Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Susan Mikolic Offers "Stepping Stones" to Mental Health

Please click the link below to read my latest small business profile on

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Layaway: A Blast From the Past

I love layaway. It's how I bought my first coat when I lived in New York City. There was no other way a dirt-poor, recent college grad making $15,500 a year and paying $500 a month for rent could afford one. I distinctly remember going to the Strawberry store by Grand Central Station and selecting a knee-length jean coat with a flannel lining. The price tag was too high for me, so I put down a modest sum and vowed to pay a little more every few weeks until I could finally call it mine. Imagine the pride and joy I felt as I walked out the door of Strawberry on the day I had finally paid off the coat! I purchased it without bleeding my bank account or incurring credit card debt.

Layaway has been a friend to my family for years. My mom frequented the layaway counter at the old Hills Department Store in Youngstown. Not only was it a good way to buy furnishings and other items that were needed but immediately necessary, it was also an excellent way for my mom to buy new clothes a little at a time without my dad hitting the roof.

So what happened to layaway? Did we all suddenly get rich and able to pay on-demand for everything we wanted? Of course not. Unfortunately, our parents' quest for us to have a better life than theirs led to our "I've gotta have it now" mentality. Why should I wait three months for a new coat, stereo or whatever when I can put it on my credit card and have it TODAY?

This is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I freely admit that I fell victim to this attitude more than a time or two. You see the newest item on the shelves, then see someone you know walking around with it and -- BAM! -- you find yourself coveting that thing and eventually making your way to the store to get one for yourself. Credit card fees be damned!

Now, as we find ourselves in a major financial pinch, layaway is making a comeback. According to a recent article in the New York Daily News, many department stores are reopening the layaway counter to encourage customers to get a jumpstart on Christmas shopping. (See )

Putting money down a little money at a time for items you can't necessarily afford right now is sensible and practical. We don't have to deny ourselves everything, but we can plan to acquire them when we are ready. This is an old-fashioned idea that we shouldn't pooh-pooh. Instead, we should recognize the situation we currently face (and probably will face for awhile), and embrace the options available to us to weather the storm.

Welcome back, layaway, we really need you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans' Day!

The only thing my kids wanted to know about Veterans Day was, "Why don't we have the day off?" Unfortunately, not enough is said about this holiday, except to inform people that banks and the post office are closed.

Veterans Day is not unique to the United States. On November 11 of each year, other countries celebrate the armistice that ended World War I. We called it Armistice Day, too, when it was declared a legal holiday in 1938. About 15 years later, President Eisenhower signed into a law a bill that declared November 11 a tribute to all veterans.

My father is a veteran. He served in Germany in World War II. He has stories about his time in the army--what went right and what went wrong, what it felt like to hold a gun and how he got conned into becoming a mess sergeant and, as he says, "the only idiot who would deliver food to the front lines."

But to truly understand what being a veteran means to my father, you have to see his eyes become moist every time he hears "The Star Spangled Banner." Listening to those words clearly reminds him what he and others fought for. He did his part-- whether it was cooking food for battle-weary and frightened soldiers or taking his turn on the front lines to face the enemy--to secure freedom, and I believe he continually prays that his great country will remain free.

My father passed along his nostalgia for the National Anthem onto me. I get emotional for different reasons. Sure, I'm proud of my country and I want it to be the best it can possibly be. But every time I hear the National Anthem, I also think about my father. I think about the sacrifice of fighting in a foreign land, the sadness of losing fellow soldiers and the fear of wondering if you'll be next.

I'm glad I am able to know so much about my father's time in World War II, and I'm thankful for what he did. And even though I don't have the day off, I'm happy that we have Veterans Day so we can honor those who did so much for us and for others.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Will New York Steal Cleveland's Medical Mart Hopes?

Here's the headline from Sunday's Plain Dealer :

"New York prepares its own Medical Mart"

Does everyone get the significance of this headline? If New York City goes ahead with a proposed $1 billion World Product Centre, Cleveland will once again be an almost-ran. We almost won the World Series in 1997. We almost became a world leader in medicine, healthcare and biotechnology. Unlike baseball, there will be no "wait until next year."

