The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Jo Mathis it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: Happiness in Motion Sat, 05 Mar 2011 19:34:18 +0000 Jo Mathis Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

I attended an open house at The Health & Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College not because I wanted to work out, but because I’d heard it was the most fantastic rec center in the entire world.

I learned two things that day: It really is the most fantastic rec center in the world. And working out can indeed be that joyful, endorphin-releasing high I’ve heard about but rarely experienced.

I felt strong. I felt pampered. I wanted to sell my house and move closer to WCC so I could work out every morning and live happily ever after.

At the very least, I hoped a bit of that excitement would carry over long enough to pump up the at-home workouts. Didn’t happen. Not even a little. I have an elliptical machine in my office next to a window facing a TV. I have no excuse other than this: I don’t wanna.

Can anyone else relate? It’s two months into the new year. How’s that work-out resolution working out?

If your motivation was to lose weight and become healthier, odds are, it’s not.

Health and Weight Loss: Not Compelling Reasons

Those who exercise for the health and weight-loss benefits are less likely to keep at it than those who do so for more immediate tangible benefits, says Dr. Michelle Segar, a motivation psychologist at the University of Michigan.

Health may be a motivator for retirees who have plenty of free time to exercise, but for those with busier schedules, “improve health via exercise” will not be high on a lengthy to-do list.

There’s a difference between what’s important and what’s compelling. “Because we’re so busy, we only fit things in our lives that are compelling,” Segar says. “I think there’s been a huge marketing faux pax by the fitness industry and health care, who’ve made an assumption that because exercise is good for your health, that’s a good reason to motivate people to exercise. But my research and experience coaching individuals has led me to believe that this is a harmful assumption and undermines individuals from sustaining physically active lives.”

MIchelle Segar

Michelle Segar

Weight loss isn’t a good motivator, either. Not for the long haul, anyhow. People are very motivated to exercise by the thought of exercise – for a week or two. And then it wanes until the next upcoming wedding or beach party.

“Exercising is trumped by dietary changes in producing weight loss, so you’re not going to get great feedback that you’re losing weight from exercise,” Segar said. “Weight loss absolutely gets people to start exercising – again, and again, and again, and again.”

Even the word “exercise” brings to mind negative feelings, beliefs and images, which is why Segar prefers the word “movement.”

Instead of telling yourself you should exercise 30 minutes because it will make you healthier and help you lose weight, Segar says, you could decide to move your body because it enhances the quality of daily life – whether that’s by improving your mood, decreasing stress, enhancing well-being, or offering a chance to socialize.

What Makes It Compelling: Happiness

As a result of moving your body regularly, you’ll notice how much better you feel, said Segar. And that translates into the bottom-line thing we’re all seeking: Happiness.

And once you start to feel happier from moving your body more, you notice the difference when you stop. You feel more stressed. You feel a little bit down. You don’t sleep as well.

“We have to completely reframe why we’re exercising to get a different downstream result,” says Segar. “And once we do that, we’ll have a completely different experience. We’ll discover that physical activity really becomes a gift we want to give ourselves instead of a chore to accomplish.”

She prefers being outdoors to using home exercise equipment. But for those of us who like to use it, she suggests that instead of saying, “I’m going to force myself to get on the elliptical and work hard for 30 minutes,” I should say, “I’m going to give myself the gift of movement for 5 minutes.”

Maybe 5 will lead to 10 which could lead to 30. Maybe not.

“But if you don’t like it and you’re not going to do it, you’re getting no benefit,” she says. “So some is better than nothing. With our crazy lives, we have to consider that that’s a better message for people.”

“We’ve been socialized for 25 or 30 years that more is better, bigger is better, intense is better. But most people a) don’t like to exercise intensely for the most part, and b) can’t fit chunks of 30 to 60 minutes into their daily lives. If that’s the case, then we’re going to get a population of people who don’t exercise. Which of course is what we have.”

Michelle Segar at the Ann Arbor YMCA

Michelle Segar doing crunches at the Ann Arbor YMCA this week.

Segar says she intends to move her body on most days. Walking is her favorite, and if she misses a few days in a row, she doesn’t beat herself up about it. And she lifts weights, mindful to prevent injury. Segar loves working out – excuse me, moving – at the Ann Arbor YMCA once or twice a week.

“Social support and a sense of community are extra perks of being physically active with others, so seeing people that I like and know adds to the whole experience for me,” she says.

“The best motivation is to notice how you feel, how your daily life changes from moving. Remind yourself that ‘Moving more improves my day.’ Once people notice how much better they feel, that kind of mantra should be very helpful.”

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good mantra, but it’s already working for me. Occasionally throughout the day now, I’ll get on the elliptical – or pull out those weights – and get on with it. I remind myself that the ability and freedom to move is a privilege not to be squandered. A path to contentment – a gift we give ourselves.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer.

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East Liberty Tue, 08 Feb 2011 16:33:26 +0000 Jo Mathis Say it ain’t so … Carmen, the Encore Records shop dog, has died. [photo]

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What Makes Life Worth Living? Mon, 24 Jan 2011 14:24:57 +0000 Jo Mathis George Dawson packed a lot of living into his 105 years, but it wasn’t until he learned to read and write at the age of 98 that he realized two longtime dreams: reading the Bible and writing his name.

Karessa Dawson Lang

Karessa Dawson Lang talks to reading students at the Family Learning Institute last Saturday about her grandfather, George Dawson, who learned to read at age 98. (Photo by the writer.)

Last Saturday, at Ann Arbor’s Family Learning Institute, Dawson’s granddaughter, Karessa Dawson Lang spoke to a group of reading students about her grandfather.

She told them he’d said, ”People have read the Bible to me all my life, but I wanted to read it for myself.” When he was finally able to read the Bible for himself, Lang told the children, “For him, that was the greatest accomplishment of all time. Besides writing his name. Which was huge.”

