Letting Loose

One of my favorite ways to unwind.
One of my favorite ways to unwind.

Did you know that it’s National Stress Awareness Month? Sometimes I feel like every month is National Stress Awareness Month as I am totally aware of the stress I’ve been feeling lately. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual stressors like paying taxes, thinking about what steps to take in my career, lack of sleep, and over-analyzing all of my life choices. No big deal!

There are countless books, blogs, talk shows, periodicals, and know-it-alls out there that provide a lifetime of information on the best ways to deal with stress. I’m sure your friendly health care professional has some great tips, too. However, when it comes to unwinding, I’m a huge proponent for doing whatever works for you. There’s no one cure-all way to de-stress! 

One of my favorite ways to unwind and alleviate stress is by partaking in water sports. I recently returned to the swimming pool after a long hiatus and it’s been life-changing. I spent 14 years as a competitive swimmer and I’ve missed that kind of intense exercise. You know how I feel about endorphins. I’ve also gotten into aquacycling and it’s quickly become another favorite way to really get those endorphins going. I’m addicted to the unique and intense workout, not to mention being in the water!

Central Park Boat Pond on a recent night. Doesn't even feel like the city!
Central Park Boat Pond on a recent night. Doesn’t even feel like the city!

Strolling through Central Park is another way I love to unwind. It’s so easy to get to and once I’m in the park, I don’t feel like I’m on a crowded island with 8.4 million other people. Instead, I feel like I’m on a solitary hike through the north woods of Wisconsin.

Of course, who can turn down a good giggle with friends? It’s free and it’s a great way to unwind. Laughter is the best medicine, after all. You get me on a good laughing roll and I can skip my abs workout for the day. 

A good dance party is also another one of my favorite ways to unwind. Especially since a dance party can happen anywhere, at any time. Just the other day I had an impromptu dance party while scrubbing my kitchen floors. Never felt better! All you need is music and the moves. 

Then again, what better way to unwind than by taking a vacation? I’ve never felt more relaxed than I did this last summer up north in Wisconsin. I love the vacation life. For my next trip, I’m thinking Europe. Or Vegas. Vegas, baby! I’d love to spend a weekend in my swimsuit laying poolside with a frozen drink at the Venetian working on my tan, then hitting the slots at night and maybe a party at the top of the Palms. You only live once, right? I’ve never been to Vegas and it’s a place everyone should experience at least once. Am I right?!

Tell me, what are your favorite ways to unwind?

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Vacation Made Me Realize What I Want in Life, More Vacation

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

WI sunsetLast week, I returned from a two-week vacation to my native Wisconsin and it made me realize that what I really want out of life is more vacation. I can’t even remember the last time I took a trip for the sake of taking a trip. My vacations have never lasted more than a week and so I almost felt guilty taking off two weeks. Almost.

I know when you go on vacation you’re supposed to recharge and return to your daily life feeling all invigorated with a new perspective on life and perhaps a new addition to your daily routine that you acquired like eating smoked bacon with every meal or doing awkward yoga poses on the edge of mountain at sunset, but I’d like to maintain the vacation lifestyle forever.

photo-33I’d love to live in a cabin in Northern Wisconsin and spend my days hiking through the woods and my evenings sipping cognac by the fire, staring at the constellations and trying to remember the name of that damn king constellation located next to Cassiopeia the Queen or remembering if Orion is even visible in the sky this time of year. (Note to self: I really need to brush up on my constellations. My 2nd grade science teacher would be ashamed of me.) Or marveling that the universe is enormous beyond what my brain can comprehend and we as humans are incredibly tiny and insignificant, so throw another log on the fire and let’s have another round of s’mores!

photo-34It would be nice to enjoy a $2 brat here and there and sip a $5 cocktail out of a pint glass from time-to-time at the local watering hole where the bartender knows my name and plays my favorite song without me even having to ask. I would love if the only worries I had in my day were that I forgot to apply bug spray and there’s too much sand in my tennis shoes from the impromptu dip in the lake. I hope the rain comes after I finish this round of mini golf. Hey, we’re out of cognac!

photo-35And how about all that free time to use devouring a good book? To me, no vacation is complete without spending quality time in the comfy chair in the corner of the living room by the window, or in the back yard under the patio table umbrella, or on the front porch in the rocking chair amongst the pages of a really good read. Sometimes with a beer in hand.

