Just announced today is the news that Cleveland entrepreneur Danielle DeBoe Harper is leaving full ownership of the super cute boutique Room Service in the hands of her business partner Jennie Doran, so Danielle can focus on wedding design.

Why do I care?

Because it was just about a year ago that I walked into Danielle’s shop on West 25th and decided it was time to move back to Cleveland. Danielle was there that day behind the counter, adorable and around my age, brimming over with enthusiasm for Cleveland (herself a transplant and not a native) as a place where 30s-somethings dreams are made. And the evidence was right there: an Etsy-like explosion of locally-made gift items and casual chic splendor, proof that you really can bring an idea to Cleveland and see it come to life.

Danielle wasn’t the only one. My parents took me down the street to Bon Bon, where we sat next to a table of guys who I couldn’t help ogling over bites of my mom’s plate of Bubble & Squeak. They looked to be in the midst of a business discussion, energized, impressive, and good looking — not a typical sight from the Cleveland of my early 20s. Eventually I knew this was restaurateur Sam McNulty and his crew, who have taken over Ohio City with a slew of hot bars and craft beers, and that they indeed gather for energized, good looking business discussions once a week at Bon Bon. At the time, they were just another signal to return to Cleveland.

Then there were the books Rust Belt Chic and New to Cleveland that I read from San Francisco as I packed and plotted my return. The first one fed me a familiar language of hope, reality, and rootedness that I was ready to remember; the second painted a picture Cleveland and its neighborhoods in vivid (water)color. I wanted to be in these pages; I wanted to know the people behind them and make Cleveland my story again. 

When people ask me now why I came back to Cleveland, the short explanation is some version of being close to family and old friends. Of course that’s not untrue. But the real truth is that I was brought home by strangers, people who imprinted on me from a distance. Their stories were enough to spin my own homecoming tale.

Each of us has probably impacted somebody’s life in big ways that we don’t even know about. It’s a sweet, humbling, and humanizing idea.

Maybe it’s a little unique to Cleveland that here the people who are making shit happen become the people you know. Just shy of a year later, and the strangers who prompted my return aren’t strangers anymore. I’ve chatted with Danielle a bunch of times while in her store. Sam McNulty is a regular guy you see out and about on weekends. I not only got to meet the editors behind Rust Belt Chic but have even become part of their efforts. (In fact, if you haven’t yet donated to the Kickstarter campaign to launch Belt, the new Cleveland online magazine, now is the time!)

In Cleveland, not only can you be inspired by the people around you, but you can easily join them.  Within an hour or so of Danielle’s big news coming out today, Anne Trubek of Rust Belt Chic posted a fabulous essay about the wave of people pitching in to try new things and be part of making life in Cleveland great. The timing’s no coincidence; that’s just how it is here.

Today is the last day of a month of near-contant travel: 24-hours of roundtrip driving to and from North Carolina to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of one of my best friends, followed almost immediately by a packed trip up the West Coast from L.A. to the Bay Area.

It was almost three weeks of wonderful reunions, deep talks, excessive eating, and grounding realizations.

When I woke up on my first morning in Oakland after a late night arrival, I had to calm my heart (and my mother) with reassurances that I wasn’t going to return to Cleveland only to pack up my life and head back west.  The Bay Area is seductive with its mix of lush natural beauty and urban glitter and endless variety of social engagements. Even more powerful was my temporary return to the ACLU office in San Francisco, where I found colleagues and friends who were more than ready to let me slip right back in.

That first morning, I expected that by the end of the trip I’d be grappling with confusion over how and when to orchestrate a cross-country move back in the other direction. “How did I leave this place?” I asked myself. 

But over the course of the week, I noticed my responses and feelings shift.  I remembered the feeling I’d had lots of times of being overstretched and a little overwhelmed. The Bay Area is magic, but a little too much for me. Maybe even more so now after eight months away. So much has already changed — so many new restaurants in the Mission, and did I really have to stop and think to figure out the BART ticket machine, and can there really be so many more hipsters on Divis?? Must be the new Bi-Rite.

I realized something else: I’m not the only one whose life has changed. Every friend seems to be going through some major transition: new job (or no job), moving into new apartments and buying houses, relationships ending and new ones starting. Somehow I’d thought that the Bay Area social universe I knew had kept going, just like I’d left it, just without me. Turns out, nothing’s as I left it. Everyone is moving on. 

The allure of San Francisco is still there. And I can have it — in small doses, on visits. I don’t need it all the time.

In fact, by the end of so many days of eating out and long commutes on bus and BART across the Bay, heavy bag on my shoulder with a million layers, I was ready to go. Back to Cleveland. Suddenly with a new sense of purpose and certainty that this is where I’m going to be.

…at least for a while.

