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January 2013 Archives


Name: Wai Gen Yee

Age:  39

Day job:  Computer scientist

Why do you run?  Keep the weight off and to satisfy my competitive/athletic compulsions.

How long have you been running?  I started running for real after college, when I was 23 (1996).  I quit for several years and picked it up again in 2004.

What makes someone a runner?  The biggest asset for a runner is to have drive and peace of mind.  Some people consider running monotonous, but others consider it peaceful or really enjoy the satisfaction of finishing a long run.

Miles per week:  During the training season, I run up to 45 miles a week.  Off season, I generally run 15 miles per week.

Mile time:  700 - 830 minute miles, depending on the distance.

Races you’ve competed in:  Chicago Marathon:  1996, 2004, 2007-2011.  Injured this year.

Favorite running route(s):
 The bike path along the Lake is my "home" path.  I have probably run 10,000 miles on it, literally.  I enjoy running the Salt Creek trail, too.

Best run:  In 2009, I ran a 3:29 marathon.  This is a nice time because it means I broke an 8-minute mile pace.

Worst run:  The 2007 marathon.  This could also be considered my best run because it was so hard and required the most endurance, both mental and physical.  It was very, very hot, and I ended up running 10-minute miles.  Finishing that race required real determination.

Do you run with music? Why/Why not?
 No, never.  I like the simplicity of running and the music takes that away.  Music could also hurt maintaining a regular pace.  I do run with the television on when on a treadmill though, but that is because running indoors is so boring.


February's Honest Parent: Heidi Hollins

My greatest parenting strength is: I run this show solo. I’m a single mom. The father is not in the picture so I play that role as well. I don’t dump my son off at grandparents’ house because well, they are 4 hours away but even still – I couldn’t do that.

My greatest parenting weakness is: I don’t give myself enough “me time.” I know that I could if I tried harder. I also know that it would only make my life AND his life easier. I have become too comfortable with our day-to-day routine. 

When it comes to parenting, I would rather not admit that:
I tell lies to my child all the time. “The store is closed because too many toys were purchased and they need to restock;” “We can’t go to zoo lights because the lights broke (make noise of power going out);” “We can’t watch that movie because it’s broken.” There it is. Out in the open. I do it all the time. 

When it comes to parenting, _________ is overrated. Play dough. I can’t stand it. It ends up everywhere and it hardens into the carpet.

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
That I really am stubborn. Before I had a child, my friends and family would tell me all the time. It’s all true. I even argue with my four year old. Having a child has made me even more stubborn. I feel that I need to be more defiant with everyone around me because of him. I have also learned I was wrong when I said I would never move to the suburbs. I was completely against it--another stubborn conviction. I live in Arlington Heights now and I’m absolutely one hundred percent good with that.

What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
That I had a blood clotting disorder. My son was born dangerously premature. I spent every day and night with him in the NICU. I lost my job because I had to be with him for so long. I had to leave Chicago and live with my parents for over a year. And although I’m grateful for their help, there is nothing more important to me than my independence. It wasn’t until a year after, that I learned I had a dangerous blood disease. The pregnancy could have lasted longer if I had known about it before becoming pregnant. 

How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing?

I think I did more comparing while I was pregnant: “Look at that little boy and his Velcro Spiderman shoes; I’m never going to buy those.” Fast forward four years and that’s all the kid has ever had on his feet. Why? Because they are cheaper. Why else? Because he loves that they light up and I love that he loves that. But now I don’t compare. I do what works for us.

"I can't find anything writing related. But like, you know, sequins and booze are two of my biggest literary influences.--Robyn Pennacchia"

February's Hot Writer
: Robyn Pennacchia

My genre:
Creative Non-Fiction- both memoir and historical, Satire

My literary influences: Dorothy Parker, Fran Leibowitz, Sarah Vowell, Woody Allen, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Olive Higgins Prouty, Ambrose Bierce, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, Howard Zinn. I'm also heavily influenced by non-literary writers, specifically Susan Harris (The head writer for Soap and The Golden Girls. She also wrote the infamous abortion episode of Maude.), Ruth Gordon (who, in addition to being a spectacular actress, also co-wrote several Hepburn and Tracy movies with her husband, Garson Kanin), Groucho Marx and Stephen Sondheim.

