Monday, December 29, 2008

My Cyber Absence

It has probably been a few years since I have gone this long without using the computer. You should all try it. It sort of felt like 1995 to me. Although I can access the Internet from my phone, respond to e-mails, change my facebook status, etc., I decided at some point before the weekend to forgo the computer and e-mail thing altogether. I was wanting to use it on Friday, but while sharing my computer, and not getting a chance to use it, I decided on Saturday to "become celibate" until Monday morning. So, I hadn't been on since Christmas Eve.

This season kept me busy doing random activities. I saw the Christmas lights at Olin-Turner Park on Christmas Eve, watched "A Christmas Story," for the 100th time, did some outdoor running, of course, and hiked with the dog. I was introduced to this neat shop, down the street from the dog park, Paoli Local Foods: The owners could not have been friendlier, and everything is organic, the produce grown from down the street. They offered us free, organic coffee and cookies. I had the most delicious spinach I have ever had - no exaggeration. You could eat it right out of the bag.

Christmas morning was celebrated with wine and toast - the most festive breakfast ever. By dinner time, and no Christmas dinner plans, the spinach was put to use, sauteed over some pasta, along with garlic, fresh Parmesan, onions and olive oil. While this meal was construed up and plated in about twenty minutes, I mentioned that everything on top of the pasta was local, fresh, and luscious. Another reason why you should all be supporting local farms, people! The quality of the food makes any meal so much more enjoyable.

May I add that while dining at my sister and brother-in-law's house, a few nights before Christmas, we realized that between what I brought and she made, our entire meal was from the farmer's market.

Besides cooking, running, and hiking, going for winter walks around the capital square, constantly witnessing tourists photograph the beautiful architecture of our capital building, I saw a very interesting documentary called "Surfwise." This is about a family who had nine children, lived in an RV, started a surfing camp, lived a very nontraditional life, always on the road. No schooling. Smart kids. Very interesting. Rent it.

I avoided the computer to plow through a book I wanted to finish for book club this evening. I chose the book this month: "Unaccustomed Earth," Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book of short stories. While avoiding the 'net, I actually read two books. The first one, a trashy novel that was turned into a movie. A real spooky page turner, "Into the Cut." If you want a junky, scary, sexy, fast read, this is for you. If you haven't read Lahiri's other two works, I highly recommend them, as well as her new book.

This topic brings me to the uselessness I have found for the tube. While going several months without television at all, I decided to order cable about six weeks ago. I cannot tell you how little I use it. I canceled it today.

I do think that television watching is a "class thing." I do not know many wealthy intellects who have a tv in their bedroom. I got so much done while playing computer hooky, that I certainly didn't feel the need for any garbage on television.

I am just out there. Living life. Enjoying the outdoors. Doing a little reading. Spending time with family. Yet, feeling like I need to contribute to society a little more. I am looking into a volunteering job, like I had in Cleveland....

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Really Do Have a Normal Family, Afterall

I know that this is a dreaded time of year for many people. Walking with someone the day before Thanksgiving, I asked the cliched question, "What are you thankful for?" The question was turned around, and I told him that I was thankful for so many things: Supportive family. My health and well-being. My new life in Madison. My loving dog. My happiness. I went on to say that Thanksgiving is not what it should be. When we have a family gathering, are we really celebrating the Indians and the Pilgrims coming together for a feast? Most people aren't.

Thanksgiving morning was very sad for me. For the first time ever, I decided not to go to Cleveland for our traditional holiday meal. All of my friends left town. None of them have family in Madison. I went for a long run outside, and felt 100% better. I was able to spend my Thanksgiving with my family who does live in Madison, and we had a small, yet lovely dinner. It was really nice.

Now, we are onto the joyous season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or what have you. When moving to Madison, for some reason, I thought that I wouldn't feel the comfort of having family, but I feel like we have created our own little "closeness" - my aunt and uncle, their two kids, my sister, brother-in-law, and my nephew.

My sister and I recently pointed out that for whatever reason, our ex boyfriends and old friends grow attached to Mom and Dad. They LOVE our family. Now, everyone thinks they have a dysfunctional family. I know a ton of people who are dreading Christmas with their families. And it was brought to my attention that even though our family has had, at one time, all of the usual suspects: alcoholics, affairs, depression, near death experiences, drug problems, arrests, etc., whose family hasn't?

Our little family in town had an intimate dinner the other night. My guest for the evening told me that their family gatherings are chaotic and never have that warm "vibe" that my guest felt. My guest went on to say how nice everyone was. Time, and time again, I have had people tell me that our family is so welcoming, the conversation is friendly and at times, I think, quite interesting. (Not always, but sometimes....)

Now, I have had holiday meals at other people's homes, and I have to agree with my guest. Reflecting on it, I have found that the table conversation can be superficial and shallow, and, many times, I have had dinners where the host/hostess is extremely stand-offish, and has no interest in talking to me, and I like to talk.

Every family has issues. And while you may be celebrating Christmas on Thursday, you probably won't be thinking about the birth of Christ, but maybe the stress of getting together with your dysfunctional family. But, this guest of mine made me realize that I do have a pretty normal family, after all. No drama here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yes, Madison is Freezing....

I thought there was some irony when someone in Cleveland, Ohio asked me why I was moving to Madison, Wisconsin because Wisconsin has "bad winters." I said to them, "Why do you live in Cleveland, Ohio? Cleveland has bad winters, too. Did you know that? How will it be any different?" One reason I moved to Madison is because of the lifestyle here.

So, I saw on the weather website that this weekend was going to be in the zeros at times. And the funny thing is that I spent as much time outside as I would have, had it been a spring day - which means a lot.

As a runner, I do a lot of indoor, treadmill running, in the winter. There are two reasons for this. Mainly, because the footing is bad enough that it is easy to slip and fall. The other reason is because my right knee gets much more irritated in the cold weather. In Madison, running indoors is a big "no no." It really isn't the same. There is something artificial and very stagnant about running on a machine, even though I do get a very good workout.

Saturday morning, I woke up, and walked my dog around the block. Her usual morning walk. The snow was beautiful and serene. I knew I was walking to the indoor farmer's market in an hour or so, and I was really looking forward to the short walk. The thought of running on a treadmill was killing me, so I decided to bite the bullet and run in the light snowfall, literally in between two snowstorms - a 10.5 inch dumping that had just fallen, and pre-the evening to the next day snowfall.

After walking to the indoor market, and grabbing a bite off the square, I got to check out yet another of many parks in Madison: Picnic Point. This peninsula is great for hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and birding. While I was there, the next snowstorm started brewing. I was told it was a whiteout, which I was unaware of, when you don't know what the scenery usually is. I loved this park. Besides it being another tranquil and relaxing park for me to frequent, it is in the city of Madison, and is probably two miles from my house. An owl propped on the top of a tree was spotted by my fellow hiking pal.

Yesterday morning, the plan was to go back to Picnic Point. Knowing it was going to be rather freezing, I happened to notice that with the windchill, the temperature was going to feel like negative twenty-seven. Being used to outdoor winter sports, I bundled up and took Scouter there. After about an hour, I was still completely comfortable, and I had a tired dog.

Yesterday was ridiculously cold. I am not going to lie. With the winds, at times, it felt slightly painful. There is something about the winter that to me, is peaceful and calming. It also makes me appreciate the changing of the seasons.

Might I add that there were plenty of other Madison locals taking advantage of the beautiful winter weather, which is the lifestyle I was desiring. If you make fun out of what nature gives you, you can enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Helicopter Parents

In the past few years, "helicopter parent" has become quite a familiar term. I have witnessed many parents who are literally their teenager's alarm clock, putting breakfast on the table, writing their papers for them, telling them where they have to be and how to get there.

Wikepedia defines a helicopter parents as "A parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. These parents rush to prevent any harm or failure from befalling them and will not let them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children's wishes."

