Inside the Newsroom @ A2 Journal

Welcome to Inside the Newsroom @ A2 Journal, a blog written by the newspaper's staff at A2 Journal, a new, weekly, community newspaper covering Ann Arbor. This blog is a place for members of the newspaper's staff to write their thoughts, observations, opinions and other informative pieces they put together while covering the rich history, interesting people, institutions and traditions that make Ann Arbor such a unique community.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What would you choose?

We are working on our first Ann Arbor Community Guide and I have the difficult task of choosing a photo for the cover from among all of reporter/photographer Lisa Allmendinger's beautiful shots, as well as a couple from freelance photographer Ximena Erickson. I've e-mailed about a dozen to our production department and asked our graphic artist to choose. But it's not too late. Weigh in and tell me which shot(s) you would choose and maybe your pick will be the one. Here are the ones I sent.

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Lisa's Musings (on lawn tractors) and Every Day Life

I set a record today.

March 31 marks the earliest date I've ridden the lawn tractor around the property since I moved back to Michigan.

I worked most of the day, then my Internet hiccuped around 4:15 and I couldn't get it back up right away.

I took this as sign.

Nature (and all the leaves covering the quickly greening grass) were calling.

Usually, I ride "Old Faithful" for the first mow of the season. It's tradition.

Despite her missing nose and other less-than-attractive attributes, she's my favorite.

You see, Old Faithful is the first lawn tractor I ever bought and learned how to operate.

So, I guess it's like a guy and his first car; she has a lot of sentimental value for me.

However, she's had many appointments with the very nice Mobile Mower Repair guy.

Thus the reason for her loss of nose and disconnected mulching feature. She only has a couple of the five gears she's supposed to have and sometimes they slip.

You have to hold her in reverse, but at least she'll mow in that gear.

And yeah, her brakes are suspect, too, but I work around all that.

Sometimes, however, these quirky behaviors turn into liabilities and she needs to go under the wrench.

This is why I bought a second one -- for when she's out of commission.

Because for some reason, my grass doesn't seem to care to stop growing if Old Faithful is sick and the nice fix-it man can't get here right away to make her all better.

This, I learned the hard way, a couple years after I bought this place and I had to wait two weeks during the height of growing season for her to be fixed.

So I bought "The Other One," as a back-up. It has a wider deck and more bells and whistles. It was supposed to become the primary mower.

But look at it -- it's got a mean-looking face, and this should have been my first clue.

Because from the moment it was delivered it, I hated the darn thing.

And the mower feels the same way about me.

The first time I tried to fire it up, it didn't work.

Maybe it felt like "The Other Mower" or something.

Even though all my friends, the ones who take pity on me and help me mow this property sometimes, love "The Other Mower."

The Mobile Mower guy loves it too, because he's been here more times than I can count to fix it.

But, at certain times, I'm forced to ride it around. Like when I need to mulch leaves.

In fact, one year I started a leaf fire trying to move the leaves around with Old Faithful, and that was kinda scary.

So, I had to take out "The Other Mower," today, but I told "Old Faithful" her day would come soon.

And surprise of surprises, it started. It mulched. And I tootled around areas I didn't need to actually mow just to be outside a little longer.

Riding the lawn tractors is my guilt-free tanning time. It's my chill and relax out in Mother Nature time. It's my get away from the laptop time.

It's my time. I don't bring a cell phone with me. I just become one with nature. Or something.

And today was all that.

I saw wildflowers growing, tips of tulip and daffodil leaves, I spied more crocus blooming, a found a couple of HUGE mushrooms growing out of a trees in the woods in the back of my property.

No rhubarb or asparagus in the garden yet, but spring certainly seems to have arrived.

It felt good to be outdoors and even the wind cooperated, blowing the leaves away from my face and not into my eyes.

I surveyed my kingdom, and it was good.

Then I returned to the garage, and saw Old Faithful sitting there, I felt really, guilty.