My favorite literary quote: "Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, a medley of extemporanea; And love is a thing that can never go wrong, and I am Marie of Roumania"- Dorothy Parker

My favorite book of all time: The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

I’m currently reading: The complete works of Joanna Southcott, an 18th century "prophetess" who thought she was God's daughter and spent a lot of time predicting the end of the world and such. For research purposes! I'm working on a book about failed apocalyptic predictions.

My guilty pleasure book: I don't feel especially guilty about anything I read. However, I will say that I've read everything Jacquiline Susann has ever written, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess some people would consider that a guilty pleasure. I also do a kick-ass impersonation of Patty Duke in the movie version of Valley of The Dolls

I can’t write without: Coffee, probably.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Went to BJ's Wholesale Club with Mom today...". It's the beginning of one of my diary entries from high school. I went through my old diaries recently, and completely lost my shit when I saw this. What kind of horribly boring teenager puts that in her diary? I should have been like, mooning over some dude or complaining that my parents totally didn't understand me or something. But no. No, I was just going to BJ's Wholesale Club with my mom. Probably getting really excited about the free samples of Pizza Bagels or something.

Brief Bio: I am the creator and co-hostess of the long running lit series "The Sunday Night Sex Show", which happens the last Sunday of every month at the Burlington, I've blogged for Death + Taxes, I write a blog about weird history called "This Was A Thing That Happened" and I freelance all over the place. I am currently in the process of desperately trying to find a stable writing job that maybe also includes benefits and does not require me to figure out 1040 forms. 

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


When Kathie Bergquist was training to run the Prague Marathon, she realized there was something she was missing. “It occurred to me how much I would benefit from a like-minded fitness community,” she says. “How much I liked to read and share in the stories of others whose experiences and sensibilities were similar to my own.” It wasn’t long before Bergquist had organized and launched Ms. Fit Mag, an online feminist fitness magazine. She spoke with Our Town about her target audience and what it means to be healthy.

Our Town Why is Ms. Fit necessary?
Kathie Bergquist I’m not really comfortable with the word “necessary.” Ms. Fit is, after all, just another entertainment in an already oversaturated electronic media world. But that said, I started Ms. Fit because I could not find a fitness magazine that reflected my life experience. Instead, they all seemed to set up this impossible, unobtainable standard of fitness perfection I was supposed to strive for. What’s the point of a fitness magazine that makes me feel bad about myself? You won’t find the secret to six pack abs in Ms. Fit. But you will find stories by and about flesh and blood women who exist in the real world.

OT Who is your target audience?
KB Women, of course, but I’d also say all smart people who are interested in a fitness lifestyle. Ms. Fit covers a lot of topics you won’t find in most fitness magazines, and our definitions of health and fitness are more encompassing and organic. It’s a little bit politically progressive, a little bit edgy, with a good dose of sweat stirred in. Both the ‘zine, and our ideal audience, that is.

OT You’ve edited anthologies in the past, but the size of this project seems more daunting. What was it like to go through the process of creating Ms. Fit?
KB In many ways, the process is very similar. In both cases, I am looking, first and foremost, at the quality of the writing, but then I am considering what an individual story brings to the table, what it adds to the conversation. Is the point-of-view fresh and new? Is it relevant? And then, how do different stories play against each other? It’s as though each article or essay is a movement in a symphony, organized around a central, controlling theme.

OT How did you go about choosing contributors?
KB For the first issue, I did a few open calls through social networking sites, as well as personally inviting writers I knew who were fitness-oriented. As pitches started to come in, I discussed them with my editors – a group of women who, like me, are volunteering their time and vision to help Ms. Fit come together – and, using the criteria I just described, we started putting the puzzle pieces together. In general, I’d like to keep a roster of steady contributors whose voices our readers will get to know over time, while continually adding new perspectives to the mix.


Carol Horton was curious about yoga. “As a social scientist,” she says, “I was drawn to such questions as: Where did yoga come from, historically? Why has it grown so popular? At the same time, as a yoga practitioner and teacher, I wanted to know: What is it about yoga that makes it so much more than exercise for so many people? It’s easy to glibly state that yoga is a mind-body-spirit practice. But what does that really mean?”

For Horton, a yoga teacher, this mind-body connection grew into an “integrated process of yoga research and practice, focusing on the psychological and spiritual dimensions of contemporary yoga, as well as its social and historical development.”

The result? Her new book, Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body. Horton spoke with Our Town about yoga’s past and present and why the discipline's commercialization isn’t necessarily a bad development.

