15 years

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15 years ago we were watching our bank accounts and computers as the threat of welcoming a new millennium threatened to erase our digital footprint. The Manhattan skyline was punctuated by two impossibly tall buildings representing America’s financial dominance. The Gulf of Mexico wasn’t coughing up tar balls from one of the worst ecological disasters in history. I was oanchoring a noon newscast in South Carolina, painting and planting at our starter home, and babying our golden retriever, Holly. I was 30 years old, married, and looking to move up in my career. To say you were a surprise is a lie. We had stopped taking ‘precautions’ a few months before. To say we weren’t ready isn’t true either. I remember my mother saying “You’re never really ready to buy a house or have children, you just do it.” We were making money, we were healthy, we had a home and each other and we were ready to become a family. What we really didn’t expect was how much we were going to love you. How much joy you were going to bring. How many moments of laughter and tears and snuggles and messes we were going to enjoy. And how quickly it would all go by. I miss that baby who would pull up on her fat little legs to pull all of the CD’s out of the cabinet. The girl who would walk around nude in my high heels. The drama queen who dressed as Sleeping Beauty and belted out Disney songs. The line-leader, player one, “I’ll go first” type-A only child love of our life grew up. She was born 15 years ago on a humid southern night before Facebook, before Netflix, before her dad and I had a chance to really know what we were in for. Our lives have never been the same. And for that I am so grateful.

Happy 15th birthday Miss Lucy.

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5 Words

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Writer Nora Ephron (the comedic voice behind “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle”) recently wrote about how while waiting for a table at a restaurant she and her family would describe themselves in 5 words.  She explains three of her attempts below:

“When I was in my twenties, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy.”

It is interesting how we see ourselves differently throughout our lives. It’s not just our jobs that change but our relationships, our politics,  and how we identify most comfortably.  For example, my teenage daughter was reluctant to give me five words, saying, “you pick, mom.” That in itself tells you a lot about her nature. She’s either trusting of my interpretation of her or more likely, she’s lazy and doesn’t want to be part of yet another of her mother’s blog posts. When pushed she ignored my suggestion of ‘cray-cray’ and settled on

Smart, funny, sweet, friend, dog-lover. (Love that she put smart first)

I posed the same question to my my mother with these results:

Mother, wife, efficient, friendly, obsessive. (She insisted I put obsessive last to give you some idea of just how obsessive she is)

Then I looked briefly inward for my five words.

Journalist, neat-freak, calm, witty, bookworm.

The 14 year old turns immediately to self.

 

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The 45 year old to career.

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The 72 year old, to arguably life’s most important role.

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How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

My protector

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While we have made progress in the last 50 years, I would venture a guess that most of the housework, child rearing, and cooking still falls to women. It is our nature to care for our families, whatever that family looks like. We are the nurturers, the detail oriented task masters, the workhorses. Men are, by nature, the providers and protectors. I believe they are wired to be selfish because if their needs aren’t met or they are hurt or killed, then who provides and protects the women and children? Women are conversely wired to put everyone else first. No, these thoughts aren’t groundbreaking. Many years of research and many millions of words have been written about this very topic. In a twist that is more common now, I am the provider for my family. I am also the chief house cleaner, laundry doer, bill payer, dog washer, and errand runner. Hubby grocery shops, cooks, tends to the cars, and takes care of our daughter. And in what I feel is the most important of his roles, he protects us. No, we aren’t faced with marauding tribes or wild animals but rather the stuff of everyday life. A wife who leaves a bad part of town and drives home late at night. A daughter who is kind and trusting to a fault and willing to do anything for anyone. A black dog that takes off down the street at night without her collar. I am not a worrier. I don’t ever think anything bad will happen. I, like our girl, trust everyone’s intentions are good. That’s not to say I can’t feel protective of my child. The only times in life where I felt rage had to do with her being mistreated. But  mostly I just do what I need to do, when I need to do it, and figure I’ll be okay. You would think I would behave differently being in this line of work. The horrible things I see and hear daily. But I have relegated that worry to my protector. I’ll never forget the elaborate “early warning system” he devised in our first apartment so we would hear if someone broke in. It involved weights, an ironing board and a folding door so I’m not sure anything could have gotten through. He was prepared to make a Target run for hiking boots the night I called to say the news director was sending me to Haiti to cover the earthquake. (He also polished off a bottle of wine, sick with worry) In the times he’s come to my newsroom over the years I liken him to a lion on the Serengeti sizing up the other male animals and warning them to back off. It’s the smaller ways he “protects” that reveal his true character though. He packs me a lunch when I’m called in early and sticks a Coke Zero in the freezer so it will super cold like I like when I get home late. He leaves all the Christmas cards we get unopened and on the counter for me because he knows the joy I get from opening them. He goes on walks with me after playing 18 holes in the heat because I want to. He pulls dog hairs from his eyes and mouth without complaint because I like to sleep with the dogs on the bed. It is in all of these ways and a hundred others that he protects me and yes, provides for me, emotionally. I think it’s a decent trade off for washing his underwear every week. :)

