I thought it would never end!

I’ve had a lot of jobs with no such thing as paid time off or vacation. I can’t say I want to go back to those times.

That being said, last week I decided it was time to take a few more hours of my vacation time, so I took off on my birthday, Nov. 12 not to return until Monday the following week. I thought that vacation would never end!

Part of the reason I took off last week was the intention that I had to go out and shoot some deer early in the morning one of those days. Last year, I took off the full week and I woke up early every morning to freeze my butt off in the cold. Let’s see how this year worked out.

Wednesday: I woke up at 5 a.m. to my alarm. The air in my room was slightly chilly. It’s my birthday! What am I doing up at 5 a.m.? So I shut off my alarm, rolled up to sleep in… and woke up at 7 a.m. out of habit.
I bummed around the house, watching shows on the DVR and cooking breakfast. I had a long list of things to accomplish, but I didn’t really put a real effort into even showering until after lunch. After that, I realized that there was a reason I had planned on hunting in the morning, rather than the afternoon. I had work at my second job at 6 p.m. Being realistic, I realized that I would likely accomplish a whole lot less on my birthday than I had intended. I jumped in my car, intent on getting my license renewed, and drove half way to Pine River before my car started blowing cold air and spraying green water all over the place. It turns out the $210 I just spent on a water pump didn’t fix whatever was wrong with my car after all. A sheriff pulled over and made sure my car wasn’t on fire. We chatted while I checked the coolant, which had boiled out of the reservoir. I limped back home and did nothing for the rest of the day save for online tutoring in the afternoon.

Thursday: I woke up at 5 a.m. to my alarm. Thought about driving to the woods in a borrowed vehicle with the possibility of putting a bloody deer in the back around noon. Cursed my car, turned off my alarm, and tried to sleep angry. Kind of slept until, again, feeling fully awake at 7 a.m.
Having exhausted all the new shows on the DVR, I watched reruns on tv, made breakfast, and walked Katie (my dog) outside a bit. Dug out a box of deer ribs someone donated to me (most people just throw the rib meat away due to the tallow and amount of work to process). I used a corded jig saw to cut the ribs short, cut them into serving sizes and packed them into a pressure cooker. Learned later that they were too tightly packed. Some of the tallow had remixed with the meat.
Separated the tallow for use as bird suet.
Fired up my uncle Dean’s smoker and loaded the ribs up for 1.5 hours smoke using alder, chokecherry, hazelnut, and poplar smoke at a low temp. Added a smoke condenser to the smokestack.
While waiting, got doused in coolant while replacing my thermostat again (just in case that helped). Called a couple shops and found out my head gasket might be blown.
Pulled the venison from the smoker, collected the fluid from my smoke condenser and went inside to package it all up. Success in the form of a few packets of venison ribs, two packets of smoked venison sandwich meat, three bricks of bird suet and a bottle of homemade liquid smoke boiled and filtered into a tabasco bottle.
Worked two hours at online tutoring, but not very well.

Friday: Woke up to go hunting with Dad, Uncle Paul, and some people that might be distantly related. Ate a dilly bar for breakfast. Froze my butt off in a livestock trailer listening to deer walk through a pine plantation across the road.
Met up with the rest of the hunting party again and tried doing a drive. Dad said, “Go to the edge of this slash and wait.” I followed his instructions until I got a phone call. “Where are you?” he asked. I realized that there was a second slash on the other side of a small forest, and I was supposed to drive the deer through that forest. My dad gives terrible instructions.
Dropped two hunters off at a stand, drove to the other side of a pond and tried driving deer around the pond. Dad said, “Keep the sun on your left shoulder.” Doing so would have meant walking straight back to the truck. Dad is really bad at giving directions. Walked directly toward sun, attempting to drive deer around the pond. Didn’t see anything. Had to climb over logs lying across the uphill logging road on the way back to the vehicle.
Had lunch of three fun size Snickers bars, actually, two and a half. Froze my butt off until leaving the woods at 5:15. Returned home in time to heat up leftovers and go to work. Watched Grimm on the DVR.

Saturday: Woke up at 5 a.m. Didn’t even act like I was going to get up, just turned off alarm and tried not to think about how expensive it was going to be to fix my car. Slept past 7, but was woke up by dog at 7:45.
Had a breakfast of junk food before jumping in my car and driving it to a shop in Hackensack to be tested for a blown gasket with my mother following behind. Only had to stop and let the car cool off once. Noticed the water in the reservoir was ice cold, but still boiling out. Thoroughly confused.
Helped set up the Backus American Legion for a benefit for a local firefighter out of work due to surgery. Visited adoptive grandmother, returned to legion to help serve food at the benefit. Had to choose between having gas money the next week or a meal at the benefit. Chose gas.
Returned home at 6 p.m. for online tutoring. Finished tutoring, returned to Legion to clean up.
Turned off deer hunting alarm before going to bed.

Sunday: Woke up for church. Returned home with no money to go anywhere. Laid around house all day doing nothing. Realized I accomplished virtually nothing I had intended to for the week. Worked two hours of online tutoring. Watched The Walking Dead. Went to bed.

Monday: Woke up at 6:30. Got to the office early. Managed to get a lot done. Spoke to a city clerk who referred to vacations as a time to “Recharge”, explained my week to her and laughed. Couldn’t help but think, “I thought that vacation would never end.”

Is it strange that this is the first job I’ve ever had that offers vacation pay, but having time off last week was only slightly better than staying to work? I must be losing it.

Free fund raising idea, at no charge even!

