Monday, December 15, 2008

I am my daughter's father.

That's me on the right, circa 1978. Allison's shot is from a month or two back.

Take that, mailman!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good news and (kinda) bad news.

Bad news first. If you haven't heard, my scrappy little VW Golf was rear-ended at high speed the other day, with me inside. I was waiting for a turn arrow on Lakeshore Drive when a guy clipped my rear-right corner and ripped the wheel off the axle.

It's only "kinda bad news" because of three things. 1. I wasn't hurt, other than a little soreness for a few days. 2. Neither Karen nor the baby was in the car. 3. I wanted a new car anyway.

Insurance has promptly totaled the VW and cut me a check for almost exactly what I bought the car for a few years back. (Well, it'll be equal once I get my $1,000 deductible back in a few months.) Now I get to go car shopping. Thinking a larger hatchback or a smaller SUV like Karen's Honda CRV. Let me know if you hear about anything.

The good news is, I've got a new job. A month or so back, my boss and I started getting serious about planning a full-time social media gig for me, and now it's culminated in the creation of our first-ever Social Media Strategist.

I'll still be doing quite a bit of writing, but I'll also be planning ways for the agency and our clients to better use emerging technologies and trends like mobile applications, social networking, micro-blogging and so on. To avoid boring most of you, I'll leave that stuff to my other blog.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New day care, new blog, new big-ass shed.

With my usual apologies for a dearth of updates here, I wanted to fill you guys in on a few things that have been going on around the Griner household:

1. Allison finally got into a great day care. She's now in the new infant room at a local Catholic church, which we were amazingly impressed with when we toured it several months back.

After our previous run-ins with bad day care, it's nice to have a place that's so attentive to her. But we do think it's strange that they've called us twice with concerns about her health: once because she was sleeping too much, and once because she wasn't peeing. I'm waiting for the panicked call where they tell us her poop smells entirely too good.

2. As you might know, I've started a new blog for work. It's dedicated to all things social media (blogs, social networks, messaging, etc.). I don't know if you'll enjoy it as a normal human who's not into marketing or the evolving Web, but I'm trying to write it in a conversational tone anyway. And every Friday I feature a "Cool Tool of the Week" that you might actually find useful.

3. We're almost done with the large garden shed in our back yard. I can't imagine how long it would have taken without the intense help of several friends and, most notably, my wonderful parents. They all even came over and got much of the work done while we were out of town visiting Karen's family. Thanks again to everyone who pitched in; the shed's going to make a big difference in our storage situation.

Here's a shot of the shed as it is now:

You can see a whole gallery of the construction on our Flickr page.

As I said, we're "almost done." Really the only major tasks left are getting rid of the extra construction materials and painting the exterior (once the Alabama summer humidity dies down a bit).

Right now we're thinking the shed will be a pale yellow. But if you want to stump for chartreuse or something, now's your chance.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Remembering the man who created my career.

On the last days of my sophomore year at Missouri, the job situation was bleak. As a freshman, I had defied expectations and landed a fantastic yet grueling internship at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Unfortunately, this left me cocky in my internship hunt for the next summer. I only applied at larger daily newspapers, none of which seemed to be biting. Time was running out.

So I called New Directions for News, a think tank based at the Missouri School of Journalism. The man who answered was Rich Somerville, who invited me to come by "and see if we like each other." Instead of talking about my anemic resume or my qualifications to be a research assistant, we simply chatted about where journalism was headed. I was struck that such a veteran of the industry was treating a long-haired 19-year-old as a peer and truly listening to what I had to say.

It was the first of countless conversations I had with Rich, who hired me on the spot and soon became not only my summer employer but also my professional mentor and close friend. We would work together at four very different places over the next decade, and each time, Rich would be a constant source of inspiration and guidance.

Rich died of a heart attack a week ago at his home in Eureka, Calif. He was only 61.

I've always had a hard time explaining Rich's role in my life, because it surely must have been a rare relationship. In college, I lacked the initiative or obsequiousness to cultivate a professor as a mentor. In fact, I doubt more than one or two professors would even remember me by name. But Rich was always up for getting a cup of coffee and talking about the industry's future, along with more practical issues like my quest for employment.

