. And even though we had fun playing the games and looking at all the baby presents Holly received, we couldn’t quite get away from the game. After all, Iowa takes their football very seriously, no matter who you are rooting for.

We didn’t plan on having the shower the same day as the shower. By the time we realized it, it was already too late to  change it. So we did the next best thing; we made it a co-ed shower and bought beer for the guys, who in turn brought a pack of diapers for the parents-to-be.

Everyone left happy, everyone except the Hawkeye fans, that is. The final score: 44-41 Cyclones.

Too good to be true

Rick Perry wants to change the Constitution. The Governor of Texas announced his candidacy for president a few weeks ago, going up against Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and many others.


When Perry was first introduced as a candidate, the media painted a pretty picture of a God-Loving, charismatic man who wanted to do something good for our great country. But once again, it is too good to be true.

Rick Perry wants to change the Constitution. I think it takes a lot of guts to even suggest something that drastic. And maybe it should be looked at, but is it really a smart way to start a campaign for the presidency of the United States?

If we look at the article that this statement appears in, we can see that some of the changes are drastic. According to Chris Moody, Perry not only wants to abolish taxes and limit terms and power to judges, he also wants to make abortion and gay marriage illegal in all 50 states.

A bit extreme?

Many people think so. Comments from this article range from agreeing with him to calling his an idiot and a hypocrite. One even person pointed out that those things he is now against he once voted on to keep.

Yes, I admit that when he first came into the spotlight there was hope that maybe this man could do wonders for our country, but I have since changed my mind. I don’t want someone as my president who is so extreme and closed-minded that he wouldn’t listen to what the people want. He is doing what so many other candidates are doing; only thinking of himself and how he thinks the country should be run. Has anyone even asked us, the people of the United States?

I think we really need to look at the backgrounds of all the candidates and see who is really for us, the people. A good website for this is at http://2012.presidential-candidates.org/.

Let’s be intelligent when we pick our next president. The future of our country depends on it.




What a week …. 14

Week 14 wasn’t nearly as difficult as it could have been.

I started classes last week. That in itself would have been enough. But then my boyfriend turned 50, which started a whole other chain of events.

He didn’t want a party or any kind of fuss made over him. I don’t think it was just because he didn’t want to be reminded that he is half a century old; he’s just naturally that way. So how could I make this birthday special?

I had to get creative, so I made him a present. I took all the skills I had learned and put them to good use. Jeff comes from a small family, with most of them living out of town. I thought fun it would be to get everyone’s help in making him a “card” for his birthday and sent out e-mails and asked for old photos and memories about him. I used InDesign to construct the card, which tuned out being more a book, decorated and had Office Max put it in booklet form.

It turned out better than I expected. And he loved it.

I also took him to the General Store Restaurant in Stone City.  The restaurant is situated on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River. The day was gray and rainy, but we didn’t care; though we couldn’t sit out on their deck, we had a great time anyway. The old building is constructed with limestone from the local quarry, giving the restaurant an interesting feel to it. The food was good and the staff was friendly. When we got home, there was a “singing” balloon and birthday cake waiting for him at his front door, courtesy of my daughter.

He told me that it was his best birthday yet. Wow … that’ll  be hard to beat next year.

Between homework and working on the Time’s website, I also worked on my own paper and website this week. I also met with the principals of the elementary schools in Hiawatha. I figured that because I’m including an education section in my paper, it would be a good idea to get to know the schools. The principals were eager to learn more about the paper and had some great ideas for content.

Matt Nesslage collects for MDA at the intersection of Boyson and Robin roads in Hiawatha. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

Not only was I able to get out and do some PR for the paper, I was also able to write a few articles for the website, including one about the Hiawatha firefighters.  They were out this weekend collecting money for Muscular Dystrophy. I thought it would be a good photo opportunity, so even though it was raining Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and went out in search of a great photo. I found them, and it turned out great.

This week, I also remembered my dad, who died three years ago on Sept. 6, and attended a cheerleading practice for my 5-year-old granddaughter. It just shows me that a lot can happen in a week, all very different things, but all important, just the same.

The Hiawatha Advocate

Ice cream makes everything better

My granddaughter was a little upset that her big sister went to Adventureland with her other grandmother yesterday. After talking to my granddaughter on the phone, the solution was obvious; we need to go get ice cream.

Lily enjoys a Dairy Queen (with sprinkles!)

Ice cream is one of those things that just naturally makes everything OK. Whether it’s a skinned knee or a bruised ego, ice cream somehow takes the sting out of whatever is bothering us.

Ice cream is a great comfort food. It’s often portrayed in movies and TV shows as a cure-all for a heartache and goes well a good movie and a good cry. But ice cream is great anytime.

Ice cream goes great with cake, pie, cookies, or as a sundae. It’s good with fruit or sauce, or as my dad would serve it,  heaping high in a bowl, spilling over the sides. (My dad really liked ice cream!)

Though the rise in selection of ice creams can make it difficult to choose, vanilla is still high on many people’s list as ultimate favorite. It can be eaten as it is, or doctored up with chocolate, strawberry, or caramel syrup.

My personal favorite is blackberry ice cream, but I find that it’s getting harder to find. Ice cream companies want to add chocolate and nuts to my ice cream, but I’m more of a Plain Jane. I can do without the sprinkles and cookie bits; just give me a plain cone and I’m good to go.

Many companies have come and gone in recent years, trying to gain the king position in the ice cream world. However, there are only a few that can actually say they are worthy; Dairy Queen, Ben & Jerry’s, Blue Bunny, and Coldstone Creamery all have a place in my vocabulary.

Though I really have to watch how much ice cream I eat these days, comforting my grandkids is always a good excuse.