So, one day however long ago I had two fund raising ideas.

Before you say anything, I am not random, and I will challenge anyone who says so to a spaghetti slurp off!

Anyhow. I came up with some fund raising ideas that I thought were kind of cool, and potentially thematic to the organizations that might use them.

First, my food shelf fund raiser. It was inspired by a mix of Iron Chef and an online cooking show that receives entirely too little attention called Stump the Chef.

Lakes Chef Battle for charity

 

Cost: $5 ticket, plus a food shelf donation. Can be anything you would reasonably donate to a food shelf, requesting variation. Food shelf

Event description:

Solo: One chef chooses three or more tickets from among the attendees. Those attendees bring their donation to the forefront. The chef must make a meal from those ingredients. The holders of the chosen tickets are judges. Special tickets should be available for purchase by those without a donated item, and free to those who come to the food shelf for assistance.

Battle: Same as solo, except two or more judges compete against one another.

 

Tickets: Color coded tickets are assigned to attendees according to their type of donation so the chef does not end up with three of the same item. The chef chooses one of each color for variety.

Color 1: Protein or centerpiece. This will be the main ingredient in the dish. It should not be a strange ingredient.

Color 2: Fruit or Vegetable (maybe starch).

Color 3: Wild card/curve ball. This color represents the most challenging or unique foods to incorporate into a recipe, like spam. These foods should not be too weird for donation to a food shelf.

Color 4: Possibly separate starch products into a fourth category.

Color 5: These tickets go to those who are not donating a food item.

 

Method: The chefs either bring or are provided with tools, utensils, herbs, spices and additional ingredients that could reasonably be found in a normal household. They use this to create a recipe, which is then shared with the chosen ticket holders to judge. The dish can be judged either the simple way, with a thumbs up/thumbs down, or within a 10 point scale. In a battle, judges will judge the chef that did not cook their donated food. Ties are broken by either a crowd vote, or a snack prepared either for the judges, or for all ticket holders, while supplies last (first come first served). All attendees choose their favorite from the snacks.

 

Proceeds: The donations not used in the challenge and the proceeds from ticket prices go toward a food shelf.

 

Variations:

Battle of the shelves: One food shelf within a chosen geographic area is picked from a jar that includes other food shelves that have agreed to the challenge. That food shelf is able to choose a “champion” chef and then challenge another participating food shelf in battle. In a battle, the proceeds and donations could either all go to the food shelf with the winning champion, or the donations go to the loser, and the proceeds go to the winner (money goes further than donations).

Champions can be virtually anyone who agrees to the challenge. This can include successful cooks from area restaurants, volunteers with the shelf, or someone else who knows their way around a kitchen.

 

Time Limit: To guarantee that ticketholders do not lose interest, a time limit could be set for the event. 30 minutes to 1 hour should be reasonable.

 

Mini Kitchen: Chefs must prepare their foods using small kitchen appliances rather than typical ranges and stoves. Hot plate, microwave, convection ovens would be the main tools, though others would be accepted too. Because there is likely no place in the lakes area with room for a large audience and multiple regular sized cooking spaces, this might be useful for assembling a sort of modular kitchen within an auditorium or other open space.

 

Iron Chef: The entire structure could be changed. It currently is inspired by “Stump the Chef”, a cooking show found online. Instead, it could be modeled after “Iron Chef” found on Food Network.

 

Problems:

  1. As mentioned above, it may be difficult to find a space with two full kitchens and seating for an audience. The Warehouse in Pine River has a suitable cooking space for one chef, and a small audience, but a larger audience would need more room.
  2. This event would almost certainly benefit from a time limit to keep people interested, but what time limit is too long?
Next is my idea for a library fundraiser. It would, of course, require a lot of leg work, but I think it would be very successful if someone put the time into it.

Autographed book auction

 

Funds are raised through a silent auction for autographed books. Proceeds would go to a book related group such as a library or school.

 

Singles: Books by relatively popular authors could be sold individually and expected to bring in a slightly higher price than less known authors.

 

Bundles: Books can be bundled according to author, subject, genre or various other categories. This would be a good way of auctioning off books by local or less known authors.

 

Variations:

The best and most valuable/popular book in a bundle must be autographed, but the other books might not be.

 

Problems:

  1. Collecting enough books to make this event profitable would take considerable time on behalf of multiple people.
  2. Books cost money, especially when autographed. This event would need to be almost exclusively done using donated autographed books. This might make it more difficult, though there would likely be plenty of authors willing to contribute.
  3. Autographs are often faked, there may be no way to guarantee the books at this auction were signed by the author as opposed to an author’s assistant. However, where there is a certificate of authenticity or some proof involved, that would be included in the auction and increase value of an item.
Now someone should get one of these running so I can attend and benefit without having to put the work into it.

everyone is an expert

I have been covering small government stories since I first started writing for a newspaper.

When I was on the BSU “Northern Student” newspaper I covered the student council. When I was just an intern at the Pine River Journal I covered Jenkins City Council meetings. Now, I cover the Backus and Pine River city councils first hand, the Pine River-Backus School Board first hand and the Emily, East Gull Lake, and Jenkins councils through reports from the clerks and administrators.

I know first hand how much time it can take to attend regular council meetings, and even then I wonder why nobody ever attends these meetings unless they are there to complain.

