Life, the Short List

What to do, when to do it and how to do it Madison-style

Family, wallet, home, health. People tell us they’re keeping A closer watch over the important things in life these days. Some observers say we all became more focused on the basics after the stock market fell off a cliff last year (and into the deepest abyss known to humanity). Others posit a stage-of-life cause—that Baby Boomers have finally aged into a greater appreciation of what really counts, just as their parents did a generation ago.

No matter the trigger, though, there are ways to more effectively manage your own checklist. We surveyed Madison-based specialists—financial advisors, physicians and other health care professionals, designers and landscapers, and more—for ideas on how you can still do a lot with a little, and better than ever. Even in this economy. And especially in Madison. Here’s a sampling of their advice.

Money & Finance

WHAT TO DO: Pay down your credit cards

WHEN TO DO IT: Yesterday

The how-to for this most basic of steps remains the same: scrub the card with the highest interest rate, rinse and repeat. By all means seek help if you need it. But know this: financial advisors we consulted begged us to warn readers and their families to avoid credit counseling organizations not listed as government-licensed by the state of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Visit for an A-to-Z list of “Adjustment Service Companies” with a state-issued license.

MADISON BONUS: See which Wisconsin-based companies made the list HERE.

WHAT TO DO: Talk to a pro about your bottom line


You have no idea how out of balance your investments are. Seriously. “Whatever your allocation was last year, it got all jumbled up,” says Thomas Haunty, senior partner at North Star Resource Group. “U.S. stocks lost over thirty-five percent, most of it in a few months.” Did you panic and sell low to buy (relatively) safer bonds? And are you now too bond-heavy to benefit from this year’s rising market? Should you diversify as a lose-less safeguard or as a make-more gamble? Can you do both? There are a million questions in the naked city; a pro can help guide your search for a new financial Zen.

MADISON BONUS: Find a list of local financial planners HERE.

WHAT TO DO: Click “submit payment” more often


Rarely is intent so perfectly realized. Paying bills online saves paper every step of the way, from the original bill you don’t receive, to the check you don’t write, to the stamp you don’t stick on the envelope that you don’t mail. Green your finances, and the only paper you’ll accumulate by changing to a paperless billing system will be the money in your wallet. See for yourself at the, an industry/consumer website where a “go green” calculator will estimate the savings to you and the planet for making the switch.

MADISON BONUS: Visit the local website for more ideas and inspiration on living a greener life.

Health & Fitness

WHAT TO DO: Quit smoking

WHEN TO DO IT: Yesterday

We can’t believe we’re still harping on this, either. So go to the world-class UW Smoking Cessation & Prevention Clinic on Monroe Street and get rid of that fire-breathing monkey on your back once and for all. Despite state funding cutbacks, the nice, non-judgmental professionals who staff the clinic continue to get results with the multi-weapon arsenal proven most effective in the war on this particular drug: counseling, medication, education, health screening … and free nicotine gum! Call 263-0573 for an appointment.

MADISON BONUS: Kicking the habit could get easier when Wisconsin’s smokefree workplace law takes effect July 5.

WHAT TO DO: Stop looking in the mirror


“Okay, nobody’s happy with their body weight, I get that,” says Tim Bartholow, a physician and senior vice president of the Wisconsin Medical Society, “but we don’t want to be all self-absorbed about this.” Like most physicians, Barthalow is gravely concerned about the nation’s obesity epidemic and accompanying health consequences. Rather than add more steps or reps to your solitary workout routine, though, Barthalow wants you to get out and socialize more—especially if you make exercise part of that socializing.

“We know that this sort of social structure has a lot of impact on exercising and maintaining proper body weight,” he says. Medical and government studies that back him up include the work of Harvard professor John Ratey, who writes that exercising and socializing can delay the effect of aging on the brain for up to a decade. Happily, Madison is a top-rated city when it comes to opportunities for buddying up on exercise. Name an activity—league basketball, gay hockey, family yoga, anything!—and you’ll find it offered at a nearby health club, rec department, company, facility or school.

MADISON BONUS: The new west-side Tempo Ballroom & Latin Dance Studio is filling Madison’s dance card with private lessons, drop-in group classes—a new Saturday morning dance fitness class is a hit—and weekly dance parties, all in an effort to boost the city’s social dance scene. Call 833-3320 or visit

WHAT TO DO: Ask for help at your next physical


The American Cancer Society confused everyone recently by yellow-carding some common disease-screening procedures, including mammograms and PSA tests. Yet your e-mail pings daily with breathless news of more screenings, for more maladies, than ever before.
As a result, your next physical is a great time to ask your doctor to help you assess risk factors when evaluating your health. Some basic measurements, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., will remain the same. But a conversation about you—your activities, job, family health history, diet and more—will help your doctor target which screening tests make the most sense for you.

