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My Stint As A Journalist

22 Oct

For the past several weeks I have been filling in at my local newspaper, the Daily Globe. They’ve been a little short handed so they called in their second string. I’m okay with this moniker. I don’t want to be first string. First string would mean that I have to get up and go to work every day and, as I told my husband, bringing home a paycheck is hard work!

Ah, but it is rather nice to get paid for one’s writing.

On the other hand, I’ve had zero time to work on my book. Which to this point is showing no signs of generating a paycheck whatsoever. So I guess I’m okay with the occasional stint as a journalist.

I started out at the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) as a Journalism major. I planned to study Russian as well, and then go to Moscow as a foreign correspondent and uncover fabulous spy stories of the Cold War.

Only the Cold War pretty much ended before my career started. But, really, that’s not what ended my journalism career. It was J101 which did that. Grammar For Journalists – the class that every journalism major had to take – and pass with a “B” – in order to be accepted into the J School.

And so fall term of my freshman year began. I leaped into J101 and Russian 101 full of confidence, a smile firmly upon my face.

Four months later I waved goodbye to my dream. I didn’t pass that stupid grammar class – oh, I passed…as far as the University was concerned – but not as far as the precious J School was concerned. It was, in fact, the worst grade I ever got in my entire educational life: K-12, college and graduate school combined.

I could have taken it again. But I’d discovered something else during that term. I hated journalism.

I wanted to write creatively, free as a bird, with no strings attached, no rules, no horrid grammar police breathing down my neck.

Plus, I stunk at Russian, which, after failing to enter the coveted J School, seemed kind of like a waste of time anyway.

“I’m not competitive enough to be a journalist,” I told people when they asked me why I’d switched majors from Journalism to English.

Which possibly was true. But, the real truth is, I’ve learned a thing or two since then. One thing is that a major which actually provides a job when you graduate is a nice thing. Another is that forcing oneself to do something difficult in order to reach a goal is actually a good thing in the long run – and maybe, just maybe, majoring in English was a cop out. I tell people it’s a good thing I married an engineer ‘cause otherwise I’d be the proverbial starving artist living in a drafty garret somewhere.

Mostly what I’ve learned, though, is that I don’t actually hate journalism. Especially when I’m filling in and the expectations upon me don’t include me knowing when to say, “He said” or, “He says”. I have frequently heard writers thank their editors…now I totally understand why.

Over the past month I have learned more about insulation than I ever hoped to know. I have learned that not everyone will return a phone call, and not everyone wants attention brought to themselves or their situation. I have also learned that people are eager to thank others in print – which is lovely – and that they’re eager to share their story if it’s something they think others will benefit from. I have smiled during interviews, and shuddered (to myself) and marveled at the human spirit.

And I have to say, I really liked it when a person who makes his living off of speaking in front of vast crowds said to me, “You’re the writer. I trust you to make me sound good.”

“I’m a writer?” I thought to myself as I hung up the phone. “I’m a writer!”

The next day I introduced myself in a meeting as a writer. And my lovely friends in the crowd smiled and patted me on the back, and whispered, “Yes, you are.”

That was actually a rather marvelous moment in this flunked-out-of-J-School student’s life.

I have learned one other thing. I have learned that just as I tend to talk too much, I tend to write too much. There is beauty in brevity.

I’m still working on that one.

PS – Yesterday I posted this same basic post over on my other blog The View From My Window, which is connected with the Daily Globe, and is more local in focus. Audrey over at Minnesota Prairie Roots – who is a lovely friend and encourager – commented on it and said, “I find it difficult to believe that you would not do well in a grammar class when you went on to major in English. That’s pretty contradictory.”

This made me think (I love that about Audrey) and here was my response: I think that my problem with that grammar class was that it was so technical – it took the joy out of writing and made it stressful. I think I truly am a bit Bohemian in my approach to writing and all the rules and regulations were horrid. I have never liked or known the technicalities of grammar – I just use it properly and don’t care what it’s called! Taking apart sentences to name all the different parts just seemed – still seems! – sacreligious! But as an English major I just had to read and write – all of the technical stuff was left behind!