OT What do you now believe is the connection between modern and ancient yoga?
CH Yoga as we know it today is only about 130 years old. It developed in India during the late 19th-early 20th centuries thanks to the leadership of a series of visionary Indian gurus. These teachers transformed yoga from a rigorous ascetic practice suitable for only a small number of adepts into a widely accessible means of building physical, psychological, and spiritual health. Modern yoga synthesized elements of ancient Indian tradition with modern values of democracy and science. Consequently, it retains some connection to ancient yoga. This is particularly true when you get into the deeper dimensions of yoga, which, then as now, are dedicated to realizing freedom and transformation.

OT How can one practice remain so beneficial and strike a societal chord over such a long span of time?
CH Translated, the word “yoga” means “to yoke,” or join together. Just as farmers yoke horse to plow to cultivate their field, yoga teaches us how to harness body to mind in ways that enliven our spirit.The precise set of yoga methods used to do this, however, varies tremendously across time and space. This is inevitable, as yoga, like any tradition, must evolve in concert with the structure and culture of different societies. As yoga changes, however, it stays the same in that it remains a collection of tools for working with our bodies and minds in ways that facilitate profound learning, growth, and ultimately transformation.

OT Your book’s theme is ‘paradox.’ Explain.
CH Yoga today is paradoxical. It incorporates many ideas and practices that logically don’t belong together. In our society, yoga is both as a fitness fad and a spiritual practice. It’s used to sell expensive designer sweat pants and transmit non-material values. Its popularity is fueled by our cult of the “body beautiful.” But countless people fall in love with it because it allows them to experience their bodies from the inside out for the first time ever. How can such seemingly antithetical elements combine to form this one thing called “yoga”? [But] yoga has always involved paradox. For example, the term “Hatha” (as in “Hatha yoga,” which technically means any method focused on physical postures) is an amalgam of the words “ha,” which means “sun,” and “tha,” or which means “moon.” “Hatha” connotes the integration of solar and lunar forces, along with what were traditionally considered to be their attendant pairs of opposites: masculine/feminine, light/dark, reason/intuition, etc. Traditionally, the practice of yoga was understood as integrating such dualisms without dissolving them. I believe that contemporary yoga occupies an oddly parallel position today.

OT You write that yoga created altered states of consciousness for you. Can you explain that a little?
CH When I first started yoga, I simply thought of it as stretching, and had no clue it could be anything more. I was fortunate, however, to have teachers who emphasized synching movement, attention, and breath. Eventually, I started having some very intense experiences on the mat. For example, one time I was flooded with a PTSD-like flashback of an emergency surgery I’d had – except that rather than feeling upset by this memory, I relived it feeling centered and calm. Another time I had a really vivid visualization of the internal energy fields of my body while lying still with my eyes closed at the end of class.Today, I’m used to having forgotten memories resurface, confused emotions crystallize, and new insights emerge in the course of my yoga practice. I believe that as we learn to work with our minds as well as our bodies – training our attention as well as our physical skills – we start accessing different dimensions of consciousness. I don’t see this as some far out, woo woo thing. Rather, I think that yoga (as well as similar disciplines) gives us the tools to work with our minds in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise know are possible.


Group fitness instructor and In-School Conductor with the Chicago Children's Choir, Danielle Enriquez-Fowler is committed to helping others. Whether through teaching Turbokick or volunteering with GirlForward, she’s found ways to change lives. This weekend, she will take part in the annual Turbo-thon for a Cause. She spoke with Our Town about the upcoming event.

Our Town First of all, what’s Turbokick?
Danielle Enriquez-Fowler Chalene Johnson, the creator of Turbo Kick®, is always looking for ways to increase the effectiveness and the fun factor of everyone’s workout. That’s why she invented Turbo Kick®. It’s a combination of intense kickboxing moves, as well as dance moves all perfectly choreographed to high energy and motivating music. It’s the ultimate cardiovascular challenge, a unique blend of intense intervals strength/endurance training.

How is it different from kickboxing?
DE-F Unlike traditional group fitness style kickboxing, TurboKick is choreographed to specific music and designed in an interval format. The music keeps you energized while the intervals give you a chance to intensify then recover. This combination gives you a more effective cardio workout and also allows for a less repetitive workout so you never have time to think about how hard you're actually working, you're too caught up in the fun moves and music!

