Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Fire

I headed out at a little after 8 p.m. tonight to a house fire in the Town of Waukesha. As soon as the dispatch center started to send out fire engines, I knew it was serious. Back-up was being called and I could hear sirens screaming on the police scanner. At that point, I wrote down the address and headed out with my camera, a pad of paper, a pen and my gloves.

On my way to the fire, I realized I was going the wrong way when a fire truck sped the opposite way. I quickly made a U-turn and followed as fast as I could. We were joined by even more emergency vehicles.

When I did get to the scene of the fire, the neighboring streets were lined with emergency vehicles with their lights flashing. It looked the brightest and most amazing Christmas display.

I walked a couple of blocks to wear the house was with the fire. Before I could see flames, I could see smoke billowing into the air. There really weren't many flames visible, but it was clear that a fire burned deeply within.

Needing to take pictures in the dark, I felt relief when I found a tree to prop myself up against to stable myself. After getting a few decent shots, I walked around and began to talk to the neighbors that were huddled on their lawns watching the fire. Quite a few people walked to the scene. Many young children played on lawns while their parents stood wrapped in blankets.

I was directed to the family of the home on fire. They were an Asian family and many didn't speak any English. I did talk to one woman whose husband's aunt owned the building. She said that no one had been hurt and that she thought no one was home during the fire. Apparently, many people lived in the building.

I felt a bit rude taking pictures of the family as they gathered in the street in front of the home. Some of the members began arguing in a different language. I can only imagine what they might have been saying.

I think that the fire had to been fueled partly by the strong winds that blew. It was so cold out there, too. I felt like I had frostbite on my fingertips as I struggled to take pictures and to write what people told me in the dark.

I am thankful that no one was injured, but how awful for a family to lose their home on such a cold night so shortly before the holidays.

For more on this story, see The Freeman's Thursday paper at

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Thanksgiving

I am always saying that the happiest times of my life have been the unexpected moments that light up your day and your spirit. I had a really nice afternoon on Thanksgiving with my parents, my grandma, Aunt Linda and Aunt Ellen. We had a delicious meal that filled us all up and made our stomachs and minds very happy. After lunch, we watched the Packer game and talked.

It was all so nice, but unfortunately I had to leave for work. I was not looking forward to going to work as I just wanted to stay home and relax. However, as the second shift worker, I had to go.

My assignment, which I had suggested, was a fun one, though. I was to go to Fire Station No. 1 in Waukesha and spend time with the firefighters as they made a Thanksgiving dinner even as they were on duty.

As I walked into the station, my nose filled with the scent of turkey. The seven firemen and one firewoman were busy in the state-of-the-art kitchen getting a traditional dinner prepared. Everyone was in high spirits as they joked around and laughed. I took pictures and did interviews as all the preparations were being done. I didn't intend to eat since I was working and still rather full from lunch, but the fire fighters kept insisting. I gave in and ate some very delicious food. They even gave me some pie to go.

It's hard to explain why the assignment was so enjoyable for me. I think it was because how caring and polite these fire fighters were and how they welcomed me into their Thanksgiving dinner so readily. They had already gone out on nine calls in nine hours, but their spirits were so high. They described themselves as family and they really treated each other like relatives. For an hour I felt like a close family friend.

This is why I love journalism when I can do stories like this and really get a good glimps into the lives of other people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving around a ping-pong table

This was always one of my favorite holiday shows with the colorful Thanksgiving food and the antics of Snoopy and Woodstock. There is always something so pure and earnest about Charlie Brown and his friends. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Simple moments = happy times

It is amazing how the simple things in life can mean so much to a person and bring them the purest of joys. This past week has been really stressful and busy, but during the times of great stress I have also discovered great moments of joy. There are the on-going joys like the support and love of my family and friends. Then there are the little joys that occur unexpectantly and last only briefly, but bring you the purest of joys that help to carry you through the day.

I have had several such joys over the past week and a couple of them had one thing in common: they were because of South Koreans.

I had my second tutoring session on Wednesday with my South Korean pupil. I am going to help her with her English writing and all around English skills. I am volunteering with the Literacy Council of Waukesha County and they matched me with Sujeong. She is new to the USA, but is married to an American man that she met in Seoul. Spending time with her brings so much happiness to my life. Her caring nature, eagerness and generosity in turn make me feel wonderful. On Wednesday, she made me chamchi kimbap and it was so delicious. Her friend, Yoon, also came for lunch. It was such an enjoyable lunch for me to be able to talk about Seoul with these two very kind people. Just thinking about it now makes me feel so happy.

The other little joy that occurred this week because of a South Korean friend just happened a few minutes ago. A former student of mine, Gyoung Dong just wrote me an e-mail telling me of his recent recognition for his poetry. He also sent me photos of his family. It is a great honor to be told of his literary success. He also shared some very kind words with me.

These simple human elements of our lives are really the best. They have extra meaning for me when I feel overwhelmed by stress. I do find the most joy in my life from human relationships and my relationship with nature.

The past two years has taught me something so important. And that is how wonderful Korean people are. I think that they have to be the most caring and generous of any nationality I have ever met. Their culture and approach to life is very different from Americans' in many ways, but there are many similarities too. The aspect that I like the most is how they welcome people into their lives so openly and will give of themselves so readily.

I feel so blessed tonight because of all my friends, who are from so many backgrounds and live in so many places, and for the unconditional love and support from them and my wonderful family.

Thank you all who have been there for me recently during my week of stress.