The visit to FLI was part of two days of activities for Lang and her sister, Mashelle Dawson, involving their late grandfather’s 2000 autobiography, “Life Is So Good,” the featured book of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads. The two flew up to Ann Arbor from Texas last week.

Launched in 2003 by the University of Michigan Life Sciences & Society Program and now co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti district libraries, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads promotes reading and civic dialogue through reading and discussing a common book. The program’s theme this year is “What Makes Life Worth Living?”

In his autobiography, George Dawson, Sr. reflected on his life, which began in one century, spanned a second, and ended in a third. He was the grandson of slaves. Lang said her grandfather – she and the other grandchildren called him Jump Daddy – credited his attitude to trust in God.

“He prayed about it, left it with God, and whatever will be, will be,” she said. “He didn’t worry about anything.”

“He believed in the simple things. As long as you had sufficient food, housing, and clothes, then everything was all right, everything was good. And even in cases where the Lord took people home, he felt that was a good thing, too. Because it meant they were going to be with the Lord.

One of his mottos: “If it can be done by anyone, it can be done by you.”

The lifelong Dallas resident didn’t go to school because he worked in the fields to help his parents, then worked to support his own seven children, Lang told the students. George Dawson, Sr. died in 2001 at the age of 105 following a stroke and a fall.

Lang said she was shocked to learn that her grandfather couldn’t read because he could give detailed directions to any address in Dallas, and could talk about any subject matter. She later learned he relied heavily on memorizing information to get by.

“So when he said he was going to school, I said, ‘Going to school for what? At 98 years old?’”

She laughed recalling the day her father took his father to buy school supplies and a backpack. From then on, he’d stand on his front porch every morning wearing his backpack and waiting for his ride to the adult literacy program.

“He was so excited to go to school!” Lang said, before encouraging the kids to appreciate their own education. “One day, he came in and said, ‘Big Legs, let me show you something,’” she said, adding with a laugh that every grandchild had descriptive pet name. “And he got out his pen and started writing his name. He had never written his name before.”

She later learned her grandfather once missed a promotion at his job at a local dairy because he couldn’t sign his name on the paperwork. That was a painful experience he never forgot. Even so, he kept his spirits up. So much so, that when he was 100, he said: “I do believe it’s getting better every day.”

Lang asked the dozen students in the audience what they hope to be when they grow up, and then stressed the importance of reading in each profession.

When one boy said he wanted to be a pro football player, Mashelle Dawson noted with a smile that he’ll need to be able to read the contract.

Lang said her grandfather compensated for illiteracy all those years by diligently memorizing information everywhere he went. She figures that’s why his memory was so keen, and why he was able to fill a book with historical facts.

She told the kids that her grandfather got over his fear of sharing his life with a white man who co-wrote the autobiography, Richard Glaubman. The two ended up becoming good friends, the book was well reviewed, and his memories were preserved forever.

“So don’t be afraid,” she told the students. “Sometimes you have to take a chance.”

She also told them to follow her grandfather’s advice to give everything their best effort, or not do it at all.

“You know how you do your best at something you love doing?” she asked. “Well, even the things you don’t love doing, do your best and you may start loving it. And then when you start accomplishing things, and making good grades, and moving forward, you may start to like it.”

Family Learning Institute provides tutoring to low-income elementary school students in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. Board president Jeff Harrold said the talk reminded the kids to value the ability to read – something so many take for granted.

“We’re in a knowledge-based economy, especially in our state,” he said. “The old economy of making a living with your muscles is past. We’re going to have to help our kids read and write and take advantage of everything they can in this knowledge-based economy. We had kids today who said they wanted to be pilots and dentists and doctors and novelists and police officers. That’s going to take a literate work force, and we’re happy to do our part here to help those kids reach those goals.”

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads is co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti district libraries and is supported by civic groups, the University of Michigan School of LS&A, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti public schools, local bookstores, Eastern Michigan University Libraries and Washtenaw Community College. For more information about events related to this year’s book, check out the Reads website.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her work appears monthly in The Chronicle.

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Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers Fri, 31 Dec 2010 23:55:24 +0000 Jo Mathis Editor’s note: At its Sept. 20, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reappointed a downtown street outreach task force – aka the “panhandling task force” – which had existed in the early 2000s. The current group’s charge is to work for no longer than six months to identify cost-effective ways to achieve better enforcement of the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and to provide help to panhandlers who are addicted to drugs.

The sum of one panhandler's afternoon collection on Dec. 31, 2010 on the sidewalk next to Border's Bookstore on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by Dave Askins.)

Now that the task force is roughly halfway through that six-month period, The Chronicle attended its December meeting to check in on the group’s work.

You buy local, think global, pay it forward, recycle. You’re a good person.

So how do you respond to a panhandler? Is opening your wallet helping someone in need? Or is it enabling an addiction? Can you look the other way and still consider yourself compassionate?

At the Dec. 15 meeting of the city’s panhandling task force, three paid consultants gave their perspective on the issue – as panhandlers. Geoffrey Scott said he enjoys talking to the people almost as much as he appreciates the money they give him.

But one member of the city’s panhandling task force says people don’t realize the damage they do in the name of kindness.

“Unfortunately, panhandling hurts a delicate economy, which is like a delicate ecosystem,” says Brian Durrance, secretary of MISSION, which supports people who are homeless in Ann Arbor. “And if you have an invasive species that comes in and damages it, it will be altered. Ann Arbor survives because it’s an attractive place for people to come who have money and are willing to spend it. And as they’re spending that money, they are being taxed. And that money is used to help people of all kinds. Panhandlers are not contributing to that system, and particularly the aggressive ones are destructive.”

That’s because it takes some extra effort to get downtown, says Durrance. And merchants spend a lot of money trying to get people there. And if people are put off by aggressive panhandlers, they’ll go elsewhere.

The three panhandlers who spoke at the task force’s December meeting were each paid $20 – or about what they might have collected on the streets during that time.