Helicopter parents are allegedly the parents of Generation Y, although some experts may argue that generations before were slowly evolving into what they are today.

Does this sound normal or healthy to you? We can expand on this definition by stating that these parents hover over their children, regardless of where they are. It amazes me how much some parents know about their children's business. How about letting the kids learn on their own? They need to learn how to navigate through their own problems, and, frankly, I think some of the children probably have better judgement than their parents.

Although my parents were extremely involved in our lives, there came a time when my sisters and I didn't need them hovering over us. We certainly didn't report in to them every day. As an adult, I would say I may talk to them once a week, but if I don't, nobody worries. We are close, but they don't know everything about me (unless they read this, than they know more than I would normally tell them.) I would say we have healthy relationships.

What is with these heli-rents? (I just made that up). I have witnessed a helicopter parent up close and personal. I thought it was totally weird. And unhealthy. And probably contributes to Brain Cancer from all the cell phone calls. (joke) I don't need to talk to my parents when I have a problem - that's what friends are for. I don't want to ask them advice on how to handle the most recent fight I had with my boyfriend. I'm 28!

The strangest helicopter parent situation I have ever seen was a seventy something year old parent with a forty something adult child. The phone calls and the constantly remaining in contact was very bizarre to me. I had never seen anything like it.

I decided to write about this topic because I was with three girlfriends last night - one who is a teacher. She was telling us about a situation she had with some parents who behaved badly. They were too involved with their kid's situation, for one. I said "That's something you have to put up with these days. These Helicopter parents are way too into their children's business. It's not right." Here we were, four women, who I spend a lot of time with. We just surpassed Gen Y (arguably). I am pretty sure that while we have mentioned that our parents exist, nobody has ever had to take a call from them while we were together. None of us have ever had to call them, either.

Look, I know my parents can probably give me some excellent advice. They are worldly, sophisticated people. Both of them. I am proud of how progressive they are, compared to most parents I knew growing up. But to me, there is something unhealthy about relying on them too much. Even when we were in the same town, I probably only saw them a few times a month. That, to me, is healthy.

I think it was in the "Times" the other day - an article about parents going to interviews with their kids? What is that all about?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How to Self-Promote

I have mentioned in a previous post how quickly I made it onto the news and on Madison's Magnet website, a networking group for young professionals, after only living in Madison for a few weeks.

In Cleveland, I was often used for different advertisements, brochures, and media related materials. Part of this was because if a public relations person asked me if I would do it, I was never afraid of the camera, and some people are. I became pretty comfortable, and if you are as outgoing as I am, and want to work your way up any corporate ladder, it is important to self promote. I now have a huge folder full of different publications I have been in in the past four or five years, so it is no surprise that I was in the media in Madison so quickly.

This blog has become more than a hobby for me. I promote this often, and it has now been on the homepage of my favorite website,, twice, and has introduced me to some powerful people in Madison.

Last Tuesday, I had my job search support group. I was informed before the group meeting that "Wisconsin State Journal" was doing a story on unemployed people in Madison, and that a photographer was going to be coming to take photos. Monday night, we had a bad snow storm. Tuesday morning, it was still snowing, and a lot of people couldn't drive into work. I was determined to get to that group because I knew if the photographer did show up, I was going to get into the the "Wisconsin State Journal," and here it is:

I just knew this was another opportunity for me to get my name out there. I hiked through the snow storm (by foot), in a business suit, while most people worked from home and stayed indoors. You wouldn't know by looking at my photo that I walked about six blocks in a snow storm, but I was prepared for it.

If you are looking to put yourself "out there," the main thing to remember is you must know that you will get the publicity you are looking for. If you see any journalist questioning or photographing the public, don't be shy. They like people to volunteer, as a lot of times, you are helping them, and they appreciate it. Always look confident, but not overly arrogant. Be sure of yourself, and what you are saying, if they are quoting or paraphrasing you.

I also encourage you to use all forms of social media, if you are hoping to gain popularity. Blog, Twitter, facebook, and even texting helps.

You can't lose by networking. Try to attend as many different networking events as you can. You get to know people, and they get to know you. There is almost always a photographer there. Make sure your photo gets taken, and typically, those photos do get up on a website, or maybe even make it to a local newspaper. You can link the photo to your facebook page, or your blog, or even send a mass e-mail to friends and family.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Photographic Journey through Madison

I was contacted by Turner Publishing to review the book, "Historic Photos of Madison," a photographic story of how this town has grown through two centuries, text and captions by Donald J. Johnson.

Visiting as a child, my family always did several things: strolled up and down State Street, a pedestrian walkway, lined with stores and restaurants, and we also admired the square, circling (or should I saw "Squaring") the Capitol.

There are a lot of rich photos of the square, Capitol, and State Street, among many other scenes. If you are familiar with the city, and you don't get disoriented on the square, then it is fun to try to place what part of the square certain structures were. Just this past Saturday, I was at the Inn on the Park, at the corner of South Carroll and West Main. Looking at this book, it's funny to see an old building, built in 1871, which was also a first-class hotel, in it's place. Although the square does look pretty similar, the storefronts are gone.

I was walking around the square the other day, when I pointed out to my friend that it's weird to see a Starbucks and a Walgreens right there. It doesn't fit, socially, or historically. I learned from the pictures, though, that there was comparable retail. You can see a Park Hotel Coffee Shop right about where today's Aveda Hair Salon is located.

Who knew that the first Capitol building wasn't even in Madison? When you picture the layout of down town, that's the first thing you think of, mainly the dome. The current structure (which is also beautiful, may I add), is the third Capitol in Madison. State officials wanted our building to replicate the U.S. Capitol (which it does). Because of this, they needed a much larger dome than was planned, and the original architect who was selected for his design was rejected, and committed suicide. The photo of this well known building without it's dome makes it look incredibly different. The design adds so much character to our politically active and thriving city.

As a runner, I have run through Olin-Turville Parl. In 1881, Olin-Turville Park was utilized for a summer series of concerts and lectures, training Sunday School educators, which continued for almost thirty years. The city now owns this park, and the only thing that probably resembles how it looked in the book, is the barn, that currently remains a popular shelter for picnics and gatherings.

Watching how the city evolved into where it is in 2008 is certainly interesting, especially for someone who lives in the heart of the city. From these photos, I could see what was around over fifty years ago and beyond, such as the Majestic, where I went on election day, the Orpheum, (where my sister and brother-in-law had their wedding reception), and Grace Episcopal Church, the oldest building on the square.

If you are a history buff, or are interested in learning about this city, I encourage you to read this book. I showed it to a friend of mine who loves to read, and is always curious about historical details, and they have been pointing out "fun facts" about Madison that they learned from reading it, every time we go by something that is documented.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Theory on a Successful Marriage

While diligently working away, looking for a job today, after returning from my job search support group, my dog let me know that she wanted to go outside. Tuesdays, I don't always go to the dog park, so I took her for a little walk around the capitol. Whenever I walk, I listen to my music, and I think about what I am going to write about. I think it's time I share my theory on how to have a successful marriage. (This - coming from someone who has never been married)..... I have had this theory for ten years.

Something I noticed when I was about eighteen, was that people I knew who were divorced/getting divorced had married young, and hadn't experienced more than one long term relationship. I decided then that if you don't live with someone who you think you are going to marry, and then break up, and marry someone else, your chances are less likely of staying together. I would love to do the research on this, and I know there have been studies done on this topic. Looking back, I am impressed that at eighteen, I picked up on this.

Talking with a girlfriend recently, she told me that her sister, who is about my age, is unsure if she wants to stay with her husband. Here is how the convo went:

Me: Let me guess? She married her first boyfriend?

Friend: Sure did. How did you know?

