Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. Who knew?! All you gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual individuals, you can come out today and suffer no recourse, unlike the other 364 days of the year. So hurry, plan a meeting with your friends and family before it hits midnight!

Of course, we know this isn’t true. And I know the LGBT had the best of intentions when they named this day “National Coming Out Day.” I’m not even saying they were wrong for doing it. What I’m saying is that it’s extremely sad it had to be done. I mean, as much as I would love a day that celebrates me (most likely “National Neurotic Blond day”), most people accept the irrational and scatterbrained me because, well, it’s me. There isn’t much I can do about it, and it’s the way I was born. Sure, not everyone likes me, but if they don’t, they just don’t have to be my friend. And I’m okay with that. I spent years upon years trying to be what I thought was a better version of myself, and it wasn’t fun. It all culminated with me standing at a crossroads and saying, “I can go this way and continue to be something I’m not, or I can go this way and just accept this is what I am.” And you know what? I was tired of trying so hard to be all the things I knew I wasn’t. So maybe it was out of pure laziness, but I chose the road less traveled- the one that led to self-acceptance. And I don’t expect to be celebrated for it, and I don’t want to be felt sorry for. Because it was easy. And it made me respect everyone I come across, because even if they are annoying and their personality clashes with mine, I can respect them for who they are. Maybe I don’t want to be friends with them, and maybe I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time with them. But they are who they are, and I know that makes them a lot happier than people putting on a charade.

So when I come across someone who is out, I know they have been through quite a hard time. I had a hard time accepting myself as a pretty normal individual; I can’t even imagine accepting myself as someone that a lot of people look down upon. To be honest, I don’t think I am brave enough to do that. My heart swells with admiration when I come across anyone that is out and proud, because God, imagine the world if everyone achieved that kind of self awareness. I wish every day was “National Coming Out Day” for everyone, and we could all walk around with T-Shirts that said phrases we had accepted about ourselves, physically and otherwise. I’d have a rotation of shirts to wear: “Large Hips.” “ADHD.” “Addictive Personality.” “Book Smart, Very Little Common Sense.” The list could go on, but the point I am making is this: Every single day, people in this world accept things about themselves, and it is a wonderful thing. I’m not saying we can’t work to improve ourselves; I’m just saying it’s great to accept who we are, instead of trying to be someone we aren’t. I think most people who have learned to accept themselves would agree with this. So imagine the work that had to be put in by those in the LGBT community to come out knowing full well they might be shunned or ridiculed by some people (possibly even their loved ones).

Today shouldn’t be “National Coming Out Day,” it should be “National Acceptance Day.” Acceptance meaning both self-acceptance and acceptance of others. But, folks, we aren’t there yet. Because people still see being LGBT as a choice that is made. The only choice involved is the choice to accept yourself for who you are, and these people deserve to be admired for it. It is a hard thing to do, but those commercials do have it right: It gets better. We as a nation are on a precipice of change right now, just like so many of us are in our individual journey of self discovery. We, as a nation, can either choose to continue to act as we have in the past. Or, we can evolve. And, folks, let me tell you, you never make the wrong choice when you choose to evolve. Look back at the abolition of slavery. Women’s rights. Civil Rights. Does anyone think those were bad choices? In the future, we will look back at this time with shame, as we do with the aforementioned issues. Regardless of whether you agree with whether being LGBT is a choice (and trust me, it is), it still doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect you, and it won’t change the way you live your life. Denying people the right to live as they were meant to live can only lead to problems. As a country, we must evolve. So my hope is that we evolve to a time when “National Coming Out Day” doesn’t have to exist; it will just be October 11th, a day that American’s have the right to live their private lives however they wish.

(Just in case this wasn’t clear: Same-sex marriage should be allowed in every state in America, because it is the right thing to do. Civil unions don’t cut it, as they do not have the same federally-recognized rights as marriage. Of course, pastors and priests shouldn’t have to marry same-sex couples if they don’t want to. That is church marriage. State marriage is a union recognized by the federal government and is performed by a federal employee. Church and state are separate, according to a little thing called the Constitution.)

Maybe you have lived here all your life, or maybe you just moved here. Maybe you are in college, and when you say where you are from, people are like “Where?” Regardless, there are a lot of things that people don’t know about the “biggest small town” in the country (No, seriously- in a city of a 100,000+, how does everybody know somebody you know?) Read on for this edition of “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Peoria!”

1. The phrase “Will It Play in Peoria” started in the Vaudeville circuit all the way back around 1900. The meaning of the phrase is “Will middle America like it?” If it made it in Peoria, it could make it anywhere. Peoria was hailed as the ultimate icon for the mainstream culture. In other words: Peoria was seen as the most average city in America.
2. You probably know there is a Peoria, Arizona, but what you might not know is that it was named after our Peoria. The two people who founded Peoria, Arizona, were from our Peoria, and wanted to name it after their hometown!
3. Peoria Park District is the first AND the largest park district in the state of Illinois!
4. The tallest buildings in Peoria are the Twin Towers, which sit at 29 floors (284 feet).
5. RLI, Maui Jim, and Caterpillar all have their world headquarters in Peoria.
6. The health-care industry comprises at least 25% of the Peoria economy!
7. In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt called Grandview Drive (in Peoria Heights) the “world’s most beautiful drive.”
8. A USDA research lab in Peoria was the site of the first mass production of penicillin, effectively changing the course of history.
9. The Steamboat Classic, which is held every summer, is the world’s largest four mile race.
10. In 1813, there was actually a “Peoria War” between Native Americans and United States soldiers and settlers, as part of the larger War of 1812. “Fort Clark” was built in Peoria by the Americans, who were also fighting against British troops. Fort Clark (Peoria) was a very important stronghold at that time.

Bonus! Famous People from Peoria:

· Bruce Borland. Bruce was a golf course designer who died in the 1999 plane crash that took the life of storied golfer Payne Stewart.
· Tecumseh “Teck” Holmes III. A Real World cast member as well as an actor, rapper, and host.
· Jim Thome. First basement for the Baltimore Orioles.
· Camryn Manheim. Actress from wildly successful show “The Practice.”
· Dan Fogelberg. Musician. Fogelberg’s father was a band director that worked at both Woodruff High School and Pekin High School.
· Mudvayne. A successful metal band.
· Joe Girardi. Catcher and manager of the New York Yankees.
· Susan G. Komen. The namesake for the Race for the Cure, named by her sister Nancy Brinker, also from Peoria.
· Richard Pryor. One of the most successful comedians of all time. He grew up in his grandma’s brothel, where his mother was a prostitute. His mother abandoned him at age 10, and he was raised by his violent grandmother. There are report he was molested. His comedy was dark, and he often spoke of racism and other disturbing events of his childhood in Peoria. He battled many personal demons, including a widely-publicized accident where he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine and drinking 151-proof rum. Peoria has struggled over the years with whether to honor Pryor or downplay his roots, mostly because of his controversial life. Lately, though, Peoria has embraced Pryor and even named a stretch of Sheridan Road after him.

The suggestions are in, and it’s down to a mighty few. Vote for your favorite, or let me know in the comments if I forgot one! Happy voting!

 

Stop covering your vents!

 

With reports of a cold winter, and rising heat costs, a few tips to keep your heating bill down never hurt anyone. Turning down the thermostat and water heater a few degrees is a good start, but there are other tips that can really help save you money in the long haul.

  • Cover your feet. Cold feet are a good way to make your whole body feel cold. Invest in a good pair of socks or slippers to make it through the winter.
  • Keep blankets around. Whether watching TV, reading a book, etc., keep a blanket around for quick heat instead of turning up your thermostat.
  • Turn it down when you aren’t there. You can save a lot of money by turning down your thermostat when you aren’t home.
  • Check for leaks. A major way that people end up losing heat is from cracks around their windows or doors, or from an inefficient heater. Have someone come out and check your device before winter gets really underway, and light a candle and move towards windows and doors. If the smoke moves horizontal, you have spotted an air leak.
  • Drapes and blinds. If it’s sunny outside, leave them open, and if it’s cloudy and/or dark, leave them closed. Sunlight is your friend, but if there is no sun, you are probably just going to lose the heat out the window.
  • Close the vents. Make sure you close the vents in the rooms you don’t use, and then close the door to seal off those rooms so heat isn’t escaping into them.
  • Use fans sparingly. A kitchen and/or bathroom fan can dispel heat pretty quickly. Either don’t use them at all or turn them off as soon as the job is done.
  • Check your vents. Make sure a rug or desk isn’t covering the vent and keeping valuable warm air from spreading throughout the house. Make sure the vents are completely unobstructed.

Those are free fixes, but there are some low-cost fixes that will help in the long run to save you money as well:

  • Buy a smart thermostat. Say you forget to turn down your thermostat when you leave; well, you can program this thermostat to turn down at certain times of the day when no one is ever there. They cost anywhere from $40 to $100, but you will make that money back, and more.
  • Buy a low-flow shower head. These use 25-50% less hot water, which will save money on BOTH your water and electricity bill.
  • Replace the air filter. At a cost of $3-$15, this is such a common problem that people don’t fix, and it can cost them up to $400 by having clogged air ducts. They should be changed monthly.
  • Insulation. By putting insulation in important places (e.g. the attic), you can keep heat from escaping and it will help recirculate the warm air.

And finally, if you haven’t bought high-efficiency light bulbs, do it ASAP! They save you A LOT on your power bill, and they are better for the environment!

 

Replace all your old light bulbs with these, and just see what happens to your electricity bill. I dare you.

So, you are in your twenties or early thirties, and you are starting to get a handle on your finances. You may already own a home, and you may already have some savings, or you may not. Regardless of what you have or don’t have, there are some financial tips that pertain to anyone, regardless of your credit score or the amount of money you make. Here are some tips from some of the top financial advisors in the city (who I happen to work with!), free of charge!

· Establish Credit. Do this by taking out necessary loans (for example, a car loan) or getting a low-credit limit credit card that you pay off every month. No credit is just as bad, if not worse, than bad credit, and will result in you paying higher interest rates when you make a big purchase, like a house.
· Pay Down Debt. Whether it’s private loans or student loans or credit cards, work on paying more than the minimum every month. You will end up saving a lot in interest. Start with whatever has the highest interest rates (mostly likely credit cards, especially store ones), and save the lowest interest loans for last (most likely student loans).
· Save for Retirement. You know that 401k you decided not to sign up for because you were broke? It’s not too late to do it now. If your place of employment offers one, they are offering you free money. You don’t want to work in your golden age; you want to relax! A little bit goes a long way when it comes to saving for retirement. Even if it is just $20 a month, it’s a start.
· Work Two Jobs While You Are Young. This way, you can save more money and it won’t take as much out of you as it will while you are older. There are a lot of work-from-home ideas that you can do in your pajamas and not spend gas money doing!
· Budget. A lot of people have no idea where their money is going. Sign up for Mint.com and sync all your accounts through it. You will be amazed at where your money goes and what you could be saving every month if you don’t, for example, buy Starbucks three times a week.
· Get Health Insurance. If you don’t have it, get it. I know, it seems like an added expense. But if something serious happens to you and you don’t have health insurance, you will not recover from it. It will haunt you for the rest of your life, and it isn’t worth it.
· Shop Around. A lot of people don’t know that they could be saving a lot of money with their monthly bills. Car insurance, cell phone service, and many other bills could be lowered by going elsewhere. You could also threaten to go elsewhere. I had a client that told her credit card company she was going to transfer her balance to another card because the new company had a lower APR. The original company asked what it was, and went even lower than that. If they want to keep your business, they will listen to what you have to say. If not, go elsewhere. Simple as that. Even my mom got her cable bill lowered because she told them she wanted to switch to dish! It doesn’t hurt to try.

These are basics, but more in-depth advice is yet to come, if you are so inclined. Just remember- if you take care of your money, your money will take care of you!

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Best Restaurant in Peoria

Posted: October 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Peoria has always been a hot spot for restaurants. The city is full of local restaurants as well as worldwide chains that are frequented by the people who live here. It seems to matter not what the atmosphere, price, or reputation of the restaurant is; we in Peoria just seem to care about good food! Of course, a good value always helps! I will be setting up a poll eventually, but I need suggestions for the finalists for the poll. Comment here, tweet me, or let me know on Facebook who you think should be considered a finalist! And one more thing- the fifteenth entry  through either the comments, Facebook, or Twitter will be getting a $10 gift card to a local restaurant! So yes, you can give fifteen entries and still get it! Hurry up and start giving me those suggestions. Time is money people!

Last week, Peoria made local news, and it wasn’t something to be proud of. Kendra Meaker, a 19-year-old mother of two young children from Toulon, Illinois, walked into a police department in the town in Stark County, which is about 30 miles northwest of Peoria. She claimed she had left her two children in her car while she went into the post office, and when she came out, the 3-week-old baby was gone. This launched an Amber Alert, which I received on my phone. (The Amber Alert was named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996. Recently, Amber has been used as an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response,” but it was originally named after little Amber and her community’s tireless but fruitless effort to bring her home). The Amber Alert is only used in the most serious child abduction cases, so as to not desensitize people to the serious nature of the alert. When Meaker changed her story and said she voluntarily left the child at the side of the road, it sent shockwaves through the local community.

The Amber Alert relies on communities to bring children home, and even though this wasn’t an abduction, it sure did make a difference. Two volunteer searchers found the child alongside a gravel road. Where, you ask? In a culvert. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), a culvert is a drain or pipe that allows water to run under an obstruction (in this instance, a road). Let that sink in for a minute. The child was stuck in a drain on the side of a road.

According to the couple who found the baby, they heard cries before they even got out of their car. Without food or any care for 12 hours, the baby had to receive treatment at a local hospital, but is expected to fully recover. Meaker’s other child (who is 11-months-old) is staying with a family member. The parents of Meaker released a statement that read “This has been a hellish twenty-four hours that our family has endured.” Those poor grandparents. Not only do they have to deal with the fact that their grandchild was harmed, but the person who did it was their own daughter. It’s truly heartbreaking.

Rumors abound that Meaker is suffering from postpartum depression, which is definitely a possibility after having two children so close together. Her hormones never recovered after the first one before being put through the ringer again with the second one. Illinois has a Safe Haven law that allows women to relinquish custody of their child up to a month after the birth with no questions asked and no prosecution. This was an easily avoidable situation, but if she is suffering from a mental illness, there is no “easy” involved. Personally, I hope the child never finds out what happened and is raised in a loving home with someone that loves him or her so much that they will never breathe a word about his mother discarding him on the side of the road like roadkill. It’s the kind of thing that makes me sick when I hear about it happening to a puppy; when it’s a baby, it’s just heartbreaking. Silver lining: the child is alive and well.

Today, a sad end came to a saga that started two years ago involving a different baby. Astria Pollard’s 2-month-old premature baby boy Javier died in her care. Coroner’s report named dehydration and malnutrition as the causes of death. Pollard was charged with first-degree murder and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Pollard waived her right to a trial by jury, meaning Judge Kouri decided her fate in a bench trial. He found her guilty of one count of first degree murder (for turning off the boy’s apnea monitor) and one count of endangering the life of a child (for not feeding him). She faces 20 to 60 years in prison, with sentencing being on November 30th.

Pollard claims what happened was unintentional and she treated the baby boy exactly as she had her other children. Problem is, her other children weren’t premature. She turned down help in the form of home health care visits and nurses, and she missed the child’s first well baby visit. At the time of the baby’s death, she lived with her boyfriend (not the child’s father) and his family, as well as with at least one child who was the boyfriend’s child. The boyfriend, Landrean Jones, claimed that he often had to remind her to care for Javier (who he claimed to have loved even though he wasn’t his son), and teenagers who were over at the house with Pollard the day he was discovered dead said that Pollard went upstairs to check on the child, and then came down with the lifeless child and apnea monitor, which was alarming, seeming to suggest she was trying to cover up the fact the monitor was off (according to prosecutors).

In this case, it wasn’t as extreme or intentional of an act as Meaker’s. The mother maybe didn’t care as much as she should have, but she did feed the baby the night before and could’ve thought the baby was sleeping. When my baby was two months, he would sometimes sleep through the night; but he wasn’t premature. Unfortunately, when you add up the lack of feeding along with turning off the apnea monitor, skipping feedings, missing appointments, and turning down help, it makes it seem like Pollard never really wanted to make the time for the baby. She undoubtedly discovered that premature babies take more time to care for and their health is more precarious. Pollard claims she didn’t know this, but that isn’t the case. There’s no doubt she would’ve been taught all these things upon discharge from the hospital, but she either didn’t remember or she didn’t care. The people she lived with claimed they often had to remind her to do things, and her friends claimed to be partying with her that very night while her 3-week-old son was starving and not breathing under the same roof.

