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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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finding a little kindness in dark time in NYC

I was planning to write an entirely different column.

It was still going to be based in New York City, but it was light and fun and silly. Much like me.

It was going to start with Foursquare. Using this social media tool, participants “check in” when they’re out and about, and over time, can become the “mayor” of locations they visit frequently.

I started using it when I got my smartphone. I’m not into it as much as others, who seemingly move about town at a frantic pace.

Mind you, I sometimes move around a lot, but I either forget to check in, or just don’t want people to know I was there. The latter was pretty prevalent during the holiday shopping season.

Why give that many hints, I thought.

The most interesting Foursquare check-ins occur when people are on vacation. I mean, I don’t really care that much when people hit Giant Eagle or Marc’s, but when they say they’re at Mall of America or a great restaurant in Washington, D.C., it stirs a little jealousy.

So, when I headed to New York, I figured it was my turn to make some folks equally as envious.

About 20 minutes after I checked into my hotel, I headed a two blocks over to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. My check-in there earned a response from a co-worker who didn’t even know I was in New York.

I laughed, of course, trying not to think about the fact that he didn’t even notice I wasn’t sitting about 10 feet from him.

It felt pretty neat to check in the next day at The Associated Press’ world headquarters two blocks the other way from my hotel, when I arrived for a meeting. That was even better than my name badge, which came complete with my picture.

But that night marked both my high and low points in almost a year of Foursquare use.

After walking around the Museum of Modern Art for about a half hour, checking out works both abstract and realistic, my friend and her daughter decided we’d dealt with enough crowds and needed to sit down, so we set off to get something to eat.

Jessica said she’d looked around before her mom and I arrived, so she was satisifed with her visit.
“I checked in on Foursquare at MoMA, so I’m good,” I said.

She let out a big laugh.

“Sadly, that’s going to be my column for next week,” I thought to myself.

And it would have been, had the snow not started to fall that night.

Flight delays and the accompanying frustration left me exhausted and trying to figure out what to do when our same fearless trio returned to the hotel Saturday night, a few hours before the third listed departure time of the day for my flight.

I sat down on a big leather couch in the lobby of The New Yorker hotel, and called my husband, seeking his advice about whether to head for the airport.

Before I called, I checked Twitter and Facebook on my work phone, using the time to relax after a brisk walk around Greenwich Village.

When we decided it was safe to head to LaGuardia, I walked over to collect my bags from the secure holding area. When I looked in my purse for my phone to check the time, I noticed one of my phones was missing.

It was the one with my work email on it, and my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and all the photos I had taken while in New York.

Those who know me best understand that I freak out when I lose something as simple as a paperclip. So you can imagine the meltdown that occurred at that hotel desk.

The bellman who had retrieved my bags stood with me and helped me retrace my steps and realize I’d likely lost it near that couch. A walk back over turned up nothing.

The freakout grew bigger and then included tears. The bellman called the security desk to ask if anyone turned in a phone.

Upon hearing “no,” the tears came on full-force.

About two minutes later, a security officer came running over.

“As I was hanging up the phone, someone walked over and said ‘I found this over by the couches.’ ”
He handed me my phone.

The bellman said it’s not an unusual occurrence in his hotel.

“People turn in things they find all the time,” he said. “Especially phones. They know how important they are, so they just take them over to the desk.”

“I’m lucky it happened here then!”

“Inside the building. No telling what would have happened if you lost it outside.”

I’ve always wondered about those stories of people doing incredibly kind things to help out strangers. It seems so unlikely in our world, which is so filled with hate and self-centeredness.

When it happens to you, it’s an incredible gift. It’s almost life-changing.

It’s certainly column-changing.

Sometime I’ll tell you about other moments from my trip, including seeing a flight take off to Milwaukee with only three passengers onboard. But for now, I’m relishing this gift of kindness that two young men bestowed on me in a hotel lobby in Manhattan.

It turned out to be a great trip.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

There's a trick to avoiding inane radio commercials

I really should listen to satellite radio more.

The setup is perfect for someone like me.

And by that I mean someone with admittedly horrible taste in music.

In addition to his job as a page designer, one of my former co-workers also served as the self-appointed judge of all things musical.

In his charming moments, he’d share a song lyric on Facebook, and tell his friends to guess the song from which it came. He’d go all across the musical spectrum in his choices. Sometimes it took just seconds to identify the song; other times, it took all day.