To that I add this: ever since 9th grade English class, when we had to diagram sentences and suddenly my “A” in English was threatened, I have found grammar to be irritating and suffocating. Yes, it’s vital that the basic rules of grammar are followed…but why do I have to know what a gerund is when I can use it properly without knowing the proper definition?!! (I know, I know, it’s an “ing” word…I do actually remember that one!) Here’s the deal: as a kid I read and read and read…and that taught me my grammar. Not Mr. L in 9th grade, and not professor whoeverhewas in college. If you want to be a writer, read, read, read. It’s that’s simple.

One more thought: I am NOT advocating not teaching grammar in our schools. American’s are bad enough with grammar already and it IS being taught. (If I see one more person on Facebook write, “I like that to,” for example, I am going to scream!!) I guess I’m just venting. Can you tell that I really, really, have issues with grammar?!!

Oh, and also this: I know that I use too many commas.  And also that I’m not perfect, grammatically speaking.  I figure, that’s what editors are for.  :-)

An Afternoon On the Farm!

15 Oct

It wasn’t hard to say, “Of course!” when my husband’s cousin asked if I’d be able to arrange a visit to some animals when she and her husband and two boys were coming to town the next weekend.

“Cows or pigs or chickens,” she said. “The boys would love to see any of them.”

The farm girl with her kitty...and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell.  By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell - which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

The farm girl with her kitty…and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell. By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell – which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

Well, when visiting in Southwest Minnesota, any of those are pretty easy to arrange. Without a moment’s hesitation, the first person I thought of was my friend, Rita.

Rita did not grow up in SW MN, but her husband, Joe, did and, in fact, I taught his younger sister way back when she was in high school. I didn’t teach him – I’m not THAT old. :-)

I got to know Rita when I joined the local MOPS group – Mothers of Preschoolers. Sadly, I don’t have a preschooler any longer, but thankfully I’m still in touch with Rita. My life would definitely be a lonelier place without her in it.

I love the tongue!

I love the tongue!

Rita began blogging in February of this past year. Her blog, So She Married a Farmer, is a great picture of rural farming life in this day and age. Rita knew what she was getting into when she married her farmer – she grew up on a farm and majored in something cow-related at the University of Minnesota – in fact, that’s how she met Joe.

Rita loves the heifers that they keep on their farm. And when I say “loves them”, I mean really, really cares about them. She cares about them as animals, and she cares about their product – both their babies and their milk. She is a great advocate for the dairy industry.

The neighbor's sheep.

The neighbor’s sheep.

Rita and Joe get the heifers when they’re first-time pregnant moms. They keep them at their farm until they’re almost ready to give birth. (They receive them just shortly after they are identified as pregnant.) Then when they’re ready to give birth they go elsewhere and then when they’re ready to be regular dairy cows they go over to Joe and his dad’s dairy farm. It’s a complicated business, but Rita and Joe know it inside and out.

We spent a wonderful couple of hours at Rita and Joe’s farm, accompanied by their smiley daughter. THANK YOU, Rita, for our lovely afternoon on the farm!!

I asked Rita if I could include this photo - this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain.  It's too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

I asked Rita if I could include this photo – this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain. It’s too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

The pink stripes indicate that she's newly pregnant.  Glad I didn't have to go through that when I was expecting!

The pink stripes indicate that she’s newly pregnant. Glad I didn’t have to go through that when I was expecting!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road.  We visited over there, too!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road. We visited over there, too!

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

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We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

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"The Swan."

“The Swan.”

A Very Good Day in a Busy Week – and a Rustic Peach Tart that will Make Your Day Even Better

30 Jul

DSC_0767

We have had an adventurous week in the O’Donnell household. Visitors. Animals. Jet lag. And several hundred photos (okay, more than that) to peruse and remember our vacation in Washington.