The scene at these council meetings is pretty much the same every week. I sit amongst city employees waiting to give their reports. There’s often the maintenance person, the engineer, the fire chief and a smattering of others. Pine River always has the city attorney, Police Chief and sewer district representative. The PR-B school board always has the business manager, often the food service manager. I am the only person in that meeting that is not associated with the board/council with only a few exceptions. Somehow, this fact does not change even now that there are many contested positions up for election on these boards/councils. Do you see something wrong with that?

Let me assure you, I have nothing against the people running for these positions. I know almost all of them personally. One is on the fire department with me, I used to work for another, I have interviewed most of them for stories, I used to buy my car tabs from another, and so on so on so on. Most of them own businesses (and hence, taxes are the big motivator here).

I won’t lie, knowing them personally only makes me feel more disappointed in them especially since most of them are running because they are angry about the way the current board/council has run itself (has issued taxes) over the last term… but how do they know?

At the Pine River Council meetings the mayoral candidate (who isn’t on the council) attends meetings often enough to have an idea how things go. The Backus Council mayoral candidate (not the incumbent) has, until this month, attended every meeting I have ever been to. Only liver cancer stopped him. I commend these two. At the Pine River-Backus School Board, the only unaffiliated person aside from me who comes to the council meetings is one of the local pastors… and she isn’t on the ballot! (I also commend her.)

How can you look at your local governing officials and say “They are ruining our town” or “they are overtaxing us” or virtually any other complaint IF YOU DON’T ATTEND MEETINGS!? You are judging someone based on what basically amounts to rumor or at the very least second hand information. There are limited sources of information outside the meetings.

• You can sometimes listen to a recording. This is the best alternative, though it takes just as much time. Really, you might as well attend the meeting.

• You can read the minutes. These are good, but you cannot get an idea of the true extent to which the council discusses an issue. It is always paraphrased. You are missing so much information.

• You can read your local newspaper. This suffers from the same problem as the minutes, except that the paper is even more constrained for space. We try to give you the most important details, but you can rarely form a full, valid judgement from these alone. Please keep reading them anyhow!

• You can talk to your friends at the coffee shop. This, I suspect is the main source of information regarding local government. Ole’s cousin Bjorn told Lena this, therefore we need someone on the council who will work for us.

If you hope to run for election in your town, please take this advice to heart. YOU HAVE NO REASON NOT TO ATTEND COUNCIL/BOARD MEETINGS! If you don’t, you don’t really know if your ire towards a specific board/council member is warranted. Ever had someone talk about you behind your back even though they don’t know you? That’s now you! Furthermore, you have no idea what the job you are applying to entails. Running uninformed is irresponsible and not fair to the people who would vote for you.

They might not like the incumbents, but if you find yourself elected and realize everything you would do to fix your local government is illegal, what happens then? What happens when Ole’s cousin’s friend’s boss was wrong and it turns out the candidates you hated so much really didn’t do what you always blamed them for? You may have replaced someone with experience. At the very least, attending meetings gives you an upper leg against the incoming candidates who don’t attend the meetings. There really is no reason for a candidate not to attend.

I know what most people feel. “I work for a living. I can’t make it to a meeting every month.” Repeat that again and again and again until you realize that people on the council/board HAVE TO ATTEND A MONTHLY MEETING in addition to trainings, committee meetings, local events and all sorts of other obligations. If you don’t have time to attend meetings, you don’t have time to be a council/board member. If you have ever used this excuse, it is my honest opinion you should drop out of the race.

Even if you don’t plan on running, but you have complaints about how your local government is run, I have the same advice as above. Nobody ever attends council meetings unless they are upset about something. It is safe to assume, in these cases, they don’t even know what lead up to the action you don’t like. Do you think they are picking on your friend? Let me ask you a theoretical question.

You meet a friend one day and they are complaining about the police. You ask what happened, they say, “I got pulled over and ticketed and I wasn’t even doing anything!” Do you buy it or do you need more information? Is it possible they were speeding? That’s kind of what it is like to get angry at local government members if you don’t attend the meetings.

Do you think your civic responsibility is limited to voting? Think again. Honestly, there should be so many people attending council/board meetings that they need to be held in an auditorium. That will never be the case, but at the very least the people who are running for office should be at the meetings. The people who have bad things to say about their local government should at least attend occasionally. Unless they do, they are unreliable sources about what is wrong with the current council. Where do they get their info?

Now, for an anecdote. My oldest brother recently decided that he might like to run for his local city council. I told him in earnest, “If you want a leg up on your opponents, attend the meetings.” Without fail, he responded, “I don’t have time for meetings! I’m a working man!”

…Of course he would say that.

When an old man dies…

There is this phrase out there that goes, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.

If you ever try to do my job for any length of time, you’ll find there are fewer words so true out there. Of course, I would replace “man” with simply “person”. Hey, I won’t even make this age exclusive. How many stories does even a small child have to tell? Lord knows they will try to tell you if you give them the chance.

I’m reminded of this adage by the past few weeks when I have been exposed to characters fit for so many novels. That’s just another fringe benefit of my position. Most people live lives where they meet people who come into their paths serendipitously. In my job, I direct my path toward these people. An average person may meet someone authentically interesting every now and again. I meet them constantly, and I actively peel back the layers of their years to uncover those things which sometimes even Hemingway and Twain would have been hard pressed to make up.

How many new people have you met this last year? How many of them did you find interesting? How many of them did you actively ask personal, sometimes painful questions? How often do you walk away feeling personally connected to them for having shared your conversation?

Newspaper writers are not supposed to get personal for the most part. It’s impossible to stay completely impersonal, but you would be surprised how difficult it is to even try. Can you really ask such deep questions one after another to a person without feeling some connection to them? I like to think empathy leads to better questions.