Senior year, I was managing editor of The Maneater student paper when we decided to depose our longtime faculty adviser. I convinced Rich to step in, and he quickly proved a perfect example of what an adviser for the independent newspaper could be -- hands-off, but motivational and accessible.

Finishing his doctoral work (but, sadly, never his dissertation), Rich moved on after that year. So did I, becoming a reporter at The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. Three years later, as I was considering my next career move, Rich persuaded me to move all the way to Northern California and become city editor at The Union newspaper, where he was editor.

What followed were several rewarding, often-challenging years of working with Rich to grow readership at an established community paper. While innovative and passionate, Rich would be the first to admit he had his weak spots. His emotional connection to the work was known to spark a few outbursts and create friction with some longtime staffers. But those of us who stuck with Rich learned a great deal about where journalism was headed -- and what obstacles might keep the newspaper industry from getting there.

After a few more years, Rich left the paper. He was frustrated with the industry but also hopeful, so he started a newspaper consulting firm called Media Foresight Associates. For a while, Rich was the sole employee and had good success with his first round of clients. In fact, the consulting proved so fruitful, he hired me to join the firm in late 2005. I had moved back to Alabama and was trying to decide on my next career move.

Consulting alongside Rich was enjoyable and rewarding, mainly because his stress level was so much lower than during his years in newspapers. But before I could work with him for very long, I was hired to my current job as a copywriter. (I feared calling Rich to tell him I was going into advertising. His response, one of my favorite Rich moments, was: "At least it's not PR.")

Soon after, Rich was convinced by media mogul Dean Singleton to take the helm of the Times-Standard newspaper in Eureka, Calif. A bit hesitant to give up the relative ease of his consulting gig, Rich was finally won over by his own competitive spirit and love for community journalism. He had simply missed it too much to say no.

We kept up, of course, exchanging e-mails and having occasional phone conversations about his progress. A few weeks ago, we even talked by e-mail about his hopes of hiring a photographer friend of mine. So it was obviously a sudden blow to find out about his death on Monday of last week. It's painful on levels that I think will only be shown over time, as I find myself wishing I could call him to ask for advice or gossip about media infighting.

Working with Rich's brother, I'm excited to say that we've created The Richard Somerville Memorial Scholarship at the Missouri School of Journalism. We've set a daunting goal -- a $25,000 minimum is required to make it an endowed scholarship -- but even that ambitious of a task is less than I owe Rich for his time, his support and his friendship. The world is a poorer place without Rich in it, and although he boosted my confidence and skills to new levels, his death still leaves me with a void that no one else could ever fill.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Is that a bloodstain on her bib?" "No, it's just feces." "Oh OK...wait what?" (aka, How Allison got pulled from day care)

For months now, I've been tremendously unhappy with our day care. We liked it when we toured back in the pregnancy days, but things were bad by the time we started dropping the girl off.

As of this week, we're done with the place. (There was much debate among my Internet-savvy friends about whether I should name the day care here...for the moment, I favor not doing it in hopes they'll improve. But I will say it's near the intersection of Alford Avenue and Interstate 65.)

Anyway, back to the story:

In recent weeks, Karen kept saying that things were great when she picked the baby up each afternoon. But when I was dropping her off in the mornings, it was like playing a game of "Find the Violation."

A few highlights, so that you don't think I'm being persnickety:

1. At first, despite asking, we got no report cards on when she was eating, napping, pooping, etc. Then, after multiple requests, we started getting incomplete cards. (She ate once today! And never got changed, apparently! Unlikely.) Eventually, after much grousing, they started giving us decent reports.

2. At least three times, I found one teacher in a room with 8 or more babies. Once as many as 10. The state doesn't allow you to have more than 5 per teacher. I once insisted on staying in the room until someone else showed. It wasn't long, but that was an awkward minute or two. One time, they even left Karen BY HERSELF with the babies. Hoo dog. This whole thing was merely laziness and poor organization...there was always plenty of staff to oversee the kids.

3. They keep no record of giving her medicine, like gas drops. Once, they plain forgot to give her Tylenol when she had a fever from vaccinations. That's really bad. They got defensive with Karen, blamed her for not telling them, then eventually admitted that they had just forgotten.