Me: Just a guess. Is she going out with her girlfriends a lot, and flirting with other guys?

Friend: Oh my God, how did you know?

Me: She was too young when she got married. She likes the attention she gets from other men. It sounds like she is going to get divorced.

Friend: No, she wants to make it work.

Me: She's doomed.

At twenty-two, in 2002, I had a short lived romance with this hot guy, who I thought would be a keeper. He was around my age, and he was a hottie (I will call him "Chad"). I was visiting family in New York, when I told them my theory. This is exactly what I said:

"I am convinced that I will have two more relationships after Chad, where in each relationship, I will live with the guy, and I will assume that we will get married, only to break up. It's important to have this, so that you "live" a little, and increase your chances of marrying the right person."

My family laughed at this, but I think they thought it was a good plan for someone like me, who is always unsure of things, and always ready for the next chapter.

I really hoped I was wrong. Especially when I was in these relationships, where I thought maybe they were "forever." But, unfortunately (or fortunately), I was dead on.

It wasn't long ago that I spoke with someone's Dad from elementary school. He is about my Dad's age, and he went on about how much he loved his wife. I could tell he was genuine. Now, there is that old joke that once you marry, your sex life diminishes, if not vanishes completely. In his situation, he begged to differ. So, I asked him if he had been married before, or perhaps had lived with another woman before he married. Yes, he did. He was engaged to someone before he married his wife. His wife had dated a lot, and she had lived with someone. Theory proved with one sample....

I can't imagine marrying my first serious relationship. If I did, I would be on my third marriage by now. I cannot understand those people who marry their first long term boyfriend or girlfriend. I am proud of my decisions, as far as relationships are concerned.

If you ask me, I don't think I ever said I was going to marry anyone I dated, anyway. I was always scared and hoping that my theory was wrong - but I suppose I knew deep down, that there were more men in the pipeline.

Would you know that at my ten year high school reunion, there were maybe five women there who had married? I don't know how many out of my class are married, but not many. Our school emphasized the importance of becoming a trailblazer and a career woman, before settling. Maybe out of the fifty-two women in my class, I am guessing five of them have had children? Way to go, ladies! I bet my class will have a low divorce rate.

And so, the lesson to be learned here is to not marry your high school sweetheart (unless you took a little break from each other, and found that God wanted you to be together), and date as much as you can before you settle down. This will increase your chance of a long marriage (maybe forever).

And on another note - I would like to add that I am not ashamed to say that I will always look at other men, because Lord knows that we were not meant to be monogamous. Anyone who says that they can't look at another guy is crazy. It is unhealthy. I have no problem pointing out a beautiful woman to "Mr. Right Now," and he has no problem with me eyeing a handsome man. I can look..... I just can't touch.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Job Hunting in Madison (Or Anywhere)

So, my favorite question when I have been looking for a job for one week is, "Did you get a job yet?" I have met people who have been out of work for years. Yes, years. I am talking two, even three years, before they find something. If you want a serious job, you apply, get a call about two weeks later, get scheduled for an interview a week after that call, then maybe get called for a second and even third and fourth interview. Now, it has been a good six weeks since you sent your resume, only to find out that they had an internal candidate they were looking at before you ever dropped your resume through their "in" box.

I worked in Human Resources. I know the rules. We had to put ads all over diverse websites. We had to post jobs we already had filled by people we knew. We even had to do "fake" interviews. These took place when the person showed up, and we knew that they were not a fit, but we had to proceed with the interview anyway. These were quick ones....

So, what's it like being unemployed as a newbie in town? I imagine if I was a nurse, there is a chance I would have a job by now. Or, if I was in IT. Or maybe, if I wanted to be a school bus driver. But here is a typical day for someone with my background, and what I do in Madison, daily as a person "in between opportunities:"

-Set alarm for 6:45 AM, (hit snooze a few times)
-Take dog(s) out - (I was dog sitting)
-8:00 Run and lift weights.
-9:00 - showered and ready to hit the phones, find out the dog I am sitting for can go home. I drop him off.
-10:45 - Go to my "office" overlooking the capital building, and call 5 strangers who are in commercial real estate, whose names have been given to me through various people I have recently met since moving to Madison, asking them if I can send them my resume.
11:30-12:30 - Surf Monster, Careerbuilder, Hotjobs, Simplyhired, and Craigslist for jobs. I start to apply for one. Check e-mail, respond to people who have requested my resume.
12:30-1:15 - Have a networking meeting with a female "mover and shaker" who started a well known publication in town.
1:30 - Stop at home to change into a suit, and look at the local paper's jobs section.
2:00- Leave for a meeting with a recruiter.
2:30-3:30- Have my meeting with the recruiter.
3:45-4:10 Continue applying for the job, make two networking appointments for tomorrow and Wednesday - both with people I would love to work with/for (one who reads my blog....)
4:15 - Take my dog to the park and call it a day.

So - for those of you who think that finding a job in a week is doable, please tell me what the job is, and I will take it. Again, the average time in Dane County is three-eight months. Also, for those of you who think that all we unemployed people do is sleep and watch soaps, think again. I work harder looking for a job than when I have one......

If you follow these steps, and call and meet with people, you should be ok.

So, tomorrow, I go back to that sad support group again from 10-12.... Last time I went, it made me feel good about myself.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All I Want is the American Dream (Is that too much to ask?)

My contract job ended.

One of the many things that appealed to me about this place is knowing that the economy is somewhat protected because of the state jobs. I met someone today who was just hired by UW, and so there is hope.

I was informed by a friend today that I seem "very calm" for not having a job. What can you do? From the moment I found out, I have been networking and applying for jobs like crazy. But, it is the networking that is going to get you a job in this market. As far as I am concerned, sending out your resume to job postings is like throwing in into a lottery. They may never see it. Calling people, and informing everyone you know that you are looking for a job has been the best route for me.

Let's talk about how I landed this job in the first place. (The job that lasted two months). I sent my resume out to sixty (YES, SIXTY!) places. I think out of the sixty, I got maybe five interviews. Most of which, I was not interested in pursuing. Let me add that I did all of this in two months time, when the average time it takes to find a job in my county (Dane) is three to eight months long (according to the Dane County Job Service), so I was lucky to find something so quickly.

However, I landed the two month gig by meeting a gentleman at a jukebox at a restaurant I didn't want to go to. I was putting in a few bucks, when he started talking to me, and I asked what he did for a living, which lead to a meeting at his office, where I begged him to hire me to do sales. He actually created the job for me. I told him what I wanted to do, where I wanted to do it, (from home), and how much I wanted, and we made it work - for two months....

This morning, I decided to go to a job search support group. Boy, was I in for a depressing two hours. It was pathetic. Some of the people in the group have been attending these meetings for a while. There were tears, and sad stories, discouraged people who are only applying to one or two jobs here and there. When I told them my story, they couldn't believe that I applied for so many jobs. They thought I was diligent and ambitious. But that wasn't my point. My point was that you can sit in your house all day, applying for jobs, but that may not get you anywhere. Make meetings, and make things happen. You can't sit and wait for the phone to ring in this economy. By the way, I think we all know that this is a global problem.

So, this guy I have been "exclusive" with keeps on asking me what my skills are. I say "sales, marketing, development, etc." He says, "Anyone can do that." Oh really? Yeah, a lot of people will call a list of people they don't even know, and tell them that so and so told them to call, and that you would like to set up an informational meeting with them? I don't think so! So, when he says this to me, I ask myself, "Should I go back to school and get a Masters?" (I have been considering this since I graduated). Let me tell you what I decided today. (Today is today. Remember, tomorrow is a new day). It ain't gonna help.....

In my sad support group, there was a lawyer, an MSW, a teacher, a number of people with Masters and beyond, the former VP of Sales at a big company, you get the picture. These people went to grad school, and they have skills. But they can't get a job. Most of them said they have been laid off a number of times.