Can’t this be my real life? Can’t I be a professional vacationer and in return I’ll report back to you all on my travels? I promise it will be interesting!

The responsible adult in me knows that I have to return real life (at least physically), but I learned what my vacation had to teach me and I’m keeping that with me. Although I’ve returned my daily grind in the Big Apple, I’m approaching it with my enlightened vacation mind. I’m making the time for things I enjoy doing most and not feeling guilty about it.

long live passion

Take Off Your Headphones

ImageWhile going to the laundromat isn’t necessarily my most favorite pastime, I do welcome the allotted amount of freedom that doing laundry provides. This free time allows me to read to the paper, work on the Times crossword puzzle, listen to music, and tweet.

Today, I found myself in the chairs of the neighborhood laundromat reading the Times and blasting music into my headphones. A cool breeze blew through the somewhat stuffy laundromat as I read about a cheating scandal and an unlikely nude beach in Wisconsin.

Amidst my reading, I noticed that an older, tiny woman sat down in the chair next to me. All of the other chairs in the laundromat were empty, but the woman chose to sit directly next to me. I’ve often found that any time I’m sitting in an empty place, whether it’s a movie theater, a train, or a bus, people always tend to pick the one seat directly next to me. As soon as she sat down, she motioned to my headphones.

“You should be careful not to have those in your ears too often,” she said. “Take if from me, I’m hard of hearing and hearing aids are expensive!” I laughed and thanked her for the kind advice. I never much thought about the price of hearing aids, but I welcome any advice on how to save money. I took off my headphones and turned off my music so that I could open the door for a conversation with this woman. She saw the opportunity and we began chatting a little. Once the conversation ended, I returned to my paper to continue my reading.

As I paged through the paper, I noticed the woman peering over my shoulder. I angled the paper so that she could take a peek as well.

“They’re still talking about her?” she asked, referencing the article about Nora Ephron’s memorial service.

“Yes,” I said. “They just had a memorial service for her. They’re talking about who attended and what they said.” I turned the page and moved on to another article.

“That’s awful!” she said, referencing the next article I read about a brownstone in Brooklyn that collapsed.

“It stood for 150 years! Unbelievable,” I said. She began chatting with me about what it was like to visit her old neighborhood in the Bronx many years later when she was a case worker. The buildings were not as large has she had remembered and you could no longer get ice cream for a nickel at the local store. In fact, there was no local store.

She then pointed out another story that I hadn’t heard about–a story about a boat that capsized during the 4th of July fireworks.

“That guy should be held partially responsible for those drownings. After all, it was his boat!” I skimmed the article for the facts and found that the boat had been filled with many more people than its capacity and there weren’t enough life jackets. Worse, children drowned. Enough of that news for one day. I moved onto the Arts section.

“Is it supposed to rain any time soon?” she asked. I picked up the front section and turned to the back where the weather reports are printed.

“Not until Saturday,” I said, quickly skimming. Our conversation came to a halt when it was time for her to move her laundry from the washer to the dryer. I got up to fold my laundry that had finished drying.

As I began folding bath towels and t-shirts, I found myself next to the woman again as she was looking to put her laundry into the dryer. It happened to be just as I took a Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt out of the dryer and began folding. Her eyes widened with excitement.

“Did you attend Wisconsin?” she asked.

“I’m from there!” I said.

“I went to Michigan State. From 1953-1956.”

“Big rivals!” I said.

“My brother went to Minnesota,” she said.

“Another rival!” I said.

“Back in those days, there were only 14,000 people at Michigan State. So our professors new us. That was nice,” she said.

“Only 14,000 people back then? Wow,” I said.

“We went to the Rose Bowl. I didn’t even ask permission from my father. And in those days, there were no planes. We took the train. I can’t even remember if the band was there or not,” she said. The Rose Bowl! The Badgers have played in the Rose Bowl for the past 2 years so I’m no stranger to the hype surrounding the game and the travel plans involved. To think that this woman attended that game in the early ‘50s as a young college student and took the Union Pacific to get there and 60 years later we’re standing face-to-face in a New York City laundromat. Before this conversation, she was just a little old lady doing her laundry, but now, she was something more. A woman of the world.