Pollard was 20 and Meaker was 19, and these babies were not the first for either of them. Yes, maybe Meaker did have postpartum depression, and yes, maybe Pollard wasn’t aware that her premature son took a higher level of care than her other children. One thing is for sure: they were teen mothers. Teen pregnancy is associated with poor prenatal care and preterm delivery. Pregnant teens are also more likely to have gestational diabetes, poor weight gain, and anemia, all which have negative affects on the baby. Sure, it could be because their young bodies can’t keep up with all the changes, but it could also be because they don’t care like they should. And that’s not abnormal. Anyone with a teenager can tell you that they are positive that the world revolves completely around them. Whether it’s hormonal or environmental, the teenage girl is emotionally labile and extremely selfish (and probably, the teenage boy is just as much). Sometimes, the teenage girl might not’ve meant to get pregnant, but they decide to go through with it because of pressure from parents, religious or moral concerns, or sometimes because they think it might be “fun.” Some do mean to get pregnant, either because they “want someone to love them” or they want to keep their boyfriend interested. Still some get pregnant because they want the welfare check. None of these reasons are the right reasons to have a baby. You should have a baby because you want to celebrate the life of someone that is part of you and (hopefully) someone you love. That doesn’t mean single parents can’t or shouldn’t do it, but they need support from their families, their friends, and their communities. A lot of teenage moms don’t realize their friends aren’t going to miss the Homecoming football game to sit at home with you and read “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” and they sure as hell aren’t going to stay at home with you after the baby is born and is up all night screaming. Nor should they; they should enjoy their responsibility-free childhood. Teenage mom’s are often stricken with loneliness, the very feeling they were trying to avoid when they decided to have a baby. Ironic, isn’t it?

Comprehensive sex education programs are a fantastic start, but more teens need to realize the harsh reality of being a parent. These two stories are two examples of what can go terribly wrong when you have a child before you are ready to take on the responsibility. A lot of people argue over if MTV’s teen pregnancy shows (“16 & Pregnant”, “Teen Mom”) help or hurt the cause, but I personally think it’s pretty obvious what MTV is trying to say. Just looking at the original cast, you have Amber, who is serving a five year prison term and battling opiate addiction; Farrah, who childhood was turned upside down after she got pregnant and her boyfriend dies, and who also struggled with drugs and depression; and Maci, who is a fairly normal well-adjusted girl, probably because her family has been a huge help and has a lot of money to help her out. But even though she has it pretty well, she still is unable to maintain a successful relationship; in fact, none of them are except Catelynn. Her and Tyler will be getting married soon, and Catelynn is one of the only girls to be a full-time college student. How has she been so successful in her education and personal life, you ask? Well, she made the best and most loving decision for her baby girl Carly. She and Tyler gave her up for adoption. Not only are Catelynn and Tyler thriving, but so is Carly. Now, I’m not sitting here and saying teenage mothers can’t be successful. But I am saying they can’t do it alone. And until we can adequately figure out how to avoid the situations like what happened here locally, we owe it to the teenager in our communities to be honest about the difficulties of parenting. Because just like in these two cases, it isn’t the mother that suffers. It’s the baby who depended on their mother to survive.

Two mothers, two similar fates. Two babies, two very different fates. And it won’t be the last time we hear stories like either of these; stories of ruined lives and something very different from a teenage dream.

What do you think should happen to Kendra Meaker? Do you agree with Astria Pollard’s punishment? Was I way off with my beliefs on teen pregnancy and MTV’s shows? And finally, do you think Meaker suffered from postpartum depression? Answer these questions in the comments below, and subscribe(follow) while you’re at it!

Sources: Pjstar.com and Msnbc.com

Oh, remember the days?

This is my story based on the events of what happened to me when I went a full day (not by choice) without technology. Read at your own risk!

Being in my late 20s, I feel like I am at least somewhat on the cutting edge of technology and social media. I use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and all the websites that keep everyone aware of what their friends are doing, feeling, and eating. I dutifully report in 140 characters or less how I feel about the subject that has drawn my ire for the day. The only thing I don’t use is MySpace, only because the short time I did have it I was inundated with messages from creepy men who left little to the imagination about what would happen if I did, indeed, accept their date invitation. I love technology; I think my iPhone and MacBook just might be my most prized possessions (sorry honey, I love my ring too). I love the internet; I frequent numerous blogs every day, notably the Village Voice, TMZ, and WetPaint for my television news (sorry, parents who paid for my college education; I also keep track of my finances and have learned to invest online)! I joined the new technology movement 100% because I refuse to be left behind in my career or social relationships; as it turned out, I quickly discovered technology is pretty freakin’ awesome and I can’t imagine (an enjoyable) life without it!