The blog I follow, is written by a woman who moved to Madison a few years ago, after living in New York City, among other places. She is a published author, and excellent blogger, who is a career advisor for my generation. She recently blogged about why we shouldn't go to graduate school. This was after I was informed by several established doctors and other professionals that it is "overrated." If I do decide to go back, I will let you know. For now, no thank you.

So here I am, back to square one. I see it as an opportunity to starve, drink cheap beer, and have people feel sorry for me. Only joking.

On a more serious note - for the first time since I moved to Madison, I decided to let it all out and cry. This happened yesterday. You know how sometimes it just feels good to cry? Well, here I left my business, my ex boyfriend of four years, my family, and just picked up and moved one day. I never really sobbed about it. In fact, the last time I sobbed was after seeing the movie, "The Kiterunner." I was hysterical. Part of the reason I sobbed after seeing that movie was because I was soooo sad for that little boy in the movie who was raped. But the other part of me was so miserable with where I was in life. I wanted to blurt it out at the time, but I couldn't. So I just cried a good cry. Yesterday, I tried, but I couldn't cry as hard, because besides having left that job that I did at my house, for a certain pay, that was created for me, I have opportunity.

If you are in the same predicament, make sure you are selling yourself. Put yourself in front of people. I am all over the place, letting everyone I know that I am aggresively seeking work. My ideal situation? Doing this all day long.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Don't You Exercise?

In the past few years, while visiting Madison, I noted how many fit people can easily dominate a sidewalk or pathway. That was very appealing to me. I prefer not to be the only person outside when I go for a run, and I could see that I would be respected by bikers and drivers here. You cannot take that for granted, as I have learned. This is a very healthy city. It is no wonder Madison was recently rated 3rd "Healthiest Hometowns" in AARP.

In college, I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression, along with a ton of other friends of mine, and I remember one of the worst days I had. It was a Saturday, and I was on the phone with my sister, a psychologist, who told me that I absolutely needed to get outside, and go for a walk. I couldn't bring myself to leave the house. I was prescribed Zoloft, which I took for several years. I stopped taking it when I was training for the marathon, and started it again at some point (I don't remember when). When I started running regularly, I didn't need my zoloft any more. My exercise is my anti-depressant, and a lot of people will tell you the same thing.

I can't begin to tell you the wonders that running have done for me. I have to get my heart rate up, I need to sweat, and I love the feeling when I am finished.

Do you know when you are debating taking a nap in the middle of the day? That feeling of exhaustion? That is a perfect time for me to run, (although I do try to get it out of the way in the morning). Do you know if you get your heart rate up, and forgo that nap, you will be extremely grateful, and the exhaustion will have sufficed? I hate taking naps, and feel depressed when I wake up from them.

On the same note, I rarely feel extreme fatigue during the day, and I have my addiction to thank for that.

The high that I seize from this accomplishment lasts all day long - no joke. I perform better with work, I am in a better mood, I am excited about life, and feel more positive. So, why don't more people exercise? I don't get it.

Here is something else running does for me. When I am sick or hungover, and I go running, I feel like it gives me energy I didn't think I had. It cures my hangovers. It makes me feel like I have a stronger immune system. In fact, I woke up this morning feeling like I had a cold coming on, but the run made me feel refreshed. I feel fine now.

Mondays don't bother me. I don't hate my body. I feel good about myself. I can eat what I want. I sleep well. I have excellent blood pressure. I manage stress well. Again, I don't understand why more Americans don't get their heart rates up. There is no reason not to.

Studies have shown all sorts of wonderful benefits of exercising: Better sex life, stronger bones, better memory, longer life, cardiovascular health, etc. Especially if you are a parent, not exercising is selfish. In my opinion, if you have a history of health problems, and you fail to workout, you are doing a disservice not only to yourself, but to your children. Don't you want to live a long healthy life for them?

I have preached to many couch potatoes about getting into shape, without much success. When you have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, (except pounds) why aren't you sweating? I really want to know. Your comments are encouraged here.

I appreciate all of your e-mails, by the way, but this time, please post a comment. Why aren't you exercising? The time thing is no excuse, by the way.....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Living in Madison As a Young, Twenty-Something Year Old

I am really in love with Madison. I once said, "If you can find me a place that's easier to live in than Cleveland, let me know, and I will go." I do think Madison is a super convenient place. If you are looking for a huge city, where you don't want to run into people you know, then Madison is not for you.

Here is an example of how small Madison is:
At the farmer's market, I met a lady with a labradoodle, who I then ran into outside of the movie theater, and then on a hiking trail. Speaking of the movie theater, I met a guy there, who I ran into at a bar two weeks ago, and then saw him on election day at the watch party. At a cafe the other day, someone wanted to sit with me, (there was nowhere else to sit), who I then ran into last night. I have seen my waitress from the other night at a coffee shop and picking up take-out food at another restaurant the next night. And don't you think that these people don't chat it up. You get to know their names, and you get to know them.

I would say that my age group is full of singles, who all go to the same places. And there is a lot to do for our age group. Just last weekend, I went to a movie, several bars, a Laotian restaurant, an Indian restaurant, a comedy club, and a Reggae concert, among other things. The dating scene seems good, although I would think that if I moved here straight out of college, I would be tired of the selection by now.

The look of my peers is slightly different than what I am used to. As I have said in the past, they aren't "New York/All Black" trendy. It's much more hipster. I was at a club last night, and I stopped and looked around the crowded dance floor. Every girl had huge accessories, a lot of died, jet black hair, authentic vintage clothes, skinny jeans, striped, fitted sweaters, and a tattoo or two.

This whole look goes with the social attitudes of my Madison peers. Their political views are homogeneous (as I mentioned before) - liberal, and, like myself, they are anti-globalization.

I am not a hipster. Am I thinking of changing my style? Maybe. I actually think that fashion concept is pretty cool, and it does go along with my vegetarian, opinionated statements and beliefs, free spirited, recycling, preaching, semi-feminist lifestyle.

So, when thinking of what to do on a Saturday night, as a twenty-something year old in Madison, the selections are diverse, and you can squeeze in several things in one evening, as everything is at your fingertips. But, if you want to avoid running into a date from last week, that may be hard to do.

In a nutshell, for someone my age, you are bound to go on dates, find plenty of social activities to do, and pick up a lecture or two, while listening to liberal opinions on why you should have your car converted to run on vegetable oil.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Simplifying Things

Almost every person I have befriended in Madison is a minimalist. This term used to apply to art and music, but is commonly used these days to describe people who, "own the essentials." I think this is a great idea.

You do have to ask yourself what the "essentials" are. For example, do you need another coffee mug, or are you buying it because you like the decor, and your favorite mug may be in the dishwasher? You must define what the basics are for you.

Witnessing how much easier a lifestyle of minimalism is, I have picked up on this, and the past few months, can attest that this has given me a lot more time to enjoy things I want to do. I have yet to block out several hours of cleaning. Always leave your place looking good enough, so that should a visitor drop in, it looks neat and clean. Follow these simple rules, and you will never have to worry about dealing with a huge mess.

1. Clean As You Go

If you change out of your work clothes, put your clothes away immediately. DO NOT put them on that "chest" or "chair" you always leave them on. Simply put them back. If they are dirty, put them in the washing machine right away. I put all of my dirty clothes in the washing machine. As soon as it is full, I run it on a mixed colors cycle. (Yes, I have some white things that are now pink...) If your washing machine is close by, this makes sense. If not, put them in a basket.

2. Don't Own a Large Living Space

I can't imagine ever going back to a large house. Talk about wasted space and dust collection. I currently live in a 700 square foot condominium, which is the perfect size. If I had extra space for anything, I would have extra junk, which would collect extra dust, requiring more work. This space prevents me from bringing crap into my home that I do not need. Keep your living space down to the size you need. If you can go without a Dining Room, then avoid moving into a house that has one.

