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Last week I finished my degree at Oregon State University and I have mixed feelings about it all.  Finishing didn’t quite feel the way I thought it would.  I thought I’d have a burst of energy, relief, and happiness but instead I ended on the note of enduring the most difficult final exam of my life and 30 minutes later my grandson was at the house for me to babysit.  Just your typical college graduate!

When I went to my commencement in Oregon a couple months ago I felt the joy and the sense of accomplishment then but now reality has hit.  For one, I’m going to miss school.  It’s been a big part of my life for the past 4 1/2 years.  This is a big change in my daily schedule.  I went from operating at high-alert to not knowing what day of the week it is.  I honestly didn’t know this morning.  Also, the heat is on.

I’ve got to prove to everyone that going back to college in my 40s was a smart thing to do.  I’ve got to land that six-figure income within the next 72 hours or everyone is going to tell me I should have become a nurse, welder, or plumber.  At least I am beginning to see jobs in my field being posted for the state of Illinois.  While the budget fiasco was going on, I had little hope in finding a job in this state.  There might be some hope now.  We’ll see.

If a great job opportunity opens up nearby I’ll seriously consider it but I am still considering grad school too. I just need a few weeks to ponder the direction I want to go because while I was in college I had about 10 spare seconds each week to think about what I was going to do after I graduated.  There just wasn’t any time or energy to prepare.

I still wake up every morning feeling like I’m up against a deadline.  My attempts to rest thus far have been pitiful and honestly I still feel like I’ve been run over by a truck after my last finals week (even though I got straight A’s, woohoo!).  I’m still seriously wiped out.

I am looking forward to going back to blogging and being able to participate much more in the community.  I think over the past four years most of the stuff I’ve written has been kinda, well, crappy. There’s a lot of things I want to try and share on the blog.  Still, writing is great therapy for me if nothing else, even if it is crap.

And yes, I’m still dealing with some medical issues.  I don’t know a whole lot yet at the moment but in the next few weeks I’ll know more.  Hopefully it isn’t crappy news.

 

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In 19 days I will have completed my bachelor’s degree and I am ready.  Actually, I was ready about six months ago but I’m really, really ready now.  I went back to college in 2013, first to Columbia College where I earned an associate’s degree, and now I’m almost done at Oregon State University.

I don’t know how I’m going to feel being “done”. College has been a big part of my life.  It’s been more than a job.  I’ve worked regular jobs and college has been way more work, stress, sacrifice, and reward.  Although I’m not going to miss deadlines, exams, and lost weekends to term papers, I am going to miss the routine.  I’m one of those people who don’t like their daily routines changed.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself.

For the first few weeks I think I’m just going decompress and enjoy a little time off.  I’m not sure how much I’ll be enjoying those weeks though because I’ll be undergoing tests to determine if I have thyroid cancer.  Yeah, out of the blue!  Last year I learned I had a nodule, which isn’t rare.  Many women my age and older have thyroid nodules.  In fact, I read something from an expert in ultrasound technology that if an ultrasound technician doesn’t find a thyroid nodule in a woman over the age of 50, he or she should probably be fired.  They’re very common as we get older and the vast majority of nodules are benign but they should be observed over time to see if there’s any changes.

Well mine must have changed over the past year because my doctors are much more concerned now.  I’m not sure what changed but apparently whatever they saw on the ultrasound this week is more likely to be cancerous than whatever they saw last year.  That doesn’t mean it is cancer because an ultrasound can’t diagnose thyroid cancer but now I play the waiting game.  I’m not terribly worried but it is a major distraction as I finish up the last few weeks of my degree.  It kinda takes the glow off the moment a little. Ha!

Beyond all that, I am currently looking at grad schools, so I’m probably not done with college.  Most of the jobs in my field (natural resources) require a master’s degree.  I always planned to at least get a grad certificate at some point but I discovered that I really enjoy research and to do that I need a higher degree.  I’m also interested in teaching, so over the next few months I’ll be looking at different options and going from there.

