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PhilamonjaroMy friend, Philamonjaro, is one of the most networked, likable people I know. We worked together when I first came to Chicago, and he is responsible for introducing Handsome Hunk and me to the Burning Man experience. He’s an entrepreneur, an artist and a great friend!

Philamonjaro, how many times have you been to Burning Man?

Eleven times, 1999 was the first year. I heard about Burning Man in the fall 1996 issue of Wired magazine and wanted to go from that point on. Up until then I had been going to Bumbershoot Arts & Music Festival in downtown Seattle. In 1998 my friends, Pat & Debbie, had just come back from Burning Man (it was their honeymoon) and said they were returning the next year. I asked to go along and the rest, as they say, is history. This was the beginning of many great friendships and more fun memories than I ever could have predicted.

Other than the increasing attendance, how has BM changed over the years?

Now there’s a huge emphasis on the regional network (formed around 2003) and more year-around activities off the playa. There were barely any art cars in 1999. Much more national media coverage now, more independent DVD releases and books, more pop-culture references in TV comedy and a much broader base of attendees than just the San Francisco bay area/west coast. Burning Man is now in the pop-culture conscience. Back in 1999 it seemed like a creative incubation from the San Francisco bay area being held in the permissive wild west of Nevada.

What is it that attracts you to the event?

It’s the large-scale, collaborative outsider art that reminds me that I too can be creative even if I do not have a career as an Burning Man 2005 088artist. And of course the huge group of diverse friends from all over the globe, mad-science, steam-punks and fire art. It’s a festival that treats itself as a city. And the humor! Oh, and all that dust.

Has your experience evolved?

Yes, in a big way. It was very overwhelming at my first Burn. I wanted to see everything and party through the whole week. It rekindled my creative bone with a sledgehammer. The event helped me see more possibilities. Over time my participation really helped me not care about being an outsider—knowing that I have found my peeps, the crazy fringe that really isn’t as fringe as the mainstream would like us to believe. More recently it has been about community, using art as a way to share the best of what we have to offer to each other, and a certain reckless excitement about actively creating and sharing arts.

Can you remember one jaw-dropping moment that has stayed with you?

Well there are many so I’ll stick to just a few. In 2007 watching from a 1/4 mile away the Crude Awaking installation unleash god-knows how many pounds of liquid propane in a mushroom cloud of fire I conservatively estimate to have been 350-400 feet high. David Best’s Temple in 2004 was an estimated 1/4 mile long art installation. And the Temple of Gravity in 2003, plus the  story about how Burners Without Borders got started. On a subtler note, participants of all ages and walks of life come together to create a temporary community with everyone  getting along for the most part.

Any advice to someone who hasn’t gone yet but is interested?

Do it! I hear so many people say, ‘”someday I want to go,” but they don’t. There is a certain temporary quality about all the things that line up to make Burning Man happen. Just maybe it will all end—over, no more! And like a sand mandala, all the years of work will be blown away in the wind. Life is temporary, experiences are even more temporary. You may miss out one of the greatest experiments in art and community we will ever have a chance to participate in shaping. Before going, plug into your local/regional burning man community, meet people, ask questions, get involved, take a risk, start a project. It’s a year-round community and a great way to get your feet wet, er…dusty beforehand.

Burning Man 2005 061Anything else you want to share with us?

Burning Man is what you make it. The more you work on your projects(small or large)/gifts/preparations/costumes/camp, the more you will get out of it. Plug in to other burners in your local area, it’s generally great fun with like-minded creative people. Read the survival guide. Learn about the festival’s 10 principles. And remember, dust is a condiment.


Thanks Philamonjaro, regional co-contact for Chicago!  At the very least, I recommend that you checkout the Burning Man site for wonderful photos and information about the 2010 event.

Note: The Burning Man photos in this article are the property of Lia and are not the installations/projects referenced in this article. You may be able to find those photos on the Burning Man site.


Katie is a 30-year old personal trainer I’ve trained with for several years. She also teaches a boot camp class at an athletic club and volunteers her time in the public schools leading an after school fitness program. Her dedication to her clients and profession has always impressed me.

Lia: How long have you been a personal trainer and why did you choose this profession?
Katie: I’ve been training for almost a decade. I never planned on becoming a personal trainer. I always loved exercising, but I never knew I could make a career out of it until I started working at a gym while finishing my undergrad degree. What a revelation! I finished school, signed up for courses in anatomy, biomechanics, etc. and I was on my way. I feel very lucky to have found a career that allows me to feel inspired, rewarded and happy while getting to help people. It’s perfect!