Growing up in Peoria, I can remember the evolution of the cell phone. It started in middle school (mid 90s) with the “car phone.” Some of these phones could not be removed from the car but were there in case of emergencies; others could be removed from the car but were cumbersome (i.e. the “Zack Morris” phone). I remember using this phone when I got my license and the car inexplicably broke down on my way to school (due to lack of gas). There were also pagers, where people could call you and enter their number and then you could call them back from whatever phone was closest (in the later 90s these were used mostly by prostitutes and drug dealers who have now switched to disposable phones like all savvy criminals). I remember calling a friend who had a pager to hang out. He called back an hour later and asked for bail money. Then, in high school (around 2000), came the cell phone, which looked like a small portable phone without the base. You could make calls, but I had not heard of texting yet. There was no Caller ID on this phone, so inevitable my heart would race when I heard the ring, hoping it was my crush. Instead, it was my laryngitis-riddled mother calling to tell me to come downstairs because dinner was ready. Then there was the flip phone with caller ID that could text, but there was no keyboard. I remember it taking 5 minutes to type “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” only to realize I was now pulling up to where I needed to be. That phone has now evolved into the Smartphones of today, where people use their phones for business, pleasure, and everything in between.

A couple days ago, though, a funny thing happened. My iPhone, which I had had for a few years, was doing screwy things. A message that said “This iPhone does not support (something or other)” was popping up every minute and the battery was draining within two hours. Needless to say, like every good junkie, I started shaking a bit. I found myself becoming nervous. I walked around my office purposefully until I found a co-worker who also had an iPhone. The conversation went a little like this:

“My phone is being really stupid. Do you know what this means?” I asked, talking quickly and anxiously.

“Yikes, no. What are you going to do?”

The look of mild horror on his face as he responded only made my heart rate increase.

“I don’t know. Can I borrow your charger to see if it charges?”

As I said this, he looked at my phone and then his charger, almost as if my phone had a contagious disease that he didn’t want to infect his accessory.

“Um, okay, you can try it, I guess.”

I quickly tried the charger, which, of course, didn’t charge the phone. I knew I only had mere hours until I was disconnected from everyone and everything I knew and loved. Never mind that I had an office phone and computer or that everyone around me had cell phones; this was an emergency of epic proportions! What if something amazing happened, and I had no phone to take a picture or video? What if a new Bachelorette spoiler story was released and I had no way of knowing? And then horror washed over me as I realized something appalling: No Words with Friends! At least fifteen people out there were going to be left hanging because of my phone’s careless decision. Never mind that most of them I hadn’t seen in person since 6th hour Biology; they were counting on me, and I was going to let them down, unless I acted fast.

I swiftly texted my fiancée to let him know the phone was acting up and well on the path of self-destruction. The response was casual and nonchalant and I realized I was in this alone; he did not catch on to the magnitude of the situation. I e-mailed family members and close friends to let them know the disheartening news. I could’ve texted but I wanted to save the little juice I had left. I spent the next hour doing work (how I managed to work at a time like that is beyond me; it’s amazing what the human body can do in times of crisis!). When I picked up my phone to check the time the screen was black, and I realized the unthinkable had happened: I was disconnected. As the fear washed over my body I tried to remain calm. I started on some tasks to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn’t notice the nagging feeling of doom.

I finished my work (an hour before I had to leave; that’s a first!). I also caught up on my e-mails, organized my stock portfolio, and wrote gratitude notes from my child’s first birthday (which was a month ago). I started to realize something surprising- I was far more productive without the phone! I decided to experiment and go the whole day without it or my computer (gasp!). I figured that when I got home, there would be a home phone and my fiancee’s phone in case of emergency, so I didn’t need to rush to get one. I spent the day cooking, cleaning, and visiting with friends- in person! While I did get a tad anxious at times, overall I felt so much better. I was “off the grid,” which felt so freeing; I had been emancipated from technology for a day, and it felt good. My nightcap was playing on the floor with my child. I noticed something somewhat disconcerting: My one-year-old was looking for the phone, which he was so used to being in my hand. Yes, we had made a game over the months of him trying to snatch it and me, in turn, hiding it. Mostly, though, I was used to being on it when he was occupied with a toy, when I should’ve been interacting with him. It genuinely saddened to me to realize what I had been unknowingly doing, which was choosing the phone over quality time with him. I vowed then and there that I would put my phone on my charger when I got home every night and not look at it again until I went to bed.

What started as a horrible event turned out, for me, to be one of the most valuable lessons I had ever learned. I love technology and I think the internet is the most powerful forum in the world. It can uncover abuses and injustices and spread it to millions in minutes. Unfortunately, it can also breed inaccurate information and ridiculous rumors. It can connect you with people far away that you would have otherwise missed. Unfortunately, it can also keep you from those that are sitting right next to you. It can connect you to millions but disconnect you for your closest family and friends. So, my dear friends, remember to spend time with the ones you love face-to-face. And think about spending a day disconnected; it really could change your outlook on life. You might just realize that you have a loved one that you have taken for granted- and no, I’m not talking about the cell phone!