3. Handle All Papers One Time

You will never see a pile of my mail anywhere. As soon as I open it, I deal with it. Here is a perfect example: Yesterday, I received a post card from my college asking me to call a 1-800 number to verify my information. As soon as I received it, I called, took care of the update, and recycled the card. That prevents a Sunday afternoon of sorting through piles. Also, if you get catalogues or magazines that you recycle immediately (I am sure nobody reading this blog puts them in the garbage, as it is 2008), call the company and ask them to stop sending it to you.

4. Make Everything Paperless

I cannot believe that I actually recently witnessed someone sitting down, writing checks out. Save the paper, save the pile of mail, and make all of your bills paperless. I have arranged for all of my bills to be paid automatically out of my bank account. This prevents extra mail, and saves paper (duh). If you don't follow any of my rules, follow this one. Arrange for all bills to be online, if you can't afford to do the automatic thing.

5. If You Don't Use it, You Don't Need it

It amazes me how many pack rats are out there. Why do you need to save birthday cards from 1987? Sorry people, but as soon as my birthday is over, that card gets canned (unless there is a really meaningful message in it). Evaluate your things. If it's valuable, but you don't use it, put it on craigslist or e-bay. If it's not, toss it, or donate it. Less things means your place will look cleaner, and your kids will have less crap to sort through when they put you in a nursing home.

These five rules have prevented me from having to take any time to work on straightening up my place. My friends and family can tell you that since moving into my 700 square foot condo, they have never heard me say "I have to clean my apartment," because it's always pretty neat.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Historical Moment in a Homogenous Town

I am very curious to hear what the feeling leading up to election day was like in other cities, and more importantly, on November 4th, because in Madison, it felt like our city was playing the world series, and our team won.

I didn't do a whole of volunteering for Obama, but I did things that nobody else wanted to do. Sunday, I went to the volunteer headquarters, as I had signed up to canvass. I was sent to another location, where I chose to pair off with a stranger who was also going to canvass solo. The area we were assigned, she informed me, (as she knows Madison better than me), is actually outside of Madison, and she seemed to think we would be knocking on the door of McCain supporters. Now, for those of you who live in Madison, you know that there are very few republicans that you will run into. At least, this has been my experience. The area we went to was a little strange. Part of it was run down looking, with pit bulls (not ones with lipstick on), and certainly felt like low income tenants. The other part of the street was definitely upper class, with larger homes, which included a small stream through their back yards. Some of these people were rude and republican. It was nothing personal, though. For the most part, many were Obama fans. After returning, my friends down town were SHOCKED to hear that I ran into a few non Obama supporters.

As Tuesday approached, I was getting pretty darn excited, and there was a sense of enthusiasm, no doubt. I was sure of Obama's triumph, although I didn't tell a lot of people that. I had already envisioned him giving his victory speech, and I didn't picture it any other way.

Technically, I can be considered a resident of Ohio still, so I made sure to cast my vote there. But it was very hard to focus on Tuesday. I got out of bed earlier than normal, and had the tv (really the laptop, as I opted not to get cable) going in the early hours of the morning. I anticipated hearing about the small New Hampshire towns that have election results by lunch time - that's how I started my morning in '00 and '04. That's exactly what I watched on Tuesday.

By lunch time, I was certain that Obama won. Everyone in Madison, and I mean everyone, who had any paraphernalia on was an Obama advocate. I did not see one McCain sign, pin, sticker - nada.

I had planned to go to one of Madison's watch parties, the place I went to to watch him debate, the Majestic. Originally built during the Vaudeville days, this is a theatre with two bars, and the big screen was playing the election results. People kept on asking me, "Do you think we'll know tonight?" I think it's funny that they thought I was some expert on this. "Yes, I do," I said. "We will know before we go to sleep" I told them. (They don't know I stay up until the sun comes up) - only joking... Moments before 10:00, there is a "New Years Eve" style countdown. At 10:00, as more polls close (I am in central time), and we know the presidency is Obama's, the crowds go nuts.

Outside, people were going crazy. I said it reminded me of when I lived in Boston, and the Patriot's won the Superbowl. But this time, it wasn't just Madison, or the state of Wisconsin, but even globally. Pretty amazing. Parades were marching around down town (I thought about joining in), people were honking, cheering, the whole nine yards.

After a lengthy walk around down town, I had to stop in a bar on the way home to use the rest room, (and grab a cold one and have a little popcorn), and this girl walks in, clapping, yelling, "We Won!" I had to think about this. "We won?" Yes, I guess she is right. The entire town that I now live in is "we."

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Kindness of Mad Town People

I am overdue to talk about Madison, and I must point out some things that occurred just last week. I am overwhelmed with topics to talk about, including the latest movies I have seen, canvassing for Obama, and the Halloween festivities, but I think it is important to come back to the nature of the locals.

After the key to my car broke, and could no longer attach to my key chain, I had a copy made. (Actually, my dad had it done for me. - Thanks, Dad). He saw how I always had to shuffle through my purse for the stray key, that could no longer stay in a group with my other keys. It was all alone, and it was a pain. I tested the key in the car door, and it worked. A few days later, when I finally got in my car to get groceries (did I mention I hardly drive my car any more? I haven't filled it up with gas in almost three weeks!), it wouldn't start. After attempting to jump start it, I had it towed to Parman's on Monroe Street, only to find out the key was the problem. Parman's wouldn't charge me for their observation, and when I came to pick it up, solo, with a friend's car, they offered to follow me wherever I had to go, in my car, while I drove my friend's car. As we are driving back to Parman's, Mr.Parman is saying, "I am so glad that's all it was." I said to him, "Why are you glad? You didn't make a penny off of me!" These nice guys went out of their way. I highly recommend them.

Parman's recommended a place called Hansen's to have my "Check Engine Soon" light turned off. I went over to Hansen's. He told me the cover to my gas (what's that called?) was probably just loose, and turned the light off. As I followed him in to pay, he said, "Free!" So, now I am recommending Hansen's, as well.

The same day, I was looking for a good knife to carve some pumpkins open, for my famous, "Soup in a Pumpkin." I wanted something fast, so I walked across the street, to the little grocery store. Their knives did not look promising, so I walked into the hardware store around the corner, True Value Hardware. I went into the back, and found some kitchen knives. I asked the cashier if he thought they would work, and he said for about twelve dollars less, he would "make" a knife for me out of some hardware tool, used for something I have never heard of (shocker). As he did that, I dug around a bin near the counter, and picked up some sharp looking tool. He looked up, and said, "That will work, and that's only $2.00. Why don't you get that?" I went to pay, and saw I only had $1.36 in cash, and he decided to give me a discount, knocking off some money from the $2.00, but the total was somewhere a little over the $1.36 I brought in with me, so he said, "We'll split it", and he threw in some of his money.

Is this not the nicest, friendliest city? Yes, it's homogeneous and small, but it sure is a helpful place.

Even though I try to keep things semi-anonymous, I am recommending the following:

Dorn True Value Hardware (no website)
Parman's Service Station (no website)
Hansen's Auto Service Center (no website)

Why no websites? Probably because they are typical Madison, local institutions that thrive on word of mouth referrals.

Also, in case you were wondering, my auto insurance in Madison is almost half of what it was in Ohio, and I paid for roadside assistance, therefore, the pointless tow was also free.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dating Someone with Kids - Not Recommended

Due to my last posting, on what I have learned in relationships, I have been asked to expand on the "dating someone with kids" issue. I will generalize here, to keep things as private as possible.

I would first like to acknowledge that my favorite blogger, one who writes career advice, consistently reveals all sorts of personal information, including her sex life. If you think I am bad, at least I don't think I do anything inappropriate like that.