When task force members learned that Durrance had paid the three out of his own pocket, they pitched in to reimburse him, cheerfully calling it “another example of panhandling.” That line settled well with Tate Williams, who after the meeting said we’re all panhandlers from time to time.

“The word panhandling is thrown out there to keep people in a different class,”said Williams, co-founder and resident of a tent community in Ann Arbor called Camp Take Notice. “I can guarantee that over half of that room has solicited the private sector for campaign funds. They asked people for money; i.e., panhandling. Other people there have written grants asking other entities for money; i.e., panhandling. And everyone has opened their wallet at lunchtime and said, ‘Oh, I’m a buck short … Got a buck?’”

Still, Williams agrees that aggressive panhandling is a serious issue that can scare visitors and deter commerce. Particularly problematic are the aggressive younger panhandlers who come to Ann Arbor during the summer.

Geoffrey Scott was the most vocal of the three panhandlers who spoke at the meeting. Scott, who says his drinking has made a mess of his life, lives in a parking structure and panhandles all day long, mostly at the corner of State and Liberty. ”I specifically say I need a quarter for the bus,” says Scott, who contends he does not act aggressively. “After you’ve talked to 200 people, you have the money you need.”

Among Scott’s observations:

  • Panhandlers come to Ann Arbor because there is money here, and because it’s home to a bunch of rich college kids with soft hearts, and because it’s known to be a liberal city with plenty of support services for the needy.
  • The money he makes is not used for food. “If you don’t know how to find food in Ann Arbor, something’s wrong with you … No one’s hungry.”
  • The best money is made on expressway ramps.
  • You’ll make a lot more money if you say you’re a Vietnam vet. Scott is not a veteran in that sense. “I say I’m a street vet,” he says. “That’s true.”
  • The colder you look, the more money you make. “If you can cry, all the better.”
  • Some panhandlers choose it as a profession. Others feed drug addictions.

Durrance says every panhandler he’s ever met has been mentally ill.

“We find that most of the panhandlers are suffering from one kind of drug addiction or another, and underneath all of that is a mental illness problem which is not being dealt with,” he says. “So they started with a mental illness that is not being dealt with. They self-medicate. They’ve developed addictions. And they are surviving in the way anyone would survive – by doing what they can do. And panhandling is one of the ways they survive.”

Durrance says the best way to help panhandlers is not to give them cash, but to help them get needed mental health services, which should be a higher priority at the federal level.

People need to know that Ann Arbor is rich in social services, so that panhandlers’ shelter, clothing, and food needs are already met, Durrance says.

He thinks the merchants themselves should be the educators, and the city should try to support those merchants. They could pass out cards listing the food and shelter help available, put up signs in their windows, collect money to help provide services for those in need, use the media to help educate students.

This past summer, Boise, Idaho launched a program called “Have a Heart, Give Smart,” using posters and leaflets to encourage people to donate to charity rather than panhandlers. Panhandling was down 10% within a few months.

Some may wonder why it’s wrong for one person to ask another person for spare change. Durrance explains it this way: When a street musician performs for tips, he’s offering something in return. The merchants, too, are paying into the tax system, which supports services for everyone. ”Panhandlers are not offering anything in return,” he says. “They’re simply taking.”

It’s wrong to assume that the homeless are panhandlers, he says, noting that most homeless people are just trying to quietly get by. They come to Ann Arbor for its excellent social services, but they’re more likely to collect cans than ask for handouts.

The problem isn’t so much evident in the fall and winter as in the spring and summer, when transient young people move here for a while, says Peter Ludt, general manager of Espresso Royale and a board member of the State Street Area Association. Ludt also serves on the panhandling task force.

The kids panhandle on State Street and on the Diag, often aggressively, and get involved in drinking and drugs. They would take over Espresso Royale’s outdoor café on South State Street, soliciting money from people walking by, and use the bathroom, leaving bottles and drug paraphernalia.

At one point last summer, Ludt began locking the bathrooms.

“In the spring and summer, you can’t walk from one end of State Street to the other without being solicited several times,” he says. “Customers have said they don’t feel comfortable walking down State Street. And that’s a problem for the city of Ann Arbor when citizens or students or visitors don’t feel comfortable walking down a street.”

Ludt agrees that the task force needs to educate both the panhandlers about the social services available to them, and the public – especially college students – about the reasons to not hand out money. ”It’s a cycle,” he says, referring to the alcohol and other drugs that panhandlers buy with the money they’re given. “People who think they’re helping panhandlers are really just hurting them further.”

First Ward city council representative Sabra Briere, who chairs the task force, says the city’s 2003 panhandling ordinance specifically targets those standing in certain locations, or who are aggressive. It doesn’t target everyone asking for a hand-out. From the city’s ordinance:

9:70. Solicitation.
Except as otherwise provided in Chapters 79 and 81 of this Code, it shall be unlawful for any person to solicit the immediate payment of money or goods from another person, whether or not in exchange for goods, services, or other consideration, under any of the following circumstances:
1. On private property, except as otherwise permitted by Chapters 79 and 81, unless the solicitor has permission from the owner or occupant;
2. In any public transportation vehicle or public transportation facility;
3. In any public parking structure and within 12 feet of any entrance or exit to any public parking structure;
4. From a person who is in any vehicle on the street;
5. By obstructing the free passage of pedestrian or vehicle traffic;
6. Within 12 feet of a bank or automated teller machine;
7. By moving to within 2 feet of the person solicited, unless that person has indicated that he/she wishes to be solicited;
8. By following and continuing to solicit a person who walks away from the solicitor;
9. By knowingly making a false or misleading representation in the course of a solicitation;
10. In a manner that appears likely to cause a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities to feel intimidated, threatened or harassed;
11. Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Nickels Arcade, located between State Street and Maynard Street; the Galleria, located between S. University and the Forest Street parking structure; and the Pratt Building, located between Main Street and the Ashley parking lot; or
12. From a person who is a patron at any outdoor cafe or restaurant.