Last Memorial Day I ran into a friend while taking photos. She is always at the local memorial day with her mother and her grandfather, a World War II Veteran. She informed me then that her grandfather was turning 100 on Halloween of this year. I wrote it in my schedule and mostly forgot about it. Beginning this month (October) I found the note, and someone called us up to tell us about him all over again. Naturally, I scheduled an interview for our special section on senior living.

I met Ed one Friday afternoon in his assisted living building.

Ed was almost what you would expect from a 99 year and 11 month old man, except 100 year old people somehow are almost younger than their age. I’ve seen people in their 60′s and 70′s who act and look older than Ed.

Even so, Ed had a walker, one with hand breaks and a seat. He has just a little white hair left on top of his head, but most of it wraps around in a familiar pattern. He leans forward, as older folk tend to, and he smiles a smile you wouldn’t expect. Teenagers are 100 times more moody with less justification.

One of the attendants at the assisted living place helps Ed to sit down and we start talking.

This is not an easy interview.

Sometimes you speak to someone and you know exactly which direction to go with your questions. Sometimes it is more difficult. Ed’s claim to fame is his age. How many questions can you come up with for someone’s age?

I planned on feeling out the interview with standard questions on life accomplishments, proud times and awe inspiring moments, but Ed is not the type of person to let someone my age steer the conversation.

The conversation is honestly all over the place. We talk about his home town in Illinois, he jumps to the war, boy scouts, Civilian Conservation Corps, WWII, CCC, resort ownership and back to Illinois. Ed’s storytelling is admittedly erratic and unpredictable, but I don’t care.

He remembers dates more clearly than I ever have and he gets frustrated and blames his age when it takes him more than a few seconds to remember some obscure year 70+ years ago.

Ed occasionally garbles his speech, and when he does nothing he says is understandable. Leading up to those moments, however are newspaper gold.

He says some non politically correct things. That’s a little jarring, but who am I to change a 100 year old man.

He shares his nightmares with me, except they were real once, in some battlefield in Europe, or a strange corrupt street in Chicago. He tells me he has never had a boring day in his life and he’s prepared to prove it to me. I’m a believer at the end of the hour.

This old sage has lived a century. He has so much to complain about, but he barely does. Almost everything he had to tell me was said with the same tone as a brag or a witty joke. Exceptions, of course, being the passing of one of his children, and his wife.

We shy away from the painful facts. That’s another reason why this interview is not easy.

How do you talk to another person about their death, especially someone you only met an hour ago? Ed is counting down his days. You might never guess that he is 100, but then again you would never know by looking at him that many years of untreated acid reflux has given Ed esophageal cancer. He’s in stage 4. I can’t ask him about it. I have to stumble through those questions with his daughter on the phone later.

In Pine River, a smoldering fire is burning in a library named Ed, and there is nothing to be done about it. People talk about the Library at Alexandria, but in light of this, who cares. Real libraries are great, but this… is unexplainable.

I’ll be lucky if I have even a fraction of the stories Ed has at any point in my life. I consider myself a creative and maybe interesting person, but so many of the stories that will die with me will belong to people like Ed who I met through my job. I’m happy I can try to prolong them even for just a little bit.

It’s an incredible thing, to meet people like this. I have met so many of them. It’s humbling. I meet so many people with such incredible experiences. It could humble anybody.

Small towns are boring, but nobody told that to all the people having fun

Nothing ever happens in a small town. Am I right?

Take Friday night for example. All I could do Friday night was sit around the house and belly ache about how busy I was at work!

It all started with Tuesday and the moving of the Bank in Jenkins.

Wednesday I had company at home so there was no time to belly ache about how nothing was happening around the area.

Thursday there was an anniversary celebration in Pine River for the local hardware store. Followed by a tour of the PRB school forest.

Who needs a tour guide when it’s so fun to get lost in a forest with trees like this!

Followed by more running around.

My Friday morning started with a trip to the Pine River-Backus High School for Homecoming. I knew some of the candidates, but not that many so I satisfied myself by watching the choreographed skit that the PR-B Homecoming and Snow Daze events are virtually famous for. They had some pretty funny moves.

It is hard to serenade someone when they throw their shoe at you.

After they finished with the crowning I had little time to waste. I got a photo of the whole Homecoming Court, checked my watch, and made tracks out of there after only about 100-150 photos.

Sit down! Shut up! I got places to be! Just kidding.

I arrived in Hackensack, roughly 20 miles away, in time to witness the Lumberjack show at their annual Chainsaw festival. As an added note, I got there in time to see a special show for PR-B students.

Do those teachers have experience throwing double headed axes? No? Good, it’s more interesting that way, let me get out front for a photo.

Watching the event was great, but time was a wasting. I took about 50-100 photos of the lumberjack show alone, but I still needed to snap a few of the carving competition. I hunted down an escort and shot another 100-200 photos.

I’ve done stories on this carver in our paper before. Of course, that was true of a few of the other artists as well.

I checked my clock and all that was left of me in hackensack was a cloud of smoke shaped like me. Back to PR-B twenty miles away I went to catch some students in the act of learning to swing dance.

Um, queen, your hand is in his eyeball.

I will be the first to admit that half the fun of taking photos of people learning to swing dance is taking photos of them screwing up.

Someone’s trapped. I’m not sure which one, but one of them is.

Unfortunately, between little mess ups, slow shutter speeds, flash interrupting the dancers, and any other number of things, photos of swing dancing are surprisingly difficult! To get the right photos took a while and my day was moving along.