OT How did you become involved with GirlForward?
DE-F The founder and executive director of GirlForward, Blair Brettschneider, used to be a member at a gym where I teach. She was a regular in my Tuesday night class and learned that I'm a full time music teacher. One night she came up and asked if I'd be willing to do a fitness class with the GirlForward girls at an upcoming workshop. The workshop was near Valentine's day and was focused on having a positive self image as well as educating the girls on healthy dating and relationships in America. The girls are all refugees from other countries where dating and relationship practices are very different from those in America. I was so impressed with the girls, their mentors and the goal of the organization, I knew I wanted to continue to support it in any way I could. 

OT Tell us about the organization.
DE-F GirlForward provides adolescent refugee girls with individual mentorship, educational programs and leadership opportunities, creating a community of support that serves as a resource and empowers girls to be strong, confident, and independent. Many of the girls have gone on to become the first members of their family to attend college thanks to the mentorship and support of GirlForward. In addition, the GirlForward safe space allows for a community center environment where the girls can meet, do homework and seek tutoring. 

OT Why are Turbokick and Girlforward a good fit?
DE-F Both TurboKick and GirlForward foster an environment of positive self image and personal growth.


I am not a parent, unless you count the werewolf, which I don’t. Only because I’ve been told that real children require more from one than the capricious impulse to put hats on them and take their picture.

I’ll probably never become a parent. It’s not that I don’t like children, although technically I don’t. Only because I would never claim to love any whole group, not even animals, because f*ck snakes and bats and mosquitos. In fact, I think the blanket statement “I love children” is more indicative of a speaker’s lack of careful discernment than actual capacity for love.

I like to tell people my focus on semantics is part of my charm. Likely, it’s another reason not to have kids. (“No, little Bobby, I won’t take you to the bathroom until you ask using the definite article.”) Still, regardless of whether I personally choose to reproduce, I’m no longer twenty (despite what I claim when I answer Craigslist ads), which means the majority of my friends have kids.

People complain about parents plastering their SUVs with Honor Student stickers, losing interest in any topic of conversation that doesn’t involve food allergies or pre-school applications, flooding their friends’ Facebook feeds with pictures of Baby’s first Market Extension Merger or whatever.

My friends are guilty of none of this. Rather, each has, at some point, expressed a conviction that her struggles result from personal shortcomings, that every other parent can handle what she can’t, that because she harbors regrets or isn’t always fulfilled, she’s not a good parent. But the truth is that parenting is an endless, sometimes thankless and often exhausting struggle to balance needs and logistics, finances and emotions-- or so I observe. God-willing, I’ll never share these particular struggles. I have enough trouble finding my teeth to brush them each morning. If I had to deal with some small, inarticulate person’s sudden need to tie her own shoes as expressed by punching the dog, I’d probably never get out of bed.

But here’s some small thing I can offer: The Honest Parent Series.

Each month the Our Town Blog will highlight one Chicago parent’s thoughts on the highs and lows of child-rearing. It’s my hope to contribute to a community of less self-critical, more well, honest parents who aren’t afraid to own their parenting-styles, imperfections and all. Most participants have agreed to speak publicly, though some prefer anonymity (perhaps fearing the ire of their vicious mommy blogger peers). I’m doing my best to create a representative hodgepodge; gay, straight, single parents, “traditional” families, minority voices, stout white guys with more money than God, and maybe even a werewolf or two.


January's Honest Parent: Mandi Hinkley

Fill in the blank:

My great parenting strength:
is being conscious about parenting decisions and perspectives.  I try to think about things like "the kind of parent I want to be" and the values I want to instill in my kids when I respond to the everyday issues that arise.
My greatest parenting weakness:
is the flip side of my strength--being too much in my head and not appreciating some of the moments as they pass.

When it comes to parenting, I would rather not admit: that I see the TV as a magical babysitter when I am exhausted.

When it comes to parenting, _________is overrated. Reading parenting books. I've read a few that I've really liked, but a lot of them are preachy, judgmental, and/or seemingly designed to make you feel like you are not doing enough. 