E.N. Woodruff High School after it closed in 2010. The closing of the school was supposed to cut costs and help the struggling District 150.

No matter if you’ve lived in Peoria your whole life or just recently moved here, most likely you have heard something regarding the woes of Peoria School District 150. A beloved high school, E.N. Woodruff High School, closed its doors much to the chagrin of the local community, especially alumni. The students were dispersed to the remaining high schools: Peoria, Manual, and Richwoods. Unfortunately, over the years, Woodruff’s enrollment had dropped, as had the school ratings. It scored a 2 out of 10 on Education.com’s rating the year before it closed (See the bottom to learn more about the scale). The closing of Woodruff was a way to cut costs for the struggling district. The district school board voted narrowly to close the school despite pleas by students, teachers, alumni, and members of the North Valley community. The night of the vote it was estimated that closing the legendary school would save $2.7 million in salaries and $800-900k in operating costs. There were some complaints that the number kept changing and getting smaller, giving members of the community the idea that maybe there were other options that should have been explored. Regardless, the closing of the high school showed that District 150 was seriously in trouble, all across the board.

Let’s start with elementary schools. According to Education.com, when ranking local elementary schools, there are a few schools in District 150 that have higher test scores. A few of the best are Kellar, Lindberg, and Hines. Washington Gifted School had the highest, which is to be expected, seeing that the kids are more gifted than the average child (or their parents push them harder to be the future breadwinners for the family; either way, the children seem to score better on tests). One can’t help but notice something when looking at the test ratings for each school; the farther away the school is from downtown, the better scores they have. Is this merely a coincidence? Most parents seem to think not. Eileen, a local mother, had something to say to echo this sentiment: “As far as schools go, the further away from Peoria the better. We moved to Morton to send my son to school. Yeah, we had to pay more for a place, but it would’ve been just as much as sending him to a private school here in Peoria, and we aren’t Catholic so our options were few.”

She is right; Morton Elementary School’s, while fewer, are all on the high end of the test ratings; in fact, none of the elementary schools scored below a 9 on a ten-point scale. Same with Dunlap and Metamora. District 150 is closing schools, while communities like Dunlap are growing exponentially; they are currently building a new school, Hickory Grove, to accommodate the growth. One doesn’t need to look up statistics to prove this trend. Driving through neighborhoods in the city of Peoria, there are countless for sale signs on houses in every neighborhood. In Dunlap and Morton, new neighborhoods are popping up left and right where cornfields used to stretch as far as the eye could see.

As for high schools, numbers speak louder than words. On that same ten-point scale, Morton High School and Dunlap scored tens, Metamora a nine, Peoria Richwoods an 8, East Peoria High a 4, and Peoria High and Manual rounded out the bottom with 2s. Richwoods was the best of the high schools in the Peoria metropolitan area, but still behind Dunlap, Metamora, and Morton. Has it always been this way? The consensus is no.

“When I was in high school there, Richwoods was the best school in the area. It was even better than Notre Dame (the local Catholic private school) because you could get college credit for classes you took, which you couldn’t do at ND. Now, I’ve sent my kids to ND even though we aren’t Catholic. That should tell you something,” said Jim, a local small business owner.

Okay, I’m going to stop spouting off numbers. I even stop paying attention when writing so many numbers, let alone you as readers reading them. The point here is that the Peoria schools are in trouble, while the communities outside of Peoria’s schools are only getting better. So are the communities themselves- the housing market is booming in areas like Dunlap, Morton, and Metamora, while the city of Peoria itself is facing a population decline. I postulate these two phenomenons are not unrelated. Many families are feeling the city of Peoria for its suburbs because of the better schools. So the only way that Peoria can possibly recover is by improving their local school district. Some may see closing Woodruff as the first step; others see it as a failed attempt to make it seem like the school board was actually doing something. There have been some shake-ups in the district, with new principals taking over that vow to change the schools for the better. Only time will tell, but for now, the school district has a lot to prove.

So let us know below and in the comments: Would you buy a house based on the superiority of the school district?

Sources: Education.com

The Education.com TestRating is a number (1-10) calculated by Education.com that provides an overview of a school’s test performance for a given year, by comparing the school’s state standardized test results to those of other schools in the same state. For Illinois, the TestRating is calculated using a school’s 2010 PSAE Results and ISAT Results for all subjects tested.

What is next for college grads?

