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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 30, 2012

Clothe-A-Child shopping trip one of season's best gifts

She made it clear from the very start.
No pink.
Of course, I forgot countless times, but she always reminded me, “I said I don’t like pink.”
My 6-year-old friend prefers black.
When you find something in common with the youngsters you’re shopping for, Clothe-A-Child trips go much more smoothly.
I usually can milk their school and family experiences for the first part of our journey, but after they’ve already told me about their favorite class and their brothers and sisters’ names, it tends to get a little quiet.
Clothe-A-Child provides warm clothing and shoes to needy children ages 5 to 14 in Lake and Geauga counties. And, for two consecutive weekends, I had the pleasure of escorting two wee ones around Payless ShoeSource and Sears at Great Lakes Mall as they picked out new items.
They couldn’t have been more different.
I’ll call Sarah a fashionista. It took a while to nail down her likes and dislikes, but I finally figured out that she didn’t like any “embellishments” on clothing.
So, there were no embroidered designs on jeans. No flowers sewn on tops. And, as I said before, absolutely no pink.
The following week, while I was hanging out with Emily, the goal was clear from the start.
She wanted a dress.
After saying she’s never had a dress, she immediately locked onto a rack of shimmery, lacy and puffy numbers in all the colors of Christmas.
There was plaid and there was green. There was white with sequins and a little bolero jacket. And, there was a red one with a furry belt, collar and cuffs that she called the “Santa dress.”
Looking on the sheet provided by her mom, I realized all the Santa dresses were way too big for my tiny, 5-year-old friend.
She tried to bargain.
“It can be long, I don’t care.”
I fell back on old reliable, telling her “I don’t think your mom would be very happy if we bought you a dress you can only wear for one day.”
Emily was dogged in her pursuit of that dress.
She held up a few that I’d describe as “slinky.” I had to wonder why they’d make dresses like that for such little ones.
Every time we ended up in that area, I’d manage to turn her around to focus back on the items her mom deemed necessary — uniforms for school, some “skinny” jeans, and a few outfits in which the tops and leggings matched.
Then, finally, realizing we had more money to spend, we dug into the dresses and pulled out a white one with ruching in the bodice and waves of cascading ruffles leading down from a black bow around the waist. It was topped with an attached black bolero jacket.
When she opened the fitting room door, I couldn’t help but remember that feeling when I tried on the dress I wore for my wedding.
What they say is true — when it’s the right one, you know it.
“Do you like it?”
She answered in the only possible acceptable way.
She twirled around and laughed as it made the shape of a bell in the air.
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure it’ll come out again, but Christmas really is for the kids.
And one of my best gifts this year will be Emily’s smile and the way she ran to her mom downstairs after we finished our trip and just about screamed, “Mommy, I got a dress!”
It’s a little early, but I want to wish Sarah and Emily a Merry Christmas. And, I want to thank them for already proving that my holiday season is pretty special.
In its first 31 years, Clothe-A-Child collected $3,626,838.68. Donations are accepted year-round, and so far this year, generous donors had already provided almost $20,000 for shopping trips to Sears and Payless ShoeSource at Great Lakes Mall. The program is self-sustaining. All money raised goes to purchase clothing for area youngsters. The News-Herald covers all of the charity’s administrative costs. To donate, send checks addressed to Clothe-A-Child, Attn.: Lisa Migliorini, The News-Herald, 7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby OH 44095. Please indicate how you wish to have your name listed in our donor’s list.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, November 23, 2012

Not a fan of playing the waiting game

The following column appeared in The News-Herald on Nov. 17, 2012: 

My name is Laura, and I can’t stand waiting.

There are a lot of reasons.

One is that I don’t have the wardrobe for it.

(Go with me, it actually does make sense)

My legs are short, which necessitates petite length pants. But the pant legs are still so long that I need to wear heels so my shoes come out the bottom. So, long periods standing around are uncomfortable with most of my heels.

Then there’s the hands thing.

I’m not sure about you, but I sometimes wonder what to do with my hands when I’m standing around.

In my pockets? Down to my sides? Do I fold my arms?

Having a cellphone helped that one a lot, because I can fiddle with my apps. Twitter keeps me busy for long stretches, because it’s constantly updating.

What’s even more helpful is that I have two phones — one’s my personal one; one’s for work. So, there’s more to look at if it takes longer than anticipated.

But then comes another problem if I exhaust my phones’ helpfulness. If the waiting goes on too long, where should I focus my eyes?

If I eyeball the receptionist in the doctor’s office, she’ll pay me back by not finding any good appointment times. If I look at others in the waiting room, they’ll think I’m checking them out or giving them trouble.

