Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Otter mania!

The last week that I helped out at a local nature center, I actually got to help with something I know a little bit about--photography. For nature photography camp, we had just shy of 20 kids all with digital cameras. We talked about picture composition, lighting, framing, close ups, whatever. Every day we went on nature hikes to find interesting objects and lighting. We put a toad in the freezer for a few minutes to slow down his heart rate so he'd be still enough for a posed picture. (Hey, he gets alot colder for alot longer in January in Minnesota, I promise) We looked at picture books and gave out special challenges and assignments.

Often, more pictures of friends sticking out their tongues would be taken than actual nature shots. Buy hey, they're 10, and it's camp.
We couldn't have paid for a better experience than what happened one day at Purgatory Creek. After a night of rain, the creek had high water. We walked through the prairie and planned on making a short jaunt into the woods before heading back to the nature center.

Then, one kid spotted something swimming. Maybe a muskrat? Nope... Otter--a family of otter, two parents and two babies, swimming around a storm drain. One sat on a rock and ate a fish. The others took turns sliding down a bank and swimming around, just watching 20 10-year-olds who were being surprisingly quiet snapping pictures.

The critters put on a 10 minute show before running off through the weeds on the opposite bank. The naturalist who led the class has never seen otter out here before. It's rare to see them in the wild, much less in the middle of the city. In my time in the outdoors, I've never seen one alive, except in Alaska.

The kids kept inching closer and closer to the bank, and I caught one under the arms before he went right into the water. (you know, the one that never listens?) It was tough lighting for a picture--shooting into the sun and trying to balance out the shadows of the creek. But here are a few of the best pictures from the kids that day.

The experience turned a mediocre morning into a monumental one... and we went back everyday to see if we could spot the otter family. The water went down, and the otter stayed away.... but I know the kids have already checked out that spot in the trail a few times to just see if the otter came out to play once again.

First Emmy Nod

Friday was an exciting day at our little station. We got a mid-west Emmy nomination for our special "25 Years of TV" that we put together last November. A monumental amount of work went into the half-hour edited show, which documented 25 years of television in the Northwest Metro.
The show was produced by one of our anchors, Jennifer Anderson, and she submitted it for the award on the sly. Since it's already won one award, she thought it stood a good chance of making the next cut-- being nominated, but she didn't want to go through the hassle of getting our application and fee approved by management. So, she paid for it herself and we all benefit as being emmy nominees. After all, Jen was just living up to one of our favorite slogans in the news--it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. From experience, we know that forgiveness is easily granted when there's an Emmy involved.
I find it slightly ironic that my contribution to the show focused on a public access show that comes out of our partner next door... and is run totally by who else? Seniors. I produced a show catering to seniors for three years in Shreveport, and I still haven't escaped the senior beat.
Facebook took the news to most of my family before I did, and before I knew it I was fielding calls from friends and family about my Emmy nod. To answer those questions: No, it's not quite like Susan Lucci's Emmy, and No, I won't be sharing a table with Oprah at the award ceremony, but Yes, it's still really, really cool.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

As the Favre turns

It might finally happen. The media coverage today of Favre-gate was unbelieveable.

As I stood waiting for a press conference to begin in Eden Prairie, all stations had cameras and equipment lined up and ready to record. Then, one person got the call....Brett Favre was about to land at the Eden Prairie Airport....only minutes away, so these crews were the closest photographers. One photog quietly packed up and left. Another got the call and packed up and left. One by one they quietly disappeared. By two full minutes into the half-hour long press conference, all the major stations quietly packed up and left. Needless to say, all 10 police chiefs and personnel were a tad miffed.

But we stuck it out. Since we're hyperlocal, the only way we would leave is if Favre had some local connection to the Northwest Metro. But he doesn't. So we stayed.

By the time we made it back to the station, local stations had the choppers in the air covering the SUV that was transporting Favre from the airport to his meeting. It reminded us all of OJ and the blazer chase. They do this sorta thing in LA, but not in Minnesota. Local stations had traffic reporters in the air, and reporters on the street --like it was a presidential motorcade or something. Back at the station, personnel were already trying to get game tickets and others were trying to sell certain games. Favre was the proverbial talk around the watercooler.