If this Medical Mart doesn't get built in Cleveland, it will be a lost opportunity to unite all of our medical prowess: major hospitals, innovative research, dynamic products. We will have pieces, but not the whole puzzle. Professionals in the medical industry will have to continue to travel the globe to convince people to invest in Cleveland, instead of people coming to us. Added jobs, greater traffic for downtown restaurants and hotels and heightened tourism are at stake.

We need our local leaders to feel the fire that's been placed beneath them, decide on a definite site on which to build and get this Medical Mart up and running. Let's go Cleveland!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trying to Feel the Magic of Obama

There was a time, not all that long ago (I'm not THAT old), when the victory of someone like Barack Obama might have sent me out into the street to rejoice. What a breath of fresh air! A man who really embraces "change" and knows that we all "hope" for a better future. He's young, he's amiable, he's got a beautiful family. So what if he's going to raise taxes for 5% of the country; look what he's going to do for the rest!

So what's my problem?

It's not that I've suddenly become a card-carrying Republican. In fact, I don't feel that I belong in either of the major parties anymore. It's definitely not race, because I think this should be viewed as the victory of the right man, not merely the black man. I am a little worried about that top 5% thing, because my husband just happens to be a hard-working, successful professional who is creeping closer to that magic number. And because we are by no means "rich," taxing us as though we were might have drastic consequences.

Nevertheless, that's not the real problem either. At my core, I am a product of the working class and all it stands for, so if it's my family's duty to "be more patriotic" and pay more taxes, I can try to embrace that.

Yet, after this momentous victory, I don't feel victorious. I feel...hollow. And I'm upset that I feel that way. So many people around me are talking about the dawning of a new day, a great time for change, a time when we can restore our significant place in the world and in history. Believe me, I pray that all of those ideas become a reality. I also pray that our economy recovers, that we're able to create new jobs that will make us world leaders and that we never again fall victims to a terrorist attack.

Obama talks about all of these things, and I want with all my heart to shout, "Yes, we can!" But I can't find depth in his words. I can't visualize his plans. I can't feel the magic.

Maybe I'm trying too hard. Maybe I'm not cerebral enough to truly comprehend all this man is promising to do. Maybe, just maybe, I am a little slow coming out of the gate. Perhaps, like doubting Thomas, I need to see with my own eyes what the man can do before I can believe.

If that's the case, then I'll eagerly await January 20, 2009 and the Obama presidency. In the meantime, I'll just keep trying to feel that magic.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Must Miss" Current Cleveland-Bashing

Alleged Travel Writing Expert Peter Greenberg has named Cleveland one of the 12 "Must Miss" places in the WORLD. You can read all about it in this Plain Dealer article:

I wrote a little email to Mr. Greenberg this morning. It goes like this:

Dear Mr. Greenberg:

On the front page of today's Plain Dealer, an article announced that Cleveland's West
Side Market was named one of the "10 Great Public Spaces in America" by the
American Planning Association, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit group that promotes urban and
rural planning.

According to you, Mr. Greenberg, no one from outside of Cleveland should ever visit the
West Side Market, or any other area landmark, because you've deemed Cleveland one of 12
"must miss" destinations in the world.

Your reason for putting Cleveland on this unglamorous list supposedly has to do with
certain areas in the city, including the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood and a stretch of
Kinsman Road. Not sure if you know this, but there are not really any tourist sites in
those areas! Nevertheless because of these spots, you are discouraging people from taking
in treasures such as Severance Hall, where the Cleveland Orchestra plays; the Rock Hall;
Playhouse Square, one of the most beautiful collections of theaters in the country; and
the above-mentioned West Side Market.

Let's see. The American Planning Association also names New York City's Central Park as
one of the best public spaces in the country. Indeed it is, but there are certain parts
of that beautiful park where I wouldn't walk after dark if you paid me. And aren't there
some pretty dangerous areas in New York City itself, even some a few blocks away from
Central Park?

You say you want people to "know what they're getting into" when they come to
Cleveland. But if you're telling people not to visit, there's no need to warn them about
that, is there? Most big cities have areas touched by poverty, decay, drugs or intense
crime. While it's imperative that cities work to clean up these areas, that doesn't mean
you can put a giant black eye around the whole city!

Why do you single out Cleveland as being a dangerous place to visit? I can't help but
wonder if some Steelers fans put you up to this.

Diane DiPiero
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

P.S. They put the fire out on the Cuyahoga River a few decades ago.