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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, October 12, 2012

Friends prove it's easy to pay attention in the new living room

This column appears in the Oct. 13, 2012, edition of The News-Herald:

Ever notice that it’s nearly impossible to have a discussion when the TV is on?

At least it is for me. Almost every time the television is on at our house.

I need to share some information with my husband, but his eyes and mind are glued to the TV.
Sometimes it’s a game, or a sci-fi show, or even a commercial with a pretty girl.

No matter what it is, though, I’m not able to break through that barrier. That is, until I do it physically.

Yes, I simply walk in front of the TV and stand there until he looks up to yell at me to move.
Once I have his attention, I get to share my information.

I win!

I thought about this strategy over the past two weeks when we’ve hosted some area residents in our new living room to watch the debates.

About a month ago, we opened our Community Media Lab to the public as a resource to share our archives. It’s especially exciting if you’re into area history, whether for your own enjoyment or searching for family information or because you want to research something in your hometown.

As part of the Media Lab, we also opened an area with couches and chairs facing a 42-inch television affixed to the wall.

When we asked folks to come in to watch the debates with us, I realized I wouldn’t be able to just step in front of the TV if they weren’t paying attention.

You see, the TV hangs about 15 feet off the floor.

I’m a shrimp, reaching 5-foot-4 on a tall day, so I’d have to hop up on the counter below it to get anywhere near the screen. More than likely, I’d still have to jump up and down to try to wave in front of the screen.

Luckily I didn’t have to resort to such unladylike methods.

No, those in the two groups that gathered to watch the first debates of the 2012 presidential race were eager to get the discussion under way.

The first debate, on Oct. 3 between Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, featured a group of volunteers who answered a plea on our editorial page in which we asked area residents if they’d like to watch the debate here and discuss it afterward with one of our reporters.

Six people stepped up and took part.

The second one, which was Thursday night, featured Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan. Those here watching in our living room were party officials from Lake and Geauga counties.
The crowds were as different as you could imagine.

The first group were older folks, retirees concerned about how many of the issues at the heart of the presidential race will affect them.

The second group, young political insiders who lead the Young Republicans and Young Democrats both in the counties and at Lakeland Community College, spoke more about the styles of the participants and how they felt they helped or hindered their running mates during a somewhat testy debate.

The discussions were lively, with both sides pointing out aspects they considered key to their candidate’s victory. But that’s not important, because the only one who counts is the one who emerges after all the ballots are counted.

Until then, I’ll just enjoy the fact that it was such a pleasure to sit here with our guests and watch the issues dissected.

I’m impressed they stepped forward, stayed out so late and were so eager to share their opinions.
If you ever get the chance to view a debate from different perspectives, make sure you jump.

It’s worth every second and every yawn the following day.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Time to be the grown-up and set example for others

This column appeared in the Oct. 6, 2012, edition of The News-Herald: 

I take a lot of ribbing because my bucket list isn’t that dazzling.

I don’t want to climb mountains or fly planes or run with the bulls.

I wish for mundane things — like going to a pancake breakfast or a fish fry.

The most adventurous item on my list is a long-craved trip to San Francisco. But the reason I want to go is certainly not that exciting — I want to see how many of spots made famous in the movie “Vertigo” are still there.

Another of the joke-worthy items that seem destined to remain on my bucket list is the Lake County Music Education Association’s marching band festival.

For the past four years, something has taken me out of town when it’s occurred. This year, I was in Tennessee at a conference when I saw our coverage on

Maybe I’ll get there one year. If history is any indication, though, it doesn’t look good.
I’ll always make time for events featuring children.

I’m endlessly fascinated by and amused by children.

It’s probably the honesty that makes me pay attention. But it might be the fun things they’re working on.

My nephews are no exception. The oldest is a sophomore at Lutheran West High School who plays on the football team. Nikolas has gone from a mild interest in sports about seven years ago when he stood at about my waist to me wondering if I’ll be at his waist when he stops growing in a few years when he’s almost certainly going to be playing college football.

His younger brother Sean is in fifth grade, and this year is experiencing his first organized football league.

PeeWee football is what it’s called, and that’s pretty accurate. The fifth- and sixth-graders wear full pads and helmets and little football pants as they take the field in full-contact football games.

It’s that last part that I focused on last weekend when I took in a Mini Horns’ game. Yes, that’s right, they’re “mini horns” — the high school team is called Longhorns. Get it?

Because the Mini Horns were the visiting team, they were stationed on the far side of the field from the stands where we sat with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Nik and a slew of other parents.

Just about the time we were settling into our seats, we noticed that among the youngsters standing on the sideline directly in front of us was decidedly different than the other children.

This young man stood head and shoulders above anyone else on the field.

Including the coaches.

A bunch of the parents were outraged when they saw him take the field. When I noticed he couldn’t really run that well, I dismissed any concerns from my mind.

I’ll admit, though, that the two forearms he laid into Sean’s chest made my blood boil.

I thought then that maybe he should be playing with bigger kids, because he’s a little too advanced for these little guys.