I had finished folding my laundry and it was time to go.

“It was so nice to meet you,” I said. “Have a great day.”

As I walked back to my apartment, clean laundry in hand, I thought about how glad I was that I took off my headphones. You never quite know who you’re going to run into in this city and it’s such a treat when someone takes the time to talk to you and share their story. I’m also glad this woman took the time to look out for the wellbeing of my eardrums. Especially with the price of hearing aids being so high. I will be certain to take off my headphones more often.

Write Me When You Get To Liverpool

At the end of a visit with my grandma, just before we’d go our separate ways, she’d shower me with affection and leave me with a few words of wisdom. One of her favorite things to say before parting was “Skriv till mig när du kommer till Liverpool.” This phrase was Swedish for “Write me when you get to Liverpool.” It was something her mother, who emigrated from Sweden to Wisconsin at age 15, always said to her and in fact, it was what her mother urged her when she set off for America. At the time my great-grandmother set sail for America, the major hub for ships was Liverpool. Liverpool would have been the last city where she could have written home to alert her family of her whereabouts and general state of things before heading to America. “Write me when you get to Liverpool” was their way of saying, “Call me when you get there.” My grandma often used it in a “don’t be a stranger” kind of way. It’s stuck and I often say to people in my family, “Write me when you get to Liverpool” whenever they go on a trip.

As I’ve been preparing to move to New York City and saying goodbye to friends, I find myself using archaic sayings to people when we part. I don’t really like to say things like, “Goodbye, I’ll miss you” or “stay in touch.” At this point in my life, I am surrounded by people who I will always remain close with, so I don’t need to remind them to stay in touch, as we always will. I also don’t like sentimental goodbyes around the time of an exciting move. Sentimental goodbyes imply that something sad is happening and actually, this move is quite the opposite. Instead of sappy goodbyes, I find myself saying, “If you’re ever in Manhattan, look me up.” Like someone could grab a White Pages in Manhattan and be able to find me listed there. It’s also my way of reminding people, “Hey! You now have a friend in New York! Use that to your advantage.”

Similar to “look me up,” I also enjoy saying, “Drop me a line.” These days it’s fairly easy to drop someone a line via text message, Facebook, Twitter, and [insert your favorite social network here], but I envision the line to be dropped in the form of a hand written note. As if a friend in town would write me a note (preferably on parchment paper with the help of a quill) alerting them of their whereabouts and I would then meet them at some dark bistro in Manhattan for a drink and a meeting of the minds.

I’m not one for sappy, dramatic goodbyes. Instead, I prefer a simple “see you later” or “look me up” to remind my loved ones that really, nothing’s going to change except the distance between our respective houses. However, I do promise that I will write when I get to Liverpool.

Wisconsin Ain’t No Flyover State

“Wisconsin. That’s in Michigan, right?”

Once, on my family’s annual family vacation to New Hampshire, a kid asked me where I was from. I of course responded with, Wisconsin. Without skipping a beat, he responded, that’s in Michigan, right? I never forgot the disgust I felt that someone my age (11) had no idea where Wisconsin was located. Didn’t they have social studies classes in New England? Aren’t you required to locate all the fifty states on a map at least once in your childhood? Have you not watched a single episode of Schoolhouse Rock?

They don't even serve this where you're from.

Fast forward 17 years and I’m sure that boy now has a clear idea of where Wisconsin is located. I doubt he’s ever visited, because after all, what coastie would be caught dead hanging out in a flyover state?

Consider this article, “Just Tossing Around the Old Bag of Corn” that appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago. The article goes into detail about how New Yorkers are really getting into a game that we’ve been playing around these parts for decades. It’s how I imagine Columbus’s reports of the New World would have sounded to the people that he “discovered.” Dude, we’ve been saying the same thing for centuries. You didn’t discover cornhole, we did.

This is still "the beach."