Dave's day turned upside down as he shifted from the start of Prep Football (that's high school football to the rest of the non-midwestern world) to the questionable Favre. Could this finally be it?!

Friday, August 14, 2009

All eyes on Hazeltine

As the sports world keeps tabs on goings-on in our cute little adopted hometown, Minnesotans are becoming golf enthusiasts too. It's the hottest ticket in town, in more ways than one.
Here's a few early risers who got out early to see Tiger, and stayed to watch everyone else. Dave and two of his coworkers, Strandy and Mike.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chased by Target!

This week has not been a good week for me and Target.

In a land that bleeds red bullseyes, news coverage of corporate giveaways, volunteer opportunities, long lines, and job stories pertaining to the big box store routinely come our way. You'd think they'd cooperate well with the media in their home state. Not so. It's been increasingly difficult and frustrating on a basis I've never encountered before.

As a reporter, you can expect to get chased away from property pretty routinely. I've been chased off apartment complexes, church parking lots, retail parking lots, malls, whatever. For you non-reporters, if you are on their property (parking lot) you have to move or you are trespassing. If you are on public property, such as a sidewalk, they have absolutely no authority and can't do much about it....because you are in a public place and shooting a building that all the public can see with their naked eye. But they don't know the difference too often and seldom stop to ask. More often than not, some smart assistant manager hopped up on their own power and Diet Coke will barrel out the door, waving fingers, turning red, and acting like a rude idiot. I daresay they are sometimes nicer to shoplifters. But everybody likes to hate the media. So anyway.

A week ago I did a story on 400 Target volunteers standing on the hot pavement for 6 hours and sorting clothing donations for a local nonprofit. The nonprofit asked us to come. A simple volunteer feel-good story, right? Not this time. We started shooting the story. We interviewed the nonprofit honchos. But when we asked to interview volunteers, some Target manager told us we couldn't. They didn't send anyone out to deal with the media. Okay. Your call.

But it doesn't end there. As we continued to shoot the story, different Target managers would come up to us and verify that we'd hadn't interviewed any volunteers on why they were donating their time. More than once. THEN, we got our wide shots and were packing gear in the car when yet another manager came running a good distance across the parking lot, waving her arms and yelling WAIT! She just wanted to make sure, once again, that we hadn't interviewed any Target employees. Really?!

Fastforward to Today. We are working on a story collecting school supplies, comparing costs, and donating the supplies to a local elementary school. Some local station does the story every year. We shop in the store, we grab some shots of the exterior of the store, and get out. We might stay in the parking lot 5 minutes. Surprisingly, we had no trouble at other stores, like ahem, Walmart.

But as I loaded bags up into our marked news car at the back edge of the parking lot, my photog said, "Uhhh.... Shannon..... I think we're being chased off." I looked up to see MORE THAN TWENTY Target employees advancing toward us like a red army on a mission. They were led by two overzealous managers who started yelling a good 30-40 feet away, "Give us your tape! You can't be here! You have to go through corporate!" They were being all hot-tempered and authorative and I guess they came out to show us who was boss....and brought their posse as a threatening tactic or to show off how awesome they are as assistant managers. I have truly never seen anything like it.

We didn't give them our tape (our property) and I'm pretty sure they don't own that parking lot bc there are lots of stores in that shopping center.... but whatever. We do plan to go back tomorrow and shoot the same shot from the sidewalk.... same shots, about 20 feet back.

But it will be awhile before I voluntarily step foot in a Target or spend any of my money there. I've about had it, and my opinion of their managers has about dropped through the basement.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The power of forgiveness

Remember Jen, the Prior Fat Girl I wrote about just a few weeks ago? The same week that I wrote the post, she had a terrible tragedy in her family.

Her mom Kim took an evening walk and decided to push her grandchild around the residential neighborhood in a stroller. A neighbor didn't see Kim, backed over her, and killed her. Kim pushed the stroller as far away as she could so her grandbaby wasn't hit. This tragedy has shaken the family to the core.

This story has been followed by all the news stations. In news, we cover terrible things pretty regularly but it's always worse when you know and have a connection with the person. Jen's family has been very brave in talking with the media to share their story--all the while stressing they know this was a horrible accident and they do not blame their neighbor for taking their mother away from them.