It’s a no-win.

Then there are the waits at restaurants.

Because most places don’t provide much space to hang around and wait for an open table, I’m not that likely to put my name on a list to wait for dinner.

Exceptions are when we’re dining with other people.

You don’t want to throw a tantrum in front of someone else, but the irritation of waiting around puts me on edge. Embarrassing moments are likely, so I usually spend more time with my phone or resort to mumbling under my breath, in hopes they’ll get sick of me and finally shove me into a table — any table.

Unfortunately, waiting around is becoming commonplace in Mentor these days.

It’s probably a good thing, because it means the economy is getting a boost.

Between Melt and Zoup, it seems that half of Northeast Ohio has been parking in the lot at the northwest corner of Routes 306 and 20.

To be honest, one of my first thoughts when Melt announced its move into the Mentor location that formerly was a Tony Roma’s and then Jalapeno Loco was that maybe the wait at the some of its other locations will lessen.

There are restaurants I haven’t even tried out because I know the waits will be too long. Michael Symon’s slew of eateries are a perfect example.

I’m a huge fan of this major Cleveland booster, but I’ve never eaten his food. I just can’t stand the idea of spending an hour waiting for a table, in order to then wait for a hamburger.

He seems like a terrific guy, and he and I even shared a rather humorous Twitter exchange a few months ago. But I’m not into that kind of ordeal.

My husband’s been to his restaurants several times, all when I’ve been out of town. I don’t mind, though. He has more patience than me.

With no potential for the waits lessening, I’ll just pack a bag full of snacks, reading material and my phone charger and head out to find dinner some night.

If you see a woman staring at you with her arms folded while talking under her breath, don’t worry.
It’s just me. Because I don’t like to wait.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Calling on their past to give a boost to Euclid students

I met John at Roosevelt Elementary School in Euclid. I think we were in fifth-grade.

He was one of the guys then, and every day played a brutal football game called “kill the man” on the side lot before and after school.

My most vivid memory of him involves a set of flash cards and a phonics exercise that involved holding up a card with the sound of the vowel in the word that was uttered by the teacher.

He sat next to me, and we constantly took part in my favorite activity back then — talking in class.

That day, for some reason, we were using our flash cards as swords, and apparently missed the fact that the teacher had called out another word to the class.

All of a sudden, we heard the most horrifying sentence come from the front of the room.
“John and Laura: Kiss.”

Turns out Mrs. Murray wasn’t directing us to pucker up. No, we were supposed to hold up the card that depicted the vowel in the middle of “kiss.”

We immediately wheeled around in our chairs and endured the laughter of our fellow classmates as we caught up and then pretty much ignored ignored each other.

I kind of lost touch with John after that class. He went on to honors classes and starred on the wrestling team. I went on to annoy teachers and pretend I was good enough to be on the volleyball team.

We graduated together in 1985 from Euclid High School, and he attended Bowling Green State University, where he majored in math education.

About 27 years later, I found John when he and another of our former classmates became “friends” on Facebook.

After he accepted my friend request, I took a spin around his Facebook page and figured out what he’s been doing the past 22 years.

John Drage is an ordained minister and founding pastor of The Rock Campus Church at the University of Missouri.

John’s done missionary work in such places as Honduras and El Salvador, and leads a summer-long program called Christian Leadership Training. He’s also helped with such things as shoe ministry, prison ministry and orphanage ministry.

All that goodness and selfless public service needed to be acknowledged, and I knew the perfect place for it.

Last Friday, John was inducted into the Euclid Central Alumni Hall of Fame.

When I walked in the cafeteria and saw the lectern, I worried for a minute about setting him up to give a speech to the members of the school’s National Junior Honor Society.

I needn’t have worried about the guy who stands before a crowd probably daily, delivering remarks.

He and other members of the induction class, including WOIO news reporter Jen Picciano, each took a few minutes to deliver advice to the eighth-graders gathered for the ceremony.

John first relayed a story about his junior high wrestling coach Harry King. He also took a shop class from King, whom he said one day challenged him on his spiritual existence.

“I loved Mr. King,” John said. “He was probably the most crazy, amazing teacher in the history of Euclid Central Junior High School. He was amazing. Everybody loved this guy, and he was the wildman coach.

“And he asked me the question that would change my life. Mr. King asked me, ‘Do you think if you died today, you’d go to heaven?’

“And I had wondered that question all my life. I said Mr. King, ‘I’m just not sure.’ And we had one of those conversations over the next few days, and I made a decision that I wanted to become a Christian and it changed everything in my life.”

John looked back on the lessons King has continued to teach him in his life, and picked out one key he said he wanted to leave with the students.