She'd missed the first mow of the season.

But it wasn't a full property mow -- just a spotty one where the leaves were thick -- so perhaps she won't hold it against me.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lisa's Musings (on planning vacations) and Every Day Life

Most people take time off during the year.

It seems like I'm always working. In fact, I rarely take a day off during the week.

Some people even take a vacation.

They go somewhere fun, warm or cold, depending on their interests.

And ta-da ... this year, for something completely new and different, I plan to be one of those people.

Am I going to Hawaii, or Europe or Up North?

Been There. Done that. Got paid to judge agility up there.

Nope, I have decided to take not one, but TWO, vacations this year.

The first vacation will be in August -- I won't say when because I hear that people get robbed when they announce I'll be gone from this date to this date -- alerting anyone who reads a blog or Facebook post to the fact their house will be empty.

Well potential burglars -- I may be gone, but my house won't be empty; there will be someone here. So don't even think about it.

So where am I going?

To somewhere about 560 miles from here -- near a place called Cornwall, Ontario, Canada.

As best as I can tell, I get on the 401 and drive for many, many miles and then I'll be there.

And what am I doing on my vacation? Taking my dogs, of course.

I'm headed to the 2010 Ontario Regional Toller Specialty.

Yes, I'm headed to a dog show, and hopefully, I'll be able to talk my friend, Nancy, who shows Ryan, to go with me.

I'll meet up with Driver's breeders, Sue Miller and Bev Keith, who live in Canada and plan to go and I'll have the chance to meet the grand dame of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever breed -- Alison Strang -- the person who wrote the book, literally, on the breed.

We've e-mailed a few times but I've always wanted to meet her because in the background of my Tollers are some of her foundation dogs.

I'll probably be more nervous talking to her than I've ever been interviewing presidents, big time athletes or movie stars. To me, Alison is REALLY famous, because if it weren't for her, the dog breed I've come to love wouldn't be where it is today.

In fact, without her, I might not even have the privilege of owning Tollers.

I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.

Plus, I've competed in Canada before and the people there are just plain nice. Very helpful and friendly and I've always had a good time when I've headed across the border.

So Thursday, I'll make out my first vacation form and hand it to my editor so she has plenty of time to figure out what she's going to do while I'm gone.

And, I'll have to figure out how much training time I have and put together a vacation plan ... er, training plan, so little Driver is rip snortin' ready to show his Canadian cousins what a transplanted Canadian Toller can do.

He'll be among his ilk.

I'll be the foreigner.

Canada, here we come.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

March 29 - Lisa's Musings (on Kiwanis Crazy Hat Day) and Every Day Life

Who among you doesn't love a fun hat?

Welcome to Crazy Hat Day at the Ann Arbor Downtown Kiwanis Club.

Today, I was invited to the club's lunch meeting by member Kathy Griswold (in the hat with peep's hanging off of it) and I certainly couldn't pass up the chance to wear one of my own. I thought about wearing my special Farm Bureau Ag crown, but decided to go a bit more conservatively.

And to be in a room with almost 100 different people -- all wearing hats, now that's the way to spend a few hours on a Monday afternoon.

And most weren't just any old hats, either, they were Crazy Hats.

I took so many great photos, I couldn't wait to share some of them, even if the story won't run until next Thursday.

So, forget fish stories, (although there were a few), most of these hats had amazing happy and fun personal stories attached to them, which I'll have to wait to share.

Let me tell you, with a start like this, I can tell already, it's gonna be a great week.

Even if I should have worn the tiara.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28 - Lisa's Musings (on rainy Sundays) and Every Day Life

I know lots of people complain about rainy days.

Especially on the weekend.

I don't happen to be one of them.

Weather happens, folks, and without the rainy or stormy or snowy days, none of us would fully appreciate the truly perfect weather days.

So here's my Top Five Reasons for enjoying today's rain.