 

Sweet summertime

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First week of school is in the books. I just talked to a tired-sounding teenager who thought her first test went “okay” and who has quite a bit of homework for the weekend. After 3 months of rising at the crack of noon, that 6:30 am alarm, was an adjustment for my sophomore, and her nightshift mother, frankly, who rarely falls asleep before 2 am. We don’t say much when we wake. She stares blankly at her phone as I make breakfast and pack her lunch. I utter the first words of the day “sweetie, it’s ready.” We eat on opposite sides of the kitchen table with the comics and front page spread out respectively. The only other communication comes as we push away from the table and hug. “Have a good day, honey.” “Call me tonight, mom, I love you.” I might have held onto that hug just a little longer than normal this week as we got back into our routine and said goodbye to summer. I only have a couple more of those lazy, hot, do-nothing breaks with my girl before she strikes out on her own. We didn’t do as much this summer as in ones past, and that’s okay with me, and her, I believe.

We did find time to celebrate the arrival of my producer, Kara’s, first child, Jackson at a fun baby shower with old friends.

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We took in the Braves/Mariners game at the Ted.

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Enjoyed dining out..

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And in, on our educational placemats.

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There was a trip to Ellijay and Mountaintown Creek where we were dog tired after tubing all day.

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We found time to dye the ends of our hair red.

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Twice.

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There was lounging on our deck…

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And on the sugary sands of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

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With one smart kiddo using the long car ride to finish up her summer reading.

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Goodbye sweet summertime.

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You almost made me forget about this…

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Almost.

 

Voice banking

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During one week in 2010, Bonnie Shaver lost her husband to pancreatic cancer and was herself diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In the 4 years since, Bonnie has gone from traveling the world with the love of her life to traveling slowly from room to room of her small home, her useless arms and hands dangling by her sides. Soon she will not even be able to do that. I visited Bonnie and her caregiver, her sister-in-law Louanne, at her home in Marietta recently. The former IT specialist with a contagious laugh was eager to talk about something affecting all ALS patients. Something she needs to talk about now because ALS will soon rob her of that ability, too. Her cause concerns her voice and how important it is for her, and others like her, to bank their voices, before it’s too late. Using a speech generating device (hers is called a Tobii) Bonnie has already recorded herself saying around 1600 phrases, including the names of her family and cats, her personal hygiene needs, what she’d like to eat, and even that laugh I mentioned. To watch Bonnie work the mouse with her foot, clicking with her big toe, as she enters my name into the machine for fun was a unique experience. It reminded me of how much I take for granted the use of my limbs and my livelihood, my voice. I was also struck by how we are so much more than our bodies. That, as Bonnie’s betrays her, she soldiers on, making sure the essence of who she is, is preserved, not only for her practical use in the final years of her life, but so her family and friends can feel connected and still hear her lovely voice and laugh.
In April, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) opted to not pay for these speech generating devices, which can cost upwards of $10,000, and lease them to ALS patients instead. It also chose to not rent to those people who are admitted to a hospital or into hospice care. A time, you could argue, when a machine in which to communicate your needs and final wishes, would be most needed. Then, next month the CMS will make machines like the Tobii, speech generating only. This troubles Bonnie and others because these devices, which can also be operating with eye gaze when you’ve lost all use of your limbs, connects them to email, Facebook, Skype, the phone. It is their sole means of communication. The ALS Association actively opposes these changes, as you might imagine, and has filed formal complaints. It is also working to propose legislation to change what is essentially a regulatory issue, not a legal one. Someone, somewhere, probably thought this would be a good way to save money without realizing the impact it will have on those with ALS.
Bonnie is grandfathered in and can keep her machine. One she continues to update, including on the day of my visit when I asked if she’d included any sentimental sayings. I could hear her typing away with her foot then her voice as she recorded the words “I love you.”
There are some things you just don’t want said in a computer voice.

Visit http://www.alsga.org for more information. Look for my story Monday, Aug. 11 at 11:00 pm and again Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 4:00 pm.

Compromise

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“I don’t know if I’m going to want quesadillas for lunch on Thursday, August 14th.”