First: our visitors. Audrey her husband and Randy, from  one of my favorite blogs, Minnesota Prairie Roots, stopped by on their way to a family reunion. How lovely it was to see my friend again! We enjoyed an evening of laughing and eating together just as we had at their home one year ago. The recipe I’m including at the end of this post is in honor of her!

Audrey and Boo.  Such a lovely photo!

Audrey and Boo. Such a lovely photo!

Secondly: our animals. When we left for vacation on July 4th we left the care and keeping of our two cats (and my tomatoes, herbs and flowers) to our neighbor’s daughter. We had no worries. The cats, however, seemed to feel differently. Even with a visitor twice a day, they decided that they had been abandoned and so set off to seek their fortunes.

One, Copernicus, (as blogged about here  in her skunk vrs. cat cat-astrophe and here when she was expecting her kittens and a couple weeks ago, here) stopped by from time to time while we were away, but her year-old son, Zephyr, did not – at least not that anyone ever saw. So, when we returned at midnight on the 20th, no cats were to be seen at all. Thankfully, Copernicus showed up the next evening, looking healthy and fine and far cuddlier and purringer (not a word but I’m choosing to use it!) than ever before. For several days she loved us and cozied up to us – making us think that we should leave her more often!

But there was no sign of Zephyr. The kids and The Sailboat King took walks looking for her. We even drove around, calling, and driving in a neighbor’s driveway when we saw an orange cat…but no sign. Nothing. Nada.

I admit, I was thinking the worst. But we were still praying.

And then, Friday morning, the 26th of July, after not having been seen by anyone since the 4th of July, he showed up, walking nonchalantly across the driveway, just as I came upstairs in the morning.

My eyes bugged out. I opened the front door and called to him. He stopped and turned and began walking toward me. I reached for him and he backed off. I knelt down. Held out my hands slowly. Called him by name. Saw his golden eyes looking up at me, inquiringly, accusingly?

And he came to me.

Back in his favorite spot on the deck.

Back in his favorite spot on the deck.

I picked him up and went into the house.

“Hey, guys! It’s Zephyr! Zephyr is home!” I woke them up with my calling and they all came running.

I admit it, I was crying.

It was a good day, beginning with the kitty’s return and ending with Audrey’s visit. 

Beach treasures - being sanctified in the Minnesota sun.

Beach treasures – being sanctified in the Minnesota sun.

Thirdly: The Jet Lag. What can I say? It is what it is. It’s only two hours different here in the Mid West from the Pacific Northwest, but it’s been hard to recover!

Either Zephyr became a pirate on his adventures away from home, or he was yawning after being wakened up.  He and his mama seem happy to be home.  And we're quite happy, too!

Either Zephyr became a pirate on his adventures away from home, or he was yawning after being wakened up. He and his mama seem happy to be home. And we’re quite happy, too!

Peach Rustic Tart Recipe, which I made for Audrey and Randy – I like this style of pie because it’s so much easier than a traditional pie! This is a Martha Stewart recipe – and it’s delicious!! :-) Here’s the link: Stone-Fruit Galette. PS – I sprinkled a little more cornstarch over the top and drained the fruit before adding it to the crust because I hate peach pies being too runny.  Oh, and I added Turbinado Sugar on the top of the crust instead of the fine sugar that she suggests.  It’s so yummy!

The marvelous rustic tart...or galette, as Martha Stewart says.  I call it a tart.  It's a more normal word.  :-)

The marvelous rustic tart…or galette, as Martha Stewart says. I call it a tart. It’s a more normal word. :-)

A Marvelous “reblog” for You!