I recently worried aloud/admitted to a friend that for the first time I feel ambition-less. The last ten years I’ve pushed myself steadily up a mountain of ever-rising responsibility, always taking the job that’s slightly out of reach, moving closer and closer to my assumed destiny of even greater leadership and success. 

Then last month, I jumped off this familiar pathway to enter the ranks of the self-employed, leaving behind a fairly glamorous and definitely well-paying job to launch myself as a major gifts fundraising consultant for social justice and grassroots nonprofits. A few months ago I was on fire: relentlessly brainstorming what to call my new venture (I eventually abandoned my cutesy/horrid early ideas — Danamite and Majorette among others — for the perhaps bland but unquestionably solid Dana Textoris Consulting), mapping out a scope of offerings, and gobbling up domain addresses to keep up with my revolving door of possible company names.

Now, as suddenly as the regular, reliable paychecks stopped hitting my bank account, all I want is to look up recipes on Pinterest. 

I guess it’s not true that I’m just doing nothing. I completed a nine-week small business course through the fabulous and feisty woman-operated-small-business incubator Bad Girl Ventures. I’m logging hours as a contract grantwriter for another local consulting firm while I pursue clients of my own. I’m meeting with a string of colleagues and mentors here in Cleveland and (next week!) in San Francisco to gain their guidance and pointers.

I suppose these are all justifiable steps for responsibly growing a new business. It’s just that I’m not spending as much time on these things as I probably should; I keep waiting for fears about paycheck uncertainty to put a fire under me, but so far I can’t believe how many hours I can whittle away each day simply taking care of myself and a one bedroom apartment. (I mean, I don’t even have a pet fish.) Do you have any idea how many errands you can run when you are no longer expected to show up for work at 9am? Who knew I could be such a slacker! 

I sought self-employment because I craved more flexibility and autonomy. I decided that the ability to choose my own clients and design my own schedule would afford me a freedom that was more valuable than the security and perks of full-time employment. Work from home or a coffee shop? How dreamy! Stay up late to finish a project? I’ll just adjust tomorrow’s schedule and sleep in. The life of the small business owner — why didn’t I do this sooner?

But it turns out I’m already unsure how sturdy a tolerance I have for uncertainty. It was sobering and destabilizing to purchase private health insurance and realize that I am giving up the reliable employer-funded health coverage I’ve gotten used to over the last decade. Forget going to the doctor unless I’m ready to pay for it, given that the only plan I can reasonably afford carries a $5,000 deductible that I’ll never reach. Not to mention how expensive I’ve learned my sheer fertility turns out to be. “Is it possible you could become pregnant in the next six to twelve months?” Ummm. Biologically speaking, yes. Pay many hundreds of dollars extra a month for the optional maternity waver? No thanks. Guess I’ll have to hope things go according to plan, because it turns out you can’t just obtain maternity coverage when you need it. 

Of course, the fact that I have an insurance plan makes me much better off than the 20% of U.S. women without any health coverage at all. Especially at this moment, as the media fawns over Angelina Jolie for revealing that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy, it’s vital to acknowledge and address the challenges and realities of women without health coverage or the means to afford even life-saving care.

Through this new period of uncertainty, there’s been one constant, and that’s my awareness and realization of how absolutely privileged I am. Privileged that I can decide to quit my job just because I want to. Privileged to have had the financial surplus to build up a savings account, not to mention add to my retirement and mutual funds. Privileged that I have had consistent access to quality reproductive health care and birth control, enabling me to choose to remain childless and in control of my career and life choices. Privileged to live in a country — and, given the density of small business resources I’ve discovered here in Cleveland, a city — where I can test my entrepreneurial ideas, and privileged to have the education, experience, and professional network to reenter the traditional marketplace if I choose. Privileged and grateful.

The friend I worried to about my lack of ambition suggested I’m being too hard on myself, and that I am only directing my ambition in a different direction: inward, rather than upward and out. Time and experience will reveal the fate of Dana Textoris Consulting. For now, I really need to wrap up this blog post. For goodness’ sake, I’m supposed to be working.

My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow) My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor. 
(Click photos for slideshow)

My grandmother first learned how to make potica in 1950 when she moved to Cleveland to marry my grandfather. She learned by watching and helping, working alongside my grandfather’s old world Slovenian mother. There was no written recipe until my Great Aunt Nancy forced my great-grandmother to pause with each scoop of flour so she could write the proportions down. My grandmother has protected this time-intensive recipe as a holiday tradition because, she tells us, our grandfather loved it so much — and, of course, so do we. Today my sister and I learned to roll out the dough, spread the walnut filling, and carefully fold the delicate loaves by working alongside our grandmother, watching and helping. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s passing. Next Sunday on Easter my family will slather our slices of potica with extra butter in his honor.