Because budget cuts have cut down on the number of police officers walking the streets downtown, merchants and residents have begun complaining more about panhandlers. Briere said it’s clear the task force can’t put more police on the streets – which is what merchants on the task force originally wanted. There’s a push to get more residents downtown, which requires making them feel safe and comfortable there.

“If we can’t do it by having a strong police presence because of budget issues, then we have to come up with some other way,” she says.

Members of the task force were selected to represent different parts of the community. In addition to Durrance, Ludt and Briere, members include Raymond Detter, Maggie Ladd, Susan Pollay, Mary Jo Callan, Charles Coleman, Paul Sher, Maura Thomson, Barnett Jones and Mary Campbell.

Briere hopes the task force will somehow ensure the panhandlers’ basic needs are met and educate people that giving money to panhandlers does not solve poverty or help them get back on their feet.

“It’s tough to figure out how to meet the needs of people who frankly don’t want their needs met,” Briere says. “It’s easy for us to think we’re all doing enough. It’s easy to fear that if we do too much, we’ll become a magnet for people seeking support. I don’t have any good solutions. We’re just trying to work on ways to treat people humanely in our community.”

How does Briere react to panhandlers?

“I’ve done a number of things, like everybody else,” she says. “I once gave a panhandler my yogurt. It depends on the panhandler. The guy people call Crutchy – I’ve been known to give him a quarter. I’ve also been known to say no when approached by people I don’t know. I’ve pointed people to help.”

Doesn’t that quarter contradict her advice? “I’m not noble,” she says. “I’m human.”

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer.

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Column: The 31 Days of Cooking Thu, 09 Dec 2010 03:19:29 +0000 Jo Mathis When I moved from Illinois to Michigan as a newlywed 30 years ago, I had no job, no friends, and no real reason to get out of bed except to finish the thank-you notes.


Jo Mathis, proving that she did, indeed, bake a successful pineapple upside down cake.

I would lie there, waiting for a reason to start the day.

And then I’d think: Dinner!

It might have been 8 in the morning, but by gosh my nice new husband would have a spectacular meal waiting for him by the time he got home from work.

Cooking was a new challenge for a girl who’d gone through college eating catsup-drenched spaghetti and buttered rice straight from the pot.

I’d happily plan the menu from my new Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (now tattered and splattered and too precious to pitch). I’d go to the grocery store a mile away and carefully select the ingredients for that night’s feast. With plenty of time to indulge my inner Suzy Homemaker, I created color-coordinated, well balanced dinners – complete with salad, bread, dessert, and garnishes (!) – which I served cheerfully in that tiny candlelit kitchen.

Oh, how I loved to cook.

Then I got a job. And then I got pregnant and had a baby –  every three years. And somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of cooking. Special events, sure. Thanksgiving dinner, lasagna for company, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread on a cold Sunday night? Fine. But the daily dinner became something I did because it had to be done.

Luckily, as I lost interest in cooking, my husband discovered he loves it and is far better at it. So we’ve been eating well all these years, even as I’ve harbored a tinge of envy at his passion and talent for cooking, as well as some guilt for being a slacker at the stove.

But for Baking

I never did, however, lose my love of baking – cookies, cakes, bread, or anything that can be concocted at my leisure and preferably leaves a bowl to lick. But baking leads to baked goods – which are full of fat, flour, sugar, and calories, and often get stale before they’re consumed. So except for bread – which after all is legitimate food – I actually must try not to bake.

Except on Thanksgiving, when I go nuts with the desserts. It’s not only OK, it’s expected. Demanded. Un-American not to. This year, just for kicks, I decided to add pineapple upside down cake to the obligatory selection of pies. When it was time to flip the iron skillet upside down and plop that pineapple cake onto a serving platter, I had low expectations. Surely half of it would stick to the pan. Surely everyone would laugh (“Typical Mom!”) as I quickly pieced it back together and hid the cracks with squirts of Reddi-wip.

But when I flipped that baby over, oh my gosh. It looked just like the picture.

Remembering Leads to Decembering

And that’s when I experienced a Remembrance of Things Past moment. Just as Proust was filled with unexpected familiar pleasure while taking a sip of tea with madeleine crumbs, I recalled the long-ago popovers that had turned out golden and sculpted and weirdly hollow inside because that’s apparently what perfect popovers do.

And that’s when I decided that December would be the month I Try Harder in the Kitchen. I will rekindle my love of preparing good food. In December, I will be – by any normal person’s account – a really good cook every day.

I decided to make it a full month because it supposedly takes about three weeks to form a good habit. And because I tend to leave good intentions in the dust as I flit to the next thing. And because come mid-December, my empty nest will be replenished with the college kids home for the holidays and ready to be spoiled.

I have a few goals: Homemade mayonnaise, because it is supposedly worth the trouble. A better presentation. (No jars on the table.) Candles every night. Fondue one night, sushi another, and by the end of the month: an entire meal of German dishes I can neither spell nor pronounce.

Blogger Julie Powell spent a year tackling every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and made a gabillion dollars when it became a book and then a movie.

Why didn’t I think of that? I ask, eight years too late. Ah, well. Taking her lead, I decided to concentrate on one of my many neglected cookbooks this month.

I considered Marta Sgubin’s “Cooking for Madam: Recipes and Reminiscences from the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.” But I realized that just like Madam Onassis herself, the contents – Mousseline Sauce, Truffle Soup, Coeur A La Crème – are too high class for my humble table. And budget.

Because I need to see what I’m getting into, I rejected every cookbook sans pictures.

I ended up choosing two books – one because the photos made me drool, and the other because I had successfully used it back in the day.

Mac & Cheese, Naomi Judd’s Way

In “Naomi’s Home Companion,” Naomi Judd shares little secrets such as the fact that her mom’s potato salad is unsurpassed because she marinates the warm potatoes in French dressing before adding the other ingredients.