Cue the obligatory dance scene between the king and queen.

There were other places I needed to be, so I didn’t stick around another hour to get the younger kids learning to swing dance. One of our other writers stuck around for the homecoming volleyball game, and yet another one attended that night’s football game. After only 200 photos I went back to town where absolutely nothing was happening except, you know a bunch of events, celebrations and what have you. How boring.

The next morning I was out and about yet again. This time I went to Crosslake Days in… you guessed it Crosslake. Though we were experiencing one of our last really really warm days, the air in town was saturated with a mist of Chili and people. On Every…

Jul Festival

Single…

Flea market

Corner…

Craft Fair

There were places to sell crafts and crap. Of course, since Crosslake is a lake town (sort of like Bemidji) the town is strung out along the shoreline, aka very long! The town is small according to occupants, but you still need a car to get places if you are trying to cover everything in a short period of time. As a result, my eye was always on the time because there was a chilli cook-off to look into.

Don’t you love the particulates on his tongue??

And a car show.

I am very fond of Mustangs.

And…And…And… other stuff. By the time I got done on Friday I went home and sat around doing nothing. I was so tired (presumably because I was so bored from there being nothing to do) that I just bummed around the house and waited for family to show up and hang out.

Sunday I went to church followed by harvesting potatoes left behind by the harvesters. How I managed to fit this in with all the other busy work is beyond me. What a boring place to live!

Once in a lifetime

There were many times during my time working at a restaurant, a truss company or various other places of employ where I missed the opportunity to see or do something that isn’t too common. That’s standard for a normal job, but not for mine.

Even in a city or town that is commonly considered boring (If you say your town is boring, you obviously don’t work for a newspaper), there are times where something is happening that is so rare, so interesting and so cool that everyone wants to see/do it. Now, if it happens that that “thing” in question happens between 9 and 5, most people are out of luck. One of the absolutely greatest parts of my job is that I am expected to go to these things.

Why? Well, that’s obvious. Everyone wants to see/do it, but everyone is working. It’s a vicious cycle, sort of. Not really vicious, especially not for me.

Get it? cat? Canary? You get it.

When everyone wants to go, but everyone is working it is my job as a news writer and photographer to roll up my sleeves, get dirty, and go so that when mom and pop sit down on a quiet thursday night to peruse the old newspaper, they can live through the content inside.

When there is a politician in town speaking to the local chamber of commerce, or school we are there.

Rick Nolan spoke to the Pequot Lakes school in my first year back to the paper.

When a huge building has been loaded onto a truck and is being moved 30 miles down the road, you bet we’re there.

The former Jenkins First National Bank of Walker building was wheeled down the road Sept. 23.

If someone in our town is teaching a really cool skill or craft that everyone wants to learn? Hey, I might even have special passes to that event.

Resilient Action Day in Pine River is just the most recent opportunity for me to learn some really cool stuff, and even to purchase a really cool cold frame like the one above.

Sometimes I have to clock out so I’m not enjoying myself on company time (only a little serious) but that’s a small price to pay to be able to constantly do awesome stuff.

When it comes down to it, all this awesome stuff isn’t for me. It’s for the readers. Without the paper, how would people experience the things they have no time for? It’s all to help the readers to live vicariously through us, because if we had jobs like everyone else, you’d just have to wonder what it looks like to haul a bank building down the road, hey, you might never even be aware it happened.

In the case of the First National Bank building, how often do you get to see something like that? In our neighborhood, not often. It’s one thing to see a big truck rolling down the road with a mobile home, something else entirely to see a commercial building with multiple floors that takes up the entire road WHEN ALREADY CUT IN HALF!

I’ve said before that I’m blessed with the job I have. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forget that fact. There are constant reminders. So, when your job gets dull and you need to unwind. Feel free to check out your next issue of the PineandLakes Echo Journal. Live vicariously through us. Go ahead. We won’t mind.

Oh, and I almost forgot, when there’s an award ceremony dinner… We’ll probably be there.

You say we need to cover an award dinner and they’re serving prime rib? Twist my arm why don’t you?

 

Must learn talk better

I watched through my lens as an airplane appeared to be flying directly at me, and I realized, the pilot had misunderstood my request.

I would share the actual photos, but the article hasn’t run to print yet.

True, it was only an RC plane made of a plastic shell stretched on a balsa wood frame. The pilot was on the other side of the runway operating it from a little radio box, but I suspect it would still hurt to get hit. Luckily, it only looked as close as it did because of my telephoto lens.

It looks like it’s right in front of me!

“Sorry, I think I misspoke,” I told the pilot. “I was actually saying it would be cool to get a photo of the plane flying low between us so I could get a shot of the plane as it passes you.”

“Oh,” he laughed. “That makes a lot more sense.”

He made a few passes like that and I got a few shots that were pretty much exactly as I had imagined them. In spite of a brief hiccup, this was an almost ideal photo opportunity.

As I have said. Photography isn’t always so easy. Communication almost always makes things easier, but sometimes nobody can do anything to make the job easier on you. When you can make requests to an event organizer about layout, that is the most ideal opportunity to get things right. You might not know what “right” is until you’ve had a chance to shoot “wrong”.

A good example was last year. I took a photo of our local school’s full army of employees. All of them standing, lined up in a few rows in a cafeteria crowded with tables and chairs. Nobody had asked me ahead of time, but that’s okay.