I still plan to do my other side projects but that’s going to take longer to get off the ground.  First, I have to find enough land to do what I would like to do and land isn’t cheap in Macon County and the property taxes are ridiculous.  Luckily, my family has land in Fayette County that I could use but it’s an hour away.  No, I’m not planning on growing marijuana, although my husband thinks that would be a good idea.  I’m not on board with that.  Instead, I’m interested in growing native woodland and prairie plants to use in restoration projects.  Of course some of those have medicinal uses too. There’s some funky plants out there!  Some of them even help treat cancer. 🙂

Well, I’ve got my assignments to finish for the week.  I’ve been dragging all quarter but I’m getting more excited as the last couple of weeks are here.  I know after I submit the last exam (assuming I don’t implode and fail it miserably) I am going to go for a walk in the sunshine (or rain or whatever it’s doing outside) and just enjoy nature and the outdoors.  I won’t be graded on my observations either.  Woohoo!

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In a few weeks the 32nd Decatur Celebration will take place with some major changes.  The Celebration has always been on the verge of being canned due to financial shortfalls.  Every year we’re warned that it might be the last.  Festivals aren’t the easiest things to make money off of.

For one, some of the vendors which pay to be in the Celebration, don’t show all of the money that they actually make, of which the Celebration is supposed to get a cut of.  I don’t know how many vendors do this but I know that many under-report for obvious reasons.  Then the wrists bands for buying food didn’t quite pan out like some thought it would.

I know for my family, only one of us purchase the wrist band.  It would be kinda silly for both of us to, when only one of us does the purchasing.  One year a man gave his wrist band to ******* (to protect the guilty) as he was leaving.  He didn’t sell it.  He was just giving it away.  He did a masterful job making the band appear like it hadn’t been cut and taped back together.

Then of course, an outdoor festival is always at the mercy of the weather.  I think over the past 31 years just about every type of weather, except a blizzard or a Category 5 hurricane has hit downtown Decatur during the first full weekend in August.  One year, I spoke with a craft vendor who  literally watched her money go down the drain.  A severe thunderstorm had blown in and blew her tent and several other tents over.  Her merchandise and cash box bounced along the pavement.  As she was ducking wind-borne crafts of various media she watched helplessly as her cash box broke open and her hard-earned cash flowed down a gutter towards a storm sewer.  Luckily, she kept her sense of humor about it, at least while she told the story afterwards, but it just goes to show that festivals are a risky business for the organizers of the festival and those hoping to make an income from them.

Fenced In

This year the Decatur Celebration will be fenced in for the first time, assuming the city council approves the fence perimeter. It will no longer be a “free” street festival.  I don’t know how well this tactic will work out.  I think a lot of it depends upon how interested people are in the musical acts that are scheduled to perform.  I think it will keep a lot of people out during the afternoon when major acts aren’t playing but we’ll see.

I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see a musical act that would normally cost way more in any other venue.  My only concern with the fence is safety.  Only time will tell if fencing and charging a gate fee are good ideas or not.

Going Stale or Somewhere?

What I am more interested in is how to make the Decatur Celebration better.  It has become a bit stale and maybe in its current form it has run its course.  Every year it’s the same thing, which has its appeal.  It’s kinda become a late summer ritual for me to brave the weather, the smoky BBQ fires, and crowds to pay homage to downtown Decatur, which seems almost nothing like it feels the rest of the year.

It’s like downtown fades into the background and isn’t even there during the Celebration.  Over the years, downtown Decatur businesses have become less and less involved to the point where they don’t even participate or maybe I just don’t see them.  I’m not sure which but maybe there needs to be a whole lot more of “Decatur” in the Decatur Celebration.  I’d love to see the work of local artists and craftspeople featured.

Memories

The parade has been interesting over the years.  I remember one year we invited our new pastor and his wife to the Razzle Dazzle Goodtimes Parade and both my husband and I wanted to hide beneath a manhole cover when the scantly clad middle-aged belly dancers stopped in front of us and and made suggestive gestures to the crowd.  They had turned Franklin Street into a poorly casted remake of a really bad Arabian themed porn video.  None of us knew quite what to think.  My young children couldn’t process the information.  I didn’t know what to do but to turn around and say, “Welcome to Decatur!”

The parade has always been a funny thing.  I remember one year when the then mayor wasn’t in the car that was supposed to be carrying him.  It was just an empty convertible with his name on the side of it driving by.  It was indicative of the local political climate at that time.  Then there is always the jail-themed float for Crime Stoppers that many joke is carrying a former Illinois governor or two.  One year, there was a big uproar as Decatur Memorial Hospital tried to rename the Celebration in their honor.  (Decatur roars over silly things quite often.)

