This week’s headlines

I had the opportunity to write many good articles for my third issue. One was

Took some time off to take the grandkids to the park Saturday. My grandson Lennox discovered swinging and cried when I took him home.

about a Boy Scout Troop, whose members have disabilities, a Hiawatha business, whose owner is also a founder of an animal rescue in a neighboring community, and the update on the Hiawatha city council happenings.

There were many others, but those are the big ones. And I finally have a few new writers. Granted, two of them are my daughters, but two others are people who just want to write for me.

My first two issues weren’t bad, but they weren’t the best, either. Someone told me, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” but I have to be a little bit. How can I expect to do improve if I’m OK with being mediocre?

And I am getting better. My third issue was actually 15 minutes early, compared to last week’s hour late. I also received some great feedback that I used in the latest issue.

But I had to improvise a little. I was only going to do 8 pages, and found that I did have enough material for almost 12. Not enough sports or school news, so what do I do?

The material I had was mismatched and so I could have gone back down to 8 and stockpiled the others, or go for the 12. I had to make a decision, so I went for the 12. I wanted to put in an engagement and wouldn’t have been able to include two stories I had to get in. But it doesn’t matter what the reason is. I believe that I made the right choice.

And it will get easier to make those choices as I go, but it’s nice to know that I can go with 8 pages if I need to.

I’m definitely learning a lot, not just about how to put together a newspaper, but about business, and people, how they are affected by what I write, and how I can have an impact on the world around me.

Issue four is coming right along, and with spring coming next week and summer not far behind, I may just have to go to 16 pages.

Being bossy is not my style

I can now say that I have a staff of four. Well, technically, they’re not my employees, but they are willing to help me out until I get the newspaper on its feet. Then I may think about hiring them for real.

I’ve been the boss before, but I’ve been fortunate. My days at the Mount Mercy Times were more of a team effort.  I think I may have had to throw my weight around only a few times, and even then, the casualties were minor.

But that’s just not my style. I know I’ll have to get gruff once in a while, especially when it will be my own newspaper at stake, but I don’t think I have to be a you-know-what to get my point across.

Still, I can’t let them walk all over me either.

Is it possible to be a kind and understanding boss, but still get the respect that is essential to make the business run smoothly?

That might be something I have to work at. Let’s face it; everyone is capable of having their dark side emerge from time to time. It just depends on if you allow it. Believe me, I have had some bosses who didn’t care if they hurt the feelings of others, and some I wondered of it actually made them feel good to do it.

I definitely won’t be like that, but I have a feeling that I won’t always be the nice person I am 99% of the time. I think I  will do anything to see this newspaper get on its feet and if that means firing someone to do that, I will.

It doesn’t sound like much fun, but it might be necessary. I hope not, but it’s always a possibility, and I’m just being realistic.

But maybe I’m worried about nothing, and everyone will do what I say when I say it and I won’t have someone coming up to me deadline day and say they didn’t get a story written or a picture taken.

Yeah, right.

Bringing my work home with me (Week 30)

Sometimes I wonder if I’m becoming a workaholic. I like to work, and sometimes I get so absorbed that I don’t get a

Cedar Run Pet Boarding open house (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

lot else done most days. But maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Being a single mother of four, I spent years working late hours and getting up at dawn. So maybe I just don’t know how to relax. But I like staying busy and enjoy my life. is that so wrong?

I think the problem is that my work is my hobby, too. I am a journalist by profession, but I also write just because I like to write. You could say that I like to work at what I do, so I’m always working, except when I’m not.

And it’s not just the writing that I love. It’s also the people I get to talk to and the things that we talk about for my stories. I learn so much from just listening to other people talk.

Looking for a home (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

How many people can say that they love what they do? I’m guessing, not many. And as much as I love what I do, there are still hazards that I have to come to terms with.

Today I went to the Cedar Run Pet Boarding open house in Hiawatha, and as I entered the building, I realized what those hazards were. There were so many dogs (and a few cats) at the event, I couldn’t help but stop to pet and talk to each one I came to.

Funny how a grown person talks to a dog like it’s a human. “Hello there! And what’s your name? Oh, you are so cute! You’re a good boy aren’t you?”

And of course, they wag their tails as if they know what you’re saying, though they can’t possibly. But if you’re a dog lover, it doesn’t matter. You’re still going to talk to them.

And yes, I wanted to take them all home, especially a cute little guy wearing a T-shirt. But I had to tear myself away, take pictures, and leave without adopting a dog. Believe me, I would if I could, but I already have one who thinks she human. I’m not sure she would understand if I brought my work home with me.

Hiawatha Advocate

A new chapter (Happy Birthday Dad)–Week 27

The end is in sight. In a week I’ll be done with finals, and with college.  I’m ready to begin a new chapter in my life.

Mount Mercy University 2010, before they took the road out

It’s the last day of my classes, but I’m thinking about my father, who died Sept. 6, 2008, while I was in my first year of college. He would have been 86 today.

Born Dec. 9, 1925, my father graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Iowa but never used it to its full potential. He left an unfinished manuscript of his life that I hope to finish someday. When I told him that I was thinking about going into journalism after I finished high school, both he and my mother told me that I should rethink it, that journalists do not make much money. (At this point, my dad was a security guard at Quaker Oats.) So I got married instead.

When my children were nearly grown, I thought that owning a restaurant was something I wanted to do, but my dad told me, “Go back to school, write.”

What caused his change of heart? Over the years, I never stopped writing. It began when I was 8 and never stopped. But I lacked the confidence to actually do anything with it. My dad gave me the encouragement I needed to go back to school and expose my writing talent.