When she writes that if she were alone on a desert island, the one dish she’d want is her Macaroni and Cheese Casserole, how could I resist? Especially when I have yet to meet a mac and cheese recipe I don’t love.

Here’s how Naomi’s favorite version goes:

Boil 8 ounces of macaroni.

Meanwhile, melt ½ cup butter. Whisk in ¼ cup flour to make a paste. Then add 2 cups of milk and simmer over low heat, stirring until thickened, or about a minute. Add 6 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese (or Velveeta, she says, but this is Ann Arbor!) and salt and pepper to taste. Stir the cooked, drained macaroni into the cheese sauce. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, adding some more shredded cheddar on top for the last 5 minutes.

Cosmo Cookery

The second cookbook I am studying this month is “Cosmo Cookery,” which I found on a basement shelf and greeted like a long lost friend. Most things Cosmo are ticky-tacky. But this romantic little book – subtitled “Gourmet Meals from the First Drink to the Last Kiss” – includes some excellent, simple (oh, how I love that adjective) recipes for 2 to 4 people.

It may also get me to start drinking more, because all menu suggestions include booze. Brunch Number 1, for instance, calls for a gin-based Silver Fizz with that Quiche Lorraine. I don’t even like gin, and I’m thinking there’s a Silver Fizz in my future.

Thirty years ago, I picked up some great recipes in this old book, including Fillet of Sole Florentine, which I know by heart and tastes great every time.

Dip 4 medium sole fillets in seasoned flour and sauté until golden. Meanwhile, prepare a box of frozen spinach, drain well, spread in a baking dish and season lightly with nutmeg, salt and pepper. (The book calls for adding 2 T dry white wine, which I only do if I’m going to drink the rest of the wine with the meal.) Place fillets on top of spinach. Spread mayonnaise evenly over the fish. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese and place under the broiler until glazed.

Inspiration Close to Home

One of the best cooks I know is Susan Cooley, who has created the most luscious food in her tiny Ann Arbor kitchen. Inspired by memories of cooking with her grandmother, she says she really started to enjoy cooking when she got her kids to jump in and help.

“Beside the fact that they learn so much, measuring, being creative, trying new things are all part of what makes cooking so interesting,” she says. “Not to mention the very satisfied customers.”

She became a master of quick meals when she went back to work, and decided each child would be responsible for one meal a week. Hannah perfected a hamburger-with-tomato sauce meal, in which she fries up some hamburger in a pan, pours a small can of tomato sauce over it, adds Italian seasoning to taste, and serves with boiled noodles and a salad.

Susan loves nothing more in the winter than gathering leftovers for a big pot of soup. Here’s one of her favorites, which she adapted from a Food Network recipe:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup (Serves 6)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onions

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon curry powder (Susan uses Patak’s Hot Curry Paste instead)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Red (cayenne) pepper to taste

2 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

3 cups water

1 pound tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat olive or vegetable oil. Add onion and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add squash, vegetable or chicken broth, water, and apples. Bring liquid just to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 25 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove from heat and let cool 15 to 20 minutes.

Puree mixture in a blender or food processor, in batches, and transfer back into soup pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. NOTE: At this point, soup may be refrigerated until ready to serve.

Getting Upside Down With Pineapples

Finally, here’s my recipe for that pineapple upside down cake. It’s no better than any other pineapple upside down cake (which means it is pretty great), but it’s quick and easy. And it flips out of the frying pan pretty perfectly.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1. Whip up a box of pineapple cake mix.

2. Melt half stick of butter in a 10-inch frying pan; remove from heat.

3. Arrange pineapple slices in the pan, and stick a cherry in the center of each ring. Sprinkle some pecans here and there. (My family sadly requested no nuts. Your choice.)

4. Dump the cake batter on top.

5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

6. Turn the skillet upside down and serve warm if possible, with whipped cream.

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Column: In Praise of Quirks Fri, 12 Nov 2010 20:21:00 +0000 Jo Mathis Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

At the sobering close of the Michigan-Michigan State game, I turned to walk out of the stadium.

“I’m sorry I was cheering so loud,” said the friendly Michigan State fan behind me.

“No problem,” I said. “I found some earplugs in my pocket.”

I then pulled back my hair and revealed the Jujyfruits candy I’d brought with me to nibble on, but decided instead to use as noise-blockers. They were pliable and non-sticky – much better than real ear plugs. In fact, I spent much of the fourth quarter wondering why the good folks at Jujyfruits don’t promote this idea.

“Quirky,” said me husband, using the word my family frequently dubs my common sense solutions to life’s little challenges.

We all think we know best, and that our way is the best way. But I insist there is always more than one right way to do anything.

“By-the-bookers” are orderly, sensible, clear-thinking people. You want such a person in charge of the school’s fall festival, your taxes, your hip replacement.

I just wish some of these straight-shooters had a little more tolerance for those of us who sometimes think outside the box.

My mother-in-law was a classic by-the-booker. I admired the orderly way she ran the house; and how there was a place for everything, and everything was in it. She was tidy, sensible, dependable.

But you could also depend on her getting agitated at the slightest sign of wayward thought.

If I used safety pins or duct tape to repair a hem – even if it was a temporary fix – she’d flash her What are you thinking? face.

I once spooned some strawberry jam on my vanilla ice cream.

“They make strawberry ice cream topping for that.”

“Same thing, basically.”

“If they were the same thing, they wouldn’t make two different products.”

I reminded her that just as there are many multi-tasking products on the market, there are products still to be discovered. But who’s going to come up with them if we’re all thinking alike?

A creative woman I know says she never takes the first idea that pops in her head because a better idea is always right behind it. If she’s going to design a new T-shirt, she automatically rejects her first image because it’s likely based on something she’s already seen, which means it may not be as original as the next idea.

“Even when I want to do something for a friend, I reject the first notion because that one’s usually what I’d want someone to do for me,” she said. “If I really put some thought into what that particularly person could use right now, I’ll come up with an idea far more fitting.”