4. One morning, the state inspector was walking up to the door while I was there. What ensued was no less than a full-on freakout. Staff screaming, panicking, running around in terror, making me fill out forms I had already filled out, admitting they didn't know where to keep the forms, etc. But they apparently passed the inspection OK. The place was generally clean. I'll give them that.

There were other small things, like the fact that I've never seen anyone smile in that entire building, but I'll skip to Monday's story.

Karen went home sick, so I went to pick up Allison for the first time ever. It seemed fine; two teachers were watching two babies, Ally was happy, etc.

But then the teacher went to change her diaper one last time, and I noticed that there was a dark red stain on her bib and on her outfit. This was especially freaky because Ally doesn't eat anything but formula yet.

I asked if it was blood, and the teacher said, "No, she had a really big bowel movement today. It was everywhere."

It took a while for my brain to process this. Not blood: good. But wait, that means there was feces next to my kid's chin for a few hours? And that was cool?

To be honest, I didn't know what to do, so I just took her home and told Karen. We both agreed it was preposterous and called the assistant director. (We had never seen the director on site.) The woman got defensive, kept telling me it couldn't have been poop. She also kept calling Allison "he," which didn't go over well with Karen.

Finally, they called back and said that someone had "spilled sauce" on her, and they had forgotten. I'll admit that's better than feces or blood, but why was someone pouring sauce over my baby? Were they wheeling her around in a hot dog cart?

They gave us no apology and no real reason to ever bring the baby back, so we quickly called another nearby day care and snagged a spot for the next day. It's not great...but tremendously better in terms of people skills.

I had a long talk with the director on Tuesday, and it's mainly because of her profuse apologies and promises to "address every concern" that I didn't name them here. She's also supposedly refunding out payment for this week.

This is already a rambling post, but let me finish with a few tips for those who might be looking for a day care someday:

1. Pay more attention to the people than the facility. Both are important, but we made the key error of picking the more-organized place with the crappier staff.

2. Face the fact that affordability has its price. The truly good day cares seemed outside our price range, so we settled for one that was "meh" at best. Since then, we've just focused hard on juggling the budget to meet the reality that we're going to have to shell out big bucks for a place that will actually treat our kid the way we would.

3. Get on a waiting list early.
I know everyone says this, and a long waiting list does not a great day care make. But if the place doesn't have any waiting list, there's very likely a reason.

I laugh about a lot of this stuff now, but the truth is that this situation has been a massive, almost crushing source of stress for me. Looking back at this list of warning signs, I keep thinking I should have yanked her earlier. But all I can do now is hope that I learned an important lesson with little more harm than a vaguely blood-looking sauce stain.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Uncertain about your career path? Maybe that's a good thing.

I have a lot to write about on here as soon as I eke out a few minutes. For now, just enjoy this nice little video, which captures something I've been grappling with ever since switching careers.

Sometimes I worry that I don't have a career path in mind, a certain set of promotions I'd like to aim for. I like writing. Hell, I love it. I feel like my current job has been more than fun; I think it's opened my mind to a whole new range of ways I can use writing personally and professionally.

Who'd have thought you'd get that from writing bank fliers and tourism ads?

Anyway, more baby news and other pontificating coming soon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A word that exists solely to be a word that doesn't exist.

Few updates lately, I know. Work, parenthood and a back-straining stint of yardwork have been keeping me pretty busy.

But I felt I needed to make time to post about this:

One of my recent forays into the wilds of Wikipedia recently unearthed a gem of a word.


The ho-hum definition is "the willful avoidance of one's official responsibilities."

But according to Wikipedia, this word "is a fictitious entry in the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD), which was designed and included to protect copyright of the publication."

That's right. A fake word, made up solely to prevent copycat references from swiping all the definitions off the New Oxford's CD-ROM.

And it worked. reportedly fell for the trap and included the word before being outed.

This reminded me of my family's decades-long argument over whether Trivial Pursuit includes a few fake answers for the same reason. (Mom cited this just about every time she was wrong.)

But lo, it turns out we've had it backward. Trivial Pursuit actually got busted for stealing intentionally incorrect answers from other sources.

I would hope that the Trivial Pursuit researchers behind those gaffes were promptly fired for blatant esquivalience.