Now look at me. Graduating and getting ready to publish a newspaper. Wow.

He would be so proud. Not only because I decided to pursue a journalism career but because I never gave up.  The times that I was at the end of my rope, he reminded me that things would get better but that I needed to keep going. I’m glad I listened to him.

My dad, Tom Meis, and my nephew, 1995

As a tribute to my father, I formed the company, Meis Communications, LLC. My father was never able to use his talents the way he wanted, so he did the next best thing; he passed it on to me. He must have known somehow I would succeed, even if he wasn’t able to. But in his eyes, I’m sure he felt that he had.

Happy Birthday, Dad. You’ll always be just a thought away.

Hiawatha Advocate

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

Week 21–Do I even have a creative side?

I was in first grade when I found myself floundering in an artistic exercise that should have taken me no more than an hour to create. Actually, I don’t think I ever even finished it.

Me, in first grade

We all had to make something out of the first letter of our alphabet. I had the letter “C” and I had the brilliant idea that I want to make my “C” with a cotton candy theme. So I grabbed  some cotton balls that we must have had in the classroom and started gluing them to my paper. It didn’t turn out the way I expected. In fact, it turned out to be quite a mess.

After that, I was reluctant to make anything creative for fear it would turn out to be a disaster, too. And it showed. I grew up telling myself that I wasn’t very creative, stunting any creative growth that might have sprouted inside of me. I did OK in art class, but only the minimum, reaffirming the message I sent to myself that I had no artistic talent.

But I was good at other things. I learned to write well and mastered the art of cooking, but when it came to drawing, painting or designing, I came to accept the fact that I just couldn’t do it. As my kids grew, it became embarrassing to try to help them with their art projects, always coming up with ideas and having my 6 and 8 year olds shoot them down. Pretty sad.

I was OK with the fact that I wasn’t that great, and no one really ever asked me to decorate or design anything for them. When it came time for me to design my newspaper flag, I had no idea where to start. I began to think about why I’m putting so much effort into starting my own paper and what it really means, and then it came to me.  I went out and took pictures of the town’s landmarks and arranged them into a banner below the lettering. I liked it immediately. Even though I didn’t have to rack my brain to come up with the idea, I really thought it captured the message I wanted to send, that the Hiawatha Advocate is a community newspaper.

Since then, I have modified it, changed the fonts, and colors, and finally came up with a keeper, I think…for now anyway.

I am taking a graphic arts class in my last term at Mount Mercy. I have yet to show my instructor my flag, but I’m working up to it. I am currently working on a logo for a company I made up in which I have to make a bee in Illustrator. I also recently learned about resolutions and how jpegs are not always the best to use in your graphic designs. I was actually using InDesign to design my bee because I found it easier to make. They are very similar but because I know InDesign better, I tend to go in that direction. (sigh)

My Bee

Week 21 has me seeing things in me that I have done my whole life; sending myself negative messages and taking shortcuts, which may save time, but is not always right.

I was recently forced (by myself) to tackle a job for the Mount Mercy Times website in which I had to design a new flag for the web.  It wasn’t that difficult once I sat down and starting trying different things. It doesn’t mean that my designs will be accepted, but at least I took the first step and tried it. I guess that’s all any of us can do.

The Hiawatha Advocate

Hiawatha Advocate

Perspectives-Week 20

I started keeping track of what it would take to launch a newspaper 20 weeks ago.

My kids and I (2001)

Twenty weeks. And every day of it was spent either working towards that goal, or, at the very least, thinking about it. I planned, and wrote, and figured, and planned some more.

It has almost been a year since I had a conversation with my professor, one that spawned an idea, which became a plan, and now becoming a reality. It hasn’t been easy, but yet, it hasn’t been the most difficult thing I have ever done either. It has helped me learn what I’m made of.

I haven’t always been the most confident person. In fact, at one point in my life, I thought of myself as quite the opposite, where everything I did was an effort. Nothing seemed to work out the way I wanted and I felt like a failure. Now I realize that I was looking at life as something that happened to me, instead of what I did with it.

It’s all about perspectives.

Week 20 has me thinking about all that I have accomplished up to this point. Not just with the newspaper preparations, but my life, in general.

I was a single mother with 4 children, my youngest challenged by a severe learning disability, and three daughters, who seemed to make it their life’s goal to turn my world upside down. I tried to better our situation by going to college, but I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and fell behind. My level of confidence sunk even lower. But I never gave up.

My kids and I (2011)

Once my children moved out the house, I began to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I was still young and I knew there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing. So I took the first step and went back to college. Only this time, I picked a major that was better in tune with a dream of mine; I wanted to be a writer.

So here I am. Soon I will be graduating with a college degree and publishing my newspaper. Ten years ago when I was in the midst of chaos, did I ever imagine that someday I could accomplish so much?

To tell you the truth, I was worried more about how I was going to make ends meet rather than what I would do with my future. But when I finally had a chance to breathe and look at my life, I changed my perspectives, and then I changed my attitude.

I still have four months before my first issue comes out. Even though I still have a few things that I need to do to get ready, I no longer ask myself if I have what it takes. I already know that I do. Everything I had ever done in my life has prepared me for this…everything. The problem solving, the mediating, the persistence, the concessions, the determination and perseverance, they were lessons that I had to learn to get to this point in my life. I somehow knew all along that I would get here.

It just took me a little while to gain that perspective.

Hiawatha Advocate

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

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


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.