The neighbor is an immigrant with a large extended family-- and he brought all of that family with him to the funeral and memorial service. They took up an entire pew. In the middle of the funeral, Jen's family got up, went to the back of the church, and had a hugging session with his family emphasizing their forgiveness. Witnesses say there wasn't a dry eye in the church.

Later that evening, on National Night Out, Jen's neighborhood met up to finish the walk that Kim never did. And they had the neighbor right out front pushing the grandbaby in a stroller. Lots of tears. Lots of hugs. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional experience for all involved and even the reporters remarked how unusual this was that the story ended in a hug and not a lawsuit. This example of faith went so much further than zealous missionary campaigns or any amount of street evangelism ever could....so much so that skeptical reporters kept talking about it.

People profess faith and forgiveness all the time, but only rarely do we see such blatant examples of faith in action. I've always believed if people lived like this instead of devoting time to "faith causes" like posting the 10 commandments everywhere, outlawing headscarves, or shunning Harry Potter... the world would be a much better place.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Best Out-of-Office Memo

You know those "I'm out of the office" messages that people sometimes leave on voice mail and email to let people know how they can be reached if needed? Some of them go on forever. While I recognize some jobs (doctors, lawyers, editors) have little downtime and emergency situations do happen, more often than not I think the messages are merely because the person is afraid the company or job simply couldn't exist without them and they need the reassurance. Or, they just cannot unplug totally from their vocation. As hard as it is for me to understand, vacation and downtime isn't for everyone and some of those desperate messages reveal that.

I give my husband a very hard time about checking messages and work email on vacation...and it usually results in an argument during the vacation. As someone who rarely uses the phone in my downtime and refuses to check email or Facebook during downtime on weekends or holidays, (which sometimes baffles my family) this is hard for me to understand.

But I found two great cases of people who unplugged with humor and truly get that the world doesn't revolve around them:

One, Randy Pausch, who wrote about unplugging in his book The Last Lecture. (Which if you haven't read, is definitely worth your time. A top ten favorite of mine) For his honeymoon, he instructed students on his voicemail to call his parents and report the emergency while fully explaining why they should interrupt their son's honeymoon that he waited to take until his 40s, when he finally met the right woman , etc........that message should've put the students problems completely in perspective. No one called.

The other happened last week. I got an email bounceback from a very important person that read: "Thank you for your message. I will be out of the office 8/3-8/7. If you need to get a hold of me, you can send a written letter to PO Box (number), City, MN 55442."

I thought that was awesome--and I told him so. He said not everyone got it.

In this world of instant communication, sometimes it's good to just wait.

Friday, August 7, 2009

finger-lickin' good

Every town has a place like Chet's. Wood panelled walls. Local advertisers on a placemat. Glass jars for your drink. A salad bar with iceberg lettuce, chocolate pudding, and cole slaw. Gravel parking lot. Sponsored beer/Coke sign out front. And walls covered with every type of knick-knacky, silk flowered, wood painted plaque or figurine that a garage sale threw up somewhere and some well-intentioned person thought would look good bunched together on the wood panelled walls. The place advertised a mean fried chicken dinner, so my Southern taste buds were piqued and primed to see if it could measure up to my standards. Fried Chicken is one of my favorite meals, and the calories never count if it's fried chicken on a Sunday...but it was Saturday so I threw calories to the wind and dug in.

This was advertised on the menu as a 'Swedish Fried Chicken' and you got a quarter on your plate. Dave and I couldn't possibly finish either one of our plates because we filled up on fried mushrooms, fried cheese curds, and fried onion rings plus a salad bar of actual vegetables. It was pretty darn good, even if the mashed potatoes and gravy were instant.

One of the best stories I heard about Chet's was that it used to have just a regular door knob on the front door. But, it got so greasy with people coming in and out that it had to be updated to a new handle that requires no twisting for entry or exit. Now that's some grease!

On Lake Ida

Dave didn't know I took this picture of him relaxing on the boat on Lake Ida, but I think it sums up the weekend perfectly: a little bit of fun and a lot of downtime. Dave and I tend to go full throttle most of the time, so the change of gears was nice. Our hosts were superb and enjoyable. We were treated like we were long lost cousins that you actually want to see.