To get the shot I had to stand on a table far enough away to fit most people in the frame, but not far enough that I would get the tables and chairs in the shot. I also had to borrow a tripod from the school tech guys. Using the tripod I was able to get a few photos and splice them into a panorama, but there were a few people standing in the margins who were visually maimed.

Because the photo was printed so small, nobody noticed this cyclops created by merging photos into a panorama. In the Harry Potter world I believe this is called splinching.

When the superintendent spoke to me about this year’s photo, I made a suggestion that the staff should sit in the gymnasium bleachers where I could back up to get the photo. They even supplied me a ladder since this year’s photo was more square than horizontally rectangular. I still had to shoot over a volleyball net, but the photo turned out, and nobody got splinched.

This year’s photo did have its draw backs, however. The Panorama had the advantage of being three large file size photos spliced together. These photos collectively are better quality than the one photo I took this year, however, you always run the risk of splinching someone when you do a panorama with people in it.

It’s always about communication, and if the communication is poor, or the photo subject is uncooperative, it can make an ideal photo nearly impossible. This miscommunication can also be a little embarrassing. Our annual sport photos are often an opportunity for me to feel embarrassed.

As a man my age I have to annually figure out ways to delicately tell girls from a high school volleyball team(traditionally in very short shorts) why the front row cannot sit with their legs crossed in your school’s athletic photo. There’s also a common group photo position where there are three or more rows. The first row is sitting or kneeling, the second row is leaning forward with hands just above knees, and the back row is standing straight. In the case of groups of girls in shirts that are somewhat baggy on top, this pose is also a problem (trust me, there were many senior class photos in my yearbooks with this pose). If you are lucky, you recognize these positions before you snap the picture and the teams disburse. You don’t have to call up the coach and explain why the previous photos were inappropriate.

There are also times when communication in itself can be inappropriate.  Take for example award ceremonies. There is an obligatory photo whenever someone is receiving an award plaque. Basically, just snap a shot of the hand shake or hand off of the plaque. Easy, right? Not always. It’s all about layout. If, for example, the plaque and handshake happen behind a table of honored guests, things can get difficult.

what a terrible photo of two clapping people, right? That’s because they stood up just as I was snapping a shot of the award presentation behind them.

Now, there were four plaques given to this same gentleman that night, and the same thing happened with every single plaque. I could have told these two to please not stand up into the photo frame, but that would entail yelling over the sound of a clapping crowd, or telling them in the front of the room during the speeches between presentations. I am rude for the sake of photos more often than I like to admit, but that would have been a little far.

What’s the solution? Well, that’s easy. A posed presentation shot after the speeches are all done. You just have to approach the parties involved and ask them to pose for a photo. This is basically foolproof…

Don’t hijack my photo please.

Or so you would think.

Code in the Newsroom

(Note: Where I do not have my own photos, I have decided to experiment with gifs and memes online. Please let me know if you prefer no images at all to cliches.)

It’s a regular occurrence in the newsroom that we reporters speak in code.

If you visit, you’ll hear things about slug lines, ledes, nut graphs and so on, but those are the easier code words to learn. They are basically constant. There are other phrases that just happen around the news reporter that are less constant, ever changing. And that is the jargon that happens in city council chambers.

I go to regular local government meetings, some for work, some for the fire department. The Backus City Council meets the first Monday of the month, the Jenkins council meets the second, I miss that one because of fire training. The second Tuesday of the month I sit in on the Pine River Council meeting and the third Monday is the Pine River-Backus School Board. The last monday of the month is always a business meeting for the Backus Fire Department.

In addition to these, I cover East Gull Lake, Emily, and Jenkins city councils using their minutes and draft minutes.

All of these councils have their very own issues, often very different. They share some of the same jargon, issues and abbreviations that would be nonsense to the uninitiated. TIFs, ERCs, Oxford Oaks, Artisan’s Corner, these phrases all come out at a city council meeting in rapid succession.

Slow Down!

Unless you were there the very first time that they ever came up for your specific council, chances are you missed the first and last time they will ever be defined. Luckily for your council members, they have documents defining these phrases, but to save paper, they rarely print enough copies for the audience.

At the council meetings I am able to attend, I am pretty familiar with the goings on. When the Pine River council members start speaking in code and ask “How’s that Oxford Oaks thing coming along?” Pretty nonspecific right?

I understand entirely.

What seems like code is perfectly understandable to me. I understand that Oxford Oaks is an area with a cul-de-sac. One man has purchased property and wants to run city electric and water to his property here. One man owns the property along the route, meaning the other man required an easement, but the other man refused to respond to correspondence. So, instead of saying. “How’s that land dispute where the one guy refuses to tell the other guy if he can have sewer and electric through his property that he is trying to develop and add new buildings to?” they say, “How’s that Oxford Oaks thing going?”

To someone who does not regularly attend, it might seem like these city council members are being evasive and hiding some sinister plans behind code. Alas, more often than not they are talking about something pretty boring. However, I still need to investigate whenever this code appears in council minute drafts. Here’s an excerpt from a recent council draft minutes. “made the motion to direct the city attorney to execute civil enforcement in the Weber and Winter violations.” Sounds juicy doesn’t it? Well, it’s all about poo.

That’s right, that long complex issue is all to say “Asked the attorney to start the legal process to get two property owners to follow city ordinances pertaining to septic tanks.”  Yup. That’s it.

I can’t tell you how often it is that I research something ambiguous from a city council meeting only to find that it is something utterly boring, no matter how it sounded when they talk about it. Worse yet is how often it turns out to be about poo. Admittedly, all the really lively councils are covered by my fellow writers at the paper. I’m pretty spoiled.

