Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Vacation Should Be Just That

So, the farthest I have gone from Madison since July is to Illinois, and I am finally going to be leaving to go something like 1200 miles from here. The irony of this is that when I moved here, my sister discovered she was pregnant, and I always thought how fantastic it is that I could be nearby when she delivers, but now, I am not so sure, being that she is right around 40 weeks....

Here is the thing about a vacation. I actually had a dream about this last night. And, as I was packing up my desk yesterday, I started to bring my notebook, with my daily notes in it, and then I reminded myself, "Oh yeah - I am not a business owner anymore. If something happens, it won't need my immediate attention, so I can really take a vacation." Then, I had this dream last night that these clients desperately needed me, and I was 1200 miles away. One of my first trips as a real estate agent, I received an offer on a listing, and spent several hours of my trip working negotiations.

Shortly after I was licensed as a real estate agent, I decided to go on a cruise, because then there is no excuse to stay connected to the outside world. I couldn't. Cell phones didn't work on cruises, and e-mail is very expensive. Someone told me since then, that cell phones do work - but I don't know. Neither do I care, because I doubt I will ever go on another cruise. I really chose that vacation due to the fact that you are unreachable. I think cruises are very simple. You don't have to plan anything, it is all done for you. I also read an article in the New York Times on Sunday that gave me another reason to never cruise again. The ships are terrible for the environment.

So, why haven't I been taking vacations the old fashioned way? And why don't more people try to do just that? I have friends here who are workaholics, and some who never mention work when they aren't there. (Mostly the latter. Ok, all but one - wink, wink)

I am perfectly comfortable going away while my sister may very well deliver. While we are together all of the time, it is unfortunate that there is a good chance that I may not even know she is in labor. But, what difference is it going to make in the long run? I can't do anything for her. I can't push the baby out. Can't administer the drugs. Won't be cutting any cords. If the baby comes, I will be back soon enough.

And so, even though there is a chance this could all happen while I am away, I will be phoneless and computerless. No facebook. No twitter. No texting. Certainly no blogging. This is my last one for now. My sister knows where I am staying, if she wants to try to hunt me down. But, there is nothing I can do about whatever happens outside of my bubble. If you die, you will still be dead when I come back. So maybe we should all think about the importance of really disconnecting, and leave all modern technology behind. Isn't that what we all did 15 years ago??

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When to Spend More Money Than Usual

Although I go out to eat a lot, I have always cut costs in other departments, and could never understand why people would spend a lot of money on, say, household products or shampoo. My hair gets clean whether I use Suave or Aveda, so who cares? It seems like almost all of my friends (and some of my family members - our generation, not the baby boomers), prefer quality, pricey products over the frugal stuff.

Before moving to Madison, there were about four things I preferred to purchase that were of higher value: Chap stick, make-up, paper towels and razors. I have to use Burt's Bees chap stick because it is the only stuff that works. I swear. MAC make-up, because it seems to stay on all day long. And, expensive razors can last for up to 6 months, and do a phenomenal job of leaving the skin sooo smooth. Bounty paper towels are thick, and they also last me a long time because one paper towel can dust my whole place.

Now, the sociologist in me would ask "what is your definition of expensive?" and even more, "what products are you referring to?" Where is the line drawn? Yes, I like nice bags. I have a lot of Coach purses. I enjoy a good wine. I prefer to buy mostly organic foods. But I am talking about household products here.

I never understood why people preferred fancy dishwasher soaps, deodorant, toothpaste, etc., when you can get all of that stuff at the dollar store. I mean, we are in a recession, aren't we? Well, I have a new found appreciation for this stuff. Let me explain. Meyer's cleaning supplies is a must. The products are natural, environmentally friendly, are not tested on animals, were created by an American woman, I believe they are made in our country, and they smell divine. It is worth the money. Tom's of Maine toothpaste is another product I just purchased for the first time. It has the same philosophy as Meyer's. No animal cruelty, all natural, and the company believes in using sustainable products. I have also upgraded to fancier coffees. Alterra is very popular in Madison, as it is based out of Milwaukee. They participate in fair trade, which, most Madisonians like to contribute to. The coffee just tastes better.

Part of the concept of going "upscale" with these products is to continue to circulate the dollar in my country. If I can't help with a bail out, which I can't, at least I can assist with keeping the money here. The solution to our economic problem isn't that simple, but if you do not support businesses that outsource their jobs overseas, and who keep their money in our country, it is a start. Which is why I stopped shopping at Walmart. But that's for another posting altogether.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't Be Afraid to Work for Someone

It has taken me years to come to the realization that I can answer to someone besides myself. I know many people who have been somewhat traumatized from their first real job(s) out of college, and I am no different.