Lia: What types of credentials and other things should people look for when they hire a personal trainer or consider if they’re currently working with one?
Katie: A lot of people end up working with trainers that are charismatic (or because they have great physiques). You should definitely feel compatible with your trainer in terms of personality, but there are other important factors. Start by checking out whether a trainer is certified and who they are certified with. Because there is no personal training license, anyone can become a personal trainer and anyone can create a certification. That is a pretty frightening thought when you consider that many people put their health (and safety) in the hands of someone who may not understand basic biomechanics and program design. The certifications to look for are ACSM, NSCA and NASM. They are all nationally accredited and reputable. Also look for a college degree. Not all knowledgeable trainers have degrees and not all degreed trainers are knowledgeable, but it may help in the selection process. Find out what type of requirements a gym has for hiring a personal trainer. If it’s simply a high school diploma and a nice set of pecs— look elsewhere. Treat the first few sessions with a personal trainer as an interview. The trainer should do an assessment with you, particularly a movement assessment. If the trainer does not comment on your posture or movement patterns, you may want to move on. Also, the trainer should be happy to answer questions. WHY is important. There should be a reason for every movement and your trainer should be able to explain why you’ve done each movement. If your trainer does not think WHY is important or doesn’t think it’s important for you to know, then you should find someone else. It’s important for you, as a client, to understand what you’re doing and WHY with a trainer so that you can also do it on your own.

Lia: What do you like most and least about your job?
Katie: I love everything about my job. I get to work with a diverse population. I’m constantly challenged and forced to think on my feet. There are no limitations on creativity in the exercise field. Also, I hate the idea of being stuck in the same place for prolonged periods of time. I get to work on my feet. I train in parks, gyms and homes. No day resembles another.

What I like the least about my job is the necessity of teaching my clients to unlearn ideas they’ve picked up from other trainers or magazines. The amount of misinformation in the field is extremely frustrating and often perpetuated by trainers, I might add. When uneducated and ill-informed trainers pass on ideas that are untrue, it makes all trainers seem less credible.

Lia: Do you see differences in the approaches to working out between men and women, and to break it down even further, younger and older people?
Katie: Everyone should be trained in accordance with their specific needs and goals. There are certainly things to be mindful of in terms of training women vs. men or older clients vs. younger, but the same is true for pregnant clients, people with physical limitations, clients on medications, athletes etc. The more personalized a program can be, the better.

Lia: Talk about your approach to working out and how you decide what to include in a session?
Katie: My training philosophy is prehab/rehab functional training based. I believe that training a high-level athlete is not that much different from training a client who is de-conditioned or is rehabbing an injury. They are just in different places on the functionality spectrum. I train core stabilization first—core being defined as everything from the hips to the shoulders. I keep movements as multi-joint as possible. I think it’s incredibly important to make sure that clients can perform basic body weight movements properly (after assessment) before adding any load or multi-plane movements. Once a client has a strong core and can move without mobilization or stabilization issues, I work through a series of increasingly challenging progressions.

Before a session begins, I have a framework in mind of what I want to accomplish based on the client’s program. However, based on how a client is feeling or moving on that particular day, my plan is usually altered (and sometimes completely thrown out the window).

Lia: How can people stay motivated and not get discouraged?
Katie: Mix it up!  Many people do the same workouts over and over again. It even sounds boring. It is very hard to stay motivated when it feels like a job. Vary the workouts, have fun with it. Also, if you’re doing the same workouts all the time, it’s easy to get discouraged because you will plateau very quickly. Try something new. Tired of running on the treadmill? You should be; it’s boring. Get a jump rope and try intervals or run hills outside. It will be more fun and it’s more effective in terms of getting fit and losing weight. Also, don’t forget that exercise is fun! If you’re not in the mood to go to the gym, do a body weight workout at the park or go for a bike ride. Just move!

Lia: Do you see anything new on the horizon related to working out?
Katie: What I would like to see on the horizon is a greater focus on preventative health care. The obesity epidemic in America is driving up health care costs. Also, when people leave their doctors or physical therapists they are often lost. Telling people to focus on their “diet and exercise” isn’t the same as “take two pills.” It isn’t specific and it isn’t clear what people should do. If health insurance companies covered gym memberships and personal training, health care would truly be accessible to everyone. Ultimately, if obesity is addressed before it causes major health complications, we will not be spending nearly as much on health care costs and we’ll be healthier and happier.

Lia: Any strange or unusual stories?
Katie: I have a lot of strange stories.  You’ll have to be more specific!

Thanks Katie. I can never get any strange or unusual stories out of Katie no matter how hard I try since she’s very discreet about her clients, thankfully! And after working with Katie, I can tell you that she practices what she preaches. Watching other trainers with their clients, I feel very lucky to have found Katie several years ago.  She’s seen me through several injuries including two frozen shoulders and a broken foot, plus the intermittent knee and hip problems I have from being a runner for 30 years.