We did a small amount of fishing on the lake. My job was to help 4-year-old Grace fish, while she waited patiently with a net. We got several nibbles but no real bites, so after a good amount of time, I was abandoned and the Disney princess fishing rod taken to Grandma who had already helped her little sister Anna reel in a small fish with a Batman rod. Hey, you gotta go where the fish are biting. 

Dave wound up reeling in a small bass, but it was nothing to get excited about. Come to think of it, he hasn't had that much luck with fish pictures on this blog.

That afternoon, it was time for skiing on a perfectly flat lake. Dave hadn't skiied in years, but he picked it back up again pretty quickly. I watched from the boat.

The water? Still chilly, but beautiful and clear. You could see all the way to the bottom of the lake in places. We pulled up to a beach at one point so the kiddos could make sandcastles. The Minnesota state bird, the Loon, was pretty easy to spot several times, and we watched it dive for fish. At night a nice full moon reflected off the water. It's a pretty place to spend some time.

Our trip to Alec

Louisiana has an Alec, and yes, Minnesota has one too. I find it curious that the cities which are hundreds of miles apart have the same nickname that is pronounced nearly the same way. Not Alex, but Alec.

Last weekend Dave and I did get away for a weekend of respite with friends in Alexandria. If you are in Minnesota even a short amount of time, you'll hear people talk about 'going to the cabin.' Whether it's a summer vacation or a weekend away, the trip of choice here is a cabin up north. If you have extra money, you buy a cabin up north. Most people are just lucky enough to know someone who has a cabin up north. Near where I work, the traffic jam north begins in mid-afternoon and doesn't ease up until late evening. The trip back Sunday is the same. So when Dave and I got the invitation, we were all excited about our first Minnesota Cabin experience.
Keep in mind, a cabin up north could be a well equipped house, as ours was, or it can be a more rustic cabin with the bare necessities. Some cabins are crammed around a lake with little to no yard, others are a bit more spaced out. Regardless of the lake or the fact there are 10,000 of them, lakefront property is expensive to own.
Dave and I had a good time on our cabin weekend, and hopefully I'll have posts up here about it in the next few days!

Away at Camp...

Why the lack of posts?

I've been away at camp. In a creation of my own making, I've been working nearly nonstop lately. I still have my normal job as a reporter, but I'm working in the mornings at a Nature Center helping lead camps. I still spend several weekends at the Landing. And, I'm still on board to teach online this fall which will require a greater amount of work since someone deleted my previous class. So, it's been hectic.

But about camp. I am helper-girl number one for Queen Pauline, who gives morning and afternoon camps nearly every week during the summer. Every camp is different, but most have some sort of nature element since it does happen at a Nature Center. I did this a few times last year and had fun, so when the other helper-girl cancelled, I said I would fill in for the remaining three weeks.

The picture above is from Fairy Camp, attended by 8-11 year old girls. I didn't know Tinkerbell had her own entourage with fairies who have special powers, but I do now. I made a fairy dust pink paper mache toadstool for a mailbox so the girls could write questions for the fairies. We went on nature walks to look for the fairy's animal friends plus we made several girly fairy crafts. Even though this was girly fairy camp and pink, ribbons, and curls ran rampant, the first question I was asked was 'Do Dolphins poop?' To which another girl yelled, "Everything poops." Then they all started...."Trees don't poop!" "Headbands don't poop!" "But puppies do!" So, we established the bowel movements of the forest in the first ten minutes.

Survivor camp this week brought together 8-12 year-old boys and girls for fierce competitions. Some kids come back to this camp every year and compete in a variety of challenges for the title of "Ultimate Survivor." They do relay races, play Native American games, put together puzzles, hunt toads, stand on one foot, throw dice... there's no predictabilty to the games and with a mix of skill and chance, there's no predicting who will win.

My best kid-moment here came while on a nature walk. The kid was sad because he was thinking about his dog that died a few years ago. One thought led to another until I was actively listening to a recap of important events and influences over his 10-year-old life. He told me about living in Ireland, and his baby sister being born over there. "Really?" I asked. "That means she's Irish!" "Yes," he said. "She's American too. She has dwarf citizenship." (instead of dual citizenship)

Maybe she would have fit in at fairy camp.