"Patience and perserverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."
--John Quincy Adams

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Glorious Birds

It's that time of year again when I keep the feeder full and watch the beautiful birds come to feast. I have a mixture of corn, sunflower seeds and millet out for them along with a suet and it's really bringing the birds in lately. Yesterday, I had chicadees, juncos, cardinals, blue jays, a nuthatch, a downy and a hairy woodpecker. Not to mention chipmunks and squirrels.

There are few things in this world that bring me as much pleasure as my bird feeder does. There is something about the cheerfulness that birds seem to approach life that lifts my spirit. Both wild and domestic birds seem to be such optimistic, content animals that I can't help but feel the affect of their attitude on my own attitude.

I am hoping to take more pictures of the birds from the screen porch. I took these of the chicadees as I stood a few feet away with my 70-300 mm lens on my camera. The lighting was decent and the chicadees were calm enough to let me get quite close. When they would hear my shutter close, they would fly back to the bush, but would quickly return. The second photo below was a fluke, but I really like how it turned out. I only wish the whole bird would have been captured.

"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats."
--Iris Murdoch

Monday, November 5, 2007

A weekend of fundraisers and silent auctions

There was definitely a common theme to my birthday weekend: fundraising. Most people would probably think it's strange that I would decide to spend my birthday going to fundraisers instead of spending the day seeking funds for myself. But, I've always done my own thing.

Actually, it is a tradition for my mother, my grandmother and I to go to the annual holiday church bazaars in Oconomowoc. About 10 different churches and organizations participate in this event. I have always loved going to them and seeing the crafts, eating the cookies and having a special lunch with Mom and Grandma. Unfortunately, this year was a bit disappointing because a couple of the churches did not have their bazaars. This didn't come as too big of a surprise because it is often the older women in the congregation who make and sell the items. I have been speculating the past couple of years that our tradition would be coming to an end soon. Even so, we still had a really good time on Saturday and I got to eat fudge, cake and pie. Yum.

Saturday night was another fundraiser that I also attended by choice. Kait and I went to the Avalon Therapeutic Equestrian Center (Avalon TEC) for its annual barn dance. I had written a story about the center for the Oconomowoc Enterprise and the owner said I could come for free because it was my birthday. The event included over 100 silent auctions, food, Irish music and alcoholic beverages. It was a good time, but much mellower than I had hoped it would be. No one danced and the music was the pub floor pounding variety. And, as I feared, Kait and I were some of the youngest people there. But, we still had a good time and the money went to a really good cause that I was proud to support.

On Sunday I had to attend the Waukesha Education Foundation's third annual Celebration of Excellence fundraiser for the Waukesha Freeman. The event was huge with over 900 people present, over 150 silent auction items, lots of food and interactive displays. It was great to see so many people come out to support education and to see so many student volunteers helping to serve food and sell raffle tickets among other duties.

There seems to be so many opportunities lately to attend fundraisers and to help causes. There are a couple of problems that arise for me with that, including the fact that I most often can't afford to go to these dinners and which ones do I support if I could. Every day lately I get about three to four charity mailings asking for money for their causes. I mostly support three: St. Joseph's Indian School, The Nature Conservancy and UNICEF. I have received a mailing about Women for Women that I might consider investing in later.

Yellow leaves at Nature Hill on Sunday.

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."
--A.J. Muste

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Armed Robberies, sex offenders and budgets: work at the Freeman

The last couple of weeks have had a recurring theme for me at work. I have been covering mostly hard news and late-breaking news. The story that was the most fun for me was covering the armed robbery at Wendy's. Most people are surprised when I tell that that covering an armed robbery is fun, but it was for me.

I got there shortly after the call went out over the police scanner that a couple of employees at Wendy's was robbed by gunpoint by a man who was wearing a mask and who fled on foot into a subdivision. I pulled up to Wendy's (a location I eat at often) and parked my car. I grabbed my camera bag with my new flash and walked over to the congregating police officers. There must have been about eight squad cars there.

The police were very helpful and polite. They told me what they knew and then I just waited around as they prepared a search team with a dog. Meanwhile an officer started to rope off the entrance to the restaurant parking lot. But, then she kept going until my car was behind the yellow caution tape.

My editor didn't believe me at first when I told him my car was cordoned off. I couldn't believe it either. I had parked next to the suspected get-a-way vehicle. What luck!

Well, the police were really easy going about it and lifted the tape so I could drive under it. They were also nice enough to let me stand close enough to them that I could eavesdrop on most of what they were saying.

What surprised me while I stood there was how many cars attempted to get into the Wendy's parking lot. One car started to drive through the yellow tape and tore it down. About a half dozen other cars drove in through the exit in order to swing around into the drive-thru window, which was closed.

I learned a lot that night.
1) Being small, young and female helped me out because the police and most others don't see me as intimidating or a threat.

2) People will go through a lot of trouble to try and get a Jr. bacon cheeseburger and some chicken nuggets.

I also got sent out after we heard a call in the office about an armed robber who held up a Carroll College student not too far from campus.

I also wrote about sex offender registry ordinances (the big topic of discussion at city and village meetings in the area) and budgets for these same places. I don't think I have ever disliked writing about anything as much as I disliked writing about budgets. It involves a lot of number crunching and tedious reading.

My favorite story of the week was about Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. I learned a lot about this holiday that is celebrated today and tomorrow primarily by Mexicans. I love stories that make me learn while I write about them and that also allow me to talk to real people.

"What you deny to others will be denied to you, for the plain reason that you are always legislating for yourself, all your words and actions define the world you want to live in."
--Thaddeus Golas
from The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment