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January 30, 2008

Musing the meanderings of my money...

Before last week, I never gave much consideration to the meanderings of my money.

Rifling around in my purse, I grasp the green bills and hand them to a cashier and once they’ve left my possession, I didn’t really think about the thousands of transfers that happened before that particular bill came into my possession nor did I give a thought to where it went when it left. I simply thought about spending and purchasing.

Last week, as I was about to hand the barista at Higher Grounds a $20 for my white chocolate café mocha, I noticed something…funny…about my money. It had a red stamp on it and some writing. Odd, I thought. So, I stuffed it back into my purse and paid with another bill.

When I arrived home, I went to the website stamped onto the bill and found that it is part of this interesting project where curious people all over the country, relying on the inquisitive nature of people like me, are tracking the physical movement of money as it moves around the country. What’s so interesting about this?

Well, it is a little like those balloons that you let go of with a message attached, hoping against hope that someone will find your message and write you back. If a bill is found and logged into the site, you see a map and a detailed report showing each time someone found and re-registered the bill. Somewhere, someone is wondering what happened to the $20 bill they spent six months ago in Fort Wayne and registered it on a website to find out what happened after it left their possession.

This is also interesting because based on what I learned from my $20 bill, it confirms a key piece of information shared in the Columbia City Chamber of Commerce’s November monthly business luncheon. The topic of that luncheon involved the concept that money spent in your community stays in your community. In the case of my money – that seems to be literally what is happening. Isn’t that cool!?

When I logged onto the website and registered my $20 bill, I received a report that showed that it was first registered in Fort Wayne on August 10, 2007. On October 24, 2007, it was registered in Pierceton and the finder stated he or she received it in their change back at the American Legion. I received the $20 bill at the bank when I cashed a check two weeks ago. I am apparently the third person to receive the bill who has logged it, but considering the proximity to the area, it seems to be circulating in this vicinity – thereby proving that money spent in our community stays in our community – literally. Figuratively, this is an important concept for us all to consider as we make our daily business transactions. Buying locally keeps money in our community.

My $20 bill has logged at least 42 miles (not including all the miles it has been traveling in my purse!) in the past 164 days, 1 hour and 55 minutes (as of when I checked last) since it was originally registered.

It is now burning a hole in my pocket, you know, so I think its days are numbered in my hands. Besides, I’m now very curious to find out where it goes after it leaves me. I know I’ll spend it locally, so I’ll be very interested to hear if any of our Talk of The Town readers happen to get it back in their change or at the local bank. If you do find it, let me know. It would be interesting to see how this $20 travels in Whitley County. Can we keep it within our county borders?



Jennifer Zartman Romano

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January 20, 2008

A Child's World of Adventuring Gets a Little Smaller

Watching the program “Sunday Morning,” as I’ve said before, is a weekend ritual in our family. We enjoy the thought-provoking nature of the programming, the artistry of much of the camera work and, as much as anything, the fact that it is something we always do. This week was a little different than most, however, as our household has been hit heavily by the some infectious bug that has turned three of the four people in our house into pasty-faced zombies. So, no coffee, no extensive breakfast while we watched the show. In fact, we all wore our pajamas all day and had great difficulty determining anything that sounded at all palatable to eat – until dinner when we all agreed that the peculiar combination of cheese quesadillas and tater tots would be edible without fear of consequences.
All illness aside, it was still an impressive show this morning, as expected, and left us with several thoughts to consider for the day in our quiet hours. The most profound consideration for me, however, was the idea that in the past 100 years, the amount of ground a child could safely cover in a day has diminished greatly – due to actual and imagined dangers.
One example was that a boy in the early part of the last century was once able to walk six miles to a location. His child, many years later at the same age, was only allowed to venture out on his own about a mile away. Today, children aren’t typically encouraged to go much beyond sight of their home or yards.
My husband and I thought of our own childhoods this morning and, indeed, we had been able to travel, alone, much further from home than we would allow our children to. We both grew up in very different settings: city versus country. I spent nearly every good day wandering in the fields, searching for artifacts, burying time capsules, climbing on rock piles, drawing and wandering in the woods about a half-mile from my rural home. Tony says he remembers walking a significant distance from his home near Wells Street in Fort Wayne and over to Franke Park, into the woods.
“I don’t remember being told where I couldn’t go, I just didn’t go any further than that,” he said. I don’t recall a verbalization of boundaries either. I suppose I kept in regular contact with my mother during the day and, so, there wasn’t much to worry about. She knew where to find me since each day’s adventure involved covering much of the same ground.
Today, we live in relative proximity to several other families whose children attend the same school as ours do. Still, I can’t imagine even a few years from now, allowing my children to walk alone to their friends’ homes. As easy as it is for me to chart a direct trail from our home to a friend’s home, I can’t help but think of plenty of scary ideas about the part of the trip, in the middle, where I couldn’t see them walking any longer. Strange, I had talked to someone several years ago that grew up in the same neighborhood where  I live today and he recounted how his daily adventures included meanderings much further than even I would consider making alone today – and I’m an adult.
How sad, really, that it is no longer thought of as safe to wander away from home, to spend a full afternoon engaged in adventures of your own. Think of the wonder our children are missing out on, the excitement they would have found on their own? Or the exercise they would be guaranteed? I really wish we could go back to the level of security, real or imagined, that children enjoyed even half a century ago. I’m grateful we live in a relatively safe community where it probably would be okay to allow children to travel freely on their own – I just wish I believed that enough to make it so.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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January 17, 2008

Give yourself a hug...please


Despite efforts at self-esteem campaigns aimed at young girls and Dove’s natural beauty initiatives, women still have exceedingly warped self-images. Size two or size 20,  seemingly everyone thinks they’re ugly and fat.

Over the past 24 hours, it has occurred to me just how warped some see themselves and, in stark contrast, there are very few who really get it – and sometimes I think they only get it after realizing what really matters in life. For many, it seems that facing one’s mortality seems to be the biggest wakeup call that, perhaps, they’re decent and in the scheme of things, does it even matter?

On Martha Stewart’s show Tuesday morning, a guest was talking about how her daughter asked her, “If you could have any super power, what would it be?” Now, my response would be “ability to heal” or “amazing power of peacekeeping” or something of that nature. Her response, sickeningly, was “I would want to be able to eat anything I wanted and not gain weight.” Please. You’d waste a wish for super power on that? How shallow are we? And how wrong to make such a warped statement to your impressionable, probably already weight-obsessed, teen daughter?

The ubiquitous “media” doesn’t help this. Nor does advertising, television shows, etc. When you think of makeover shows, the ones that come to mind typically involve unrealistic workouts with 24/7 personal trainers that real people can’t afford, stylists, cosmetic dentists and, a good portion of the time, significant plastic surgery. What many would view as thin women going under the knife, getting their fleshier parts circled, sucked out and stapled up again in the name of looking good. A lot of the time, they looked just fine to begin with.

For the first time, I just finished watching a "makeover" television show that actually worked at building people up. I was skeptical at first. I mean, this is new territory. Instead of the woman standing there before a full-length mirror looking at herself in beige (who really looks good in beige anyway?) and spewing feelings of self-loathing as the  show’s host berates her imperfections, this show actually began immediately asking about her insecurities and attempting to begin a process of improving her self-image.

Amazingly, the process took admittedly frumpy people who were wearing their insecurities on their sleeves. By the end of the show, they were gorgeous and glowing. It wasn’t all about new outfits and highlighted hair. It was about more than that – and it worked.

The show, “How to Look Good Naked,” is now running on the Lifetime Channel (my husband’s least favorite on our cable lineup) and is hosted by the poised and punchy Carson Kressley. After verbalizing exactly what it was about their bodies they didn’t like, the women on the show, clad in only their grundie-undies, walked before a lineup of similarly-sized ladies with the directive to find their spot, size-wise, in the biggest-to-smallest scheme. Invariably, each woman over-estimated her size by several inches. They were all shocked to see they were much smaller than they thought. Meanwhile, their scantily-dressed body was superimposed on the side of a building. Passersby were asked to comment on the woman’s size and shape. Guess what, folks? They were POSITIVE comments! “Wow, she’s hot!” and “Look at her calves!” and verbalizations like that. Some were even…racy...and bleep-able comments. After the woman on the show got over the initial horror that her overexposed body had been large and in charge on the side of a building in some city, she was floored to hear that in others’ eyes she looked good. The self-esteem was newly plumped and the wheels began to turn. A transformation took place in each woman that radiated – suddenly smiles were gleaming, hair was fluffy, everything looked right…no, more than right.

The halting moment at the end of each episode was when Kressley asked the women, in their full glory of gorgeousness, if they’d like to pose…in the buff! Eyes popped out of heads. Jaws dropped. I thought surely they’d say no…

They said yes!

For those of you worried about what I’m going to say next or those thinking there is no way they are going to watch smut on television – the remaining five minutes of each show were tasteful, vindicating and cathartic for womankind as a whole. It wasn’t about the photos – it was about facing the fears and not only acceptance, but a sense of self-loving. We can all use some of that.

I realize skewed self-images, diet obsession, vanity and insecurities built upon after years of repeated insult are not going to go away overnight. But, starting with you – probably the only person that really, really examines at you skeptically in the mirror everyday – just make it stop! Before you have to reach some life-altering moment, quit wasting hours of your days, weeks of your life and would-be memorable moments obsessing about your hair, your body, your face and worry about meaningful things. Be amazed that the miracle that is your life is happening. So you may be a little “fluffier” than models in magazines. So what? Remind yourself that you have fans they’ll never know or that you can actually enjoy a piece of double chocolate cake if you want to! Remind yourself that someone, your spouse/special friend/whomever, does think you’re gorgeous. In fact, remember that probably half of the people you pass on the street probably find something attractive about you – and the ones who don’t probably loathe themselves too, make the people around them miserable and their opinion is of no consequence to you anyway. If the show I watched was any indication, this is what we all really need for the ultimate self-makeover. We need to love ourselves first. The rest will fall into place.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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January 06, 2008

The potentially high cost of adolescent hijinks...

As if early adolescence wasn’t hard enough, I think the internet has the possibility of making it worse and, as the mother of a girl who will eventually be that age, I’m not sure I’m prepared.

I still clearly remember my pre-teen years. The awkwardness, the imbalance and worst of all -- the peer dynamics. I kept a diary during those years and I cringe reading it today. I can sum it up by saying I would never, ever, EVER want to be a pre-teen again. I’m grateful that each year after the age of 13 was accompanied by further maturity, clarity, self-discovery and understanding. I am glad that I had amazing, involved parents who were committed to me and teachers who went above and beyond at a time when I really needed some added assurance in the infinitely more cruel world outside my home.

Just this morning, as part of our Sunday morning routine, we watched the news programs and I learned about the latest photo scandal involving a young star. Apparently, some of what I would describe as “goofy” photos surfaced of her with her friends at a slumber party. They weren’t particularly questionable in my mind – just young, giggly girls being silly. Please. Reading too much into what she was doing in the pictures is the real perversion. They were photos of her with her friends that, for most teens, would either wind up in a scrapbook, crammed in a desk or, on her most horrifying day, maybe posted anonymously on her locker door. That’s it. Instead, she’s a star, they wound up on the internet and now they’re fodder public scrutiny. I’m not going to add to the drama by discussing her situation any further, but the whole thing made me think about something I had not considered before. At that moment, I realized that what would have happened to those photos on the worst day when I was a teen or pre-teen is not the worst thing that could happen in today’s technological world.

Indeed, combine the fickle relationships, raging hormones, immaturity and, unfortunately, the amount of instability and disfunction in homes today, oh – and the internet – and it is a recipe for disaster on a level I can’t fathom even on my worst day as an adolescent girl.

Later, in the process of looking for something else entirely on the internet, I came across a MySpace page dedicated to what appeared to be a cliquish, mutual hate for one teen girl by a group of other girls – and, sadly, it was a very large group. The site featured a photo of the young target superimposed with choice words emblazoned across it, a photo of the “ringleader” and boasted the membership of 44 others who, at least online, were showing their support of this campaign of hate. Knowing teens, probably only a few really did not like the girl and the others just wanted to avoid being objects of their own hate campaigns! The page appeared to have been created two years ago and it was shockingly still online. I can’t imagine how much someone much dislike someone else to create a webpage dedicated to that hate. I also can’t imagine how much it must hurt the targeted girl that such a page has existed, for the world to see, for the past two years. Unfortunately, she is powerless to remove it or it would be long gone by now and I would not have stumbled across it today. Further troubling is that I know this same drama is playing out with other teens in other schools and towns. I have seen news shows dedicated to the “what happens next” when this kind of adolescent behavior results in permanent damage in the form of psychological harm or, worse, unnatural death. Yeah, it can be that serious. I’ve seen the shows.

What is a parent to do to prepare for this? I can’t protect her from what is probably not going to be a pleasant era in her life – the adolescent years – but there has to be a way I can make it easier. My gut feeling is that I want to insulate her from the world around her, yet I know it isn’t realistic. I have no idea how to deal with preventing her from posing in a goofy photo that a miffed, misguided, so-called friend might post online to hurt or embarrass her. Yes, I realize she’s not going to be a movie star, but she is going to be like every other girl her age not wanting to be the object of ridicule or cruelty by her peers. And, in today’s age, I now realize the internet, personal cell phones and technology that isn’t even invented yet might somehow play into what happens to everyone in those trying, adolescent years – making them tougher, more dangerous and damaging to the psyche.

Indeed, I will do the best I can to build her up at home, reinforce the values we have in our family and with God, and to enhance her self-esteem and perspective as she grows. I will be the active, involved parent that asks too many questions and who gets in her space. I will make every effort to be personally acquainted with all of her friends, their parents and their life story. I’m planning to know the drama in her. That’s the kind of mom I had and that’s the kind I’m going to be! I think that is the best any parent can do to get ready for what’s ahead. I’m just glad I have about seven years to prepare for this.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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The readership of Talk of the Town Whitley County went international yesterday when a little red dot on our radar screen popped up in London, England! We now also have visitors along the east cost, west coast, southern states and, of course, across the midwest. Thanks to all of you for spreading the word and sharing the good news with friends, neighbors and family members -- here and everywhere. We are grateful for each and every visitor.


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