“You just never know what kind of influence you can have,” John said. “We’ve been influcenced by so many people. Our teachers and our mentors, they want to assist us and we have the choice of whether we’re gonna listen. Are we gonna be coachable? Mr. King was my coach, not just for wrestling but for life. And I think this is probably the greatest thing he ever taught me: ‘Greatness belongs to those who serve.’

“The folks who are going to make a difference are those who serve, those who help people, those who love people, those who want to get out of their comfort zone, who want to be sacrificial and who say ‘I want to live the inconvenient life.’ ”

n n n

Picciano, a Euclid native who moved back to the Cleveland area after working in Texas, told the students how humbled she was to join her cousin, Jim Duricy, in the hall of fame. Duricy was a inducted last year posthumously. He died in the line of duty while serving as a U.S. Air Force test pilot.

She discussed the difficult things she’s done in her career because she knew they’d get her what she wanted — a good job.

She talked about working nights, weekends, and that when she first arrived at Channel 19 as a traffic reporter, her early-morning shift required her to wake up at 2:30 a.m. and do her hair and makeup.
“It was not pleasant,” she said with a laugh.

But she said that her foundation in school and working with mentors and coaches who pushed her have given her the knowledge that she needed to be smart about what she tried to do. She urged the youngsters to do the same.

“Make good choices and continue to do so in your high school and college career,” Picciano said.

n n n 

Relying on mentors also was key for Dr. Julie Sterbank, who works as medical chairperson of the Education and Outreach Committee for the Cleveland Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

She said she had a difficult time in school, following two older sisters who both went on to become valedictorians of their graduating classes.

“My advice to you is try,” she said. “Do something that you feel is important and has meaning.”

n n n

J. Michael Tosoch, a former Euclid art teacher, looked back on his time in Euclid schools fondly, noting how teachers urged him to try new things and take chances to become a better artist.
He summed up the occasion with this advice to the students on hand:

“It matters what you can get out of what these people have said,” he said.

Here’s hoping they will take the chance to bond with their teachers, and accept their advice to try and be true to themselves as they study and become a better version of themselves.
Twitter: @lauranh

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It’s finally time for Bond, James Bond, that is

I’m used to the strange looks.

They don’t even really faze me anymore.

Perhaps it’s because, over time, I’ve admitted to so many embarrassing things that people’s reactions aren’t that unusual anymore.
Or maybe it’s because I really have no sense of shame.

I embarrass myself so regularly, it really has become a surprise if I go a few days without doing so.
These incidents take on many forms.

Some involve my driving. Sometimes I say something stupid. Sometimes I show that I can be forgetful.

Still other times, I admit facts about myself that take people by surprise.

This week was one of those times.

I told some folks during a meeting that this weekend will mark the first time I’ve seen a James Bond movie.
Jaws dropped.

Some stretched out the word “really” so far that I forgot what the first part of the word was.

In reality, it fit well into my movie proclivities.

I don’t like series. I don’t like to suspend my disbelief. I don’t like science fiction. I don’t like adventure.
Yeah, it’s true — I’m boring.

Give me a good romantic comedy, or an intriguing drama, and I’m right there. Every time.

This is the point where I lay it out there — the list that no doubt will cause your jaws to drop. Here’s what I haven’t seen:

Anything beyond the original (1977) “Star Wars”; “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; anything
with Indiana Jones; anything beyond about the first half of “Back to the Future”; “Jurassic Park”; any of the “Terminator” movies; any Mad Max movie; nothing “Harry Potter”; no “Lord of the Rings”; no “Batman” movies other than the one with George Clooney (to which a colleague said, “you’ve seen the WORST “Batman” movie); no “Matrix”; or “Avatar.” Yes, you get the picture.

I’ve never bothered with the Bond series. It just never really interested me.

I like a lot of the songs and think a lot of the individual Bonds are rather attractive.

It’s just that nothing before ever seemed to be worth the trouble of heading to the theater.

Then, along came No. 23 — “Skyfall.”

Daniel Craig has been intriguing for a few years, in other roles, including the recent “The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo.” Co-star Javier Bardem has been awesome in a few things of late, including “Eat Pray
Love” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”

And, then, there’s Adele’s recently released theme song of the same name.

So I’m doing it — I’m hopping in the Aston Martin (I wish) and heading to see my first Bond movie. It’s time to dig in to the spy agency, the gadgets and, possibly, figure out how to make a martini the Bond way.

I have to admit, I’m rather excited that there’s at least one instance in which I’ll stop the “looks.” Unfortunately, I’m sure there are plenty more to come.
Twitter: @Lauranh