The biggest issue is that these things take time to figure out. If you are present at the city council meeting, you can easily just wait around and say “Hey, what is that?” When it is from a copy of the minutes, that’s a different story. Sometimes the clerk is in, sometimes not. The last of these is the worst, because trying to write a story without knowing the code can be like diffusing a bomb made up of frustrated and disappointed city officials, residents and editors. And that’s never a pretty site.

I can be a story tease

It happens occasionally that you find a story in your local community which you consider very important. Others would likely agree. You get so excited as you prepare for interviews, photos, etc.

You post a teaser on facebook, something like “Just caught wind of a possible development in Pine River that could be pretty big. Watch next week’s @PAL_EchoJournal for details.” on twitter.

You get comments from people who want to know more. You are getting more and more excited to tell the story but then… something happens and the story is delayed, possibly weeks. Possibly months. It’s official. you are a story tease.

Recently that happened to me. We were tipped off to a story which sounded promising for our little town. After all, new business in Pine River is always big news. I called one source from our tipster and he immediately answered.

He gave me confirmation of the tip we received and then some. He gave me enough information to get very excited.

“We’re already speaking with (such and such business),” he says.

I could almost write a news brief from that alone, but I don’t dare. It’s not a complete story. So I set up an interview. My subject says he wants his partner-in-crime at the interview with him. I hang up the phone and try calling said PIC and get nothing but a voicemail message.

In the meantime I post the tweet I mentioned above. A local resident and Pine River Mayoral candidate asks “Something good?”

A friend who used to work with the paper follows up with “Any Clues?”

Of course, I could tell them everything I know if I wanted, but then why would they bother reading the article, and by the time the newspaper gets out, the story will already be old news. I refrain from giving any clues.

The next day I call my second source again. He answers and tells me that there is not yet enough information, they would like to wait on a news story. The man I scheduled an appointment with in about half an hour agrees. The interview is cancelled. I go, in shame to my facebook and twitter and inform my readers, “You will have to wait a few weeks, maybe more.”

This isn’t a first for me. I had this same thing happen more than a year ago, reporting on a group of Pine River-Backus students who decided to take a personal stand against synthetic marijuana. The thing is, they were all former users. Naturally, you want to be careful about exposing school students to mistreatment, especially for trying to do something good. When the story got delayed in order for my incredibly busy editor to read it over a few extra times, I had already put up a teaser on Facebook. The next week, discussion ensued with the school principal and superintendent who had some reasonable concerns about keeping the sources for the story private. It took us a couple more weeks to discuss whether we should use first letters of first names, only last names, or aliases. By the time we made a decision, the paper was overwhelmed with huge current events. The story ended up with delay after delay after delay. It lost some of its timeliness by the time it ran. But sometimes that is the name of the game.

So, why do we tease? I guess it is just an effort to improve our collaboration with electronic and social media. Twitter and Facebook are great sources for promotion, so of course we are going to use them. Do we sometimes jump the gun? Yup, absolutely, but I’m never going to run a story before its ready, I can promise that.

Why did nobody ask me??

(Disclaimer: Do not assume anything about my opinions on this subject based on anything you read below. I won’t be sharing my opinion on whether this is good or bad with anyone outside my immediate circle of friends and coworkers. If you attempt to read between the lines, you will almost certainly come to the wrong conclusions. This is merely an anecdote, it has nothing to do with my personal opinion, so leave it at that.)

BEWARE: Unending tangent to follow.

Yesterday I continued coverage of a topic with very mixed opinions locally. that is, the Sandpiper Oil Pipeline.

Our paper has been interested in this topic because it passes through our area. so when we heard about the proposed pipeline it was naturally newsworthy. Of course, with some of the biggest news topics comes some of the most frustrating difficulties. This time the problems were everywhere.

The first problem was getting interviews with relevant subjects with local connections. The very first thing that happened on our radar was a meeting on the Happy Dancing Turtle campus where Marty Cobenais spoke to the gathered crowd. This posed some difficulties.

Cobenais was the only individual with any level of authority which we could connect to the pipeline meeting, and to the area since he was leading the meeting here. There were other names I was given, but it was determined they were not local enough, and beside the fact, their pipeline stories were purely anecdotal, which isn’t necessarily bad, it can be viewed as suspect in a newspaper.

Cobenais is a smart individual, but we ran into a few issues when I submitted my story for the first time. My editor rightly pointed out that his quotes and numbers needed verification. Cobenais’ expertise came from voluntary membership in the Sierra club and a few other similar groups (mostly self made experts), as well as more anecdotal evidence. He didn’t have the authority for me to quote him in the newspaper without having other sources to back him up. The first step was to try to track down his sources… which wasn’t as easy as you might think. I came up empty except for sources that would receive the same scrutiny as Cobenais, which is to say, they were using the same source, which I didn’t have. I attempted to contact Cobenais, but didn’t get a reply.

On the off chance they would directly confirm or deny the details from Cobenais, I then called a representative from Enbridge. As can be predicted, on some of the questions I asked I ‘sort of’ got answers in that they were very circular. This is standard practice for any company in such a position. They did directly refute some of Cobenais’ information. However, as for me, I had a story that was already written, but needed to be scrapped and built again, but I couldn’t find the parts.

So, having few sources of information I would bet my job on. I had to take a different angle. The Sandpiper Project has a site with lots of information, which I had quoted to me when I called and asked for verification on Cobenais’ info. They also have maps, which proved very helpful.