You have to understand that as a residential real estate agent, I essentially owned my own business. Many people don't understand that. By this, I mean that I was an independent contractor. If I didn't go to work for a week, nobody asked me where I was. However, I also had to pay my own health insurance, retirement, office space, copies, advertisements, mailings, office supplies, fill up my gas tank every 6-7 days, client meals, client gifts, constant cell phone overage, and the list goes on. But, I was my own boss. I was often saying, "I could never go back to working for someone."

When I left Cleveland, the easy part was leaving the real estate business. It wasn't gratifying at all. I am sure for many people, it is fulfilling, and I always thought I would stay in it, had I stayed in Cleveland, but I didn't, and it was simple to walk away from. Please keep in mind that I do still hold my license in Ohio, and I can still get referrals anywhere in the entire country, regardless of what brokerage you choose to work with.

One mistake I made was saying that I would never work for someone again. I was under the assumption that working for someone meant hating your job. So, I had some bad managers in the past. But, they aren't all like that. When you are interviewing for a job by your potential future boss, and there is chemistry, why wouldn't you want to work for them? And these days, with our generation, I don't even think that you technically are working for them. You are working with them. Work hard and you will get the respect you deserve so that you don't feel "owned" by them. Trust develops between the two of you, and you can easily feel the freedom that you had when you were wanting to work for yourself.

Besides really investigating and figuring out what I could do for 8-9 hours a day, 5 (sometimes 6) days a week, I was excited to have a salary and benefits again. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the idea of having a regular paycheck and it is a beautiful thing. Sure, in real estate, there were months I got over $10,000. However, there were also months I thought I was getting thousands of dollars, where literally 24 hours before a closing, the deal fell apart, and I had already planned a trip or bought a fancy gift for myself.

I feel so blessed. I think the last phrase out of my mouth last night was something like, "I am so happy I have a job." And, when my manager asked me how my weekend was, I looked up at her and said, "I am just so happy to be working here." Her response? "I thought you were going to say how happy you are with your boyfriend." Hah!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It Finally Got Warm! (Sort of)

My people in town were pretty excited to know that the forecast was calling for warm weather this weekend. By warm weather, I mean above freezing. Boy, do you appreciate above 32 degree temperature after spending the majority of the past two months below freezing and way beyond. I could not wait to run outside, after spending dark gloomy mornings on a treadmill.

Well, evidently, all other regular runners around Madison were as excited as I was, because yesterday morning, within literally five minutes of running out my door, I passed nine runners (individual runners, not in one big group). I was surprised to see that there were still ice fishers on the lake. My challenge in the morning (and an exciting one at that!) was trying to figure out what outdoor route to do. There are so many options here. You can do the bike path, which as far as I know, is accessible out of anyone's doorway, the arboretum, which is a six mile loop, along the lake, or along the mansions in Maple Bluff, and the list goes on. I chose to do a mixture of lake, path, various parks, including Olin Turville and passed by the arboretum. At this point, there were so many runners, it looked like a pre-race stretch. Only in Madison. Ah. Oh yeah. I did this in shorts. It was 37 degrees! That is hot around here!

Last night, I took a spontaneous trip to my aunt and uncle's farm house in Spring Green. One of the things that really enticed me about this town was that farm. When they bought it, about three years ago, and I came to see it, something called my name. There is something about 60 acres of breathtaking landscape, and it just talks to me. Now, I am only about 40 miles from there. In a matter of hours, I was in the kitchen of the farmhouse, making a spontaneous dinner of local ingredients, drinking red wine, my dog frolicking outside in the blackness of the night. (I will leave out the details of what she was snacking on).....

Although a farm town outside of Madison, it does not have that "middle of nowhere, small farm town attitude." It features the House on the Rock, Taliesin, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's registered historical centers, and The American Players Theatre, which is an outdoor amphitheater that does mostly Shakespeare, in the warmer months. (Although not a huge Shakespeare fan, it's on my "To Do" list for this upcoming summer.)

While I know the street and the land somewhat well, I had never driven to the General Store, and I was in for a pleasant surprise this morning! As a result of the time that I was looking for a job, I have become addicted to coffee. Unfortunately for me, this means I develop a headache if I don't have any. We went to the store in search of coffee, as I was hindered by the old fashioned looking coffee maker, circa 1920, that was supplied in the kitchen. Not only did this store offer coffee, (typical town in the vicinity of Madison - these farm towns never cease to amaze me), they also carried a ton of organic and all natural products, locally made goods, and what else? A sustainable breakfast. The atmosphere will probably lure you in - specifically the four season porch. Let the sun shine in!