In less-charming times, Steve would deride the artists and songs that the rest of us either had stuck in our heads or were playing on our iPods and Discmen.

(What is the plural of Discman? I need to ask Jim Collins. But, first, I’ll have to explain what a Discman is. Oh, nevermind.)

Needless to say, because I’m writing about it, it still bothers me that he never seemed to have anything nice to say about the music I tend to like.

But, on another level, I know it’s OK, because, really, neither do I.

A long time ago, I wrote a column praising iTunes as one of the world’s greatest inventions, not because it makes obtaining music so easy, but because it makes it so easy to buy all the music I’m too embarrassed to go into a store and pick up.

I’m sure by now you’re curious what kind of music I mean.

Well, as I sit here typing this sentence, I’m singing along to a little ditty I just got around to adding to my music list this week:

“I say it isn’t so (it isn’t so)

Oh, say it isn’t so (it isn’t so)

Oh-oh, no

(Say it)”

Don’t recognize it? Then you’re not a child of the ’80s, like me. Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Say It Isn’t So.”

Yeah, I’m embarrassed. Luckily for those with different musical tastes, I don’t blast this stuff for anyone else to hear. It’s always pumped into my ears via earphones plugged into my iPod or my cell phone.

A warning, though: Never accept a ride from me. Because you’ll have to listen to Channel 8 on Sirius Satellite Radio.

Don’t know what they play there? It’s ’80s music, baby. All day. All Night. Nothing but ‘80s.

If they play something I don’t like, I hit the 7 button, and travel to the 1970s. If there’s nothing there, I’m on No. 6. You get the idea.

Satellite was a comfort lately when I grew tired of all the Christmas commercials on public radio.

When it got too much, I flipped over and only had to deal with the pitches for other Sirius channels. They’re quick, so they don’t get all that annoying.

The other day, though, while driving through Willoughby in the snow, I wasn’t able to flip over fast enough and caught an advertisement for a diet drug.

According to the commercial, when you take it, you can keep eating all the foods you want and you’ll lose weight. It’s a miracle!

You don’t have to cut out fatty foods, or fast food, or even candy and cookies. And you’ll lose weight.
Upon investigation, I learned it’s a powder you sprinkle on your food. It must be a magic powder!

According to the website: “As you eat smell and taste receptors send messages to your brain which release hormones that tell your body it’s time to stop eating.” Apparently, this drug works to enhance the sense of smell, to enhance this message that it’s time to stop eating.

OK, then. I can smell a problem, and it has nothing to do with the food sitting in front of me.

Here’s hoping that no one will fall for this “trick” to lose weight. But, if you did, please let me know how it worked.

To say I’m curious would be underselling it by a longshot.

Until then, I’m going to hide among my ’80s tunes, where I feel comfortable.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rushing in random thoughts on Tebow, taxes

I’m rushing through this. I hope it won’t show.

After taking a couple of days off mid-week, I came back to work on Friday without a column topic and about an hour to get it done.

No sweat! Right?

Then why am I perspiring when there are wind chills that make it seem like it’s about 10 degrees outside?

Probably because my pool of topics for a column is rather limited, just like my time.

I could talk about Tim Tebow, but that’s a dicey subject.

I think I might be the only person in America not bothered by him. Well, me and Denver Broncos fans.

I just don’t see what’s wrong with a guy praying.

In this day, when we’re surrounded by bad people doing bad things every day, is it so bad that this young fella gets down on one knee to thank God for a few blessings that were thrown his way?

Don’t get me wrong. Because he plays for the Broncos, I’m a little less inclined to cut him some slack.

I know, I know, it’s been a long time since The Drive (Jan. 11, 1987) and The Fumble (Jan. 17, 1988). And, the Browns aren’t even the same team anymore. Heck, that team plays in Baltimore under an assumed name. I would too if I had The Drive and The Fumble on my resume.

Bringing up Baltimore reminds me of another point about Tebow: Why is it that a guy like the Ravens’ Ray Lewis can be forgiven after he is linked to a killing, but Tebow is a bad guy because he says a prayer of thanksgiving after he performs well.


Because Tebow threw a game-winning touchdown pass last weekend in a playoff game against the Steelers, it’s been another week of discussion about the kid from Florida.

That’s not his fault.