Back in 1927, studio executive Harry Warner of Warner Brothers balked at the idea of including sound in his movies.

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” he asked.

Warner eventually opened his mind to the quirky idea of actors actually talking, a move his heirs surely appreciate to this day.

True non-conformists (a group to which I sadly but surely do not belong) seem to flock to either coast.

My brother is a musician/artist/bus driver who has never had a full-time job in his life, and is living happily ever after with his wife and daughter in a flat in San Francisco where he picks lemons from his window and steps over the drunks on his front steps. He gets a kick out of everything. His stories are hilarious. His friends are weirdos. One of the guests at his wedding (in a nightclub) was an Elvis impersonator who came in costume.

My brother couldn’t do the Midwest/mortgage/9-5 thing if his life depended on it. Which, of course, it does.

A good question to ask is: “Why not?”

If I could have my way on this one, I would remove all the furniture from our family room. Instead of couches, chairs and end tables, the room would feature a poker table, a bumper pool table, and a ping pong table. If I could find an old pinball machine that actually works, I’d have one of those, too. We’d have so much fun in that room.

But no, no, no. Such a plan is far too quirky.

So we sit.

That reminds me of the time I was waiting for a flight out of Detroit and there were no seats in the waiting area. When I noticed the shoeshine chair was unoccupied, I climbed up and onto it. (Why not?)

The view was great from up there. In fact, I was able to spot someone I recognized. I called out to her, she came over, and that’s when I learned that she was flying to Florida just for the day. And not on business.

Pat explained that the only way she can survive a Michigan winter is to get a day of sunshine every few weeks. So several times each winter, she books the earliest flight out of Metro to somewhere sunny – usually Fort Lauderdale or Phoenix. Once there, she takes a cab to a hotel, changes into something summery in the restroom, and sits on or near the beach til it’s time to take the last flight of the day back to DTW.

The ticket is a bit expensive. But she doesn’t have to pack, or check luggage, or pay for a hotel.

My grandmother was a by-the-booker who behaved as you would expect a woman her age to behave. Her older sister did what she wanted and had a lot more fun.

When I was about 13, Great Aunt Cora asked me if I’d gotten my ears pierced yet. I told her I didn’t want holes in my ears.

She then showed off the earrings dangling from her newly pierced ears.

“For the first time in my life, my earrings don’t hurt,” she said. “You better get with it, kid.”

Out-cooled by a septuagenarian. Ouch.

I eventually did pierce my ears, and it was a good – if insignificant – decision. More importantly, I learned not to so quickly reject what could be a very interesting idea.

After all: Why not?

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.

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Column: Give Me The Simple Life Sat, 09 Oct 2010 03:42:26 +0000 Jo Mathis Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

You wouldn’t know it by looking in my closet or my basement or any other part of my house for that matter. But I am a minimalist at heart.

Yes, just give me the simple life.

That’s why I found myself nodding to this list of 21 things Americans are learning to live without by Rick Newman of U.S. News and World.

A good little mantra: Who needs it?

When he was 80, French poet Paul Claudel wrote: “No eyes left, no ears, no teeth, no legs, no wind. And how astonishingly well one does without them.” I’m keeping all the body parts I can, thank you very much. But as for superfluous stuff: Buh-bye.

Purging is suddenly more thrilling than accumulating. In fact, whenever anyone comes to the house now, I feel bad if they don’t leave with a parting gift: A popcorn maker. A box of sweaters. A couch.

A little deprivation can be a good thing.

I let my rec center membership lapse partly to save money, partly because I was so grossed out by sweaty people dripping all over the equipment, and partly because I hated that nagging, daily dilemma of whether or not to go to the rec center.

Now when I drive by and see the tops of those heads bouncing up and down, I’m so happy not to be among them, I could weep. I lift weights at home and get out and walk fast in the fresh air. For me, for now, this works.

In a bad economy, you become more creative. And in the process, you discover low-cost or free substitutes that at the very least are more memorable.

We recently needed a place to stay overnight in west Michigan, so I booked a spot in a lovely place with a waterside view. It was quiet and spacious and $24.

It was a campsite in the woods.

And it was perfect. We got there after dark, pitched the tent, slept fine, got up the next morning, took down the tent, and took off. No bed bugs for us, thank you very much.

A hotel room is one thing. But I still can’t join those who’ve killed their TV.

Too sorely would I miss:

1. Michigan football

I admit it. I have a big ol’ crush on quarterback Denard Robinson. Not only is he an outstanding athlete who is thrilling to watch, but who’s not smitten by that smile? Here’s hoping he has a late growth spurt so he goes to the pros and we can follow his career for years where – fingers crossed – he never loses that certain sumpin.

2. Bravo’s The Rachel Zoe Project

I die for Rachel Zoe, the scrawny, hyperactive celebrity stylist who totters around in seven-inch heels worrying about what little number Demi should wear on the red carpet.

She is precisely the type of woman I can’t stand. And yet I love her so much, I can’t quit.

I do a fine Rachel Zoe impression, but I’d need an ensemble to compete with this one.

3. Oprah Winfrey when she gets a smack-down

Even Oprah must have felt like a peon when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100,000,000 donation to Newark public schools.

After all, when Oprah basks in the glory of her own so-called gifts, she doesn’t even pick up the tab. Oh, she loved telling her 300-member audience that they were GOING TO AUSTRALIA! You! And you! And you! And you!

What she failed to say was that those trips are being paid by the Australian Tourist Board, which means those taxpayers down under will end up with the $2.3 million bill.

For 25 years, Oprah – who earns $315 million a year from her talk show alone – has been informative, entertaining, good for water fountain fodder. I just wish she’d stop trying to come off as benevolent, too.

4. Dancing with the Stars* (*AKA: Who?)

This one wasn’t on my watch list til now. After all, if I wanted to watch people dancing, I’d just watch the incredible Glee, where they also sing and act and make me wonder how they can create such an amazing show in one week when it took many months to make, say, Gigli.