It was going to be the “Decatur Memorial Hospital Decatur Celebration”.  Besides not having much of a ring to it, the plan didn’t go over well.  Hundreds of St. Mary’s Hospital employees (Decatur’s other hospital) and their family members marched by in the parade, cheering and laughing, while about a half-dozen Decatur Memorial Hospital employees shuffled by, probably wishing they had paper sacks to wear over their heads.  It was a hoot.  You’re really missing a lot if you keep up local politics and don’t attend the parade.  There’s always some local political satire or message included but you have to be informed to see it.

The more I write about the Celebration, the more I hope it continues and the more I realize it’s special.  It’s something and it’s usually memorable.  It’s always uniquely Decatur one way or the other.

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I’m finishing up the second week of my last quarter at school.  I knew it would be hard to get back into the swing of things after attending my commencement ceremony last month.  Mentally, I was finished with school and ready to move on.  In reality, I still have a few classes to finish this summer to complete my degree.  It’s like winning the Super Bowl and instead of going to Disneyland to celebrate, I had to go back and win another playoff game. It’s been hard to concentrate.

Waterparks

Yesterday my family visited Knight’s Action Park in Springfield.  Can you believe I had never been to that waterpark?  It’s true- I never had.  We all had a good time but something became very obvious in regards to the waterpark Decatur is planning.  I’ve visited other much larger waterparks including Great Wolf Lodge and Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin Dells, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana and Raging Rivers in Grafton, Illinois.  They’re all a little bit different but by far the most popular features for adults are the lazy rivers and wave pools.

I still think it’s a big mistake to not include either one of those in Decatur.  Slides are neat but who wants to stand in line forever and climb hundreds of stairs over and over?  Not me!  I remember reading that the waterpark is being geared towards kids and I think that’s a big mistake.  Every successful waterpark I’ve been to caters to all ages.

What are parents and grandparents going to do while the young people are on the slides?  Be bored out of our minds?  Plus kids love lazy rivers and wave pools too.  They get sick of standing in line as well.  I understand there’s going to be a pool but that’s not enough, especially if it’s too crowded.  I think they should ditch a couple of the fancy slides and give what almost everybody has been requesting – a lazy river.

It’s like a fast-food restaurant not serving french fries because they want to be different, even though their customers are expecting and wanting french fries.  That’s silly.  Unless you have something way more spectacular than french fries as a side to a cheeseburger, you better keep fries on the menu.

 

 

 

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Over the past few years Decatur has focused on improving the overall perception of the city.  It’s true that the city has suffered from losses and bad news over many years but in my travels in the state and elsewhere that negative view isn’t what is holding the city back.

Businesses aren’t shying away from Decatur because of some negative perception they’re holding against us.  They’re staying away because they don’t know this city exists.  That has been my experience everywhere I go.  Even when I’m traveling within the state of Illinois, once I get more than 75 miles away from Decatur most people I speak with have no idea where Decatur is.

Nelson Park – Lake Decatur

When I’m on vacation and people ask where I’m from and I tell them Decatur, I almost always get a very blank stare back at me.  The vast majority of people have never even heard of Decatur unless they happened to have had some random family member or friend that once lived here.

Most people have heard of Springfield and quite a few have heard of Champaign so I have to explain to them that Decatur is located in between the two and then a light goes on in their head and they say, “Oh, okay I kinda know where that’s at.”

Coney McKane’s – Downtown Decatur

The good news is that most people do not have a negative view of Decatur at all.  The bad news is that they don’t have any view of Decatur at all.

I think it’s a good thing to have marketing campaigns to improve the overall impression of the city.  I think people in the community are more positive than they used to be but all cities suffer from critical residents.  To be fair, there are things worthy of being criticized.  There are problems but I think our biggest problem is that businesses picture Decatur as most individuals do.  They don’t have a picture of it in their head.

Scovill Zoo

So how do we climb out of the wallpaper in the dance and be noticed?  I think the city has to be very bold and daring.  Innovation, creativity, positive vibes all help.  We need to be known for something unique that is desirable and remarkable.  It can’t be tacky or gimmicky.  It has to be real.  I think many in the city are trying to go in that direction and there are many ways to distinguish ourselves.  I think our lakefront is our best bet as well as investing in green renewable energies and technology.  That’s where the future is.

Anyway, this topic is something I have planned to write about before but after my last trip it hit home even more squarely.  Most of the country doesn’t have a clue who we are or where we are or that we are.  We need to change that if we’re ever going to grow the city.

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