No. 5: It forced me to stay inside and get some spring cleaning (and busy work) done.

Had it been nice outside today, I'd have been riding the lawn tractor around the property to mulch the leaves that I had hoped would just go away once the snow melted. And haven't.

No. 4: This U-M grad is watching and rooting for Michigan State. It's called March Madness for a reason, and I'm going with it. Plus, the NASCAR race at Martinsville was rained out.

No. 3: No sunshine hides the spider webs and dust bunnies. Unless I look really, really hard. That bright sunshine -- it magnifies all the dog hair, dirt and dust in this house. And believe me, there is a lot of all three.

No. 2: Dreary days me glad I have African Violets because their pretty purple, pink and white flowers glow in bad weather. Not sure why but, they just do. Plus, after having a discussion with a few plants that weren't making the grade last week, they were replaced at the semi-annual local African Violet sale yesterday. So I have new ones to look at.

No.1: Sleeping dogs. There's something about crappy weather that puts my pups to sleep. And as anyone who owns active young dogs knows -- a napping dog/puppy is a good dog/puppy.

And now that I've blogged, almost finished the wash, watered the plants, done some spring cleaning, and written a few stories, I just might head to my chair, snuggle under a blanket, and join them.

Happy Rainy Sunday, everyone.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

March 27 - Lisa's Musings (on Easter Egg Scrambles) and Every Day Life

There's nothing like standing in a confined space with plastic Easter eggs near your feet and having hundreds of young children race down a hill at you.

Today was my first Jaycees' Easter Egg Scramble at Veteran's Park.

As I stood at the bottom of that hill watching more and more eager children (up to age 4) stack up at the top with their parents, I questioned whether this was the best place to position myself.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And when more and more children and adults began lining up along the side of the hill directly opposite me, I wondered if I'd survive the Easter egg rush.

Happily, I did.

And, hopefully, I was able to catch it on video.

I know I got some amazing photos, some of which are posted above.

Some days are awesome photo days and this was one of them

So I had to share.

But let me tell you, standing down hill from an army of egg scramblers -- even if they were half my size -- isn't for the meek.

I chose the area for the smallest scramblers, figuring that was my best bet.

But when that magical "Go," was heard, I watched through a Flipcam.

And I stood my ground.

For as long as I could, anyway, when there were eggs under my feet.

Then I scrambled away.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

March 26 - Lisa's Musings (on interns) And Every Day Life

Today, I interviewed the first of what I hope will be several interns I'll mentor this summer.

Yippee ... in a few short months, I'm going to have some help and I can't wait.

But what will be even more fun? Shaping the talents of tomorrow's journalists.

Ya hear that future editors of my interns?

You will be forever in my debt for teaching your newbie reporters how to navigate the murky waters of tomorrow's headlines.

I love teaching and I'd like to think I'm pretty good at getting beginners off on the right foot, whether it be as a journalist or a dog trainer.

Thirty years in the news biz and probably 20 years teaching dog obedience and agility will do that for you.

My mom was a kindergarten teacher before she had me, so perhaps it's in my genes, but as any teacher will tell you, there's nothing better than seeing a student succeed.

These interns have no idea what they're getting into, so once they agree to participate in Lisa's Journalist Boot Camp, they've taken the first step in either pursing journalism as a future career or bailing for something that pays better and has more regular hours.

I'll be able to tell from day one whether they have the fire in their belly to be a good reporter. And if they don't, I'll tell them that, too.

But if they show me they really want to learn the biz and work really, really hard for nothing but college credit, they will get a taste of what it's like to be a "real" reporter.

And they'll figure out for themselves if this is what they want to do when they grow up.

This biz makes you tougher than you ever thought you were.

It's not for the quiet or timid.

Or for anyone who gets their feelings hurt easily.

Good reporters work long hours for not very good pay. In fact, as I told my new intern this morning, you will never get paid for all the hours you work in this business.