4 Apr

Ok, I have to “reblog” this post because it is so marvelous. “Clyde of Mankato” is a fellow-Minnesotan. This post about a chaplain visit he made to a nursing home is full of humor, pathos, and humanity. I practically began weeping in the café as I read it. Luckily no one looked at me weirdly as my eyes were full, that’s for sure. Please read this and experience it with me. – Gretchen

A Mixed Bag

19 Mar

I’ve got a mixed bag for you today – the first is because something happened a year ago today that I can’t ignore and the second is a lovely recognition which I have been far too slow to acknowledge.

So…first off: Happy first birthday to our kittens! After several visits from the neighboring tom cat up the road, it became pretty obvious to me that the cat who had adopted us in the fall of 2011 was getting rounder by the day. Our kids even noticed. “Wow, Purny is sure getting fat!” “Hmmm…,” I responded, not sharing my suspicions, “she sure is.”

Purny – short for Copernicus – was dumped near our house by her previous owners. We know because she had a collar when she first showed up, and she was terribly skinny. It was also fairly clear that she’d recently had kittens. So the people who had her decided they didn’t want her any more when they had her little kittens to adore.

She began hanging around our house and we bought her some food because clearly, she needed it. She started to let us pet her. Soon it was clear that she was there to stay. Then, six months later, three kittens joined the family.

Mama and babies.

Mama and babies.

They were, of course, adorable. For about 8 weeks we loved them and played with them and knew, in our hearts, that we couldn’t keep them all. We prepared the kids. We found two lovely homes for them. But still, when it came time to give them away, it broke our hearts – and not just the kid’s hearts.

The only thing that made it better was the smile on the wee girl’s face when we handed her her new kitten, which she had already named, “Carlos”…aka “Carwos” in her three-year-old way of speaking. Carlos has become one of their family – he is incredibly patient and friendly and his family is hoping for more little Carloses in the future!

We gave the other kitten, Cali, to some friends who have a wonderful conglomeration of animals at their house: an enormous, black, friendly dog, many cats (but they wanted more females), a couple of peacocks, several sheep and quite a few chickens. Cali was lonely for a few days, adjusting to her new circumstances, but then she became her master’s best little outdoor friend, jumping up on his work table, butting into everything, and earning her nickname, “Trouble”.
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Trouble was, “Trouble” was too friendly. She crossed the street to visit some fishermen at the nearby public fishing access. They petted her and exclaimed over her, and the next thing “Trouble’s” owners knew, the fishermen stole her.
Life is full of good and bad stories, isn’t it? I have never seen my ten-year-old daughter cry as much as she did the day we told her.

BUT…we still have the third kitten, Zephyr, so named because a “zephyr” is a calm breeze, and he was the calmest of the kittens and is still a lovely, purry, friendly cat and we are so happy to have him in our family. Yes, he and his mama fight some…but they also will touch noses – something I haven’t been able to capture on film yet – and we’re convinced that is proof that they like each other.
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OKAY…now for the second thing in this mixed bag:

I have been very kindly nominated for the “Liebster Award” – isn’t that lovely?!

So…I will try to obey all (most) of the rules of the nomination.

1) Add the award icon to your blog! Ok. Done.

liebster award

2) Link to your nominator to say thank you.
I was nominated by Deb Dundas over at Midway. Deb writes about a variety of things, including book reviews – which I always enjoy! The link to her blog is to a somewhat sad story about a guy she knew once who is now down on his luck. It’s a good story to make you appreciate what you have and to not be stupid about your choices in life.

3) Answer the questions the tagger has set for you, give 11 random facts about yourself, & create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

Deb’s questions:
What’s your favorite book? How can I ever choose just one?! Ok. Fine. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger.
Who’s your favorite author? Again, impossible to choose! Let’s just say H. A. Rey and leave it at that.
Skiing or snowboarding? Neither.
Cultural or “shake and bake” vacation? Totally cultural.
Favorite place? Orcas Island, Washington.
Air conditioning or au naturel? Air all the way.
City dweller, suburban, or rural? Rural…though city life has its appeal, too.
The most exotic place you’ve ever been swimming? I don’t swim, but I suppose Hawaii in the 8th grade. I got sun poisoning and spent the rest of the vacation covered up.
Who is your hero? Any old lady who is kind and patient and wrinkled.
Which musical instrument do you play (or wish you could)? Piano – badly.
The last live musical performance you saw? My middle school children’s band concert.

MY 11 RANDOM FACTS:
1. I love salads but I don’t like making them.
2. I collect cookbooks. Sometimes I use them.
3. I can’t tell a joke to save my life.
4. I lived in Germany for 2 years but I can’t speak German. I studied French for 2 years but I can’t speak French. I took one term of Russian and finally admitted that I’m not cut out to speak a foreign language.
5. I dislike wine. This didn’t go over too well in France.
6. I used to dress funky. Now I excel at the busy mom look. Not nearly so impressive.
7. I like attention. Hence the funky dress code of my pre-mom years.
8. I do not understand how anyone can possibly enjoy beets.
9. I cannot draw to save my life. If someone was like, “Draw a fabulous picture or die,” I’d say, “Ok, Jesus, here I come!” (See “Who is your hero?” above!)
10. I overdosed on Hazelnut Creamer right after college. A lot better than od-ing on a few other things I can think of, but to this day I can’t abide the stuff…but it is a bummer when my favorite café is out of French Vanilla.
11. I dislike Monopoly. There. I said it.

3. Choose 11 up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers, go to their blog, and tell them about the award.
I don’t have 11. I decided instead to stick with Minnesota/near Minnesota bloggers that I haven’t mentioned before…

That left me with three.

http://bethannchiles.com/

http://treadlemusic.wordpress.com/

http://birchwoodhill.wordpress.com/

And here are my 11 questions for my nominated bloggers to answer:
1. French Vanilla or Hazelnut?
2. Tennis shoes or heels?
3. Flying or driving?
4. Chocolate or Vanilla?
5. Small towns or large cities?
6. Summer or winter?
7. Movie or a book?
8. Soup and salad or meat and potatoes?
9. Music or silence?
10. SUV or bicycle?
11. Skiing or swimming?

Wa Hoo! They Like Me, They Really Like Me!

5 Nov

I have a confession to make (it’s been awhile since I’ve confessed anything on here, so it’s about time): My e-mail inbox has 4042 messages in it.

Now all of you efficient/non-procrastinating/tidy people can pick yourselves up off the floor (or pat yourselves on the back) and know that I wish I was you.

It is possible that, were my inbox emptied on a regular basis, I’d have noticed the lovely e-mail hidden in all the clutter much sooner. As it was, upon checking my blog on Saturday morning, I noticed something rather extraordinary: I’d had over 50 views already that morning and it was only 9:00.

“What does this mean?” I asked myself. “How can this be?”

I “refreshed” the page again. Just to make sure.

“Yes! It’s true! And I have a bunch of “likes”, too! What’s going on?” I said not a word – barley even acknowledged the thought – as I clicked over to WordPress’ homepage.

“Could it be? Really?”

YES! IT IS!

I shouted to my husband, sitting not two yards away, “I’m FRESHLY PRESSED!”

His blank look did nothing to deter my happiness.

“That means that I‘m featured on WordPress’ homepage! It means they like me! They really like me!” (Yes, I was channeling my inner Sally Field.)

(By the way, I’m on page two now, if you want to joy of seeing my photo and link in person.)

THANK YOU SO MUCH and WELCOME to my new readers. I am so glad to have you along on the journey! I am still working on visiting all of your pages so thanks for being patient!

I also have to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who’ve been along for awhile, too! I love getting to know you all.

Here’s a fun stat: WordPress chooses TEN new blog posts a day to add to their homepage. This is out of 31.7 million new posts a month. Here’s the link to prove that. And here’s another useful link: So You Want to be Freshly Pressed.

