Beginning a new tradition

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Every year I watch from a distance at people camping at local stores with hopes of getting the one TV that was advertised at a ridiculously low price.

Traditional Thanksgiving meal

This year was worse. Instead of waiting for the traditional Black Friday “unofficial” start to the holiday shopping season, many stores decided to open Thanksgiving night or very early Friday morning.

For years, I have been complaining (and I’m not alone on this one) that retailers are taking away from the true meaning of certain holidays, such Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, by pushing their merchandise any way they can. Holiday displays appear in store months before the holiday actually takes place. What whose fault is it really? Don’t consumers set the pace for their buying practices? I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on retailers. After all, they’re just trying to make a living.

My one and only experience with Black Friday happened more than 25 years ago when Cabbage Patch Dolls were the rage. I stood in line with a friend to get one of the last dolls available anywhere in Cedar Rapids. Was the 4-hour wait worth it?

I think, as a new mother, it was, but I never did it again. I’ve since realized that there is more to life than Cabbage Patch Dolls and low-priced TVs. My Black Friday morning will be spent with my grandchildren, something that can’t be bought in a store. There will be enough time to buy the gifts I need before Christmas, but for now, I just want to reflect on how thankful I really am.

In a side note, my 23-year-old daughter cooked her very first Thanksgiving dinner in her new home, which I was honored to attend. Among the dishes that were served included the traditional green bean casserole, turkey, and stuffing, but an Asian favorite was added; crab ragoons.

Traditional Thanksgiving meal, with crab ragoons!

Who says you have to follow every tradition? Maybe it’s time to start a few new ones.

Hard work pays off-Week 25

Not a lot of people know this about me, but when I was 11, I became the owner of a 1-year-old colt. He was small and skinny but he was mine. He was chestnut-colored and had a star in the middle of his forehead, and so that became his name.

Hiawatha Advocate

My friend lived on a farm on the outskirts of Marion, Iowa, where they boarded several horses.

I loved horses. I read everything I could about horses. I even dreamed about horses. On a visit to an auction one cold night in January, I had the chance to bid on a horse, and I did. I bought Star for $27.

My parents weren’t exactly thrilled, but they accepted it, and I spend the next few years learning everything about horses; how to take care of them, how to ride them, and how to train them.

It was hard work, but the rewards far outweighed the pain. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Week 25 has me thinking about all those times in my life when I complained about how hard something was, not being able to see the glory in it. It was only after I had accomplished what I set out to do, that I was able to appreciate the hard work I put into it.

A wise man once said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

And starting a newspaper isn’t really the hard part. It’s all the stuff that goes along with it. Taking it a step at a time has made my preparations much easier.

Other accomplishments I’m remembering today include teaching myself how to ride a bike when I was 4, learning how to ride a unicycle when I was 10, learning how to parallel park….perfectly, raising my four children, and graduating from college. And now, starting a community newspaper.

My hard work is paying off; but then, I knew it would.

Hiawatha Advocate

Mind your manners

What happened to good manners?

As I go through my day, I see evidence that good manners just don’t seem to matter as much as they used to.  Yesterday I witnessed two women walking up the university stairs as I was coming out; one had a cell phone stuck to her ear, the other had her hands full; books in one hand and coffee in the other.

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I held the door open for them, as I was taught to do, and watched in disbelief as the woman talking on the phone pushed the other woman out of her way so she could get through the door first.  I was stunned. The woman with her arms full turned and thanked me, while the one was long gone, talking even louder as she entered the school.

This was a grown woman. Have we become so self-absorbed that we can’t take the time out to think about the feelings of others?

I was brought up with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I try to be considerate. I tell people please and thank you, and I apologize when I have done something wrong. I try to help people when I can because that is what I was taught. And so that is the way I raised my own children, and I know they are teaching their children the same.

But I’m not perfect, nor do I expect that from others. But I do expect people to be considerate, because that’s just good manners. We used to be a society that taught that in schools. But even if good manners are no longer taught in schools, isn’t that really up to the parents?

Have we have become a society that has become too busy to take the time out to say thank you or to treat others with respect? But it’s not just about having good manners. It’s also about having a positive attitude. In my opinion, when people know they are appreciated, they feel good.

And that feel good-positive feeling is contagious. Most often, that person is nicer, which generates a positive attitude toward others and so on.

But if that same person is snubbed, they could feel resentment, which could have a negative affect on everyone they come into contact with.

We control how we treat others. We have the power to change the world….with good manners and a positive attitude.

It doesn’t take anymore energy to say thank you than it does to generate a negative attitude. And with the rush of the holiday season upon us, which would you rather practice?