I do it because I love it.

And I'm gonna love to have interns.

And they will love me when they're gone.


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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Results of Recent Web Polls

Here are the results from our online poll featured on our Editorial page.

Where do you spend most of your time on the weekends?
At home with family: 67 percent
A mixture of work and home: 24 percent
Out on the town frequenting restaurants and businesses: 9 percent
Out of town with friends or family: 0 percent
*46 votes cast (this poll went online late in the week)

How often do you check Facebook

Once a day or more: 47 percent
I don't have a Facebook account: 36 percent
Once every few weeks or so: 9 percent
Once every few days: 8 percent
*156 votes cast

Is the recession over?

It won't ever end: 44 percent
No, but within a year or so: 36 percent
Too soon to tell: 15 percent
Yes: 5 percent
*125 votes cast

What were your feelings about the Tiger Woods press conference

Tired of it: 57 percent
Predictable: 19 percent
Well done: 13 percent
Disappointing: 11 percent
*116 votes cast

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March 25 - Lisa's Musings (on chess) and Every Day Life

Every once in a while I go out on an assignment about which I have zero knowledge.

Not often, mind you, but there are those times.

Today was one of them.

I headed to Dicken Elementary School to cover a story about Martha Fierro, a Woman GrandMaster chess champion, who was speaking to an after-school chess club.

Fierro is not just a Woman GrandMaster, International Master and many time Woman Champion of Ecuador, she's the queen, king, rook, pawn, knight and all the other pieces on a chess board, best woman player anywhere, I think.

And she's the coach of the Italian Olympic Chess Team.

See, bet you didn't know that Italy had a chess team.

You learned something, too.

So, to say I was a bit out of my knowledge level was putting it nicely.

The six year olds know more about chess than I do.

I've never played a game of chess ... ever.

And when she said that age four was a good time to start, I knew I was really in trouble.

Fortunately, Fierro also had championship level patience and manners, and smiled sweetly when answering my questions.

And I don't think it was just because she's trying to promote chess in Michigan.

She was terrific with the kids.

And every one of them wanted her autograph.

Since she was so nice to me, I returned the favor, and supplied not only the pen, but also the paper for all those personalized autographs.

You can read all about this adventure next week in the A2 Journal.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 24 - Lisa's Musings (on art) and Every Day Life

If you haven't been to the Clay Gallery on Ann Arbor's South Main Street, you're missing out on a very special place that's run by very cool artists.

Yes, it's a gallery, and yes, there are expensive pieces for sale there; but there are tons of affordable, handcrafted, functional clay pieces, too.

So don't let the word "gallery" scare you off.

Despite what I chose for photos, there are some really fun, beautifully crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces that don't need to be hung on a wall or placed behind glass with a do not touch sign.

And, that's not to say that the pieces shown here fall into that category, either.

These colorful, usable, durable pieces of art would make any meal or flower arrangement or cup of tea or coffee special.

There are tiles and tea cups, coffee mugs, plates, bowls and platters.

The Clay Gallery is a co-op run by the artists themselves, so that person behind the sales counter in the center of the space is one of the 20-plus artists who craft and sell their art at this gallery.

In fact, the group is celebrating its 25 anniversary this year.

Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Oh, and tell them I sent you.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23 - Lisa's Musings (on naps) and Every Day Life

Taking an afternoon nap is one of life's best little pleasures.

This opinion comes after indulging in one this afternoon.

Yup, under a warm, fluffy blanket, doors and windows open with lots of fresh spring air circulating through the room.

But don't tell my editor, please, she might take my "star" away.

While she was madly laying out and proofreading Thursday's A2 Journal, Saline Reporter and Milan News Leader, I wrote a couple stories, uploaded a video and took a nap.

It's been a very long time since I added a few extra afternoon zzzz's to my day because I'm usually too busy covering or writing stories.