But here’s the truth of the matter: This post was not my best-written post, not my funniest or most emotional or most educational, interesting or sentimental. It’s just that it happened to get noticed. They do say that a catchy title is hugely important so I guess I had that going, at least. (Note, however: my previous post had the same title…and it didn’t get chosen! So titles aren’t everything…it’s a group effort!) Interesting photos are good, too. They also say that having links included in the post is good as it emphasizes the fact that blogging isn’t all about you, the blogger, it’s about world-wide connections.

I find this to be both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because ANYONE can be Freshly Pressed. It doesn’t take a perfect writer or an impeccable blog. Discouraging because hard work on a fabulous post does not necessarily equal “success” – if being Freshly Pressed is a measure of success. I think that the encouraging trumps the discouraging in this scenario.

I know that I have found with my other blog – the one that is through my local newspaper – that they are more apt to print (in their physical paper) timely/seasonal/human interest posts. I know I have seen that play out on the Freshly Pressed list, too, which is another thing to remember if striving after such a thing. For the Love of Vinyl wasn’t any of that, however! They liked it because it was nostalgic.

And, in this day of hurricanes and political stress and terrorism, people like to be reminded of simpler times. So, if you have a turn table, “go, put your records on….” You’ll be glad you did.

PS – my inbox now has 4050 messages. Time to get to work.

Friends, Photos, and Fine Days

26 Jun

Everyone is busy right about now. Busy gardening, busy vacationing, busy running kids from place to place, busy relaxing.

Between the running around and the rehearsing (more on that in days to come) I’ve been busy reading. And washing my windows (thanks, Norwex) and throwing birthday parties that are only six months late. “Happy birthday,” Meep’s friends said to her, and she, very properly, replied, “Thanks”…rather than saying, “Acutally I’ve been ten for half a year already, it’s just that my mom is kinda behind the times.”

I’ve also been busy taking photos…and realizing that I really ought to read my camera’s instruction book…but that’s boring, so I haven’t yet.

So I give you today some photos and the memories that go with them from the past few weeks. The days have indeed been fine…though the epiphanies mostly center around the all-important question: “What’s for dinner?” as opposed to deeper things.

But that’s okay. It’s all good.

Most of the photos are self-explanatory, but let me explain the first two.

I may be wrong when I say this, but as far as I can remember, I’ve never made a point of meeting a “virtual friend” in the bright lights of reality…as opposed to the muted tones of the on-line world. All that changed early this month when I e-mailed my blogging friend, Audrey, at Minnesota Prairie Roots that I’d be visiting her town for a play and could we possibly meet up like at a park or something where the kids could play and she’d have ample oppotunity to cut our visit as short as she wanted…if she wanted!

Instead we got a warm invitation to their home, a delicious dinner, and made some “real-life” friends as opposed to merely virtual ones. Audrey and her husband Randy were lovely hosts. And, happily, our husbands hit it off and had plenty of things to talk about as opposed to standing around awkwardly and wishing that their wives would be a little less verbose.

Audrey’s hospitality extended to having games and sidewalk chalk ready for the kids, bandaides available for skinned knees, wild black raspberries ready for watering mouths, and freshly-picked strawberries and angel food cake for dessert. Does it get any better than that?!

How good it is to make a new friend.

PS – Audrey was recently “Freshly Pressed” (for the second time in her blogging life) here on WordPress – isn’t that cool? Please check out her blog if you haven’t before. (Being “Freshly Pressed” means that she was chosen out of thousands of bloggers to be featured on WordPress’s homepage. Neat, eh?!)

Randy and Audrey! Such gracious hosts and lovely friends.

The two bloggers – I’m the one in pink! So glad that I thought to myself last fall, “I need to look up some other Minnesota bloggers.” Serendipity for sure.

My house is hiding in there somewhere.

What is wrong with this picture?!

A typical view around here…

Cormorants and cranes…

So on our way to Audrey’s house we passed The Blue Angels!!

My neighborly “vulture”.

A small dish of deliciousness!

How random is this?

…a little closer! See her friends behind her?

…and here she is, a few days later!

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