Week 24–Everyone’s a critic

I have been busy the past few days finalizing projects that will be due in just a couple short weeks. I’m used to deadlines and last minute touch ups, but this time is different. I feel it.

This is my last semester at Mount Mercy University. I planned on finishing my classes early so I could concentrate on my new career as newspaper publisher. I’ll miss the homework, the students, the professors, and the critiquing; yes, even the critiquing.

When I started at Kirkwood Community College three years ago, I opened myself up to new challenges that would help me become a better journalist. It was difficult at first. There was no sugar-coating and I learned to take it like a man, or rather, a woman.

Transferring to Mount Mercy University intimidated me a bit, with more homework and a weekly newspaper, but I dug in and learned as much as I could.

I admit that I cried the first time I was told that my story wasn’t good enough. But after I dried my tears, I vowed that I would take what my teachers told me and do it that way. I still forget to put the most important information first or that I can’t write the way I talk, and that my articles shouldn’t sound like brochure copy, but I’m still learning; I always will be.

I have a big problem. I want my work to be perfect, but it’s not. There is always editing to do, and even when I think it’s “good enough” to go to print, I still find things I could have done differently, things I could have done better. But….

I am ready.

Soon I won’t have that safety net, that person to whom I could turn to when I had a question or concern, or when I wasn’t sure how to do something. Soon I will be on my own. That’s a scary thought.

But I have been taught well and the voices will be there inside my head guiding me when I am unsure of myself.

To those critics who never sugar-coated the truth, encouraged me to be better, and were there when I needed the support, thank you. You have made a difference in my life.

Week 24 has me reflecting on how hard these last three years have been and how I could have never reached my goals without the love and support of the people in my life.

There are a few people who don’t think I have what it takes to start a community newspaper, and so I say to them, “Watch me.”

I have been taught well.

The Hiawatha Advocate

Are newspapers really becoming obsolete? (Week 23)

I’ve been deep in thought this week, pondering the possibility that the masses are correct in their assumption that the life cycle of newspapers are coming to an end.

The Hiawatha Advocate

I don’t believe it is. And it’s not just because I am starting my own newspaper in February. I truly believe that the printed newspaper has a place alongside computers, Smartphones, and iPads. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the newspaper faithfully finding its way to our doorstep every afternoon, and as I grew, looking forward to reading it over my first cup of coffee in the morning.

I remember trudging diligently from house to house as a paper girl, collecting my dues in the bitter cold, gaining a respect for the irate customers, who called to sternly tell me that their paper was missing. No questions asked, I grabbed an extra paper and delivered it to them personally. That was just the way it was.

But times have changed.

Cable came and changed the way we watch TV. We suddenly had 24 hours of news, if that’s what we wanted. We watched over and over the unfolding events that shook the world through the years. We couldn’t help it; they were on most of the 100 channels that we subscribed to.

Newspapers were affected, but there were still enough people who would not give up their newspaper, and so, newspapers were safe, for the time being.

But now that the younger generation is growing up and the older generation is passing on, there are fewer of us older folks than there once was. They want their information fast. Why shouldn’t they? That’s the way they were brought up, on the computer. And with applications for news websites on their phones, why would they need to pick up a newspaper?

Frustrated, I began to look for some shred of evidence, some indication, some hope that newspaper would not be going away anytime soon.

And I did. I found a few journalists who were able to give me some insight on where the printed newspaper is heading. They agreed that though daily newspapers were in the midst of a crisis, small town community newspapers are doing well. They wrote that because it provided a service for communication, it helped to build a bond within the community.

But there were some naysayers who stuck to their guns and insisted that there will come a day when the printed version will no longer exist.

Well, that may be, but I really don’t think so, not in my lifetime anyway. The printed newspaper has survived the radio, television, and cable. Computers are just another source.

I don’t think newspapers will go away, but I do believe that they way we use them will change. Technology is changing the way we get information, and it’s changing the way we think.

I still enjoy sitting down with a cup of coffee and relaxing while I read the newspaper. I don’t like reading on the computer because, even though I wear glasses, the bright light and small text hurts my eyes.

Being a journalist, I can write anything, anywhere, anytime. I am being encouraged to focus on an electronic version of my paper and forget about the printed version. But I can’t. I feel that there are still enough of us out there who enjoy reading the newspaper as it was meant to be. I will believe that until the last person on this Earth says that they don’t want to read the printed newspaper anymore.

And with hope in my heart, doesn’t look to be anytime soon.

How important are critical thinking skills?

I’m writing a story for the Mount Mercy Times about a book that the faculty discussed at a workshop last week. The book,  “Academically Adrift, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, revealed that the authors had conducted a study which showed that 55 percent of college graduates lack the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful in the business world.