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent? 
That being a parent doesn't change the person I am.  It provides new circumstances that challenge me and help me grow, but I don't feel different from the person I was before (even though the circumstances of my life are often very different). 
What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent? 
To remember that child development is ongoing.  In just the first three years of our twin daughters' lives, my partner, Chai, and I have gotten to different points in which we feel like we have a handle on things.  And then almost instantly, something shifts--the bedtime routine that had been working so well falls apart, the right mix of nurturing and discipline suddenly has no effect, and so on.  It's dawned on me just recently that I have to remember that their development will constantly shift and both to anticipate that and also not be totally dumbfounded when things that made sense no longer do.

Describe your worst moment as a parent.

My real "worst" moment is not very specific: one of those times when my reaction was based in my own frustration or preoccupation rather than the facts and needs of the moment.  More tangibly, I had an unimpressive moment in the first few months of the girls' lives.  Because the sleep cycles of our twins were not in sync, at least one person in our house was up 24 hours a day for most of the first half of 2010.  Chai and I switched back and forth between assigning ourselves a child per night, trading off wake-ups regardless of the child, and taking 4-hour solo shifts.  During one of the solo shifts, I had a baby in each arm, both wailing for somewhere around a half-hour.  I didn't want to wake up Chai because she was exhausted and had the added requirement of pumping milk every few hours.  But nothing I could think to do was working, and I was losing it.  There was something about the pierce of those unconsolable cries that was more than my sleep-deprived self could handle.  Instead of asking her for help, I sat down in our living room chair, still with the girls in each arm, and just screamed.  I felt better after.  And also scared the shit out of Chai.  Sorry, babe.


Pssst-- have you heard about the queer Kardashian? The brainchild of Chicago comedian Fawz Mirza, Kam Kardashian began as a joke over drinks and has grown into the subject of an ongoing web series. In the last week of a Kickstarter campaign to fund additional episodes, Mirza took time to talk to Our Town about her background in law, the Kardashians as culture-makers and how she’s going to abandon us like everyone else does.

Our Town How did spending your early life in Indiana shape you as a comedian?
Fawzia Mirza Being a Canadian transplanted to Indiana then transplanted to a huge collegiate environment like Indiana University in Bloomington, then moving to Chicago, going from a clothing size 13 to a size 0, going from being a lawyer to an actor, going from not dating at all to dating women - it ALL affected my outlook and comedic brain. And I mean, when you once were the husky girl, the result is overdeveloped personality: you become the funny one to compensate.

OT You started in law. Seems like a lot of lawyers are attracted to acting and actors to law. Why do you think that is?
FM I think lawyers are attracted to acting because lawyers didn't start out as lawyers, they started out as people who went to law school. And a lot of people go to law school a) not knowing what they want to do with their lives, b) not sure they want to practice law and in my case, (and many other good, respectful Asian babes), you can add c) wanting to make my family happy. I also worked at a law firm where the half the secretaries were guys in comedy. Some of the funniest and most successful comedians I know I met there. Lots of joke-making, sleeping under desks and emailing each other haikus. Taking depositions pales in comparison.

OT As a comedian, what attracts you to the Kardashians?
FM It's nothing new to be inspired by pop culture icons. They offer so much material on a daily basis. And the Kardashians are funny. They are THE MOST famous family on the planet. And they do ridiculous things. And, let's face it, I don't care what you think about them as a family, but Kim alone has 14 million twitter followers (MORE than OBAMA! ) internationally and can single-handedly shape trends for an entire population of people. Love them or hate them, they effect our culture. I like to make people laugh, but not in a way that is mean or negative. The Kardashians are an easy target, being so public, for that kind of humor. Why wouldn't the family, who has so many sex tapes, flings, divorces, babies and secrets, why wouldn't they have a long lost lesbian sister? Of course there's a KAM.

OT What does the omnipresence of the Kardashians say about our culture?
FM People say Kim is famous for being famous. Well, that is a part of the American celebrity trend - anyone can be a star; anyone can have a hit single, make a movie, be on TV, have 1 million hits on YouTube. It IS possible. I mean, one such recent "star" is the Pakistani guy who sings "One Pound Fish" - what did he do? He was a fishmonger who sang a song. And I LOVE my brown Pakistani brother for it! Unfortunately, we as a culture place so much emphasis on looks, on clothes, on sex, on money. I think the widespread popularity of the Kardashians is part of that misplaced emphasis. I like to be positive, though and I think one positive trend in this societal obsession with the Kardashians is that people are attracted to new kinds of women. And look, as a woman of color, anytime a brownish woman is considered sexy, and iconic, I feel like I win a little bit somewhere.

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