Sunday, December 3, 2017

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree...

I subscribe to the philosophy, "Anything worth doing is worth over-doing."
When I signed up in July for my third Run Santa Run 5K, I opted to run in the new costume - a Christmas tree. The race fee includes a shirt and hat/headgear to fit each costume. The event, held the first Saturday of December in Madison, draws a large crowd to Capitol Square.

Other costume options included elf, reindeer or Santa. I ran as a reindeer my first year. In my second, I tried snowman. Each year I embellished a bit, adding a blinking red nose to play Rudolph and a snowman print dress, snowman jingle bell earrings, a scarf and an orange (carrot) nose my second time out.
Inspired by the creative costumes of others from my first two years of participating, I decided to bring it this year.

I went full Christmas tree. 

Or as close as I could get. 

Who knew that the brown leggings I sought (to represent a tree trunk) would be so hard to find?
I opted for candy cane striped socks. 
Or that the race shirt for the tree costume would be white?
I bought a tree costume online, complete with a gold star on top and round "ornaments." Then I added gold garland and two battery operated LED light strings. 
I secured the garland and lights to the costume with safety pins, and stuffed the star topper with plastic bags to try to keep it upright. Wearing the tree hat included with the race package also helped me keep it up. I wormed my way into the costume, asked for help from my friend to adjust it and turned on the light packs.

When one appears in public dressed up, the best option is to just own it. I smiled and greeted those who smiled back. 
We swapped holiday greetings or I thanked them for complimenting my costume. I accepted high fives, and loved it when another race participant, passing me on State Street long after the run ended, told me, "You won today." A barista at Starbucks, where we stopped for a post-race refreshment, told me that I really knew how to light up a room. My favorite reactions came from children. Their eyes would get wide, and some would tug on their mom or dad's hand to point me out. I received a few shy smiles, a some cute little waves. I distributed holiday-themed wristbands to children participating in the race.
There are those who pretended not to see me, and I suspect they may be inured to the spectacles common to State Street.
State Street offers such an amazing window on humanity, bringing together people of different races, ethnicities, gender identification, spiritual beliefs and more.
There are coffee bars, candy stores, shops offering funky and unique items, and great bars and restaurants offering cuisines not found in the small town where I live. One also runs into people who are down on their luck, too many who appear to live on the street.

So when several thousand people showed up in costume for a fun run, they fit right in.

Now, I acknowledge that part of my personality is attention seeking. It falls in with my horoscope sign- Leo. That side of my personality wars with my inner introvert, who would prefer to be a wallflower (or just stay home and read.)
Fourteen years at my former job helped me tamp down that more introverted side and learn to embrace meeting new people. I still talk to strangers, offering sincere compliments.

I've battled depression and anxiety for most of my life. Accepting that faulty brain chemistry causes many of my emotional swings helps. So do the meds that help keep those swings on more of an even keel. I learned to accept and love myself and all my quirks, and discovered the best weapon when fighting darkness.


I embrace the weird, and try to find ways to bring smiles. I soak in positive energy and do my best to radiate it back out as joy.
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Delayed humble brag

My work earned several awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest. The awards were announced on Feb. 24.
Citizen staff earns awards

My feature story, "Saving grace" earned a second place award.
Saving Grace

I submitted three Lifestyles issues: January 30-31, 2016; March 12-13, 2016; and July 9-10, 2016. I serve as the features editor, and Lifestyles has been my responsibility since 2009, so it was lovely to see the section earn second place. I can't share the full issues here, but can include links to stories and columns that ran in those issues.
Capturing the light
Bicycle tour helps tell a story

Please pick up after pets

Early childhood educators offer advice
School offers childcare
Athlete serves as inspiration

I submitted these three columns, which received third place:
Five years gone by
Great educators inspire students
Make a reading resolution

 For the first 10 years on the job, I did not submit entries to the contest because I am my own worst critic. While the best feedback for my work is a response from the subject of the story, other journalists serve as the judges for the contest, and it feels good to be recognized by my peers. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Broomball swept me off my feet