My favorite is a recent post written by Wisconsin to New York transplant Megan L. Wood in The Awl called, “It’s Cute That New York is Catching Up to Wisconsin.” It expresses similar thoughts on how people in New York are now just discovering “new trends” that Wisconsinites have been setting for years.

It’s time to set the record straight. Wisconsin ain’t no flyover state, it is the real deal. You know you love us and secretly wish that you could be more like us. It’s time to put an end to that ridiculous nickname and realize that things that happen in Wisconsin are as relevant as things that happen on the coasts. Sometimes, even more so.

Since 1844!

If you still need convincing that Wisconsin ain’t all that, then I’d like to ask you a few questions. First of all, has your state been brewing Pabst Blue Ribbon since before it was an official state? Did Laura Ingalls Wilder grow up in a log cabin deep in the woods of your state which served as the inspiration for her Little House on the Prairie series which later became a hit television series starring Michael Landon? Were duck boat tours started in your state? Is America’s Largest Water Park in your neck of the woods? How many publicly owned sports teams does your state have? Can you buy alcohol on Sundays? Was America’s first kindergarten in your home state? Does your state deep fry everything and then serve it with a side of cheese? Can you host a tailgate party at all of your local sports venues? Does your state have this many breweries? When President Obama wishes us all a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays this year from the White House, will he do so against the backdrop of the White House Christmas tree, cut from the forests of your state?

Oh and did your state do this?

Wisconsin “Budget Repair Bill” Protest from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.

Remember the People That Taught You How to Read

Our teachers.

Remember when we actually appreciated the work of our teachers? I don’t even know how to begin to respond to this whole collective bargaining issue here in Wisconsin and around the country, the massive teacher lay-offs that happen every year, the constant budget cuts for already cash-strapped school districts, and the “well teachers get summers off” argument. Why do we hold our teachers personally responsible for the ills of society?

We blame teachers for low test scores and work to put them on merit-based pay tied solely to the test results of their students. Forget the fact that these tests tend to be culturally biased, promote a negative teaching-to-the-test environment in a classroom, and don’t always assess important knowledge. Tests should be one small factor in determining what  student should know and what they have learned.

We blame teachers for poorly behaved children. If only those teachers had more interesting curriculum, our children would be better behaved and our school wouldn’t have so many behavioral problems. Forget about parental accountability, teachers are to blame. Forget about the overall school culture as established by the principal and other administrators.

We blame teachers for our budget problems. What’s happening right now in Wisconsin is a perfect example. As people often say around here, “Walker is trying to balance the budget on the backs of teachers.” Teachers have already agreed to make budgetary concessions, but that’s apparently not enough. Now, Wisconsin teachers are losing their ability to collectively bargain. Most school districts around the state of Wisconsin face cuts from already tight budgets. If education and the work of teachers were truly valued in the state of Wisconsin, we wouldn’t be seeing such massive cuts.

Why all this teacher-hate? Those in favor of budget cuts similar to Scott Walkers, have you ever worked as a teacher? I have. Do you know the time commitment, the life commitment, the physical commitment of a teacher? A teacher’s job does not end with the school day ends. A teacher’s job does not end when the school year ends. If you’re a parent, you know what it’s like to be responsible for a child. Multiple that by 100. That’s the number of kids you would be held personally responsible for if you taught, say 7th grade English.

The teaching profession is not like many other jobs of its nature. I can’t stand the comparison between teaching and other jobs. As a teacher, you have to be “on” every single day. A teacher can’t just take a day off and work from the home office. A teacher can’t coast in whenever she feels like it, sit down at her desk with a cup of coffee and catch up on emails. A teacher can’t step out for an hour and meet for a brainstorming session with other professionals about best practices over lunch. A teacher is on his or her feet eight hours a day, every day, engaging students.

As for complaining that teachers get the summers off? I don’t know a single teacher that doesn’t do something school related in summers. A lot of teachers I know have to work in summers to make ends meet whether it’s in teaching summer school, doing curriculum work for the district, working at summer day camps, or preparing for next school year; teachers work in the summer.

It’s about time we show a little more respect for the people who taught us how to read. We owe them at least that much.