If you have any questions for Katie, please ask them in the “comment” area below and I will do a follow-up post with her responses.

My daughter and family are visiting soon. In response to an email that I sent my Mom about preparing for the visit, I got this one in return. I thought you might find it amusing too!

Email from Mom:
“When you used the expression that you ‘weren’t going crazy’ getting ready, it reminded me of an expression your Dad uses sometimes…”Don’t get your tit in a wringer.” Just so you understand this – my mother had a washing machine that had a wringer attached. After washing, she ran each item through the wringer into rinse water in a 2-sink tub, and then put them through the wringer again to press the rinse water out. And, get this, she then climbed the basement stairs with a basket full of wet clothes, hung each one on a clothesline, and later took them off the clothesline. And then ironed most of them. She did this 2x a week. I can remember scrubbing my brothers’ dirty socks on a scrub board. My my, how times have changed.”

In fact, I do remember the days of wringer machines and mangle irons at my grandmothers’ houses -I think even my Mom had one when I was little (I remember her story about washing diapers using a wringer washer). Keeping a house running efficiently back then was truly a daily cardio and weight workout. Now we pay trainers and athletic club fees to stay fit.

Gail and Pyramid

Gail and Pyramid

Better to be alone than wish you were, these “words of wisdom” were told to a friend of mine by his Mom. Though she was specifically referring to relationships, I think this sentiment also can apply to travel and vacations. Some of us may dream about taking a vacation and going off to have an adventure by ourselves, and some of us may travel solo out of pure necessity. My friend, Gail, has taken eight solo trips and in June will travel to Scandinavia.

Lia: Tell us about your passion for travel.

Gail: I had a father who thought sitting by a lake at a resort was beyond boring, so every year my family packed up the station wagon and we traveled around the U.S. for several weeks. These experiences really opened my eyes to the difference of place and people, and made an impression on me.

Now, I travel solo out of necessity. Being single and middle aged, I had reached a time in my life where I had difficulty finding someone to travel with. My friends either had no interest or other commitments. It was either go alone or stay home. Group tours never appealed to me, so I jumped in and took my first solo trip when I was 48. I got my feet wet by going to Wales, an English-speaking country. That went well, so the following year I went alone to Italy for two weeks. That was three weeks after 9/11 so I had misgivings, but it all worked out ok.

Traveling solo really inspires me. It pumps up my self-confidence and exhilarates me. I feel strong and capable—and brave. It always challenges me and sometimes scares me. But I always feel such a sense of accomplishment afterward.

Lia: How do you plan your trips?

Gail: Planning and anticipation is half the fun. Once I decide where I want to go, I head to the library for travel books; I also do research on the Internet and talk to people who have been there. I’m a big Rick Steves fan—he’s my travel guru and has never steered me wrong. Sometimes I work with a travel agent. I’m an urban person with a love of the arts, so usually my trips focus on big cities. I like to keep on the move and I’m primarily a sightseer.

Lia: Where have your travels taken you?

Gail: England (3 x), Scotland, Wales, Ireland (2x), France (3x), Italy (2x), Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic (2x), Poland, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico (2x), Canada, Bahamas, and many places in the U.S. Asia, Australia and many other countries are on my radar screen for the future. I’m going to run out of life before I run out of world.

Places of natural beauty that made an impression on me include the Croatian coast, the Cliffs of Mohr on the west coast of Ireland, the Scottish highlands, the countryside of Wales, the White Desert in Egypt and the Greek Islands in the Mediterranean. Then there are the more sobering sites: Auschwitz, the Anne Frank House, the remains of the Berlin Wall, Omaha Beach and the American cemetery in Normandy, France.

The White Desert in Egypt where Gail camped one night.

The White Desert in Egypt where Gail camped one night.

Lia: What are pros and cons of solo travel?

Gail: Some of the cons have turned into pros. Although I don’t get lonely or bored, I do sometimes get starved for connection and conversation and this has forced me to be more outgoing and initiate interactions with strangers— something I don’t typically do. Solo travel has made me stretch and grow as a person, and the payoff has been that I’ve met some very interesting people.

Another advantage is the opportunity to do exactly as you like. I spend as much or as little time in an art museum as I want. I start my day when I choose, eat when and where I want, and poke in and out of shops to my heart’s content!

On the down side, traveling alone is more expensive. And sometimes I wish I had someone to share an experience with. Meals can be difficult. I remember one night I was in Bayeaux, France at a quaint little restaurant. I misunderstood the hostess and ended up eating in the more formal upstairs space. It was a wonderful meal—all six courses and 2 1/2 hours of it—but alone, surrounded by couples and candlelight? Not so much. I’ve gotten used to dining alone. I always have a book with me, and I usually eat earlier than most of the locals. But it would be nice to have someone with me to linger over a meal and discuss the day.