(Click photos for slideshow)

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So there’s this guy. I’ve been keeping up a flirtation for weeks. He’s a different type for me — quiet, maybe shy. But he’s good-looking, with eyes that seem to know just what I’m thinking. I smile, he smiles back. I slip in quick little things (“Good morning!” “Hi again…” “Have a great day!”), biting my lip as I go by. He never responds, but I swear he always looks like he’s just about to say something. I just rush past, and as soon as it begins the moment’s gone. Sigh. You might know him. He’s the guy on the PNC billboard off the Shoreway at W. 6th. The “For the perfectionist” guy? I swear he looks better everyday, if not a little…flat. I realize I’m probably not the only one who’s been seeing him. Have you? Are you?? Bastard.

Funny and true. I flirt with a man on a billboard every day. I guess it puts a little sparkle in my morning commute. You could say it’s a romance going nowhere fast.

But I have to admit, he’s just about the best thing I’ve got going on this Valentine’s Day. Most years I think I’ve been in one relationship or another on Valentine’s Day, but now here I am, “hot in Cleveland,” just starting to dip my toes into the Cleveland dating pool. Dating here can’t be harder than it is in San Francisco, right? At least here guys seem more inclined to settle down; in San Francisco, what’s the rush? There are a million crazy adventures and distractions to keep guys otherwise occupied well into their mid-thirties and beyond. Trouble here is that it seems most guys got around to settling down before I got here. Hmm.

I’ve had a few dates. Just not any I really wanted to have again. There was the firefighter who came over for our second date to check my smoke alarms and demonstrate how to use my emergency ladder (if you know how many times I’ve screeched back home to make sure my hair straightener hadn’t already burned my building down, you’d know that this was pretty hot). But sweetly protective as he may have been, he didn’t bring the intellectual heat I need. On the flipside was the intellectual type who dazzled me with conversation, but didn’t seem to understand that we were (I thought??) on a date (I knew the ship was sunk when I walked him to his car and then continued in the dark to my own). There was also the one I met at an election night party (promising!) but just wasn’t very interesting. What has been interesting is noticing that guys like the firefighter and this last one (decent, good guys who perhaps never left Cleveland and whose world view and intellectual ambition stays safely close to familiar shore) just think I’m this exotic creature they’ve never seen before. I broke it off with the election night guy after two very-nice-but-that’s-about-it dates, and got an email a couple weeks later telling me that I’d like…exploded his mind and my energy had somehow changed how he’s thinking and feeling about life. It’s not like I did anything special; I just showed up as I am, but I guess our conversation ventured into territory he’s not used to with other dates. I was touched that I brought so much to him, but I need someone who brings just as much to me.

I know what I want. Intensity. Someone to match me, who will eke out every last bit of life. Authenticity; you enlist the power of where you come from to forge exactly who you were meant to be. A balance of power and sensitivity. You want to go deep, fight hard, and talk about it tomorrow. Yes, you of course have to make me laugh. Be physically confident and commanding. Have stunning intelligence and, the cherry on top, consider yourself a writer at heart.

Disappointing dates aside, the truth is I wouldn’t want to be anyone else but me at what feels like a perfect moment in my life. I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve had and more grateful that they ended. I am thankful to be single, childless, and totally free to make any choice without balancing someone else’s needs against my own. Anything can happen. I know something will. Lately I’m constantly feeling heart flutters of gratitude for the gifts of experience — in my life, work, and heart — and where that puts me now, poised on the edge of something.

I remember the morning after the night I canceled my wedding, six years ago. I had endless humiliations ahead — a hall to cancel, shower gifts to return, a gown to shove out of sight, calls to make, invitations to retract — but first I had this morning, this run around Lake Merritt, just for me, and I had a searing sense of my own possibility and power, and the realization that I’d just saved my own life, that I’d pulled myself back from the edge of a cliff, just at the last moment, before I would have fallen down and lost myself. I feel sort of like that now, except rather than almost falling, I’m flying.

One day during our jointly awkward years of college (let’s say that finding feminism was great for my soul but not for my hair choices), my best friend Holly and I consoled ourselves with dreams of how we’d be in our 30s. We’d determined that our early 20s were a bust, and that our 30s would be our time. Our vision for these better selves and better lives didn’t have anything to do with particular milestones or achievements in career, marriage, or money, but about how we’d feel: powerful, bold, confident, deeply self-aware and fiercely beautiful for it. I’d like to go back and drop in on those girls to assure them, “It’s true. Just wait. She’s there in her 30s waiting for you. You’re exactly who you want to be.”

So there’s no dream date for me this Valentine’s Day. But that’s ok. I think he’s out there, let’s hope somewhere in Cleveland. For now I’m in love with the life I’ve had and what it’s still becoming. I feel lucky I have myself…and for now, my billboard boyfriend.