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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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hot under the collar over an untimely warmup

Chances are you’ve said it yourself a few times.

I’m sure she’s used to it.

No matter what season, Mother Nature gets the stink eye from someone.

If it’s January, it’s too cold. If it’s June, it’s not hot enough. If it’s October, it’s too early to be this cool.

Well, now it’s March and, ma’am, I’m not all that happy with you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not upset about the mild winter we just finished.

No, I’m pretty happy it was mild, and that it’s now over. That just means we’re that much closer to confidently moving our snow brushes from the back seat to the trunk.

Yes, I know that in reality I should wait until about mid-July.

But what’s really got me wanting to have a few words with the old girl is her complete disregard for my big experiment.

It was going to be a long, colorful one.

I had it all planned out. Then it got too warm.

Perhaps I should explain.

A few weeks ago, while picking out something to wear to work one day, I noticed I had an inordinately large collection of cardigan sweaters.

They’re in every possible shade, and every possible pattern.

Most are button-downs, but
some have ruffled fronts with little metal clasps. Others don’t close at all.

But they’re all classified as cardigans.

While studying the vast array
of these winter warmers, I wondered how many work days in a row I could go without repeating one.

I boldly told my boss that I thought I could make it 75 days.

It’s both surprising and embarrassing. It’s also not much of an exaggeration.

Yes, I shop too much. And, yes, I apparently focus on one item at a time, too.

And, after realizing it, I needed to see how much of a problem it really is.

So, on March 1, I started my challenge. Wear a different cardigan sweater to work every day until I’ve exhausted the pile.

As I write this, I’m 15 days in, and I have Thursday and Friday lined up.

My complaint with Mother Nature stems from the fact that I’ve also recently realized most of my cardigans are winter-weight.

It didn’t seem like a bad plan on Feb. 29 — there’s a little less than a month of winter left, and then the early parts of spring.

What could go wrong?

On Day No. 14, the mercury reached 84 degrees in Lake County.

That’s entirely too warm for my cardigans.

I blame Mother Nature. This fickle lady has for years treated us to some of the coldest and snowiest winter moments in March.

But when I need it to be cool? Nooo.

“Have some lemonade,” she’s probably thinking.

I plan to keep going as long as I can. Who knows, maybe I’ll melt into a pile of goo on the sidewalk en route to my answer.

That’ll teach Mother Nature!
Twitter: @Lauranh

Monday, March 19, 2012

Not all that pumped up over a once-favorite tune

This column appeared in the March 17 edition.

“No whistling!”

A few days into my first job out of college, I sat at my desk in the middle of the newsroom in The Morning Journal in Lorain, writing a headline or re-writing a sentence in a story.

I probably was reacting to the silence in the room when I started to whistle. From all corners of the room came the screams.

“No whistling! It’s bad luck!”

“It is?”

“Yes, John says it’s bad luck.”

If John said it, I guess we were supposed to believe it.

John, in this case, was John Cole, editor of The Morning Journal. He was much like the editors you’ve seen in movies or on TV — stern, driven and decidedly in charge.

Because he thought it was bad luck, there was no whistling that happy tune, no matter how much we were enjoying our jobs.

Ever since then, when I hear someone whistling, whether it’s while walking down the street or in a song on the radio, I think back to John and his fear that a little music would take down the newsroom.

My response is usually a little chuckle, then I start to whistle along. I just wish I could do it a little better.

My form of whistling is a little backward from the usual form, which is to blow air out. Mine involves bringing air in. It’s not nearly as melodious as what you hear in popular songs, such as classics like “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding or “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles or even “The Stranger” by Billy Joel.

No, instead, I have whistle envy.

It popped up again when the song “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People became popular late last year. 

The melody is pretty peppy, and there’s a short whistling section in the bridge about 2:55 into the four-minute track.

I liked the song immediately. I’m not one who really pays attention to lyrics, or what they mean.

Then, after seeing the band perform on “Saturday Night Live” early this year, I decided to buy it for my iPod. Then, I figured I’d check out the lyrics to see exactly what they’re saying, so if I accidentally started singing it out loud, I’d at least be singing the right lyrics. 

Oh. Goodness. 

“All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun.
 All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”

It gets worse as the song rolls on. 

“Robert’s got a quick hand.
 He’ll look around the room, he won’t tell you his plan.
 He’s got a rolled cigarette, hanging out his mouth, he’s a cowboy kid.
 Yeah, he found a six shooter gun.
 In his dad’s closet hidden with a box of fun things, and I don’t even know what.
 But he’s coming for you, yeah he’s coming for you.”

Yes, the song is about what you think it is — a kid who is planning on shooting other kids.

When the song would come on the radio or I’d hear it somewhere, I’d cringe a little. 

Until Feb. 27.

When a gunman opened fire on students at Chardon High School, the song was a little too real.

A few days after the shooting, I tuned into a discussion of the local media’s coverage of the incident on Q104 radio. The morning hosts disagreed on how area media had been performing. Co-host Kathryn Boyd, formerly a reporter for WEWS-TV 5, said they were doing an admirable job and that the questions being asked were appropriate. Radio veteran Allen Fee disagreed, saying the coverage lacked sensitivity. 