MADISON BONUS: As Madison providers move ever closer to a team approach of providing health care (see editor Brennan Nardi’s business article in our November issue) known as a Patient-Centered Medical Home, communication between provider and patient will grow stronger, predicts Susan Turney, CEO and executive VP of the Wisconsin Medical Society. “This is an important aspect of the PCMH model,” she says. “It’s the physician and patient understanding that whatever happens is shared decision-making.”

Home & Garden

WHAT TO DO: Window shop

WHEN TO DO IT: Yesterday

Yes, you have until the end of 2010, but why wait? Purchase certain types of energy-efficient windows now and deduct thirty percent of their cost off your next tax return. Some replacement doors qualify, too. Craig Patchin, president of Window Design Center on Madison’s west side, says his company saw an uptick in business when the federal stimulus plan tripled the window deduction. “Most old windows don’t work well,” he says, “and people who have been thinking about replacing their windows are deciding that now is a good time.” Indeed. Learn more from the National Fenestration Rating Council (

MADISON BONUS: Madison Gas & Electric offers a handy link to home improvement tax credits and other ways homeowners can save on upgrades, including the city of Madison’s $100 rebate on energy-efficient toilets. Visit for more.

WHAT TO DO: Interior Reality Check


What you won’t see in today’s well-dressed homes: glitter, fussy fabrics, washed-out pastels. Instead, look for vibrant color, layers of texture, metallics and wallpaper. Really, wallpaper? “Wallpaper is huge,” says Sarah Reiter, director of marketing for Brownhouse, a Madison architectural and interior design firm. Along with the textured, layered look, savvy designers are helping clients focus not so much on overall redos as on creating something special in one room or even part of a room. “People really want to find a treasure, a piece that has interest, that will last for a long time,” Reiter explains. How much does our national anxiety about permanence and stability influence design these days? Consider that the industry’s color authority, Pantone, felt compelled to announce earlier this year that “socioeconomic issues and technology” influenced its 2010 color forecast (

MADISON BONUS: Unearthed owner Heidi Anderson scours Midwest estate sales and antique shops to find her beautiful, historic treasures. Call 441-1993 or visit

WHAT TO DO: Play in the dirt


2009 was supposed to be The Year of the Garden, but it turned out to be more like The Year of Garden Awareness. Thanks to the increased publicity, capped with Michelle Obama’s efforts to, ahem, cultivate enthusiasm for gardening, we predict that 2010 will indeed become The Year of the Garden. And especially The Year of the Vegetable Garden. Look for the interior design trend of layering to spill into the yard, as flower gardeners landscape with combinations of beds and potted plants. But more significantly, look for everyone and his brother to try growing vegetables.

MADISON BONUS: Visit Olbrich Botanical Gardens in March and April to buy spring bulbs, ornamental plants, cheery pansies and nutrient-rich mulch made from leaves swept from Madison streets. Visit for sale dates.

Friends & Family

WHAT TO DO: Watch out for cyber bullies

WHEN TO DO IT: Yesterday

If you’ve not yet heard of this—the use of online technology to tease, stalk, threaten, harass and even blackmail—double back and get up to speed quick. Area law enforcement and school districts everywhere report that incidents of kids cyber bullying other kids are increasing in both frequency and seriousness. Local, state and national surveys suggest that at least a quarter of today’s middle-schoolers have been affected, significantly, by cruel remarks blasted on thousands of Facebook pages, embarrassing photos forwarded from cell phone to cell phone, and more. The legal ramifications can be severe, the emotional damage even worse. Madison police officers are making extraordinary public outreach efforts to try to raise awareness and are testing various software programs that will help parents track their kids’ cyber activities.

MADISON BONUS: The Madison Police Department offers free hands-on, interactive classes on Internet safety. Call Sgt. June Groehler at 266-4590 or e-mail her at to sign up. Another terrific resource is

WHAT TO DO: Share your food


Call it Potluck 2.0—a new, improved version of the old “bring a dish to pass” gathering. Gone are the tuna-and-mushroom-soup casseroles and the fruit salads scattered with marshmallows and shredded coconut. In their places are creations featured on high-end cooking television shows and delicious gratins made with healthful, locally grown veggies. Sharing company along with the food bestows quality-of-life benefits that can actually contribute to the quantity of your life, as well. Named the Roseto Effect, for the community where it was first observed, scientists have documented how maintaining a circle of close friends helps guard against heart disease and other illnesses.

MADISON BONUS: features an archive of Nancy Lynch’s “Dining In” recipes.

WHAT TO DO: Be true to your city


To Dr. Tim Bartholow’s self-help suggestion that you “find five friends and go do stuff,” we will add: “and do it here.” Even townies who never leave sometimes don’t realize the extent of Madison’s bounty when it comes to entertainment and recreation opportunities. Support the arts, restaurants, services, trails, programs, venues, teams, institutions and people who make it possible to live so well. Every issue of Madison Magazine contains a listing of things you can do, see, hear, taste, delight in and be amazed by, Madison style.

MADISON BONUS: The Madison Datebook at is the area’s most comprehensive listing of upcoming fundraising events.

Mary Erpenbach is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.

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