But after a couple of rough days dealing with my back, I wanted to give it another 24 hours before I headed out and about.

So, after putting the dogs out in their yard to enjoy the midafternoon sun, I came upstairs, and the LaZBoy called to me.

Like a Siren.

And I admit it, I succumbed.

And I'm glad I did.

Because tomorrow, there are morning interviews with clay artists and an AA Board of Education meeting at night.

Thursday is the weekly editorial meeting followed by a late afternoon story where a chess champ will be appearing at one of the AA schools.

Friday, I'll be at two different schools for special reading programs.

Saturday, there's the African Violet show, an Easter Egg Scramble at Vet's Park and a trip to Planet Rock to meet with members of a new 4-H Club.

Sunday, I'll learn about making Ukranian eggs at the Ann Arbor Art Center and talk to student artists who have their work hung inside businesses on Main Street.

Yup, taking a nap today was a good thing; I'm getting tried just thinking about the rest of my week.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22 - Lisa's Musings on (Back Pain - Day II) and Every Day Life

I can almost hear the sizzle.

Of skin under a CVS heat patch that I had a friend slap on my aching back this afternoon.

I babied the stupid injury all day yesterday -- I stretched it, warmed it, heated it, non-aspirined it. Rinse. Repeat.

And woke up this morning thinking I'd healed it.

Oh no.

It was still sleeping early this morning, then slowly geared up, screaming for "something" by mid-morning -- about the time I needed to buckle down and get writing.

I can feel the burn all right.

It must be the "Capsicum Treatment," a topical analgesic for temporary relief from minor muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis, backaches, sprains and strains and bruises, according to the packaging.

I have to rip the thing off at least one hour before a shower or bath and I can't use it immediately after one or the other.

I'm thinking it would be akin to pouring lighter fluid on charcoal.

I'd supposed to stop use and ask a doctor if I get a "rash, itching or excessive skin irritation develops. If the conditions worsen or symptoms persist for more than seven days or if symptoms clean up then occur again within seven days.

The active ingredients are BHT, calcium carbonate, C4-6 olefin/styrene copolymer, glyceryl abietate, isopropyl myristate, polybutene, poly .... you get the idea ... a lot of stuff I've never heard of before that combined are hot, hot, hot.

I'm almost scared to think about what my skin's going to look like when I yank it off.

But for now, I'm just happy it's working.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 21 - Lisa's Musings (on getting older) and Every Day Life

A very odd thing happened this morning that reminded me I was getting old, er, older.

I headed out to the end of the driveway, got the Sunday papers, and came back inside.

I turned to close the front door and WHAM, some muscle under my left shoulder blade (one I didn't even know I had) began to hurt.

As in ouch, ouch, O-U-C-H hurt.

Before I passed out, which is my body's first line of defense (and its favorite way of dealing with intense pain), I melted into the nearby LaZBoy.

Bad move.

Because when the pain finally subsided enough that I'd stopped saying bad words, I couldn't get out of the chair.

I had to sort of tuck-and-roll.

But if you know anything about backs; you know they are interesting parts of the body. All of their parts and pieces are so closely interconnected that when one doesn't work the way it's supposed to, all of them start arguing with each other.

And a battle breaks out.

Which results in some parts making concessions to other parts.

When all of them ganged up on each other it hurt so much that I couldn't lift the pot with the freshly brewed coffee in it.

But when you've dealt with assorted and sundry back pain since taking one too many nosedives off horses as a kid, you have a whole bag of tricks at your disposal.

You head straight to the non-aspirin bottle without passing go or collecting $200; you drink lots of caffeine to speed up the results of gobbling down those pain relievers; then you stand under the hottest shower you can stand for as long as the hot water lasts.

Then you fight through the soreness and use the muscle.

Now I'm not a doctor; I don't play one on TV, but I know my body because I've lived with it for 52-plus years.

A doctor will tell you there's supposed to be a "cold" step in there somewhere to dull the pain; well, not for my body.