Then Bristol Palin joined the show, and doggone it, I had to tune in. Now I’m hooked. It’s not just a dance show. It’s high-stepping drama.


  • Michael Bolton may think that his poor dancing skills – and Bruno-the-bully’s score of “Three!” – got him kicked off the show. Wrong. That was America’s payback for that long hideous mullet all those years.
  • David Hasselhoff got the boot just for being David Hasselhoff.
  • How can there not be a single dance pro of color? (For that matter, why are two of three judges on America’s Got Talent British?)
  • Female dancers in heels should be paid twice as much as males in flats. Besides, when the women are dressed like that, nobody’s even looking at the guys.
  • How can you not think of Ann Arbor when the announcer keeps asking for a score from Carrie Ann Inaba?

5. The Office

This show makes me very happy.

The season opener made me giddy.

I used to think the best job in the world belonged to Kelly Ripa, who makes a ton of money for sitting next to Regis and being cute and funny for an hour every weekday morning. But now I think the best job belongs to Phyllis Smith, who plays Phyllis on The Office.

Not only does she get to hang out all day with comic geniuses, but she looks like 30% of middle-aged American women, so she can still shop at Target without being bothered.

By the way: Once upon a time, Phyllis Smith was a professional ballet dancer and St. Louis Cardinal cheerleader.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.

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Column: This Empty Nester Loves Skype Sun, 29 Aug 2010 14:27:54 +0000 Jo Mathis Sometime between counting the days before she left for her freshman year of college and predicting she’d not return til Thanksgiving, my daughter apparently decided she just might miss me a little bit. Or maybe she feared my reaction to the empty nest after 28 years of full-time motherhood.

Jo Mathis using Skype, a video chat application.

Jo Mathis using Skype, a video chat application.

In any case, Tori installed a webcam and Skype on my computer so that we can have regular video chats.

This wouldn’t have occurred to me. Though Skype has been around for seven years, my experience with it was mostly spotty audio conference calls that were more irritating than anything.

“Trust me,” Tori said as she clipped the webcam to my monitor. “You’ll love this.”

When we dropped her off at her dorm on Monday, I was once again reminded of one of the best years of my life. (Freedom! Boys! All-you-can eat ice cream!) I hated to leave – not just because we’re very close and I enjoy her company, but because nothing makes a mother happier than seeing her child happy. And I knew she was about to have the time of her life.

That’s why Skype pretty much rocks my world.

No, it’s not quite the same as being in the same room. We won’t be able to push each other around laughing, “I keel you!” or hang out on the couch watching Kathy Griffin.

But it’s close.

Texts and calls and pictures are great. Actually seeing my daughter as we talk is much better. We video chatted once while she was at the student center, where her friends were on either side of the table, and guys were shooting pool behind her. Usually she’s sitting at her desk below her Lil Wayne poster, applying or removing her makeup.

I am unabashedly in love with this application, and encourage anyone else with distant loved ones to try it.

For no charge, Skype offers the ability to make voice or video calls and send instant messages to other Skype users. You can also pay for services such as making calls from a PC to a landline or cell phone, which is why some users are giving up their more costly landlines for Skype accounts.

Thanks to Skype and all the other video chat programs, including gmail voice and video chat, children and spouses of U.S. soldiers stationed overseas can actually see each other when they talk once or twice a week. Grandparents hundreds of miles away can video chat between visits.

Fewer people need to fly across the country to get to a meeting. Teachers use it in the classrooms to interview guest speakers, and connect to other students around the world.

Kan Shao, a grad student at Eastern Michigan University, uses QQ to video chat with his family in China two or three times a week.

“Video chat lets me confirm that my father is in good condition,” he said. “Seeing his face makes me feel safe.”

I read about a family who keeps an eye on their elderly father by keeping the man’s computer turned on to Skype. If he’s in trouble, they’ll know about it. Meanwhile, he feels less isolated.

Oprah Winfrey is a huge Skype supporter who likes to spread money around. Wouldn’t it be great if she made video chats available to nursing homes and assisted living centers, and encouraged volunteers to check in on them via Skype? It’s certainly a more important use of it than featuring yet another guest via Skype – especially when there are so many real live guests in the audience eager to talk.

After all, just because something can be done doesn’t mean there’s a good reason to do it.

Most people now prefer texting over calling, and several people I talked to said they don’t want anyone seeing them in the privacy of their home. (“The horror!”) I can’t imagine video chatting with someone I don’t know fairly well, and feel no need to use it to talk to people I see regularly.

But I would like to get my three out-of-state brothers on Skype so we can stay more closely in touch. Facebook helps, but can’t compare to the immediacy of a video chat.

Here are 25 other ways to use Skype, some of which I intend to try as soon as I finish clearing a corner of Tori’s room for my yoga studio.

An empty nest has its perks.

For the pits, there is Skype.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.

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Column: Free to Love Craigslist Wed, 28 Jul 2010 20:25:25 +0000 Jo Mathis Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

[Editor's note: Jo Mathis was a columnist and reporter for The Ann Arbor News until it closed in July 2009.]

Many factors led to the shutdown of The Ann Arbor News one year ago, and most begin with a capital I.

Because of the Internet, Google became a verb that allowed instant, round-the-clock information, much of which was provided free of charge by newspapers that nonetheless expected people to continue paying for the print version.

Because of the Internet, there are endless ways to fill free time, which meant the daily newspaper became less and less a necessary part of people’s routine.

Because of the Internet, advertisers – by far our main source of income – could reach more targeted audiences at a much lower cost. (A snippy subscriber once said the only reason she got the paper was for the Meijer ads. I wanted to ask, “Haven’t you heard of”)

And because of the Internet, a nerd named Craig Newmark was able to start a little thing called Craigslist, which put a deadly dagger into classified sections everywhere.