Sharing a column from Feb. 13, 2016

Broomball swept me off my feet

I ventured north last week to my alma mater, Michigan Technological University, to visit my son – now a student there– and to join friends in celebrating Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival.
The event dates back to the 1930s and continues to grow, organized by the Blue Key National Honor Society. A theme is chosen and student and community groups compete in a month-long or overnight snow statue-building contest. Other activities include skits, crowning a Winter Carnival queen, a beard growing competition, hockey and more.
While there, I tried something I never did while a student at Tech.
I played broomball.
For those unfamiliar with the game, it is played on ice, but rather than using skates and sticks as in hockey, players wear shoes and wield brooms to hit a ball about the size of a softball.
The sport originated in Canada, although Sweden contests that claim. The rules are similar to hockey, and broomball also features teams of six. Broomball’s popularity on Michigan Tech’s campus blossomed after I graduated, and it now takes three rinks constructed on campus to meet the schedule demands of six leagues and more than 200 teams.
Michigan Tech set up webcams on the rinks, and installed a trailer as a warming shelter and place to serve free hot cocoa.
Michigan Tech sticks to tradition and only allows players to use corn brooms. Players get creative with duct tape to customize their brooms, cutting the bristles in different ways that make them better for offense or defense. While I was a student at Michigan Tech, broomball players usually only sported winter hats as head protection. Now, the university requires a helmet with a face mask.
I brought my own elbow and knee pads, and borrowed a hockey helmet and broom from my son, who plays on two teams.
During Winter Carnival, Michigan Tech offers an alumni-student invitational tournament that plays games on Friday and Saturday. On the second day of the tournament, players get a traditional “Yooper” lunch: a pasty and a pickled egg.
My team, dubbed “Team 52” in honor of our captain’s birthday, played on Friday. The team included a few recent graduates and alumni from the 1980s and 1990s. One teammate now works as a professor on campus, and many of his students showed up as a cheering section. The first team we played won last year’s tournament, and was composed of all young men. Team 52 had six men and four women.
Alumni teams were guaranteed to play at least two games. Team 52 lost both.
We went down in a blaze of glory.
The scores?
15-1 and 9-1.
We did earn one trophy — the Copper Broom — awarded to the team with the highest average age.*
I played defense and took several turns as goalie. I confess my time as goalie revealed me as a sieve. My eye-hand coordination leaves a lot to be desired, but I did make one nice save.
With my throat.
While I temporarily found breathing difficult, the nods and “Good saves” from opposing team members made it worth it.
Hurting my left knee in the second game made it slightly less fun. And my skin sports several bruises from places where I either stopped the ball or hit the ice.
But I found playing broomball so much fun that I would play again. I’ll just invest in better knee, shin and neck protection.
And work on my slap shot.

*The Copper Broom is a spirit award. But I believe we earned it with our combined average age. 
Check out this story about the alumni broomball tournament.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Love is just love

Valentine’s Day is Sunday.
In elementary school, I loved the holiday – from making the boxes for classmates to deliver valentines to filling out cards to hand out. My first grade teacher took pictures of all her students holding a giant red heart to create valentines to send home, and more than 20 years later, my parents scanned the photo and used it in a valentine card they gave me.

In the sixth grade, instead of getting a list of classmates’ names to help make sure you made a valentine for everyone (because the elementary school rule was give a card to everyone, or give out none), I had to wing it. I handed out valentines and to my horror, learned I had forgotten a girl in the other homeroom. She and I have reconnected now on Facebook, and I will not name her. I hope she has forgotten the unintended slight. I still feel bad about it.
In the seventh grade, a student group had a Valentine’s Day-related fundraiser. You could send messages to those you liked. The group came around handing out the messages. I did not get one and was devastated. My best friend made me a valentine out of ruled school paper. I still treasure it.
My cynicism about Valentine’s Day began around that time, and grew over the years. I longed for a crush to reach out to me on the holiday.
Instead, my valentines came from friends or family. My parents gave me Valentine’s Day gifts: usually a card, flowers, candy or jewelry. Today I am wearing a pair of heart-shaped gold earrings they gave me while in high school.
My Valentine’s Day grudge continued through college and adulthood, although I tamped it down while helping my son prepare his holiday treats for school. I began celebrating QuirkyAlone Day instead.
And now, in my 40s, I’m over it.
I choose to celebrate love in all its forms. I no longer get bent out of shape longing for romantic love for Valentine’s Day. I celebrate my love for my son, my family and my friends. I handed out valentines to co-workers – including cards leftover from handing out valentines in elementary school that I squirreled away in my stash of stationery.
I’m outing myself as a romantic after years of hiding it behind a very cynical shell.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Will you be my valentine?