So after a breakfast of local food, we went back to the farm, and I snowshoed for the first time. I can't believe I have never done this before. For the past four winters, I said I would buy a pair. Now I am writing it, so I am telling you that I will. The concept of not submerging into a pile of snow every step you take always made sense to me as a dog owner. I know, I know - most of you don't walk in 16 inches of snow during a snow storm, but my dog loves it, and I am a sucker for her getting as much exercise as possible so that she will be a calm and happy dog. If you have never gone for a 45 minute walk in this type of snow, let me explain it to you. You take a step on the surface, and your leg comes crashing down into a soft, powdery snow, usually up to just below your knee, or even higher. It's a fantastic workout for your hamstrings. With snowshoes, this is no longer the case. And, because it finally warmed up around here, I did it in a light fall jacket.

After a cold winter, I hate to say that I do hope it snows a little bit this week, as I have plans to do another candlelight ski, and I wouldn't mind spending another weekend evening at the farm in Spring Green. Because I have so much guilt about my dog not having enough time to run around, even though she gets to the park about four times a week. And we got home from the farm about ten hours ago - and she is still sleeping....

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Janie in Madison

Because I like to occasionally come back to the topic of Madison, Wisconsin, I thought it would only be appropriate if I focus on this city. I have lived here for seven months, this week. (I just had to stop and figure it out), and it really feels like home. Here is a recap of things I have been doing around here lately.

I should let you know that I have only left the state once since I have been here. Sounds crazy, I know. Because some of you know that I like to occasionally gallivant to places where my friends are. I am missing my old friends, dearly. I am hoping they will all come here when the weather breaks (they don't all embrace frigid temps like yours truly). I will soon be leaving the country, though. That's for another posting.

Thank goodness for my Mother bringing my hand-me-down cross country skis aboard the plane, because they are getting some use. I skied on Lake Mendota, avec my dog, who thoroughly enjoyed it, and then did a candlelight night ski in Ft. Atkinson, about 30 miles away from Madison. I am set to do another candlelight ski on the 14th. The trails are pitch black, except for bags with candles placed inside, along the center of the trail. When I went, the skiing was amazing. You could see all of the stars. It was, of course, below zero that night, but since I have my "uniform," I survived.

I have been enjoying the winter farmer's market. In fact, I just ate a sweet potato from there. The winter farmer's market is - get this- directly across from my apartment. In fact, one crazy Saturday morning, I was actually up at 6 AM, for a morning ski, and there they were - the farmers were unloading their produce into the building. It's literally 15 steps from my front door. They cook a breakfast, each week prepared by a different chef from gourmet restaurants in town. My experience has been that the meals are so incredible, there is usually a line to the entrance. Naturally, all of the ingredients are from the farmers. Scrumptious.

This brings me to a new topic. This past week was Restaurant Week in town. Participating restaurants selected a special three course meal for the price of $25/person. I finally got to experience L'Etoile, and I was not disappointed. Probably the most expensive restaurant in Madison, they fully support sustainable agriculture. In the restaurant, they feature a map of the state, and surrounding areas, which shows where all of their food comes from. The meal was incredible, and worth the money. I will be revisiting there again, but probably not until there is a special occasion. (Their chef prepared last week's farmer's market breakfast).

This weekend was in the 30s, which for Madison, was a heat wave. It was sunny, too. I was able to finally get in some outdoor running in, as opposed to my usual early morning treadmill routine.

So, I finally saw this outdoor lifestyle center that I have heard about. Because I have been so opposed to chains and such, I was sort of hesitant to experience the lifestyle center that is in the burbs. Today, it was suggested that we go to an undisclosed shoe store (chain). I was open to it because I need some more boots, but as soon as we got there, I didn't want to be there. Oh, let me explain what a lifestyle center is. The concept is an outdoor shopping area, which usually includes some plush landscaping, fountains, and is full of franchise type stores. I assume they do well in warm climates, but in a place like Wisconsin, one probably doesn't want to shop there, when you have to walk from one end to the other in below freezing temperatures. Because I am two blocks from State Street, which features many stores with the items I was checking out today, I was hesitant to give my money to these big chains. After walking into the third store, I said, "This is depressing me. We have to get back down town." I never thought I would say that, after living in Boston. But, it just doesn't make sense for me to give my money to a big corporation when I can give it to my neighbor. Literally. And so, we got the hell out of there.

I totally understand why people like lifestyle centers. Don't get me wrong. I just don't have the need for them at this time. A lot of people like going there because it gives them a sense of being surrounded by people. I get this. But, I have that where I am now. So, I probably won't be going back there.

And so, I have learned what areas I like and dislike. This is probably the longest I have gone without seeing a movie at Sundance. But, I did watch "Witness" this afternoon, where it was said by family and friends during the debut of the film that I looked identical to the little boy who plays Samuel. It was like looking in a mirror.

And just off the record - in the next month, I do plan on moving my blog. I need one that is easier to use links in, and I plan on adding a picture from time to time, so I will keep you posted on that.