The parents kept up their complaints throughout the game, yelling for their kids to tackle him low and move the plays around him.

Pretty smart.

Toward the end of the game, though, the tenor of their conversation changed. It started to include a little name-calling.

When one of the fathers launched a “Lurch” toward the middle of the field, the opposing coach finally took notice.

“Are you kidding me? Are you serious? The kid’s in sixth grade. He’s a sixth-grader. He gets teased enough in class, and now you, an adult, does it? You’re an adult. You should know better.”

When the coach began speaking, a parent sprinted over and added his opinion.

“He’s in sixth grade, and you’re a jerk.”

They were both right.

It’s easy to forget when you’re watching a sporting event, that the participants in most cases aren’t professional athletes.

They’re playing to learn something and because they love the game.

When the helmets come off, there’s an instant reminder — they’re only kids.

They’re doing their best.

Sure, this kid was bigger than all the others. Yes, your kids aren’t going to be able to match up with him, or even in most cases move him.

But, you remember that he’s just like your kid — he’s young and he’s doing the best he can to help his team win.

There’s simply no reason to call him names.

Your son wouldn’t like it, would he? Be the grown-up and set the example for others to follow.
Twitter: @Lauranh

He has a way of making you think you can do it

This column appeared in the Sept. 29, 2012, edition of The News-Herald. 
The last time I saw Chris Yano, she was wearing a crown and holding a bouquet of roses.

That’s because she’s royalty.

The 2012 News-Herald/Lake County Fair Commerce Queen hasn’t given up her day job, which is leading the Fairport Harbor Senior Center and its huge group of participants through activities that include Wii bowling and golf, numerous classes and games such as billiards and cards.

Yano’s an impressive woman, getting help from a few volunteers as she encourages these seniors ages 55 and older to remain active in their minds as well as their bodies.

It’s that last part that brought me back to Fairport with a good friend this week.

Jaime Brenkus, who owns Slim & Fit Personal Weight Loss & Fitness, didn’t hesitate when I asked him if he’d be willing to head out to the facility at the corner of High and East streets.

I told him Yano’s group of feisty participants takes part in a weights-and-bands class a few times each week and that they’d be thrilled to have him come out with his special brand of nutrition information.

When you spend time with Brenkus, you learn pretty quickly that he’s motivational. He’s also so full of energy that you’ll be bounding around the room to keep up with him as he talks.

But my favorite thing about Brenkus is his use of catchphrases.

There’s one for every subject.

“Your best pieces of fitness equipment are your knife and fork.”

“Nothing tastes as good as slim feels.”

They all make sense. As we tell the folks taking part in Lighten Up, The News-Herald’s annual weight-loss contest, you don’t have to exercise at all to lose weight. Cut your caloric intake, you’ll start to lose. And, as anyone who’s lost weight has learned, you do feel a lot better after you’ve lost some of your extra pounds.

When Brenkus stepped in front of the 25 seniors who set up in the Senior Center’s cafeteria, he looked them in the eyes and delivered the same speech I’ve heard countless times during Lighten Up meetings and during his talks with those he’s training.

He tells you what you already know.

Everyone knows how to lose weight. It’s simple. If you don’t eat, you don’t gain. If you eat less, you’ll lose.

Brenkus, though, has a way of making you think you can do it. And that’s powerful.

When he asked if the class could tell him how many calories equals a pound. “Thirty-five hundred,” about half the class correctly yelled back.

“As we eat those calories, if we don’t expend them, they turn to fat,” Brenkus said.

He said the weights class they do a few times a week is a great way to keep the fat at bay.

“If you put on lean muscle, your body burns calories faster, more efficiently,” Brenkus said.

When it came time for the fitness aspects of Brenkus’ visit, I was curious how class members would handle it.

I need not have worried. Not a single person stopped during the hourlong session of lifting hand weights and stretching fitness bands.

He even pushed them further than they normally go, asking for 15 repetitions of each exercise. I realized it after a little while, because the woman standing to Brenkus’s left during the workout kept saying “nine” when they’d done a bunch. I had a feeling that she wanted to stop at 10, but she gamely followed the rest of the class and made it to 15.

Brenkus played off the groans from the jokers in the crowd. A couple of the gentlemen in the group were cutups who’d played the same role in the class I’d seen Yano conduct previously. There’s no shortage of whining, even as they masterfully complete each challenge laid out by the teacher.

At one point, though, one of the women in the crowd yelled out, “I don’t know about this exercise, but you sure can count.”

Yano stood to Brenkus’ right, taking on the role of a regular student. She seemed to really get into the class, pumping her weights along with everyone else. She said a couple of times that she was learning some new tricks for the group.

Brenkus said he was impressed by the eagerness of the group to take part and that they handled it so easily.

The class should be on alert, though. Brenkus said he’d consider coming back for more workouts.

I’ll remind them of something that Brenkus said during the workout. When someone admitted they were praying for deliverance from the torture they were enduring, Brenkus piped up, playing off the Catholic faith he realized he shared with a few in the crowd.

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. I’m doing an act of repetition, instead of contrition.”
Twitter: @Lauranh