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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Serving up good will with holiday meal

This isn’t a restaurant review.

No, it’s more of a celebration of what’s good about people. And, joyfully, it’s about people right here at home.

In fact, I’ll even tell you where to find the people I’m talking about: Cracker Barrel in Willoughby.

I found them around dinner time on Thanksgiving Day, serving up kindness and smiles.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve logged my share of holiday work hours, both when I worked as a sales clerk at Sears and during my days in newspapers.

Holidays when I worked at Sears involved the “minor” holidays — Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and New Year’s Day. No one really minds working those days. Sure, you might be late for a picnic, but you’ll still see the fireworks. And, if you’re not much of a partier, you probably didn’t see your first customer until noon on Jan. 1. Back then, the store was closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Not too many of us like working those days.

But the news — like other industries — runs 365 days a year.

So I’ve worked my share of the “major” holidays.

Yet when I ventured out last night for Thanksgiving dinner with my husband and mom, I felt pretty guilty about forcing someone to serve me dinner while they were away from their families.

They’d have none of that at Cracker Barrel.

We arrived about 4:45 p.m. and put my name on the list for a table. I didn’t even ask how long it would take, because, really, where else did I have to go?

About an hour later, we took our seats in the dining room and studied the menu. I chuckled when the server for the next table expressed regret over the wait as she walked up to her new customers.

No apologies necessary, because it was obvious you weren’t goofing off as you waited on the hundreds of families who sat down for their holiday celebration under your roof.

When our server Carly arrived, she was friendly and patient as we peppered her with questions about substitutions. Then, when she came back to tell my mom they’d run out of meatloaf, she brushed off my urging to make another decision quickly so she didn’t hold up Carly.

After setting down food in front of my husband and me, a manager kneeled down next to my mom to apologize for the fact that her meal was taking a little longer to get ready.

Carly checked back a few more times before she brought us our pumpkin pie — carefully determining who wanted whipped cream and who didn’t.

When it came time to head out, I was met at the cashier stand by a young man who was among the most polite I’ve ever encountered.

After asking if we enjoyed our meal, he apologized for the fact that he was chewing a few bites of food. I thought, “chew away, young man ... you’ve been working all day, and I probably just interrupted your holiday dinner.”

What I actually told him was “that’s OK. I’m sure it’s been a long day.”

“Yes, it has,” he said. “I miss my family, but I’m glad to be here.”

As I walked toward the door, his words stayed fresh in my mind.

I hope no one complained. I hope everyone said thank you. I hope everyone understood their sacrifice.

I also hope they know that their outstanding service and caring way has guaranteed most of those people will be back next year, waiting probably the same hour I did for the privilege of enjoying their family meal at Cracker Barrel.

Congratulations, you’re part of the family.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just a word about this ‘friendly’ new game

Does anyone know what qi means?

Neither do I.

But I’ve used it twice this week.

I haven’t used it in a sentence, mind you, because I wouldn’t know how to pronounce it, either.
Darn you, Words With Friends!

If you’re not familiar with this ridiculous phenomenon, I congratulate you.

Before this week, I knew it from afar. I spent a few moments here and there watching friends struggle with this online version of Scrabble. Periodically, co-workers teased each other after one of them got a high-scoring word that sunk the other person.

Played on smartphones or tablet computers or now even Facebook, it’s a word competition that you play when you have a few free moments.

Games can go on for weeks at a time — if it weren’t so tough to resist playing, that is.

Realizing the other person made a move is like knowing there’s a Christmas gift waiting for you.
You just need to open it and see it what it is.

That’s when the trouble begins, at least for me. These “gifts” are usually in the form of big-point words that follow my six- or eight-pointers.

I knew I was in trouble when my first 12-pointer was matched with a 75-point word that pretty much guaranteed I was the loser.

It’s gone downhill since then.

I’m far too timid for this game. One of my co-workers, the first person in the office I remember playing Words With Friends, was offering me some strategy the other day. He said I have to think two or three moves ahead, to be able to use the double- and triple-word tiles to my advantage.

He doesn’t realize this is the first time I have played Scrabble since I was about 8 and forced to play as part of an English assignment.

I spend most of my turns trying to find the letters that have nothing attached so I can avoid having to come up with TWO words from my tiles.

I refuse to take the blame for my lack of prowess in Scrabble. My parents obviously were obsessed with money and land procurement, because our board games as kids consisted of PayDay and multiple versions of Monopoly.

Obviously, based on my childhood, if this game were being played for paper money that comes in odd colors, I’d be far more competitive.

In moving through the two games I’ve completed as of this writing (I started a third midway through, against a new opponent, one of our reporters), I’m proud to say that I’ve yet to become one of “THEM.”

The “THEM” to whom I refer are those who use the many cheating tools available to Words With Friends users. You give them the tiles on your board, they’ll offer some words you can throw down on the board.

I have, however, logged on to a few times to figure out if the odd couple of letters I’m hoping to string together is actually a word.

That’s where qi came up. When I saw a definition, I just said, “OK, let’s go.”

I didn’t bother to read the definition.

But, let’s just say that when that 10-point Q comes up next time, I’m going to be hunting for another I.

Who knows how long I’ll keep up this madness.

Among the people who responded to my Facebook post asking, “Why did I start playing Words With Friends?” was a former co-worker.