This sentence fell from the lips of photographer tonight. He was referring to a quite detailed menu the wife of a friend had put together for an upcoming trip to Hilton Head. In an effort to save money on eating out, the two couples had agreed to buy groceries and cook in the condo during their stay. Makes sense. What followed in an email blast however seems to move beyond sensible and run headlong into obsessive. The wife had planned out three meals a day for four adults and various children for 7 days. There’s planning. And then there’s PLANNING. The photog also shared how during a birthday party for this woman’s husband, she, without fail, snatched every one of his gifts from his hands after he’d opened them, and announced what she was going to do with them. “This antique surfboard will go in the boys’ room.” “This gift card we’ll use for new blinds.” And on and on. While this was all second hand, I have witnessed this controlling behavior myself. The woman who dictates how a man will spend his free time. The woman who criticizes what her husband orders to eat. The woman who belittles her husband or even more awkward, picks a fight with him in front of you so you can now be privvy to their problems. This has become such a cliche that now every ad seems to feature the nagging wife and the idiot husband, played for a laugh. I’m confused. How do these relationships work exactly? Do these women feel so out of control they must then control everything around them? Do these men like being told what to do? Are both parties just tired of pushing back and find it’s easier to comply? I simply don’t understand. When you decide to marry and join your life with someone, don’t you respect them and their wants and needs just as much as your own, if not more so? Yes, I remember taking a vow that was something to the effect of “forsaking all others.” Ok, now for a moment of brutal honesty. I am a control freak myself. No, no, it’s true. I keep a fastidious house and desk at work. My closet is color coded. My propensity to toss items that are still in use are a punchline in my house. I take joy in organizing and cleaning. But what I don’t do is force this onto my husband. His hobbies, his things, his meals, his free time – are his. He is a grown man who knows where things are and go, how to spend his own money, how to dress and feed himself. It’s quite something to behold! I love this man enough to leave him the hell alone sometimes. When we chose each other, we chose a partner, an equal. We make the big decisions together and leave the small ones to however we’re feeling right then. Does he want to strangle me with the vacuum cord as I’m cleaning around him? Probably. Do I cringe when he drops more money on an online game? Sure. But there were other vows said all those years ago about better and worse, rich and poor, in good times and in bad… ring any bells? We are in this together, he and I. And I’ve found by respecting the man I married and giving him space to be himself that he becomes the man I want and need.

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“It’s not always rainbows and butterflies. It’s compromise that moves us along. My heart is full and my door’s always open. You come anytime you want.” -Maroon 5

The Internship

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It is summer and that means there are some fresh faces in our newsroom. These are the intern months. College students willing to slog through the Atlanta heat with our reporters just to get some “experience” in a career that I hate to tell them will likely be obsolete in its current form within 15 years. They are impossibly young and eager and earnest. I was once an intern myself. Rewind to 1992 and the NBC affiliate in Yakima, Washington. I had moved to this “armpit” of the state because my boyfriend had his first job there and it was time I put my degree to work. While I love children and grew up in daycare centers because my mother ran one for years, my job as chief diaper changer in the baby room at a center in a posh suburb of Seattle wasn’t going to get me on TV. I knew I needed some reporting experience to go with my Edward R. Murrow College of Communication seal of approval. You know how people have those stories as they begin their careers of someone in a position of authority telling them they will never make it or they are terrible or to give it up? I had the opposite thing happen. It, however, produced the same result. My first stop on the “I have to get a job interview tour of ’92” was a small radio station. I had done radio reporting in college for both the university station KWSU and NPR. My voice had been used for commercials and announcements as well so I felt confident I might land an entry level job there. Five minutes into the interview and the news director said ‘you belong on television.’ He suggested my next stops should be the three television affiliates in town. Bouyed by his encouraging words I jumped over the radio portion of my search and headed to the NBC station, KNDO. It was and probabaly most likely still is, a dump. 22 years ago it was the last place station in the market, which by the way was market 123 out of 200-something at the time. Time and the death of brain cells on my part has erased the particulars of how I convinced them to sign me up as an intern but I can recall vividly how I worked my butt off for three months to convince them to hire me. I logged tape. I cleaned the newsroom and the news cars. I ran errands. Yes, I went out with reporters. All but one of which were around my age. I watched them, filing away tips to use and ones to avoid. I re-voiced their work. I wrote my own. I carried gear and learn to shoot and edit and assign stories and make beat calls and type copy and run teleprompter and navigate newsroom politics. There was no salary, no benefits, no perks. I worked every shift, answered every breaking news call, sat through countless stuffy council meetings, rifled through piles of dusty police files for information, and researched stories for the anchor. I learned. EVERYTHING. Nothing prepared me more for my career than those crappy few months. To this day I use stuff I learned all those years ago. I rely on instincts I honed as a young reporter. I always keep her close to remind me why I chose this business and I why I continue to choose it every contract cycle. To the interns here whose time with us I would guess is winding down I would offer this advice:

Open your eyes and ears and shut your mouth.
Don’t worry about being on TV. Most of the work happens when the cameras are off.
Learn to do everything. You don’t have to master it all just understand and appreciate how ‘the sausage is made.’
Seek out the person in the newsroom whose job you want and interview them.
Take note of things you want to emulate and things you don’t.
Be polite and respectful of everyone. This is a small business. You will likely work with or for these people in the future.
Practice. Take newscast scripts home and read them aloud into a mirror. Take an article in the newspaper and write a TV news story out of it. Fine tune your articulation, your interviewing skills, your writing pace.
Be curious. Read and watch news.
Know what’s going on in the world.
And lastly, stay open to suggestion, criticism, compliments, guidance.

You may face an employer one day who says “you belong on television.”

Oh, by the way, KNDO did hire me as a morning anchor/reporter at the end of said internship. The workload didn’t subside, the paltry paycheck left me working nights and weekends at KFC, and my stepdad gave me a gun because the town was so crime-ridden. Don’t let anyone tell you TV isn’t glamorous.

StephanieFisherWYFFTV