Now, onwards to dating a dude with kids. Don't do it. The first problem is that there are no rules anywhere, as far as what is suitable, and what is not. For example, if you all go on a vacation together, do you tell the kids that you share a bed when you stay in a hotel room, or do you lie, and hide it from them? This is always a concern for single parents with children. Should you role model and lie, or should you be truthful? What if the kids find out you are lying?

I am not only speaking from experience as a person who dated a single parent, but I am an adult child of a divorced family. In a divorce, I think kids really start to question their parents' sincerity. I feel like parents do lose a little trust when there is a divorce, because everyone is looking for someone to blame.

So, you have the whole "no rules," trust issue.

Now, if you know me, and follow my blog, it is evident that I am opinionated. It is very hard to date someone raising children, when you can't agree with their parenting style. I can tell you that no two people are going to agree on their child rearing skills at all times. It becomes difficult, though, when they are not your own kids, and you really do not have a right to contribute any advice on how they should be parenting. You will end up just watching, and having to disagree, and this can be very hard. If your boyfriend allows their kids to watch tv before they have finished their homework, and you think the child should be focusing on their schoolwork, you really cannot say anything. It is a pretty helpless feeling. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The "sharing" part is a pain, as well. I imagine it is very hard for the parent, too. Sometimes you want to just spend some quality time with your man, and not even tell anyone where you are, and what you are doing. Unfortunately, they are a parent, and they have to be there for their kid. They can't really "escape," and at times, they can't be there for you at all. On a positive note, that's a sign of them being a good parent.

There is always a chance that the kids will dislike you. Who knows what they hear from the other parent. This can make for a very uncomfortable situation. You can begin to dread being around them, and they can dread being around you.

As a single person with no children, you may assume "parental" responsibilities, such as getting up with the child during the night, coordinating their social schedule, or driving them to and from school. You end up "jumping" into parenthood. If you are young, and end up doing this, you may feel that you have grown up very fast - faster than your friends who are still living the "single life." You give up part of your youth.

You know that when you are in relationship, there are things you are going to disagree on, whether it is your taste in music, your religious beliefs, or whether or not you want to settle down, but this adds another issue that can be avoided by not dating someone with children.

Again, these examples are not personal nor specific. If you want to be spontaneous, and make things easier on yourself, make sure he doesn't have kids. Do paternity testing, if you have to! (Only joking).

This certainly has nothing to do with Janie in Madison, but I can reassure you that while in Madison, I intend to be without stepchildren.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everything I Learned About Relationships

People who know me, know that I am always thinking, dissecting, and analyzing. In the past few months, there has been a lot of time for introspection, and I have ruled out what to look for and not look for in a relationship. I really haven't been single since I was twenty-two, and I am not proud of this. The importance of getting to know yourself and have a sense of independence are important, and I am going to tell you that I have to work very hard on the independent part - believe it or not. I know, I know, you are thinking "You just up and moved 500 miles," but just read on, and read my rules. I am going to write this from a female's point of view, but this does apply to males, as well.

Again - I am NOT an expert on dating. I am sharing what I have learned. If you don't want to read this whole entry, please, read rule number eight, because I think it's the best rule.

1. Do not live in the same city as your significant other's parents. (Or yours, if you can help it - sorry, Mom and Dad)

The first month I lived in Madison, I joked that I needed a man whose parents are both deceased - but not when they were too young, and it couldn't be a tragic death, because I didn't want to deal with the baggage. Preferably a dude whose parents died of old age, and he dealt with it in a healthy manner.

I prefer to have a private relationship. What you and your boyfriend are up to at any given moment is none of his parent's business. I don't want them too involved. Period.

2. Don't date anyone who has been married before.

Now, this obviously applies to women of my generation. If you are forty-five, and looking for a dude, keep your options open. For women my age, there are enough problems to work on in a relationship, why add an ex into the mix? Enough said.

3. Don't date anyone who has children.

I am going to elaborate on this a little, because even though this is obvious, I have given advice on this topic before, and I don't want you to come crying to me about the kid issues, when I could have said, "I told you so." (And this has happened). Do you want to share your dude with his kids? How about when you don't agree with his child rearing, but it's not your job to say anything? Did you ever think that the kids could hurt his feelings, which in turn, hurt yours? I could probably write a twenty page essay on this rule, but you get the hint.

4. Friends are First!

I think a lot of us have made the mistake of putting a guy before your friends from time to time. I know it's very exciting in the beginning of a relationship, but your friends will be there for you always, and the dude may not. Do not cancel plans on your friends because you haven't heard from the new guy in three days, when he suddenly asks you on a Friday night to meet in an hour for drinks. He will still be there tomorrow, and he can wait. Play hard. You can always meet with him at the end of the night, anyway.

Especially if you are in a new place, it's very important to keep your friendships with your girlfriends strong. Do not rely on a guy for your social life. What if he breaks up with you? What if he travels a lot for work? It is so important to have that sisterhood, and I think a lot of people move to cities, meet someone, and rely on that one person for their entire social life. BIG mistake. Who are you going to have when he is gone? It is also healthy to have a life outside of the one you are forming in your dating life.

5. Do not rely on a guy all of the time.

When I used to have a car problem, or needed a picture hung, or got sick, my first thought was, "Call Boyfriend." Not anymore. Especially if you are just starting to see someone, BE INDEPENDENT! Don't even let him know you had a problem, unless he calls you. Again, I think it's unhealthy to start to become dependent on a guy. (Maybe Madison is getting to me). Because of my "independence," I have learned how to jump start a car!

6. Don't date any type of workaholic.

Do you want to be informed on November 5th that the next three weekends are out for your social life because he has to study? Forget it. Don't do it. If you want to wake up on a Saturday morning, and decide to go for a day trip which includes a trip to a winery, forget a workaholic.

Fortunately, our generation is more about working to live, not living to work, so if you are around my age, and dating someone around our age, you should be ok.

Spontaneity is key. This brings me to rule number seven......

7. Date someone your age!

I finally got it, you guys! After years of dating people in different "decades," I see the significance in dating someone my age, and I will never go back. You can remember the same movies, songs, cartoons, toys, technological advances, have the same goals, are in the same place in life, the energy level is the same, etc.

8. Ask them what their ideal day is.

This is the best thing I have done. I have asked the "What's your relationship with your parents," and all that other garbage, right off the bat. But, I have found the way to really know if you are compatible, is to find out what they want to do on their birthday, or what their "dream day" would be. For example, when asking this, I exchange my day, by saying,

"I go for a run, then take Scout to a state park, and hike for a few hours, then see an exhibit, or stop at some historical site on the way back (spontaneous, again), and then wine and a good meal are included."

If they are not interested in doing something outdoorsy like that, or being with my dog, or having a little wine, and doing some fine dining, we are not a match. Their ideal day has to match up with yours.

I hope you find these tips helpful. I had to work hard to condense this, as I have a lot I can say about the "dos" and "don'ts" of dating. Again, I am not an expert. I am a twenty-eight year old, never been married woman with a little "experience."

If you think you are "stuck" in a dried out, dull, relationship, please read my "Getting Unstuck" entry, and get out there, and date around.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Feminism, 2008

After graduating from an all-girls, progressive private school, a liberal arts college, and now living in an extremely tolerant town, I feel more strongly than ever about the idea of keeping your last name. This conversation has come up a lot in the past few years, specifically with college friends who were getting married, most of whom chose to keep their names.

Over the summer, I attended a southern style, traditional wedding. While being asked to fill out the check on the day of the ceremony, I hemmed and hawed on how to fill it out. I finally decided that it is 2008, and the bride probably would have some trouble cashing it, should they cash it that week, if I did put his name on the check. So, I made it out to Mr. Groom and Mrs. Bride. Then, I snickered, knowing damn well that this conventional woman was going to be irritated by the way I wrote out her check. This was confirmed when I went to the wedding, a few hours later, and for the first time in my entire life, saw a bride being given away by her father, only. Her mother was escorted by someone else... Old fashioned, much?