Cold is a very, very, very bad thing when it comes to my back.

Now five hours later, I'm just mildly reminded of a periodic dull ache in that muscle under my shoulder.

So my next step is to figure out the cause.

The only thing I've done differently of late is carry a small FlipCam with me and assume a very still stance while attempting to shoot video.

Humm ...

Could it be?

Although I've love to blame the extra few ounces of stuff I'm carrying around with me these days, I'm a realist and I'm getting older.

This kind of stuff just happens.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

March 20 - Lisa's Musings (on Bok Choy and) Every Day Life

First day of spring.

First taste of Kombucha Tea.

First taste of Bok Choy.

If you've never tried Kombucha Tea, it's pretty tasty. I tried two varieties from Unity Vibration Living Kombucha Tea -- blackberry grape and pineapple ginger.

Any guesses which was my favorite?

Trying Bok Choy was Farmer John's idea after I purchased a half share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from Our Family Farm.

He's all in on my pledge to eat more green stuff this year.

So, Bok Choy and I had our first dinner date.

The leafy green stuff was a side dish to the chicken and stuffing I made.

It was stir fried in olive oil -- leaves first, then the stems with some salt and pepper.

And, I doctored it up a little more with some grated Parmesan cheese because I can eat just about anything if it has cheese on it.

I must say I was more fond of the stems than I was the leafy part, but I ate most of it. (And didn't hold my nose.)

Which is pretty good for me since about the only greens I regularly eat is Iceberg lettuce.

But I figure with time all green leafy things will become acquired tastes.

I can't remember for certain, but I doubt that I liked Roquefort cheese the first time I ate it, either.

Today, however, it's one of my favorite cheeses so ... there's hope for my green future.

In fact, I spent quite a bit of time at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market today in my first attempt at not just interviewing vendors and taking photos but also of taking videos.

I want to send a HUGE thank you to Rachel and Tarek Kanaan of Unity Vibration Living Kombucha Tea, Andrew Okla of Cafe Japon, Julie Rabinovitz of Tasty Bakery, Dolores Gracia of Gracia's Greenhouse, and Penny Snow of Snows Sugarbush, who were willing to let me practice my new skill.

Your patience with me -- as a bumbled through shooting video today -- was much appreciated.

And, all this green stuff --it'll become part of the Lisa and Betty Project, which I put on a temporary hold until there is a greater variety of local fruits and veggies from which to choose.

Even though I'm going green this spring, I still bleed Maize and Blue.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

March 19 - Lisa's Musings (on dreaming big) and Every Day Life

Third-grade students at Haisley Elementary were given an opportunity to talk face to face with two U-M football players today.

It's an opportunity that most kids (or adults) aren't afforded, and they can thank their teacher Janet Popper for realizing the impact that student athletes have on young kids.

Like it or not, U of M football players Floyd Simmons, a defensive back (in gray shirt) and Vladimir Emilien (in blue), a safety, have become role models for 23 young minds.

And if today's book reading and personal discussions between the students and the football players is any indication of the character of these players, I was impressed.

Simmons and Emilien answered all the kid's questions and listened to their stories, always offering positive advice.

Then after the event -- both were kind enough to let me videotape their impressions.

I won't give away what they had to say -- you'll have to see for yourself in a day or so, by going to, and clicking on videos at the top of the page.

All in all, it was a very cool experience for both the players and the third graders.

I must admit, however, it left me a little sad.

If my dad were still alive, (he died last June) I know he'd have loved to have tagged along with me today -- as he did on so many stories.

He played for U-M in the '40s and loved to talk to the current players about what it was like to play for U of M way back when.

And, in turn, they seemed to enjoy hearing his stories.

It's a big football fraternity, I'm told, and I hope it continues in heaven.

I wonder if he's discussed the night game that U-M will play against Notre Dame in 2011 with Fritz, Bo and Woody.

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