It’s ours. And I mean the media.

Who remembers the name of the guy who caught that pass and ran 62 yards to the end zone for the game-winner?

It’s OK. I’ll remind you: Demaryius Thomas.

He’s interesting, too. After a horrific childhood that included most of his adult relatives ending up in prison, he was taken in by a Baptist preacher uncle who instilled family values in the 24-year-old Georgia Tech draftee. Today, he sports tattoos on his biceps that read “family” and “first.”

I understand why that got overlooked. Heck, there’s a guy praying over there. How can we let go on?
But enough Tebow. You’re probably as sick of his name as I am.

I could also talk about the sales tax hike in Lake County.

But that’s just as dicey as Tebow.

I don’t live in the county, I just shop here. But, there are plenty of people like me. Take advantage of us, I always say.

I noticed that Great Lakes Mall announced some new store additions on the same day commissioners revealed they’re considering a half-percent increase in the tax.

A few weeks ago, when this topic first arose, a friend told me that when she wants to shop, she often heads to Beachwood Place, because it has an H&M store.

Stores in Beachwood Place, in Cuyahoga County, are subject to a 7.75 percent sales tax. The new H&M that will be arriving in a few months at Great Lakes likely will be subject to a 6.75 percent sales tax.

Thus, it’s now going to be cheaper for her to stick closer to home. Save on gas, and on sales tax.
The rise in the rate will cost me a few pennies on my purchases, but it’s still cheaper here than in Cuyahoga County.

I know there are deeper issues at play here, but since so many of the purchases here in Lake County are completed by those who live outside the borders, the pain is spread wider than a property tax or income tax.

It’s a win for Lake County.

I’d ask you to gather to give thanks, but that might not go over well.

Don’t want to be accused of pulling a Tebow.

Oops, there goes the media again.
Twitter: Lauranh

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Extension of Christmas holiday always welcome

Merry Christmas!

What? You say Christmas was two weeks ago? 

I still say Merry Christmas, because I’m celebrating it today. 

Well, technically, it’s Christmas for my sister-in-law’s family. So, because we’re also family, it’s Christmas for all of us.

Debbie is Ukrainian, and her family marks Russian Christmas, which takes place on Jan. 7. It’s not the same as Epiphany, which takes place on Jan. 6.

The latter is, according to Roman Catholics, a celebration of the arrival of the wise men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. 

In the Eastern Orthodox faith, Epiphany is a celebration of Jesus’ baptism. 

When you think about these two events, consider for a moment how different they are from our traditions today. 

If Jesus’ birth were to have occurred today, the wise men would have packed their carry-on, booked a flight on Travelocity and arrived within a few hours of the first feeding.

Their gifts? Sterling silver, patchouli and something from the Macy’s fragrance counter that came with a free set of crystal rocks glasses.

The baptism would be on the first Sunday the family could book the good hall for a luncheon afterward.

But having a Christmas this late in the season does have its perks — especially if you’re cheap or if you want to be the hero.

Over the years, my smart relatives have boosted my collection of holiday decorations by admittedly shopping the after-Christmas sales for presents. I won’t deny that I have also. In fact, my gifts to them tonight will include items purchased in May for 80 percent off. 

Don’t knock it. My gifts will cost about $8 per person. Score!

My nephews, on the other hand, aren’t impressed with holiday candle holders or Santa-shaped candy dishes.

Silly young people! They’ll understand when they get older and need a nifty place to stash all that colorful foiled wrapped goodness during the month of December.

But for now, it’s all about XBox and Lego and things that make noise and scatter into a million pieces when they break apart.

In addition to a chance to see all of my husband’s side of the family all in one place, Russian Christmas has turned out to be the last chance for Santa to fulfill the big holiday dream.

A couple of years ago, it was the Peanuts holiday DVD collection that my nephew suddenly decided he wanted just days before Christmas. Other times, it’s been a much-craved video game.

It’s always a kick to see the younger set rip off the wrappings on presents they figured they just weren’t good enough to get.

But, here’s proof Santa celebrates Russian Christmas, too!

I won’t tell you what they’ll be ripping open tonight, in case they figure out that my column is available on the Internet.

But while you’re sitting at home watching reruns or infomercials, I’ll be digging in to my holiday feast.

Jealous, aren’t you? 

Well, Merry Christmas to you, too!
Twitter: @Lauranh