I think a lot of people do not understand the meaning of "Mrs. Smith." When we refer to someone as "Mr," we are referring to a gentleman in a formal fashion. By calling someone "Mrs," This really means "Mr's," as in "Mister's lady." So, you are no longer a person, but a possession of Mr's. Ms. solves this problem, and was popularized in the 1970s. With Ms., we don't know your marital status, and why should we?

Sometime in my pre-teen years, my parents received a letter in the mail, addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Robert Winston." My whole family was appalled. They pointed at it, making comments, stating, "Why did he write that? Doesn't he know that women don't go by "Mrs. Tom Jones anymore?" This is also another possessive and outdated format. I will never be "Mrs. Tom Jones." Did women completely lose their independence and identity? In this day and age, addressing something in that format can be offensive. I am not saying that my family was angry, or insulted, but I do remember the kid who wrote it, and I will never forget it....

Let me be clear in saying that I support you if you choose to take your spouse's surname (especially if you are the guy!). You can do whatever you want. I imagine if my last name was awful, I would change it, too. My mom's generation wasn't hot on keeping their maiden names, (although, I am proud to say, a lot of her relatives did)! I suppose it would be fun to have a "new name" after all of these years. But remember, you can also do what a lot of my high school and college professors did - combine the names. How about turning them into one name? Take my sister, for example. Say she had chosen to combine Winston with Lebarron. They could have been the LeWinstons. Classy, right? (They each have kept their last name).

A challenge may come when you have children. I always assumed my nephew, Sebastian, had a hyphenated name. When I finally asked, I guess they thought the whole Sebastian-Winston-Lebarron- I forget his middle name- would have been too long, so he has Lebarron. What some people do is give the father's last name to one child, and the wife's to the other. I would recommend that. In fact, I know someone who did that. And yes, there were a lot of rumors in college that these two brothers were half brothers, because they had different last names, but once it was explained, everyone thought it was pretty cool.

While explaining the definition of "Mrs" to my Madison born cousin, he said to me, "Oh right. I remember that now. I had some teachers in school who would get mad if we didn't call them 'Ms.'" Now that, I have never heard of, but, it's a liberal town. I imagine Madison probably has more couples combining their names, or women keeping their names, or men taking the women's names.

If I am ever crazy enough to get married, I would certainly keep my name, but I don't look down upon you if you don't. It's the name I was given. Being that there are currently only five of us, who bear this name, and my dad is the only male, we will have to carry it on the best way we can.

Please remember one thing. Ladies, try not to let people call you "Mrs." Remember that when they call you that, you are an object.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Living Alone

In 2002, I signed a lease with two friends, and shared a three bedroom apartment near Boston. By October, I was dreaming of living by myself. I was twenty-two, and naturally, had never experienced a home of my own. It wasn't until October of 2003 that I finally lived by myself. It didn't last long. It was a crappy area near MIT, and my tires got slashed twice in two weeks. That put me back about $500.00. I hated it.

I am embarrassed to say that I really haven't lived alone since then until now. And the timing couldn't have worked out better, because I HAVE to be left alone when I throw up, and yesterday morning, at 5 AM, I woke up with the stomach flu. The first 4-5 hours were spent on the floor of the bathroom, and every time I changed positions, I got sick. Every time I stood up, this also induced vomiting. I was held captive to the porcelain bowl - a horizontal woman.

I don't know why I have to be by myself when I am sick, but I have always been that way. I remember kicking my family out of the room when I was a teenager, telling them, "I am nauseous, and I need you to leave." They graciously obeyed my request.

A few months ago, my friend was deathly ill, and when I came by to check on them, I stayed as far away from them as possible. Later on, they asked me why I didn't help them, as they grasped on to the toilet. "What did you want me to do?" I asked. "You could have stroked my back, or something," they replied. "Really?" I thought. I explained that I need my solitude when feeling this ill. I just assumed they wanted the same. Weird. So some people want an audience during this feeling of awfulness?

In the past, nobody would have even known I was sick. There would have been no reason for anyone to find out. Living by myself, here in Madison, I had one major problem- since I couldn't really get up without getting sick, I couldn't take my dog out. So, before I knew it, I had about 5 offers from 5 different people, asking if they could help. I am not used to this. It just goes to show how good people are. My phone was beeping all day long. It was nice to know that after living here only three months, I knew I could get help if I needed it.

There is a real sense of "having everything at your fingertips" here. I feel really close to everything in Madison. I don't think any one thing or person is more than four miles away from me. And by thing, I mean bars/restaurants/stores/museums/concert venus etc. It is reassuring to know that.

I don't wish this stomach thing upon my worst enemy. I hope you all stay healthy. And remember, if you ever need anything while you are hugging the porcelain gods, I will be there, but if you want me to rub your back, you better communicate that, otherwise, I will stay as far away from you as possible.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cleveland, I Love Thee!

OK people - Cleveland isn't so bad. I promise to never say negative things about it again. I dedicate this entry to the highlights of the city that I have enjoyed, through the years. My Cleveland.

Before I do this. I want you to know that I take full responsibility for the choices I have made. When I woke up on a Thursday in April of 2004, and decided to leave Boston, that was my decision, and I chose to go back to Cleveland. I do not blame anyone for the path I have taken, except myself.

Cleveland felt very calm when I came back from Boston. I could finally look people in the eye again. Clevelanders are generally friendly and outgoing. In fact, I recall going to a movie once, and sitting next to a mother/daughter, and getting to know them before the movie started. There are plenty of cities where you just don't do that. A lot of people are welcoming and you can make friends pretty easily there.

My favorite thing about Cleveland is the lack of traffic. There is never any planning that needs to take place before you get groceries or leave work. No sitting at a bar for one drink, until 7:30, to wait until the cars clear the highway. It makes life so much easier. I used to say that when I sat in traffic for forty five minutes, each way, I lost an hour and a half of my life that I will never get back. This is the truth. You won't be wasting away your life driving around my old town.

The other wonderful feature of this city is that it is so reasonable. As a real estate agent, I would tell out of towners that you could probably buy your "dream home," (depending on what your taste is...) for under $400K. How many other places can you do that? Even though the housing market is what it is, Cleveland has always had reasonable housing. My New York side of the fam can't get over the prices there.

I always utilized the Metroparks system, taking my dog there for a hike in the fall, winter, spring, and summer, and have also enjoyed many Saturday morning runs along the Chagrin River. In the fall, driving along Chagrin River Road was one of my favorite rides. It's simply gorgeous. The Metroparks exist throughout the entire city of Cleveland, and there are so many things you can do there. Besides running and hiking, I have cross country skied, sledded, read, waded in the river, and watched teenagers partake in illegal activities....

Believe it or not, Cleveland does have a fair amount of culture. I always made an effort to see the traveling exhibits at the art museum. This art museum is better than a lot that I have been to. They get some really famous exhibits. Most recently, I saw the "Arms and Armour" show. I learned all about jousting and the history of knights - something I missed out in in elementary school.... (I probably wasn't paying attention).

I am not much of a horticulturist, and I have a HORRIBLE green thumb, but walking through the Botanical Garden is pleasurable. Just this past year, I went there probably three times. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate flowers, and plants, and I can actually label some plants when I see them now, which I never cared about before.

I could go on about the culture I have experienced. I am not going to lie and say I have been to every museum, but come to think of it, I have. I even went to the History Museum when I had the day off. The Science Museum has a great Omnimax. I still want to see "Everest." The last film I saw there was about cave diving. Of course, there is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Did you know the rumor is that "We Built this City" is about putting the Hall of Fame in Cleveland?