When I went to Pine River-Backus High School they had a strange, but great cooperation with Pequot Lakes for a few years. My senior year I had one semester where first thing in the morning I got on a van and rode to Pequot Lakes for one class, rode back to PRB for my next class, had lunch, took another class and then for my final class I rode back to PL. My first class of the day was graphic design, which I have benefitted from ever since.

I downloaded the Sandpiper maps and scanned in pages from a platt book. Toying with transparencies I overlaid the Sandpiper maps with the Platt maps. I used the township lines, roadways, and rivers to make sure that these maps were aligned closely. On these maps there were places where two of these markers would intersect, and using multiple points, a person is capable of matching the scale of the maps very closely.

Notice the horizontal line, that is the pipeline and all around it are the names of the individuals along the route.

Using the end result, I was able to contact a handful of people living along the proposed route and get their opinions. I would link you to that article, but we have gone through so many changes on our site, I can’t find it. Anyhow, These property owners were basically in favor of the pipeline crossing their properties. They had already been spoken to by Enbridge, but they said there were no offers on the table yet.

I wrote my article with select quotes from Cobenais and select quotes from Enbridge officials, but I quoted the landowners extensively.

Later, there was a public meeting at the Pine River-Backus school with representatives from Enbridge and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The event was focused on discussing the route of the project. There was one individual there, a retired engineer, who presented a very detailed alternate route. That was pretty cool. Cobenais was present and made a few statements as well.

I was contacted by representatives from Enbridge later. They asked to meet and talk about the pipeline, so, I agreed. We met at a coffee shop in Pine River. No story came out of it because they didn’t tell me anything new. Any questions I had, I could have gotten the same PR answers to from their website.

Next came the passing of a few different legal steps in the route proposal process, none of which happened locally, or none of which we were informed of. The next event was a meeting of a group called “Honor the Earth” in Backus. They were riding horse near the proposed route and leaving from my hometown. The group was being lead by Michael Dahl and former vice president candidate Winona LaDuke. Naturally, LaDuke was an authority I could interview.

Before the protest, the Honor the Earth group performed a pretty cool ritual. Isn’t culture neat?

I got the impression that LaDuke might not be fond of the press. During a long speech catching the crowd up on the issue, she made little jabs at the press. Lots of them. I wrote them off as just friendly jokes. I stood in line to interview LaDuke on the group’s horse ride. I waited patiently (because any good reporter knows you need to be patient when there is a line of reporters) and got my turn. Or I almost did. As I was asking my question she turned to a man standing to my right and complimented him on his hat. Then a surprisingly long conversation ensued about his hat.

When the conversation ended, she turned to me. I asked my first question. She started answering it… and a woman with a tape recorder hijacked my question.

Never hijack a crazy man’s interview!

They had a nice, long conversation and left me waiting to continue my interview. When they finished talking, LaDuke started walking away! I began to wonder if those earlier jokes weren’t friendly jabs!

I reminded her that I had questions. She informed me I had literally one minute. At the completion of this statement, every question I had saved up during her speech just flew out of my mind and into the atmosphere, never to be gathered again (this exact thing happened to me years before when I interviewed Al Franken on a visit to Bemidji). It’s hard to focus when you feel so frustrated, haha. Luckily, I had the important ones written down. The interview went okay.

The next Sandpiper event was a meeting of the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association. My colleague Chelsey covered it, so I have no anecdote, however, she received some great maps and documented information from the event showing shallow water tables, sensitive aquatic wildlife, huge freshwater sources all centered around the area the Sandpiper was proposed to pass. This was the type of information that was directly relevant to our area. This guy knew his audience!

Last night, Aug. 20, I went to another Honor the Earth event featuring a potluck and live music with the intent of drawing in the public and informing them. Of course, there was also a speech by LaDuke and Dahl. The event was a nice and friendly environment. I was greeted by LaDuke, and I guess our first meeting must have been an off day for her, because she was very welcoming then.

I have heard all the information from this most recent meeting before. That is one danger of being a news reporter. The audience can change at each event, so there is tons of repetition. It’s a necessary quality.

As a former argument and exposition teacher (I’ve never been good at making my own arguments, just critiquing others’), there were some things during this event that could have been better executed. Foremost, the speeches at this meeting weren’t exactly planned with the audience in mind. There was plenty of mention of Native American wild rice harvest rights, and that is an important part of the Sandpiper discussion especially from a legal standpoint. Not everyone in the area harvests wild rice, this speech was designed for a crowd who does. These speeches should have been focused on the things which are directly and constantly relevant to the audience present.

Not everyone within our readership harvests wild rice, but everyone in our readership drinks the local water. Everyone in our readership likes the local water life (that’s why we live here). Given the recent WAPOA meeting and the maps presented there, the information presented by LaDuke and her entourage had available to them lots of immediately local and important information they could have presented to the audience just in case there were some people present who were still on the fence (I don’t think there were, but that’s not the point).

There were a few points made which I would have recommended against, but they aren’t really important, what is important is the tangent that got me to write this blog post.

You see, the only reason I wanted to talk about this in a blog post was that in both events where LaDuke spoke, she mentioned that they couldn’t get a map of the proposed route early on. I don’t understand this, because I never had a problem finding maps. I couldn’t help but think, “Why didn’t you ask me? I had maps.” The above map being the one I am referring to of course. So, you could say I just felt the urge to brag.

I guess it is possible they were looking for maps before I showed up on the scene, or that they were looking for a different map yet. But yeah, I just wanted to brag.