Craigslist was the reason The Ann Arbor News paid more to run a classified advertising department than it took in on classified ads, and one of the reasons that a once healthy newspaper began to look eerily anorexic as the few of us left ran around trying to figure out what else we could do to save it.

When I worked at The News, Craigslist was the enemy. Though Newmark blames the fall on greedy newspaper chains demanding high profit margins, Craigslist was one of the big reasons we were in a downward spiral and the mood in the newsroom mimicked the sad shade of blue on the walls.

Craigslist was the devil.

I secretly thought Craigslist was a great grassrootsy idea, and that classified advertisements were far too expensive. But I am nothing if not loyal to my employer, so Craigslist was on my diss list.

Now that I am free from the flailing industry – and all the stress of worrying about its demise – I am free to love Craigslist.

I love the way Craigslist is open to everybody with computer access at no charge. I love how it meets people’s needs for jobs and rides and housing and drapes, and how it offers a glimmer of hope to the lovestruck woman wondering about the cute guy wearing a green shirt at Whole Foods.

I love how it’s good for some giggles.

And I appreciate that Craig Newmark is a philanthropist who lives his values and is actually helping make sure that investigative journalism thrives. (Maybe he’ll write a big ol’ check to The Ann Arbor Chronicle, another site that was once upon a time The Enemy.)

Craigslist makes room for stuff that was never found in the classifieds, which means there’s something for everyone.

Denice Jones of Saline Township doesn’t own a car, so she’s currently running an ad for someone to drive her to the laundromat or grocery store. So far, she’s gotten only one response that didn’t work out. But Craigslist has helped her find work; her daughter, a place to live; and her brother, some chickens.

“I just like how it’s all free,” she said.

Like a bottle of Kaopectate, you may not use Craigslist on a regular basis. But it’s good to know it’s there when you need it.

Derek Duncan of Tucson hopes to move to Ann Arbor, and is smart enough to realize what could happen when he gets here. He could be lonely. He could wake up not knowing a single person and ache with mover’s remorse.

So he wrote an ad on Craigslist seeking friends.

“I placed the ad because I have always dreamed of moving to Michigan,” he told me via e-mail, noting that his dad is a University of Michigan graduate and he’s always dreamed of becoming a Wolverine himself. “I’m dead set on moving up there. I thought it would be a good idea to try and make some friends as extra motivation.”

He’s saving money for the big move to the state he finds so beautiful – from the fall colors to the ocean-like lakes, to the throw-back feeling of Mackinac Island.

“My friends think it’s pretty weird that Michigan has always been a type of Utopia to me,” he wrote. “They can’t see past the images portrayed in the media because they have never been there.”

Michigan needs people like Derek Duncan, so I hope he makes it here. And when he does, I hope he finds new friends, a nice apartment, fulfilling work, the love of his life – and his cat, if it runs away.

Here’s to Derek and the connections he’ll make on Craigslist Ann Arbor. May those encounters be productive for all.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.

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Column: Life’s Wake-Up Call Sat, 03 Jul 2010 13:07:34 +0000 Jo Mathis Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

If I had thought about my brother yesterday, I might have pictured him walking home from work, or barbecuing in his backyard in Colorado, or standing there with that familiar smirk, ready to spew some sarcasm.

But most likely I didn’t think about him at all. Yesterday – as far as I knew – all was right in his world.

The news was delivered with one fast pitch. There was no “I’m not feeling well” one week followed by “I’m going in for tests” the next, before moving on to “They think it might be bad news; I’ll know in a few days.”

Just: Prostate cancer. Stage 4. Nothing they can do.

“We’re all going to die,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

His matter-of-fact tone helped settle my racing heart. Yeah, I agreed. We’re all going to die sometime of something. But who would have thought my brother – the oldest of us seven kids – might die before our mother?

He almost took very good care of himself; almost followed all of the Mayo Clinic’s seven steps to reduce your risk of cancer. He was an active, non-smoking guy who kept his weight down. But he didn’t like going to the doctor and hadn’t had a physical in years. It was only two months ago when it hurt to walk that he went for a check-up. What he figured was arthritis was prostate cancer that had spread to his bones, ribs, and pelvis.

Nobody deserves cancer, and often there is little anyone can do no matter what. Still, we hope this is a lesson for our brothers and friends and all those who postpone doctor visits. Go anyhow.

A prostate checkup could have caught the cancer in its earliest stage and treated it. The same test taken to reveal a soaring PSA level could have prolonged his life if taken before it was too late.

Doctors won’t estimate how much time he has left. About one in three patients with advanced prostate cancer will live for more than five years after the diagnosis. On average, patients with metastatic prostate cancer may see some response to treatment for about 15 months, with the average survival after that about two years.

About one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind lung cancer.

The painkillers make my brother feel lethargic, and we can’t help but wonder: How much time does he have? How bad will this get?

“I’ve accepted it,” said my brother, who is 62. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

You know how it is with siblings. Get them together, and they all fall into their role. Jokester. Scatterbrain. The quiet one. My brother has been the quintessential oldest child: bossy and forever worried about the rest of us.

Now it’s our turn to do what little we can for him. We’re all calling more often, looking into tickets to Denver, forgiving petty old grievances. I tell him about a New York Times blog written by a man diagnosed with stage 3 prostate cancer two years ago, and wonder if he can somehow connect with others in Boulder going through the same thing.

I think back on his life, and all the things he worried about, from the trivial to the life-changing biggies. “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity.” Very little of it matters now. The ups and downs of the stock market? Yawn. Those pesky daily annoyances? What difference did they make?

Richard Carlson, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” died without warning of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 45. I hope he lived what he wrote and actually focused on the big stuff.

News of another person’s mortality is a useful – if fleeting – wake-up call for the rest of us to live well. In some cases, it also reminds us that it’s OK to pester a loved one to go ahead and make that appointment. Better to be an annoying nag than to end up thinking: “If only …”

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.

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