There really is plenty to do in Cleveland, and it has its' perks. Check out Little Italy, or Slavic Village, go shopping at the Farmer's Market in Shaker Square, or drive about 40 miles outside of the city, and visit Amish Country. Make a little day trip out of it, while gas prices are descending, thanks to the financial crisis. Supply and demand, man.

Cleveland, I really do love ya!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time to Live

To me, the difference between Cleveland and Madison is pretty drastic. Now you have to understand that I grew up on the East side of Cleveland, and the West side of the city is also very different. Keep in mind that when I refer to Cleveland, I am referring to the East side, not the West.

As I have mentioned before, one of things that drew me to Madison was the appreciation that people here have for the outdoors. It still blows me away that after 14 years of running on and off, a lot of it in Cleveland, Ohio, I hardly ever saw any other people exercising outside. Maybe it was my route, who knows? But more so, I always observed that the Clevelanders I knew do/did not care about exposing themselves to nature.

Yesterday, I went to a restaurant for brunch. As I got near the place, I saw a Lexus SUV (remember, SUVs are not very popular here), with an Ohio plate. Big surprise. As soon as I spotted it, I surveyed the restaurant for a "Cleveland looking" person, and I found her immediately. She had colored blond hair, she was wearing all black, she was probably 55 or so, and I am sure a UW mom. She looked like she was in pain. You know that look I am talking about? She just looked mean. Like everything that could go wrong was going wrong in her day.

I happened to eat at this same place for lunch a few days before, and the restaurant filled up with smoke. Nobody seemed to care. Everyone continued their conversations. The Madison locals all appeared to be happy with their little liberal lives. As I made this observation, I said to my friend, "If this was Cleveland, people would be complaining, if not leaving right now." And trust me, upon exiting, they would exclaim, "I am never coming back here again!" But, oh no, not these Madison folks. Life is good for us.

I am going back to the Cleveland looking woman, who was probably connected to the Lexus SUV. The place was jam packed, and she was sitting outside (shocking, because most Clevelanders like to stay indoors all year round and hibernate). There was a line out the door, and I saw her continue to come into the restaurant, pushing her way through the line about a half a dozen times. And then, I figured out what she was doing.... she was complaining! I overheard her approach an employee with a ramekin, and she said, "The leaves are going crazy outside, and they keep on blowing in here! I don't want this any more!" She then handed the ramekin to the employee, and the worker looked pretty confused. It appeared that she had never heard such a complaint in her life. I was uncomfortable witnessing it. How can you sit outside and be disgusted with the leaves? Talk about shallow.

And so, I must say, I certainly do not miss these kinds of superficial people, who do not appreciate the beauty of what God, or Mother Nature, or whoever, has given us. This is my favorite time of year, and I am sucking up every minute of outside time that I can get.

A little advice for you, if you are anything like "Cleveland Lady," Life is too short to get upset about bad service or leaves blowing in your ramekins. You will find that there are more serious problems to face, such as your money getting stuck in an account where the bank has gone out of business, or watching your loved one lose all their hair during chemotherapy. It is important to appreciate everything you have, and that includes the trees turning colors, or a butterfly landing on a plant (as I observed while running the other day). Take in these moments. You never know what will happen tomorrow.

Monday, October 6, 2008

For the Love of Running

After fourteen years, I have finally found myself looking forward to running. Now that I live down town, I have this fantastic running route. For the first time since I started running, I have lost myself in it. Ironically, my first run ever was in Madison in 1994. My friend and I were visiting, and she knew how to jog, so I went with her. I had no idea I could do it. We just kept on going. I believe anyone can run, but you have to enjoy it. I have never enjoyed it. Not until now. For someone who doesn't have an addictive personality (ok, stop laughing, maybe I do), I am addicted to running, but strangely, have always dreaded it.

People have occasionally asked me how I can make myself do it. Once you get into it, if you don't do it, it's a bad day. You feel guilty. Who wants to feel guilty? In 2003, while living in Boston, I decided to train for a marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles. That is just what it is. I can tell you the whole history of the marathon, if you want to know. There is also a fantastic movie called, "The Spirit of the Marathon," which documents some amateur and some professionals training for the Chicago marathon.

When I reflect on my run in the marathon, I get very emotional. I didn't then, but I do now. In 2007, my sister ran the New York marathon. I flew in to watch her. As I got off the subway, and entered the street, searching for my sister, tears streamed down my face. It was a beautiful moment, all of these people who all experienced the same grueling training, pushing their bodies to do things God did not intend to put us on this planet for. I completely connected with, and understood their feelings. It was also beautiful because there are few times I have ever been surrounded by so many people, in a large city, who have all come together for a joyous event, in a city that was terrorized. I cried a lot that day. I felt for the runners, and I think it was the first time that I ever realized what I had accomplished four years earlier.

When watching the "Spirit of the Marathon," I had the same reaction. I cried and cried. I brought tissues, (which I used, unlike when I saw that awful "Nights in Rodanthe" crap). Some of the people documented said things I could really relate to. These were my top 5 favorite questions, when I was training/post race:
1. Are you running it on Saturday and Sunday?
Yeah you moron, most people try to do 26.2 every day, you didn't know?
2. Oh, a marathon! What is that, 5 miles?
Do you never read or pay attention to the media?
3. Oh a marathon! What is that, 10 miles?
(see above)
4. Are you going to try to win?
Yes, most first timers beat out the African sponsored elite runners, you didn't know that?
5. What time are you going to be done? I am going to be in town that day and I thought we could meet for lunch? (This was my favorite one)
Oh, you know, this is my first marathon, so I am sure I will be in tip top shape to have lunch with you! How about offering to come watch me, you ding dong!

I could literally not put any weight on my foot after I ran it. Absolutely none. I had to elevate it and ice it, and my knee was all messed up, too. In fact, three weeks before I ran it, I had a sprain, and was told to stop running, if I ever wanted to run in this marathon. Do people really think that after running close to 30 miles, (if they even know how many miles it is,), for the first time, beating out the elite, that I am going to be out and about, wanting to meet up for lunch?

Again, off on a tangent. I get emotional about it. Since I have started my new route, it includes a brief trip through the Capitol Square, then along the lake, then along a bike trail, and finally, through campus. If you want to know this route, let me know, and I will show it to you. After fourteen years of running off and on, I have finally found myself looking forward to this time of introspection.

Going through down town, you can people watch, and admire the Capitol. Once along the water, what's not to love? The bike path always features all sorts of fitness lovers/anti-car people. And my favorite part - the campus. I get to see what is in style, and reminisce about my college days, that I am so reliving right now. I love to see what the girls are up to. I also note kids doing the walk of shame, smoking in their pajamas on the couches of their porches, text messaging, and my favorite: the sorority girls who try to look "bad" but "good." These are the girls who wear really tight sweats, Northface jackets and UGGS. Everything is trendy, but they pretend they are in their sweats. They have heavy eyeliner on, but their hair is pulled back. It's a combo of sweats/designer crap. Should I be wearing that when I am hungover? (By the way, I decided to get rid of my gray hair, finally!)

This route is great. I lose myself in my thoughts, but make sure to "come back" when I hit the campus. I have never before asked myself, "did I already cross that one road?" until I started running in Madison.

I love it so much, I manage to do it on Saturday mornings, usually after boozing it up on Friday nights. This past weekend, I was out until bar time, managed to have that macaroni and cheese slice of pizza I told you about, then got home at 2:52 AM. Set the alarm for 8:00 AM (I like to get to the farmer's market before 10), and hit the pavement like I was a million bucks.

Again, I have Madison to thank for actually making me love running.

And just a quick note of advice, music is KEY! You must have some type of music to listen to when running. When I increased my running to 6 days a week, over 2 years ago, it was because I got an MP3 player, and I have every motivational song you can think of on there.