I took it a little too personally and shot off a direct message to Fee on Twitter, asking if he still plays “Pumped Up Kicks” on his show. 

“It’s off my show for sure.”

Alrighty, then. If he’s not playing it, I won’t either.

Enough glamorizing violence against children. Enough glamorizing violence by children.

When the band, fronted by a guy from Northeast Ohio named Mark Foster, comes to Blossom in June, I won’t be buying a ticket. It’ll hurt a little because they’re on a double bill with The Beach Boys. 

But, I know they’ll be playing the song, since it’s their breakout hit. I just can’t hear it anymore.

Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, March 9, 2012

Trio of youngsters spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S in bee

When you deal with words for a living, you probably should consider yourself a good speller.

That’s not the case with me.

Like most of us, I’m grateful to the genius who invented spellcheck. If there’s not a monument dedicated to that kind soul, then there should be.

I don’t think Mount Rushmore is too big a reach in this case. Just think of those of us who’ve been saved by his or her handiwork!

I just wish there was a spellcheck that could be activated when I’m not on the computer.

Sure, the dastardly “auto-correct” kicks in when I’m using Twitter or sending a text message or email on my cell phones. But, when you’re writing or when someone asks you how to spell a word, it sure would come in handy to have a version of those little underlines giving you a hint that you’re screwing it up.

I thought of that on Thursday morning at Kirtland Library while watching three youngsters competing in the Tri-County Spelling Bee.

This trio — Vishnu Nistala from Shore Middle School in Mentor; Alexis Zahuranec of Notre Dame Elementary School in Chardon; and James Elliott of Grand Valley Middle School in Orwell — probably don’t even realize there was a world before spellcheck.

They’re lucky.

They’re also excellent spellers. They’re champion spellers, as a matter of fact.

James won the Ashtabula County Bee; Alexis won the Geauga County Bee; and Vishnu won the Lake County Bee.

Vishnu also outlasted Alexis in the Tri-County Bee, earning the right to head to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, D.C.

I don’t want to put too much pressure on you, Vishnu, but we’re expecting big things. That’s not an unrealistic expectation, either.

Not judging by his performance in this week’s bee, when he and Alexis went 40 rounds before the winner was decided.

If you’ve never watched a spelling bee, you owe it to yourself.

These kids are equal parts brilliant, brave and adorable.

The latter is the most obvious as they and wait for their turn. As you look on, you can see them mouthing the letters to the words the others are spelling. They fidget and shift in their seats as they wait their turn.

It’s easy to see that they’ve just been plucked from class to attend the event, dressing like every other middle-schooler you’ve ever seen at the mall or waiting at the school bus stop.

Alexis was the stylish one, with her leather jacket, jeans and boots as she made her way to the front of the room for the competition. When she lost the jacket, she revealed wrists stacked with black bracelets. Vishnu turned to his “lucky” Shore Middle School hoodie, the same one he wore during the Lake County Bee I judged Feb. 23 at Auburn Career Center.

The bravery showed up when each one left their parents’ sides to head to the three chairs in the front of the room. They had to get up, introduce themselves to the crowd of about 30, then stand up to spell their words when it was their turn. It’s good to see they don’t have that hesitation that it seems age brings. You know the one that makes us think about stuff we have to do, and then we chicken out.

Their parents are just as brave as the kids, sitting in the audience enduring what probably is the most pressure their children have felt in their young lives, putting on their supportive faces as they melt inside from the nerves.

I saw it first-hand while sitting across a tiny aisle from Alexis’ parents on Thursday. I got my first hint when Mom reached over and grabbed Dad’s hand and whispered, “I can’t stand it. I’m sweating already and we haven’t even started.”

A few minutes later, just as I looked back over at them, she whispered to Dad with a laugh, “I’m going to be sick.”

Throughout the bee, both Mom and Dad moved around in their seats, and at one point after Alexis nailed a word, Dad leaned forward, put his head in his hands, took a deep breath and let it out with a forceful sigh.

Alexis, for her part, was focused on her parents, too. On many occasions, after correctly spelling a word, she’d plunk down in her chair, look out at one of her parents and grin widely with a knowing smile.

As the final two spellers, Vishnu and Alexis, rolled through their words, I struggled with the idea that one of them had to lose. This pair rarely called on the pronouncer to give them extra information on the words they were assigned. It seemed that the only times they asked for the part of speech, definition, word origin or for it to be used in a sentence was when they wanted to work it out in their head before launching in to the spelling.

In the end, Vishnu was G-R-E-G-A-R-I-O-U-S after spelling that final word correctly and sealing the victory and the trip to Washington. Alexis was no less spectacular, but stumbled in the 40th round on “adamant.” James bowed out in the 10th round on “ductile.”

As I look over the word list, I see one of the next words to come up would have been “meticulous.” I think it’s fitting that what we’re now waiting for is a bit of that type of preparation from Vishnu before his visit to the nation’s capital at the end of May.

Here’s hoping he’s equal parts brilliant, brave and adorable.
Twitter: @Lauranh