Monday, January 4, 2016

I resolve...

to not set traditional New Year's resolutions.
Instead, I plan to pursue fitness goals - including breaking the 30-minute mark on a 5K run, trimming down my half-marathon and 10K times and training with friends to meet the RKC challenge of 100 snatches in 5 minutes with a 16KG kettlebell. I signed up for at least one new race this year, and may try the CrazyLegs in Madison.
2016 will bring an end to my civic duty. I find it fascinating but also sometimes soul-crushing, and the commute forced me to adapt a bit to city driving.
Looking forward to time spent with friends and family, from a baby shower, wedding and hitting the all-nighter during Winter Carnival at Michigan Tech.
Hoping to scrimp and save and indulge in a trip to Florida, and perhaps Colorado.
Perhaps this will be the year I finally get the Magic Mike-themed birthday party I wanted when I turned 40.
Looking forward to 2016 and the adventures that await.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 - My Year in Reading

I went through several reading droughts this year, periods where a week or more went by without me finishing a book. Then I would spend a weekend diving into one book after another (housework is overrated) and caught up. My total for the year according to Goodreads is 219, but I opted not to count several re-reads.
My list of books to read on Goodreads now approaches 800 titles. If I keep my re-reading to a minimum, I hope to put a dent in that number by the time 2017 arrives.

By the Numbers:

Total Books Read: 219 (The total is probably around 225, or more)
Books I read again for the second (or third or more time):  9 (per Goodreads, closer to 16 in reality)
Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction:  16
Romance:  103
Mystery: 46
Nonfiction:  8
Paranormal, Horror, Sci/Fi, Fantasy:   22
Series books: 156
Novellas/Short stories:  7

The authors I read the most in 2014:
John Sandford: 11
Great mysteries set mostly in Minnesota, written by a former journalist. Some plotlines get pretty dark. But once the story hooks you, the book becomes practically impossible to put down.

Richelle Mead: 8
Mostly books written for the teen market, mostly in the paranormal/fantasy genre. Quick, fun reads.

Jenn McKinlay: 4
Essentially what is none as a “cozy” mystery, set in New England and featuring a librarian and her book club friends.

Julie Anne Long: 10
I fell in love with her Pennyroyal Green romance series and anxiously await the final title in the series. It came out last year, and I am still on the waitlist for it through my library. She writes amazing romances. Utterly fabulous.

Lorraine Heath: 11
After reading a romance recommended by a book club I take part in through Facebook, I tore through Heath’s back catalogue. Some are better than others, I did not care for the books set in Texas.

Molly Harper: 4
Paranormal romances with witches, werewolves, shapeshifters and vampires with a great sense of humor.

Elly Griffiths: 5
She writes contemporary mysteries set in the UK featuring a female protagonist, Ruth Galloway.

Amelia Grey: 5
Meredith Duran: 4
Grace Burrowes: 5
Romance novelists I discovered by following my favorite romance authors on Facebook and Twitter.

The final book of the year? “The Rogue Not Taken” by Sarah MacLean. I cannot recommend her books enough. Fabulous romances with richly drawn characters, fast-moving plots and fantastic dialogue. I pre-ordered it from her favorite neighborhood bookstore and scored an autographed copy. 