“I hear you. But once I found myself spelling crap like ‘qi’ it started to lose its allure. You’ll get there.”

Who woulda thought that my friend qi might eventually turn on me.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, November 11, 2011

Marking holidays with buy, buy, buy?

If I keep writing about stuff I see on television, people are going to think that’s all I do.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, frankly.

I just seem to wake up from my naps at times that remarkable things are occurring on the boob tube.

Take the other day. I made the mistake of lying down as soon as I got home from the gym, while waiting for dinner to finish cooking. That’s a mistake because as soon as I’m prone, I’m asleep.

I awoke to the sound of a JCPenney commercial.

Normally, that’s not a bad thing. I like Penney’s.

When they have a sale, I like to know about it.

But this one wasn’t advertising a sale. No, it was encouraging me to do my Christmas shopping at Penney’s.

Christmas? On Nov. 7!

I don’t usually start thinking about the holidays until after Election Day.

And, well, until after Thanksgiving. Which is the first of the holidays, if you remember correctly.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year.

I remember spending several Halloween nights assembling Christmas merchandise displays while working at Sears in Richmond Heights.

Of course, in the 20 years since then, Christmas has started coming well before that time of year.

I just don’t like it.

Why can’t we give every holiday its due? I know that retailers are becoming more and more dependent on our spirit of giving at holiday time. And I’m as apt as the next person to hit the spirit a little too hard when it comes to remembering all those I want to at Christmas.

But can’t they give us credit and assume we’ll do all that crazy spending in the days and weeks that follow Thanksgiving?

But, before we get to the after-Thanksgiving sales, we have to get through the Veterans Day sales.

Again, I know it’s the same idea. Retailers are hurting, so they offer a sale tied to a holiday. Many people had yesterday off for the holiday, so they assume they had nothing to do but shop.

Goodness knows, nothing says thank you to soldiers, sailors and Marines who gave their time to protect my freedoms like a good furniture sale.

I shouldn’t complain. At least they’re offering deals on all the stuff they’re selling for higher prices than they used to.

I understand that, too. Gas prices rise, so their costs rise, and they have to pass it along. I get it all.
Maybe I’m just venting. And, I’ll admit it, shopping too.

So, they got me. The deals are too good to pass up. And, I know retailers need it, so my only complaint is that I can’t resist a good sale.

I just wish there weren’t so many of them.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Monday, November 7, 2011

Very few people to pity in this Kardashian nightmare

When you’re 11 years, seven months and 25 days old, 72 days can seem like forever.
But even at that age you know it’s really not.
Back on Aug. 21, my niece Erin posted a message on her Facebook page celebrating what the media had treated as the “marriage of the century.”
“Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries Forever!!! <333”
The little symbol at the end, in case you don’t know chat lingo, is a heart, with extensions that make it a really big heart.
The exclamation points show that she’s excited. Because there are three, it means she’s really excited.
Lucky for her, her family lost power in the weekend snowstorm that pounded the East Coast, and she missed the announcement early this week that Kardashian filed for divorce.
I’m not sure what the sadness equivalent of <333 is, but I’m sure she would have used it.
She might have been alone, too, because the rest of us were left to chuckle when the tweets first started to arrive indicating that this woman who’s famous for being famous had given up on a marriage that hadn’t even hit the three-month mark.
These crazy kids were married 1,728 hours before deciding they just weren’t alike enough to make a go of it.
Too bad Kardashian didn’t tell Humphries. The poor lug found out like the rest of us, from tabloid website
That’s about the only sympathy I’ll show anyone involved in this mess. So, enjoy it if you feel the need.
I used to be able to say that I don’t watch any reality TV. A recent remote mishap (I couldn’t find it and was too lazy to get up and change the channel by hand) left me sitting in front of a marathon of “Sister Wives” on TLC.
I got hooked. Not by the personalities of these four women who share a husband who desperately needs a haircut; no, it was my desire to determine what he does for a living to support four wives and 16 (now 17!) children.
My reality nightmare got even worse when I awoke from a nap and found myself confronted by the Kardashian family, arguing among themselves about a lack of respect being shown by Kim’s brother to her beau.
I felt kinda dirty having watched that nonsense, frankly. I gave thanks that I’m not a Nielsen family.
Before that moment, I didn’t even realize her family’s show was on E! I just had luckily missed it over the past few years.
I’m pretty glad that I didn’t miss TMZ’s breaking news announcement of the divorce on Twitter, though.
I happily bounded around the newroom, telling anyone who wasn’t on the phone or deep in conversation about the news.
The reaction wasn’t surprising. In fact, no one was surprised. Well, actually that’s not true … some were surprised to learn she hadn’t already announced her plans to divorce before she reached 72 days of wedded bliss.
I know I shouldn’t be feeling so much glee as this story unfolds. In fact, I know I should be feeling outrage — not for myself, but for the countless people, like my niece, who were duped into thinking this was a real situation, with people really committing to marriage and really planning to share their lives.
No matter what Kardashian says, I don’t believe that she went into this with the intention to stay married or live happily ever after.
She’s a reality television doll who sucks people into her family trainwreck with the promise of what Americans seem to crave from their television viewing these days — fighting, discord and disposable connections.
I’m only sorry that my niece fell for her schtick.
Move along, Kim. You’ve overstayed your welcome.
Twitter: @Lauranh