Many television shows and sitcoms have been devoted the formative years after college. This era has always been a pivotal time in the growth of a person. Young adults have always been expected to move out, pick a career, choose a life partner, and prioritize their life. But this new crop of twenty-somethings seem to be doing things differently from the previous generation. They are waiting longer to get married and have kids, they are changing careers after already graduating from college, and they are staying single because- gasp!- they actually want to. Anyone can see the difference in this generation compared to the previous one, but why is this happening? And is it really for the best?

Renee, a 26-year-old bartender from a local chain restaurant, is the first to admit she did things differently from her parents. “I actually went to college at twenty-two, which is when my mother got married. Within two years she had three children!” (She is a twin and also has a younger brother).

Her lifestyle difference, though, has come at a price. She is currently living in her parents basement. She graduated with a degree in English, but hasn’t been able to find a job. She is thinking about pursuing a nursing degree, but for now her bartending job pays the bills and it’s hard to wade into the ocean of uncertainty that comes with job hunting.

“Of course I want a better job, an actual career. But with all the people that are unemployed right now, it’s nerve-wracking to give up a job that pays the bills!”

And Renee isn’t alone. At that restaurant alone, four of the ten employees interviewed had college degrees. This was even more than I was expecting. They all told a similar tale: One couldn’t find a job, another didn’t like the career he was in, and still another found the restaurant hours more conducive to her situation. Is this situation unique to Peoria, or is this going on elsewhere as well?

According to the New York Times, sociologists consider five steps in “becoming an adult.” These are completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. But let’s be honest here: Not very often do these things occur in this order. There are people with children who haven’t completed school but are financially independent; there are couples that are married with or without children and not financially independent, instead living with one of the sets of parents; and there are single mothers who are completing school and living at home. There are people that do complete the steps, but completely out of order. To be completely honest, I am sitting here having trouble thinking of one person from my social circle who completed those steps in that particular order. But before we get into the effect of this new phenomenon, let’s think about the causes, at the local level.

Here in Peoria, we are lucky enough to have numerous fine academic institutions. Between just Bradley and ICC, there were many college students who were able to get an education without having to leave their high school bedroom. Thus, when they graduated and took on a job, it was harder to leave the home they had always had. And it turned into a why-not: “What is the point of moving out, when I could live cheaper right here?” They did have a point. When the economy took a down-turn, it was hard to argue with that logic. If they threw their parents some money, it became mutually beneficial; it was still cheaper for the kid to live at home, but the parents were getting a little help too.

Jobs in Peoria for the youth have never been particularly abundant. In fact, most twenty-somethings venture to Chicago to find jobs that fit majors such as advertising, public relations, human resources, etc. According to CLRsearch.com, greater than 18% of their population is between the ages of 25 and 34, which is much larger than Illinois’ (13.5%) and the United States as a whole (13%). But Chicago is an expensive city, so eventually those young adults start looking back home, where they have their parents to fall back on. Unfortunately, there are only so many jobs in the town of Peoria, so many of them are forced back home to find a non-existent job. This is most likely how they end up in places like the service industry that we touched on earlier.

There are many different opinions about this new development. Many older adults think the generation is being “babied.” There is some truth to that argument, but not in a bad way. Many young adults were forced to grow up faster in the previous generations because of the Vietnam War and other socioeconomic factors. There were also many jobs in the post-World War II era. With the exception of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this generation has been fairly sheltered. A man named Jeffrey Arnett is leading a movement to make a distinction regarding the life stage of the 20s. He wants to call it “emerging adulthood.” One, though, has to wonder what role the parents have played in all of this. Obviously, they aren’t saying “no” when their kids ask to move back or stay at home. Do they want their children to remain dependent longer, or are they merely sympathetic to their cause?

We have explored the causes, but the effects of this new phenomenon is unknown. These young adults could be a drain on their parents who have worked their whole lives to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, they could all be helping each other out and this could be a return to the “extended family” that was the norm for American immigrants when they first came to this country. It could mean that this generation is irresponsible, immature, and unmotivated; conversely, this generation may end up happier because they haven’t rushed into jobs and/or relationships that don’t make them happy.

From what we have touched on, it seems as though one thing is certain: it is up to the young adult to either allow the situation to help them or hinder them.  If they develop a level of autonomy, and take the initiative to help their parents, everyone wins. Autonomy means opening up a savings account and looking forward to moving out. Because everyone wants to move out eventually, right? Right?

Sources:

The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all

CLRsearch.com http://www.clrsearch.com/Chicago_Demographics/IL/Population-by-Age