Dr. Chad Loes, criminal justice professor at Mount Mercy University, held a workshop for faculty to discuss the book. He said the point he wanted to make was that though the findings were a bit alarming, they should be taken at face value. Which brings up a point that I didn’t get to put in my article, but still feel the need to explore.

Are we getting dumber?

It’s a loaded question, I know. With all the technology and easy access to information, we should be getting smarter, right? But according to an article  by Nicholas Carr in theatlantic.com, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” as the tittle suggests, the way we live is changing the way we think.

The author said that convenience is important to many people these days and that he hasn’t picked up a book in years, a pastime he once loved.

Kids text while sitting next to each, 4 out of 5 drivers have a cell phone stuck to the side of their heads, and Facebook has become a social outlet for millions.

Where are the days when neighbors talked over the fence? When kids talked to their parents while sitting down to a meal that didn’t come from take-out or from a box? When did we stop relating to each other? No wonder young adults don’t know how to get along with their co-workers. They probably have never learned how.

Are we doomed to become a society where people relate to each other only in the form of electronic delivery?

Yes, I am being a bit extreme, but after reading the book and talking with Dr. Loes, as well as many others who share the same views, it’s easy to see that society is headed in a direction different than anyone ever intended. Maybe we need to take a serious look at the problem we’re facing and figure out if this is really what we want for our future generations. And f it’s not, we need to come up with a workable solution or solutions to turn it around.

While technology can be a very good thing, it can also deter skills that we are trying to teach our children, skills that they’ll need to lead a successful life. Maybe the answer lies within the control of the parents, to balance the lives of their children with some technology time, to spending time outside. After all, it does start in the home. And if we don’t stress the importance to the young parents today, it may be too late to do anything about it.

A writer writes-Week 22

I am celebrating a few things today. My daughter’s twins are doing well and are at home after being born a week ago. I am in Week 21 of my quest to start a newspaper. And I am writing my 100th blog.

Me, holding the twins, Gianna and Natalie

I have been contemplating what I would write for this special blog, a feat that seemed unimaginable when I began writing my blog in July 2010. My advisor suggested that if I wanted to become a good journalist, I should start a blog. “Practice writing; it doesn’t matter what, just write,” he told me.

He also said that blogging and online writing was the direction that journalism was going in and that all journalists need to blog.

Well, I have never done anything just because everyone else is doing it. In fact, I was always one who was a bit reluctant to follow the crowd. But if starting a blog would help me become a better writer, I was willing to try.

I searched back through my 99 blogs and found the first one I ever wrote. “Note to Self” was written on July 26, 2010. I had written this as a personal story but decided to use it as my first blog. I had  read a book about celebrities who wrote stories about what they would tell their younger selves if they could. I was inspired by the thought of it and decided to write one of my own.

I found out a lot about myself that I wasn’t aware of.

“…should I tell her that happiness could not be found in another person? Or that she needed to look inside herself to find the answers she was looking for?

Or maybe I would tell her that college really was that important.  Should I also tell her that if she decides to skip school and go straight to starting a family it won’t turn out the way she expected?  That fairytales don’t really exist?  Maybe I would mention that life gets really hard for a while and there are times she may want to throw in the towel, but she shouldn’t give up; she would come through it with a better understanding of how precious life is.

But  maybe I won’t tell her those things after all.  Maybe I’ll write a letter that tells her how proud I am of her for never giving up.  How sorry I am that she had to go through so much pain and heartache, but life does get better.  I will tell her that I am glad she never lost sight of her dreams, even though they seemed out of reach.  I will tell her that she has made me who I am today; a strong, independent and courageous woman.”

As I write my 100th blog, I realize how important writing is for a writer.  It was hard getting into the habit of writing a blog at first, but now I look forward to writing it.  Sometimes I only have time to write one blog a week, but I generally try for two. I make up for it by writing articles for the Mount Mercy Times or for my own website, the Hiawatha Advocate.

The Hiawatha Advocate

A colleague of mine asked for advice because she had writer’s block. “It’s so frustrating because I don’t know how to start it,” she said.

I told her, “Just start at the beginning.”

There are times when I, too, stare at the computer screen, hoping that something will pop into my head. I wrack my brain trying to figure out where to start but I’m at a loss. But as soon as I begin typing, anything, the story just seems to come. My journalistic instincts take over and I soon find myself writing the story with no problem.  I know there are some things I still  need to work on, but I know this is what I was born to do.

Week 21 has me thinking about how much writing has become a part of my life, and by practicing everyday, I have definitely become a better writer.

My advisor was right. If you want to become a good journalist, you have to practice writing. And I have….a lot.