My favorite books of the year include MacLean’s, plus “The Suffragette Scandal” by Courtney Milan; “Ruffian: Burning From the Start” by Jane Schwartz about the ill-fated filly who rocked the horse racing world; “Mortal Heart” by Robin LaFevers, the last in a fabulous series about female assassins in medieval France, with a fantasy twist, “The Likeness” by Tana French, the second in her Dublin Murder Squad series; “A Dangerous Place” by Jacqueline Winspear, the next in her Maisie Dobbs series. “Brush Back” by Sara Paretsky, the latest in her V.I. Wachowski series set in Chicago, “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “The Walls Around Us” by Nova Ren Suma, which still haunts me; “How to Start a Fire” by Lisa Lutz, “Revolution” by Russell Brand, “The Martian” by Andy Weir and the books in John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series.
My highest rated romances for the year are by Julie Anne Long. "I Kissed an Earl" and "What I Did For a Duke" and "How the Marquess Was Won."  Utterly brilliant and the books made me laugh, smile, cry and require a fan for the hot flashes. 
Here’s most of what I read in 2015:

I look forward to reading great books in 2016 (including finishing several I started in 2015). What are you reading? 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Journey to Niagara Falls

Originally published on July 12, 2008

Journey to Niagara Falls

My parents as we wait our turn to ride the Maid of the Mist.

My family celebrated Independence Day by leaving the country. My son and I visited my parents at their new house east of Cleveland last week, and on July 4 we were on the road before 6 a.m. on a family road trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. We crossed the border in Buffalo, N.Y. Travelers are still able to cross without a passport, so long as they have a photo ID and birth certificate. 
My mom bought four Niagara Falls and Great Gorge adventure passes on-line the night before we left. The pass included tickets to four Niagara Falls attractions. After parking, we took a People Mover bus to the top of Horseshoe Falls. Use of the bus came with our adventure passes but paying for parking at select lots also gives you a day pass for the bus. 
The falls were incredible. 
Experiencing Niagara Falls in person uses almost all your senses. The river water looked like liquid jade that turns white as it pours over the edge. You feel the mist on your skin and hear the roar of the water. 
Following the advice of the girl at the welcome center, our first destination after staring in awe at Niagara Falls and snapping some photos was the Maid of the Mist boat ride. Each person is given a disposable blue rain slicker, and the boat travels past the American Falls and brings visitors to the river in the middle of Horseshoe Falls. Its the best way to feel the power of the falls as the boat struggles to stay in place for a few minutes. My son asked if we could take the boat ride again. My mom and I are not big fans of boats, but I think we would have both been willing. 
After disembarking, we decided to use the tickets to the Butterfly Conservatory. Another bus ride brought us to the botanical gardens for a light lunch and then a walk among over 2,000 butterflies. There were an amazing variety of butterflies in a rainbow of colors. The walk through the butterfly garden ended in the gift shop (as did nearly all Niagara Falls' attractions) and we scooted through there to find a mob scene in the entry way. 
The cause of the furor was a celebrity. Jay Leno was there, looking exhausted, but graciously having his picture taken with fans. He's not as tall as I thought he'd be. No one in my family wanted to trouble him for a photo, so we left. 
Our next stop was the White Water Walk along the rapids. While the rapids on the river are incredible, walking the boardwalk along the river isn't worth the wait and a cramped elevator ride. If I had to do it again, I would try the whirlpool aero car. 
Wanting to indulge in some souvenir shopping, I talked my family into a short walk up the road to a shop. Along the way we stopped in a store specializing in Native American crafts, and I found a good deal on postcards and couldn't resist an owl carved out of sumac. At the next store, my mom bought maple and chocolate fudge. After an early dinner at the restaurant closest to the falls, we took the Journey Behind the Falls, an elevator ride to tunnels that bring you behind the falls and to a viewing platform near the base of the falls. 
My mother wanted to stay for the fireworks show and nightly illumination of Niagara Falls, but she was vetoed. It had already been a long day, and there was a three and a half hour car ride back to my parents' house. We took a brief detour to head toward Lake Ontario. We got far enough to see the Toronto skyline and the Welland Canal before heading back to the border. 
We got back to my parents house pretty late, and the only fireworks we saw were the occasional burst of sparks from communities along the highway. Since most American tourists stay home to celebrate the holiday, the crowds at Niagara Falls weren't too bad. It is such an international destination that I am sure we saw (and heard) people from six continents. I've now been to 21 of the 50 states and can finally say that I've traveled outside the continental USA. This trip also means I've been to all five of the Great Lakes. My son still needs to visit Lake Huron. The only thing that could have made the trip better was if we'd talked my sister into driving up from Indianapolis to join us.