Also, do-it-yourself foreign travel is a working vacation, especially in a non-English speaking country. You’re always figuring things out like train schedules and maps, communicating in an unfamiliar language or trying to gauge local customs and protocol.

One of Gail's favorites: beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia

One of Gail's favorites: beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia

Lia: Does traveling alone inhibit what you do or see?

Gail: Sometimes. While I do go for evening strolls, I try not to stay out late or stray too far from my hotel. If I go to a concert or evening performance, I’ll take a taxi back to my hotel. I’ve gotten lost walking alone at night and it can be scary. And some places you can’t easily reach by train or bus and I would love to have the freedom a car affords. But I wouldn’t rent a car by myself: it’s just too hard without a navigator.

Lia: What advice and encouragement can you give aspiring solo travelers?

Gail: Enjoy your own company—that’s very important because you end up spending a lot of time alone. Don’t be intimidated to go places alone, such as a theatre or concert. Expect the unexpected and take mishaps in stride. Be confident enough to handle a problem on your own. There is usually some kind local person more than willing to lend a hand. I’ve had many angels come to my rescue.

Book yourself into a good hotel in a safe neighborhood
, and always be alert and aware of your surroundings, especially at night and on trains or buses. Use common sense and listen to your gut—if something feels off pay attention. Oh yes, get a good, secure travel bag with lots of zippers and pockets, in Europe pickpockets abound.

Lia: Describe some highlights from your travels.

Gail and fellow travelers pushing their truck out of a sand dune in the Egyptian desert.

Gail and fellow travelers pushing their truck out of a sand dune in the Egyptian desert.

Gail: I get a kick out of seeing widely reproduced world icons in person—the Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, the Louvre, St. Mark’s Square in Venice, the Acropolis, St. Peter’s Square in Rome, the Pyramids of Giza. And, I’ll never forget attending an evening concert in the over 2,000-year-old open-air Odeon Theatre at the foot of the Acropolis. Or visiting the Alhambra palace in Grenada, Spain, which was one of the most beautiful man-made palaces I’ve ever seen. Or the time I heard a wonderful string quartet perform in a beautiful, small church in Venice.

I am prone to think about aging more often lately, and this sometimes leads to thinking about my Mom and her attraction to feisty older women that seems to have started in her middle years. I recall her saying to me that it was difficult getting older in the Twiggy youth culture of the 60s and 70s. I remember that now as I experience the same thing.

Lia: Mom, it seems as if you’re drawn to old women, why do you think this is and what about them attracts you?great-gram1

Mom: My first experience befriending an older woman was when I was 45 years old and your Dad’s company moved us to South Africa. For the first few years you kids kept me busy. Then you all went back to the states or off to school. I had time on my hands and decided to do some volunteer work with the Child Welfare Society. I took on the job of driving Elizabeth Lester, an older gal, to the African Creches (nurseries/preschools) outside of town. Her job was to oversee their operation. Elizabeth lived at the YWCA and I admired her gutsy attitude.

After we returned to the states, I met an elderly woman, Eva Sutton, whom a friend brought to church. I became acquainted with her and soon began to drive her to appointments and other places she needed to go. One of her happiest times was when we went grocery shopping at the local A&P. She loved walking up and down the aisles looking at all that was available. I think her son usually did her shopping for her. Occasionally I did her laundry. She was a spirited gutsy gal.

Lia: And I remember May, too.

Yes, after we retired and moved to northern Michigan I met May Howe. She was a widow and her children lived far away. She loved to take long walks through the hilly woods, and from time to time I would go over and walk with her. Sometimes we would have her over for dinner. As she aged, I began to drive her to appointments and later to church each Sunday. Eventually she went to live in a care facility near a niece several hours away. I tried to keep in touch, but have never heard from her.

Lia: Do you think your attraction to these ladies has anything to do with Great Grandma (pictured with me above)?

Mom: Not that I’m aware of. Though we did name you after her, and she raised three sons under harsh conditions. The three women I’ve spoken about all lived alone and were very active. Simply, I admired their independent, gutsy attitude. I am now, one of these ‘older’ women. And, while I don’t see myself as being gutsy – I am content with myself.

What about the painting from the French antique store of the older gal you’ve had for many years?

Mom: I’d stop in the store to just see what was new, and there was this painting hanging for such a long time. One day on an impulse, I bought her. I realize it is a primitive painting, but I have an attachment to the ole gal like she is an aunt or something.

Lia: Anything else you want to add?

Mom: Now, do I have trouble with my age? Definitely yes. I used to look at myself in the mirror and say,“I have to make friends with my face.” Now I see people our age (in their 80s) who are having serious health problems and wonder why we are so blessed. I really think that my relationship with older women has been nothing more than admiration.