Today is a very special day. No, it isn't a national day for celebrating some random food item — Feb. 23 is my work anniversary.

Today is the start of my fifth year with The Newton Kansan, and that milestone is one I don't want to pass by without reflecting on how much working here — and living in Newton — has impacted my life.

Four years ago, I could have counted on one hand the number of people I knew in Harvey County. Over time, I have had the privilege of meeting, talking to and becoming friends with hundreds of individuals from Burrton to Peabody and everywhere in between. Veterans, historians, artists, first responders, pastors and community leaders have shared their stories with me, and I am the richer for it.

Four years ago, I'd never written a newspaper article in my life. I couldn't have told you the first thing about AP style. My writing experience consisted of a few dozen college papers and a handful of plays.

Journalism intrigued me, though — thanks in no small part due to the passionate, diligent work I saw coming out of The Kansan's newsroom. Chad Frey noted my interest and gave me the chance to learn a myriad of skills; a perfect blend of the challenge, connection and creativity I was looking for in a career.

Four years ago, I was filled with anxiety whenever I had to call someone out of the blue. With each phone call required as part of this job, it has become easier to pick up the phone and talk with a person I've never met face to face. Granted, some topics are less anxiety-inducing than others. Asking for a comment about their hobby is one thing; interviewing someone about their child's battle with cancer is another.

Four years ago, I knew next to nothing about digital cameras and photography. After handling a camera in all sorts of conditions, I have much more experience and am no longer shy about telling ... er ... asking directors to turn on the stage lights. While I'm not yet an old pro, I think the term "new pro" could apply. Or maybe "old beginner" — I am keenly aware of how much I still have to learn.

Four years ago, I could barely find my way around the major streets in Newton. Now, I rarely use my GPS no matter where I'm heading in Harvey County. I do rely heavily on those who live in rural areas to steer me around any roads that are impassable due to mud. I don't care how many miles out of the way it takes me, I will follow their directions to the letter.

Four years ago, I was unaware of how city and county governments worked, what local services were available for seniors and how vital economic development is to a town. Being a reporter gave me the opportunity to become informed about a very broad spectrum of issues — from food deserts to human trafficking. I've also learned on how concrete statuary is made, how lawnmowers are built and how dousing works.

Being a reporter involves long hours slaving over a hot computer, but it also brings plenty of chances to step away from a desk to try new things. Burned into my memory are moments like the time I stepped down into the basement of a taxidermist, hit 130 mph while riding with a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper and clung to the railing of a scissor lift raised 30 feet in the air, tentatively wielding a paintbrush to slap a small splash of blue on the sunflower mural behind 523 N. Main St.

A reporter's life is not an easy one, but I can say with certainty this job is the best I've ever had. I will treasure the memories I've made and look forward to those yet to come.

(Editor's note: Feb. 23 is National Banana Bread Day, National Toast Day and National Dog Biscuit Day.)